Showing posts with label North Dakota. Show all posts
Showing posts with label North Dakota. Show all posts

October 21, 2019

Chemical "Stewardship" and Vanishing Shelterbelts

Hunter walking a North Dakota tree row.
Beginning in the 1930s, government programs helped prairie farmers to plant shelterbelts (a/k/a tree rows or windbreaks) in order to reduce wind erosion and to protect isolated farmsteads across the Great Plains.

In the program's best years, the 1950s–1960s, hundreds of thousands of trees were planted. North Dakota alone had 55,000 miles of shelterbelts planted since the 1930s. They are not all there now.
“Those windbreaks still play a huge role out there. They do a lot to encourage protection from erosion, up to 10 times the distance of their height. They increase row crop productivity by 10 to 25 percent, and livestock sheltered there see improved weight gains of 10 percent,” [Larry Kotchman, head of the North Dakota Forest Service] said. “A farmstead will see energy savings of 20 to 30 percent in less heating and cooling.”
Shelterbelts changed the environment for wildlife, providing more habitat for songbirds and encouraging whitetail deer to move into more areas. Thanks to the increased deer population, eastern North Dakota—where I am writing this—now even has a few mountain lions.
Trees can also provide an important refuge for wildlife. Two years ago, [when]  the snow was very deep, wildlife suffered when their grass and food plots were buried, [Diane Erickson, district conservationist in Clark County, S.D.] explained.
“Deer and pheasant loss was high,” Erickson said. “Shelterbelts or thick tree plantings are their main source of shelter and even a good food source. Wildlife needs habitat, and tree belts are the best winter habitats.”
Today, government agencies still encourage and fund shelterbelt planting, but more and more are being bulldozed in the name of "stewardship," which means profit. An agricultural-business site reports,
Fields often are divided into quarter sections (160 acres) and "80s" (80 acres.)

Decades ago, one or more shelterbelts often were planted on a quarter or 80.
That divided a single field into several -- for example, an 80 might have become two 40-acre fields -- and protected topsoil in all the fields from wind erosion.
Now, many farmers are removing shelterbelts to combine fields into a single, bigger one.
Shelterbelts did what they were supposed to, but times have changed, [Terry Weckerly, president of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association] says.
Most farmers today use production methods that leave more organic matter on the field and disturb the soil less, greatly decreasing the need for windbreaks, he says.
Shelterbelts often become "a nuisance, an obstacle," he says. For example, branches breaking off trees and falling into fields complicates farming, he says.
More significantly, shelterbelts make it more difficult to apply chemicals properly, he says. (Emphasis added)
So let's review this. Shelterbelts, once established, provided all their agricultural benefits for free while benefiting multiple species.

But "Being a good steward of the land is more than just putting trees in the ground."

Evidently, "being a good steward" means cutting the trees to gain a few more acres, then spraying all kinds of herbicides and insecticides on the ground, which run off with the snowmelt and also filter into the groundwater. That is what "no-till" farming requires: lots of honeybee-killing Roundup and the like.

(See the picture-perfect farmstead with the neatly painted house, the huge metal equipment sheds, the rows of stately trees—they don't cut the ones by the house—and the perfectly mowed lawns? Who knows what is in its well water?)

Plus convenience: "Another reason farmers have wanted to take out windbreaks is to make it easier to turn equipment. In the wet years two and three years ago, when sloughs took over parts of fields, tree rows made it harder to navigate tractors and combines—especially since equipment is all larger than it was years ago."

Nevertheless, the financial incentives to plant new shelterbelts and replace dying trees are still there, through various agencies. Those staffers keep making the same recommendations that they made in the 1950s—and they are still good ones.

And the same farmer who defends today's methods—who says that he needs them to pay off his loans—will sit across from you at lunch and agree that there aren't as many sharptail grouse as there were even ten years ago, that there aren't as many big whitetail bucks as there used to be, that there aren't as many birds in general.

No contradictions, nope.

October 24, 2018

Abandoned Farmhouse


Looks like the perfect place for a Halloween pop-up store, right? I just wanted to post this because it permits me to say that I was there with the guy who used to be married to the step-daughter of a man who grew up on a nearby farm and used to date a girl who lived here.

