March 21, 2018

It Gladdens the Hearts of the Villagers . . .

Free wood — and more to come!
. . . when someone says that there is free firewood down at the Community Building. I got a couple of loads in my little trailer. That's a neighbor's bigger trailer on the far side of the pile.

All the wood is coming from private land burnt-over in a forest fire several years ago, hence the black bark.

Men from the SWIFT crew (state inmate firefighters) are felling trees and cutting them into rounds, part of a post-fire clean-up and flood-mitigation effort.  They fall, we haul.

And I have three more to fall as well on my own place. Next year, no more "just in time" firewood inventory. *

* Usage note — even though I am not in the Pacific Northwest.

March 04, 2018

Western Snowpack, March 4, 2018

Click to embiggen.
Since I live in one of the tan areas, this snow-moisture map reminds me of 2002 — the year of the Hayman Fire, the year that M. and I went clear to Nelson, B.C., to see some greenery.

February 02, 2018

A Chance for Bear Cubs on Pike's Peak

“To me, it is cruel to keep an animal like this in a cage,” [Cec Sanders] said. “No guarantees on what happens to them. But at least they get a chance.”  (Video: Denver Post.)

The Denver Post profiles some southern Colorado wildlife researchers and their orphaned bears, in connection with . . . I don't want to call them "bear-human" conflicts, because it's pretty one-sided.

Actually, as our non-winter wore on and the bears got fatter and fatter, the Sanders (whom I know) were feeling forgotten, wonder if Colorado Parks and Wildlife was ever going to come collect the bears.

On the other hand, they realized that the relatively warm and dry winter might not click the bears' hibernation switch right away. (Possibly related,  about two weeks ago, something walked away with a suet feeder that had been hanging by my house — nothing left but its dangling chain.)

January 27, 2018

Windmills, Missing Cattle, and Free Online Hunter Ed

The model on the left needs a jacket that fits her, don't you think?
Outdoor gear made from women's bodies-- still too hard to find (NRA American Hunter magazine.)
The NRA is putting together free online hunter-education classes — they are only acceptable for a certificate in three states right now, but safety is safety, right? Here is an article about them from American Hunter.

• If you hunt on the High Plains, your eye is drawn to windmills? Is it still pumping? If there water there that might draw quail or whatever? You can still buy one if you need it. Otherwise, here is a good history of American windmills.

•  Range cattle are disappearing in the San Luis Valley, reports Saguache Today. And this being the SLV, the writer can't help write the expected lede: "Missing Livestock. For many residents, these two words usually conjure up one of two images: outlaw-cowboy rustlers or visiting-alien mutilators."
Last November, the largest herd of 46 was reported to have vanished from the Double X Cattle Company as they were out running in the Cumbers Forest Allotment. In total, 114 head of cattle went missing in Colorado during the month of November. And those were the ones that were officially reported.
But seriously, a really big rustling ring? Or maybe some insurance or loan fraud going on.

A  public meeting was held last Thursday—  sounds like it was mostly devoted to reporting procedures.

January 21, 2018

Litte Dogs Need Armor Too -- Maybe More!

Dog armor with "HawkShield."
At first I thought this was one of those Internet spoofs, like Jihawg ammunition (contains pork, for use on Muslim terrorists) — just a website, no actual product.

For everyone in the wildland-urban interface, it's armor to product your smallish dog from coyotes and other threats.

And "HawkShield," because raptors are waiting for Max the Llasa Apso to go out on the grass to "do his business."

After all, if livestock guardian dogs can wear spiked colors, why shouldn't little Max have a "vest is made from ballistic nylon reinforced with a special stab-resistant Kevlar® that was originally developed by the U.S. Government for prison guard uniforms."

They'll call him Mad Max down at the dog park.

January 18, 2018

Navajo Nation in Real Estate Rampage

This has not been getting much coverage outside of southern Colorado, but the Navajo Nation has purchased two large ranches in Huerfano and Custer counties, along the eastern edge of the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) Range.

