May 30, 2007

A Perennial Cult

Tomorrow we travel to the cultic center. We had heard of it for a couple of years before we visited it.

Oh, we knew the more exoteric sites. For a time, we worshiped at Los Robles nursery, which had the reputation of being hippest nursery in Colorado Springs, even opening its own cafe. Then the owners declared bankruptcy.

We were drawn to the Hillside--that is Hillside Gardens & Nursery on the city's near east side. But our last visit (actually, the last several visits) were disappointing. The stock seemed skimpier than in past years, the employees less informed, and the cashier would have short-changed me if I had not paid attention. Maybe they are more about the "gardens" part these days--being a venue for weddings and such.

So we drove back to Good Earth Garden Center, on North Walnut Street where Los Robles had been located before the latter expanded and exploded. Lots of selection in short-growing-season tomatoes, employees zipping around with walkie-talkies, and plenty of our favorite clay-busting organic cotton-boll compost.

But tomorrow it's time for a trip to the secret shrine, the nursery mentioned only in whispers by the serious southern Colorado gardeners, open only at certain times. It is Perennial Favorites near Rye, located in an ecological zone more similar to our own, so that we can pretty well assume that anything that grows there will grow at our place--not always true even in Colorado Springs.

This wet spring is a cause for foolish optimism.

And if you thought that my headline referred to something or someone like this, give yourself 10 points.

May 28, 2007

Firefighters should not die for property

The Forest Service is re-thinking trying to save homes in the "urban interface," at least in California, where five firefighters died last year trying to save a vacant house in the Esperanza Fire.

As another fire season heats up, some Forest Service officials say a shift in strategy is inevitable as firefighters increasingly risk their lives defending communities that have been built in prime fire territory.

"We are not going to die for property," said Tom Harbour, national director of fire and aviation management for the Forest Service. "It's time for homeowners to take responsibility for the protection of their homes.

This issue hits close to home. I remember the fire departments that turned out during the Mason Gulch fire two years ago. An engine and crew from Castle Rock, Colorado, which is about 75 miles north of here, spent a day at our house. They dug a hand line around the house, put all the porch furniture in the garage, and then, fortunately, did not have to do anything else. (See July 2005 archive for more about the fire.)

As the article points out, not doing anything when danger threatens runs contrary to the ethos of firefighting, but so does being trapped by wildfire when fighting a structure fire.

There was a story from 2002's Hayman Fire southwest of Denver of some urban firemen fleeing with hoses dragging behind their fire engine, when the woods on all sides started burning while they were concentrating on a house.

We most likely will be hearing more about this issue.

May 26, 2007

There is no pax . . .

. . . in the eternal duel of Dog and Fox.

And that duel usually occurs around 2 a.m., when M. and I are soundly sleeping with the bedroom window open.

Evidently the foxes think, "Let's go annoy those dogs." And so they bark (.wav file). It sounds as though they are only about 20 yards away.

And the dogs go berserk, baying at the window, running to the front door ("Let me out! I'll get that fox!").

After fifteen minutes, everyone settles down again--until the next night.

May 23, 2007

Bureaucratic idiocy: the Park Service

Photo by Chas S. Clifton
This may be the month when I blog about stupid decisions by public lands management agencies.

Let's start with Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

M. and I camped there last month on our way to my nephew's graduation in western Colorado. The view was spectacular, the birds sang -- and before 8 a.m., the screaming started.

A local running club had arranged an early morning race on the park roads. Superintendent Connie Rudd or her staff had thoughtfully placed the finish line right next to the campground. So all the campers in tents and thin-walled trailers got to hear some aging cheerleader types yelling stuff like, "Yay, Joey! Way to go! Woo-hoo!"

You may think that that bird song is a better early morning aural experience. Not at Black Canyon.

If every carload of runners paid the entrance fee, however, then some management goal was closer to being met.

You readers probably have your own tales. Feel free to share them.

May 21, 2007

Selling Hunting & Fishing in Colorado

I knew that the Colorado Division of Wildlife was up to something when they not only began running TV commercials but even sponsoring programs on our local National Public Radio station, KRCC from Colorado Springs.