Are we clear?

October 16, 2016

A Café without Pretension

A customer (not me) wonders why the cafe is closed when its posted hours say otherwise.
I picked up a "travel mug" ( or "auto mug" if you prefer) at the local cafe here in [Small Town], North Dakota, today. It carries the inscription, " [Blank] Cafe: Where Great Food & Great Friends Meet.'

It might be more honest to say, "Where average food and the people you can't avoid seeing every day in the town's only cafe meet."

For this place, a corporate account with Sysco would be a step up. The idea of chefs working themselves into madness is as remote as Alpha Centauri.

Self-service coffee? At the [Blank] Cafe, it's "self-made coffee." As in there are coffee pots sitting empty over there —  fill one with water, put coffee and a filter in the machine, and hit the On button. You're not too special to make your own coffee that you are paying for, are you?

Part of it is just that eastern North Dakota Scandinavian thing: You don't want to act like you are too special. It's hard to tell the truck driver from the farmer who is actually worth several million dollars — until the farmer goes on an expensive vacation, or you watch who is buying what at the auction house.

October 21, 2013

An Incident on the Prairie

Griggs County, North Dakota

West of the Sheyenne River things are different. The sloughs and ponds that are everywhere in my friend Galen's county are fewer here. The country has more of an upland feel — it's snowier too, he says — and there are more "No Hunting" signs.

That is not necessarily a problem. North Dakota allows hunting on unposted private land, and even posted land can be negotiated.

In fact,  at one point we pulled overwhere a guy tacking up a "no hunting" sign and talked with him, and it was as Galen had suspected — he wanted to keep out deer hunters for some reason,  but he had no problem at all with us walking his pastures for sharp-tailed grouse.

But before that encounter, we found a little valley that was open, parked, released the dogs and started walking. I took the high route along some hills like those in the background of the photo. The grouse often hang out on the leeward slopes — and they were there— but so were little copses of wind-stunted trees — some looked like crab apples (!?).

Two or three times grouse flushed on the other side of the trees, making their er-er-er, and I was unable to see them until they gained some altitude, by which time they were rapidly going out of range.

I watched one circle downwind way out over the little valley until it was just a dot against the grass. It sat down somewhere near the little cabin in the photo.

Walking on, I munched rose hips for locavore Vitamin C (It is not only Alberta that is "wild rose country") and marveled at the spread of wormwood onto the prairie. I struggle to grow a little in the herb garden here, and there it is scattered all over the place.

We were were just on the prairie, Mother Earth below, Blue Sky God above — and us, like the fleeing grouse, just dots. Mobility is crucial.

When Fisher the Chessie and I came up to a fence enclosing a pasture with cattle in it, we stopped and walked down toward the truck. We all drove to a spot about half a mile away, putting most of the little valley upwind.

Again we loaded our shotguns, called the dogs, and started a big loop out across the valley floor. Occasionally the wind brought the chug-chug of a tractor where one of the ranch hands, half a mile away, was pulling a manure spreader.

Fisher was off on Galen's side, so I whistled, and he came running, big happy grin, and as he passed through the tall grass, a whitetail doe popped up just behind him — he never sensed her.

I laughed at that and turned to go forward as he passed me, and then a grouse (that same grouse?) flew up on my left, er-er-er-er.

I spun counterclockwise, fired the first barrel wildly as the grouse caught the wind, and as my finger slipped to the second trigger, knew I was right on it, and it fell thump. This is my body, which is given for you.

Off in the distance, the manure spreader drew brown contours on the hillside.

October 09, 2013

On the Road: Name That River

Identify this river and win a fabulous invisible prize.

Hint: it is colorado but not in Colorado nor is it the Colorado.

For an even bigger invisible prize, from what state was this photo taken?



ANSWER: The river is the Red River of the North. The photo is taken from the Minnesota side in East Grand Forks, looking at the greenway created after  the big 1997 flood that badly damaged downtown Grand Forks, North Dakota, on the opposite bank.

