July 26, 2005

Biophilia

Scene: A "moose jam"--parked cars and people with binoculars crossing the narrow, twisting Moose-Wilson Road in Grand Teton National Park. A cow moose and her calf are resting in the shade under a boggy patch of willows nearby. Moose are sort of totemic hereabouts.

An SUV rolls by and the driver shouts, in perfect northern New Jersey intonation, "Th' fuck you lookin' at?"

I didn't know Tony Soprano ever made it out to Wyoming.

July 23, 2005

Forest Service must listen to citizens, judge rules

In a blow to the Bush Administration's so-called Healthy Forests plan, the Forest Service was told it must listen to public comment.

"The Forest Service tried to turn a law that only exempted actions such as mowing an office lawn from public comment and appeal into one exempting timber sales and other threats to the environment from citizen review," said Matt Kenna of the Western Environmental Law Center, which brought the suit.

Interestingly, Kenna is one of the founders of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, a new group trying to bridge the green/blaze orange divide.

July 21, 2005

After the flames V

Previous forest fire entry

M. took a walk a couple of days ago into Babcock Hole, looking for a bit of unburned meadow with some shade, which she found after a time.

While she was resting there, a young mule deer buck (in velvet) came by. He looked all right, if a bit skinny. It was his behavior that seemed odd. Twice he nearly walked right up to her, she said.. He seemed disoriented or at least a bit dazed.

Not a quarter mile away--within a normal territory size for a mule deer--was an unburned hillside, with grass, forbs, and oak brush. But he was wandering around in the burnt area.

The official line is that larger animals have no trouble fleeing the fire. That is not always true; I have seen photos, at least, of deer who were unable to outrun a fire. It can happen, if not often.

We just do not always know what goes on with the other animals.

The Flycatcher's Paradox

M. and I came home from a trip in mid-June to find a Cordilleran flycatcher (formerly known as a Western flycatcher before the "splitters" got involved) building a nest under a rafter of our front porch roof, where a telephone junction box makes for a platform.

Back in the mid-1990s, another of the same species had built a nest in the same spot, but until this year, no flycatcher returned. It could not be the same female, surely, but we had to wonder if it was one of her descendants. Or maybe not.

She sat her eggs, even with big dogs barking on the porch, our comings and goings, hot days, thunderstorms, and all the rest. They hatched about a week ago, as the Mason Gulch Fire was coming under control. Two of the three chicks are barely visible in this photo, as sightless, gape-mouthed, little grey-feathered creatures.

When they hatched, the male showed up, and the adults both bring insects to the nest.

The flycatcher's paradox? When the female was sitting on the eggs, she would return to the nest from a hunting trip in stages. First she landed on the telephone wire that runs from the porch to a utility pole. Then she would hop about half the distance to her nest, watching for danger. Then she would hop half of the remaining distance. Her actions made me think of Zeno's Paradox--of Achilles chasing the tortoise. If the flycatcher hopped each time half of the distance to her nest, would she ever reach it?

July 17, 2005

July 16, 2005

An Eagle Problem in Arizona

Should Indian tribes be allowed to do as they wish with eagles? Ted Williams gives many reasons why not. Their justifications are religious; their reasons sometimes financial, their methods crude to say the least. "In New Mexico one member of the Jemez Pueblo claimed that he and his fellow tribal members had killed 60 to 90 eagles during the winter of 1995-96 and that he had caught six at once by setting traps around a dead cow. He explained that the best way to dispatch a trapped eagle is to sit on it, get it to bite a stick, then ram your thumb down its throat so it can't breathe. They jump around for 10 or 15 minutes, he said".

What, you think all Indians hold beliefs like the ones in that Chief Seattle speech? Sorry-- as Williams documents, that's a fake too: the creation of a TV screenwriter.

Falconers, who revere eagles without strangling them, can only take one from the wild with special federal permission, and then only in areas where they are preying on livestock.

