Saturday, June 30, 2007

Rudy Guliani Vs. Ferret Man

Yow! This above animation is of Rudy Guliani dealing with a real telephone interview caller who was concerned about "ferret's rights."

The video below is the same ferret guy being interviewed by Tucker Carlson. Play and watch this one too.

I have NO problems with ferrets, but could it be (possibly) that what we have here are TWO nuts are up against each other here? Just an idea ...

By the way, what the hell is wrong with ferrets provided they are sold spayed and neutered so that they cannot escape and breed in the wild?

More importantly, why is Rudy Guliani so locked and loaded about it? What happened with treating people with a little more humor?

Driving Seamus & Other Lapses in Judgement

"The incident: dog excrement found on the roof and windows of the Mitt Romney family station wagon. How it got there: Romney strapped a dog carrier — with the family dog Seamus, an Irish Setter, in it — to the roof of the family station wagon for a twelve hour drive from Boston to Ontario, which the family apparently completed, despite Seamus's rather visceral protest."

This litte tale comes to us from the current edition of Time magazine, The Boston Globe and a lot of others.

For the record, when Romney's kids reported that the dog was so terrified it was crapping itself down the back window ("Gross, dad"), Romney pulled over to a filling station, hosed off the dog and the car, and then reloaded the wet dog back into the carrier on the roof of the car.

The Romney folks apparently saw this a good example of his cool crisis management under fire rather than his callow indifference to canine life, complete lack of judgement, and inability to see a problem when it is in front of him stinking and barking. Nice job Mitt!

If this is how he drives the dog, imagine how he'll drive the country.

Friday, June 29, 2007

China, Export Fish, Antibiotics & the Next Plague

The FDA is blocking imports of Chinese farm-raised seafood after finding 25% had residues of illegal antibiotics and chemicals. (FDA Statement)

I am glad to see the FDA taking this step as it is a good first step toward reducing the threat of a global pandemic caused by putting huge quantities of antibiotics into farm-raised fish. For more on that (and why it is a more serious problem in China that elsewhere), see >> Populations, Oceans and Influenza and Sharing Death and Disease Across Species


Cats Came from Iraq 100,000 Years ago

A look at mitochondrial DNA suggests that cats orinated in Iraq and other parts of the fertile crescent and not in Africa, Europe or North Africa as others have suggested, and that domestication began perhaps 100,000 years ago. A cat is a domesticated animal? Good to know, as most of the ones I know sure deny it. >> For more information.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

California's Pointy-Headed Legislators

Over at the Pet Connection blog, Gina writes about California's stupid-on-a-stick spay/neuter proposal, ie AB 1634:

Probably two of the most notable changes are that people can now have one litter before being forced to spay or neuter their pets, regardless of whether the animals are purebred or not, being bred for a purpose such as work or not, being shown or not; also, the required age for altering has been increased to six months.

Given that the majority of litters registered with the AKC are from “one time only” breeders who are not actually maintaining a breeding program or part of the dog fancy at all, and that puppy mills, pet stores, and commercial breeding operations have always been exempt from this legislation, it is increasingly clear that the only people who will be impacted by this bill if it becomes law are small-scale “hobby breeders.”

Who are the only breeders people should give their money to in the first place. But oh well.


Delisting the Bald Eagle a Sign of ESA Success

It looks like the Bald Eagle is going to be delisted today as an endangered species. Have no fear; the bird will still be protected.

Delisting is actually a good thing; it not only means the Bald Eagle has made a substantial recovery, but it gives the lie to the folks that say animals never come off the list and the Endangered Species Act does not work. In fact, the ESA is one of the most important and successful pieces of conservation legislation ever enacted.

This is not to say that everything said about the Bald Eagle is entirely true. The thing that knocked the Bald Eagle over the edge, for example, was not DDT, but lead shot and leghold traps. For more on that, see You Gotta Break Some Eggs to Build a Movement


Buy Land, God Ain't Making Any More of That

Will Rogers advised folks to "Buy land because God ain't making any more of that," and some of the richest folks in America are following up on that sage advice and scooping up vast areas in the U.S. for a variety of reasons.

The Wall Street Journal of May 20th, for example, notes that Kentucky native Brad Kelley sold his cigarette manufacturing company, Commonwealth Brands Inc., for $1 billion and promptly bought hundreds of thousands of acres of West Texas ranch land back in 2001. He has also snapped up 60,000 acres of land near Sarasota, Florida where he breeds antelope and critically endangered anoa, a type of wild miniature water buffalo native to Indonesia.

Over in Texas, Inc. founder Jeff Bezos has acquired several ranches that total 300,000 arid acres, some of which he is using to test a developmental vehicle for his space-flight company, Blue Origin LLC.

Up in Maine, Roxanne Quimby, who is the co-founder of "Burt's Bees" cosmetics, has acquired about 80,000 acres from timber companies. She hopes to add even more acreage in the years ahead before she turns the whole thing over to the Federal Government as a new National Park.

Some Maine residents are up in arms because Ms. Quimby has said the land she has bought is now off-limits to all logging, hunting and motorized vehicles. Of course, as the actual owner of the land in question Ms. Quimby is well within her rights, and besides her management rules are pretty similar to those that now govern our National Parks. America in general -- and Maine in particular -- can only benefit from the creation of another National Park. Instead of criticism, Ms. Quimby deserves a little applause!

The nation's largest private landowner, of course, is the wonderfully colorful Ted Turner whose acquisitions include 15 ranches in seven Western states spread over a total of about 2 million acres.

Ted Turner and his son Beau are true hook-and-bullet conservationists and are engaged in some of the best wildlife and wild lands management in this nation.

Turner's land goal has always been to show that environmentally-sensitive lands can be managed at a profit, and so far he has done remarkable things while working to prove his point.

Turner's properties are now home to about 45,000 bison, which are managed as free-range commercial livestock with the meat sold as steaks and burgers through both grocery stores and Turner's restaurant chain, Ted's Montana Grill.

Turner's vast land holdings are also home to elk, moose, mule deer, white tail deer and some other species which are hunted at a price, making a profit for the ranch and ensuring that Turner's large wild land holdings remain well-maintained and well-managed.

Ted Turner has also moved his vision of profitable wild lands management overseas to vast land holdings he has in South America. Some of this land turns a profit as cattle and hunting ranches, and some turns a profit through eco-tourism, but the principles are the same in both in the U.S. and overseas: Keep the land green and balanced, work to preserve wildlife and wild and open spaces, and remain creative in developing an income stream to keep the whole thing self-financing beyond the initial capital outlay. This is not the rip-rape-ruin-and subdivide management of Mobile Oil and small-time land owners. A larger vision and a larger lasting purpose is in action here.

Some narrow-minded folks resent the philanthropic super-wealthy, but in fact some of these truely rich people represent not only business success, but also a deep transformative social and environmental consciousness that is a powerful force for good.

When the dust settles, a lot of America and the world will be protected because of the actions of folks like Ted Turner, Jeff Bezos, Brad Kelley, Roxanne Quimby, Warren Buffet, and Bill Gates.

God bless them for turning their enormous purses to the public good. And what a shame that the Walton family (of WalMart fame) cannot do the same!

The Land Report lists the top 100 private land owners in the U.S. (list searchable by state, by name or by acreage. The Top Twenty from the list is appended below, and a short profile on each of the top 100 land owners can be read >> HERE. For the record, 640 acres is one square mile.

