Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Pronghorn: A showy North American native

I took this photo in south-central New Mexico eight years ago. Monica and I were a bit south of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge at the time.

In America, it's what makes our cars happy that really counts

We’ve been down this road before, buckaroos, but let’s make a U-turn and take another look.
An on-line discussion about an alleged car-parking “problem” in Vermont’s capital, Montpelier, spurs this ramble. (See
One person got things rolling by posting a wish that Montpelier have more parking spaces – slots closer to destinations, like shopping, workplaces, eateries, and such. The goal, of course, would be to make life “easier” and limit walking (a time-honored form of exercise) by building a parking “garage.”
Most Americans who drive a private car, SUV or truck have been in one of these concrete, asphalt and steel things. I hiked around inside the one at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington,Vt., a couple of weeks ago after a medical appointment inside. I hiked for a good hour before finding my car.
Parking garages are huge white elephants, expensive to build, expensive to maintain, unpleasant to look at, and, as others have noted, a crutch for our car-centric culture.
“It would be preferable to find ways to reduce cars in the city, not give them comfy subsidized nests that preclude other, more desirable, uses,” a reader wrote.
His conclusion: “I subscribe to the idea that Montpelier doesn’t have a parking problem – it has a walking problem. It’s easy to find a place to park and shop if you are willing to hoof it a bit. And, you might even drop in on some other store on impulse. Cool! Walking to a store in Montpelier is a lot more fun than playing dodge ‘em with cars in some soulless sidewalk-less big box asphalt desert.”
Wow, well said.
I started thinking about cars, congestion, air and noise pollution, and stormwater runoff about the same time my wife and I moved to Conyngham in 1989 after three years in the Adirondacks. Watching motor vehicles plying Route 93 in the Nescopeck Creek valley was the anecdotal-enriching experience.
Today, I see the same heartless expression of America on wheels in northern Vermont. This time it’s Vermont highway 2A.
Try this yourself sometime soon (it’s more fun than watching tee vee): With clipboard in hand, stand or, better yet, sit at a good place to observe a local highway (Route 309 would qualify nicely) and keep a tally of those passing vehicles with more than one person inside (the driver). If my own experience watching the flow of steel/rubber/plastic/glass is the same as yours, what you’ll record is this: Only one of every 100 or so automobiles passing your vantage point is carrying more than one individual.
I’m not sure what car-buyers these days learn from their dealer-of-choice about their auto’s emissions. And just this morning I sat in a niece’s new Toyota Prius. Nice car, you bet, and the electronic gizmos are astounding.
You can find out for yourself what your own vehicle emits by burning gasoline. Go to
I drive a car too, but I’ve also been a committed walker (for fitness, transportation and fun) for a long time. But here’s the glitch: Parking is only an alleged “nightmare” if one chooses to limit his transportation options to one: The private automobile.
Arguably, the private, family car and the infrastructure needed to keep motor vehicle fleets on the move are among the biggest reasons out there for the ongoing decimation of our country’s natural heritage. McMansions these days come, more often than not, with a three-car garage.
Done right, municipalities can have a high quality-of-life rating and be more walkable, more livable, more fun to be in, and better for the air we all breath – motorists and walkers and bicyclists alike – if we stop trying to make things bigger and better for cars and cars alone.
A closing observation: Just days ago, I sadly found another road-killed owl. This time the species was barred owl. Over decades of birding and observing nature, I have now recorded these six road-kill owl species: barred, barn, eastern screech, great horned, burrowing and western screech.
Our ongoing societal desire to make things best for cars is to blame.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Army Corps, EPA clarify protections for nation's wetlands


EPA and Army Corps of Engineers Clarify Protection for Nation’s Streams and Wetlands

Agriculture’s Exemptions and Exclusions from Clean Water Act Expanded by Proposal 

 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) today jointly released a proposed rule to clarify protection under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources. The proposed rule will benefit businesses by increasing efficiency in determining coverage of the Clean Water Act. The agencies are launching a robust outreach effort over the next 90 days, holding discussions around the country and gathering input needed to shape a final rule.
Determining Clean Water Act protection for streams and wetlands became confusing and complex following Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. For nearly a decade, members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, and the public asked for a rulemaking to provide clarity.
The proposed rule clarifies protection for streams and wetlands. The proposed definitions of waters will apply to all Clean Water Act programs. It does not protect any new types of waters that have not historically been covered under the Clean Water Act and is consistent with the Supreme Court’s more narrow reading of Clean Water Act jurisdiction.
“We are clarifying protection for the upstream waters that are absolutely vital to downstream communities,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Clean water is essential to every single American, from families who rely on safe places to swim and healthy fish to eat, to farmers who need abundant and reliable sources of water to grow their crops, to hunters and fishermen who depend on healthy waters for recreation and their work, and to businesses that need a steady supply of water for operations.”
"America's waters and wetlands are valuable resources that must be protected today and for future generations,” said Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy. “Today's rulemaking will better protect our aquatic resources, by strengthening the consistency, predictability, and transparency of our jurisdictional determinations. The rule's clarifications will result in a better public service nationwide."

