August 29, 2010

A Bullet, Dodged—and a Bogus "Hunters' Group"

A few days ago,  Environmental Protection Agency announced that it was accepting public comment on a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity to ban all ammunition and fishing tackle containing lead.

Tipped off by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (a trade group)  and the National Rifle Association (a membership group), the online outdoor media and bloggers immediately raised the alarm, such as this piece by Jim Shepherd of The Outdoor Wire:

There is no scientific evidence that the use of traditional ammunition is having the claimed adverse impact on wildlife

Wildlife management is the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and the 50 state wildlife agencies, not the EPA

A 2008 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on blood levels of North Dakota hunters confirmed that consuming game harvested with traditional ammunition does not pose a human health risk

By Friday,  August 27th, the EPA backed down on the ammo part, admitting that it lacked jurisdiction under the 1976 law.

Lead shot for waterfowling was banned in the 1980s. I think that there was a stronger scientific case made there. But banning all lead (even for the military?) would make both hunting and recreational target-shooting more expensive and thus less attractive. I am pretty sure that the CBD folks saw that as a plus.

So by the Friday, the CBD was crying in its beer, trying to make it sound as though all conservation groups were disheartened by the EPA's entirely legal response.

Now here is the weird part. I have been around the hunting-conservation world for a few years. I'm a member of the Colorado Wildlife Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers--all membership groups with proven records.

But I have never heard of CBD's so-called hunters' group Project Gutpile. The name itself sounds like a bad joke. Its only Web presence is a blog, and the latest entry on that blog is ... surprise! ... the CBD's sad news release, verbatim.

Can you say "astroturfing," boys and girls?

It hurts the CBD's credibility when they have to create fake allies as well as conceal their real agenda.

Disclaimer: Through its lawsuits, the CBD indirectly got M. and  me a summer job with the BLM for a few years, back when we sorely needed the money. That story is here.

Still, this New Yorker profile (hat tip, Steve Bodio) describes CBD founder Kieran Suckling as "a trickster, philosopher, publicity hound, master strategist, and unapologetic pain in the ass," out to destroy all logging and ranching in the Southwest.

And hunting too, I am sure.

August 28, 2010

Young and Hungry

Last year M. and I signed up to be volunteer wildlife transporters for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.  It is not a demanding job—we had only a couple of calls in 2009 and none this year until yesterday afternoon.

On the phone: a staffer from the CDOW office in Pueblo. Someone in the Wet Mountain Valley had a hawk in the backyard that seemed unable to fly. So this would be the first "capture and transport," as opposed to just transportation.

M. had her hands full, so I put on my official "CDOW Volunteer" ball cap and grabbed up welder's gloves, safety glasses, an Army blanket, and a pet carrier and headed up the canyon.

I had expected a red-tailed hawk, given the open country there.

When I called ahead for directions, I learned that the hawk had landed on the homeowner's roof, then flew down into the back yard. There it encountered two Australian shepherd dogs, one of whom had "tumbled it" (her words). She had put the dogs in the house, but the hawk would not fly. Maybe it was hurt.

The homeowner and two neighbors were waiting. Lucky for me, the bird seemed lethargic, and I could just scoop it up and pop it into the carrier, as though I knew just what I was doing.

Unexpectedly, it was a juvenile peregrine falcon, no doubt out on its own for the first time.

I was around when falcons were being reintroduced to this area, twenty years ago. One of my hack-site photos even showed up in Helen Macdonald's book Falcon, to my surprise. (I had given some slides to a board member of The Peregrine Fund, and they had ended up in the organization's photo files.)

Still, I am not used to seeing them! I think of them as endangered species yet, although the success of reintroduction has led to their being taken off that list. (In Colorado, peregrine falcons are a "species of special concern.)

Later that evening, we (M., her visiting nephew, and I) took the falcon to the Raptor Center in Pueblo. I spoke today with the center's director, and she reported that it was hungry and thirsty but seemed uninjured.

Perhaps, she speculated, it had flown into a power line or been temporarily stunned through some other mishap. She seemed optimistic that with rest and feeding, it would be ready to return to its wild life.

M.'s nephew, 25, had quit his job in Virginia and gone to San Francisco in June to try for something new. But things did not work out for him there, and he landed at our place for a month, uncertain what to do next.

We fed and rested him, and today we put him on a plane for home, from which he plans to set out again for a new destination.

Fly on, the both of you!

August 24, 2010

NYT Article on National Parks Search and Rescue Deconstructed

A year ago I linked to a news story about "Yuppie 911," the phenomenon of people with GPS-enabled emergency beacons punching the panic button when conditions became slightly uncomfortable.

