December 24, 2005

'Colorful Colorado'

Jenny Shank is right.

Our vaguely national park-ish "Welcome to Colorful Colorado" signs "evoke mountain lodges, cabins, and the beloved Western bears Yogi and Smokey."

OK, I might question the last, since I always assumed that Jellystone Park, like Yellowstone Park, was in Wyoming.

But her basic point is sound. The other day, I saw that one of the older motels in Salida, Colorado, advertised itself as "retro." Let's keep our retro welcome signs.

UPDATE: You can offer your opinion to the state Dept. of Transportation at "".

Who is really "green"?

As someone who cares a lot about non-human nature, I find political decisions are never easy. I have been a registered Democrat since I first walked into the Pueblo County, Colorado, courthouse to register, but that does not always mean that I am comfortable in the party.

More often, I feel trapped between the Party of Enron, the Party of Bible-Thumpers, on one hand, and the Nanny-State Party, the Party of Institutionalized Victimhood, on the other.

On the national level, the Democrats take environmentalists for granted, just like they take black voters or Hispanic (illogical category, that) voters for granted. In all cases, the limousine liberals that run the national party could be in for a shock.

On the other hand--the Republicans--well, the leadership has made drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge an article of religious faith. Not because it will end energy dependence, but just to show that if you can drill, then God wants you to drill.

Oh, there are Bull Moose/Teddy Roosevelt Republicans who believe in conservation, like my blogging buddy Steve Bodio, but they are in the same cold, dark, neglected corner as the gay Republicans.

It's interesting to look at other countries. In the United Kingdom, it's some Conservatives who are pushing an environmental agenda. Bull Moose Tories?

Wildlife agencies face retirement wave

For two weeks I've been mulling over this news story about the upcoming loss of game wardens (district wildlife managers, we call them officially in Colorado), foresters, and other outdoor professionals.

It's the first wave of Baby Boomer retirees of course--the ones who joined these agencies in the late 1960s or early 1970s and who can now retire. Retirement was even juicier for their parents, of course: my dad retired from the Forest Service in about 1971 with a full pension at age 55; and then at 65 his Army Reserve partial pension kicked in. But I digress.

The cultural issues mentioned here might be a factor. So is the higher cost of tuitition, at least here in Colorado, where Colorado State University, which produces our foresters (like Dad) and wildlife biologists, is no longer the cheap alternative to the University of Colorado. The alternative today is the community colleges, and which of them offers such programs?

Here's the article's opening paragraphs, since its link may expire soon:

FORT MORGAN - Dan Cacho walks through thigh-high weeds along the South Platte River, shiny badge on his chest, handgun on hip, watching for hunters as a Labrador retriever bounds through the brush, more interested in blazing a trail for Cacho than flushing out birds.

The self-described big-city boy is a long way from Cleveland and right in the middle of a dream come true. The 25-year-old Cacho is nearing the end of 10 months of training and will soon become one of six new district managers with the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

"It's the best thing that's happened to me," Cacho said during a recent ride-along with veteran Bill Miles, whose district takes in some of the state's plains.

A declining number of people share Cacho's passion: Wildlife agencies across the country are struggling with the double-whammy of mass retirements and declining interest from young people seemingly disconnected from hunting, fishing and rural life.

The latest statistics available from the Government Accountability Office predict federal agencies will face big losses by 2007: The Interior Department will lose 61 percent of its program managers; the Forest Service will lose 49 percent of its foresters and 61 percent of its entomologists as Western forests are being ravaged by infestations of bark beetles; and the Environmental Protection Agency will lose 45 percent of its toxicologists.

December 18, 2005

Democrats back away from gun control, sort of

After twenty years or so of being painted, sometimes rightly, as "gun-grabbers," Democratic Party leaders are starting to become aware of the Second Amendment. Their perceived opposition to firearms ownership contributes to losing elections, notes the Boston Globe.

The problem with this article, however, is that it paints gun ownership as a Western issue, as if it didn't matter in Georgia or Minnesota or Vermont (the only state where you don't need a concealed-carry permit)--not just Montana or Colorado.

Here's the "money quote," to my mind, and the reason I am blogging this:

Democratic candidates in Western and Southwestern states say the gun control issue has become important because many rural voters, including many hunters, have grown more sympathetic to Democrats' support for environmental initiatives.

Hunters are as concerned about having a place to hunt as much as they are worried about keeping their guns, said Tony Massaro, senior vice president of the League of Conservation Voters.

"Politicians in the West need to be able to run in rural areas, in addition to urban and suburban regions," he said. "In order to do this, they need to protect habitat and not be seen as wanting to take away the ability to hunt."

December 17, 2005

Old animals

The Colorado Division of Wildlife has issued an obituary for a bighorn sheep.

The press release tells the story oddly. If this elderly ram lived in "cliffs along the Arkansas River," that's one thing. It's private land, ranch land for now, and difficult to access unless you float the river, which I did once with two other guys in the early 1990s.

"Then at that point, he traveled north onto property owned by Fort Carson where it died of old age." (pronoun confusion in the original).

