Putin issues alert after drone strikes 60 miles from Moscow; Russian death toll surpasses all wars since WWII: Ukraine live updates

USA Today

Putin issues alert after drone strikes 60 miles from Moscow; Russian death toll surpasses all wars since WWII: Ukraine live updates

John Bacon and Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY – February 28, 2023

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered officials to tighten control of the Ukraine border Tuesday after a flurry of drone attacks targeted regions inside Russia – with one drone crashing just 60 miles from Moscow.

Ukraine authorities did not take responsibility for the attacks but have claimed the right to such forays to turn back Russia’s invasion. Pictures of the drone showed it was a small Ukrainian-made model with a reported range of close to 500 miles but no capacity to carry a large load of explosives.

Russian forces shot down a Ukrainian drone early Tuesday over the Bryansk region, local Gov. Aleksandr Bogomaz said in a Telegram post. He said there were no casualties. Three drones also targeted Russia’s Belgorod region along the border, and one flew through an apartment window in its namesake capital, local authorities reported.

Moscow Regional Gov. Andrei Vorobyov said the Moscow-area drone apparently was targeting – but did not hit – a Gazprom gas distribution facility.

“There are no casualties or destruction on the ground,” he said on Telegram. “There are no risks to the safety of local residents.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a meeting of the Federal Security Service board in Moscow on Feb. 28, 2023.
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a meeting of the Federal Security Service board in Moscow on Feb. 28, 2023.


►Putin followed through on last week’s vow to suspend the last remaining nuclear arms treaty with the U.S., signing a bill to that effect Tuesday. Putin and Russian authorities have said they’re not pulling out entirely from the New START treaty and will respect its caps on nuclear weapons and continue to notify the U.S. about test launches of ballistic missiles.

►Air raid alarms interrupted TV and radio programming in several Russian regions Tuesday. Russia’s Emergency Ministry said in an online statement that the announcement was a hoax resulting from hacking.

►Flights in and out of the main airport in St. Petersburg, the second-largest city in Russia, were stopped for an hour Tuesday, prompting reports that an unidentified drone was the reason. The Russian military later said it was because of air defense drills.

►At least four civilians were killed and five wounded by renewed Russian shelling in the southern Ukraine city of Kherson and surrounding villages, Ukraine authorities said Tuesday.

►One-third of the Ukrainians who fled to European Union nations because of the war eventually want to return home, the same proportion as those who prefer to stay in their host country, according to nearly 15,000 respondents to a survey conducted by the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights. About one-quarter of the respondents were undecided.

Wesley Clark: Putin’s war is driven by his fears of Russia’s decline. That gives Ukraine a path to victory.

Yevgeny “Eugene” Vindman: Victory in Ukraine is crucial for America and the world. Biden must do more.

Russian death toll surpasses all its wars since WWII

More than 60,000 Russian troops have died in the first year of the Ukraine war, more than all Russian wars since World War II combined, a new study says.

The analysis by the Center for Strategic International Studies estimates that 60,000 to 70,000 Russian soldiers have died in Ukraine. Russia suffered roughly 200,000 to 250,000 total casualties – personnel killed, wounded or missing – during the first year of the war, the analysis says.

In comparison, Russia had 13,000 to 25,000 fatalities in Chechnya from 1994 to 2009, and 14,000 to 16,000 in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989.

“Some types of authoritarian regimes are willing to accept high casualties in interstate conflicts, but Russian casualty numbers are unprecedented for post-World War II Russia,” the analysis says.

The Ukrainian military has also performed “remarkably well” against a much larger and initially better-equipped Russian military, in part because of the innovation of its forces, the analysis says. It adds that Putin has thus far been willing to accept large numbers of Russian fatalities with limited political repercussions, “but it is unclear that he will be able to do so forever.”

‘Grinding slog’ in front lines unlikely to pick up in near future

A senior Pentagon official calls the front lines in Ukraine “a grinding slog,” and field conditions don’t augur much change in the near future, perhaps even longer.

“I do not think that there’s anything I see that suggests the Russians can sweep across Ukraine and make significant territorial gains anytime in the next year or so,” Colin Kahl, under secretary of defense for policy, told a House committee Tuesday.

Intense fighting continues in the eastern Donbas region as Russia tries to solidify its control, but neither side has gained much ground in the winter. The warming temperatures and softer soil of the upcoming spring don’t lend themselves to major advances either.

“Both sides stay in their positions, because as you see, spring means mud. Thus, it is impossible to move forward,” a Ukrainian commander identified only as Mykola told Reuters.

Tanks, but no tanks

Before their current insistence on getting fighter jets, Ukrainian leaders clamored for modern tanks to confront Russian troops. That request was finally granted Jan. 25, when the U.S. and Germany announced they had overcome their initial reluctance and would provide the vehicles, opening the door for other countries to contribute them as well.

Only they haven’t done much of that.

Ukraine has asked for 300 tanks, the U.S. and its allies have pledged around 100, and few have made it to the battlefield so far. Some of the delay was expected because of the need for training and the challenging logistics of delivering the tanks — the U.S. M1 Abrams, for example, weighs at least 60 tons.

But the same countries that pressured Germany to allow for their Leopard 2 tanks to be sent to Ukraine are running into obstacles, some based on lack of usable supply, some based on political resistance or other factors, the New York Times reported.

“Of course some nations have delivered, or at least announced that they will,” the newspaper quoted German Federal Minister of Defense Boris Pistorius saying at the Munich Security Conference this month. “But others have not done that.”

Contributing: Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

Drones fly deep inside Russia; Putin orders border tightened

Associated Press

Drones fly deep inside Russia; Putin orders border tightened

Susie Blann – February 28, 2023

A local resident stands at the window as smoke raises from the burning building after the Russian shelling in the town of Chasiv Yar, the site of the heaviest battles with the Russian troops, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Yevhen Titov)
A local resident stands at the window as smoke raises from the burning building after the Russian shelling in the town of Chasiv Yar, the site of the heaviest battles with the Russian troops, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Yevhen Titov)
A medic gives the first aid to a wounded Ukrainian soldier near Bakhmut, the site of the heaviest battles with the Russian troops, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Yevhen Titov)
A medic gives the first aid to a wounded Ukrainian soldier near Bakhmut, the site of the heaviest battles with the Russian troops, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Yevhen Titov)
Medics give the first aid to a wounded Ukrainian soldier near Bakhmut, the site of the heaviest battles with the Russian troops, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Yevhen Titov)
Medics give the first aid to a wounded Ukrainian soldier near Bakhmut, the site of the heaviest battles with the Russian troops, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Yevhen Titov)
A view of the town of Bakhmut, the site of the heaviest battles with the Russian troops, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Yevhen Titov)
A view of the town of Bakhmut, the site of the heaviest battles with the Russian troops, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Yevhen Titov)
A view of the town of Bakhmut, the site of the heaviest battles with the Russian troops, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Yevhen Titov)
A view of the town of Bakhmut, the site of the heaviest battles with the Russian troops, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Yevhen Titov)
A view of the town of Bakhmut, the site of the heaviest battles with the Russian troops, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Yevhen Titov)
A view of the town of Bakhmut, the site of the heaviest battles with the Russian troops, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Yevhen Titov)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Drones that the Kremlin said were launched by Ukraine flew deep inside Russian territory, including one that got within 100 kilometers (60 miles) of Moscow, signaling breaches in Russian defenses as President Vladimir Putin ordered stepped-up protection at the border.

Officials said the drones caused no injuries and did not inflict any significant damage, but the attacks on Monday night and Tuesday morning raised questions about Russian defense capabilities more than a year after the country’s full-scale invasion of its neighbor.

Ukrainian officials did not immediately take responsibility, but they similarly have avoided directly acknowledging responsibility for past strikes and sabotage while emphasizing Ukraine’s right to hit any target in Russia.