January 25, 2013

Walking the Keystone Pipeline Route

This guy sets out to walk the length of the Keystone pipeline, starting in Alberta and going south, and makes a blog of it, Pipe Dreams.

It starts here, in September 2012.

October 21, 2012

The $1,000 Duck

Cookie the doughty Drahthaar and a duck. Otherwise known as a German wire-haired pointer.

I write ths in Valentine, Nebraska, on my way home from the hunting trip to North Dakota. As I blogger earlier, Galen and I were weathered out for the first two days.

On day two, reconnaissance continued, and the rain let up enough to sneak up on some sloughs. Result for me: one mallard.

The next day — Saturday, the nicest day of our four-day hunt — we went off to see Farmer Dennis. He packed us into his pickup truck and took us on a 30-minute tour of his land ("I often see pheasants here when I'm working this field"), other huntable nearby land, a federal duck-protection area, and for a bonus, his gun room and collection of military memorabilia.

Finally free of his friendliness, we drove to a promising section of prairie grassland across the road from a harvested corn field, unloaded the dogs and started walking. And walking. And nothing of game bird size flew up.

So we moved a couple of miles to "this field," pushing through its brushy edges and some shelter belts. No birds but a harrier, which startled me when it swooped low over my head. Fisher munched some fresh moose turds, while I wondered what he (and I) would do if a moose loomed up in the shelter belt.

We decided that maybe the pheasants were still "dug in" after the windy, rainy days. Or maybe we just needed one of those big Midwestern pheasant-hutning productions with drivers, flankers, and blockers.

But the conversation was good, the skies were immense, and I got my annual dose of prairie.

Maybe in the end it was only an $800 duck, but whatever it cost, it was worth it.

October 19, 2012

Telling the Deer to Cross the Interstate is Irresponsible

Want to hear a talk-radio host with nothing to say? I heard about this episode when I arrived in North Dakota Tuesday. Now it has gone viral: Donna the Deer Lady.

Another example of being disconnected from the larger world.

October 18, 2012

Weathered Out

I am somewhere on the left side of this green swirl, drinking coffee from the battered metal thermos with the Ducks Unlimited sticker on it, but I am drinking that coffee indoors.

I am not too happy about that — and neither is Fisher the dog, whose frustration is audible — but with strong wind and horizontal icy rain and whitecaps on the sloughs, it has gotten to the point of being weather even too nasty for duck hunters and their dogs.

Ugh.

October 17, 2012

Here's Your Winter Reading List

From High Country News, new books with connections to the West or Western authors.

I have just started one of them, Tom McIntyre's The Snow Leopard's Tale.
There are a few creatures left in the world who live still untamed, prowling through the rocks, blinking slowly at the encroaching civilization far below. On China’s Bountiful Black Mountain, a snow leopard hunts alone, artifact of a vanishing age. But hungry, desperate, when he is finally forced away from the cold stones of his mountain home toward the tents and fires of the valley, he encounters an impossible, startling world. And as we follow him on his journey, as the talented pen of Thomas McIntyre shows us how we appear through the leopard’s eyes, it’s a vision that will finally startle us as well.
But first, some duck reconnaissance here in North Dakota.

July 22, 2012

Major Wildfires Since 2001

Mike at Firefighter Blog has an interesting graphic of major fires in the 48 states. What's going on there in eastern North Dakota? Combines full of dust and chaff catching fire? (I saw that once a couple of years ago.) Galen? Anyone?

As a Californian, Mike is most interested in the Next Big One of the incendiary variety and shows where he thinks that it is due to hit.

October 12, 2011

Heat, Ducks, and Dogs

Cookie, a hard-working German wirehaired pointer.
Before I left for North Dakota on October 1st, Galen told me to expect cooler weather than on our previous years' September grouse hunts. Luckily I checked the forecast too, which predicted warmer weather.

Oh yeah. Like stiff breezes from the south and temperatures into the 80s F. Most un-North Dakota, but good for drying out the corn, beans, and sunflowers for harvest, I suppose. Somehow I ended up with both sets of waterfowling gear—the heavy neoprene waders and the light unlined hip boots, the insulated parka and the lightweight jacket, etc. Plus long underwear, wool pants . . . I am notorious for over-packing, but this was ridiculous.

