My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Posts tagged “Opinion

My Week, The Iceman Commeth

Sunday

As is my normal routine, I’m sitting here early on a Sunday morning, pondering the possibilities of the day, and the upcoming week. After spending a windblown day at the Ionia State Recreation Area yesterday, I’d like to spend a quiet day in the woods someplace, but that isn’t going to happen. Not unless I were to travel out-of-state a considerable distance. The wind is forecast to be lighter than yesterday, but not by much, so I suppose that Pickerel Lake will be as good as anywhere to go today.

The high winds make wildlife uncomfortable, all species, as all their senses are affected for the worse. The noise, the movement of plants swaying in the wind, and the scent streams being ripped apart by the high winds all play a part in causing all wildlife to react to high winds in one way or another. Seeing all the species of birds that normally forage up in the trees foraging on or near the ground yesterday was just one example of that.

The weather forecast for the week calls for windy weather almost everyday, with some much colder than average temperatures starting tomorrow and lasting through mid-week. I may be walking through snow, but I suspect that the forecast is somewhat overstated as far as cold and snow, we’ll see.

Both of the pairs of boots I just bought are OK, but neither are as comfy as my old New Balance. I swear, the next time I find a pair of hiking boots as good as they were, I’m going to stock up on them by purchasing several pairs as soon as I’m sure that they are going to hold up well.

Today, I’m going to do something that I haven’t done in a couple of years, I’m going to splurge and stop for breakfast at a restaurant on my way to Pickerel Lake. I hope that my stomach can handle it. 😉 (It can’t, as I found out this morning)

I’m back, I had a great day that deserves its own post, and I can now add one more thing to my list of things I will probably never do again, eat breakfast at a fast food place. I’m not going to bash any particular chain, I think that it’s more a matter of my system not being used to all the food additives any longer. The more that I have gotten into eating my own cooking, the more that my system rebels if I eat fast food. I’m not even sure that I could handle food from a sit down restaurant these days.

Monday

It’s raining out this morning, with the snow predicted to arrive around noon. I’m not ready for winter to arrive this early! Luckily, this cold snap is forecast to be short-lived, with nicer weather returning before the weekend.

Speaking of this weekend, gun deer season opens on Friday, I’ll have to be more selective in choosing a place to hike until December 1st, as I would rather not get shot, nor spoil some one’s hunt.

I wore the new Keen boots again yesterday, by the time that I got to the half-way point of my hike, I was feeling it in my big toes, especially when going downhill. But, by the time that I was heading home, my toes were actually feeling better, so there is hope. I really like the Keens except for being tight on my big toes, as it is very easy to walk quietly in them.

That makes me wonder, is it my ability to walk as quietly in the woods as I do the reason that I am able to approach wildlife closer than other people can?

I think that walking quietly is part of it, but it is also that I “fit” into nature better than most humans, I act as if I am part of nature rather than a passing visitor.

I’m hungry, and the weather isn’t going to get any better, so I think that it’s time to get moving.

Well, I’m back, I shot one photo just to shoot something.

Raintree

Raintree

There was moderate rain falling in a moderate wind, with moderate temperatures, kind of a ho-hum day as far as anything today.

There were large flocks of robins, starlings, and goldfinches around, but it isn’t as if I need a bad photo of any of those. I also saw a few other species, such as cardinals, blue jays, and woodpeckers, but again, because of the weather, I made no effort to photograph any of those either.

Tuesday

The cold has arrived, brought here on a north wind. With the wind straight out of the north, it’s a frosty but sunny morning, as the lake effect clouds are held right on the lakeshore and there’s nothing to drive them inland. It could be a good day for photography if I can find anything to photograph.

I feel a predicament coming on, I know that I’m not going to find many things to photograph around home here over the winter, and I’m going to want to travel both days on the weekend. But that means I’ll be spending more on gas over the winter when I should be saving money for next spring and summer. I’m finding myself thinking of places to go next year already, but if I’m broke, I won’t be able to do the things that I would like to next spring.

If I were smart, I’d stay home more over the winter, and if I were really smart, I’d find a part-time job on the weekends this winter, even if that meant curtailing my outdoor activities until next spring. Well, that’s all stuff to think about while I’m out walking and enjoying the sunshine, even if it is cold.

I’m back from my walk, and I have decided to do what I do best and put off any weighty decisions until later. 😉 At least until I see how much money I save by having quit smoking. I had planned on dedicating that money to purchasing more photo equipment, but there’s no rush with winter coming.

Speaking of winter coming, it was here last night, leaving a dusting of snow, but the sunlight today is still strong enough that most of the snow was melting.

With the cold snap, the flocks of robins, goldfinches and starlings here yesterday were gone today. They’ll be back, it is forecast to warm up again by the weekend, but with rain.

OK, it’s towards the middle of November, there were patches of snow on the ground, Creekside Park is closed for the winter, yet the contractors who mow the grass showed up this morning to do their thing.

Slow-mo snow mow

Slow-mo snow mow

I don’t have any idea what the contract that the County has with the lawn service, but that seemed like a complete waste of gas to me, and we wonder why gas is still over $3 a gallon.

I hope that you noticed the patches off snow on the weeds in the foreground, as that’s the only snow photo that I saved, and I tried to make the photo as pretty as possible as well, capturing a little color from the trees. Here’s a little more of the little color left around here.

Name this color

Name this color

Name this color

Name this color

I also found a red squirrel not in motion, which is a rarity worth photographing.

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

Other than the squirrel, all the photos from today were taken on my way back home. As I was walking home, I was thinking of how many times in the past that I have written that I seem to find more things to photograph if I start out each day shooting a few photos just for the heck of it, even if they are so mundane that they will be deleted when I get home. I decided that I needed an attitude adjustment as far as photography. I’ve been heading out here at home doubting if I would see anything worth photographing, and on many days, that’s what has happened. I told myself that I need to get back into doing things as before, taking photos early, whether I think they will be worth saving or not.

So, seeing a small flock of mallards in the pond across the street, I shot a photo.

Mallards keeping one eye open

Mallards keeping one eye open

I used to post way too many photos of mallards when I lived at the other apartment complex, and other places, so I have resisted photographing them this past year for the most part. Within seconds of shooting that photo, a male cardinal posed very nicely for me.

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

I mean really nicely!

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

It may have been a coincidence that I was telling myself that I needed to change my attitude and then the cardinal posed for me, but I don’t think so. That’s the way it has always gone for me, a great attitude results in at least good photos. Now, I need to remember that tomorrow morning.

I just checked the weather online to see what I’ll have to face while driving for work tonight, and some spots right along Lake Michigan have received over a foot of snow since it started yesterday evening. Less than an inch fell here, and it’s been sunny all day, that’s the lake effect for you, nice weather here for a change, and a potent snowstorm less than 60 miles from here.

I think that I’ll take the backdoor in and out of South Bend tonight and avoid all the snow.

Wednesday

Another cold, but sunny day today, I haven’t been outside yet, but from the weather report, the wind won’t help the temperatures at all today.

Thinking about this coming weekend, the alternative to today’s weather may not be very appealing to me though, as we’re forecast to have heavy rains (again) starting late Saturday and all of Sunday. Cold and sunny, or warm and rainy, it’s hard to choose which is better or worse than the other. The forecast does make one thing easier though, I’m not going to drive somewhere to walk in a heavy rain, so I’ll be staying home and walking here on Sunday. I may go to Palmer Park on Saturday to hunt a big buck if the rain holds off until late in the day as they are predicting.

I’ve written about the new Keen boots I recently purchased, other than my toes, my feet love the Keens. But, I haven’t said anything about the Cabela’s brand Twin River boots that I also purchased, even though I have worn them more.

They are 100% waterproof, they fit well enough, and are fairly light. I don’t know how to describe them well, other than to say that they are okay. They don’t hurt my feet in any way, yet the fit doesn’t seem quite right either, but that may be because they only have a few miles on them so far. I guess that I would say that I like them, but I don’t love them the way that I loved the New Balance boots that I wore out. If I ever find hiking boots that I love as much as I loved the New Balance boots, I’m going to order several more pair as soon as I’m sure that I love them, so that I won’t have to try to find a suitable replacement for them. I think that both pairs of the boots that I just bought would feel a lot better to my feet if I had better socks to wear with them. The socks that I have now are about worn out, time to go shopping again. But first, a walk.

I’m back from my walk, and attitude is everything. I started out telling myself that it didn’t matter how many hundreds of photos I have of any particular species of birds, that I would go ahead and shoot a few more, even if they were eventually deleted. You have to take photos…

Red bellied woodpecker

Red bellied woodpecker

…to get good photos.

Red bellied woodpecker

Red bellied woodpecker

Fox squirrel dozing in the sun

Fox squirrel dozing in the sun

What that squirrel was doing, dozing out in the open, was rather dangerous, as you’ll see later. But, with the tree to block the cold wind, and some bright sunshine, the squirrel had a toasty perch, even if it was exposed to these guys and gals.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

My set-up for flying birds works really well. I probably should go to one full stop of positive exposure compensation, but hawks aren’t the only species I hope to use that set-up on.

I thought that it was strange to see the hawks hunting in the woods the way that they were, more on that later, but first, some photos of my favorite birds.

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

I know, too many photos of them, sorry, but I love watching and listening to them. They have kept me company for many hours while sitting out in the woods during deer season, and during my hikes since I’ve quit hunting. Finding myself surrounded by a flock of them this morning, I just stood there, enjoyed the show and continued to photograph them, I even managed a shot of one of them in flight.

Black capped chickadee in flight

Black capped chickadee in flight

That’s full frame, not cropped at all, here’s the cropped version.

Black capped chickadee in flight

Black capped chickadee in flight

The robins were back again, in huge numbers, but I only shot one.

American robin

American robin

It was the same with the goldfinches, they were back in numbers, but I only shot one.

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

On my way towards home, I spotted one of the hawks perched low in a tree.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

I’ve gotten better shots of them, and this one was perched in a spot where the lighting wasn’t the best, but I shot a few more just for the heck of it. It was then that I saw that the hawk had killed a poor little red squirrel, and was guarding it…

Red-tailed hawk with its kill watching another hawk circling

Red-tailed hawk with its kill watching another hawk circling

…from another hawk circling overhead…

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

It’s hard to see the red squirrel in the talons of the hawk in the second photo, but that was the best I could get.

I added two and two together, and I think that I came up with four, the reason that the hawks were hunting in the woods. The first squirrel that I photographed was dozing in the sun, I’ll bet that the red squirrel was also. I can’t picture a hawk as large as a red-tailed capturing a red squirrel any other way, at least not in the woods. Maybe if a red squirrel ventured out in the open, but they seldom do that. I have to believe that the red squirrel made the fatal mistake of taking a nap out in the sun, while the hawks were looking for napping squirrels. ( I took many more photos of the hawks hunting in the woods today, but I didn’t post them all)

Nature isn’t always pretty, but the hawks have to have something to eat.

That’s all for today.

Thursday

Cold and sunny again today, cold isn’t unusual in November, but this stretch of sunny days certainly is. November is typically one of the cloudiest months here in West Michigan.

There’s a battle going on inside of me right now, my body is telling me in a hundred different ways how much it loves the fact that I’m no longer attacking it with the nasty crap in cigarettes. At the same time, parts of me want a smoke so badly that it would be very easy to cave in for a day, if I had any smokes around here. One way that I am preventing myself from back sliding is that I have been keeping my emergency stash of cigarettes in the truck that I drive for work. I’m too cheap to pay Michigan prices for cigarettes, I’ve always bought them in Indiana on my way to or from our South Bend branch, and I’m not going to run out to a store to buy a pack at the prices they charge here.

I’d better get something to eat and go for my walk, as it is always easier for me to not smoke while outdoors.

It felt a lot better outside today than yesterday, the wind gusts weren’t as frequent, nor did they last as long as they did yesterday. I expected to see at least as many birds as yesterday, and I suppose that I did, by looking towards the bird feeders stationed in the subdivision to the west of the park. The birds must not follow a set schedule as far as what times of day that they visit the feeders, and when they hang out in the park, for I walk about the same time every day.

While pickings were slim, what photos I did get turned out well.

Dark eyed junco

Dark eyed junco

Dark eyed junco

Dark eyed junco

Cat dozing in the sun

Cat dozing in the sun

The cat must have been looking for mice, not birds, as it was a long way away from where the birds have been for the past two weeks.

It was a great day for a walk, even if there wasn’t much wildlife, I paused several times just to relish the warmth left in the fall sun.

I was almost all the way home when I saw the shadow of a large bird flying what had to be almost directly above my head. It was a great blue heron, and for some reason, it landed next to the pond within the apartment complex, even though most of the pond is frozen over. A great blue heron is almost always a good photo subject, even in poor light.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

I could tell from the heron’s actions that it wasn’t going to stick around long, and as I was switching to my bird in flight setup it took off, but stayed low and hidden by the trees, so no heron in flight shot. But, since I was there, and there was a small flock of mallards in the corner of the pond which hasn’t frozen over yet, I couldn’t resist a few photos.

Female mallard

Female mallard

Mallards

Mallards

Male mallard

Male mallard

Female mallard

Female mallard

I’ve shot hundreds, maybe thousands of photos of mallards, but the one of the male mallard has to be one of the very best that I have ever gotten. The last shot of the female isn’t too shabby either. Maybe I’ll have to shoot a few more mallards from time to time just to mark my progression as a photographer. 😉

Friday

A mixture of clouds and a little sun today, it’s warmer than it has been, but the wind is forecast to increase in strength ahead of another cold front headed this way.

The weather forecast for this weekend is not looking good, Saturday morning will be OK, but Sunday is looking like a complete washout, with strong to severe thunderstorms in the afternoon. That’s OK, I have some things to catch up on around the apartment that I can do on Sunday.

I’m sure that by now, every one is tired of hearing about my struggles to quit smoking (again), so I’ll skip that today, and head on out for a walk.

I’m back, it was a very good day. I started shooting early…

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

..and often…

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

None of the photos so far were cropped at all, and on top of getting close to the critters today, the light was very good as well. However, the brown creepers have what has to be about the best camouflage in the bird world, watching them is almost like watching bark move, so I cropped the next one down in an attempt to show what they really look like.

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

At the same time as I was shooting those, I was also shooting these.

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

None of those were cropped, and neither were these.

Turkey

Turkey

Turkey

Turkey

Those were all shot before I made it to the park, where the birding was even better, even though I didn’t get as close to as many birds there. I’m only posting the one shot of the brown creeper that I cropped today, all the rest are as they came out of the camera using the Beast. Otherwise, I’d have 60 photos to post from today.

One home owner that lives on the border of the park had hired a tree trimming service to cut down some of the branches and trees on their property, and I’m sure that the tree trimmers at work pushed some birds into the park that otherwise would have been back in the woods farther. Several other home owners were out raking or blowing leaves as well, which pushed even more birds my way. So, here are my uncropped photos from in the park.

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

Blue jay

Blue jay

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

But, as good of a day as I was having, I missed what would have been the shot of the day, and the shot of the year, maybe a lifetime. As I was walking along the edge of the woods, I came face to face with an adult male sharp-shinned hawk less than 30 feet away from me. I froze, the Sharpie froze, for an instant, then it flew back into the woods a short distance, where the brush between us ruined this shot.

Sharp-shined hawk

Sharp-shined hawk

In a way, you can tell how close I was to the Sharpie when I first saw by the bad photo, that was taken after the hawk had flown away from me a little. I’m 99% certain of my ID as a Sharpie, as close as I was to it when I first spotted it, and with an unobstructed view of it. It was too small to be any of the resident Cooper’s Hawks, with a darker cap than any of them have as well.

That’s the first confirmed sighting of a Sharpie here for me, hopefully this guy will stick around and give me a few more photo ops.

If you remember, back on Tuesday I gave myself an attitude adjustment, as far as telling myself to go back to photographing subjects, even if I have hundreds of photos of them saved already. The results, my personal best photo of a chickadee in flight, one of my personal best of a junco, my personal best of a male mallard, and today’s crop of uncropped photos.

It Wayne Gretzky who said that “You miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take”, how true.

Saturday

It’s cloudy and seasonable as far as temperatures today, the big storm is forecast to hit tonight and tomorrow. It’s already way too late for a reasonable expectation of seeing any big bucks over in Palmer Park this morning, but that’s where I’m going anyway. Be back later.

I’m back. I was correct, it was too late for any bucks, but I was a bit surprised to find the few deer that I did see hunkered down as if the storm was about to hit. I thought that I would find a few out feeding before the storm. Here’s a great way to forecast the weather, when you see deer picking sheltered places to lay, you know a storm isn’t far off.

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

Whitetail doe

Were you able to spot the deer in all three photos?

