Monday, April 30, 2007

P.T. Barnum and the Beastiaries of the Imagination




Over at the Querencia blog a while back, Matt M. reported that he had been reading a book called Big Foot Exposed, which was written by his wife's first cousin, who happens to be a specialist in primate anatomy and biomechanics. Big Foot data is looked at straight-faced and is -- not too surprisingly -- found wanting.

Meanwhile, over at the Tetrapod Zoology blog, the always-interesting Darren Naish went to a Big Cat conference in the U.K. and seems to have gotten sucked in to believing that there are large mystery cats running around Britain. Well maybe they're not large cats ... maybe they're little ones about the size of a house cat or a Scottish Wild Cat. Hmmmm . . . . could they possible be just house cats and Scottish Wild Cats?

On my end, I have to say I rather enjoy the cryto-zoology crowd because it's an odd alamgam of P. T. Barnum myth makers, city slickers that that have never touched a cow, country rubes easily fooled at the carnival, and regular folks with a deep-seated desire to find (please!) some level of mystery, fantasy and novelty in a world that is pretty well explored and explained.

At some level we all desperately want there to be a Santa Clause, a flying Yogi, a living T-Rex, and an anaconda large enough to swallow a house trailer.

If we canot find it, we will invent it, and who is to say that it does not exist? You cannot prove that the non-existent does not exist -- an interesting fall back position for every kind of fun thing from Sasquatch and Cold Fusion theorists to the Church of the Invisible Pink Unicorn.

It's a bit fun to stoke the fires of misbelief, as anyone who has even taken a troop of cub scouts "Snipe Hunting" at night can tell you. After you have them beat the brush for half an hour looking for a "snipe" (described as an animal that looks like a thin rabbit with a white stripe downs its back) you aim your flashlight up a tree and bounce it around a bit while telling the kids you just saw .... a Ho-Dag!

I plead guilty of pulling a few tricks like this. Regular readers might remember the "Chupacabra" that I reported the dogs killing a while back. The post came complete with pictures, and they were not faked. All I did was take a natural oddity, add a tall tale which I told straight, and presto -- a real Chupacabra.

In fact, my "Chubacabra" was nothing more than a groundhog victimized by four or five very large tumors that had distorted its body to the point that it looked like an alien beast. The purple color was due to the fact that the poor creature was dragging itself over nearby pokeberry plants as it tried to find food in the final days of its misery.

Similar "mystery creatures" are reported all the time, and in almost every case they are nothing more than a mangey fox or coyote, or a bear that has lost its hair or -- in some rare cases -- an escaped exotic pet like a mouflon goat or a wallabee.

The "Beast of Stronsay" turned out to be nothing more than a half-rotted basking shark.

Pulling people's leg is big business. I could point to Big Tobacco here (or the Bush Administration and Haliburton), but let me stick to the natural world and not digress too much.

Phineas T. Barnum made his fortune by parading people into a museum to see a "Feejee Mermaid," which was nothing more than a faked bit of taxidermy combining a monkey and a fish. That gag worked so well, he began parading a pair of retarded dwarf brothers from Connecticut around as the "Wild Men of Borneo," and he found a 5-year old midget he paraded around as an adult named "General Tom Thumb."

Today, thanks to PhotoShop, the gags have never been easier. In the great tradition of western postcards that show Rainbow Trout so large that just one of them fills a wagon pulled by a team of 20 mules, we now have pictures of massive sharks looming over surfers or jumping out of the water to snatch National Guardsmen off of ladders dangling from helicopters. Even video tape can be faked.

And yet, we want to believe. I regularly get interesting bits of stuff sent my way from folks who are sure it is true. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, an office mate sent me a picture of a giant alligator that was caught in New Orleans' streets. There was just one problem -- the picture was not an alligator, but a crocodile. I tracked down the origin of the picture in a few minutes ... ditto with the enormous snake "in Australia" that I quickly recognized as an African Rock Python.

Some of my favorite tall tales are the myriad "Beast of" stories that come out of the U.K. People who believe in such things are entirely immune to rational thought. Here's a hint: there are about 200 mounted fox hound packs working every inch of a very crowded U.K., and yet they have never turned up a big cat.

Yet people want to believe there is real danger in the English countryside -- never mind that the last wolf in the U.K. was shot dead more than 250 years ago, and the last bear more than 1500. If there is a dead sheep with a torn throat it must be a giant cat, never mind all the sheep-worrying lurchers that regularly get loose and go feral for a few days, weeks or months. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle understood the mind set well when he wrote "The Hound of the Baskervilles."

People want to believe and will suspend all logic to do so, and if it also helps sell a few newspapers and T-shirts, so much the better.

The folks around Loch Ness have a small business selling postcards, tours and trinkets. The same is true around Lake Champlain where the locals have invented their own version of "the monster" which they call "Champ." Add to the mix the Yetti of the Himalayas and the Sasquatch of the Pacific Northwest.

And while we're at it, let's not forget the thousands of "Jackaplope" heads gracing the walls of western bars and tourist stores in Wyoming, Colorado and Montana.

And, of course, if there is ever a Museum of Humbuggery, the alien autopsy gag has to get its own case, as does the running gag known as "crop circles," which turned out to be nothing more than a collection of pranksters with a bit of rope and a couple of two-by-fours.

The real story, however, is that most of the earth has been well-swarmed by biologists, hunters, anglers, explorers, bug collectors, small children, foreign aid workers, and old men. Sadly, on land and in the air, there is no longer too much new under the sun.

Not all mystery is gone, of course. About once every decade we find something as "amazing" as a new small deer or striped rabbit in the forests of Southeast Asia.

Several times a year a scientist or two declares he has found a new species of mouse, frog, large insect, or small bird.

The deep oceans contain a lot of things yet unseen and unnamed. Perhaps the Creature from the Black Lagoon really does exist .... somewhere ... out there.

And even if not, we can still sell a book, a movie, and a few T-shirts about it, eh? What's the harm in believing?


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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Dead Man's Curve

The Saiga is a kind of odd-looking Eurasian antelope that inhabits the open dry steppe grasslands and semi-arid deserts of Central Asia.

In 1993 the total population of Saiga was estimated at over one million. By 2000, however, the Saiga population had decreased to less than 200,000, and by 2003 surveys indicated that less than 30,000 remained in the wild.

This represents a population collapse of over 90% in a span of just 10 years.

Ironically, the conservation community bears some responsibilty as a causal agent in the Saiga's rapid population decline, as Saiga horn was promoted by the World Wildlife Fund as a replacement for the Rhino horn sometimes prescribed by traditional Chinese apothecary shops.

Increased pressure from apothecary suppliers in China, coupled with relaxation of hunting restrictions in the Soviet Union, resulted in rapid overhunting of the Saiga, and a population crash that appears to have pushed wild populations past the tipping point.

Right now, there is a very real possibility that the Saiga may become extinct in the wild within the next decade.

I tell this story as a cautionary tale about unintended consequences, hubris, and the speed of destruction in the modern world.

