Archive for the ‘politics’ category

TAKING OVER MALHEUR

January 18, 2017

We “took over” Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for one beautiful late October morning when we were the only visitors. The photographs here were taken during those enchanted hours.

Coyote on Road in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Coyote trotting along the Central Patrol Road in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

The spicy scent of sagebrush fills the morning air. Mist rises from wetlands teeming with waterfowl. A Coyote trots across a meadow with a purposeful gait. In a burst of energy a cloud of thousands of dazzling white Ross’s Geese take to the air in a frenzy, only to settle back down a minute later. The quiet returns.

These are among my fond memories of Malheur, based on numerous trips to the remote wildlife refuge over the last 25 years. Malheur and its setting is a slice of the old West, quiet and sparsely populated and much loved by residents and visitors alike.

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1908 by Republican President Theodore Roosevelt “as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds.” This immediately followed an era in which plume hunters killed all the Great Egrets in the Malheur area in order to obtain feathers for a women’s hat craze of the era. Which, of course, illustrates why regulation of natural resource harvests came to be: if everyone has unlimited access to harvest what they want, the resource inevitably disappears. This has been true of virgin forests, Passenger Pigeons, whales, Beaver, and every other form of nature that has an economic value.

Foggy Autum Morning along Central Patrol Road in Malheur Nationa

Central Patrol Road on a foggy autumn morning

Prior to the refuge, Indians inhabited the Malheur region for 15,000+ years, leaving evidence of their camps and graves in what became the refuge headquarters area. Eventually, Malheur became a case study in mistreatment of Indians: a Malheur Reservation was created by the federal government in the 19th Century, but that was followed by a chipping away of the reservation to give land to settlers. Treaty hunting and fishing rights were abrogated. Eventually, the whole tribe was forced to march in snowy weather, without enough food, over two mountain ranges all the way to the Yakama Reservation in Washington. Many died along the march and in their years of exile. A sad and typical tale of mistreatment of our first peoples.

The Great Depression hit America with an iron fist. In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt responded with the Civilian Conservation Corps, a program to put young people to work on conservation projects all around America. Shortly after that, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge received three CCC camps, and over 1,000 young men worked on the refuge over seven years. They built dikes and dams and roads and fences. They constructed four fire towers, quarried the stone and built the beautiful headquarters buildings, and started Page Springs Campground. Every visitor today can see the dramatic results.

Mule Deer in Car Headlights in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Mule Deer crossing road, illuminated by my car headlights

For all its conservation accomplishments, the CCC also had a major economic impact upon Burns and other surrounding communities by spending $15,000 per month in those towns on supplies, rentals, and payroll. It was a win/win for everyone involved. Perhaps the biggest accomplishment was in giving young men jobs at a time of near-hopelessness; this instilled a work ethic in these young men, who later became the heroes who won World War II.

In sum, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is one of the preeminent conservation success stories in America, with two of my favorite presidents–Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt–contributing to its success. Over the decades, Malheur became a legendary location for birders and other outdoor recreationists, including hunters and fishermen. I consider it one of my favorite landscapes in North America, blessed by its remoteness, beauty, silence, and wildlife. People of the region came to love it, and there was a good agreement on a management plan that was hammered out between ranchers, naturalists, hunters, and other stakeholders that was considered a model for refuges across America.

Female Ring-necked Pheasant at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Female Ring-necked Pheasant at Malheur NWR

Then came the Bundy occupation of the refuge in the first days of 2016. A group of armed state’s-rights zealots took over the refuge headquarters, and occupied the beautiful CCC buildings for over a month before finally leaving. Their occupation disrupted the good work of the refuge, created division across America, made a mess of the place, and included thefts of equipment. One occupier died while reaching for a gun at a roadblock. For all this, a runaway and misguided jury refused to convict the perpetrators on a single count–a travesty of justice that still makes me incredibly bitter.

There is a movement in rural parts of the West to give away our national forests, national parks, national wildlife refuges, and other federal lands to the states. Why? Because many people want local control of the land so that they can clear cut more timber, strip mine more coal, loosen environmental regulations, and hunt, graze, fish, and trap to their heart’s delight. I vehemently disagree.

Cattle Grazing on a Ranch near Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Cattle grazing on ranch lands adjacent to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

If states were given the land, they would sell off much of it to private companies, and access by hunters, hikers, fishermen, and other recreationists would be either denied or made expensive. For example, on Weyerhaeuser land in Washington State, access that was once free or low-cost has now become expensive, with a family camping permit for a year costing $300: Weyerhaeuser Fees 2016. If land was sold off by the states, we would end up with a patchwork of permit systems that would be costly for families to access the land. I can understand the position of Weyerhaeuser: before the permit system, they had a lot of cases of illegal dumping and vandalism on their land–just as we would have in the national forests if there were no rangers on patrol.

Mule Deer at Deep Dusk Lit by a Headlamp

Mule Deer doe at deep dusk lit by my headlamp

I also have concerns about potential subdivisions in the forest. If land was sold off to developers, many of our beautiful forests and lake shores would become housing developments–nice for those who live there but a blight on the landscape for those of us used to the expanses of natural beauty we now enjoy–and that we now own. Who would pay for fire suppression for all these new developments? The federal government? I can’t see the states doing it and I certainly don’t think that the owners of these forest homes would want to pay the thousands of dollars per year for each home to have special fire insurance to fund large scale firefighting efforts. So I suspect that the Forest Service would end up providing free firefighting services to save homes all across the West.

These lands represent our national heritage, and belong to all of us. We paid for them and have cared for them for over 100 years. When people say that local people could manage the land better than professional rangers, foresters, wildlife managers, and other biologists, what they are really saying is that they want to make money by taking timber, minerals, and grazing at little or no cost to themselves.

Foggy Autum Morning along Central Patrol Road in Malheur Nationa

Central Patrol Road near P Ranch on an October morning

For example, Cliven Bundy has grazed his cows on federal land for years and refuses to pay the over $1 million in fees that have accrued since the 1990s. He thinks that he should be able to graze his cattle on public land for free. Anyone who has been paying attention to the conservation battles of the last century knows that where there are limited resources–in Bundy’s case, grass for his cattle–unlimited and unregulated use will inevitably ruin the resource. That’s why we have grazing allotments that ranchers pay for, and why we have professional grazing managers to determine how much grazing the land itself can allow.

This is a sad new chapter in our history; anyone who wants to read more about it can refer to the links at the bottom of the weblog. I, for one, intend to stand with our finest conservation presidents, Republican Theodore Roosevelt and Democrat Franklin Roosevelt, to preserve our shared national heritage.

