Showing posts with label conservation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label conservation. Show all posts

September 06, 2018

Gnawing at Memory on New Mexico 21

The Tooth of Time at Philmont Scout Ranch.

New Mexico Highway 21 is the platonic ideal of a foothills road, climbing, turning, and dipping, but never  so much as you can't enjoy the scenery. On the right (west) side as you're going south lies the huge Philmont Scout Ranch, which reaches from the High Plains up into wooded mountains.

On the left (east) side, is the big Express UU Bar Ranch, managed for cattle, hunting, and vacations, and owned by Oklahoma businessman Bob Funk (I've met him) a self-made land baron who owns a swath of Colfax County, including the outlaw-haunted St. James Hotel in Cimarron, and operates through a subsidiary the municipal airport at Raton.

A few yards from the asphalt you can spot the ruts of the Mountain Branch of the  Santa Fe Trail. South of Raton Pass, it hugged the foothills, presumably for better access to water, grass, and firewood, while today's railroad and Interstate 25 run further out on the plains.

Once at some event I talked with a National Park Service staffer from the Santa Fe office. He had bicycled the trail — whether the whole thing or just from Bent's Old Fort down to Santa Fe, I don't recall.

He talked about the Tooth of Time — everything at Philmont is the Tooth of Time This or That. People traveling on US 64 get a glimpse of it, but when you follow the Trail, he said, you stay in sight of it for at least a couple of days, traveling at bicycle speed. For the teamsters walking alongside their laden freight wagons, it meant that only a week of travel was left before reaching Santa Fe.

Stay on the Trail, and you can end up in the Mora valley. In the old days, people were always coming and going from there to Fort Pueblo and other places—its agricultural products were sent north and south. Now, Mora is out of the way; it's a place that you have to want to visit, whereas it was on the main route of the Santa Fe Trail.
Rayado at Philmont—I think the dining hall was in the farther building,
and we slept in wall tents on platforms back beyond that.

I stopped at Rayado. It's kind of dangerous to go back to some place that you last saw when you were 14 years old. But I did not have to worry about a golden haze of nostalgia—Rayado looks better now than I remembered. Lusher and irrigated. A thicker riparian forest.

Because it was Labor Day weekend, everything was locked up and deserted, which made the visit feel more dreamlike — just me and the landscape of memory. I could have told it like, "I dreamed I was in this valley — there was a long adobe building . . ."

I was there for some kind of "conservation camp" (two weeks?), not the usual Philmont backpacking trek. (Now there is a Roving Outdoor Conservation School, which combines the two — fieldwork and backpacking. Sounds like fun, but you have to be 16.)

So what did we do? There had been a flash flood earlier that spring  — I think we built check dams, etc. Do we get any credit for the improved riparian area?

There was a little classroom time — basic forest ecology and so on — and one shorter backpack trip into the high country where we cut dwarf mistletoe out of pine trees with pruning saws, probably a useless exercise.

I remember the poker games after hours in the tent, but not the organized activities. That figures.

August 20, 2016

Why Mountain Bikes Don't Belong in Wilderness Areas

As its name suggests, the Wilderness Act of 1964 has been in effect for fifty years, long enough that most Americans have grown up with it.

From a campfire-argument point of view, I could say that our culture is weird if we have to draw lines around a small portion of the country — only 2.7 percent of the Lower 48 — and say, "In these places, natural processes are more important than the human ego."

In other words, plants and animals come ahead of human exploitation, whether that be for economic or recreational reasons.

(Like Gary Snyder, I define "natural" as those self-organizing processes not under the ego's control — including most of what your body is doing right now.)

On the ground, the "wilderness" designation usually means no engines, no wheels. If you want to do in, you walk, ride a horse (or other equine), paddle, or float. Some of these can even be done by people with disabilities!

Come now two senators from Utah, Orrin Hatch and  Mike Lee, who want to allow bicycles in wilderness areas.

Since I really doubt that either one of them lives for mountain biking, I suspect that this is just a thinly disguised attack on the very idea of designated wilderness. They don't care about bicyclists as such, they are thinking about oil wells etc.

As the "camel's nose under the tent," mountain bikers work pretty well, better than ATV riders, for example. After all, they are "using the quads God gave them," as a certain anti-ATV bumper stick says.

But they still don't belong in designated wilderness areas, not under the spirit of the Wilderness Act, which has pretty well proved its worth in fifty years.