The goal of the World Wildlife Fund was not to wipe out the Saiga -- it was to offer buffering protection to critically endangered Rhino populations while giving a nod to the demands of traditional Chinese apothecary shops. With more than a million Saiga running free in large herds in Central Asia, getting traditional medicine shops to use Saiga horn instead of Rhino horn seemed a reasonably safe and culturally-sensitive idea.

The problem, of course, is that things are rarely as simple as they appear. With a population of over 1.2 billion people, the apothecary demands of China cannot be appeased by any animal in the wild -- an important point initially lost on the good people at the World Wildlife Fund.

When an insatiable demand for wild animal horn was coupled with increased access to modern rifles, Central Asia experienced its own version of The Last Buffalo Hunt.

I am reasonably certain the Saiga will eventually be brought back from the edge, just as the American Buffalo has been brought back from the abyss here in the United States.

That said, a turnaround is going to be slow and expensive.

The troubles of the Saiga are not entirely unique. In this country alone, we have stopped just short of wiping out the Condor, the Buffalo, the Black-footed Ferret, the Peregrine Falcon, the Manatee, the Red Wolf, and the American Crocodile.

The developing world is poised to follow our path in all things. What remains unknown is whether they will employ the conservation brake in time to prevent their own wildlife treasures from tumbling into the abyss.

A central problem is that in this modern world we can no longer afford to go slow. It took 2 million years to go from "Adam and Eve" in the Olduvia Gorge to a human population of one billion people, but it took only 100 years to add the second billion people, 30 years to add the third, and 15 years to add the fourth. Today, the world's population is past six billion and is sure to climb past seven billion within the decade.

Even as human population has soared, so too has technological progress. Muzzle loaders and iron sights have been replaced by spiral cut barrels and powerful optics. Hemp gill nets a hundred yards long have been replaced by nylon drift nets that can stretch for miles. The ax has given way to the chainsaw, and the chainsaw to the feller-buncher. The shovel and sledge hammer have given way to massive mechanical earthmovers and sequentially-fired dynamite relays. The backyard vegetable plot has given way to thousand-acre monoculture farms planted and and harvested by massive and complicated machines.

Along with technological changes have come cultural and social changes as well. Limited local demands filled by well-known suppliers have fallen away to unlimited international demands and a global marketplace oblivious to the cause-and-effect ramifications of satisfying global needs.

The bottom line is the bottom line, and nothing more.

Chinese demand for horn means disappearing herds of antelope in Russia and Mongolia. Japanese demand for cheap plywood means disappearing forests in Indonesia and Malaysia. The need for catalogue paper in the U.S. means huges swaths of Canada's boreal forests are being cut to the ground to supply bright white copy. What we eat in the grocery store (including what we feed our dogs) may come from China, Chile, Australia or Antarctica. The fibers we wear on our back may come from pesticide-soaked fields in Africa and may be sewn in sweat-shop factories in Asia.

Out of sight is out of mind. We have no idea where things come from, or under what conditions.

Where it will all end, no one knows, but it's clear that at the speed we are going, we are going to miss a few turns and end up in the ditch -- or worse -- a good percentage of the time.

When that happens, it will not be an "accident," but a predictable consequence of our speeding down the highway, addled by too much population growth and turbo-boosted by technology.

Yet, when the crack up occurs, it is sure to be labeled an "accident" anyway. That's what they call every wreck at Dead Man's Curve. Never mind the signs, full speed ahead.
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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Beryl Markham: Author of the Best Dog Story Ever?

Some things are obviously quite subjective, but if I were asked to name the greatest dog story ever told, I would say that it was written by Kenyan aviatrix Beryl Markham about a cross-bred bull terrier by the name of Buller.

Buller was Beryl's childhood dog, and the story takes place when she is about 12 or 13 and decides to go on a Warthog hunting expedition with two local tribesmen.

Suffice it to say that this is a hunting dog story of the first order. In fact, it is such a good story, and so well told, that when Ernest Hemmingway read it, he wrote to his editor and friend Maxwell Perkins:




"Did you read Beryl Markham's book, 'West with the Night'? I knew her fairly well in Africa and never would have suspected that she could and would put pen to paper except to write in her flyer's log book. As it is, she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. . . But this girl ... can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers. The only parts of it that I know about personally, on account of having been there at the time and heard the other people's stories, are absolutely true. So, you have to take as truth the early stuff about when she was a child which is absolutely superb. She omits some very fantastic stuff which I know about which would destroy much of the character of the heroine; but what is that anyhow in writing?"


It was years after first reading West with the Night -- and after a fair bit of my touting her as a first-rate female writer -- that I discovered Beryl Markham did not write her memoire at all.

The stories are all true, as Hemmingway noted, and Beryl Markham really did lead an extraordinary life (she was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic).

That said, it now appears the book itself was ghostwritten by Raoul Schuhmacher, her third husband, who was also an accomplished journalist.

But so what?


Whoever wrote the book, the stories are terrific and every bit as well told as Hemmingway suggests.

If you have not read West with Night, you have missed a very good thing.

If you are going to the book store to pick up a copy (and if you do, you will thank me later), you might as well pick up a copy of Hemmingway's The Green Hills of Africa while you are at it.

Both books should be read once every 10 years your entire life. They really are that good.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Cruel Spring



On the way to a farm on Sunday, I passed a small yellow-coated vixen that had been struck on the highway and killed within the last 30 minutes, its body not yet locked in rigor mortis.

I thought about tailing the carcass, but I have no need for a fox tail, and so I merely pulled it off the road and onto the shoulder, a bit sad at the waste and also for the young fox kits that were probably starving in a nearby den.

Because I have hunted the hedges along this stretch of highway before I had some idea of where the young fox pups might be located, but even if I found them over the next few hours, what was I to do? I cannot raise up a litter of young fox, even if it were legal to do so. And if I did find a den filled with fox pups, how could I be sure they belonged to this particular vixen? Perhaps this young vixen is a satellite vixen helping its mother raise up this year's litter. It happens all the time.

In the end, there was nothing to be done but to drive on and let nature take its course.

This is the story Animal Planet and the anthropomorphic romantics never mention -- the number of young animals that die every Spring for one reason or another.

We are supposed to thrill at all the procreation going on in forest and field, but the realist within me knows that both the fox and the the fawn are, as likely as not, going to be dead within three months of being born -- such is the natural mortality of most wildlife.

Tennyson noted that "nature is red in tooth and claw," but in truth he was an optimist. A great deal of wildlife never lives long enough to see a predator.

More often than not young wildlife simply dies alone, sick and shattered in the hedge, tree den or burrow, the victim of starvation or vehicle impact, disease or parasite, poor parenting or exposure to the elements.

Rudyard Kipling got it about right when he noted that in the modern world the most common Blood Sport is not the ancient art of the chase, but haphazard driving by people almost totally unaware of what they have done. As he notes in that great poem, "The Fox Meditates":


When men grew shy of hunting stag, for fear the Law might try 'em,
The Car put up an average bag of twenty dead per diem.
Then every road was made a rink for coroners to sit on;
And so began, in skid and stink, the real blood-sport of Britain!


Three days after driving past a road kill vixen I am still thinking about those fox kits starving in a burrow, their slate-gray fur just turning to russet. Spring is always a cruel season.
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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sunny Sunday Dig




The dogs and I dug two on a picture-perfect day marred only by the fact that I was a bit tired from yard work the day before, and the fact that Pearl got her lip gashed on the second groundhog of the day.