The birds were somewhat more obliging, it seemed as if I were in the middle of a flock of tweety birds that followed me around most of the day. (Tweety birds are what we used to call the chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, woodpeckers, and other small birds that form loose flocks of mixed species during the winter months.) They were certainly out feeding in advance of the storm, but, most of them stayed up in the treetops, and/or just out of range of the Beast. Since most of the photos from this week are of tweety birds, I’ll only post a few of the nuthatches from today, since I missed all of them earlier in the week.

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

White breasted nuthatch

The light only got worse as the day wore on, soon after noon I gave up birding and worked on camera settings for low light photos with the landscape body. I didn’t find much color left on the trees, but the fallen leaves along with what were left on the trees gave me plenty of opportunities to play.

November in the Michigan woods

November in the Michigan woods

November in the Michigan woods

November in the Michigan woods

November in the Michigan woods

November in the Michigan woods

November in the Michigan woods

November in the Michigan woods

November in the Michigan woods

November in the Michigan woods

My last photo of the day is of a pair of mallards, on the other end of the quality spectrum from the earlier photos. This one was a test of the Beast in beastly conditions, shot at ISO 1600, f/6.3, and a shutter speed of 1/100 handheld zoomed to 500 mm.

Mallards standing on water

Mallards standing on water

To finish this off, I’m going to start something new. Many of my fellow bloggers include a quote in their posts, and the thought of doing that has crossed my mind on occasion. However, I’m going to do something a bit different, putting the lyrics to some of my favorite songs having to do with the outdoors and nature into these weekly posts. And to start things off, there’s no song more fitting than “Give me the good earth” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band…

Give me the good earth that I was born on,
Give me the sunshine, the grass and the trees.
Give me the open skies that I can dream on,
Give me the flowers, the birds and the bees.

Give me the good earth to lay my head on,
Give me the mountains, the cool summer breeze.
Give me the forests, deep river valleys,
Give me the oceans, the fish and the seas.

I don’t need to know about the things that lay beyond my life
I don’t need to know about the things that I don’t need

Give me the good earth to rest my mind on,
Give me the rainfall that fills empty streams.
Give me the life, the hills and the meadows,
Give me the seasons and the changes they bring.

I don’t need to know about the things that lay beyond my life
I don’t need to know about the things that I don’t need

…That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

Advertisement

To believe, or not believe,

Editor’s note: I began this post quite some time ago, and I have just gotten around to finishing it now. It is one of a series of posts that I plan to do on environmental issues in the near future. Sorry, no pretty photos in this one.

To believe, or not believe….

Shouldn’t even be the question. What I am talking about here is the theory of Global Warming, or specifically, anthropogenic global warming (AGW), that is, the theory that man’s burning of fossil fuels leads to increased emission of CO2 into the atmosphere and is causing the Earth’s climate to warm at such a rate that it threatens our survival.

This is in response to a long essay that was included in the Autumn 2011 newsletter from the Pigeon River Country Association, of which I am a member, written by R. W. Kropf, who is the editor of the newsletter. Once the newsletter is posted online, I will add a link to it so that you may read if you wish. Basically, Mr. Kropf makes the case that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is occurring, and what we should do to try to reverse it.

I for one am not convinced, but does that matter? Not really, and I’ll get to why later on, as well as why pushing a theory that I believe will prove to be incorrect may well do more harm than good as far as goals that I believe that Mr. Kropf and I share.

First, a little about science and myself. I am not a scientist in the strict sense of the word, although I had planned on becoming one and that was my goal in my short foray in the academic world. My problem was that I was interested in all the “ologies”, from archeology to zoology and everything in between. One thing I learned is that scientists continually claim that they have moved past their personal biases and are basing their scientific opinions on pure science. Truth is, that has never been the case and probably never will be. Science has always been driven by religious, political, and economics as much as scientific facts, and I see no change in that to this day.

One only has to go back to the early debate over what is now called the Big Bang Theory of the origins of our universe. When Georges LemaĂźtre first proposed what would become the Big Bang theory, Fred Hoyle and other scientists argued against it, and later admitted that much of their opposition to the theory was due to their belief that if science accepted that there was a beginning to the universe, it would lend credence to the religious notion of God having created the universe. That was in the 1940’s, and anti-religious bigotry played a part in shaping scientific views then.

But scientists were correct when they argued for a ban on DDT, weren’t they? Yes they were. And scientists were correct when they argued for a ban on CFC’s to save us from the “hole in the ozone” weren’t they? The jury is still out on that one.

Despite the Montreal Protocol as amended several times, the largest holes in the ozone over Antarctica have been during the winters of 2006 and 2010. There is still much research being done on the causes of the hole in the ozone, and several theories advanced as to what is causing it, but for the most part,  those theories aren’t gaining any traction. For one thing the scientists who pushed CFC’s as the cause don’t want to admit that they may have made a mistake that cost consumers across the planet trillions of dollars.

That’s one of the reason the original Montreal Protocol has been quietly amended several times, to include variations of halogenated hydrocarbons not banned in the original document, scientists keep adding to the list of banned chemical compounds, hoping that eventually they get it correct.

I am not saying that banning CFC’s was wrong, the point I am trying to make is that when science moves before they have all the facts, mistakes are made.

So now we come to global warming, which may go down in history as one of the biggest scientific mistakes of all time, and Mr. Kropf’s essay. He begins by noting several species, including opossum, which were largely a southern species at the time when the first European settlers arrived in North America, have been expanding their range northward. The northward migration of many animals, including opossum and the northern cardinal were well documented, long before the first coal-fired power plant began belching smoke into the atmosphere, before man harnessed electricity, and long before the first automobile ever sputtered into life.

There are a number of reasons some species have been expanding their range to the north, one is that the “Little Ice Age” was ending, another is the wholesale changes in habitat that Europeans wrought on the land by clearing the forests, plowing the land, and planting agricultural plants where vast tracts of forest once stood.

The Little Ice Age was a period of cooling that occurred after the Medieval Warm Period. NASA defines the Little Ice Age as a cold period between 1550 AD and 1850 AD and notes three particularly cold intervals: one beginning about 1650, another about 1770, and the last in 1850, each separated by intervals of slight warming. It should come as no surprise that some species of animals were pushed south during the Little Ice Age, and that when it ended, those species would begin to expand their range northward again.

It should also come as no surprise that when there are the widespread changes in habitat as there have been that the species living in those areas that went from dense old growth forests to open farm land would change.

To leave both the end of the Little Ice Age and the changes in habitat out of the equation as to why species are moving north is simply bad science, something that has plagued those supporting the AGW theory from day one.

Remember those first computer models used to “prove” global warming was taking place? They were the laughing-stock of the overall scientific community. The scientists who wrote those models went back to their offices, not to write the best computer models to model the climate, but to produce models that would be acceptable to the rest of the scientific world and still “prove” global warming was taking place. Having a predetermined outcome is simply bad science.

Remember when it was announced that the Arctic ice cap was going to melt and the rise in sea levels because of it was going to flood most of the major coastal cities around the world? More bad science, because if the Arctic ice cap melts, sea levels will actually drop due to the fact that ice displaces a larger volume than does liquid water.

The story has changed now, the new story is that when the glaciers melt, sea levels will rise, and cause the flooding. That’s still somewhat bad science, for they are estimating the total amount of water that is held in the glaciers, and adding that to the current sea levels. Not all the water that melts from the glaciers is going to end up in the oceans. A good deal of it will be held in the plant life that takes root as the glaciers retreat. Some of the water will be held in lakes that form in the depressions left behind from the glaciers. Some of that water will filter down through the earth to underground aquifers. In the end, very little of the water from melting glaciers will end up in the oceans.

Relying on bad science to try to prove a theory leaves those trying to prove the theory grasping at straws. For example, headlines across the world trumpeted that long time skeptic of the global warming theory, Richard Muller, had compleated a study showing global warming was indeed taking place. The supporters of the AGW theory are trying to use this as proof of the theory, when all the study shows is that average temperatures around the world have increased since the 1950’s. The study does not address the causes of the warming, it only helps to verify that warming has been taking place for some reason.

The warming seen since the 1950’s is just as easy to attribute to the increase in solar activity that has coincided with the warming. There is far more correlation between solar activity and temperatures than there is between greenhouse gases and temperature.

Supporters of the AGW theory are also pointing to Muller’s study as validating the data used in the infamous Climategate scandal. It may validate the data, but it doesn’t validate manipulating the data to arrive at a predetermined outcome, which is what Climategate is really all about. That’s really bad science.

All the bad science used to try to convince the public that the AGW theory is correct makes it easy to poke holes in the theory. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the debate over the AGW theory and lose sight of what’s really important, and that is doing the right thing for the environment.

Who cares about the amount of CO2 coming out of the smokestack of a coal-fired power plant when that same smokestack is spewing tons of arsenic, mercury, and other toxic substances into our atmosphere?

Let’s face it, nothing that comes out of the smokestack of a power plant, whether coal-fired, or natural gas-fired, is good for us to breathe, or good for the environment. Nothing that comes out of the exhaust of an internal combustion engine is good for us to breathe, or good for the environment. Mining coal isn’t environmentally friendly, neither is drilling for oil or natural gas.

That’s why I said that Mr. Kropf and I share the same goals, we both want clean air to breathe, clear, free-flowing rivers, clean water to drink, our forests protected, and so many other things, yet we get caught up in the debate over AGW.

The biggest problem that I have had with the global warming theory is that to many of the public, it is another example of radical environmentalists sounding like Chicken Little claiming the sky is falling. Recent public opinion polls show that the majority of the public doesn’t believe that man is responsible for the warming that has taken place, if they believe that there has been any warming at all.

So while we could be taking steps that would actually benefit our environment, based on proven science, we waste time, effort, and resources debating whether or not climate change is the result of man’s burning of fossil fuels. Unfortunately, I believe that the leaders of “Big Environment” have many agendas other than doing what’s best for the environment, something I will explain in future posts.

What I would like to see happen is that the debate over climate change be sent back to the scientists to debate for the time being, and the rest of us focus on what we can all agree on, and here’s a few points I think that almost every one can agree on.

  1. Drilling for oil or natural gas does harm to the environment
  2. There is no such thing as “clean coal”, nor any way to extract coal from the ground that doesn’t do some of the most severe damage to the environment of all the things man does.
  3. We need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, not only to preserve the environment, but because they are finite resources that will not last forever.
  4. We need to take actions to reduce our reliance of fossil fuels that are not only as environmentally friendly as possible, but also taking into account the effects those actions will have on the common man, and especially the poor.
  5. We need to set political agendas aside, and take some common sense actions that do actually preserve our environment.
  6. We need to develop a new idea, “environmental efficiency”, and by that, I mean taking into account the entire environmental impact a process has, and whether it is a good trade off when compared to what that process is intended to replace.

So that’s it for this one, I hope to follow it up shortly, along with getting back to some photos, good or otherwise. Thanks for stopping by!


My Week…Suspended

The My Week series of posts is a daily running journal that I do on the walks that I take daily around the apartment complex where I live. I’m located just south of the second largest city in Michigan, Grand Rapids, in the southwest part of the state. It was inspired in part by the phenology project done by Rebecca on her blog, Rebecca in the Woods.

Here you will find my thoughts about the wildlife that share this area, and maybe my thoughts on a news item I have read that pertains to nature or the environment. You can click on any of the photos to get a larger view of them.

This post covers the week from June 17 to June 23, 2012

Continued from last week…

Just as I was finishing up last week’s installment, the first rain in two weeks was about to fall, and I was about to go out and play in the rain. I did, it was a pretty pathetic storm as thunderstorms go, a little lightning, a little thunder, a little wind, and a little rain. Not nearly enough rain to break the drought, but enough rain to do that all in one storm would have been too much too quickly, at least it rained a little. It cooled it down, and washed the crud out of the air at least, and I wasn’t the only one playing in the rain. A few robins joined me as well as a guy from the next building, just us bird-brains! 😉

Sunday

The weak little thunder shower that passed over yesterday was the baby of a family, some of its bigger brothers dropped some real rain farther north, and even did some damage as far as trees down and the like.

As for me, I got lots of good exercise tossing and turning last night, which is very rare for me. I never did get comfy, yet I don’t remember hearing it rain, and it must have, for everything was damp again this morning. I wouldn’t call the drought broken yet, I did that earlier this spring and I was wrong, it got worse instead of better.

I have been sitting here listening to the birds singing, or trying to over the noise from the AC units running, car alarms going off, and even the occasion fireworks being shot off. One of the singing birds is a catbird, my favorite, and he has obviously been listening to a towhee a lot, as the catbird is basing his symphony on the towhee’s “drink your tea” call.

There’s a light mist falling most of the time, which isn’t a bad thing, even though we need much more real rain. The mist will be absorbed and used by the plants to help them survive, but we do need to have the water table replenished.

I am drinking my coffee, getting caught up on a few things, when I would really like to be out playing in the mist. I got to play in the rain yesterday, so time to get some work done.

One of the things I tried to do was read the latest newsletter from the Pigeon River Country Association, but I couldn’t make it all the way through. The reason that I couldn’t make it all the way through the newsletter highlights what I see as a growing problem in the world of nature conservation and groups who work in that field, like the PRCA.

A good deal of the newsletter from the PRCA is taken up by the political rantings of the editor, R. W. Kropf, which from what I scanned through is the typical liberals good, conservatives bad BS that I get hammered with all the time lately.

You know, this should go in a stand alone post, for there’s no way that I can keep it short here, but this is becoming a major problem in many of the conservation groups of which I am a member, like Trout Unlimited and the Anglers of the Au Sable. As a conservative, I believe that we can’t, nor should we, rely on the government to fix every problem in the world. That’s why I join those groups in the first place, because they are much better at protecting the environment than the government is, and I believe in putting my money where it will do the most good.

Those groups love to take the money from conservatives, yet we’re not allowed to have a voice at the table when it comes to decision-making. It seems that the simple fact that I am a conservative automatically renders my opinion as wrong, simply on the basis that I am a conservative.

I do go off on political rants from time to time, but this is my personal blog, I am not speaking for a group as Mr. Kropf should be. He’s entitled to his own personal opinions, but when it comes to the PRCA, he should set those aside and represent the group, and not allow his own obvious disdain for conservatives who are members of the group take over.

Just because there are some lawmakers who call themselves conservative who want to roll back environmental protections does not mean that they speak for all conservatives, especially not for me. What Mr. Kropf does is paint all conservatives with a broad brush, exactly the thing good little liberals like Mr. Kropf admonish conservatives not to do to liberals.

But, maybe Mr. Kropf is correct about evil conservatives such as myself, for much of my anger over this boils down to money. I resent it when these groups, like the PRCA, solicit my money, then use the money I send them to attack my political beliefs in their communications to me, as well as in the political arena. If they don’t want conservatives to join their groups, then be up front about it and say so in the first place.

Well, it’s nearly noon, and I’ve prattled on for too long on that subject, so it’s time to grab a rain jacket and head out to play.

I didn’t need the rain jacket, there were a couple of drops of rain, but that was all. By the time I got about half way done with the first lap, there were patches of blue sky showing, and it turned out to be another nice day. Even though the temperature on the thermometer was lower than yesterday, it felt just as hot or even hotter once the sun came out and evaporated what little moisture that there was. We didn’t get much rain at all. The creeks are still dry, the ponds are still low.

It was an interesting day, that’s for sure. I was thinking that as active as the birds had been in the morning that they would all be taking a siesta by the time I got out there. Not hardly, all that singing must have made them hungry, for everything was out feeding today!

As far as photos, I didn’t get any great or even any really good photos, but I did get some interesting ones. Like this robin who obviously had berries on her shopping list to bring home to the kids.

American robin picking berries

One of the woodchucks thought that the berries looked pretty yummy as well, and climbed a tree to get some for himself.

Woodchuck in a tree to find berries

That was about the time that the sun came out for good today, and my best few minutes of the day. The wind came up very strong as the clouds cleared, and for a few minutes, I could only hear the wind moaning in the trees and the birds, no cars, no car stereos, no voices, nothing but nature.

The wildlife here is incredible, but there’s always human noise in the background. That few minutes of just the wind and birds singing was like a tonic, one that there wasn’t nearly enough of. Hopefully next year will be better, and I’ll be able to get back to some real nature.

Anyway, the squirrels had things other than food on their minds, apparently it was mating day here.

Male fox squirrels chasing a female

The female finally had to resort to taking flight to escape the herd of male followers she was gathering.

Fox squirrel in flight

This one was of two occasions today when I saw the squirrels going at it, the other time was back in the woods and there wasn’t enough light for photos. It’s strange that two females would go into heat at the same time, but I’m not an expert on the mating habits of squirrels either. We sure do have a lot more squirrels around here than I thought.

