Tag: Utah

Our trip to Utah, part four

And a few more photographs.

I’m sure that there’s only so much you can take of our trip to Utah and back. So I have selected the more interesting photographs and will share them with you today and the next two days.

Saturday, 28th September

Vance, of The Flute Shop, gave us directions to some ancient petroglyphs that were painted on a rock wall quite close to where we were staying.

First, that rock wall. The petroglyphs can be seen at the bottom of the rock face.

Then a close up. It was amazing that although there was a great deal of name carving close by there was none on the petroglyph images themselves.

They were about 700 years old.

Sunday, 29th September

Today it was the long drive down to Kanab, about 200 miles, but  we stopped frequently to take photographs of the never-ending marvels that we saw.

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Tomorrow some more photographs.

Adopting a blind dog.

A coincidence!

I’m going to republish, albeit without formal permission to so do, a recent item on Mother Nature News. (I’m leaving out the photographs that were carried on the Mother Nature News article.)

Simply because when we stayed for the night at The Flute Shop, in Torrey, Utah, the owner had his own blind dog. I took the following photo of him but unfortunately we didn’t get his name!

But it does seem fitting to republish the article that appeared on MNN. If they object then the article will be removed forthwith!

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8 things to know when adopting a blind dog

MARY JO DILONARDO
October 2, 2019.

When I take a walk with that little fluff ball of a foster puppy above, we don’t get very far. It’s not because Galen is blind. It’s because everyone wants to stop and pet him because he’s so darn cute.

I’m fostering Galen for Speak! St. Louis, a rescue that specializes in blind and/or deaf dogs. He’s my second special needs foster puppy. My first, Whibbles Magoo, was blind and deaf, which was a little more challenging. Both of them are double merles. Merle is a beautiful mottled pattern in a dog’s coat. Some disreputable breeders will breed two merles together hoping to get merle puppies. Those puppies have a 25% chance of being double merle — which results in a predominantly white coat and usually means they have hearing or vision loss or both.

As I’ve been talking to potential adopters, there have been so many questions about how to prepare for a blind dog. It’s like getting ready for a sighted pup, but with a little extra special planning.

Create a safe zone

Whether your new blind pal is a puppy or an adult dog, you’ll want to make an area for him where he feels safe. It should be a place where he can’t hurt himself or anything in your home and where he feels comfortable. Some people gate off a room in their homes or use a pen and crate.

I work from home, so Galen has a metal exercise pen surrounding a crate in my office. He can sprawl out or play in his pen or sleep in his crate. He has toys and there’s plenty of room for him to do what he wants, but he can’t gnaw on baseboards or electrical cords. At night, I put him in the crate to sleep.

Blind-proof your home and yar

Look for any sharp edges or stairs where your pup could get into trouble. Install baby gates to block off rooms or staircases. A recent applicant climbed around her home on her hands and knees to see what perils might be at Galen’s level.

Consider using carpet runners and mats to define specific areas. At our house, there’s one at the back door, one near the kitchen and a runner that goes down the hallway to the office. When I recently cleaned the kitchen floor and picked up the mats, Galen stood frozen and confused in the room as if his world was turned upside-down. When I placed the mats back down, he raced around again, now that everything had returned to normal.

Similarly, make sure your yard doesn’t have any hazards and is securely fenced. If you have a pool, fountain or electrical outlets, be sure they are puppy-proofed with fences, gates or locks. Walk your dog on a leash for the first few days and stay nearby after that until you know he has the yard mapped. Once he does, you’ll be amazed at how deftly he will navigate. Galen zooms around the yard, avoiding bushes and fences, gleefully running at full speed.

Don’t redecorate

Resist the urge to move things around. Keep the things at dog eye-level where they are so as not to confuse your dog. Your pet will learn landmarks and maneuver around them, quickly learning the locations of doors, walls, furniture and anything that could potentially be in his way. Be careful about remembering to push in chairs or ottomans after using them so they don’t become new obstacles.

Work on training

It’s always smart to take training classes with a new dog, but especially important to work on training with a special-needs pup. It’s key that you have a strong bond, and working on games and commands is an excellent way to get there. One of the first commands to teach is “watch!” whenever your dog is about to get too close to something like a wall, a bush or even your legs. You’ll find that soon he’ll put on the brakes when you say it.

When a dog doesn’t have one sense, his other senses are often heightened. He may be really tuned in to smells so you might want to try playing games that use stinky treats to get his attention. (I use soft treats that I can cut up in small pieces like venison and even watermelon-flavored dog treats.) Using a snuffle mat is also a good way to serve meals because it works on your dog’s sense of smell. It’s a homemade toy that lets them use their noses to sniff for treats or their dinner.

A note on scents and devices

If you research blind dogs, you’ll find suggestions that you mark certain areas of your home with unique scents. Maybe the back door is marked with a drop of vanilla and your pet’s feeding area has a dash of peppermint. But your dog’s sense of smell is remarkable and he’ll be able to smell his water (and food!) and he’ll quickly figure out the back door and bed and toys. Everything already has its own special smell. One story I read suggested that an owner always wear the same body lotion or perfume, but as a rescue friend pointed out: We all have our own personal odor. Your dog isn’t going to get you confused with anyone else.