First was part of hair products-magnate's Tom Redmond's Wolf Springs Ranch (16,000 acres, 6,574 ha), mostly in Huerfano County. Next was the adjoining Boyer Ranch in Custer County (12,500 acres, 5,057 ha).

The photo on the banner of this blog was taken at the Wolf Springs Ranch in northwest Huerfano County.

From the Wet Mountain Tribune:
The acquisition extends the Nation’s presence in the county by another 12,505 acres for an approximate total of 28,855 acres straddling both Huerfano and Custer counties. The land is significant for the Navajo, as it is near the sacred mountain Tsisnaasjini’, also known as Blanca Peak. 
In announcing the purchase, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said , “It is a blessing for the Navajo Nation to once again have land in the state of Colorado. When land was being designated by the federal government they refused to include Colorado as part of Navajo. We now own more of our ancestral land with the purchase of Boyer Ranch. It is a beautiful place surrounded by mountain ranges in the shadows of Tsisnaasjini’.

He went on to speak about the economic opportunities the new addition brings to the Nation: “This is a place where we can develop the Navajo Beef program and eventually provide more opportunities for our ranchers. There is a good market for quality beef in restaurants and grocery stores and Navajo can meet that demand.”

The Nation’s portion of the Wolf Springs Ranch includes about 400 head of cattle, and over 900 head of bison.

The importance of the Boyer Ranch to the Nation goes beyond ranching however, as the ranch has early priority water rights, and the gravel pit there could be used to develop Nation infrastructure. Vice President Jonathan Nez also sees the potential to one day develop an athletic program that takes advantage of the high-altitude of the land.

“We have some remarkable athletes on the Navajo Nation,” he notes, “and this would be a great opportunity to train our youth and celebrate health and wellness. The land there is beautiful and it is not just for us but also for future generations.”
In other news, restaurant workers in Westcliffe, Silver Cliff, and Walsenburg are learning how to say "Yah-ta-hey" with the correct intonation.

(In other other news, insiders report that the Navajo Nation will petition the U. S. Board on  Geographic Names to rename the Sangre de Cristo Range the Monster-Slayer Mountains.)

Wolf Springs Ranch had been involved in Colorado Parks and Wildlife's "Ranching for Wildlife" program, which is a money-maker for the landowner as well as opening up private land to a limited amount of big-game hunting.  I wonder what will happen with that.

January 10, 2018

Not the Best Snowpack Map I Ever Saw

So 2017 was a wet year overall here in southern Colorado but 2018 is starting to look . . . different.  Veteran journalist Allen Best, writing at Mountain Town News, notes,
At the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory near Crested Butte, billy barr (his choice of capitalization) has been keeping track of snow and temperatures since 1974. This winter has been surpassed by the lack of snow only by that of 1976-77. What is also notable about barr’s weather records for this winter is the string of highest temperatures, including the highest temperature in his data base for New Year’s Day: 37 degrees. . . .

From Pagosa Springs, Colo., comes this memory from Rod Proffitt:  “I must be getting to be an old timer. I remember the 1976-77 winter very well. I had just moved from Aspen to Cripple Creek to start a law practice, but I had promised some friends I would come back for Winterskol that year.
Believe it or not, I was able to drive over Independence Pass mid-January that year. I had a cousin living in Crested Butte that year. With no snow, the perma-frost went down below the water lines and froze up the whole town. They had a miserable winter that year.
Cripple Creek rarely had a snow cover so their wood pipes were much deeper and survived that winter, but in the Spring a mountain goat died and fell into one of the reservoirs on Pikes Peak. The whole town of Cripple Creek got sick that year. Yes, it was a memorable year….”the year of no snow” to us old timers.”
Best's Mountain Town News e-magazine is the kind of local journalism that we need more of. I'm just waiting for Foothills Town News.

