May 21, 2024

Hailstorm Leaves Damage, Bad Feelings towards Stormchasers

You can complain about Instagrammers and "influencers" jamming up in pretty places, but now they are ruining hailstorms.

"Stormchasers" have been around for a while, especially since it became possible to download weather radar on the go. Last night's devasting hailstorm in NE Colorado produced not just complaints about broken glass, damaged crops, paint stripped from houses and so, but about the chasers as well

Here are some comments off the popular northern Colorado Facebook weather page that I linked to above, just to save you the scrolling:

Driving west from Kansas yesterday, I was passed by so many storm chasers, I wondered what was up. Probably close to 50 different cars, vans and trucks

The amount of storm chasers out here last night was ridiculous. I understand needing to study storms to better predict and prepare for the future, but last night was over the top. I’m not exaggerating when I’m saying there were probably a thousand “storm chasers”. The amount of cars flying down our dirt roads and highways recklessly was scary. Cars ignoring dead end signs and continuing down trail roads. People live here. The crops growing in the fields and the livestock we are trying to tend to are our livelihoods. Have some respect!

 I seen close to 100 people along side highway 34 and off on the side roads between Brush and Akron! I don't know if they realize that storms can get dangerous real quick!

I couldn’t believe the volume of chasers out there, frankly it’s gotten out of hand. The basic rules of the road and safety come first. Some streamers actually running stop signs and of course speeding at the expense of other drivers, wildlife, and property. I’d be angry if I was one of the impacted residents.

I watched a live yesterday from a storm chaser, I won’t name names. But the convoy was HUGE tons of people…..reckless watching the others in front of them. For sure. 

My family all live near Akron-my two kids and granddaughter‘s family are all south. My daughter and her husband have a cattle ranch with two cattle guards across their property containing mommas and babies. He had to go down and stop the cars from racing through their property and hitting the cattle-some people are crazy these days. Our rural area isn’t meant for a race track so I’m glad someone cares!

Now some people found "chasing" to be genuinely educational:

I got to go storm/tornado chasing with some PhDs from NCAR [National Center for Atmospheric Research] (I started a weather club at my kids' middle school so it was a special opportunity) and had the time of my life! No tornados, but a couple impressive super cells, and breakfast at 3 a.m. after we drove over 800 miles. Good times. Would love to do it again with people who know what they're doing!

Just for grins I went to Instagram and searched "Colorado hailstorm," getting 984 hits, but not all from this year. Maybe there will be more by day's end.

But who gets to decide who is "reckless and irresponsible"? If you are making money, you are exempt?

May 17, 2024

Hoping for a Mast Crop

Male catkins mix with new leaves on Gambel Oak.
Walking around, I see a pretty good mix of leaves and flowers on the scrub (Gambel) oak. Because it grows in clone clusters, some are already mostly leafed while others are just beginning. 

I suppose that the biologists would claim that there is evolutionary advantage there: if the early bloomers are hit by frost, the late-bloomers might still be safe. 

I just remember last year driving past miles of frost-killed catkins—which meant few if any acorns formed, so many calories of wildlife food were just not there.

When a wildlife biologist refers to "the mast crop," I get warm tingles, because that word goes way way back connectimg our Colorado forests in a sense to the forests where Old English and its predecessors was spoken.

"Fallen nuts or acorns serving as food for animals." Old English mæst, the collective name for the fruit of the beech, oak, chestnut, and other forest trees, especially serving as food for swine, from Proto-Germanic *masto (source also of Dutch, Old High German, German mast "mast;" Old English verb mæsten "to fatten, feed"), perhaps from PIE *mad-sta-, from root *mad- "moist, wet," also used of various qualities of food (source also of Sanskrit madati "it bubbles, gladdens," medah "fat, marrow;" Latin madere "be sodden, be drunk;" Middle Persian mast "drunk;" Old English mete "food," Old High German muos "meal, mush-like food," Gothic mats "food").

May 13, 2024

Bye-bye Boy Scouts


Observation Point Hill, Medicine Bow NF, Wyoming.
Left to right: Stan Henson, John Bustos (knees) Chris Brasmer, Kenny Pettine.

