August 31, 2005

No, Blame Bush for Katrina

A political scion shows his lack of historical knowledge. Perhaps he could blame the flood of 1978 on Jimmy Carter. Speaking of which, this is prophetic:

The average New Orleanian housewife, as Bunny once noted, has an internist's working knowledge of every possible disease that can be caught in these parts. The man who holds the attention of the barroom is the guy who can top everyone else's hard luck stories. The Great Flood of May 3, 1978 was the most exciting of recent times, at least until another Hurricane comes. Even Carnival is talked of by the Yat in the most matter-of-fact ways, only the abominations of tradition being noteworthy.

A few years ago, the "lost city of New Orleans" was being compared to Atlantis.

UPDATE: For news junkies, try the Times-Picayune's breaking news blog.

Blame the French for Katrina

A writer for the Los Angeles Times works the blame-the-French angle into coverage of Hurricane Katrina. (Registration required.)

In 1718, French colonist Jean Baptiste LeMoyne de Bienville ignored his engineers' warnings about the hazards of flooding and mapped a settlement in a pinch of swampland between the mouth of the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico, and a massive lake to the north [Lake Pontchartrain].

On the other hand, reading some of the comments to hurricane stories on the BBC's web site, I learned that Katrina apparently is punishing the United States for not spending more on foreign aid.

Ok, so Bienville picked a risky site. Who in 1718 would have guessed that more and more levees would have been built all up and down the Mississippi River and around New Orleans to regulate the water that used to spill into swamps and wetlands and to protect a growing industrial city? I wonder if anyone will have the political guts to say, "Let's rethink the whole plan before we rebuild."

August 30, 2005

Whack 'em and stack 'em

The Idaho Statesman reviews a Ted Nugent concert. (Via The Stain).

• The celebration of violence was disturbing. The quintessential bloodthirsty redneck, Nugent cherishes hunting and preached "the beauty of the sacred gut pile." Dandy. But when he gleefully touted the 60-year anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and "the Japs," adding that America will "melt" anyone who threatens this country? Gosh, terrific concert vibe there, Ted..

In some quarters, Ted Nugent is considered a spokesman for ethical hunting. But he has a literary style of his own:

He names a wild boar after Janet Reno ("the only thing missing was the purple dress and he-man haircut"), and describes the same boar as emitting a "Courtney Love-like squeal," while the remaining boars mill around like "a throng of stoned, lost Grateful Dead fans."

The God and Nature Blame Game

Terry Mattingly of GetReligion [as in, "the press just does not get religion"] summarizes coverage of religious responses to Hurricane Katrina. God hates New Orleans? God spared New Orleans? God hates Biloxi? Whose God is punishing America for whose sins?

August 28, 2005

"Uninhabitable for weeks"

The Mason Gulch Fire was bad enough here, but Brendan Loy is right, this National Weather Service announcement about Hurricane Katrina is truly apocalyptic.

UPDATE: Don't bother with the Weather Service link, as the information there has changed as time passed. Suffice it to say that the original warning included everything except an angel with a flaming sword.

Compare and contrast

In England, a victory of sorts for ramblers (hikers).

But somebody please explain this: "Under the new legislation half of Dartmoor National Park is now open to the public."

Who gets to use the other half, the Duke of Cornwall?

In Colorado, meanwhile, parts of the Pike National Forest southwest of Denver are a sacrifice zone for dirt bikes, ATVs, target shooters, keg parties, and child molesters with teddy bears. "Teens go wild amid Pike trees." (Link may evaporate.)

Re-valuing tree$

A mature urban tree in Washington, D.C. is worth $1,875, note enviro-blogger Joel Makower.

The value includes shade (reduced air-conditioning loads), carbon storage, and pollution reduction but not the improved mental health of associated hominids.

Prairie dog paratroopers

Yesterday, KRCC's "Western Skies" news program broadcast a segment whose historical resonance they failed to recognize--specifically, this segment. (Scroll down to "The rumor mill has been working overtime in Lincoln County.")

