December 26, 2011

Cotter Uranium Mill to Give Up Operating License

I would call it a Christmas present for Cañon City. The Cotter uranium mill is giving up its operating license. (It employs only a small crew these days.)

Read between the lines of this news story, and they seem to be saying that now that the state of Colorado has put some teeth in its regulations, in order to keep operating, General Atomics (Cotter's current owner) would actually have to, y'know, clean it up.

This after thirty-plus years of leaks, of groundwater pollution, of "notice violations," of lawsuits, of corporate foot-dragging, etc. Some people have seen it all go by.

Places like Cotter Mill are, unfortunately, the part of "clean nuclear energy" that its proponents never talk about.

December 25, 2011

Top Colorado Nature Photographers

Colorado Outdoors contributor Vic Schendel offers some photography tips.

Meanwhile, the Denver Post lists its five top Colorado nature photographers, leading readers to suggest plenty of others in the comments.

December 22, 2011

Blog Stew for Carnivorous Squirrels

A geologist explains the formation of the "teepee buttes" of Pueblo and El Paso counties (Colorado).

• I cannot think of any job more frustrating (assuming that one took it seriously) than to be director general of  Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency. On the other hand, the news about Persian leopards is surprising.

• Myths about carrying concealed weapons. There is one that I tend to be guilty of too.

• From National Geographic, the economic and conservation effects of hunting:
 When you buy a camouflage camisole ($24.99) from the Ducks Unlimited catalog, a portion of the proceeds goes to conservation projects. If you visit Bozeman, Montana, and buy a pair of Schnee’s Pac boots, you will find a tag dangling from the laces, along with a promise that the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation will receive some of your money for elk conservation projects.

“It’s the hunters who keep most of these species going,” said Jim Clay, a middle school English teacher, hunter, and maker of turkey calls in Winchester, Virginia. “They put in the money, and they put in the hours. Hunters really care about what happens.”
• You probably did not know that sometimes squirrels are carnivorous.

Piled Higher and Deeper

Our little greenhouse gets the Thomas Kinkade treatment—or it would if there was a blazing orange light shining from inside it.

More than two feet of snow this week.

December 21, 2011

Waiting for Snow on Tennessee Pass

Map from Channel 4, Denver.
My informal aggregate snowfall total for this year as measured on hood of the Jeep CJ5  is 66 inches (1.68 m).

So it was a shock to read that Ski Cooper, up on Tennessee Pass at the top end of the Arkansas River drainage, still has not opened.

Owned by the city of Leadville, Cooper developed from the 10th Mountain Division's World War 2 training area. It relies on natural snow—and usually has plenty.

Just the opposite of last year, when there was good snow up high but nothing here in the foothills until January—and then not enough.

Spring is always "the decider."

UPDATE: Ski Cooper to open December 24th, 2011.

December 20, 2011

Tracking Feeder Bird Behavior

The director of Cornell University's Project Feeder Watch discusses using RFID tags to gain data about the behavior of common "feeder birds" like chickadees—at least as such behavior involves bird feeders.

December 17, 2011

A Night Out

M. and I are going to the thea-tuh later, but it is Pueblo thea-tuh, so formal evening dress is not required.

In Pueblo, "evening dress" means that you wear your black jeans.

December 16, 2011

Blog Stew with Link Dumplings

• Eclipse-chasing in the badlands of New Mexico.
From the Colorado Springs Gazette

• Eleven-year-old boy gains some understanding of the larger world, dresses himself, and rides a bicycle for a mile. His actions gain wide praise in these nanny-state days.

• Some people make fun of mounted deer heads in the living room. Yet they can be useful!

• How to pronounce "Casa Grande," Arizona.

• How to pronounce street names in Colorado Springs. Having also lived in Portland, Oregon, I have to stop and think about "Willamette Street" before I say it.

• Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife seeks photos taken at state parks for a "Best of 2011" contest.

• Pressured by lawsuits, the U.S. Forest Service draws up new rules about dropping fire retardant into waterways.

Leather gaiters or not?

And the dog is "wrong" too.

A minor dust-up in The Telegraph over alleged anachronisms in the costuming of a shooting party during the British stately-home soap opera Downton Abbey.

I am sitting here with my first cup of coffee only half an inch down, trying to think of American equivalents.

A group of Colorado big-game hunters in the mid-1960s, all wearing blaze orange? Back then, a red cap was considered sufficient for safety. It probably still is in Vermont.

Conversely, duck hunters all in brown coats or tan coveralls in a scene set any time after the 1970s?

Help me out, the caffeine has not yet kicked in.

