May 21, 2018

Angry Birds Are Angry

"If I see him again, I'll kill him," he thinks.
Yesterday two American robins began a day-long battle with their enemies — the birds in the mirror.
"I've got you now! You can't get away!"
One of them is particularly upset about the evil robin inside the passenger-side mirror on my Jeep Liberty.
I think the overcast weather made the windows more mirror-like. Screens are on the inside.
The other one has a bigger challenge. He keeps seeing enemies in the casement (crank-out) living room windows. "Death to you! And to you!"

You try to eat breakfast and there is this frantic shape flapping around outside.
The funny thing is that they do not fight each other — real live opponents.
I assume that this activity is springtime hormone-related and should abate soon.

LATER: It's almost dark, and the one robin is still flying at the windows. M. thinks he is "drunk," so to speak. From what?

May 20, 2018

Cleaning Up after the Cartels

Firs have been cut or limbed to allow more sunlight on the grow site. Drip irrigation lines fed
the individual plants. Given the thin, poor mountain soil, heavy amounts of fertilizers are used.
On an untypically (but helpfully) foggy May morning in the Wet Mountains of southern Colorado, two camouflaged US Forest service agents, armed with pistols and an AR-15 rifle, scouted up a ridge.

They reached their target area, a placed used by Mexican cartel* marijuana growers for several years, armed growers who had been arrested the previous October.

Finding no one re-using the site, they marked the faint footpath up from State Highway 165 with orange flagging and notified another agent waiting at the Forest Service work center in San Isabel.

BHA volunteer and trash.
Before long, the other agent hiked in too, accompanied by a dozen members of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, a conservation group with a de-centralized, "boots on the ground" approach to issues.

We all set to work — stuffing abandoned sleeping bags with trash, tearing down the crude buildings made of fir saplings and baling wire (kitchen, sleeping quarters, drying shed), and pulling armloads of black plastic pipe from under the forest duff and fallen trees.

With the plants gone, shelters gone, and the irrigation system gone, maybe this site would be less attractive in the future. Maybe the word would go back to Michoacán: Virgilio and Erik are doing time in an American prison. Maybe.
Interior of the kitchen area. White plastic buckets are camouflaged with paint.
Some people will say, "The growers arrested were just low-level 'grunts.' Why bother with them?" Low-level or not, they still do bad things, all of which I saw signs of or was informed about.

It takes a little time to free a tree
from wraps of wire.
• Putting pesticides and insecticides into the watershed (I saw containers)
• Diverting water illegally
• Cutting and injuring trees illegally
Killing animals (deer, bear, etc.) illegally
• Potentially posing a threat to other public-lands visitors in order to hide their activities

I don't want any of that in your/my/our national forest, period full stop.

In 2012, I supported Amendment 64, which legalized recreational cannabis and limited home growing. I have joined the multitudes using CBD products for health support.

But passing Amendment 64 did indeed attract people who thought that they could grow outside the regulatory frameworks and somehow not be noticed. 

Some were from inside the USA (mostly from Miami, curiously enough). They tended to buy or rent houses, stuff them with plants, and then be caught when (surprise) the utility company tipped off law enforcement that the split-level house at 428 Comanche Drive** was using fifteen times as much electricity as its neighbors. Others grew on private land, sometimes combining a legal operation with an additional illegal one.
Some of the collected irrigation pipes and drip tubes.
To generalize, the public-lands growers tend to be Mexicans. Maybe it's a rural-tradition thing, to spend your summer in a jacalito held together with twine and baling wire. Preferred locations are away from developed recreation sites, have a tiny stream that can be diverted, and a south-facing slope for light and warmth. Yet from the site we cleaned, we could see and hear the state highway, not more than half a mile away — they don't want to carry those propane tanks and coils of plastic pipe and batteries and supplies and trays of clones too far.***

Compared to what legal growers produce, it seems like a lot of risky work for a lesser product, but there's the rub: some people don't want to pay legal retail prices. (California in particular, according to some, is keeping the black market alive by over-taxing legal cannabis.) Or they can sell it outside Colorado.

Finally, all the pipe and trash was collected  in the most-open area, where a National Guard helicopters will be able to lift it out.