July 15, 2005

Urban Coyotes

Denise at the Ten Ring blog has some strong things to say about urban coyotes. (Check earlier posts too.) Actually, her disagreement is not with the coyotes, who are just being coyotes, but with people who simultaneously want them gone but don't want to take drastic measures.

July 14, 2005

After the Flames IV

Another hot day was coming, so I got up early, fed the dogs, and walked up the Forest Service road to look at the burn. The good news was that Babcock Hole was not the blackened cauldron that yesterday's Chieftain cover photo (see July 13 entry) led me to expect.

LEFT: Babcock Hole four days after the Mason Gulch Fire. This area is mostly just out of the frame to the right in the aerial photo below.

The bad, or at least spooky news, was that at some point (early Friday morning?) the fire had crossed our road. Had the wind blown from the SE, the fire could have circled around into the houses. But it had stopped, whether on its own or due to slurry drops, I do not know. And then a hand crew had scraped a fire line along the edge of the burn.

Robert Hamilton, who owns the small ranch at the end of the road tells his experience. (He never evacuated.) Fire-fighting has cost $3.8 million so far.

And I was right about the the T-shirts: "A silk-screening outfit from Silver City, N.M., was doing brisk trade with T-shirts and caps commemorating the Mason Gulch Fire."

Fluorescent pink, yellow, and green plastic flagging is all over the place. One strip on a neighbor's driveway was marked as follows, apparently as instructions to firefighters defending the house: "VACANT. Broken slider window. Sited 7-9-05? Propane needs shut off. Scrape away duff from deck & structure. Remove wood pile against house front."

I came home after an hour. M. was just getting out of bed. "I have news for you," I said. "A hermit thrush is singing in Babcock Hole."

July 13, 2005

Definitely Winding Down

Coming home after a day in Pueblo I was thinking about something other than the Mason (Gulch) Fire when a Sky Crane helicopter tanker (the one with the proboscis) suddenly lumbered into the air beside the road (from the little heliport set up at Colorado 96 and Siloam Road, if you know the area).

Other helicopters with buckets were still taking off from the Wetmore helibase in Virgil Lawson's pasture, and the post office door was still plastered with fire maps and notices, but the excitement is over.

For the first time, I was not stopped by a sheriff's deputy when I turned onto our road. M., home all day, says some definite "tourists" have been up the road to view the burn. Lengths of yellow and hot pink flagging tape are hanging here and there, but the big Fol-Da-Tank portable water reservoir not longer sits beside Hardscrabble Creek, and someone has removed all the fire hoses.

I think that I am about finished fire-blogging, although I will post some more photos. I will, as the occasion presents itself, write about the changes in the land after the fire.

Fire slows down

"Mason Gulch fire on its knees," headlines today's Chieftain. Reporter Pete Roper also quotes a typical area resident. That's my neighbor Del Paulson, a stained-glass artist, in the photo.

This photo by Chieftain photographer Bryan Kelson shows where the fire was stopped by heavy air drops to keep it off the Hamilton Ranch, the green part. M. and I frequently walk a trail that follows the ranch boundary. It will be the Green-Black Trail now. The left side of the drainage that runs to the left (Middle Red Creek) was the site of the prescribed burn in 2000.

July 12, 2005

Media encounters

I have not been taking any pictures for the past couple of days, although I plan to hike (sneak?) into Babcock Hole in a day or two--I have to go to the university on Wednesday and try to figure out where I was with a couple of projects.

Meanwhile, try the Colorado Springs Gazette photo gallery.

Before we left Burro Camp this morning, I had a phone call from a Pueblo Chieftain reporter wanting colorful quotes. Having been quoted in Friday's paper by a different reporter, I thought that I had become the go-to guy for evacuated homeowner quotes for this area.

But then, after M. and I had come home and were leaving again for town, we were flagged down by an SUV with two Denver Post reporters and a Chieftain photographer in it. (He had already photographed us while we were stopped at the sheriff's checkpoint, but hadn't asked our names.) I recognized him, congratulated him on some of his photos, and must have disappointed the big-city reporters, who maybe thought I was not fresh and unsophisticated enough for them.