Yes, bikes are quiet(er) than motor vehicles, but as they rush over the trail (go to get cool vid on that helmet-mounted GoPro camera, right?), they are still a disturbance.

Let's keep Wilderness Areas as they are, places where the needs of plants and wildlife come first. Sure, we can go there with respect, but our desires to put knobby tires everywhere in the name of recreation can be limited in these small slices of America.

If you think that mountain bikes are cuddly and harmless, you can make your case — but then you are opening the door for the next mechanical intrusion. And the next. And the next.

June 25, 2016

This Baby Beaver Makes Me Think of Grey Owl

Beaver kit



This is the time of year when M. and  I are back and forth to the little wildlife rehabilitation center not far away. One day last week it was to drop off cuttings of willow and lanceleaf cottonwood for the beaver they are rearing.

Gus peers into the beaver's enclosure. Is he jealous?
Gus the badger came earlier this spring. For a time he was the only animal — then came the beaver, some raccoons, a tiny bear cub, and the usual group of fawns (dropped off one of the last on yesterday, in fact).

He took time off from enlarging the den under a boulder in his enclosure to mumble at us through the fence between his home and the beaver's. Does he think that people should be bringing him treats (frozen mice) first?

I can't look at a beaver kit without thinking of Archie "Grey Owl" Belaney, though. An Englishman who re-invented himself as half-Apache, then lived among the Mohawks and married a Mohawk woman (wife #2 of three), he was born in East Sussex in 1888 and died in 1938 in Saskatchewan. He worked a number of years as a trapper, except for military service during World War One. As one biography notes,
Finally, Belaney became disgusted with the brutality involved in trapping. This disgust was triggered by the revulsion his new companion, a Mohawk woman named Gertrude Bernard, felt for the practice. When Bernard, otherwise known as Anahareo, adopted and raised a pair of beaver kittens whose mother had been killed in a trap, Belaney came to recognize that animals he had trapped for most of his life were highly intelligent and affectionate beings. After establishing a close bond with the kittens, Belaney vowed never to trap another beaver and to work to stop the wholesale slaughter of beavers.

Belaney henceforth devoted himself to writing of his experiences of the Canadian wilderness and of Native culture in order to forward his conservationist message and to provide an income to replace the one he had formerly earned by selling beaver pelts. Belaney’s vision was to establish wildlife sanctuaries throughout the North. He was also interested in prohibiting commercial traffic in animal skins to protect animal life and to prevent native culture from becoming commercialized and driven by European fashion trends. Belaney thought that Native peoples, instead of killing animals for profit, could work as conservationists and forest rangers in wildlife sanctuaries.
In his own writings Archibald Belaney presented himself as Grey Owl, a half-breed who was more Indian than white. The popularity of his writings led to extended lecture tours for Grey Owl in Britain and in North America. Grey Owl played up his Indianness for these lectures, darkening his hair and skin as was his custom and dressing in Native apparel. The Canadian woodsman, with his fringes, feathers and beads provided a thrilling sight on the streets and stages of England of the 1930s. (Although, ironically, some of Grey Owl’s Indian costume was actually bought in England, where it was sold as an exotic novelty from the colonies.) His message was thrilling to an audience jaded with and troubled by many of the traits of modern Western culture: "You are tired of civilization. I come to offer you, what? A single green leaf." 
Today, of course, he would be ripped up and hung out to dry by the Culture Police, his actual English identity spashed on websites like FakeIndians.

There were indeed some questions at the time as to how this "half-breed" could produce well-written books like The Men Of The Last Frontier, but people who wanted to believe, believed.

But his defenders can always point out that he did major work as a wildlife conservationist, both hands-on and as a writer and lecturer. (And there were few Apaches in 1920s Ontario and Manitoba to challenge his assumed identify, I suppose.) He was the first "celebrity conservationist" in Canada.

Some called him "the world's most famous Canadian." Here's a short video that mixes original footage of Grey Owl with clips from the 1999 biopic, in which he is played by Pierce Brosnan.


December 29, 2015

Bear with Me — There's More

Bear enjoying late-season tomatoes.
More links that I need to clear . . . 

• "The Hermit: New Mexico's First Mountaineer" — it's a story of religion, violence, penitence, and isolation, in other words, New Mexico.

• Some birds do well in cities and suburbs. How can we help them?

• We are told the decades of forest-fire suppression has led to hotter, bigger files. But a CU study suggests that severe fires are not new on Colorado's Front Range.  

Plans to sequence the genome of the oldest dogs found in North America.

Outdoor magazine's best 25 books for well-read explorers. Old Glory, yes!