1. Ted Turner - 2 million acres
2. Archie Aldis 'Red' Emmerson - 1.722 million acres
3. Irving Family 1.2 million acres
4. Singleton Family - 1 million + acres
5. King Ranch Heirs - 851,642 acres
6. Pingree Heirs - 850,000 acres
7. Brad Kelley - 789,851 acres
8. Reed Family - 770,000 acres
9. Ford Family - 740,000 acres
10. Huber Family - 600,000 acres
11. Lykes Bros. Heirs - 578,302 acres
12. Dolph Briscoe Jr. - 560,000 acres
13. W.T. Waggoner Estate - 520,000 acres
14. D.M. O'Connor Heirs - 500,000 acres
15. Robert Earl Holding - 400,000 acres
16. J.R. Simplot - 355,746 acres
17. East Family - 350,000 acres
18. Anne Marion - 345,000 acres
19. Gerald Lyda - 320,035 acres
20. Collins Family - 305,313 acres


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Fish Stinks From the Head Down

Reading The Washington Post this morning, I was reminded of an Italian saying, "The fish stinks from the head down."

The thing that made me think of this was a massive color picture of dead salmon in an article about how Vice President Dick Cheney (ironically code-named "Angler" by the Secret Service), was instrumental in creating the largest fish kill on the Klamath River in order to save a completely redundant hay crop in Oregon. Two snippets are appended below, with a elipse (...) to denote a shortening of the source text.

Because of Cheney's intervention, the government reversed itself and let the water flow in time to save the 2002 growing season, declaring that there was no threat to the fish. What followed was the largest fish kill the West had ever seen, with tens of thousands of salmon rotting on the banks of the Klamath River.
Characteristically, Cheney left no tracks.

The Klamath case is one of many in which the vice president took on a decisive role to undercut long-standing environmental regulations for the benefit of business.

By combining unwavering ideological positions -- such as the priority of economic interests over protected fish -- with a deep practical knowledge of the federal bureaucracy, Cheney has made an indelible mark on the administration's approach to everything from air and water quality to the preservation of national parks and forests.

..... Months later, the first of an estimated 77,000 dead salmon began washing up on the banks of the warm, slow-moving river. Not only were threatened coho dying -- so were chinook salmon, the staple of commercial fishing in Oregon and Northern California. State and federal biologists soon concluded that the diversion of water to farms was at least partly responsible.

Fishermen filed lawsuits and courts ruled that the new irrigation plan violated the Endangered Species Act. Echoing Kelly's objections, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit observed that the 10-year plan wouldn't provide enough water for the fish until year nine. By then, the 2005 opinion said, "all the water in the world" could not save the fish, "for there will be none to protect." In March 2006, a federal judge prohibited the government from diverting water for agricultural use whenever water levels dropped beneath a certain point.

Last summer, the federal government declared a "commercial fishery failure" on the West Coast after several years of poor chinook returns virtually shut down the industry, opening the way for Congress to approve more than $60 million in disaster aid to help fishermen recover their losses. That came on top of the $15 million that the government has paid Klamath farmers since 2002 not to farm, in order to reduce demand.


Support the Good Work of Gambian Pouch Rats!

Ah Gambian Pouch Rats! I've written on them before, both as a method of detecting land mines (very effective) and also about their release into the Florida Keys (a potential problem).

Now Walter H. writes to say that PBS has created a little video and web page dedicted to their good work in the mine-eradication business. Excellent.

For another child-friendly web site (and video game!) on these "Hero Rats" just >> click here.

They accept donations too, and it's not a bad cause; every 20 minutes someone somewhere is hurt or killed by a landmine. Plus, use of the Pouch Rats (who are too light to set off a landmine) saves the lives of dogs that might otherwise do the job. To see a global map of where land mines are located >> click here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Great Headlines in America, and a Great Blog Too

I love it when I find a new site that is simple and well done. That's certainly the case for "The Outdoor Pressroom" which describes itself as "An Outdoor Blog Before Blogs Were Called Blogs." You 'betcha, and yahoo!

Because most people are as lazy as sin, I am cutting and pasting a few links from the web site below. Full credit to J.R. Absher for putting all these great links together, and I strongly recommend his new blog-blog over at Outdoor Life magazine which has nice pictures and his well-written commentary. Go there by clicking >> HERE

Excellent stuff, eh? The good news is that you can click on this link or the one above a couple of weeks from now and get another full hat load of crazy headlines that will make you shake your head and say, "Is this a great country, or what??" Only in America!


The Kids are More Than All Right

In the picture, above, which appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle on Saturday, New York Yankee fan Billy Crystal is slumped with just his hat and hand showing, while San Francisco Giants fan Robin Williams goes crazy as Ray Durham walks to load the bases.

The cute Korean kid just to the right of Robin Williams (blue baseball hat turned backwards) is my son, who was in San Francisco watching the Yankees and the Giants battle it off. Two of our good friends have a financial interest in the Giants, so Austin and my lovely wife have seen them play in the World Series, and we have all watched them play in New York and Baltimore as well. This is the second year in a row that Austin has had the good fortune to have seats right behind Crystal and Williams.

Austin graduated from High School on Thursday, flew to California on Friday, came back home to Arlington last night, and flew off again this morning (a 7:30 am flight means I had to get up at 4 am) to Utah for a 16-day whitewater trip down the Green River as part of a National Outdoor Leadership School course.

The daughter is just back from a four-day rock concert at Bonaroo (I still do not have my tent back) and is off to Thailand for five weeks of service work on July 5th (teaching English to little kids), and then goes off to the U.K. for a University of Virginia semester in London.

Meanwhile, I have not had a decent vacation in years. Something is wrong here.

Actually, despite what it sounds like, the kids are not too spoiled: Sarah has excellent grades and has worked every single day she has been home except for the four days at the rock concert, while Austin worked very hard in high school, had a great year pitching varsity baseball (four year playing varsity) and will be painting the house to work off his debts as soon as he gets back from Utah. In the Fall Austin goes off to Philadelphia for a year of public service work in inner-city schools before heading off to college.

If the kids would take up fly fishing, I would consider them just about perfect.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Balancing Hawks & Doves in Wildlife Management

A couple of years ago
, the legislative director for a large national bird conservation group stopped by my office, a bit apoplectic at the stupidity of it all.

Well yes, but could you be more specific? A lot of stuff is stupid.

My friend was in a twist because the U.S. Government was going to spend tax dollars to poison two million Red-winged Blackbirds with an avicide called DRC-1339. This was being done to protect the South Dakota sunflower seed crop which was . . . wait for it . . . destined to be sold as wild bird seed.

Yep, you got it. Your tax dollars at work. Public tax dollars were going
to be spent to kill two million Redwing Blackbirds a year for three years in order to protect a private crop of sunflower seeds, which was going to be sold as bird seed.

Such irony is not all that unusual in the world of wildlife management where the most peaceful kind of people can find their dander rapidly rising if their own time, money and animals are at risk from natural (or even unnatural) predation.

In the world of wildlife management, where you stand often depends on where you sit.

For example, it takes a lot of time, energy (and some small outlay of money) to plant a quarter-acre vegetable and flower garden. After you have fed and watered your garden for weeks, and just as your stringbean crop begins to come on line, a groundhog waddles over from the hedgerow and undoes everything.