After the flames II: All just speculation now

Even before we packed to return home, M. was trying to come to grips with what had happened. "I don't like change," she admitted. She had not been down the canyon since Sunday morning, when it was still smokey, and could only imagine what her favorite patch of the San Isabel National Forest would look like.

When I lived as a boy in Rapid City, South Dakota, one of Dad's favorite hunting spots was the McVey Burn, site of a large fire in 1939. I remember it as a mixture of forest and open areas, in contrast to the rest of the heavily wooded Black Hills, where "scientific forestry" and fire suppression had created a landscape much more wooded that that of the previous century.

The largest mule deer buck I ever shot lived on the brushy Poverty Mountain Burn in Frémont County, about seven years after the fire--great deer habitat. Just driving through the Hayman Burn southwest of Denver (site of the 137,760-acre Hayman Fire in 2002), you can see new meadows, abundant summer wildflowers, and a landscape that in many ways is more interesting than the thick forest that was there before.

That doesn't mean I expect everything to be wonderful. Some steep slopes are now bare, which means they can erode. The Hayman Fire burned over mostly decomposed granite soil, and that stuff erodes if you look at it cross-eyed. Erosion into streams and reservoirs and across roads was a major post-fire concern, and a lot of money was spent on various temporary structures to control it. The soils here tend to be more clayey, yet strong thunderstorms could produce mud flows and washouts. I am curious to see if any plants will sprout before autumn.

Salvage logging, if it occurs, would be on a small scale, I think. I do not anticipate a political fight over logging. This part of the San Isabel NF never produced much timber, and it has not been managed for it. Slopes are steep, and the ponderosa pines and Douglas firs tended to be slow-growing and skinny--again, partly due to fire suppresison. Occasionally you do find on the lower slopes big stumps of trees cut in the late 19th century, when the woods must have been more "open".

As for the trees, Gambel oak ("oak brush") will regenerate from its roots most of the time. Ponderosa pine will re-seed itself, creating new stands of too-thick trees, although in some places there won't be many seed trees left. The piñon pine in the lower foothills might come back, but much more slowly. Douglas fir and some white fir might come back in the moister places. Junipers can re-seed too, slowly. Rocky Mountain and one-seed junipers are basically gasoline on a stick: they burn fiercely and their fallen needles usually burn right down to the underlying soil ("mineral soil"), whereas a layer of pine needles often will not burn all the way through. It depends on the intensity of the fire.

That said, I expect to see fire scars that last for decades. Because this is not a timber-producing area, I do not expect the Forest Service to be replanting trees. The reproduction will be whatever happens on its own, most likely. If I am wrong about that, I will blog about it!

Today's report: Fire grew 500 acres, but it is 40-percent contained. In other words, they have a fire line dug around that much.

After the flames I: Fighting back

The big national weather news while the the Mason Fire was burning was actually Hurricane Dennis. I thought at the time that the one good thing about forest fires over hurricanes, in this ecosystem at least, was that the fire cannot repeat itself in the same place right away. Hurricanes can come back next year.

Forest fires can be fought, at least some of the time. In the 1950s, I think there was discussion of fighting hurricanes by exploding atomic bombs in the them, back when some military types were optimistic about meeting every tactical problem with an atomic bomb. No one ever tried it.

Big forest fires usually slow down on their own. The weather changes, or the fire encounters some obstacle. This fire moved rapidly on Sunday, pushed by a dry west wind. On Monday a cold front pushed into the foothills, reversing the wind direction and raising humidity a little. With that change, fire fighters could move in closer, I expect, and try to cut fire lines ahead of the fire.

Pueblo Chieftain: "Firefighters gain upper hand"

I am waiting for the critiques to begin. Should they have brought in ground crews on Thursday, instead of dropping slurry and water only? Did all that aerial attacking really make any difference in where the fire went? It certainly did not stop it from running along the ridge toward our place. I never saw that edge of the fire being "bombed," although I only had a clear view when I walked up the road to see it. Did no one think the fire would move in that direction, or did it just march on despite the fire retardant?