Outdoor/nature writer James Swann explains the campaign.

In the Information Age, the vast majority of people, including most of those who do not hunt or fish, spend over 95 percent of their time indoors, where first-hand contact with nature is limited and information primarily comes in over the media.

In that media-driven reality, the non-sportsmen majority hear and see a constant stream of messages about ecological issues and problems, most recently global warming, coming from a variety of groups that are dependant upon crises, real or imagined, to keep up their flow of funding coming. They also hear a constant patter of negative sound bites generated by animal rights groups.

May 20, 2007

Encounter with a Salamander

Tiger salamander. Photo by Heather Bjornebo.
Embolded by yesterday's conjunction of the Moon and Venus or some other esoteric factor, M. and I decided to plant an apple tree in a former flower bed at our guest cabin.

She was digging the hole while I went to fetch something, and when I came back, she said, "Look who I dug up!"

It was a tiger salamander. I had not seen one for years. Perhaps it had crawled down into a gopher burrow--they spend days underground in other animals' burrows--and spent the winter there.

Had I been thinking about blogging, I would have run for the camera. But we had an apple tree to plant. So the photo comes from a site on salamanders as pets.

Not wanting to make it a pet, I placed the salamander in the thick moist grass underneath a nearby juniper tree in the yard. When we came back a few hours later, it had disappeared. It had warmed up and was off to hunt insects--or find a new hideout--or so we hope.

What the Yellowstone Grizzlies Eat

It's a little like CSI: Yellowstone.

Researchers are using DNA analysis, atomic absorption spectrometry, and other techniques to analyze not just what Yellowstone grizzlies eat, but what they used to eat, based on study of museum specimens.

Download the paper: "Grizzly Bear Nutrition and Ecology Studies in Yellowstone National Park" (376kb PDF file)

It all bears (pun) on such issues as the displacement of cutthroat trout by introduced lake trout in Yellowstone Lake and diseases and bugs affecting whitebark pine trees.

The oldest grizzly bear bones that we found came from a 1,000-year-old packrat midden excavated from the Lamar Cave. Due to the efforts of this hard-working pack-rat that had a fetish for bones, we know that meat (everything from ants to trout and elk) provided 32% of the nourishment for those grizzly bears and 68% came from plants (everything from roots and leaves to berries and nuts. That distribution of dietary meat to plants is identical to what we found for five grizzly bears killed from 1856 to 1888 in eastern Montana and Wyoming.

From 1914 to 1918 when many hotels were feeding kitchen scraps to attract grizzly bears for tourist entertainment and local towns had open-pit garbage dumps, the park’s grizzly bears switched to 85% meat, 15% plants. After all such feeding ended by the early 1970s and bears were forced to return to natural foods, the diets of young bears of both sexes and adult females returned to the levels observed 1,000 years ago (~40% meat, 60% plants). Adult males have continued a more carnivorous life (~80% meat, 20% plants). Large males can prey more efficiently on the park’s elk and bison or claim the carcasses of animals that died from other causes. Bears that have been killed for preying on livestock outside the park had diets that were 85% meat, 15% plants. These levels of meat consumption are in contrast to those of grizzly bears in Glacier National Park and Denali National Park, where plant matter provides 97% of their nourishment. Thus, for grizzly bears, the opportunity to consume meat differentiates the Yellowstone ecosystem from many other interior ecosystems where bears must feed primarily on plants. Cutthroat trout are one of those meat sources.


Lithospermum incisumThis part of southern Colorado has enjoyed a wet spring--about seven inches of rain in a month--and all sorts of flora and fauna are popping up.

I saw a wildflower today that I did not recognize--and I thought I knew what grows on our place.

It is narrowleaf puccoon, Lithospermum incisum, with a trumpet-shaped flower whose large end is ornately frilled. Part of the borage family.