Mule Deer Doe in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Mule Deer doe wet with heavy morning dew

But enough about armed thugs and their bad ideas. Malheur is still there, with its vibrant beauty ready to overwhelm visitors. We were heading home from an extended southwestern trip in November of 2016, long after the occupation had ended but before the headquarters reopened to visitors. Unarmed, except with cameras, we took over the refuge for a morning, as we were virtually the only people enjoying its silent vastness. The photographs here are all from that brief time in a Shangri La of the old west, during our enchanted takeover.

To view more work by photographer Lee Rentz, go to Lee Rentz Photography. Photographs are available for licensing.

To learn more about Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, go to Malheur NWR, Malheur Occupation Aftermath, Conservation Setbacks, Bundy Grazing Controversy, and Portland Audubon: Malheur.

Coyote on Road in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Coyote crossing Central Patrol Road

Buena Vista Ponds in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

View from Buena Vista Ponds toward an escarpment and mesa

Autumn Textures in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Textures and colors of grasses and willows

View from Buena Vista Overlook in Malheur National Wildlife Refu

View from Buena Vista Overlook across the expanse of Malheur

Road through Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Road near Buena Vista Ponds

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon, USA

Vast seasonal wetlands in Malheur NWR

Coyote Hunting in Meadow in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Coyote in a wet meadow, alert to the intruder

Foggy Autum Morning along Central Patrol Road in Malheur Nationa

Storm clouds in the distance, with sunlit meadows in the foreground

Coyote on Road in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Coyote pausing to look back along the road

 

 

CHANNEL ISLANDS RESTORATION: We are as Gods

June 3, 2012

We almost lost the Island Fox, whose numbers plummeted from over 2,000 to under 100 in a few short years on Santa Cruz Island, due to a complex chain of events set in motion decades ago. This blog describes the ways that people affected the wildlife and plants of Channel Islands National Park, and how the National Park Service and its allies in conservation have attempted to rescue some of the iconic native creatures and restore the fragile ecosystems of these islands located so close to the millions of people living along the southern California coast.

The rat’s dark eyes reflected the full moon as it twitched its whiskers, sniffing the air. Nearby, a newly-hatched seabird, fluffy and vulnerable, scrambled around its mother as she waited patiently for others to hatch. The rat, sensing the vulnerability of a baby, dashed in for a quick take, grabbing the tiny chick and then rushing up through the rock crevice, its naked rat tail trailing like a snake. 

The next morning, two fox kits played by their den, tugging on a fallen eucalyptus branch and wrestling together in the dusty earth. High above, a predator watched with eagle eyes as it floated on currents of warm air. An ache of hunger stirred in its cells, an ache that two days ago was satisfied by zooming down on a squealing piglet. Adjusting its wings, the Golden Eagle plunged at dizzying speed, opened its talons, and snatched the tiny fox. The kit never saw it coming, but his sister did, and she learned a lesson in horror that arrives unexpectedly from the sky.

When I visited Channel Islands National Park in April 2012, it struck me that the Channel Islands are a virtual laboratory for many of the great conservation disasters and subsequent restoration stories of the last 50 years. These rocky outcrops and their creatures have endured DDT poisoning, a major oil spill, overgrazing, overharvesting, invasions of alien animals and plants, endangered species, and now the threat of ocean acidification.

The National Park Service is steward of land on five of the Channel Islands, and has made a heroic effort to restore the islands to something closer to their historic natural state. This effort has come at the cost of controversy and lawsuits, but the National Park Service has stayed the course; the islands and their native plants and animals are better for the effort.

Santa Cruz Island has a long history of ranching and farming, but it has also supported endemic animals and plants in wild ecosystems–creatures found nowhere else on earth. 

Santa Cruz Island

Some 10,000 years ago, Earth was emerging from an ice age and the Channel Islands were experiencing monumental changes. At that time, so much of the earth’s water was locked up in glacial ice that the vast oceans were lower, exposing more of the coastline. Four of today’s islands–Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel–were combined into one large island known as Santarosae. With the sea level 300 feet below today’s level, the island was much larger than the four remnant islands of today.

The prime herbivore of the islands, the Channel Islands Pygmy Mammoth (the mother of all oxymorons–but the pygmy mammoth indeed weighed only 10% as much as its mainland ancestors), which had grazed these windswept landscapes for eons, suddenly disappeared. Forever. Did it have something to do with the arrival of people at roughly the same time? Perhaps. From the admittedly spotty, pieced-together timeline that scientists have constructed based upon remains of mammoths and people, it appears that the mammoths disappeared shortly after the arrival of the first humans. Did these Chumash people ram spearpoints into the last 2,000 lb. beast of its kind? We may never know, but I’m placing my bet on a simple “yes.”

But enough of ancient history; the Chumash people came to a rough balance with the other island inhabitants for the next 10,000 years, so we’ll cut them some slack for the vanishing mammoths. Especially since they themselves disappeared from the islands in historical time, coinciding with the invasion of the Europeans, and all the cultural changes and diseases and opportunities that made for huge societal changes in native peoples across the continents.

People have been a part of Santa Cruz Island for some 10,000 years

The Chumash did manage to live in harmony with the little Island Foxes and the strikingly blue Island Scrub Jays. As well as the Sea Otters that fur traders eliminated from the Channel Islands, and the abalones that have become so scarce due to overharvesting and poaching that they have largely disappeared from California dinner tables.

Next on the scene were ranchers. Santa Cruz still has historic ranch buildings, roads, orchards, stone piles, and other artifacts that represent some 150 years of agricultural operations. Generations of ranchers carved a living out of this island. With the island’s Mediterranean climate, olive groves and vineyards prospered; the latter until Prohibition. Sheep grazed the hillsides. Pigs and other farm animals became a common sight and smell on the island. Eventually, pigs escaped and sheep ventured into inaccessible places, so the island had some new creatures enjoying their newfound freedom.

An old fence in Scorpion Canyon speaks of the ranching that occurred here for over 100 years

As agriculture thrived on Santa Cruz, the California mainland was becoming a bleeding edge of industrial America. By the 1950s, Bald Eagle nests had completely disappeared from the Channel Islands, where there were previously two dozen. The culprit? DDT. The industrial strength pesticide, sprayed nearly everywhere in the world where mosquitoes were a problem, had side effects. Yes, a DDT scientist claimed that the chemical was perfectly safe, each year shocking the students in his classroom by eating a spoonful of the stuff. And, yes, like many baby boomers who camped in the late 1950s in state parks, I inhaled big gulps of the chokingly thick DDT fog that park staff sprayed through the campgrounds, and I’m still alive. So far.