The health of rivers, lakes, bays, and coastal waters depend on the streams and wetlands where they begin. Streams and wetlands provide many benefits to communities – they trap floodwaters, recharge groundwater supplies, remove pollution, and provide habitat for fish and wildlife. They are also economic drivers because of their role in fishing, hunting, agriculture, recreation, energy, and manufacturing.

About 60 percent of stream miles in the U.S only flow seasonally or after rain, but have a considerable impact on the downstream waters. And approximately 117 million people – one in three Americans – get drinking water from public systems that rely in part on these streams. These are important waterways for which EPA and the Army Corps is clarifying protection.
Specifically, the proposed rule clarifies that under the Clean Water Act and based on the science:
  • Most seasonal and rain dependent streams are protected.
  • Wetlands near rivers and streams are protected.
  • Other types of waters may have more uncertain connections with downstream water and protection will be evaluated through a case specific analysis of whether the connection is or is not protecting similarly situated waters in certain geographic areas or adding to the categories of waters protected without case specific analysis. 
The proposed rule preserves the Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions for agriculture. Additionally, EPA and the Army Corps have coordinated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop an interpretive rule to ensure that 53 specific conservation practices that protect or improve water quality will not be subject to Section 404 dredged or fill permitting requirements. The agencies will work together to implement these new exemptions and periodically review, and update USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service conservation practice standards and activities that would qualify under the exemption. Any agriculture activity that does not result in the discharge of a pollutant to waters of the U.S. still does not require a permit.

The proposed rule also helps states and tribes – a
ccording to a study by the Environmental Law Institute, 36 states have legal limitations on their ability to fully protect waters that aren’t covered by the Clean Water Act.
The proposed rule is supported by the latest peer-reviewed science, including a draft scientific assessment by EPA, which presents a review and synthesis of more than 1,000 pieces of scientific literature. The rule will not be finalized until the final version of this scientific assessment is complete.
Forty years ago, two-thirds of America’s lakes, rivers and coastal waters were unsafe for fishing and swimming. Because of the Clean Water Act, that number has been cut in half. However, one-third of the nation’s waters still do not meet standards.

The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 90 days from publication in the Federal Register. The interpretive rule for agricultural activities is effective immediately.

More information: 
Watch Administrator McCarthy’s overview:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Federal agencies seek to clarify wetlands protections

As usual it's the land rapists, aka developers, who don't like the regulations. Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation, is quoted in this article. He's on the mark.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Stopping forest fragmentation by legislation?

The wildlife-unfriendly issue of “forest fragmentation” just went before the Vermont Senate in Montpelier in the form of legislation to stop it in the Green Mountain State.
Too bad, though, for the state’s natural heritage that in the end corporate powers won and the legislation was tabled.
But, the very fact that proposed legislation focused on the issue is remarkable. The Vermont Senate may have set a “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” record as the first state legislative body anywhere in the U.S. to address the issue.
“A proposal to limit forest fragmentation was thwarted by developers who oppose using the state’s land and development laws as a tool to keep woodlands intact, according to the lead sponsor of the bill that was gutted on the Senate floor Wednesday,” the Web-based news magazine VTDigger reported March 19.
“There’s nothing ‘complicated’ about stopping forest fragmentation,” one Vermonter commented. “This is just another episode of legislators kow-towing to the corporate interests that make campaign contributions.”
State Sen. Peter Gailbraith wrote, “The Audubon Society points out that Vermont has the most diversity of bird species of any state in the continental U.S., and the reason is our large inter-connected forests. The (Gov. Peter Shumlin) administration has itself identified fragmentation as the number one threat to biological diversity in our forests, and yet neither the administration nor the legislature is willing to do anything to prevent it. This is a tragedy.”
Galbraith also noted that the legislature’s nod to “study” the issue is only cover. “A study is the legislature’s way of killing a proposal while pretending to the voters that it is concerned about the issue.”
The bill would have required development already undergoing the Act 250 review process to maintain forest integrity, VTdigger reported. “If development must alter forests, the developer could purchase a conservation offset at another site to balance the impact.”
Act 250, a state Website explains, is “Vermont’s development and control law, established in 1970. The law provides a public, quasi-judicial process for reviewing and managing the environmental, social and fiscal consequences of major subdivisions and development in Vermont through the issuance of land use permits.”
Converting large, continuous forests into smaller woodlots (islands) has many negative impacts, especially on bird species whose reproductive success plummets in fragmented landscapes.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: “Forest fragmentation occurs when large, continuous forests are divided into smaller blocks, either by roads, clearing for agriculture, urbanization, or other human development. Ornithologists suspect that fragmentation harms many woodland birds by increasing their susceptibility to predation and nest parasitism.
“Predators such as jays, crows, raccoons, and cats, as well as the parasitic Brown-headed Cowbird, typically are not abundant in extensive forests. But when a forest is fragmented, predators and cowbirds gain more access to the woodland. The importance of large areas of continuous forest for maintaining forest-interior bird species has been demonstrated in the eastern United States during the past 15 years.”
The chopping (literally) of forests into smaller blocks is a top cause behind population declines of many native North American birds. They include the state bird of Vermont, the Hermit Thrush.
“Forest fragmentation remains an important conservation issue for many species of wildlife, including the Hermit Thrush, which prefers large tracts of forests,” wrote ornithologist Douglas P. Kibbe in “The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds of Vermont.”
The rate at which fragmentation is occurring is substantial greater in Pennsylvania. I know there are some folks in Harrisburg who understand the threat to the commonwealth’s natural heritage. But I’d bet that none sit in the legislature or statehouse.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