With some sort of collective foresight, Colorado voters had already killed a bond issue that would have helped finance holding the 1976 Winter Olympics in Denver and in various ski resorts. And that was a Good Thing (TM).  

December 30, 2017

Medical Marijuana and Firearms Purchases (3)

A year ago I speculated what would happen if the authorities went after gun buyers who marked "No" to the question, "Are you an an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana [and list of other drugs]?
on the federal form 4473, completed by every purchaser  were also on their states' medical marijuana registries.

Shortly afterward, I noted that the federal Department of Justice was still taking a hard line, despite the number of states with legal medical marijuana.

Last month it has happened — or almost happened — or will yet happen — in Honolulu. As Tom Knighton wrote at Bearing Arms,
Hawaii is one of the handful of states that maintain a gun registry. They know every lawfully held firearm in the state and who has it. As a result, it was easy for law enforcement to compare the two databases and figure out who owned guns and was getting medical marijuana.
Now, he continues, they are "reviewing the policy" after getting a lot of pushback, not just from gun owners/buyers but from the larger pool of cannabis users too.

The problem remains, as the Honolulu police are happy to state, "Federal law prohibits firearm possession for unlawful users of controlled substances. Pot is classified as a controlled substance under federal law."  So just saying, "I'm a medical user, I'm not an addict fercrissakes" would go nowhere in a federal court.

So when do we get national legalization?

December 22, 2017

Crazy Mountaineers and Dead Mountaineers

Death looks so clean on Everest.
(Phurban Sherpa/New York Times)
My high- altitude mountaineering is limited to peaks in the Rockies and Cascades, but I have a couple of times seen . . . personality changes . . . at altitude.
In a new study of psychotic episodes at extreme altitudes, researchers have determined that high-altitude psychosis is a stand-alone medical illness, rather than a condition stemming from acute altitude sickness as had been previously believed.

High-altitude psychosis is a fairly well-known illness and is frequently mentioned in mountain literature. For example, a mountaineer may suddenly think he is being chased, start talking nonsense or change his route without any real reason.
Read the rest: "High-Altitude Psychosis Seen as Distinct from Altitude Sickness."

No, I am not saying people who climb Mount Everest are crazy. Absolutely not. But some people die there. There are famous ones, like George Leigh Mallory (1886–1924), whose body was found — and deliberately left after study — in 1999.  (Some people cherish the thought that he and climbing partner Andrew Irvine might have been the first to summit Everest, but it is unlikely.)

And there are others:
Nepal officials estimate that about 200 bodies remain scattered across Everest. A few are so familiar, so well preserved by the subfreezing temperatures, that they serve as macabre mileposts for the living, including one corpse commonly called Green Boots.
Others are better-identified:
Not far from where they found Ghosh’s body that morning was another body that Dawa Finjhok Sherpa estimated had been there for five or six years. And somewhere nearby, they knew, was the body of a doctor from Alabama who had died a few days before. There was no plan to bring it down.
Yes, leaving the body means there is more money in the estate for the heirs, right? Bringing a body off Everest is expensive!

But some Bengali families were willing to pay, for their own cultural reasons, which makes a fascinating New York Times Magazine story, "Deliverance from 27,000 Feet." Excellent, unflinching photography too.

December 21, 2017

Early 2018 Drought Forecast — La Niña Winter

Click to embiggen

It's snowing this solstice morning here at Owl House, but judging from the radar, we are not going to get more than another little two-inch storm, enough to keep the fire danger down for a few days.

If you want more information on weather predictions, visit the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center for a whole bunch of maps.

Yes, it is definitely shaping up to  be a La Niña winter:

La Niña is predicted to persist through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2017-18 by nearly all models in the IRI/CPC plume [Fig. 6] and in the North American Multi-Model Ensemble (NMME; [Fig. 7]). Based on the latest observations and forecast guidance, forecasters favor the peak of a weak-to-moderate La Niña during the winter (3-month Niño-3.4 values between -0.5°C and -1.5°C). In summary, La Niña is likely (exceeding ~80%) through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2017-18, with a transition to ENSO-neutral most likely during the mid-to-late spring (click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chance of each outcome for each 3-month period).