Birds weren’t so lucky. DDT thinned their eggshells, especially the eggshells of birds higher on the food chain; when a Bald Eagle or a Peregrine Falcon or a Brown Pelican would sit on the eggs, the thin shells would crush under her weight. This was a problem across North America, but the Channel Islands had a special problem: they lay just offshore from a major DDT manufacturer. The Montrose Chemical Corporation had its DDT plant in the Los Angeles area, which EPA estimates dumped 1,700 tons of DDT into the sewer system and subsequently into the Pacific Ocean before the plant closed in 1983. Over the decades, that DDT, residing on the bottom sediments of the Continental Shelf, made it into the food chain, contaminating fish and the creatures that eat the fish–including the Bald Eagles, Brown Pelicans, and Peregrine Falcons that nested in the Channel Islands.

By sometime in the 1950s to 1960s, all the Bald Eagles were gone from the islands. Fish and small ducks breathed a sigh of relief and perhaps the sharks ate better than they used to, but those of us who loved our national bird were in shock. The Endangered Species Act, created during the Nixon administration, was a response to seeing such a rapid decline in some of America’s most charismatic creatures.

The late 1960s were a time of budding consciousness for the environmental movement. I was taking Introduction to Ecology 301 at the University of Michigan in 1969, and I remember coming into the classroom and hearing about the Santa Barbara oil spill that had just happened. An offshore oil well had blown out, allowing millions of gallons of oil to float atop the Santa Barbara Channel, killing thousands of seabirds and marine mammals. This sad event spurred the movement tremendously with the clear and present danger of careless drilling. When the spill occurred, oil-soaked birds and marine mammals were shown nightly on national news as they washed up on once-pristine California beaches, feathers saturated with black oil. It was a sight that many never forgot, and thousands of Channel Islands birds and marine mammals were affected. Volunteers worked tirelessly to clean feathers of birds coated with petrogoo–an effort that unified environmentalists and animal lovers in an emotional and physical struggle to reverse the damage. Tragic oil spills have occurred since then in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, and the terrible results have been similar. At least we now have protocols for attempting to clean up the mess, for which we can thank the Santa Barbara spill.

Meanwhile, island pigs were multiplying like rabbits (though the island had no rabbits). When conniving pigs escaped their fences, they took off squealing with the glee of freedom, heading into the mountains of Santa Cruz. In their happiness, they enjoyed sex in the wilderness, and made lots of little piglets to root around among rare plants, dig holes in old Indian camps, and generally make a mess of the island. This might sound cute enough, but the spectre of a 400 lb. boar surprising a hiker on a trail is enough to send a mental warning of what a big pig can do.

The little pigs rooting everywhere on Santa Cruz then attracted a predator, the magestic Golden Eagle, that had only occasionally visited the island in the past. When the Bald Eagles nested on Santa Cruz, they ruled the skies with shows of aerial strength, and kept away the Golden Eagles. But when the Bald Eagles disappeared, the Golden Eagles sensed a vacuum and moved in for the kill … of piglets. There was so much pork that the Golden Eagles decided to nest on Santa Cruz.

All would have been wonderful had the Golden Eagles eaten a strict diet of pork, but in eagle fashion they decided that the tiny Island Fox also made a delightful meal. As a result, the Island Fox population on Santa Cruz plummeted from about two thousand in 1994 to under a hundred some seven years later, and the very survival of the species was at stake. The National Park Service had a choice: they could let nature take its course, in which case an entire charismatic species would disappear; or they could take action to save the Island Fox.

Two Island Foxes greet each other affectionately

It was not only the survival of the Island Fox that was at stake: there were also Chumash archeological sites and a wealth of endemic plants–plants found nowhere else on earth–that were being absolutely hammered by the pigs and sheep. The National Park Service has a mandate to preserve the landscape and its wild creatures, so they had to come up with a comprehensive plan. This was to be done in coordination with The Nature Conservancy, which owns and manages well over half of Santa Cruz Island.

Nothing is ever easy these days, when so many interest groups and individuals believe that they truly represent nature, or wildlife, or common sense, or industry, or …

One of the first steps the National Park Service took was to remove 16 wild horses, or more properly, “horses gone wild,” from the island. Had the horses remained, they would have gone forth and multiplied, and added even more pressure on the island’s natural inhabitants. But, for every bureaucratic action, there is a reaction. The National Park Service was sued by the Foundation for Horses and Other Animals Inc., a group that wanted the horses to remain. After the group lost its initial court battle and subsequent appeal, the way was clear for the NPS to remove the horses. They did it in the face of last minute pressure from the local congresswoman, but all 16 horses were removed, alive and kicking, and placed in a mainland sanctuary.

Next, the 2,000 sheep on the island were removed and transported to the mainland. Sheep are not as charismatic as horses, so there was much less controversy about this removal.

Skull of a sheep that died on Santa Cruz Island; at one time there were 2,000 sheep grazing on the island

Pigs were another matter. The National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy decided that the pigs had to be killed rather than live-trapped. The now-wild pigs had diseases such as cholera and pseudorabies that meant they could not be safely transplanted to the mainland.

Dramatic clouds over the hills of Santa Cruz Island

The plan was to construct electric fences to contain the pigs, then shoot them from helicopters and use a defoliant to kill a favorite pig food, the invasive Fennel. A group sprang up to oppose pig removal, the Channel Islands Animal Protection Association (CHIAPA), and held several raucously emotional public meetings to discuss the proposal. A journalist for the student newspaper of the University of California, Santa Barbara, reported on the first meeting, quoting a spokesman of CHIAPA as saying “The pigs have been demonized and accused of imaginary crimes.” A colleague opined that “The Island Fox population was robust until The Nature Conservancy took over the island … the finger goes right to The Nature Conservancy for causing the near extinction of the Island Fox (this person claimed that the Golden Eagles were drawn to the island by rotting sheep carcasses when the sheep were removed). The latter spokeswoman also said that “This is literal warfare. They are defoliating the land so they can gun down the enemy.”

Despite the controversy, a company from New Zealand indeed executed the pigs–all 5,000+ of them–in 2005. That action meant that the island’s native plants and foxes had a better chance of surviving.

The next step was to relocate the Golden Eagles, in order to preserve the Island Foxes, whose numbers were now far less than 10% of what they were just a decade before. An elaborate plan was devised to live trap the eagles, then move them back to a distant place on the mainland. This effort went well, and over 40 Goldens were trapped and transplanted. They have not returned.

Ravens are part of the native fauna of the Channel Islands

At about the same time, ten pairs of the increasingly scarce Island Foxes were rounded up and moved to a captive breeding center, in order to try and give the fox population a jump start. Fortunately, it worked wonderfully, and in a few short years the fox population is back to its natural levels.

Island Foxes are tiny; only about a quarter of the size of their mainland ancestors, and about the size of a typical house cat

Meanwhile, Bald Eagles have been reintroduced to the islands and have started nesting again, as have the Peregrine Falcons that went through a captive breeding and reintroduction program starting in the late 1970s.

