Thursday, May 30, 2013

Ecology lessons from the Cold War

The headline alone snared me to read this article as I am a Cold War veteran (7 years in Strategic Air Command out of an Air Force career of 26 years). The awful truth is, however, that the losses of biodiversity (our natural heritage) continue to escalate into what is universally called the sixth great extinction crisis. I saw if for myself this morning in the Adirondacks of New York State; and the 6 million-acre Adirondack Park is now more than half public land. But still, even in a concisely protected place like that, the losses continue -- all of them due to the human community's inability to even consider living modestly and in concert with the land.

Watching the natural world on Champlain Bikeway

It took me a while to get back on my wheels – my Trek-brand hybrid bicycle – but I have done it. And I am proud of myself. Most anyone would be after sustaining a traumatic brain injury – while bicycling – and recuperating/recovering to the point of resuming something that formerly was a big part of his day.
After five straight days of on again/off again rain, Tuesday brought the northern New England sun back. So, bicycle went on the car’s rooftop travel rack and off I went to a favorite starting point for cycling on the Champlain Bikeway.
The bikeway ( is a network of bicycle-ready trails – some of them set-aside bicycle lanes on highways – that circles big Lake Champlain, a focus of life in western Vermont/the eastern Adirondacks of New York State.
My starting point yesterday was Airport Park in the town of Colchester.  Bicycle off the car rack, water bottle in its cage on the bicycle frame, I headed north, first through a residential area and then onto a bridge built solely for cyclists and walkers crossing the Winooski River’s mouth at Lake Champlain. A gentle uphill ride for a moment is about the biggest terrain challenge for bicyclists on this section. Then it’s back to a pancake-flat trail.
Crossing the Winooski River (I see this Lake Champlain tributary every day as I live only a quarter-mile from its passage under Vermont highway 2A and the town of Essex Junction on its north side.
Once across the bikeway bridge, the native, natural side of Vermont in the form of a riparian forest grows along the bikeway – lakeside and upland side. Little yellowish signs tell passersby that this natural area – “open space” in the parlance of municipal zoning gurus – was preserved by action of the Winooski Valley Park District.
According to its Web site ( “The Winooski Valley Park District is a public, non-profit organization created in 1972 through cooperation between its seven member communities. It is funded by the member communities, membership dues, grants, and tax-deductible private donations. The Park District's goals are to acquire and manage open space, wildlife habitat, and natural areas while encouraging the areas' natural diversity and ecology.
“The Park District's member communities are: Burlington, Colchester, Essex, Jericho, South Burlington, Williston, and Winooski. The support these towns provide is instrumental to the Park District's capability to maintain parks and open space in these towns for the enjoyment of community members and visitors.”
It’s hard for this former Pennsylvanian to fathom the notion of such a level of cooperation between just two Pennsylvania municipalities, much less seven.
Back on the trail, I pedal, then coast, then repeat the motions. I encounter other lone riders and the occasional boyfriend/girlfriend couple. Oh, and roller bladders, too.
Almost from the moment I enter the riparian woods, with gentle wavelets rushing ashore on the lake to my right, I hear birdsong – lots of it, in fact. And it reminds me of the many times I rose before dawn to conduct Breeding Bird Survey routes in Lebanon and Tioga counties, Pa.
It’s hard to collect field notes while cycling, save for the occasional rest stop, so l let my memory do the note-taking. I heard the following bird species (identifying only six by sight alone): Double-crested cormorant, mallard, Canada goose, pied-billed grebe, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, northern flicker, American crow, common raven, blue jay, common grackle, red-eyed vireo, blue-headed vireo, warbling vireo, yellow warbler, black-and-white warbler, American redstart, red-breasted nuthatch, white-breasted nuthatch, American goldfinch and least flycatcher.
I’m sure I missed some species. A more careful and easy-going survey would reveal many others.
The central point here, though, is this: Protected, open-space, natural land is critical to keeping this avian diversity. And the presence of the bikeway and its natural surroundings also heightens the value of the nearby human residential community.
I’m now on a section of trail created through the reuse of an old, abandoned railroad bed. Up ahead is the Burlington Waterfront, a focal point for people taking a break from downtown Burlington that’s just a couple of blocks up the hill from the King Street ferry dock.
I know when I’ve entered the busy waterfront neighborhood when I approach a sign that declares the area is open only to bicyclists and pedestrians. That’s as it should be. For its people traveling about on foot and by bicycle who notice the world about them, not just what comes and goes in the flash of a second from the car window.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A tree hugger (me) says his piece

