December 06, 2014

Brown's Canyon, Political Theatre, and the Changing Face of Conservation Rhetoric

I spent the afternoon in Salida at what was essentially a 500-person pep rally for the proposed Brown's Canyon National Monument in Chaffee County.

With me was fellow Backcountry Hunters  & Anglers member Paul Vertrees.

Like a few others, this "monument" would not involve the National Park Service but be managed by the agencies currently involved: the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).

There are two stories here. One is political theatre and process, and one is about changes in conservation rhetoric.

1. Wilderness protection and national monument designation proposals for this stretch of the Arkansas River, where it runs through mostly public land away from any highways and railroads, have been floating around since the 1980s, at least.

Last year, as I blogged, Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) introduced a new bill to make this wilderness study area into a national monument that would still allow grazing, hunting, fishing etc.

Then came the 2014 elections. Udall, much to his surprise (I am guessing), lost his seat. Given Congress's preoccupations, his bill's chances don't look good, despite support from most of the Colorado delegation.

Hence Plan B: Have the president designate the national monument under the Teddy Roosevelt-era Antiquities Act. Such designation would be legal, constitutional, and has been upheld by the courts.

To make the case for that, Udall roped in our other senator, Michael Bennett, plus the chief of the U.S. Forest Service and the assistant directors of the BLM and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

They sat at a long table while listening to hours of testimony from local governments (the towns of Salida and Buena Vista, plus Chaffee and Saguache counties), business owners, conservationists, rafters, hunters, etc., 99.5 percent of whom said executive designation would be a Good Thing. Which brings me to . . . .

2. Last year I briefly mentioned the new "veterans for wilderness" movement, as shown in this Wilderness Society article, "Veterans want to protect the public lands that help them heal." We heard testimony from, for example, the Veterans Expeditions group, which takes vets rafting and camping in the canyon.

This year they were jointed by T-shirted members and former members of a group called (if I have it right) Hispanic Access Foundation, which takes kids from metro Denver on outdoor trips, including rafting Brown's Canyon.

They spoke of seeing starry skies for the first time in their lives, of being out of the city for the first time in their lives, and some hope was expressed by adults that some of these kids might seek careers in natural-resources management.

Who could argue with that? Well, possibly the staffer from Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs), who claimed that an executive proclamation would be a "top-down" action foisted on an unknowing population.

Let's see, I attended my first public hearing on this matter in Buena Vista when Senator Ken Salazar hosted it, and he left office in 2009 . . . and that was just one of several.

I hope that what he heard from local government and business types, in particular, might persuade him otherwise, but you never know.

Meantime, we await the judgment of our performance from the critics who matter.

November 30, 2014

Who Came to the Gut Pile?

On the afternoon of November 5th, I walked out the back door and hiked to some burned-over BLM land about 45 minutes from the house.

Maybe it was my scouting and camera work at "Camera Trap Spring," maybe it was the red gods' favor, but about an hour after leaving home I shot a mule deer buck, three points or four points (Western count), depending which side you looked at  — not a huge buck, but since I would be backpacking the meat out, that was OK.

I boned the meat and filled my Osprey Talon 22 day pack past its design specifications, I am sure, but it's a tribute to that design that it still felt comfortable, even though heavier than I had ever loaded it.

The next morning I returned — with a larger pack —carefully glassing the area as I moved through the burnt pines, lest a bear have found the gut pile, bones, etc. No, just a few crows were flying around and talking.
Magpies came first, the morning that I set the camera.

So would a bear or other scavengers come? One way to find out — I brought a scout camera with fresh batteries, piled bones, hide, rib cage, and skull with the guts — and set it to cover the scene.

Today, twenty-four days later, M. and I went back for it. The deer's remains had been rearranged considerably.

The well-nibbled rib cage and spine were a few yards away, downhill. The hide was in several pieces, and the head was not immediately visible.

The slideshows are 19 MB and 16 MB, so if you don't want to load them, see highlights below.

The bear came later. An ear-tagged bear, meaning it has been relocated once — not like there is any vacant habitat.