Back home I loaded Pearl up on Cephalexin and flushed the puncture with proviodine, and it's already starting to abrade up as it should. She's out of work for the next weekend, but she should be back in the field the weekend after that. She did fine underground, baying up a storm and following on into a very tight pipe. She will learn butt from breath soon enough, as she is not a stupid dog.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Coffee and Provocation


More Pet Food Recalls:
The massive recall continues, with more pet food brands being added and melamine-tainted corn and rice gluten now added to the list, along with tainted wheat gluten. Corn and rice gluten is often labeled "corn protein," or "rice protein" on dog food labels. Up to now, the concern had just been about tainted wheat gluten. It turns out that melamine may have been deliberately added to pet food stocks in China in order to boost their protein content during testing. For the record, there is no reason at all to think these poisons did not make it into the U.S. food supply, so if you are a vegan that eats seitan, you might reconsider your menu -- at least for a few weeks. See Google News for more information -- there are a million links out there.

FDA is the Problem, Not the SolutionCheck out what the FDA did when dogs started dropping over dead from Proheart 6, an injected drug to prevent heartworm. Hint: they did exactly what Wyeth told them to do and all-but-fired the FDA researcher who reported the problem. Talk about a captive agency!

Canine PerversionNow you can let your dog gets its kink on with this new canine sex toy/doll. And yes, apparently it's real. God help us all.

A Dubious DNA Test:
If you simply have to know what kind of dog might be in the mix of your mutt, there's a company that claims to do that.
On the other hand, if you send me $50 and a picture of your dog, I'm pretty sure I can do just as good a job.
Pennsylvania Foxing Stories:
Pete Bassani has recently published a small (85 pg.) soft cover book called "Memories of a Fox Huntin' Terrierman." Each chapter is about driving a fox, mainly grays, in the mountains of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The book is available from Pete at RR #1, PO Box 479, Hawley, Pa. 18428, for $17.50, postage included. Teddy Moritz says it's a good history of pre-Jack Russell terriers in the eastern U.S.

Will the Energy Crisis Bring Back the Great Plains?
It turns out that native prairie grasses are more effecient at producing ethanol than corn. It's a little early to tell if this might lead to further expansion of the Conservation Reserve Program and a turn around in grass nesting birds,
but it's a glimmer of something positive in the middle of a $3-a-gallon world.

Working Pets Store:
An online store in Ohio called WorkingPets.com sells the new Deben locators, so it's not just the JRTCA anymore. Check out both stores and then join the JRTCA for all the reason given here. See below for an example.

Pennsylvania Scraps Poorly Written Law:
Pennsylvania has scrapped regulations that would have made it much more expensive (and perhaps impossible) to breed and raise hounds and hunting dogs in the state. A wide coalition of hunting dog groups, including the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America, helped send the law packing.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Surf's Up and This Jack Russell's Got a Board



A hat tip to Chas Clifton over at The Nature Blog for this one. Very cool!

The Last Great Lurcherman

Parody is always a form of compliment, even if a back-handed one, and when it is done well it can rise to an art form as it does here in this piece from Gary Hosker's web site. Wonderful!

This is, of course, a twist on the sometime fawning magazine profiles about the late Brian Plummer (including one that once appeared in The New Yorker), which generally featured his ratting terriers, but sometimes his Hancock-bred lurchers as well.





I will see if I can find the old New Yorker piece and post it -- I think I have it somewhere. Note that the jump link at the end of this exerpt takes you to the rest of the story on the original web site.





John Higginbottom, the Last Great Lurcherman.


For this report we are indebted to the Sunday Spineless and its roving correspondent, Miss Wilhelmina Wordspinner.

This article first appeared in the 1991 lurcher yearbook. However, Miss Wordspinner has made ‘several’ trips to the Yorkshire Dales since 1991 and has agreed to publish her articles and extracts from her private diaries here on the Official Lurcher Web Site.



Part 1.

I drove north the three hundred long miles from my comfortable air-conditioned London office to interview a recluse, a self- styled eccentric, a man above men, a lurcherman. Name, John Higginbottom.

My journey started with a long drive north, then north and north again along the MI for what seemed an age. As the flat lands of the south turned first to gently rolling meadows of Northamptonshire and then to the hills of Derbyshire I drove ever onwards, finally arriving in the windswept dales of Yorkshire; a land where, if it's not raining one instinctively knows it must be snowing.

High limestone and millstone grit fells clad in an ever-present mist seemingly sweep up to the very base of the stratosphere. This North of England that lies on the wrong side of a theoretical line known as the north-south divide; a North of dark satanic cotton mills that belch black smoke out of imposing, discoloured and misshapen chimneys, chimneys reaching almost as high as the fells that surround them, blending with the landscape yet at the same time destroying it. A North of coal mines and colliers, of iron foundries and smelters, where work- hardened men lead lives so arduous their circumstances could best be described as an existence.

Yet, leave this industrial landscape that was once the pulsating heart of a proud British Empire and drive only a few short miles through the bitter driving rain and take a side road (track would be a more accurate description for metalled roads have yet to come to this part of Britain) signposted 'to the edge of the world' and one encounters an altogether unique England.

An England so blissfully isolated from the twentieth century that one feels encapsulated in an age long past.

Sheep hardened by many a long winter shelter behind 'dry' stone walls from the ever present torrent of rain, where men still scrape a meagre living for themselves behind horse and plough, cultivating crops on half an acre of boulder-strewn land, subsistence living that is this England. Yes this can truly be called a place on the edge of the world.

I took this path to find lurcherman John Higginbottom, John, a giant of a man with ruddy complexion, short greying hair, a beard of flaming red, and hands like the proverbial size ten shovel. Hands that were cut, bruised and contorted, he told me, through many a long desperate dig, rescuing his battle-hardened terrier 'Tootsie' from life or death conflicts with rabbit and other subterranean creatures, this reclusive, almost shy man refused to talk about.

John, a youthful forty-seven, a taciturn man who still retains most of his own teeth, was brought up in the Midlands and is a spot welder by trade. I asked him why? Why does any man try and live here, all alone pushing himself to the very limits of endurance in order to eke out a shallow existence in this particularly inhospitable place, with only the bark of his seven lurcher dogs and sound of the occasional crow for company. “Have you ever spot welded?” replied John philosophically. He sat quite still reading Kipling to himself.

Breaking the silence I enquired about the breeding of his battle-hardened terrier, Tootsie. “That,” explained John, ”is a Higginbottom terrier, the culmination of a twenty-five year selective breeding programme based on the Yorkshire terrier with just a dash of King Charles spaniel for temperament.”


Feeling that I had in some small way penetrated his rock-hard exterior and socialized myself with John, I asked, nay begged, to accompany him on one of his famous hunting expeditions -- expeditions, on which I was informed, he uses his homogeneous pack of Higginbottom lurchers to hunt all legal quarry. For John truly is the last of the self-confessed great hunters.

John fell silent, gritted his teeth, pursed his lips, and went into deep thought, almost a trance as if he were going through a metamorphosis or having an out-of-body experience.