The next week you come out to find deer have knocked down half the tomatoes and eaten the tops off all the beets. Are you OK with this, or do you set a Havahart trap and build a fence? When the fence is easily jumped by the deer and the Havahart trap is completely ignored by the groundhog, does "Plan B," involve a Remington rimfire?

You see? Where you stand depends on where you sit.

People are capable of changing their opinions quite rapidly if it's their ox that is being gored, and in fact most people are capable of rationalizing some wildlife abatement under the right circumstances.

The question is where do you draw the line.

Take the Roller Pigeon fracas.

What's a Roller Pigeon, you ask? A Roller Pigeon is a pigeon that has a defective gene that causes it to have a small seizure in mid-flight. That seizure, in turn, causes the bird to roll over and tumble in mid-flight -- the very kind of distressed-bird behavior that is most likely to attract hungry hawks and falcons.

It turns out that if you are a Roller Pigeon fancier you get quite upset when you see your birds nailed by raptors.

But should you be upset? Really?

I mean, think about it. If you put out bird seed, shouldn't you expect wild birds to show up? And if you regularly release scores of mutant Chicken McNuggets that cannot fly too well, shouldn't you expect them to be predated on by hungry hawks and falcons?

If you are turning sheep and cattle out on National Forest land in Wyoming without so much as a human attendant, shouldn't you expect a few hungry wolves and bears to show up? Do the wolves and bears have the right of primogenitor on this land, or is this simply a case of "might makes right," in which a few humans, for narrow economic interests, are allowed to remove all wolves (or hawks and falcons) from public lands they do not own?

If you think shooting wolves on public lands in Wyoming in order to protect a few subsidized sheep does not quite pass the smell test, what would you say if, instead of a wolf, it was a coyote eating your dachshund in your very own backyard in Los Angeles? Would you reach for a .22 then?

Suppose you raise goldfish in Texas ponds, or trout in Virginia pools. It is OK to shoot blue herons and every other wading bird that shows up to scarf down your fish fry? How much predation should be allowed, and who should decide? Does it matter if Blue Herons are not endangered and goldfish are not native? Does it matter that goldfish are not a food crop?

Is it OK to shoot Sea Otters that predate on abalone and fish? It it OK to shoot Anhinga and Cormorants that raid fish weirs? How about Sea Lions? Sharks?

OK, now let's swing this around to the Red Fox. Is it OK to trap or shoot Red Fox in order to protect pen-raised game birds set out on a farm for pay-and-shoot hunters? Does it matter if the birds are not native animals? Does it matter if the Red Fox is also not native? Does it matter if both species are exceedingly common and in no danger of even local extirpation? Does it matter how many fox are being killed, or how big an economic engine the bird-shoot business is?

Why is a fox different than a groundhog or a deer? Why are those pen-raised birds different from your vegetable and flower garden?

OK, let's think about Red Fox some more, but this time let's imagine that the birds are indigenous and endangered birds. Is it OK to trap or shoot fox in order to maintain a species that might otherwise be wiped out by the presence of Red Fox? Is it OK to trap and shoot Red Fox, Raccoon and Skunk in the Prairie Pothole Region where they threaten to sharply reduce nesting native ducks which are not an endangered species, but are a major economic engine in the form of sport hunting ?

OK, let's move the debate to crops and land protection. A farmer plows up his land, fertilizes it, and puts in 1,000 acres of corn. With the first rain, excess fertilizer flows into the stream and kills fish. With the first corn sprouts, the farmer begins to spray herbicides to keep down weeds. A spraying of insecticide follows four weeks later in order to keep down Corn Borer. In the end, the stream has no fish and the land itself is green but otherwise as devoid of wildlife as a desert. The corn is subsidized by U.S. taxpayers, and the final product is shipped overseas. Lots of wildlife has been killed or pushed off the land. Is this OK? If so, why? If not, why not?

You see? Right and wrong here are not as simple as black and white. Ethical concerns and aesthetic concerns collide. Rights and responsibilities are in competition. Questions of sustainability arise, as do economic valuations, and the relative merits of native vs. non-native, endangered species vs. common animal, and public land vs. private land, to say nothing of vegetable vs animal, and prey vs. predator.

Should we value apex predators less, or more, than the animals they eat, and that we eat? How many sheep is a wolf worth, and does that equation change if you are being asked to foot the bill? Should the interests of a few hundred ranchers decide wildlife policy for the nation?

Finally, is there such a thing as an assumed risk?

Let's go back to the Roller Pigeon controversy out in California, Washington and Oregon. First the facts: It seems that Roller Pigeon enthusiasts along the Pacific Coast (and for all I know, around the country and around the world), have been systematically killing hawks and falcons that have been predating on their odd-flying birds.

How many hawks and falcons have the Roller Pigeon folks been killing? Quite a lot according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Seven people have been arested for
killing or helping to kill 1,000 to 2,000 hawks and falcons a year in the Los Angeles area alone. That may sound like an impossible number, but it's not; that's just 20 to 40 people each killing 50 birds a year. Since one fellow in Oregon bragged to Fish and Wildlife that he had killed 40 hawks in just 30 days, the number is probably not too inflated.

And appparently this is not a new phenomenon; a close reading of the Southern Calfornia Roller Association newsletter suggests that members of this Club have been openly killing raptors for years.

You have to wonder what was going through the heads of these Roller Pigeon folks. If they really found predation of their birds by wild hawks and falcons emotionally painful and economically hurtful, then they could have simply stopped flying pigeons. Or changed the way the flew pigeons. Instead, they made a sport out of shooting, trapping and clubbing hawks and falcons. Apparently they felt no emotional pain from that past time.

And apparently this culture of shooting, trapping and clubbing hawks and falcons is not an abberation by an isolated few. After the recent spate of arrests on the West Coast, a major Roller Pigeon bulletin board shut down for a few days while it went through its archives to remove hawk trap plans and incriminating commentary.

It's too late, of course. The Roller Pigeon community has already by tarred not only by the actions of those who trapped, clubbed and shot hawks and falcons, but also by the inaction of those who said nothing or winked at such widespread carnage.

There is a lesson here for every minority group: State clearly what you are about, and state clearly what you are not about, and do not be shy about framing up a sustainable culture that can survive public scrutiny. Whether you are a hunter, a sunflower seed farmer, a pharmaceutical sales representative or an Eskimo, you should be operating within a set of ethical principles that make sense to the outside world, and which you would not be ashamed to tell your Mother or see on the front page of The New York Times.

As for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, they never did poison all those blackbirds. As soon as their plan was announced, every bird group in America had the same question for Uncle Sam: Are you completely stark-raving crazy??

The USDA got the message, the birds were not poisoned, and sunflowers were still planted out across South Dakota.

Despite the presence of two million fat Red-winged Blackbirds feeding on those sunflower seeds, wild bird seed remains dirt cheap and feeders are full all across America, including a few in my own back yard.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Fox Versus the Stork

This is a repost from this blog circa July 2005:

The states of Virginia and Maryland can be described as "the mother church of fox hunting in America."

Robert Brooke of Maryland introduced fox hunting to the United States in 1650 and imported the first pack of foxhounds from Great Britain at that time.

To this day, Maryland and neighboring Virginia are the center of mounted fox hunting in the U.S., providing good cover for a healthy fox population as well as fairly dense numbers of raccoon, groundhog and possum.

