Archive for September, 2011

Ice Shelves Melt In The Canadian Arctic

September 30, 2011

Two large ice shelves almost entirely melted near Elsmere Island in the Canadian arctic. The meltings appear to be an artifact of global climate change leaving behind large icebergs; a threat to oil wells and ship traffic.
Matt

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More On Pine Beetles and Grizzly Bears In the Yellowstone Ecosystem

September 29, 2011

I do not want to use my blog to quibble; especially with friends that I know to be way pro-bear, but I see the presence and activity of the mountain pine beetle, in the Yellowstone Ecosystem a bad thing very related to a changing (getting hotter) climate. I do not see this as happening overnight but I do see this as happening over the next few decades. Lets say some of the whitebark seeds regenerate trees and beetles or blister rust do not get these trees, by the time cones are produced species like the grizzly bear will be shot out by managers or hunters trying to keep hungry bears off of their elk carcasses and out of good smelling hunting camps.
Matt

Black Bears in Bozeman, Montana

September 28, 2011

Last week I had friends and relatives in town that would have loved to see a black bear and there were none to be seen. Now 2 are in town near my older childrens elementry school. We could have seen the bears about sixty feet up in a spruce tree looking down, or completly ignoring us. Food for bears, who are now in their hyperfagic phase is, from reports to me, at best erratic…if it stays warm there will be more bears in town looking for a quick nutritional fix in the garbage as their natural food sources run out before bears move to their dens.
Matt

More Bear Attacks In the Yellowstone Ecosystem

September 26, 2011

A bear, species to be determined, attacked a hunter, it appears that the bear was surprised as it was sleeping. The bear left several bites on the hunter, enough to leave the hunter in serious condition in the hospital. The attack occured on the Caribou-Targhee National Forest in the Southwest portion of the Yellowstone Ecosystem in Idaho.

Also a grizzly bear attacked a bow hunter along Cinnamon Creek Trail…What interested me about this is that Cinnamon Creek is down in the Gallatin Canyon in one of my old study areas and I also have seen grizzlies and their tracks along that trail. What I really found interesting about that trail is that at the end closest to Cinnamon Creek Lodge was a 3 seater outhouse.
Matt

Ghost Forests near Yellowstone National Park

September 24, 2011

I saw what are called White Bark Pine ghost forests by binocular in Porcupine Creek, Buck Creek and on Selpulcher Peak all in the Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Matt

What I learned

September 23, 2011
    Birds are migrating through and it seems to me at a trickle. It is an average of 15 degrees hotter than normal.

    The best thing I have learned this week is about the NRDC book, Empire of the Beetle by Andrew Nikiforuk.
    Matt

Wolves, Caribou, Tar Sands and Canada’s Oily Ethics a blog in the Huffington Post by Chris Genovali

September 22, 2011

On this Canada has some very oily ethics.
Matt
In Western Canada wolves are blamed for the demise of everything from marmots to mountain caribou. Given that attitude, we at Raincoast Conservation Foundation are appalled, though not surprised, by Canada’s proposed strategy to recover dwindling populations of boreal forest caribou in northern Alberta’s tar sands. Essentially, the plan favours the destruction of wolves over any consequential protection, enhancement, or expansion of caribou habitat (“Federal recovery plan for caribou suggests thousands of wolves stand to die,” Winnipeg Free Press, September 12, 2011).

Clearly, the caribou recovery strategy is not based on ecological principles or available science. Rather it represents an ideology on the part of advocates for industrial exploitation of our environment, which subsumes all other principles to economic growth, always at the expense of ecological integrity. Owing to the breadth of the human niche, which continues to expand via technological progress, the human economy grows at the competitive exclusion of nonhuman species in the aggregate. The real cost of Alberta’s tar sands development, which includes the potential transport of oil by Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipelines is being borne by wolves, caribou, and other wild species. Ironically, the caribou strategy also unintentionally confirms what government and industry have long denied — that tar sands development is not environmentally sustainable.

Consistent with Canada’s now well deserved reputation as an environmental laggard, the caribou recovery strategy evolved over several years and many politicized iterations, carefully massaged by government pen pushers and elected officials who did their very best to ignore and obscure the advice of consulting biologists and ecologists. So, the government should quit implying that the consultation approach provides a scientifically credible basis for decisions. Apparently, scientists can lead federal Environment Minister Peter Kent to information but they cannot make him think.

Egged on by a rapacious oil industry, the federal government has chosen to scapegoat wolves for the decline of boreal caribou in a morally and scientifically bankrupt attempt to protect Canada’s industrial sacred cow — the tar sands. Yet, the ultimate reason why the caribou are on the way out is because multiple human disturbances — most pressingly the tar sands development — have altered their habitat into a landscape that can no longer provide the food, cover, and security they need.

