Sunday, February 22, 2009

Woodpeckers Pecking? Shoot Them!

In August I wrote about people who wanted to kill feral cats for leaving paw prints on their cars. Now here's a story (and once again, I'm impressed by the quality of a nature-related article in the LA Times--I'm going to have to start checking their website) from the opposite coast about people killing acorn woodpeckers for pecking holes in their buildings.

OK, maybe a little more understandable anger, but the cause of this problem is humans in every one of many ways. There's the old standard routine of people wanting to live close to nature but then finding it inconvenient once they move in. There was no problem with the original buildings in this retirement community but the last buildings were erected overlooking a canyon filled with oak trees. The developer decided to make cheap trim out of styrofoam and stucco. The community, thinking it would eliminate forest fires by removing dead wood from the canyon, simultaneously eliminated places where the woodpeckers would normally have stored their acorns. And the solution? Well, killing woodpeckers won't be that solution unless you kill every one because new ones will simply replace the ones you kill. You've moved into woodpecker habitat.

And you've got to love these birds. Just stupid animals, right? Well, it didn't take them long to learn that it was easier to drill a storage space in styrofoam than in oak. And the wooden owl people put up to try to scare them away? They drilled holes in that also.

And in a similar story also brought to my attention by the Nature Blog Network, Extinct Bird Found, Sold, Eaten.

News, Trivia, and other Observations

I haven't been hiking much lately as successive bouts of the flu and a cold seem to have left me permanently congested but when I headed out for an errand yesterday I was overcome by the need to walk. I thought of taking the Lakewalk downtown, but for me the only reasons to go downtown are the library, restaurants, peregrine falcons, and to watch a ship go through the canal. I didn't feel like eating, and shipping season won't start again for about a month (more about the falcons and library later) so I decided to follow the Lakewalk in the other direction.

As I headed down a ramp toward the Lake, I slipped on some snow-covered ice but my Catholic boyhood came in handy and I genuflected for a foot or two with no serious damage. Probably an appropriate maneuver as I remembered Bart Sutter's contention that Lake Superior is God in his wonderful book about life in Duluth, Cold Comfort.

Over the past couple weeks the Lake has moved from ice supporting fishing shacks to open water to its current mix of thin snow-covered ice and open water. I didn't have my binoculars with me so I can't be certain which duck species I saw, but someone told me a few days earlier there were goldeneyes there and the coloring looked right.

A couple small recent snowfalls made tracking the highlight of my walk though the tracks were mostly on the other side of a chain link fence paralleling my trail--snowshoe hare was obvious, and based on size, distance, and straightness, I was fairly confident at guessing at a trotting fox. One interesting trail featured tracks and drag marks to one side of the fence and only tracks on the other side. An otter? Someone forced to give up their prey? Many tracks led to tunnels beneath the adjacent railroad tracks or the paved trail I was walking. These first snows in over a month have also confirmed by a lack of tracks my suspicion that my rabbit neighbor is gone.

The same person who mentioned the goldeneyes asked about signs of spring and I thought of the return of the male peregrine falcon we watch downtown. The female spends the winter here and one day last week I saw her at the end of the perch in front of the nest box. The fledging of the nestlings usually happens at the end of June which is when I expect to move, so I'm disappointed that I'll probably miss it.

One reason I want to get my legs back in shape now is that I've had some thoughts about some local hikes I want to do before leaving, such as completing the parts of the Superior Hiking Trail in town which I haven't done yet and maybe even some of the trail north of town. I see the organization has a hike planned for National Trails Day which will cover one of those in-town sections. There are also plans to make all of this part of the North Country Trail.

But now, much to my surprise, I've gotten a perhaps yearlong temporary job which I'll know almost nothing about until the end of the week, and which while it won't come close to covering my expenses, may lead me to try to find a second part time job so I can squeeze one more year out of living here. Though I still expect that I'll leave this summer, thoughts and plans are mostly on hold for the moment.

Have you heard of the BBC's Ethical Man? I was looking at the Carfree USA blog which led me to him. Apparently he and his family did a reality show about cutting their carbon emissions and have now come to travel around the US by public transportation, for some reason starting in Michigan. But he reports that on his first night he rented a car and had a steak for dinner, so maybe this is a comedy series.