• Everyone hears about Coronado's expedition in the American southwest,  no one about Francisco Leyva de Bonilla's. Maybe that is because it was such as disaster.

• Saving a big piece of southeastern Colorado's canyon country. And a chunk of the High Plains east of Pueblo.

Why are we still talking about Chris "Supertramp" McCandless?
Twenty-three years after his death, McCandless still has people talking — debating his cause of death, condemning his choices and discussing how perhaps they, too, can leave everything behind and walk into the wild.
A "river of sheep" in northwestern Colorado. Good photos.

December 12, 2015

Do I Have to Throw Away My Ducks Unlimited Shirts Now?

Back in the late 1980s and 1990s, I had fantasies of being an outdoor/nature writer. I published articles, had a newspaper column for a couple of years, and spent a year on the staff of the late and unlamented Colorado Outdoor Journal. And I got to know a lot of writers. I still do some freelancing, but mostly in other areas now —  except this blog (which would qualify me for membership in the Outdoor Writers Assn. of America, if I wanted to go back).

If there is anything writers like to talk about, it is their shabby treatment by editors, publishers  and producers. Everyone has stories of producing work and then being stiffed on payment.

So when I read Steve Bodio's account of Ducks Unlimited not only firing contributing editor E. Donnall Thomas, Jr., better known as Don Thomas — but also scrubbing all of his previous work from the DU website, making him into a "nonperson" as much as they could, I boiled.

Steve quoted Thomas on what happened, and I will borrow that quote:
"In October, 2015 I wrote a piece for Outside Bozeman magazine, "A Rift Runs Through It", about the long Montana legal battle to secure and maintain public access to the Ruby River in accordance with the state’s stream access law. . . .To summarize a complex issue for those unfamiliar with the case, wealthy Atlanta businessman James Cox Kennedy engaged in extensive litigation to prevent such access, only to be denied repeatedly in court due to the efforts of the Montana Public Land and Water Access Association. While the article was not complimentary to Kennedy, no one has challenged the accuracy of the reporting.

James Cox Kennedy is a major financial contributor to Ducks Unlimited. On November 10, a Ducks Unlimited functionary informed me that my position with the magazine was terminated because of Cox’s displeasure with the article.

... The Ruby River article had nothing whatsoever to do with ducks or Ducks Unlimited (DU hereafter). The article did strongly support the rights of hunters and other outdoor recreationists to enjoy land and water to which they are entitled to access, and DU is a hunters’ organization... DU has essentially taken the position that wealthy donors matter more than the outdoor recreationists they purport to represent.
As I said, I boiled. I fired off a set of letters to Ducks Unlimited president Paul R. Bonderson, Jr., and to CEO Dale Hall. I delayed writing this blog post for a while to see if I got a response, maybe a form letter from the office intern, whatever. Nada.

I have served on the board of a state-level conservation group, and I know nonprofits often get most of their cash from a few big donors, who outweigh the dues and small gifts of us average members putting in $35 a year for dues and also responding to certain appeals.

But, I wrote to them, it is those thousands of average members, if properly used, who give the organization its political leverage.

And although I have been a member for close to thirty years, I suggested that in the future James Cox Kennedy could cover my dues and gifts.

Charity Navigator, which tracks nonprofits and how they spend their money, gives Ducks Unlimited three stars out of four overall, with a score of 74.49 out of 100 on "financial" and a 96 on "transparency."

According to DU's reports, fundraising and administrative costs take 23.6 percent of all income, with the rest going to programs. That's not bad. It is when over half goes to fundraising and administrative salaries that you want to back off.

Membership dues raised $19.4 million in fiscal year 2014, fundraising (all those banquets) raised $24.6 million, and contributions and grants accounted for $28.35 million.

They won't miss mine.

I am conflicted about this decision, and yes, I even wondered if I should keep wearing the stuff that DU sends as gift-appeal premiums. That's a pretty nice fleece vest, for instance, and I like it, even with the logo on the front.

I thought about how I had defended giving to the Salvation Army to a friend who advised against it because the SA was not, in her opinion, friendly enough to the LGBT population. "Who else does a better job and ticks off all the correct political boxes," I asked rhetorically.

Who else does more for duck research and habitat?

Who else screws over writers so blatantly?

Maybe DU, like many nonprofits before it, has gotten too big, too clubby, too established. Their treatment of Don Thomas is an awfully big straw in the wind, an indicator of their corporate mindset. You wonder what else is going on if they are that sensitive about a perceived insult to one of the insiders.

