June 29, 2013

Condition Yellow

Some thunderstorms rolled through yesterday, although we got only the splatter from the — and a very welcome cool-down from the past two weeks' weather pattern, which has been temperatures into the high 90s F (35° C), relative humidity about 5 percent, and sometimes wind.

Yesterday M. drove through a full-blown dust storm on the prairie near Pueblo—visibility ending at the hood of her Jeep, she said.

She and I went to a training for the Community Animal Rescue Team today up in the county seat. Partway through, the town's fire siren went off, and the people with handheld radios (not me, stupidly) immediately started monitoring the traffic — volunteers from that fire department calling in, the sheriff saying that he was driving out such-and-such road to see if he could spot smoke.

Then as the session was winding down, radios crackled again. I caught a place name that was close to home, and I was out of my chair. "What are they saying?"

M. was ready to go right then, so we did, even though the call was only about a minor highway matter.

Now another thunderstorm is coming — will we get rain or just the wind and lightning?


June 21, 2013

As China Goes, So Goes Recycling

A video and two links — all from the Pacific Northwest — about realities in the recycling business:

"Sorting through Piles of So-Called Recycling," about the disconnects that still exist between what is labeled as recyclable or thought to be recyclable versus what actually is recyclable.
Part of the problem . . . is that the recycling symbol shows up on things that can't really be recycled or can't be sorted at the sorting facility: Disposable coffee cup lids, giant pet food bags and all kinds of plastic.

"There are no regulations on whether you can put chasing arrows on your product," he said. "Most people do it right, but there are no regulations. A lot of people, as long as they see the chasing arrows, think it’s recyclable. And you can throw it in your curbside bin, but if it’s not part of the program, we can’t possibly sort through that many things."
The other factor is economic: "Recyclers Limit Plastic Collection As China Stops Buying."
Chinese recyclers are no longer buying plastic items with the numbers 3, 6 or 7 on them, and inspectors are checking for and rejecting shipments of mixed plastics from overseas. The list of plastics China no longer wants includes disposable coffee cup lids, PVC pipes, certain kinds of clamshell containers, and garden planters with flexible walls, to name a few.
The restrictions have left recycling companies across U.S. without buyers for many of the plastics they have traditionally accepted. They don't affect curbside recycling items like milk jugs and yogurt tubs, but they are limiting which miscellaneous plastics recycling depots will accept.
I have been stuffing our torn or otherwise not-usable plastic bags into the collection bins in stores, all the while if I am being conned by food-industry campaigns that say "Look! We're recycling!" but which in reality are about heading off plastic-bag bans. Supposedly the bags are used in making composite lumber.

June 20, 2013

"Mitigation Blues"

For everyone who lives in the woods. Words by Chas S. Clifton. Find your own tune—I had something like "Statesboro Blues" in mind.

I been raking that ol’ pine duff,
Yeah, I been raking that ol’ pine duff,
Whatever I do, it’s not enough.
Now every day I cut and haul,
Yes, every day I cut and haul,
Oh Lord, where can I put it all?
(Biomass . . . I got the mitigation blues)
I cut the deck from off our home,
Yeah, I cut the deck from off our home—
‘Cause I don't want to see it all covered with foam.
(Class A, now that's the stuff)
Now every tree looks like a lolipop,
Yeah, every tree looks like a lollipop.
Get enough wind, and they’ll still burn up.
(Those nasty mitigation blues)

The sky is yellow, and the sun’s turned red,
The sky is yellow, and the sun’s turned red.
Now I’m afraid to go to bed.

(And I got them smoky sky blues.)

Fire trucks run up and down the road,
Fire trucks run up and down the road,
It’s in the next county over, that’s what we’re told

I drop my tools when the siren blows,
Yeah, I drop my tools when the siren blows,
Run and put on my yellow firefightin' clothes.

(too late for mitigation now)

Look up there, see the plane coming in,
Look up there, see the plane coming in—
Better watch out, it’s got an orange fin.

If the feds drive up, and they say, “It’s ours,”
If the feds drive up, and they say, “It’s ours.”
I get to go home and take a shower.

