July 31, 2013

Cloning Mammoths is Harder than You Think

Woolly mammoth left, American mastodon right (Wikipedia).
As much as I cherish the idea of a "Pleistocene Park" with woolly mammoths wandering around, the lack of good cellular material is a huge obstacle.

In a Guardian article, Sir Ian Wilmut of Dolly the sheep fame describes the problems.
Though it is unlikely that a mammoth could be cloned in the same way as Dolly, more modern techniques that convert tissue cells into stem cells could potentially achieve the feat, Wilmut says in an article today for the academic journalism website, The Conversation.
"I've always been very sceptical about the whole idea, but it dawned on me that if you could clear the first hurdle of getting viable cells from mammoths, you might be able to do something useful and interesting," Wilmut told the Guardian.
 First we get mammoths (or mastodons), then we get them to eat tamarisk.

July 29, 2013

Spared by Fire, Black Forest Wildlife Rehabber Carries On

The Colorado Springs Gazette profiles wildlife rehabilitator Linda Cope.

 On the issue of spending time and money trying to save individual fawns or geese or whatever, she says,
"These numbers aren't going to make any difference at all (in their population). It's just people learning to respect wildlife for what they add to our lives. And without them, oh my gosh, I can't imagine that.
M. and I transported a fawn to her just Saturday night, although instead of driving all the way to Black Forest, we rendezvoused at the bosky parking lot of the Hatch Cover restaurant on Cheyenne Mountain Boulevard.

July 28, 2013

Take Your Kid 'Squatching'

Introduce your kids to the outdoors by searching for the most elusive free-range primate of all: Bigfoot.

Tracks and other evidence were found.

Northern Colorado readers, doesn't this look like Roxborough State Park? I have never been there myself.

July 26, 2013

How dry has it been? Tumbleweed Dry

I mowed the lawn at the guest cabin today — such is the payoff after having more than four inches of rain this month.

But it has been dry. How dry has it been? It has been so dry that the usual invasive weeds such as bindweed are gone, except around the flower bed where they can steal some water.

Instead, the area where all the grass died (previous owner planted bluegrass, which survived the late 1990s but not the 2000s) has been colonized by kochia and Russian thistle (tumblin' tumbleweed).

I have never seen tumbleweed growing around here before. I mowed every bit of it that I could find, hoping to stop it from flowering — the tumbling spreads its gazillions of seeds.

July 23, 2013

Dying for Beauty

The Wave (Wikimedia Commons)
You have heard of the Darwin Awards. I propose the Everett Ruess Award.

Ruess was a young California artist who sought inspiration in the southern Utah canyonlands beginning in 1931, nearly dying of dehydration at least once, before he disappeared for good in 1934. "Beauty" was one of his favorite words.

Lately the fatal lure is a rock formation called the Wave. Three people have died this month hiking to and from it.
The Wave is a richly colored geological upheaval, its fiery swirls emblazoned on postcards, posters, maps and computer screensavers. It is said to be one of the most photographed spots in North America.
Ironically, you have to apply for a permit to hike there, it is so popular.
Half of the 20 daily permits are doled out on a walk-in basis at a visitor's center in Kanab, with up to 100 people showing up for each one. For many, it's a lifetime opportunity that can encourage risk-taking during the hottest time of the year.

July 21, 2013

Colorado's Redwoods

The Big Stump, a fossilized redwood, was once the pride of a commercial resort at the site. The tree would have been a "little" larger than the ponderosa pines now growing around it.
Taller and faster-growing, Colorado's redwoods were in all respects better than those in California — except for having flourished 34 million years ago, before a series of volcanic eruptions suffocated them.

Flash forward to the 1870s, when residents of Colorado Springs could take an excursion train west into the mountains and wander through the petrified logs exposed on the ground, chipping away bits to take home and place on the mantelpiece or in their flower beds.

Visitors chipped away so industriously that the logs are gone, except for those still buried. A generation later, two adjacent commercial establishments controlled the fossil beds, each one part dude ranch, part museum, and part fresh-air resort.

Only in 1969 did the area become the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, which also showcases fossils of quite a few plants, vertebrates, and invertebrates, preserved in volcanic ash.

M. and I stopped by in June 2013 for the first time in (non-geological) ages. We found the new park visitor center and more trails and signage than we remembered.
Too many visitors don't get far from the vistor center. That is actually a stump in the pit, surrounded by a supporting band of steel.

