Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Serendipitous, Inspirational Stumble upon Theodore Roosevelt

Downtown Berkeley, California
“I ask of you the straightforward, earnest performance of duty in all the little things that come up day by day in business, in domestic life, in every way, and then when the opportunity comes, if you have thus done your duty in the lesser things, I know you will rise level to the heroic needs.” — Theodore Roosevelt, University of California in Berkeley, May 14, 1903.

Friday morning, on my way to work, I was pleasantly surprised to quite literally stumble upon this engraving on a city sidewalk: “1903 President Teddy Roosevelt Speaks.”

It inspired me to do a little homework: Roosevelt was friends with then UC Berkeley President Benjamin Ide Wheeler and had promised to visit the campus on a whistle-stop speaking tour of western states. After speaking in San Francisco on May 13, Roosevelt crossed the bay to Oakland on a tugboat and, at midday on May 14, 1903, swept into Berkeley on a special train. The San Francisco Chronicle described it this way: “As the President appeared and made his way out under the cloth canopy at the front of the stage, the vast audience rose in a body and sent up mighty cheers which rolled back and resounded through the ravines of the hills.”

The next day Roosevelt met writer and naturalist John Muir in nearby Oakland and they traveled together by train and stagecoach to Yosemite.
Roosevelt with UC Berkeley President
Benjamin Ide Wheeler, 1903
“I spent a delightful three days and two nights with him,” Roosevelt wrote of the trip. “The first night we camped in a grove of giant sequoias. It was clear weather, and we lay in the open, the enormous cinnamon-colored trunks rising about us like the columns of a vaster and more beautiful cathedral than was ever conceived by any human architect. All next day we traveled through the forest. Then a snow-storm came on, and at night we camped on the edge of the Yosemite, under the branches of a magnificent silver fir, and very warm and comfortable we were, and a very good dinner we had before we rolled up in our tarpaulins and blankets for the night. The following day we went down into the Yosemite and through the valley, camping in the bottom among the timber.”

And they talked, and talked, late into the nights.
Prior to their trip, Roosevelt and Muir didn’t always see eye to eye. Muir, a founder of the Sierra Club, valued nature for its spiritual and transcendental qualities and was more of a preservationist. Roosevelt, an avid hunter, pushed for the sustainable use of natural resources and was more of a conservationist. But both men strongly opposed reckless exploitation. So the two set aside their differences, focused on their common love for the wilds and not only became lifelong friends but, together, became an even more potent force for the protection of wildlife and wild places – including, of course, many of the places where I now love to hike, camp, backpack, fish, hunt and explore.
Roosevelt with John Muir, Yosemite, 1903
We can learn a lot from Roosevelt and Muir.
Right after his trip with Muir, before heading back to D.C., Roosevelt stopped and gave a speech in Sacramento urging the citizens of California to do everything in their power to use forests and streams wisely and “preserve the natural wealth.” He ended with this: “We are not building this country for a day. It is to last through the ages.”
And Friday morning, on January 25, 2013, after I serendipitously stumbled upon a Berkeley sidewalk, Roosevelt helped renew my enthusiasm for and dedication to my work – to continue doing my small part to help protect and advance this great American conservation legacy.
We can sometimes find inspiration at unexpected times in surprising places.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

29 Hickory Drive

29 Hickory Drive
Westport, CT  06880

Those 29 letters and numbers evoke strong, happy memories of home.

My parents bought the place in 1956 when the average cost of a new home was $11,700, the average annual income was $4,450, and the cost of gas was 22 cents per gallon. My dad was 32, my mom was 23. That was the year Elvis Presley recorded his first album and appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show; incumbent President Dwight D. Eisenhower defeated Adlai Stevenson; Fidel Castro and his rebels landed in Cuba; the Supreme Court ruled that Alabama segregation laws were illegal; portable black and white TVs hit the market; the Wizard of Oz was the first full-length Hollywood movie to appear on television, and the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn.  

It’s a single story ranch-style house with a living room, kitchen, three bedrooms, one bathroom and a separate two-car garage (although I can’t ever remember a car being in there) near the end of a dead-end road.  For many years there was a boiler room (where we kept the gerbil cage) attached to the small kitchen, but at some point that was remodeled into a kitchen expansion. The backyard, where a small brook still runs, was swampy  -- but my parents filled it in with rock and dirt which essentially became the neighborhood playground.