Although Putin did not refer to any specific attacks in a speech in the Russian capital, his comments came hours after the drones targeted several areas in southern and western Russia. Authorities closed the airspace over St. Petersburg in response to what some reports said was a drone.

Also Tuesday, several Russian television stations aired a missile attack warning that officials blamed on a hacking attack.

The drone attacks targeted regions inside Russia along the border with Ukraine and deeper into the country, according to local Russian authorities.

A drone fell near the village of Gubastovo, less than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Moscow, Andrei Vorobyov, governor of the region surrounding the Russian capital, said in an online statement.

The drone did not cause any damage, Vorobyov said, but it likely targeted “a civilian infrastructure object.”

Pictures of the drone showed it was a small Ukrainian-made model with a reported range of up to 800 kilometers (nearly 500 miles) but no capacity to carry a large load of explosives.

Russian forces early Tuesday shot down another Ukrainian drone over the Bryansk region, local Gov. Aleksandr Bogomaz said in a Telegram post.

Three drones also targeted Russia’s Belgorod region on Monday night, with one flying through an apartment window in the capital, local authorities reported. Regional Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said the drones caused minor damage to buildings and cars.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Ukraine used drones to attack facilities in the Krasnodar region and neighboring Adygea. It said the drones were brought down by electronic warfare assets, adding that one of them crashed into a field and another diverted from its flight path and missed a facility it was supposed to attack.

Russia’s state RIA Novosti news agency reported a fire at the oil facility, and some other Russian reports said that two drones exploded nearby.

While Ukrainian drone strikes on the Russian border regions of Bryansk and Belgorod have become a regular occurrence, other strikes reflected a more ambitious effort.

Some Russian commentators described the drone attacks as an attempt by Ukraine to showcase its capability to strike deep behind the lines, foment tensions in Russia and rally the Ukrainian public. Some Russian war bloggers described the raids as a possible rehearsal for a bigger, more ambitious attack.

Andrei Medvedev, a commentator with Russian state television who serves as a deputy speaker of Moscow’s city legislature and runs a popular blog about the war, warned that the drone strikes could be a precursor to wider attacks within Russia that could accompany Ukraine’s attempt to launch a counteroffensive.

“The strikes of exploding drones on targets behind our lines will be part of that offensive,” Medvedev said, adding that Ukraine could try to extend the range of its drones.

Russia hawks urged strong retaliation. Igor Korotchenko, a retired Russian army colonel turned military commentator, called for a punishing strike on the Ukrainian presidential office in Kyiv.

Another retired military officer, Viktor Alksnis, noted that the drone attacks marked the expansion of the conflict and criticized Putin for failing to deliver a strong response.

Also on Tuesday, authorities reported that airspace around St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, was temporarily closed, halting all departures and arrivals at the main airport, Pulkovo. Officials did not give a reason for the move, but some Russian reports claimed that it was triggered by an unidentified drone.

The Russian Defense Ministry said it was conducting air defense drills in western Russia.

Last year, Russian authorities repeatedly reported shooting down Ukrainian drones over annexed Crimea. In December, the Russian military said Ukraine used drones to hit two bases for long-range bombers deep inside Russian territory.

Speaking at Russia’s main security agency, the FSB, Putin urged the service to tighten security on the Ukraine border.

In another development that fueled tensions across Russia on Tuesday, an air raid alarm interrupted the programming of several TV channels and radio stations in several regions. Russia’s Emergency Ministry said in an online statement that the announcement was a hoax “resulting from a hacking of the servers of radio stations and TV channels in some regions of the country.”

Meanwhile, satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press appeared to show a Russian warplane in Belarus that Belarusian guerrillas claimed to have targeted as largely intact.

Tuesday’s high-resolution images from Planet Labs PBC and Maxar Technologies showed the Russian A-50 early warning and control aircraft after what Belarusian opposition activists described as an attack on the Machulishchy air base Sunday outside the Belarusian capital of Minsk.

However, a discoloration could be seen on the aircraft’s distinctive, circular rotodome above its fuselage that could be damage. That discoloration wasn’t seen in earlier images of the aircraft at the air base. The Maxar image also showed what appeared to be vehicles near the airplane as well.

Belarusian activists supporting Ukraine alleged that the aircraft was seriously damaged. Russian and Belarusian officials did not comment on the claims.

In Ukraine, four people were killed and five others wounded Tuesday by renewed Russian shelling of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, regional Gov. Oleksandr Prokudin said in a Telegram.

A 68-year-old man was also killed as Russian forces shelled Kupiansk, a town in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region, Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said.

The fiercest fighting continued to be in eastern areas of Ukraine, where Russia wants control over all four of the provinces it illegally annexed in September.

Ukrainian officials said Russian forces have deployed additional troops and equipment, including the latest T-90 battle tanks, in those areas.

In a video address, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked U.S. industrialists for supporting Ukraine and voiced hope for their support in rebuilding the country after the war. Zelenskyy noted that the country faces a “colossal task” to restore hundreds of thousands of damaged sites, including “whole cities, industries, productions.”

Associated Press Writer Jon Gambrell contributed to this report from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

A total Russian collapse is surprisingly close

The Telegraph

A total Russian collapse is surprisingly close

Colonel Richard Kemp – February 28, 2023

Finally destroying the Kerch bridge could force Russia out of Crimea
Finally destroying the Kerch bridge could force Russia out of Crimea

As Moscow’s latest offensive in Ukraine slowly but bloodily cranks up, the next phase of this ghastly war has well and truly arrived. Contrary to expectations, the Ukrainians are bravely, and successfully, resisting the tens of thousands of fresh Russian recruits being thrown at them. Nevertheless, according to many Western observers, the chances of a total Russian collapse in the coming year are slim.

I am less certain; we could be surprised. Far from being cowed, Zelensky’s government is emboldened. Kyiv is openly preparing its own major thrust against Russian ground forces in the spring. Vadym Skibitsky, Ukraine’s deputy military intelligence chief, said this week that this counter-offensive will aim to “drive a wedge” between Crimea and the Russian mainland. The Ukrainians are determined to, in his words, “liberate all occupied territories – including Crimea”.

Now, General Ben Hodges, former commander of US forces in Europe, has devised a strategy he believes would not only enable Ukraine to retake Crimea, but would precipitate a total Russian military implosion.

His suggestion is as follows: isolate the peninsula by precision strikes against the two land routes connecting it with Russian territory – the Kerch bridge and the corridor that runs along the Azov sea. Then follow up with a large-scale armoured drive towards the Azov, penetrating Russian defences north of Crimea, bringing rocket and artillery systems into closer range. Russian air, ground and naval forces in the peninsula would then be reduced by precision strike and bombardment, until the point when Ukrainian forces could launch a ground offensive along the Perekop Isthmus and into Crimea.

This concerted attack against the peninsula – isolating it, neutralising and inflicting severe damage against its military infrastructure by long range strikes – would be a major blow for Russian morale. In the absence of decisive battlefield success elsewhere, it would represent a defeat for Moscow that it could not disguise, and could lead to collapse of Russian forces in the field and even to Putin’s downfall.

I agree that this is desirable. But – as so often in this war – without boosting our support, it is unachievable. Even this more limited operation would demand massively increased Western assistance, including many more tanks than have been promised, much larger quantities of ammunition, as well as long-range missile systems which so far have not been provided at all. This additional support would have to be sustained and that would mean stepping up defence industrial production in the US and Europe beyond what has been contemplated so far in this war.

To achieve this is a question of political will on the Continent, one that remains shaky. There are signs now of European leaders pushing Zelensky towards peace talks with Russia rather than the defeat of Moscow’s invasion. That was the message delivered directly to the Ukrainian leader in Paris recently by President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Both their countries have said they will not be providing new types of weapons this year. All talk at the moment is of future security assistance and guarantees to Ukraine from Nato after the war ends, as a means of pressuring Zelensky into an accommodation.