(UPDATE: Among other coverage of DU's shabby treatment of Don Thomas, here is a brief summary from High Country News.)

June 04, 2015

The Conspiracy to Take Away Public Lands

John Gale from Backcountry Hunters and Anglers speaks to a rally
at the Colorado State Capitol in February 2015 (Durango Herald).




There is a threat to public lands in the West, and the mainstream media are largely igoring it. Even HighCountry News is ignoring it, but then HCN more and more  focused on California — that must be where the big donors are).

Unlike the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion of the mid-1980s, this is stealthier.

State legislatures in places like Colorado and Montana are seeing bills introduced urging that public lands administered by the federal government — Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, maybe even National Parks Service — be turned over for the states for management.

Doing so would be “more efficient,” “closer to the people,” whatever. The states, of course, would not be able to take care of them.

Can you imagine Colorado footing the bill for a bad forest fire season? Even my state representative, Jim Wilson, R-Salida, who strikes anti-Washington poses (“Personally, I would like to see the Feds out of the picture”) admits it:
If the Federal government were to give the land to the state of Colorado, how would we be able to afford the management costs?  I doubt that the Federal government would give back to the Colorado all the public tax dollars that are spent annually on those lands.  Not to mention the PILT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) dollars that are used by Colorado counties to fund essential services as well as education.  And, to sell and/or develop the land to afford to manage the land is like eating your seed corn...not a sustainable practice!
But this stealth movement keeps puttering along.

You can imagine the scenarios if a state with a lot of public land, such as Utah, got ahold of it. Everything would be wide open — even more than now—to leasing for drilling and mining. Wildlife, water quality, etc., would not be be merely in the back seat; they would be clinging to the rear bumper of the development-mobile.

Since the state always is short of money (roads! schools! Medicaid!) the pressure would be on to start selling. The buyers would line up:

(a) energy companies
(b) mining companies
(c) rich people wanting huge ranches (doubling as private hunting grounds
(d) other land developers

So who is bankrolling this movement. My bet is (a).

There has been some media coverage, but it is isolated. No one is connecting Montana with Colorado, for example.

Some sample headlines:

Colorado Wildlife Federation's "Public Lands Update":
Throughout the 2015 legislative session of the Colorado General Assembly, CWF defended public lands managed by the US Forest Service and BLM from two bad bills: Senate Bills 15-039 (an attempt to confer concurrent state jurisdiction over federal lands) and 15-232 (to study how the state could manage these lands). Both bills were rejected. Colorado, as well as other western states where similar bills have been proposed, does not have the financial resources or personnel to take over management of a huge additional 23-million acre portfolio of public lands that are managed by BLM and US Forest Service. The likely outcome from such transfers would be sales of some of these irreplaceable lands to private interests.
 "[MontanaGovernor Steve] Bullock Vetoes Federal Land Task Force Bill
"A careful reading of the bill … reveals that the transfer of public lands is still very much in the sights of the task force,” Bullock’s veto letter says. “My position on this issue is crystal clear: I do not support any effort that jeopardizes or calls into question the future of our public lands heritage.”
If you backpack, hike, hunt, fish, look for mineral specimens, collect mushrooms, take photos, or do anything else on public lands, imagine losing that access. You would be no better off than a Texan.

March 17, 2015

On the Road — By the Lower Colorado River (2)

YumaLanding1885.jpg
"Yuma Landing 1885" by George Rothrock (Wikimedia Commons).
The Colorado River today is not big enough for steamboats at Yuma, Arizona.
Today's walk came courtesy of an article in Orion, "Down by the River," written by Rowan Jacobsen.

M. and I were headed here anyway to visit my sister and brother-in-law, but we did not know that Yuma, Arizona, is a place where the tamarisk (salt cedar) invasion has been driven back significantly.
Few areas were hit harder [by tamarisk[ than Yuma, and the calamity went beyond the tremendous loss of biodiversity. In 1999, community developer Charlie Flynn took the helm of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, which is part of the National Park Service’s program to foster community-driven stewardship of important natural or cultural landscapes. His task was to bring the riverfront back to life, but he found the area so overgrown with invasive tamarisk thickets that no one could get near the water, and in the few places where people could, they didn’t dare because of drug smugglers who used the abandoned waterway as a thoroughfare. “Once all the non-native vegetation grew up, it was the perfect breeding ground for drug traffic, meth labs, hobo camps, trash dumps,” Flynn explained to me. “You name it, it was down there. It was a no man’s land. People just didn’t go to the river. They were afraid to. Even the police hated going down there. You couldn’t see two feet ahead of you.”
Now you have people like us walking around with binoculars, excited to see birds that are probably commonplace here but not in so much southern Colorado — black phoebe, great-tailed grackles — and American coots, which are common enough in, for instance, the San Luis Valley, but I am not used to seeing little flocks of them walking around in city parks.