Then came one of those moments that only seem to happen around here.

A grey catbird and brown thrasher

All of a sudden, there were birds of many different species all around me, and I was trying to get photos of all of them. I failed on some, but my main focus was the brown thrasher, as I don’t have any good digital photos of them. I think that I shot close to 100 photos in that one small area, and no, I’m not going to bore you with all of them. I was so busy that many of them didn’t come out that good anyway. Her’s just a few of the highlights though.

Grey catbird in flight

Grey catbird’s rough landing

Brown thrasher in flight

Second brown thrasher laying low

Great blue heron in flight with its tongue out

Brown thrasher

Brown thrasher

I also shot photos of robins, a goldfinch, a house wren, the catbird and wren together, and didn’t shoot the grackles, cowbirds, or starlings that were also present, all in the area the size of a small house.

A little later, one of the red-tailed hawks was giving a red-winged blackbird lessons on how to soar.

Red-tailed hawk and red-winged blackbird soaring

Actually, the blackbird was trying to chase the hawk away, but the attack wasn’t that intense.

Red-winged blackbird attacking a red-tailed hawk

After the hawk moved off, the blackbird continued to circle high overhead for some time. Those red-winged blackbirds sure are feisty little guys, and they get around too, as you will see later on.

I stopped at the back pond, and one of the green herons was there, but after my vow yesterday not to bother trying to chase them or the great blues around any longer, all I got was this long distance shot. And, the only reason I’m posting it is because it plays into the story later on.

Green heron in the distance

That was near the end of the first lap, and since I always reverse directions when I do more than one lap, I knew that I would be back very soon, and I would decide then if I would try for a better shot if it was still around.

I was almost back to my apartment when I came across this female snapping turtle laying her eggs.

Female snapping turtle laying eggs

Everything in nature is so intertwined! If you read (and can remember) last weeks installment, there was a day when they edged the lawn around here. Apparently, moles are attracted to the area where the edging has been done, because they have been tunneling like crazy right along the edges of the lawn where they ran the edger. In turn, this female snapping turtle thought that the soil that was freshly loosened by the moles was a great place to lay her eggs.

So, I guess that there is a reason to edge your lawn, to attract moles to loosen the soil for snapping turtles to lay their eggs in. 😉

I took a short break, then started back towards the back pond, telling myself again that I wasn’t going to chase the herons around if there wasn’t a chance for a better shot of them than I have already. Sure enough, the green heron was still there, and it had been joined by one of its cousins a great blue. I was about to walk away, when the great blue chased the green heron off, and the green heron flew to the one spot around the pond where the cattails are high enough for me to use to stalk what ever is around them.

OK, this must be fate, I’m going to have to try it is what I thought to myself, so off I went. I hadn’t even gotten to the opening in the fence when the I saw the green heron fly off, well out of camera range. I was about to walk away again, when a second great blue came swooping down to chase the first one away! All I got of that was this bad shot.

Great blue heron chasing another

Since I had nothing to do with them taking flight, they were now fair game to shoot in any way that I could as far as I was concerned.

Great blue heron in flight

Then, the chaser became the chasee!

Red-winged blackbird chasing a great blue heron

The heron didn’t seem to be bothered by the blackbird too much.

Great blue heron landing

Notice the bonus killdeer in the upper left of that shot, it’s getting so I’m not content with shooting one bird at a time any more. 😉

Red-winged blackbird hovering over a great blue heron with a bonus killdeer on the side

Needless to say, the rest of the day was somewhat anti-climatic. I did try for a few other shot during the second lap, but I was having trouble getting a good focus on anything. Somewhere along the line, I must have bumped the switch to change the auto-focus area to the far left side of the frame again, or the camera changes it on its own.

Of all the directions I could accidentally move the auto-focus area to, the far left side seems to be the least likely, given the way I carry and hold the camera, but, whenever I find that it has been changed, it is always to the far left.

Of course I didn’t notice that when the sharp-shinned hawk made a loop over me, I could not get a focus lock on the hawk, and it could have been a great photo or two if I had.

In a way, that almost worked to my advantage a little later. Even though I have shot and posted quite a few photos of cedar waxwings lately, I found one that wanted to pose for me today.

Cedar waxwing

Since I hadn’t figured out that the auto-focus area had gotten changed yet, I had flipped to manual focus to get that shot. When the waxwing leapt into flight, I started spinning the focus ring and shot this one.

Cedar waxwing in flight

It’s not the greatest shot in the world, but I know from experience that the auto-focus would not have gotten it as well as I did manually. A small bird at 15 feet away, flying almost directly at me? No way the auto-focus would have caught that.

Well, all that singing in the morning, and chasing each other around in the afternoon must have tired all the birds out for the day, because there were very few around after that. I was feeling the effects of the heat and a lack of sleep as well. I finished the second lap, and almost fell asleep at the computer while sorting out the photos from today.

Tomorrow, the real heat is forecast to return, with highs in the low to mid 90’s for the first half of the week.  I am not looking forward to that at all,but at least there are some chances for rain in the forecast, and cooler temps for the end of the week and the weekend. On to Monday.

Monday

I woke up to clouds and the sound of thunder off in the distance, yipee! This thunder shower was a lot more potent than the one Saturday afternoon, and has dropped some significant rain here, just what we need. But, it is going to get very hot later today, so I am going to eat breakfast and get out there before the heat has a chance to build.

How quickly the weather forecast can change! They are now predicting another chance of rain for this evening, which wasn’t in the morning forecast. We need a lot more rain, the creeks are still practically dry, and the ponds are still really low.

And while I’ on the subject of weather, I wish that the local meteorologist whose blog I follow would quit saying that each heat wave forecast will probably the last hot weather we”ll see this summer. Every time he says that, we get another heat wave that’s hotter than the last, and lasts longer as well.

Anyway, my walk began under very cloudy skies left over from the storm, and fresh, rain cooled air. It didn’t take long for the sun to burn through those leftover clouds, and evaporate the water on the pavement, turning the area into a hot, steamy sauna.

Unlike yesterday, when the weather had everything out and active, the storm and following sauna today put a damper on most of the wildlife activity. About the only critters that seemed to be out today were the bunnies.

White rabbit

See, the white rabbit isn’t a figment of my imagination!

Young cottontail rabbit

Young cottontail rabbit

Young cottontail rabbit

Here’s a guy I haven’t posted in a while, mostly because he won’t sit still long enough.

Yellow warbler

The way that things seem to go is that I get close to a species of bird for a week or two, then, I either decide that I have shot enough photos of them, or they disappear for a while. That happens a lot, like with the cedar waxwings. Flocks of them showed up early in spring, then I hardly say any of them until a few weeks ago, now they are everywhere around here, and soon, they will all but disappear again until fall.

That’s because of two reasons, one is breeding season and habits, the other is available food. Of course you don’ see the females very often while they are nesting, or the males of species that help raise the young. As long as there are berries ripe around here, the waxwings will stick around, but when the berries are gone, they’ll move to feed on insects.

The only other thing that I have to say about today is that there’s a brood of mallard ducklings at the front pond that are driving their mother insane. Every other brood of ducklings I have seen stick close to their mother for protection. Not the brood at the front pond. Nearly every time I see them, the ducklings are way out in front of mom, and she’s scurrying to keep up with them. They aren’t that big, and even nearly full grown ducklings generally stick close to mom. The little ones out front race off ahead of mom when ever she gets close to catching up to them, or one or two will go back the other way to spread themselves out farther from the rest of the family. I’m surprised that the entire brood has survived with all the predators we have.

Well, I guess that brings up one more thing, with all the young of all the different species here, I’m kind of surprised that I haven’t seen any predator attacks on any of the young. I suppose that I haven’t been in the right place at the right time, not that I want to see a young critter die, but it is a sad fact of life and a part of nature.

That’s it for today, time to visit my mom in the nursing home. On to Tuesday.

Tuesday

No rain here last night, it did rain hard to the north of here though, which is good. That’s the way it has gone all this spring, the rain goes either to the north or to the south of where I live, and just a little falls here.

There’s been no break from the heat, either. It was still 81 degrees at 3 AM when I checked before going to bed. It’s already in the low eighties as I type this, I’m not looking forward to the next two nights at work!

I did finally hear from the mortgage broker. I have spoken to him on the phone twice, and both times I told him that I am looking for something in the $40,000 range on a ten to twenty year mortgage. The numbers he emailed me yesterday are for a $65,000 loan over 30 years, and how to work up from that. I don’t want to spend $65,000 or more, and I don’t want a 30 year mortgage!

At least his numbers confirmed what I had worked up on my own, so I know what I have to do, and I suppose it is nice to know that I can afford more than I want to afford, but, it still gets my goat. But, before I go off on yet another poor customer service, why doesn’t any one in any type of business listen to their customers any more rants, I had better get going on my walk.

It was hot, and no fun to be out there today. I didn’t shoot very may photos, there wasn’t a lot going on, and I had no energy to go and find something going on. I could have shot quite a few pictures like this one.

A maple tree losing its leaves in mid-June

More and more trees are showing signs of stress due to the drought, even after the little bit of rain we had of late. There are trees and bushes showing way too much brown for this time of year.

It isn’t as if all the plant life is wilting away, some seems to be holding up pretty well, and a few of the plants that are normally found in drier areas, like some of the pines here, are actually doing quite well.

That’s kind of ironic in a way, the native plants that you would expect to find in a wet area like this are stressed, and the “imported” plants that you wouldn’t expect to find in this type of area are doing well.

The birds were sticking to the shade for the most part, I didn’t see nearly as many flying around here as I normally do. But, that may be just perception on my part. It was so hot that I just wanted to get the walk done and over with and get back into my almost cool apartment. I was in survival mode, and I think that there’s a lot of that going on around here right now.

I know that most of the plants that are showing signs of stress will survive, although the ones showing the most stress are probably those that were already stressed from insects or diseases, and may not make it through the drought. But, trees will drop their leaves in a drought to conserve as much moisture as they can, and when the rains return, will sprout new leaves as if nothing had happened. I do notice a lot more openings in the trees and bushes through which I am able to spot birds, it’s almost like early spring again in that respect.

The birds will survive, there’s enough for them to feed on, and this heat may actually produce more insect life for the birds, since insect activity goes up in the heat.

As for me, I’m not that sure of my survival. I’ve camped in temperatures below zero before, that doesn’t bother me, but this heat does.

There is one thing about today that has me somewhat baffled. As I approached the center pond, the geese were there, and I could see one of the limping as it walked. A goose limping is not that rare, the female geese limp around for a while when their eggs finally hatch. Since the geese sit on the nest non-stop for a month, it takes them a while to get their leg muscles back in shape after not having used them for that month. Even the males limp from time to time, I think they are just like humans, in that old age or sitting in one position for a long period of time takes a while to work off.

But, most of the geese around the pond acted as if they had never seen a human before, and made a mad dash for the pond, as if I were an attacker rather than a daily annoyance to be avoided. When I got to the other end of the pond, all the geese were back in the shade as they had been when I first approached. They were all watching me intently, normally, as long as I am on the other side of the pond they pay me little attention. There was also a spotted sandpiper on shore near me, and it took off at a dead run for cover, when they usually stroll to cover when they see me.

Maybe it was the heat, but I think that something happened there that made the birds a lot more skittish than they normally are. I don’t know if the limping goose tells part of the story or not, because as I said, a goose limping is not unusual.

Anyway, that’s all for today. I may take a day off from walking tomorrow, I know that it’s been at least six months since I have done that, we’ll see. I am going to shoot the mortgage broker an email, then try to get a nap in before I have to go to work tonight. On to Wednesday.

Wednesday

It’s the first day of summer, so I have to go for a walk, even if I know that I am going to regret it later. It may be the first day of summer, but it looks and feels as if we are in the middle of the dog days of summer. At least today is supposed to be the last of the really hot days for the foreseeable future as far as the weather forecast. The bad thing is that there’s precious little rain in the forecast. Just a slight chance tonight into tomorrow, and then again on Sunday, we need rain! But, that’s what a drought is, lack of rain.

I’m back from my walk, and I am furious, that’s the only word that comes to mind that I can use in my blog. There are a good many other words floating around in my head right now, but I have tried to keep this blog suitable for all ages.

I have decided not to do any more of the My Week series, and when I am finished venting today, I am posting this and it will be the last entry in this series.

If you’ve seen my most recent post, then you know that the witch in charge around here had the banks of the front creek purged of any flowers, wild or otherwise, and the snapdragons really get my goat, as they were a reminder of when the landscaping here was something truly beautiful. It seems that the new manager will not rest until she has turned this place into a brown, barren desert! She is one deranged individual!

My reasoning for not continuing this series is because these posts could be construed as an endorsement on my part of Byron Lakes apartment and Edward Rose & Sons, the company that owns this complex, and there is no way that I want my name attached to anything that could be taken in that way.

I am tired of them trying to rip me off by claiming I was late with my rent payment, even though I personally hand them the check each month and get a receipt.

I am tired of being treated like less than dirt when I walk into the office for some reason. I avoid the current staff  like the plague, except for paying the rent. Jim, from up the street characterized the current staff as “mean”, I don’t know if I would go that far, but they are rude to the tenants here, and I’m not going to pay some one to treat me like scum!

I’m tired of garbage in the halls, hearing stereos and televisions blaring away all hours of the day and night, the trash strewn around the complex, the people racing in and out of here as if they were driving in the Indy 500, and the sounds of fireworks being shot off right outside my window!

If you’ve been a regular reader, then you will know that I was already making plans to move out of here, that can’t happen soon enough for me now.

I will continue to do my daily walks, because I need the exercise. I will continue to take photos, because I love nature and photography. I will continue to post now and then, but they will not be centered around my walks any longer, or this place.

Sorry about the rant, thanks for stopping by!


Who in their right mind does this?

I am furious! There were some snapdragons that had escaped the wrath of Mary Dye, the new manager here at Byron Lakes apartments, but she must have spotted them and ordered the groundskeepers to destroy them, as she obviously is a deranged individual that hates any display of color.

Dead snapdragons

Those snapdragons were flowers that had managed to re-seed themselves from back in the day when the landscaping around here was a sight to behold, with flowers everywhere. These had been growing in the crevices of a rock wall along one of the creeks. I had taken and posted a few photos of them, but I was waiting until they really got going as far as blooming, then, I was going to do an entire post on just them.

That obviously isn’t going to happen now, as they have all been ripped out of the ground and dumped into the creek to die. I just do not understand any one who has the flowers trimmed off from flowering bushes, or has people rip flowers out of the ground to kill them. I have got to get out of this place before I go even crazier than I am already!


Some odds and ends, maybe a photo or twenty

After my hike in a county park yesterday, I really have the urge to do a post about cross-country skiers and how rude they can be. My feelings towards them goes back a long way, all the way to the 1970’s when cross-country skiers first started showing up in the woods. We had several winters where we received way above average snowfalls, and I would be out walking on trails I had broken in my snowshoes, when out of nowhere, these people driving mostly Volvos began cussing me out for messing up their trails. Their trails? I had made those trails in the first place, as I walked everyday back then, just as I do now. Back then, there were no defined trails for the most part, so I made my own systems of trails, which the cross-country skiers tried to take over and kick me off from.

But, it got worse. The Michigan DNR tried to cater to the new sport, and opened up some of the state game areas to skiers, but that didn’t work well. It wasn’t long before the cross-country skiers where pressuring the DNR to close off the lands to hunters, when it was hunters who bought and paid for the land.

Then, it got worse. The cross-country skiers began to demand that the DNR groom the trails for them before they would go. Makes sense to me, fire up a gas-powered, air polluting machine to make skiing easier, so the cross-country skiers could claim they were getting back to nature, and getting their exercise as well.

Then it got worse. Building miles of trails made to the specifications cross-country skiers demand, marking the trails so the idiots who can’t find their way around the woods don’t get lost, and grooming the trails cost the DNR millions of dollars, but do the skiers want to pay for it? Of course not! Anytime that a proposal comes up to extend the Pittman-Robertson excise tax hunters and fishermen pay on their gear to cross-country skis and other skiing equipment, the skiers make sure that the proposal gets shot down. They want their cake and the ability to eat it, for free.

For the record, I have met a few friendly cross-country skiers, I think I can count the number of them on one hand. I even had one thank me for breaking trail in my snowshoes, which he was following, which caused my jaw to drop all the way into the snow. I told him about all the times skiers had cussed me out for being in the woods on snowshoes, and he told me it was because they weren’t very smart, that it was a lot easier following a snowshoe trail than breaking it on skis.

Also for the record, I try to avoid cross-country skiers and their trails whenever I can, but the jerks insist on skiing whatever trail they can find, even if it is marked for hiking only. It’s funny, they insist that their trails be groomed, and they’ll cuss me out for breaking a trail by hiking or snowshoeing, but that doesn’t stop them from taking the trails I break, just so they can cuss me out for ruining “their” trails.