Then as suddenly as he had entered the trance he snapped back to reality, kicked his dog and snapped: “Yes, the mad are in God's keeping. Tomorrow morning, crack of ten thirty, not a minute later and I hope for your sake you have a high attention span.”

Glancing in my direction before walking into his meagre shanty home, shared with his pack of Higginbottom hounds, John continued “I insist upon complete and utter obedience from both my dogs and those who chose to follow me.” Fixing me with those steely blue eyes, he gave a penetrating stare, a stare that I would come to know as his force 7 stare. I felt as the Apostles must have felt on the banks of sea of Galilee. I was in awe of this demigod.

Next morning we set off across the fields at a quarter-past- eleven precisely. I asked John why he was late. “Time has no relevance here on the edge of the world,” replied he, wiping the sleep from his eyes.

'Ferrets, ferrets I must have ferrets,' he whispered gently. Suddenly he opened a hutch door, and plunged his gigantic hand into a cage of these ferocious little carnivores. Five ferrets bit deep into the flesh of each of his massive digits -- yet did this man flinch? Not he.

With blood trickling down his forearm he throttled each ferret in turn in order to prise them from his fingers. "Aren't you concerned about infection' I asked “No,” said he “The poker's in the fire. I'll cauterize the wounds when we return.” I glanced ominously at the cumulus clouds gathering overhead, said a silent prayer and thought – ‘If we return.’ >> TO READ MORE

Build It and They Will Come



From an email received today from a friend:

This is the actual turnoff from Banff National Park, Canada to the # 1 highway to Calgary. Great picture isn't it? They had to build the animals (especially the elk) their own crossing because that was where the natural crossing was and after the highway was built there were far too many accidents. I understand it didn't take the animals long to learn that this was their "road." (click on picture to enlarge)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Elk, Wolves and Grazing




Over at the
Black Bear Blog, Tom Remington has a couple of posts on wolves, and also one in which a young man asks a very good question: Why Aren’t Ranchers Upset About Elk Eating Crops?

Reading these posts tonight made me recall an email I got back in January in response to a post I made about Idaho Governor "Butch" Otter's suggestion that 500 wolves be shot in his state.

The not-so-subtle title of my January post was "Why Stupid on Stilts Is Good for the Environment."

A bit harsh, to be sure, and my post generated an email from a reader who is a US Forest Service rangeland management specialist in Montana. He had a couple of objections to my original post. They were:

  • Ed Abbey was writing a long time ago (the 1960s, 70s and 80s);

  • There are still some grazing problems out west, but on the whole the land is not as wrecked as it used to be because of better (and integrated) land management plans, and professional science-based rangeland specialists;

  • People like Butch Otter are saying we need to shoot wolves in order to save elk, the hunting of which is a big business in Idaho.

  • Everything done in the National Forest system is subsidized, and in this respect cattle grazing is no different than recreation.


  • Points one and two are readily conceded on this end. Sometimes, when I am writing, it's easier to pull up the old stuff in my head than it is to track down the latest quote, picture and data set. Western lands are still over grazed, but it is true that they are not as bad as they were (or as good as they are going to get, I will venture).

    As I noted in the last line of the original piece in question, America does wildlife management pretty well, and it's thanks to a lot of Good Government Guy and Gals, hunters, and environmentalists working together that this is so. I am a pretty enthusiastic supporter of the younger, college-educated and science-based public lands managers coming up. I truly believe the best is yet to come.

    That said, I disagreed with points three and four, and I detailed why in a missive back to my Forest Service friend. Because my response is "on point" as to why Elk are given a pass for eating alfalfa while wolves are not given a pass for killing an occasional calf, I append it below:


    Dear M -

    Thanks for the note. I see you are working in the ___ National Forest in Montana. I know nothing about Montana National Forests, but I do know about land management problems in Idaho.

    The good news, is that some of the major problems in the Nolo and Clearwater are getting fixed. In fact, the good news across the board is that we have much better science and much better public lands administrators now than we used to have. It used to be that a USFS guy would mark his career by how many big timber sales he could put together. Now, in part due to litigation and in part due to education and attrition in Forest Service and BLM personnel, different values are in competition with each other. That's a good thing for all sides. Who knew truth to suffer in a free and open debate?

    There is, of course, a place for sensible private business use of public lands, but I think you would agree that it's an easier mission to achieve in theory than in reality. The Clearwater, for example, needs more prescribed burns, but the timber folks are not all that enthusiastic about that -- they would rather skid out the big trees and leave the trimmings for beetle bore infestation. Burning up their profits? Are you mad?

    The same is true for mining, drilling and grazing. I think you and I would probably agree that there are a lot of places in the West that could benefit from a little less grazing (especially around riparian areas), but try to get the cattle folks to agree to that, much less the cattle. When we talk about free range in this country, it's not just free of fencing -- it's free of human oversight too, which is why wolves are an issue. Not only could the cattle guys not be bothered with owning land, or building fences, they generally cannot be bothered to put someone out there 24-7 to watch the herd.

    The good news, as you note, is that a great deal of National Forest rangeland has improved through the 1980s and 1990s thanks to better management practices. A very big problem remains, however: The Western range is vast, the herds of cattle grazing on them are numerous, and the Forest Service has too few personnel to do very much on-the-ground oversight.

    That said, I concede that things are better than they used to be, and I have little doubt they are not as good as they are going to get. I am, basically, a huge fan of our public lands professionals.

    OK, that said, let's look at the wolf-cow-rangeland-elk-hunter nexus that Governor Otter speaks of for a second.

    The first question is this: Are wolves actually having a serious negative impact on elk populations in Idaho or Wyoming?

    The short answer is NO.

    In Wyoming, where wolves were first introduced in the West (outside of MN where they have always been extent) the state reports that their elk populations are 91,555 -- more than 9,000 head over capacity.

    "We would like to get the elk down to our population objective," Game and Fish spokesman Al Langston said. "But overall in the state, the elk population is doing well."

    In Idaho, The Idaho Statesman (hardly a liberal rag) notes that : "In 2005, hunters harvested 21,523 elk - the largest number in a decade and the seventh-largest harvest since 1935."

    In Montana, nearly 60 percent of Montana's original elk management units exceed their elk-population objective and the folks that write the outdoor columns in your neck of the woods openly laugh at the fear mongers who say wolves are a problem, noting that Montana's elk-harvests are very fine, thank you.

    Where elk populations have gone down, it turns out wolves have been less of a factor than the drought -- the same drought that drives beetle bore infestations, and which has always resulted in swings in elk and deer populations in the west.

    The bottom line is that, so far, the presence of wolves does not appear to have had a noticeable, significant or unwanted decline in the average Elk population of Idaho, Wyoming or Montana -- despite the rise in wolf populations in all three states.

    If there had been a noticeable, significant or unwanted decline in Elk populations, would the proper response be to shoot large numbers of wolves, or would it be to cut back on private ranching on public lands?

    My answer: Cut back on cattle and sheep grazing on public lands. Here's why:

    As a general rule, wild land can support more wild animals than domestic animals for the simple reason that wild animals (like elk and deer) are native to the land and pretty efficient at converting forbs and grass into flesh.