The broadcast transcript continues:

It turns out the discussion at the [county commissioners'] meeting was more of an informal inquiry by Commissioner Gary Beedy, who says he brought it up after his father saw something unusual one evening while checking his cattle.

Prairie DogGARY BEEDY: All of a sudden he saw a helicopter come down real quick and land in a pasture, a neighbor's pasture, and it was there for just a little bit and took off again. After talking around he found some other people who had also seen helicopters come in and land in pastures out in the middle of nowhere, and some have seen prairie dogs that are kind of off running around looking lost and aren't in a colony like they normally are.

Lincoln County! Mysterious helicopters and vans! Animal weirdness! Yikes, it's the 1970s again!

Lincoln County, on the High Plains in eastern Colorado, was the epicenter for many of the mysterious and never-solved cattle-mutilation reports of the mid-to-late 1970s. Stumbling out of college into reality's light in those years and returning to Colorado Springs, I was fascinated by it all. I wanted to be a reporter and investigate, but I was not hired (by the now-vanished Colorado Springs Sun) until 1979.

A couple of years later I did write a feature on the mutilations, but it was more in the nature of "What ever happened to?"

At the time, some people blamed warped Vietnam-vet helicopter pilots from Fort Carson for the mutilations (if they indeed were human-caused mutilations, which is debatable).

In general, you make a mistake to underestimate the paranoia of many rural residents. And a lot of old-time ranchers hate prairie dogs because they eat grass that might go into a cow. Baca County, in southeast Colorado, actually passed a law against importing prairie dogs.

Their target: animal-protectionists who were looking to save prairie dogs displaced by subdivisions on the prairie around metro Denver and to relocate them.

Put that together with the stereotype of black-clad Animal Liberation Front types torching research labs, and you have animal-rights commandos dropping off prairie dogs from helicopters at Gary Beedy's father's ranch.

And I would not rule it out. My sister once wanted me to help her do something similar--clandestinely reintroduce prairie dogs to South Park, a large intermountain valley in central Colorado, where they had mostly all been poisoned to death in the 1950s and '60s at the request of cattle and sheep ranchers. And although that plan never came to fruition, she took on other equally quixotic challenges.

I probably shouldn't mention this, but earlier in the summer our dogs killed a prairie dog in our little meadow. At the time, M. and I were mystified (and sad). We live in the wooded foothills, so what was a prairie dog doing here? The nearest colony is at least three miles away as the crow flies. Now I'm wondering...

August 24, 2005

Grizzly man, grisly death

Blogger Majikthise posts on Timothy Treadwell, self-proclaimed grizzly bear protector. She takes a fairly hard line:

We only see Treadwell when he knows he's on camera, usually when he's filming himself in the Alaskan wilderness. The disconcerting thing is that he never really breaks character--even when he's wondering aloud between takes about whether his hair looks okay, chasing a fox that stole his hat, or whining into his hand-held cam about how he's a nice guy who can't get laid. In between takes we see Treadwell addressing the camera less formally--but he's the same self-deluded narcissist throughout.

Some of the comments are more forgiving. I saw only ABC's Primetime broadcast on Treadwell. I think Treadwell is not the first to seek a sort of self-redemption among the griz--an Arizona writer comes to mind as well--but Treadwell apparently stopped seeing the bears as bears and more as extras in his movie--or at least that is the impression that I get so far.

UPDATE: Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Society offers a fierce defense of Treadwell and Amie Huguenard against an Alaskan editorialist who disparaged their efforts.

August 21, 2005

Local knowledge

The Pueblo Chieftain produces almost a eulogy in newsprint for the Bessemer Ditch. Odd as it may sound, I have always found irrigation ditches to be sort of romantic. Maybe that comes from playing with dirt and water as a kid. Maybe it comes from a past life in ancient Sumaria, who knows.

When I was a shareholder in the DeWeese-Dye Ditch & Reservoir Co., I spent long hours with a shovel cleaning the lateral ditch that served my house and my immediate neighbors' houses after some of them had given up on it. Eventually I got some help from some of them, and we lined part of the ditch with donated plastic pipe, thus delivering more water than we could use.