Putin recognises this wavering of Western support for Ukrainian offensive action and will be encouraged to press forward his own offensive to maximise territorial gains in advance of any potential negotiations. He is unlikely to achieve his full objectives on the battlefield, but neither will he willingly surrender what he now holds, which is significantly greater Ukrainian territory than when the war began.

With Ukraine denied the resources for decisive success, the scene would then be set for a period of relative quiet followed by the next round of Russian aggression. General Hodges’s plan for Crimea may be overly optimistic, but he is absolutely right to suggest that long-term peace is contingent on Russian battlefield defeat. The scenario that Nato leaders are now planning equals the vanquishment of the West and the emboldenment of both Russia and China. It is a crying shame when the possibility of a total Russian collapse remains within reach.

Colonel Richard Kemp is a former infantry commander

The #1 Brain Exercise for Memory Improvement, According to Neurologists


The #1 Brain Exercise for Memory Improvement, According to Neurologists

Kaitlyn Phoenix – February 25, 2023

The #1 Brain Exercise for Memory Improvement, According to Neurologists

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You likely already know to brush teeth to prevent dental cavities, work out to strengthen muscles and wear sunscreen to protect skin, you may not realize there are things you can do to keep your brain sharp.

For starters, a 2019 study of nearly 200,000 adults found that those who had a healthier lifestyle were less likely to develop dementia over the course of eight years, even if they were genetically at risk for dementia — and a 2020 study came to a similar conclusion. Beyond general healthy habits, though, specific activities have been shown to boost brainpower and prevent cognitive decline: brain exercises.

Do brain exercises work?

Probably — but it’s complicated. “Memory is not one thing, but it’s a combination of different things so when we talk about exercises or training for memory, I think it depends on what type of memory we’re referring to,” says Zaldy S. Tan, M.D., M.P.H., the director of the Cedars-Sinai Health System Memory and Aging Program. Consider a trip to the grocery store: Remembering what you intended to buy without having a list to look at requires an ability to recall things. Remembering the layout of the store and where to find things requires more of a visual/spatial memory. Running into a peer from elementary school, remembering how you know them and holding a conversation requires a quick processing speed on top of recall.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to study the effects that certain activities have on our brain. It’s not as simple as say, watching someone practice bicep curls every day and seeing their muscle girth increase over time. “The things that we’re engaged in on a day-to-day basis that are not specific to deliberately improving our memory — for example, reading a book, attending classes at a junior college because we’re interested, listening to NPR or something else that will expand your view of the world or watching documentaries — those are all great, but they haven’t been studied for us to conclusively say that if you do all of these things, you’re less likely to develop memory problems,” says Dr. Tan. “Speed of information processing can be enhanced by cognitive training by computer-based tests, for example, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.”

That said, engaging in certain exercises (even if they’re specific to one type of memory skill) can’t hurt and may even help you in the long run. “Increasing these synaptic connections — increasing these areas of connections in the brain — that might help build reserve,” says Douglas Scharre, M.D., the director of The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center Division of Cognitive Neurology. “If, in the future, you have unfortunate issues that affect the brain, such as strokes or dementia conditions, you’d have a little bit more reserved.”

Brain exercises for memory to do at home

Your best bet is to all different kinds of things that exercise your brain in different ways. “Variety is great,” says Dr. Scharre. “The more you do with your brain, typically, the better it is.” This list of exercises for your brain can help get you started.

1. Work out

It seems one of the best things you can do for better cognition is physical exercise. It increases blood flow to the brain; reduces the risk of stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes (three risk factors for developing memory problems); and lowers inflammation oxidation (which has also been implicated in dementia), according to Dr. Tan. In fact, a 2023 study of nearly 1,300 women age 65 and older found that for every 31 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity a participant did every day, she had a 21% lower risk of developing dementia. Meanwhile, a 2022 meta-analysis concluded that people who regularly participated in walking, running, swimming, bicycling, dancing, yoga, sports and exercise machines had a 17% lower risk of developing dementia than those who didn’t. New to exercise and not sure where to start? Check out our list of the 10 best cardio exercises to try at home or in a gym.

2. Play a sport

If you want to take the benefits of exercise to a whole new level, consider a sport that requires you to play with other people. On top of the physical exercise, research shows that sports require you to make quick decisions and solve problems (Where is my teammate? Should I run faster? Which strategic play might work best right now?) and give you the opportunity to socialize with others, Dr. Scharre points out. “The whole brain is working really well, and it’s a great whole-brain activity,” he says.

3. Socialize

Seriously, getting together with other people is extremely good for your brain. “You have to use your eyes to see their expressions and nonverbal communications. You pick up things that way, and you make judgements,” explains Dr. Scharre. “They tell a story, you’re reminiscing and think, Oh, in regard to that topic, I have a great story to tell, and then you share your story. You go back and forth with this thing called discourse. You’re using your language, you’re using your vision, you’re using your hearing. All these parts of the brain are being involved and integrated.” If you can’t meet in person, pick up the phone and call someone — you’ll give a little brain boost to both of you.

4. Do some math

The next time you open the calculator app on your phone, research suggests you might want to pause for a second and decide if the math problem at hand is something you can solve without technology. In fact, one study found that senior citizens who given basic math and reading problems to work on every day for six months experienced boosts in processing speed and executive function.

5. Learn a new language

Knowing two languages allows you to connect with others you may not have communicated with before, makes travel easier and supports a healthy brain. A 2020 meta-analysis found that people who are bilingual develop dementia at a later age than people who only speak one language. It may sound like a big commitment, but we found the best language-learning apps to get you started — and some are totally free.

6. Become a puzzler

Doing a variety of puzzles is the key here since different ones engage different parts of your brain, but number gamescrosswords and jigsaw puzzles may be particularly helpful. “Sudoku is great for logic — that’s the frontal part of the brain. Crosswords increase your abilities to store vocabulary and think of words on your verbal side,” says Dr. Scharre. “Jigsaw puzzles may be more of a visual/spatial thing.”

7. Play an instrument

Performing music requires you to mix the physicality of touch with remembering and hearing — in a short amount of time. One study even found that people over age 60 who took piano lessons scored higher on tests of episodic memory and attention six months later than people who didn’t. Episodic memories are things we remember that happened in the past (whether it be 30 years ago or 30 days ago).

8. Meditate

In one study, people with mild cognitive impairment or mild Alzheimer’s disease who did 30 minutes of guided meditations every day for six months showed slower degeneration in crucial brain areas than people who didn’t. New to meditation? We researched a whole bunch of meditation apps and compiled a list of the best ones to help lower anxiety.

9. Stimulate your senses

Opt for activities that require you to use several of your senses. For instance, when baking an apple pie, you might feel the dough as you form the crust, hear and smell the apples sizzle on the stove if you pre-cook them, visually pay attention to what you’re doing as you assemble everything and then, of course, taste the fruit of your labor. Research suggests that when senses interact it helps us remember things better.

10. Sleep

You may not think of it as a brain exercise, but high-quality sleep is essential for our brains to function at their best. In fact, sleep helps “improve memory recall, regulate metabolism and reduce mental fatigue,” according to one research analysis. While we’re snoozing, our brain is busy removing toxins and reorganizing itself so if you don’t get at least 7 hours of high-quality shuteye night after night, don’t be surprised if you experience brain fog among other problems. If your sleep routine could use a little refresh, try these strategies for resetting your nights.