As for local tv, CBS didn't disappear along with ABC and NBC as I thought it was going to (Fox dropped its signal a couple weeks ago). Knowing that it will soon, I admit to watching a few shows this week I'd never seen before and concluding that I hadn't missed much.

I'm planning on soon renting the dvds of the Whale Wars series about Sea Shepherd's attempts to interfere with Japan's illegal whaling, and now comes news that Australia has taken all of the the film for the next season's shows. There was a lot of physical conflict between the ships during the recent whaling season, and the film taken includes a very graphic and lengthy scene of the killing of a whale which Japan certainly doesn't want broadcast.

Library employees and hours were severely reduced here last fall, and for the past few months I've been volunteering reshelving books. I've seen how busy the place is as described in this recent article. The unemployed are using computers to jobhunt and checking out more material for free entertainment.

The newspaper also recently had a poll asking whether you'd visited a library in the past year. 57% said yes--my first thought was that I didn't want to meet the other 43%. (There are often newspaper comments from people who think libraries are a waste of their tax dollars--usually it's clear from reading them that public education was a waste of their parents' tax dollars as well.) But thinking back to when I was making more money than I needed, a large percentage of it got spent on any book which appealed to me and I wasn't visiting libraries at that time either.

For those who are visiting a library, as you're browsing through books on cooking or art or wiring, you might think it really doesn't matter where you randomly put a book back on the shelf--you're wrong. Every book belongs in a specific place. Browse away, but other people are looking for a specific book and they shouldn't have to hunt for it because of your browsing. If you can't figure out the library's system or don't care, just leave the book on a table or cart--don't put it back in the wrong place! I realize of course that no one reading this blog would ever do such a thing, but I just needed to vent.

The only interest I had in tracking visits to this blog was to see what searches brought people here. Over time, I've seen that there are five searches which are much more frequent than any others. Three of them (Lorri Bauston, Sea Shepherd book, and various combinations of Isle Royale wolves and moose) will lead people to a post they'll probably be interested in. The fourth, Zulu rituals, leads to a post which only mentions this as the final entry in an encyclopedia I reviewed. The fifth search, hungry cougars, gives results which are split pretty evenly between 1) the local incident I used as a chance to insult hunters and 2) porn. So far no one has left a comment indicating which they were looking for.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Eras Ending

I've saved the best topic (but therefore worst news) for last, so if you'd rather read about moose than compact discs and television, skip ahead.

The local record store was having a sale so I stopped in for the first time in a few months. It was surprising to see the many empty racks, and yet not--I've been noticing the many famous cds going out of print as the last copies are sold, the "discontinued by manufacturer" notes on websites. Soundwise I was never crazy about cds, but they were a lot more convenient than lps, and I suppose there's just another level of that tradeoff going on now, a level I'll never know.

Anyway, I decided I'd better sell some more cds before they stopped buying them so when I got home I filled a bag with 1/4 of my remaining cds. The next morning I hauled them downtown. Too late. The clerk said the Minneapolis store is still buying them. That would actually cover my trip expenses for a change since I can carry a lot more cds than books, but I'll call to verify that before I go. Probably would be a good idea to call the bookstore as well. America, your unnecessary plastic objects no longer have any value.

When it was first announced that television was going digital, I decided it would be a good time to let television out of my life as well. I watched a lot as a kid, even have a few complete series on dvds, but only had cable briefly about twenty years ago and there have been a lot more prime time hours when the machine's off than on.

In a few days, PBS will be the only station left for me and I haven't heard how long that one will last. This won't be my first tvless time: after college, I shared a house with a crowd and we didn't want one, and I used to date a woman who just kept a tiny one in a closet for special occasions. Besides, when the leaves are off the trees, I can stand by my bedroom window and see two wall size screens in other apartments.

