Sunday, September 28, 2008

All conservation is local

A few items of local interest:

The National Audubon Society, which manages the Spring Creek Prairie near Denton, has requested that portions of two dirt roads (total mileage: 1.1) along the edge of the property be vacated. This is, in my opinion, an entirely reasonable request. With over 98% of the original tallgrass prairie gone, we should do everything we can to save and enhance what is left. The county engineer, however, foresees a time when this portion of SW 86th Street might be needed for an arterial highway. A highway, here?!? I don't make it out to Spring Creek as often as I should—the last time, I think, was last summer, when Ellie and I participated in a butterfly count—but it's one of the best (and one of the very few) remaining tallgrass prairies in the Lincoln area. If we can't work around a gem like this, we've really screwed the pooch. Here are links to an article and an editorial from the Journal Star.

National Geographic photographer (and Lincoln resident) Joel Sartore—whose website I highly recommend, by the way—makes a good case in the Prairie Fire newspaper for saving the critically endangered Salt Creek tiger beetle, which is endemic to a constellation of small sites just north of Lincoln. This spring, the city of Lincoln was awarded grants for habitat conservation and restoration by the Nebraska Environmental Trust and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Still, there is a lot of local opposition (notably from those with commercial real-estate interests) to protecting "just a bug", even when it's explained that the beetle is emblematic of an entire unique ecosystem. Like Lincoln isn't expanding too rapidly already...

Moving slightly farther afield, and on a happier note, an easement agreement will preserve Pahuk Hill near Fremont, a site of both natural and cultural importance. Dave Sands, executive director of the Nebraska Land Trust, describes the location as "where the west begins" since this bluff represents the westernmost occurrence of several trees and other plant species. In addition, traditional healers of the Pawnee Indians long revered Pahaku (sometimes Anglicized as Pohocco) as the site of an animal lodge, where herbal medicines were revealed by animal spirits to the healers.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Monday, September 22, 2008

Survivor: Isla Nublar

I could survive for 1 minute, 6 seconds chained to a bunk bed with a velociraptor
Well, 1:06 according to this widget, anyway. But as I recall, the Velociraptor of the fossil record (as opposed to the Velociraptor of Jurassic Park) was somewhere between the size of a chicken and a turkey. Given a half-decent pair of boots, I think I might be able to take the little bastard, at least the single specimen posited in the scenario.

The critters in the movie, though called Velociraptor, are more like Deinonychus. Against Deinonychus, I don't think there's any way I last a minute-six.

[HT dr. hypercube at Diary of a Mad Natural Historian.]

Sunday, September 21, 2008

(Second) fastest dog in the West

What is it about dachshunds, especially miniature dachshunds, that compels people to announce "Look, a wiener dog!" to no one, and for no apparent reason? I don't care for the term, although I have no objection when my friend Rachel from New Zealand refers to Maxine and Anya as my "sausage dogs". But I put that quibble aside once a year for The Running of the Wieners, held in conjunction with German Heritage Days by the Platt-Duetsche Society of Grand Island.

Grand Island is Nebraska's third-largest city, but this is an exemplar of Nebraska's small-town festivals, many of which celebrate the immigrant (and, if you count wacipi or powwows, Native) cultures represented in the state. Lots of German immigrants settled in the Platte River Valley, so why not set up a biergarten and race dachshunds for fun?

[Ellie starting Anya]

The basic format is this: A series of qualifying heats in which up to eight dogs run (I think) a 40-yard dash; the fastest eight in each age class run a second and final race. There is also a costume contest, and a number of vendors sell doggie-related items in the Platt-Duetsche parking lot. But the main draw for us is just the chance to spend time with other dachshund enthusiasts, marvel at the variety of coats and colors, and watch kids enjoying the dogs.

Today marked the 8th annual Running of the Wieners, and our third. Maxine is an athletic dog and made the finals last year, so we weren't too surprised when she won her qualifying heat with a time of 4.3 seconds. She improved that time to 4.28 in the final, despite easing up at the finish line, and claimed second place only two-hundredths of a second behind the winner. Her motivation: I was standing at the finish line, tossing and cradling a ball in my lacrosse stick—the only thing Max enjoys more than hunting rabbits is chasing balls, especially lacrosse balls. If I had stepped back from the finish line, she would have charged full-speed the whole way and taken gold.

[Top to bottom:
  • Pre-race: Mark, Ellie, & Maxine
  • Ellie starting Max
  • Forget the trophy; this is my reward!]

Anya also took home a prize, a third-place "Judge's Choice" ribbon for her "Indiana Jones" costume. It was actually a fly-fishing vest and boonie hat, but Ellie doesn't seem to mind.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Not original equipment

I almost hate to admit it...but this is kind of cool.

For discussion and terrible, terrible puns, click here. HT Susie.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A quiet spectacle at twilight

About 7:45 this evening, I stepped outside into a misty rain to let the dogs out, and was treated to the sight of a few dozen nighthawks flying low overhead. It's not unusual to see nighthawks in the neighborhood in the summer, but a concentration like this only occurs during migration. The caprimulgids swept across the sky, coming from and going to all directions at once, barreling through on shallow, falcon-like wingbeats, occasionally pitching up and stalling, or changing direction so abruptly it seemed they might turn inside-out—all without benefit of an air-traffic controller. The beauty of their flight was enhanced by an unusual quiet: none of the nighthawks' typical buzzing calls, no traffic noise, no barking dogs (even Maxine & Anya seemed to respect the moment), and the two chimney swifts that joined in the chase for insects (apparently undeterred by the mist) withheld their usual chattering.

