Why is Elephant Cancer Rare? Answer Might Help Treat Humans

CHICAGO (AP) | Why is elephant cancer so rare?

Two new studies say the riddle's answer might someday help treat humans.

Scientists found that elephants have a huge surplus of a major cancer-fighting gene — 20 copies versus one copy in humans.

The gene helps damaged cells repair themselves or self-destruct when exposed to cancer-causing substances.

Dr. Joshua Schiffman is a pediatric cancer specialist at the University of Utah who led one of the studies. He's seeking funding for research into treatment that mimic elephants' cancer-fighting cells.

His study was published Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dog Stands Guard for Week Protecting Trapped Friend

VASHON ISLAND, Wash. (AP) | A Washington state animal shelter says a dog dutifully stood guard for a nearly a week on Vashon Island to protect another dog that had fallen in a cistern.

Tillie, a setter mix, only left Phoebe's side to try to alert people of her trapped friend.

Amy Carey of Vashon Island Pet Protectors says the two were found Tuesday after they were reported missing by their owners last week. Vashon Island Pet Protectors says volunteers looking for the pair received a call about a reddish dog being seen on someone's property a few times before promptly heading back into the ravine.

Carey says the Pet Protectors followed the tip and found Tillie lying beside an old cistern. Inside rescuers found Phoebe, a basset hound, on a pile of stones above the water.

The dogs were cold and hungry but otherwise unharmed.

"It's really quite remarkable," Carey said.

UPDATE: Investigator: Bergdahl Left Post to Expose Problems in Unit

SAN ANTONIO (AP) | The officer who led the investigation of Bowe Bergdahl's disappearance and capture in Afghanistan six years ago testified Friday that the Army sergeant said he walked away from his post as part of a plan to spark a search and get the attention of a general so that he could express his concerns about his unit's leadership.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl told the packed courtroom at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio that Bergdahl felt the problems were so severe that they put his platoon in danger, but that Bergdahl's perceptions were "completely off the mark."

Dahl said Bergdahl had an elaborate plan to head from his post to the forward operating base roughly 19 miles away, expecting to arrive while a search was underway and to create a "PR event" that might get a general to listen to him.

"He felt it was his duty to intervene," said Dahl, who described Bergdahl as a loner who seemed motivated to help others. He said he doesn't think Bergdahl should go to prison.

Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban after leaving his post on June 30, 2009, and held until last year, when he was exchanged for five Taliban commanders being held at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. His commanding officers in Afghanistan testified Thursday about the grueling 45-day search for Bergdahl, saying it put other soldiers in danger.

Military prosecutors charged Bergdahl in March with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. His Article 32 hearing, which was concluded Friday, will help determine if he should face a court-martial.

The prisoner exchange drew a lot of public criticism, with many Republicans and some Democrats saying they felt it was politically motivated and contrary to the U.S. policy of not negotiating with terrorists.

Terrence Russell, a Department of Defense worker who helped debrief Bergdahl after the exchange, testified that Bergdahl was subjected to worse conditions than any American prisoner of war since the Vietnam War and was "skin over bones" near the end of his captivity.

Russell said Bergdahl's captors treated him like a "dirty animal," beating him with rubber and copper hoses and giving him little food and water. He said Bergdahl was kept in a cage for three years and had uncontrollable diarrhea for years.

Bergdahl tried to resist and attempted to escape on multiple occasions, including one attempt in which he managed to elude recapture for 8½ days, Russell said. He acknowledged the public criticism leveled at Bergdahl, but said Bergdahl did the best he could under the circumstances.

"They don't know what the facts are. Nobody knows Sgt. Bergdahl's story. I hope someday the world gets to understand how difficult Sgt. Bergdahl had it," he said.

Earlier Friday, Bergdahl's former squad leader, former Sgt. Greg Leatherman, testified that before Bergdahl disappeared, he expressed concern to his first sergeant that Bergdahl didn't seem to be adjusting well to their deployment and that he thought Bergdahl should speak to someone such as a chaplain. He said the officer told him to drop the matter.