A Few Reasons for Controlling ATVs on Public Lands

Call them all-terrain vehicles, ATVs, quads, four-wheelers, whatever--their reckless use causes problems for the land, for wildlife, and for people who just want to walk in the woods without the sights, sounds, and smells of motorized traffic.

The Durango Herald points out how "elk don't like ATVs."

In heavily motorized habitat, travel and hiding cover are drastically reduced and this essential freedom to roam must be bought by elk at the usurious price of greatly increased physical and emotional stress and social disruption.

"Off-roaders destroy pristine lands," from the Pueblo Chieftain.

Roads are being carved through pristine fields where wildflowers and grasses struggle to grow.

Gates and signs are being cut down, run over, shot to splinters or smashed into pieces.

And from the Denver Post, a suggestion that the all-terrain vehicle is the worst invention of the writer's lifetime.

At the willingly assumed risk of upsetting, even alienating, a significant segment of otherwise sedentary society and the industry it sustains, I'm handing out the award for the worst invention of my lifetime to the all-terrain vehicle.

Yes, I understand that era includes the Flowbee, spray-on hair, aerosol cheese, New Coke, psychic hotlines, Milli Vanilli and "Rocky V."

And the writer concludes,

Meanwhile, a recent analysis commissioned by the Outdoor Industry Association determined that non-motorized outdoor recreation kicks in a whopping $730 billion to the national economy annually, generates $88 billion in state and national tax revenue and supports nearly 6.5 million jobs nationwide. At $289 billion in retail sales in 2005, active outdoor recreation outpaced even auto and light-truck manufacturing by nearly $40 billion.

Most of these articles quote someone from some organized ATV-user group. Those groups may police their members--but from my experience, they probably represent about 1 percent of ATV users.

Hat tip: Mike Beagle at Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.

May 19, 2007

The Tyranny of the Second Home

In the New York Times, rich New Yorkers lament the "tyranny" of their second homes.

Perhaps the Denver papers will pick up the theme, writing one sentence thus:

But despite the tyranny of Interstate 70, another nightmare for weekend commuters who don’t have a private jet...

The headaches:

John Van Sickle, a classics professor at Brooklyn College, said that when you own a second property, “you enter into a pact.” Lose sight of that pact, he said, and you suffer. “I’ll wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning and realize I didn’t do some chore,” he said. “I might be in France, but I realized the night-blooming cereus needs watering. We’re supposed to be in Holland on a sabbatical, but first I have to deal with who’s doing the fall clean-up. Somebody has to cut off the stalks of the old perennials, and make sure in their zeal they don’t cut the chestnut saplings down.”

There, don't your house problems seem smaller now?

May 18, 2007

Wyoming Wolves

Swen, the "coyote at the dog show," (and I bet he says coyote with two syllables), summarizes current developments in the Wyoming wolf-management brouhaha. (Scroll down a little.)

He ends with this wry observation:

Meanwhile, the wolf population continues to grow, and managing those wolves continues to be the feds' problem. And an expensive problem it is. Funny that the grizzly reached its population target years ago and the feds are just now getting around to considering removing them from the endangered species list, yet wolves were just reintroduced a little over a decade ago and the USFWS can't wait to wash their hands of them. It couldn't be that the grizzly has caused few problems, while the wolves are becoming a major pain in the butt, could it?

At Querencia, Steve Bodio posts excerpts from a paper by noted mammalogist Val Geist including this:

"The politically correct view about wolves, currently vehemently and dogmatically defended, is that wolves are “harmless” and of no danger to humans. This view arose from the early research of eminent North American biologists who, confronted by historical material contradictory to their experiences, greatly mistrusted such. Due to language, political and cultural barriers they could access such at best in part, but they were nevertheless convinced that the old view of wolves, as enshrined in Grimm’s fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood was incorrect and based on ill founded myths, fears and superstitions. They were greatly aided in this by premature conclusions about free-living and captive wolves, as well as by a brilliant literary prank by a renowned Canadian author and humorist, which illustrated wolves as harmless mouse eaters.

If I ever see the whole thing online, I will link to it.

May 15, 2007

There Is No Truce . . .