 (It’s margarita time)

There’s a meeting down at the school house,
There’s a meeting down at the school house.
They’ll tell you if your home is a total loss.

Horses up against the wire,
Horses up against the wire,
Cut the fence, let ‘em run from the fire.

Lookouts, escape, and safety zone,
Lookouts, escape, and safety zone,
When’s this fire going to leave us alone?

When you see your house on the evening news,
When you see your house on the evening news,
Then you know you really got the mitigation blues.

The little boy don’t like us, he just stays away.
The little boy don’t like us, he surely stays away,
I’d like a big blizzard on next Christmas Day.

 (winter mitigation blues)

June 19, 2013

Upcoming: "The Good Hunt"

A teaser for The Good Hunt, a non-typical hunting documentary with nature writer, hunting writer, and bowhunter David Petersen, who lives near Durango, Colo. I don't have a release date for it yet, but I will let you know.

His latest book is Going Trad, on traditional bowhunting (no cams, sights, etc.)

June 17, 2013

The Devil Made Us Do It: A Fire Run

Fire apparatus heading back to the station.
Because M. and I were back from the laundromat and it was time to do yard and garden work, I was outdoors and heard the emergency siren blow.

A small, dry thunderstorm had passed by thirty minutes earlier, with a couple of loud thunderclaps. Now there was a report of smoke a mile south of town — in other words, pretty close to this house!

I got into my Nomex fire clothes while M. walked around with binoculars outdoors. As I tossed my pack and radio into the truck, she came walking back up the driveway, shrugging her shoulders.

More on the radio from Dispatch: the smoke was near a neighbor's little ranch. I drove there. No smoke.

The brush truck caught up to me—it had left the station about six minutes after the siren, which would be hopelessly slow in a big city but is not too bad for a spread-out rural volunteer department. The pumper was on its way. At least on a Sunday afternoon there were volunteers available—twelve or thirteen turned out right away.

And we drove around: the brush truck up the canyon, some more volunteers up one national forest road, me solo up another Forest Service road, two more guys separately out away from the foothills to get a broader view. Some 23 miles later, I had seen nothing, and neither had anyone else.

We all rendezvoused at the now-closed country store where the pumper was staged. Our assistant chief mentioned that someone had told him of seeing "dust devils" or whirlwinds up on a ridge that burned last October, raising swirls of ash.

We looked at each other. Whirlwinds! That must have been it!

All this driving, looking, and sniffing plus putting away the engines took about ninety minutes, making it almost dinner time. M. was working at the kitchen counter.

"Are we having Fire House Chile?" I asked.

"How about False Alarm Fettuccine?" she replied.

We ate it on the veranda with green salad and red wine. I kept watching out across the valley, but I saw no smoke.

So far.

June 16, 2013

The Fancy Dog Who Never Walked the Walk

A wonderful little tempest in a dog dish: It was claimed that the winner of Britain's major dog show completed a 140-mile walk in order to show that show dogs were healthy dogs.
The official press release, put out by the Kennel Club in conjunction with Jilly's Jolly Jaunt, was entitled "...Crufts champion walks 130 miles for charity".
Only she did not do it. A body double was used.

Scandal! But it was for charity! How could you say such awful mean things, you awful mean blogger?

Blog Stew, a Little Burnt

Items that might deserve longer individual posts but will not get them. . .

Speculation about the closure of the Royal Gorge Bridge and park (now reduced to the bridge and a tollbooth, as in 1929) and its effect on southern Colorado tourism, with a telling photograph.

Unlike Bloomberg, I would not all the American Prairie Preserve project a "land grab." Its rich backers are buying the land. But true, once the number of cattle and/or sheep ranchers falls below some critical point, there might be domino effect on the rest.

• A piece from the Nature Conservancy magazine on "water wars" in the San Luis Valley. Speaking of rich guys buying up big chunks of the West, I don't care how many monks his wife brought in, I never trusted Maurice Strong at all. This was the issue that dominated the 1990s there and led, ultimately to a new map of the valley's west side.

