Monday, February 25, 2008

Educational Talks from Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho (COMPASS)

The Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho (COMPASS) has scheduled a series of educational presentations which are open to the public. The sessions range from transportation issues to city and regional planning. Each session is led by a nationally recognized expert in the field. As a member of the Public Participation Committee for Compass, I wanted to get the word out. There are some great sessions planned.

A complete schedule, details on each session, and backgrounds of the speakers can be accessed on the Compass website at

Some examples of the sessions:

Thursday, March 6, 2008 - The Opposite of Traffic: Counterintuitive Thoughts about City Streets
Ellen Greenberg, AICP, Freedman, Tung & Bottomley (San Francisco, California)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008 - Work Smarter, Not Harder to Improve Transportation
Todd Litman, Victoria Transport Institute (Victoria, British Columbia)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - Property Rights and Public Values
Donovan Rypkema, Place Economics (Washington, D.C.)

Friday, April 25, 2008 - Fourth Annual Community Bicycle Congress

Wednesday, May 7, 2008 - Visualizing Density
Julie Campoli, Terra Firma (Burlington, Vermont)
Alex McLean, Landslides Aerial Photography (Cambridge, Massachusetts)

Monday, June 9, 2008 - Making a Great City by Design Themes from Recent Vancouver Experience
Larry Beasley, Vancouver, British Columbia

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

five hundred forty five...five hundred forty six!

Five hundred forty six! That's how many birds I counted over last weekend for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count. Actually I counted many more than that, but the counting rules indicate that you only submit the maximum number of birds of a given species that you see at one time. For example, if you see 20 Canadian Geese in one spot and 30 in another, you only report 30.

Our count started on Friday afternoon when Karyn and I decided to try some off the path areas for counting. I figured that the top birding areas would be covered by others. Apparently, it was off the path for the birds as well.  Counting in 4 different locations (Fort Boise Military Reserve, A draw near Horizon Drive, Hull's Grove, and our backyard) we found only 18 unique species.

I had a ski race on Saturday which interfered with any hardcore bird watching, but Karyn reported the species in the backyard and I did talk my friend Doug into stopping and birding for 15 minutes on the way back from the ski race. We didn't see a lot of species, but I did count 14 Hooded Mergansers at the outlet to Cascade Reservoir.  The "Hoodie" is one of my favorites. This was a fairly outstanding count for this species located in one place. Another great sight on the drive home was three Bald Eagles, one adult and 2 juveniles, in one location along the Payette River.

On Sunday we skied in the morning before heading out for our count in the afternoon. With low counts so far, we decided to hit some of the more popular birding areas in town.  Popular for birders and for the birds. At Kathryn Albertson's park we found a number of new species for the year, including our first warbler - a Yellow-rumped Warbler or "butter butt". Moving across to Ann Morrison Park, we found the hundreds of birds that gather for the people to feed them. We came here to see the Eurasian Widgeon, which had been rumored to be hanging out. We did indeed find it, adding a new bird to my life list.

Great Blue Heron

On Monday, we went back to one of our favorite spots, a hike along the Boise River. It was a beautiful morning with great lighting for photos. We found 21 different species in over an hour.  Most of the usual favorites with the exception of a Bald Eagle. The highlight was watching a Pied-billed Grebe fishing in the rapids.

Downy Woodpecker

As usual, participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count was fun.  I hope the data that we submitted with useful to many scientists in evaluating the health and distributions of our various bird populations. At the time of this publication, over 76,000 checklists have been submitted, with 641 unique species counted. Over 8.8 million birds were counted.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Proposed Idaho Constitutional Amendment on Hunting

The bizarre nature of Idaho wildlife politics continues. The State Affairs committee is considering House Joint Resolution 2, which is a proposed state constitutional amendment to make hunting the preferred mechanism for managing wildlife. The resolution specifically requests the following clause to be added to the state's constitution:

SECTION 23. RIGHT TO HUNT, FISH, TRAP AND HARVEST. The people have the right to hunt, fish, trap and harvest wild game, subject to reasonable rules approved by the state legislature. Consistent with the state of Idaho's duty to protect this valued heritage and to preserve, protect, perpetuate and manage wild mammals, birds and fish, traditional methods used to take species not protected by federal law are reserved to the people. Public hunting, fishing and trapping shall be the preferred means of managing and controlling species under state control. Nothing in this amendment shall be construed to modify any provision of common law or statutes relating to trespass, eminent domain or any other property rights.