You will likely also hear about devices like halos — which are sturdy circular loops that hook onto a dog’s collar, encircling his head to keep him from bumping into things. Some people in the special-needs world say this keeps dogs from learning spacial recognition and some dogs just “freeze,” not wanting to move when this unwieldy device is attached to their heads.

I’ve found that Galen is actually pretty careful. He doesn’t go barreling full force in areas he doesn’t know. Occasionally when he’s playing hard with Brodie, he might lose his bearings and bump into the couch or forget that’s where the toybox is. But all puppies do that when they’re caught up in the heat of the moment. Dogs, and especially puppies, are incredibly resilient. He shakes it off and jumps back into the wrestling match.

But it all depends on the dog and the owner. If your dog is tentative in new places and doesn’t like to explore when he’s unsure, you may find that these aides help. You may decide that you like the idea of scent mapping and using a halo, but I’d suggest letting your dog figure it out by himself first.

If your dog has very limited vision, some vets suggests doggie sunglasses like Doggles. It helps with light sensitivity when they are out in bright sunlight. Plus, they can help protect your dog’s eyes if he bumps into things, and it just looks really cool. Like anything new — a collar, harness or even a leash — it will take a while for your dog to get used to wearing something new, so be patient.

Get ready to talk … a lot

Because your blind dog can’t see you, you’ll need to let him know where you are in different ways. The easiest way is by talking.

When we take a walk, Galen will bump into me every few feet to check in. He used to try to weave between my legs to keep track of me to make sure I was still there. My trainer friend suggested I carry a bell, but I found that it’s just as easy to keep up a running conversation with him. He seems to like it and has his ears constantly going back and forth as he’s listening to my reassuring stream of babble.

In addition to saying “watch!” I say “step up” and “step down” to navigate curbs. I tell people he is blind when they want to approach him and pet him so a strange hand doesn’t just come at him out of the blue. Then when he hears someone cooing to him, his tail and his whole rear ends starts wagging with joy.

Even if you’re not a chatty person, you’ll likely find yourself talking more with a blind dog in the house. When you leave the room, it’s a good idea to call out to your four-legged pal so he knows where you went. I’ve found that Galen listens much more intently to me than Brodie, who has definitely learned to tune me out unless I’m saying something about treats or dinner.

You might want to leave on some music or the TV for your blind dog when you’re not home. Also, try squeaky toys that make noise. In our house, the louder the toy, the more enticing it is

Size up your pets

If you have other pets in your home, consider their personalities and how accepting they’ll be to a new blind family member. My long-suffering dog Brodie doesn’t love that we have a parade of foster puppies in and out of the house, but he tolerates them with incredible patience.

A blind dog can’t pick up on warning signs like pinned-back ears from a fellow canine or a twitching cat tail that mean it’s a good idea to back off. How would your current pet feel if a blind dog bumps into him or stumbles upon his favorite toy or food dish? If he’s snapped at in those situations, a sight-impaired pup won’t have any idea what he did wrong.

Even if you have a laid-back pet, always keep an eye on him around your new addition. It can take a few weeks for everybody to figure out their spot in the family.

If you aren’t sure if your pets or your family are a good fit for a blind dog, check with a trainer or a vet you respect.

Be patient

Sometimes, you’ll have to count to 10. For me, the laces of my new sneakers were mistaken for a chew toy and have lost their fancy tips. Searching for me in the yard, Galen came racing at me mouth open and collided with my shins, leaving a puppy-tooth puncture wound. He’s afraid to walk down stairs (imagine how scary it must be to take that step into nothingness) so I’m still carrying all 18 pounds of him down the steps many times each day. It’s a great workout but not so great for my lower back.

But man, is he awesome. I’m amazed every day how happy he is and how much he loves everything and everyone. Squeaky toy! Person! Snuggle! Grass! Just because he can’t see something doesn’t mean he doesn’t adore it. When you add a blind dog to your life, you’ll be amazed at how much it opens your eyes to the wonder in the world.

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This was an excellent article, not only for blind dogs but also for the partially-sighted. So much better to care for them than the alternative!

A bit of a heads-up

A vacation is coming up!

Now it’s still two weeks away but on the 23rd September we are going away until the 8th October.

We are driving to Utah specifically to see the slot canyons in Capital Reef National Park, and elsewhere.

The story behind this was quite a few months ago I was reading on Ugly Hedgehog about these canyons and said to Jeannie that we really should try and go there before we get too old.

As it happened, Jana could babysit the house and dogs, cats and horses on the dates that I mentioned earlier on.

We are taking just one dog with us. We will take Brandy because he adores being taken for a drive and he has the habit of going for a walkabout when at home and we thought it wasn’t fair on Jana.

So it’s all uncertain as to what I shall do with the blog. Whether I will have time to use old posts, or leave it alone completely, or from time to time go online and leave a brief post.