I’ve considered myself a tree hugger since my teen years and membership in an Explorer post in Pocatello, Idaho, sponsored by the Idaho Fish and Game Department. My father, who was himself a great conservationist (which being a tree hugger is synonymous with), would drive me to the monthly post meetings that were conducted in a building on the Idaho State University campus, where he was a professor.
That was four-and-half decades ago. I’ve logged a lot of miles on hiking trails since then, some in the Gem State, many in New York’s Adirondack Park, and a bunch more in Virginia, Georgia, Oklahoma, Washington State, Oregon, and in three overseas countries thanks to a career in the Air Force.
For at least a half-century – and certainly from the darkest days of the Cold War – many politicians have dedicated themselves (and the tax dollar) to soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen – and the weapons, ships, vehicles and aircraft they train and fight with.
I rehashed all this in my own veteran’s mind last week after listening to the Kingston Trio (a circa mid-1960s folk music ensemble) sing Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie’s “The Sinking of the Reuben James.”
The destroyer USS Reuben James, history recorded, was the first U.S. Navy ship to be sunk by hostile action early in World War II, going down off the coast of Iceland after being struck by a German U-boat’s torpedo.
Guthrie and Seeger’s song begins: “have you heard of a ship called the good Reuben James, manned by hard fighting men both of honor and fame? She flew the stars and stripes of this land of the free . . .”
I then turned a page to the President Reagan era and smiled at the memory of driving an actual old-fashioned pre-Humvee-era Jeep while on temporary duty in Honduras in early 1984.
Sure, many of today’s politicians, even those in the Republican-dominated House, know American military history pretty well. And just as many of the elder class of congressman gave many a speech to keep military bases in their districts from being closed once we emerged as victors of the Cold War. I remember fielding questions from the news media again and again about the future of Plattsburgh Air Force Base, N.Y., the Strategic Air Command base at which I served as public affairs officer 1986-88.
Yet, hardly any politician recognizes today’s big threat to military installations – principally those on our coasts; at least to the point of publicly talking about it. The independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont is among the lawmakers who understand what global warming is and the science behind what is also referred to as climate change. Full disclosure: I voted to re-elect Sanders last November.
Seven decades after the Reuben James went to the bottom of the Atlantic, the threat today has no governmental entity driving it.
Far from it.
We humans are behind the melting of polar ice and glaciers worldwide. And that, buckaroos, is making sea levels go up.
And that, in turn, is threatening to flood – forever – some of our most magic and treasured wildlands: the national seashores called Cape Hatteras, Assateague, Padre Island, Cape Cod, Cumberland Island, Canaveral, Gulf Islands, Cape Lookout; and many hundreds of historical sites like the Wright Brothers National Memorial on Hatteras Island, N.C.; dozens of key national and state wildlife refuges like Chincoteague, Prime Hook, Bombay Hook, Sanibel Island, Aransas, Laguna Atascosa, Pelican Island, Hobe Sound, Archie Carr, St. Marks, St. Vincent, Wolf Island, Savannah, Texas Point and Boggy.
The National Park Service, on its Web site, says: “Living in one spot on the planet, we find it difficult to detect or ‘believe in’ global climate change. Weather is just so chaotic—one winter seems warm, another snowy, spring brings rain but sometimes drought. However, scientists examining the average weather conditions over a long period of time (i.e. climate) across the entire planet see a warming pattern emerging. During the last 50 years, it is likely that global temperatures were higher than at any time during the last 1,300 years. Scientists compare that temperature data with sea levels, the size and number of glaciers, the length of fire seasons and the condition of arctic permafrost and conclude that climate change is here today.”
Some folks try to convince readers and listeners that there is some sort of “debate” going on as to whether climate change is real or make-believe.
It is quite real.
“Climate Change Seen as Threat to U.S. Security.” That was the headline over an Aug. 8, 2009, New York Times article by John M. Broder. He began the piece by writing, “The changing global climate will pose profound strategic challenges to the United States in coming decades, raising the prospect of military intervention to deal with the effects of violent storms, drought, mass migration and pandemics, military and intelligence analysts say.” (You can read the whole thing at
On Nov. 25, 2010, the Times, under this headline, “front-Line City in Virginia Tackles Rise in City,” reported, “As sea levels rise, tidal flooding is increasingly disrupting life here and all along the East Coast, a development many climate scientists link to global warming.
“But Norfolk is worse off. Situated just west of the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, it is bordered on three sides by water, including several rivers, like the Lafayette, that are actually long tidal streams that feed into the bay and eventually the ocean.
“Like many other cities, Norfolk was built on filled-in marsh. Now that fill is settling and compacting. In addition, the city is in an area where significant natural sinking of land is occurring. The result is that Norfolk has experienced the highest relative increase in sea level on the East Coast — 14.5 inches since 1930, according to readings by the Sewells Point naval station (at Norfolk).”
It’s clear to this lifetime conservationist and retired Air Force officer that many of our federal-level elected officials just don’t get it; oftentimes belittling our country’s natural heritage.
But to not take action – today – with legislation tackling the cause (the burning of fossil fuels) of global warming and thus protect invaluable parts of our national defense network is perplexing, to be kind about it.
I served a lot of days and years at Langley Air Force Base just north a bit from Norfolk. It too is endangered by sea-level rise. It too is threatened by sea-level rise. And so are oodles of other Defense Department coastal installations.
Climate change is still debatable? No, no it isn’t. It is real and it is past time for our leadership and us to deal with it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Near Tucson, the birth of riparian forest