I was outraged when I discovered this bill. While I am not opposed to using hunting as a method for wildlife reduction, I would much rather it be the result of biological analysis and case specific implementation, versus a constitutional amendment which makes it the higher law of the land. This is the letter that I sent to my legislators:

Senator Mike Burkett,
Representative Anne Pasley-Stuart,
Representative Nicole LeFavour,

I know that you are in the middle of your most busy time of the year, so I will try to make this brief. I was unbelievably outraged when I heard of and then read the proposed HJR002.

The following are my concerns:
-This is a waste of money and time. You should be working on something more meaningful and forward looking.
-This is a ridiculous clause to have within the constitution of our state. It is inappropriate for inclusion at that level and further muddies our constitution.
-This would further politicize wildlife management instead of allowing it to be more influenced by biologists.
-Most importantly, the proposal arrogantly implies that first wildlife must be managed, and that management equals killing (for example "hunting... shall be the preferred means of managing"). We forget that wildlife is supposed to be wild. Wildlife lived in Idaho for millions of years before we arrived and decided that it must be managed.

I know each of your work well enough that I don't believe that any of you support this initiative or spending time on it, but as my representatives I feel compelled to express my outrage.

Thank you for listening and keep up the good work on the critical topics facing our state.

The hurdle to pass a constitutional amendment is quite high (2/3 vote of both house and senate, approval of governor, and a simple majority of the vote of the people). With that said, just last year we passed a very specific anti-civil unions amendment. If I were to bet today, I would say this will pass.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Wolves Awaken to a More Dangerous World

Announced today by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Northern Rocky Mountain Population of Gray Wolf will be removed from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. This removal will go into effect 30 days from the formal listing of this announcement in the federal register.  I announce this to you with mixed feelings.

I believe that there is much to celebrate here.  For the first time in my life, wild wolves now roam most of the natural habitat remaining in the Northern Rocky Mountain states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Just twenty years ago this appeared unimaginable. We are grateful for the hard work of all of those with the vision to see this as a possibility and the commitment to make it a reality.

Our ecosystems are healthier and more complete as a result of the reintroduction. Predators are effecting prey, which in turn effects the predator. Changes in prey behavior are having a positive effect on other plants which in turn has a positive effect on other animals. The evolutionary pressures have been restored. Nature is once again acting as nature.

The Endangered Species Act has worked. A law born thirty five years ago to recognize the critical importance of biodiversity has delivered as it was intended. The federal government has fulfilled their role to limit local self interest for the good of the country.

But then the more dangerous world appears. Wolf management has been handed over to the outwardly wolf hostile State of Idaho Fish and Game Department. This is the very department that two years ago used bad science to petition the government for approval to kill the majority of wolves in a section of the Clearwater National Forest. Lucky for the wolves and the people of Idaho, the federal government saw through their bad science and rejected the proposal. Unfortunately, their proposal is integrated into their management plan that they are now at liberty to execute.

The Idaho wolf plan is a disaster for the wolves and for the investment this country made in returning them to the wilds. Late last year I commented on the wolf plan. You can read all of my comments at that link, but the biggest single issue is that the Idaho Wolf plan makes no commitment to manage wolf populations above the absolute minimum number required to meet the federal regulations (100 wolves). Under the Idaho wolf plan the Fish and Game could go out an kill 85% of the wolf population in Idaho just 30 days from now. That would be a slaughter of over 600 wolves. There are no safeguards in the plan to protect this from happening, there have been no assurances by any leader in Idaho that this won't happen, and lastly the governor has publicly stated that he supports a hunt to kill all but the minimum 100 wolves. The Fish and Game, in preparation for the slaughter, has asked for permission to enable hunters to kill wolves, to allow F&G to use aerial gunning of wolves, to allow aerial gunning in the wilderness areas, and lastly to set poison mines to nondiscriminatorily kill anything in the hopes of getting a wolf (apparently under the "Adaptive Management" clause of the wolf plan).

On a day when we should celebrate a tremendous accomplishment of the American people, I am filled with only sadness. I am afraid that the gray wolf and the endangered species list will meet again. I hope I am wrong.

Update 2/23/2008: The Idaho Fish and Game website now states and additional objective which is to "Maintain wolf population at the 2005-2007 levels". This is great news that was not stated in the previous review of the wolf management plan. The 2005-2007 levels were in the range of 500-750 wolves. While I would like to see the population reach the carrying capacity, this seems like a reasonable compromise. I hope they follow through on trying to maintan these numbers.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Intelligence of Our Related Species

I am always annoyed when people of the human race make comments indicating their supposed superior intelligence over any other species on the planet. Its not just intelligence either. Many believe that non-humans lack logical and rational thought, feelings, etc. All this while scientific study after scientific study has illustrated otherwise.