Shelby on squirrel patrol.
. . . in the eternal duel of Dog and Squirrel.

Two Colorado Cultures

Last Sunday afternoon I spent in a small western Colorado town that is still far from fashionable, sitting in a packed 1950s gymnasium to see my nephew graduate from high school.

An under-powered sound system pumped out "Pomp and Circumstance" as the graduates, all 33 of them, walked in, most of the guys showing sneakers or cowboy boots under their gowns. And there was D.--with his stethoscope draped over his shoulder alongside his National Honor Society cord!

He is studying to be an EMT, and already volunteers with the local fire department. Minutes earlier, the great-grandmother of one graduate had collapsed outside the school, and he had helped to attend to her and see her into the ambulance.

D. is so proud of what he has done so far. He probably sleeps in his EMS jacket. And why not: emergency medicine is fine for a young man who is (a) an adrenaline junkie (snowboards, cars, etc.), (b) smart enough to be salutatorian of his small class, and (c) serious enough to study medicine. Maybe he'll go for an MD degree someday, although right now he has set his sights more modestly on being a physician's assistant and serving some rural area like the one where he grew up.

The principal read off the post-graduation plans of each student. Only one will be going out-of-state to university. The Navy and the Marine Corps each will receive two graduates--and so will the highly selective Colorado School of Mines. Other vocations were named: massage therapist, chef, electrician. One upcoming marriage, several immediate jobs.

D. collected a couple more scholarship awards, including one from the local cattlewomen's association, which included a woven lap robe decorated with all the local brands.

I do not mean to sound too bucolic. I probably would not have fit into that school too well myself, and D. and his best friend dropped a few remarks about how the administration is afraid of anything "controversial." Even a classic play like The Crucible is deemed "too controversial."

M. and I started for home that afternoon. We drove over a small pass into another town, located down the valley from a famous ski village. At the next table at the Thai restaurant where we stopped for supper, a group of diners was clad in synthetic fleece and the high-tech sandals you see in mountaineering shops. They spoke of condo decorating, frequent trips to Asia, and how "spiritual" the architecture of Nepal is. One had met the Dalai Lama.

Colorado: Land of Contrasts. Enjoy your visit. If you go off the road, maybe D. will be there to pick you up.

May 11, 2007

10-Bird Meme: No. 9, Evening Grosbeak

Evening grosbeak
Black-headed grosbeaks are regular migrators. Evening grosbeaks are pirates--in the humorous Jimmy Buffet sense.

When they show up in the spring--if they do--they are the nearest thing we have in appearance to tropical birds. I see those big spring-green beaks and vivid colors, and I find myself wanting to mix a fruity rum-based drink.

And the little raspy calls, which are quietly raucous!

Ornithologist Jeff Groth writes, "Cardueline finches [which includes evening grosbeaks] are well known for their strong tendency to roam. Most species do not have regular migration patterns and cycles; their patterns of movement and their numbers vary greatly from year to year."

And so when they do arrive, winter or spring, it's a matter of saying, "Look, evening grosbeaks!"

Historical note: Canon City's one-and-only "fern bar" of the 1980s was called The Evening Grosbeak.

10-Bird Meme: No. 8, Black-headed grosbeak

Black-headed grosbeaks at feeder.Back when M. and I lived in Manitou Springs, I found a sick black-headed grosbeak sitting by the side of our road. I put it in an open-topped box on the patio with some birdseed and water, and I set the box up high where the cats would not find it. In the morning, it was gone. I did not even know exactly what kind of bird it was.

Now, together with broad-tailed hummingbirds, black-headed grosbeaks define the summer. They arrived last weekend, and they sing loudly from the tops of the pines like robins but, if anything louder. The once-feral cat who was too good at catching them has gone to the Happy Hunting Grounds, so the sunflower-seed feeder is not a danger zone anymore, unless a hawk happens by.

And in the late summer, the woods will be full of the begging calls of the young birds.

Also arriving this past week: plumbeous vireos and band-tailed pigeons.