I heard that a lot of slurry and foam was laid down to protect structures at the Hamilton Ranch in Babcock Hole, and that the main house, cabins, stables, etc. all survived because of it. Being on the ground in Babcock Hole would have been a touchy situation, because there is only one narrow gravel road up and out.

Back Home

We came home late this morning (Tuesday), with gratitude to a number of people.

Thanks first of all to Hal and Mary Walter, High (Altitude) Commissioners for Refugees, who let us park the trailer at their place, provided moral support, and took telephone messages. And thanks to Patrick and Shannon O'Grady, who let us turn their mountain retreat into an office so that we would be proper 21st-century refugees with Internet access--and for the enchiladas.

And . . .

Food Aid:
Candy's "Coffee &" café, Westcliffe.
Burro Camp Security: Ted (a small dog with a big responsibility), Jack, Shelby
Burro Camp Chorus: Clyde, Spike, Laredo, Redbo
Burro Camp Backup Vocals: Various cows, coyotes, great horned owls

Thanks to the Castle Rock Fire Department (from a far southern suburb of Denver). I found the business card of a fire lieutenant on the dining table, so evidently they were the ones at our house (and the cabin?) last Friday. They had come about 100 miles to be here. And of course to the Forest Service crews, the Wetmore VFD, and the other firefighters from various places.

And to everyone who called, e-mailed, linked to this blog, or otherwise showed their concern, our appreciation.

July 11, 2005

Not about the forest fire

Two morning radio DJs in Arkansas were suspended for suggesting that no taxpayer money be spent on the ivory-billed woodpecker's recovery.

In my experience, the key to success in that job is having an emotional age of 11, so I am not terribly surprised. But some pundits view with alarm. "Church of Holy Earth"--the horror of it!

A fire web site at last

The Forest Service finally put up a Mason Fire Web site. I will continue to supply "color commentary."

Conspiracy theories

First, for the people who have asked where we are staying, here is a photo of the camp. . It's really not bad; the house is about 300 yards away. Our nearest neighbors are cows and burros.

Officially, the fire grew to 8,000 acres yesterday. I am getting informal reports that it is really at least 12,000 acres and the truth is being suppressed. I hope not--that is to say, I hope that we are just seeing information-lag and other snafus and not a deliberate policy.

While I was still at the house this morning, the tanker helicopter thundered over at low level about 8:30 a.m., headed south. For those of you who know the area, it was clearly flying towards Custer County Road 387 and the North Creek Road, which leads into Beulah. Beulah is in the cross-hairs today, but there is fear that an east "upslope" wind could push the fire back towards us along CR 387.

I could tell that we had a typical bi-level wind situation. At the camp, which is something over 8,000 feet elevation, there was a typical westerly breeze. Down at our house, which is at 6,600 feet, the breeze was picking up from the east. Composite radar seems to show most of the smoke in western Pueblo County, but I not trained in interpreting those images.

Feeling sort of clandestine

I am blogging from our house, with a cup of tea by my side. It feels like a normal morning, except that I have to be out at 10 a.m., or the sheriff's posse will come looking for me. There was a checkpoint on the highway, and local residents are allowed to visit their homes from 6-10 a.m. today.

After awakening at six at "refugee camp," I briefly walked the dogs, fed them, and started down the canyon, so I arrived a little after seven. The sky was clear and the temperature about 45 F., but it feels like another hot, windy day ahead. Yesterday was hot and windy, and the fire jumped to 8,000 acres.

Now it is threatening the little town of Beulah, which is sort of a larger version of Wetmore. Beulah's 19th-century name was "Mace's Hole"--it is in a valley surrounded by forested ridges.

The fire is now a "Type 1" fire, and the information meetings have moved to Pueblo West, which is much farther drive.

Colorado Springs Gazette: "8,000 acres and growing"

Pueblo Chieftain: "Fire races for Beulah" (And a better map.)

Here there is only a little haze in the air, but of course no one has any idea when we can come back.

