June 25, 2018

Some Facts and Figures on Bear Attacks

Rarely, black bears become predatory too (Science Daily).
If I never hear again that joke whose punch line includes, "grizzly bear shit has bells in it," I will be a happier person thereby.

Alaska journalist Craig Medred offers some facts and figures on bear attacks — based on Alaska data, of course, but worth nothing anywhere.
“As of 2015, 75 instances of bear spray use were recorded (in Alaska) of which 70 (93.3 percent) were successful in altering bears’ aggressive behavior whereas five (6.7 percent) were not,” [Brigham Young University professor Tom] Smith and [noted Canadian bear researcher Stephen] Herrero write.

“However, of the 197 persons involved in those 75 encounters only four received slight injuries (2 percent) – all inflicted by grizzly bears.”

There is a significant likelihood, the scientists add, that the spray worked on a lot more bears than are in the study. Smith and Herrero says information on bear attacks, which involve people being injured by a bear, is limited, and information on incidents, in which people are involved in non-injury incidents, even more so.

“Unquestionably,” they write, “many incidents go unreported for a variety of reasons. It is believed that many human-bear interactions resolve peacefully, are not newsworthy, and therefore underreported. This (also) includes times when persons successfully dispatch a bear with a firearm.”
And this:
Lifestyle changes are clearly reflected in the data, too.  Since 1980, attacks on joggers went up nineteen fold from one to 19, and those on cyclists grew five fold from one to five.
“None of these joggers or bicyclists [was] carrying a bear deterrent, and we believe that contributed to the outcome,” the study added.

Hikers and hunters remain far and away the largest category of people attacked by bears. Attacks on hunters have been going down, though, with attacks on hikers going up, probably representative of another lifestyle change.
And then there is the whole issue of dogs and bears, with which I have had a little experience. You should read the whole thing.

June 24, 2018

Futility at Camera Trap Spring

Some time when I hike to Camera Trap Spring — particularly during dry summers like this one — I take a trowel and try to dig out the spring a bit, making a little pool for the water to collect in.

And then this happens. Or a bear does the same thing. Fine, boys, enjoy your mud wallow.

June 22, 2018

A New Site for Ringtails


Some years ago my friend John S. was telling me about a backpacking trip he had made into the Beaver Creek State Wildlife Area in northeastern Fremont County in southern Colorado.

During the night, he said, a noise at his campsite awakened him. He flicked on his flashlight and found a "skinny raccoon" trying to get into his pack.

"That was a ring-tailed cat," I said, using the common nickname. (They are not really felines, and in fact they are related to raccoons.)

It was a case of being book-smart rather than speaking from experience. Truth is, I have never seen one one of these nocturnal "skinny raccoons" in the wild, despite all the nights that M. and I spent hiking around places like Beaver Creek SWA in the mid-1990s when we were censusing owls for the Bureau of Land Management.
They forage exclusively at night, feeding on mice, birds and insects. They are slim enough to hunt woodrats in their dens. Frequently they hunt in pairs and in autumn forage as family groups. Ringtails have efficient kidneys and may not need to drink, thriving instead on the moisture in their prey (Colorado Parks and Wildlife).
Gray foxes are nocturnal too, but I spot one now and again, most recently last week while walking the dog at 10 p.m. Not these guys. I did get some blurry images on a camera at one location, but it is not a location that I care to use anymore.

So the new summer project is to find them on our property, and I just succeeded this past week. Not much of an image, but now I know they are there and can try different camera sets.

June 13, 2018

A Journey of 100 Miles Begins with a Single Dart

District wildlife manager Justin Krall and some of the crew,
with two bears loaded in the culvert trap for transport.
The four bears were getting big and bored, maybe with some tendencies toward bad. What had been hungry cubs in 2017 were now hefty sub-adult males, weighing around 160–170 pounds (~75 kg).

They had spent months at the wildlife rehabilitation center, eating, sleeping, climbing tree trunks, eating, wrestling sumo-style, eating, splashing in stock tanks — but now it was time to go!

Their human contact had been kept low — the rehab center is not a zoo — but now came more humans, two of them with CO2-powered dart guns. PPFFFTT!
The couple who run the center were there, of course, plus me as additional stretcher-bearer.