As a nature photographer, I am used to people walking right in front of me as I am trying to take a picture. I am also used to people yelling out “Hey, what ya taking pictures of” just as I am trying to photograph a bird or animal, to which I usually reply, “That critter that you just scared off by yelling”. But, cross-country skiers take it to another level, yelling out things like “Coming through!” or “Step aside please!”, at least a few do say please. It’s their attitude that bugs me, as if they own the woods and every one else has to get out of their way.

So it was yesterday as I was trying to shoot the interactions between the nuthatch and the woodpecker. I was on the hiking trail that runs parallel to the cross-country ski trail. I had been watching the nuthatch, but wasn’t going to photograph it as it was a bit too far away for a great shot. Then, the red bellied woodpecker landed on the same tree just below the nuthatch, and bullied its way up to where the nuthatch had been, but it had flown to a branch of the tree and had started chattering away at the woodpecker. I was about to get that shot, I had them both in the frame, I was about to press the shutter release, but it was then that I heard the familiar “Coming through!” from approaching skiers.

I should have waited and snapped a couple of photos before I moved, but skiers always seem to get so huffy if they have to stop, or even slow down a little, after all, they’re holier than the rest of us. They’re out there getting their exercise. Right, that’s why they ski groomed trails, so they don’t have to work to get their “exercise”. They’re getting back to nature. Right, that’s why they ignore the chance to actually witness nature in action, and seem to try to do their best to interfere with those of us who do pause to watch nature in action.

OK, enough of that rant. I have added a link to Rob Slaven’s Photography blog, a very talented photographer from Zionsville, Indiana to the right under blogs I enjoy reading.

I find that I am getting behind in posting photos again, so here are a few I took last weekend. It started with a glorious sunrise.

Sunrise on a snow covered world

It had rained heavily before the snow began, so everything was coated in ice, then covered in snow.

Ice and snow

It was a beautiful day in the marsh

Sun and snow on a marsh

And by the creek

Sun and snow on Buck Creek

The ice that remained on the tree branches resembled miniature ice carvings.

Ice on a branch

Made me wish I had a macro lens for my camera.

Ice on a branch

This one looks strange due to the reflections off from the water.

Reflections

It seemed like the whole world was sparkly.

Ice on a branch

Everywhere you looked.

Sparkly

A bit of a breeze came up to blow some of the snow off from the trees at times.

Snow

It was hard to see very far because of the snow stuck to the trees.

Snow on the trees

It was all so beautiful against a bright blue sky.

Blue sky

This is from one of the smaller creeks.

Circle

I didn’t see much wildlife..

Red bellied woodpecker

Red bellied woodpecker

Since I don’t have bird pictures from last Sunday, I’ll throw in a couple from this week.

Fox squirrel feeding on leaf buds

Canadian geese in flight

Black capped chickadee

American goldfinch

American robin

I almost didn’t bother with the robin photo, I have so many pictures of them, but something made me at least look at it through the viewfinder, and when I did, I saw how dramatic the lighting was, and had to take it! I know that technically it isn’t that great, the robin’s breast is way over-exposed, but I love that photo!

Anyway, sorry for the rant about cross-country skiers, especially if you happen to be one. But a little common (or not so common anymore) courtesy on the trails would be nice. There’s no reason we can’t all share them.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Taking a day off

Not from work, can’t afford that, but I’m not going for a walk today, the first time in so long that I can’t remember the last time that I didn’t. I’ve been feeling run down lately, I slept off and on for a total of about 12 hours last Saturday, I never do that! I usually sleep about six hours a night, I don’t know if my run down condition is due to the roller coaster weather we’ve had the last two weeks, of if I have come down with something. I’m odd, but I seldom know when I am sick, I keep right on going until the time my body gives up on me, then I sleep more than normal for a while, then I’m fine again. The weather is nasty as well, 13 degrees with snow and a 30 MPH wind out of the northwest, which normally doesn’t stop me from going out, but today, I hoisted the white flag and surrendered. We had a storm over the New Year’s Day weekend, then back up into the 50’s, then a three-day snow storm, then back to near 50, and now we’re in the middle of another storm. It’s been a wild ride the past two weeks!

I have some house keeping to do as far as blogging.

First, I would like to thank Bob, Cee, Emily, and Kerry for taking the time to comment and try to help me out after my post “Can some one help me out here?“. With four such talented photographers taking the time to help me out, well, I am very thankful for blogging friends like them. I have come to the conclusion that the problem I asked for help on is due to a glitch in my camera, you can click the link to the original post to see the update that I did explaining why I believe it to be a glitch in the camera. The short version is that it happened again, and I can see a pattern in the way that the camera malfunctions after it happened in so short of a time frame since the original post.

Secondly, I have fallen behind in adding links to some of the great blogs I have found out there in the blogoshere, something I am correcting. I have added links to Cee’s life photography, Gardening in New Hampshire, Kerry Mark Leibowitz’s nature photography, Northern Narratives, From Moments to Memories, and Xandre Verkes. I’ll have a few more to add shortly, so I hope no one feels left out, there’s only so much I can do at one time.

A little about each of the new additions.

Cee’s life photography blog is a little of everything, backed up with some truly excellent photography. It’s hard to sum her blog up in a nutshell since she does cover such a wide range of topics, from nature to health to photography tips. I highly recommend her blog as well as all the new additions I am making to my list of links.

Gardening in New Hampshire is focused on native plants, and is always informative, even to some one such as myself who spends so much time outdoors. There are times that I think I spend too much time outdoors, and not enough time reading blogs like this one to learn about what it that I see outdoors. I have already learned the identity of several plants that I have seen and wondered about, but never took the time to research them, in the short time I have been reading Allen’s blog.

Kerry Mark Leibowitz’s nature photography is the blog of a professional landscape photographer, with some really stunning photos on display, along with helpful tips on how he goes about getting such beautiful photos. If you love beautiful landscapes, this is a blog you’ll have to check out!

Northern Narratives is a blog that also covers a range of topics, from the perspective of some one who lives in Duluth, Minnesota. I have been fortunate enough to have visited the area a few times, but not recently. It’s a beautiful area, and she does well in capturing just how beautiful it is.

From Moments to Memories is Sheila’s blog from near the twin cities in Minnesota, focused on nature photography, and how discovering nature has led her to greater self discoveries. She has a great natural eye for photography, and her blog is always a fun read as well.

Xandre Verkes is the blog of a young woman of Dutch descent I believe, I could be wrong about that, but being of Dutch stock myself, the name sounds Dutch. Her blog is a combination of travel, nature, and everyday life from Pretoria, South Africa, though she travels many places and is a very skilled photographer to boot.

OK, now for a few of my own photos, starting with a couple of the male sharp-shinned hawk that lives in the area.

Male sharp-shinned hawk

Male sharp-shinned hawk

Male sharp-shinned hawk

Then, I am going to throw in some bad photos of a muskrat collecting grass for its den, for a reason I’ll get to after the photos.

Muskrat collecting grass

I knew that the light was wrong for a good photo, so in between trips the little guy was making….

Muskrat collecting grass for its den

…I tried to work my way to a better position…..

Muskrat spotting me

But it didn’t work, it spotted me, and headed back to its den.

Muskrat

The reason I added these pictures is this. Just last week I read in the local paper that prices for muskrat pelts was way up, due to demand for fur from Asian countries. When will we ever learn? I hate to sound like a nut from PETA, but there’s no reason in the world for any one to be wearing a fur coat! There are few critters that I can think of that are as harmless, quiet, and unassuming as a muskrat. There’s no reason to kill them other than to feed the human ego that wants the “status symbol” of wearing a fur coat. Muskrats may not be cute and cuddly like some other critters, but they are completely harmless to us, unless we force them into defending themselves, and just go about living their quiet little lives’. Most people don’t even know what they are if they ever do see one.

I don’t have a problem with killing an animal for food, and I believe that if we do kill an animal, we should use as much of it as we can, as in making leather from the hide of cows. But, to kill an animal just for the fur, discarding the rest is just wrong!

I’m stepping off from the soapbox now. I have enough nuthatch photos that I am going to do an entire post devoted to them, and I still have the ice photos I mentioned before, that will be a post of its own, so let’s see, here’s one of a sumac branch that I like.

Sumac in the rain and fog

One of a fox squirrel attempting to stay dry on a wet dreary day.

Fox squirrel trying to stay dry

A closer view of its built-in umbrella.

Fox squirrel trying to stay dry

Then it played peek-a-boo with me.

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Fox squirrel

Yes, I flashed it for the last ones, it was almost like dusk that day.

Oh! I almost forgot, another bad photo!

Great horned owl in the wind and rain.

It is almost as if I live on a nature preserve around here! I love it! This was taken back behind the apartment building I live in, I have heard the owls hunting at night many times. I was out for my daily walk, and heard the owl, so of course I tried tracking it down, and I did get a few bad photos of it before it flew off. What’s remarkable about that photo is how bad the weather was that day. You can see the ear tuft of the owl is being blown by the wind, I had to time my shots trying to get ones without trees and branches in the way as they were blowing around in the wind. Considering the rain and wind, that’s not too bad.

I am going to finish with another bad photo, of ducks disappearing downstream in a creek and snow.

Cold duck(s) in the snow

I promise some better, and some worse photos for the next post. 😉 Hopefully I will get to that soon, but with the weather we’re having, it looks like another long night at work. And that reminds me, I wrote earlier that I really dropped the trailer at work, and there was an outside chance I could be fired. That didn’t happen, the driveshaft that operates the landing gear on the far side of the trailer had rotted away due to rust because the trailer is older than dirt and not maintained well. The place that made the repairs told the boss that there was nothing left to repair, everything on the landing gear was too rusted to trust, so they replaced the entire landing gear assembly.

Last year, they had to cut the rear of the trailer off and weld a new one back on because of how rusty the trailer was, they never learn! The repairs have cost them more than a new trailer would have.

That’s enough of that, I don’t even want to think about work, even though I am ending this to get ready for work.

Thanks for stopping by!


Where do I start today?

When I started this blog it was never my intention to post daily, or even twice on some days, but I have been very fortunate the last couple of weeks in that I have managed to get what I think are some pretty good photos. Maybe not technically great, but if not, photos that tell a story. I think that my good fortune has continued, but I’ll let you be the judge of that. I don’t want to post so often that people dread seeing an announcement that I have posted yet another worthless post. I’ve stopped following some blogs because the authors seemed intent on posting multiple times per day, and didn’t really have much content to their posts. I don’t want this to be one of those.

I simply do not have the time to keep up that kind of pace, I need to slow down a little, or I won’t have any time left to be out there taking pictures. 😉 For a while I stopped replying to every comment in an attempt to save time, but that’s not fair to the people who take the time to leave a comment, so I am back to replying to comments, as I should. I guess I didn’t really understand this thing called the blogosphere when I started this blog. I had no idea that there were as many talented people out there, as writers, or photographers, or both. I haven’t even had time lately to give a shout out to some of the really good blogs that I have found, or add links to them here, and I need to do that, but don’t have time right now.

One of the things that has left me lacking in time for my blog has been getting all the forms filled out and copies of documents gathered to continue my mother’s Medicaid insurance, I have completed that, and sent everything in, now it’s time for the waiting game to see if I did everything correctly. With that done, hopefully I’ll have some more time for other things.

So what I am working towards in my long-winded way is this, I don’t have the time to comply with the requirements for the Versatile Blogger Award, so I’m not going to accept it. It isn’t just a matter of time, most of the blogs that I follow have already either won the award, or have been nominated for it, so I would have a hard time coming up with 15 more blogs to nominate. Besides, it means more to me that some one thought this blog was worthy of the award than adding another widget to my blog to display the award does, so I hope you aren’t offended by this Sheila. Thank you for nominating my blog for the award.

I would like to have enough time to do other than photo posts as well. I try to post at least a few serious posts from time to time, based on news articles I have read, either good news, or not so good news. I haven’t had time for that lately.

For example, there was recently a story on Yahoo News about hybrid sharks near Australia. Here’s a link to the story, I don’t know how long it will work, Yahoo is notorious for pulling down news stories after a short time. The first thing that hit me was that the interbreeding of the two species of sharks was due to climate change according to the story. At the risk of alienating a few of the readers of my blog, I don’t believe that man is responsible for climate change, and I will explain why in a future post. But, the gist of the story is this. Two species of sharks, the Australian black-tipped and the common black-tipped, were both swimming around in the ocean, minding their own business when both species noticed minute changes in the temperatures of the ocean currents. Both species concluded that this was due to climate change caused by man, and that they had to do something about it. So, the two species got together and decided that interbreeding between the two of them to produce a hybrid better able to cope with cooler ocean temperatures would be just the thing to help them survive. I guess those darn sharks weren’t so smart after all, I mean, they could detect that man was responsible for climate change, and take the initiative to produce a new species, but the new species is better adapted to cooler temperatures. If they were really smart, it would seem to me that they would produce a hybrid better able to survive the predicted increases in ocean temperatures.

What ticks me off about the story isn’t that it supports the idea than man is responsible for climate change, I have come to expect that. Stories that support that theory are the only ones that will ever make it into the mainstream media. The only times you will see a story about some one who disagrees with the theory of man induced climate change is when they convert from a doubter to a supporter, or when the media is attempting to destroy the reputation of a scientist who doesn’t believe the theory, because they once got a discount on their gas at an Exxon station, and therefore are in the pocket of Big Oil.

No, what burns my butt about this story, and many other science related stories of late, is this, that the interbreeding between the two species of sharks was a conscious decision on their part, or at least that’s the way it is written. It’s bad enough when scientists ascribe human traits to living things, but I have seen stories written where events involving inanimate objects supposedly took place because the inanimate objects “decided” that it was the correct course of action to take. I’m sorry, but rocks, volcanos, and continents do not think, they do not do the things they do because they made a conscious decision to do something.

It took the story about the sharks to make me realize that it is only some scientists who do that, and they are the ones that the media will report on. Real science is boring to the average brain-dead reporter and their almost equally as brain-dead editors. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but I have had a few run ins with reporters, and none of them I have met thinks about anything other than their appearance, and how they can get a job in a larger market. To get a job in a larger market requires them to file stories that conform to the correct templates, or the reporter will be stuck in small market limbo for life.

If a scientist expects to get written up in the mainstream media, they too must conform to the current template in place, or the story won’t get published or broadcast.

For the record, I do not watch Fox News, that would require me to turn on my TV, which I refuse to do. I do not listen to Rush “The Lush” Limbaugh either, I don’t need some one telling me what to think. I am not a scientist, only because I couldn’t decide on which “ology” I wanted to go into, but I did win the science bee 5 of 6 times back in school. The year I didn’t win, it was because I assumed what a question was going to be before the question was finished, and I answered incorrectly because I was in too much of a hurry, not because I didn’t know the correct answer.

I do try to keep up on scientific discoveries, but it is getting harder all the time. Part of it is that scientists have to compete for funding, so they try to generate buzz about their research, and often times overstate their findings in order to generate that buzz.

OK, my take on the sharks, then we’ll get to the photos. Both species of sharks are fished for heavily, as the main ingredient for shark fin soup. With the numbers of both species diminished, they are having a harder time finding members of their own species to mate with, and the interbreeding between the species is a result of that, which wasn’t really mentioned in the news article at all. This probably isn’t the first time that such interbreeding has taken place, it is the first time it has been documented, there is a difference.

The photos, where do I start? I guess with this one, of a huge flock of herring gulls circling overhead, nothing special, except for the huge number of gulls I managed to get in the frame.

Herring gulls circling overhead

Some of the gulls dropped down lower, and I shot a few photos of them, but nothing as good as in my earlier post, so I won’t bore you with any more of them.

Stopping at one of the ponds here, I saw a small flock of geese, took a quick shot or three, then started walking away from the geese. About that time, large numbers of geese from several of the ponds in the area all began honking at one time, including the small flock near me. I turned around and saw one goose with its mouth open as it honked, and that gave me the idea to try to capture a photo of a goose with its mouth open. If you know geese, you may say it is harder to catch one with its mouth closed, but I took it as a challenge to get photos for a reason.

