Wildlife preventionists

Forest for the trees: It’s always fascinating when conservatives, compassionate or otherwise, hype their plans for the environment, so Bites was particularly intrigued when Assemblyman Tim Leslie, R-Roseville, surprised environmentalists recently with the announcement that he would be co-hosting a “Lake Tahoe Wildlife Prevention Forum.”

“Now that’s brutal honesty,” thought Bites, until a hastily revised release explained that it was just a headline typo. “We love wildlife,” assured Leslie’s press secretary Brian O’Neel. “Wildlife is our friend. We want to do nothing to prevent wildlife. Wildfires, on the other hand, that’s another story. Sorry for any confusion.”

Leslie’s, ahem, wildfire forum was part of an outreach program on behalf of George W. Bush’s Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003. This controversial program came under attack further last week when the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the U.S. Forest Service is paying San Francisco’s OneWorld publicity firm $90,000 to “get out the message that [its new Sierra Nevada management plan] was about reducing fire risk, not increasing the timber harvest.” Fired up by previous reports that logging would triple under the new initiative, a number of politicians and environmentalists scoffed at the expenditure. Among them was Jay Watson of the Wilderness Society, who insisted the government agency could “certainly handle it on their own” if it weren’t more concerned with image than facts.

Well, yes and no. Bites thinks that if it hasn’t already exhausted $90,000 worth of taxpayers’ money just coming up with that “Forests with a Future” slogan, OneWorld might still want to give Leslie and his staff a little help on their press releases, both of which leave the “y” out of Bush’s Healthy Forest Restoration Act.

Spank the monkey: “He can’t satisfy you with his little worm / But I can bust you out with my super sperm!” So boasted the Sugar Hill Gang in its, um, seminal rap single, “Rapper’s Delight.” But now the University of California, Davis, is announcing a new breakthrough that could put an end to such boasts once and for all. The news release’s title alone is priceless: “TRANSPLANT ENABLES MICE TO PRODUCE MONKEY SPERM.”

Though rodent self-esteem issues alone would more than justify such procedures, this breakthrough from veterinary-school researchers Stuart Meyers and Ina Dobrinski (who represent UC Davis and the University of Pennsylvania, respectively) could be the start of something big.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Exactly how, you may wonder, does one enable mice to produce monkey sperm? Meyers and Dobrinski did it by grafting tiny tissue fragments from the testicles of preadolescent rhesus macaque monkeys onto the backs of little male mice. (Kids: Be sure to get Mom and Dad’s permission before trying this at home!) Not only did the grafted mice end up producing sperm mature enough to fertilize rhesus-monkey eggs, but they did it in a mere seven months. (Monkeys take two years.)

And where will this breakthrough ultimately lead us? In addition to the obvious benefit of maximizing monkey-sperm production, the two scientists believe it could reduce the number of primates required for male-reproduction studies or ensure the reproductive capacity of preadolescents not expected to reach puberty.

Sure, a more Luddite Bites could complain about precious resources being spent on seemingly frivolous experiments while our state sinks into a quagmire of debt, but who can say what far-flung benefits could arrive tomorrow as the result of today’s scientific inquiries? And besides, Davis got Pennsylvania to foot the bill.

Speaking of monkeys: … or monkey effigies, in this case, Bites was pleased to learn that the search for Art Foundry sculptor Don Whaley’s big monkey sculpture has been found. The 150-pound simian was stolen on February 27 from Whaley’s Fair Oaks home, which prompted him to post colorful posters of the missing ape sculpture around town. Whaley reports that the pilfered primate was left at the downtown foundry with an anonymous note saying, “I live in Fair Oaks. Send me back to my Dad.”