Things may become clearer nearer the time.

But it seemed like a good idea to give your a heads-up!

Stunning isn’t the half of it!

Coyote puppies

An obvious follow-on to yesterday’s post.

We all know about how wolves habituated themselves to human all those thousand of years ago but the same is happening to coyotes today.

There was an article on EarthSky on March 28th, 2019 that I want to share with you, and here it is:

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How coyote pups get used to humans

Posted by in | March 28, 2019

Across North America, coyotes are moving into urban environments. While human residents are having to get used to the new animal neighbors, coyotes are also habituating to people.

Seven-week-old coyote pups walk through the research facility in Utah as the mother follows. The first pup carries a bone in its mouth. Image via USDA National Wildlife Research Center/Steve Guymon.

As coyotes are moving into urban environments across North America, many human residents – whether they like it or not – are having to get used to them. Meanwhile, how are coyotes habituating to people?

A new study, published December 2018 in the peer-reviewed journal Ecology and Evolution, suggests that coyotes can habituate to humans quickly and that habituated parents pass this fearlessness on to their offspring.

Image via Connar L’Ecuyer via National Park Service/Flickr.

Until the 20th century, coyotes lived mostly in the U.S. Great Plains. But when wolves were hunted almost to extinction in the early 1900s, coyotes lost their major predator, and their range began to expand.

With continuing landscape changes, coyotes are now increasingly making their way into suburban and urban environments — including New York City, Los Angeles and cities in the Pacific Northwest — where they live, mainly off rodents and small mammals, without fear of hunters.

The aim of the new study, was to understand how a skittish, rural coyote can sometimes transform into a bold, urban one — a shift that can exacerbate negative interactions among humans and coyotes. University of Washington biologist Christopher Schell is the first author of the study, Schell said in a statement:

Instead of asking, ‘Does this pattern exist?’ we’re now asking, ‘How does this pattern emerge?’.

A key factor, the researchers suggest, might be parental influence. Coyotes pair for life, and both parents contribute equally to raising the offspring. This may be because of the major parental investment required to raise coyote pups, and the evolutionary pressure to guard them from larger carnivores.

The new study observed eight coyote families at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Predator Research Facility in Utah during their first and second breeding seasons. These coyotes are raised in a fairly wild setting, with minimal human contact and food scattered across large enclosures.

Five-week-old coyote pups eat food rations during the experiment. These second-litter pups were born in 2013 to more-experienced parents, and were more likely to approach a human. Image via USDA National Wildlife Research Center/Christopher Schell.

But during the experiment researchers occasionally placed all the food near the entrance of the enclosure and had a human researcher sit just outside, watching any approaching coyotes, from five weeks to 15 weeks after the birth of the litter. Then they documented how soon the coyotes would venture toward the food. Schell said:

For the first season, there were certain individuals that were bolder than others, but on the whole they were pretty wary, and their puppies followed. But when we came back and did the same experiment with the second litter, the adults would immediately eat the food – they wouldn’t even wait for us to leave the pen in some instances.

Parents became way more fearless, and in the second litter, so, too, were the puppies.

In fact, the most cautious pup from the second-year litter ventured out more than the boldest pup from the first-year litter. Schell said:

The discovery that this habituation happens in only two to three years has been corroborated, anecdotally, by evidence from wild sites across the nation. We found that parental effect plays a major role.

He added:

Even if it’s only 0.001 percent of the time, when a coyote threatens or attacks a person or a pet, it’s national news, and wildlife management gets called in. We want to understand the mechanisms that contribute to habituation and fearlessness, to prevent these situations from occurring.

Bottom line: A new study suggests coyotes puppies learn from their parents how to habituate to humans.

Source: Parental habituation to human disturbance over time reduces fear of humans in coyote offspring

Via University of Washington

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I love the fact that coyotes pair for life and take an equal measure of responsibility in bringing up their pups.

Once again, we humans can learn from our natural cousins.

Rewilding the West

Staying with the theme of rejuvenating our relationship with the natural world.

A recent post from TomDispatch republished in this place once again with the generous permission of Tom Engelhardt.  It follows on so sweetly to yesterday’s post Returning to Nature.

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Tomgram: Chip Ward, Rewilding the West

Rewilding the West

Here’s a nifty trick that’s been on my mind lately. In case you hadn’t noticed, the weather news this season has been pretty grim. Tornados so large and destructive that they would have given Dorothy pause, 500-year European floods, massive rainstorms rolling across the land, record heat in California and Alaska, late snowfalls that boggle the imagination, wildfires that dwarf past ones in the American West. I could go on, but why bother since anyone who has been watching primetime TV news can’t but notice that staggering weather has been the lead or second story much of the time all spring and into the summer.

You’re probably wondering right now: But what’s the trick? I’m surprised you haven’t noticed yourself. All of this weather has a new, made-for-TV label. It’s now regularly called “extreme weather” or “severe weather.”  And that’s anything but inaccurate. The weather has been both “severe” and “extreme” this spring. The trick is that, as a label, “extreme weather” has managed (with rare exceptions) to obviate the need even to mention that any of this could have the slightest thing to do with climate change, with our overheating, over-greenhouse-gassed planet. Think of it as a fabulous form of recognition and denial wrapped in the same package.