It all has to do with timing, learning the delay between when my mind says shoot, and the shutter actually goes. It is something I hold over from my days as a marksman, learning to “call you shots”. You may think that when target shooting, you put the crosshairs on the center of the bullseye and pull the trigger, well, not quite. That’s the ideal, but we humans are full of all sorts of movements within our bodies that we are not aware of until we try shooting, either a gun or a photo. We wouldn’t need tripods if we were as rock steady as we think we are. So when target shooting, you try to keep the crosshairs centered as you squeeze the trigger, but as to when the gun actually goes off, that should be somewhat of a surprise every time. “Calling your shot” means remembering the sight picture at the exact moment when the gun did go off. I find the same thing holds for photography, that between the time my mind says shoot, as in press the shutter release, and the time the camera actually captures the scene, there is enough of a delay so that the scene may change during that small amount of time. That delay is most noticeable when shooting moving subjects, especially small, quick subjects, like chickadees for example. I’ll have a better example of that later on, but I think that any one who has tried to catch small birds in photos has had a time when they pressed the shutter, thinking the bird was sitting there, only to find that the photo shows an empty branch where the bird was.

Anyway, the goose photos.

Canadian goose honking

Canadian goose honking

The other thing I stuck around for was that with all the geese in the area honking to one another, I knew something was going to happen, and it did. The small flock I was photographing began running for take off speed..

Canadian goose running for take off

…and take off they did.

Canadian goose taking off

Canadian goose in flight

Canadian goose in flight

A double winner! Goose in flight with its mouth open. 😉

Canadian goose in flight

That flock joined a larger flock, which continued to grow in size as they circled the area, all the small flocks at each pond joined to form one huge one.

Canadian geese in flight

I shot quite a few of the geese in flight, but I’ll only post a couple more, I still can’t get a really good one of them overhead.

Canadian goose in flight

Canadian goose in flight

My next stop was one of the creeks here, they tend to be hot spots for good photos, like the ones of the cardinal bathing I posted not long ago. While I was walking up to the creek, I could see a flock of turkeys off in the distance having a row, but they were too far away, and there were too many trees between us for a good shot. Two of them took off running towards me, with four others chasing, the two being chased didn’t stop, they kept right on running as they passed me, I guess the four doing the chasing weren’t all that intent on catching the two, for they stopped when they saw me.

Turkeys calling off the chase

Then I got these of a female cardinal near the stream, I thought that she was going to go for a bath, but she didn’t.

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

Female northern cardinal

I think the reason she didn’t take a bath was that there was a feral cat in the area. I was going to snap a photo of it, but I was too busy shooting the birds that came out of the underbrush to escape the cat.

House finch

House finch

House finch

House finch

The other small birds didn’t cooperate as well as the house finch did, either they were too far away, or didn’t sit still long enough for a shot, so I crossed the creek at the bridge and found this squirrel who wanted its portrait taken.

Fox squirrel

It kept its eyes glued to me as I continued walking, I thought it may fall off the branch it was on.

Fox squirrel

I continued my walk, taking a few more photos that aren’t worthwhile posting here, until I got to the juniper tree where I had taken a few photos of a male cardinal on an earlier walk. Several people raved about that photo, but I was never that happy with it, so I have made the juniper tree a regular stop on my daily walks, hoping to get a better one. Luck was with me on this day, I saw a cardinal back in the branches, waited, and it came out to make an appearance for this shot.

Male northern cardinal in a juniper tree

That’s better than the earlier one, but it still isn’t quite what I want, so I’ll keep trying. I have noticed that the male cardinals seem to be brighter red this winter than I can remember them ever being before.

Male northern cardinal

I’m not sure if they really are a brighter red, or if it is that we have had a lot more sunshine than is typical of a Michigan winter, making them seem brighter in the sun, when we normally have endless cloudy days that mute all colors.

Next up is a chickadee in action, some shots are good, some not so good, but they are of one of my favorite birds, doing what they do best, non-stop clowning around.

This one thinks that it has been hired as a building inspector.

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Of course what it is doing is looking for insects under the edges of the siding on the building. And that reminds me, I was wrong about chickadees, they don’t always use jet packs to get around, sometimes they do fly using their wings.

Black capped chickadee in flight

I got one of it hopping from branch to branch, and singing as it was doing so.

Black capped chickadee

It’s tough to see their eyes, since their eyes are the same color as their feathers.

Black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee

Then this one was joined by two more, and they chased each other around for a while.

Black capped chickadees chasing one another

Not the greatest shot in the world, but how often do you get a chance to capture three chickadees in flight at one time? Well, at least most of three of them, those little buggers are quick!

Which brings me back to calling your shots. This next photo was actually taken today.

Black capped chickadee in flight

I saw this chickadee working its way through the brush, coming towards me. When it got close enough for a photo and perched, I brought the camera the rest of the way to my eye, cranked the zoom in as I pressed the shutter release halfway for the camera to auto-focus and set the exposure, and as soon as I heard the beep from the camera and saw the focus was good, my mind said shoot! At that exact same moment, the chickadee made its leap into flight. I could see that it was airborne even as the mirror of the camera was locking up, that’s how quickly it all happened.

Stupid branch, got to get me a chain saw! Wait, I already did that post.

Back to the last photo, when my mind told my finger to press the shutter release, it was going to be a photo of a perched chickadee, by the time the photo was actually captured, it turned out to be of a chickadee in flight, which I saw as the mirror locked up. Why is this important? Because you have to take that delay into account when you are trying to take action shots of wildlife, or any other moving subjects. In the case of the last photo, it just happened to be luck, but it is luck that I practice at, by shooting as many moving targets as I can, and by calling my shot on each one. I am learning how long the time delay is between my mind telling my finger to fire, and the time when the photo is actually captured, and my brain is beginning to take that time delay into account when I am trying to time action shots.

That time delay is different for all of us, because of us, and because of our equipment. We all have different reaction times, and not all cameras work at the same speed. And, it takes a while for our brains to be trained as to how long the time delay is, and the only way it happens is through practice. Practice, practice, practice!

Well, that’s about it for this one, I hope you aren’t all too upset about my rant in the beginning of it, thanks for stopping by!


‘Tis not fit for man nor beast

This is to go along with what I wrote yesterday, about the storm, the little deer mouse on my balcony, and a few other things thrown in for good measure.

First off, a very cool thing happened yesterday as I was out hiking. A young man stopped and asked me if I needed a ride somewhere! It’s always nice when something happens that reminds me that there are still some good people left in this world. I was walking along the road between the apartment complex where I live and a chain of small lakes about a mile from here. Normally I have to watch for jerks who seem intent on coming as close to me as they can, or making sure they hit the puddles in the road just right to splash me. The young man who stopped got kind of a funny look on his face when I told him “No thanks, I’m out for a walk”, but he wished me a Happy New Year as he drove off, probably wondering about the strange old codger who was dumb enough to be out walking in the kind of weather we’re having.

Now then, about the storm. I was hoping to head over to the Lake Michigan shore and get some good photos of the waves breaking on things like lighthouses, like this one that I stole.

Waves

I know, I shouldn’t steal other people’s photos, and two wrongs don’t make a right, and all that. I got that photo from WOOD TV 8 here in town, and they LOVE to steal from folks. They encourage people to upload photographs to their website, and then the TV station uses those photos anyway they want, with zero compensation to the photographers who submitted them, even if the station uses the photos in ads. That’s just not right. So I don’t feel too bad about stealing one of theirs.

Anyway, the storm was late getting here yesterday morning, and it took its own sweet time in getting wound up, nothing like what was predicted. But then, I kind of expected that, having lived here my entire life. This is a lake effect storm, if you don’t live near a large body of water, you may not know what that means.

When cold winter air passes over the warmer waters of the Great Lakes, the air picks up moisture and is warmed by the lake waters. Under the right conditions, you can see it happening right before your eyes. When the winds are fairly light, you can look out over the lake towards the horizon and see what appears to be a fog bank rising up from the lake to meet the clouds, but if you look past the fog bank, you see nothing but blue skies. The fog bank rising from the water creates the clouds, which then carry the moisture over land. Cut off from the warmth of the lake, the clouds cool again, dropping the moisture as rain or snow, most of the time snow.

This storm is being driven by very high winds, in excess of 50 MPH, gusts over 70 MPH at the lake shore, about the time I was out for my hike. When the winds are that strong, we never get as much snow as is forecast, for two reasons. One is that when the wind is that strong, the air doesn’t have as much time over the warmer waters of the lake to gather as much moisture as when the winds are lighter. The second reason is that the strong winds don’t allow snow-bands to set up and sit over one area long enough to drop huge amounts of snow. The turbulence from the high winds disrupts the snow bands as they try to form. Why the local weather people haven’t figured this out is beyond me.

It’s funny, when I got back from my walk in the afternoon, the snow had just started to accumulate. I checked the weather forecasts, and they were all backing off from the earlier ones that predicted up to a foot of snow where I live. Then, as the winds died off a little, and the snow-bands started to set up, we started getting dumped on. That’s not to say this isn’t a potent storm, it is, that’s why the nice young man offered this old codger a lift. It’s nasty out there, not fit for man nor beast. The problem is, the beasts can’t escape it the way we humans do.

That’s one reason I venture out in any kind of weather, to remind myself of just how good I have it as a human being. While I’m eating a nice hot meal after a walk outdoors, some poor little muskrat is hauling itself up on an ice shelf to eat its half-frozen meal as ice crystals form in its fur.

Muskrat supper

As I’m taking a nice warm shower, swans are out there battling the waves and the ice in search of a meal.

Swans in the waves

And while I’m relaxing in my recliner, the swans are relaxing the only way they can in the winter.

Swans on ice

We think we have it bad if we have to walk a few feet on a sidewalk that hasn’t been shoveled, yet no one shovels paths for the turkeys as they plow through the snow looking for food.

Turkeys in the snow

And as we crawl into our nice warm beds at night, there are geese out there seeking shelter from the wind-driven snow…

Geese finding shelter from wind-driven snow

…and do their best to stay warm.

Geese trying to stay warm

Or deer lying down in the snow…

Whitetail doe bedded down in the snow

…because that’s the only place there is for them to bed down.

I’m sorry about the quality of the two of the geese, they were taken yesterday in the storm. The wind was strong enough that I was having trouble holding still, and the snow blowing across the scene didn’t help either.

We humans have become so soft, fat, and lazy that we’ve forgotten what the struggle for survival is really like.  We are a bunch of whiners and complainers, and yes, I’m guilty of that myself, but I try to limit my complaining to things that mean something, not the trivial things I hear most people whining about.

When you see it happen live and in person as animals struggle with survival in bad weather, it puts our silly little complaints in perspective.

I try to always remember what wildlife has to struggle through in order to survive. It helps to keep me grounded.

I’ve checked the web cams this morning, the waves on Lake Michigan are running high, but not high enough for any really dramatic photos, besides, with the heavy cloud cover and snow still falling, any photos would be poor at best. Modern technology, you’ve got to love it! I can sit here in the comfort of my home office and check out what the conditions are at the lakeshore! Here’s a link to one of the web cams if you’re interested in seeing what Lake Michigan looks like in a blizzard. If it looks all grey, wait until it refreshes a few times, it could be a whiteout rolling through at the time.

We’ve gotten a few inches of snow, it’s hard to say exactly how much because of the way it’s getting blown around. It’s enough that the sidewalks and parking lots are solid ice! Since it was around 40 degrees yesterday, and it is now around 20 degrees, the first snow melted, then turned to ice as the temperature dropped. I can see people are having a difficult time walking to and from their vehicles, and the woman in the next building over from me smacked the pole for the car port even though she was just creeping along in her car. Nearly every one is having trouble getting around, but that doesn’t stop some yahoos from laying on their horn if they think some one else is holding them up for all of 5 seconds. God, I hate people! Why did you make me one of them?

For every nice human like the guy that offered me the ride, there are three or four of the jerks that think that they are the most important people in the world, and that all the rest of us should get out of their way. I’d better change the subject, or I’ll put myself in a bad mood, and I am really in a good mood this morning.

I can see the squirrels and birds are out there finding things to eat, and I’m ready to go out there and join them for a while. It’s getting lighter here as the clouds are thinner than before, so I may even get some good photos. I’m still deciding where to go, I’m sure the lakeshore is out, I don’t feel like dealing with the other drivers, I get enough of that at work. I should really run out and see if the beast will even start. It’s been getting a bit cranky of late, I have to play with it to get it to fire. I’m hoping it makes it through the winter, or at least another few weeks until I get another bonus check from work for all the days off I didn’t take.

I have been tossing around the idea of walking the Paul Henry walking trail near where I live, but it is right along the expressway, and I don’t know if I am ready for that yet. I see a lot of raptors perched in trees along there, along with waterfowl in the storm water run off ponds, but I think I’ll wait until spring before I tackle that one, when there is more wildlife to be seen. Expressways make such good habitat for hawks, except for the fact that a few of them get killed when they fly into vehicles. The expressways are like strips of prairie, with enough trees and power poles for the hawks to perch on while they look for food that I see many hawks along the expressways now. I wish I could figure out a way to prevent the hawks from being killed though. I have almost hit a couple with the truck, they have a one track mind when it comes to food. They are so intent on their prey that they pay no attention to anything else, not even a semi coming at them.

Yeah, I’ll wait til spring for that hike. I am really trying to stick closer to home because I think it is the right thing to do as far as limiting how much gas I burn, but I’m not ready to hike an expressway yet, county parks and such are still hard for me to come to grips with. I would so much rather be up north in the wild country, but I can’t justify burning a tank of gas to get there and back for a one day hike.

Changing the subject again, I read a news article about how L L Bean boots are selling better than ever, and that they are still made right here in the United States! I need to order a pair for winter hiking. My New Balance hikers are great boots, light, warm, and waterproof, but they are only 6 inches high, which allows deep snow to cool my ankles down for me. I have a L L Bean Rugged Ridge parka, and it is the warmest outer wear that I have ever owned! It is windproof, which is what you need in the winter on days like yesterday and today when the wind is what chills most people. I can put the Bean parka on, and be as snug as a bug in a rug no matter how bad the weather gets around here. Actually, I subscribe to the idea that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear, and the Bean parka proves that!

If that sounds like a shameless plug, that’s because it is. I am tired of buying shoddy merchandise that doesn’t perform or last, so when I find stuff that actually does what it is supposed to do, I’ll mention it here when I can.

Besides, maybe I can convince a few others that what we call bad weather isn’t really bad at all, if they are dressed for it. There are no such things as good and bad in nature, those are human terms. In nature, there is only what there is, it is neither good nor bad. What we call bad weather is actually one of the forces of nature that make life on this planet possible. Storms are nature’s way of recycling and purifying water. Water evaporates from rivers, lakes and oceans, leaving the impurities behind, then falls as fresh water and snow fit for drinking again. Yeah, we’ve messed that cycle up some with the pollutants we have dumped into the water and the air, but the process still works well enough that you’re safe drinking rain water, a lot safer than drinking from the cesspools we’ve made of the bodies of water on land.

So the next time you find yourself caught in a rainstorm, don’t think of it as something that you need to get away from, put on a rain jacket and rejoice in the fact that you are witnessing nature’s way of providing safe water for us to drink!

The other thing about storms is that they are the way the Earth redistributes heat energy. Without storms, the planet would be a much different place, with a lot less habitable land available to us, or the animals of the world. I don’t see storms as bad in any way, shape or form. Without them, we probably wouldn’t survive, the planet wouldn’t be fit for man nor beast, so I celebrate them!

Anyway, that’s it for this one, long and as disjointed as it is. Thanks for stopping by!


Now if that don’t beat all

I’ve got a lot of environmental and recreational news to share, but first a little side note.

Tuesday afternoon when I went into work I had to go up to the front office to speak with my immediate supervisor about the logistics of getting the truck I drive in the shop for its regular maintenance. While I was standing outside my supervisor’s office, the owner of the company came over to me to ask if I was going to attend the Christmas party this year, but first, he had to make fun of the old worn out shoes that I wear to work. The reason I wear old worn out shoes is because he’s a cheap bastard that doesn’t pay his employees what they are worth.

It must be that I’ve mellowed out over the years, in my younger days, I would have done one of two things depending on my mood, either have lit into the owner for being such a cheap bastard and then having the gall to poke fun of the shoes I was wearing, or I would have walked out without a word, and never returned. Of course the economy was a lot better back then, and I never had to worry about landing another job. The truth is, I don’t really have to worry about it now, holding a CDL-A with a Hazmat endorsement and a clean driving record, I could be working somewhere else by the end of the week. The problem is that I have gotten more picky in my choice of jobs over the years as well. I don’t really want to go back to driving over the road and be away from home for weeks at a time.

I’ve also gotten smarter, if I had quit on Tuesday, I would be throwing away any holiday pay for Christmas and New Years, plus, the first of the year, I’ll be getting a check for an extra week for the paid days off that I haven’t taken. I’m not about to hand that cheap ass bastard I work for an extra weeks pay just because I got mad. Revenge really is a dish best served cold, so I’ll wait until that extra weeks pay is safely in my checking account, then let the cheap ass bastard know what I think of him as I walk out the door.