Maybe this year I can complete the 10-Bird Meme. Meanwhile, for serious southeastern Colorado birding, visit SeEtta Moss's blog.

May 10, 2007

Wildlife, Roads and . . . Art

Add this to the long, long list of things that I never thought of but in my quirkier moments wish that I had:

For the past several weeks, drivers near Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville have been noticing odd things about some of the roadkill on the sides of the area's highways.

Some of the dead possums and raccoons have been dressed in pet or human baby clothes and have had their claws painted with nail polish. The carcass of a deer has been adorned with gold paint.

The dresser of the dead is a grad student in art at SIU:

May said she is not an animal rights activist; she is just interested in seeing if people would give more thought to the animals if they were somehow given human attributes.

My last two nature-writing classes have been assigned Eliza Murphy's High Country News piece "Caught in the Headlights," about how her own obsession with highway death led her "into a world of scientists, wildlife rehabilitators and eccentrics who are mesmerized by the often bloody relationship between wildlife and roads."

A couple of them blogged about it, here and here.

May 09, 2007

Chile Peppers and Pueblo's Identity

Sign at 2006 Pueblo Chili & Frijoles Festival
"Mdmnm" at Sometimes Far Afield commented on my "locavore" posting. He feared that I was missing out on chile peppers from Española, New Mexico.

In fact, Pueblo, Colorado is producing lots of chile peppers too, so they would be covered in my 100-mile radius.

But nothing happens by accident.

Consider the thesis of a paper written by Terrence W. Haverluk, geography professor at the US Air Force Academy, "Chile Peppers and Identity Construction in Pueblo, Colorado" (PDF download).

Many US cities are reinterpreting and reintegrating local foods and local geography to create new identities. Pueblo, Colorado, for example, is attempting to change its image from a gritty, working class, steel town to a postmodern, heritage tourism destination. Pueblo elites (chamber of commerce, merchants, landowners) have created new economic, agricultural, political, and ideological structures in an attempt to replace aspects of the previous social order. Ideology plays a mediating role between actors and structures—people both produce and are products of ideology. One way in which ideology is physically expressed is through symbols. The changing symbolization of chile peppers (chiles) is therefore both
product and producer of changing social structures.

There is a reason that the Pueblo Chamber of Commerce commissioned its own brand of bottled salsa picante a few years ago.

May 08, 2007

It's the Code of the West, Pilgrim

A number of rural places in Colorado and elsewhere have produced booklets for newcomers to explain simple facts such as "open range" laws and the fact that police and fire response is not exactly instantaneous.

Larimer County, which includes the city of Fort Collins, but also some more remote areas, put its "Code of the West" online.

Some highlights:

¶ The fact that you can drive to your property does not necessarily guarantee that you, your guests and emergency service vehicles can achieve that same level of access at all times.

¶ Unpaved roads generate dust. When traffic levels reach specific levels, Larimer County treats county system roads to suppress the dust, but dust is still a fact of life for most rural residents.

¶ If your road is unpaved, it is highly unlikely that Larimer County will pave it in the foreseeable future. Check carefully with the County Road and Bridge Department when any statement is made by the seller of any property that indicates any unpaved roads will be paved!

¶ The water flowing in irrigation ditches belongs to someone. You cannot assume that because the water flows across your property, you can use it.

¶ Agriculture is an important business in Larimer County. If you choose to live among the farms and ranches of our rural countryside, do not expect county government to intervene in the normal day-to-day operations of your agri-business neighbors. In fact, Colorado has "Right to Farm" legislation that protects farmers and ranchers from nuisance and liability lawsuits. It enables them to continue producing food and fiber.

And under the heading "Mother Nature:"

¶ The topography of the land can tell you where the water will go in the case of heavy precipitation. When property owners fill in ravines, they have found that the water that drained through that ravine now drains through their house.

¶ Spring run-off can cause a very small creek to become a major river. Many residents use sand bags to protect their homes. The county does not provide sand bags, equipment or people to protect private property from flooding.

May 07, 2007

You Need a Radius and a Schtick

Gary Nabhan wrote what I consider to be the book on eating locally, Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods (2001), but he didn't have a schtick.