At least one of those hobos, whose road name was Lucky, gets his own interpretive sign. Found camping in the thickets, he took a job on the restoration crew and is credited with planting 5,000 trees.
Leveled and diked, some areas can be flooded with water pumped from the river.

Instant cottonwood grove, with drip irrigation.
Built in 1915, closed in the 1980s, reopened in 2002, the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge is the near one.
The farther bridge carries the railroad (BNSF and Amtrak).







March 29, 2014

Some High Plains Bird News


Mountain Plover (Cornell Univ.)
Another news story on the upcoming annual Kaval mountain plover festival. Or how a tiny farming town, fearful of federal regulation, learned to love a (not officially) threatened species.

Meanwhile, to the southeast, the lesser prairie chicken has been placed on the "threatened" list.
The prairie chicken, a type of grouse known for its colorful neck plume and stout build, has lost more than 80 percent of its traditional habitat, mostly because of human activity such as oil and gas drilling, ranching and construction of power lines and wind turbines, Ashe said. The bird, which weighs from 1 ½ to 2 pounds, has also been severely impacted by the region's ongoing drought.
Populations in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico are affected. Governors are upset. So when is the Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival?

March 26, 2014

Boots on the Ground: Backcountry Hunters & Anglers' 10-Year Climb

I spent last weekend at the national rendezvous of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, and although I do not plan to write it up in a journalistic way, I have at least one post planned.

Meanwhile, here is a short video summarizing BHA's tenth anniversary. BHA went from a small group passing the whiskey around a campfire in Oregon to being a "player" in land and wildlife conservation.

March 12, 2014

Backcountry Rendezvous Comes to Denver!

In just ten days I will be traveling to Denver for the annual rendezvous of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, a conservation group that while still pretty new, punches above its weight.

Let me pass the mike to outdoor/nature writer David Petersen, who was present at the creation:
"What hunting desperately needs," one of us opined, "is a national grass-roots sportsman's group comprising outdoorsmen and women who are sufficiently enlightened to put ecological integrity above all else, including our own self-interests." 
Indeed, what we were daydreaming about was a nonprofit organization built firmly upon Aldo Leopold's "land ethic." By "land," Leopold meant what we know today as the ecology -- including wildlife, fish and their habitats. "A thing is right," Leopold's land ethic proposed, "when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."
You may not realize how revolutionary a statement that is. There are other good conservation groups that put ecological integrity first yet are still comfortable with hunting or fishing—I think Trout Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited rank highly. TU in particular works to protect aquatic ecosystems that just happen to have Salmonids in them, which means most higher-elevation Colorado waters.

BHA's focus is protecting "backcountry" (not just designated draw-a-line-around-it wilderness areas) from disruptive motorized travel and anything else that negatively affects what lives there. And yes, these just happen to be good places to hunt and fish in traditional ways.

Dave continues,
And that's the briefest possible overview of how BHA came to be and who we are. Now let's fast-forward to March 21-23 -- next week! -- and the Red Lion Hotel Denver Southeast, where a now mature BHA with members in every state and several foreign countries, and 17 active chapters in the U.S. and Canada, is holding its third annual rendezvous and 10th birthday celebration. . . .
If you can't afford to spend the entire weekend with BHA members from all over America, you're most welcome to drop by on Friday evening, March 21, for kick-off events including a reception, vendor booths and displays, opening remarks by BHA Executive Director Land Tawney, dinner, and a get-acquainted "backcountry bash" featuring live bluegrass music.
 Here is a full schedule of events and registration information.

January 29, 2014

Pity the Sage Grouse, Victim of Politics

Sage Grouse (Wiki Commons)
Sally Jewell, shiny new Secretary of the Interior, comes to northwest Colorado to discuss the threats to sage grouse — then shuts local news reporters out of a "public meeting," is rebuked by the Colorado Press Association.

She has not been in office long, but evidently she has picked up this "most transparent administration's ever" operating style.

Later she issues a typical bureaucrat's non-apology in which it's no one's fault.