I have decided that if I can’t find a different local job by the first of the year, I’ll go for a regional over the road job. It isn’t my first choice, but it’s a job, and one that pays about twice what I am making now. The bad part, only being home for a day and a half a week. At least I will be able to buy some new shoes. 🙂 I’m thinking of gift wrapping the ones the cheap ass bastard made fun of and leaving them for him as a parting gift to thank him.

Now, on to the good news, and where do I start.

I think it will be with this story, the states of Wisconsin and Michigan are teaming up to create a joint park along the Menominee River in the western Upper Peninsula. You can read the entire story here http://www.mlive.com/outdoors/index.ssf/2011/12/michigan_wisconsin_team_up_to.html

That stretch of the Menominee River includes two popular geologic features: Piers Gorge and Quiver Falls, and it will be Michigan’s first whitewater recreation area. It also will be the first state recreation area to be jointly managed. The river forms the boundary between the two states and has class IV and V rapids.

I hate to admit this, but I’m not sure I would want to tackle that river at my age. Since I’m pushing 60, I’m not as spry, or as foolish as I used to be. I would have to look the rapids over first, and that will be made easy as hiking trails also may be developed along with high-bluff overlooks and canoe and kayak launch sites and parking.

“The walk along the shorelines will be spectacular,” said Paul Yauk, the linear trails program manager with the Michigan DNR.

If only it wasn’t so far away. That’s a full day drive from where I live.

In my last post I wrote about the clean up being done in Muskegon Lake, in 2005-06, a similar $10 million cleanup of contaminated sediment was completed at nearby Ruddiman Creek next to Muskegon’s McGraft Park. You can read about the clean up here.

http://www.mlive.com/news/muskegon/index.ssf/2011/11/cleanup_of_contaminated_muskeg.html

In fact, Muskegon is making the news a lot recently. The old Sappi paper mill has been purchased and the new owners are in the process of demolishing the old mill.

http://www.mlive.com/business/west-michigan/index.ssf/2011/12/demolitiion_under_way_on_the_f.html

I hate to see people lose their jobs, but I am not at all sad to see the old paper mill go away forever! The stench from the mill was enough to make your eyes burn if the wind pushed the fumes your way, and the mill itself was an eyesore.

Another good news/bad news story is that Consumers Energy, Michigan’s largest electric utility is going to shut down the B. C. Cobb power plant in 2015.

The public utility on Friday said the two remaining coal-fired units at B.C. Cobb will cease operations by Jan. 1, 2015. Cobb’s two units are among seven smaller coal-generating units statewide that will be closed.

The good news is that Consumers is shutting down its coal-fired plants and relying on others that are fueled by natural gas, which is a good thing for the environment. The bad news, as a single property, the B.C. Cobb generating plant is Muskegon County’s largest taxpayer. A good deal of that tax money goes to the local schools, so that’s a hit they don’t need at this time. There are also 116 people employed at the plant, but most of them will probably be offered transfers to other Consumers Energy facilities.

This is great news for the environment, but we have to remember that there are a lot of people who are going to be affected in a negative way, from the loss the tax base to people losing their jobs.

More good news for the Muskegon area, the Owasippe Boy Scout reservation has brought in an expert to design a new system of trails for mountain bikers, hikers, bird watchers and trail runners.

The Owasippe Outdoor Education Center is working with the Chicago Area Council of Boy Scouts of America, which owns the Owasippe property, to manage the land during the 46 weeks of the year when it’s not used for Boy Scouts summer camping.

The old trails were shut down to the public last year due to the environmental damage, mostly erosion, that was happening. With the help of the Alcoa Corp. which donated $3,000 and 12 employees to join about another dozen volunteers for a trail work day at Owasippe to return the abandoned section of trail to nature — a process that will be done with all of Owasippe’s trails that are rerouted.

The new trails will be laid out so as to minimize any damage to the environment, and will be expanded to take users through even more of the 5,000-acre property.

I am going to end this one with some good news from the Grand Rapids area, where I live. Turns out that the Grand River isn’t as polluted as most people assumed.

http://www.mlive.com/outdoors/index.ssf/2011/12/surprising_results_to_tests_on.html

That’s about test results done in hopes of either removing the dam on the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids, and possibly restoring the rapids that the city is named for, or constructing a man-made set of rapids for kayakers to use.

The 4th Street dam in Grand Rapids

There’s a lot more I should say about this, and the news that two universities have received a grant to research converting the S S Badger from a coal-fired ship to using natural gas, but my heart isn’t into this right now. In fact, there was more to be said about all the stories I posted links to, but right now, my employment and financial situation are weighing me down mentally.

Since I started this post a couple of days ago, I have talked to a national trucking company, and have a job offer to consider. The pay and benefits are so much better than my current job that it is hard to say no, except, I would be out for a week at a time with 34 hours of home time each week.

That would mean I would have to suspend this blog, heck, I would have to suspend my life. Thirty four hours off isn’t enough to do anything more than get ready for the next week on the road, doing laundry and grocery shopping, then packing. There would be no trips up north, not even any local hiking or kayaking trips.

I tell myself to take the job, knowing I won’t be there for long, a year or so at most. I could pay off some bills, and what’s a year? I’ve done it before, I can do it again.

Well, I don’t have that many years left, I don’t really want to lose another one, not for money anyway.

There’s so much to consider in making a decision, if I am boring you, please feel free to click away now.

I’m lucky in that I’m in pretty good shape for some one my age, which is 57 years old. Most people judge me to be about ten years younger when they first meet me. In fact, one of the branch managers where I work made the comment that he could handle the heavy laundry carts as well as I can if he was my age. Turns out that I’m a year and a half older than he is.

That’s another thing I have to consider as far as a job, driving over the road isn’t the healthiest lifestyle either. I am just now getting back into shape after the years I spent over the road before I got the job I have now. Sitting behind the wheel of a truck for 11 hours a day, chain-smoking to stay awake and fight off the boredom isn’t something I want to do again.

I’d better change the subject. We got our first real snow of the year last night, just enough to cover the ground. I haven’t sorted through the photos I took to have any post here yet, I’m not sure there are any worth posting. I do love the first snow of the year though, it’s always so bright and clean.

Only a few more days left until the winter solstice, the day of the least amount of daylight. From that day until the summer solstice, our days will be getting longer. Our coldest months are January and February, but at least the sun climbs higher in the sky each day, and it stays light longer with each passing day. I think I will have myself a celebration of sorts on the first day of winter, not to celebrate winter, but to celebrate the longer days that are coming.

I’m sorry for the disjointed rambling nature of this post, the weekend is coming up, and I’ll be back to normal with a couple of days off. Thanks for stopping by!


Some more rainy day thoughts

It’s pouring outside, it has been since last evening. I just made it home from my walk when the rain started, light at first, but it has been a heavy rain all night into this afternoon. I don’t mind being out in a light to even moderate rain, but the rain falling now would soak me to the bone if I wore just a water-repellent parka, and I’m not sure my rain jacket will fit over the parka.

That’s OK, I have a lot to blog about anyway.

Yesterday, I read Bob Zeller’s Texas Tweeties post, and in it he noted the poor condition of a bird blind he used to use a lot in a state park near where he lives. Some of the reason for the poor condition of the blind sounded as if it were due to vandalism. That happens way too much, everywhere. It is something I have ranted about in the past, and I’m about to again. One reason there is so much vandalism is that we, the public, don’t alert the authorities when we see it happening. Some how we have been brainwashed into thinking that it is wrong to “rat” on others. Some of that goes to our childhood when our parents told us not to tattle on others. Of course if we didn’t tattle on a sibling who was doing something seriously wrong, then we were in trouble for that. 🙂

Part of the don’t rat on others comes from the old gangster movies from the 1930’s and 40’s, you know, when James Cagney or Humphry Bogart killed a few innocent citizens while robbing a bank, the murders were a less serious crime than ratting them out for the killings was. That notion continues to this day, that it is wrong to get involved or to rat out wrong doers. I’m sorry, I no longer buy into that silly idea. The vandals are destroying public property, property that our tax dollars bought and paid for.  In a way, it is no different when a vandal breaks a window in a state park building than it is if the vandal were to break a window in your own home, you get stuck with the bill.

Back this spring, when the State of Michigan was talking about closing some of the state forest campgrounds in this state, I had a chat with the unit manager of the Pigeon River Country State Forest, and he told me that some of the criteria for choosing the campgrounds that were to close were vandalism and theft. It cost the state too much money to repair the damage done by vandals, and to replace items stolen from the campgrounds. What are people stealing? Fire rings, picnic tables, even the trash cans in the campgrounds. How hard up do you have to be to steal a trash can? I think the trash cans were taken just because some one could take them.

The same thing applies to poaching as far as I am concerned. We the taxpayers shell out millions of dollars for the state to manage and protect our wildlife. The deer aren’t the King’s deer, the fish aren’t the state’s fish, they are our deer and fish, and when poachers violate the game laws, they aren’t stealing from the king or the state, they are stealing from us, the public.

If we were to see some one dumping poison that would kill the deer or fish, most of us would be very quick to report that, but if we see some one killing the same amount of game while poaching, that is some how OK. Not to me, I’ve had it up to here with people bragging to me how many fish they caught and dumped because they didn’t feel like cleaning them all. I’ve had it up to here with seeing deer carcasses piled up in parking lots of trailheads because the poachers didn’t want to get caught with the carcasses. I’ve gone so far as to program the number to report poachers into my cell phone, and I’m not afraid to dial it. In Michigan, that number is 1-800-292-7800. Call me a rat, a ratfink, a snitch, a squealer, I don’t care, I’ve been called a lot worse in my lifetime.

On a somewhat related note, I promised to do a series on places to kayak in Michigan, and I started a post on my favorite river to kayak, the Jordan River. Then I read the story that I posted earlier, about the drunken rowdies that kayak, canoe, and/or tube the Jordan. I’m tired of them as well, and I have ranted about them before also. Now, I’m not so sure I want to do that series on places to paddle, I know the trouble makers are in the minority, but I don’t want to contribute to the problem by giving the rowdies ideas about places to go. I will probably get around to doing the series, after all, the people I don’t want to attract to the rivers I love to paddle more than likely aren’t able to read anyway.

On a more positive note, there’s a new swamp in town. There’s a small creek that flows behind my apartment, it isn’t much of a creek, it is more like a drainage ditch. This summer I noticed that it had all but dried up, we had a drought this summer, but I didn’t think it was that bad that the creek would dry up.

A few weeks ago, I began to hear more and more ducks back there, hearing ducks there isn’t unusual, but the numbers this fall were way more than normal. When the leaves dropped off the trees, I could see why there were so many ducks, and why the creek stopped flowing for weeks. Something blocked the creek, and several acres of woods behind the apartment complex have been flooded. When the water in the new swamp got high enough, the creek started flowing over what ever is partially blocking it. I can see ducks and geese in the swamp, swimming around, and I heard wood ducks back there before they left for down south. The ground is too soft for me to get back to see what has dammed the creek up, but the new swamp is pretty cool.

Now I’m going back to being Mr. Negative, sorry about that, must be the weather. Anyway, one of the news stories I read this morning was a list of things we can do to save money on energy. Here’s what I copied from the article that originated from Consumers Reports Magazine…

Make your TV more efficient
That’s right—today’s TVs can eat up just as much energy as refrigerators. If you have a set-top box, like most homes, consider trading it for one that meets Energy Star’s tougher new 3.0 specification. And if you buy a new TV, make sure it’s set to “home mode” which is more efficient than the retail mode typically used when sets are shipped. The $30 to $60 in yearly savings could pay for dinner—and a movie

……Really? Spend $1,000 on a new TV to save $60 a year? Wouldn’t there be like a 17 year payback before you saw a penny of savings? How much energy was used to build the new TV? Or the packaging for it, or transporting it from overseas?

I love it when people make recommendations without using an ounce of common sense. I’d be willing to bet that by the time you added up all the energy it takes to produce, package, and ship a new TV, that the environment would be better served if you kept your old TV, or do what I did, unplug the darn thing and never turn it on again. If you spend $1,000 on the new TV, you’re not going to see any “savings” until you account for the purchase price. I save that $30 to $60 on energy, and more. I don’t have a cable or dish bill, and my TV uses NO power at all. It just sits in the living room collecting dust so I have something to do between outdoor adventures, cleaning the TV that’s never turned on. 😉

The rain is letting up, looking out the window I can see turkeys and squirrels moving around, so I think I will get myself out of this funk with a good long hike. Thanks for stopping by!


What a wacky idea!

I was up before dawn this morning, so I started reading the news as something to do while I waited to see what kind of day it is going to be before I decide what I am going to do today. That was a bad idea, for one of the first stories that caught my eye was “Officials unsure what DNR reorganization will mean for campgrounds, trails, and of course I had to read it, since I most often camp in State Forest campgrounds, and hiking is one of my favorite activities.

First, a little background. There have long been complaints that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources was a huge bloated bureaucratic mess. That complaint even came from some of the people within the DNR. Back in the 1970’s, there was a push to split the DNR into two separate agencies, one charged with protecting the environment, and the other overseeing the State’s parks, hunting, fishing, timber, and so on. The idea was that the same agency that pushed for consumption of our natural resources, such as oil, timber, natural gas, etc, couldn’t be trusted to properly protect the environment at the same time.

Nothing happened with that idea until the 1990’s when then Governor John Engler did split the DNR, creating the Department of Environmental Quality, a move I supported. However, since Gov. Engler was a Republican, many environmental groups were all up in arms over that move, one that they had once pushed for. Our last governor, Jennifer Granholm, recombined the two agencies into one again, then the first of this year, our newest governor, Rick Snyder, split them again.

The way the different categories of our state’s parks have been managed has still been a mess, some managed by the Parks and Recreation Division, and some managed by the Forest Management Division, depending on what type of park it was. State Parks and some trails fell under the Parks and Recreation Division, State Forest campgrounds and some trails fell under the Forest Management Division.

The idea at one time was that the Forest Management Division would be somewhat self funded, with the money from the harvest of timber on state land funding that division. Of course that didn’t work out well. When the state implemented the Recreational Passport system last year, it required a complex formula for where the money from it went. Most went to the Parks and Recreation Division for the state parks, some is awarded to local governments for local parks, and the last part of the money goes to the Forest Management Division, earmarked for the State Forest campgrounds and recreational opportunities within the state forests.

This kind of mish-mash of a bureaucratic mess has long been one of my pet peeves. I have several lengthy posts started on the subject, don’t get me started on the Federal bureaucracy alphabet soup that controls our federal public lands.

One of the problems with these bureaucratic nightmares is how much money gets wasted with different departments billing each other , trying to use other departments to enhance their revenue stream, and turf wars between departments that often lead to protracted court battles.

Just a small example here, I have to try to stay focused, or this will become another lengthy draft that never gets finished. While overall I support the idea of splitting the DNR into the DNR and the Department of Environmental Quality, one of the results is that the state has to license their own campgrounds. I understand the concept, some one has to make sure that our campgrounds are environmentally sound, and that responsibility has fallen on the DEQ, which requires that the DNR licenses the campgrounds, which the DEQ permits and inspects to make sure that the campgrounds do meet environmental standards. But the idea of the state buying a license from itself seems silly to me. That’s what happens when bean counters take over and reality as we know it ends.

Back to the news story. The story doesn’t recount where the idea originated from, but the DNR is going to be reconfigured somewhat. The Parks and Recreation Division of the DNR is now going to take control over the state forest campgrounds, trails in the state forests, and other recreational opportunities within the state forests.

The Forest Management Division will be split into the newly created Forest Resources Division and an Office of Land Management, which will oversee oil, gas, and mineral responsibilities, as well as real estate work currently in the Finance and Operations Division.

The news story hints that this was the brainstorm of the new Director of the DNR, Rodney Stokes. I applauded his appointment by Gov. Snyder last fall when the announcement of Mr. Stokes’ appointment was made public, he’s the most non-political Director of the DNR that Michigan has had in some time now.

The idea of combining all the state’s parks, campgrounds, trails, and recreational opportunities under one division makes sense to me, probably too much sense. Why have one set of campground managers in the Parks and Recreational Division, and another set in the Forest Management Division?

There will most likely be some wailing and gnashing of teeth over this, along with the funding issues that go with it. The state nearly shut down several of the state forest campgrounds this last spring as the state didn’t have the money to keep them open. That included my favorite campground, Round Lake State Forest Campground. I hope this new alignment of the DNR helps to put all our campgrounds and parks on stable financial footing.