I poop on your signage.
The easy half-mile Ponderosa Loop Trail includes photos of the previous commercial establishments at the fossil bed, as well as a time line of geology and life at the site. Here a modern dinosaur appears to have left some comments on one of the signs.

The monument covers 6,000 acres, and there are 14–15 miles of hiking trails, depending which brochure you read.

We walked another three-mile loop, which crossed the Homestake Pipeline, part of Colorado Springs' water system. The pipeline carries water from a collection system near Aspen, with its flow shared by Aurora and Colorado Springs.

(It's amazing how many Springs residents think their water comes from snow on Pike's Peak, and Aurorans probably don't think at all about it.)

Despite its significance in our hydraulic civilization, the pipeline rates no signage on the hiking trail. Apparently it does not fit the narrative of the fossil beds.

The cleared strip marks the route of the Homestake Pipline through the hills west of Colorado Springs. It was built just before the national monument was created.

July 20, 2013

Like Cattle, We Were Raised for Export

In a recent interview, Robert Rebein talks about his homeland — western Kansas, particularly Dodge City.

I think a couple of lessons have come [from the Dust Bowl of the 1930s]. The first lesson is that Kansas as a place is never going to be Texas or Colorado or Ohio. It’s too dry, too far from everything else, and the businesses that do best there—farming, ranching, energy exploration and production—do not require a lot of people. The other lesson is that if you do want to draw people and businesses to the state, you better try. You better understand that the lingering image of your state is a mix of the Dust Bowl, Superman, and The Wizard of Oz. If you want businesses to buy into you despite all that, you better put your best foot forward.
Here is the Vimeo trailer for Rebein's book, Dragging Wyatt Earp: A Personal History of Dodge City.

A west-Kansas blogger, Jeffro of The Poor Farm, was impressed by Rebein's book: "He has captured the essence of teenage prairie living, and in fact, life on the prairie, period, for all ages."

This passage hit him hard:
Wyatt Earp, the historical figure, really didn't make a dent in our lives. The street probably had more influence on us. But another observation Rebein makes really hit home for me:
What is it about growing up in a small town in the West that breeds such bravado, such innocence and blind faith? Was it our isolation? The vaunted self-reliance of the region? The fact that our parents and teachers praised us inordinately or that acceptance into any of the state colleges was a fait accompli? Maybe but I have another explanation:  we were leaving. And not just for a year or five years, but forever. Like the region's cattle, wheat and corn, we'd been raised for export, and most of us had learned this at about the same time we learned that Santa Claus was a fiction.  
We'd been raised for export.

It's true. Since day one, most of us knew that our parents wanted something better for us, that we were to get an education away from cattle and farming, and leave. Find a job we could love, get married and raise kids in a more forgiving climate.  

He has decided to stick it out, however. Some people do.

Not me. I go out on the prairie for hunting, for archaeological visits, or just because I must cross its expanse. Sometimes I just want to see the big sky. But I always feel a little like I am leaving a harbor in the foothills and sailing out onto the sea.

That probably comes of living as a kid on the "big island" that is the Black Hills, surrounded by wide-open country. The prairie is familiar, but it is not home.

July 19, 2013

Coming to Terms with the Pike

A typical view on the Pike's Peak Ranger District
When I lived further north, I spent a lot of time on the Pike National Forest, and by "the Pike" in this context I mean chiefly the Pike's Peak Ranger District and the southern part of the South Platte Ranger District — in other words, an area northwest of Colorado Springs and southwest of Denver.

I camped, hiked, and hunted. I planted trees with the Boy Scouts, trees that probably burned in one of the many forest fires in the Buffalo Creek area since those days.

But I never loved it. When I saw views that opened up after the big Hayman Fire in 2002, I kind of thought that was an improvement, heretical as it may sound.

Signal Butte rises north of Florissant, Colorado.
M. and I went back to the Pike last month — we were camping with friends near Florissant, and we took a day to reacquaint ourselves with that corner of the forest, see some places that we had not seen since our days in Manitou Springs, and just get out and walk in the woods.

A typical forest road in a typical draw on the Pike.
Somehow, driving and walking — and seeing different vistas of the burn — kind of put me at ease. I felt a little more like I knew the place — or could know it, if I wanted to spend the time. But I probably won't. I like it here better.

July 16, 2013

A Truce with Summer

The higher you go, the wetter it looks.
It has rained more than three inches at the house  this month, which is great, but we are still in "extreme drought," say the meteorologists.

But the dampness, temporary as it may be, eased my mind. For the first time, it felt as though summer was not the enemy.