These people have a shtick. It helps if you coin a new word: "locavore." (Think of Faith Popcorn and "cocooning," whether it was really happening or not--I am still waiting for her 2006 "aromatic deodorant".)

Then you get some adulatory news coverage: at least this writer mentions Nabhan.

Go to the hundred-mile diet website, input a US or Canadian postal code, and get a map like the one above.

Our 100-mile radius would give us wild game, beef, lamb, goat, etc., microbrews from Colorado Springs plus San Luis Valley potatoes (barely) and St. Charles Mesa vegetables. But no distilled spirits and no inexpensive wine.

Nabhan was wilier, I think: he drew his 200-mile circle to include some tequila-producing areas of Sonora and the tip of the Gulf of California for seafood.

And still he got, "the essential cultural relations to the foods that truly nourish us, affirming our bonds to family, community, landscape, and season," to quote one of the book blurbs.

One hundred miles or twice that: if it gets you thinking about the relationships between food, energy, wildlife, transportation, local economies, and all of it, then it's a good thing. And you may well eat better.

UPDATE, May 15: I was wrong about distilled spirits. Whiskey is available, of the ultra-expensive boutique variety.

New Blog on Climate Change

Via Instapundit, I learned of a new blog tracking climate-change issues and arguments: Climate Feedback.

It is one of a group of blogs associated with the journal Nature.

The bloggers are trying to sort out some of the human-caused versus natural-cause arguments, as they do here, critiquing the New York Times for getting it wrong on plant-hardiness zones and what they mean.

Even the venerable New York Times is prone to completely botching a discussion of the science of climate change. In a front page article today, the NYT reports on how the National Arbor Day Foundation has updated plant hardiness maps to reflect recent changes in climate. (A plant hardiness map presents the lowest annual temperature as a guideline to what plants will thrive in what climate zones.) The NYT misrepresents understandings of variability and trend and in the process confuse more than clarify.

This blog will now be in the sidebar blogroll.

May 04, 2007

New Colorado Birding Website

The Colorado Division of Wildlife has a new Colorado birding site.

This afternoon, I leave for an area south of La Junta, with birding just one of the items on the trip agenda.

Quite possibly, given the weather forecast, we will be seeing thunderbirds.

May 01, 2007

'Final Exam' at the Cactus Flower

The semester ends in a mixture of exhaustion, graduation parties, uncertainties, new jobs, and everyone saying, "Now I get to read the books that I want to read."

The nature-writing class met today for its final exam, which meant turning portfolios and reading the menu at the Cactus Flower restaurant in north Pueblo.

Here they are, by their blogging handles, starting at top left: [1st photo] RFaithHughes, Shelly, michellew, K, Frank Oteri

[2nd photo] April Maes, meg_nicholle, Sara M. Kelly, Holly Beth, J. Ben Manzanares

[3rd photo] Juliana, Kati Rice. Not shown: JPH.

A great group, and I wish them all possible success.

The Festival of the Mountain Plover

Recently in nature-writing class, as part of a discussion of bioregionalism, we talked about the beginnings of local civic festivals organized not around human events ("Pioneer Days" and all its variations in little Western towns) but around the natural world.

In Colorado, the Monte Vista Crane Festival, which started in 1983, has to have been one of the first. Lamar now does something similar each spring with snow geese.

But the Massive Birder Conspiracy rolls on. Now Karval, a small community in Lincoln County, NE of Pueblo, suddenly sees an economic boost in the mountain plover, according to today's Denver Post, which headlined a story on eco-tourism "Beak to the Future."

A few months ago, ranchers realized the bird's economic potential to draw bird lovers who want to add the mountain plover to their lifetime birding lists. So last weekend, this Eastern Plains town of a few hundred people hosted the inaugural Mountain Plover Festival, drawing bird lovers to Karval for a $75 package of educational sessions about the bird, morning viewings and meet-and-greets with locals.

I am all for this trend, although I fail to see how watching freight trains counts as "eco-tourism."