Sunday, July 29, 2007

The future of the wolverine

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is currently accepting comments on a petition to list the Wolverine as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The original petition from the year 2000 was denied as the petitioners could not prove the species was endangered as a result of human activity. This is an interesting argument as we know that the wolverine only lives in its natural habitat, and the habitat continues to be destroyed by humans. This is simply a stall tactic by the government. Here are the comments that I sent in:

US Fish and Wildlife Service,

I am writing to express my support for the listing of the wolverine as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.

I believe the science and knowledge of this animal provide sufficient evidence that their numbers and their future are increasingly threatened. Now is the time to act, before it is too late.

The wolverine, as a keystone predator, plays a critical role in the ecosystem in which it lives. This role extends well beyond the direct predator/prey relationship, effecting many animals and plants within the natural environment. Studies have shown that the presence of keystone predators is required to maintain biological diversity. Biological diversity is in turn required for ecosystems to sustain themselves through various stresses - seasonality, drought, and climate change. Diversity itself plays an important role in enabling a species to evolve and survive through these stresses. With the accelerating rate of climate change, it is critical that we maintain as much biological diversity as possible. This means strong protection for all keystone predators.

Thus, it is critical for the wolverine, and all of the other species within their ecosystems, that we not let this critical animal slip into extinction. Please provide them the protection that they deserve under the law.

Thank you.

If you would like to comment, send a brief comment letter or email to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (deadline for comments is August 6, 2007; see below for addresses).

Mail your comments to: Wolverine Status Review, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana Field Office, 585 Shepard Way, Helena, MT 59601 or by e-mail to FW6_wolverine@fws.gov. Please submit electronic comments in an ASCII format or Microsoft Word file and avoid the use of any special characters or any form of encryption. Please include “Attn: wolverine status review” in the subject line of your e-mail message and provide your name and return address.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Idaho on Fire

It looks like we will be breathing smoke for the rest of the summer. According to our local news station, there are 17 major wildfires burning in the state. 850,000 acres already burned this year! This is more than double any other state in the country.

The Forest Service Active Fire Maps have all of the details. So far 5 Idaho counties have been declared disaster areas. A number of small towns and ranches are currently threatened, specifically by the Murphy Complex and the East Zone Complex fires.

If only it were humans who suffered the majority of the negative impacts of these fires of our creation. Unfortunately, two endangered species are becoming more endangered by the Murphy Complex fire. Both became endangered due to our over grazing practices, now they are becoming more endangered due to fire spurred on by global warming. Some are arguing that more grazing would help decrease the fire risk. This is a common argument in this area after any rangeland fire. Ralph's Wildlife News hosts a discussion on why this assumption is totally bogus.

All we can hope for now is cooler, more humid and wet weather in the short term, and a heavy winter/cool spring next year.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Letter to Senator Craig

I received a letter from Senator Craig today:

Dear Robert:
Because of your previous contact regarding the ongoing war in Iraq, I would like to take a moment to share a brief update on the current debate in the Senate.
The Senate is now in its second week of debate on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008.  This legislation authorizes funding, policy changes, and other activities for our military for the coming fiscal next year.  While many important military and defense needs have been and will be discussed, the war in Iraq has become the main focus of debate.  As you well know, this war has been a very contentious issue in America over the past few years, and there are people on both sides of the issue who feel very strongly about our presence in Iraq.  This week we will be debating a number of amendments to this bill, including an amendment calling for more time to allow the troop our increase to assist in stabilizing the country, which I will support.  I am anticipating a very open and possibly heated debate on this issue, and I can assure you that I will be engaged in that debate. 
Throughout the upcoming debate, I will be maintaining a journal of floor activity on this bill to help keep Idahoans informed.  You will find this journal on my website by following this link: http://craig.senate.gov/journal_dod.cfm.
Again, thank you for sharing your concerns.  As soon as the Senate comes to a resolution on this bill, I will send you a full summary of our actions.