That location would is a few miles away, on the other side of a four-lane highway. But he could have made the journey, I suppose.

Meanwhile, the world's oldest animal had a birthday. OK, the news is a month old, but it's a giant tortoise that we are talking about, so I see some poetic justice there.

December 16, 2005

Mutts and purebreds on the Big Rez

Tribal Employee, a Navajo blogger, talks about the dogs of Navajo Country:

Breeded dogs generally are not as tough and durable as those hungry dogs you see at Bashas' with their ribs sticking out. Breeded dogs tend to get hurt easily because of their high-maintenance. Have you heard about the Dobermans that were purchased to deter thieves in an enclosed car-lot in Chinle? Well, shortly after these dogs were put on duty, the dogs were stolen by the Navajo thieves as well!

Here at Owl House, we have one of each.

December 14, 2005

"Marginal countrysides"

In Bookslut's interview, Annie Proulx talks about writing That Old Ace in the Hole and her Wyoming stories, including the one that became Brokeback Mountain. Having just finished reading the former, I liked this exchange:

BOOKSLUT: I had a creative writing instructor in college, in Milwaukee, and I wrote a story set in West Texas, and I didn't have much landscape in it because I didn't think anyone would be interested. And the instructor told me the exact opposite, that there's beauty in it. That touched me, because it seemed like nobody had ever said anything nice about where I grew up.

Proulx: Right.

Especially people from Texas.

I found that about the whole panhandle. People in Texas would say, "What are you writing about?" And I'd tell them I'm working on something set in the panhandle. "Oh, the panhandle! Uggh!" Texans in particular really loath the panhandle.

That's been my experience.

I think it's a great place. I miss it badly.

Roger Gatham said in the January 2003 Chicago Sun-Times review of That Old Ace in the Hole, "Proulx loves to create highly eccentric characters to go with her highly marginal countrysides." First off, there's no such thing as "highly marginal," and I wondered if you would feel like they were marginal countrysides? Perhaps in an economic sense, but I thought that might not be your perspective.

Yeah, this fellow must be a city person.

The Vision of St. Bernard

Semester's end might be the dog days of blogging, so here is a fact-filled page on St. Bernards. An excerpt:

Christians, scorned by the pagan empire, were often thrown into arenas to battle St. Bernards. The St. Bernards, however, were noble and no friend to the corrupt emperors. They would usually swallow their enemy whole, only to regurgitate them back up later unharmed and somewhat drunk on brandy. Because of this, the image of a man emerging out of the mouth of a St. Bernard took on a pious association. To this day many churches feature statues and stained glass depictions of St. Bernards vomiting up Christians in lieu of traditional pietas.

Many believe that Emperor Nero orchestrated the burning of Rome out of jealousy towards the St. Bernards, the gods' most favored creature. Whether true or not, one cannot deny that the St. Bernard had a tremendous influence on Roman culture and history.

The dog genome

The Bark's blog summarizes recent findings on the canine genome project.

One question that raises some chronological implications--and affects the issue of matching genetic changes to the archaeological record--is just what is a canine "generation." The reseachers used a figure of three years.

December 13, 2005

A little good news

A united effort by hunting groups, local governments, and conservationists in general seems to have stopped (for now) the push by some House Republicans to make it easier to "patent" public land.

The future was too clear: Developers could form a bogus mining company, file a claim for anything (gravel?), do the tiny annual minimum of work required under the 1872 Mining Law to keep the claim valid and then, after a few years, take ownership of it at a low, low price. Then, ta-da! trophy homes! Anywhere!

The chief evildoer, to use the words of our Beloved Leader, is this character: Rep. Richard Pombo.

I need to call Senator Allard, in particular, and thank him for standing up for the good guys on this one. It's like the "Sagebrush Rebellion" nightmare of the Reagan years all over again.

December 08, 2005

"First Church of the Higher Elevations"

After attending The Colorado College, Peter Anderson spent a winter alone in the old Colorado mining town of St. Elmo, and wrote this essay. His head was stuffed with Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, and Han Shan; his experience was his own.

Compared to the Mary Murphy Mine and bunkhouse, downtown St. Elmo seemed downright suburban, even though I was the only full-time resident there that winter. Still, on a Sunday night in January, the silence at road's end could chill a heart as fast as it could fill one. It was often easier to stay for another draft at the Lariat Saloon down valley, than it was to follow the dark road home. At times the sky behind the stars seemed so dark and so vast as I pulled up to the cabin, that it was just plain overpowering. I'd slam the truck door just to break the silence, hustle into the cabin, throw the light on, and stoke the fire.

Reflecting on a summit experience in the Swiss Alps, an early 20th century mountaineer named Emile Javelle described the sensation of an "emptiness, terrifying in its vastness," that opened out around him. One "is struck," he said, "as in no other place, by this thought that the universe is terrible in its mystery, that no religion, no philosophy, can give us a true idea of what it is; that the further the vision of our eye extends, the greater does that mystery become.”