My Dad, with a hefty striper, in front of the garage, 1970
My sister Sue and brothers Ed and Bob obviously moved in before me. I arrived in 1960. Brother Tim came along about six years later. And there we all lived, seven us, along with the dogs who lived out their lives there (Ginger, Brandy, Dallas and Oakley).  We lived, laughed, cried, fought, loved, learned, grew and my siblings and I eventually moved out. My parents remained. My father died in the house in 2003, at the age of 79.

On Monday, September 11, 2012, after nearly 60 years in the same home, my mom moved out of the place at the age of 79. She’s moved into a wonderful retirement home in nearby Trumbull (home to our fiercest football rival, back in the day.)

I don’t yet know what will become of the place. I imagine someone will buy it, tear it down, and put up something new.  But oh, if that house could talk! 

29 Hickory Drive
Westport, CT  06880

Here’s some random memories that come to mind:

Sharing a small bedroom with three brothers (Sue had her own room, and we called her the “queen”); always having to wait to use the bathroom; always feeling rushed while in the bathroom because someone else was waiting; the toilet always backing up (a magazine left on the lid was the signal not to use it) and my dad having to frequently snake out the septic system to clear it; the rotary phone on the wall that still remains; the “cobblers bench” coffee table that still remains with scratches and crayon marks from several generations of Stalling kids (the same cobbler bench my friend Bryan Keith cracked when he jumped on top of it during a toga party. I think my mom is still upset about that).  Waking up on occasion to find large striped bass in the bathtub, caught by my dad the night before, and placed in the tub to be kept wet so as not to lose weight for contest weigh-ins held by the Westport Striped Bass Club. He kept a windsock in the maple behind the house so he could get a feel of how rough Long Island Sound might be from the direction and strength of the wind.  My mom hung laundry out to dry in the backyard.

My dad ran a TV and radio repair shop out of the garage, and it was full of televisions, electronic equipment and giant tubes that TV’s had in those days. The garage always had a unique odor derived from the frequent soldering of wires. One night, when I was maybe 13, a fire gutted the garage and all was lost. I awoke to the smell of fire and a yard and driveway full of neighbors, fire trucks and firemen and pretty much missed it all. (I could sleep through anything). The garage later came to look more like a tackle shop with fishing rods, tackle boxes, lures, waders, nets, gaffs and other gear hanging everywhere.  My brother Ed played drums in the garage and hated being disturbed (I had many drum sticks thrown at me for taunting him). We kept an old chest freezer in the garage, for awhile, not only to store our food but to store the frozen bunker and mackerel we often used as bait for stripers. For many years, in December, I turned half the garage into my shop for making Christmas wreaths which I sold to individuals and stores – a skill I learned from our neighbor George Nelson.  The flashing of lights – from a light switch in the house – meant it was time to report in and return to the house. We also had a CB Radio in the garage (a fad started by the song “Convoy”) and my “handle” was Goo-Goo Eyes (my favorite striper fishing plug).  While I was being a wise ass to some truckers one night I didn’t realize everything I said was being broadcast over our television and my father heard it all. The lights flashed wildly and my CB days came to an end.    

My son Cory and the cobbler's bench, 2004
My dad put an old wooden cabin boat in the backyard that we slept in and played our own versions of Moby Dick, Mutiny on the Bounty and Gilligan’s Island. It seemed a favorite place for bees to build their nests. I think my brother Bob still has the steering wheel to that boat. I decided to build my own pool once, and dug up a portion of the yard and gathered cinder blocks and wood scraps that remained in a messy pile for years. We built a pretty deluxe tree house in a big white ash tree which I fell out of once, making one of my frequent visits to the hospital. I had many adventures in the woodlot behind the house, across the brook, where we sometimes held secret meetings of the “Mustard Club” which required putting mustard on our noses. There was perhaps a ten year period where we had an above-ground swimming pool, with a redwood deck around it. I would swim laps most every morning and most of the neighborhood kids would play in the pool (“Marco, Polo”) on summer days and nights.  

29 Hickory Drive
Westport, CT 06880

There was the Lowries, and Stantons, and Grants and Ragus. Crystals and Mieles, and Wankes and  Orrs. Alleys, and Keiths and Conroys and Lists. Nelsons, Devitos and Dolands and Frimpters. So many families came and went. Danny Deluca was the neighborhood bully until my sister beat him up. We would play kickball on the street, and organize huge games of hide-and-go seek in the evenings. In the winters we would sled on the neighborhood hills (the Lists and Miele’s backyards), play hockey on local ponds, and dig snow forts in the big piles left by plows.  When the roads were covered in snow and ice we’d hide out near stop signs and (unbeknownst to the drivers) grab on to the bumbers of cars and “skitch” our way around.  In the summer, we would build go-carts and bomb down the hills. I organized a few fairs in our yard, to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis, and built a store on wheels to sell lemonade, soda and candy. 