The golden eagle made multiple visits.

Golden eagle

The ear-tagged bear has a feast.
Of course there were lots of crows visiting, and a couple of ravens and a red fox. And other deer walked past the scene unconcerned.

November 19, 2014

See, I Told You Bears Don't Like Scout Cams

Another from Gear Junkie: spooky scout/trail camera photos (some clearly PhotoShopped), but have a look at the video midway down.

November 18, 2014

Float like a Bighorn . . .


. . . . sting like a . . . I'm working on that.

Meanwhile, marvel at how a bighorn sheep can just float up a steep rocky slope that I would have to negotiate one slow step at a time.

November 12, 2014

OK, So They Look like Lumberjacks [sic], But Do They Know Stihl from Husqvarna?

A funny satirical piece from Gear Junkie on "The Rise of the Lumbersexual."
He looks like a man of the woods, but works at The Nerdery, programming for a healthy salary and benefits. His backpack carries a MacBook Air, but looks like it should carry a lumberjack’s axe.
Actually, I was feeling a little bit lumber-metrosexual-something this week because I laundered my sawyer's chaps.

The oil-filler cap fell out last week, and bar oil went all over my left leg. You expect oil on your chaps, but this particular big oil stain embarrassed me. Also, I had to pay $7 for a brand new Stihl cap at Bubba's TrueValue hardware.
The MetroJack has even been seen wearing pieces inspired from mountaineering. He might be wearing a Patagonia heritage jacket, or some technical Cordura nylon pants that look great in the low light of the bar, but also provide protection from a chain-saw blade [sic]. 
If these dudes start wearing Kevlar chaps, though, you can color me surprised.

November 09, 2014

Getting into the Color Green

A review of Green: The History of a Color notes of the color, 
Its ascendance is a remarkable transformation in color ideology, one that is particularly astonishing given the relative marginality of the color within political and aesthetic movements during the bulk of the 20th century and before. As [Michel Pastoureau] remarks, green occurred only rarely in the color schemes favored by the mass producers of consumer goods, and, at least in theory, the artists of the heroic era of early modernist abstraction abjured it as well. Mondrian called it a"useless color." Kandinsky described it as tiresome and compared it to "a fat cow, full of good health, lying down, rooted, capable only of ruminating and contemplating the world through its stupid, inexpressive eyes"
But then, "Verde que te quiero verde  . . ."  —  I wonder if this French author deals with Lorca.

November 03, 2014

What Can You Call a "Trophy"?

Among the countless thoughts running through my head at 5 a.m. today (mostly not stuff I would share) was a bit of self-castigation for using the word "trophy" in the previous post about blurry photos at the waterhole. (I see that I used it on my first ringtail photo last April too. So I'm being repetitive too.)

What did I really do? For years, off and on, I have been hanging cameras on that by the tiny, seasonal spring.

Ringtails, meanwhile, have been on my list of critters that I know are supposed to be here, but I never see. Or that might be here—there was the whole issue about fishers in the Wet Mountains, yes or no, in 2005.

This year I set the camera on May 5th, checked it every four to six weeks, switching out the memory card and the batteries as needed.

As usual, being out there—or being out there in the form of a surrogate plastic box with a lens—gets results. I set up a gadget, and it did the work while I slept.

But I laugh at myself for using the word "trophy," like I stalked the magnificent beast or something. It is such loaded word. Some people loath it. Even I felt a little bit strange when I once visited a rich doctor's two-story-tall trophy room full of heads of African big game animals, a full-body mount of a polar bear, etc.

There is that underlying sense of conflict in the word, whose Greek root means "monument of an enemy's defeat."

Yet we all hang onto things that remind us of peak experiences, unless we are true renunciates. My "trophy" is tasteful, but yours is disgusting—is that it?

Maybe I should have just used the word "accomplishment." With two ringtail "hits" at two different sites, I have proven to myself that they are here, and now I need to figure out how to get better pictures, not that I am trying for the quality of photos that a print magazine needs.

But if I worked for a better photo and got it, that would be a trophy. The enemy would be my own laziness.