The letter compelled me to respond back with my own feedback

Senator Craig,
Thank you for your correspondence regarding the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2008. I would encourage you to support any measure that gets us out of Iraq as soon as possible, even if that requires setting a specific time line. I believe that our presence in Iraq is causing more harm than good, putting our troops and ultimately all of our citizens at greater risk. Our presence there is decreasing our standing and influence in the world and is feeding terrorists around the world. The resources that we are investing in Iraq could much more effectively be used to combat terrorism and provide security elsewhere. Iraq was a failed strategy going in, its been a failed strategy ever since, and I see no future path to success as long as we are present there. Thank you for your consideration.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Reason For Hope

Well, I left for the weekend on a slightly more positive note about the future of the treasure valley. While I was still recovering from a bee sting, Karyn and some other friends completed an epic mountain bike ride. While waiting for them I typed in the post below covering some encouraging work going on in the various planning organizations. Well upon my return my optimism was shot to hell by this article on the Ada County planning and zoning meeting - Line Up The Ducks BEFORE You Shoot Them. According to the author, two of our planners voted to approve stage 2-6 of the Avimor development even though the development has not worked out their issues with the Idaho Transportation Department or secured water for the homes. Business as usual.

Here was my original post:

I have been somewhat discouraged as of late with the uncontrolled growth of the Treasure Valley and most noticeably, the rapidly deteriorating air quality. The air quality in the valley has been worse than Los Angeles lately. Ouch.  While grass and forest fires have been contributing, the primary pollutant remains to be vehicle exhaust.

Here is a recent picture provided by the Boise Guardian Blog. This is why the air quality sucks day after day after day.

With the primary growth pattern in the area consisting of greater sprawl, instead of more condensed development, the result is not only an increase in cars, but an increase in the distance that those cars travel. When you add increased traffic and congestion, then those vehicles travel slower and pollute even more for the same distance.  This provides a multiplicative effect on the pollutants in our area.  This is clearly not sustainable, even ignoring the more global impact that these emissions have as well.

I am not aware of any magic bullet that is going to resolve these issues, but I do at least see some hopeful signs.

1. In the community meetings that I am in, and even in the local conservative news stations reporting, there is an increasing acknowledgement of the problem. This alone won't solve anything, but it is a good first step.

2. The treasure valley is quickly approaching the threshold where they will be violating the clean air act.  Once they pass this threshold, they will lose access to matching federal funds for roads and transportation capital improvements.  This will definitely put the brakes on growth as the federal funds is a significant part of the road budget.

3. Compass Modeling: The Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho (Compass) is considering a change in the modeling used to analyze growth. The official Compass Plan is called Communities in Motion (CIM). This 25 year plan is now two years old and won't officially be updated for another 3 years. The official model is used by developers and public jurisdictions/agencies to analyze and present the transportation impacts of new developments. The problem with this is that growth has quickly outpaced the assumptions in the model and has been occurring in different places than the model represents. Some areas have grown beyond the 25 year assumptions!  Everyone in the planning community knows this, so each development often presents using the official model, but then also uses their own model with their own assumptions. This makes it extremely difficult to analyze the impact of two developments consistently. While there is a legal requirement to maintain the official base model until the next official update, Compass is proposing the creation of two other models to help bring some consistency into the picture. The first additional model would still cap the 2030 population to be consistent with CIM (865,000 for the valley), but shift the population growth centers to where the growth is actually happening today. Think of this as a adaptation to the base model to recognize reality that has already occurred. The last new model would not be constrained by the population assumptions in CIM.  It will model all currently planned (approved and not approved) developments in the valley. This is likely to end up with a 2030 population assumption of 1.5 million or higher. These additional unofficial models would likely be updated each year. Why do I think these steps show some hope? First, by standardizing these more realistic models, the planning organizations and developers will have a much more accurate and consistent tool to analyze the growth impacts.  This will make it easier to compare different developments. The second hopeful aspects is that the "all planned developments" picture will clearly illustrate to all just how bad the valley is likely to get if something is not done to plan and execute grow more effectively. Triple the population with average miles driven per person increasing?  We will never see another green air quality day? Give the tools, show the impact, then solve the problem. At least it is a good first step.