Some of the same anecdotes, however, were recyled in a fresh New York Times story about an alleged increase of tech-enabled Search and Rescue calls. That article in turn is fisked by Slate's Jack Shafer:

To buttress the bogus headlines, the Times stacks a bunch of anecdotes about how park visitors have gotten injured, lost, or killed while using technology. The Times tells us about a park visitor who gets gored while videotaping a buffalo; about a picture-taker who falls 75 feet because he was backing up at the Grand Canyon as he took pictures; about a lost hiker who cell-phones in a request for hot chocolate to park rangers; about a group of hikers who press the emergency button on their satellite-location device repeatedly, one time doing so to inform park rangers that their water "tasted salty"; and about a pair of novice whitewater-rafters who drowned after building a log raft and attempting to videotape their voyage down the Virgin River as an entry in a Man vs. Wild TV competition. The men had little camping experience, not much food, and no overnight gear.
According to numbers Shafer trots out, the overall number of rescues in national parks has actually fallen since the 1990s.

Search-and-rescue operations conducted between 1992 and 2009 actually peaked at 5,761 in 1998, according to the NPS. Over that same period, the average number of annual search-and-rescue missions was 4,027, which means that the figure the Times ended up ballyhooing ("topped 3,500") is below the 18-year average.

In other words, there has been no dramatic increase in the number of NPS search-and-rescue operations in the era of the mobile phone, the satellite phone, GPS, and the emergency beacon. Technology isn't leading more park visitors into trouble.

He does not explain why. Fewer backcountry users? Better outdoor gear? Better experienced backcountry users? 

 Via Ann Althouse, with a discussion of "bogosity" versus "bogusity."

SORT OF RELATED:  NPR's Terry Gross interviews the Times' Matt Richtel, who has been writing on the effects of communication technologies on the brain and behavior.

Recently Richtel accompanied several scientists, all of whom are studying the brain, on a weeklong retreat to a remote corner of Utah. The rules of the vacation? No cell phones, no Internet access and no technological distractions.

"Partly they wanted to go on vacation and see it through a neurologic lens," he says. "They wanted to take a look at what was happening to their brain and their perspectives — and by extension, ours — as they got off the grid."

August 21, 2010

More Things that Fisher Has Eaten

Updating the list of things that Fisher the Chessie has eaten:

• Two excellent Colorado-grown organic melons
• A motel-sized bar of soap (not the first)
• Apples

Clearly, he is in touch with his feral roots.

But he has a new nickname. Thanks to his unceasing greed, he is now also known as "Blago."

August 20, 2010

Off-roading Jerk Required to Confess on YouTube

Rickey Sharratt of Camas, Washington, possessed of more horsepower than brains, rams a state forest gate with his Chevy Blazer but is busted and forced to confess in public.

A "less-than-convincing performance," say critics.

I never thought of YouTube as the new electronic pillory, but if enough people link to it ...

August 19, 2010

You Have to Watch Out for Literary Firefighters ...

One of Bigger Department's engines mops up after a grass fire. That is our tender far off to the left. Click photo to embiggen.
... who are composing blog entries in their heads when they should be watching where the nozzle is pointed.

Taken from the back of the brush truck while mopping up after a prairie fire this afternoon. Five engines and—best of all—a road grader were employed in stopping it.

Lesson learned on this fire: when attending in your personal vehicle, park it "in the black" so that you don't look up and realize that there is smoke on two sides of it. Duh!

M. could not believe it when the call came. It had rained hard at our house this afternoon. But not four miles away, the roads were dusty and the pastures were crackly dry.

August 18, 2010

Only in Pueblo ...

... does the public library sponsor a car show, this time in cooperation with the Sweet Dreams Car Club.

Pueblo is a car-mad town, as long as we are talking hot rods, custom cars, classic cars, lowriders, or variations thereof. It has this "rock 'n' roll will never die" attitude, and you can still cruise to the drive-in.

Now in my foothills hamlet, the little library sponsored an ice-cream social, followed by an appearance by Zion, a giant schnauzer for Jesus.

"Do we listen to Satan?" asks his trainer. Zion shakes his head vigorously.

Then everyone got in their pickups and 4x4's and went home. Hydraulics are for backhoes.

August 17, 2010

No Nomex in Sight

A series of photos of (mostly) volunteer firefighters on the line in Russia.

Doesn't that red truck actually say "Telephone"? Not fire apparatus at all?