We lifted each tranquilized bear onto a stretcher, where it was weighed,  micro-chipped (as with pets),  ear-tagged (all this is wildlife-research data), and vaccinated against sarcoptic mange. Here is the one I called "Stumpy," the smallest at about 125 pounds, waiting to be loaded with his companion. 

Then they were loaded into trailers (which are actually "live" bear traps themselves) for a long ride up into the Arkansas River headwaters, into areas where the drought is not so severe. At last came release, two in one place, two in another.

Looking over the upper Arkansas River Valley


"No long goodbyes," says district wildlife manager Kim Woodruff, who made this last video. That these bears gallop away from humans is a good thing, for them. Now they have their chance.

June 10, 2018

Making Money from Old Stuff in Southern Colorado

Main Street, Florence, during a car show (Colorado Life).
Colorado Life is not as wide-reaching a magazine as New Mexico, but they did get off the beaten Denver-ski towns-ghost towns path recently to do a piece on a small town in southern Colorado that has reinvented itself as "the antiques capital of Colorado."
Florence boomed in the 19th century, but it wasn’t one of Colorado’s innumerable gold- and silver-mining boom­ towns – black gold was the specialty here. Florence had the first oil well drilled west of the Mississippi River, and the local oilfield was just the second in the nation to be commercially developed. Alexander M. Cassidy, who kicked off Florence’s oil industry in 1862, went on to found a company that evolved into Conoco.
As long as we are on the antiques-and-nostalgia kick, there is a small enterprise in the gold-mining town of Victor making tin cans with 19th-century labels. Collectors and filmmakers know where to find them.
A couple of summers ago, she got a call requesting cans for the second season of AMC's "The Son," featuring Pierce Brosnan and taking place in the old West. Proper props were needed for a target practice scene, Karen was told.

"I didn't tell the cans they were gonna be shot," she says, regretfully.
Today's junk, tomorrow's antiques: "Gear That Doesn't Work," from Outside magazine. Hang on to that titanium spork; it might be worth something some day.

June 09, 2018

"One of Our 50 Is Missing"

Click to enlarge.
The current Southwestern drought does not stop at the border but extends into northwestern Mexico. Sitting here with a mid-day temperature of 98° F., humidity of 8 percent, and only a tenth of an inch of rain, if that, for the week, I was wondering When will it end?

So I went looking online for 2018 Southwestern monsoon forecasts and found one from The Weather Network. Pretty informative — but also geographically "challenged."

I scrolled down through the charts and graphs and found this video: "Must See: Time Lapse of the Monsoon Season in Mexico."  Late summer rains do start first in Mexico and then move northward. And ponderosa pine trees do grow in the Mexican Sierra Madre.

But wait — that logo says "Angel Fire Resort," which is in northern New Mexico, admitted to the Union in 1912.

And who will appreciate that error more (I hope) than the editors of New Mexico Magazine, which for decades has run an item in every issue titled "One of Our 50 Is Missing" (archived here).

Even today, traveling in the USA and elsewhere, New Mexico residents are complimented on how well they speak English, while postal clerks in other US states tell people that they must fill out a customs form to send a package to Las Cruces. And so on.

Should we cut TWN some slack because they are headquartered in Ontario?

June 04, 2018

A Sudden Little Fire and a View from the SEAT



Single-engine air tanker drops retardant at the Horse Park Fire
in southwestern Colorado on May 28, 2018.

I was just about to make the turn to the post office at 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 2, when my cell phone rang, and suddenly I was a volunteer fireman again.

A little blaze had popped up a few miles from town, possibly caused by lighting three days previously, but so far no one is saying so officially.

We got one brush truck with three volunteers as close to it as we could by driving through pasture land — the fire was nearby on national forest. A colleague and I were just tightening our bootlaces preparatory to walking up there and scouting it when the Forest Service arrived — in force.

There were command vehicles, wildland fire engines — and here came a line of crew buggies, which turned out to be the Twin Peaks Initial Attack crew, normally based in Utah. They formed up and started marching up the slope.

The Twin Peaks Initial Attack crew from Utah pauses to confer before climbing to the fire.