Even the annual meeting was fascinating, held in a 1940s (or older) community building with coal-burning stove and dangling light bulbs. Someone would walk around collecting ballots in a cowboy hat.

The federal government, in other words, you readers, contributed tens of thousands of dollars through the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service to our little operation. That's the dirty secret of "hydraulic civilization:" It's expensive and it takes a bureaucracy to run it, be that bureaucracy the priests in the big temple or the guys in Western-cut suits at the conservancy-district board meeting.

Those are the big guys. I always just liked walking along under the cottonwoods with a shovel on my shoulder. Don't ask me why.

August 17, 2005

Cheetahs in Colorado?

Not Pleistocene cheetahs, contemporary cheetahs. Some people think African species could use the American Great Plains as a refuge.

If Ted Turner adds elephants and lions to his bison, it could happen.

Endangered species

Even in Academe, where I hang out a lot, real honest-to-Marx Communists are an endangered species. Pretty soon ecotourists will have to go to North Korea to see them, I was thinking. But a new breeding population has been discovered, and Harry Hutton has pictures. See earlier entries also.

Now, back to dogs, forest fires, etc.

August 16, 2005

Local knowledge

Three cheers for Vera Stucky Evenson, author of The Mushrooms of Colorado. Those white mushrooms were indeed Agaricus campestris. M. and I ate them on last night's pizza, and we're still here 24 hours later. (Yes, I made spore prints too.)

The cat ate some too--he must have liked the oiliness of sauteed mushrooms--but he later left his on the bathroom floor. Cats and fungi: not a good combination.

Local knowledge can be hard to come by. When I taught an environmental-issues section of freshman composition, my student typically knew (or thought that they knew) more about the Brazilian rain forest than about the Wet Mountains, which they could see from the classroom windows, not 30 miles away.

The Pueblo Mountain Park Environmental Center has taken a good step with the publication of .Plants of Pueblo Mountain Park, which fits our ecological niche over here too. (Graphic design by Shawna Shoaf.)

This evening after supper I strapped on my authentic Lithuanian mushroom basket, and M. and I walked the ridge behind the house, picking boletes. "Probably the surest mushrooms to recognize beyond the Foolproof Four [morels, puffballs, shaggy mane, sulfur polymore] are the boletes," writes Lorentz Pearson in The Mushroom Manual.

My eccentric sister in Kaunas provided the basket. She bought it from a street vendor--it looks like an angler's creel, but it lacks the slot in the lid into which to deposit the spotted trout. Maybe it was supposed to be a creel anyway, but since the few Lithuanians I have met were mycophiles, it's a mushroom basket.

It was Germans who started us gathering boletes. Years ago, we were hiking the Horsethief Park trail on the west side of Pike's Peak when we encountered a group of elderly German women with shopping bags--typical Army brides from Colorado Springs--and they were doing some serious mushroom-picking.

They taught us boletes, and then they pointed us one way while they went another way.

One member of that particular demographic established an unfortunate reputation with the local Search and Rescue group. She was so busy one summer afternoon a couple of years ago looking down for edible fungi that she got lost and spent a chilly night in the Wets. And now the S&R people are convinced that all mushroom-hunters are distracted and easily lost.

"You look like a mushroom-gathering peasant," M. said as I scooped boletes from the pine needles. "But you're not colorful enough."

August 14, 2005

"In Search of the Buffalo Nation"

Today's Pueblo Chieftain begins a new series on reintroducing buffalo to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

I wish them well, but buffalo-ranching cannot support too many people either. The Indians at Pine Ridge and the other South Dakota reservations are in a double-bind in ways that were not even dreamt of in the 19th century when the reservations were created:

Land and climate wrong for farming. Not much surface water. No significant mineral resources. Too far from a city to commute. Not enough conventionally glamorous scenery for tourism, even with Badlands National Park. ("Badlands" --not exactly sexy.) So even if the Indians a century-plus ago had admitted that the 200 good years of buffalo-hunting were over and wanted to do something else, there is not much else to do there.