 



Cooking breakfast in the Medicine Bow NF. From left:
Chris Brasmer, Kenny Pettine, Scoutmaster Wayne Parsons, R. Peterson, John Bustos
Troop 97, Fort Collins, Colorado.
 

Now I know how some ex-Catholics must feel. Yep, the Boy Scouts of America made the same mistake, at a smaller scale, as the Roman Catholic hierarchy did. When accusations of sexual abuse came up, they ignored them. They protected the  perpetrators.

The People in Charge put the image and needs of the instutition that paid their salaries ahead of the needs of the people who made up that institution. So BSA ended up with 80,000 abuse cases settled for $2.5 billion — and its image damaged forever. The LDS church, which provided at least 20 percent of all Scouts, pulled out completely. BSA filed for bankruptcy. They also started letting in girls as their male membership dropped.

According to the video linked below, by culture critic Jim Goad, the "pedophile file" of offending Scout leaders dated to 1919, less than ten years after the organization's founding. But it was kept secure at headquarters and not shared with the local Scout troups. 

Just as the church quietly moved Father Fingers, the problem priest, from parish to parish, so BSA did not stop problem leaders from moving from one Scout troop to another. 

Now as of 2025 they will rebrand BSA as "Scouting USA" and to continue to poach girls away from Girl Scouts.

My Scouting memories are mostly good. I was in two Cub Scout packs (due to family moves), two Boy Scout troops (ditto), and too-briefly in one Explorer post, until I moved again. Both Scout troops were traditionally outdoor-oriented, which I think is the key experience. 

The first scoutmaster had a son in the troop. The second did not — at least when I was there —but his job as a recreation staffer on the Roosevelt National Forest let him use us as unpaid outdoor labor, which counted toward various awards. For instance, I learned a little about surveying with a plane-table alildade while helping to lay out a new campground in the Cache la Poudre River canyon. 

On a five-day backpack trip (photos above) from the Medicine Bow NF down into the Rawah Wilderness in northern Colorado, we took turns pushing a measuring wheel as he recorded trail distances junction-to-junction in his pocket notebook,  updating the forest's backcountry trails database. (Question: did he use vacation days or did it count as "work"?)

As for pedophiles, my only experience was of some creep-o trying to pick up 14-year-old me on the bus trip to the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. But he was just a random sexual predator, not a Scout leader. (Maybe I should have sued Continental Trailways?)  

I had no pedophile encounters within Scouting, nor did I hear of any. That is not to deny the actual abuse cases, but only to say that it did not happen everywhere.

I just look back, remember the good times, and wonder how it will all play out in the future. BSA was more good than bad, but the People in Charge drove it into the ground out of their own institutional vanity. Now they think they can save it by abandoning what used to be at its heart.

Writer Jim Goad shares his own memories from the 1970s in the video The Last Boy Scout. (Warning: politically incorrect language and attitudes.)

April 21, 2024

How the Russian Olive Became a Villain

Yesterday's hero (famous writer, movie star, politician) is the villain of today. There is a lot of that going around — even with trees. Take kudzu. That was like the Fatty Arbuckle of introduced species; everybody "knew it."

My area has seen some heavy snow and quite a few high winds in the past month. Anybody with a chainsaw and a wood chipper has lots of new close friends. At one nearby house, the snow broke a big old Russian olive tree, and while the people there decided to keep its thick trunk as a sort of lawn ornament, I ended up with the branches.

I rarely turn down free firewood. I have never burned Russian olive, a.k.a. oleaster, but when your go-to firewood is pine, any hardwood seems like a bonus.

Among Dad's old forestry books and field guides was Common Forest and Windbreak Trees of Colorado, published by the Colorado State Forest Service in 1963, and like most of that agency's work, geared toward private landowners, particularly those wanting to plant shelterbelts (windbreaks) around houses and outbuildings on the windswept prairie. 

Russian olive (Columbia Univ.)

Elaeagnus angustifolia
was praised. "Drought resistant and makes rapid growth . . . the fruit is relished by insect-eating songbirds and other wildlife."

In the West, tamarisk is our kudzuand both are being hunted with insects. But Russian olive has been "cancelled" too.  

