November 10, 2006

Stumbling into Brown[']s Canyon

Two Colorado political veterans, Sen. Wayne Allard and Rep. Joel Hefley, have backed a bill creating a designated wilderness area on BLM land bordering the Arkansas River to the NW of here.

The whole Colorado House delegation signed as co-sponsors, and the bill had strong local support.

Into the comment process stepped the National Rifle Association, on the anti-wilderness side.

Big oops.

When it comes to individual liberties expressed through the Second Amendment, the NRA is a powerhouse.

When it comes to public lands management, however, the organization often stumbles, and this is one of those times.

I can't do better than quote Denver Post columnist Ed Quillen, who happens to live in the same county as the proposed Browns Canyon Wilderness:

So why is the NRA opposing this? According to Ashley Varner in the NRA's Washington office, "We feel the bill would drastically reduce access to the area for hunters and sportsmen, especially those who are elderly," and, "Without roads in the area, it would make it nearly impossible to pack out big game." Apparently, the NRA has never heard of pack animals like mules and horses.

This isn't a Second Amendment issue, and it doesn't prevent anyone from hunting in the affected area. So why on earth is the NRA supporting more habitat fragmentation with loud and obnoxious vehicles?

I put the ['] in the title because the Department of the Interior seems to have a problem with possessive apostrophes. "Devils Tower," and so forth.

This reluctance to use proper punctuation is not an affectation of Early Modern English (17th century), but apparently an early-20th-century federal policy.

There was a simplified spelling craze around 1920. In an exhibit of historic college documents at Reed College, I once noticed that for a short time, phrases such as "an office in Eliot Hall" came out as "an ofis in Eliot Hal." But then the college went back to normal spelling.

Bureaucratic inertia is greater in the National Park Service and other such agencies.

Blog housekeeping

Or should that be "blog-keeping?" Anyway, I am re-doing my sidebar to include some blogs that I read but had not been linking too. One inactive blog has been removed. No mercy! Post, or else!

In touch with her wildness

"Do you really believe you are an animal?" Gary Snyder asks in his essay "The Etiquette of Freedom. "

"[M]any people who have been hearing this since childhood have not absorbed the implications of it, perhaps feel remote from the nonhuman world, are not sure they are animals. They would like to feel they might be something better than animals."

And he goes on to a section on wildness in the human body.

Shelby the dog has no problem with her own wildness. In the photo, she has happily interrupted one of my initial experiments in wildlife photography, using a cheap digital camera with a built-in motion sensor.

For bait, I had hung a beef bone from the pine bough above her head. (You can see the white string.)

Then M. took Shelby for a walk elsewhere on the same long ridge, only to come home saying that Shelby had "peeled off."

We walked back to the camera site an hour later. There she lay in the duff, happily chewing the bone, completely pleased with herself.

The camera told the tale. Sigh. Now that spot is useless.

Siccing terriers on el chupacabra

I thought it was interesting when M. came home 18 months ago saying that the dogs had chased a fisher, since there are not supposed to be any fishers here.

Now Patrick Burns posts pictures of a . . . chupacabra that his terriers brought down.

El chupacabra, "the goat-sucker," is a reliable mystery beast of Mexico and the Caribbean, sometimes reported in Texas as well. It makes frequent appearances in the pages of Fate magazine.

So what is that in his photographs? Stay tuned. The truth is out there.

The rest of the story: The clue is that the dogs found it underground. It is an unfortunate woodchuck with several large tumors that distort its body shape. The animal's swollen body caused its hair to be worn off. The purple color is pokeberry juice.

November 07, 2006

A ritual no more

I like living in southern Colorado. I like going down to the old schoolhouse to vote in a building where time seems to have stopped about 1950 (except in the two classrooms that are now a library).

I like seeing the election judges whom I otherwise might meet only at the post office, since the cafe closed and I don't attend the community church.

"Hi, Irene. How've you been, Alden?"

But after today, no more.

We used to vote on paper ballots that were marked and then fed into a scanner. With three or four booths and only a couple of hundred voters in the precinct, lines were always short. Go in, get registration checked, vote, grab coffee and cookie, and out.

But this year the county went to electronic machines. The machine works great--but that is machine, singular. County funds are short. Our precinct gets one machine, and this year's Colorado ballot is a long one crammed with referenda and initiatives.

Poll workers estimated 10 minutes per voter. I know that I was faster than that, but still, it was 8:20 a.m. and I was only voter number 12. (Polls open at 7 a.m., but they had some trouble getting the voting computer going, they said.)

M. stopped on her way to work mid-morning when the congestion was supposed to be less, and instead it was worse. She eventually gave up. Sorry, Congressman Salazar, that's one less for you.