The Jack Russell Terrier Club of America holds its annual National Trial in October in Havre de Grace, Maryland, about an hour up the road from my house, and many people who hunt terriers will spend at least one week of their lives attending this trial and, if they are lucky, hunting farms in the days before or after the long weekend.

While there is still a lot of open space in the Baltimore-Washington area, no one can deny that there has also been a very rapid growth in sprawl.

National Forests and state park land may be the same distance from home that they have always been, but increasing amounts of traffic make the trip seem longer and certainly less enjoyable.

The distance out of the city to sizeable farms is growing as land prices rise, and estate taxes force subdivision.

The simple and sad truth is that farming has become less profitable than construction of mini-estates.

The animated map, below, shows population growth and sprawl in the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore corridor between 1792 and what is expected for 2075. The interval between each slide is 25 years, and I have put the data for each slide in the lower right hand corner.

While population growth in the Baltimore-Washington corridor has been rapid, the effect on local habitat can best be seen by looking at a smaller slice of land.

To bring it back down to terrier history, let's look at Fairfax County, Virginia which is just 15 minutes up the road from where I live.

The first fox hunting pack maintained for the benefit of a group of foxhunters, rather than for a single owner, was instituted by Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax, in 1747 in northern Virginia.

Lord Fairfax swapped hounds with George Washington who lived just up the road at Mount Vernon. To this day, Virginia proudly counts fox hunting as part of its cultural heritage. The state dog is the foxhound, and the Master of Fox Hounds Association of America is headquartered in Millwood, Virginia, about 35 minutes away.

While Lord Fairfax may have lived to fox hunt, there are no mounted fox hunts in Fairfax County today, and only a few farms worthy of the name. Most of the forest fell to farms in the 1960s and 1970s, and most of the large farms have since fallen to tract homes, mini-estates and freeways.

The map below gives a visual presentation of what happened to Fairfax County, Virginia between 1937 and 1998, a period of just 60 years. As can be seen, very large blocks of forest fell to develoment between 1978 and 1988. It was during this period of time that major roads, such as I-66, were constucted. These roads effectively served to subsidize environmental destruction and the loss of farmland.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Digging on Sunday

A nice sette inside an old tree. The den goes down into the dirt right at the center. Nothing home this time, but we will return.

Went digging on Sunday, but there's not much of a story. Mountain and I found and dug on two small groundhogs (this year's crop) in very hot weather, and then broke off at noon as the temperature climbed past 90 degrees.

I met the land owner on this new place -- a very nice lady who grew up on the farm and is interested in putting it all in Switchgrass if a bio-fuels market can be found for that. Her interest is in making the farm environmentally "green". Right now it's in a regular corn and soybean rotation which is tried and true, but uses a fair amount of fertilizer.

Mountain and I busted a couple of deer out of the hedge, saw a bunch of baby ducks, and found a few shattered duck eggs as well.

The area along the creek had been tall with weeds last week, but had been bush-hogged the day before we arrived. A 1,000 pound mower scalping a hole tends to make for less critters for a few days. No worries -- there are tons of holes, and grass grows back fast. We will return.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Penn & Teller on PETA

Here's a very nice piece from Penn & Teller
about PETA. This piece is from their very serious TV show, which is entitled "Bullshit."

As you might already have guessed, there might be a little profanity in the presentation, but in fact this is a straight-ahead piece on what PETA is really about. I posted snippets from Penn & Teller a few years back which can be read >> HERE.

This video clip make take a while to download, even with cable or T1-1 or T-2 line, but it's well worth it. Enjoy!

Consider circulating this URL to appropriate list-servs; this is a pretty good (and shocking) case statement of what PETA is really about, and why it's fundamentally defective thinking. Let's face it, not everyone reads anymore.

Colin Fletcher Climbs the Last Great Mountain

There are people who wrote books that are important to me. Colin Fletcher was one of those people. This obituary is from The New York Times.

"Down to Gehenna,
Or up to the Throne,
He travels the fastest,
who travels alone."
- Rudyard Kipling

Colin Fletcher, 85, a Trailblazer of Modern Backpacking, Dies

Colin Fletcher, whose ornate prose and prosaic tips on subjects like choosing the right hiking boots helped start the modern backpacking movement, died June 12 in Monterey, Calif. He was 85.

Mr. Fletcher died as a result of complications of head injuries he sustained in 2001 when he was struck by a car while walking near his home in Carmel Valley, Calif., said Chip Rawlins, who helped Mr. Fletcher write the fourth edition of "The Complete Walker" (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002). Many wilderness enthusiasts consider the work to be the hiker's bible.

First published in 1968, the book has sold more than 500,000 copies and remains in print. So, too, have two of the seven other books that Mr. Fletcher offered as paeans to soul-restoring and solitary strolls through the hinterlands. Hiking, he wrote in "The Complete Walker III," is a "simple, delightful, intended-to-be-liberating-from-the-straight-line-coordinates-of-civilization pastime."

Effusive and prolific throughout his career, Mr. Fletcher finished his next best-known book, "The Man Who Walked Through Time," the same year that he published his original walker's guide. In it he recounts his 1963 journey within the rim of the Grand Canyon. He negotiated its steep trails, rock falls and river currents, which extend 200 miles on the map but encompass more than 400 zigzag miles on foot.

"I was hopelessly insignificant and helpless, a mere insect," Mr. Fletcher wrote of his first night in the canyon.

"I saw that by going down into that huge fissure in the face of the earth, deep into the space and the silence and the solitude, I might come as close as we can at present to moving back and down through the smooth and apparently impenetrable face of time."

Mr. Fletcher also offered practical advice: how to arrange campsites, cook meals and, most importantly, pack a knapsack. His main point, Mr. Rawlins said, was to "reduce the weight of virtually every item in one's outdoor inventory."

You are "carrying your house on your back," Mr. Fletcher wrote. Although "the best roof for your bedroom is the sky," a light tarp is better than a tent. Among his other suggestions: trim the handle of your aluminum pot and even that of your toothbrush.

"Colin was sort of the founding father of modern backpacking, the first person to write about going out for an extended period and being self-sufficient," said Annette McGivney, the Southwest editor of Backpacker Magazine.

"A lot of men were coming back from Vietnam," Ms. McGivney continued, "and looking for some alternative to the regular American life." Because people began following Mr. Fletcher's advice, "the book could be credited with starting the backpacking industry," which includes gear makers and her own magazine, she said.

Often, Mr. Fletcher flavored his advice. "Even if you're in the most remote desert, he said to pack some good wine and delicacies," Ms. McGivney recalled. "Claret was his favorite wine; his favorite delicacy was smoked oysters."

Mr. Fletcher was born in Cardiff, Wales, on March 14, 1922, the only child of Herbert and Margaret Williams Fletcher. After high school, he joined the Royal Marines and served during World War II. He went to Africa after the war and worked on a farm and as a road builder in Kenya and Rhodesia. Then, in the early 1950s, he went to western Canada to work as a prospector. In 1956, he moved to San Francisco, took a job as a janitor and began hiking in the hills north of the city.

Two years later, to contemplate whether he should marry his girlfriend, Mr. Fletcher took a long hike - from Mexico to Oregon. It inspired his first book, "The Thousand-Mile Summer" (Random House, 1964). The marriage lasted a few weeks.