Helicopter lifting bundled trash from a different grow site
(US Attorney's Office).
* Law-enforcement officers and prosecutors avoid the word "cartel" in public statements. In private, they use it. After all, if groups of men, mostly from Michoacán, are caught hundreds of miles from home, with someone planning the grow sites, supporting them logistically, and moving the product, that all suggests an organization, not a bunch of freelance growers.

** Fictional address. 

***Some bright person should have (or has) created a GIS overlay to identify potential grow sites, just like wildlife habitats.

May 10, 2018

The Old-Time Forest Service Is Still Out There If You Look

Packing supplies up the fire line, Jeff Outhier pauses to survey the Junkins Fire in October 2016.

When he was a Forest Service district ranger in Rapid City, S.D, my dad kept a photo on the office wall of himself in his previous post on the Rio Grande National Forest in southwestern Colorado. It showed him riding his saddle mare Queenie over a grassy ridge, followed by a loaded pack mule (named Mule), going out on patrol.

I missed all this because I was not yet born or just a baby. Rapid City, by contrast, was not a "horseback district" in any sense of the word, but a pickup truck district.

That photo summarized the Forest Service that he signed up for, and when he was forced up the ladder into a big office, he took a lateral transfer just to get to somewhere smaller and then started counting the days until retirement.

It seems today like more USFS employees touch keyboards more than ax handles or horse bridles. But there are some exceptions. One of them lives just over the hill, Jeff Outhier, whose horse tack-littered office is in Westcliffe — but he himself usually is not.

Jeff Outhier talks to
a volunteer trail crew.
His responsibilities are modest: all the trails in the San Isabel National Forest — from Leadville southward nearly to the New Mexico state line. A few hundred miles of trails, that's all, much of them in wilderness areas.

He has his methods, like trimming back encroaching trees from muleback. In the wilderness areas where motors (even battery powered) are forbidden, he has been known to build and repair trails with mule-drawn scrapers and plows.

He still knows how to sharpen a big crosscut saw, although he is also a fan of Silky saws like this one. Apparently there is a network of foresters who keep up the traditional woodsman skills.

When we talked last Saturday, he was happy that his seasonal worker was about to come on duty. That's one (1) seasonal.  Sometimes he can get some firefighters who are not otherwise occupied. For a lot of work, he depends on volunteers, which is why I was there.

So there is some of that old-time Forest Service left.

One of the volunteers asked about dealing with a fallen tree inside the wilderness that might be too big for our handsaws. Should we "waymark" it and report its coordinates.

"No," says Jeff, "I don't use GPS. Just say it's 'beyond the rockslide after the creek crossing' — I'll find it."

May 04, 2018

When is a Lawn not a Lawn?

The unmown lawn.
When I was a kid, I made money mowing lawns, after we moved into Suburbia. (I guess Dad used to cut the grass at the ranger station — I was too young to do it.) I learned to tune up the Briggs & Stratton lawnmower engine (5 percent of the nation's air pollution?) and to face the big decision: Do I got around the edge of the lawn and then spiral inwards, or make back-and-forth stripes, boustrophedon-style?

At some point, my outlook changed. Maybe it was living the summer after high-school graduation in this sort-of communal house (four guys trying to be "spiritual") where the oldest, the organizer, saw no need to cut the grass around our little rented house near downtown Loveland, Colo.

Then the city came after him, so we cut the grass and front and let the back go wild, under the apple trees. That was something new for me, raised on the ritual of weekly mowing. Liberating, even.

Fast forward: M's and my Manitou Springs house had only a tiny area of flat ground, which we planted to vegetables. The rental house in Boulder's lawn area had been covered with plastic and gravel in the front, and there was basically nothing but a tiny bit of dirt (enough for lettuce and onions) in the back. In Cañon City we had irrigation water, so again a big garden took up most of the back yard, ornamental plants much of the front, and I mowed the leftover bits to comply with city regs. No fertilizing.
Why do we spend so much money and work so hard for what amounts to a biological wasteland around our house? Why do we spend hours of time and gallons of gasoline? Why do we water it when it withers in the summer sun only to spend more time and money to cut it down again? Lawn grasses don’t feed my family or invite pollinators onto my property. I’m not baling hay to feed cattle through winter. The best reason I could come up with for our culture’s obsession with a neat lawn is the man versus nature, bending it to our will motif — creating order, our version of it, out of disorder. And with this illusion of control we advertise to everyone else that we have the money and time to waste resources.
That is from "Green Menace: The Futility and Stupidity of the American Lawn." Read the whole thing — it is where I got that air-pollution figure.