How much is enough?

Whenever I come across another land-changing human activity, I rethink the question asked of passersby at one National Park Service site in the West.
I pondered quietly to myself upon seeing the sign of white lettering on a brown background posted along one heavily trafficked interpretive trail at Bandelier National Monument. The park is adjacent to Los Alamos National Laboratory and it’s a two-hour drive or so to Santa Fe, the capital city of New Mexico. You can learn about Bandelier at
A brief National Park Service intro: “Bandelier National Monument protects more than 33,000 acres of rugged but beautiful canyon and mesa country as well as evidence of a human presence here going back over 11,000 years.  Petroglyphs, dwellings carved into the soft rock cliffs, and standing masonry walls pay tribute to the early days of a culture that still survives in the surrounding communities.”
Here’s what the sign asks passersby to consider: “Park managers at Bandelier and elsewhere are working to preserve biological diversity in our national parks. But national parks make up only 3 percent of the United States. Even Bandelier’s 33,000 acres are only 3 percent of the surrounding Jemez Mountain Range. Outside national parks, more and more land is being modified by human activities.
“Has enough land been set aside to preserve the wildlife and natural plant communities of our nation?”
The short answer, given the number of plant and animal species listed as threatened or endangered – both at the federal and state level – is no, not enough has been set aside.
The values of our natural heritage, also called biological diversity of “biodiversity,” are “legion,” the Park Service states on its Web site.
Those include: “The value of nature for its own sake, a source of wonder and enjoyment; the value of learning about the workings of nature in places largely free of human influence, for comparison with landscapes dominated by humans; the survival value of multitudes of wild species that flourish as natural systems helping regulate climate, air quality, and cycles of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, mineral elements, and water—all fundamental to life on Earth.”
Many conservationists also are quick to exclaim the “economic value of plants and animals, and their potential as sources of food, medicine, and industrial products. Parks protect the species and their communities that underlie these values—serving if necessary as reservoirs of seed stock for restoring species lost elsewhere.”
But as that trailside message Bandelier asks of passing hikers points out, our natural heritage is not limited to what’s found and monitored inside the boundaries of national parks or wildlife refuges or in units of the National Wilderness Preservation System or Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
It’s also found on the land that highway planners seek to level for a new road.
It also lives and breathes on land that will be consumed by a sprawl subdivision, thanks to the access provided by the new road.
It’s also found the forested hill over yonder – habitat that’ll be turned into an island of same when its connector to other nearby natural lands is built on.
“When most people hear the term ‘endangered species,’ they think of manatees, grizzly bears, whales, and other charismatic species. If these animals don’t live in your area, you might think there is nothing you can do to help endangered species,” states a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fact sheet titled “What you can do to help wildlife and plants.”
(You can read and learn from the fact sheet at
I would add this first step: To ensure the future of your own region’s natural heritage, tell your local, county, state and federal leaders that it’s time – now – to start preserving natural lands, not calling their destruction “progress.”

