October 03, 2015

Bears in Greece and Colorado

Louie and two smaller pals.
When I was in Greece last month, I saw no Eurasian brown bears, since I was on the bear-free island of Corfu. But in the English-language edition of the newspaper Kathimerini (sort of the Wall Street Journal of Greece), I did read about a sanctuary for bears that for one reason or another cannot be released into the wild.

In that sense this sanctuary, Arcturos, is more like Mission: Wolf here: it offers fairly large, fairly wild enclosures to animals that still must be fed by their human caretakers.
Having eaten his watermelon, 15-year-old Manolis stands up on both feet and appears to wave. His brother, Kyrgiakos, continues to munch away at his own watermelon a few meters away, indifferent to our presence. When they were cubs, the two brothers were found by a person who took them in as pets. But when they tipped the scales at 250 kilograms [550 lbs.] and grew to 2 meters in height, they simply became unmanageable. When Arcturos was called in to help, the two bears were completely used to living with people. It would be impossible for them to live in their natural habitat now, which means they will have to live their whole lives in captivity. However, they could do far worse than the Arcturos Sanctuary, an area of some 50 acres offering food, guaranteed care and optimal living conditions.
 Greece does still have a small, but growing, population of wild bears:
“With more than 450 registered bears, Greece’s bear population is considered one of the most significant in the Balkan region. The bears are part of a common clade ranging from the Swiss Alps to Greece. This new evidence challenges data found in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of endangered species, which suggests that there are no more than 200 bears living in Greece,” Arcturos’s scientific coordinator, Alexandros Karamanlidis, told Kathimerini in a recent interview.
Home from our trip, M. and I yesterday visited the local wildlife rehabilitators and saw a Colorado celebrity, Louie the pizza shop bear.
Blanca Caro, the Colorado Springs police school resource officer at Palmer High School, said the bear's presence in downtown Monday nearly caused the school to go on lockdown. But further investigation revealed that the animal was not a threat to students and had made its way to Louie's Pizza on North Tejon Street.

Lockdown. For a bear cub. I can only hope that they were protecting the bear cub from high school students, not the other way around.

Louie and his two companions (from another rescue) were very shy, which is good. The rehabbers predict that with about ten weeks to go, they can have the cubs fat enough to enter hibernation in the wild. I need to drop off a contribution of puppy chow. A 40-pound sack should last them . . . two days?  We brought watermelons and acorns yesterday. Both Greek and American bears love watermelon.

September 15, 2015

Sigh, I Won't Get These on my Scout Cameras

Lynx . . . somewhere (Colorado Parks and Willdlife).
Colorado Parks and Wildlife releases some photos of lynxes taken with scout cameras.

After reintroduction in the early 2000s, biologists believed that there was a vialble population by 2010.

The current estimate is 200–300 lynx.

If you see one, there is an online lynx-sighting form.

They are not in the montane forest where I do most of my "camera-trapping," however, but mostly three or four thousand feet higher up.

September 13, 2015

What They Drank at Chaco Canyon

Pitchers from Chaco Culture National Historic Park
Via Western Digs, more study of Anasazi pottery residue shows that people — at least some people — were not only drinking cocoa, but also the "black drink" associated with the Midwestern and Southern tribes.

The latter has caffeine, the essential ingredient for civilization — like at Cahokia.
Moreover, making both cocoa and ‘black drink’ required plants that grew in far-off climates, researchers say, indicating that the Southwest was part of an ancient ‘caffeine trade network’ that extended from the foothills of the Rockies to the heart of Mexico.

“There are no known plants in the Southwest or Northwestern Mexico that have caffeine,” said Dr. Patricia Crown, an anthropologist at the University of New Mexico who led the study.
  Kakawa in Santa Fe serves various cacao-and-chile drinks. How long until they add Yaupon holly-based "black drink?" 

Just don't use the botanical name, Ilex vomitoria.

I still think that the ancient Pueblo cuisine was pretty grim. How do you want your corn today, fresh mush or refried mush? 

September 11, 2015

A Fistful of Euros


Blogging will be light, erratic, or off-topic for the next couple of weeks. M. and I are going on a trip. Maybe we need a theme song:

It was the movie that made Clint Eastwood famous, incidentally.

September 10, 2015

"Leaf Spot" Threatens Fall Aspen-Viewing, Oh No!

This appears to be a "leaf spot" fungus on Gambel oak.
Many Colorado aspens will not be as intensely gold this fall as normal, thanks to "leaf spot" fungus.

Even though this article is from the Colorado Springs Gazette, it is probably a re-written Colorado State Forest Service news release, hence the northern Colorado focus (just another microaggression).
Some stands of aspen and cottonwood trees across northern Colorado and along the Front Range won’t be their most picturesque this fall, due to leaf spot diseases that benefited from an unusually wet spring and early summer, state foresters say.