June 15, 2013

Don't Believe the New York Times on Wildfire Mitigation

In yesterday's New York Times, reporter Jack Healy put a negative spin on wildfire mitigation in his write-up of the Black Forest Fire (datelined Denver, oddly enough).
For years, families in Black Forest, Colo., did what they could to keep the flames at bay. They scooped up pine needles and trimmed low-hanging branches around their homes. They chopped down saplings and hauled dead trees to the community mulcher.
But when the fire came this week, hundreds of their homes still burned. 
Maybe the NYT line is "because of climate change, you're all doooooomed,"  and it creeps into this kind of reporting.

Healy interviewed one (and only one) burned-out  Black Forest resident, who said despite mitigation efforts, her family's house was lost. That is a sad thing, but it is not the whole story.

What Healy does not consider is that it's a game of percentages.

Yes, if the wind is blowing hard enough, burning embers might blow through your "defensible space," catch in a deck or under and eaves, and start a fire.

But by creating that space, you improve your chances.

Perhaps more importantly, if a firefighting crew is trying to protect structures on your road, where will they spend their limited time, at the house where much work has been done for them or at the one that would take hours to prepare?

(Some people call those latter houses "burners," as in, "Forget that one, it's a burner.")

As this interesting short video from Black Forest shows, an engine crew could easily protect a home where the trees were thinned, etc., despite one mistake on the homeowners' part.

June 13, 2013

Fawns by the Five-Pack

Fisher's Travel Crate is Appropriated by Fawns
Yesterday I posted the picture of a firefighter with a mule deer fawn during the Black Forest Fire; today I held it too. It's one of these five little mule deer. One of these was described to me as the "fawn that was on the news," and I think that it is the same one. Whatever.

One or two of these were rescued from the fire area directly. Three were already at the home of a rehabilitator who herself had to evacuate. Another transporter brought them from Colorado Springs to Penrose, where M. and I transferred them to our Jeep and brought them to Wet Mountain Wildlife.

I wonder if there will be more.

UPDATE: Here is KOAA Channel 5's news report about these particular deer, including "the famous fawn."

Urban Trees and Public Health

In a NPR interview transcript, a researcher who tries to quantify exactly how the loss of trees (particularly urban trees) affects public health.
That's a really unique opportunity. Imagine if you were trying to look at the effect of trees growing on someone's health and I got 100 people, I put them in 100 identical houses, and I planted trees in front of 50 of those houses and then waited. It would take 40 or 50 years before you found anything because trees grow really slowly. It's hard to see significant changes quickly. On the other hand, trees die really quickly. That's why you have this unique opportunity to see a big change in the natural environment in a short amount of time.

June 12, 2013

Not Fawny: Rehabber Says Facebook Photo is 'Total BS'

"Ears are curled, fawn alone in the world"?

"Total bullshit!" replied my favorite wildlife rehabilitator after I showed her this photo that appeared on Facebook.

And since she and her husband have taken care of hundreds of whitetail and mule deer fawns (not to mention elk and pronghorn antelope) since the 1970s, I tend to respect her opinion.

"The curled ears are from being in the mother. They usually straighten out in a few days. Sometimes it takes longer. it has nothing to do with not eating. All this woman is doing is encouraging people to pick up fawns that should not be picked up," she added.

Meanwhile, this other photo popped up in both still and video form during the Black Forest Fire on the northeast side of Colorado Springs, which is still ongoing.  It was apparently posted by a Facebook user, but it is not on her page now. Go figure.

OK, under the circumstances — a major fire closing in —  I might have picked up that fawn too, regardless of its ears.

Sweetie, did you lock the truck? The bear is coming.

Camping last weekend, I religiously put the cooler and food box inside the Jeep at night. But I did not lock it.

If I lived near Maple Ridge, British Columbia, a suburb of Vancouver, I would have had to lock it.

Next: Canadian bears using Slim Jims.