When we moved into the woods, the idea of lawns seemed laughable. But now the minimalist lawn is re-purposed as a firebreak. Reduce fuels! No fertilizing. No weedkillers. No watering, beyond what Tlaloc sends us.

I mow three or four times per summer, but I call it "fire mitigation," thus satisfying both me-now and the kid who used to mow for pocket money.

For more: "Why Prairies Matter and Lawns Don't."
How much lawn is too much?  41 million acres.  That figure makes lawn the most widespread plant under irrigation in the contiguous US.  Three times more acreage is covered in irrigated lawn than in irrigated corn, and that’s a conservative estimate.  All of that once precious water used on those 41 million acres of ridiculous, non-native turfgrass to keep it unnaturally green – how can people be so blind?

May 02, 2018

What Spring Looks like in 2018


Male back-headed grosbeak
(Cornell Lab of Ornithology).
These things happened today:

1. I heard thunder.

2. A male black-headed grosbeak came to one of the birdfeeders. They breed here, so that's a sign of changing seasons. And they sing like a robin who has had professional training.

3. It rained a little. A whole tenth of an inch. What does it tell you that a tenth made me deliriously happy? Like maybe no Red Flag warnings (high fire danger) for a day or two?

4. Also, I saw a band-tailed pigeon, another summer resident, fondly remembered as playing a part in an odd pigeon-related encounter some years ago.

Black-headed grosbeak range map (Cornell Lab of Ornithology).

April 29, 2018

Are Blogs Coming Back? This One's Not Leaving

Fisher on in the forest, 2016, using the Solocator phone app.
I put "Is blogging making a comeback?" into the Duck Duck Go search engine, and learned that quite a few things are making comebacks:
  • The "humble telephone"
  • Baby names
  • Donald Trump (as of February 15, 2018)
  • Methamphetamine
  • "Jurassic Tech" (portable cassette players?)
  • Nye's Piano Bar (Minneapolis)
  • Paganism (as religions)
  • Pertussis
  • Wood paneling
  • "Dad jeans"
  • Measles
  • Print catalogs
  • Rail travel
  • MySpace (!!) (Article from April 2015)
  • Mumps
  • Four "Old School Marketing Tactics" (Direct mail!)
  • Flip phones
  • Heritage apples
  • Battleships, however, will never make a comeback
But I did hit some articles such as "Are Blogs Dead? 5 Reasons Why The Internet Says Yes, And We Say No" when I asked, "Is blogging dead?":
The blog, or weblog, has been around for about two decades. That’s a minor eternity in the Internet age, and the term blog has been a flashpoint since the beginning. There are still some who cling to the idea that blogs are written by Cheeto dust-stained losers in their parents’ basements, but the form has mostly gone mainstream. It has remained divisive, though, and it seems you can’t throw a rock without hitting a take about the impending demise of the form.

Given that we are open advocates for blogs with our clients, and that we maintain an active (and we may be biased, but brilliant) blog on the Raka site, you can probably guess where we stand. Still, let’s examine five reasons the Internet thinks blogs are dead, and why every one of those reasons is wrong.
 Or "Is Blogging Dead?" No, but bad blogging is dead.
But if I had to be honest with you, I would say that social media should be second in command to your blog. One of the benefits of being a blogger before social media got as big as it is (Instagram especially) is that I learned how to build long-form content that is valuable to my readers (all of you). I learned not only how to use this place as my own personal form of therapy, but also how to provide useful tips, tricks, recipes and DIYs that could help you guys lead a healthier lifestyle. Social media was simply a marketing tool to get the word out.
"Blogging is Dead, Long Live Blogging":
Blogs haven't disappeared – they have simply morphed into a mature part of the publishing ecosystem. The loss of casual bloggers has shaken things out, with more committed and skilled writers sticking it out. Far from killing the blog dream, this has increased the quality of the blogosphere as a whole.
Even though RSS and feed aggregators failed to go mainstream, content aggregators such as Techmeme and Google News are experiencing quite strong traction. Learning from Google Reader's mistakes, these smart aggregators now conveniently surface fresh and quality blog content for users.
In general, quite a few narrowly focused blogs are doing quite well, especially on political topics.