Nowadays, too far from a city to attract lots of casino gamblers (Think of that little casino between Valentine, Neb., and Mission, S.D., on the Rosebud Rez. You can't? Not suprising.) I spent much of my childhood in Rapid City, and it has grown more since then, but it is only a "major metropolitan area" by Great Plains standards.

If raising some buffalo and building wind-power generators can help, more power to them. I just do not see how the rez can be more than a retirement home for most of the tribe.

August 13, 2005

Six (biodegradable) feet under

It's not enough that "green burial" has arrived in America. We have to turn it into a marketing battle.

The presence of Fernwood, where the official hearse is a black Volvo S.U.V., in the cool verdant shadows of Mount Tamalpais, reflects Northern California's status as the nation's capital of alternative, artisanal death. The area is home to the death-midwifery movement, supporting home funerals, as well as a cottage industry in plain pine boxes and Funeria, a fraternity of funerary artists who have their own Biennale in San Francisco.

Cemetary entrepreneur Tyler Cassity's renovation of Hollywood Memorial Park was the subject of a recent documentary.

August 09, 2005

Bad News for the Sage Grouse

Guest post by Steve Bodio

As all news seems to be. The magnificent Sage grouse (now considered to be composed of two species, the Sage, Centrocercus urophasianus, and the Gunnison, Centrocercus minimus) is the biggest grouse in North America and perhaps one of the ultimate quarries for dedicated falconers because it is so good in the air as well as large and strong. It is one of the few grouse that can be seen passing high in the air, like some sort of lumbering waterfowl or flapping B- 17 rather than a ground bird.

It is, (or they are) probably a "recent" species as such things go, one that split off from common stock with more conventional grouse species like the Blue grouse (Dendrogapus obscurus) during the Pleistocene glaciations. The polygamous males perform for the inspection of prospective mates on "leks," communal display grounds, making an eerie hollow hooting sound and erecting plumes and tails until they look like dancing plains warriors.

I am not one for doom and gloom about species, but the Sage grouse is an unusually unlucky bird. It migrates over lage distances for a so-called sedentary species, neds riparian areas and insects for its chicks, and above all needs SAGE, a major part of its diet. The sage ecosystem has been broken up and turned into center-pivot agriculture throughout the Great Basin and the valleys of western Wyoming and Montana. Invasive cheatgrass, which has no value as a food plant, is spreading via fire throughout the sagbrush ecosystem.

Now comes more disturbing news from the Swarovski Birding e-bulletin:

"We again visit the beleaguered sage-grouse scene, now with warnings about West Nile Virus. Over the past few years, Greater Sage-Grouse have been found infected with West Nile Virus at a number of locations, including Wyoming, Montana, and Alberta. Ongoing studies have suggested that the species is highly susceptible to the disease. None has shown neutralizing antibodies, intimating that most sage-grouse do not survive WNV. Indeed, researchers have yet to find a Greater Sage-Grouse that has survived infection by WNV, a grave situation for a species already facing diminishing habitat. Even the smallest doses of the virus have killed sage-grouse during experimentation. There is also evidence that WNV, usually spread by mosquitoes, can spread directly between sage-grouse. A 2003 study found that sage-grouse survival had fallen by an average of 25 percent in two locations in the Wyoming portion of the Powder River Basin, as well as at another site in Wyoming and one in Alberta. Studies are ongoing".

Libby reminds me that irrigation can create better conditions for mosquitos as well. I am glad that I have had the privilege to see the males dance , courtesy of Matt Miller of the Nature Conservancy and Tom Cade and Kent Christopher of the North American Grouse Partnership. If anyone can turn the great bird around, these organizations are the ones--check them out.

And, for a future post perhaps: the habitat of Sage grouse lies mostly within the "impact area" of that slumbering but uneasy dragon, the Yellowstone Supervolcano...

Update: apparently the WNV situation may not be as dire as first reported. In a North American Falconers Assocation email which I cannot quote in detail it because it is confidential, a veterinarian doubts that there is any confirmed bird- to- bird transmission. Which doesn't mean that these two spectacular grouse species do not continue to face all of the other problems mentioned above.