The relentless destruction of boreal forest wilderness via tar sands development has conspired to deprive caribou of their life requisites while exposing them to levels of predation they did not evolve with and are incapable of adapting to. Consequently, caribou are on a long-term slide to extinction; not because of what wolves and other predators are doing but because of what humans have already done.

Controlling wolves by killing them or by the use of non-lethal sterilization techniques is biologically unsound as a long-term method for reducing wolf populations and protecting hoofed animals (ungulates) from predation. Lethal control has a well documented failed record of success as a means of depressing numbers of wolves over time. Killing wolves indiscriminately at levels sufficient to suppress populations disrupts pack social structure and upsets the stability of established territories, allowing more wolves to breed while promoting the immigration of wolves from nearby populations.

At the broadest level, the caribou strategy favours human selfishness at the expense of other species. Implicit is the idea that commercial enterprise is being purchased by the subversion of the natural world, with one set of ethical principles being applied to humans and another to the rest of nature. The strategy clearly panders to the ecologically destructive wants of society by sacrificing the most basic needs of caribou. In doing so, it blatantly contradicts the lesson Aldo Leopold taught us so well — the basis of sound conservation is not merely pragmatic; it is also ethical.

Simply, the caribou strategy is not commensurate with the threats to the species’ survival. What is desperately needed is a caribou strategy designed to solve the problem faster than it is being created. Protecting limited habitat for caribou while killing thousands of wolves as the exploitation of the tar sands continues to expand will not accomplish this goal. Yet, against scientific counsel to lead otherwise, politicians have decided that industrial activities have primacy over the conservation needs of endangered caribou (and frankly, all things living).

Tar sands cheerleaders try hard to convince Canadians that we can become an ‘energy superpower’ while maintaining our country’s environment. They are of course wrong. Thousands of wolves will be just some of the causalities along the way. Minister Kent and his successors will find more opportunity to feign empathy as Canadians also bid farewell to populations of birds, amphibians, and other mammals, including caribou, that will be lost as collateral damage from tar sands development. The most difficult ministerial message, we suspect, will be this government’s need to issue ongoing apologies for the scores of species that will continue to be poisoned, persecuted and dispossessed because of tar sands development. This raises many difficult questions; in particular, how much of our country’s irreplaceable natural legacy will Canadians allow to be sacrificed at the altar of oil industry greed?

This article was co-authored with Dr. Paul Paquet, Raincoast Conservation Foundation senior scientist, and Dr. Chris Darimont, Raincoast’s science director.

The Ghost Forest in the NRDC Book, Empire of the Beetle, By Andrew Nikiforuk

September 21, 2011

Willcox and Logan see climate changing consequences firsthand and I am sure it is quite sad.
Matt
Every summer, Louisa Willcox, a prominent grizzly bear advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council and avid mountain climber, hikes to the summit of Packsaddle Peak in Tom Miner Basin, Montana, like a determined mother on a mission. Although Willcox enjoys the expansive high-country vista into Yellowstone National Park, she mostly comes now to check on the state of her ancient children: the silvery-skinned whitebark pine. In early August 2009, the pines are not doing well, and Willcox is growing anxious. “Things are getting ugly,” she says.

The whitebark pine is a five-needled monarch that lives in majestic groves throughout the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada-Cascade ranges. It can be found in at least twenty-five U.S. national forests and much of the mountainous interior of British Columbia and Alberta. This hardy, long-living tree sports outrageously purple cones. The tree itself stores more carbon than a lodgepole pine. The whitebark pine can endure high winds, poor soils, Arctic cold, deep snow, and lightning strikes. The biologist Diana Tomback calls it “a tenacious survivor.” But these gnarled and shrubby-looking pines are now dying by the millions, which could unravel another iconic part of the West in ways no one ever expected.

When Willcox visited the Packsaddle a month earlier, in July, “the ugliness” was not yet there. At the time, she was giving a tour of the forest to members of the Greater Yellowstone Whitebark Assessment Project. The unusual team consisted of retired beetle expert Jesse Logan, conservation pilot Bruce Gordon, and Wally Macfarlane, a veteran mountain man and landscape analyst. Together with the U.S. Forest Service, the team was about to map the scale of beetle damage in whitebark country with an unprecedented aerial survey of Greater Yellowstone. To that point, the government had not collected much comprehensive data on beetle attacks in the pines, because it considered the tree of little commercial value. Willcox, a long-time member of the Natural Resources Defense Council, thought that foolhardy. She even maxed out her credit card to get the map project going.