I have sufficient proof to convince myself through careful observation of wildlife. For more thorough proof, there are scientific studies that have demonstrated the use of tools by many species (check many references to bird intelligence and dolphins), the creation of tools by many species (tool making crows), and teaching of others by species (Chimpanzees) as just a few examples of supposed higher thought. A few months back Chimpanzees were shown to be faster at a number of computational tasks. Why do we find this so surprising? From a non-creationist point of view, we are all organic beings composed of much of the same raw materials, just assembled in a different manner. The brain of a Chimpanzee is not too different than our own.  Actually, the brain of most any mammal is highly similar in structure to our own. Thus, why can't they be as sophisticated as ours?

National Geographic has an article on a new study that finds that Chimps eat dirt and leaves to fend of malaria. I found this fascinating as the article illustrates that it is the combination of the dirt and the leaves that is required to get the benefit. Show me a human that if inflicted with malaria would be smart enough to eat the right combination of dirt and leaves to be cured. My wife pointed out that humans have clearly reverse evolved in this area.  Our own evolution and dependence upon societies have deselected for the ability to cure ourselves with nature. Our lack of predators has probably caused our computational processing to become slower as well, hence the slower responses in the other study, but these are simply my own hypothesis.

One more interesting point to consider, we are evolving more slowly than Chimpanzees. Thus, they have the potential in a world that selects for intelligence to pass us if they have not done so already.

When will we learn to respect other living things for what they are - biological beings that are different but not inferior than ourselves?

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Ski The Bear

This weekend I entered my second big ski race of the year. I was hoping, and it was indeed, far more successful than my first big race of the year. The season has been a difficult one so far. I had hoped to enter the Boulder Mountain Tour a few weeks ago, but caught a nasty cold which last for 3-4 weeks. With heavy snow and difficult conditions, I canceled a few days before that race. This weekend I was feeling good and the weather was great.

The race is actually the Payette Lakes Ski Marathon, but it is now referred to as "Ski the Bear" as it is held at Little Bear Basin Nordic trail system. The race was held in McCall Idaho

The race organizers encouraged people to wear bear costumes, but there were few takers. One family had bear hats, one of the organizers wore a Smoky the Bear costume, but taking the prize for most creative costume was the local McCall resident who wore his Bare suit. Yes, he showed up to the starting line in his underwear. None of the fancy polypropelyne kind, but instead just a pair if tighty whities. I hope he had some wind front briefs on underneath. If not, burr! He was wearing a pair of see through nylons for extra warmth, but nothing on his upper body. I thought I was dressed a bit too warm for the race, but he definitely took the other end of the spectrum. The temperature was 30 degrees F at the start, making for a great race tempurature for all of the sane participants.

The race is 30 kilometers which consist of two 15 kilometer loops. My goal was to break one hour forty minutes for the event. The turn out was pretty good with about 100 people racing. Some were entered in the 15k event, but everyone started together. Smoky the Bear lead out the start. He was doing quite well for wearing a full bear suit. I didn't pass him until we were about 300 meters into the race.

I wanted to get a reasonable position but not go out too hard. If I dig too deep at the start, it takes way too long to recover. I settled in to a good pace. After about 3 kilometers the crowd started to thin out a little bit. I slipped and crashed in one sharp corner, but quickly came back up to my feet. About 6 kilometers in there is a long gentle climb. This is usually my best terrain as I get into a steady climbing rythm. I was able to pass a number of people on the climb. It was looking like I would have a good race. At seven kilometers the course drops down a steep hill with a sharp left turn at the bottom. I caught an edge on my ski and nearly went over. I stumbled, stepped, and tried to recover my balance. Just when I thought I had pulled it through the corner, I was suddenly on my face. Whiplash! I had an instant raging headache. My glasses had flown up the trail. I tried to scamble to my feet, mainly to get out of the way of the people coming down the hill behind me. My friend Clyde and two others passed, then another friend Carol, skiing with a woman from McCall passed. I tried to figure out which way to go. I wasn't really that delierious, but the headache was making me wonder if I was ok to continue racing. Before anyone else caught me, I started down the trail. I took it easy for a few hundred meters before deteriming that I was probably good to go. In another half kilometer, the headache faded and I was back on race pace. I caught and passed all of those who passed me at the crash. At twelve kilometers the woman who had been skiing with Carol caught and passed me. I increased my tempo to try and stay with her. We pulled in and passed two more groups of skiers ahead of us. The speed on the rolling terrain was having its effect on me. I am not as efficient on this part of the course. The woman ahead of me had slower skis, but was a faster skier. She would drop me on the uphills and my faster skis would allow me to catch her on the downhills. At fourteen kilometers she gapped me and the next downhill wasn't long enough for me to close the gap. I continued the chase. For the next five kilometers I struggled. I had used too much staying with her and was having a difficult time recovering. My legs were killing me and my form degraded. I eased off to try and recover. I was caught by one skier from behind. The long downhill leading into the long uphill provided me what I needed to recover. I went into the long uphill feeling good. I caught and passed the guy who had just caught me. I even caught back up to the woman from McCall just as we crested the top. I successfully navigated the crash hill this time around. Moving into the next rolling part of the course I tried to stay with the woman ahead but she slowly pulled away. She would advance a little bit further on each climb. She would ski into the finish 30 seconds ahead of me. What a great race.

