September 28, 2010

14,882 Human Skeletal Fragments

A discussion on the Archaeology magazine blog by Heather Pringle about how archaeological interpretation follows cultural concerns--war, environmental destruction, climate, whatever--using the long-hushed-up evidence of group violence among the Ancestral Puebloans (a.k.a. Anasazi) of the American Southwest.

My response is in the comments.

September 24, 2010

Self-Advertisement in the Nebraska Sandhills

The faint type reads "Best Cow Country in the World."
A photo from Nebraska Highway 2 in the Sandhills. I had not realized that CBS News' Charles Kuralt once called Highway 2 "one of America's 10 most beautiful highways."

He was right. Highway 2 is to the prairie what California 1 is to the Pacific Coast.

Only instead of a sports car or motorcycle you want a big crew-cab pickup truck, full of BNSF railroad workers out to the job site on the double-tracking project near Mullen.

The empty road curves gently, the hills roll away, the native prairie grasses ripple in the wind.  Everyone talks about "climax forest," but the Sandhills (map here) are one of few places were you can still see huge pieces of "climax prairie." (They just lack buffalo in large numbers.)

Yet the Sandhills are best comprehended from the air. Then you can see that unlike typical uplifted and/or eroded hills, they actually are sand dunes. They line up in rows, as though placed sequentially by a gigantic dump truck.

This must have been awfully raw country when the ice had just melted and the winds blew off the Rockies and the grasses had not yet covered and softened the dunes.

Crossing the Great Divide

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

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

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

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

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

September 21, 2010

First, Let's Kill All the Carnivores

"But if suffering is bad for animals when we cause it, it is also bad for them when other animals cause it," argues Rutgers philosophy professor Jeff McMahan in a recent New York Times opinion piece, "The Meat Eaters."

In other words, for the lion truly to lie down with the lamb, as Isaiah prophesied, we have to kill the lion. I say "we have to," because the lions are not going to do it themselves voluntarily.

Only then will we have a truly moral world.

Bang bang. No more lions.

"I am therefore inclined to embrace the heretical conclusion that we have reason to desire the extinction of all carnivorous species," the professional ethicist writes.

 Once rid of wolves and weasels, however, Professor McMahan's work is not done.

Got to hurry the seals and orcas to extinction. Bang. And all the toothed whales. Kaboom!

After the mammals, the birds are next. No more eagles, hawks, owls, shrikes. Rat-tat-tat-tat. Bang bang. Same with the carrion-eaters. No carrion, no vultures, condors, ravens, and other species who might upset the desired moral equilibrium.

And then the bugs. Ladybugs—kill them all. Praying mantises. Predatory wasps. Spritz 'em.

So now we have a world of (compulsorily) vegan humans, rats, cockroaches, and crows.

But wait. Are white blood cells carnivores? They eat the bacteria, right? They're not a "species," but they are still eating living organisms.

Kill everything! Ah, what purity. What a clear understanding and acceptance of the natural world.

What cruelty in the name of ethics!

September 19, 2010

On the Road

US 85, going up the western edge of the Black Hills in eastern Wyoming.

September 12, 2010

How The West Has Changed—Or Not

Alternate title for this post: The Trees Are Closing In

Third View revisits the sites of historic western American landscape photographs. The project makes new photographs, keeps a field diary of its travels, and collects materials useful in interpreting the scenes, change and the passage of time.

The Third View project began in 1997 and completed fieldwork in the year 2000. Over the course of four years the project revisited 109 historic landscape sites, all subjects of nineteenth-century American western survey photographs. The project’s "rephotographs" were made from the originals’ vantage points with as much precision as possible. Every attempt was also made to duplicate the original photographs' lighting conditions, both in time of day and year.

Most sites are represented in a series of three views taken at different times. The original photographs were taken by photographers such as Timothy O’Sullivan, William Henry Jackson, John K. Hillers, and William Bell. The photographs were made for the western geological and geographical surveys of the 1860’s and ‘70’s. These surveys were led by Ferdinand V. Hayden, Clarence King, Lt. George Wheeler, and Major John Wesley Powell. The survey photographs were typically the earliest to be made in the American West, and form the baseline of an important visual record. The pictures are benchmarks for monitoring physical changes in the land as well as providing access into the earliest ways land and culture were represented by photography.

The second views, from which our third views were based, were made during the late 1970’s for the Rephotographic Survey Project (please see the book Second View: the Rephotographic Survey Project, Klett, Manchester, and Verburg, the University of New Mexico Press,1984).

Third View was created specifically to investigate changes that have occurred since the landscape sites were last photographed, a time period ranging from twenty to one hundred and thirty years. In most cases there are three photographs at each site, but Third View includes over a dozen sites that had not been rephotographed previously and in those cases there are only two views presented.

Try it, it's fascinating. Via Boing Boing.

September 11, 2010

Grey Fox Poking Around

A quick scout-camera video from earlier this morning.