December 15, 2011

Why Not Occupy "Over The River"?

Although there is still a lawsuit pending, and some regulatory hurdles to be jumped, it appears that zee artiste Christo is well on the way to disrupting life for many people in Fremont, Chaffee, and Custer counties for two and a half years.

Nothing but fawning in the local news media.

This Franco-Bulgarian multi-millionaire has gotten the feds, the state government, and local governments to give him use of public lands with which to make more money.

It's a bail-out for "art."

Is there any better definition of being part of the "1%," as the Occupy protesters say?

Of course, "Over The River" will benefit us poor peasants by raising our artistic consciousness. Or something.

Motel owners stumble around mumbling "400,000 visitors, 400,000 visitors." Yay for them.

December 13, 2011

Father Christmas in the Wild

You don't think that Santa Claus/Father Christmas just happens, do you? Someone has to find him first.

Want more?

(Via The Suburban Bushwacker.)

December 12, 2011

Preparing for the SHOT Show

Call me un-American if you like, but I have never visited Las Vegas, Nevada — as opposed to Las Vegas, New Mexico, many times. This is true even though I worked in the "gaming" industry at one time as a slot-machine repairman—in Oregon. (Yes, legally, mostly.)

The conventions that I usually attend do not meet there, and my short time in the industry cured me of any delusions of glamor about gambling.

But my old friend Galen Geer, a long-time outdoor writer and editor, has persuaded me to go to Las Vegas for the 2012 SHOT Show next month.

The Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trades Show is enormous. People say it takes days to see all the exhibitors' booths. It is so big that there are applications to help you plan your time and routes in the exhibit halls.

Its sponsoring organization, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, recognized bloggers as news media several years ago, leading to much more mention in the blogosphere of new products and developments in those industries.

And while I am not a shooting-sports blogger like Michael Bane or a hunting blogger like Holly Heyser, NSSF extended me the same credentials. Maybe it helped that I agreed to lend my illustrious name to The Pines Review's masthead as associate editor as well.

So free admission to a "trade-only" event + relatively cheap hotel rooms + the chance to gawk at the entertainment machine that is Las Vegas means that this year I'm going to do it.

There ought to be something to blog about.

December 11, 2011

"96 Hours to the Stone Age"

That's the title of an article about the breakdown of "connectivity" during a massive power outage.

In other words, how long until your cell phone becomes a paperweight?
When the power goes down, cell service “gets shoddy.” That’s going to happen when everyone grabs their phones at the same time. It’s the wireless equivalent of everybody getting on the same roads at the same time. But when 3G systems get congested, the coverage area of cell sites can actually shrink, resulting in potentially bigger coverage holes in addition to capacity issues.
 The title comes from writer's discovery that the diesel generators providing back-up power to a central switching facility for one of the wireless companies have four days' worth of fuel.

'On Killing Wild Game for Food'

It's an article by Hank Shaw Hunter Angler Gardener Cook.
Not too long ago, I was at a book signing event for Hunt Gather Cook when a young woman approached me. She was very excited about foraging, and she had loved that section of my book. Then her face darkened. She told me she’d also read my section on hunting. “How can you enjoy killing so much? I just don’t understand it. You seem like such a nice person, too.” It took a few minutes for me to explain myself to her, and I am grateful that she listened. She left, I think, with a different opinion.
Read the rest

December 10, 2011

A New Pueblo Deli—and It Has Potica

A few years ago, in a post on Pueblo, Colo., Christmas foods, I mentioned potica.

Someone wrote to me asking where to buy it, and I had say that I did not know. It just turned up in the break room at work the weeks before Christmas. (Yeah, typical guy answer, I know.)

Now I know. You can go to the newly opened Musso's Italian Market and Deli on Union Avenue just south of the Riverwalk. They have three sizes. M. and I picked up one of the medium-sized loaves to take to some friends' home tonight. (Musso's Facebook page.)

December 09, 2011

Colorado Approves New Natural Areas

Colorado will have three new designated "natural areas" following action by the Colorado Wildlife and Parks Commission yesterday.
The 2,529-acre Miramonte Natural Area is located within the Dan Noble State Wildlife Area at Miramonte Reservoir in San Miguel County. Renowned for its excellent recreational opportunities and remarkably diverse rare plant habitats, this area also serves as an indicator of healthy sagebrush communities and provides some of the best habitat for the Gunnison sage-grouse in the county.

• North of Durango in La Plata County, 125 acres of the Haviland Lake State Wildlife Area have become the new Haviland Lake Natural Area. Plant communities common to the southern Rockies meet with Four Corners communities in interesting and unique assemblage of species. Riparian shrub lands and robust wetland vegetation at the site provide habitat for sensitive wildlife species such as the osprey and the Northern leopard frog.