November 02, 2014

Two Ringtails and a Weasel Went to a Waterhole

Last spring I wrote about my first scout camera photo of a ringtail, which was something of a trophy, in that they are secretive and nocturnal.

On Wednesday last I picked up the camera at Camera Trap Spring, closing the site for the winter, and found that two ringtails had visited that spot as well in early October.

Unfortunately, they were right at the edge of definition for the infrared flash — the batteries may have been weakening too — but I was still delighted to see them.



It is a weasel, and apparent size suggests a short-tailed weasel (ermine). But I did not think to place a vertical ruler by the water source. Any mavens of Mustelidae out there want to make a definite identification?


UPDATE: The Camera Trap Codger, who is an actual wildlife biologist, opts for long-tailed weasel in his comment — which is what I sort of thought too until I argued myself out of it.

October 27, 2014

Today's Weather . . .


. . . as interpreted by a fin de siècle artist. We have entered the decadence of autumn as the golden leaves turn brown.

October 24, 2014

Opponents of Colorado GMO-Labeling Offer Nothing But Scare Tactics

Colorado's Proposition 105, on the current ballot, would require labeling of certain foods containing "genetically modified organisms" (GMOs). Vermont started requiring such labeling earlier this year.

The "no," anti-labeling forces have spent $11.2 million, filling my mailbox with billboard-size brochures. The "yes" group, "Right to Know Coloradohas spent less than $500,000.

The "no" people would like to say two things, but there is a slight contradiction between them.

1. "Genetically modified foods are perfectly nutritious and represent an advancement in agriculture."

2. "You — the person who buys and eats them — should not be informed that you are indeed eating them, because . . . . "

 . . . exactly why,  they can't really say, so there is a lot of smoke and mirrors and hand-waving and "Look over there!" coming from the people with the millions to spend.

Watch out! Requiring an extra line of type on the label will require a "huge bureaucracy." It will represent "unreliable information" (Like, how?) It will be "arbitrary" (Aren't all laws arbitrary?).

And so on. Look over there, here comes a huge bureaucracy!

No information. No argument based on logic. (You will find the nearest thing to that in the comments here.) Just scare tactics. And lots of Monsanto money.

October 21, 2014

Bible Verses for Pheasant Hunters

You drive through the prairie states at this time of year, and there are lots of "Welcome Hunters" signs on motels and stores. Pheasant season is at its peak, especially south of Interstate 94, which seem to follow some kind of climate boundary—there are fewer pheasants north of it.

Where I am staying right now in Valentine, Nebraska, I can see people walking bird dogs under the motel's red neon lights. On the highway, pickup trucks with dog boxes, some pulling duck boats, flash past.

But it was a Days Inn in Pierre, South Dakota, that took the prize. Its sign read, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat. Acts 10:9."

October 07, 2014

October Weather Report

"That October, the weather couldn't decide what to do with itself. Some days it arrived gray and bleak and pensive. Ponderous leaden clouds leaned overhead, their bellies slumped against the peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains; polar blasts of wind and stiff black leaves blindly scrambling down the streets. . . . . Other days, the weather arrived sleek and sassy. The air  was warm and it had a glitter to it, and a fizz. Only one of two clouds trailed across the taut blue sky, each fluttering brilliant white from the shoulders of the mountains like an aviator's scarf. Sun-besotted, people stood around wearing summer slacks and summer skirts and grins that were grateful and a little bit guilty, the grins of children who had pulled a fast one on their parents. They licked ice cream cones and they sipped sodas and they were very vocal about the wonderfulness of the climate, and in their voices you could sometimes hear a hint of self-congratulation at the wisdom they had shown in choosing to live [in Santa Fe]."

The opening of Flower in the Desert, a mystery by Walter Satterthwait

October 06, 2014

"Someone" Was Living in that Hole

Nine years after the big fire.
Monday we hiked one of our favorite old trails, severely burned over in 2005. That fire was followed by a flash flood the same summer, wiping out parts of the trail, and then came an influx of invasive weeds. The weeds are not so bad now — there is more grass — but you still have to pick your way over trunks of dead trees that have toppled in the intervening years.

