April 29, 2005

The woodpecker and the news

I am as happy as anyone else would be about the ivory-billed woodpecker sightings, but it is clear that the announcement of its continued existence was highly "massaged."

Someone on the ASLE mailing list mentioned that the Nature Conservancy had been buying up land in the area of the sightings, which fact suggests that the birds were found months ago.

Yep, today someone posted an article from the Christian Science Monitor, about a sighting of the bird on February 27, 2004, more than a year ago.

Somebody at the Cornell ornithology lab wanted to have all their woodpeckers in a row before they told the public.

UPDATE: The AP says a birder out canoeing first saw the woodpecker on February 11, 2004.

April 28, 2005

Self-education of an omnivore

Food writer Jeffrey Steingarten attempts to learn to like everything.

[At one time] I was friendly with a respected and powerful editor of cookbooks who so detested the flavor of cilantro that she brought a pair of tweezers to Mexican and Indian restaurants and pinched out every last scrap of this herb before she would take a bite. Imagine the dozens of potential Julia Childs and M.F.K. Fishers whose books she pettishly rejected, whose careers she snuffed in their infancy! I vowed not to follow in her footsteps.
Not gunshots this time

A few years ago, I read about researchers setting up tape recorders in Southern forests to attempt to capture the signature double-rap of the ivory-billed woodpecker, thought to be possibly extinct.

They thought they had heard the woodpecker, but then further sonic analysis led them to conclude that they had recorded far-off gunshots instead.

Not this time. The birds have been found in Arkansas.

April 26, 2005

"Queer Eye for the Green Guy"

Grist magazine adds to the "Seventies Environmentalism is Dead" meme with an article suggesting that green activists need more fashion sense:

If environmentalism is dead, then that ratty sweater has to go, too. Ditto for sandals as everyday footwear -- only one man ever pulled off that look, and that was during King Herod's reign. One more thing: piling your dreads under that knit cap makes your head look like a Jiffy Pop about to explode. Yeah, I'm talking to you, environmentalists. It's time to keep up appearances.

Predictably, not all readers were impressed (scroll down).
Bison threaten Baltimore! Film at 11!

A herd of buffalo wandered through the upscale Baltimore suburb of Pikesville today, where the local constabulary attempted to "corral" them in a tennis court.

This news tip comes from Montana blogger Mary Scriver. Where she lives, the sudden appearance of a herd of bison would be considered, in religious-studies terms, "an irruption of the Sacred."

April 24, 2005

The Park Service Hates History

OK, let us say merely that the National Park Service hates some history, parts that don't fit into the "correct" narrative.

Look how long it took NPS to admit that people lived in Shenandoah National Park before the park was created.

As a Westerner, my "aha" moment came in the early 1980s. I was a young reporter doing a travel piece on Chaco Canyon National Historical Park, spending the day with an NPS archaeologist. He pointed out how (a) the official narrative completely ignored Richard "Anasazi" Wetherill, the rancher and contract archaeologist who homesteaded Chaco Wash to help preserve the ruins there, and that (b) the NPS put the visitor-center parking lot on the site of Wetherill's trading post, with not so much as an interpretive sign, and (c) also ignored his nearby grave (he was murdered in what is now the park). (The link I have chosen, from an NPS site, is still a bit snide.)

Some amends have been made. If you have a newish computer and a fast connection, visit Traditions of the Sun, an amazing Web site about Chaco. Click the "Timeline" link at lower center of the home page, and then the "1896-1907" segment to see the trading post. (Nothing there about the parking lot, though.)

Similarly, when M. and visited Arches National Park in December, we saw a new visitor center under construction. Some locals in Moab, Utah, the nearby town, think it should include a large exhibit celebrating Edward Abbey, the ranger-nature writer-novelist who put Arches on the literary map with his 1968 book Desert Solitaire. Some suggested a complete re-creation of his seasonal ranger's trailer. But what he will get will be a photograph and caption.

Again, a half-hearted bureaucratic gesture, notes P.J. Ryan in Thunderbear (scroll down to "Edward Abbey"). Excerpts:

Before Abbey came along, "Nature" writers were supposed to be an exception. They were supposed to be "inspirational" or "uplifting" or "poetical" or even (God help us!) "saintly". Names such as John Muir, John Burroughs, or Rachel Carson come to mind.

Abbey, for his part, always had his priorities straight. If, for example, as Campground Ranger, Abbey's job was to clean the restrooms and restock the toilet paper, Abbey would be willing to do so. HOWEVER, if a long legged, willowy blonde lassie in the campground looked at all like she needed fulfillment, Abbey would have to reprioritize his work schedule. Sometimes the toilet paper never DID get restocked.