"First sergeant said he didn't want one of his guys telling him what was wrong with somebody in his company," Leatherman said.

Curtis Aberle, a family nurse practitioner at Fort Sam Houston who has been treating Bergdahl, said Bergdahl suffered extensive injuries during his time as a prisoner that have made him unfit to remain in the military.

He said Bergdahl has muscular nerve damage in his lower legs, a degenerative disc in his lower back and an injury that has left him with limited movement in his shoulder — injuries that he said were caused by Bergdahl being kept in a crouched position for extended periods.

Aberle said Bergdahl also suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome, but he didn't mention any other psychiatric issues Bergdahl may have.

While cross-examining witnesses called by the prosecution on Thursday, one of Bergdahl's lawyers mentioned that Bergdahl had received a psychological discharge from the U.S. Coast Guard and that an Army psychiatric board had concluded that Bergdahl possessed a "severe mental defect."

Bergdahl did not testify in his own defense. His lead attorney, Eugene Fidell, said any relevant information about his capture is included in an extensive interview Bergdahl gave military investigators last year. He repeated his call for that report to be released, saying it would help tell Bergdahl's side of the story and counteract some of the negative publicity he has faced since the prisoner exchange.

While wrapping up their cases, military prosecutor Margaret Kurz said Bergdahl should face a court-martial because his decision led to a lengthy search that put other soldiers in danger.

Fidell said Bergdahl never intended to avoid his duty and that his case should be treated like a one-day AWOL stint, which he said carries a penalty of 30 days' confinement.

If Bergdahl is tried and convicted of the misbehavior before the enemy charge, he could get life in prison. He also could be dishonorably discharged, reduced in rank and made to forfeit all pay if he's convicted.

The officer who presided over the hearing will forward his recommendations to Gen. Robert Abrams, the commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command. Abrams will decide whether the case should be referred to a court-martial or be resolved in another manner.

Computer Models Failing to Accurately Predict Path of Flames

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) • Wildfires that have raged in California this summer haven’t just overwhelmed firefighters — they’ve also stumped computer models designed to predict the intensity of flames and where they’ll burn.

“These fires are actually exceeding what our models will even predict,” said Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

While rapidly spreading wildfires exacerbated by four years of drought may have made wildfires harder to forecast, others suggest modeling methods haven’t kept up to speed with technology.

Modeling has been a primary tool for nearly 40 years for fire managers to plot where a fire will run and help plan where they should deploy firefighters, dig containment lines, fly water- and retardant-dropping aircraft and order evacuations. But it’s not an exact science, and it is often only as good as the expert doing the analysis and a little trial and error.

Modeling experts who work for fire agencies take variables such as vegetation type, humidity, temperature and terrain and plug them into a computer program to create virtual fires and see how they progress. Forecasts are usually created twice a day and shared with managers on the ground to make tactical decisions that day and plan for days ahead.

“It’s imperfect. Sometimes it’s spooky right. Other times you miss the mark,” said Rick Stratton, a fire analyst for the U.S. Forest Service. “More often than not, the science, I don’t want to say it’s right, but it helps make a risk-informed decision.”

Fires this summer have been growing bigger faster, and that’s one factor that could be making modeling harder, said Tim Sexton, a program manager with the Forest Service.

Over the weekend, a fire in Lake County torched more than 60 square miles in 12 hours, destroying nearly 600 homes, killing an old woman trapped in her Cobb Mountain home and sending thousands fleeing down flame-lined roads.

In the same general area north of California’s Wine Country, the so-called Rocky Fire erupted in late July, destroying 43 homes and spreading over 100 square miles. CalFire ran models hundreds of times that could not replicate its rapid growth, Pimlott said.

To some, that’s because the model is outdated and doesn’t accurately account for the often turbulent weather created by the fire itself, which includes fierce winds not foreseen in daily forecasts.

“I think their technology is so outdated and what they’re modeling is so complex,” said Janice Coen, a meteorologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. “Most of us would just say this doesn’t work.”