Forgotten in all of this: what, if anything, can be done to help the sage grouse. Secretary Jewell has managed to make the story all about her blunders instead.

Her trip was supposed to be about a local, ground-up plan to preserve sage grouse without listing them as endangered or threatened, with the associated federal regulations. But the controversy over Jewell's disrespecting of the local news media drowns that out. One might wonder why. With her way, people who did not personally attend the "public" meeting will never hear about how the local plan works and how the feds reacted to it.

December 26, 2013

Killing Eagles for Green Energy

Eagles are still federally protected — except when they get in the way of "green energy."

I have been fuming for two weeks, ever since reading that the Obama Administration signed off on letting wind farms kill them (not to mention other birds and bats) for the next thirty years:
Hundreds of thousands of birds die each year flying into the deadly turbine blades atop the soaring towers that compose wind farms. The rule will give wind farms thirty year permits for the “non purposeful take of eagles-that is where the take is associated with but not the purpose of, the activity.’’ The take of eagles is also a euphemism for the slaughter of them. (Video at the link)
Why, it's a "struggle to balance," notes the New York Times:
[The Obama Administration] has increasingly found itself caught between two staunch allies: the wind energy industry and environmental organizations. . . . “A 30-year permit is like a blank check,” said David Yarnold, president and chief executive of the National Audubon Society, which was involved in months of negotiations on the rule. “It basically says you can go operate these wind turbines and kill as many eagles as happen to die.”
And you can tell whose votes Obama's people take for granted.

Here in Colorado, the Danish wind-turbine firm Vestas threatens layoffs unless they keep getting federal tax breaks, and noted conservationist Senator Mark Udall is all for it, trumpeting how he is all about the tax credits:  "The wind production tax credit supports Made-in-America energy and jobs across Colorado."

I do think the day will come when we have something better than wind-energy— fuel cells the size of air conditioners or something else that generates fairly clean power around the clock and does not fill up thousands of square miles of land with bird-swatters.

Then people will look at wind farms the same way that we look at passenger zeppelins—an interesting technology that failed to work as advertised.

October 15, 2013

The Passing of "Dr. Trout," Robert Behnke

Robert Behnke (Phil Pister via Trout Unlimited)

Robert Behnke of Colorado State University, a leading conservationist and authority on trout and salmon, died last month.
Bob was best known for his interests in native trout conservation and taxonomy.  He was a traditional taxonomist and depended heavily on body morphology, color and spotting patterns, and the like to differentiate species and subspecies.  On this, he was a great authority.  Most of us depend on his seminal books: Native Trout of Western North America and Trout and Salmon of North America as the bibles of taxonomic and distributional studies for trout and salmon.  These are highly recommended for any trout enthusiast.
Colorado Trout Unlimited has a page up with more information and a place to share memories of him and his work.

October 05, 2013

Bison, Bears, and Wolves . . . in Europe

That buffalo (bison) in the photo banner up top is part of a private herd at the Wolf Springs Ranch in Huerfano County, Colorado. Where he is grazing is historic habitat, but the herd was re-introduced and built up by a wealthy rancher, Tom Redmond.

His distant relatives in eastern Europe, once almost extinct, are making a managed comeback in Poland and Belarus. So are some other species that seemed likely to be preserved only in museums and heraldry, says The Telegraph:
The European bison, which was extinct in the wild in Europe at the start of the 20th century, has increased by more than 3,000 per cent after a large-scale breeding and reintroduction programme. It now has particular strongholds in Belarus and Poland.
Brown bear numbers have doubled and the grey wolf population of Europe quadrupled between 1970 and 2005.
There were also sharp rises in numbers of several species of bird, including the Svalbard breeding population of the barnacle goose, the white-tailed eagle and the Spanish imperial eagle.
But tell me, did someone at The Telegraph use a stock photo of North American bison? Compare to these.For a moment I wondered if someone was cross-breeding our bison, but I don't think so. The website of the European Bison Conservation Center says, "The [captive breeding] program should ensure separation of the pure Lowland and the Lowland-Caucasian lines and avoid hybridization with any other related species."


August 29, 2013

New Hunters Not Joining Habitat-Protection Groups?

Hank Shaw, author of Hunt Gather Cook and the forthcoming Duck Duck Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild, worries that too many "locavore" and "adult-onset" hunters are failing to join conservation groups like Duck Unlimited or the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation that protect wildlife habitat.