I learned that at some conference in northern New Mexico a few years back, when I ended up talking trees with the environmental manager for Pícuris Pueblo, and she was like "Death to Russian olives!"  True: In New Mexico and Nevada it is officially a "noxious weed," while California, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Wyoming label it an "invasive weed."

Background from a Columbia University site on introduced species (archived version):

The Russian olive was introduced to the central and western United States in the late 1800’s as an ornamental tree and a windbreak, before spreading into the wild. By the mid 1920’s it became naturalized in Nevada and Utah, and in Colorado in the 1950’s. . . .

 Its value for wildlife is a "yes, but":

The "olives" (Columbia Univ.)

Over 50 different species of mammals and birds do eat the fruit, 12 of them being game birds. Deer and other livestock feast on the leaves of the Russian olive and beavers use the branches for constructing dams. The canopy of the Russian olive provides good thermal cover for some wildlife species. Doves, mocking birds, roadrunners and other birds use the thick growth of branches as nesting sites.

The Russian olive, with its tendency to spread quickly, is a menace to riparian woodlands, threatening strong, native species like cottonwood and willow trees. They are responsible for out competing a lot of native vegetation, interfering with natural plant succession and nutrient cycling and choking irrigation canals and marshlands in the western United States. This displacement of native plant species and critical wildlife habitats has undoubtedly affected native birds and other species. The heavy, dense shade of the Russian olive is also responsible for blocking out sunlight needed for other trees and plants in fields, open woodlands and forest edges. Overall, areas dominated by the Russian olive do not represent a high concentration of wildlife.

And they are hard to kill, spreading from suckers when the main trunk is cut. It sounds like brush-hogging with some herbicide is the way to control them; there is no natural pest to be imported, according to the site that I linked to.

Dad planted one in our backyard in Lakewood, Colo., along the high cedar fence he built. I remember its silvery leaves. But when I look down at that yard in Google Earth today, it appears to have been replaced by other trees, a pushback against the invasion.

March 19, 2024

Blog Stew: You Are Tracking It

Watch the video trailer for a class on animal trailing and tracking taught by Casey McFarland,  "but also, by extension, appreciating our connection to the natural world and how to view it more discerningly."

At the website, select "Nature Watching: How to Find and Observe Wildlife." and click the "Start Free Trial" button. See what you think.

This small fact has been in the news of late. I read it at The Hill in February: Plastics recycling is a bigger scam than 'cigarettes are good for you.' Coincidentally, the reccyling facility that I used went from "accepting plastic" to "separate no. 1 and no. 2 plastics" to "sorry, no plastic accepted."

After her angler husband died, Dylan Demery of Fort Collins wanted to take up fly-fishing herself.

Then she ran into the fly fishing-bros at the typical fly shop, who would ask her if she was buying something for her husband, if they waited on her at all.

Frustrated, she started her own women's gear line and fishing school, as described The Colorado Sun

Fishing wasn’t going to lose her. Ranalla became hooked — heh — after fishing helped her as much physically as mentally: fly casting helped her rehabilitate from an injury when nothing else worked. She was willing to wear waders that fit her poorly because she loved the sport. There aren’t many like her. Not even her daughter, in fact, was willing, and that’s what drove Ranalla to change the industry. Her daughter is tall, 5’11, and shaped like a woman. 

“I wanted my daughter to go into the water with me,” Ranalla said. “I bought the best thing I could find. It was lame. I knew she would never get in the water with it.”

March 10, 2024

What Every Trapper Needs, or Not

When I started camera-trapping for omivores like bears or foxes, I tried baiting them with dry cat or dog food. I figured it would not hurt anyone who ate a few kibbles. Camera-trapper Chris Wemmer, who has just written a book on the topic, said he used punctured tuna cans in rock piles and such places to intrigue certain animals and make them pause to get their pictures taken.

As I read the regs, hunting over bait is illegal, but camera-trapping is not. Nevertheless, I quit using the kibbles after a neighbor's far-ranging dog showed up at one of my sites on an obscure game trail — and then kept coming back. 

I decided to switch to scent lures and went looking online, which led me to F&T Fur Harvester's Trading Post (physically located in Alpina, Mich.) where I ordered such items as "Dunlap's War Paint Lure,"  "Dabbins' All-Call Lure," and some others.

