December 29, 2009

Farms-into-Forest Plan has Unintended Consequences?

The Secretary of Agriculture (and some agricultural lobbying groups) are "viewing with alarm" an unintended consequence of proposed environmental policy.

Would it privilege "farming" trees for the carbon-credit money over growing food crops--and thus keeping Monsanto and John Deere in business?

The latest Agriculture Department economic-impact study of the climate bill, which passed the House this summer, found that the legislation would profit farmers in the long term. But those profits would come mostly from higher crop prices as a result of the legislation's incentives to plant more forests and thus reduce the amount of land devoted to food-producing agriculture.

If I sound cynical, it is because I wonder where the secretary's complaints are when farmland is turned into shopping malls?

You have to look at this kind of alarm-raising in terms of "Who might lose money?" if it passes.

Well, Honey, the GPS Says to Go this Way

Someone else lets the gadget do their thinking for them.

A Nevada couple letting their SUV's navigation system guide them through the high desert of Eastern Oregon got stuck in snow for three days when the GPS unit sent them down a remote forest road.

This reminds me of the game of Dueling Proverbs, in which you come up with contradictory sayings. "Out of sight, out of mind" versus "Absence makes the heart grow fonder."

Another saying is "Trust your instruments." If you feel like north is off to your right, but the compass says north is straight ahead, trust the compass.

On the other hand, if the gadget (or the map) sends you down some road in the boonies in the winter, maybe you should think seriously about weather and local conditions.

Two years ago, James Kim (also in Oregon) did not--a similar case with a worse outcome.

December 27, 2009

Why Donald Duck Wore Pants

To conceal his amazing penis.

More Evidence that Franklin's Men had Lead Poisoning.

It has been speculated that the Arctic expedition of Sir John Franklin in 1845 came to grief partly through heavy reliance on lead-contaminated canned food, canning being a fairly new technology of food preservation at the time.

New tests of soup cans probably identical to those on Franklin's ships showed lead levels "off the scale."

My study is cold this morning, and it feels colder when I think of the song "Lord Franklin."
They sailed West and they sailed East
Their ship on oceans of ice did freeze
Only the Eskimo in his skin canoe
Was the only one that ever came through.
Michaél O'Domhnaill and Kevin Burke have the definitive version (YouTube). (Hat tip to Mirabilis.)

December 26, 2009

'Ice Hunter' and the Ice

The big storm that battered the Midwest skipped over us, leaving just a couple of inches of powder snow on top of the icy Forest Service road where I walk the dogs.It's slippery--Fisher comes galloping up to me and makes a sort of canine snowplow turn in order to fully stop.

M. and I took a longer walk up the same road this afternoon, eventually reaching the south-facing stretch that was not so icy.

Coming home, I was thinking of Joseph Heywood's novel Ice Hunter, which M. gave me for Christmas and which I started reading last night.

The plot and characters are sort of Nevada Barr-meets-C.J. Box. Maybe more like Box, since Heywood's protagonist is a game warden—or conservation officer, the Michigan term.

Ice Hunter was published by The Lyons Press,  usually associated in my mind with fly-fishing. Right off Heywood makes a literary link, placing protagonist Grady Service in the same Marquette, Mich., courtroom in which Jimmy Stewart, playing a fly-fishing small town bachelor lawyer, defends the accused in the noirish 1959 drama Anatomy of a Murder.

That movie was based on a novel by Michigan judge John D. Voelker, also a well-known fly-fishing writer under the pen name of Robert Traver, best known for his "testament":

I fish because I love to; because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful and I hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly; because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape; because, in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion; because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility and endless patience; because I suspect that men are going along this way for the last time, and I for one don't want to waste the trip; because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness; because bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes better out there; because maybe one day I will catch a mermaid; and, finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant--and not nearly so much fun.

As to Ice Hunter, I am halfway through it and enjoying it. Working any time as a copy editor, however, ruins simple reading. I keep thinking, "Shouldn't that word have been capitalized?" or upon reading that a character got "a B.S. in forestry from the University of Colorado," I want to click Microsoft Word's INSERT menu and insert a COMMENT: "The forestry school is at Colorado State University (Fort Collins), not at CU-Boulder. Suggest change."

That won't stop me from looking for more "Grady Service, woods cop" novels, however.

December 23, 2009

My Eyes! My Eyes!

Like a fool, I followed a link from Smartdogs that led me to doggie butt decorations.

Yes, you read aright.  Just the thing for people who cannot let dogs be dogs.

This is a dog. (video clip, 3 MB)

December 21, 2009

Walk Your Dog, Not Your Friends

Dogs are better walking partners than humans.

What a shock. Dogs don't make excuses (hot weather, headache, just don't feel like it...) And as some commenters note, they train us.