In 1981, Mr. Fletcher published what he considered a reflection of himself, "The Man From the Cave" (Knopf). It chronicled how, after finding a trunk and sparse belongings abandoned by someone in a desert cave in Nevada, he spent years piecing together the life story of "Trunkman," who turned out to be one William Simmons.

Mr. Simmons, otherwise known as Chuckawalla Bill, was a Spanish-American War veteran, a prospector, a cook and a boozing, womanizing, cigarette-rolling, poker-playing yarn spinner.

Mr. Fletcher said he felt connected to Mr. Simmons: "We both valued solitude and silence and square, smoothed-off granite boulders."

Testing Out a New Field Pack

For the last seven or eight years I have been carrying the same pack with me in the field -- an extremely solid canvas rucksack that I bought (of all places) at The Gap.

In 7 years it has never been washed, and so it has developed a rather pungent smell combining human sweat, dirt, dog, and old groundhog, raccoon and fox urine.

The smell of this pack may be an acquired taste, but it smells like the field to me, and I like it.

That said, there is a time to wash all things, and this pack's time had come. The pack also needed repair -- holes had developed in three spots, and I had lost one or two small items out of the bottom and begun to bag things inside the main compartment.

Enough of that; time to clean it, patch it and sew it up.

And I really meant to do that too.

Then, a couple of weeks ago Chris showed up with a brand new bow hunter's pack.


Greg D. had recommended such a pack to me several years back, but I did not understand what made it better (or different) from a regular rucksack.

With the item in front of me, however, I saw its advantages right away -- it fit a shovel blade perfectly. Without wasting too much time, I ordered one off the Internet. What's the worst that could happen? That I wasted a little money? I've done that before!

The bag in question came from The Bag Depot and it's the Brockwood "Sniper" in a "Mossy Oak Breakup Pattern"

Yes, yes, now I own something in camo. I will try to get over it.

The pack itself is made of something described as "water-repellent suede-cloth" which is supposed to be a "super tuff material that resists burrs." No doubt all this is true, but I liked the plain old double-sewn army-green canvas of my old pack pretty well. This new stuff seems a bit heavier. That said, this new pack is "made in U.S.A. with Manufacturer Lifetime Guarantee." You can't beat that.

As you can see from the picture, the "Brookwood's Original Patented Bow/Rifle Backpack," has a fold-down pocket that fits a shovel blade like a glove (click on picture to enlarge).

Two center snap-straps run up the middle of the back, and these can be used to affix the shovel handle to the pack, as well as to hold (in my case) a machete, a snare pole, and a good leather leash. My long handled Yo-Ho trowel fits in the right side pocket, and several small eye-wash bottles slide into the left side pocket.

The main compartment of the pack is cavernous, but my goal is to keep as little as possible in there; a small emergency medical kit, a folding saw for roots, two large knives (a Buck Pathfinder and a socketed Cold Steel "Minibushman" that fits on the end of my digging bar), a small scale, a cloth tape measure, extra electrical tape, locator collar batteries, and (in winter only) fox nets.

Segmented off within the main pack, up close to my back, is an area for a water bladder -- a very nice thing to have in the field.

The pack itself has both padded shoulder straps and a padded waist belt. There is also a "padded back with moisture-wicking fabric." Very fancy.

I was out on Sunday in extreme heat and it seems a pretty good pack. Though I have a strong emotional attachment to my old pack, this new one may be better. For one thing this new pack has a thick waist strap, and if you have spent a lot of time walking with weight in the woods, you know that alone can make a world of difference.

I used the pack this last weekend as shown. That said, there is also a large detachable pocked that can be strapped on the outside of pack to cover over the shovel and snare. I do not need this extra bit of room, but it occurs to me that it might be a very nice bit of camouflage for the folks in the U.K. who do not want to be seen in the field with a shovel. By simply slipping a small tubular camo-bag over the shovel handle, no one would know you had a shovel at all.

Useful for some, no doubt.

As for my old pack, it is nice and clean now, and repaired too. It will not be disappearing, but instead will take up the sport of fishing.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

Leadership Lessons in the Pack

This week I have had some management issues with the dogs.

The issue is not who is on top -- that has always been Trooper, who is male and weighs about 18 pounds. Trooper owns his position by right, and though he is old and his teeth are falling out, he does not have to flex his muscle to keep it. Trooper nods to no one but me.

With the females, however, things have never been quite as clear-cut; it never is with middle management.

When Mountain showed up a few years back, Sailor -- who weighed only 9 pounds -- was not about to become the Omega in the pack. She held her rather tenuous Beta position with judicious use of teeth and a kind of intelligent furry. Sailor never looked like much, but she could surprise you, and not just in the field working.

After Sailor died, Pearl was added to the pack. At the time, I figured Mountain would move up the hierarchy and Pearl would become the Omega. Mountain was a half-inch taller that Pearl (12 inches versus 11.5 inches) and perhaps 2 pounds heavier (12 pounds as compared to 10 pounds), and also older and rippling with muscle. The only real question was whether Pearl really wanted the Beta slot, and whether she could get it and hold it.

And it turned out, Pearl really did want that Beta slot, and she and Mountain went through a few tussles over the issue.

While a few squabbles occurred while I was around, several serious battles occurred while I was at work as evidenced by small bites mark to Pearl's muzzle. In the end, Pearl ended up on top, but it was an obviously uneasy relationship in which Pearl would routinely "match off" against Mountain at the door to the garage, her body rigid and still as she forced Mountain to turn sideways in a gesture of supplication.

I did not like it. Mountain was being much too nice, and if push came to shove I had no doubt things would erupt again. Pearl was in a job she could not hold.

When Pearl went in to get spayed two weeks ago, I could see a storm cloud on the horizon. She would be a bit tender from surgery, and I suspected that this might be the moment that Mountain used to dethrone her.

To forestall any problems, I kept Pearl apart from the other dogs for 12 days so that she could completely knit up before they all got back together. With her stitches out, she rejoined the pack and everything seemed fine.

Until yesterday morning.

Yesterday morning, I let the dogs out of the laundry room and into the garage where I typically collar them up before letting them out into the yard. As soon as I opened the door, Trooper was out into the yard and then the other two were on top of each other and going at it right in front of the door.

At first I thought it was just a squabble, but it turned out that this was a serious fight, with Mountain grabbing Pearl by the side of her head and not letting go.

Having been bitten a few times before by fighting terriers, and not looking forward to re-living the experience, I grabbed a broom and slammed it down on the driveway next to the dogs, but neither one was startled enough to let go. In the end, I had to choke Mountain off of Pearl, and when she loosened her grip I tossed her up on top of a stone wall while I scooped up Pearl to see if any damage was done.

I was in the middle of that quick cursory examination, when Mountain came back, leaped up, and bit Pearl on the back thigh, and held on, while I was still holding her. Shit!

I grabbed Mountain around the throat and choked her off again,and then I tossed her in the garage, and closed the door. I was mad, and Mountain was lucky to have the door between me and her at that moment.

Pearl was in the yard and under a bush, and though she was clearly spooked, she was none the worse for wear. The leg bite had not broken the skin, and neither had the head and ear bite. A canine had grazed her left eye, but there was no damage to the cornea. It looked like the eye orbit was bruised, however, and there was a small cut parallel to the eye.