This may require some tweaks to the Recreational Passport system, which did slightly better than it was projected to do as far as participation and revenue raised for our state parks. As I wrote above, there’s a complex formula for allocating the money raised by the system. And by the way, we need a lot more people to take advantage of that new recreational Passport system, word is that there is about 30% participation by Michigan residents, good, but not great. Ten bucks a year to get you into any state park or recreation area in the state? Come on people, we can do better than that. I know times are tough, but this is the best deal the state has come up with in my lifetime. Take advantage of it, support our state, our state and local parks, and get out there and enjoy yourselves!

Anyway, being the practical, results oriented person that I am, having all the state’s campgrounds managed by the Parks and Recreational Division of the DNR makes perfect sense to me, it’s one of those wacky ideas that just might work, the devil will be in the details as always though. There may even be problems with this idea in the form of pressure from the Federal Government. The Feds are already threatening the state with withholding federal dollars from several federal agencies over some land use issues each of the goobledy gook of federal agencies are pushing. For example, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is threatening to cut off its funding to the State of Michigan because Michigan allows some equestrian use on lands purchased with Fish and Wildlife dollars.

Michigan’s State Forests were “assembled” by purchasing small tracts of land using funding from many sources, some of the parcels were purchased with federal dollars. Now the state is spending millions of dollars to identify where the funding for each parcel came from, and relocating equestrian camps and trails to parcels of land not purchased with money from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Because hunters are being pushed off from more and more federal and state lands, they are pushing back to stop any non-hunting uses of land purchased with their money. This nonsense of different factions all fighting over the public use of public land has got to stop, or pretty soon, all the money we pay in taxes, fees, and licenses will end up going to fight the battles over land use, and no money will be available to enhance our recreational opportunities. That’s the subject of another post though, one I should get around to finishing one of these days.

For now, I’ll just say that I really like the idea of combining all of Michigan’s parks, campground, trails, etc, under one division, it is a story I’ll be following closely.

I hope I haven’t bored every one to death with another of my rants, as always, thanks for stopping by!


Saturday morning musings

First off, I have to give a shout out to Michelle Alzola  and her photo blog, My Photo Journal~ photography by ©Michelle Alzola. She sort of specializes in flower photos, although her blog isn’t limited to the incredibly beautiful flower pictures she posts. How I forgot to mention her before is only another sign that I am getting old and have an occasional senior moment. I have put a link to her blog over on the right side of the page, and I will be adding a few more this next week.

In other news, work on recovering the submerged oil from the Enbridge oil spill has been halted for the winter. The Enbridge oil spill happened in the spring of 2010, when a pipeline owned by Enbridge burst, releasing over 800,000 gallons of crude oil into a stream that flows into the Kalamazoo River.  Work will continue on the river banks, cleaning and restoring them over the winter. In my last update on this subject, I noted that Enbridge had missed a deadline set by the EPA to have the spill cleaned up. It turns out that because of the heavy grade of crude oil that was released, the chemicals added to the oil to get it to flow through a pipeline, and that it spilled into freshwater have made the oil sink to the bottom of the river rather than float on top the way oil normally does. That means that both the EPA and Enbridge have been learning as they go, and “innovating” new techniques for recovering the submerged oil. Enbridge has submitted an updated plan to remove the remaining oil from the Kalamazoo River, and the EPA has approved the plan.

To me, any deadline for completing the clean up is arbitrary, especially since both the government and Enbridge are dealing with the unknown. This is the largest spill of this type of crude in history, and it has to be cleaned up no matter how long it takes. From what I understand, the new plan submitted by Enbridge and approved by the EPA recognizes this fact, the plan is to wait until the core samples taken as work was winding down on removing the submerged oil come back from the labs, and then to see how much oil remains, and how best to remove what does remain.

How much oil spilled is still somewhat of a controversy, the EPA announced that 1.1 million gallons of oil had been recovered so far, and that Enbridge underestimated the size of the spill in the beginning. Enbridge is saying that the 1.1 million gallon figure includes oil from other sources from over the years, like road runoff, and that their estimate of 840,000 gallons of oil spilled is correct.

Who is right? Does it matter? Not really, any amount of oil spilled is too much, and it all has to be cleaned up, no matter what the source was. In all likelihood, the Kalamazoo River will end up being cleaner after the work here is done than it was before the spill. There are two reasons the size of the spill matter, one is that if Enbridge is found to have under or overestimated the size of the spill, then they can be fined heavily. The other reason is for damning purposes, the bigger the spill, the more damned Enbridge can be by environmentalists and the press.

One of the real stories here is that we still haven’t gotten a report from the government as to what caused the pipeline to rupture in the first place, when a report was promised back in February.

It was shown when the spill was first discovered that the reporting requirements set forth in federal law actually delayed work getting started on containing the oil spill. Enbridge was required to assemble an accurate estimate of the size of the spill and report that to a government agency that has nothing to do with responding to any spill, all they do is take the reports, when their phone lines aren’t all busy, then pass those reports on to other agencies that actually deal with the response.

Being the practical, results oriented person that I am, I would hope that the law is changed, so that if something similar ever happens again, response times can be improved. I would hope that the EPA would be contacted directly, with the conversation going like this.

“Hello, this is Mr. Bureaucrat from the EPA, how may I help you?”

“Hi, this is Mr. Soandso from Enbridge Energy, I have to report an oil spill.”

“OK, what, where and why?”

“It is crude oil from our pipeline 6B near Marshall, Michigan, and I am afraid it is going to turn out to be a big spill, we think the pipeline ruptured and released hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil.”

“Not good, I’m going to put you on hold for a second while I connect with that region’s office so we can relay the exact location directly to them so they can get crews on the way to get this contained.”

At that point, the regional office could get the exact location and dispatch work crews to begin containing the spill, but all too often, environmental laws are written to produce revenue for the government more than to protect the environment.

As an example, back in the early 1990’s, I worked for a supplier to the automotive industry. Some of the parts we produced were spray painted, using paints containing Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOC’s as they were called, in simple language, lacquer thinner. VOC’s are not good to breathe as any one who has painted probably knows, and it wasn’t good that we were pumping out tons of VOC’s out the stacks of our spray booths every year.

The industry was working to switch to water based paints, with poor results for the most part. If you’re old enough, you may remember cars that had the paint peel off not long after they left the showroom floor, further contributing to the idea that American cars were lower quality than their imported competition. At the same time, the EPA was looking into regulating the discharge of VOC’s into the atmosphere.

The company I worked for at the time was still family owned, and the person who started it was quite the hunter and outdoorsman. When word came that the lab had found a water based paint that would work on the parts that we produced, and would hold up as well as their counterparts that contained VOC’s, he didn’t wait for EPA regulations, he ordered all our paint lines switched over to use the water based paint. That meant all new spray booths, lengthening the drying conveyors, and adding more ovens to dry the water based paints. Adding it all up, it was over 5 million dollars to upgrade our plant’s equipment to use the water based paints. Over the two-week Christmas shutdown, we ripped out every old spray booth, installed new ones, and made the required changes to the drying lines to give the water based paints time to dry before they were packed for shipment.

A few months later I read in the local paper that the company was being fined 2 million dollars because of the changes the company had made to its paint lines, and one of the local politicians was quoted as saying it was a great example of “polluters pay” laws. I thought to myself, “How can this be, the changes we made reduced our emissions of VOC’s, which was a good thing.” At least I thought so.

We were fined the 2 million dollars because the permits we were required to submit to the state were filled out incorrectly for the work we had done. It had nothing to do with actual pollution, which we had indeed reduced. The company appealed the fines, on the grounds that the state DNR had approved the permits, and that we had reduced pollution by moving away from using VOC’s.

The judge sort of agreed, he reduced the fine to 1 million dollars, stating that the company had filled them out wrong, but that since the DNR had approved them, we shouldn’t be fined the maximum amount the law required.

Great, we get fined 1 million dollars for reducing the amount of a dangerous compound we were pumping out into the atmosphere, and in the meantime, our competitors are still pumping tons of VOC’s out the stacks of their spray booths, and they don’t receive any fines.

I don’t think the owner of the company was too happy either, for it wasn’t long after that, that he sold the company to a larger one, which quickly drove the company I had worked for into bankruptcy, and it closed for good.

I’m not say that the fines were responsible for the owner selling, or the fact that the company eventually went belly up, there are many other factors as well. That experience and others has helped shape my view on the pollution laws in this country, the State of Michigan, and on how the media report things.

The media and environmental reporting, there’s a subject I could write a book about. I was almost interviewed once while filling up the gas tank of my pick up at a local gas station. The cute bimbo reporterette and her cameraman walked up to me, asked me a question, stuck a microphone in my face, and when I started giving a reasoned, scientific explanation about what she had asked, she yelled “Cut!” and moved to the guy on the other side of the pump. She asked him the same question, and he asked her why she had cut me off, he said that he wanted to hear what I was saying, that it was making sense to him. The reporterette yelled “Cut!” again, and she and her cameraman moved down to the pumps at the other end of the gas station, looking for the answer she wanted to hear, not what people actually had to say, not a reasoned scientific answer, no way!

There have been several other incidents in my life that were reported on by the local media, and I can tell you they are more likely to get the story wrong as they are to tell what really happened. I have learned to take everything I hear from the media with a grain of salt, two or three grains if it is a report by a local broadcast “journalist”.

In other news, the United States House of Representatives passed a Coast Guard funding bill this week that contains an amendment that would allow the S.S. Badger ferry to continue the controversial practice of dumping its coal ash into Lake Michigan. The S.S. Badger is the last coal-fired ferry operating in the United States. It runs between Ludington, Michigan and Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The Badger, owned by the Lake Michigan Carferry Company, operates under a special Environmental Protection Agency rule that is set to expire in 2012. There is also a movement underway to get the Badger listed as a national historic landmark, which would also exclude the owners from complying with EPA regulations. The owners are also looking into converting the Badger’s boilers to use natural gas to make steam, rather than coal. The owners say that converting to diesel power would be cost prohibitive, but they may be able to obtain grants to pay for the conversion to natural gas.

I couldn’t find earlier stories that explained why the operators of the ferry couldn’t store the coal ash in an empty coal bunker on the ship until it could be off loaded in port, it may be due to the fire hazard, I am not sure about that. I know that the coal dust in coal bunkers is very explosive, more than one ship has been lost when the coal dust exploded. One hot ember in the coal ash in a bunker filled with coal dust, and it would be boom boom Badger, bye-bye.

Several environmental groups are all up in arms about this, in a way, I can’t blame them. Coal ash is not a good thing to be dumping into Lake Michigan. On the other hand, it is the last of what were hundreds of coal-fired ships sailing the Great Lakes, all of which used to dump their coal ash into the lakes. I also wonder how many and how much of the same stuff found in coal ash blows into the Great Lakes each year from all the coal-fired power plants to our west? I also wonder how many pollutants the Badger is keeping out of the Great Lakes if people take the ferry rather than driving the 460 miles around the south end of Lake Michigan?

I hope they do eventually convert it to natural gas, I don’t really want the coal ash in my drinking water, but then, there are lots of things in the waters of Lake Michigan I would rather they not be there, man, man-made, or natural. Let’s face it, millions of fish, mussels and other critters live, breed, and die in the lake. There’s all the stuff we dump into the lake, and I really hate to think of this as I am drinking a glass of water that started in Lake Michigan, but hundreds of ships have sunk in the lake. Not only is their fuel there, but the cargoes as well, and not all the bodies of all the sailors that have drowned in the lake have been recovered. I’d better stop there.

Anyway, when it comes to the Badger dumping coal ash into Lake Michigan, I’m not happy with it, but I’ll live with it, what troubles me more is the comment made by Representative Bill Huizenga, who has said the amendment is an example of getting rid of federal government regulations that threaten small businesses. He’s the Republican representative who sponsored the amendment to the Coast Guard funding bill that lets the Badger continue to dump coal ash into the lake.

That may seem strange after what I wrote earlier about the environmental laws in this country, but the problem I see is this, there’s no common sense, no middle ground. Democrats want to pass punitive environmental laws that serve to punish all businesses, whether they pollute or not, and the Republicans want to repeal most of our environmental protections, whether they work or not.

In addition to the story about where I used to work, I’ve held many positions where I have had to deal with environmental laws. Most of them are about record keeping, and sending reams of paperwork on to Washington, or be fined heavily if you forget, or make an error in the paperwork. They have little to do with actually protecting the environment, and are all about generating revenue for the government.

Another example, some years back, a number of companies in the northeastern US were fined heavily because the licensed hazardous waste hauler they used was dumping the hazardous waste in regular landfills or out in the woods someplace. The federal government licenses hazardous waste haulers, and collects healthy fees from them. But, the policing of hazardous waste haulers is left to the companies who employ their services.

So, you have companies who believe they are doing the right thing. They hire a federally licensed hazardous waste hauler to dispose of their hazardous waste. The guy’s got a federal license, so the companies think they are safe, wrong! The companies using the hauler in question got hit with larger fines than did the waste hauler who was dumping the stuff illegally, that’s not right, at least as far as I am concerned.

Morning is long gone, and I’m still musing away. I did take a break for my daily hike around here, and for the second or third day in a row, didn’t take a single photo. Hmm. I’ve still got some more musing to do though, since I have gone this far.

One other story on the environment I would like to relate has to do with bottled water, specifically, the Nestle Ice Mountain plant just north of where I live, in Stanwood, Michigan. This was also a few years ago, back when I was still driving over the road, still with my ex-girlfriend, and shortly after Nestle had opened the plant. The state and many environmental groups were working to shut the plant down, because of the amount of water that Nestle was pumping out of the ground.

The trucking company I worked for had a contract with Nestle, so I picked up many a load there, and one of the nice things they do is give drivers product that Nestle has made a mistake on when they bottled it. It may be that the labels were wrong, or in the case in the story I am about to relate, the labels were on the bottles upside down.

I came home from work that week, lugging a case of Ice Mountain water that had the labels on upside down, and Larri, my ex, about had a fit.

“How can you buy that stuff when you’re such a big environmentalist and fisherman?” she asked.

“I didn’t buy it, they gave it to me when I picked up a load there. You know that I wouldn’t ever buy water, I’m too cheap for that.”

“But still, I don’t know any one who stands on principle the way you do, I can’t believe you took it even if it was free.”

“Why?”

“Because of how much water they are pumping out of the ground, that can’t be good.”

“Look, people are going to drink the same amount of water whether Ice Mountain pumps it out of the ground, or if their local water system does. X number of people are going to drink Y gallons of water, whether it comes from Ice Mountain or the kitchen faucet. You used to live in Plainfield Township, right?”

“Yeah, so?”

“Where does Plainfield Township get its water?”

“I don’t know, Lake Michigan?”

“No, Grand Rapids gets its water from Lake Michigan, but Plainfield Township gets theirs from a series of wells near Plainfield and Coit.”

“That’s right, I remember that now.”

“So what difference does it make if it’s Ice Mountain or Plainfield Township pumping the water out of wells?”

“I don’t know, that’s a good question. But what about the water that gets shipped off to other parts of the country?”

“What about the water that gets shipped here from other parts of the country?”

“What do you mean?”

“I pick up a load of Ice Mountain water and haul it down to the Meijer distribution center in Tipp City, Ohio. Pick up a load of groceries there to take to the Lima store, from there go to Proctor & Gamble in Lima, pick up a load of liquid laundry detergent, that’s mostly water, and haul it back to Michigan.”

“I pick up a load of green beans, packed in water, from the farm co-op in Muskegon, haul it to Saint Louis, Missouri, then bring back a load of liquid fabric softener from Uni-Lever, which is mostly water, and bring that back to Michigan.”

“You know I’m always bitching about how heavy the loads I pull are, like the Campbell’s soup loads, they are mostly water too. This push for legislation to keep the Ice Mountain water in the Great Lakes watershed is ridiculous, because it opens up a whole can of worms where I don’t think they really want to go. The truth is that water gets shipped all over the place the way it is now, and if they start trying to limit the movement of water, somebody is going to figure out that products like Coke, Pepsi, and the things I’ve mentioned are mostly water, then where does it stop?”

“I don’t know, I never thought about that, but you’re right.”

“I’m more worried about the millions of plastic bottles that Ice Mountain is making, and people are throwing away where ever they empty them. That’s Nestle’s environmental sin, not the water itself, and you can’t really blame Nestle for the fact that people are pigs and will trash the environment, although I do blame them for the bottles in the first place.”

“I never thought of that either, but you’re right, all those plastic bottles are made from petroleum products. I wonder if they will extend the bottle deposit law to other drinks like bottled water?”

“We can only hope.”

Well, it is now Saturday evening, so I better wrap this one up. No, it hasn’t taken me all day to type this, but long enough. The State of Michigan still hasn’t expanded the bottle deposit law, I’m not sure why there hasn’t been a more vigorous effort to do so. Maybe they have enough headaches with the current system and don’t need any more, I can’t say. I do know I am tired of finding empty bottles, from bottled water to sports drinks to energy drinks dumped all over the place. Humans are such pigs!