Fisher the hyper-Chessie expects breakfast soon after I get up. And then the morning walk must begin within 10 seconds, or he sits outside the front door, whining and crying.

The below-zero (F.) weather last week had no effect on him. We now say that he is "insulated by insanity."

They Must Grow 'Em Big Back East

One doe can "feed up to 200 people"?

Otherwise, a good story on hunters feeding the hungry while PETA and the "Humane" Society of the United States flail around issuing press releases.

(Hat tip: Outdoor Pressroom)

December 20, 2009

Cattle Mutilations Return? Part 4

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

How do cattle die? Lots of ways. Lightning kills hundreds on the Colorado prairie every year, I learned when I was a reporter. Add in various infections, "hardware disease," rattlesnake bites on the nose—and, yes, four-footed predators.

Back then, I was exposed to all the wildly elaborate explanations of the mutilations, each one requiring more secrecy, more advanced technology, and a bigger cover-up than the last. Occam's razor was nowhere in sight.

Then one day in the early 1980s I was deer hunting in eastern Washington with my father. On our lunch break we crossed the border to visit the ranching cousins on the British Columbia side.

Somehow the conversation turned to predators. My cousin Wendell was saying how right after a cow dies of natural causes, coyotes will approach the carcass but not chew on it right away.  Dad (hunter, forest ranger) nodded in agreement.

"Aha!" I thought. How many times had I been told that it was spooky and weird how coyotes, in particular, would approach a "mutilated" (eyes, rectum gone) cow but not eat from it right away!  Yet here were Dad and Wendell treating that as normal behavior. (more after the jump)

It's Time to Ski in Style

These Finnish ski troopers c. 1939 have the cross-country skiing style as far as I am concerned. Check out the man on the left with his plaid shirt.

Did he have to buy special clothing to make himself look like a multi-colored insect? Absolutely not. (Click photo for larger version.)

You can still find the pull-on knit gaiters as worn by the troopers in the center in surplus outlets sometimes, usually ex-Swedish Army, but they are about the same.

Law professor and blogger Ann Althouse is bucking the Spandex trend. She has that Edwardian look down too.

The Impacts of Off-Road Vehicles are Worse than We Thought

Some links related to abuse of public lands by off-road vehicle riders:

• Paul Vertrees from Backcountry Hunters & Anglers explains just what the problem is:

Off-road vehicles (ORVs) had carved six-inch-deep tracks through a damp alpine meadow in the Pike National Forest southwest of Denver. Soil ripped from the ground by spinning tires washed into a nearby stream, dirtying it with sediment. A Forest Service "No Motor Vehicles" sign lay smashed on the ground next to the ugly tire ruts, scarring what would otherwise have been unspoiled backcountry.

• In related news, Colorado seeks to put ORV user-fee money towards law enforcement

• And an off-road outlaw sees the light:

When I confronted the riders, they had no clue that their raucous invasion had destroyed my outdoor experience. They didn't even think about the impacts their riding had on those who enjoy quiet recreation -- hiking, camping, hunting and horseback riding in our national forests. I knew I had to change my ways. I love ATV riding, but the truth is that my ATV and the millions like it have made severe and cumulative impacts on our public lands and wildlife. The impacts of off-road vehicles are probably even more profound and far-reaching than we think they are

• Take a non-binding poll on appropriate punishment for illegal off-road riding.

Cattle Mutilations Return? Part 3

(Part 1 here. Part 2 here.)

Let's return to Manuel Sanchez's dead calves over in the San Luis Valley. And let's think about wildlife rather than mad cultists, cow-snatching aliens, or secret government agencies.
Let's make "surgical incisions" with Occam's razor.

First, although I am not a rancher, some of my relatives are, and we have talked about how predators and scavengers deal with cattle.

Second, I grew up with big-game hunting, so I know a little big about what happens when you leave a large dead animal out in the wild—in particular, what happens to the gut pile (the internal organs, intestines, etc.).

1. Manuel Sanchez says he lost four calves, one week. Right there I would wonder about mountain lions, which typically eat a deer every week to ten days. Would a large calf be similar enough to a mulie doe as a food source?

2. "Their innards gone. Tongues sliced out. Udders carefully removed. Facial skin sliced and gone. Eyes cored away."

Watch out for those verbs: "sliced" and "cored" and the adverb "carefully." They might imply the use of tools and make you think of human perpetrators. 

Predators such as wolves (not in Colorado in any number) and mountain lions go for the underbelly when opening a carcass—no bones in the way.

3. "Not a drop of blood on the ground or even on the remaining skin."  (more after the jump).

December 19, 2009

Cattle Mutilations Return? Part 2

(Part 1 here.)

The sudden decrease in mutilation reports in the 1980s suggests that what changed was not the phenomenon but the narrative(s) that explained it. True believers like Linda Howe kept telling their stories, but the news media, at least, lost interest in a story that was rural, weird, and had no resolution.