Now neighbors, as you know, the Twin Pillars of the Faith of the NPS bureaucracy are (1) Get your reports in on time and (2) Keep your restrooms clean. Do these two things and you will go far! Abbey consistently failed the Restroom Test (and the Showing Up On Time Test, and occasionally, The Even Being Present Test).

Your City Does Not Have to Be a Whote

When I teach my "Nature [and Culture] Writing in the West" class (next chance, fall semester), I always face my students' typical American dualism: wilderness-virgin, city-whore.

I'm adding City Comforts to the blog roll because I, too, firmly believed that if we loved our cities more and put more energy into making them livable, we would not be creating suburban (and exurban) sprawl.
Hawks, Hippies, and Neo-Cons

Political blogger and pundit Andrew Sullivan thinks a new coalition will form around environmental issues:

So here’s a simple question: who do you think are now advocates for new energy technologies and environmental regulation? Here’s the surprising answer from America: a motley collection of neocon hawks, Christian evangelicals and right-wing isolationists.

Seems a little narrowly defined for me. But maybe there could be a federal recovery plan for that endangered species, the Republican environmentalist.
Drilling on the lawn

After the Senate and then the House voted to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, I was a little too bummed to blog about it.

You have to realize this is a theological dispute. What is at stake is not the amount of the reserves nor how long they would last. The pro-drilling people simply chose to ignore that argument. What is at stake is that it is a mortal sin to put a place off-limits to oil drilling--at least in the minds of Bush & Co.

When I was a boy, we had relatives in Oklahoma City (my great-uncle, Pat Pugh, started a Ford dealership there). I remember being impressed by the fact that there were oil derricks right on the lawn of the state capitol building. The message was clear: Drilling Is Most Important.

Not all Alaskans support drilling in ANWR, despite the noises coming from the economic-development types. Green Century, the environmentally conscious mutual fund group, claimed that ConocoPhillips had withdrawn from the pro-drilling lobby.

However, if you go here to register your disapproval, guess which energy company Web site refuses your email?

I don't think the battle is over, but I don't know how the next stage will be rhetorically framed.

April 22, 2005

It's not the Seventies anymore

Environmental groups meeting in San Francisco think about reframing the issues.

You don't sway public opinion with pretty calendars and gloomy pronouncements anymore.

Lately, environmental groups have been fighting to hold on to the gains of the 1970s and 1980s, but the battles have not been resonating with the voting public.

To win public support, leaders say they are trying to present the problems and potential solutions in language that connects to people's lives.

"We haven't done a good job communicating about the solutions," said Carl Pope, who heads the Sierra Club.

April 21, 2005

Conservatives and Conservation

I smell a trend coming. A few years back, High Country News described attempts to reframe environmental principles in the language of evangelical Christianity. Likewise, a campaign for California redwoods included a Jewish group.

Political writer Andrew Sullivan now speaks of "Hawks, Hippies, Holies", the "new green coalition":

John Kerry made energy independence a key plank of his presidential campaign - and, of course, he lost. What was needed was a more bipartisan approach, one that appealed both to liberal environmentalists and conservative hawks. Now we have the first signs of one, with grass roots power from the bases of both political parties - greens for the Democrats, evangelicals for the Republicans.

In Colorado Springs (a wholly owned subsidiary of the Department of Defense), local business interests realize that expanding Fort Carson helps protect against the economic effects of base closure. The Nature Conservancy is signing on, because, believe or not, military bases often protect habitat.

I can speak to that for Fort Carson and the associated Piñon Canyon Maneuver Area in southeastern Colorado: both have flourishing wildlife populations, overseen by on-post environmental managers.

April 18, 2005

Carl Pope is blogging

Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope has a blog now. (Via Coyote Gulch.
Frybread, it's what's for dinner--but shouldn't be

Go to a pow-wow, an arts-and-crafts fair, or a "mountain man" rendezvous in the Southwest and you will probably find a booth or trailer selling frybread, maybe dressed up as "Navajo Tacos" or something similar.

It's considered an emblematic American Indian food these days, but it really is not all that healthy, and now there is a move against it among some Indian groups.

Frybread is emblematic of the long trails from home and freedom to confinement and rations. It's the connecting dot between healthy children and obesity, hypertension, diabetes, dialysis, blindness, amputations and slow death.

Via The Marigold Trail.
We know who the bad guys are

The Boston Globe has fired a freelance writer after she wrote an article about commercial Canadian seal hunters without bothering to actually observe it.