    As you can see from the data (gleaned from GAO), land that can support one cow can support more than 7 mule deer, more than 2 elk, and more than 10 pronghorn.

    The Governor of Idaho wants to shoot 500 wolves, each of which can be expected to consume about 20 elk a year (according to Yellowstone biologists who track this kind of thing).

    To put it another way, 500 wolves can be expected to eat about 10,000 elk a year across Idaho.

    If we want to replace those 10,000 elk in Idaho, we do not need to shoot wolves. All we need to do is dial back on the Animal Unit Months (AUMS) of grazing we are now allowing on public land in Idaho. The AUM data for state land (and federal lands by agency) is available here, but from what I can see, if we want to see an increase of 10,000 elk in Idaho, all we have to do is dial back on public lands grazing in Idaho by 5,000 head.

    Now, of course, the subsidized grazers will object to this, but remember they also object to Elk being in our National Forests. As far as some ranchers are concerned, the National Forest system is something they own, and it's there for their use -- not for elk, wolves, back country packers, fly fishermen or even hunters.

    The "beef cow vs. bull elk" debate is not a new one, of course, but it is important to note that it predates the rise of wolf in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

    On the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation's web site, for example, there's a pretty good article detailing how livestock grazing in the Elkhorns negatively impacted the elk herds up there until they began putting together an integrated land management plan. Fish, Wildlife and Parks area coordinator Mike Korn is quoted as saying:

    "The combination of elk and cattle on public land allotments has always been the point of contention in the Elkhorns. The general feeling from livestock permittees is that there are too many elk using the forage, and their cattle are suffering because of it."

    "Too many elk"?

    Well sure, you can have too many elk if you put a lot of beef cattle on the land and also have no wolves to keep things in balance.

    But let's remember who the foreigner is here. The elk and the wolf are native to the landscape, but the cattle showed up yesterday and are now claiming all the rights. If something has to give, it has to be the last arrival.

    Especially since the last arrival is costing America's taxpayers quite a bit of money -- $500 million a year in direct costs according to one study.

    Before the wolves showed up, the cattle guys were being painted as the bad guys. Now the cattle guys are only too happy to change the story and point to the wolf as the bad guy, just as the timber guys are only too happy to change the story and point to forest fire as the bad guy.

    There's just one problem with that equation, and that problem is what's left unsaid: that what made Montana, Idaho and Wyoming the great states they are today was not subsidized free-range cattle, strip mining, and clear cutting of timber, but God-driven natural forces.

    And three of those natural forces are elk, wolves and fire.

    For the cattle guys, the wolf is a convenient distraction from what I think is the real story, which is that elk and cattle are in direct competition with each other. The cattlemen want us to forget that every cow stands where two bull elk should be bugling.

    The good news in the American West is that we can still field-test our theories against reality. Most of the west is under "new management" of one form or another -- Wall Street Executives, PhD scientists, rangeland experts, farmers, ranchers, Forest Service and BLM officials, etc. Some of these folks are managing their lands better than others, but what's truly interesting is that very few of them seem to be managing their land better than God did.

    Former Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation president Bob Munson helped start the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which gives us some very interesting numbers about roadless forest land in Idaho -- land where there is no timber cutting, no fire suppression, no mining, and (as the name suggests) no roads. There is also not too much grazing of cattle. This is land still under the "old management plan," i.e. God's Original Design (or GOD for short).

    As the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership notes:

  • 88% of the land in hunt units that yielded more than 90% branched-antler bull elk is roadless;

  • 94% of the land in hunt units yielding both 70% bucks and 40% 4+ point bucks in the mule deer harvest is roadless;

  • 58% of westslope cutthroat trout habitat is found in roadless areas. And, 83% of the of the westslope cutthroat populations rated as "strong" are found in roadless areas;

  • 74% of chinook salmon habitat is found in roadless areas; and

  • 94% of sediment-impaired (degraded) streams are located outside of roadless areas.

    Now, to be clear, I am not against all grazing on public lands any more than I am against all timber harvest on public lands. You are correct that, in theory, we should be able to cut timber and graze cattle on public lands under science-based supervision and with carefully crafted integrated management plans.

    That said, I am against allowing folks to exploit public lands for private financial gain while the American people lose money on the deal.

    And the American people DO lose money on the deal -- lots of money.

    Timber sales alone on public land results in a net LOSS to U.S. taxpayers of over a billion dollars a year. The unreimbursed costs of grazing on public lands appears to generate major losses as well.

    You suggest that everything in the National Forest system is subsidized, and ranchers, miners, drillers, and timber companies are no different in this regard than hunters, anglers or back country tourists.

    I disagree.

    The timber and cattle companies working public lands employ few people, put disproportionately high resource pressures on the land, and require far more management oversight, construction, and reclamation money than do hunters, anglers, bird watchers, or car campers. Extractor industries pocket the cash (hence the name "cash cow") and leave us with the bills.

    Hunters, anglers, bird watchers and campers are not a complete free ride, of course, but the cost-per-person-served is very low compared to the cattle and logging companies, and a tremendous number of jobs are generated by recreation -- far more than are generated by cattle and logging.

    Lumping these two groups together, I think, is to lump two very different things. One group is a largely benign presence on the land and a huge economic engine, while the other leaves a massive environmental footprint, but creates relatively few jobs.

    Ultimately, of course, all public land debates devolve into politics. Sadly, however, the elk, wolves, trees and bears do not vote -- people do.

    The good news is that Governor Otter's inane comments about killing off all the wolves are exactly the kind of thing that mobilizes people to take action, donate to groups, join political campaigns, and vote. In the year ahead, I suspect no one will have harmed the cause of public lands grazing -- or done more to help wolves and elk in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana -- than Governor "Butch" Otter.

    And for that, we give thanks -- not because we are against ranchers, but because we are for elk and wolves.

    Unlike Governor Otter, I think all sides can find room for each other out there in vast stretches of the American west. If push comes to shove, however, Governor Otter has just helped make sure that the wolf (and the elk) will not lose.


  • My friend working for the U.S. Forest Service objected to a few bits in my missive. As I recall (I am afraid I do not have his original email), he argued that there was a lot more grazing in roadless areas than I thought and that the $500 million grazing figure was too high.

    He may be right. Without a doubt there is no ending the debate and discussion on these issues.

    The good news is that in the discussion is the solution. At the end of the day, though we may not end up with a perfect policy that makes all sides happy all the time, we get a pretty good policy in which we end up being neck-deep in elk, deer, wolves, alfalfa, and all the rest.

    Whatever it is we get wrong, we are (more often than not) getting conservation issues rights. And for that, I remain a proud American.




    Tuesday, April 17, 2007

    Cacophonous Coyotes of Washington, D.C.

    Within two miles of National Geographic's main headquarters in Washington, D.C. there are coyotes, and The Washington Post reports that they howl. A lot.

    Quick, run and get a British camera crew. I will grow a beard and play Grizzly Adams of Rock Creek Park.



    The sound did not belong. It was high-pitched and keening, something from a prairie night or a Hollywood sound-effects reel.