So, Santa Cruz has gone from an island with a dozen species in danger, to an island that is recovering nicely. On my trip to the island, I saw about two dozen Island Foxes in three days, as well as a Peregrine Falcon and some of the endangered plants that are returning from the brink of extinction. The slopes no longer have the denuded look that the sheep brought, and the diggings of pigs no longer threaten archaeological sites and native plants. Island Foxes no longer have to worry about death diving from the sky. All is well …

Greene’s Liveforever and several of its island relatives were negatively affected by the 5,000+ pigs running wild on the island

Anacapa Island

Anacapa Island is far smaller than Santa Cruz Island, and the challenges have been different. There are no foxes on Anacapa, as it is too small to support a fox population. It does have major populations of nesting seabirds that have faced tremendous challenges.

Anacapa supports one of the two American breeding colonies of California Brown Pelicans, but DDT poisoning had the same effect on their eggshells as it had on Bald Eagles. In 1970, only ONE pelican chick hatched and survived in the entire colony. Recovery began soon after DDT was banned, and there are now about 4,600 pelican nests on West Anacapa–a remarkable recovery from the brink of extinction. There are still challenges: nighttime squid fishing disturbed the birds and led to some nest abandonment a decade or so ago, but now there is a buffer zone. Hikers are not allowed close to the colony.

View west from Inspiration Point along Anacapa Island and toward Santa Cruz Island

Another major challenge came to the islands earlier. About 150 years ago, a ship named after Mexican-American War hero Winfield Scott ran aground on the rocks just off Anacapa Island. Everyone aboard was eventually rescued, but the Black Rats on board decided to rescue themselves, and many swam successfully to shore, where they colonized the island and found a rich food source in the seabirds that called Anacapa home. They devoured eggs and chicks of such rare and threatened species as the Xantus’s Murrelet. They bred like rats, of course, and soon thousands of them were swarming over the tablelands and cliffs of this small island. A few years ago, the National Park Service mounted an all-out assault on the rats, completely eliminating the creepy creatures using poison, some of it spread on the cliff faces by helicopter. Of course, groups of animal rights advocates spoke up for the rights of rats, but the National Park Service did the right thing and eliminated the rats, thus saving untold native birds and a native island mouse from elimination.

Giant Coreopsis, one of the fascinating and unusual plants on Anacapa Island, was threatened by the encroachment of introduced, invasive plants

In the 1950s, the US Coast Guard staff on Anacapa decided to introduce Ice Plant to the island. This attractive plant is good for erosion control, and had already established a foothold along the central and southern California coasts. Unfortunately, the Ice Plant spread quickly over much of the island, displacing native plants in its march to utter domination. The National Park Service inherited the Ice Plant when it took over the island, and decided that the invader had to go. Volunteers and staff have tried various methods of eradication, including pulling it up and applying herbicides, and are finally winning the battle.

About a year ago, the National Park Service set up a greenhouse on Anacapa, and is growing native plants from seeds collected on the island. The goal is to jump start the revegetation of Anacapa with native plants. Based on what I saw, the newly growing natives are doing really well.

We are as Gods

Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalogues of the 1960s and beyond were the Google of their day, but with a sustainable living emphasis. The eminently browsable pages skipped from resources for raising chickens to building a windmill to understanding deep ecology to printing on a small press. It lent itself to dreams, and to a feeling of responsibility toward Planet Earth.

I recall a statement by Stewart Brand–it may have been on the cover of one of the catalogues along with a photo of Earth from space taken by one of the Apollo missions–in which he said “We are as gods, we might as well get good at it.” Meaning, that we have such an overwhelming presence on Earth, that we had better learn how to responsibly guide the impact of people upon the natural systems we depend on. It is an obvious statement, yet extremely profound in its implication that we cannot continue soiling the nest, or we will all get sick.

Recently, Stewart Brand revisited and revised his classic statement to “We are as gods, and HAVE to get good at it.” Again, an obvious statement, but one that flies in the face of those who think we can drill our way to sustainability in an era when over seven billion of us demand and deserve better lifestyles and lifespans. How do we get to the point of sustaining all those souls without ruining the planet so it no longer can support us?

That brings me to back to Channel Islands National Park, where the National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy are playing the role of being the good Gods of ecological restoration and sustainability–not an easy task and often a controversial one.

Arch Rock at the eastern point of Anacapa Island

As a naturalist, I have always loved wild creatures of every kind, with the certain exceptions of ticks and mosquitoes and some kinds of spiders. But, just as there are the good gods of restoration, there are the bad gods of invasion and elimination. Is it right that an accidental introduction of pigs threatened the very survival of the Island Fox? I think the clear answer is “NO!”  The National Park Service did what it had to do to protect the wild and natural inhabitants of these islands, rather than reserving them for rats and pigs.

I have witnessed the result of these restoration efforts, and it is good. We are indeed as Gods.

The National Park Service and its allies in conservation saved the Island Fox from extinction.

Further Reading and References:

Restoring Santa Cruz Island

Restoring Anacapa Island’s Seabird Habitat

Restoring Anacapa’s Native Vegetation

Pig Eradication Completed

Animal People News (point of view of animal rights advocates)

Yet More Killings

When the Killing’s Done (T.C. Boyle’s novel about the Channel Islands killing controversies)

National Geographic News reports on pig killing controversy

The Daily Nexus article about pig killing

Blog about Anacapa Island Restoration

Shhhh … Don’t tell anyone about this leaked federal document!

April 11, 2010

Trembling Aspens aflame in the Bodie Hills, with the Sierra distant

February 2010 brought news of a leaked document in the Department of the Interior, in which it was revealed that 14 locations are under consideration as possible national monuments.  One of these is the Bodie Hills, a rolling landscape east of the Sierra Nevada in California, and a place that I photographed during several days in the fall of 2009.

Part of the Bodie Hills has been a wilderness study area for many years, but the idea of a national monument seems relatively new.  This is a vast, rolling landscape, covered with grasses and sagebrush that make it excellent habitat for Sage Grouse and Pronghorn Antelope.  Within the Bodie Hills sits the ghost town of Bodie, now a California State Park that was threatened with possible closure because of the state’s severe funding problems; the legislature came up with a temporary fix that rescued the town from closing in the 2009/2010 fiscal year, but beyond that it is under threat.

Bodie was a gold-mining town, once the second largest city in California.  Thar is still gold in them thar hills, and there is currently an active Cougar Gold Paramount Exploration Project that hopes to find more gold in the Bodie Hills.  They plan to drill, or are drilling (I’m not sure which), a series of test holes in the vicinity of the Paramount Mine.  There would then be the possibility of a large open pit cyanide heap-leach mine.  If the price of gold continues to rise, and if enough gold is found in the area, you can bet on it.  Though there would certainly be legal challenges.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administers the Bodie Hills landscape surrounding the ghost town of Bodie.  If part or all of the Bodie Hills were made part of the proposed national monument, BLM would presumably administer the monument, though it is conceivable that responsibility would be transferred to the National Park Service, which would be my preference, because the national parks seem more likely to get consistent funding in times of tight budgets.*  Ideally the National Park Service would also take over administration of the ghost town of Bodie from the state, since the state is threatening closure and the subsequent deterioration of the ghost town itself.