We looked at each other and said, "Well, it's their fire now." Our second brush truck was on-scene by then. We got a new mission, to visit all the homes nearby that had been put on pre-evacuation notice, look for potential problem areas, chat with the homeowners, eat cookies . . . and watch the air show.

Two Single-Engine Air Tankers (SEAT) arrived early, flying out of Fremont County airport. A four-engine tanker swooped down low. Two helicopters circled, dropping water. The fire already had a hashtag: #hardscrabblefire

Large air tanker dropping retardant (Ole Babock).
The bigger tankers can do the most, but it felt good to see the SEATs come in early.  The video above, found on the Fire Aviation blog, gives you a view from the pilot's seat.

Everyone is on edge about the drought, but the fast and heavy response stopped this little quickly.  Bullet, dodged. By five o'clock, some of the nearby residents who had decided to evacuate were coming home again.

May 29, 2018

Kokopelli is Laying Low


The rented Taos apartment's doormat depicts Kokopelli, "hump-backed flute player," a fertility deity of some Southwestern tribes. And here he is, minus the erect penis of some old-time images, reproduced in synthetic fiber — probably in China. (His "hump" may originally have been a sack of goods for trading.)

And you're wiping your feet on him, you racist, you cultural appropriator.

I don't care. When I see him, I know I'm in my home region, and that's what matters. Lift a glass to Kokopelli, be he god, culture hero, or Aztec pochteca. I am not one of those people who thinks that sacred matters must be kept at arm's length. He is here.

When culturally appropriating, grasp firmly with both hands and shake.

May 26, 2018

Welcome to the World — Where No One Looks Like You

Some time early this morning a motorist in western Huerfano County (southern Colorado) hit and killed a pronghorn antelope doe.

Later, a man driving by saw the dead doe’s belly moving. He did the courageous thing — stopped, pulled out his knife, and performed a roadside Caesarean section. And he got in touch with Colorado Parks & Wildlife, which appeared a while later in the person of game warden Travis Sauder.

M. and I are wildlife transport volunteers, and our telephone rang too. I reached Sauder on his mobile while he was en route to get the fawn. We arranged to meet down in Pueblo, and when we pulled up, there he was in his state truck, with the fawn in his lap, wrapped in a purple bath towel.
If the fawn grows up,
he will look like this.

We put him into a carrier and drove back toward the foothills and the rehabilitation center, where he quickly downed a bottle of constituted goat's milk, and, for the first time, stood up on all four legs.

It's odd to think that the first other creature he saw were all humans — and before long he may be sharing an enclosure with some mule deer fawns (assuming that some are brought in, which is almost certain) — but he will eventually go free and meet some other antelope. Instinct is strong.

May 21, 2018

Angry Birds Are Angry

"If I see him again, I'll kill him," he thinks.
Yesterday two American robins began a day-long battle with their enemies — the birds in the mirror.
"I've got you now! You can't get away!"
One of them is particularly upset about the evil robin inside the passenger-side mirror on my Jeep Liberty.
I think the overcast weather made the windows more mirror-like. Screens are on the inside.
The other one has a bigger challenge. He keeps seeing enemies in the casement (crank-out) living room windows. "Death to you! And to you!"

You try to eat breakfast and there is this frantic shape flapping around outside.
The funny thing is that they do not fight each other — real live opponents.
I assume that this activity is springtime hormone-related and should abate soon. But they go at it from dawn until dusk.
 

May 20, 2018

Cleaning Up after the Cartels

Firs have been cut or limbed to allow more sunlight on the grow site. Drip irrigation lines fed
the individual plants. Given the thin, poor mountain soil, heavy amounts of fertilizers are used.
On an untypically (but helpfully) foggy May morning in the Wet Mountains of southern Colorado, two camouflaged US Forest service agents, armed with pistols and an AR-15 rifle, scouted up a ridge.

They reached their target area, a placed used by Mexican cartel* marijuana growers for several years, armed growers who had been arrested the previous October.

Finding no one re-using the site, they marked the faint footpath up from State Highway 165 with orange flagging and notified another agent waiting at the Forest Service work center in San Isabel.

BHA volunteer and trash.
Before long, the other agent hiked in too, accompanied by a dozen members of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, a conservation group with a de-centralized, "boots on the ground" approach to issues.