4. Ada County Blueprint for Good Growth: The Blueprint for Good Growth consortium is working on a model to better align the city planning processes and the county planning process. If you pay attention to the local news, there are numerous issues with how planning currently occurs. One of the activities of Blueprint is to put together the cooperation model for how the various plans integrate. I was amazed to hear that there was no previous official cooperation model for joint planning, only for integrating the completed plans once the plans were finished. Getting the various jurisdictions aligned on assumptions early in the planning process should help alleviate a number of the alignment issues that end up at the end of the process. I am hopeful for the tool, but I need to caution that it is just a tool. If the jurisdictions are not committed to cooperate, it isn't going to solve anything. For now it appears that most all of the entities are ready to work together to solve this issue.  That's a great step forward in my opinion.

I wish I had more hopeful indicators than tools and first steps. Unfortunately I don't.  I think the air quality is going to get worse before it gets better.  Bummer.

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Bee-Boy

Well Bee-Boy seems to be my new nickname for the year.  For some reason, with Bees in trouble due to colony collapse disorder, I have still been strung more times this year than ever before. Three bees and one wasp so far this year. The bee stings all occurred while riding my bike. For some reason bees get a bit irritable when hit by a rider at 20 mph. In my 18 years of heavy riding, three stings is the most in any one season.

Being allergic to bees, make this a fairly serious proposition. The first bee sting of the year, I had no reaction.  The second brought on some fairly severe symptoms, but ones that could be treated with Benedryl and Advil.   The wasp bite was no big deal.  The last bee sting however, required the epinephrine injection and a trip to the emergency room. I hope that is it for the year!

I have noticed over my years of being allergic, that I rarely respond to the first sting of the year.  Subsequent stings are always a problem. I will have to do some more research on this.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Anniversary Week Returns

The Fourth of July week brought the return of our annual pilgrimage to the mountains to celebrate our wedding anniversary. This year marks our 13th anniversary. We decided not to arrange a big group campsite as we have done in previous years. Instead we just let people know where we would be and to let us know if they were going to stop by for some or all of the week.

Friday - Karyn and I were both sick this week, putting our packing a little bit behind schedule. We still managed to make it out of town on Friday morning with most of the essentials we would need for a great week in the mountains. Juvenile RobinMost importantly of all, we were both feeling better. Upon arriving at our chosen destination, a campsite along the Salmon river, we did nothing! The plan was to simply lay around camp enjoying the great outdoors, bird watching, and getting used to the fresh air. What a change from the increasingly polluted air of Boise (Boise air quality had been rated yellow (unhealthy) for the previous week). Quite a number of birds graced our campsite and the air around it. Ospreys and Belted Kingfishers would fly up and down the river, stopping occasionally on a nearby perch to wait for fish. There must not be many fish in this part of the river as they tend to move on after a few minutes. We found a few juvenile Robin hiding in nearby bushes. They would remain silent as they waited for their next meal to arrive. The parent, beak full of food, would land nearby and watch us. When we would inevitably look away, she apparently rushed in with the food.

Saturday - Saturday morning was the first time we would introduce our new mountain tandem bicycle to the Fisher Creek trail. Fisher Creek is one of our favorite rides. We were also married, on our old mountain tandem, in the meadow in the middle of this trail 13 years ago.OspreyThus, we had been looking forward to this ride for some time. Most of the trail had burned 2 years ago. We didn't ride it at all last year as we figured, the burn had destroyed the trail. Actually it had not. On the climb up we passed through many areas that were mostly burned, with some remaining green patches of trees. There were some spots where everything was gone. A high temperature wasteland. But most of the burn was covered with wildflowers. Entire hillsides of huge Sego Lilies. Tons of other flowers as well. Its great to see the beautiful rebirth after such a devastating fire. The tandem performed well up the steep final climb to the top. The first few miles of downhill are on a very narrow section of trail with steep hillsides and even some cliffs. We took it easy through this section of the trail. The switchbacks were a bit difficult, but we were able to ride them all. The middle and longest section of the downhill was very fast. The tandem cruised over the bumps with ease as we blasted down the hill. The stoker occasionally reminding me not to crash her! We made it out safe with no crashes. We will definitely plan this for another day later in the week.

Dutch oven pizza for dinner. One of my favorites. Mmmm.