The TV news gets all the benefits of night-after-night, eyeball-gluing drama in which the weather goes nuts, houses are destroyed, and people weep (or are stoic) about ruined lives. It gets to bring in the tornado watchers and the weather people in their raincoats and waders.  (Have you noticed that the TV news can’t report a flood without putting some reporter with a mic knee-deep in water?) It gets to focus nightly on those daunting weather maps with their blazing red danger zones, and offer warnings about what potential disaster tomorrow might have to offer, all the while remaining in official, blissful denial about what’s happening on this planet of ours. Somehow, it has managed to incorporate the possible effects of climate change into the nightly news as a major story, while excluding just about all serious discussion of it. Tell me that isn’t a doubly nifty trick!

Of course, if there’s nothing but “extreme weather” happening and that weather has no extreme context, no extreme meaning, then none of us have to worry our little heads about what’s to be done. Those trying to remedy the degradation of conditions on this planet can also be ignored, which is why we couldn’t be more pleased that TomDispatch regular Chip Ward introduces us to such a person today. Tom

Trek West for the Big Picture
Saving the Land One Footfall at a Time
By Chip Ward

My home sits at the gateway to a national park in Utah, a source of envy among tourists who gather along Capitol Reef’s “scenic drive.” But after 40 years of living in one desert or another, I know firsthand that America’s iconic desert landscapes, places like Monument Valley and Arches National Park, are the exceptions, not the rule. The rule is that we dig up, dump on, dam, bomb, drill, over-graze, and otherwise abuse our deserts, most of them public lands owned by you, the taxpaying citizen. Generally, our management of the nation’s public lands is a disgrace and deserts are exhibit A.

But let’s skip the grim survey of how humans are overloading the carrying capacity of our original earthly Eden that usually opens a report like this. The intent of such a recitation of folly is to compel the reader’s attention by underlining the dire importance of the topic at hand. But I assume you understand by now that you woke up this morning on an overheated planet of slums threatened by ecological collapse.

So instead, let’s get right to the point: what do we do about it? How do we begin to heal the wounds?

The crises we face and that our children and grandchildren will endure long after we leave them invite a visionary response.  On the other hand, the world is already awash in well-intentioned tinkerers.  Yet dysfunction and destruction still reign.  Maybe it’s time to leap to a new paradigm.

Enter John Davis and Trek West.  At this very moment, Davis is walking, biking, paddling, and horseback riding 6,000 miles through a chain of mountain ranges that stretches like a spine across North America from the Sierra Madres of Mexico through the Rockies of the American West up into Canada.  He started this winter in the Sonoran desert we share with our southern neighbor and has been heading northward for months.  He will cross many of our most treasured national parks like Yellowstone and Grand Canyon, the ones that tourists love, but his trek is no sightseeing adventure.

Davis and his Trek West partners along the route are advocating for what they call “landscape connectivity” on a continental scale.  Two years ago, Davis trekked from Key West to Quebec, 8,000 human-powered miles.  Same theme: conserve and connect.

A Conservation Revolution

Gone are the days when conservation was all about bullets, hooks, and cameras.  Fishermen and hunters are still an important constituency in the conservation community, but birdwatchers now outnumber them. Ecological criteria increasingly frame any debate about how to heal degraded habitat.  What the nineteenth century naturalist and Sierra Club founder John Muir knew intuitively — that everything in the universe is “hitched to everything else” — has been confirmed beyond doubt by hard science.

Davis is one of the founders of a new school of thought called conservation biology.  Its proponents argue that it is not faintly enough to preserve scenic rock and ice parks and isolated islands of wildlife.  Wild creatures need room to roam so they can find the necessary water, food, and mates.  In the long run, many of America’s wild creatures from salamanders to bears will survive only in Disney movies if we box out genetic diversity, block migration routes, destroy nesting grounds, and save only carefully preserved, isolated populations of a species.  Connectivity is the keel of an emerging conservation ethic for helping to heal this country.

John Davis envisions an unbroken chain of wild lands spanning North America from Mexico to Canada.  When completed, a necklace of “core” areas, including national parks, wildlife reserves, and protected wilderness areas will be linked together and buffered by national forests and private lands.  Creatures now boxed into wild islands surrounded by a sea of development will have room to roam.

A connected landscape will be more resilient as climate change puts further stress on creatures and their habitats.  Already species from birds to mammals are responding to warming temperatures by moving northward if they can, or to higher ground if they can’t migrate horizontally.  The famed scientist and conservationist E.O. Wilson called the project to link together America’s wild lands the most important conservation initiative in the world today.

After trekking through the habitat of the last remaining jaguars on the continent, Davis ran into the new wall designed to keep illegal Mexican migrants out of the United States. It is, he pointed out, a far more effective barrier against wildlife migration than the human version of the same and so is lobotomizing the border ecosystem we share with Mexico.  As for Davis, he easily climbed it in less than five minutes and was on his way.