Back to the leaked internal document:  other places on the list for possible national monument designation include beautiful locations in Utah, Oregon, Nevada, Montana, Arizona, Colorado, California, and Washington (under the proposal, the San Juan Islands in my home state of Washington would be designated a national monument).  Several others, including Bristol Bay in Alaska (where our walrus adventure took place last summer), are on another short list, but are less likely.  The next step would be for the Interior Department to make a specific proposal to President Obama, who could then use the Antiquities Act to make the designation as a national monument.  All recent presidents have taken similar actions, most recently when President Bush designated three significant areas of the Pacific Ocean as national monuments.

The Bodie Hills stretch on for miles

We are reaching a point where most of the United States has been either conserved or developed, and I hope that the best areas that remain in limbo between conservation and development are tipped toward conservation.  The world is filling up fast, and we need these places.

*For example, the U.S. Forest Service administers the Mount St. Helens Volcanic National Monument, but has always struggled for consistent funding.  In the last few years, they have shuttered a multi-million dollar visitor center–a gorgeous facility–that was less than 20 years old, because they lacked money to make necessary repairs.  I call that irresponsible, but it is hard to know who to blame for the fiasco.

Road to Bodie crossing the Bodie Hills

A hill honeycombed with gold mines just above the town of Bodie

Unsettled weather over the Bodie Hills and High Sierra

Bodie ghost town nestled in the Bodie Hills

Another view of Bodie, with the Bodie Hills beyond

Trembling Aspens in the Bodie Hills

For more information about this story, go to New West.  For the negative Fox News take on the initial proposal, go to Angers Some, and for information about the gold mine exploration proposal, go to BLM Cougar Gold. I wrote a previous blog entry about the Bodie ghost town; go to The Ghost of Bodie Past.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com.  To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

YOSEMITE: X Marks the Spot

February 2, 2010

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Contrails over El Capitan..

Yosemite National Park is a place of American dreams and legends, where the most beautiful landscape in the land has inspired countless people to create art and preserve wild places.

I have a framed photograph in my home, purchased years ago by my parents in an antique shop, showing President Theodore Roosevelt and conservationist John Muir on horseback, with Half Dome rising majestically in the distance.

John Muir (L) with President Theodore Roosevelt (R) riding an early road in Yosemite Valley, Half Dome rising in the distance

This photograph captures a significant moment in American conservation history, when Muir convinced Roosevelt to add Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias to the young Yosemite National Park.  That was 1903, when Muir and Roosevelt camped together in the Mariposa Grove, where they had heated conversations around the campfire–conversations that dramatically shaped the American conservation movement.

Roosevelt and Muir with an armed Secret Service detail (detail of the 1903 historic photo above, photographer unknown)

Roosevelt went on to create some of the iconic national parks in America, including Crater Lake, Wind Cave, and Mesa Verde.  He also set aside many national monuments, several of which later became national parks, including Grand Canyon and Mt. Olympus (which is close to where I live).  He created the U.S. Forest Service in 1905, which now administers 155 national forests.  He created the first National Wildlife Refuge in 1903, a system that now includes 551 preserves across all 50 states.  With Roosevelt’s hearty love of the outdoors and his scientific mind, he was the right president at the right time to take action to conserve America’s endangered natural resources at a time when the frontier had just closed and the need for limits to logging and hunting and other activities had become crystal clear to those who love the land.

Our trip to Yosemite was brief by any standards.  We entered the park on an October morning, camped overnight, then left for the long drive home early the next afternoon.  But what a fine visit we had!

Under sunny skies, we drove through Tuolumne Meadows, stopping to see stunning granite domes and viewpoints.  Towering Sierra Red Firs and Jeffrey Pines cast shadows across the road; we stopped to hop from rock to rock across Yosemite Creek, not realizing that it would soon plunge over cliffs over 2,400′ into Yosemite Valley below.  On we drove, under contrails zooming for miles across the blue sky.  Sleepy, sleekly muscled climbers from France aired their sleeping bags in brilliant morning sunshine at Lembert Dome.

Autumn colors lit up spaces between the pines.  The clean and beautiful granite reminded me of Mt. Rushmore, where Theodore Roosevelt’s face looks powerfully out at the western landscape.  Yet Roosevelt wasn’t the only figure on Mt. Rushmore to figure prominently in Yosemite’s history.  In a break from fighting a war, Abraham Lincoln actually set aside Yosemite as a park in 1864.  His action deeded the land to the State of California; it was only later in the 19th century, when Yosemite was threatened by grazing and other concerns, that this great land became a national park.

On we drove, stopping for a long time to photograph the bare granite of Olmsted Point, named for the famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, who had a strong hand in designing how Yosemite National Park was to be managed.  Olmsted, the father of landscape architecture in America, designed Central Park in New York City, as well as park systems in Seattle, Portland,

The stark landscape of granite and pine of Olmsted Point

Boston, Chicago, and numerous other American cities.  From Olmsted Point, the mountains rolled on to the horizon.  The foreground of cracked granite, punctuated by boulders and bonsai conifers, made for some wonderful pictures against the vivid blue sky.  Once again in an American western national park, we observed that German tourists were more plentiful and willing to walk than the natives.

Driving on, we left our mark on the land by creating a tiny, happy snowman atop a lingering snowbank from the snow that fell a couple of days before.  We had been in Lee Vining at the time, hoping to drive across the Sierra to enter Yosemite National Park.  But a flashing sign on US 395 said that California Highway 120 was closed and that we couldn’t go over Tioga Pass.  That delayed our trip, and when we stopped at a US Forest Service information station, the attendant said that he didn’t know if the pass would reopen before the winter.  But it did, a day later.  The road over this 9,943′ pass was largely built in the 1930s, but even with today’s technology, snow keeps the road closed during a very long winter that can stretch in some years from sometime in October to sometime in July.

Upon entering the national park, we had asked the entrance station ranger where we could camp.  He said that Yosemite Valley was out of the question unless we had long-standing reservations, and instead suggested Hodgdon Meadow near Big Oak Flat.  We took his advice, got there in the afternoon, and set up camp beneath towering Sugar Pines, where we found several of the huge cones (they grow up to 26″ long!) of this species.