Foresters say they’ve seen an unusually high degree of leaf blight in the mountains and along the Front Range – as far south as Aspen, the Collegiate Peaks and Colorado Springs – for about a month.

At least two fungal diseases are to blame for the leaves now showing significant spotting or dark splotches. Marssonina leaf spot is caused by the Marssonina fungus and is the most common leaf disease of aspen and cottonwoods in Colorado. The disease can be identified by the presence of dark brown spots or flecks on leaves, which can then fuse into large, black splotches on severely infected leaves.
I have been seeing a browning of Gambel oak leaves in some clone-stands all summer, and since it could not have been from pesticide (not on our land), what was causing it?

Apparently the fungus affecting oaks is different, Discula quercina (and maybe others), but the look is the same: "Leaves have scattered brown, irregular spots that can coalesce into nearly completely brown leaves." And the extremely wet spring is to blame.

September 07, 2015

"Seeing Any Bears?"


This bear was slow to shed last winter's coat, which is all bleached out but still clinging.
I think that that is a cub walking beside her in the lower photo, but the grass is so tall!

I bumped into a former neighbor at the bank a couple of weeks ago, and that was her first question. It's right up there as a late-summer conversation starter with "Getting any rain?"

My answer was "Not around the house," and I like to think that is because of the (finally!) good acorn crop and the other natural food that has been available thanks to the very wet spring.

Just yesterday, I had pretty much the same conversation with a state game warden who works mainly in Chaffee County. Not too many "bear problems" up her way.

The Denver Post reports Front Range bears getting up to "their usual mischief," which is to say, trying to eat and live in a bear-unfriendly world.
"Since the second week of July, things went crazy," said Jennifer Churchill, a spokeswoman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

And there's a simple explanation for the migration. The bears, who typically eat about 20,000 calories a day during the summer, are hungry.

A "localized food failure" in northeastern Colorado has bears "out looking hard for food," Churchill said. "We are definitely seeing bears in places we don't typically see them." 
Is the difference between southern and northern Colorado just the lack of Gambel oak (scrub oak), which peters out pretty quickly north of Castle Rock, roughly speaking?
Oak brush provides cover and nesting habitat for many forms of wildlife (birds, mammals, amphibians, etc.). The foliage and acorns offer valuable food for many of these wildlife species, such as wild turkey, mule deer, and black bear. Acorns produced by the larger stands of oak brush are critical for turkey.
This Post story, which skips around various Western states, has a Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist estimating our state's bear population at higher than previously thought, as many as 16,000–18,000.
It's also difficult to chart the number of dead bears. While Parks and Wildlife relocates or euthanizes scores of problem bears, the state hasn't been able to keep up a database with that information since about 2011, said Jerry Apker, the statewide carnivore manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Countless bears are killed and not recorded by local animal-control officers, law enforcement, poachers or motorists.
In 2014, some 17,000 hunters harvested about 1,400 bears, an 8 percent success rate.  What those numbers tell you is that many of those 17,000 bought a bear license "just in case" while they were out for deer or elk primarily.

September 04, 2015

Dogs versus Neanderthals?

It has been suggested by Steve Bodio and others that modern humans' migration into the Americas across the Bering land bridge was dependent on an ally — the dog.

Until they had dogs, a continent with giant bears, giant wolves, and other toothy things was just too intimidating.

Meanwhile, back in Europe, did dogs help modern humans out-compete Neanderthal? (And did Neanderthals themselves have wolf-dogs? The evidence is ambiguous.)

National Geographic interviews anthropologist Pat Shipman, author of a new book on how dogs may have helped modern humans to out-compete Neanderthals:

"[Early wolf-dogs are] large, have big teeth and all those predatory, dog/wolf characteristics. You have to assume from the anatomy that they could track very well from the scent of an animal. They were built to be fast running, as wolves and most dogs are. Humans don't run terribly fast. We have a crappy sense of smell. We do cooperate with each other, which is helpful, and we had long-distance weapons, like spears and bows and arrows.

"Neanderthals seem to have specialized in stabbing an animal at close quarters with handheld weapons and wrestling it down. We had weapons we could launch from a distance, which is a very big advantage. There's a lot less risk of personal injury."

(The people today with comparable skeletal injuries to Neanderthals are rodeo riders.)

Maybe dogs helped modern humans to become better rabbit-hunters than their chunkier relatives.

But I have another scenario in mind:

Hunter 1: Hey, Little Hawk, look at White Dog! She thinks there is something in that cave.

Hunter 2: I bet one of those squat ugly bastards is lurking in there. Or his big ugly woman.

Hunter 1: White Dog, come here! Little Hawk, get the others! We'll smoke 'em out."