M. and I wondered if any mushrooms were coming up at higher elevations. So we went into the misty mountains.

We tried "The Mushroom Mine," and saw only one or two inedible varieties. As I drove up the Forest Service road, I spotted an excellent bolete nearby. Oh no, said the cook, it's too close to the road! Mushrooms soak up pollution!

And that would be the only one we saw, even up at the area we call The Mushroom Store. But there were flowers.
Yellow: some kind of Potentilla, I think. White: yarrow.
This flower I am not sure of. Anyone?

Columbines are the state flower, and you are required by law to photograph them.
And we shall return — even if the foothills dry out again.

UPDATE: Al Schneider at Southwest Colorado Wildflowers suggests that the mystery yellow flower above is a species of Corydalis and that the Potentilla is specifically Potentilla gracilis variety pulcherrima. Thanks!

July 15, 2013

Your Shipment Has Arrived and Is Running Down the Creek

Beaver contemplating bigger things.
I wrote once before about how the Department of Rain handles back orders. Only this time instead of a pickup truck, they backed the big truck up the driveway and pulled the DUMP handle. I think we just got May, June, and July all at once.

M. and I walked up the creek between storms yesterday and saw the beavers swimming in one of their now-muddy ponds. Outside of those ponds, the creek was almost dry a few days ago. Now it is bank-full.

Aside from one stream-side householder upset that beavers do what they do — cut his trees — the neighbors are generally pro-beaver, if only because their ponds must help to charge the shallow aquifer that feeds our wells.

Or so we think. It's not like we are hydrologists. The beavers go on modifying the environment to make it better for themselves.

July 13, 2013

Blog Stew with Birds and Mulch (Colorado Springs edition)

• Fascinated by birds, a high school student tracks survival in nest boxes after the Black Forest Fire.
Five years ago, Alec entered fourth grade at School in the Woods as "a wilderness kid" and came out a budding ornithologist. The small Academy District 20 school with an environmental science focus introduced him to the world of birds, and he wanted to continue his education.
• The summit of Pike's Peak is crowned by a dreary early-1960s gift shop and snack bar. Colorado Springs is thinking of re-doing it. The article fails to mention another summit fiasco, in the early 1980s, as I recall, when some Oklahoma millionaire gave the city the "gift" of bright lights up there, replacing the solitary light let let Springs residents estimate the height of clouds at night.

Upset that the summit now looked like a K-Mart parking lot (upon which the Oklahomans could gaze from their home in the swanky Kissing Camels subdivision), citizens demanded the lights' removal, and the city acceded.

• Black Forest has not only a "bird boy" but a "mulch lady," according to headline writers at The GazetteOnce again, it is the Question of Biomass:
On a recent evening, more than 345 people arrived with trailers bulging with slash they cleared from their property. It generated about 702 cubic yards of mulch. The Black Forest fire has gotten mitigation procrastinators off their duffs, she says. They are taking in twice the amount of slash and sending out about half as much as usual.

July 08, 2013

Colorado and Utah Fought Wolf Protection Plan

(I missed this item last month, but got the link from Cat Urbigkit's Wolf Watch.)

Documents obtained show that Colorado and Utah state wildlife officials strongly opposed federal plans to declare gray wolves "endangered" (hence protected) in those states if and when the wolves showed up.
The documents suggest the animal's fate was decided through political bargaining between state and federal officials, said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

The nonprofit group obtained the records through a freedom of information lawsuit and provided them to The Associated Press.

"In simplest terms, these documents detail how the gray wolf lost a popularity contest among wildlife managers," Ruch said. . . . .
The administration's plan unveiled earlier this month [June 2013] would declare gray wolves are only endangered in a relatively small part of the Southwest inhabited by a few dozen Mexican wolves — a subspecies of the gray wolf.
To quote again from the US Fish and Wildlife service's news release, "The Service is also proposing to maintain protection and expand recovery efforts for the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) in the Southwest, where it remains endangered"

And that was the area under contention, apparently.

Colorado does not have any wolves, officially, although isolated individuals have wandered down from Wyoming. (Pet wolves or wolf-dog hybrids have also been released, another issue.) I have heard tales of wild wolves roaming on the Western Slope as far back as the 1980s, before they were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park, but those tales remain just that. 

Why resist federal protection? The usual reasons: fear of reduced deer and elk herds, hence hunting-license revenue loss; fear of attacks on livestock, be that at traditional cattle ranches or New West-ish alpaca operations; fear of attacks on people.