• In eastern Colorado north of Idalia, the 2,240-acre Arikaree River Natural Area is part of the largest remaining naturally functioning Great Plains river system in the state. Several native and uncommon species of amphibians, fish and reptiles reside in a mature riparian corridor that includes high-quality native prairie and streamside plant communities. The area, owned by the Colorado Land Board, is a meeting ground for many bird species from the eastern and western United States and is one of the best birding areas in Colorado.
I'd like to get out to the Arikaree area before the weather gets too hot. To the south, I assume that there is still accessible state land along the Republican River, even with Bonny Reservoir lost. (I am glad that Dad is not around to see Bonny drained; it was one of his favorite getaway spots when he needed a little prairie time.)

Backcountry Hunters Group Sues Forest Service

In southwestern Colorado, the group Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is suing the U.S. Forest Service over unauthorized motorized use in areas valuable as watershed and big-game habitat.

This is the news release:

MANCOS – The Colorado chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) took legal action today [Dec. 2, 2011] to protect big game habitat and hunting opportunity from encroaching dirt-bike traffic in the Rico-West Dolores area of the San Juan National Forest.

The Rico-West Dolores (RWD) landscape comprises 244,550 acres of prime wildlife habitat.  It contains the headwaters of the Dolores River and stretches from elevations of 7,500 feet to three peaks exceeding 14,000 feet.  The landscape’s value as wildlife habitat and a source of clean water is unmistakable, but it’s being degraded by encroaching motorized overuse and abuse.  This unmanaged traffic violates the Management Plan for the San Juan National Forest.

“Over the last three years, sportsmen have worked to resolve this issue with public lands agency personnel, exhausting all options available,” said Bob Marion, a BHA volunteer from Mancos.  “We have been left with no choice but to file this lawsuit.  We welcome any opportunity to settle this case in a positive manner.”

According to the Colorado Division of Wildlife, “Motorized vehicle use … inhibits wildlife use of this important habitat by increasing fragmentation … [It] bisects important elk habitat, e.g., calving, nursery and summering area.”  Put simply, without the proper balance of secure wildlife habitat and motorized traffic, habitat suffers and becomes less desirable for elk and deer, and the hunters who pursue them.

“It is the Forest Service’s job to strike the correct balance between motorized access and secure big game habitat,” said David Lien, BHA board member from Colorado Springs.  “We are simply asking the judge to hold the agency accountable for its promises to the American people.”

In particular, BHA is seeking to correct that balance on fourteen trails in the RWD landscape where unlawful motorized use is adversely impacting big game habitat.  Given that there are some 2,800 miles of roads across the 1.8 million-acre San Juan National Forest (including 120 miles of single-track motorized trails in the adjacent Mancos-Cortez Travel Management Area), there is plenty of access for motorized users in the region.

“These motorized routes do not serve as important access points and are fragmenting prime hunting grounds,” said John Gale, Colorado BHA co-chair.  “We support recreational motorized use in a controlled manner and in places it’s allowed, but in this case the forest plan is being violated and sensitive big game habitat is negatively impacted.”

Colorado BHA is represented in this case by the Natural Resources Clinic at the University of Colorado Law School.

Key Facts:

• The Forest Service has a responsibility to manage America’s national forests for the greatest good, including traditional hunting and fishing opportunities.  The agency is failing in the Rico-West Dolores (RWD) country of the San Juan National Forest.
• The agency is violating its own forest plan by allowing fourteen dirt-bike trails to encroach into fragile alpine country and big game habitat, damaging traditional hunting and fishing opportunities we have enjoyed here for generations.
• There are thousands of miles of roads and trails for motorized recreation elsewhere in this region.  For example, across the San Juan Public Lands in southwest Colorado there are about 5,500 miles of roads and motorized trails.  If lined up end-to-end, these roads and trails would extend from Cortez to the State of Maine—and back.
• In the San Juan National Forest there are some 2,800 miles of roads, and 120 miles of single-track motorized trails in the nearby Mancos-Cortez Travel Management Area.
• The public land being impacted by motorized overuse and abuse on the trails in question is important big game habitat and inappropriate for dirt-bikes.
• The trails include: Bear Creek, Burnett Creek, Calico, Eagle Peak/Upper Stoner, East Fall Creek, Gold Run, Grindstone, Horse Creek, Johnny Bull, Little Bear, Priest Gulch, Ryman Creek, Stoner Creek, and Wildcat.