I am trying not to be so nervous, compared to yesterday. I watered the garden, cleaned up a little (only cold water--I left the propane turned off), and as a sign of optimism, reinstalled my iMac desktop computer, rather than leave it in a dusty Jeep at camp. M. gave me a short list of things to pick up.

July 10, 2005

Pinpricks for a giant

This photo shows the Mason Gulch Fire growing before the west wind. A helicopter base has been set up in a field just to the left of the photo. Helicopters with water buckets filled at a nearby rancher's pond or from portable reservoirs take off, fly to the edge of the fire, and drop a few hundred gallons in a swath.

The copters are just dots against the smoke plume. "Like ant bites on a giant," M. remarked as she watched.

We are in Westcliffe, but this cafe is about to close, so we might stop by the sheriff's office and see if there is any news. Despite all the public information officers, reverse-911 messages (that do not always come through), and so on, there information flow is not that great. I missed another meeting at the Baptist church on Saturday night--I had no idea that it was happening, since I did not drive the 10 miles down the canyon to look at the notice board.

UPDATE: The dispatcher knew nothing. All these highly paid Forest Service public information officers sitting around drinking coffee, and no one calls the sheriff's dispatcher?

UPDATE: The Colorado Springs Gazette headlines "Blaze doubles in size"

Like a volcano

A stiff dry breeze is blowing out of the west, and the fire is running east. It's something more than 2,000 acres now. The smoke column looks a volcanic eruption.

The Pueblo Chieftain headlines "Wildfire nightmare".

My thanks to the several friends who have offered us places to stay. We're happy in the trailer for another night or two, but if this stretches out longer, maybe we will move. The fire is not under control at all.

I think I know where this photo was taken. The wind has moved most of the smoke away from our area, so we are able to get a clearer picture of what burned and what did not.

Left: Colorado Springs firefighters Greg Martinez (red helmet) and Trevor Leland make their way Saturday down a burned-out hillside along Custer County Road 388. Over 270 people are staffing the Mason Fire which has grown to more than 2,400 acres. (Photo: Mike Sweeney, Pueblo Chieftain)

Our host, Hal Walter, is having fits that his own newspaper keeps talking about "Greenwood Village." Greenwood Village is a Denver suburb populated by rich Republican golfers. The community in this county is simply "Greenwood."

The sheriff did let us visit the house for 30 minutes. M. washed her hair while I watered the garden, grabbed some more items (dog food!) and checked things. Firefighters had moved most of our outdoor and porch furniture into the garage, put out more sprinklers, and cut down a spreading one-seed juniper tree. That tree really was too close to the house, but She Who Hates To See Trees Die had not wanted me to cut it down, so I had merely pruned it as high as I could reach. Frankly, I'm glad they cut it.

The odd thing is that I felt more nervous and anxious after the home visit. Perhaps it awakened associations with the 3 a.m. evacuation, even as going to a funeral brings back memories of previous loved ones' funerals.

July 09, 2005

Nobody updates their Web pages . . .

Right now, two days into the fire, the Pike & San Isabel National Forest web site proclaims under "current conditions": Currently there are no wildfires or emergencies on the Pike & San Isabel National Forests and Cimarron & Comanche National Grasslands. When prescribed burns, wildland fires, and weather and road emergencies occur, this is where we will provide up-to-date information.

Heh.

Some news coverage from the Pueblo Chieftain: "Firefighters battle Wetmore blaze" and "Pueblo airport serves as aerial firefighting base".

SRO at the Baptist Church

The little store out on the state highway was probably having its greatest day ever on Fiday, its parking lot full of fire vehicles and loitering crews. Driving past, I saw engines from Fowler and Manzanola (both little prairie towns) among others, and a serious-looking 6x6 rig from the Platte Valley department, from the mountains southwest of Denver. They should know forest fires: the country is similar to ours and it has had some big burns in recent years, including the giant Hayman Fire in 2002.

A new helicopter air tanker had joined the air show, slipping through the smoke like some kind of giant insect with a dangling proboscis.

