January 10, 2006

One good thing about the NRA

Even though the National Rifle Association deserves criticism for its blind spots, there is one reason that I joined back when I was a penniless guy in bell-bottom jeans, with only a Winchester Model 12 shotgun to my name.

The NRA makes global technocrats nervous. And, really, that's all the reason that you need. (Via Publicola.)

January 09, 2006

He's sick of nature writing

Since I teach nature writing and at intervals attempt to practice it, I'm qualified to say that I know where this guy is coming from.

As with so many endeavors, nature writing has become specialized and polarized. On the one hand there is the generally healthy movement from the anthropocentric to the biocentric, from human-focused to world-focused, a movement that Thoreau anticipated late in his life with his more scientific writing. This movement has led to some fine objective writing, but it has also led to many dull pages, exhaustive and occasionally exhausting works. The problem is that most readers are human beings and therefore naturally interested in the human. The driving youthful question that enlivened "Walden" -- "How to live?" -- has been all but forgotten.

Or usurped by the opposite camp. At the other pole are writers with a too easy access to the "spiritual," writers who replace hard-won thought with idealized references to Native Americans and who repeat the word "wonder" over and over. Theirs is a cloying and simplistic philosophy of "nature is good," and they see symbols in every acorn. Nature becomes a kind of bland church, and these writers seem intent on smearing themselves with what Mark Twain called "soul butter." Long gone are the fried rats.

He turned the rant into a book, and I suppose I should read the whole thing!

If I could, I would change the name of my course to "Nature-and-Culture-Writing in the West." But just changing a university course name means going through three levels of committees, and one of them would probably pronounce the name too lengthy for the catalog.

If I can just get students to consider that nature is not "out there" but also "in here," I would be a happy man.

Mauricio Fire Update

Today's Pueblo Chieftain headlined the Mauricio Canyon fire. The good news is that a little cold front blew through last night, dropping an inch and a half of snow at my house, and from the radar picture it looked as though that same band of snow was heading south into Huerfano County.

KKTV (Colorado Springs) has updated its coverage. So has the Colorado Springs Gazette.

We need more snow. A foot would be good.

January 08, 2006


Last Friday night M. and I went to Pueblo for the (deep breath) Roadless Area Review Task Force Public Hearing, one of several being held around Colorado.

To summarize drastically, this was the latest step of a tedious process going back to the Nixon Administration. Such processes are why the Forest Service has more people staring at computer screens rather than doing things out on the national forests. Now, according to the pro-roadless area activists:

In May, 2005, the Bush administration repealed the national policy — known as the “Roadless Rule” — that protected roadless areas in our National Forests, and replaced it with a process that requires governors to petition the Department of Agriculture in order to seek continued protections for these areas. In response, the Colorado legislature created the Roadless Areas Review Task force to advise the governor in that process. The task force is now holding hearings around the state to discuss these areas and identify any compelling reasons to shift the boundaries and the types of protections offered in the Roadless Rule. Even as the task force review process proceeds, roadless areas are increasingly subject to road-building and other disturbance from oil and gas development, mining, and logging, as industrial and commercial interests are already making plans to degrade these critical areas by opening them up to development.

According to the Pueblo Chieftain, about 250 people attended. I would put the pro-roadless crowd at a slight majority if I were counting noses. In terms of people getting up to speak, the pro-roadless folks were the definite majority.

The other side was represented by ATV and dirt bike riders, many of whom, unfortunately, don't realize that "roadless" and "trailless" do not mean the same thing. Like the man from Cheyenne, they seem to care nothing about wildlife, watersheds, or future human generations. They fear only that their motorized recreation might be disrupted. In fact, as one more-informed speaker pointed out, more than 80 percent of "roadless" areas on Colorado national forests are open to ATVs and motorcycles on designated trails.

One little irony: trying to walk on both sides of the fence in a classic bureaucratic way, Bob Leaverton, supervisor of the Pike and San Isabel national forests, said he was all for continued management of roadless areas as roadless--provided his people could have access for forest-fire fighting.

Immediately before that statement, he had projected a series of map slides. One showed how the immense Hayman Fire of 2002 (southwest of Denver) had burned right through the most heavily roaded part of the Pike NF. Meanwhile, the adjacent Lost Creek Wilderness Area came through mostly untouched. Pay attention to the slide, Bob.

The meeting ended only twenty minutes late. I had a chance to speak. There were no fistfights. No one had vandalized the Jeep's "Wilderness: A Great Place to Hunt and Fish" bumper sticker. So it was a successful public meeting.

A forest fire in January

The same winds that have pushed the grass fires in Oklahoma and Texas for the past couple of weeks have been blowing in southern Colorado too.

Now a forest fire is burning west of Aguilar, just one county south of us. It is called the Mauricio Canyon fire.

As of this evening it was 5,000 acres and basically out of control.

When I go outdoors, the forest floor is just crunchy dry. Even in 2002, the big fire year, we didn't have forest fires in January.