The bottom line: “The thing with dementia is that there is a pathologic mechanism to it, meaning for Alzheimer’s for example, you develop amyloid plaques and tangles,” says Dr. Tan. “Just doing cognitive training isn’t going to prevent you from having those things, but it might help you reduce the risk of developing symptoms.” So, it’s important to engage your brain in a variety of different ways right now so you have a little more leverage if things go south later on. Along those same lines, remember that your brain works with nearly every other system in your body — it’s not a soloist. “If your heart is unhealthy, that can affect the brain because the brain is the organ that needs the most oxygen in your system,” says Dr. Tan. “If your kidneys are not functioning well, then you accumulate more toxins that the kidneys filter from the blood. If your gastrointestinal tract is not healthy, then you won’t absorb the micronutrients that the brain needs to stay healthy.” Everything is connected so remember that when you’re trying to protect your brain, it’s best to focus on whole-body health.

The seven lifestyle habits that can radically reduce dementia risk

The Telegraph

The seven lifestyle habits that can radically reduce dementia risk

Sarah Knapton – February 28, 2023

Regular physical exercise such as jogging is one of the lifestyle choices - Halfpoint Images
Regular physical exercise such as jogging is one of the lifestyle choices – Halfpoint Images

Adopting seven simple lifestyle habits in middle age can radically reduce the risk of dementia in later life, a major long-term study has shown.

While some of a person’s propensity towards developing dementia is genetic, a significant amount of a person’s determination is ruled by factors within a person’s control, the research suggests.

Experts in the US found that the following could all cut the chances of developing conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, and the benefits grow with every extra healthy lifestyle trait achieved.

  1. Being active
  2. Eating a better diet
  3. Maintaining a healthy weight
  4. Not smoking
  5. Keeping normal blood pressure
  6. Controlling cholesterol
  7. Having low blood sugar.

Researchers followed 13,720 middle-aged women for 20 years and found that the more healthy lifestyle factors a woman had, the less likely she was to develop dementia.

Each on their own was found to lower risk by around six per cent, suggesting that adopting them all, could bring down the chances of dementia by 42 per cent.

“Since we now know that dementia can begin in the brain decades before diagnosis, it’s important that we learn more about how your habits in middle age can affect your risk of dementia in old age,” said Dr Pamela Rist, an assistant professor from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, Massachusetts.

“The good news is that making healthy lifestyle choices in middle age may lead to a decreased risk of dementia later in life.”

There are currently 900,000 people living with dementia in Britain with the numbers set to grow. Symptoms include memory loss, confusion, problems with language and can eventually lead to death.

However, several population-wide studies suggest that the actual incidences of dementia are falling, which experts believe is being driven by changes in lifestyle, such as people quitting smoking and improvements in heart health, driven by statins.

In recent years, the American Heart Association has developed a list of lifestyle interventions – known as Life’s Simple 7- that can help people cut their risk of heart attacks and strokes.

The new study showed that the same improvements for heart health also seem to stave off dementia.

The checklist

The seven healthy traits are: never having smoked or quit more than 12 months ago and having a healthy BMI (18.5 – 25kg/m2).

Physical activity must be at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week vigorous exercise.

Diet must include at least 4.5 cups of fruit and vegetables per day, two servings of fish per week, three servings of whole grains per day, no more than one litre of sugar-sweetened drinks per week, and 1,500 mg of sodium per day – about two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt.

Total cholesterol must be less than 200 mg/dL, blood pressure less than 120 mmHg/80 mmHg and blood sugar –  less than 100 mg/dL.

The results

Experts found that during the study 1,771 women developed dementia around 13 per cent, or one in seven.

For each of the seven health factors, participants were given one point for each regular healthy lifestyle factor. The average score was 4.3 at the start of the study, falling to 4.2 after a decade.

After adjusting for factors such as age and education, researchers found that for every increase of one point in the score, a person’s risk of dementia fell by six per cent. It means that if a person started out with a 1 in 7 risk, it would fall to 1 in 13 if they achieved all of the healthy lifestyle options.

Dr Rist said: “It can be empowering for people to know that by taking steps such as exercising for half an hour a day or keeping their blood pressure under control, can reduce their risk of dementia.”

Last week, experts from University College London (UCL) said that staying active throughout adulthood could help stave off dementia.

Their long-term study found that people who exercise as they age are more likely to have better brain health than those who take up an activity for shorter periods of time but then give it up.

However, even taking up exercise in your sixties  is better than doing nothing at all for improving cognitive function, the research suggested.

The preliminary study was released on Monday and will be presented in April at the American Academy of Neurology’s 75th Annual Meeting.

‘Trans people go to dances and find joy and are whole’: A mom’s viral photos of her daughter send a powerful message

Yahoo! Life

‘Trans people go to dances and find joy and are whole’: A mom’s viral photos of her daughter send a powerful message

Beth Greenfield, Senior Editor – February 28, 2023

Jaime Bruesehoff recently shared side-by-side photos of her daughter Rebekah
Jaime Bruesehoff recently shared side-by-side photos of her daughter Rebekah, one at age 10 and one at 16, to show that trans people “find joy and are whole people.” (Photo: Twitter/Jaime Brusehoff)

Rebekah Bruesehoff may only be 16 years old, but she’s spent almost half her life publicly fighting for her rights as a transgender person.

It’s why her supportive, activist mom Jamie took a moment this week to tweet a joyous photo of Rebekah in a green gown and holding white flowers, primped and ready to attend a high school dance — an update to one that went viral in 2017, of Rebekah at a rally holding a sign that read, cheekily, “I’m the scary transgender person the media warned you about.” That image appears alongside the new one.

“There’s this juxtaposition,” Jamie tells Yahoo Life, referring both to the two photos and her daughter’s life. “The photo from six years ago popped up in my memories, and I was struck: It feels so long ago and like it was just yesterday.” When the photo came up, she says, she was at a nail salon with Rebekah, who was getting a manicure before her sophomore cotillion. Sharing both photos, Jamie explains, felt like an opportunity to show a more well-rounded view of her teen, who plays field hockey and loves musical theater.


“She’s spent six years fighting publicly — but she’s also just a teen going to a fun dance,” she says. “That’s so much of what the Twitter thread was about… that trans people go to dances and find joy and are whole people, and that trans people are more than just their fights for rights and for life.”

The original photo of Rebekah, then 10, holding the sign inspired by a story she had found online, was snapped just before a protest in Jersey City, N.J., over the Trump administration rescinding federal support for transgender students. The tween was asked to speak in front of the crowd of 200, which she agreed to, and then her mom posted the image to Facebook, where it “went crazy viral.”

Looking back now, says Jamie, “It’s certainly not what any of us had planned. But what was really powerful was to see her use her voice and say, ‘I deserve a safe school.’ But even more impactful for her was she heard the voices of the other people… trans kids who were not supported, trans adults… it was the first time, at 10 years old, that she realized how good she had it and how much work we had to do.”

That idea, of work left to do, is especially important now, says Jaime on Twitter: “In ways, things are worse than I could have imagined 6 years ago… and yet she continues to resist with advocacy, speaking and education. She resists with her joy, she resists by growing into this beautiful young woman that so many wish she wouldn’t have the chance to become.”

She’s referring to the unprecedented number of anti-trans and anti-gay bills popping up across the country: Just two months into 2023, LGBTQ-rights organization the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is tracking 340 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced at state levels, 150 of which would specifically restrict the rights of transgender people, 90 of which would prevent trans youth from being able to access gender-affirming medical care; two have become law, in Utah and South Dakota.

“Things are pretty awful right now,” Jaime tells Yahoo Life. “We live in New Jersey … so there’s some privilege and some level of safety that comes with that — and also, you’re not safe anywhere, we know that. My heart breaks for all transgender young people. Their identities are being used as a political football.”

Because Rebekah is an athlete — and luckily having a “really positive experience” on her hockey team — her family “really jumped into” having public conversations supporting transgender athletes, only to see “attacks on health care getting worse by the day,” she says, adding “it’s become very clear” that the anti-trans fight “is not about protecting children. It never has been. It’s about political power and removing transgender people from public life.