I washed Pearl off and checked her over again. It looked like she was going to come away from this with the canine equivalent of a black eye and a battered ego, but she was otherwise going to be all right.

I gave Pearl an antibiotic just in case a blood vessel in her eye might burst while I was at work (better safe than sorry with eye issues) and I crated her in the laundry room and scurried off to my job, having lost the glasses off the top of my head somewhere in the commotion. I would have to find them later.

In the evening, I let Pearl out of her crate and checked her over again. She was fine, but her eye orbit was indeed bruised. I gave her another antibiotic (just to be careful), and loaded her up with good food and went to look for my driving glasses. I found them on the driveway, run over by one of the trucks. Great. Wonderful.

This morning, I let all three dogs out, and things seemed to have returned to normal. I cannot tell if Pearl has falled in rank and assumed the Omega position, but that is my bet after the drubbing that Mountain gave her.

Hopefully, things will now stabilize. Size and age matter in canine hierarchies, and anytime those two attributes do not line up within a pecking order, you have to expect sudden and explosive tectonic plate shifts. Hopefuly, now that things are as they logically should be (at least by my lights), there will be no more jockeying for position. Yeah, I know: I should be so lucky.

It's interesting to note what my dogs do NOT fight about. They do not fight over food. Kibble is tossed out onto the driveway (I use no bowls), and the dogs just scarf it up as quickly as they can. Each dog is too busy looking for the next bit of kibble to worry about the other dogs, and by the time they figure out that every little nugget of food has been scooped up, it's all over. It's a pretty low-tech system and it works; I have never had a dog fight over food, and my dogs have never had any kind of food aggression since there is no "stash" or bowl of food to guard.

Fighting over doors is something altogether different. Doors are a big damn deal as far as the dogs are concerned. In fact, every squabble (other than a squabble over quarry possession at the end of a dig) has been a squabble at the door.

Dogs are not the only animal that make a big deal out of doors. Cows do too, as so do goats and sheep. If you watch a herd of cows going into a barn, you will find it's always the same cow walking lead. If you try to usurp the order, and lead a not-top-status cow into the barn first, she will balk and refuse to enter.

Cows know their place, and they do not want to overstep their boundaries. I do not know how "boss cows" enforce the code, but I know they do. "Bossie" is not an accidental cow name; it is a description of the "lead cow" phenomenon at work.

The same kind of hierarchies are also at work with sheep. When a herding dog first circles a herd or flock, and begins to build pressure on the animals, it is looking for the keystone animal -- the sheep or cow that is calling most of the shots. Once that animal is identified, moving the herd or flock is often just a matter of moving that one animal in the right direction.

Moving an animal in the right direction, of course is different than getting it through a doorway or gate. If the leader of the herd cannot be maneuvered into position, things can fall apart, as a lot of pressure is going to have to be put on the other animals in the group in order to get them to break the rules and go through the gate or chute before their accepted leader.

Oddly, however, there is one way of "hot wiring" the system which has long been used at slaugher houses where sheep are often confused, and several small flocks may be comingled in a grouping pen.

Into this disorder a slaughterhouse worker will introduce a goat.

Goats and sheep are closely related, but goats are so much smarter and more dominant than sheep, that sheep treat them like demi-Gods and will follow them anywhere.

At the slaugherhouse, when it comes time to get the sheep up the chute, it's simply a matter of calling the trained "Judas Goat" who readily goes through the gate and up the ramp, pulling dozens of sheep along behind him.

The goat, of course, is let out a side door of the chute just before the killing room floor. A Judas Goat may spend a decade or more leading hundreds of thousands of sheep to their death, but he himself will be well-fed and sleep in a heated stall. Draw your own political and corporate analogies.

Back to my problem. What do I do about this uneasy situation between my two quarrelsome bitches?

Well for one thing, I can remove a major source of tension by opening all the doors out to the yard before I pop the latches on the crates -- a simple enough way to make sure there is no chaotic canine backup inside the garage.

The second thing I can do is make sure that I always open the crates in the right order; a simple way of reinforcing the new pack hierarchy that (I hope) the dogs have established.

Finally, I need to start working with the dogs, both individually and as a group, so that they have to get permission to pass over the garage door threshold. No more chaos at the door.

Training the dogs to stop and get permission should not be too difficult -- it's a small door and I am a pretty big person. By simply squaring up my body in front of the door and leaning forward a bit with a firm "yaaa" they should stop dead. Whatever "yaaa" means to them, it's certainly not "proceed."

Will this be enough to put things in order? I hope so, but who knows? Dogs are a bit of a mystery, and it may take a few more turns of the wrench before I get the nuts set right.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Slandering the Good Name of Ireland

This post is recycled from this blog, circa May 2006.

I came across a few puppy peddler ads on the internet that should astound those who dig and work their dogs in Ireland.

You are being seriously slandered, my friends!

For example, we have the "Irish Jack Russell Terriers." Irish Jacks, the puppy peddlers, tell us, are better than regular Jack Russells, because the Irish Jacks "...are not bred for their hunting abilities [and so] make better pets." Beautiful! See >> for more nonsense.

I note that there are very few pictures of adult "Irish Jack Russells" on these puppy peddler sites. Apparently the bow-legged and barrel-chested adults (a function of a genetic defect called achondroplasia) makes for an adult dog that is a little less pleasing to look at. It is certainly an odd-looking dog, and one that cannot work well in the field due to its expanded chest.

The "Irish Jack Russell" people are selling their dogs under several names and now they are promoting a dachshund cross as (wait for it!) a "hunt terrier". They have even created "The Hunt Terrier Club of America" at Ironically, this web site appears to come out the Southwest U.S -- an area of the country where almost no one hunts their terriers at all. The say they hope to get their bow-legged dachshund crosses registered with the AKC. Say no more! The very definition of success for a working dog!

A quick search turns up more puffery about "hunt terriers" from the "English Jack Russell Terrier Association" web site at where they prattle on about a dog "famous around Limmerick".

Limmerick eh? Well of course, I remember the limmerick:

The internet ads offer puppies,

To rich and quite silly young yuppies

Romantic histories are told

So more dogs can be sold

May I recommend "Jack Russells for Dummies"?

Of course, the "Irish Jack" puppy peddlers are offering no less of a load than you find with most dog registries with their nonworking dogs and their also-invented histories.

If anyone can find a honest history of a single breed of dog registered by the American Kennel Club, you are doing a better job than me!

A rose by any other name ... and the same can be said for puppy peddlers.

Eh? What's That?

"Things that upset a terrier may pass virtually unnoticed by a Great Dane."
. . . . . . .- Smiley Blanton

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Upside of Disaster and Decline

Terrierman as a boy in Kansas.

Walter H. sent me an article from The Wichita Eagle on waste land in eastern Kansas that is being snapped up by folks converting it to hunting camps.

The story is close to my heart, as my grandfather was raised on a farm near Longton, Kansas (population 394), and it's the spot where I first fell in love with fishing, which in turn has led to a passion for the outdoors, dogs, hunting and the rest. One of my most treasured possessions is on a shelf in the garage -- a 40-year old fiberglass pole that I used as a kid when fishing the family farm pond in Longton. That's me in the picture at top -- fishing at about age 5 or 6 with that same pole.

My mother and father returned to Longton some time back to find the farmhouse knocked to the ground and gone, and the wooden barn now covered in metal sheathing to protect it from the elements.