Is it a culture-war sort of thing?
There is a myth among new hunters that long-time hunters merely eat the choicest bits of an animal, leaving the rest to rot — if they eat the animal at all. I freely admit I used to think this way, a decade ago. While I’ve never had a problem getting along with people of all political stripes — I was a political reporter for nearly 20 years, after all — I certainly held my nose high when I heard about how this hunter or that angler cooked his or her quarry. But as I met more and more “traditional” hunters, and actually listened to them, I began to realize that even though they might not make a liver creme caramel from that whitetail they just brought home, they might still just cook up that liver in some butter, or grind it into sausage. And isn’t that the point? To eat it, and not to waste. Everything else is aesthetics.
It is this culture clash that lies at the root of a much larger dilemma. In my experience, the vast majority of the new hunters, or as my friend Tovar Cerulli calls them “adult-onset hunters,” either have never heard of the various habitat organizations organized around the animals they seek, or reject them as right-wing old boys’ clubs.

This is a grave error.
He offers two reasons for joining. One is that most of these groups are efficient charities that put the majority of their money into programs, not into salaries and further fundraising. Second, by being part of the hunting or angling community, you learn stuff and make connections.

I could speak to both sides of this question. While I support Ducks Unlimited or RMEF, for example, with occasional checks, a big banquet hall full of people I don't know is not a comfortable experience for me, although I have been to a few.

If my only connection with people is shared waterfowling or trout-fishing, it's hard to stay enthused. (I was president of a Trout Unlimited chapter once, not necessarily a good one.)

So staying home and writing checks is my contribution, as it working some with smaller, locally focused groups, because I support what they do, even though I last attended a DU banquet in about 1996.

I noticed the comments to Shaw's post ended up deteriorating into Republicans-vs.-Democrats stuff. That is another grave error.

August 15, 2013

Another Ski Trooper Conservationist Leaves a Legacy

Stuart Phelps Dodge, another of the World War II ski troopers from the 10th Mountain Division, has passed on, leaving a huge conservation legacy in El Paso and Teller counties, Colorado.
Dodge left his conservation footprint on countless open spaces, including the Garden of the Gods, Bear Creek Regional Park, the historic Palmer Blair Bridge, and the Christian Open Space contiguous with the south end of Fountain Creek Regional Park.

He helped build systems for acquiring those open lands to benefit landowners and the state.

"If you have walked any trails around here, he probably helped preserved them in perpetuity. The city would not be what it is if it hadn't been for him," said Linda Overlin, former president of the Palmer Land Trust. "He was an instrumental part of the conservation easement movement statewide in the 1980s and 1990s to preserve open spaces."
It is amazing how much of what we grew up accepting as "normal Colorado" was shaped and affected by that group of men — in the case of David Brower, much more than just Colorado.

May 22, 2013

Mediterranean Diet: The Dark Side

You have the olive oil, of course, and the seafood and the vegetables.

And the golden orioles, the nightingales, and the corncrakes. The larks and the finches, yum yum.

Call it a quirk of geography. Birds that migrate from Europe to Africa must cross the Mediterranean Sea, north to south or south to north. They are tired after that flight, easy to trap and kill, be it in Egypt, the Greek islands, Crete, Sicily, or the south of France.

In Egypt, for example, 
A few scattered nets along the coast have metastasized into a nearly impenetrable wall of traps, stretching almost without break from the Gaza strip in the east to the Libyan border in the west. Conservative estimates set the annual death toll of migratory birds in this area at 10 million, but others say it is probably an order of magnitude more.

In some areas, especially near Libya, the birds are caught for subsistence, by people who currently have no other way to feed themselves, but the vast majority, perhaps 80 percent of the birds trapped, are sold in markets as a pricey delicacy or hocked to high-end restaurants in Cairo for up to five euros for each slight songbird. 
This Mediterranean taste for songbird pasta sauce came to America and contributed to the shaping of American hunting regulations. Just as Americans were trying to move away from the "shoot everything" approach to conservation-guided hunting, along came the Italians (mainly) who got jobs, bought shotguns, took a train ride out into the country, and started shooting chickadees.