But even in New Jersey, where there are some protections in place — like state’s LGBTQ-inclusive school curriculum and the Babs Siperstien Law, which allows people to change their gender identity on their birth certificate without “proof of surgery” — there’s no way to fully escape the national rhetoric.

“What people don’t understand is that young people are impacted by these messages … They are seeing what’s happening, watching their identity be banned from public conversations in schools,” she says. “People, even in states like New Jersey and New York, know what’s going on. And for a young person to see their identity being debated on every front? That’s exhausting.”

Luckily, the mom notes of her daughter, “Rebekah is a big joy-as-resistance kind of person. She focuses on the positive, has friends, loves to laugh. It’s how she, I think, sustains herself.” She also recognizes her relative privilege: “She’s white, she exists within the gender expectations people have for girls and she has supportive parents who have been behind her and who have resources.”

Rebekah’s glowing spirit, her mom says, has powerfully influenced the entire family — including her “super-supportive” brothers, ages 8 and 13, and her father, a Lutheran pastor who, Jaime says, “preaches the gospel … that calls for us to work towards justice.” She adds that “he preaches the message of inclusion and of celebration of LGBTQ+ people.


But it’s Jamie, who identifies as “queer” and uses “she/they” pronouns (including on her website and social media profiles), who might be most influenced by her teen’s courage.

“I’m bisexual,” she tells Yahoo Life. “I came out more publicly in 2018. I think there was some part of doing this work, of advocating for my daughter to show up in all her authenticity, that started to feel inauthentic for me not to share.” As for her use of she/they, which is new as of about a year, Jamie adds, it’s one way she is “continuing to break down those boxes of gender, and understand myself in the fullness of who I am. ‘They’ feels really great.


Jamie, who has written a book due out in September — Raising Kids Beyond the Binary: Celebrating God’s Transgender and Gender-Diverse Children, meant to fill a gap wherein there is no guidance about raising “gender expansive kids in faith, when we know it’s people of faith who are doing the most harm” — adds that coming out has been powerful.

“I think with me sharing my identity as a bisexual person and my identity not as nonbinary, but as someone who feels constrained by the gender binary, and I think watching Rebekah live her life as who she knows herself to be and the positive impact it’s had,” she says, “I know that showing up as ourself changes the world.”

Ukraine says it shot down a Su-25 jet and captured its pilot in revenge for a weekend of shelling: report

Business Insider

Ukraine says it shot down a Su-25 jet and captured its pilot in revenge for a weekend of shelling: reports

Mia Jankowicz – February 27, 2023

A Russian Su-25 warplane, with a Z on its tail fin, flies against a cloudy blue sky above Olenivka, Donetsk, Ukraine, on July 29, 2022
A Russian Su-25 warplane above Olenivka, Donetsk, Ukraine, on July 29, 2022.Alexander Ermochenko TPX via Reuters
  • Ukraine says it shot down a Russian Su-25 jet in Avdiivka, Donetsk on Sunday.
  • The frontline town is home to a strategic coke plant and was heavily bombed over the weekend.
  • President Volodymyr Zelenskyy congratulated the troops on the strike, according to reports.

Ukrainian forces took out a Russian Su-25 jet on Sunday, capturing its pilot, in what has been called “revenge” for airstrikes on a valuable industrial plant, according to multiple reports.

According to a post from Ukraine’s 110th Mechanized Brigade, the jet was shot down near Avdiivka using a man-portable air defense system (MANPADS).

The brigade said that Russian forces were losing manpower and equipment in their attempts to advance near the site.

The frontline town of Avdiivka, which sits just north of the city of Donetsk, is home to one of Europe’s largest coke plants, which has been an essential part of the country’s steel industry.

After heavily shelling the plant earlier in the war, Russian forces have continually attempted to advance in its direction.

The US-based think tank the Institute for the Study of War noted significant fighting in the area over the weekend.

The nearby town was bombarded, destroying a recently-rebuilt school, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the region’s military chief, said on Saturday.

A collage. Left: A tower block in Avdiivka, Donetsk region, after shelling. Right, a building complex in Avdiivka after shelling. Rooves are caved in and windows blasted.
Buildings in Avdiivka, Donetsk region, after Russian shelling on February 25, 2023, per the region’s military administrator.Pavlo Kyrylenko/Telegram

The plant itself was struck by a devastating Russian air raid on Sunday, injuring one employee, according to Musa Magodemov, the Donetsk Region’s people’s deputy.

Magodemov characterized the hit on the Su-25 as revenge, while celebrating the quick response.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also congratulated the 110th brigade in his nightly address, Ukrinform reported.

Also known as a “Frogfoot,” the Su-25 originated as a heavy Soviet-era jet designed to provide close air support to ground forces. It’s used by both Ukraine and Russia.

At least 16 Ukrainian Su-25s and 25 Russian ones have been destroyed or damaged since the start of the war, according to the weapons-tracking platform Oryx.

Climate change is causing droughts everywhere

Yahoo! News

Climate change is causing droughts everywhere

Ben Adler, Senior Editor – February 27, 2023

Caught in some tinder-dry brush, a sunken boat sits aslant on the dry lakebed.
A sunken boat reemerges in September 2022 in Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada, after unprecedented drought. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Much of the Northern Hemisphere is struggling with drought or the threat of drought, as Europe experiences an unusually warm, precipitation-free winter and swaths of the American West remain mired in an epic megadrought.

But it’s not just those pockets feeling the pain in the U.S. Most of the Western United States is in some form of drought, with areas of extreme drought concentrated in the Great Plains and Texas. A 23-year megadrought has left the Southwest at the driest it is estimated to have ever been in 1,200 years, based on tree-ring data.

That’s very bad news for Texas cotton farmers. The New York Times recently reported that “2022 was a disaster for upland cotton in Texas,” leading to short supplies and high prices of tampons and cloth diapers, among other products. “In the biggest loss on record, Texas farmers abandoned 74 percent of their planted crops — nearly six million acres — because of heat and parched soil, hallmarks of a megadrought made worse by climate change,” the Times noted.

Even recent heavy storms in California haven’t brought the state out of drought, because the precipitation deficit is so big.

A car throws up brown water on a flooded farm road.
A car drives through a flooded road in Gilroy, Calif., in January. (Michael Ho Wai Lee/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“I want to be clear that these storms — and the likely rain and snow we may get over the next few weeks — did not, nor will they fully, end the drought, at least not yet,” Yana Garcia, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, said last Wednesday. “We’re in better shape than we were two months ago, but we’re not out of the woods.”

Just days earlier, Lake Powell, the second-largest U.S. reservoir, dropped to a new record low. Powell is created by a Colorado River dam along the Arizona-Utah border, and if the reservoir goes much lower, experts warn, water won’t be able to pass through it. Millions of people who rely on the Colorado would then lose access to their water supply.

“If you can’t get water out of the dam, it means everyone downstream doesn’t get water,” Brad Udall, a water and climate scientist at Colorado State University, told USA Today. “That includes agriculture, cities like Los Angeles, San Diego and Phoenix.” The hydroelectric power plant for which the dam was constructed would also cease to function.

When the current 23-year megadrought plaguing the American West began, Lake Powell and Lake Mead — the largest U.S. reservoir, also on the Colorado — were 95% full. Now, they’re one-quarter full, according to Udall.

Bone-dry logs and driftwood seen against craggy formations of igneous rock.
Logs and driftwood on Sept. 8, 2022, near Hite, Utah, remain where they settled when Lake Powell was at its highest-ever water level. (David McNew/Getty Images)

In order to prevent what one California official calls “a doomsday scenario,” the Department of the Interior will have to impose reductions in water allotments for downriver users.

Scientists say that the underlying conditions — growing demand for water and naturally occurring periodic drought — are being exacerbated by climate change. Warmer temperatures cause more water to evaporate, making both droughts and heavy precipitation more extreme. Climate change makes droughts “more frequent, longer, and more severe,” according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

“It’s unfortunate that the largely natural occurrence of a drought has coincided with this increasing warming due to greenhouse gases,” Flavio Lehner, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Cornell University, said. “That has brought everything to a head much earlier than people thought it would.”