The farm is now owned by a fellow who hopes to turn it into a professionally-managed deer and bird hunting concern. Apparently more than a few people are doing the same kind of thing in Kansas these days. As the Wichita Eagle notes about a portion of eastern Kansas that has been ravaged by a combination of coal mining and declining water tables:

"For decades it's been seen as some of the most worthless wasteland in Kansas.

Not anymore.

Not long ago valued at $300 an acre, some rugged land is now on the market for more than $3,000 an acre.

The increased value isn't from a discovery of coal or oil deposits. The new, most valued natural resources wear fur, feathers and fins.

"If you love to hunt and fish, you'd be hard pressed to find a better piece of property than this," said Brad Harris, as he toured 900-plus acres near Pittsburg. "It's seriously some of the best in the nation."

Some of the best in the nation? That's a bit of a stretch. That said, there's no shortage of scrub farm land available for less than $1,000 an acre, and that's not too bad a price for property, even if there's not much water to be had.

Today Kansas has more land with a population density of 6 people per square mile than it did in 1890.

Six people per square mile, for the record, was the standard used by Frederick Jackson Turner in 1893 to gauge how much "frontier" was left in America. While 388 counties west of the Mississippi River could still be said to qualify as "frontier" in 1980, that number had risen to 402 by 2000.

What's going on in those always-sparsely-settled sections of the country that are now losing population? Well, for one thing, some chunks of the country are starting to run out of water. We got out of the Dust Bowl thanks, in no small part, to fossil water being pumped out of the ground. Nows those wells, drilled in the 1930s, are starting to run dry, and there's no more 10,000-year-old water to be had.

In other parts of the country, once-bustling railroad depots and corridors have fallen silent, replaced by interstate truckers and commercial jets. In the Great Plains, if you're not right along the Interstate, you're nowhere. They don't call this part of America "fly over country" for nothing.

Television, education, and mechanization have had their impact too. It's hard to keep people on the farm after they have been raised on a nonstop diet of Miami Vice, MTV, and Beverly Hills 90210, and after they have been sent off to college and graduate school.

Adding to the push and pull is the fact that farms are increasingly mechanized, while farm prices continue to plummet in a world in which soy beans are imported from Brazil and wheat glutten is imported from China. If you cannot make a steady income from the land, then you can't make a living from it all.

With large areas of the American west slowly depopulating, some have wondered what the "Next Economy" for the region might look like.

About 20 years ago, Drs. Frank and Deborah Popper suggested the next economy might look a lot like the one that existed prior to 1820.

Calling their idea "the Buffalo Commons" the Poppers suggested that Federal and State governments stop subsidizing farmers to pump fossil water in order to grow crops no one wanted and needed, and instead buy up large tracts of land which would serve as a natural corridor through which bison and other native wildlife could once again roam free.

Some people denounced the idea as a crazy left-wing land grab by enviro-lunatics, while others praised the idea for its visionary economic and environmental brilliance.

No matter. Good ideas can hardly be stopped and bad ideas rarely fly too far.

In this case, what has emerged is not quite what the Popper's imagined, but something quite interesting nonetheless.

Instead of buying land outright, the Federal Goverment has decided to lease it. By leasing the land and keeping it fallow under the terms of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which began in 1986, a great deal of the Great Plains (and no small part of land in the East and far West too) has been put under modified protection.

The good news is that because of the way it was set up, the CRP program was able to expand very rapidly. CRP land now totals more than 50,000 square miles across the U.S. -- an area about the size of England.

Instead of returning things to a kind of unified "American Serengetti" with huge herds of Bison, however, the land has remained a tapestry of private land that has simply been left fallow. The result has been about perfect for deer, coyote, fox, and some game birds, even if it has not done much for the buffalo (which are in no danger of extinction in any case).


The land in green is fallow CRP land, the land in grey is other federal land (National Forest, National Park, etc.). You can see a larger version of this map at >>

The depopulation of the Great Plains and the return of prairie wildlife is not a complete aberration. It turns out that Mother Nature is a tough old girl, and if we will only take our boot off her throat, she will generally spring up on her feet and heal in time.

The problem, of course, is that we now have a lot of boots on her throat. To be specific, we have 600 million boots in this country right now, and we are adding more every day. Across the world there are 12 billion boots, and more are being added every day. With so many boots on the land, a great deal of wildlife and wild places have necessarily been stomped into the ground.

Which brings us to "the exceptions that prove the rule" -- places which, for one reason or another, have become (or remain) people-free zones.

A look at a sampling of these from around the world suggests there may be (as hard as it is to believe) an upside to disaster and decline:

  • Chernobyl: Prior to 1986, the area surrounding Chernobyl in the Ukraine was an agricultural area populated by about 135,000 people. After an uncontained nuclear power plant accident, however, livestock and crops across a vast area were systematically destroyed, and all of the people within a 2,800 mile area around the nuclear plant were evacuated. With the removal of humans has come the return of some of Europe's most endangered species, including lynx, wolves, cranes, beaver, eagles, hawks, wild boar, roe deer, badger, and otters. Populations of human-dependent animals, such as rats, house mice, sparrows and pigeons, have declined. While some folks may imagine that the Chernobyl site must be filled with two-headed frogs, radioactive fish, and sterile deer, scientists have found relatively few visible wildlife side-effects. Dr. Ron Chesser, a senior research scientist and genetics professor at the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL) in Aiken, South Carolina notes that "There are no monsters. The Chernobyl zone is actually a very beautiful place with thriving wildlife communities. Without a Geiger-counter, you wouldn't know you were in a highly contaminated place."

  • The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ): The Korean Demilitarized Zone is about 2.5 miles wide and 155 miles long, stretching across the entire length of the Korean Peninsula. It is one of the largest unmanned areas in northeast Asia. Festooned with barbed wire, landmines, tank traps, sensors, automatic artillery, and patrolled by scores of thousands of soldiers with "shoot-to-kill" orders, the Korean DMZ is also home to hawks, eagles, antelope, two kinds of rare cranes, frogs, black bears, and roe deer. The DMZ is also rumored to be home to the last Korean tigers on earth. In total, more than 20,000 migratory fowl utilize the DMZ border area which encompasses a broad cross-section of Korean ecosystems and landscapes.

  • Military Weapons Production Facilities: Military weapons production facilities in the U.S. have resulted in the creation of several large "no man" zones. In Washington State, for example, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation was created as part of the WWII-era Manhattan Project. Today the 586-square mile site is one of the most contaminated spots on earth due to nuclear waste, but it also contains the best undisturbed "shrub-steppe" habitat in the Columbia River basin, and the only undammed stretch of the Columbia River. The healthiest populations of wild chinook salmon on the river system can be found along the Hanford Reach, and more than 200 species of birds and more than 40 rare plants and animals, such as the long-billed curlew, call it home.

    In Colorado, the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility and the Rocky Mountain Arsenal (which produced and stored vast quantities of chemical weapons) systematically kept out humans for more than 40 years. As a result, the 10-square mile Rocky Flats complex outside of Denver has been described as "a rare biological treasure" -- one of the last remaining Front Range open spaces with natural prairie grassland -- while the Rocky Mountain Arsenal (also just outside of Denver) has thriving colonies of prairie dogs and over 100 overwintering bald eagles, as well as trophy-sized mule deer and impressive populations of ferruginous hawks, burrowing owls and mountain plovers. Both locations, for the record, are now National Wildlife Refuge's.