More photos here from the Boston Globe.

I do not really see the leaf blower as an effective firefighting tool, but the rest looks familiar. Fighting fires in peat bogs especially must be uniquely unpleasant.

The feds are sending some help, now that the worst may be over.

August 15, 2010

The Hard Lives of Livestock-Protection Dogs

At Querencia, Cat Urbigkit, who with her husband has a sheep ranch in western Wyoming, describes the rescue of a lost livestock-protection dog, now named Evita, along with a juvenile osprey. (Their stories are updated here.)
This young dog had recently had pups, was battling a raging internal infection, and was very weak, her unkempt coat full of tags and discharge. I couldn’t get her image out of my mind as I drove home making calls trying to be sure none of my sheepmen friends were missing a dog. None were, and she had been picked up in a fairly remote mountainous region. It was obvious she hadn’t been cared for in a very long time.
It's wolf country, and livestock-protection dogs are one of her major concerns. Now the Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board has agreed to fund her and her husband to travel through parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia—other areas that still have wolves and sheep—"to interview livestock producers who use livestock protection dogs in areas of dense wolf and bear populations to learn what they are doing there that might be of assistance to producers in similar situations here in Wyoming."

Lots of people considering the issue of wolves in the West have been happy to see big fluffy dogs on the job. Problem solved, right? And everyone loves doggies.

But as she candidly admits, "The livestock protection dogs (LPDs) we’ve been using have worked wonderfully against smaller and medium-sized predators, especially coyotes, but when it comes to larger carnivores, our dogs have been taking a beating – too many of our dogs have been killed while guarding their herds."

It happened again last week near Evanston, Wyoming: two Great Pyrenees livestock dogs took on a wolf, and the dogs lost.

I am not that connected to ranching—that is more in the Canadian side of my family. But I do like to wear wool and occasionally eat lamb. And I find this aspect of "dog culture" fascinating, perhaps because it speaks to why we live with them in the first place.

August 13, 2010

Scaly's No Friend of Mine

I think this is Pholiota squarrosa, "Scaly Pholiota"
My Colorado and New Mexico blogging compadres are all talking mushrooms. This is turning into one of the years that we will remember.

M. and I returned to the mountain-that-shall-not-be-named today. On the way up there, we saw a woman standing by the side of the Forest Service road, holding a suspiciously lumpy cloth grocery bag.

Damn, the word is getting out.

Higher up, we met a family of woodcutters—no problem there—but also this old guy coming hurridly out the one-lane road in a van, who did not meet my eye—suspicious behavior!

We drove nervously on to our parking spot. (Note, we do not park exactly where we look for mushrooms.)

Someone had been there—many of the hawkswing mushrooms that we had passed by last Friday were now gone. On the other hand, we found a bunch of king boletes popping up. In fact, we got more than last week.

M. spotted some clusters of the pictured mushroom at the base of an old, dead aspen tree, surrounded by little firs. They were enough like hawkswing mushrooms to make me look twice, although the presence of gills instead of spore tubes meant that they were not.

Pulling out my two field guides, I decided that they could be "scaly Pholiota," Pholiota squarrosa, a mushroom that was better left alone. (Anyone know better?)

Personally, I think that "Scaly Pholiota" sounds like some greasy guy sitting behind an earthenware mug of sour wine in a Lindsey Davis mystery.

August 10, 2010

Blog Stew on the Yellowstone

• Yellowstone visitors reach an all-time high in July. You may connect that to the economy however you like. M. and I visited in September 2008 as the stock market plunged, but we saw no newspapers and had no internet access except for one morning in a Cody, Wyo., coffee shop. We called it "camping like it's 1929."

• At Querencia, Steve Bodio heralds the publication of John Vaillant's The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival.

Its protagonists are a single huge tiger, a ragged bunch of drunken poachers, and a patrol of anti-poaching rangers dedicated to protecting tigers over a huge area, with no money and inadequate tools. The beginning, as an unnamed hunter and his dog approach a dark cabin on a freezing evening, is a masterpiece of tension and quiet terror; the ending is utterly cinematic but real (the book is based on over 200 interviews).
• More Southern Rockies bloggers are reporting a great mushroom year--Peculiar even channels Chaucer.

• The Atomic Nerds buy dead critters from their dog. I had to do something similar yesterday with Fisher. 

• After a black bear sow smacked one of my scout cameras in June, I sent the damaged camera to camera-trapping biologist  Chris Wemmer in northern California, whose students conducted a proper postmortem on it.