In Europe, an unusually warm, dry winter has forced ski resorts in the Alps to close for lack of snow, and left the canals of Venice running dry in Italy. Some of the city’s iconic gondolas are stuck in the mud. Europe experienced its third-warmest January on record, France has seen a record dry spell of 31 days without rain, and the Alps have received less than half their normal snowfall so far this winter.

Last Wednesday, Britain’s National Drought Group warned that one hot, dry spell would return England to the severe drought conditions it endured last summer.

A rubber tire sits on the dry, cracked earth of a reservoir floor, with a two-tier bridge in the distance.
Low water levels at Baitings Reservoir on Aug. 12, 2022, reveal an ancient packhorse bridge amid a heatwave in the U.K. at Ripponden, West Yorkshire. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The threat goes beyond tourism: A study published last month by researchers from Graz University of Technology in Austria warned that Europe’s drinking water supply has become “very precarious.” Much of Europe has been in a drought since 2018, and a review of satellite data of groundwater confirmed acute shortages in parts of France, Italy and Germany.

“A few years ago, I would never have imagined that water would be a problem here in Europe,” Torsten Mayer-Gürr, one of the researchers, said.

This development follows a summer of record-breaking heat waves and droughts that left thousands dead across the continent, as well as the worst wildfire season on record. Europe’s hot, dry summer coincided with acute droughts in the U.S. — even in normally wet regions like the Northeast — and in Asia. The dropping water levels revealed buried artifacts, including the wreckage of a German World War II warship in Serbia, dead bodies in Lake Mead and ancient Buddhist statues in China’s Yangtze River.

Last summer’s drought across the Northern Hemisphere was made 20 times more likely by climate change, according to an October 2022 study by World Weather Attribution, a group of international scientists who explore the link between global warming and the increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather events it causes.

An emaciated cow stands at the bottom of the water pan, with caked earth slopes rising behind that has been dried up for 4 months in Iresteno, a bordering town with Ethiopia, on September 1, 2022. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images)
An emaciated cow stands at the bottom of a water pan that has been dried up for 4 months, in Iresteno, a town bordering Ethiopia, on Sept. 1, 2022. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images)

The worst impacts of ongoing drought are being felt in the Horn of Africa, where millions of residents in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are contending with food insecurity due to poor harvests. The region faces a forecast of a sixth consecutive low rainy season this spring.

Meanwhile, it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere, and crop yields are being diminished by drought there as well. Argentina is a leading exporter of soy and corn, but its production is being drastically reduced this year as extremely high temperatures exacerbate a drought.

Climate scientists say that adaptation to climate change-related droughts is essential, including reducing water usage and building new infrastructure, like aquifers, to better manage water resources.

Are Cashews Actually Good for You? Registered Dietitians Share What You Need To Know


Are Cashews Actually Good for You? Registered Dietitians Share What You Need To Know

Emily Laurence – February 27, 2023

Find out how eating them regularly can impact your body.

Trying to get to the end of the debate about whether cashews are good for you can make you feel a little, well, nuts. Similar to potatoes and pickles, cashews are a food there’s a lot of confusion over when it comes to its health benefits (and even what it is—cashews are technically drupes, not nuts).

It’s time to put an end to the questioning. According to both registered dietitian Isabel Smith, RD, CDN and Foodtrainers founder Lauren Slayton, MS, RD, cashews are definitely a nutrient-rich food and have many health benefits.

Related: 11 Types of Nuts to Mix Into All Your Meals (And Get a Little Nutty!)

Cashew Nutrition Facts

First things first: What does the nutritional breakdown of cashews look like? Here’s the breakdown per 1 oz of cashews, per the USDA.

  • Calories: 157
  • Fat: 12 g
  • Sodium: 3 mg
  • Potassium: 187 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 9 g
  • Protein: 9 g
7 Benefits of Eating Cashews, According to Dietitians
1. They provide the body with energy

Half a cup of cashews has roughly seven grams of protein—a key nutrient that provides the body with energy. So if you’re looking for a quick snack to help you push through an afternoon slump or to help your body recover after a workout, a handful of cashews can be a good one to go for.

2. Incorporating cashews into your meal will keep you feeling full longer

In addition to protein, both dietitians say that cashew nuts are a good source of unsaturated fats. Both protein and unsaturated fats are important for satiety. If you have a piece of toast for breakfast, you’ll likely find yourself hungry shortly after. But if you spread cashew butter on it, you’ll be full for longer thanks to these two key nutrients.

3. Cashews are good for your heart

The unsaturated fats in cashew nuts don’t just help with satiety; Smith and Slayton both say that they’re good for heart health too. Smith points to scientific studies showing that a diet that includes unsaturated fats is linked to lower inflammationimproved blood pressure and lower cholesterol.

If you want to incorporate cashew nuts into your diet with the intention of supporting your heart, Slayton says to make sure you stick with unsalted ones, which are lower in sodium.

Related: 25 Foods That Are Good for Your Heart—From Fruits and Veggies to Heart-Healthy Nuts and Seeds

4. Eating cashew nuts supports mental health

“Cashews are a good source of magnesium and eating foods high in magnesium can help those with anxiety or depression,” Slayton says. Sure, snacking on cashews isn’t going to instantly transform your mood, but there is strong science showing a connection between what we eat and how we feel.

5. Cashews are good for cognitive health

There’s another way that cashew nuts support brain health. Slayton says that they contain selenium, a nutrient that’s linked to supporting memory and cognition. “Additionally, they contain phenolic acids that have protective brain benefits and may even decrease or prevent beta-amyloid plaques in the brain,” Smith says. “Plus, they contain different vitamins and minerals, all supporting brain health, including vitamin E, magnesium, copper, and zinc.” Add it to your list of brain-healthy foods, right along with salmon, eggs and berries!

Related: Brain Health Experts Agree That This Is the Absolute Worst Food for Your Mind

6. They help prevent high levels of chronic inflammation

Many of the nutrients in cashew nuts—including their unsaturated fats and polyphenols (a type of antioxidant)—are linked to lowering chronic inflammation, which benefits the body as a whole. High levels of inflammation can lead to a wide range of health problems, including certain cancers, neurological decline and chronic pain, which is why it’s so beneficial to eat a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods, including cashews.

7. Eating cashews supports digestive health

Slayton says that cashews contain two nutrients that are majorly good for digestion: fiber and magnesium. Fiber is important for adding bulk to stool and keeping the digestive system functioning properly while magnesium is linked to reducing constipation.

The exception to this is if you are sensitive to FODMAPs, foods that are tougher for the body to digest. Smith points out that cashews are a high-FODMAP food so anyone on a low-FODMAP diet should either avoid or minimize their consumption.

Tips for Integrating Cashews Into Your Diet

When shopping for cashew nuts, Slayton reiterates her advice about sticking to ones that are unsalted, which are lower in sodium. Smith adds that it’s also a good idea to avoid cashews that are roasted in oil, as the type of oil used tends to be inflammatory.

Smith also says to avoid bulk bins. “I know they are often more convenient and cheaper, but nuts in bulk bins are consistently exposed to air which can lead to them going bad and oxidizing before you even get to take them home,” she explains.

In terms of incorporating cashew nuts into your diet, there’s no shortage of ways to do so. Cashews can be enjoyed on their own or used as an ingredient in many dishes, including oatmeal, yogurt, stir-fry, chicken dishes and salads. “Cashews have a creamy quality. Soaked and blended cashews are good for plant-based dressings and dips,” Slayton recommends. This is why cashews are often used as the base for many vegan kinds of cheese. You can also find cashew butter at most grocery stores, which can taste delicious on toast, on sweet potatoes or paired with a banana.