I finished just under 1:37, beating my time goal for the day. The best measure of my performance is that I had equal splits for the two laps indiciating that I didn't fade in the end. To me this is the most important metric of my performance. It was a great day and a great race.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Three Cups of Tea

I just finished listening to an excellent book on tape - Three Cups of Tea. I highly recommend this book as it is the most inspirational that I have read/listened to.

The book describes the life of a mountain climber who through a series of events transforms his life and starts building schools for the poor in remote villages of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The story takes place before and after September 11, 2001, providing unique insight into the transformation that the growth of terrorism and the US's response with global aggression has had on the world and on specific individuals.

The book illustrates how a single person can make a huge difference, not through advocacy, but through direct walk the talk action. It illustrates how a small amount of money, if invested carefully, can have a huge impact on the world and help fight terrorism.  It also illustrates how much more effective caring and assistance is on individual perceptions versus the damaging effects of military occupation. The book is largely non-political, but the contrast between the two approaches is clearly illustrated in the lives of the people involved.

If you buy the book through the Three Cups of Tea website, a 7% donation is made to the Central Asia Institute to further the cause.

I'll leave this review with my own observation - Greg Mortenson (subject of the book)builds a school for an entire village for $12,000.  The war in Iraq and Afghanistan is costing us a minimum of $191M per day. That's over 15,000 schools per day... A new school every 5 seconds... Which approach would build more goodwill toward America? Which approach illustrates the type of leadership we would like to be admired for in the world?

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Great Backyard Bird Count

This weekend is the 2008 Great Backyard Bird Count! February 15-18th.

(click to enlarge)

Anyone can participate.  It only takes 20 minutes.  15 minutes to count birds anywhere you may be and 5 minutes to submit your observations, preferably online. You don't have to be a birding expert, only report the birds that you know.  Full instructions can be found on the Great Backyard Bird Count Web Site.  This is citizen science at its best and fun along the way. If you haven't participated before, give it a shot.

You can read my report from last year - One, Two, Three, Four.... You can read my report for this year sometime next week here on my blog.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Mating Great Horned Owls

With all of the talk of spring in the birding community, Karyn and I thought we would head into Hull's Grove near Boise to check on the Great Horned Owl pair that has nested there for years.  Last year we observed them mating on Valentine's day. Arriving at the sand cliffs we could see the female nestled inside.  The male was across the stream in a tree. At about 6pm they started hooting to each other. The female came out to the rim of the nest and hooted back. At 6:30 the female flew over the road and stream to a tree where the two of them mated. The male then flew to the highest branch in one tree, hooted, on to another tree, hooted, and on to a third tree, hooting again. We lost sight of the male as he flew off, but the female was still in the mating tree when the light faded too low to see.

This pair (assumed to be the same pair) has successfully fledged at least three chicks each of the last 4 years, fledging 4 on two occasions. I am not sure how long they have nested there, but this will be the fifth year that we have observed them there.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Our never ending work to destroy the planet

I have never been a strong supporter of nuclear energy production as we have never found an acceptable way to deal with the radioactive waste. The waste that we have already created will contaminate this planet and all life on it long after the human population is gone.  This will be our most permanent legacy.

Lately, I have been softening on the idea after comparison with the very dangerous coal fired power plants and their impact on global warming. Global warming, if unchecked, will also have a dramatic impact on the remaining life of the planet. Which is worse, causing thousands of species to go extinct as a result of global warming, or saving species in the short term, only to kill them off later with radioactive waste? Of course, the right answer is neither, but we need to buy some time to solve the problem. Is nuclear energy the answer? No.  There are many other technologies available if we would only invest as much in them as we do into nuclear and other dirty solutions.