In camp we had to take all our food and cooler and cooking gear out of our car, and place it inside a national park-provided steel locker at the back of the campsite.  Bears have a long history in Yosemite, and they have grown more and more brazen about getting food from campers.  Lately, they have been breaking into cars–especially family minivans–by either peeling back the metal doors like a tin can, or by smashing a window and crawling inside.  Campers are warned to never store their food inside a car.  Backpackers have to

Black Bear in Yosemite Valley with an orange ear tag for identification

store their food in bearproof containers that they carry with them, because bears have learned to snip off ropes previously used for hanging food.  The National Park Service’s ongoing battle with bears is entertaining; visitors can see bear traps and signs everywhere. Later in the day, in Vosemite Valley, we saw a cinnamon-colored bear that sported a stylish orange ear tag, identifying the bear to the Big Brother rangers watching his habits.  Actually, the bear appeared at the same time that we smelled a delicious aroma of French fries cooking, which was either emanating from one of the valley’s nearby restaurants, or from a vehicle powered by biofuel from a fast food restaurant’s waste grease.  Either way, it attracted bears and hungry visitors.

French fries are a popular food in Yosemite Valley

But back to my narrative.  After leaving camp, we drove on a twisting mountain road toward The Valley.  Almost immediately, we noticed that the forest had been recently burned, and this huge scorched area continued for miles.  It

Aftermath of the Big Meadow Fire, a prescribed burn that escaped

turned out that this fire had just recently stopped smoldering.  The Big Meadow Fire, begun on August 26 as a 91 acre prescribed burn to enhance meadow habitat, escaped its enclosure and ran wild and free through the surrounding forest until it was recaptured on September 10.  During that time the hungry fire consumed 7,425 acres of pine forest, leaving much of the forest as dead as charcoal dust after a steak barbeque.  Alas, the best laid plans of mice and men … but really, all was not lost.  Fire is as natural to the California’s pine forests as bikinis are to its beaches.  The scorched pines will give way to chaparral, which will eventually give way to a pine forest, which will then burn.  That’s how this landscape cycles through time, and there’s not a whole lot that we humans can do to affect it, except to postpone the inevitable.

El Capitan in sunset glow reflecting on the Merced River

Into Yosemite Valley, that glorious place that looks like a magnificent painting of our idea of what American wilderness was like before the coming of white settlers.  Above the monolith El Capitan, which towers over the valley, two jet contrails made a big X, as if showing us that X marks the spot of the most beautiful place you’ll ever see.  Which might be the case, were it not for the contrails.  Actually, the contrails have been a problem over Yosemite all day; I think that the national park must be on the flight path for a lot of jets heading to and from San Francisco.  Under certain weather conditions, the vapor trails make long-lasting streaks across the sky.  It is a darn good thing that Ansel Adams did most of his work here before the advent of jet travel, or his iconic photographs of Half Dome and El Capitan would have white streaks marring those magnificent black skies he created in the darkroom.

Speaking of Ansel Adams:  if there was a Mt. Rushmore of nature photography, Ansel Adams’ bald pate would be carved of solid granite and would share the cliffs with Eliot Porter and Ernst Haas.  Adams’ black-and-white monumental works, printed in the darkroom, helped excite me about photography years ago, during my time as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan.  At that time, the Sierra Club sold magnificent posters of wilderness areas captured in Adams’ stirring photographs.  When Adams died in the 1980s, I felt a strong sense of loss.  Adams lived in Yosemite Valley for a time, and had a studio in the valley that continues to this day under his name.  To honor the great photographer, there is an Ansel Adams Wilderness that we saw from a distance as we drove up the road to Tioga Pass.

Deeper into Yosemite Valley we drove, joining the line of other cars coming to see a place unspoiled by humans.  We drove past vast parking lots, past

The granite of Half Dome rises dramatically above Yosemite Valley

hundreds of dirty white tents known as “Housekeeping Camp,” where you can rent an unheated tent for a night for $109, linens extra.  On past the campgrounds, where campfire smoke fills the clean valley air.  Past the Ahwahnee Hotel, where wealthy visitors can enjoy an elegant experience for $525 per night in the high season.  On to Curry Village and Yosemite Village, with their attendant wilderness sprawl of shops and cabins and motel rooms and tents.  Past the colorful tents in the climbers camp.

By then I had taken scores of beautiful pictures despite the crowds.  For a last photograph, I joined a dozen other serious photographers at a bend in the Merced River, all of us taking the same beautiful picture of sunset light reflecting off El Capitan and into the river.  Stunning!  Then back to camp.

National Park Service map of Yosemite National Park

If it seems like I am being a bit hard on the messy human developments of Yosemite Valley, it is because I want it to be as beautifully wild as when Teddy Roosevelt accompanied John Muir on horseback through a still mostly wild valley.  That is just a dream, of course, and we will continue to get eroded riverbanks and problem bears and air pollution.  I had hoped that a 1997 flood, which wiped out campgrounds and buildings in the valley, would have been an opportunity to rethink development in the valley, but the subsequent changes were minor, as Park Service planners have to deal with long-entrenched and powerful political constituencies that want to maintain the status quo.  If it was up to me, I’d take a bulldozer to all the lodging and stores and attendant structures here, leaving just the access road.  Let people sleep and dine outside this sacred place.  But I won’t hold my breath waiting for that fantasy to come true …

Back in camp, we watched a Williamson’s Sapsucker working on a tall pine–the first time we had ever seen this species (and that’s a big thing for a birdwatcher!).

The next morning we packed up camp, then returned to the valley, stopping along the Merced River to photograph reflections of morning light on El

Autumn Black Cottonwood leaf on the Merced River

Capitan.  It was a lovely morning, with mist rising off quiet stretches of the stream.  Morning is a wonderful time in a national park, as campers tend to rise late and quiet is preserved until mid-morning.

Our schedule required us to leave Yosemite early, but we still wanted to see the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, which is located several dozen miles away.  We stopped along the way for a last look at Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, where a big white tour bus unloaded its passengers.  Everyone walked to the edge of the viewpoint and was stunned by the view, which takes in the valley, with El Capitan, Cathedral Rocks, and Half Dome, plus several waterfalls.  It is among the most beautiful viewpoints anywhere, and it has been recently renovated to enhance the experience.  Ansel Adams’ magnificent “Clearing Winter Storm” was taken from this point.

Upon reaching Mariposa Grove, we ate a quick lunch, then walked up the path.  The park kiosk was out of brochures in English, but there were brochures available in a rainbow of languages.  Alas, we are language-challenged, except for the language of nature.

The Mariposa Grove was just as pretty as when Roosevelt and Muir camped there just over a hundred years ago.  Biologists have since learned that trampling by too many humans damages the shallow roots of these immense trees, so people are now confined to the asphalt trails.  No more joining hands with several dozen other people to circle a tree for a photo.  Biologists also realized that Giant Sequoias need fire in order to maintain a Sequoia grove; in fact, a prescribed burn had taken place in this grove earlier in the year, so there were fire-blackened stretches of forest floor and charred lower trunks.  We were pleased to see that young Sequoias were growing among the immense trunks of their ancestors, so the forest appears healthy.