So here is what I am doing.

First, I cleaning up and reconfiguring the blogroll on the right. Links will now, in most cases, display the title of recent entries instead of how long it has been since something was published.

When possible, I am adding the authors' names for a more personal touch, unless it is an organizational blog, such as Fair Chase Hunting, a group blog, or the author wants to be anonymous.

Second, I want to add more content more frequently, trying to mix the personal stuff with the newsie stuff. You won't see me vlogging though, no matter what the experts say.

I am not trying to make a living at this — no ads, and there never have been. Maybe an Amazon link on a book title, that is about all that I do for monetization.

I hope you'll stick around and read it.

Fire Thoughts in Spring

Pasque flowers.
There's a rumble from the state highway down the valley. It is the second warm weekend day in a row, and "the hatch is on," as we say. Everyone in Colorado Springs or Pueblo with a motorcycle wants to ride it into the mountains. Some don't make it back, and then Flight for Life is landing at what I call Motorcycle Death Corner, an almost-hidden downhill switchback that sneaks up on the happy weekend rider.

But on to happier things. We are not on fire, at least not right now. The prairies are, however. Red Flag Warnings in ten states, including our part of Colorado.  Big blazes like the Rhea Fire in Oklahoma, now more than 286,000 acres. Quite a few smaller ones too — southeastern El Paso County and eastern Pueblo County (Colorado) seem to be getting hammered.

At the Wildfire Today blog, Bill Gabbert labels the OK Bar fire in southern New Mexico as an "under the radar" fire.
The fire is being managed by New Mexico State Forestry using a less than full suppression strategy. Fires not being suppressed do not receive the same exposure from the public agencies as conventional blazes, and this one may get even less in the next few days. After it grew by almost 5,000 acres on Friday, the national Situation Report for Saturday described the fire like this:
Extreme fire behavior. Last narrative report unless significant activity occurs.
Just two weeks ago I was on an Amtrak train chugging through the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. For one thing, there was more snow on the ground than around my house! (It had all melted six days later, on the return trip.)

Since you are usually seated opposite strangers in the dining car, you have these conversations about topics such as train travel or the weather or where you live as compared to where they live and the natural hazards associated with each place.

It's true, people in the East just don't "get" wildfire, or the community PTSD that sets in after one after another after another have come knocking at your door. That's OK, I don't "get" hurricanes.  (Tornadoes, yes.)

I look at our the window at the leafless, grey Eastern deciduous forests passing by and think, "If it's true that the Indians used to burn these woods agriculture or attracting big game, how they manage to do it? Wait for the perfect day in September? Because they always seem too moist."

April 26, 2018

Where the West Begins — The Line is Moving

John Wesley Powell, 1834–1902 (Wikipedia)
Driving across the country, I like to play the game of "Where does the West begin?" (westbound) or "Where does the Midwest begin?" (eastbound).

For instance, on US 20 in Nebraska, Valentine is definitely in the West, but anything east of Ainsworth feels like the Midwest.

Driving west across South Dakota, the Missouri River makes an easy marker. From downtown Pierre, I see the dry hills to the west and feel at home. (It helps that I lived as a kid in western South Dakota.)

Another tradition is just to use the 100th meridian of longitude as the marker. John Wesley Powell, Civil War veteran and visionary Western geographer, made this one popular.  (In this New York Times article, the writer ventures among the natives along the 100th meridian.)

Some climate researchers, however, are now saying that the arid/wet boundary is shifting eastward. "Whither the 100th Meridian? The Once and Future Physical and Human Geography of America’s Arid–Humid Divide. Part I: The Story So Far" is an article published by the American Meteorological Society.