When nothing's happening, play cards with
a deck of famous Walker hounds.
They arrived, "packed by Gabbie" and "checked by Don? Den?" — well, whoever, it was all fine.  They included a copy of their paper catalog—130 pages of everything needed by fur trappers, hound hunters, predator callers, dog trainers, and people who want to wear fantasy-mountain man-style fur hats.

The feeling when you think you might know a tiny bit about something, and then you open the door — and it's a universe! All I trap are the field mice that make it past the gray foxes and into the house, and I have a neighbor who goes out with the houndsmen after mountain lions. So this was eye-opening.

Pages and pages of traps, trap parts, trap accessories, books and DVDs, fur-processing tools, dog gear, coon-hunters' clothing, and don't forget your working apron and skull-bleaching kit. 

Not just scent lures, but ingredients to make your own: "Cheese Essence Oil: Gives off a powerful blue cheese odor that is excellent for canines."


There were high-end headlamps, sort of like the old ones with the case of four D cells that rode on your belt with the cord going up under your jacket in back to the lamp on your cap or hard hat. 

Today these have lasers and multiple LED lights and rechargeable batteries. Not cheap — $200 and up! Still, tempting.

Hang around the fishing-lures department in any outdoor sports emporium, and someone will say, "Most lures are designed to catch anglers, not fish." 

That passes for wisdom. But there is truth in it. Does the bass really respond to a perfect photographic replica of baitfish scales? Or does it just look good to the customer?

I was leafing through F&T's "Set-Making Equipment and Supplies" pages (shovels, trowels, sifters, pan covers, etc.) when I saw "Track Makers."

That is the photo up top. It's a molded paw of a coyote, fox, or bobcat, $6.95 each, which the trapper may press into the carefully sifted soil around the waiting trap.

Now I have to say, after carefully hiding human scent and deploying animal-attracting scent and maybe even placing a visual decoy that moves like an injured bird or something, are little paw prints going to make a difference in persuading Mr. Fox to take one step more? 

Smells matter, sounds matter, prey movement matters, but would a predator say to itself, "I ain't going there. I don't see any footprints"?

They might be useful if you want to teach a tracking class though.

February 27, 2024

Lettuce Get Down to Business

Photo from 1918 of the Mahon Ranch, west of Buena Vista.
Pictured are Martha Mahon, her daughter Cassie and Cassie’s husband, George Fields, with crates of head lettuce. Courtesy of Buena Vista Heritage Museum.

An article in the SkiHi News from Grand County, Colo, (Motto: 'The wolves are here, now where are the bucks?") notes the area's success with growing lettuce in the 1920s.

When some of the first settlers arrived in Granby, they realized the sunny days and cool nights were perfect for growing lettuce. The humble lettuce thrived in the mountainous landscape. . . . The Moffat Railroad gave local lettuce producers access to big cities like Salt Lake City. Granby was said to produce high quality lettuce and there are anecdotes that New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bragged of “Granby Lettuce” on the menu, according to the Grand County Historical Association.

Not just Granby. Back before the time when all fresh vegetables in the typical supermarket came from California, southern Arizona, and northern Mexico, other parts of Colorado were also producing lettuce. 

It was exported from the Wet Mountain Valley [Custer County], from Eagle County, and from Chaffee County, among other locales. The photo above was taken near Buena Vista.

All these locales had higher elevations (6000–8000 feet, typically), irrigation, and in most cases, rail access. A 2014 article in Colorado Central examines this now-defunct commercial agriculture.

By 1922 the Salida growing district was making plans to get in on the lettuce boom with more than 40 people becoming members of the Colorado Cooperative Lettuce Association in the town. Headquarters for the association was in the Unger store and Sid Burleson was a leader, The Salida Mail reported.

That same year there were about 1,500 acres of lettuce being grown in Buena Vista. Westcliffe [Custer Co.] had 800 acres, the Hardscrabble district [Custer Co.] 400 acres, the Divide district [Teller Co.] 300 acres and the San Luis district [Costilla Co.] 500. It was reported in the Chaffee County Republican that Buena Vista shipped 163 cars in 1922, followed by Florence [Fremont Co.] with 85, the Yampa district [Routt Co.] with 75 and Avon [Eagle Co.] with 73.