December 08, 2011

Ja, a "Western" Catholic Mass in Central Europe

"Western wear" as we know it is mainly a post-World War Two creation of the Country & Western music industry and the rodeos. Some stockmen still largely ignore the look. The Old West did not have it.

But in Austria . . . Austria! . . . it can be ecclesiastical. Sort of. Some Roman Catholic observers are very upset. They seem equally bothered by the Confederate battle flag as by the cigarettes. (Would "Yeehaw!" be considered a "pious ejaculation"?)

I don't exactly have a dog in that fight. I just did not know that the concept of "cowboy church,"  not uncommon around here, had been exported — and had swum the Tiber to boot.

Cotter Mill: A Superfund Site that Wants to Stay in Business

Thirty years after it was named a Superfund clean-up site, the owners of the Cotter uranium mill in Cañon City are keeping it legally alive — just in case.

Barry Noreen at the Gazette recaps the saga.
Still, Cotter’s announcement that it is seeking a five-year extension was a disappointment to Sharyn Cunningham, co-founder of [Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste].

“Right now they’re cleaning up,” Cunningham said, “but they’re not deciding that they’re closing. It does leave us in limbo because you don’t know what they’re going to do.”

Cotter’s property was declared a Superfund site long ago, and announcing a formal intention to close would trigger state and federal cleanup requirements beyond what the company is already doing. Cotter officials have been tight-lipped about their intentions, which is unsettling to Cunningham and many others in Cañon City.
Cotter's presence was a concern when I accepted a job in Cañon City in 1986. We chose a house that upwind with irrigation water unaffected — we hoped — by the radioactive leakage from Cotter's settling ponds that affected much of the south side of town.

Later, we joined in a lawsuit (one of several) over the Superfund site's effect on property values, and I always counted the settlement received as compensation for the fact that we made nothing on our house when we sold it six years later during a time of slowly rising prices. (This after doing significant remodeling!)

People talk about storing radioactive waste, but the problems start at the other end of the nuclear-power process. It looks so clean—when it works—until you check out all the steps.

December 04, 2011

Snow on Back Order

Snowblower idling while I take a picture.
Creaking of porch steps. Staccato knock on the door.

Me: Hello.

Delivery driver: Good morning, I have a delivery here from the Department of Snow for Chas Clifton.

Me: That's me. Did I order this?

Driver, holding out electronic box: It's your snow that was supposed to have been delivered in 2010. Sorry 'bout that. We do our best. Just sign here. Bye now, have a nice day.

Me, thoughtfully: I hope I have enough gas for the snowblower.

They have been late before.

December 01, 2011

My Kind of Hunter

The gear worked in the 1940s, and it still works.
“I don’t know why started doing it, but I kept track every year,” Baxter said, adding he would like to remember each outing. In addition to the 68-year-old journal, Baxter continues to use the same red wool hunting suit he bought in 1943, which is in outstanding condition. “It’s good and warm,” he said, adding he also uses a knife of the same age to clean the deer. “As long as it’s workable, I keep it.” 
Yup. Experience is more valuable than "stuff."

Obama Administration Lifts Horse-Slaughter Ban

President Obama recently signed a law ending the ban on horse-slaughter plants.
A June report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress‘ chief investigative branch, said the ban depressed prices for horses in the U.S. and led to a surge in reports of neglect or abuse as owners of older horses had no way of disposing of them, short of selling them to “foreign slaughtering facilities where U.S. humane slaughtering protections do not apply.”
The usual suspects are upset.
A bill to ban horse slaughter and export of horses for slaughter has been introduced in the House and Senate, and the Humane Society of the United States said it would redouble its efforts to try to enact that legislation.
Simply, there are more horses in the United States than people want. I have heard of livestock auctions imposing additional fees on people wanting to sell horses, because your average saddle horse does not sell for very much — if it sells at all.

Horse-rescue operations can take only a few of the unwanted animals.

Meanwhile, despite its much-touted adoption programs, the BLM is feeding and storing hundreds of wild horses in corrals away from the public gaze, as I blogged in 2008. Your tax dollars at work.

Still the HSUS plays the cultural-taboo card, together with a little fashionable France-bashing:
Michael Markarian, who oversees the Humane Society Legislative Fund, which lobbies for animal protections, said any state that allows a horse-slaughter plant to open will face pressure.

“People will not be happy about their community potentially bringing in one of these plants,” he said. “Americans don’t eat horses, and don’t want them butchered and shrink-wrapped and sent to France or Japan as a delicacy.”
Because all the feasible alternatives, like letting them starve, are so much better.

Related — if you want to move to the theoretical — an article on meat taboos with an interesting response from Boria Sax.