I loved catching frogs, sunnies and turtles from the local ponds and once built a little damn in the brook behind our house, creating a tiny pool that I stocked with sunnies I caught from a pond near Burr Farms Elementary School and hauled home in a wheelbarrow filled with water and fish.  In an failed attempt to make my own rawhide for snowshoes I was making, I rolled up a dead deer skin with ashes (to tan it) and left it under the shed out back. Dogs got to it, dragged it around, and the neighborhood stunk for days. 

TV and Radio repair shop turned tackle shop
The kitchen always smelled good from mom’s chicken-pot-pies, ham, macaroni salad and apple pies. From the kitchen sink, you could spray water out the window onto anyone walking outside in the narrow passage between the house and garage.  The outside water hose hung on the house near the kitchen window, where my dad once got hit by lightning. We would often climb onto the roof, run fast, and make the six-foot or so jump from house roof to garage roof.  I attempted to build a plane and launch myself off the roof, but that didn’t go so well. While practicing my shot putting, I accidentally tossed a shot put through the front window and it landed near where my dad was sitting. I once caught the bedroom on fire while laying a base on my wooden cross-country skis.
My brother Bob and I would often fight and get booted out of the house. Once, thinking we were banned from home, we “survived” by steeling hot dogs off the neighbor’s grill. When the Crystals first moved next door from New York City I persuaded them that night crawlers were bad and they paid me to pick them from their yard.  (When my father found out, he made me return the money). Mopsy Aike would sit on the stone wall between our house and the Ragus, where she knew I could see her from the bedroom window, and tease me by showing me her underwear. We would make frequent trips across the brook, around the fence, and over to Carvel’s Ice Cream shop which was pretty much in our backyard.

29 Hickory Drive
Westport, CT  06880

When snow and ice storms hit, it was difficult, if sometimes not impossible, to make it up the hills in our cars. There were 50-gallon barrels on the side of the road in several places kept full of sand and we and many of the neighbors would get out and shovel sand onto the slickest spots. We always had a big Christmas tree in that small living room and on Christmas mornings there would often be shiny new Schwinn bikes and enough presents to make the place look like a toy store. We couldn't open them until dad had his coffee in hand and he would take his time, and tease us, with a big grin on his face. Sometimes, dad would come home from work and we'd tackle and search him to find candy he hid in his pockets. My siblings and I would place pillows on the floor around one of the beds, which we pretended to be dog doo, then wrestle and push each other off the bed into the "dog doo." The last one remaining in bed was the winner. We called it, of course, the "Dog Doo Game." After the lights went out, we'd take turns tapping out songs on the wall and each had to guess what the other was attempting to play -- until my dad would finally bang on the wall and tell us to be quiet and go to sleep.

On Sunday nights, mom would make popcorn and we'd all sit in front of the TV to watch Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom followed by Walt Disney. We also gathered around the TV to watch the Wizard of Oz, The Incredible Mr. Limpet and March of the Wooden Soldiers about once a year. One of my earliest memories is watching TV when Robert Kennedy was shot, and my mom crying. We also watched the first moon landing and Neil Armstrong's small step and giant leap. (I wanted so badly to be an astronaut.) As a family, we often watched I Love Lucy, Carol Burnett, Bewitched, Gilligan's Island and the Andy Griffith Show.

For awhile there was a basketball hoop on the side of the road, at the dead-end circle in front of our house, where my brother Bob and I invented the sport of rugby basketball, which included tackling each other on the pavement. (It never quite took hold on the national scene.) Sometimes we'd build jumps, bomb down the hill on our bikes, and jump over things -- pretending to be Evel Knievel with similar crash results. Occasionally we'd shut down the road and hold neighborhood block parties on the circle. There's a huge tree in the middle of the road, atop the first hill headed out, that had a sign on it that read, "SLOW Children!"  (Long Lots teacher and football coach Bob Marshall once gave me a ride home, saw the sign, and jokingly said: "Well, that explains a lot!")  I drove my brother Bob's white Mustang convertible into that tree; I'm not sure he's forgiven me for that one.  