Backpacks Meet Cowboy Hats 

Although pushing 50, Davis has the trim, muscular build of a professional athlete — and he’ll need every toned muscle he has to complete his quest.  The day before I met him in Escalante, Utah, he had been surprised by a lingering bout of spring weather and found himself pushing his bike through 10 miles of deep snow on top of Utah’s Aquarius Plateau.  The next week, he planned to paddle through Desolation Canyon, one of the most spectacular river passages on the planet.  But when I encountered him, he was taking a break and making a pitch for connectivity before a gathering of federal land managers, concerned local citizens, and ranchers who share the watershed of the Escalante River.

The Escalante River Watershed Partnership (ERWP) is the unwieldy name for a grassroots coalition whose aim is to restore the river’s degraded ecosystem.  The rugged network of high desert canyons that drain into the remote Escalante River have been eroding for years thanks to overgrazing by cattle.  They are also choked with tamarisk and Russian olive trees.

Tamarisks are an invasive species that suck up precious ground water, while filling in springs and seeps that are the only water sources for many bird and animal species.  The tall, feathery plumes of the tamarisk have taken over hundreds of miles of riverbank in the West.  “Tammies” also salt the surrounding soil when they shed their leaves, killing native plants that might otherwise compete.  A beetle was imported from Eurasia to eat the tammies and was unbelievably successful.  As a result, those thick hedges that still block riverbanks are now dead-dry and ready to ignite.  If not cut back, they will burn or regrow.  Russian olive trees also crowd stream banks and add needle-like thorns to the unpleasant mix.

The diverse stakeholders in the Escalante River Watershed Partnership may not share John Davis’s grand vision of an ecologically whole and “rewilded” continent, but they are intent on sewing together and rewilding their pieces of the torn fabric of American life.  As any effective organizer knows, you start where there is common ground — or where there are common weeds.

Ranchers, rangers, biologists, hikers, and back-country guides are in many ways competing constituencies, but it turns out they all share the goal of clearing riparian (wet) canyons of those suffocating tammies.  The scientists survey the ground and identify targets.  Grants are written to bring in volunteers to do the fieldwork.  Last week, a dozen Great Old Broads for Wilderness, mostly outspoken middle-aged women, spent a week clearing unwanted brush as a service project.

As biologists monitor progress and the group discusses issues that arise, inevitably the damage done by grazing cows comes up.  It couldn’t be a more awkward topic.  After all, ranchers are in the room.  Cattle ranching in these desert landscapes is a marginal activity.  Those ranchers depend on federal grants, tax breaks, and access to public land to make it work.  But cows erode stream banks and silt the water, short-circuit forest succession by eating seedlings, and contaminate fresh water with their voluminous poop that also spreads cheatgrass and weeds.

The hope is that eventually the EWRP will become a platform for a public airing of difficult issues like where cattle should be allowed to graze on public land and how many and when.

A Roadkill Extravaganza

Those awaiting Davis’s Trek West presentation this particular day in this particular corner of Utah have already found a scale that seems to fit the desperate needs of our landscape, state, country, and planet.  Most of us who believe in change are caught between the seeming futility of small-scale actions — like recycling our trash or using more energy-efficient light bulbs — and the impotence we experience when we push for large-scale change like climate legislation in Congress or international treaties to limit atmospheric greenhouse gases.

On the one hand, too little; on the other, too late.  There does, however, turn out to be a middle scale between individual action and national or global campaigns that works well and makes sense: the community.  That’s the place where people can best embrace their roles as citizens, face off, share, contend, cooperate, create, learn from, and empower one another.

Watershed partnerships harken back to an old ideal.  John Wesley Powell, the one-armed general and Civil War hero who later explored the Colorado River and its tributaries, was the first person to grasp and publicize the aridity rather than fecundity of significant parts of the American West.  He argued that practices and policies developed for wet Eastern lands were inappropriate for the drier West.  He advocated for governance around watersheds where local stakeholders committed to living within the limits they knew firsthand could come together and plan.  That’s what I’m observing this morning in Utah.  In twenty-first-century terms, think of it as ecological citizenship.

Davis claims he is shy and a poor presenter, but it turns out that he is quietly charismatic.  The case he makes for corridors is practical.   His listeners know that he is trekking across a landscape that is not your grandfather’s Wild West.  The wide-open spaces where the antelope once roamed are now fragmented by a zillion roads featuring SUVs with flattened animals on their bumpers.  Davis says that, on his most recent journey, he’s already seen at least 1,000 crushed, dead creatures.  It’s been a roadkill extravaganza.

So, what to do?  He shows pictures of a landscaped underpass in nearby Kanab, Utah, constructed at a deer crossing where at least 100 deer a year were being hit by cars.  Every year about 10% of the local herd was becoming roadkill along with foxes, turkeys, and the occasional bobcat.  The underpass cost $2.6 million, which is hardly chump change in this neck of the woods, but each deer-car collision costs, on average, $6,600. Do the math, he tells them. Making the landscape permeable for animals seeking food, mates, and water keeps them healthy and pays for itself soon enough.