The Globe, which is owned by The New York Times Co., said it stopped using writer Barbara Stewart because of a story that ran on Wednesday about a seasonal hunt for baby seals off Newfoundland -- a hunt, it turns out, had not taken place.

The story datelined Halifax, Nova Scotia described in graphic detail how the seal hunt began on Tuesday, with water turning red as hunters on some 300 boats shot harp seal cubs "by the hundreds."

She must have justified skipping the actual reporting because she knew who the "bad guys" were, so why bother with the inconvenience of actually watching? And of course her editors knew who the "bad guys" were too, so they approved the story.

Thanks, Barbara, for helping the credibility of environmental reporters everywhere.

April 16, 2005

Supermarket Syndrome

SFGate's Mark Morford examines the insanity of the supermarket environment.

Taste, won't you, the yummy insect parts aswim in that foot-high stack of cheap-ass, hyperpink Oscar Mayer bologna. Listen in wonder as that case of Dr. Pepper seems to cry out to your pancreas, begging to induce type 2 diabetes. Feel your very colon quiver and scream as you stroll by the wall of frozen Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage biscuits. Woe is your body and your spirit in this savage, toxic wasteland.
Prairie Mary's new blog

Mary Scriver of Browning, Montana, has been posting about the Blackfeet people--not long ago, but now, in the twenty-first century. Keep up at her blog.

Her late husband, Bob Scriver, mentioned in her profile, was this artist. He had roots in that area too.

Speaking of Invasive Species...

Tom Leskiw thinks about tamarisk and cottonwoods in this short essay.

Somewhere along the line, cottonwoods became my favorite tree. It’s natural to want to root for the underdog: of the 106 forest types in North America, the Fremont cottonwood/ Goodding willow association is considered the most threatened.

The Horehound War

April is the Month of Soft Soil, when our heavy clay soil is soggy from snow melt, before it hardens in the summer.

It is the month to set wooden fence posts, transplant trees, and this year, to pull up and dig up the horehound that took over an area around the guest cabin during the drought year of 2002.

I had been mowing it, but it still spread, sending down its tap roots, and choking out every bit of grass and wildflower.

I filled the wheelbarrow six times over with horehound, thinking now and then of the New Mexico writer Jesse Wolf Hardin's own battle with it.

Elsewhere he writes on the tricky issue of "invasive" plants,

Just as bad was the horehound incursion, seeds hitchhiking up onto the mesa stuck to our socks, moving through the rest of the county in the tails of horses and the alfalfa hay they eat. It looks so lovely at first, in patches of short ground-cover that smell sweetly when walked upon, pungent leaves perfect for brewing up a batch of old-fashioned horehound cough drops. It isn't long however, before they form a solid crusty plane of yard-high vegetation too thick to walk through. Where the ground around our cabin and below the cliffs were once graced by desert mariposa and soaptree yucca, soon there was only horehound.

April 15, 2005

One More Blizzard?

After 13 years' residence in the Wet Mountains of Colorado, I have my own personal weather lore that says it usually snows only one more time after the first broadtailed hummingbird arrives.

The first male hummer arrived on Wednesday the 13th. Dare we hope? It has been a long, snowy winter.

Meanwhile, Roman rabbits

I usually think of "invasive species" as a New World problem, but here is archaeological evidence of the introduction of rabbits to Britain by the Romans, a significant change to that island's ecosystems>. (Via the archaeology blog Cronaca.

April 07, 2005

Buffalo dreams

The "Buffalo Commons" idea put forth in the 1980s lives on: a lightly populated area of the High Plains whose economy, at least partly, would revolve around bison.

The Buffalo Commons will be a restored and reconnected area from Mexico to Canada, where we humans learn to work together across borders that were artificial in the first place. The Buffalo Commons means the day when the fences come down. The buffalo will migrate freely across a restored sea of grass, like wild salmon flow from the rivers to the oceans and back. Settled areas can --like they do in Kenya-- fence the animals out, not fence them in.

That's the dream.

April 05, 2005

Sustainable blogging

Four Seasons is a blog tracking issues in sustainable agriculture, connecting consumers with local foods, and issues in nutrition and health.

April 03, 2005

Either way, you burn

This AP story summarizes the situation in the West: California and the Southern Rockies are wet, while the Pacific Northwest and Northern Rockies are dry. Either way, the result could be a bad fire season. As an additional wrinkle, fewer National Guardsmen may be available to back up the professional crews due to the war in Iraq.