You should have been there.

You can be there: The migration is underway, and all you need is a little lucky timing and an excuse to step outside in the evening.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Dolores Umbridge and the wolves

A bit of slightly lazy blogging today, in that I'm borrowing much of this from Defenders of Wildlife. I will point out first that I don't always see eye to eye with DoW. One action I did admire was their compensation program for ranchers in Yellowstone region who could document stock losses caused by wolf depredation. This innovative, straightforward measure did much to ameliorate tensions in and around Yellowstone. Moreover, they were on the right side of the issue—returning wolves to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem—while a few other conservation groups, notably the National Audubon Society, opposed the reintroduction on the grounds that 10(j) designation as a "non-essential experimental" population reduced legal protection for (purely hypothetical) wolves that might wander in from other parts of the country where they enjoyed full ESA protection. Unfortunately, DoW later fell into the same sort of thinking—"protecting" individual animals from a carefully-designed program that would have no negative effect on populations—when they opposed an extremely limited and highly regulated take of eyas peregrines in the western U.S. for falconry.

They're on the right side of this one, though. Like most conservation groups and, indeed, hunters worthy of the designation, they are opposed to aerial hunting of predators like wolves and bears. Unfortunately the Repulican nominee for vice-president, Sarah Palin, thinks aerial shoots (and bounties on wolves) are a great idea.

Here's some more information on her record as governor of Alaska, courtesy of Defenders of Wildlife:

Sarah Palin and the Environment

Governor Sarah Palin has an extreme anti-conservation record on issues ranging from global warming, energy and drilling to wildlife and habitat protection.

Aerial hunting of wolves and bears

Governor Palin is an active promoter of Alaska's aerial hunting program whereby wolves and bears are shot from the air or chased by airplanes to the point of exhaustion before the pilot lands the plane and a gunner shoots the animals point blank.

Palin offered a $150 bounty for wolves to entice hunters to kill more wolves in certain parts of the state, with hunters having to present a wolf's foreleg to collect the bounty.

She actively opposed a ballot measure campaign seeking to end the aerial hunting of wolves by private hunters and approved a $400,000 state-funded campaign aimed at swaying people's votes on the issue.

She also introduced legislation to make it easier to kill wolves and bears and which would have also removed the aerial hunting initiative from the ballot and block the ability of citizens to vote on the issue.

The Board of Game, which she appoints, has approved the killing of black bear sows with cubs as part of the program and expanded the aerial control programs.

The media is currently looking into reports that state officials implementing one of the aerial wolf killing programs illegally killed five-week old wolf pups just outside their dens.

Global Warming

As recently as August 2008, Governor Palin questioned whether man-made fossil fuel emissions are responsible for global warming, defying worldwide scientific consensus (Newsmax 8/29/08). And her drill-drill-drill approach to energy issues will do nothing to ease the causes of global warming, promote the use of clean, renewable energy sources, or break our addiction to foreign oil.

Endangered Species

Palin has repeatedly opposed the listing of endangered animals under the Endangered Species List despite overwhelming scientific evidence that such listings are warranted.

Polar Bear

The U.S. Geological Survey predicts that loss of summer sea ice - crucial habitat for polar bears - could lead to the demise of two-thirds of the world's polar bears by mid-century, including all of Alaska's polar bears. The Bush administration has proposed listing the polar bears as threatened under the ESA to help protect polar bear habitat from threats such as oil and gas development.

Governor Palin has actively opposed the listing of the polar bear despite the fact that Alaska's top marine mammal biologists agreed with the federal scientists who believed the bear should be listed. She wrote the Secretary of Interior urging him not to list the bear on the ground it might hurt the state's oil- and gas-dependent economy. After the bear was listed, she recently filed suit seeking to overturn the listing of polar bears.

Beluga Whales

Alaska's Cook Inlet beluga whales are a unique group of white whales whose numbers have dramatically declined in the past two decades due to pressures ranging from pollution to increased ship traffic. Governor Palin opposes the listing of the Cook Inlet beluga whales, citing the listing as a threat to oil and gas development, despite their genetic uniqueness and the fact that their numbers have decreased from 1,300 in the 1980s to about 350 today.


Palin is a strong supporter of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a vital wilderness area. It is home to hundreds of thousands of caribou who use the refuge as a calving ground, more than one million migratory birds, and countless other wildlife. It's the most important onshore denning habitat for female polar bears. Senator McCain himself has repeatedly voted to protect this pristine wilderness area. Palin is also a supporter of drilling in Bristol Bay and other offshore sites despite the risks to sensitive marine wildlife in the area, including the endangered polar bear and Beluga whale.

Clean Water and Pebble Mine

Governor Palin actively campaigned against a state ballot measure this summer aimed at protecting Alaska's Bristol Bay. The mining industry seeks to develop a gold and copper mine in the area that would pollute the Bay's headwaters and threaten the spawning grounds for the largest remaining wild salmon run. The initiative would have prevented large-scale mining operations from dumping waste materials into salmon watersheds.

I already had concerns about Dolores Umbridge—excuse me, I mean Governor Palin—being a heartbeat away from the Oval Office. But while I can't say the above information surprises me, it does still shock me a little.

You can express your opposition to aerial hunting by purchasing this nifty pin from Wm. Spear Design in Anchorage. (I can't believe this is the first time the link has appeared at Flyover Country; I'm a huge fan of Bill's work.)

And you might also consider not voting for the McCain/Palin ticket this November.

(HT Julie for putting this on my radar.)