Perhaps the nearest thing to resolution was the Rommel Report, written by former FBI agent Rommel, working as consultant to New Mexico's First Judicial District. His conclusion: "scavenger-induced damage"

The FBI has other PDFs of documents related to mutilation investigations, released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Hardcore UFO "researchers" maintained their position. Note the categorical statement in the first sentence. (more after the jump)

December 17, 2009

Cattle Mutilations Return? Part 1

On Nov. 26, 2009  story moved on the AP wire (I know that is obsolete terminology. So sue me.) about "mysterious cattle mutilations."

Cattle mutilations in the San Luis Valley. Oh my, here we go again.

The San Luis Valley of southern Colorado has a reputation for "high strangeness." (Did I mention I was born there? It's true.)

Colorado was central to the "cattle mutilation" wave of the mid-1970s, which actually stretched from Alberta to New Mexico. But were cattle actually mutilated?

During that first "wave," my curiosity about it contributed to my desire to be a newspaper reporter. But by the time I actually was one, the "wave" was over, although I did write one retrospective story in the Colorado Springs Sun circa 1981.

My better piece, "Mutilation Madness," was published in Fate magazine in June 1988. It is not available online. Perhaps I should scan it.

But back to the 1970s ...

The "cattle mutilation" phenomenon, I decided, had two aspects: One was a failure of journalism. The other was observers' tendency to wrap a narrative around just a few shaky points of data. (More after the jump.)

December 15, 2009

He Brought the Duke to a Shooting Party

From our minuscule "aristocratic eccentricities" file (insofar as we know no aristocrats), a problem of identity at a country-house weekend.

'Then she said: "You won't be able to shoot as we haven't enough guns, so Gerald will be shooting on your peg."

'To which I replied: "But Gerald doesn't shoot - he's my retriever."

December 13, 2009

Mongols in the San Luis Valley: Not the Movie

A delegation of Mongolian natural-resource managers recently visited Colorado's San Luis Valley to compare notes with the parkies at the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Mongolia, which is roughly six times the size of Colorado with half the population, has embarked on an ambitious conservation program that would bring up to one-third of the arid country into a system of preserves and parks.

Synchronicity: Last night M. and I watched Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan(dir. Sergei Bodrov, 2007) .

It ranks highly among "barbarian movies," all of which follow the same gender code:

  1. Fight
  2. Become blood brothers and thereafter greet one another with an inarticulate "Yaaah!"
  3. Suffer pain
  4. Seek visions
  5. Have sex

  1. Have sex
  2. Bear sons
  3. Flee from enemies provoked by the men or ...
  4. Are captured by said enemies
  5. Shout curses at numbers 3 and 4.
There is also epic cinematography from Inner Mongolia (China) and Kazakhstan.

Any Westerner who upon seeing the movie thinks something like, "That reminds me of the Wind River Range" —or the Great Sand Dunes—might contemplate how, for instance, the Blackfeet, Sioux, or Plains Cree might have turned out if they had not just horses but also steel weapons, sheep, and wheeled carts—plus a few centuries to refine a lifestyle of nomadism, fearless independence, and blood feuds.

The Merkit people—simultaneously neighbors, enemies, and relatives of Genghis Khan—are even shown as living in tipis.

December 12, 2009

What Every Hiker, Hunter, Etc. Fears

The leader of a gang that broke into cars parked at trailheads in the Denver-Boulder area gets a 20-year prison sentence.

Interesting comments.

But really, who leaves their wallet in their vehicle?

December 10, 2009

Hunting, Food, and Responsibility.

Yet another article on how understanding where food comes from and "eating locally" brings people to hunting.

One person interviewed is falconer Rebecca O'Connor, whose recent memoir I reviewed here.

Church for Dogs

Patrick "Terrierman" Burns posted this image with the title "Dogs in the Woods is like Church."

Today, the dogs and I went to 7:30 Mass today as we do most days. The church was heated to 0 F. (-17 C.)

As usual, they barked during the consecration, ran away during the homily, and as for their offering, you don't want to ask.

December 08, 2009

Indian Trust Accounts Settlement Announced.

Color me impressed. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has announced a settlement of the long-standing lawsuit against the federal government for mishandling Indian trust accounts.

Spearheaded by Blackfeet banker Elouise Cobell, the suit has dragged on for 13 years.

As a girl growing up on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Cobell learned the government was supposed to pay out money to the owners of the private lands held in trust for American Indians since 1887 and managed by the Department of the Interior. But she noticed government checks for farming, grazing and timber-cutting on her family's land sometimes arrived, but often didn't.

She recognized many of the problems with the government accounting of the Indian trust accounts when she served as treasurer of the Blackfeet Nation for 13 years.

The Clinton administration never settled, nor did that of George W. Bush. Commenters on the Indian Country Web site, however, offer additional perspectives.