Every pullout on the highway was filled with emergency vehicles, television trucks, or gawkers, but as M. and I drove past on our way down to town, we could see through the smokey air across to our road, and it was still surrounded by green trees. Fire engines were parked here and there in driveways.



The fire itself grew during the day to something more than 1,500 acres. All the aerial slurry-dropping had not stopped its movement when the winds blew. The steep ridge where it started was hazardous terrain for ground crews, who were just trickling in: an imate crew from the nearby state prison plus elite Hot Shot crews from elsewhere. By Friday evening, the "army" had grown to 350 firefighters, counting managers ("overhead"), public-information officers, engine crews, ground crews, and others.

I had given the sheriff's office the number of the friend's house where we were camped, our trailer set up on a dead-end road next to a cow pasture. That afternoon my friend Hal walked up to the trailer and said he had gotten a recorded telephone message about an "informational meeting" to be held at 7 p.m. at the small Baptist church 2.5 miles from our house. I drove down there, about ten miles from our temporary camp, shooting these pictures on the way.

This is the new Forest Service at work, putting on a good show for local residents and the news media (I actually heard the phrase "your tax dollars at work"). It's a long way from my father's day, when he was a district ranger managing a fire with a rotary-dial telephone and a radio, trying to coordinate everything and take calls from the Rapid City Journal too.

The district ranger and the sheriff orchestrated the show, speaking before the packed pews and TV cameras in front of a blown-up topographic map. It was standing room only--I will bet that church is not so full on Easter Sunday. More evacuees from the east side of the fire, in the next county, were there, along with my neighbors. A lot of bureaucratic syrup was poured, but the essence of the presentation was this: The fire is not under control, and you all can't go home yet.

The management level had outgrown the trailer parked near the church and was moving to the high school in town, 15 miles away. We now had a "Type 2" fire with a name, the Mason [Gulch] Fire, and if kept growing, I suspected that soon the T-shirt vendors would be arriving. Wildland firefighters often go home with commemorative T-shirts produced on the spot.

July 08, 2005

Dogs, cat, computer, fly rods . . .

Around 8:30 p.m. on Thursday the telephone rang with a recorded message from the sheriff's department. "Have a plan," it said, in essence. We had walked up to look at the fire again (sorry, no photo), and we did not like what we saw. It was moving north along a ridge. At the end of that ridge, a steep forested slope leads down to a narrow gravel road. Our house is across the road and down a bit.

I hitched up the pop-up camping trailer, and we started loading our two Jeeps, a Liberty and a Wrangler. The dogs would need the back of the Liberty, with the rear seat folded down, reducing the space available for personal stuff. The cat's carrier would go in the Wrangler.

And, once you get the animals loaded, what comes next? Clothes--how many? Valuables like laptop computers, checkbooks, passport, cameras (too many of those!), firearms (ditto), jewelry? Financial records? Library books?

I showered and fell asleep. M. slept less, and she awoke me at 3 a.m. The light through the bedroom window was rose-pink, and it sounded as though someone had installed Niagara Falls in the near distance. Time to go.

The breeze had swung around to the southeast, and the fire was moving towards us, with embers falling downslope to start new fires out ahead.

House lights were on all up and down the road, and the night rumbled as fire engines and tanker trucks assembled at the nearby junction, which, we would soon see, was marked by a metal sign proclaiming it to be a "Staging Area."

The phone rang: M. answered but said she heard only a beep. Presumably that was the reverse-911 "Get out now" message.

Windows closed . . . curtains drawn . . . propane tank valve off . . . and lights on in every room. "Hey, this is our house here! Please don't overlook it!" (Or at least it'll go down looking like the Titanic.)

M. going first in the Wrangler, we headed down our long driveway at 3:40 a.m. stopping at the rental cabin to do a Paul Revere-style door knocking. The family from Illinois staying there had planned to leave Friday morning anyway, and they had packed up Thursday evening. They would get a nice early start, maybe beating the rush hour traffic through Colorado Springs.