September 10, 2010

Dog Rules Lead to Conflict with Division of Wildlife

Some northern Colorado residents are upset with a Division of Wildlife decision to ban all dogs—except those engaged in hunting—from two state wildlife areas, Lon Hagler and Lonetree Reservoir. (Note sentence in red on the linked pages.)

As reported in the Loveland Reporter-Herald,

State officials have said the ban was the result of complaints from neighbors and hunters about aggressive and unruly off-leash dogs.

The local wildlife manager received 15 complaints over two years, and her boss took seven in the same period, state officials have said.

The meetings were public, but the residents who have come together to try to reverse the ban say they never knew the proposal was even out there.

The information was posted ahead of time on the Colorado Division of Wildlife website. But it was not easy to find.

Loveland resident Connie Kogler — one of the leaders of the Stop the Dog Ban committee — said it took her two full days of digging on the website to find anything.
Now there is an online petition to get the CDOW to reverse its decision.

Neither the petitioners nor the newspaper seem to be addressing the larger issues, however.

One is that state wildlife areas near urban areas are often treated by the non-hunting/fishing public as just more parks or "green space"

This is not their purpose: they provide wildlife habitat and basic hunting/fishing/birding opportunities and only minimal amenities: a parking lot, a boat ramp, maybe an outhouse.

Since hunters and anglers pay for them (the CDOW gets no state tax money), the Division in 2006 required users without a hunting or fishing license to buy a  $10 "habitat stamp."

In 2009, that requirement was quietly dropped, possibly because the CDOW saw it as unenforceable.

Another is the uncontrolled dogs off-leash problem.

Yet another is the "neighbors" issue. How often have we seen someone move in next to a state wildlife area because it is "green space" and then freak out when hunting season comes and ohmygod they are shooting over there.

Of course, if these were state parks there would be lots more regulations, including on dogs, not to mention entrance fees and all the rest.

Blog Stew with Straws in the Wind

• Convert organic egg farm to growing medical marijuana?

• Convert long-time dude ranch to school for troubled kids?

• Close Western movie set/tourist attraction and move it, maybe?

It's an old axiom in the news business that three data points or three anecdotes make a trend.  I am still thinking about exactly what trend these stories represent.

September 05, 2010

Liatris' Melancholy Blooms

Fisher in a patch of wild Liatris
Liatris punctata (gayfeather, blazing star) is the only wildflower I habitually call by its botanical name. But my associations with it are mostly melancholy, and I wish that I could change them.

The habit of calling it Liatris comes from the summer of 1987, when my magazine-editing job crashed, we felt stuck in Cañon City, and we had no idea what to do. A friend from grad school had started a wholesale-flower business in Pueblo (his parents had been retail florists), and M. and I both at times worked in his greenhouse as day labor for quick cash.

He grew a domesticated variety of Liatris—and called it that. It is a great cut flower for florists to sell because the blossoms open sequentially over several days. I would strip the lower leaves by hand, bundle the "stems" (florists count by stems), and off they would go to the shops in his van.

So that is association number one: poverty.

Then we moved to academia, and the Liatris blooming in mid-August signaled summer break's end—the time of lesson-planning, convocation, department meetings, and, the week before Labor Day, walking into the classroom to see new faces.

"This is your syllabus. Take one and pass the rest on."

Association number two: end of freedom, back to work. (I never taught in the summers except when I was a part-timer, preferring free time to extra money.)

Now we have left that world. I should be able to see it as just another wildflower. But it's hard to lose the past.

Fisher, lucky for him, has no such associations.

September 02, 2010

'Young and Hungry' Update

M. and I stopped by the Raptor Center yesterday to retrieve our pet carrier and check on the status of the young and hungry peregrine falcon that we had left there after hours on Friday.

She (now sexed) had a dressing on her left wing, where there had been soft-tissue damage. Diana Miller, the director, now thinks that she might have flown into a barbed-wire fence.

On the plus side, she was alert and had recently enjoyed a meal of rat.

On the minus side, she faces as long as six months as a patient, until they can be sure that her wing is completely healed and ready for those 200 mph dives.

Miller and some volunteers had just released two Mississippi kites on the center's grounds. We could see them perched high in the Siberian elms. 

We hope that the Silver Cliff peregrine will fly away one day too.

Danger: Nature Ahead

I saw this sign outside a restaurant on our trip to Vermont in July.

It reminded me of Lenore Skenazy's Free Range Kids blog, which you will always find in the "Elsewhere" section of the blogroll at right, where you can follow her fight against the over-protection of children.

September 01, 2010

Colorado Is Hiring District Wildlife Managers

The Colorado Division of Wildlife is looking to hire new district wildlife managers, in other words, what some states call game wardens. Here is the news release.

DENVER, Colo.--The Colorado Division of Wildlife is now hiring District Wildlife Managers.

District Wildlife Managers are wildlife professionals who have unique and exciting careers.  Responsibilities include wildlife management, law enforcement and community outreach and education. 

This is one of the few entry-level positions in the wildlife field that allows a recent college graduate or a seasoned professional seeking a career change the opportunity to have an immediate impact on wildlife.