More linkage

M. is enough of an animist that of course she would say, "Someone is living in that hole," as opposed to "an animal of some sort." Isn't an animal "someone"? (It's the second item under "Sept. 15.")

Recent severe forest fires in Colorado are not a "departure from the norm," say University of Colorado researchers. " Modern fires in these Front Range forests are not radically different from the fire severity of the region prior to any effects of fire suppression." In other words, we are still feeling the effects of the 1910–present regime of fire suppression.

Bicycle commuting supposedly skyrockets — but in Colorado Springs, it's all about fun, not about going to work. "The Springs is probably the best city along the Front Range for mountain biking," said Tim Halfpop, manager of Old Town Bike Shop on South Tejon Street. "But we're the worst for road riding and getting around town."

The founder of Wiggy's, the low-profile but respected outdoor gear maker in Grand Junction, is promoting lamilite, a continuous-fiber synthelic insulation. I am just re-reading Ernest Hemingway's novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, set in the mid-1930s during the Spanish Civil War, in which the American protagonist, Robert Jordan, extolls the virtues of his eiderdown-insulated "robe," for which he paid $65 — more than $1,000 today, according to one calculator. Makes Wiggy's bags look like a deal.

Rich French diners are still chowing down on endangered birds. It's tradition, you see. "Captured Ortolans are kept and fed heavily for at least three weeks until they resemble a small fat ball. Once they reach a specific weight, the unfortunate birds are drowned in a French liqueur called Armagnac, before being prepared or sold. In France, the price for such a peculiar 'delicacy' easily reaches 150 Euros ($189 US)."

Did I mention that ze artiste Christo has admitted that his plan to hang plastic panels over the Arkansas River is "at a standstill"? No doubt some art auction house will sell copies of his legal filings. It's all conceptual, you see.

October 02, 2014

In the Southeastern San Luis Valley

The evocatively named Flat Top mesa in eastern Conejos County, just north of the New Mexico state line. Taken from a spot looking west, near San Luis-the-town.

October 01, 2014

No, You Won't Be Charged to Take Photos of Your Wilderness Hike

Lots of hysteria recently around an admittedly poorly present U. S. Forest Service announcement on fees for commercial photographers in wilderness areas. Typical was this from the Outdoor Wire's Jim Shepherd:
It may sound far-fetched, but a program like this could mean a wilderness visitor who snapped a photo using a smartphone and later posted it on a personal blog could be considered a "media outlet" and face a $1000 fine.
It not only may sound far-fetched, it is far-fetched. As this headline reads, "No, the Forest Service is Not Planning to Charge You $1500 to Photograph the Wilderness."
Put away the pitchforks, folks. After reading some of the recent horribly misleading media coverage of a proposal by the US Forest Service, you might think that members of the media (down to – and yes, including! – us lowly bloggers) are about to be banned from all National Forest lands. You might even be forgiven for thinking wildlife, landscape, or casual photographers selling their prints online or at a local art show or gallery are about to be hit with an onerous fine.
I checked with semi-pro photographer Jackson Frishman, who does lots of photography in designated wilderness areas. His response, via email
I'm guessing the FS is mainly viewing it as a way to keep productions out of wilderness that don't really need to be there (e.g., the Lone Ranger 2 doesn't need scenes filmed inside the wilderness boundary, find a non-wilderness location instead), but I'd question whether that's actually a common enough problem to merit a solution, given the existing rules of wilderness and the logistical needs of major productions. I could see those guidelines being used to harass investigative journalism critical of FS policy (though to be fair, such a situation might also be pretty much non-existent in practice).
Read the Forest Service's "we didn't mean it like that" news release here.

What we have here is just fed-bashing from the usual suspects. Given that it is an election year — and we have a Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate who wants to see public lands handed over to the state or privatized (Colorado, that can barely fund its state parks, is going to take over, e.g., Rocky Mountain National Park??) — I can't help but see a connection.