Louis Warren, writing in The Hunter's Game: Poachers and Conservationists in Twentieth-Century America, devotes a chapter to this cultural conflict:
Because Italian immigrants hunted birds, they were considered a principal threat to bird life and therefore an incipient cause of this potential apocalypse. In the minds of many, immigrants represented as much a threat to American nature, especially American birds, as they did to the social order of American cities. William T. Hornaday, the president of the New York Zoological Society and one of the most famous conservationists of the era, captured conservationists' fears of Italians in his widely read tract, Our Vanishing Wildlife: "Let every state and province in America look out sharply for the bird-killing foreigner; for sooner or later, he will surely attack your wild life. The Italians are spreading, spreading, spreading. If you are without them to-day, to-morrow they will be around you." 
In 1903, the influential conservation magazine Forest and Stream published an article, "The Italian and the Birds," noting,
Once I examined the contents of a bag that one of a party of three Italian hunters [in Massachusetts] carried and found nearly fifty birds, including two or three quails, which at that season were unlawfully taken, and among the song birds that constituted the greater portion of what the bag contained were several chickadees, a bird that with its feathers off is not much larger than an English walnut. I have learned that the Italians are in the habit of killing and eating chickadees and all other song birds, and for this purpose will snatch the young from their nests before they can fly.
Today, hunting regulations in America are better respected, and what transgressions take place usually take different forms. The French may even stop eating songbirds too.

Unfortunately, contemporary Egypt is a pretty dysfunctional nation that cannot even feed itself. (To think that Egypt fed parts of the Roman Empire at one time!) So bird conservation is pretty far down the to-do list, after massacring Coptic Christians and what-not.

December 24, 2012

Hunting, Hipsters, and the Truths of Conservation

Once you get past the usual cliches —
In modern culture, hunting has been dominated by a stereotype of burly men in camouflage who view the pastime mostly as a sport. [Speak for yourself, Jacki Lyden. My friends and I were writing hunting-related poetry and essays in our twenties.]
— this NPR piece is interesting. Interviewed is Lily Raff McCaulau, author of Call of the Mild: Learning How to Hunt Your Own DInner. (Her book seems to have had two different subtitles.)

McCaulau takes a state-sponsored Becoming an Outdoors Women workshop in Oregon, including a pheasant hunt, of which she says,
And there was one other woman who hadn't shot a bird. So the two of us went up kind of close to where the dog was holding the bird, and when the bird flushed, it flew up in the air. We both took a shot and killed the bird. And I was really shocked by my reaction because I was expecting to just be wracked with guilt and really confused about what had just happened. And instead, I was euphoric. I couldn't believe that I had it in me and that I'd done it. I felt empowered and proud and amazed and relieved.
Others on the program talk about women in their 20s and 30s who take up hunting. Read the transcript.

Meanwhile, Slate says that "hunting is undeniably in vogue among the bearded, bicycle-riding, locavore set."
The expansion of hunting into liberal, urban circles is the latest development in an evolving and increasingly snug coexistence between humans and beasts in North America. Jim Sterba’s new book, Nature Wars, examines the paradox of the rebound of many wild species, particularly in the densely populated East Coast of the United States. Whitetail deer, turkeys, Canada geese, black bears, and trees are all doing wonderfully in 2012, thanks to conservation measures in the past and vagaries of history and cultural change. The problem, Sterba says, is that most modern North Americans have no idea what to do with these species. We gawk and gape; we feed them doughnuts; we run into them with our cars; we are surprised and alarmed by their messy habits and occasional aggressiveness; we manage them all wrong; we want them gone from our neighborhoods, but we abhor the idea of killing them.
(Let's see . . . Beard? Check. Bicyle-riding (well, sometimes)? Check. Locavore? Check. I had no idea that I was so much in tune with the zeitgeist — or maybe the zeitgeist is now in tune with me?)

So hunting is not a red state thing. It is a red meat thing," concludes writer Emma Marris. "And, more than that, it is a necessary thing."

September 15, 2012

Major Conservation Easement for Southern Colorado

Louis Bacon, current owner of what used to be the Forbes Trinchera Ranch, has placed a 77,000-acre conservation easement on the property.

This builds on the June announcement that he would donate a perpetual conservation easement on his 90,000-acre Blanca Ranch.

Together, they bring the total amount of permanently protected land to nearly 170,000 acres — the largest easement ever given to Fish and Wildlife.
It's good to see a hedge-fund trader do something worthwhile with the money. I had the opportunity to travel around on parts of that land back when Malcolm Forbes owned it, and because it was managed partly for trophy elk hunting, it was in excellent condition — great wildlife habitat. 

Forbes, however, had sold off a lot in 5-acre lots —the "own your piece of Colorado" ads were everywhere in the 1970s and 1980s. You could still get one, I am sure, but they tended to be the lower altitude, drier parts of the land. The Blanca Ranch had been subdivided back then, but not put on the market, so I hope that this means it never will be.

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.