Its abstract (summary) states,
The aridity gradient [east and west of the 100th meridian] is realized in soil moisture and a west-to-east transition from shortgrass to tallgrass prairie. The gradient is sharp in terms of greater fractional coverage of developed land east of the 100th meridian than to the west. Farms are fewer but larger west of the meridian, reflective of lower land productivity. Wheat and corn cultivation preferentially occur west and east of the 100th meridian, respectively. The 100th meridian is a very real arid–humid divide in the physical climate and landscape, and this has exerted a powerful influence on human settlement and agricultural development.
This boundary has moved before. An archaeologist friend pointed out to me that in part of the Middle Archaic period (3000–1000 years ago), trees extended farther east onto the plains. Think of of the "pine ridge" country of the Palmer Divide (eastern Douglas and El Paso counties, Colorado) extending clear to Kansas! "Those were the good times," he mused.

Part II of the article makes this prediction for the 21st century:
It is first shown that state-of-the-art climate models from phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project generally underestimate the degree of aridity of the United States and simulate an arid–humid divide that is too diffuse. These biases are traced to excessive precipitation and evapotranspiration and inadequate blocking of eastward moisture flux by the Pacific coastal ranges and Rockies. Bias-corrected future projections are developed that modify observationally based measures of aridity by the model-projected fractional changes in aridity. Aridity increases across the United States, and the aridity gradient weakens. The main contributor to the changes is rising potential evapotranspiration, while changes in precipitation working alone increase aridity across the southern and decrease across the northern United States. The “effective 100th meridian” moves to the east as the century progresses.
The Anderson Creek fire burned almost 400,000 acres in Oklahoma and Kansas in March 2016.
Back in the 1930s, the Dust Bowl ripped through the Southern Plains, as plowed land just blew away. So we stopped plowing so much, let it go back to vegetation, and now it's burning. In the long run, that is probably less destructive — more of a natural cycle —but a prairie fire is a scary thing.

In "Why is Oklahoma Burning,"  weather writer Bob Henson discusses the recent Rhea Fire, which burned more than 242,000 acres.
May 2015 was the state’s wettest single month on record, and 2015 was its wettest year. “The November-December 2015 period was the wettest on record as well, and the sixth warmest. So the growing season extended into winter to some extent that year,” said McManus. The result was an unusually lush landscape going into the first part of 2016 that dried out quickly in the weeks leading up to the Anderson Creek fire.
Likewise, the summers of 2016 and 2017 were on the moist side, said McManus. “We also had a pretty severe ice storm during January 2017 that left lots of big fuels on the ground waiting for that spark,” McManus said. Later that year came the the state’s second-wettest August on record. “August would normally be a time we'd get rid of some growth in our typical summer burn season,” said McManus.
The landscape of the Southern High Plains has been extraordinarily dry over the last six months. The western third of Oklahoma has seen little more than 2” since October—only about 20% of average—and most of the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles have received much less than 1”, making it the driest six months on record in some locations. Any moistening of the landscape has been all too brief, which has left the landscape highly vulnerable to a spell of fire-friendly weather.
Some good photos there too.

April 19, 2018

Fighting Off a Coyote with Wrestling Moves

This is outside the Southern Rockies, but M. and I are in Salem, Massachusetts right now, where a Boston television station carried this report of a man fighting off a coyote.

Maybe those Eastern coyotes really are more wolfish than ours!

Fortunately, brave doggies showed up in North America at least 10,000 years ago, according to some new research from Illinois. Were they pulling sleds? No one is sure.

April 03, 2018

Someone Was Eaten Here

A few weeks ago, I was walking up on the national forest and found this collection of fluff on the ground.

Up close, it looked like rabbit fluff.

I think that a raptor, such as a red-tailed hawk, smacked down a cottontail rabbit there and tore it open to eat it, but I cannot be sure. The almost circular pattern of the distributed fluff seems to suggest a bird to me rather than a four-footed predator

Dinos 1, Mammals 0 in this case?

March 30, 2018

Remember the Dust Bowl?


You probably don't remember it, unless you are over ninety. But see the right-hand blob of the red area? That's pretty much the center of the "Dirty Thirties." Compare it to this map.

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.)