March 28, 2014

First Pasque Flower of Spring

I saw these Pasque flowers blooming on the 26th when I went to check a nearby scout camera.

The amazing part is that they are growing in a finger-deep (or less) layer of leaves and pine needles on top of a huge boulder.

March 26, 2014

Windchimes in the Wets



The Haunted Windchimes, a Pueblo-based folk/roots music band, playing outside the Songbird Cafe in Beulah, Colo., in the foothills of the Wet Mountains.

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 25, 2014

Middle-schoolers in Shooting Spree! (Safely)

Students from Craver Middle School in Pueblo County get a supervised trip to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Range out at the reservoir (with video).

There is an Project Appleseed tie-in, not well explained—but what do you expect from local television.

The kids liked it. 
"My favorite part is shooting guns. When I was little we used to go to the shooting range," said another student, Danielle Cooper.

These students have been on field trips before. But not one quite like this.
Guns in school can be a touchy subject.

"Often firearms and schools don't mix. There's a big fear there. So we are pushing the safety aspect and hopefully ease some people’s fears," said Timothy Baird, with the Craver Middle School.
The school's website lists Mr. Baird as a music teacher, so you may insert the "song of my people" meme here.

March 19, 2014

You Can't Burn 'Em, You Can't Plow 'Em: SE Colorado's Tumbleweed Blizzard

Southeast Colorado county officials try to deal with the combination of blustery spring winds and last summer's bumper crop of tumbleweeds (Russian thistle).

Burning kills the seeds, but you cannot burn them when it is windy. And the various mulching solutions just scatter the seeds.

March 16, 2014

Three Plead Guilty to Poaching

 (News release)

Three Colorado men have been temporarily banned from hunting and fishing after pleading guilty to several charges in a poaching incident in October 2012. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission recently handed down the suspensions after a lengthy investigation.

"Colorado Parks and Wildlife takes poaching extremely seriously," said Sabrina Hurwitz, district wildlife manager.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers began investigating Christopher Abeyta, Robert Abeyta, and Jay Zunk after a landowner reported that the men were shooting at a coyote on his property without permission.

"We rely on the public to provide us with information on poaching incidents of which we are not aware. If you see anything that might be considered poaching or is suspicious please contact the nearest Colorado Parks and Wildlife office immediately," said Hurwitz. 

According to the landowner, on October 6, 2012, he saw three men shooting at a coyote in his direction. The men were inside a vehicle that was later found to belong to Robert Abeyta. The coyote ran to an adjacent property where the men shot at it again and killed it.

A thorough investigation, involving multiple CPW officers, eventually led to the three men and evidence of other poaching incidents involving big game animals including pronghorn. The three men faced multiple charges including taking wildlife without a proper and valid license, illegal possession of wildlife and use of a motor vehicle while hunting. Each individual reached a plea agreement.

Christopher Abeyta pleaded guilty to taking two pronghorn without a proper and valid license, among other charges, and was fined $2,301. He has also been suspended from any hunting or fishing until December 1, 2017.

Robert Abeyta pleaded guilty to illegal possession of wildlife and failure to comply with the provisions of a license. He received a $1,029 fine and has been suspended from hunting or fishing until December 1, 2015.

Zunk pleaded guilty to entering private land to hunt without permission, hunting from a motor vehicle and hunting coyotes without a proper license. He was fined $561 and can not hunt or fish until December 1, 2014.

The suspensions for these three individuals carry over to other states that are members of the Interstate Violator Compact Agreement. There are currently 38 member states in the compact. Colorado, Nevada and Oregon were charter members of the compact when it was initiated in 1991.

To report poaching or suspicious activity contact your local District Wildlife Manager or Operation Game Thief at 1-877-265-6648. Verizon cell phone users can dial #OGT. Email tips can be sent to game.thief@state.co.us. Callers to Operation Game Thief may remain anonymous if they wish.

March 15, 2014

Outside Investigator Praises Black Forest Firefighters

KKTV in Colorado Springs reports (text and video) on the recent independent investigation into last summer's Black Forest Fire.

The report said that Black Forest Fire/Rescue Chief Bob Harvey, his volunteers, and the other departments that initially responded acted in ways that were "professional, heroic, well-meaning and exemplary."

The worst thing that Harvey stands accused of maybe is not having enough paper road maps on hand to distribute to firefighters arriving from outside the area. Point taken.

It also includes accounts an incident in which firefighters say they were sent on a "secret special assignment" into a dangerous area specifically to protect the home of the acting commander of Emergency Services for El Paso County, Bob McDonald.