However you decide to integrate cashew nuts into your life, your whole body will benefit. Consider the debate on whether or not they’re healthy officially settled.

As climate change alters Michigan forests, some work to see if and how the woods can adapt

Detroit Free Press

As climate change alters Michigan forests, some work to see if and how the woods can adapt

Keith Matheny, Detroit Free Press – February 27, 2023

It’s as integral a part of Michigan’s fabric as its lakes and rivers: more than 20 million acres of forest land − the hickory and oak trees of southern Michigan giving way to forests of sugar maple, birch and evergreens that surround northbound travelers.

But a warming climate is harming and transforming the woods, with further, even more dramatic impacts projected by near the end of the century.

Michigan has perhaps the most exceptional forest makeup in North America, as boundaries of multiple forest types converge here: The vast boreal forest, its cold-hardy conifer trees stretching far into Canada, dips into the Upper Peninsula and northern Michigan. A diverse mixed zone then gives way to the great Eastern Broadleaf Forest across the central and southern Lower Peninsula, dominated by beech, maple, oak and hickory trees. Even the grassland prairies of the Plains states extend into far southwest Michigan.

It’s the changes happening first at these border zones that give Michigan a front-row seat to climate change impacts on the forest the rest of the 21st century.

Climate change invites invasive weeds, bugs

Evidence of the warming climate has already been observed. Michigan’s average annual temperature is about 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer now than it was in 1950; and the Great Lakes region is warming faster than the rest of the United States, temperature data shows. Scientists point to greenhouse gas emissions from human fossil fuel-burning as the leading driver of the warming.

Climate change carries a host of stresses for the woods. Milder winters are leading to earlier, longer growing seasons, often better news for invasive, undesirable shrubs and weeds than for desired tree species. Less-frigid winters also improve invasive insects’ survival, fueling a northward migration of problems such as emerald ash borer, hemlock wooly adelgid and beech bark disease, which is caused by an interaction between an insect and fungus. And the hotter, drier conditions many scientists predict in coming decades will leave the tree species dominating the far north struggling to adapt.

“We expect to see species range shifts − species at the southern edge of their ranges, those boreal-associated species like black spruce, quaking aspen and white birch, may lose suitable habitat in the state,” said Ryan Toot, a watershed forestry specialist with the U.S. Forest Service based in St. Paul, Minnesota.

That’s messing with one of Michigan’s most golden of gooses. The forest products industry provides 96,000 jobs and contributes $20 billion annually to Michigan’s economy, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The north woods are a vital part of hunting, fishing and other tourism that brings in more than $20 billion more.

A view of Lake Michigan at the Clay Cliffs Natural Area in Leland on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022.
(Photo: Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press)
A view of Lake Michigan at the Clay Cliffs Natural Area in Leland on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022. (Photo: Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press)

University of Michigan forestry ecologist Peter Reich this month published the findings of a five-year study exposing seedling trees of the boreal and mixed hardwoods forest in northeastern Minnesota to increased temperatures and decreased summer rainfall — mimicking the projected warming and conditions under two different scenarios, one where considerable effort is made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change; another with more business-as-usual emissions. They found even the more modest emissions scenarios had a devastating effect on the young trees.

“The prognosis for the forest is not great,” said Reich, director of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Global Change Biology.

“It may be we are at a tipping point beyond which these northern species just can’t hack it. Nature is really resilient, but we are pushing it really far, maybe up to its boundaries.”

More:Climate change is already hurting Michigan’s cherry, apple crops — and it could get worse

More:Great Lakes heat waves are already causing chaos for fish — with worst to come

‘A uniquely long-term experiment’

Reich has been experimenting in the boreal forest in northeastern Minnesota for 14 years, trying to better understand how oncoming climate change is going to influence the forest in the transition zone where colder and more temperate tree species converge.

“We see that many of these spruce and fir forests are doing poorly,” he said. “But temperature is changing, precipitation is changing, fire regimes are changing. There are more insects, we’ve changed management, there is rising CO2, there is changing ozone pollution — it’s hard to know which one of those is driving the change when you just observe forests.”

So Reich and his research team set out to control particular variables. They installed heat lamps and underground warming cables in outdoor plots, exposing nine species of seedlings to increased temperatures over the ambient weather: boreal species, including white spruce, balsam fir, jack pine and paper birch; and more temperate species, including white pine, red oak, burr oak, sugar maple and red maple.

Two levels of potential 21st-century climate warming were used: roughly 1.6 degrees Celsius (about 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit) and roughly 3.1 C (about 5.6 F) above ambient temperatures.

“Unfortunately, you’re going to get to either one (of those temperature increases) in any scenario that’s realistic,” Reich said.

“You can think of it as what we are going to get to in 40 or 50 years if we slow down climate change, versus if we don’t.”

On some seedling plots, the researchers also captured some of the summer rains, preventing the water from reaching the young trees’ roots, to simulate drier conditions that could be coming with later-century warming. Control plots were also planted, allowing seedlings of the same tree species to experience natural conditions.

The findings surprised Reich and his team. Even the more modest levels of warming had a big impact.

“Even the spruce and fir, which are the most boreal of the species, we thought they would do a little bit more poorly with 1.5 degrees Celsius warming — maybe 5% or 10% slower growth and 5% or 10% more mortality,” he said. “But fir in particular had 30% to 40% poorer growth and survival. Quite a dramatic change with what’s not really a very big temperature change.”

While more southerly tree species might one day expand their ranges northward to exploit where boreal species are failing, that’s not likely to be an orderly transition.

“What’s going to fill the gap are shrubs — either native shrubs or invasive shrubs, the buckthorns and honeysuckles of the world, expanding north,” Reich said.

“You might end up with a forest zone that for the next 50, 100, 150 years is kind of trashy — is neither economically nor ecologically what we want.

“You’re not going to get any two-by-fours out of buckthorn.”

The ‘climate change help desk’ for foresters

The U.S. Forest Service has been thinking about climate change’s impacts on the woods longer than most.  It founded the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science in 2009, a collaborative effort among the service, universities, conservation organizations, the forest industry and landowners to develop adaptation strategies for the changing landscape.

“NIACS is like the climate change help desk, or a climate change phone-a-friend service, for land managers of all kinds, all across the Midwest and Northeast,” said Stephen Handler, a climate change specialist for NIACS based at the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station in Houghton.

“When we started at NIACS with this interest of educating people about climate change impacts and thinking about how to adapt, we were in front of a lot of critical audiences. And now, more often, it’s more like folks are drawing us in.  Saying ‘We are ready to talk about this. We recognize things are shifting and we need to be agile and keep up with the change.’ “

The group provides the best, most recent available science to whoever asks: the timber industry, state natural resources agencies, parks managers, private landowners. It includes regional evaluations of which tree species are expected to adapt poorly to climate change, which are expected to do better and perhaps expand their ranges, and those in the middle. Through checklists, interested parties can conduct their own vulnerability assessments.

“They are making the choices for themselves, which we think is the appropriate way to go,” he said. “Because every land manager is going to have a different appetite for risk and a different set of values.”

Family and small private landowners account for about 54% of forest land ownership in Michigan. How climate change’s impacts on the woods are responded to is largely in the hands of individuals, families, companies and communities.

“You’re going to have a pretty diverse set of choices being made across the landscape − preservation in some areas, encouraging change in other areas, a lot of places in the middle,” Handler said. “That could be a strength.”

Is assisted migration part of the answer?

A great debate among those who care about the climate-changed forest is how much attention and effort should be spent on trying to maintain what exists in an area now and how much should be devoted to preparation for what may better fit future conditions.

NIACS climate adaptation specialist Madeline Baroli, founder of the Assisted Tree Range Expansion Project, pauses during planting in northwest Lower Michigan in the spring of 2020.
NIACS climate adaptation specialist Madeline Baroli, founder of the Assisted Tree Range Expansion Project, pauses during planting in northwest Lower Michigan in the spring of 2020.