A Forest Service guy was at the end of the driveway, listing which houses were occupied. He told us that our road was now the fireline where it curved between the fire and the homes.At least it would be a narrow front to defend.

And then we were off into the darkness, driving up Hardscrabble Canyon and arriving at a friend's home at 4:30 or so. He knew we might be arriving, but I wondered if he had gone to bed at midnight thinking, "They are not coming after all."

Along the ridge behind us, ponderosa pine trees were flying orange flags of death.

July 07, 2005

Let It Burn

Last month the local Forest Service district ranger sent a form letter out to everyone on his mailing list about proposed changes in the fire-suppression policy. It proposed that naturally occuring fires more than one-half mile from private land be allowed to burn unless other conditions occurred, such as "unacceptable effects on cultural and natural resources."

The fire burning right now near us borders, maybe slops over onto, private land, but it that is part of a ranch. It is more than half a mile from anyone's home, I think.

A former co-worker, a reporter for the Pueblo Chieftain newspaper called around two o'clock this afternoon, fishing for quotes to add "color" to her story on the fire. I did not say what I was really thinking, which is that I am humbly grateful that thousands of dollars are being spent to save my house--and some others. (In case you are wondering, this house was built about 1965.)

The FS has been trying prescribed burns in this area for several years--I reported on one of them myself. Most years, the window of opportunity--after the spring blizzards and before the woods dry out and before passarine birds are nesting--is quite narrow, so narrow, in fact, that the proposed burns never happen or are cut short.

Now we are getting our proposed burn in the "natural" way.

Fire pix

It's so weird to be downloading photos while the airplanes go EEEEEWWWYOWWW over the house.



The fire at 9 a.m., when it had covered 30-50 acres.



One of the four-engine tankers (slurry bomber) over the house. It might have flown up from Albuquerque; I'm not sure.

More later.

Mountain lightning

After my "paint mines" post, I went out to water some plants before the day's heat arrived. A helicopter thudded off in the distance--that happens sometimes--but this one kept circling. Finally, I looked up: white smoke was rising in the south, maybe a mile away at most. Shitshitshitshit, it's a forest fire.

I went inside and told M. She grabbed her binoculars, and we started walking up the one-lane road into the national forest to a high point--walking, in case there was a sudden rush of Forest Service vehicles.

We did meet the district law-enforcement ranger driving out, and he told us what he knew--an air tanker was on its way, plus a ground crew--and then he drove down to the forest boundary by our property and parked to stop vehicular sight-seers.

All day, we have been watching the federal air show: at least four different air tankers of different sizes, one or more helicopters, and other observation planes. It's like being under a World War II air attack, minus the explosions, as the prop-driven aircraft make low-level runs over the house. Forest Service and BLM pickups and fire trucks run up and down the road. From the house, we can't see the slurry drops--we're too close, and the end of the ridge where the fire is burning blocks our view.

Last night there was "dry lightning"--no rain, just flash and boom. Everyone thinks a strike started the fire. Apparently the local volunteers got the call around 6:30 a.m., probably from someone at the little inholding ranch at the end of the road, but it was not in a place that they could reach, since they are not really wildlands firefighters, although they will attack what they can reach with a hose.

When we walked up to see the fire, I picked up a crushed aluminum pop can. M. is conducting a litter survey ("What brands do slobs drink?"), so it was a data point. I looked at the label: Mountain Lightning.
Paint mines are now a park

The "paint mines," an area of eastern El Paso County, Colorado, known for its eroded formations and colored clays, are now part of the county park system.

The linked story from the Colorado Springs Gazette mentions the well-known American Indian use of the pigments, but the colors also attracted the Art Nouveau potter Artus Van Briggle, who dug clays in the area. The firm that he and his wife founded still exists.

July 06, 2005

Birds and turbines

Bird deaths caused by wind-power turbines disturb a lot of people, me included, who would otherwise endorse them. The Altamont Pass site in California is notoriously bad, particularly for raptors.