We all set to work — stuffing abandoned sleeping bags with trash, tearing down the crude buildings made of fir saplings and baling wire (kitchen, sleeping quarters, drying shed), and pulling armloads of black plastic pipe from under the forest duff and fallen trees.

With the plants gone, shelters gone, and the irrigation system gone, maybe this site would be less attractive in the future. Maybe the word would go back to Michoacán: Virgilio and Erik are doing time in an American prison. Maybe.
Interior of the kitchen area. White plastic buckets are camouflaged with paint.
Some people will say, "The growers arrested were just low-level 'grunts.' Why bother with them?" Low-level or not, they still do bad things, all of which I saw signs of or was informed about.

It takes a little time to free a tree
from wraps of wire.
• Putting pesticides and insecticides into the watershed (I saw containers)
• Diverting water illegally
• Cutting and injuring trees illegally
Killing animals (deer, bear, etc.) illegally
• Potentially posing a threat to other public-lands visitors in order to hide their activities

I don't want any of that in your/my/our national forest, period full stop.

In 2012, I supported Amendment 64, which legalized recreational cannabis and limited home growing. I have joined the multitudes using CBD products for health support.

But passing Amendment 64 did indeed attract people who thought that they could grow outside the regulatory frameworks and somehow not be noticed. 

Some were from inside the USA (mostly from Miami, curiously enough). They tended to buy or rent houses, stuff them with plants, and then be caught when (surprise) the utility company tipped off law enforcement that the split-level house at 428 Comanche Drive** was using fifteen times as much electricity as its neighbors. Others grew on private land, sometimes combining a legal operation with an additional illegal one.
Some of the collected irrigation pipes and drip tubes.
To generalize, the public-lands growers tend to be Mexicans. Maybe it's a rural-tradition thing, to spend your summer in a jacalito held together with twine and baling wire. Preferred locations are away from developed recreation sites, have a tiny stream that can be diverted, and a south-facing slope for light and warmth. Yet from the site we cleaned, we could see and hear the state highway, not more than half a mile away — they don't want to carry those propane tanks and coils of plastic pipe and batteries and supplies and trays of clones too far.***

Compared to what legal growers produce, it seems like a lot of risky work for a lesser product, but there's the rub: some people don't want to pay legal retail prices. (California in particular, according to some, is keeping the black market alive by over-taxing legal cannabis.) Or they can sell it outside Colorado.

Finally, all the pipe and trash was collected  in the most-open area, where a National Guard helicopters will be able to lift it out.

Helicopter lifting bundled trash from a different grow site
(US Attorney's Office).
* Law-enforcement officers and prosecutors avoid the word "cartel" in public statements. In private, they use it. After all, if groups of men, mostly from Michoacán, are caught hundreds of miles from home, with someone planning the grow sites, supporting them logistically, and moving the product, that all suggests an organization, not a bunch of freelance growers.

** Fictional address. 

***Some bright person should have (or has) created a GIS overlay to identify potential grow sites, just like wildlife habitats.

May 10, 2018

The Old-Time Forest Service Is Still Out There If You Look

Packing supplies up the fire line, Jeff Outhier pauses to survey the Junkins Fire in October 2016.

When he was a Forest Service district ranger in Rapid City, S.D, my dad kept a photo on the office wall of himself in his previous post on the Rio Grande National Forest in southwestern Colorado. It showed him riding his saddle mare Queenie over a grassy ridge, followed by a loaded pack mule (named Mule), going out on patrol.

I missed all this because I was not yet born or just a baby. Rapid City, by contrast, was not a "horseback district" in any sense of the word, but a pickup truck district.

That photo summarized the Forest Service that he signed up for, and when he was forced up the ladder into a big office, he took a lateral transfer just to get to somewhere smaller and then started counting the days until retirement.

It seems today like more USFS employees touch keyboards more than ax handles or horse bridles. But there are some exceptions. One of them lives just over the hill, Jeff Outhier, whose horse tack-littered office is in Westcliffe — but he himself usually is not.

Jeff Outhier talks to
a volunteer trail crew.
His responsibilities are modest: all the trails in the San Isabel National Forest — from Leadville southward nearly to the New Mexico state line. A few hundred miles of trails, that's all, much of them in wilderness areas.