July 07, 2013

Blog Stew with 'High Value' Plants

Someone (several someones, probably) tore up 6,500 "Round-Up ready" genetically modified sugar beet plants in southern Oregon last month.

But this is the part that made me smile:
Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba issued a statement about the sabotage.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time someone has deliberately taken the cowardly step of uprooting high value plants growing in our state."
"High-value plants"? You mean no one has ever raided a cannabis plantation before? But that was governmental uprooting, so it doesn't count.

• A claim about Bigfoot DNA shot down by lab testing. Bigfoot researcher offers convoluted rebuttal. (Why does this remind me of the pro-Anna Anderson camp's arguments after the DNA analysis showed that she was not the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia?)

• Does your rabbit have a disaster plan?

July 06, 2013

Mange, Distemper Hit Yellowstone Wolves

An online Scientific American article says that both canine distemper and sarcoptic mange are affecting wolf populations in Yellowstone National Park and surrounding areas.

I could not help but think of the unlucky coyote pup we transported last Wednesday. It seems likely that the distemper caused him to fall behind, be abandoned, and be discovered by a person who wanted to help him.

July 05, 2013

Permits for Eating Factory-Farmed Meat: A Modest Proposal

Having laid out her hunting fees — "Eastern Wild turkey costs me $25 in addition to what I paid for my hunting license. The permit is $20, the tagging fee is $5" — Maine blogger Robin Follette starts wondering if every meat eater should not pay.
My money funds conservation. Is it really all that far-fetched that a factory farm fee subsidize factory farming so non-factory farmed meat eating taxpayers don’t have to?
From thence, she develops a modest proposal including behavioral guidelines for non-hunters.
I’ve been thinking about it for four days. Here’s the start of my plan to keep hunters and non-hunting meat eaters who are offended by hunting on an even keel. Don’t stop reading no matter how ridiculous this starts to sound. When you get to the end you’ll find the comment section. Please let me know what I’ve over looked. I am truly interested in everyone’s point of view.
Read the rest: "Don't Offend the Non-Hunters."

(Via Tovar Cerulli,whose vegan-turned-hunter narrative has been getting more ink lately.)

July 04, 2013

Should Volunteers Patrol the Backcountry?

M. John Fayhee, former editor of Mountain Gazette, and Alan Stark square off, with Fayhee taking the "It's not wilderness if someone's helping you get out of trouble" side, while Stark thinks that it is good to have someone out there being quasi-official and helpful.

Stark writes it, so he gives himself the last word:
Big Brother ruining people’s wilderness experience?

Nope. Volunteers watching our for people who might get in trouble.

But I also admit that the presence of an official person does impact your enjoyment of the backcountry. In point of fact that person is there to watch you and that fact alone is annoying to folks like Fayhee, maybe you, too.
Early commenters, however, are more on Fayhee's side, such as this:
If I want to climb a fourteener in the nude on a cloudy July afternoon, then I don’t want your volly buddies harshing my mellow. Seriously, stay in Boulder, and focus on your community, leave your advice in the city, and enjoy the Wilderness however you see fit.

What's not Rocks is Cactus, and What's not Cactus is Barbed Wire

That is how I used to describe the area south of Cañon City when I lived there.

At least in this drought year the cholla cactus is blooming profusely, everywhere. They look like rose bushes. Very unfriendly rose bushes.

July 03, 2013

Coyote in Transit

More lethargic than he had been last night.
This coyote pup, found weak and dehydrated by a road somewhere in the area yesterday, came into the local rehabilitation center last evening.

M. and I paid him a brief visit after dropping off yet another fawn, this one supposedly found in the East Peak FIre zone near Walsenburg.

He had been pumped up with Ringer's solution and had taken some food and water orally, but he was still quite wobbly.

Our local rehabbers do ungulates, bears, and cats, but not coyotes. They made arrangements this morning to transfer up him to someone else up north who does have coyotes. Since we were coming to Colorado Springs anyway, we agreed to drive him up and hand him off.

The second rehabilitator was not too optimistic when she saw him. He was lethargic and dehydrated again. The possibility of distemper had already been discussed. The vet will see him soon, and if it's distemper, that means the needle. Not every animal survives.

EVENING UPDATE: It did have distemper, which meant the end of the trail.

July 02, 2013

Some Days I Just Don't Do 'Catch and Release'

Semi-wild rainbow trout caught in this county. Rice. Green salad, partly from our CSA farmer and partly from other organic sources. Fetzer wine, because a good friend used to live behind the winery, and because they try to be "sustainable."