Coen has used data to create simulations of some of the biggest fires in the West, including the one that killed 19 firefighters in Yarnell, Arizona, in 2013.

In that case, winds changed dramatically and shifted on the crew. Coen said those conditions could have been forecast given the weather pattern that was developing, which she said was common for that area. She wouldn’t have been able to tell exactly where the flames would burn, but she would have had a pretty good idea.

Coen has developed a model that incorporates more accurate weather information with fire behavior to account for air flows in steep terrain and for how fire alters the weather.

“That’s where this model is strong because it’s incorporating the time-changing weather and all the weird things happening in the mountains and the fire feedbacks,” Coen said.

The Forest Service has improved its modeling from the days it used maps and calculators, and now uses a web-based system. It is working at its Missoula, Montana, fire lab to incorporate better weather information to create more sophisticated models, said Sexton, program manager with the Wildland Fire Management Research Development and Applications Program.

He said Coen’s work holds promise for the future, but isn’t “ready for prime time.”

In fact, Colorado next year will begin using Coen’s modeling to forecast fires after its governor signed a bill in May to spend about $3 million over five years testing the technology that forecasts dozens of weather variables, in addition to a fire’s position and intensity, based on aircraft observations, radar data and other sources.

Sexton acknowledged that current modeling doesn’t always work well “right out of the box.” Analysts have to make tweaks after they see how fire behaves and then recalibrate it in a manner that requires a little art with the science.

Modeling is not used on all fires and often isn’t employed until a fire demonstrates a serious threat to life and property.

When three firefighters were killed this summer in Twisp, Washington, they were responding to initial reports of a blaze. That fire had not yet been modeled, Stratton said.

However, it eventually merged with other blazes to become the biggest fire in state history.

Biologists Fear Repeat of 2002 Salmon Kill in Klamath River

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP)• The drought in the West could be creating conditions in the Klamath River straddling Oregon and California for a repeat of a 2002 fish kill that claimed tens of thousands of adult salmon, biologists said.

Low water and warm temperatures have slowed the upriver migration of spring chinook, allowing infections by parasites as the salmon crowd together in cool water pools.

A similar fate is expected for fall chinook that will start arriving in coming weeks.

“The risk factors this year are piling up,” Mike Belchick, biologist for the Yurok Tribe, said Wednesday. The tribe depends on Klamath River salmon for food and ceremonies.

The deadly parasite has been detected at high levels in salmon earlier in the year than usual. The parasite thrives in warm water, infesting the gills of fish and suffocating them.

Warm water has left fish too lethargic to swim upstream, so they congregate in pools fed by cool springs, where the crowding contributes to the spread of the disease.

The river is running slightly higher than it was in 2002 but this year’s projected return of 120,000 chinook is lower than average.

The Yurok and Hoopa Valley tribes have called on the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to send extra water down the Klamath and Trinity rivers for the fish.

But there is little available in the drought and any releases are being saved for the most effective times.

“At this point, we are just really watching the situation,” said bureau spokeswoman Erin Curtis. “It is the fourth year of severe drought. Water supplies are very limited and the situation is not good.”

The water in the rivers is tightly split between fish and irrigation projects.

Conditions were similar last year, but the bureau was able to release extra water down both rivers. While some fish died of disease, the numbers were not great, said Wade Sinnen, senior environmental scientist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

However, no one really knows how much water is needed to avert a major fish kill, given the variables of how many fish return and how hot the weather gets.

“Every time we’ve done flow augmentations, there has been litigation associated with it,” Sinnen said.

In 2001, water was shut off to the Klamath Reclamation Project to leave water in the Klamath River for protected salmon, setting off bitter confrontations between farmers and federal marshals.

The next year, the Bush administration restored irrigation to the Klamath project, creating conditions in the river for disease that killed as many as 62,000 salmon.

Farmers, tribes, salmon fishermen and states later hammered out agreements to remove three dams on the Klamath River, restore the river and give farmers more predictability about water, But the plan remains stalled in Congress, opposed by House Republicans.