December 07, 2005

Cold weather

I came home Tuesday evening and found that M. was upset because one of the dogs was missing. Shelby is a collie-mix who was one step above feral when we got her, and although she has learned to appreciate having her own bed, regular meals, and belly rubs, she will still wander onto the national forest looking for carcasses to scavenge.

M. had looked for her already, but I volunteered to go out too. The temperature was about 10 degrees F. (-12 C.) and dropping. Light, powdery snow was falling. I changed clothes, grabbed a walking stick, and headed up the Forest Service road into the Mason Gulch Burn, stopping occasionally to call and whistle.

From last summer's forest fire to this: the snowy ground, the black skeletons of pine trees like nervous pencil marks on white paper, the lowering clouds, and the failing light. All was silent except for the whisper of snow on the fabric of my coat.

If any scene exemplified the phrase "dead of winter," that was it. But it was seductively beautiful too, I thought, as I scanned the white slopes for a moving black dot of dog.

When it started getting too dark to see, I went home, dogless. As it turned out, she was hanging around a neighbor's house. In her doggie brain, she must think like this: "Life is good now, but if these people fail me, I had better have a Plan B. And a Plan C. As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again."

December 06, 2005

Added to the blogroll

Three Martini Lunch is the companion blog to Alpha Environmentalist, celebrating cooking with an emphasis on the locally grown and/or hunted, dogs (of course), and desert life.

November 26, 2005

Hunters, anglers, and conservation-2

Roseann Hanson comments on my previous post, "We haven't been members of the BINGOs (Big International NGOs) for years. Though we still get the mailings with the sandhill crane on them . . . which go right to the bin."

Driving to town this afternoon (hardware store--plumbing emergency), I was thinking that maybe my last post was too hard on the Sierra Clubs, etc. They do good work. But the one thing about them is that they don't "get" wildlife issues, unless said wildlife can be linked to a "landform" issue.

I had the same battles back when I occasionally wrote for High Country News in the late 1980s. Then-editor Betsy Marston loved Old West/New West stories, etc., but her eyes always seemed to glaze over when I proposed a wildlife story unless it involved the Endangered Species Act and politicians.

I'm thinking of one that I wanted to do on the wildlife refuge at Great Salt Lake--the areas described in Terry Tempest Williams' book Refuge--only a few years after the flooding that Williams writes about. By 1990, the high waters were receding and the birds were coming back. It was published, but in a fairly short version.

Another formative experience occurred in the 1980s when I was on the program committee of the Pike's Peak Group of the Sierra Club.

In my youthful naivete, I thought, "These people are outdoors a lot. We could educate them about poaching and how to spot and report poachers." So I arranged for a speaker from the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

BIg mistake. Blank looks from the audience. The DOW guy was just suffering at the podium.

I began to realize that for my fellow Sierra Clubbers, the mountains were scenic and uplifting and a great place for recreation, but they were not plugged into critters. They didn't know which person with a gun was a legitimate hunter and which was a poacher, and they didn't care to know, since the whole topic made them uncomfortable. (On a national level, the Sierra Club remains fairly neutral on hunting.)

M. contributes to the Natural Resources Defense Council, which does good work, but I saw something indicative in their latest "Nature's Voice" newsletter. It was an article about the "fight for Spirit Bear's rainforest home." What's really going on is a tussle with the provincial government in British Columbia over sustainable logging and old-growth protection. But it's headlined as being about the "Spirit Bear," an unusual white-colored black bear that supposedly lives only there. Talk about your "charismatic megafauna."

It's a land-use issue, and a legitimate one, but they drag in this unusual bear to put a face on that, not because they really have any relationship with bears.

Again, in NRDC's defense, I support their effort to protect whales and dolphins from powerful sonar blasts. When it comes to marine mammals, the hunters, alas, are not the conservationists in most situations.

November 25, 2005

Hunters, anglers, and conservation

Rocky Mountain News outdoor columnist Ed Dentry's cited Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the Colorado Wildlife Federation, and Colorado Trout Unlimited as the real "friends of the earth" in a recent column.

They would be the guardians of traditional values, natural values. Nature, wildlife, the Earth, remember? Few people do these days.

The guardians of traditional values are hunters, fishermen and conservationists. They are the latest dying breed as America grinds itself up in the latter-day throes of its Manifest Destiny tantrum. We seem bent on erasing the last pagan wild place and improving it with asphalt, big-box stores, rows of human chicken coops, cul de sacs and drilling pads.

These "hook and bullet" groups seem to be getting more done these days than the traditional big enviro groups, although the latter continue to send M. and me plenty of fundraising appeals.

Or maybe our focus has shifted to state and even county-wide issues over the big "Save the ______" issues.

Disclaimer, or maybe a confession. Around 2000 I spent a term on the Colorado Wildlife Federation's board of directors. I don't know how effective I was, other than as a voice from outside the Denver metroplex. I learned something about nonprofit organization boards--that they have to clear the deadwood occasionally, and that the best board members either bring specialized skills (geologists, wildlife biologists, etc. for CWF) and/or fat checkbooks to the meeting room.

Lacking the precise skill-set needed and not having a family foundation at my disposal, I rated myself as "deadwood" and stepped down.