He has his methods, like trimming back encroaching trees from muleback. In the wilderness areas where motors (even battery powered) are forbidden, he has been known to build and repair trails with mule-drawn scrapers and plows.

He still knows how to sharpen a big crosscut saw, although he is also a fan of Silky saws like this one. Apparently there is a network of foresters who keep up the traditional woodsman skills.

When we talked last Saturday, he was happy that his seasonal worker was about to come on duty. That's one (1) seasonal.  Sometimes he can get some firefighters who are not otherwise occupied. For a lot of work, he depends on volunteers, which is why I was there.

So there is some of that old-time Forest Service left.

One of the volunteers asked about dealing with a fallen tree inside the wilderness that might be too big for our handsaws. Should we "waymark" it and report its coordinates.

"No," says Jeff, "I don't use GPS. Just say it's 'beyond the rockslide after the creek crossing' — I'll find it."

May 04, 2018

When is a Lawn not a Lawn?

The unmown lawn.
When I was a kid, I made money mowing lawns, after we moved into Suburbia. (I guess Dad used to cut the grass at the ranger station — I was too young to do it.) I learned to tune up the Briggs & Stratton lawnmower engine (5 percent of the nation's air pollution?) and to face the big decision: Do I got around the edge of the lawn and then spiral inwards, or make back-and-forth stripes, boustrophedon-style?

At some point, my outlook changed. Maybe it was living the summer after high-school graduation in this sort-of communal house (four guys trying to be "spiritual") where the oldest, the organizer, saw no need to cut the grass around our little rented house near downtown Loveland, Colo.

Then the city came after him, so we cut the grass and front and let the back go wild, under the apple trees. That was something new for me, raised on the ritual of weekly mowing. Liberating, even.

Fast forward: M's and my Manitou Springs house had only a tiny area of flat ground, which we planted to vegetables. The rental house in Boulder's lawn area had been covered with plastic and gravel in the front, and there was basically nothing but a tiny bit of dirt (enough for lettuce and onions) in the back. In Cañon City we had irrigation water, so again a big garden took up most of the back yard, ornamental plants much of the front, and I mowed the leftover bits to comply with city regs. No fertilizing.
Why do we spend so much money and work so hard for what amounts to a biological wasteland around our house? Why do we spend hours of time and gallons of gasoline? Why do we water it when it withers in the summer sun only to spend more time and money to cut it down again? Lawn grasses don’t feed my family or invite pollinators onto my property. I’m not baling hay to feed cattle through winter. The best reason I could come up with for our culture’s obsession with a neat lawn is the man versus nature, bending it to our will motif — creating order, our version of it, out of disorder. And with this illusion of control we advertise to everyone else that we have the money and time to waste resources.
That is from "Green Menace: The Futility and Stupidity of the American Lawn." Read the whole thing — it is where I got that air-pollution figure.

When we moved into the woods, the idea of lawns seemed laughable. But now the minimalist lawn is re-purposed as a firebreak. Reduce fuels! No fertilizing. No weedkillers. No watering, beyond what Tlaloc sends us.

I mow three or four times per summer, but I call it "fire mitigation," thus satisfying both me-now and the kid who used to mow for pocket money.

For more: "Why Prairies Matter and Lawns Don't."
How much lawn is too much?  41 million acres.  That figure makes lawn the most widespread plant under irrigation in the contiguous US.  Three times more acreage is covered in irrigated lawn than in irrigated corn, and that’s a conservative estimate.  All of that once precious water used on those 41 million acres of ridiculous, non-native turfgrass to keep it unnaturally green – how can people be so blind?

May 02, 2018

What Spring Looks like in 2018


Male back-headed grosbeak
(Cornell Lab of Ornithology).
These things happened today:

1. I heard thunder.

2. A male black-headed grosbeak came to one of the birdfeeders. They breed here, so that's a sign of changing seasons. And they sing like a robin who has had professional training.

3. It rained a little. A whole tenth of an inch. What does it tell you that a tenth made me deliriously happy? Like maybe no Red Flag warnings (high fire danger) for a day or two?

4. Also, I saw a band-tailed pigeon, another summer resident, fondly remembered as playing a part in an odd pigeon-related encounter some years ago.

Black-headed grosbeak range map (Cornell Lab of Ornithology).