    In Georgia, a 300-square-mile property along the Savannah River was set aside for nuclear research and development more than 50 years ago. For most of the Cold War this site produced plutonium and tritium for atomic bombs. While a small part of the complex remains heavily contaminated, most of the area was left in pristine condition as a security buffer zone -- an area that today is home to more than 240 species of birds, 100 species of reptiles and amphibians, and nearly 100 species of freshwater fish. Because Savannah River wildlife was left alone to matures, many state record holders have been caught or trapped here, including the largest South Carolina alligator ever caught (13 feet) and the largest South Carolina largemouth bass. Despite jokes about "glowing frogs," University of Georgia's Whit Gibbons says there is no evidence to date of genetic damage to wildlife. "It's a pretty simple formula," he note, "The best protection for the environment is no people."

  • It's a pretty sobering reality that no amount of barbed wire, spent fuel rods, PCBs, landmines, live ammo, or coal slag is as dangerous to wild animals as the mere presence of humans.

    So what's next when it comes to the upside of disaster and decline?

    One word: Katrina.

    It looks like one of the lasting legacies of Hurricane Katrina is that private insurance companies along the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts are going to change how they do business. Many are pulling out of the region altogether, while others are jacking up the price of their policies so much (and writing in a lot of escape clauses when they write a policy at all) that sensible developers are reevaluating their construction projects.

    With large parts of the Louisiana and Mississippi coast already saddled with the Cancer Alley monicker due to the previous dumping by the oil and chemical industries, it's a safe bet that coastal land prices are going to remain low for some time, that development will be slow to return where it has been wiped out, and that more wildlife may yet return to some areas.

    In fact, the best possible outcome for parts of Louisiana and Mississippi may be if Federal and private interests buy up large sections of the coast and simply allow them to return to nature.

    Maybe -- just maybe -- God was sending us a message. One does not have to a Bible-thumping Christian to read Matthew 7:25-27, as a sensible construction code:

    "And rain came down, and floods came, and winds blew, and the house built according to my teachings did not fall down, for it was founded on stone.

    "As for the house built on sand, and not according to my teaching, rains came down, and floods came, and winds blew, and hurled against the house, and it fell in a mighty roar."


    Tuesday, June 12, 2007

    Mutant Bully Whippets

    The New York Times reports that testing of racing whippets has revealed the causal agent for "bully-whippets" which are so morphologically different than their dams and sires. It seems that by crossing the fastest whippet with the fastest whippet, a breeder can "double down" on a defective myostatin gene. A single copy of this gene makes for the fastest whippets at the track or in the field, while a double dose of the gene (a full pair) and you get a heavy-bodied and thick-headed dog that looks like a very ugly labrador cross.

    For more on the limits of breeding "the best to the best" -- and why that is no longer done ad infinitum with cattle, see >> Inbred Thinking


    Why Most Lion Do Not Hunt Cape Buffalo

    There are very few places in Africa where lions routinely hunt Cape Buffalo.
    This amazing footage gives you some idea of why.

    This is a long bit of tape, but it's worth watching to the very end. It will take about a minute to load even with a cable or T1 or T2 line. Give it a moment -- it's worth it.


    A Wrench That Doesn't Fit

    This post is a reprint from December of 2005

    Histories are always an interesting thing
    , as are breed standards and the all-breed dog books.

    I have found that all of these things seem to copy each other, with one bit of idiocy begetting another, so that now about half of the all-breed books say a border terrier is 10 inches tall. I suppose we will soon discover that John Russell bought a dog named "Milkman" from a man named Trump, and that a Border Terrier was named after the "South of the Border" franchise!

    In that vein, I was on the web site of the breeders association for the AKC "Parson" Russell Terrier, and found an interesting history that made me laugh. There are several things poorly phrased in this history, but I will not quibble with the small parts, but focus on the main.

    The PRTAA breed history begins, "The Parson Russell Terrier was first bred in the south of England in the mid-1800's to hunt European red fox ..."

    Good up to there, I suppose, though the dog predates John Russell (he had no problem finding a white foxing terrier to mate to Trump!) and was not called a "Russell" terrier (of any type) until after the Reverend was stone dead. In the mid 1800s they were fox terriers or foxing terriers until the Kennel Club ruined the breed and disgraced the name.

    I suppose that one should also note that there is no such thing as a "European" red fox; there is only a red fox, and it is the same animal all over the world, from Israel to England, and from Canada to California. The fact that the American red fox is the same as the "European " variety -- and is in fact an import from the U.K. -- will no doubt come as a surprise to the theorists in the Kennel Club.

    The history goes on to note that "Rev. Russell was a founding member of England's Kennel Club in 1873, and in 1874 he judged fox terriers for The Kennel Club."

    Well yes, this is true, but there is a bit more isn't there? Russell was 78 years old when the Kennel Club was created -- an old man broken by poverty who had been forced to sell off his pack of hounds because he could no longer afford to keep them. He judged one of the very first Kennel Club shows, but his remarks at that show are notable. As he somewhat humorously described his own terriers after going to the show and seeing the Transvestite dogs being paraded around the ring: "True terriers [my dogs] were, but differing from the present show dogs as the wild eglantine differs from a garden rose."

    Russell never did register his own terriers with the Kennel Club, noting that the things selected for at shows (color of the nose, placement of the ear, etc.) were of no use to a working terrier in the field. As far as I can tell, he judged only one show, found it an amusing disgrace, and never repeated the mistake!

    The PRTAA history goes on: "The first breed Standard was drafted in 1904 by Arthur Heinemann, who founded the Parson Jack Russell Terrier Club in 1914."

    In fact what Heinemann founded was the Devon and Somerset Badger Digging Club, and he founded it in 1902, the same year he bought the Cheriton Otterhounds. Heinemann never met Russell (he was only 12 when Russell died) and his dogs were not descended from Russell's dogs (Russell had only only four very old terriers at the end).

    The PRTAA web site goes on: "The JRTAA standard was based upon the Heinemann standard and was written to represent the Parson Russell Terrier as a working terrier to red fox and red fox alone."

    Really? A digging club called the "Devon and Somerset Badger Club" wrote a breed standard for an animal they were not working??? What an odd thing.

    In fact it is pure bunk invented by people who do not dig and who have conveniently cut down the history to fit their nonworking dogs.

    In the world of show dogs fantasy feeds more than substance, and more dirt is thrown with a computer keyboard than with a shovel in the field.

    The world of the working terrier allows for different sized dogs for different earths, situations and quarries. Different wrenches for different nuts, so to speak.

    A badger sette and a fox pipe are not the same size, nor are the animals that dig them. A fox may put up in a badger earth, in which case a larger dog can be used, or it may put up in a drain, in which case a larger dog can be used, but a European badger earth and a natural fox den are not the same size. If you are hunting fox you need a dog capable of following an animal with a 14" chest -- it's that simple.

    The true history of the AKC breed standard seems to be that they have a breed standard written by a badger digging club that they are now presenting as a breed standard for working red fox in a natural earth.

    No wonder there are so few Kennel Club dogs found in the field! It's a bit like an American mechanic showing up at a Volvo factory and wondering why none of his wrenches fit!