August 30, 2015

Here is Your September (Maybe)



The latest from the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Coolish and possibly wetter in the southern Rockies? I can live with that. 

August 26, 2015

"Peaceful, Corn-Growing Ceremonialists"

Cahokia is in the northern part of the "Middle Missippi" area (Wikipedia).
Further study of mass graves from Cahokia, once the largest city in what is now the United States, suggests that  many of the people in them were not "foreigners" (war captives? slave tribute?) but locals. From Western Digs:
But one of the many mysteries lingering among the city’s ruins, just outside modern-day St. Louis, is a burial mound excavated in the 1960s and found to contain more than 270 bodies — almost all of them young women killed as victims of human sacrifice.

Dated to between 1000 and 1100 CE, their remains were mostly buried in large pits, laid out in neat rows, and bearing few signs of physical trauma, perhaps killed by strangulation or blood-letting.

But the mound also contained a striking group of outliers: a separate deposit of some 39 men and women, ranging in age from 15 to 45, who — unlike the rest — had been subjected to all manner of physical violence: brutal fractures, shot with stone points still embedded in their bones, even decapitation.
Ancient America was not a tidy place. This article reminded me that fifteen years have now passed since the publication of Christy and Jacqueline Turner's Man Corn: Cannibalism and Violence in the Prehistoric American Southwest, the book that pretty well killed off the idea of the Anasazi/Ancestral Puebloans as being, in someone's sarcastic phrase, "peaceful, corn-growing ceremonialists."

Let's just say that it does not make for good bedtime reading. I thought of it at the time as CSI: Chaco Canyon.

What impressed me too, in a negative way, was that I remembered a National Park Service archaeologist telling me about some of the same material that Man Corn describes and catalogs earlier, in the 1980s. Only genocide and cannibalism were so "politically sensitive" that he would not discuss them in his office, but invited M. and me over to his house.

And I left them out of the visitor-oriented news feature that I was writing, but I did not forget either the images of skeletons dumped in towers and kivas or my encounter with bureaucratic political correctedness.


August 14, 2015

She Could Be Timothy Treadwell's Mother (In Spirit)

Surveillance photo at Jo Ann Medina's home. (Colorado Parks and Wildlife)
It's one thing to be the "crazy cat lady," but quite another to be the "crazy bear lady."
Now, the woman is under arrest and at least three of the bears she has reportedly been feeding will have to be put down because they've been caught before near humans. The remaining bears will be evaluated to see if they can survive being relocated. It's a possibility they also will have to be killed.
She is out on $800 bond: 
Neighbors often complained that Medina fed black bears - some of which got too close for comfort. One woman complained that a bear "charged" her and another neighbor counted at least 10 bears visiting Medina's house seeking food in 2012. . . .

Medina admitted spending nearly $1,200 a month in 2008 on bird seed to feed deer, a citation shows. That year, she told an officer it wasn't a "bad thing to do," especially because she only did it during the winter when deer looked "so hungry," the citation said.
When suspected the following year of feeding bears, Medina told an officer that "it was the will of God for her to continue feeding the bears" to help them survive, another citation said.
(If you can't get enough Timothy, YouTube is your friend.)

UPDATE August 19th: A second bear hanging around her house has been trapped and killed by wildlife officials. But it sure rambled in its day.

August 10, 2015

The Machine That Must Run Forever

Leadville Mining District (Bureau of Reclamation).
This is the website for the "10,000 Year Clock" proposal, also known as the Long Now.
There is a Clock ringing deep inside a mountain. It is a huge Clock, hundreds of feet tall, designed to tick for 10,000 years. Every once in a while the bells of this buried Clock play a melody. Each time the chimes ring, it’s a melody the Clock has never played before. The Clock’s chimes have been programmed to not repeat themselves for 10,000 years.
Very nice, but we already have a "10,000-year clock." Several of them, in fact.

They do not tell time, but they must run forever. As in forever, as long as people live downstream from Colorado mine pollution.

Or until there is some major geological change, a technological breakthrough, or society devolves into some kind of Max Max, The Dog Stars, or World Made by Hand kind of future.

In that case, cadmium and other heavy metals in your drinking water and a lack of trout in the river might be lower down your list of problems. Who can say?

Maybe you heard about how work by the Environmental Protection Agency to remedy mine-drainage pollution in a tributary of the Animas River in SW Colorado went horrible wrong.

A toxic slug is flowing downstream into New Mexico and eventually to the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River.

Some people just want to use this incident to beat up on the EPA. Others worry about the effects on people dependent on the river and on its aquatic life.

My point is, this is not unique. Colorado, "mother of rivers," (South Platte, North Platte, Rio Grande, Arkasas, Colorado) is also a state built on mining.

Take the headwaters of the Arkansas River — the mining area around Leadville. It boomed on silver, but in the 1940s, the call was for zinc — zinc to make brass — brass for all the cartridge cases and artillery shells of World War Two.