After our walk in the sacred grove, we climbed into our car and began the long drive home, immensely rejuvenated by our all-too-brief visit with the most beautiful place in America.

Stoneman Bridge, an example of the rustic park architecture in Yosemite

Giant Sequoias in the Mariposa Grove

An impressionistic view of El Capitan reflected in the Merced River

Autumn oak leaves in the Mariposa Grove

Black Cottonwood leaf in the Merced River

Yosemite Valley on a crisp autumn morning

El Capitan, monumental in morning light

Giant Sequoias

Grove of California Red Firs along the Tioga Pass road

I mentioned the work of three photographers who were pioneers in the area of nature photography.  To see more of their work, go to:

http://www.cartermuseum.org/collections/porter/collection.php?sec=comp

http://www.anseladams.com/

http://www.ernsthaas.com/

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

The Ghost of Bodie Past

November 18, 2009

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The ghost of Bodie occasionally appears in a window..

Please allow me to introduce myself:  my name is Boots McGee.  I was hanged by a mob in Bodie back in 1883.  They broke down the door of the jail, shoved the sheriff aside, and yanked me out of the cell.  Then they carried me kicking and screaming to the headframe for the Red Cloud Mine and used a horse to string me up by the neck.  I died choking and gasping two minutes later.

The thing is, I didn’t shoot Doc Smith that night in the Yellow Dog Tavern.  The real killer was a one-armed man who was good with a gun in his remaining hand, and he shot Doc when everyone else had dived under the tables.  But Doc, with his dying words, said that he saw me with the smoking gun.  If Doc hadn’t delivered so many babies and treated so many liver ailments, people might not have believed him.  But here I was, a down on my luck miner who was drunk on rotgut that night, and someone heard me threaten Doc because he charged me too much for removing a bullet from my butt.  So here I am.

We ghosts don’t really like to hang around; after all, there is a sweet afterlife that we would like to spend eternity in.  But some of us get stuck in a place and time and can’t get out.  It has something to do with the unfairness of the act that killed us.  If only I could turn back time.  But I can’t, so for now I float down from the graveyard on the hill with the cool night air.  If you see my shape in a dark window, or hear a door creak on a still morning when nobody is around, that would be me.  And I’ll probably be here for as long as the last weathered boards remain on the Methodist Church and as long as the last granite headstone remains in the graveyard.

I might as well tell you a bit about my little town.  Gold was discovered in these hills by Waterman S. Bodey back in 1859.  I came in the gold rush that

Bodie sits below the hills where the gold came from..

followed, and staked a claim up in the hills east of town.  I dug some gold early on and made some money, enough that I could visit the taverns every night, Lottie’s house of red lights on Saturday night, and the Methodist Church on Sunday mornings.  Well, maybe a few Sunday mornings, anyway.

By 1879, the town had grown to 10,000 people and had a reputation as a hellhole filled with drunks and prostitutes and outlaws.  But a lot of gold was coming out of the ground from all the mines, so people put up with all the evil.  One man of God, the Reverend F. M. Warrington called our town “a sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion.”  Sounds like my kind of place, doesn’t it?

All good and evil things eventually come to an end, and Bodie’s end came soon after the last mine shut down in 1941.  Without a reason to go on, the town emptied out completely.  People left old belongings in their homes, and the school’s hundreds of desks were left as if ghost students still took their daily lessons.

The creaking front door of the Tom Miller house..

I was lonely here for a long time, with just occasional curious folks and vandals visiting this remote place.  But in 1962, the great state of California made my home town a state historic park that is kept in a state of “arrested decay.”  Now I have lots of visitors to haunt, so the only times I get lonely are during the long and frigid winters, when only a few folks on skis and snowmobiles make it up here.

It looked like I would never leave this place, since California has been preventing Bodie from disappearing back into the earth.  But in 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger put Bodie on a list of state parks to shut down because the state has run out of money to keep parks open.  That is my best hope for getting out of here.  If the state allows Bodie to fall apart and blow away, I might finally get to see heaven because I’ll have nowhere to stay here on earth.

The Methodist Church reflected in the windows of a doorway..

A child’s coffin in the town’s morgue..

Streetscape of weathered buildings in Bodie..

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Without a little propping up, these outhouses would have blown down in the cold wind.

The Standard Mill processed millions of dollars of gold..

The Methodist Church, built in 1882, held its last service in 1932..

The owner of the town’s morgue slept in an adjacent room..

Layers of paint speak to fashions and time passing..

Reflections on the front door windows of the Pat Reddy house..

A billiards table waits for ghostly players in the old Wheaton & Hollis Hotel..

Togetherness reigned in the Kirkwood House two-hole outhouse..

Steel shingles in attractive rusty shades cover some of Bodie’s exterior walls..

Display windows of the Boone Store and Warehouse reflect the setting..

The interior of the Boone Store & Warehouse has original artifacts on display..

Table in the Tom Miller house set for guests who never came..

A 1927 Dodge Graham truck waits for a fill-up at the Shell gas pumps..

A deer head has survived the decades in the Wheaton & Hollis Hotel..

Before a major fire, Bodie was 20 times as large..

The Swazey Hotel awaits visitors from the past..

Lace curtains add a feminine touch to the Murphy house..

James Stuart Cain, a wealthy businessman, had a beautiful house..

The Wheaton & Hollis Hotel is a classic false front commercial building..

If you want to visit Bodie, there are some good websites to help plan your trip and learn a bit of real history (as opposed to my made-up history!) of this wonderful ghost town.

http://www.bodie.com/

http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=509

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

Sacred Ground: The Flight 93 National Memorial

April 16, 2009

2007_pa_0113Mennonite women viewing the folk art angels commemorating the souls who died in the Flight 93 crash. The actual crash site is in the far distance on the right in this scene. You might be able to see the distant flag.

 

Rare shared moments in our lives are seared into our brains.  On September 11, 2001, I awoke on a warm late summer morning to the voice of Carl Kasell on NPR, saying there were reports that a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York.  Almost immediately came reports of a second plane hitting the other tower, and all hell broke loose.  Our lives were never to be quite the same again. 

Six years on, I was in Washington D.C. on September 11.  Leaving town, I drove north into Pennsylvania toward Pittsburgh; somewhere along the  road, it struck me that I must be following roughly the path that the fourth plane hijacked by the terrorists would have taken toward Washington D.C., only in reverse. I stopped, looked at a map, and determined that I could stop for a day at the field where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into the ground, ending the lives of all aboard.