I wrote a couple months ago about the declining moose population in Minnesota and its likely causes of warming climate and parasites. Last week in my wildlife class, we had a guest speaker talking about moose. It was a good talk, featuring more of the natural history of a species I was hoping for when I signed up for the class than we get most weeks. Though the usual instructor shares a lot of my values regarding wildlife, I wasn't looking for a class discussing values and anecdotes. You can be sure I'll be skipping this week's class focusing on deer.

Our moose speaker shared a lot of photos and data and brought along an antler and a wolf-chewed moose radio collar. A graph showed various projections for the Minnesota moose population all ending in virtually no moose in fifty years at most. Next came a list of possible actions to be taken in response.

You might think that one of those actions would be to stop hunting moose. The reason you might think that is that I haven't told you yet that our speaker was a man paid to see the world as "natural resources", paid by people who want to kill moose. So instead one of the possible responses was to kill more deer, thereby reducing the possibility of the moose being infected by the brain worm which the deer carry. Or I suppose we could try to eradicate the snails and slugs which are also part of the cycle. Or the winter ticks which also weaken the moose. Or since the deer weren't here originally and we're following ecological pathways, we could eliminate the cause of them being here by killing all the people. And don't even think of a wolf hunting season if the federal government allows the state the option--we need them to eat the deer.

Another listed possible option was "give up". And this may be the option with the best chance of success, in that nature will ultimately take its course regardless of human action. And I'd respect the option if I thought it indicated humility and respect, and accepting humans as one small part of nature, and would be the attitude in all human-nature interactions. But in this case I think it translates as "Kill 'em while you can, boys."

But as I wrote, ultimately . . . ultimately nature bats last as the saying goes, and that's where all the hope for the world remains. Happily, I think cds and television will be extinct before the moose.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Floating Away, On the Thin Ice of a New Day

Have you heard about the Lake Erie ice fishermen who had to be rescued when the wind sent them sailing away from shore? More than a hundred of them decided it would be a good idea to build a wooden bridge over a crack in the ice and drive out their ATVs and their snowmobiles, which are still floating around out there after the crack widened.

Sheriff Bob Bratton explains it well, "What happened here today was just idiotic. I don't know how else to put it." It's your big moment of fame, guys, enjoy. You've far outclassed the boring hunters who shoot themselves while falling down drunk and the ho-hum snowmobilers who kill themselves running into a tree or sinking into a lake. A couple of you could probably even get on Letterman (Top Ten Signs the Ice is Moving?) though I don't think he could insult you any better than the comments I've seen on newspaper websites from around the country.

I see these fishing shacks cluttering the ice off Duluth, feel like they should be banned for being an eyesore, and fantasize about seeing them drop through the ice before my eyes, but this might be even better. I wonder if the folks onshore waved goodbye.

Seriously, these clowns should be made to pay the cost of all the helicopters and air boats and emergency personnel which had to be used to save from their own stupidity.

So as you push off from the shore
Won't you turn your head once more
And make your peace with everyone?
For those who choose to stay
Will live just one more day
To do the things they should have done.
And as you cross the wilderness
Spinning in your emptiness
You feel you have to pray.
--Jethro Tull

Saturday, February 7, 2009

With a Chick Chick Here

I've been reading some of my old journals lately, enough to have decided that I'll ship these rather than junk them when I leave. So I should probably move on to a more necessary project, but it's hard to ignore recollections of memories you no longer have, descriptions of people you can no longer envision, an exciting time of junking the corporate career with no employment in sight and further exploring old and new interests in nature, women, dance, paganism, writing, counseling, running, cooking, volunteering. My visit to New Orleans had helped shake me loose; college friends visiting me had helped redefine relationships. Rereading, I'm finding I knew myself and others better than I realized twenty years ago.

Today's an anniversary--the date I accepted a job with a small college where I'd remain for ten years, by far the lengthiest employment in my history. At some time while I worked there, a researcher began doing experiments on chickens. A few of us raised enough questions to get a meeting with him and the head of personnel, a good woman who used a loom and missed men with long hair (mine was close to my waist at the time, and at this point I find it more of a surprise to recall that I had a waist), a meeting which served no real purpose except to mark us as prime suspects if the chickens disappeared.