Sunday - Another beautiful day in paradise. In fact its scary how nice it is up here. Cassin's FinchCrystal clear and hot days have been the norm for the last few years. It wasn't always this way. In our early years of coming here, we were regularly snowed upon, almost always had rain storms. The past few years have been clear and warm. Unfortunately this pleasant weather change is having a permanent impact on the area. It is extremely dry here. (sounds like a hiking uphill both ways to school story!)

Today's adventure is a tandem mountain bike on the Knapp Creek-Valley Creek loop. This is a great tandem trail as it is built on 4-wheeler trails for the whole distance. It passes through beautiful meadows and occasionally dense forests. Both the uphill and the downhill are gentle and steady. There is one steep technical climb as you ride from one drainage to the other. We had successfully rode this section without dabbing (touching the ground with your foot) last year on our old tandem. This year we dabbed twice. The suspension on the bike operates differently on this type of technical trail. It will take some getting used to, but well within reach. We did suffer our first crash! Actually we just laid the bike over on a slow loose rocky downhill. No blood, no scratch (on us or the bike), so no foul. The rest of the ride was spectacular.

Monday - Today was a hiking day. I have been wanting to hike into Ants basin, over a ridge from 4th of July Creek, for some time. Today was the day. The 4th of July drainage was also part of the burn that hit Fisher creek two years ago. We drove up the road to the trailhead. Tons of wildflowers here as well. We saw quite a few deer working through the burned trees. Upon reaching the trailhead, we realized the rear door to our van was not entirely closed. Everything in the back of the van was covered in thick dust. We will need to do some cleaning tonight!

Panorama of Ants Basin and Sawtooth Mountains

The trail ascends just over a mile into 4th of July lake before turning off to climb steeply up another mile and over the ridge. Instead of hiking down the other side, we decided to hike up the ridge to some higher viewpoints. I took a nice 360 degree panoramic photo (many individual photos that I will piece together later (click photo above to enlarge)). The ridge overlooked Ants Basin, the Born Lakes, 4th of July Lake, and the Sawtooth Mountains in the distance. It was very beautiful. After eating lunch on the ridge, we descended back to the trailhead.

Returning to the highway we decided to check out Decker Flat road. This is a gravel road on the other side of the river from the main highway. Since our van was already full of dust, we didn't think it could get much dirtier. As the name implies, the road is flat across Decker Flats. The road then deteriorates as it climbs steeply over a mountain. It becomes a deeply rutted, uneven 4-wheel drive road. This would be the first real off-roading we have done in the van. It performed very well. Back to camp to clean out the van!

The evening was spent birdwatching from our camp. There is always something new to spot there. This is why we like to camp along the river.

Female Common Merganser and 22 chicks!

Tuesday - This morning we saw a cool thing on the river. A Female Merganser had a gaggle (not sure if this is the right word) of 22 chicks! They apparently will adopt broods from other females. This looked like quite the army.

Today's adventure would be a mountain bike ride around Redfish Lake. I had seen this in a book before and have spoken to a few people who have ridden it. They had all relayed that it was a difficult trail. We stopped at the local store that rents bikes to inquire about which direction to ride the trail. They had never heard about anyone riding it and did not have a book that describes the trail. We decided to ride it counter-clockwise. The first stretch is uphill and technical, but it is all ridable. There were a few hikers on this part of the trail, so we had to stay out of their way. The trail then leveled out and followed along a lateral moraine. The descent down to the inlet was smooth and fast. After crossing the inlet, the trail deteriorated. It became very rocky and unridable in a few spots, with lots of downed trees. We hoped that it would improve once it started climbing the ridge on the South side of the lake. The trail did improve, but became very steep and technical. It was mostly ridable, but we would loose our momentum often when we failed to make it through a particular rocky section. We did eventually reach the top of the lateral moraine on the south side. We met a few other bikers here making the ride in the opposite direction. They hadn't seen anyone since they began. The South side was also technical, but slightly downhill, until the final part which was very steep and technical back down to the road. It was a great, tough ride. It took us about an hour longer than we had planned.