The Wolf at the Door 

Ranchers and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rangers who serve them view John Davis skeptically.  For one thing, he’s been frank about the need to reintroduce wolves across Western ecosystems, given the “keystone” role they play in shaping a healthy landscape. In case you’re not a Westerner, you should know that the subject of wolf reintroduction is a political third rail in much of our region. It’s an idea that would stun and appall our grandfathers, who killed wolves on their lands to leave more deer and elk for hunters and make meadows safe for cattle.

Ecologically, the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park has been an unqualified success. Since wolves were returned to that landscape, elk are no longer bunching up and munching down in stream-fed valleys until they are silted, eroded, and devoid of other wildlife. The wolves thin the elk herds and move them, which, in turn, allows willows, aspens, beavers, birds, and a more biodiverse landscape to thrive.  Their success in Yellowstone has confirmed the insights of conservation biologists, giving them credibility and authority. Cowboys fear that, having pushed aside elk, conservationists will go after their cows next.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, elk hunters, cowboys, gun-nuts, and tea-hadi politicians have worked themselves into an anti-wolf frenzy.  Western state legislators have introduced several bills designed to limit and control wolves even if they haven’t seen one in their area for 100 years.  They want to trade the wolves’ endangered status under the law for licenses to hunt them.  A few days after Davis met the watershed group, the Obama administration caved in to this eco-political hysteria and agreed to remove endangered species protections from wolves.  This backlash against reintroduction has been painful for advocates like Davis.

A Greater Canyonlands National Monument Moment?

The decision to lift wolf protection is consistent with the Obama administration’s disappointing record on Western environmental issues.  Nevertheless, conservation advocacy groups like the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Sierra Club are urging the president to take a cue from Bill Clinton’s example.  Back in 1996, he created the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument under the Antiquities Act that allows presidents to set aside natural and archaeological treasures. Now, the conservation groups want Obama to do something similar on an even grander scale and create a “Greater Canyonlands National Monument” from some of the healthiest wild lands in southern Utah.

A few days later, Davis addressed the need for such a monument at a forum in Moab, Utah.  Our state has about nine million acres of quality wilderness land ready to be designated and protected as such.  That’s a lot of core area for John Davis’s conservation vision, a lot of possibility for connectivity. But the public debate about wilderness designation has been stalemated for decades.  Utah Republicans in particular resist more steps to formally protect wilderness areas even though the public overwhelmingly supports it.

They are wedded to traditional mining and grazing interests and like to portray themselves as victims of a bullying federal government that wants to jam national monuments and formally designated wilderness areas down their throats.  But Clinton’s creation of the new monument has proven a boon for Escalante’s economy.  In the 12 years since it came into being, the populations of surrounding Kane and Garfield counties have grown by 8%.  Jobs rose in those years by 38% and per capita income by 30%.  Adjoining counties whose economies are oriented towards gas and oil lagged far behind.

President Obama’s appointment of Sally Jewel, former CEO of REI, a chain of outdoor gear and clothing stores, may signal a shift away from ranching and mining as the dominant voices on the Western political stage. Jewel understands firsthand that recreation and tourism have become powerful economic engines here.

A presidential initiative alone will hardly begin to settle all the questions we face about how to make peace with the land that holds us in its embrace.  But designating another monument here could be a catalyst for an ever-expanding idea of grassroots stewardship of America’s wild lands.

The Escalante watershed partnership was formed in the wake of Clinton’s catalytic act. At that time, the Clinton administration took another experimental step. It gave stewardship of Grand Staircase Escalante to the controversial Bureau of Land Management instead of the National Park Service.  That was a first and undoubtedly a concession to Utah’s politicians who would rather deal with the traditionally compliant, pro-mining, pro-grazing BLM than the stricter National Park Service.  Clinton gambled that the move might instill a missing environmental ethic in that bureau.

The results on that are not yet in, but there is no question about one thing: Clinton’s creation has been a catalyst for grassroots political activity.  When monument status was a done deal, the river’s stakeholders decided the time had finally come to practice that awkward dance of mutuality among conservationists who want to save the land, ranchers who want to use it, and federal land managers charged with sorting out what exactly to do.  John Davis is clearly on the side of conservation.

Making the Imaginary Real

The Trek West sponsors recognize that there may never be some grand national initiative to accomplish their vision, nothing like the Wilderness Act, the Clean Air Act, or the other signature environmental legislation of the 1960s and 1970s.  If our troubled public lands are rescued, it’s likely to happen in a piecemeal fashion, as local and regional groups work to improve their own backyards.  The folks who gather in Escalante don’t claim to have all the answers.  They are not here to spread the truth and save the world.  They belong to no ideology or movement.  They’re just working on their piece of the puzzle, experimenting and learning as they go.  Rivers being the arteries of the land, it makes sense to start there.