June 11, 2013

What the Neighbors Were Doing 168 Years Ago

Alexander Barclay, trader, writes to his brother George in St. Louis, June 11, 1845 from a location just down the creek from us:

Our wants are few, and as we witness no instance of ostentation and luxury in our neighbors, we have nothing to create envy. Thus, we have only to repress occasional recollections of the superfluities of civilized life to be contented with our own. Indeed, the men who have located here are all those whom the wreck of the mountain trade and hunting parties have left on the surface, unfitted to return to former haunts or avocations, with minds alienated by new connections from home and early friends, and habits transformed by constant excitement and daring adventure from the dull plodding of the sober citizen to the reckless activity and thrilling interest of a border life, open to the aggression of the savage and the pursuit of free will, free trade and free thinking.

quoted in George P. Hammond, The Adventures of Alexander Barclay, Mountain Man
(Denver: Old West Pub. Co., 1976)

June 10, 2013

Utah Target-Maker Tries to Educate Some Shooters

BLM graphic.
Can you say "cover your ass," boys and girls? Yes, I thought you could.

Action Targets, a Utah-based company, has put out a news release on "10 Ways to Prevent Wildfires While Targetshooting This Summer."

It is all sound advice, such as "don't shoot tracers in dry vegetation" and "don't shoot that old sofa that someone dumped up the gulch because it might smolder and catch fire." And "no Tannerite."

And it just might have something to do with the situation summarized last March at Wildfire Today:
According to Utah State Forester Dick Buehler, of the 1,528 fires in the state in 2012, 33 were caused by target shooting which cost over $16 million to suppress. In October, 2012 when we wrote about the increasing number of fires started by target shooters using exploding targets, we found 10 fires started by these devices in Utah over a 5-month period last year. One of them burned over 5,500 acres.
The BLM has some similar advice. I like the tarp idea.

The outdoor shooting range that I use has a no-tracers rule, and this is why.

Up at Fort Carson, however, they still seem to start at least one fire a year with tracers and/or pyrotechnics of some variety.

This is What a Dust Bowl Looks Like

That fine, light High Plains soil blows and blows.  Photos at the link. If it were not in color, you would swear it was the Dirty Thirties again — although I do remember something like this from 1977.

June 09, 2013

News from Magdalena

New Mexico blogger Steve Bodio details what happens when the village well runs dry — or collapses, actually.  Water is being trucked in — how long can that last?

At the macro level, I wonder if there is a connection with this headline.

Nevertheless, the Magdalena blogging gang alerted me to the threatened secession of a number of northeastern counties from the state of Colorado. 
We are a band of brothers and native to the soil,
Fighting for the property we gained by honest toil;
Hurrah! Hurrah!
For [northeastern Colorado] rights, hurrah!

June 03, 2013

High Plains Aquifers, Crop Changes, and the 'Secret Government'

I posted recently about the galloping depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer ("We're on the last kick," he said. "The bulk water is gone").

Chad Love explains how modern agricultural methods also make it harder for the aquifer to recharge itself: "The Ogallala is Ogaleavin' "

Here in Colorado, agriculture traditionally takes about 80 percent of the water and municipalities 20 percent, but that balance is changing as farmers sell or lease water to cities. Consequence: A shift to dryland crops, just as will probably happen on the High Plains where groundwater has been going to corn crops for ethanol, feedlots, and hog barns.

John Orr at Coyote Gulch links to a Greeley Tribune story on how winter wheat is supplanting other thirstier crops.

Back on my last newspaper job, my beat included the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. I always felt that "the water beat" was like being asked to cover the secret government — where decisions are made and court cases are fought that, years down the road, constrain what more visible government bodies can do.

Coyote Gulch is my go-to blog for secret-government news these days.

June 02, 2013

Should I Be Planting Now?

The cold spring has been hard on gardeners and commercial vegetable and fruit growers alike here in Colorado. Hal Walter writes at Farm Beet:
According to [Arkansas Valley Organic Growers] farmers many crops are between three and four weeks behind schedule, and some were destroyed by wind and extreme cold, causing farmers to have to replant.
Here are two useful tools to tell you at if it's time. The "Garden Planting Calculator"  takes your ZIP code and tells you when the best planting dates are.

If you want to make your own calculations, Roots Nursery offers tables to help you calculate when to harden-off indoor plant starts and when to sow outdoors, based on air and soil temperatures.

(Indirect hat tip to Heather Houlahan.)