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Ecological illiteracy soars in Idaho aswolf control bill goes to guv

I don't think the killing of Gray Wolves in Idaho has anything at all to do with legitimate wildlife management.It has plenty to do, however, with the revenue from the sale of wolf-hunting licenses and tags and just pure unabashed hatred for the predator. It's the same attitude that lead, more than a century ago, to the near extirpation of wolves in North America south of the border with Canada.
A new name for Idaho Fish and Game: Idaho Shoot-Predators-on-Sight Agency. Here's Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker's blog posting about the wolf-control bill just sent to the Idaho governor for his signature.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Chickadees' hybridization range moves north as climate warms

Teh two species of chickadee involved in the study reported on in this article are the Black-capped and the Carolina. I suspect the same range-shifting would be found among many other songbird species.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Public lands: A legacy for the future

I was on Cibola National Forest land in New Mexico in 2006 when Monica and I spotted these Pronghorn. The fact that the animals were on public land made the show possible.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Calif. court: Leave water for imperiled fish

A great uninformed human body has apparently forgotten (or never knew or cared to know) that humans are part of the Web of Life. Read about a court's decision regarding water and the Delta Smelt.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The watershed: Leave it forested

I’ve lived and worked in many watersheds in my 60-plus years.

There’s the Rio Grande in New Mexico; the Platte River in Nebraska; Lake Champlain (once at Plattsburgh Air Force Base on its west side, in New York State, and now on the east side, in Vermont); Lake Thunderbird and the Canadian River in Oklahoma; the Snake River in Idaho; and the Lower Ocmulgee in central Georgia.

They all have lots in common, much of it on the negative side of the graph, unfortunately: The loss of natural land to sprawl and the gougers, diggers, bulldozers, chainsawers, polluters, dam builders, graders and asphalters of urban America.

My home in Vermont is – like yours in Pennsylvania – actually in several watersheds. First is the Winooski River (I live a half-mile from it). Second, and much larger, is the Lake Champlain watershed, which is international and multi-state in scope.

“We all live in a watershed,” reads the election campaign-style lapel button I got from the Puget Sound Partnership in Washington State some years ago.

That conservation outfit is correct. We do.

The EPA gives us this definition: “A watershed is the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place. John Wesley Powell, scientist geographer, put it best when he said that a watershed is: ‘that area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community’."

Many residents of metro Hazleton (oftentimes called “Greater Hazleton”) live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, but neighbors in Carbon County reside in the Lehigh River watershed, part of the Delaware River’s watershed.

Roads, homes and other human activities have altered the composition of forests across the Chesapeake Bay watershed (and all the others, too), reducing tree cover and fragmenting those forests that still exist.

Fragmented forests are less resilient to disturbances and more prone to negative influences like wildfires and invasive species. The ongoing loss of trees and entire forests, with financial profit the true motive, toughens and heightens cost and the cleanup and restoration.

But just because some thousands of acres are (thankfully) owned by a public agency, the Hazleton City Authority, as watershed land, does not mean Pennsylvanians need not worry about the ecological health of that land or, even more so, the diminishing naturalness of other land, private or public, elsewhere in the same watershed.

The logging of hardwood trees relates poorly to the goal of healthy watershed land and the replenishment of groundwater.
The Chesapeake Bay Program: “Forests are critical to the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Large stands of trees can protect clean water and air, provide habitat to wildlife and support the region’s economy.
“But human activities have altered the watershed’s forests, reducing tree cover and fragmenting forests that still exist. Conserving and expanding forest cover is a critical, cost-effective way to reduce pollution and restore the Bay.”
Streams across the United States are suffering a decline in health, as human development alters stream flow and pushes pollutants into the water. It’s a sad commentary on our times when one can stand on the shore of a major Chesapeake tributary (like the York River at Yorktown) and watch as rainwater polluted with the blue sheen of automobile engine oil dribbles into the current and out into the Bay. I’ve watched that process, a bunch of times.
The Bay Program ( “There are two broad categories of chemical contaminants that can be found in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries: metals and organics.
Mercury is the most common metal found in the Bay watershed.
Common organic chemical contaminants include:
-        - Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which act as a flame retardant in electrical equipment. Though their production has been banned since 1977, PCBs still pose a risk to humans and wildlife because they persist in the environment.
-        Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which form when gas, coal and oil are burned. PAHs are common in areas with high rates of development and motor vehicle traffic.
-        Organophosphate pesticides (OPs), which are mostly herbicides and insecticides used in agriculture. OPs can affect functioning of the nervous system.
-        Storm runoff from cities, towns and suburbs picks up oil, pesticides and other chemicals as it flows across lawns, roads, and parking lots and into nearby streams and storm drains. This type of pollution is significant and difficult to control.
Protecting the sources of our clean drinking water does not fit well with the selling of saw timber or the building of a road to get the truck in and the cut out. Every municipal water agency in Pennsylvania could preclude all sorts of problems, some of which I’ve discussed, by buying and protecting natural lands.
I call it Wild Nature and it’s where good water and a lot more come from.