La Niña is anticipated to affect temperature and precipitation across the United States during the upcoming months (the 3-month seasonal temperature and precipitation outlooks will be updated on Thursday December 21st). The outlooks generally favor above-average temperatures and below-median precipitation across the southern tier of the United States, and below-average temperatures and above-median precipitation across the northern tier of the United States. 

December 17, 2017

Why Are Avocados So Expensive? You're Buying These Guys' Ammo

M. has been fuming at the grocery store. Avocados, $2 apiece. It seems like a lot — and I know that many are just thrown away or, sometimes, end up in the donations for the bears at the wildlife rehab center. (We watch the cartons unloaded with undisguised envy, but those furry guys need the calories!)

There is drought. And there is organized crime. (I am surprised no one is talking about "blood avocados.")

From the BBC: "The Avocado Police Protecting Mexico's Green Gold."

"Police" is a bit of a misnomer: These are local growers' militia, or autodefensa as they say. Some apparently receive official support on the municipal level, so I suppose that makes them "police."
Mexico produces about 45% of the world's avocados and Michoacán is Mexico's largest avocado-producing state.
From here alone, nearly two billion avocados are shipped to the US every year.
And because the industry is a lucrative one, it has been the target of organised crime.

As you enter Tancítaro, there are a series of checkpoints. They are known as filtros, or filters, by people here.
Some are more informal than others. One has a few sandbags and some elderly men sitting on a broken car seat outside a hut.
We pass another one with several pickup trucks standing outside. I notice a man with a rifle across his back. This is a well-armed town. . . . .
The police force is part-funded by avocado producers, who pay a percentage of their earnings depending on how many hectares they own (emphasis added).
Oh, didn't you know that Mexico has very strict gun control? Why, there is only one legal gun store in the entire country! Yet Tancírito is "well-armed." Imagine that.

What Tancírito must have is a public relations agent, because here is a very similar story by a different report on another site! "Mexico's Vigilante Groups Are a Force to Reckon with for Drug Cartels and Army."
The autodefensas have been returning houses and farms to the original owners or their families, because in many cases they were murdered after signing a deed at gunpoint, leaving the farms to the criminal bands' leaders, who assaulted the properties bringing a public lawyer, who many times also by gunpoint validated such operations.
Think of all this when you're in the vegetable aisle at Megafoods.

December 03, 2017

The Smartphone vs. the Pocket Camera, Revisited

Last August I did a head-to-head photography comparison between a less-than-new Pentax pocket camera and a less-than-new iPhone.

The camera performed a little better — it has a real zoom and more shooting modes — while the iPhone (or any smartphone) is quicker to bring into action — just wake it, swipe the screen, and shoot.

Then the Pentax died. Its auto-focus stopped focusing. Buying a new one seemed pointless. Manufacturers are ditching the pocket camera market — Nikon shut a major digital camera factory this fall:
In recent years [...] due to the rise of smartphones, the compact digital camera market has been shrinking rapidly, leading to a significant decrease in operating rate at NIC and creating a difficult business environment.
But look on eBay. You can find digital pocket cameras for pocket change. A like-new Nikon Coolpix, with case and cord, probably made about 2010, cost under $30, shipping included. If I had wanted an earlier model, I could have paid much less.

Why buy it? The biggest reason is peace of mind. That little Nikon will be in my pocket on next weekend's mountain camp-out. It will go on hunting trips, hikes, etc.

Which is worse, to drop your smartphone in the river while trying to photograph that cute muskrat while you're fly-fishing, or to splash a $15 camera you got on eBay?