From the house, I could walk to Burr Farms Elementary School, then Long Lots Junior High, and then Staples High School. I could also walk or ride my bike to Burial Hill Beach, Sherwood Island State Park, Compo Beach, the Saugutuck River and the Saugutuck Reservoir where I once got caught poaching trout.

And the trees! The huge white ash trees and sugar maples and red oaks and white pines and hemlocks! And, of course, the hickories! It’s where I first fell in love with trees and learned all I could about them. I would dig up small trees on camping trips to northern Connecticut, and plant them in the yard when I got home. Some are still there, and have grown fairly large – rooted, like anchors, to the land I grew up on.

29 Hickory Drive
Westport, CT  06880

It’s my home – a home that has been saturated with nearly sixty years of life and love.  

It has always been home to me, and always will be.  Thomas Wolfe wrote “You Can’t Go Home Again,” but that’s not entirely true: All I have to do is close my eyes and remember.

So now, as an electronic funeral of sorts, I request this of friends and family: Please share, below, your memories of our wonderful home:     


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Keep the Wild in Wilderness: Stop the Tower!

Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service

"A world without huge regions of total wilderness would be a cage; a world without lions and tigers and vultures and snakes and elk and bison would be -- will be -- a human zoo. A high-tech slum.” --Edward Abbey

Back in 1964, our nation did something quite unique and remarkable: After gaining overwhelming bipartisan support from Congress and the American people, President Lyndon Johnson signed into the law the Wilderness Act, setting aside millions of acres of federal land to retain its “primeval character” and provide “opportunities for solitude" and a "primitive and unconfined type of recreation.”  It was a concept years in the making – long promoted by the likes of Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, Aldo Leopold and others who took pride in American traits such as "rugged individualism" and thought it important to leave places where Americans could still experience wildness, freedom and adventure.

After signing the Wilderness Act, President Johnson said this: “To the pioneer of history the wilderness was a foe to be conquered, so that he might make farms and pastures out of the endless forests. Today’s pioneer has a new purpose – to preserve some remnants of that wilderness from the onrush of modern civilization.  The ax and the plow will not serve us in this struggle. Today’s instruments are more subtle. They are progressive law and informed public opinion demanding that we maintain our wilderness birthright.” 

Writer and activist Sigurd F. Olson, who helped draft the Wilderness Act, and was instrumental in the protection of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota, put it this way:

“Wilderness to the people of America is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the high pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium.” 

More than a million acres in size, with more than 1,000 lakes and 1,500 miles of canoe routes, the Boundary Waters definitely provides an "antidote" to the "high pressures of modern life." In fact, more than 250,000 Americans annually head into the Boundary Waters to "regain serenity and equilibrium."

Just imagine yourself canoeing and portaging through this wild country, getting away from it all, temporarily free of computers and cell phones, perhaps catching a trout or two for dinner, setting up camp on a beautiful remote lake, gazing at a brilliant night sky of stars, listening to the eerie calls of loons or the haunting howling of wolves, maybe being lucky enough to witness a spectacular display of northern lights, and gazing out across the lake towards the horizon to see  . . .  to see the bright, obnoxious blinking red lights of a large cell phone tower above the tree tops.

Yes, that’s right -- a cell phone tower!

AT&T  plans to build a 450-foot cell phone tower on the edge of the Boundary Waters, which would permanently mar the wild horizon of at least 10 wilderness lakes. Last year, a nonprofit group called Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness received a favorable ruling from a district court to stop construction of the tower, stating that it “Violated the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act because it would have a material impact on the scenic and esthetic resources of the protected wilderness of the Boundary Waters.” But AT&T took the case to the Minnesota Court of Appeals which overturned the district court ruling. On August 21, 2012, the Minnesota Supreme Court denied a request from the Friends of the Boundary Waters that the Court review the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling. In other words: AT&T has been giving the go ahead to build its obnoxious, intrusive, obstructive tower and diminish one of our nation's unique and special wilderness areas. 

This is not just a Boundary Waters Issue -- this is an affront to the very notion of wilderness, an assault against what little remains of wild places and solitude. It could set a precedent for similar rulings and actions near other wilderness and wild areas. The great majority of our nation has been paved over and built on; there are cell phone towers almost everywhere -- can't we have some places to get away from such things? Won't we survive as a people and a nation if we leave just a few wild places where we can't text our friends every minute, check and update our Facebook pages and download a new app?   