I remember well,  on our second trip to Tucson, making a day trip to the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area and walking out through a riparian forest there that was rich with mature cottonwoods, some willows and many other native plants that thrive with wet feet (roots). I jsut discovered this article which goes into some depth of how cottonwoods are thriving in a Tuscon-area watercourse.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Butterflies are telling the climate change story

Actually, the thread behind the science discussed in this article has been out there for a few years at least. Butterflies are telling us something about what we are doing to the climate we share with them, and it is not good.  We are to blame. Will we come up with a long-term fix?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Boxer rings the bell on climate change

I received this in an e-mail, so feel safe in copying and pasting it here.
BOXER RINGS THE BELL ON CLIMATE CHANGE: Sen. Barbara Boxer took to the Senate floor and invoked the Oklahoma tornadoes in her speech on global warming. “This is climate change,” she said. “This is climate change. We were warned about extreme weather. Not just hot weather. But extreme weather. When I had my hearings, when I had the gavel years ago. —It’s been a while — the scientists all agreed that what we’d start to see was extreme weather. And people looked at one another and said ‘what do you mean? It’s gonna get hot?’ Yeah, it’s gonna get hot. But you’re also going to see snow in the summer in some places. You’re gonna have terrible storms. You’re going to have tornados and all the rest. We need to protect our people. That’s our number one obligation and we have to deal with this threat that is upon us and that is gonna get worse and worse though the years.” She also plugged her own bill, cosponsored with Sen. Bernie Sanders that would put a tax on carbon. “Carbon could cost us the planet,” she said. “The least we could do is put a little charge on it so people move to clean energy.”
—     Oklahoma was hit with two rounds of tornados — Sunday and Monday — with the death toll expected to continue to climb as officials comb the wreckage. The Oklahoman:

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Lawsit aims to shut down open ATV riding at Calif. state park

For some folks -- off-road cowboys and cowgirls -- there's no such thing as a quiet walk in the woods. No sir. That's cause they've gotta take their motorhead engines with them as they seek thrills on their thrillcraft. Read about the California lawsuit case.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Cutting carbon emissions

More and better regulation, even at the state and local levels, is a positive gesture to lower humanity's continually growing level of carbon emissions. But until each individual American adult learns to park their damn car and bicycle and/or walk to work (or better yet, telecommute from home), there is little hope for reaching a target. New York State's Department of Environemental Conservation boss offers these thoughts.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Oklahoma is now a wild hog state

The feral critters are now running in packs in all 77 of the Sooner state's counties. I'd bet that my old neighborhood just north of Norman, Okla., is a hog place now. And I used to marvel at the Scissor-tailed
Flycatchers. Read about the hogs here.