    Something one should not hear while sleeping in a bed, in a house, in Chevy Chase, in the District.

    "AOOOOOOO!" said Lee Bernstein, mimicking the noise that woke her up at 4 a.m. March 31. "Like a cartoon or something."

    Other people have heard yipping in the woods near Cleveland Park, barking off Oregon Avenue NW and wailing that answers police sirens near Military Road NW. These are the sounds of coyotes, the Western predators that first colonized the city's suburbs and now have established themselves in Rock Creek Park.

    As the animals have moved in, neighbors have started hearing things that leave them startled, curious and suddenly worried about where the dog is. In the middle of the District: actual calls of the wild.

    "It's an eerie howl. It's a little -- what am I thinking of -- like a monster-movie howl," said John Northcutt, who lives across the street from the park. "It was just very strange to be in the city and hear that."

    Coyotes have recolonized most of the urban East in the past few decades -- or perhaps colonized, since scientists aren't sure whether they were here before European settlement.

    Their proliferation is partly about the reforestation of the East Coast as farming has faded and woods have returned. But it's also partly about the animals themselves. They have adapted well to the suburban environment, eating everything from garbage to fawns to small mammals. Coyotes are the most general kind of omnivore -- like raccoons, if raccoons also ate rats and house pets.

    In fact, scientists say East Coast coyotes often grow bigger than those in the West. The life, and the hunting, might actually suit them better here.

    "Easy pickings," said Paul Peditto, an official with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. "They're highly adaptive, and they're efficient, and what they learn is that it's much easier to take a suburban small pet . . . as opposed to having to run down a wild cottontail rabbit."

    The first coyotes arrived in the Washington suburbs years ago. Biologists now estimate there are at least 1,250 in Northern Virginia alone.

    Sunday, April 15, 2007

    Dog Food Blues: A Waive of Pancreatitis Is Next




    Writing in today's Washington Post, reporter William Booth gets it just right when he notes that,


    There is no accident in a can of dog food. Just the opposite. The contents have been supplemented and fortified for nutritional, mineral and vitamin balance, the foods precisely engineered for smell, texture and palatability. (The makers want dogs to desire it, but not crave it, and they want its smell not to repulse owners.) And then they market it with all the cunning they can muster."

    Booth goes on to observe that pet owners that were ignorant about where their old pet food came from, are now about to go down a new road with eyes closed:


    [T]rust me, consumers were very surprised when they learned that Menu Foods makes din-din sold under dozens of pet food names, from the cheap generic store labels to the fancy "premium" offerings. A lot of familiar brands are on the recall lists, such as Alpo, Mighty Dog, Iams, Science Diet, Eukanuba, Gravy Train, Paws, Special Kitty and Ol' Roy.

    The recalls are unprecedented. There never has been anything as extensive before for animal or human foods. While the volume -- 60 million cans and counting -- is sizable, what is remarkable is the number of pet food makers involved. It's almost all of them. (For a complete list, see http://www.fda.gov/.)

    "Some people are absolutely panicked," said Bonnie Beaver, a professor of veterinary medicine at Texas A&M University. "Some owners are going to home-cooking. But too much fat, and you've got a case of raging pancreatitis."

    Of course, there is nothing to be done. You can tell people to relax and just feed their dogs bagged Purina kibble (a good product made in a dedicated factory by people who know what they are doing), but the folks that used to buy expensive dog food based on their unified field theories of pet food (and who were shocked to discover they were buying Old Roy at three times the price), are now positive (once again) that they know more about dog food than anyone else on the planet, including anyone from Purina. And so we have all kinds of list-serv kooks out there touting even more untested brands and home-grown diets.

    Knock yourself out people -- there is not stopping you.

    Meanwhile, reporter Barr reports the chief financial officer of Menu Foods sold nearly half his shares in the company
    less than three weeks before the widespread recall was announced -- a recall that was delayed at least three weeks by executives in the company.

    Menu's CFO describes it all as "a horrible coincidence." Right. Of course it was. He will, of course, be donating 100 percent of his ill-gotten booty to charity? I thought not.

    The only good news here is Congress is ramping up to investigate, and almost every member of Congress owns a dog or a cat, and that is true also for the folks over at the U.S. Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the various U.S. Attorney's offices around the country.

    Snap a jelly pack: the CFO of Menu Foods is toast.

    .

    Saturday, April 14, 2007

    Coffee and Provocation

    A Bucket of T-Rex Please:
    The New York Times and other sources report that chickens are descended from T-Rex. Well actually, the truer story is that all birds are descended from dinosaurs. Hmmmm. So they didn't all die out with the meteor crash?

    Are Breed Restrictions Code Talk?:
    The Bluedogstate blog asks whether breed-specific bans, and pit bull bans in particular, are the new "code talk" for keeping blacks and poor folks down and out? In the era of Imus, that's not crazy talk, and there are some good points scored here. That said, I am not always thrilled by some of the numbskulls who own pit bulls. One can admit there is a problem without necessarily embracing the solutions offered by know-nothing politicians.

    Manatees are Doing Well:
    More evidence that the Endangered Species Act works: US Fish and Wildlife Service officials are considering reclassifying the manatee as threatened instead of endangered, a sign that the numbers are up a bit thanks to motorboat and development restrictions. And, yes, manatees will still be under Federal protection.

    Bite Sized Snacks Released to Wild:
    Twenty endangered Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits, Brachylagus idahoensis, were reintroduced to the wilds of Washington state just three weeks ago, but 14 of them have already been eaten by coyotes, hawks and owls. These little rabbits are the only burrowing rabbits in this hemisphere, weigh just 1 pound, and their wild population got so depleted a decade or so ago that they were all rounded up and put into a captive breeding program to ensure their survival. One has to wonder how retarded the scientists were to not do basic predator abatement at the reintroduction site.

    Wired Monks Gone to the Dogs:
    The Monks at the New Skete monastery are the stars of the new Animal Planet series "Divine Canine: With the Monks of New Skete" which premiers on Monday. I hope the brothers will explain why they stay away from AKC dogs and always import breeding stock. See Inbred Thinking on how the AKC's closed registry system wrecks dogs.

    Wild and Working Dogs on PBS:
    PBS channels will be showing "Dogs That Changed the World" on April 22 and 29. The series promises to offer a broad look at dogs and the human-dog relationship and features a round-robin of clips "from the jungle to the arctic" of dogs hunting, herding, guarding, pulling, and guiding. Again, we can only hope the series explores a little bit of the Inbred Thinking that undermines dogs today.

    Animal Planet Plays Catch Up to Cesar Milan:
    Animal Planet is trying to play catch up with Cesar Milan with their new series "It's Me or the Dog" where Briton Victoria Stillwell tries to sort out dysfunctional pets and people. The series starts Monday. Once again, it seems only people with accents can train American dogs and owners. Walkies anyone?

    Wolf-Man, Dog-Man or Idiot?:
    Once again we have a Briton, but this time it's Shaun Ellis who took in three abandoned wolf pups (from where?) and decided he was just the guy to raise them up in a big zoo-cage enclosure in order to teach them how to be a wolf. Apparently long hair and a disdain for a bath is all you need to do the job. It was all filmed for the National Geographic Channel series "A Man Among Wolves," and shot "on location" at the 25-acre (is that all?) Combe-Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park in Devon. Call of the wild indeed!