And here’s the saddest part about it: The tower won't even make much of a difference for our technologically-obsessed society of cell-phone junkies. 

Here are some facts laid out in the district court ruling that AT&T does not deny nor challenge: 
  • The 450-foot tower’s additional coverage would not extend to areas accessed by local residents or Boundary Water visitors. Compared to a now-existing 199-foot tower, AT&T’s new 450-foot tower would provide additional coverage only in uninhabited roadless areas that are either wooded or swamps.
  • The 450-foot tower would not provide more coverage to area residents than the 199-foot tower currently provides.  The 199-foot tower provides the same coverage for area residents compared to the 450-foot tower.
  • The 450-foot tower will not provide more coverage to the Boundary Waters compared to the 199-foot tower. The district court found both the 199-foot and the 450-foot tower leave “the vast majority of the Boundary Waters without cell coverage, with only a marginal difference between the two.”
  • Two 199-foot towers provide superior service to the single 450-foot tower.  A two-tower alternative, which the Friends of the Boundary Waters has supported since the beginning, would provide “approximately 100.6% of the coverage of the single 450-foot tower,” according to the district court.

So why would AT&T persist with their obnoxious, intrusive, obstructive plans to build a 450-tower that will tarnish wilderness values?  And why aren’t Americans in an uproar about it? Have we Americans become so complacent, so dependent and obsessed with technology, so detached from wild nature that we just don’t give a damn anymore? 

Surveys suggest otherwise. Numerous and recent public opinion polls conducted by commercial firms, the media and the federal government consistently find that about 90 percent of Americans treasure the heritage of wilderness on their public lands. And not just liberal tree huggers: Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and George Bush all expanded our wilderness system. Ronald Reagan signed more wilderness protection laws than any other president. Wilderness still receives overwhelming bipartisan support, just as it did when the Wilderness Act was signed into law.

So why let AT&T get away with this? The simple answer: We shouldn’t!  It’s time to call on AT&T and demand they do the right thing—to go with less obtrusive and viable options, protect wilderness values, and not build the unneeded, unnecessary, obnoxious 450-foot tower near the Boundary Waters Wilderness.

If, like most Americans, you care about wilderness, here’s three simple things you can do:

1) Sign this petition, post it on your Facebook page, share with friends and family and encourage others to sign it. Click here: PETITION TO STOP THE TOWER 

2) Learn more about the issue and support the Friends of the Boundary Waters by clicking here:     FRIENDS OF THE BOUNDARY WATERS WILDERNESS 

3) Write or call AT&T today and urge them to do the right thing. If you are an AT&T costumer, let them know you will no longer support them or do business with them if they don’t do the right thing. Here’s the contact information:

P. O. Box 68055
Anaheim Hills, CA 92817-8055
800-331-0500 or 800-888-7600

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Wolves and the Abandonment of Science

Murie's first scientific treatise on elk, 1951
In a sad, but justified move, the family of Olaus Murie recently demanded that the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) cancel the organization’s Olaus J. Murie Award because of the RMEF’s “all-out war against wolves” that is “anathema to the entire Murie family.” 

I conceived and created the Olaus J. Murie Award (with coordination and approval from the Murie family) on behalf of the RMEF in 1999, when the RMEF was a science-based conservation organization. The award recognized scientists working on behalf of elk and elk habitat in honor of Olaus Murie, who is widely considered the “father” of modern elk research and management for the ground-breaking work he conducted at the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in the 1940s. He also wrote “Elk of North America” – the first, most thorough and comprehensive scientific treatise on elk and elk management, which has since been updated several times by the Wildlife Management Institute.  (I have read Murie’s book several times, and was honored to have had a chapter published in the most recent edition.) 

Since then, the RMEF got rid of all the good leaders who not only helped create and shape the RMEF, but had solid, impressive backgrounds in wildlife biology, ecology and science-based wildlife management.  The organization now ignores and defies science and panders to outfitters, politicians and hunters who have little understanding of wildlife and, in particular, interactions between wolves and elk.  The group has abandoned principle for income and popularity.