It also "states that there have been nine suspicious fires in the Black Forest area since the Black Forest Fire. There is a possibility of these being related."

The sheriff, Terry Maketa, who has had a bee in his bonnet about Harvey ever since the fire, responded that the report was "garbage."
Harvey has been harshly criticized by El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa for his leadership during the Black Forest Fire, the most destructive fire in Colorado history. A war of words was set off late last year after Harvey told members of the media that the fire was likely intentionally caused. This prompted Maketa to release a withering statement alleging that Harvey was "covering up his own mishandling" of the fire.
I suspect that voters in the area would side with the fire chief, but Sheriff Maketa is at the end of his term and cannot be re-elected due to term limits.

The day that the fire started, I listened for a while to the Internet feed from the sheriff's dispatch center, until it just started making me too nervous. There were some calls from units outside Black Forest who had responded, used all the water that they had brought with them, and were trying to learn where they could go to refill their engines. But it was not chaos.

At most Harvey might be guilty of optimism that the fire could have been brought under control quickly the first day, June 11, 2013, before the combination of dry weather, dense pine forest, and wind sent it off and running. It burned more than 14,000 acres, killed two people, and destroyed more than 500 homes.

UPDATE: Here is the Gazette's story on the report, leading with the "secret assignment."

UPDATE 2: Sheriff's office says scout camera photos show what really took place at the McDonald home.

March 14, 2014

Restoring the Royal Gorge Burn

Tracy Harmon at the Pueblo Chieftain has a story with photos today on restoration following last June's Royal Gorge Fire, which was they are now saying was human-caused, as I suspected. (Arson or accident—they are not saying which).

One big issue is trying to keep sediment out of Cañon City's municipal water intake, which is just downstream of where the fire jumped the Arkansas River.

The scenic bridge and surrounding park are open weekends—get updates at their site.

March 13, 2014

Southern Colorado Drought Conditions Improve

Click to enlarge
Drought conditions have eased in the Wet Mountains and Sangre de Cristo Range, but southeastern Colorado is still dry.

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.

March 08, 2014

Blog Stew on the Scenic Railroad

After the June 2013 fire, the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park is reopening for limited hours. Meanwhile, the scenic train that goes from Cañon City up the gorge and back is upgrading and hoping to get its tourist riders back.
[Owner Mark] Greksa believes his yearly passenger counts will increase as he continues to add amenities. Last year, he let passengers pay to ride in the locomotive next to the engineer. He also eliminated the train's "concession car," which offered only vended foods to coach customers, and created a dining car where they can order hot food, and a "bar car" with bistro-styled tables. Food offerings include beef and buffalo items, organic chicken and a crafted pale ale, Royal Gorge Route Rogue, Greksa said. In the summer, the train will offer dishes made from rattlesnake, antelope and ostrich.
Managers at the national wildlife refuges in the San Luis Valley are wondering if groundwater pumping rules will affect the areas flooded for sandhill crane habitat.GQ

GQ magazine runs another art-of-manliness story on being introduced to deer and elk hunting in Montana. Actually, it's not bad; it has a Chesapeake Bay retriever in it. (Hat tip: Suburban Bushwacker)

Most water from the Fraser River in Middle Park gets sent under the Continental Divide and into Denver's water system. Trout Unlimited, however, has worked out a new deal to protect flows for fisheries by regulating when the water is removed and how much.
The deal announced Tuesday could make the Fraser the most-watched river in Colorado – and maybe in the West. It sets out an innovative, science-based plan that seeks to balance increasing urban needs for water with an imperative to restore crucial habitat for river trout.
Me, I see the Fraser only when looking out the window of Amtrak's California Zephyr and thinking, "That looks really fishable in there." Maybe I should do something about that.

March 06, 2014

Blog Stew for Airport Survival

¶ News from the other America. A headline on the Reuters news site reads "Winter travel survival tips," and I am thinking, yeah, blanket in the car, something to eat and drink, warm coat . . . But the subhead continues, "Here’s what to do when your flight gets canceled." Get creative.

Some people suggest that you call the service desk and tell them you want to book an international, first-class flight, in order to jump to the head of the queue. And if the plane crashes, remember the Chilean rugby team.

¶ "After more than 30 years living in metropolitan Detroit, Kristen Schmitt moved to the Green Mountains in Vermont and now she's determined to make hunting part of her new life." So she started a blog, "City Roots to Hunting Boots." Just one post so far, on the sustainable/locavore food angle.