I drove through the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside that day, enjoying the touches of autumn, covered bridges, pastoral farms, and small towns that have remained much the same for decades. Near Shanksville, I followed signs to the Flight 93 site.  When I arrived, there were a few scattered cars and Harleys, as well as a tour bus filled with Mennonite men and women on an outing.  The place was quiet, except for the American flags flapping in the brisk and chill wind.

2007_pa_0118Mennonite ladies pause to view a collage of heartfelt tributes to the heroic passengers and crew of Flight 93.

Every American alive on 9/11 knows the stories of that day, but it was with a sense of awe, wonder, and sorrow that I relived the tragedy and heroism of that day in this sacred place.  Flight 93 was heading for San Francisco from Newark.  It got a late start, but the flight looked smooth on this beautiful day for the seven members of the flight crew and 37 passengers. Over Ohio, 2007_pa_0094the four hijackers made their move in the first class cabin.  They incapacitated the pilots, took control of the plane, and turned back toward Washington D.C.  By this time the passengers, talking on cell phones to family and friends, learned that three planes had already hit their targets and their plane was to be the fourth.  They probably didn’t know it, but the target was to be the White House or the Capitol Building.

From their cell phone conversations, we know that the passengers voted to try and retake the plane.  Todd Beamer has become the most famous of a group of men who hatched a plan and launched a counterattack.  The black box recording of the cockpit provided evidence that the counterattack was effective in thwarting the plans of Al Qaeda; the terrorist pilot ended up diving the plane straight into a reclaimed strip mine field at over 500 miles per hour.  2007_pa_0067Everyone died instantly.  You can review the events of the flight at http://www.nps.gov/flni

We know there were heroes that day, and when I stood on that sacred ground I could feel that heroism in my very bones.  Spirits inhabit the place and every visitor is quiet and reverential.  Few places evoke so many quiet tears.

Visiting Americans have left thousands of remembrances: crosses, flags, notes of admiration, motorcycle club patches,firefighter memorabilia, and so many other items are collected on a memorial wall.  Volunteers from the area provide heartfelt interpretation of the events of that day.

2007_pa_0127A reverential biker views the names of the passengers and crew.

Visitors are not allowed on the actual crash site; that is reserved for family members of the crew and passengers.  The crash site is visible from the hill where the memorial is located.  As of this 2009 writing, there is a temporary memorial; soon there will be a permanent memorial building and exhibits run by the National Park Service.  The website I linked to above has extensive information and graphics concerning the design of the permanent memorial, which will be a reverential reminder of the events of the fateful day.  In addition, there is a website where you can learn about donating to the memorial, and get another narrative of the events of the day.  Go to: http://www.honorflight93.org/

2007_pa_0107Items donated by visitors decorate the 40′ tribute wall.

I came away with a sense of pride that Americans had the courage to take the course of events into their own hands that day.  It is among our proudest moments as a nation.

 

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

Click on the photographs below to see them in a larger size, with captions.

 

NEW JERSEY: The Jersey Bears

May 8, 2008

Everyone has seen Jersey barriers along the highway, but today I actually saw Jersey bears (and no, it’s not a minor league baseball team)!

While visiting the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, which straddles the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border, I stopped at the Kaiser Trailhead in New Jersey’s Worthington State Forest.  The Flowering Dogwood trees were at their peak of bloom, so the woods were filled with that wonderful white frost of blossoms, which contrasted with the spring green haze of emerging maple and oak leaves.  After I finished my dogwood photography, I was putting away my gear and preparing to drive away when I looked into the forest again and saw an American Black Bear foraging in a forest opening about 100 yards away.  Excited, I stopped stashing my equipment and instead pulled out the 500mm lens and 1.4x extender [this is a photographer’s blog, so I have to mention my equipment!].  Then I set about observing and taking a few photographs when the bear was most visible in the forest.

Then, much to my surprise, two young cubs appeared in the brush—they were accompanying their mother.  The mother was well aware of my presence, and I dared not get too close to her.  The cubs were more skittish, and I was unable to get any photographs of them.  The mother was keeping them on a long leash, so to speak, so they were not cuddling up to her but instead were foraging on their own.  I found the mother bear’s feeding behavior fascinating; she would walk up to a rock on the forest floor, and use her front feet and claws to lift the edge of it–looking underneath for any grubs or ants or anything else edible that might be hiding there.  There were plenty of rocks, as this trailhead was at the base of Kittatinny Mountain, which has a backbone of crumbly rock.  I observed one of the young bears working the rocks the same way–mother had already taught these young cubs well.  Eventually the bears ambled up the mountain and out of sight, but I was left with a thrilling and completely unexpected experience.

Earlier, a young man who I suspect is a recent immigrant from Russia, stopped to ask directions.  Accompanied by his mother, he had left the interstate looking for a gas station and instead ended up on this remote forest road.  He was from Ottawa, Canada, and was returning to Canada from a New York City road trip.  As we were talking, I pointed over his shoulder at the mother bear, which had gotten unexpectedly close.  He was startled and amazed, and said it was the first wild bear he had ever seen.  I think his mother, who remained in the car, was scared to death!

After I left that area, I stopped at Dunnfield Creek Natural Area and walked the Appalachian Trail–or at least 50 yards of it!  This is one of the access points along the great trail that stretches from Maine to Georgia.  Dunnfield Creek is noted for its crystal clear waters that support the fussy native Brook Trout, who are known for demanding clean water and refuse to inhabit anything else.  Some fish, and some people, demand only the best!

When I was visiting the campground at Worthington State Forest, I saw a petition to save the campground from the budget axe.  It seems that the governor of New Jersey plans to close nine of these state forest campgrounds around the state to save money.  The implication was that the state intends to privatize some of these campgrounds, and that would be a shame.

For several federal administrations I have seen the U.S. Forest Service steadily privatizing the operation of its campgrounds, and I’m not happy with the results.  The price immediately goes up (to cover the profit of the operator) and the service goes down.  At one such campground in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I found the bathrooms filthy and the water not turned on and the garbage cans removed, yet the price had gone up.  Why should we accept this?

When I visited Grand Teton National Park two years ago, I learned that they had privatized the national park campground where I normally stay.  I always enjoyed registering for camping and having informative conversations with the park rangers who staffed the office.  But with privatization the price had gone up and the people staffing the front desk could not answer my questions about the park.  Then one of their cell phones rang with one of those ugly musical ringtones and destroyed whatever good mood I had left.  Hey people, this is a national park, not a mall!  Learn about it so you can answer my questions and treat it with respect!

I guess the real problem is that America is failing to adequately fund the national parks and forests, and we are gradually seeing the fallout from that.  It is a shame to see Theodore Roosevelt’s great national forests and our heritage of great national parks fall into mediocrity.

This is part of a weblog documenting my travels and photography. I am primarily a nature photographer, and you can see more of my work at http://www.leerentz.com

Click on the photographs below to see a larger version with captions.


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