At least they are not as bad as cars, according to a new Dutch study. Supposedly, newer wind turbines can be designed and sited to be less lethal.

(Thanks to Sustainablog.)
Mixing Red and Green

Hunters, anglers, and environmental activists are often the same people, but too much of the time you would not know it, based, for instance, on what you read in the magazines of each group.

In Montana, however, Governor Schweitzer, a Democrat, has been working to strengthen public-land access laws and incentives for private landowners to preserve habitat.

Blogger David Sirota calls this "turning hunters green" and suggests that Western Democrats follow Schweitzer's lead. He likes the fact that Gov. Schweitzer dressed in waders for a press conference--and then went fishing.

Of course, I have never thought that environmentalism, conservation, or whatever you want to call it, should be a partisan issue. Richard Nixon, a Republican, signed much important federal environmental legislation, not that his heart was necessarily in it, but he knew where the wind blew. Democrats like Bill Clinton seem to assume that they had the environmentalist vote in their pockets, tossing out a little raw meat (like a new national monument) now and then, while Republicans seem to think that they own the gun owners' votes. (Not necessarily.)

By the way, am I the only person whose head is spinning over the fact that "Red" suddenly stopped meaning "Communist" and started meaning "votes Republican"? Whoa!

(Thanks to Coyote Gulch.)

July 05, 2005

Trout bums

Seattle Times columnist Randall Sumner offers etiquette for and about anglers. (A tip of the sweat-stained fishing hat to Fishing Jones.)
Two if by sea

Fossilized footprints in Mexico strike another blow at "Clovis First," the long-standing archaeological assumption that humans arrived in the Americas by trekking across the Bering land bridge during the last Ice Age. This find is more evidence that they arrived well before that.

Evil 'urban' kingbirds

Guest post by Steve Bodio.

I am always fascinated by how animals and plants change their habits to adapt to humans. I live in a very small town, on a dirt road, but my house is virtually "downtown". For the last few years I have been almost unable to sleep in May and June because of the incessant mindless territorial (?) chatter of the western kingbirds that nest in the cottonwood overlooking my bedroom window--I have to resort to loud fans, air conditioners, closed windows...

I mentioned to Libby that, when I used to live in a Forest Service compound outside of town, I had kingbirds, but they were silent at night. Her sensible reply: "They didn't have streetlights". Which we certainly do have, as well as other lights.

I also had pygmy owls there, serious avian predators; any chattering damn birds would have been eliminated quickly. I have a nagging question: could we be selecting for dysfunctional (not to mention annoying) behavior?

July 03, 2005

Thar's stupidity in them thar hills

One day when I was in graduate school, one of my professors called me an "environmental determinist." He said it with a smile, but he did not mean it as a compliment.

Today's Denver Post, however, offers a story package that we could call "environmental determinism in big business." The writers offer numerous examples of how sea-level executives came to the Rockies and made stupid decisions. (Link may expire in two weeks.)

Take Disney chief executive Michael Eisner, for instance. While vacationing in Aspen and Sun Valley, Idaho, he sealed three separate deals that ended up costing The Walt Disney Co. billions.

On a smaller scale, we could include, "I would sure like to have a house here" or "I bet I could make this little ski area a success."

July 01, 2005

The human-animal bond

Aside from quoting the bogus Chief Seattle speech, this Australian site looks good. But there is a "ghost" among all these papers on "animals and the elderly, "pets in the workplace," and so forth. I see little mention of the original dog-human bond: hunting together.

On the other hand, one paper suggests how wolves influenced humans.
If your computer worked like agribusiness. . .

Software engineer-turned-small farmer Dave Haxton compares them:

If we applied the same principles to software engineering that modern agribusinesses apply to farming and ranching, we'd have five or six computers in the US, to which everybody would log in from dumb terminals. And when the system went down or had to be maintained, everybody would be off-line, and no work would get done. The computer industry has, over the years, decentralized. We realized that many computers could work far more effectively than one. Agriculture has gone the other direction: did you know that 90% of the meat distributed in the US comes from four packers?

Read the rest.