August 06, 2005

More Canine Cognition

In the Big Science News: Korean scientists have cloned a dog -- to be exact, a rather handsome Afghan.

This is all very interesting, but other than the anti- cloning tizzy that it has thrown Bay Area animal activists into-- I'll try to find a link-- one of the interesting aspects is how self- elected "experts" have weighed in on how dumb a choice the Afghan is.

Says one, shrink and pop dog author Stanley Coren: "The Afghan hound is not a particularly intelligent dog, but it is beautiful." He ranked the Afghan hound last among 119 breeds in temperament and trainability."Many people who opt for the cloning technique are more interested in fashionable looks," he said. "Whenever we breed dogs for looks and ignore behavior, we have suffered."

Actually I would agree with him that far-- but he may be picking the wrong breed for the wrong reason. The modern show Afghan may be a shadow of its Asian ancestors, but the primitive wolflike habits and physiologies of the Middle Eastern and Central Asian sighthounds, which I have hunted with for twenty five years, do not easily lend themselves to simple analysis. They are not robotic, while some "intelligent" breeds like Labs can be.

My friend John Burchard, who studied at the Max Planck Institute and under Konrad Lorenz, and who has worked with salukis and falcons for forty- plus years, put it this way today: "In general the dogs that score highest for obedience, and thus for "intelligence" in Coren's system, do worst at problem solving. The best problem solvers seem to be wolves -- and Basenjis, who score very low in Coren's scheme. Don't know if anybody's tried sighthounds on the problem solving tests ... but those of us who live with them can't help noticing certain things..."

(One of our sighthound group describes a cartoon in which a bespectacled scientist stands at the top of a cliff demanding that a recalcitrant Afghan "Jump!". Below the ground is littered with the corpses of Labs, collies, shepherds....)

A few more comments from primitive dog aficionado friends-- both scientists incidentally. Vladimir Beregovoy wonders whether modern show and pet breeders who favor "placidity" would breed from what he calls "Houdinis " like my Kazakh female Ataika, who routinely escapes from 8- foot fenced enclosures though no bigger than a whippet. And Dr. John Burchard adds re genetic depletion:

"There is much talk of genetic diseases in purebred dogs.

"It seems the most serious one, ultimately fatal, is called "registration."

Mental maps of dogs

Shelby digs for an imaginary pack rat. M. sometimes teaches "lifespan development" to undergraduates in psychology, and she tosses around terms such as "object permanence," "symbol theory," and "mental maps."

Here, I think, is a dog with a mental map: our ninja-collie, Shelby.

The wood was stacked in the morning. In the afternoon, Sheby was tearing into the woodpile looking for pack rats.

Why? Because last winter a pack rat had nested in another woodpile built in about the same spot. Here is a woodpile; therefore, it probably holds a pack rat. That is reasoning of a sort.

Pondering canine cognitive development at least occupies my mind while I am re-stacking the logs that she knocked down.

"Ninja-collie"? We call her that because she can float up the creaky flight of wooden steps to the front porch without making a sound.

August 03, 2005

The Flycatcher Nest

M. and I were gone from July 24-30. When we came home, we checked the nest of the Cordilleran flycatchers that I mentioned earlier.

It was empty, except for the desiccated corpse of one chick--earlier I had noticed that one seemed to be smaller and weaker than the other two.

I was surprised that they had fledged so quickly, but this site seems to say that the time frame was correct.

Who Killed the Giant Ground Sloths?

A new paper seems to assign part of the blame for the disappearance of large prehistoric North American mammals ("megafauna") to human overhunting and part to environmental factors.

(I am linking to Tech Central Station, but their link to the paper itself is not working for me.)

"The large carnivores became extinct because their large prey disappeared," said Harris. "The larger herbivores digest their food in one of two ways: ruminants have a multi-chambered stomach and chew their food several times, known as chewing the cud, whereas non-ruminants have less complex stomachs and the bulk of their digestion takes place through fermentation in the hind gut.

"When you review the herbivores that survived you'll note they comprise ruminants (bison, deer) and omnivores (peccaries). Horses, ground sloths and proboscideans are hind-gut fermenters that failed to survive."