An existing constituency almost always trumps an imaginary one.  You can make a case, for example, that a change in land use practices and policies would benefit more people, boost the local economy, and be healthier for wildlife, too, but those imaginary winners can’t compete with cattlemen who are real, well organized, and have been active in the political arena for many years.  They have established close relationships with local politicians who depend on their support.   Because they were there first, they wrote most of the rules and those favor their uses of public land.

The trick for conservationists who want change is to make that imaginary constituency real, to bring a new set of stakeholders together and find ways to empower them.  That may not be the intention of those who gathered in Escalante for the watershed partnership, but it’s what is happening nonetheless — and John Davis is a catalyst.

According to the prevailing belief, growth should always be the bottom line.  Trek West expresses an alternate vision that aims instead to translate ecological principles and criteria into actual designs on the ground.  That’s not simply a matter of making better maps.  Those of us who live within the iconic Western landscapes so treasured by all Americans understand that maps, charts, and spreadsheets do not adequately measure or describe this inspiring and awesome place where we live.

We experience the land sensually.  Perhaps that is the ultimate message John Davis is delivering as he treks across the continent’s wild spine.  He is making sense of the land one footfall at a time, listening to it, watching it, and feeling it as he goes.  So, reconnect landscapes, yes, but also connect head and heart.

Davis’s quest is heroic, but his testimony is simple: when we learn from the land we lean towards wholeness.

Chip Ward, a former librarian and grassroots organizer, is the author of Canaries on the Rim and Hope’s Horizon as well as a TomDispatch regular. He wrote this essay while living between a mountain on fire and a desert that is blowing away.  

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

Copyright 2013 Chip Ward

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Simply going to finish off today’s post with the two pictures included recently in, I cry for the wolves.

These wolf pups born to the Wenaha Pack in 2012 helped get recovery back on track. But their future remains tenuous (photo courtesy ODFW)
These wolf pups born to the Wenaha Pack in 2012 helped get recovery back on track. But their future remains tenuous (photo courtesy ODFW)

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Wolf greets man.
Wolf greets man, courtesy Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center, Merlin, Oregon.

Autism and bees – a disturbing link

If you eat food, and hope to do so in the future, read this!

I subscribe to Food Freedom News and often read their articles when they appear in my ‘in-box’.  Especially so yesterday morning when the headline jumped off the ‘page’ at me: Autism and Disappearing Bees: A Common Denominator?

So, in a sense, hand-in-hand with the article in yesterday’s Learning from Dogs Food, glorious food!  Because if trying to feed 9 billion people living on a planet where ‘farmers holding seeds that won’t sprout‘ means the even greater use of chemicals then ….. then, I don’t know what!

The Food Freedom website showed that the article came from Brian Moench of the Common Dreams website.  Not a website I had come across before but one that quickly impressed me!

So here’s that article.

Autism and Disappearing Bees: A Common Denominator?

by Brian Moench

A few days ago the Salt Lake Tribune’s front page headline declared, “Highest rate in the nation, 1 in 32 Utah boys has autism.”  This is a national public health emergency, whose epicenter is Utah, Gov. Herbert.  A more obscure story on the same day read: “New pesticides linked to bee population collapse.”  If you eat food, and hope to do so in the future, this is another national emergency, Pres. Obama.  A common  denominator may underlie both headlines.

A honeybee pollinates a flower in a citrus grove just coming into blossom. (Photograph: David Silverman/Getty Images)

A Stanford University study with 192 pairs of twins, with one twin autistic and one not, found that genetics accounts for 38% of the risk of autism, and environmental factors account for  62%.

Supporting an environmental/genetic tag team are other studies showing autistic children and their mothers have a high rate of a genetic deficiency in the production of glutathione,  an anti-oxidant and the body’s primary means of detoxifying heavy metals.  High levels of toxic metals in children are strongly correlated with the severity of autism.  Low levels of glutathione, coupled with high production of another chemical, homocysteine, increase the chance of a mother having an autistic child to one in three.  That autism is four times more common among boys than girls is likely related to a defect in the single male X chromosome contributing to anti-oxidant deficiency.   There is no such thing as a genetic disease epidemic  because genes don’t change that quickly.  So the alarming rise in autism must be the result of increased environmental exposures that exploit these genetic defects.

During the critical first three months of gestation a human embryo adds 250,000 brain cells per minute reaching 200 billion by the fifth month.  There is no chemical elixir that improves this biologic miracle, but thousands of toxic substances can cross the placenta and impair that process, leaving brain cells stressed, inflamed, less well developed, fewer in number and with fewer connections with each other all of which diminish brain function.  The opportunity to repair the resulting deficits later on is limited.

The list of autism’s environmental suspects is long and comes from many studies that show higher rates of autism with greater exposure to flame retardants, plasticizers like BPA,  pesticides, endocrine disruptors in personal care products, heavy metals in air pollution, mercury, and pharmaceuticals like anti-depressants.  [my emphasis]  (Utah’s highest in the nation autism rates are matched by the highest rates of anti-depressant use and the highest mercury levels in the country in the Great Salt Lake).