Furthermore, Ken Salazar almost won the Field & Stream Hunting and Fishing Heroes-versus-Villains Face-off.

Bird-Feeding Science Still Inconclusive

As dozens of juncos, plus finches, jays, and other species mob the bird feeders and make serious dents in my black-oil sunflower seed supply, here are some articles on artificial feeding and bird populations:

• A German study suggests that feeding birds in winter is causing one species to divide. (Note:  "bird table" is British for bird feeder.)

• Winter feeding may make for better breeding.

Birdfeeders, populations, and the domestic cat.

Surprisingly, the research team also found evidence in several studies which indicated that the flurry of activity caused by bird feeding does not increase the birds' risk of predation. Counter-intuitively, the presence of feeders has been associated with lower levels of predation by domestic cats.

Yes, I would say that is "counter-intuitive," considering that I have had a couple of cats who would imitate a rock while crouched under the feeder and then shoot straight up, paw extended, to snag a bird.

December 06, 2009

Environmental Causes of Breast Cancer and Asthma?

As mammogram guidelines are debated in the media, I am glad to see someone thinking that perhaps rising breast cancer and asthma rates have to do with environmental pollution, probably endocrine distruptors.

I asked these doctors what they do in their own homes to reduce risks. They said that they avoid microwaving food in plastic or putting plastics in the dishwasher, because heat may cause chemicals to leach out. And the symposium handed out a reminder card listing “safer plastics” as those marked (usually at the bottom of a container) 1, 2, 4 or 5.

The popular Nalgene polycarbonate bottles with a 7 on the bottom are in the "throw out" category, writer Nicholas Kristoff suggests. The company's rather ambiguous position is stated here.

December 05, 2009

Of Body-dumping, Euphemism, and the Forest Service

The always-alert reporter who covers this area for the Pueblo Chieftain was the first to report the discovery of a corpse not far from where I live.

M.  and I had been hiking and locating a geocache right at that spot just two days after the body was found—the crime-scene tape must have been removed by then—and we never knew about the body until we read the Pueblo newspaper the following day.

Note the language "stopped to go to the bathroom" and "the old Florence campground."

The first is a euphemism for pissing. The second requires local knowledge. The Florence Picnic Ground (not campground) was removed by the Forest Service decades ago—in the 1970s, I think. Supposedly this was done because of vandalism, budget issues, or some combination of the two.

But people still talk about it: "I saw some turkeys near the old Florence Picnic Ground," even though there is nothing there but a little meadow.

But by the time the story was picked up by other media, electronic and print, the body had been found by someone who stopped to use the restroom at the campground. There is no restroom (building), no campground. But those people never get out and around much, so they just repeat and misunderstand what they read elsewhere.

Finally, the county weekly got to the story, with much more detail: "Authorities Seek Identity of Headless Corpse."

Note the sheriff's comment:

Jobe said as crime escalates in larger surrounding counties, he feels Custer County, due to its numerous remote locations, will continue to be a dumping ground for murdered bodies.

And if it weren't for hunters and fishermen, who would find them?

When we lived near Colorado Springs (in Manitou), M. and I used to wonder why the El Paso County commissioners did not just create a "body-dumping area" on Rampart Range Road, a favorite spot for Colorado Springs lowlifes to deposit their former drug-dealing associates, unsatisfactory girlfriends, and such.

The county sign shop could have whipped up some appropriate signage: "Body Dumping Area 100 Feet," that sort of thing.

Of course, the feds would have to be involved for national forest land,  and they probably would want an environmental assessment.

December 02, 2009

Life without Plastic

Life without Plastic is a blog about finding alternatives to ubiquitous plastics, particularly in packaging.

More and more, I find store cashiers receptive to my line of "No bag, please." Many admit that they have too many plastic bags in their house too.

December 01, 2009

A Sign of Austerity


Due to a lack of money, the Colorado Dept. of Transportation has stopped plowing the road from here to Pueblo at night.

M. shudders every time that she sees the sign, remembering many late-night drives home after teaching a night class at the university. (I did that too, but for just one or two semesters.)

Early-spring snowstorms can be as heavy as you ever saw, a white wall of flakes, so that you wonder where the road is.

More than one night she passed only one other vehicle, a truck with running lights bearing towards her at the foot of Jackson Hill.

Who was out in that weather? None other than the local Schwan's delivery driver. The frozen pot roast and ice cream will go through!

"Neither rain nor hail nor sleet nor snow nor heat of day nor dark of night shall keep this carrier from the swift completion of his appointed rounds."

And here you thought that quotation referred to the Postal Service.

A student of mine had once driven a Schwan's route south out of Lamar into far southeastern Colorado, El Cuartelejo, the deep dark heart of the Southern Plains.

He claimed to have spent more than one night in his truck, snowed-in or stuck in some ditch or arroyo. But he had lots to eat.