In Denver and other northern parts, however, people are acting like the drought is over, tra-la tra-la. No, it is not.

War Birds

I'm glad to see that Birding Babylon, a soldier-birder's blog, is still going.

I'm reminded of the time six years ago when an English friend was showing me around Winchester Cathedral. We paused in front of a 19th-century memorial plaque, where a British officer who helped to build Queen Victoria's empire was described as an avid amateur naturalist.

Putting on a plummy accent, my friend pretended to be that officer pointing out the rare Crested-Whatever even as the Zulus/Afghans/Whoever were charging his position. But all joking aside, we liked the idea of his being a soldier-naturalist.

The same with this guy, "J".

Even famed "milblogger" Michael Yon is a birder too.

Habitat Stamp 'Time Bomb'

To help pay for the costs of administering its state wildlife areas, the Colorado Division of Wildlife has instituted a "habitat stamp."

It started last year, but this year it is required. So when I bought my $40 combined small game-fishing license for 2006 (still a bargain, I admit), I paid an extra $10 (or $5 per license) for the habitat stamp. The cost is $5 per hunting/fishing license with a $10 maximum.

My hunting and angling friends have no problem with this, but some people are going to be really surprised.

For instance, my county includes Lake DeWeese, a nice little fishing lake that is actually owned by the Cañon City-based DeWeese-Dye Ditch & Reservoir Co., a shareholder-owned irrigation company. (M. and I owned shares when we lived in Cañon City and watered our garden with DeWeese Ditch water.)

The CDOW leases the lake for public use. When those Texans, Oklahomans, etc., who own summer houses in the area show up later this year, they will get a surprise. They will have to pay, individually, $10 if they don't have a fishing license. They will scream and moan about how their rights are being trampled etc. etc. etc. I can already imagine the letters to the editor in the county newspaper.

“When you consider the cost of a cappuccino, $10 is probably a small fee to pay for access to a beautiful place like Lake DeWeese,” said DOW spokesperson Michael Seraphin.

True. But there will be screaming and outrage anyway, I predict.

Feeble Responses to Pat Wray's NRA-Hunters Column

Today's Denver Post carried two letters in response to Pat Wray's recent column on how the National Rifle Association betrays hunters' interests. (Link may expire.)

The first, from Grant Coffin of Cheyenne, Wyo., takes the "poor feeble Americans" approach.

I'm a lifelong hunter in good health and very active, but I am also 70 years old. My days of hiking into a wilderness area carrying a pack and rifle are just pleasant memories, but I still like to hunt. What opportunity does the game population in the middle of a 58.5 million-acre roadless area offer me? If I cannot afford a safari-type guided hunt and I cannot use a motor vehicle, it is just a dream.

TRANSLATION: "I had my day, but I don't want future generations to have the wilderness hunting experience that I did. It's all about me, damn it. Me! Me! Me!"

The second comes from NRA staffer Dawson R. Hobbs of Fairfax, Va., (not exactly a low-income area). He is identified as the NRA's "manager of hunting policy."

He winds up with this laughable statement:

Wray ... wants to ensure that the best hunting lands are accessible only to him and to those with means.

Let's see, who is more likely to be a person of means, a freelance writer or a an NRA Board Member?

Here's a clue, Dawson, old chap. All it takes to access those lands is a pair of boots. Look in your closet.

Black Mesa Mine closing--some history

Albuquerque blogger Coco reminds of us about the back story to the recent closing of the Black Mesa Mine and the Mohave power plant. The usual slant today is unemployment on the Big Rez, but there is a lot of dirt involved--not just in the air but the financial and ethical kind.

The back story is rich, complicated, long, and full of enough intrigue for an HBO mini-series. It's tied to water, crooked lawyers, the Cheney Energy Task Force and the Navajo-Hopi land dispute.


Long-time attorney for the Hopi Tribe, John Sterling Boyden was found in 1997, years after his death, to have been employed by Peabody Coal (operator of the mine and slurry line) at the same time he was representing the Hopi in land claims and coal lease negotiations. With Peabody. (Did Abramoff learn from this guy?) Read about it in Phoenix New Times.

January 07, 2006

Thumbs Down on Salvage Logging

Glen Barry notes to an upcoming article in the journal Science that will offer evidence suggesting that salvage logging after a fire slows forest regeneration. More here:

One of the consequences of logging, the scientists said, is that the use of heavy equipment, log skidding, soil compaction and burial of seedlings by excess woody debris took a heavy toll on naturally regenerated seedlings, which in this case began taking root almost immediately after the fire. The logging of dead, burned trees might add more debris than logging of green trees, researchers said, because without foliage to catch the wind, burned trees often fall more quickly and shatter more readily than living trees.

Up the road, burned trees from the Mason Gulch Fire are beginning to fall from windstorms. This part of Colorado's San Isabel National Forest was never much of a commercial timber-producing area (after they cut the big ponderosa pines in the late 19th-century). We have been spared a squabble over salvage logging here, although a few people have gathered some sooty firewood.