Ducks were not yet migrating, so we ended up jump-shooting some of the abundant sloughs. Finally the last evening we did a "proper" decoy set and killed our last three ducks (one mallard, two teal) in the final seconds of legal shooting light.

Grouse should be eating the white buffalo berries.
Cry Damnit and Release the Dogs of Corn

As for the sharp-tailed grouse, this past severe winter and wet spring and summer might have hurt reproduction. I had one shot at one and missed it. The funny thing was that the grouse we were seeing were flying above and into standing corn, not in the prairie grass where we had found them before.

You are not supposed to hunt standing crops without the owner's permission, so we did not. Certain dogs might have been encouraged to run down the rows, however.

But the dogs did not want to go more than about three rows in. Perhaps they find the cornfields to be disorienting and spooky.
Invisible Species of North Dakota

This was my fourth North Dakota bird hunt, and I coming to believe that the presence of Hungarian partridge is advertised in order to sell licenses to gullible out-of-staters, but that they do not actually exist.

Likewise, I have seen ungulate-type droppings and large rounded hoof prints and am informed with seeming sincerity that they are made by moose.

No doubt the shelter belts and abandoned farmsteads are swarming with them, but I always happen to be looking in another direction. Perhaps they are snoozing moosily in the sunflower fields.

But I will be happy with my duck dinners.

October 05, 2011

Convicts of the Corn

Sex offender being transported leaps from a prison van, allegedly upset with the poor quality of his vegetarian meals. (You can't make this up.)

He runs into a cornfield — bad move.

It's harvest time here in North Dakota. Mostly they are cutting soy and pinto beans. But when it's convict-hunting time, you change to your corn "head" and go.
The massive manhunt took a turn around noon today as the combines started to roll in to the Smith farmstead. Law enforcement officers hopped on board, fully armed and took off on a tear to find Megna.

"We decided that at the last minute, that if the corn was ready to take off, that this was the thing to do. We went after it and we did it."
 Watch the video at the 1:10 point.

Better than bloodhounds.

September 24, 2010

Crossing the Great Divide

We Coloradans tend to be obsessed with the Continental Divide. We speak of being on the Eastern Slope or the Western Slope. We name businesses etc. after it.

It runs through other parts of North America as well—see the red line on the map below.
(I am told that the divide was supposed to be the border between Idaho and Montana, but someone screwed up the survey in the 19th century, hence the narrow Idaho panhandle.)

Homeward bound from a recent trip to North Dakota, I paid tribute to another divide as I crossed from the Arctic back into the Atlantic (Gulf of Mexico) watersheds by visiting a geocache placed to mark it.

Here is a closeup of that area. I was right where the medium brown meets the light brown in southeastern North Dakota.


And here is the view from the divide, looking to the southwest, a typical scene of soybean field and slough full of waterfowl:

September 22, 2009

Fisher Goes to Bird Camp

Fisher with sharp-tailed grouse, North Dakota, Sept. 2009. Photo by Chas S. Clifton
Fisher and I came back from North Dakota on the 17th, after four days of driving and four days of sharp-tailed grouse and dove-hunting with my old friend Galen (who is now blogging again).

Since our return, M. and I have both noted a change in the little Chessie. He seems a tad more mature. Still pushy and hyperactive, but not quite so much.

Cookie, Galen's German wirehaired pointer, was his tutor on the grouse, and I think he learned some things, when not chasing her madly across the prairie, liberated after two days in a kennel crate.

And I managed to down two grouse, which is two more than last year, when we never saw one within shotgun range.

Mixed grill of game birds and sausage. Photo by Chas S. Clifton.
They and some doves went into this mixed grill of apple-smoked game birds, sausage, and squash.

September 15, 2009

Loading Grain Cars at Night

Loading grain cars at night. Photo by Chas S. CliftonYour spring wheat being loaded into grain cars in Finley, North Dakota, while I play with my new pocket digital camera.

This year's harvest is somewhat delayed by cool, wet weather earlier.