Back in camp we found a family of Belted Kingfishers. They were all on the little island in the river chattering away at each other. I watched as two youngsters faced each other on a tree limb and chattered non-stop. It was very entertaining. Not sure if the youngsters were fishing for themselves, but they were diving into the water often, probably just to cool off.

Karyn's parents joined us in the campground for a few days.

Wednesday - Wednesday brought our rest day and laundry. Since the temperatures are in the 90's we decided to hang dry our clothes in the campground! Bird watching, socializing, relaxing, and enjoying ourselves. We swam in the river to cool off.

Belted Kingfishers sharing Dinner!

Thursday - I can't believe it, the low temperature over night was 60! This is unheard of in this area. We took off early to repeat the Fisher Creek Loop on the Mountain Tandem before it gets too hot. At the trailhead there was only one group out in front of us. As we climbed the Fisher Creek road, we discovered fresh wolf tracks! How cool is this! It would only be better if we saw the wolf. We passed the group ahead of us and descended the trail fast, but safe (very important on a tandem, we have to live together after this!). It was roasting hot when we finished. Back at camp, at 93 degrees, we jumped in the river! Ahh.

It would reach 96 degrees today. One of the weather buff locals (yes, I know geeks everywhere) let us know that it was his highest recorded temperature in 30 years of records. The previous high was 95. We created a new plan. Skinny dipping in the river before going to bed (Ssh. don't tell). Definitely cools you off and helps you sleep! It was still 77 degrees at 10:30pm.

Friday - The call to successfully climb the steep hill we dabbed on a few days earlier drew us back to Knapp Creek-Valley Creek loop on the tandem. This trail is also heavily shaded which was important due to the continued hot weather. Today we successfully climbed the steep hill with no dabbs. It was an excellent ride.

Badger with Dinner!

On the way back we drove into Stanley Creek for some bird watching. While there, Karyn spotted a badger trotting across the field. We took some photos and then moved closer. I stepped out of the van to get some more pictures as the badger flushed a ground squirrel. The chase was on through the deep grass. Moments later I heard the result. The Badger had caught his dinner. Wow! What timing. Of course we saw lots of birds as well!

Peaks and Perks in Stanley provided us some refreshments - Espresso Shakes! Yes, it is very yuppie for Stanley, but they are mighty good on a hot afternoon. They have great smoothies as well.

Back in camp the family of Common Mergansers returned (female and 22 chicks). They were moving upstream hunting for fish. When one chick would see fish and rush for it, all of the others would rush as well. Water splashing everywhere. It was something to watch.

The river once again invited us in before bed.

Sandhill Crane

Saturday - Back to the single bikes to ride the Basin Creek-Potato Mountain loop. This loop provides some great technical single track and broad meadows.

In the afternoon we returned to search for the badger. No luck. As we were leaving the area, we stopped to look at the cliff swallows flying near a canal. Just then a badger ran across the road carrying a ground squirrel. We were about a half mile from the kill the day before. Not sure if it was the same badger or not. There are plenty of ground squirrels, but plenty of predators. In addition to badgers, we have seen Coyotes, Bald Eagles, Redtailed Hawks, and Northern Harriers in this small valley! Its tough to be a ground squirrel.

Sunday - Nooo. Not the end. Tired from our week of play, and out of vacation time, we reluctantly returned home to the even hotter Boise valley.

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Vacation

If you ever wonder what an impact your vacation has, I suggest that you try a little experiment. Take your blood pressure before the trip and immediately after the trip. I have done this for my last few vacations with very predictable results - significantly lowered blood pressure after the vacation. I am assuming that not having a job would not produce the same results (added stress of no income).

Bike Crazy Dutch

Business Week has a new article - Bike-Crazy Dutch cycling further which highlights the fact that in the last five years, the average dutch citizen has cycled 10% further. This averages to 1.5 miles per person per day in 2006. Wow! What would America look like if everyone cycled 1.5 miles per day? What an impact we would have if people stopped driving their cars for a 1.5 mile trip each day. Averaged out, this would have a tremendous impact on our fossil fuel use, it would increase our national security, clean our air, and slim people down. Oh Yeah, people would probably be happier all around. Something to dream for...

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