During my ten years as the conservation editor for RMEF’s Bugle magazine, I wrote many award-winning science-based articles and essays regarding wildlife, ecology, natural history and wildlife management.  Several of those stories focused on science that the RMEF itself helped fund showing clear, solid evidence of improvements in the health of habitat and elk herds living among wolves; how wolf predation was mostly compensatory and not additive; how elk behavior, habits and habitat choices changed in the presence of wolves, and many other interconnected complexities that factored in such as habitat conditions, habitat effectiveness, vulnerability,  bull-to-cow ratios, breeding behavior, calving and calf survival rates.  In those days, the RMEF helped convey and disseminate accurate information to keep people informed , supporting the kind of good, solid science that Olaus Murie himself began and would have been proud of.

Today, the RMEF is run by a former marketer for NASCAR and the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association, with no understanding of wildlife or elk ecology, who has called wolf reintroduction the “worst ecological disaster since the decimation of bison herds;” continues to erroneously claim wolves are “decimating” and “annihilating” elk herds; who viciously attacks anyone who disagrees; and does what he can to keep the truth from being published.  (Myself and other science-based writers have all been banished from writing for Bugle, with no explanation.)

This, despite the tremendous recoveries and improvements to elk and other wildlife habitat in Yellowstone thanks to wolf recovery; that there are now more elk in Montana (and more hunting opportunity) than ever; that I see as many elk as always in the country I hunt, and that Montana outfitters are claiming the best elk hunting success in years.

Good for the Murie family! The RMEF has become a disgrace to the good, science-based research and management that Olaus Murie began and promoted.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Bear Safety

I recently saw an advertisement for an event put on by a Montana outfitting company, including (among other things) a presentation on “bear safety.”  Considering how we’ve driven grizzlies to near extinction, and have confined bears to a fraction of their original range, they could certainly use some safety tips  – but they are smart enough to generally evade and avoid us.  I doubt many bears will show up for the presentation; they tend to be like me and just do what they do, feel comfortable and at home roaming the wilds, and accept that whatever happens just naturally happens.

I took my 12-year old son backpacking a few weeks ago, and at the trail head we ran into a man carrying a .45 on his hip. “Why do you have a gun?” my son asked.  “To protect myself against bears,” the man said. When the man left, my son looked at me and asked, “That’s silly, huh Dad?”  Indeed!  My reply: “Well, it certainly shows he, like most people, is sadly detached from nature and uncomfortable in the mountains.” 

My son has seen several grizzlies in the wild, and since he was a baby I’ve repeatedly told him, showed him and taught him that bears can be dangerous under certain circumstances, to respect bears, be humble around them, move cautiously through bear country, be alert, and give bears plenty of space. They are pretty well in tune with and adapted to their environment, and they generally know when something’s amiss or when someone has entered their territory.  Sure, get between a sow and her cub, or a boar and his food cache (I’ve inadvertently done both) and you might be in trouble – particularly in national parks like Glacier and Yellowstone where bears sometimes lose their natural fear of people. But even then -- though bears may get nervous or agitated, get their hair up, snap their jaws, maybe even do a bluff charge -- they rarely attack people.  

I’ve managed to avoid conflict by looking away from them, holding out my hands, slowly walking away, and softly and calmly (and humbly) saying out loud: “I’m not going to hurt you so please don’t hurt me.”  In other words: Show them you are not a threat to them or their cubs. They seem to appreciate the gestures. It is, after all, their home – one of the few and increasingly shrinking places we’ve left for them. In the rare instances when bears do attack it makes the news, which gives them an unfair and unjustified reputation. (The scientific name for grizzlies, Ursus arctos horribilis, is a terrible misnomer and should be changed.)

Consider this:  Glacier National Park has the largest concentration of grizzlies in the lower 48 and receives more than two million human visitors a year. Yet less than one person a year has been injured by bears, and there has been only 10 bear-related fatalities since the park opened in 1910. The most common and frequent causes of death in Glacier are automobile accidents, heart attacks, drowning and lightning. 

Once, after nearly a week of bushwhacking alone in the wilds of Glacier, I came upon a trail and met four wonderful women from San Francisco hiking with bells on and carrying bear spray. I shared a camp with them that night, and they spoke a lot about their fear of grizzlies. They asked me how I could hike alone off trail without bells and bear spray and not worry.  I shared the statistics with them and told them that, instead of carrying bells and bear spray, it would make far more sense for them to not get in a car, carry a defibrillator, attach a lightning rod to their packs and wear a life preserver. They became a bit more comfortable in the wilds after that.  

Bear safety? Respect them, be humble around them, move cautiously through their homes, be alert, and give them plenty of space. Better yet: Support good groups like the Vital Ground Foundation that protect critical grizzly habitat and gives bears the room they need and deserve.