¶ A big solar plant is planned for Pueblo. Supposedly, the power produced "will be equal to the power used by 31,000 homes." No one ever comes back and checks those optimistic projections, however. At least it is next to an existing coal-fired plant, which means that transmission lines are already in place.

March 05, 2014

Now We're Talking about a Little Ice Age Again

This is not reported on the five o'clock news, but solar activity is declining.

A short video at the BBC, which I cannot embed, "Has the Sun Gone to Sleep?" explains what is happening—a possible return to the Maunder Minimum.
The Maunder Minimum [1645–1715] of course was a period of almost no sunspots at all for decades and we saw a really dramatic period where there were very cold winters in the northern hemisphere. It was a period where you had a kind of mini ice-age. You had a period where the Thames froze in winters and so on. It was an interesting time.
Another name for that period is The Little Ice Age. In the video, you hear researchers talking about phenomena "that we don't really understand." And about "a redistribution of temperature around the North Atlantic."

Full transcript here (scroll down).

March 04, 2014

A Piñon Canyon "Armistice"

The big news in southern Colorado back in the late 1970s was the Army's search for a new training area for mechanized troops.
Blue is the current PCMS, brown the proposed expansion area.
Green areas are the Comanche National Grasslands (Wikicommons).

Fort Carson, formed during World War II (at the begging of city fathers who wanted soldiers' pay spent in Colorado Springs), was created by expropriating ranch land to create the 137,000-acre military reservation.

But it was not enough anymore, the Army said. They wanted another training area close enough to shuttle units back and forth. Various locations were suggested: South Park, the San Luis Valley, the High Plains.

The High Plains "won," and a new round of condemnations created the 235,896-acre Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site along the Purgatory River.

Some landowners took the money and ran, while others fought futilely against the federal government.

It's possible to hunt on PCMS, and my friend Eric and I took advantage of that to explore various archaeological sites, old and new. I remember walking into an abandoned house in the late 1980s and finding, for example, a 1977 Sears Roebuck catalog still lying on a kitchen counter, while kids' toys littered the living room floor. It was a sad scene.

At the same time, I had to admit that Army ownership gave those of us who jumped through a couple of bureaucratic hoops opportunities to explore country that we never could have entered before.

The Army's civilian wildlife specialists kept windmills pumping water for deer and antelope and lobbied to keep training activities out of "sensitive areas." One of them told me that they would mark off small wetlands, for example, with engineer's tape, and the troops were supposed to treat them as "minefields."

An area containing the now-famous dinosaur trackway was transferred to the U.S. Forest Service and opened to the public.

But generals kept hinting that they needed still more land — more than 400,000 acres — and local residents lobbied Colorado politicians to stop that. Homemade signs saying "This land is not for sale to the Army" went up in Otero, Las Animas, and other counties.

Late last November (I missed this at the time), the Army backed down.
At the urging of Sen. Mark Udall, a Boulder County Democrat, Army Assistant Secretary Katherine Hammack used the paperwork equivalent of a wooden stake to kill expansion plans for the 235,000-acre training site.

"It's kind of an emotional moment," said Las Animas County Commissioner Gary Hill, a rancher and neighbor of the training area who has been at war with the Army over expansion for years.
The Army's reason is that fewer troops means less need for training. But then they would never admit that the years of bad publicity, political conflict, and hard feelings mattered.

Furthermore, generals and assistant secretaries come and go, but the expansion plan, once written, can last for decades.

March 02, 2014

One Frosty Morning

The forces of fog advance toward the house.
Hoarfrost on Gambel oak.
Yesterday felt like a clash of the weather titans. When I woke up, the air was foggy and the temperature about 20° F. I put on a warm jacket and took Fisher on the road climbing into the national forest. In little more than two hundred yards we had climbed out of the fog, and at the top of the first low ridge, it felt twenty degrees warmer.

All day, a warmer westerly breeze fought the fog advancing up from the plains. (Sort of like the California coast if you substitute the High Plains for the Pacific Ocean.) In the end the fog was triumphant, giving us something that we see only once or twice a year — hoarfrost.

Today the sun broke out, illuminating the frost.

The driveway.
Mixed pines and juniper.
If I had taken the last photo an hour later, I would have heard the Clock of the Cranes — a flock of sandhill cranes overhead, the first of the season here that I have heard.

They were at Monte Vista NWR a few days ago, where they will be "Celebrating Spring in the Valley of the Cranes" next weekend, March 7th–9th.