Since Hardscrabble is about 14 miles from Florence, that may be where the lettuce growers hauled their crop to the railroad. 

The 1941 WPA Travel Guide for Colorado, from the Federal Writers Program, noted that in northeastern Custer County, "fields on the steep [?] slopes grow potatoes, lettuce, and celery." Of Buena Vista it says, "Lettuce Day, combined with a rodeo, is celebrated annually in September." Granby, as noted above, and Alamosa are also described as lettuce-growing areas, as are Divide [Teller Co.] and La Veta [Huerfano Co.].

This production nose-dived by the 1940s. There was World War 2, of course, but as best I can tell, the big factor was improved refrigerated railcars making it easier for larger-scale West Coast growers to send massive amounts of lettuce etc. eastward. 

And with the growing more concentrated in fewer areas, a problem like a plant virus there rolls clear to the Eastern Seaboard as well. From 2023: "Farmers seek rebound after floods, virus hit lettuce crop."

Things were challenging enough for lettuce growers in Monterey County’s [California] Salinas Valley before Mother Nature dealt a one-two punch in this year’s storms.

Farmers in 2022 had suffered an estimated $150 million in crop losses as impatiens necrotic spot virus—a destructive plant disease spread by thrips—moved from field to field.

Then this year, vast flooding from atmospheric storms damaged multiple crops, with lettuce growers suffering an additional $54.4 million in losses, according to figures released by the Monterey County agricultural commissioner.

Most of those Colorado lettuce acres went to hay and cows — or in the case of Eagle County, ski condos. After all, cows are plant-based too.

February 25, 2024

Wolverines to be Reintroduced to Colorado

Colorado is looking to bring back the wolverine, thus successfully "retconning" that Cold War movie hit Red Dawn. (Supposedly set in Colorado, it was actually filmed in and around Las Vegas, New Mexico,  just like the Longmire TV series decades later.)

This, not C. Thomas Howell, is a wolverine. (Photo by Chris Stermer/
California Department of Fish and Wildlife.)

_
According to Colorado Public Radio
,

Colorado’s wildlife specialists are nearly finished with updates to a plan that could return a carnivorous mammal to the Centennial State. 

Aside from the first five letters of their name, wolverines have little in common with wolves, the species that draws the majority of headlines for wildlife management. One thing they do have in common is that they were once prolific in the West. 

“Wolverine was largely extirpated from the Western United States by about the 1930s,” Jeff Copeland, director at the Wolverine Foundation in Idaho said. “We don't know, necessarily, exactly why. It probably had to do with at the turn of the century there was heavy livestock grazing in the Western United States — heavy enough that it tended to displace other large ungulates — deer, elk, moose, sheep — animals that are very important to the wolverines, particularly as winter diet. Plus, there was widespread, wholesale poisoning campaigns going to keep predators away from livestock.” 

At least wolverines won't be as "sexy" as wolves. There probably will not be any wolverine-viewing bus tours. You won't hear people bragging on their wolverine X dogs, since they are mustelids (like weasels), not canids.

Probably won't see Governor Polis holding a photo op either.

"After the movie was released in 1984, The National Coalition on Television Violence deemed Red Dawn 'the most violent movie ever made.'" The NCTV obviously never met a real wolverine.

February 15, 2024

Pygmy Owl, Long-Distance Lizard

Pygmy Owl, abducted by aliens and examined.
A game warden called from up in the county seat. Someone had brought him a Northern Pygmy-Owl (correct ID on his part) that was "in danger" on a highway. 

We met on a side street, and he transferred the owl to my carrier. And there was a second passenger, a small lizard. Apparently the owl was about to eat dinner when the well-meaning two-legged came long. 

It was kind of astonishing that a lizard would be out and about. The sun was shining, but air temps were only in the mid-40s F at best. (Did the owl find it on warm asphalt?) The reptile seemed moribund, but then the light was fading at 7800 feet, and the air was cooling fast.

The Raptor Center in Pueblo was closed, of course. I called the director's cell phone. She said to keep the bird over night, give it a shallow dish of water, bring it down in the morning.

This morning I checked on the owl, which seemed alert and on its feet, poured a cup of coffee, and hit the road. 