Help keep bears safe!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Canadian Threat: Now is Not the Time to Think! (Rehberg's War on Montana Wildlands)

"Now is not the time to Think!" John Candy, Canadian Bacon
I’ve spent a large part of my life roaming the wild backcountry of northern Montana year-round – backpacking, hunting, fishing, backcountry skiing and snowshoeing. Although I’ve had a few humbling encounters with grizzlies, almost drowned once crossing a tumultuous, spring-fed creek; got buried up to my chest in an avalanche, and experienced a lightning strike a bit too close for comfort, for the most part I always felt pretty safe and secure. I never ran into nor saw any sign of criminals (well, except for a shady-looking character I suspected of poaching a cutthroat trout), drug dealers, suicide bombers or terrorists (though there are folks who seem to consider the wolves I have seen as a threat to our very existence as a nation and a world.)  

Apparently, according to the latest fear-mongering rhetoric coming out of Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg’s office, I am lucky to have not been killed, captured, tortured or attacked by Al Quaeda and Hezbollah extremists. But Rehberg has a plan to keep us safe and protect the American way of life – even though it entails sacrificing more than 30 federal laws, acts and regulations overwhelmingly backed by American citizens; will trample rights and eliminate public accountability for land that belongs to the public; will diminish the health of public wildlands and wildlife most Americans cherish, and calls for the expansion of federal government, federal spending, federal authority and federal control (things Rehberg is normally staunchly opposed to, but in this case seems to think is necessary to protect us from evil.)

“Border security is national security, and in Montana that means safety for our families and communities,” Rehberg says. He claims his plan is “absolutely necessary to secure our borders against illegal immigrants, drug dealers, human traffickers and terrorists.”

Rehberg is one of 59 co-sponsors of the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, known as the “Border Bill,” recently passed by Congress. The legislation would give Homeland Security  and U.S. Customs and Border Protection unprecedented access to all federal lands within 100 miles of the U.S. border (In Montana alone, that amounts to more than 32,000 square miles – nearly a third of the state!) allowing the agency to construct and maintain roads and fences; use vehicles to patrol federal lands; install, maintain and operate surveillance equipment and sensors; use aircrafts and deploy temporary tactical infrastructure, including forward operating bases – all in some of the most wild, pristine places left in the United States, including Glacier National Park; the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat and Great Bear Wilderness areas, and Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front. The bill would allow Customs and Border Protection to skirt laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Park Service Organic Act, the Wilderness Act, Clean Air Act, Federal Water Pollution Control Act and Safe Drinking Water Act.

Rehberg says the bill will give border patrol the ability to more easily conduct certain activities on public lands in an effort to crack down on drug trafficking and illegal immigration. “It’s time to put an end to the dangerous turf war where federal land managers hide behind environmental laws in order to prevent border patrol agents from doing their jobs on federal land,” he says. "It's not acceptable for Montana families to be at risk because federal bureaucrats can't get along. . . It will end the bureaucratic turf-war that has prevented U.S. Customs and Border Protection from accessing the physical border on federal lands.” 

But interestingly enough, U.S. Customs and Border Protection doesn’t seem to agree with Rehberg. The agency already has a memorandum of understanding with the departments of Interior and Agriculture that allows the departments to work together in situations that might require the pursuit of suspects or investigations on public land. Last July, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials testified against the bill, saying the agency “enjoys a close working relationship with the Department of Interior and Department of Agriculture that allows us to fulfill our border enforcement responsibilities while respecting and enhancing the environment.” One agency official noted: “It's working well and the bill isn't needed.”

So if it’s not really needed, why is Rehberg so adamant about it? The answer likely lies in his reassurance that the bill will not prohibit activities such as gas and oil development, logging, mining and cattle grazing.  That would, after all, be consistent with his long-held views and many efforts to remove federal protects of our last remaining wild places.  

But as Rehberg well knows, it’s easier to sell fear than truth. Or, as H.L. Mencken put it: "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed -- and hence clamorous to be led to safety -- by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."  

According to Richard Falkenrath, a Brookings Institution scholar and former deputy homeland security adviser, the best way to prevent  terrorists from entering the United States would be to “invest in a state-of-the-art terrorist watch list complete with biometric screening.”  After all, terrorists are most likely to enter the United States the same way the Sept. 11 hijackers did -- through airports. But then again, that wouldn’t open up federally-protect wildlands to gas development, mining, logging and road construction  – and it certainly wouldn’t protect us from the apparent danger emanating from our northern neighbors.