    Spring Thanksgiving:
    Spring turkey season starts this week in most places -- be careful out there. Meanwhile, let's give thanks
    for what the National Wild Turkey Federation has helped give us. .

    Friday, April 13, 2007

    Finding Some Really Fine Blogs Out There!

    I just took a tour of the internet with the idea of adding a few more wildlife and hunting links in the margin of this blog, and I have to tell you there is some quality writing and thought-provoking stuff out there. Yahoo!

    Look over to the right and slide down the margin a ways.

    Is this a great country or what?

    Thursday, April 12, 2007

    Coffee & Provocation

    Herding Central Park:
    From The New York Times: The New York City Central Park Conservancy has brought in a pair of border collies and a professional goose wrangler (Geese Police Inc.) to rid the park of 300 geese that made the park their home --there had been a tenfold increase in the goose population over the course of the last three or four years. After three days of dog patrols, the number of geese was down to half a dozen. The dogs will, of course, have to return periodically.

    Mink Coats as Violins?:
    From a guest column at Man in Nature
    : "By being made into a fur coat, that mink's pelt is raised into something higher, just as a tree made into a violin is raised, or a cow made into a sumptuous steak is raised. A raw material becomes part of the human world; fur isn't just on the back of an animal scratching around for food, but is instead worked on and admired as art. Indeed, it is only really by becoming a coat that a mink's life can be said to have had any purpose at all."

    Size Matters:
    From The New York Times: Scientists have located the gene fragment that controls the size of dogs. No other mammal expresses a 100-fold size differential within its genetic base(from 2-pound Chihuahuas to 200-pound Newfoundlands). Thanks to Reid Farmer for bird-dogging this one.

    Fishing Madness:
    Want to see a video of a fellow in New Zealand who hooked a striped marlin from a jet ski, and then jumped overboard to tag the fish? Click here. A hat tip to the Field Notes blog for this one.

    Coyote Attacks New Jersey Boy:
    People are more likely to be injured playing ping pong than they are to be attacked by a coyote. That said, New Jersey officials are reporting what may be their first coyote attack ever on a human. The toddler was saved by his 11-year old nephew. Thanks to Teddy Moritz for bird-dogging this one.


    Wednesday, April 11, 2007

    An Alarming Story in Computer Code

    One of the things that invisible trackers on a web site can do is provide keyword analysis, i.e. it can tell you what folks that came to your web site from Google or Yahoo or MSN actually typed into those search engines that brought them to your web site or blog.

    Tonight I looked into that section of the tracker and found the usual kind of stuff:
    • jack russell terrier and queen anne front legs
    • dogs in shelters
    • bellman & flint
    • how does a red fox defend its self
    • how to call rat terrier after it has killed his prey
    • doxycycline shelf lifetime
    • dog has developed skin allergy to urban wolf made with beef should i change to lamb
    • tulerimia history


    And then, rather distubingly, I found three inquiries from India:

    • kill a mad dog poisons
    • is thallium sulfate available in shop
    • alexander the great wife to poison him after he took a homosexual lover

    I suppose this not a bad set up for a modern detective novel, but at 4 am in the morning it is simply disturbing.

    Tuesday, April 10, 2007

    Ratting in the U.K. with Chainsaw Exhaust


    There are only two sports -- fox hunting and ratting, and ratting is a damn good second.
    . . . . - The Duke of Beaufort

    Monday, April 09, 2007

    Putting A Point on It

    I could not make this up.

    After closing my last post with a parody of "dog food experts" selling "secret knowledge," I received this missive which the sender -- someone named "aqoona" -- hoped to attach to four posts on this blog.

    Aqoona promises ... ... wait for it .. secret knowledge about dog food. Of course he does.



    I think u got a good blog!! Thank u for that and I hope you can visit mine. It's all about DOG and DOG FOOD at http://dogfoodsecrets.blogspot.com/

    You're about to discover the terrifying-truth about commercial dog food that is linked to the deaths of thousands of dogs across the US every single day. Also in this website, I show you a simple solution proven to increase the lifespan of your dog by up to 134% and save you up to $10,000. To discover these amazing secrets just continue reading and your reward is a super-healthy, incredibly-happy dog that stays by-your-side for up to 8.3-years longer than statistically predicted. http://dogfoodsecrets.blogspot.com/

    Friday, April 06, 2007

    Backyard Wildlife: Joy, Nuisance or Opportunity?


    From left: moose roulade; rabbit pot pies; smoked black bear; seafood terrine, smoked goose and venison sausage topped by a yellow tomato; sparrows. Photo from NYT


    Sometimes two things will serendipitously fly into my electronic in-basket on the same day and look interesting sitting next to each other. I don't quite know what it means, but odd bits pushed together is what a blog is all about, so here goes ...

    The first bit was a notice that Human-Wildlife Conflict Collaboration's new website is up. I am told the web site is really just a place-holder until they get funding, but it will be interesting to see what develops here, as I have no idea what this organization is about.

    What does "collaboration" mean in this context? Will bears, beaver and deer get to vote on local zoning and human population growth issues? I doubt it.

    Meanwhile, on the very same day, The New York Times ran a piece entitled: Backyard Pests? Think of Them as Dinner, in which the colorful Steven Rinella is profiled eating squirrels and sparrows caught in his back yard in Brooklyn.

    Some readers of this blog may know of a certain mutual friend of ours who has been known to "thin out" the squirrel population in his backyard, but I venture to say I am probably one of the few Americans out there who has ever eaten sparrow.

    When my brother and I were very young and living in Morocco, we would live-trap sparrows using traps made from small springs and coat-hanger wire (picture below). I have made a few traps like this as an adult livng in the U.S. and set them in the back yard (purely for old-time's sake) to catch a few sparrows which I have subsequently let go unharmed. It was fun; no apologies here.

    The coat-hanger wire trap that is pictured below works very much like a leghold trap, but the spring is quite weak (you test it with your own thumb in the jaws) and the snap of the jaws is further cushioned by the feathers around the sparrow's neck. The feathers prevent the sparrow from pulling its neck out of the trap, while the weight of the trap prevents the sparrow from flying away.

    If you can keep the neighbor's cat at bay, you can live-trap a dozen sparrows in a morning. This was great fun for me as a little kid, and provided many hours of entertainment.





    For those interested in the history of sparrows in America, see >>
    HERE

    For those interested in the history of sparrows in the U.K., see >> HERE

    Mitt Romney Fires, Aims, and Flops Over Wounded




    Back in a post about "L'affaire Zumbo,"
    I noted that U.S. politicians seem to routinely die on top of marmot mounds.

    The latest politician to be crucified on a mole hill (a reference to Golgotha for you Biblical illiterates) is Mitt Romney.

    Here's how the Associated Press put it:


    Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is taking a second shot at describing his hunting experience.

    The former Massachusetts governor has called himself a lifelong hunter, yet his campaign acknowledged that he has been on just two hunting trips -- one when he was 15 and the other just last year.

    Campaigning in Indianapolis on Thursday, Romney said he has hunted small game since his youth.