On arrival, the owl checked out as healthy and unharmed.  "Take him home," the director said. I decided to take her literally.

But the lizard lived! I had not seen the lizard this morning and assumed that the owl had eaten it. But when I straightened out the towels in the carrier, there it was, barely moving one leg. Too cold, I am sure. A volunteer lifted it into a small box and went to place it somewhere warm.

After putting 116 miles on the Jeep, I had these results.

1. One [sagebrush?] lizard was relocated to the outskirts of Pueblo, into what should be a compatible habitat. Reptile brain says, "Umm warm." Missing tail tip probably not noticed.

2.  One Pygmy-Owl had a missing time/abduction experience but ended up about two miles away from where it had been. Its new location, however, features four birdfeeders, consequently, a prey-rich environment. Maybe we'll see it again.

What sets Pygmy Owls apart is that they are daytime hunters. Kind of like sharp-shinned hawks, they have short wings, long tails, and will try to snatch passerine birds off the feeder tray.  

Most owls have asymmetrically placed ears as well as flattened facial discs around the eyes. Both of these features are adaptations that give them better hearing. Interestingly, Northern Pygmy-Owls lack these features, and this may be an outcome of their diurnal habits and greater reliance on vision. All About Birds.
So releasing it in the day time was easy to do. Once it saw blue, it flew.



February 05, 2024

So Who Will Hack the Wolf GPS Data?


Colorado Parks and Wildlife has now published a GPS map for Colorado wolves.

Understand that while every wolf wears a GPS collar, including the ones that wandered in to North Park and were darted, collared, and released -- and including the 15 new ones coming in -- the magic map does now show where they are right now.

It shows what drainage they have been in lately. The website says,

  • Currently, the collars are programmed to record a position every four hours. 

  • Once four locations have been recorded, the packet of four locations is then transmitted via satellite to CPW biologists. 

  • The frequency of both position recording and transmission of the data can be delayed by a number of factors such as dense cloud cover, closed terrain, etc. 

  • By looking at the data, CPW staff can learn where wolves have been, but they cannot tell where wolves are at a current point in time, nor can they predict where the wolves will go. 

  • To protect the wolves, specific GPS data will not be shared.

"Specific GPS data will not be shared. "

Um, yeah.  Governments are so good at keeping data secure. Now who would want up-to-the-minute data? 

Most people's thoughts will probably go straight to some clandestine wolf-killer, some figure straight out of a Charlie Box wilderness-thriller novel.  

But follow the money. I remember how in the 1980s, as commercial rafting developed on the Arkansas River and the state took over recreational management, there were all these contentious meetings over regulation, which boiled down to

    a) Early arrivals in commercial rafting wanted to keep out the competition.

    b) Private rafters and kayakers did not want to be forced into the eddies by the commercial outfits.

    c) Anglers wanted to be left alone at dawn and dusk, at the very least.

You will make money if you
know where I am (CPW photo).
In 1989, the year after the big fires, M. and I passed through Yellowstone NP. We casually parked our van at the Slough Creek Campground. I fished a bit in Slough Creek (saw an otter!) and the Lamar River, where I could step from elk skeleton to elk skelton, after the big die-off in the 1988–89 winter.

We came back in the 2000s after wolf reintroduction. Slough Creek campsites had to be reserved months in advance. Every highway pull-out in the Lamar Valley was full of surly shoulder-to-shoulder observers with expensive optics: spotting scopes and telephone lenses. Tour busses with wolves painted on them lumbered up and down the road — like this one.

If the wolves reproduce — and if they move east into Rocky Mountain National Park — that will be Colorado's future too. Wolves as spectacle. 

As with rafting on the Arkansas, there will be a struggle for regulations that give some operators an advantage over their competitors.

And speaking of "advantage," if you were a "wolf-tour guide," what could you do with GPS coordinates as to just where the wolves were that day?

January 20, 2024

Biggish Cats, Short Tails

 

In early January 2024 Mario Angeles video'd these two lynx near Silverton, Colorado. That is a special moment, all right. Between native populations and (mainly) reintroduction, Colorao's lynx population is estimated at only 150 and 250 animals. 

And while it's not a lynx — not down here in the foothills where there is little snow on the ground — the scout camera right up behind the house did pick up a bobcat this month.