Today's District Wildlife Manager is someone who

  • Has a bachelor's degree in biology or a natural resources-related field
  • Has experience in the outdoors
  • Has exceptional communication and interpersonal skills
  • Will agree to and pass a background check
  • Will successfully complete training as a peace officer

The DOW has a rich tradition in hiring the best-qualified, talented and dedicated professionals to help manage Colorado's wildlife resources.  In working to maintain this tradition, the hiring process is rigorous and competitive.  Candidates are encouraged to begin the application process early.  The application deadline is Sept. 13, 2010.    

To view this job announcement, please visit the DOW website.

For more information about District Wildlife Managers, please visit the DOW website.

To view or print a promotional flier for this job opportunity, click here.

August 29, 2010

A Bullet, Dodged—and a Bogus "Hunters' Group"

A few days ago,  Environmental Protection Agency announced that it was accepting public comment on a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity to ban all ammunition and fishing tackle containing lead.

Tipped off by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (a trade group)  and the National Rifle Association (a membership group), the online outdoor media and bloggers immediately raised the alarm, such as this piece by Jim Shepherd of The Outdoor Wire:

There is no scientific evidence that the use of traditional ammunition is having the claimed adverse impact on wildlife

Wildlife management is the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and the 50 state wildlife agencies, not the EPA

A 2008 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on blood levels of North Dakota hunters confirmed that consuming game harvested with traditional ammunition does not pose a human health risk

By Friday,  August 27th, the EPA backed down on the ammo part, admitting that it lacked jurisdiction under the 1976 law.

Lead shot for waterfowling was banned in the 1980s. I think that there was a stronger scientific case made there. But banning all lead (even for the military?) would make both hunting and recreational target-shooting more expensive and thus less attractive. I am pretty sure that the CBD folks saw that as a plus.

So by the Friday, the CBD was crying in its beer, trying to make it sound as though all conservation groups were disheartened by the EPA's entirely legal response.

Now here is the weird part. I have been around the hunting-conservation world for a few years. I'm a member of the Colorado Wildlife Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers--all membership groups with proven records.

But I have never heard of CBD's so-called hunters' group Project Gutpile. The name itself sounds like a bad joke. Its only Web presence is a blog, and the latest entry on that blog is ... surprise! ... the CBD's sad news release, verbatim.

Can you say "astroturfing," boys and girls?

It hurts the CBD's credibility when they have to create fake allies as well as conceal their real agenda.

Disclaimer: Through its lawsuits, the CBD indirectly got M. and  me a summer job with the BLM for a few years, back when we sorely needed the money. That story is here.

Still, this New Yorker profile (hat tip, Steve Bodio) describes CBD founder Kieran Suckling as "a trickster, philosopher, publicity hound, master strategist, and unapologetic pain in the ass," out to destroy all logging and ranching in the Southwest.

And hunting too, I am sure.

August 28, 2010

Young and Hungry

Last year M. and I signed up to be volunteer wildlife transporters for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.  It is not a demanding job—we had only a couple of calls in 2009 and none this year until yesterday afternoon.

On the phone: a staffer from the CDOW office in Pueblo. Someone in the Wet Mountain Valley had a hawk in the backyard that seemed unable to fly. So this would be the first "capture and transport," as opposed to just transportation.

M. had her hands full, so I put on my official "CDOW Volunteer" ball cap and grabbed up welder's gloves, safety glasses, an Army blanket, and a pet carrier and headed up the canyon.

I had expected a red-tailed hawk, given the open country there.

When I called ahead for directions, I learned that the hawk had landed on the homeowner's roof, then flew down into the back yard. There it encountered two Australian shepherd dogs, one of whom had "tumbled it" (her words). She had put the dogs in the house, but the hawk would not fly. Maybe it was hurt.

The homeowner and two neighbors were waiting. Lucky for me, the bird seemed lethargic, and I could just scoop it up and pop it into the carrier, as though I knew just what I was doing.

Unexpectedly, it was a juvenile peregrine falcon, no doubt out on its own for the first time.

I was around when falcons were being reintroduced to this area, twenty years ago. One of my hack-site photos even showed up in Helen Macdonald's book Falcon, to my surprise. (I had given some slides to a board member of The Peregrine Fund, and they had ended up in the organization's photo files.)

Still, I am not used to seeing them! I think of them as endangered species yet, although the success of reintroduction has led to their being taken off that list. (In Colorado, peregrine falcons are a "species of special concern.)

Later that evening, we (M., her visiting nephew, and I) took the falcon to the Raptor Center in Pueblo. I spoke today with the center's director, and she reported that it was hungry and thirsty but seemed uninjured.

Perhaps, she speculated, it had flown into a power line or been temporarily stunned through some other mishap. She seemed optimistic that with rest and feeding, it would be ready to return to its wild life.

M.'s nephew, 25, had quit his job in Virginia and gone to San Francisco in June to try for something new. But things did not work out for him there, and he landed at our place for a month, uncertain what to do next.

We fed and rested him, and today we put him on a plane for home, from which he plans to set out again for a new destination.

Fly on, the both of you!