Madeline Baroli has her boots on the ground and her hands dirty, conducting a big experiment across northwest Lower Michigan to help clarify the answer. Baroli, a NIACS climate adaptation specialist, also founded the Assisted Tree Range Expansion Project, a community science experiment that started in 2020 from her postgraduate work with the Leelanau, Grand Traverse and Benzie county conservation districts.

“Really, it’s all about supporting the resilience of our forests by planting and monitoring certain select tree species that are projected to have future suitable habitat in this region,” she said.

The nuances can get controversial. In some parts of the country, transplants introducing new tree types generated backlash. Others are experimenting with the concept of assisted population migration — taking existing tree species in northern Michigan, such as white pine, but introducing the genetics of trees of that species grown in, say, Ohio or Kentucky, trees more adapted to a warmer climate.

Baroli’s focus, instead, is on what scientists call assisted range expansion, taking trees already in Michigan but whose range stops only partway up the Lower Peninsula, and planting them farther north.

“So we’re really just expanding that bubble, that range a little farther, to match what the projections from the U.S. Forest Service Climate Change Tree Atlas have modeled,” she said.

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The six trees selected for the initial plantings were selected using those models and through conversations with local professional foresters and other natural resources professionals, she said. The first trees chosen for the project were shagbark hickory, tulip trees, sassafras, black tupelo, hackberry and swamp white oak.

Baroli noted that the trees already have some presence Up North, and would potentially be more established there were it not for the fragmentation of their range by highways and agriculture in the southern and mid-Lower Peninsula.

“That’s where I feel we really sort of owe it to the forest to lend a helping hand − because we’ve also altered the landscape in such a way that it limits natural range expansion,” she said.

The first plantings were in the spring of 2020 − just as COVID-19 began to disrupt life.

“We were doing our tree sale, selling the seedlings and trying to get the word out there,” she said. “Luckily, everybody was migrating online, and looking for socially distant things to do. So we really had a pretty successful first two seasons.”

Over 2020 and 2021, more than 2,000 trees were planted by individuals, community groups and families. Baroli did not yet have figures for plantings from this spring.

People are asked to report over time how the trees’ growth progresses.

“What I hope, what’s really important, is just keeping forests as forests,” Baroli said. “At the end of the day, we aren’t really in control of exactly what a forest is going to look like or be − we can’t be. The idea is to reduce that fragmentation … ensure the forests themselves have a chance to adapt, on their own with our help.”

Deer, disease amplifying tree threats

Visitors to the Leelanau Conservancy’s Palmer Woods, a natural area of more than 1,000 acres, have seen something different in recent years: Young trees with protective tubes around their trunks and a large, 35-acre portion of the preserve surrounded by a large wire fence.

It’s all efforts to curb what’s one of the biggest killers of young trees in the region: deer munching on them.

“A lot of the seedlings don’t really have the chance to get to the adult stage,” said Becky Hill, director of natural areas and preserves for the conservancy. “In some of the forests where we have heavy (deer) browsing, you see a lot of adult trees and a lot of seedlings, but not a lot of in-between trees.”

Becky Hill, Leelanau Conservancy's Director of Natural Areas and Preserves checks on the growth of a sassafras tree in a protective tube at the Whaleback Natural Area in Leland on Wednesday, August 24, 2022. The Conservancy planted around 200 trees this past spring.
Becky Hill, Leelanau Conservancy’s Director of Natural Areas and Preserves checks on the growth of a sassafras tree in a protective tube at the Whaleback Natural Area in Leland on Wednesday, August 24, 2022. The Conservancy planted around 200 trees this past spring.

It’s a problem expected to worsen as the region further warms. Milder winters will allow more deer to survive, breed and then feed on the young trees.

“Foresters have a really keen eye on how that next generation of trees is coming in,” Baroli said. “Young trees are more sensitive to things than older trees. First off, the deer love them; they are great deer food. And we have a huge deer population.

“If they are eating those young trees, those young trees aren’t growing up into a future forest. And then if you just have older trees dying off, it’s a problem.”

Beech trees might be nearly doomed

Another pest devastating trees in the region is beech bark disease. A tiny insect called a scale wounds the tree by piercing its bark with sharp mouth parts and sucking out sap. A type of fungus can then enter and infect the tree, weakening it over years until mature trees, almost hollowed out, snap dead.

Milder winters predicted in future warming scenarios will allow more of the insects to survive and infect trees.

“It’s pretty much devasted the population of beech; we are expecting 99% (beech tree) die-off,” Baroli said.

A dead beech tree in the center at the Clay Cliffs Natural Area in Leland on Wednesday, August 24, 2022.
A dead beech tree in the center at the Clay Cliffs Natural Area in Leland on Wednesday, August 24, 2022.
White fuzzy scale insects on the trunk of a beech tree at the Clay Cliffs Natural Area in Leland on Wednesday, August 24, 2022.
White fuzzy scale insects on the trunk of a beech tree at the Clay Cliffs Natural Area in Leland on Wednesday, August 24, 2022.

Emerald ash borer is similarly killing millions of ash trees across Michigan.

The Leelanau Conservancy is using the unfortunate circumstance to adopt some of the NIACS’s recommended population migration trees prepared for a warmer climate.

“When we have a die-off where a lot of beech and ash have died, suddenly in our forest we might have a sunny opening,” Hill said. “There are certain species that really need more sunshine to get established − cherries, oaks, other types of species that thrive in those conditions. If we can help get them established, that succession of growth will happen over time.”

The conservancy also hopes to use new tree planting to combat the invasive autumn olive, a shrub “that just takes over fields to the point where you see these autumn olive forests,” she said.

“We’re hoping to get some species growing in there, to get established and maybe help shade out some of the invasive shrubs while creating good wildlife habitat.”

The changing climate is bringing ecological changes “so rapidly,” Hill said.

“It just feels like it’s harder,” she said. “You see the decline of bird species, insects, they are having a hard time keeping up with all of these drastic changes.”

The Michigan forest of 2100 − what will it look like?

Reich envisions a significantly transformed northern Michigan woods by century’s end.

“My hunch is by 2100, we’ll lose most of the spruce and fir,” he said. “We might lose some of the white cedar. The forests will be scrubbier and more open. They may still have a mix of species but will be less diverse … a few areas that are sandier and drier may even convert to grasslands.”

Those changes will have unpredictable impacts on animal habitat, the state’s timber industry and how people can use the forests for recreation.

And it may become a negative feedback loop, accelerating and worsening climate change.  Forests take carbon out of the atmosphere and store it in soils and roots and their wood.

Leelanau Conservancy's Palmer Woods Forest Reserve in Maple City on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022.
Leelanau Conservancy’s Palmer Woods Forest Reserve in Maple City on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022.

Peat forests, the wet fens prevalent in the Upper Peninsula, make up only 3% of the globe’s forest land but store 30% of soil carbon. A square meter of U.P. or Canadian peatland holds five times the carbon as a square meter of Amazon rainforest.

In a 2020 U.S. Forest Service study similar to Reich’s, peatlands were exposed to controlled, increased temperatures. The results showed the warming causes peatlands to release carbon faster than anticipated, converting them from carbon-storers to carbon-emitters.

“It could be a double-whammy; instead of helping slow climate change, they would be accelerating it,” Reich said.

Tree planting and assisted migration approaches can have some local benefits. But those are ultimately just Band-Aids, he said.

“In order to maintain the economic value of our forests, we do need to manage them to try to make them as resilient as possible in the face of these changes,” he said. “But there are real limits to how much we can do. There are vast forests out there — we don’t have the personnel or the money to try to thin all of the forests and replant them.

“We really need to work at the root cause of this problem, which is climate change.”