Doctors have long advised women during pregnancy to avoid any unnecessary consumption of drugs or chemicals.  But as participants in modern society we are all now exposed to over 83,000 chemicals from the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe and the consumer products we use.  Pregnant women and their children have 100 times more chemical exposures today than 50 years ago.  The average newborn has over 200 different chemicals and heavy metals contaminating  its blood when it takes its first breath. 158 of them are toxic to the brain.  Little wonder that rates of autism, attention deficit and behavioral disorders are all on the rise.

How does this relate to vanishing bees and our food supply?  Two new studies, published simultaneously in the journal Science,  show that the rapid rise in use of insecticides is likely responsible for the mass disappearance of bee populations.   The world’s food chain hangs in the balance because 90% of native plants require pollinators to survive.

The brain of insects is the intended target of these insecticides.  They disrupt the bees homing behavior and their ability to return to the hive, kind of like “bee autism.”   But insects are different than humans, right?   Human and insect nerve cells share the same basic biologic infrastructure.  Chemicals that interrupt electrical impulses in insect nerves will do the same to humans.  But humans are much bigger than insects and the doses to humans are  miniscule, right?

During critical first trimester development a human is no bigger than an insect so there is every reason to believe that pesticides could wreak havoc with the developing brain of a human embryo.   But human embryos aren’t out in corn fields being sprayed with insecticides, are they?  A recent study showed that every human tested had the world’s best selling pesticide, Roundup, detectable in their urine at concentrations between five and twenty times the level considered safe for drinking water.

The autism epidemic and disappearing bees are real public health emergencies created by allowing our world to be overwhelmed by environmental toxins.  Environmental protection is human protection, especially for the smallest and most vulnerable among us.

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Brian Moench

Dr. Brian Moench is President of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists. He can be reached at: drmoench@yahoo.com

Please bring this to the notice of any couples who you know are planning for a family!

If all this sort of information makes you want to curl up and kiss your backside goodnight, then hold on.  Next week I hope to publish a summary of a fascinating presentation given to a local women’s group here in Payson that shows the many obvious and easy steps we can all take to revert back to a resilient life on this planet.  

Dogs really do know better!

For the love of a dog

An astounding account of saving a dog’s life.

I can’t recall how I came across this story but I’m so glad I did.  Just watch this video and be very moved.

September 2010 Ellen welcomed Zak & Michelle Anderegg to the show to talk about Zak’s amazing rescue of an abandoned puppy. He saved the young pup, Riley, from 350 feet down a canyon — and then brought him here to meet Ellen!

The event being over a year ago doesn’t change anything – it was, is, and forever will be a wonderful example of what dogs bring out in us.

Here’s an account from KSDK dated July 2nd, 2010

NBC — A puppy rescued from the bowels of a deep Utah canyon is now recovering in Salt Lake City.

The man who rescued him documented much of the incredible story with his own video camera.  They don’t know his real name, so they just call him Puppy.

He’s now a temporary shop-dog at The Wrench-It Center, owned by Zak & Michelle Anderegg.

He was completely starved,” Zak Anderegg said. “He was, my best guess, 24 to 48 hours from being dead.

That was last week in a slot canyon near the Utah-Arizona border.It’s so deep and narrow and twisted, some sections are dark in the middle of the day.

Zak was rappelling when he suddenly saw a dog, starving and dehydrated.  “I cannot believe I found this guy down in this frickin’ pothole in this canyon,” he said.

He climbed out to get water.  On the way back down he wondered how the puppy got there. “The rim of the canyon is 350 feet above us, so falling from the rim would have killed him,” Zak said. “Every single time I work it through my head, I come up with the same answer: someone put him there  —  left, abandoned“.

He climbed out again and drove to Page, Arizona to recruit a rescue team.  “They told me flat-out, ‘We’re certainly not going to send out the fire department or the sheriff’s department to help you.‘  So I said, ‘All right, I’ll manage on my own.'”

The next morning he was back with a cat carrier and a plan, using ropes in a one-man rescue operation.

I took risks,” Zak said, “but none above what I do anyway.”

He rigged up a system to attach the cat carrier to his ropes and stabilize it.  Then he climbed back out.

The Page Animal Hospital saved Puppy’s life.  Most of the costs were covered by the hospital’s Angel Fund.  “The rate of improvement is just incredible,” Zak said. “I’d say within two weeks he’ll be at his weight.”

Michelle and Zak still haven’t decided whether to keep him, since they’re already a pet-heavy family.  They’re welcoming inquiries from qualified people who can give him a good home, and they’re encouraging contributions to the Angel Fund for future emergencies.  (Website is here.)

Well, Michelle and Zak did decide to keep Puppy, indeed Puppy has his own Facebook page here – http://www.facebook.com/canyonpuppy  from which this photograph was taken.

A very happy and lucky Puppy!

Finally, I took the liberty of calling the Wrench-It Center and to my great pleasure the call was answered by Michelle.  So if you are ever within reach of the Wrench-It Center 1245 South 700 West, Salt Lake City, Utah 84104, Tel :  801-977-7500, give them your business.