The Vulture and the University

What is it with universities and vultures? Texas State University in San Marcos has learned to co-exist with its vultures, although they do at times interfere with administrative social functions:

The vultures — specifically turkey and black vultures — used to roost on electric wires around campus and in the trees near Aquarena Center, an environmental attraction close to the university. But a few years ago, the birds moved closer to the main campus, settling on Strahan Coliseum and the J.C. Kellam Administration Building, where they startle people and have left excrement on the balcony of the 11th-floor room where campus officials often host parties.

New Mexico Tech in Socorro also has its resident flock of turkey vultures nesting in the large campus trees.

The poet Gary Snyder provides the answer, I think. In one of his essays--which I will cite if I can find it--he suggests that artists and writers are scavengers at the top of the intellectual food chain. But then, he continues, "we are eaten by our students."

With all that scaveging going on, you would expect to see some vultures. Can you say "objective correlative"?

(Via University Diaries.)

January 04, 2006

Is the NRA a Friend of Hunters?

Pat Wray of Corvallis, Oregon, nails the National Rifle Association on one of its weakest points: supporting Second Amendment rights while simultaneously supporting anti-widlife habitat Republicans. (link may expire)

The NRA aligns itself with politicians who care little about the land or wildlife, but who will deliver votes against gun control. This includes politicians like Republican Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, who serves on the NRA board of directors. Craig was a primary supporter of the Bush administration's action removing federal protection of 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless areas in our national forests and returning their fate to the tender mercies of individual states. The NRA regularly parrots Craig's message about our roadless areas, interchanging the terms wilderness, roadless areas and road closures, which confuses the public and convinces hunters that their hunting access will be lost in all of these areas.

As I recall--and this was before I joined the NRA--in the mid-1970s, the organization planned to move its headquarters from suburban Washington, DC, to Colorado Springs. A large group of members rebelled, thinking that the NRA would lose its effectiveness on gun laws and become just another conservation group. The move never occurred.

Unfortunately, Wray is right. The NRA's American Hunter magazine is full of ATV ads, while its board members, who do their hunting on Texas game ranches, Atlanta quail plantations, and the like, simply don't see the problem.

My dad belonged to both NRA and the Sierra Club. He had the right idea. To hell with political labels.

January 03, 2006

4x4 Posers or Just Camera-Shy?

The midnight-blue Range Rover with Texas plates parked next to my Jeep at the motel in Taos last week might have benefited from a can of spray-on mud.

But while the pure Shropshire dirt in aquaeous solution is sold for the stated purpose of allowing sedate 4x4 owners to make it look as though they actually used their vehicles offroad, the real purpose, more likely, is to thwart Britain's growing array of closed-circuit traffic camera. If, as this UK cop-blogger says, the police are turning into social workers, then closed-circuit cameras will make society perfect. (You believe that, don't you?)

Even Boing-Boing got it wrong, at first.

I am a little more cynical about traffic cameras after an experience this fall. Last July I sold my well-cared-for Volkswagen Westfalia camper van to a guy from Fort Collins, who came all the way down here to look at it and paid me almost as much as I was asking.

About two weeks later, not having yet registered it to himself (bad new VW owner), he drove too fast through an intersection with a speed camera.

Months later, I got the court summons. (The photograph that was supposed to be included to prove my misdeed was missing.) I protested. I got another summons. I protested again. All this took weeks. Eventually the charge was dropped--I guess I finally convinced them that I did not own it, was not driving it, and had not set foot in Fort Collins since about 1995.

I was afraid that as a fugitive, I would never be able to return to that city of "broad streets and narrow minds," as my cynical high-school friends used to say.

If I lived there still, I might patronize these people. For mud, I can just go down my own driveway.

January 01, 2006

Over in the Valley

New West writer Ted Alvarez gushes over the San Luis Valley, an exotic locale to northern Coloradans like him, apparently. His three-part article hits the standard notes: alligators, UFOs, Penitentes ("shadowy religious cult") and the slightly over-rated Emma's Hacienda restaurant in the town of San Luis.

Not to knock Emma's, but I think this is a case of a restaurant's fame being proportional to the drive to get there. You could keep going across the state line and eat the same food, more rightly described as "New Mexican" than "Mexican," at Orlando's in El Prado or Roberto's in Taos.

Alvarez' piece, "Paradise without a PR Agent," is a three-parter: One, Two, Three.

To some extent, he's following in the footsteps of CSU-Pueblo students who wrote their own articles in the university's Southern Colorado web zine.

Try Randi Gonzales on the alien landing site tourist trap, Lydia Hunter on the Monte Vista Crane Festival, or Marc Boone on San Luis' tried-and-true approach to economic growth: creating a recession-proof religious pilgrimage site.

Colorado birding

Some people are out today doing their Christmas bird counts. The wind is a little strong for good listening, but in this area, the ground is mostly dry below 10,000 feet, which is good for walking around but worrisome for the water supply. A handy Web resource for birders is a the Colorado Birding site.