After today, I resolve to vote early at the courthouse or else by absentee ballot. I will miss Alden, Irene, and the free cookies. I will miss the little civic ritual of climbing the steps of the old schoolhouse, ready to commit democracy.

A little piece of culture gone.

POSTSCRIPT The county clerk wrote an apologetic letter in the county newspaper this week: "The machines that we have now were purchased with funds we received from the federal government . . . according to their formula [it] was a sufficient number of machines for our total number of registered electors. It was very obvious at this election tht the formula was not correct."

At 4:30 p.m. on Election Day the state gave her permission to get out the paper ballots. Too late for M. to vote, though.

November 05, 2006

The tamarisk war

Pluvialis blogged her research trip to Uzbekistan and gave me a shudder, for she included a forest of poplar and tamarisk.

After years of regarding tamarisk as a horrible invasive pest in Colorado and elsewhere, you tend to forget that there is another part of the world where it is part of a functioning ecosystem.

Charles Bedford of the Nature Conservancy writes in today's Denver Post of the creation of the (deep breath) Salt Cedar and Russian Olive Control Assessment and Demonstration Act, now in Congress. (Salt cedar=tamarisk)

The photo shows tamarisk on the Colorado River in the lower Grand Canyon (Dept. of the Interior).

Tamarisk trees in lower Grand CanyonThe indictment:

Its prolific seeds and high salt content enable it to quickly replace native cottonwoods, willows, grasses and other plants, degrading the habitat for native wildlife, especially birds. Its spread also decreases forage for livestock and increases fire hazards.

But what drives the funding is the water it sucks up (as do cottonwoods, willows, etc., but let's not go there).

Today's Pueblo Chieftain had two articles: goats versus tamarisk and beetles versus tamarisk. I have mentioned the beetle trials before. (Links may expire.)

First the goats:

On cue, a few of the more media-savvy goats began furiously gnawing on small tamarisk plants by the river, knocking them over and munching down branches like so many French fries.

Which must be how they taste. Tamarisk, also known as salt cedar, are infamous for leaching salt to the surface. Their leaves increase the salinity of the very ground they grow in. Goats are one of the few animals that find them tasty.

As to the beetles, sometimes bureaucracy's right hand knows not what the left hand does:

In 2001, the beetles were released, but so far have not ventured far from the original test site below Pueblo Dam, because there are few large stands in the immediate area and their population has been knocked back by mosquito spraying.

However, if you view tamarisk as intrinsically evil, I suppose that the Uzbek ranger on horseback would like to have some words with you.

November 01, 2006

El día del Crocodile Hunter

Day of the Dead altar for Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter

I like this on so many levels, but mainly for the cheerful appropriation of the oh-so-seriously multicultural Day of the Dead event in the university's student center.

I bet that Steve Irwin would have gotten a laugh out of it too.

And all at the Colorado taxpayers' expense, since this is a state university.

October 29, 2006

Animal "collectors:" Why do they do it?

Via Drudge Report (first time I have looked at it in ages) comes yet another story of someone with a houseful of miserable, filthy, uncared-for dogs (and birds).

I am asking my favorite ex-animal control officer-turned-blogger to explain the phenomenon.

I still can't get over the fact that she was scooping up strays in Portland, Oregon, when I was a college student there. Surely we passed on the street at some time, and luckily, Muddy, my junior-year girlfriend's "collie with a screw loose" never wound up in her truck.

Muddy was a "homing collie" in reverse. He would leave our home in Lents Junction and turn up outside my girlfriend's ceramics studio on the Reed College campus, having gone at least five miles through city traffic. He didn't do it often, but when he did, my heart almost stopped.

October 27, 2006

Trying for a personal response to climate change

As the proprietor of a blog called "Nature Blog," I keep thinking that I ought to say something about climate change.

The problem is that I do not know what to say.

Something is happening, I am sure. But I am disgusted by politicization of the public discourse.

For instance, the National Academy of Sciences offers a free summary of their report, "Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the last 2,000 Years."

The report states, "It can be said with a high level of confidence that global mean surface temperature was higher during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period during the preceding four centuries. This statement is justified by the consistency of the evidence from a wide variety of geographically diverse proxies."

(Read the news release here.)

Humanities guy that I am, I am impressed by the idea of researching climate change by studying old paintings of natural features such as glaciers, for instance.

Skepticism continues, of course, as in this Canadian news item.

But I'm still thinking about Greenland. You may know the story--reconstructed as fiction in Jane Smiley's novel Greenlanders--how the early medieval warm period collapsed around 1400 (?) as the world moved towards the Little Ice Age. (More on ups and downs of the Little Ice Age.)

They are farming in Greenland again. Weird.