In  the 1995 satire “Canadian Bacon,” Alan Alda plays a U.S. President who, along with his national security advisor, decides to fabricate a threat from Canada to boost political standing and win more votes.  In the movie, a news anchor reports on the Canadian danger: “Think of your children pledging allegiance to the maple leaf. Mayonnaise on everything. Winter 11 months of the year. Anne Murray - all day, every day.”  A patriotic American sheriff named Bud Boomer (played by John Candy) takes the threat seriously and hastily organizes drastic measures to protect our country.

Says Boomer: “There's a time to think, and a time to act. And this, gentlemen, is no time to think.”

Apparently, Rehberg took Boomer’s advice too seriously. 

The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act would affect more than 32,000 square miles of Montana.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Grinning That Great Big Wonderful Grin! (Happy Father's Day, Dad!)

My father and I, Rock Creek, Montana, 1999
The other day, someone asked me where I got my interest in and passion for wildlife, wild places and wildlife conservation. The answer was quick and simple (I didn’t even need to think about it): My father. 

Growing up along the shore of Long Island Sound in Connecticut, my father often took me fishing for striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, flounder and mackerel. From the start, he taught me conservation basics: To keep only what I would eat, to fish fairly and honestly with respect for the quarry. Later, he showed me the varied ways of pipers and horseshoe crabs, jellyfish and sea robins, scallops and mussels, cormorants and terns. He also spoke of the importance of clean water and healthy estuaries for striped bass and all ocean creatures. He served as president of the Westport Striped Bass Club and helped protect and restore the fish he so passionately pursued. 

He took me camping, backpacking, trout fishing, taught me to identify trees and other plants, got me involved in Boy Scouts and shared with me all of his enthusiasm, knowledge, love and respect for the natural world. He not only inspired me to cherish all things wild and free, but encouraged me to speak up for and defend the things I love.

In other words: He greatly influenced and shaped not only who I am, but my core values, beliefs and what I do for a living. He was a wonderful and amazing man.

I remember one time, in particular, sitting on a log along the banks of the Housatonic River on a beautiful, crisp fall day. Listening to the sounds of dry golden beech leaves rustling in the breeze, my father asked, “Do you know what that is?”

My father and I with some hefty stripers, around 1973
“Leaves?” I replied.

“Nope,” he said, while grinning that great big wonderful grin of his that was always accompanied by a hunch of his shoulders, a flick of his eyebrows, a twinkle in his eyes and sometimes a wink (all signifying he was about to say something he found amusing), “It’s a ‘rustling’ grouse! 
“Ha, ha, funny Dad,” I said (or something along those lines, being the teenager I was at the time).

But right about then, startling us both, a real ruffed grouse with rustling wings actually flew in and landed right near us. And then we both really laughed, long and hard. Such things seemed to happen often around my Dad.

Memorial at Comp Beach, Westport, CT
It seemed he always caught the most and biggest fish; was always first to spot terns diving over feeding bluefish; was always first to see deer browsing in the forests, hawks circling in the sky, or trout rising in the currents. He could find a four-leaf clover most any time you challenged him to. Yet it never even seemed like he was trying (and I don’t think he was); things just happened that way for him. Most everywhere we went, even on out-of-state trips, he ran into people he knew -- and everyone loved, admired and respected him. 

Once, driving alongside a meadow when he was visiting me in Montana, I was looking hard for moose and said, “Dad, keep an eye out, this is where they sometimes hang out.”  And he immediately, calmly, and nonchalantly replied, while pointing his finger and grinning that big wonderful grin of his, “Like that one right there?” And sure enough, there was a huge bull hidden in the willows that I would have never seen.

He had a tough upbringing; grew up in the depression; never knew his real mom; had a not-so-nice step mom; quit high school to join the Marine Corps and fought in the most brutal battles of the Pacific Theater in WWII (Iwo Jima, Saipan, Tinian and Okinawa). He never had much money. Yet he was the happiest, luckiest, most patient, most honest, most loving, most wonderful man I have ever known -- and I am one lucky guy to have had him for a father!

When he was dying, in the fall of 2003, I found a few particularly bright, brilliant sugar maple leaves and brought them to his bedside to show him. He grinned that great big wonderful grin of his I will always remember him for.

I miss him, and I think of him every day.

Happy Father’s Day Dad! I love you!