This is good bobcat habitat though, rocky and brushy, but you do not see them very often. 

Just for comparison, here is a young bobcat living large at the wildlife rehabilitation center in Custer County, due to be released when the weather warms. 

Photo: Wet Mountain Wildlife


January 12, 2024

Colorado Wolves: Faux "Paws" on the Ground

Gov. Jared Polis was on hand Dec, 18, 20203 to release Oregon wolves in Colorado,
but some Coloradans deeply involved with the project never were invited.

Some officials and Western Slope residents are annoyed that Colorado Parks and Wildlife seemed eager to please Governor Polis (if not Marlon Reis, his animal-rightist husband) while forgetting promises to them. They were never on the guest list or even informed about last month's wolf release.

According to the Sky-Hi News in Grand County,

Two [CPW] commissioners in particular, Marie Haskett from Meeker, who represents sportspersons and outfitters, and Duke Phillip IV, who represents agriculture and is from Colorado Springs, both believe a lack of communication and transparency has led to distrust of the agency in rural communities. And they both think the wolf reintroduction created animosity between rural and urban areas. While dismayed at the way the wolf releases were rolled out, the commissioners both expressed gratitude for the hard work CPW staff put into making the historic, voter-mandated reintroduction possible.

Haskett was the first to speak about wolves at the Jan. 10 meeting. She called Dec. 18 – the day the first five wolves were released – a “sad day” because comissioners were not notified. She claims that many of the CPW staff who worked tirelessly on the reintroduction were also not made aware. To her knowledge other members of the legislature and local counties were not alerted about the releases either.

“Even the Grand County commissioner (Merrit Linke) who was on the TWG (Technical Working Group) was not invited to the release, and yet other specific members of the working group were,” Haskett said. “The people who politically drove this issue were present. The divide between rural and urban populations was blown up with this ballot initiative. Now CPW has taken a huge political hit with the public because of these political actions.”

Philip in particular was angry because he had worked on the reintroduction but found that it had occured a day afterwards — by watching TV news.

Haskett said that poor communications with local people puts CPW's work at risk, since it must manage wildlife on both public and private land. I would add that it also feeds the conspiratorial narrative that the wolf introduction was "punishment" to an area that did not vote for Gov. Polis and other Democrats.

For official wolf news, check CPW's "Wolf Management" page.

January 02, 2024

The Man Who Is Buying the Colorado Prairie

Click to enlarge (Source: Bloomberg)
Stefan Soloviev is only the 26th largest landowner in America, so he has a way to go to catch up with John Malone or Ted Turner.

Stefan Soloviev (Business Insider)

I do remember when he bought the grandly named Colorado Pacific Railroad, all 122 miles of it, in 2018. But there was more to come, much more. The New York businessman, still in his 20s, started buying land. Then he went to see it, in this case, in Prowers County, southeast Colorado, which includes the town of Lamar.

“It was 6 miles off the paved road and I’m driving and everything looks the same and I’m driving and driving and I finally get to the property and I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m in the middle of nowhere.’ And I had a bit of a panic attack,” he says during a wandering interview with The Colorado Sun. “I’ll never forget that first time out here. It’s gotten easier. You adjust. You adjust to your surroundings. You start to become part of the community.”

He also has a pretty good spread in east-central New Mexico, as you will see if you explore this Bloomberg graphic article on America's top one hundred landowners.

Land: they ain't making any more of it. 

Soloviev, meanwhile, has big plans:

So the pitch looks like this: Rent his farmland at market rates. Grow your own grains. Truck them to Soloviev’s grain elevator close to the Colorado-Kansas border. Then ship the grain on his new Colorado Pacific Railroad to Pueblo to access Union Pacific’s national rail network. Soloviev says eventually he wants to grow into the international exporting business with cargo ships that can move Colorado grain “as far as I can take it.”

December 31, 2023

Wolves Now Add to the 'Colorado Experience'

A wolf who walked in from Wyoming caught on a scout camera
in North Park in March 2023 (Don Gittleson via AP).
Dad was still alive when the debate on reintroducing wolves to Colorado began, soon after the 1995 reintroduction in Yellowstone National Park. His US Forest Service career began and then ended in Colorado, and he had thoughts. 