    "I'm not a big-game hunter. I've made that very clear," he said. "I've always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will. I began when I was 15 or so and I have hunted those kinds of varmints since then. More than two times."


    For the record, I do not think you have to have a gun to hunt, nor do I think you have to be an NRA member to be a hunter, nor do I think big game hunting is a test of anything.

    That said, by the time a man is 30, he should know who he is and stick pretty close to that.

    Here's how Doonesbury satirized Romney the political changling:
    (click to enlarge)






    Don't Buy Dog Food from Hank Petchow

    Back in 1995 or 1996, long before there was the kind of "Fake News" we now see everynight on Comedy Central, Saturday Night Live ran a fake dog food commercial starring Will Ferrell.

    The visuals were a killer (pun intended) and showed a huge bag of kibble with an emormous picture of Shep the Huskie, and the words "PetChow" written in large letters underneath.

    In very small letters, underneath that it said "Rat Poison."

    I cannot find the video anywhere on the internet, but here's the script of the spot:


    [Open on Hank Petchow running through the snow with his dog Shep ]

    Hank Petchow: Come on, Shep! Here we go!

    Voiceover: Like most dog owners, I really enjoy playing with my dog.

    [ cut to interior, Petchow household ]

    Hank Petchow: Hi! I'm Hank Petchow. I love my dog, and I love taking care of him. But as much as I like feeding ol' Shep here every morning, there's some animals I'd rather not feed - rodents, mice, rats. I hate them. That's why I developed this. Petchow Brand Rat Poison. Petchow's the only rat poison deadly enough to carry my name - Petchow. And Petchow's the most powerful rat poison on the market. In fact, it's so strong, it could easily kill an animal much larger than any rat you'll ever see - instant. And rats love Petchow's big meaty pieces. [ Shep jumps up to the bowl of rat poison ] Whoa, no, Shep! That's rat poison! [ moves Shep ] Just add water for a hearty poison gravy that no rat can resist. He'll be dead on the spot. Right, Shep? [ Shep barks and moves closer to the rat poison gravy ] Whoa, Shep! Down, boy, that's not for you! [ laughs ] So, if rats are your problem, choose a name you can trust. Petchow. Just look for the rat poison with a picture of ol' Shep on it.

    [ show two dogs sitting on each side of the Petchow package ]

    Jingle: "Petchow. Arf arf. Petchow. Arf arf. Petchow. Arf arf. Rat poison."

    Announcer: Petchow. The one they can't resist.

    Thursday, April 05, 2007

    Terrierman Banned in China?




    I do not know what I have done wrong, but it must be something
    , because the Terrierman.com web site has been banned in China according to a web site that tests for such thing.

    Perhaps the web page entitled "Rat or Ratatouille?" was not quite sensitive enough for them?

    In my defense, I really did try to be sensitive. I tried really hard.

    No matter.

    I will wear this distinction as a badge of honor. How many other people can say they have built a web site that the Communists have deemed a menace?


    Playing in the Gutter on the Blog

    I have been playing in the gutter on the blog. A few additions:

    • I have enabled comments on the blog -- something I disabled a long time ago when spam comments were really thick. Now there is (supposedly) new code that will discourage this.

    • I have added a counter that notes visitors by country and city. I have had an invisible counter on the blog and web site for a while (over 250,000 visitors so far), but this is more interesting. The counter simply notes where your nearest ISP node is located -- it does not (and cannot) capture email or real addresses, so the paranoid can relax (a little).

    • I have added a computer-generated translator.

    • I have added little icons at the end of each post. Kindly click on them to increase traffice each from Digg, Reddit, Del.icio.us and others.

    • I have added two Amazon links to my book (of course) and the Ames Pony D-handle shovel, which is my prefered tool for field work (along with a decent bar and a posthole digger).

    • I have added a feature that shows a "preview" of the linked web page.

    • I have added my email. Putting in "at" instead of an "@" both discourages spam and is a small intelligence test.

    • I have added several new blogs to the permanent links: Diary of a Mad Natural Historian and Birds Etcetera and Blue Crab Boulevard as well as the more "corporate" web sites The Straight Dope and Snopes / Rumor Has It and Skeptics Dictionary.

    Wednesday, April 04, 2007

    PETA, Pet Food and Wheat Gluten

    Over at the Pet Connection Blog, Gina Spadafori is reporting some pretty distressing numbers, with more than 3,000 pets already dead due to over 60 million pounds of rat-poison and melamine-contaminated dog food being shipped around the country.

    Some reporters seem to have taken to quoting PETA about this dog food tragedy -- never mind that PETA knows nothing about dog food or nutrition, opposes ownership of both pet dogs and working dogs, euthanizes more than 85 percent of the dogs given up to to it, and steals dogs from shelters in order to kill them.

    The poor quality of the reporting on this dog food story is amazing. For example, in all of the writing, no one has taken the time to ask a basic question: What the hell is wheat gluten, and why is it in our dog food?

    Here's the answer: Wheat gluten is synthetic meat made from processed wheat.

    In vegetarian cuisine, this stuff is called Seiten, and if PETA had its way, not only would your dogs and cats be eating nothing else, but so would you.

    The picture at the top of this post is a Taiwanese can of "mock duck" made from 100 percent wheat gluten.


    To the right is what the contents of this same can looks like when it is dumped out into a bowl.

    Mmmm Good!

    Does that look like the "chicken and chunks" you have been serving your pooch?

    That's not an accident. Along with "Mock Duck" you can find wheat gluten carefully shaped to look like "mock" beef, mock turkey, and almost anything else.

    Wheat gluten is imported from Asia because it is made in massive amounts over there, where is used as an alternative to soy-based meat substitutes such as tofu.

    Wheat gluten is cheap and it is a realistic-looking meat substitute. In and of itself, it is not necessarily bad for you, but since most wheat gluten is imported from overseas, almos none of it is inspected by the FDA.


    It turns out that folks who thought they were giving their cat or dog "real meat" were -- more often than not -- giving them a little bit of meat and a whole lot of wheat gluten produced overseas by the lowest bidder in a non-FDA-inspected factory.

    OK, let's go to a second point: How and when did the dog food companies finally realize that their pet food products really were heavily contaminated by poison?

    Early reports from customers were the first sign, of course, but the definitive evidence came from routine "live feed trials."


    In a live feed trial, kenneled animals are systematically fed food samples from the production line. When about a third of the cats and dogs in a Menu Foods feed trial subsequently died, that company knew it had a disaster in the making.

    What no reporters have mentioned in all their articles about this mess is that PETA is against testing any pet food on any live animals. In fact, in the middle of this pet food recall, PETA actually produced “a list of dog and cat food manufacturers that don’t test on animals.”

    Talk about missing the message.


    "Don't test on animals"??? That's a good thing??? Not in my house.

    Please God, let's keep testing dog food on live animals.


    And while we are at it, let's also test prescription drugs and vaccines too. Our children are worth it, and so are we.

    As for this dog food mess, let's remember that's while it is primarily caused by poor corporate management, human greed, and an incompetent FDA, you can also find the hand of Seitan at work.


    And no one loves Seitan more than PETA.