Smartphones do have their strengths. My fingers were almost touching mine one evening last week in Boston, when I saw the driver of an immaculate white Range Rover — she looked like an oligarch's mistress in it  — deliberately ram the rear bumper of a taxi that was not clearing the intersection fast enough to suit her. Never mind that he had nowhere to go forward.

I could have put it on Facebook or Instagram, maybe made a looping GIF ("Ram! Ram! Ram!"). But I didn't.

November 27, 2017

More Fungus Beetles, Please

Cast-off exoskeletons of the pleasing fungus beetle pupae (Gibbifer californicus),
Imagine them hanging straight down — I turned them up to catch the light.
They are not quite an inch long.
A number of ponderosa pine trees around the house have died from mountain pine beetle infestation, the real culprit being the blue stain fungus that the beetles carry.

I had my eye on one large dead tree as a firewood source, mainly because it was next to the little dirt road that goes up in back. The woodpile was shrinking early last spring (the snowiest time of the year in this area), so I felled it. Just its top and thick limbs were enough to get us through — the rest I cut into rounds and stacked by the road.

Pleasing fungus beetle (Jeff Mitton)
Then warm weather came, and I procrastinated on bringing the rest down until last month.

Whereupon I found these cases on one of the split pieces — but what were they? I turned to What's That Bug, linked in the right-hand sidebar under "Resources."

Very soon I learned that they were the cast-off exoskeletons of the larvae of the pleasing fungus beetle, Gibbifer californicus, of the family Erotylidae, Pleasing Fungus Beetles. (Don't ask me, "pleasing to whom?")
The pleasing fungus beetle develops on soft conk fungi on aspen, ponderosa pine and other logs in forested areas. The biology of the insect is largely unknown; some apparently spend the winter in the adult stage laying eggs in spring; others survive as larvae within the fungus.

The larvae feed on the fungus during late spring and early summer, consuming large quantities. When full grown the larvae hang from the underside of the logs and transform to a pupa, often in groups of several dozen. With this habit, a grouping of pupae may appear some what like a miniature bat roost.
As larvae, they look like this. You can see how that matches the photo above.

As adults, they "feed on nectar, pollen and the bracket fungi growing on rotting logs. Larvae feed exclusively on the bracket fungi, so if you want to see adult and larval pleasing fungus beetles, search rotting logs with bracket fungi," writes University of Colorado biology professor Jeff Mitton.

I am pleased to know this now.

November 26, 2017

Keep Your Bird Seed Dry!

Some mold was growing in the bottom of the thistle-seed feeder,
so it was time for a thorough cleaning.
A report from the Project Feeder Watch blog on how the parasite Trichomonas gallinae can live in wet bird seed: "Reasons Why We Should Keep Our Seed Dry".

Some takeaways:
• Keep your feeder out of the “splash zone” of any nearby birdbaths or drinking stations
• Consider bringing your feeder in before a heavy rain if temperatures are very warm.
• Change your seed out regularly if you are in hot and wet weather conditions.
• Choose seed types that contain little to no organic material (buckwheat, peas, and sorghum), e.g. nyjer seed or black-oil sunflower seed.
And if you're thinking about birds, here is an article on how the issue of "lumpers" versus "splitters" is complicated by genetic research: "What’s in a Name? How Genome Mapping Can Make It Harder to Tell Species Apart."
Scientists have the ability to peer more deeply into the DNA of birds today than ever before. But in some ways the resulting picture for species classification isn’t getting clearer—rather, it’s getting blurrier. It seems that the more closely evolutionary biologists look into the genome, the more arbitrary the boundaries between some species appear to be. It’s a bit like stepping too close to a pointillist painting: instead of revealing tiny details on the picnickers’ faces, the whole thing dissolves into dots.
It's not too late to join Project Feeder Watch this year. When you look at the map, you can see that the eastern United States and Canada are way over-represented, while there are big holes in the West. My Colorado dot is out there by itself!