What if . . . what if . . . this was something outside our control, in other words, not George W. Bush's personal fault? You can't blame the "Medieval Climate Optimum" on coal-burning power plants or eee-vul sport utility vehicles.

What if climate change was controlled by solar radiation or by cosmic rays' influence on cloud cover?

We could still save money and energy by emphasizing conservation and new technology more, whether doing so had any effect on the climate or not.

In fact, even as "recycling" became the save-the-planet mantra of the 1970s, I suspect that the screw-in fluorescent lightbulb will become the poster child of the current effort. I am typing this post by the light of one of them, screwed into a draftsman's lamp at my computer table. ("Anglepoise" lamp to my UK readers, both of you.)

And then I walk outside and look at the pine trees, thinking, "I must continue to love this place."

October 23, 2006

10-Bird Meme, No. 7, Pine siskin

Late October is the Season of Jays. Three kinds of them are hanging around the house: Steller's jays, scrub jays, and blue jays. We must be on some kind of habitat boundary for the blue jays--some years there are none, but this year I have seen as many as five at once.

And whichever jay is nearest starts calling excitedly when the birdfeeders are brought out from the garage, whenever M. or I get around to it. They go through quantities of sunflower seeds. They are not eating it all, of course, but stashing little caches of seeds in the duff under the pine trees.

Meanwhile the level in the thistle feeders stays high. The pine siskins are gone. In the photo, pine siskins feast on both Niger thistle and black oil sunflower seeds at adjacent feeders.

They are the background birds in the crowd scene, but we miss them when they disappear. It happens like this--the summer siskins vanish, then there are some weeks of no siskins, then they reappear. Or a new flock arrives. I have no idea.

A siskin makes me think of those conservative men's suits that reveal jacket linings of shocking pink or scarlet. In their case, it's the flash of lemon yellow when they lift their wings--a yellow like the breeding yellow of the American goldfinches that often flock with them.

Something in me will not be settled until they arrive.

Pine-trunk etiquette and mountain driving

Exploiting habitat niches (as the pros would say) each in in its own way, a brown creeper and a white-breasted nuthatch explored the same ponderosa pine trunk.

The creeper, as creepers do, was going up. The nuthatch was coming down headfirst, as nuthatches do.

Who would give way?

In the bird world, size matters. David Sibley gives the average nuthatch a weight of 0.74 oz. (21 gr.) and the brown creeper a mere 0.29 oz. (8.4 gr.). No contest--the creeper flew away.

And, sitting in the woods, I was left thinking about the rule for mountain driving impressed on me as a kid: Uphill traffic has the right of way. (Because they need the momentum?) Does anyone still follow that rule anymore?

October 22, 2006

Thinking about stuff more than blogging

I have posts in the works on the 10-bird meme and some other issues, but a combination of beautiful October days and masses of student papers to read has been keeping me from blogging. Maybe tonight ...

October 18, 2006

Assault by ATV

The future of backcountry law enforcement in Colorado and elsewhere in the West will be trying to curb out-of-control ATV riders.

From the Durango Herald:

After Jepson asked two ATVers to leave his property, "One guy just hit the throttle and ran into me," he said Wednesday. "The guy who ran into me just split, and he left me lying there with a broken leg."

October 06, 2006

Aspen gold, aspen fears

The photo shows aspen trees among the conifers in the Wet Mountains of southern Colorado on Monday, October 2nd. The following day a little squall line of thunderstorms came through and ripped off most of the golden leaves. The same thing happened with the big willows and cottonwoods along our road.

Meanwhile, news reports are full of gloom-and-doom about the decline in aspen groves. (Link may expire.)

One Forest Service ecologist said the causes were drought, increasing grazing by both cattle and elk, disease, and insect infestations.

I am surprised no one has mentioned fire suppression. Around Cripple Creek, for instance, so many aspen groves along Colorado 67 clearly represent little 19th-century forest fires, probably started by sparks from steam locomotives back when today's state highway was a railroad grade.

How many of the aspen groves we are used to seeing resulted from 19th or early 20th-century forest fires, before the era of serious fire suppression started mid-century?

When some acquaintances of ours, who live amid thick firs in the Sangre de Cristo Range near Westcliffe, did a massive tree-thinning to protect their home from wildfire, suddenly they had aspens! The last time I was there, the area around their house was full of knee-high aspen. Will they make it to maturity? That seems to be part of the issue.

Update: I went prowling on LexisNexis and found a trade-journal article that quoted David Skinner, wildlife biologist on the Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho:

Because aspens take advantage of the regenerative opportunities provided by forest fires, Skinner emphasized that the only real solution to their regrowth in the region would be less fire suppression.