Rejecting High-Tech Synthetic Mountaineering Clothes

Background: when I was a teenager, I briefly became interested in the history of attempts to climb Mount Everest, and once gave a brief talk in my junior-year forensics class that touched on the life of George Mallory.

Together with his climbing partner Andrew Irvine, Mallory died on the mountain in 1924. People still speculate about whether or not they might have reached the summit first.

(Right: climber Graham Hoyland, in the sort of garb Mallory and Irvine wore. BBC News.)

Mallory's body was found in 1999. The camera that the two had carried, which might have answered the question, still has not been found. (You can develop old film—I processed some once that was fifty years old and got usable images, and I did it without special know-how.)

The BBC reports that meteorological researchers suggest that unusually low atmospheric pressure might have contributed to even lower oxygen levels than usual, further hampering them. (Hat tip: Cronaca.)

That link led me to another BBC story from 2006 about climbers tackling the mountain dressed in replica 1920s climbing clothing—and liking it, Norfolk jackets and all.

Following the discovery of Mallory's body on the north face of Everest in 1999, a team of forensic textile experts from Lancaster, Leeds, Southampton and Derby universities embarked on an experiment to recreate the outfit from samples of Mallory's clothing which had been preserved in ice.

The three-year project, lead by Professor Mary Rose and Mike Parsons, revealed that Mallory's clothing was highly effective at providing protection at high altitude.

The layered natural materials used to construct the garments were found to be excellent at trapping air next to the skin.

The outer layer of gabardine was hardwearing and water-resistant yet breathable. But the clothing was also lighter than modern gear - the lightest ever to be used on Everest.

Parsons said: "The results stand out as a challenge for future outdoor innovators because Mallory's clothing and footwear was 20% and 40% lighter respectively."
(You may insert your comment about steampunk mountaineering here. It's the goggles.)

I also flashed back to a talk given by a member of the local Search and Rescue group, who expressed horror that people go into the mountains in non-synthetic-fiber clothing.

So who is making the gabardine jacket?

August 09, 2010

Blog Stew with Jimsonweed

• English gardeners alarmed by Daturaarrived in transatlantic bird droppings? (Yeah, sure.)

• It's getting harder to discuss environmental issues as government sources lose credibility.

• The price of asphalt has some states returning secondary roads to gravel, reports the Wall Street Journal. That happened on one road near my house ten years ago, not to mention the reduced snow-plowing.

August 07, 2010

Going to the Mushroom Store

Sarcodon imbricatus (hawkswing) with pint Nalgene bottle for scale.
The weather has turned monsoonal, with heavy rain almost every day. We are experiencing a condition known as humidity, from the Proto-Indo-European root *wegw-.

Having recently visited Chicago and Vermont, I am prepared for such unusual conditions.

And they have brought on the mushrooms!

Yesterday M. and I took her visiting nephew mushroom-hunting in the Wet Mountains. We drove straight to our favorite spot, warning him that although sometimes it was like "going to the mushroom store," you can never be certain what you will find.

No worries. We parked the Jeep and filled three shopping bags with hawskwing and king bolete mushrooms in no time at all

That was far more than we could fit into the food dryer, so the rest are sliced into strips and spread on old window screens in the greenhouse.

But with all the humidity, we may have to rotate those greenhouse mushrooms through the electric dryer after the first batch has finished.

(Some nice boletes from New Mexico.)

August 03, 2010

Dogs with PTSD and Grief

I read an AP story today about a military bomb-sniffing dog with the canine equivalent of post-traumatic stress syndrome and how she was being rehabilitated—with some degree of success.
But [Master Sgt. Eric] Haynes said they're careful not to let their affection interfere with good training. Treating Gina like a human—for example, comforting her when she's frightened—can leave her thinking that her handler is pleased when she's afraid.

"She's just gorgeous and I love her, but you also have to balance it with—you have to do what's right," he said.
Coincidentally, my sister, who lives in a multiple-dog household, sent a piece from the César Milan Web site on dealing with grief in a dog pack.

The writer, dog trainer Martin Deeley, notes that dogs will miss a long-time companion, but at the same time, we should not project our emotions on them:
Dogs cannot speak to let us know what they are thinking, so we have to read their body language, behavior and general demeanor to know how they are feeling. Of course, we can misread what they are thinking and feeling, and sometimes they can simply be reflecting our own feelings and emotions. Therefore, you may think their emotions stem from the loss of companion when really they are reacting to our exhibited emotions.
(Cats, on the other hand, sometimes seem pleased at the disappearance of other cats in the household. "More for me," they must be thinking.)