In California: Deadly virus in rabbits threatens to upend some Western ecosystems

I’m Winston Gieseke, philanthropy and special sections editor for The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, as always wishing you a safe and informed weekend. But first, here are some of today’s headlines from this great state of ours.

In California brings you top Golden State stories and commentary from across the USA TODAY Network and beyond. Get it free, straight to your inbox.

Deadly virus in rabbits threatens to upend some Western ecosystems

a rabbit (Photo: California Department of Fish and Wildlife)

While hiking Imperial County’s Jacumba Wilderness on Feb. 28, a local environmental advocate reported seeing 23 dead jackrabbits. Knowing predators that killed jackrabbits usually devoured their prey, she thought there must be another explanation for the deaths.

She surmised the culprit might be rabbit hemorrhagic disease.

Caused by a deadly and highly contagious virus, the disease affects both wild and domestic populations of lagomorphs, a subset of species that includes hares, rabbits and pikas. Since March of last year, government labs have confirmed cases of rabbit hemorrhagic disease across the West, with the epicenter in the Southwest and Southern California.

Without any reasonable method of distributing a vaccine to wild animals, the disease is expected to continue spreading. And entire food chains could take a hit if staple species of prey like jackrabbits decline.

According to Hayley Lanier, assistant curator for mammals at the Sam Noble Museum in Oklahoma and co-chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s lagomorph specialist group, the disease can cause up to 90% mortality.

“That has huge implications for not just rabbits but everything that eats rabbits,” she explained. “Rabbits are this very important segment of the food chain.”

The state is asking residents to report dead rabbits and hares they may come across and to disinfect their shoes and wash their hands if in impacted areas.

California weekly unemployment claims declined last week

Notices from the California Employment Development Department. (Photo: Al Franco/The Desert Sun)

New weekly unemployment claims in the Golden State declined last week compared with the week prior, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

New claims dropped to 69,895 in the week ending April 10, down from 145,540 the week before, the labor department said.

By comparison, last year at this time, there were 655,472 new claims in California as businesses closed their doors and laid off workers at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Across the United States, unemployment claims dropped to 576,000 last week, down 193,000 claims from 769,000 the week prior on a seasonally adjusted basis. This marks the lowest level of new U.S. jobless claims since before the pandemic.

However, Sarah House, a senior economist at Wells Fargo, noted that last week’s claims are still on par with some of the worst weeks of the 2009 recession and pointed to California’s decrease of more than 75,000 claims between last week and the week prior as a major driver of the overall U.S. decline in claims.

Los Angeles County to reopen select libraries Monday

Bookworms in L.A. County will be able to enter certain county library branches on Monday, April, 19, 2021. Select city branches are expected to follow May 3. (Photo: mentatdgt,

After more than a year of COVID-related closures, the Los Angeles Times reports that select branches of the L.A. County Library will open Monday for “limited in-person services,” such as browsing, checking out books, surfing the internet and asking the reference desk for assistance. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Public Library — which is separate from the county library — is expected to reopen 38 branches on May 3 with similar limitations.

Safety precautions will include mandated face masks and social distancing, signs guiding foot traffic, disposable keyboard covers at computer stations and, of course, plenty of hand sanitizer.

While the state’s reopening blueprint allows for libraries in orange-tiered counties to reopen without limits, L.A. County health officials are limiting libraries’ capacity to a maximum of 75%. Going one step further, officials at the county library say they plan to limit capacity to 50%, which will be monitored by electronic signs at the entrances showing the number of people inside the buildings.

Lawyer: S.F. school renaming lawsuit is not ‘frivolous’

This is a stock shot of a school (Photo: Mary Taylor,

The quest to rename 44 schools in San Francisco continues, despite the school board’s change of heart on the matter — and the fight is far from frivolous.

Last week, the San Francisco school board voted unanimously to change its position on the renaming of 44 schools that bear the names of individuals believed to be associated with slavery, oppression, genocide and colonization.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the school board deemed the lawsuit “nothing more than a transparent attempt to thwart a lawful and duly-noticed action with which it disagrees,” and that it “wishes to avoid the distraction and wasteful expenditure of public funds in frivolous litigation.”

However, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs has requested that the school board remove any language from the resolution that refers to the lawsuit as “frivolous.”

The attorney, Paul Scott, has also requested that the school board pay $1,000 to each of the six nonprofits that acted as petitioners in the case. If not, he says, his law firm will “simply proceed in the normal course to collect our fees and costs as permitted by statute.”

In January, the school board voted 6-1 to rename the schools, a move supported by some parents who say they don’t want their children wearing school sweatshirts bearing the names of prominent racists.

A grass-roots movement wants to merge Idaho with parts of Oregon and Northern California

A group called Move Oregon’s Border For a Greater Idaho is pitching a plan to lop off about three-fourths of Oregon and eventually add part of Northern California to form Greater Idaho. The effort would create a politically red state that backers say would be insulated from the liberal influence of large urban centers. (Photo: Move Oregon’s Border For a Greater Idaho)

It seems conservative North State residents upset with the political climate in Sacramento think they’d be better off in Idaho.

A grass-roots movement called Move Oregon’s Border For a Greater Idaho would like to see Idaho’s boundary swallow three-fourths of like-minded Oregon and eventually encompass parts of the North State and southeastern Washington.

The proposed southern boundary takes in all or parts of Siskiyou, Shasta, Tehama, Del Norte, Modoc and Lassen counties and includes beachfront property on the Southern Oregon coast.

Supporters of the idea say rural Oregon voters are dominated by liberal urban areas such as Portland and would rather join conservative Idaho.

Keaton Ems, a spokesman for the group, says rural Northern Californians feel a kinship with Southern Oregon residents because both feel shunned by political circles in their state capitals — but their voices would be heard in Boise.

Backers say residents in Northern California and southeastern Washington also yearn for less government oversight and long to become part of a red state insulated from the liberal influence of large urban centers that tend to vote Democratic.

Mark Simmons, an eastern Oregon rancher and former speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, said: “We don’t need the state breathing down our necks all the time, micromanaging our lives and trying to push us into a foreign way of living.”

In the 2020 election, President Joe Biden easily won Washington, Oregon and California in November, while President Donald Trump carried Idaho with 64%.

Keeping your lawn beautiful

Lawns are starting to grow again, so it's time to find the best picks to clip grass (Photo: Getty Images)

Planning on doing any work outside this weekend? has some tips on how to properly maintain your grass and keep it looking its best. While no two lawns are exactly alike and may differ by turf species, soil type, climate or location, there are several key elements of a good lawn maintenance program, including mowing, watering, fertilizing, aerating and dethatching. I’ll admit I have no idea what “dethatching” is, but it sounds important. Hopefully my gardener knows about it.

In California is a roundup of news from across USA Today network newsrooms. Also contributing: Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle. We’ll be back in your inbox tomorrow with the latest headlines.

As the philanthropy and special sections editor at The Desert Sun, Winston Gieseke writes about nonprofits, fundraising and people who give back in the Coachella Valley. Reach him at [email protected]

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