Oh no, we're not really hurting the chickens. We just attach this there, and keep them here, and don't let them do that, and we've got a big grant from the government, and we're gonna make the world a better place. I'd sometimes hear a flat of chicks arriving at the mailroom, their peeps filling the hallway to my office; sometimes hear of the ones who arrived dead in their tiny cardboard cubicles, their life of days over.

I thought of quitting, and knew there was no escape.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bus Too Crowded? We'll Fix That.

There's an article in the NY Times today which nicely illustrates how hopelessly screwed up our society's structure is. I never remember if Times links work--I think it's one of those idiotic sites which require you to make up a fake identity before you can look at it.

Use of public transportation is booming all over the country, on new and old systems, on bus and rail. Great news, right? At least something's going right. Good social effects to boot--fewer people riding solo in their cars, less pollution, less traffic, more interaction with your neighbors. Now with all those extra riders, we can start rebuilding the systems we dismantled for the automobile.

Except what's actually happening is that transit companies are raising fares, cutting service, and laying off employees, because we have a system where basics such as public transit are dependent on the myth of eternal growth for its funding. No sales tax, no transit. And don't expect the federal stimulus money to keep affordable buses running and drivers and riders employed. No, that's going to build new tracks and buy new buses that cities won't be able to use.

Watch the unemployment rate soar in St. Louis which is planning to eliminate almost half of its bus service leaving many people with no way to get to their jobs, and many customers with no one to wait on them. Here in Duluth, we're still waiting to hear if Greyhound is going to eliminate service, and common sense tells you the only airline will soon stop flying here even as people look to spend millions renovating the irrelevant airport.

Just one more example of the deep underlying and interrelated problems all the hope in the world isn't going to solve. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

How Many Ethicists Does It Take To . . .

Back in the late 90s, I bought twenty years worth of the journal Environmental Ethics. One of my many projects for the next few months is to skim through them all because I don't intend to ship them with the items I'm sending to storage before I leave here.

Last night, I read one of the most famous essays from the field's early days: Animal Liberation: A Triangular Affair by J. Baird Callicott. He compares the values of a land ethic such as Aldo Leopold's with the values of animal rights and humaneness, and wild and domestic animals. At the time, he was teaching at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point (a town I almost moved to before visiting Duluth) and like many folks in these parts worshiped at the altar of the hunter-ecologist. Being from Massachusetts, I belong to the older church of the vegetarian-ecologist.

In any case, I thought this made a good follow-up to my recent post on Rogue Primate (while actually predating that book by about 15 years). I searched a bit to see if I could find the text online. I found several sites offering to sell college papers on the essay--how ethically ironic is that? Then I found this, which offers most of the essay with some pages removed--maybe you can find the entire piece elsewhere. What I found most interesting was a new preface by Callicott, written 15 years later, which largely repudiated everything from his original essay which I was going to argue against in this post and touted the compatible aspects rather than the differences between the two lines of thinking. And if you're really interested in the subject, here's an essay by Dale Jamieson which replies to Callicott's views.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Rabbit Report

I spent the warmest weekend in months huddled under blankets, aching, coughing, shaking, shivering, sleeping. When awake, I amused myself watching a couple squirrels eating the sunflower seeds I'd tossed out for them.

Hadn't seen any sign of my rabbit neighbor in a few weeks and wasn't sure if this was only because of a lack of fresh snow and a crusty surface, or if this one had also met his fate like the lovely coated predecessor I found dead on a sidewalk a couple blocks away. Wild rabbits have a short lifespan, averaging only a year or so because of a large number of predators, including people and their automobiles in this neighborhood.

I climbed the short hill, sinking deep in the snow, and took a look at the entrance way this morning. The lovely mine entrance I wrote about in December has been covered by snow since then, and now there's a proverbial rabbit hole going straight down through the snow. I didn't stand completely above it for fear of collapsing the entire snow cover but I could see one footprint near the hole although it seemed fairly old and frozen. So I'm still not sure if my neighbor's around.

Presumably the chipmunk I saw also going into a hole there after gathering chokecherries in the trees last fall is still enjoying semi-hibernation. One wonders what kind of neighbors they make.

A friend of mine made a video about rabbits in another part of Duluth which you can watch here.