Friday, May 17, 2013

New fracking rules proposed for drilling on federal public land

A couple of things: If there isn't any human health problem with the chemicals drillers are using to collect natural gas stored in shale rock formations, like Marcellus in Pennsylvania, then why so much secrecy? Trade rules? Right. And not. We humans continue treating the Earth - our only planet - as an infinite source of "resources." it is not. I suggest a couple of fixes right off: Put a nice warm sweater on when the weather turns cold; turn the thermostat down (I get by with a setting of 60 and I am in northern Vermont!); and get up and move around. There is nothing worse than camping out in front of the boob tube.
Natural gas drilling - just like myriad other human activities - destroys and fragments habitats needed by all the other life the Creator placed on Earth. And w show our reverence for this biological diversity by wrecking it? The NY Times reports on the Obama administrations latest compromise on gas drilling on federal public lands. Sad.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

For insurers, there's no doubt on climate change

It's happening - right now - and the insurance industry is shelling out big bucks to settle claims from storm damage, sea-level rise, and a whole lot more as this piece from today's NY Times makes clear. Still, even with this type of in-depth reporting and no-shit detail, Republican right-wingers in Congress still appear unwilling, unable, or otherwise shying away from legislation to do something about our planet's changing climate.
It is, let's remember, the only planet we have.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Wind farms get pass on eagle deaths

Not good for the ongoing conservation battles. Another point, I still have not read or heard from any media outlet about a coal-fired power plant anywhere having  been shut down because its output was replaced by wind or solar. I see "sham;" a way for sprawl developers to lay claim to the "green" label because their McMansions would draw electricity from wind farms. And that, buckaroos, is s sham.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Companies won't face charges in Condor deaths

Wildlife crime? What wildlife crime? In any case, this is sad. Americans have contributed many dollars to the recovery of the California Condor.

Who would kill a Monk Seal?

That's the question asked by the headline over this NY Times magazine feature. Be sure and read at least some of the comments after taking in the article itself. Planet Earth - our only planet - is in trouble.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Around the campfire with Uncle Dave: Wilderness, self-willed land

I have heard some mighty fine speeches from Dave Foreman and consider him a true friend. Few conservationists today manage to speak up for the land as Dave does. He continues that track in this essay.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Long-feared milestone, 400 ppm, reached for carbon dioxide

That was the sad measurement from the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii. This NY Times piece does the explaining. I wonder if the dozens upon dozens of fellow bicyclists I noticed on the Burlington Bikeway yesterday know (and appreciate) the fact they've used their own calories, not a fossil fuel, to move around? Other than Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and a few others in Congress, I really have to wonder just who they think they're working for. Big Oil? Big Coal?

The wildland next door

I'm fortunate to have such places within walking distance of my home in Vermont. Not too many years ago, the "wild place" down the street aways was Llittle Nescopeck Creek, a Chesapeake Bay tributary killed eons ago now by acid mine drainage.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Forever Wild in NY's Adirondack Park? May be, but . . .

This is a lengthy op-ed but a good read that punctures the whole of a proposed amendment to the New York Constitution helping a private concern (a mining company) at the public's expense (the Forever Wild law). Protect the Adirondacks! is one the mark with its case against the terrible precedent this amendment would create. Read about it here. I can think of many, many case studies that say no to this kind of land-abusing "resource" happy mining: The anthracite coal region of northeastern Pa., the Berkeley Pit copper mine at Anaconda, Mont., phosphate mines in southeastern Idaho, and more.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sanford's victory gives new hope to political liars

And that's a broad sweep, as it seems nearly impossible these days to find a politician, especially among those on the national level, who is not a cheater, liar and sleaze bucket. Here's some delicious satire on Mark Sanford.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Idaho, Mont. urge no federal protection for Wolverine

This is predictable grandstanding from these two states. I remain embarrassed, at times, to admit to having Idaho as my home state.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The rise of the tick

I am almost scared to go into the woods anymore, even here in northern Vermont. I remember coming home to Pennsylvania from a birding/botanizing trip to national wildlife refuges on Delmarva (mid 90s) and eventually finding two ticks embedded in my waist. That required a quick trip to the ER. Read about the threat.

Study finds north-central U.S. a big crude oil region

So, let's crap it up with drill rigs, roads, tankers, sprawl housing, noise pollution, oil spills, toxic waste dumps, etc. And, now is the time! Here's reporting on the untapped petroleum bonanza.