Buy the Book: Empire of the Beetle
Using a simple classification scheme that ranged from zero to five (“no dead” to “all dead”), the team rated conditions on Packsaddle as a category two or three. The place was full of large, living trees. But from the summit, the team could see a “red cancerous expanse of dying forests” for hundreds of miles, and within a month what was once a vibrant forest on Packsaddle had become a land of zombie trees: they looked green but were deader than doornails. It was clear now that in a couple of months the mountain would be a category-four territory aflame with red needles. The deathly quiet of the forest had a British Columbian tenor, but with one startling difference. These trees weren’t the abundant hundred-year-old lodgepoles but rare eight-hundred-year-old elders.

On her August ascent, which started in a spruce forest badly rusted and harassed by the budworm, Willcox passed monster whitebarks decorated with the dismal carpentry of the beetle. The garish, orange-colored pitch tubes on the trees resembled lurid, otherworldly tree blood. At the base of every pine lay fresh telltale mounds of light-colored frass, a combination of sawdust and beetle shit. As Willcox spotted one attacked tree after another, the wildlife advocate muttered in dismay. Some of the attacked trees predated Christopher Columbus’s arrival. “It’s unbelievable,” said Willcox. “This tiny bug and climate change. It’s no match.”

Video: Andrew Nikiforuk on Pine Beetles
The mountain pine beetle’s assault on subalpine whitebark forests may seem at first a minor chapter in the great beetle Iliad. But the ancient whitebark anchors much of the West in ways few people appreciate. It not only serves as the crown for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), home to the world’s first national park, but guards the rooftop of a continent. Perched on some of the continent’s most inhospitable and rocky terrain, these noble pine forests quietly regulate snowmelt, conserve water, shelter diversity, freshen the air, and grow fat-rich seeds for wildlife over an area the size of South Carolina in the GYE alone. The region shelters one of the most intact temperate forests on the planet and encompasses two national parks, six national forests, and twenty-one mountain ranges.

But in Yellowstone’s high country and throughout the Rocky Mountain West, the beetle has now become what Jesse Logan calls “the fire that doesn’t burn out.” Since 2005, the epidemic has killed 7 million whitebark pines, creating “ghost forests,” patches of gray skeletal sticks, on mountaintops from Oregon to Wyoming. Even the U.S. Forest Service admits that the mountain pine beetle, working in combination with a deadly fungal invader and climate change, has already placed whitebark and its hardy relatives such as limber pine “on the brink of disaster.” For Willcox, Logan, and a host of other researchers, the whole mess unhappily proves the veracity of an old observation by John Muir: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it’s hitched to the rest of the universe.” The whitebark appears to be hitched to the heart of hope itself.

***
Few things on this earth live as long as a whitebark pine. They are the grandmothers and grandfathers of the mountains. On oldlist, a database of ancient trees, Pinus albicaulis ranks 16th among tree elders, just behind the Douglas-fir. The oldest recorded whitebark lived over 1,200 years. Its venerable cousin, the bristlecone, often lives longer than 4,000 years and remains the oldest living tree on earth. Because of their age, five-needled pines remain the best record of climate change in the West. The width or narrowness of their rings tell stories of drought and deluge and heat and cold. The whitebark knows that sons and daughters of Europeans settled the West during some of the wettest weather in the last thousand years.

The whitebark, a sacred tree among the Blackfoot, occupies the highest elevation of any tree in the West. In spite of its remoteness, the generous tree glues together the alpine world and nourishes a remarkable community of animals and people. For thousands of years the Lillooet, Blackfoot, Shuswap, Kootenay, and Shoshone regularly harvested the pine’s large, high-energy seeds, with their amazing fat, protein, and carbohydrate content. The pearly, pea-sized seeds also provide dinner for the Clark’s nutcracker, red squirrels, and grizzly bears.

Beetle-Mania: Q&A with the Author
Yellowstone grizzlies have a unique and broad-ranging menu that was known to include earthworms, hornets, cutthroat trout, army moths, dead bison, and biscuit root. But after a colleague noted an odd correlation between the size of the whitebark cone crop and the number of conflicts between hunters and bears, Mattson explored the matter more deeply.

What he found wasn’t all that surprising. During abundant seed years (every two to three years), healthy numbers of bruins congregated under the canopy of whitebarks to rob squirrel caches. The forest provided a sort of mountain refuge with few people around. During poor seed years, “the bears moved to low elevation near humans. They weren’t starving. They were just on the landscape at large.” That often put the animals into conflict with hunters.

Hunter Killed By Grizzly Bear

September 19, 2011

A hunter shot a Grizzly Bear, thinking the grizzly was a black bear. The wounded grizzly killed the hunter, who yelled, saving a young man by diverting the attention of the wounded, attacking grizzly. This happened in Northwest Montana, remote and near the Idaho and Canadian border.
Matt

I’ll Be Back

September 9, 2011

I am taking a week off as my older daughter gets married….SEE YA!!!!!
Matt