His days of being a horseback district ranger in the Eastern San Juans were long gone. "Now," he said. "this state is just a big park. There's no place for wolves."

That's setting aside the livestock issues. When Dad was asking herders, "¿Cuántas borregas tiene?" there were no wolves to think about. Those sheep outfits are much diminished, for other economic reasons, but some remain, as do cattle, horses, llamas, alpacas, and other speciality livestock.

The late Ed Quillen, mountain-county newsman and publisher, prided himself on being the only Denver Post editorial columnist who lived outside the Denverplex. He liked to say that Colorado used to be a "colony of Chicago," providing minerals and agricultural products to industrial America. 

But then, he said, we became part of the "Los Angeles economy" — a colony of the entertainment industry. Now Colorado's best-known export is experience

If that is so, then think of wolves as just another tourism experience, like ziplines over canyons

So maybe Dad had it backwards? Colorado is a "park," so it should have wolves? Wolves that will add spiritual value to the Colorado experience without hurting anyone. 

With some wolves already filtering from Wyoming on their own (and killing livestock and dogs) was it necessary to bring in more? The voters in their wisdom thought so in 2020. Now 30–50 wolves are planned to be released in Colorado over the next three to five years.

Wolf 2302-OR, a 68-lb. female yearling, is released somewhere in Grand County on Dec. 18, 2023.

 

Some  headlines and squabbles:.

Maybe colorful flagging will keep wolves away from livestock. So says Adam Baca,  Colorado's first "wolf conflict coordinator."

Some Oregon ranches think flagging ("fladry") and other counter-measures are not enough.

[Tom[ Birkmaier, an Oregon rancher, expressed his concerns about the relocation, telling Oregon Public Broadcasting, "It's just going to bring the problem over to a lot of ranchers and end up killing a lot of livestock in Colorado."
This sentiment is not limited to Oregon ranchers alone. Lawmakers in other wolf states, including Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, have also declined Colorado's request for wolves, despite their own sizable wolf populations.

• Cat Urbigkit, Wyoming sheep rancher, writer, and livestock guardian dog expert, points out misinformation in the Colorado Parks and Wildlife press kit and says some of the released wolves came from livestock-killing packs.

CPW wasn’t up front in telling the public about the depredation history of the packs the newly released wolves originated. It was Rachel Gabel who dug into the details and told the public what she’d found.
Gabel is a rancher and ag-journalist from Wiggins, Colo., who has covered the wolf reintroduction extensively.

She was promptly attacked by the governor's husband, Marlon Reis.

Reis doesn’t just differ with Gabel in a lengthy thread of Facebook comments he posted over Christmas weekend. He repeatedly, personally attacks her abilities and standing as a journalist and urges the public to “never trust anything Rachel Gabel writes." . . .

It also makes us wonder whether our politically astute governor winced while reading Reis peevishly accuse Gabel of seeking, “not to report the truth, but to inspire fear.” Or, where Reis pettily huffed in the same post, “I'll never understand how she got hired as a journalist.”

• Wolves did not just wander into Colorado their own. The first pups were spotted in spring 2021. But that did not count as a "self-sustaining population," Colorado Parks and Wildlife said. It was interesting to the wildlife biologists though.

Stay tuned, there is more to come, for sure.

November 29, 2023

Life, Death, and Coffee in Clayton, New Mexico


No one is ever on the sidewalks in Clayton, New Mexico. Its population has trended down since 1960, and if you want to visit a store or other business, you can generally park right in front. The longest walk in town is probably from the farthest truckers' diesel pumps to the convenience store entrance at the Love's fuel stop.

I once tried to walk around downtown (was staying at the restored Eklund Hotel) and came the nearest ever to being forcibly disincarnated by a passing pickup truck, even through I was crossing with the light. I felt the backwash of Death's wings, I can tell you that. 

Maybe the driver was so unused to seeing a person on crossing the street that he assumed I was an incorporeal ghost. Or he was drunk.

So when I make my regular US 87 coffee stop at Crossroads Coffee (a.k.a. Mock's Crossroads Coffee Mill) I park in front or in the little gravel lot alongside, or on rare occasions I use the drive-up window.

There's no need to walk.