I learned this weekend that the Forest Service has approved uranium exploration in the Challis national forest. - Forest Service OKs Harden Creek uranium exploration By Todd Adams. Challis Messenger. These potential sites border the largest wilderness area in the US outside of Alaska - the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. They sit just above an active spawning ground for the endangered Chinook Salmon. A beautiful stretch of river where Osprey fish, Bald Eagles fly, NightHawks swoop for insects, and wolves and coyotes howl. It is spectacular country that is as close to nature as we have left. It has now been prostitutionalized for a greedy and careless country. They claim that there will be no environmental impacts, which by any stretch is a lie. In addition, the no environmental impacts statement was only made in reference to the exploration, not the eventual mining if they actually find uranium.

When will we move beyond irreversible exploitation of the planet to a more sustainable existence?

Thanks to Ralph Maughan’s Wildlife News for the story link and the map.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Democratic Caucus 2008

On Super Tuesday I attended my first Caucus ever. Actually I only attended a portion of my first Caucus ever, but I did show up and vote. I had planned to attend 8 years ago and again 4 years ago, but the races were usually decided before the caucus date in Idaho. This year the Democrats scheduled the Idaho Caucus on Super Tuesday when the race was still wide open.

Our county hosted the largest single caucus in the entire country. A single caucus in a county of more than 300,000 people. Senator Obama was the only candidate with a mobilized volunteer force on the ground in Idaho for months and Senator Obama was the only candidate to make a campaign stop in Idaho. Thus, he was expected to win, but by how much?

We were encouraged to arrive early although it was mentioned that everyone in line at 7pm would be allowed in. We got into line at 5:50pm. There were two lines and at that point both lines were over 4 blocks long. Everyone was enthusiastic and amazed at the turn out. At just over an hour in line we made it into the arena. Five to ten minutes after we made it in the fire marshal closed the doors as the venue was at maximum capacity. Those outside were still allowed to submit their vote, but would not be allowed to participate in the caucus. As it would be later revealed, the first vote would decide the fate anyway.

Upon entering the arena it was very clear that Obama was in for a big night. My estimate was over three quarters of the participants were there for Obama. Since we were already decided, we chose not to stay for the rest of the 4-6 hour event. Before leaving I did take this panorama of the crowd (click to enlarge). The picture clearly illustrates the difficult night for Hillary, the empty seats on the right are in the one of the only two sections her supporters occupied.

After the first votes were tallied for the county, Obama would capture nearly 80% of the vote. Clinton would not meet the minimum 15% to get any delegates. The turnout was 4 times greater than any previous Idaho Caucus. What a great day for Idaho Democrats in this heavily Red State.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

More Raptors

After seeing my first wild Great Gray Owl on Friday, the weekend had more to offer. On Sunday, Karyn and I took a three hour hike through 4+ inches of snow in the Boise foothills in a place known as the military reserve. We saw elk, deer, and lots of birds. Nearing the end of our hike we were walking through a brushy area and came upon this juvenile Northern Goshawk! This too was a new bird for me (at least for me to identify). To tell the truth, I didn't really identify it, I forwared the photo to some local experts for positive confirmation. Anyway, after posing for some photos, the bird took flight and came straight toward us, flying over our heads. What a great way to finish our day!

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Large Raptors

On Friday afternoon we received a nice break in the week long chain of storms, so Karyn and I headed out for a little bird and wildlife watching. This is a good time of year to see eagles and knowing the elk are fairly low right now, there was a possibility for a rare wolf sighting. The last time out we didn;t find any eagles.

The first stop was an overlook of the Boise River in the parking lot of the Crow's Inn bar. Here we quickly found a Bald Eagle in a tree down near the river. Then on the horizon flying toward us were two juvenile Golden Eagles. Spectacular. We then drove up to Lucky Peak Dam. Here we found three juvenile Bald Eagles soaring close by. Here a picture of one of them which appears to be a first year juvenile.

Driving on to Spring Shores on the back side of the resevoir, we found tons of deer and a few elk. No signs of predators though. But the true treat of the day was a Great Gray Owl. This is the first Great Gray I have seen in the wild. We watched for over 30 minutes as it looked around apparently hunting for food. We watched a Black-billed Magpie fly up to nip its tail. The owl didn't even flinch.

Not a bad day.

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