But the mines filled with water as they went deeper, water percolating from rain and snow melt. So miners drilled a long, long tunnel to drain them, routing it into the river.
Leadville Mine Drain — the "floor" is water.

The metals that the tunnel picked up killed the river. So in 1991, the Bureau of Reclamation opened a treatment plant to neutralize the drainage. It's simple chemistry really.

When I co-taught an environmenal writing class at Colorado State University-Pueblo, my colleague and I used to take students up there on a field trip. We would rent some vans — it is about 160 miles one way, and many students had never been that far up the river that feeds their city.

We would tour the treatment plant and also drive past  the similar Yak Drainage Tunnel.

As some who read the old Whole Earth Review and CoEvolution Quarterly, I know about the "Long Now" project. I was interested, but I wanted to bring those Bay Area techno-hippies up to Leadville.

"Look here," I would say. "It's already running. Just add the chimes."

Because this "machine" has to run forever.

Forever.

Forever.

In the words of that old treaty with the Iroquois Confederacy in New York, "as long as the waters flow."

We all know how that worked out.

August 06, 2015

But You Already Knew This: Chiles Are Good for You

At the Horseman's Haven Cafe, Santa Fe (New York Times)
You might bookmark this New York Times blog piece to send to the chile-phobic, however.
After controlling for family medical history, age, education, diabetes, smoking and many other variables, the researchers found that compared with eating hot food, mainly chili [sic] peppers, less than once a week, having it once or twice a week resulted in a 10 percent reduced overall risk for death. Consuming spicy food six to seven times a week reduced the risk by 14 percent.
 Now pass the hot sauce.

August 05, 2015

Trinidad, Not Yet a Center for the Arts

Trinidad, Colorado, streetview (Pueblo Chieftain).
Colorado's governor is backing a plan to make the town of Trinidad some kind of artists' colony, reports the Pueblo Chieftain. (Story behind paywall.)
The red brick streets, historical buildings and gorgeous mountains to the west are just a few characteristics that make this small town a place that catches the eye.

Because of that, Gov. John Hickenlooper has chosen Trinidad to be the first town to participate in the first state-driven initiative in the nation for affordable housing and workspace for artists and arts organizations.

The Space to Create Colorado program also will position Colorado as the nation’s leader in artist-led community transformation in rural creative place-making.

“The feeling is amazing. The change and excitement is palpable. It’s all over,” said Marilyn Leuszier, chair of the newly formed Corazon de Trinidad Creative District.
This is the "X is magic" school of economic development, where X is semiconductors, Christian ministries, rockets, artists, outdoor recreation, information technology, marijuana . . .

Yes, Trinidad has lots of Victorian commercial architectures (cheap rents) and brick streets, but to some southern Coloradans  that it also has a certain reputation, as in, it helps to have a few cousins to cover your back.

A former co-worker, once a varsity basketball player at Cañon City High School, claimed that when they played in Trinidad, the players left without showering — just got onto the bus in their sweaty uniforms and hit the road, rather than stay longer and invite some kind of trouble.

Sadly, this reminds me a little of Las Vegas, New Mexico, which for the last few decades has been heralded as "the next Santa Fe," but which still is not.

Given that Pueblo, ninety miles north, now has a genuine "creative district" — if putting up street signs makes it so — maybe Trinidad will be the next Pueblo?

August 04, 2015

"Where Were You When the Dam Broke?"

Sketch by one of the Pueblo operators in 1921
Click over to Coyote Gulch, the water blog, for a short video and story about the failure of the Castlewood Canyon Dam and the subsequent flood in Denver, eighty years ago yesterday.

As so often happened in such disasters, it was the telephone operators who authorized themselves to make "reverse 911" calls, decades before such systems were invented.

(They still are not perfect. I remember once getting a 4 a.m. telephone call that was just "Ring . . . click." Fortunately, I could see the mountainside on fire from the bedroom window.)

On the evening of August 3, 1933, Elsie Henderson’s urgent voice raced down the Sullivan Telephone Exchange’s wires, outpacing Cherry Creek’s northbound floodwaters. . . . Elsie, one of only two people available to operate the Sullivan switchboard that night, alerted people with one long ring, the universally recognized sound for an emergency. She and fellow Sullivan Exchange employee Ingrid Mosher worked through the night and into the following afternoon, saving lives, livestock, and property
That was back when you rang for the operator and got someone relatively local who could, at times, make decisions and show initiative.

Now we have 911 call centers — although your mobile telephone call does not necessarily go to the right one. For other telephone needs, you get somebody in India who is reading from a script.

The sketch was drawn by Wilma Cary, one of the Pueblo telephone operators who stayed on the job during the big flood of 1921.