I hope I haven’t bored you all to death, thanks for stopping by!


Another Enbridge oil spill and other updates

There have been a few new developments relating to the Enbridge pipeline that ruptured last year, spilling over 800,000 gallons of crude oil into a small creek that feeds the Kalamazoo River.

One is that Enbridge has missed a deadline for cleaning up at least some of the spill. According to the story I read about it, the EPA isn’t too concerned about the fact the deadline was missed. There have been many unforeseen problems in dealing with this spill, I am not sure, but I believe it is the largest oil spill in freshwater in history. Just this last spring, the EPA announced that the clean up was almost done, and that they would be re-opening the river for recreational use. Then they found that large amounts of the crude oil had sunk to the bottom of the river and had collected there. Normally crude oil floats, but because of the grade of crude that spilled, and the fact that it is in freshwater has meant that both Enbridge and the officials overseeing the clean up have been learning as they go along.

On a spill of this magnitude, I would think that any deadlines would be at least somewhat arbitrary anyway. It isn’t as if a spill of this type happens everyday, thank goodness, and we really don’t want to flood a river with oil now and then for clean up crews to practice on, or to learn how crude oil reacts in every type of water. As long as Enbridge is doing what it takes to do the job right and clean up all the oil, then I guess that’s all we can ask for.

The poor Kalamazoo River, I think it is the most heavily polluted river in southwestern Michigan. For over two hundred years, man has done his best to destroy the river, and it keeps bouncing back. The Enbridge oil spill occurred upstream of the city of Battle Creek, but several stretches of the river below Kalamazoo are, or were, EPA Superfund sites due to PCB contamination from the old paper mills that used the river as a dump. I have never canoed or kayaked the stretch of the river where the oil spill occurred, there are too many dams too close together to make for an enjoyable float of the length I normally do. I have floated the Kalamazoo River from downtown Kalamazoo all the way to where it empties into Lake Michigan, and like all rivers, it deserves better than we have given it. Nearly a dozen dams impeded its flow, a few have been removed, but many still remain.

A good source of information for you if you are interested in floating the Kalamazoo River is the Kalamazoo River Heritage Water Trail website. Maybe I’ll get around to posting some more information from my trips kayaking the Kalamazoo River soon. If you like doing the occasional larger river as I do, you will love it, especially the portion of the river that flows through the Allegan State Game Area. The sad thing is that before you set out to float the Kalamazoo, you have to check to see if the stretch of the river you are planning on floating is open or not. The stretch of river where the oil spill happened is closed until further notice, but there are also parts of the river farther downstream are closed to recreational users when the EPA is working to clean up the PCBs or is in the process of removing one of the dams slated for removal. I have no idea how much work remains to be done downstream from the oilspill, but I did read that Georgia Pacific was finally going to get around to capping two landfills in Kalamazoo that were leaching PCBs into the river. For more information about what the EPA is doing along the Kalamazoo River, you can follow this link.

Since  the deadline from the last clean up plan has been missed, Enbridge now has to formulate a new clean up plan and submit it to the EPA for approval. I am fairly certain the clean up will continue during this process, but it still irks me that this game has to be played. It isn’t just Enbridge and this spill, it is what happens in many instances the way our environmental laws are written. A company has to come up with a plan and submit it to the correct government agency, which then has to review the plan, and either approve or reject it.

If the plan is approved, all is well and good, but if it is rejected, the same process is repeated, maybe several times. Needless to say, the process never plays out quickly. It would seem to me that it would be much quicker to have the two sides sit down to hash out and approve a plan together. The government officials have a general idea what they want the plan to be going in, so why play this silly game all the time? If the company involved is dragging its feet or refuses to do what needs to be done, then take it to court and let a judge decide.

Maybe that wouldn’t work after all. The lower Kalamazoo River is a perfect example of how not to get things done. There has been decades of plan submissions, rejections, legal wranglings, and all the while, pollutants continue to leach into the river, making the eventual clean up even more costly. It makes no sense to me.

In other related news, Enbridge has received permission to begin replacing the pipeline that burst, they are in the process of replacing several five mile long sections of the pipeline at this time, including the stretch where the pipeline broke. Enbridge was already in the planning stages of replacing sections of the pipeline before it burst, it is a shame they didn’t get around to it sooner, and then none of this would have happened.

There has still been no word from the Federal Agency investigating the break as to what caused it in the first place, eight months after they promised a report, and well over a year since the pipeline broke.

In my last update on this, I wrote that Enbridge was working with the Michigan DNR and local officials in the Pigeon River Country, installing new equipment and holding training sessions for emergency responders so that something like this will never happen in the PRC. I also wrote that I thought that Enbridge was doing the same in other areas, but that I wasn’t positive of that, now I am. In the latest newsletter from the Anglers of the Au Sable, they reported that Enbridge is installing new safety equipment on a pipeline they operate that crosses the Au Sable River. Enbridge is also holding training sessions with first responders in that location as well.

The purpose of my writing this is not to do damage control for Enbridge, but to point out that once in a while there is a company willing to do the right thing. I have no illusions that Enbridge is taking the steps that it is in other locations for any other than for financial reasons. They have learned the hard way that prevention is the best medicine, and that it is better to spend some money up front than it is to wait until the worst happens and deal with it then. If it hadn’t been for the Kalamazoo River spill, I seriously doubt that Enbridge would be doing what it is to prevent future spills. No matter what their motivation is, at least they are taking the right course of action as of now. If that changes, I’ll be one of the first calling for swift and harsh retribution.

On the other hand, I can’t help but to contrast the way Enbridge is dealing with its mistake and the way that Golden Lotus is dealing with the issue of removing the dam that it operates on the Pigeon River that has been the cause of two major fishkills in the Pigeon River. I am not going to type out the entire story again here, if you’re interested, you can read some of my earlier posts about it here, and here. There’s not much news to report on that front. Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning Ranch filed an appeal of Judge Murphy’s order requiring full removal of the dam, that appeal was thrown out as entirely without merit or some equally as strong legal language, I have forgotten the exact phrase the Judge used in dismissing the appeal.

Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning backed themselves into the corner they are in, there would have been money from several sources available to aid them in removing the dam, if it wasn’t being done under a court order. Now that a judge has ordered the dam to be removed, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning has to foot the entire bill.

One more bit of news, the public comment period is now open for the land use plan being reformulated by the US Forest Service for the Huron-Manistee National Forest. I first posted about this subject here. As a result of a lawsuit, the Forest Service was ordered to reconsidered a land use plan they had finalized in 2006. The point of contention is that the Forest Service plan allows hunting and snowmobiling on too much of the Nation Forest land for one person’s liking. Here’s a link to another news story about this.

Comments about the proposed plans can be mailed to Huron-Manistee National Forests, ATTN Kenneth Arbogast, 1755 S. Mitchell St., Cadillac, MI, 49601. They can also be faxed to (231) 775-5551 or emailed to comments-eastern-huron-manistee@fs.fed.us. Comments will be accepted through Dec. 21.

I think that’s about all for now. So much news, so little time for blogging about it all. I have several posts in the works about land use and related  issues, but they continue to grow in length with each new story I read. It seems like we are headed for a time when each individual has a small piece of public land where they can do exactly what they want, since no one seems to be willing to share public lands with other users any longer.

As always, thanks for stopping by to read my little rants.


Federal judge halts Paiute cutthroat trout recovery plan – Sacramento Bee

This is a story from the Sacramento Bee that I am posting in its entirety, since not every one reads the Bee.

Federal judge halts Paiute cutthroat trout recovery plan

By Denny Walsh

dwalsh@sacbee.com

Published: Saturday, Sep. 10, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 1B

A Sacramento federal judge has quashed a joint federal-state plan to improve conditions for a rare High Sierra fish, ruling that an auger driven by a gasoline-powered generator cannot be used in designated wilderness areas.

For more than 25 years, government agencies have sought by various means to increase the population of the Paiute cutthroat trout and restore this rare creature to its historical range.

Six years ago, U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. ordered a halt to the state’s plan to poison one stretch of a High Sierra creek and a lake as part of the recovery project.

This week it was Damrell again stepping in to block the latest plan with a permanent injunction based on the federal Wilderness Act.

Spokespersons for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service and the California Department of Fish and Game vowed Friday that the agencies will continue to work together to find a way to accomplish the recovery and restoration of the Paiute cutthroat trout.

“Our team of lawyers are currently reviewing the order to see what we can do to move forward,” said Fish and Game spokesman Kevin Thomas.

Critical to this analysis, he said, is the Forest Service’s decision to employ the auger.

“We can retool the project to address the court’s concerns, we can appeal, that’s two of our options,” he noted.

The plan was to poison with rotenone 11 miles of Silver King Creek to kill non-native fish that crossbreed with the Paiute cutthroat and then to stock the stretch with pure Paiute cutthroat from established populations in the upper portions of the watershed.

The creek is in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness section of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in Alpine County. The 11 miles includes six miles of the main stem of the creek downstream of Llewellyn Falls to Silver King Canyon and five miles of tributaries.

The auger would be used to distribute potassium permanganate to neutralize the toxicity of the rotenone further downstream.

The action was proposed to prevent extinction of the Paiute cutthroat, as required by the federal Endangered Species Act, the agencies say. The Paiute cutthroat is native only to Silver King Creek and is listed under the ESA as a threatened species.

The goal is 2,500 pure Paiute cutthroat greater than 3 inches in length in the pristine watershed.

The agencies recently announced they planned to begin the project in the late summer or early fall of next year. Rotenone was to be applied twice a year over two to three years; each application would take seven days.

Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, Wilderness Watch, and Friends of Silver King Creek, all nonprofit corporations, sued to stop the project.

They claim that the use of the auger does not qualify as an exception to the Wilderness Act’s prohibition of motorized equipment, that the project elevates recreational fishing over preserving wilderness character, and that the agencies failed to prove the project is necessary to meet the act’s minimum requirements for administering wilderness areas.

The agencies countered that using the auger is the most effective method of applying potassium permanganate compared to the drip system, and would minimize the human and ecological effects.

In his 63-page opinion issued Tuesday, Damrell agreed with the plaintiffs that, in choosing the conservation of the Paiute cutthroat over preservation of the wilderness character, “the agencies left native invertebrates species (such as stoneflies, caddisflies and mayflies) out of the balance, and thus improperly concluded that authorization of motorized equipment will comply with the act.”

The plaintiffs are entitled to a permanent injunction barring the project, the judge declared, because “they have demonstrated that rotenone treatment will kill sensitive macro-invertebrate species and that re-colonization will not occur for some species because they cannot adapt to the project area” once the plan has been carried out.

He said the facts tip in favor of the plaintiff “as no exigency exists to begin the project now,” and “the public interest favors preservation of the unimpaired wilderness.”

via Federal judge halts Paiute cutthroat trout recovery plan – Sacramento Sports – Kings, 49ers, Raiders, High School Sports | Sacramento Bee.


The Enbridge oil spill, one year plus

Some one should write a book about this event, but I doubt that it would ever be published if some one did.

For those of you who don’t know, a pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy ruptured on July 26, 2010, a little over a year ago, dumping over 800,000 gallons of oil into a small creek that flows into the Kalamazoo River near Battle Creek, Michigan. This was, and still is, a major environmental disaster, and I believe that Enbridge should pay for the entire clean up, and be fined heavily on top of that. But, the real story, and what has interested me the most, is the incredible amount of red tape that Enbridge faces in trying to clean up the mess they created.

In the first few hours after the story hit the news, Enbridge was crucified for not reporting the spill to federal officials earlier than they did. It turns out that when a pipeline operator reports a spill, they are required to provide an accurate estimate of the size of the spill, or face heavy fines if the estimate is even a little wrong. It took Enbridge a few hours to get an accurate estimate of the size of the spill.

Then, a review of both Enbridge’s, and the federal agency to whom they report, phone records show that Enbridge did attempt to call earlier, but all the lines were busy. And that was just the beginning.

The agency Enbridge was required to notify has nothing to do with responding to a spill or the clean up of a spill, so that resulted in delays while the proper agencies were notified.

That was on a Monday morning. On Monday evening, Enbridge had crews on site, containing the spill. On Tuesday morning, top officials from the State of Michigan, including then Governor Jennifer Granholm, toured the site of the spill, proclaimed the sky was falling, and not enough was being done to clean up the spill. On Tuesday afternoon, President Obama promised a quick response. On Wednesday morning, federal officials arrived, proclaimed there was a problem, and sent for reinforcements, which finally began to arrive on Wednesday evening.

The section of pipeline that ruptured was excavated soon after the spill, and sent to the proper federal agency for an investigation into what caused the pipeline to burst. That agency promised a report in February of this year, but as of September 17th, no report has been issued. We still don’t know what caused the pipeline to burst.

It has been one thing after another. A story will break on some aspect of the clean up that points to Enbridge not doing enough, then we learn that Enbridge is waiting for approval from some federal agency before they can proceed. I could go on and on about this, but I am going to cut this short. In looking up a few things to refresh my memory, I came upon an editorial in the Kalamazoo Gazette calling for Enbridge to be sued. Why? Because federal regulators and federal agencies have failed. I know that makes no sense, let me quote you from the editorial.

“Yet, we would view a lawsuit as a positive development in this particular case — and not because there would be any real remedy that could undo the kind of environmental damage that has been done here. Taking the case to court would ensure a public hearing of the facts.

A lawsuit could shine a spotlight on exactly what transpired; compel information to be produced through discovery; disclose facts that may have a bearing on what happened; hold those who are responsible for what happened accountable for their actions or their failure to act; and penalize any wrongdoers with significant fines and costs that could be considerable.

When the legislative branch fails to protect the people — in this situation by not reforming how oil pipelines are monitored and maintained and adjusting the penalties for failure to adequately do so — the judicial branch can effectively act in the interests of the people.

Long before this Enbridge environmental disaster in July 2010, lawmakers should have promulgated aggressive legislation to compel improvements in pipeline maintenance. That didn’t happen.

That’s why we’re looking for a lawsuit.”

You can read the entire editorial here.

With all due respect to the editorial board at the Kalamazoo Gazette, we know who is responsible, Enbridge. What caused the leak? I am no expert in pipelines, but I did see the photos of the ruptured pipe after it was excavated, it was split lengthwise. We are still waiting for the report from the federal agency investigating why the pipe ruptured, but I think it is a safe bet to say that an operator who wasn’t paying attention flipped the wrong switch, or pushed the wrong button at the wrong time, causing a surge in the pressure within the pipe, causing the pipe to split along an old seam in the pipe. Enbridge will be fined copious amounts of money for not training their employees better, even if the operator responsible had 20 years on the job. As long as there are humans involved, there will always be human error, and as long as there are mechanical devices involved, there will always be equipment failures.

And again, with all due respect to the powers that be at the Kalamazoo Gazette, if you want answers, then maybe you should assign a reporter or two to do some real investigative journalism rather than sit at their desks and rewrite the news releases sent to them. (That’s one of my pet peeves, there is no investigative journalism being done these days, unless you count the paparazzi investigating the personal lives of celebrities.)

The media loves to go off half-cocked and call for action before we know what actions should take place. Until we know for sure what caused the leak, how can any one formulate legislation, regulations, or rules to prevent the same thing from happening again?

How is filing a lawsuit against Enbridge going to get legislators and regulators to perform the jobs they were elected or hired to do? A lawsuit against Enbridge is quite likely to have the opposite effect, officials will feel they are off the hook as far as their actions, and it would be prudent for them to await the outcome of a suit before they act once a lawsuit is filed. Once a case is in the court system, the judge’s decision would have a direct bearing on how new rules and regulations should be crafted, so everything would be put on hold until the judge makes his ruling to give the officials direction as to how they should proceed.

If the editorial board of the Kalamazoo Gazette is looking for quick actions, I’ve got news for them, the court system is not where you are going to find quick action. Such a lawsuit as the one they are proposing would take years or decades to work through the system before there is a definitive ruling.

And what would that ruling be? It’s hard to say. I doubt that any judge assigned to the case has the technical background to issue a decision until they have taken the time to educate themselves on the issues, and they would have to rely on expert opinions. Then you get into a situation where you have conflicting expert opinions, depending on what axe the expert has to grind. Which expert the judge chooses to listen to is hard to say.

That whole point should be moot anyway, the Kalamazoo Gazette is calling for a court to make law since the legislature and federal regulators are moving too slow as far as the Gazette is concerned. Perhaps the editorial board of the Kalamazoo Gazette should familiarize themselves with the document known as the United States Constitution. It is not up to the courts to make law, that duty is reserved for the legislative branch of our government.

If Enbridge was shirking its responsibilities in the clean up, then I would agree, file a law suit, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. When accusations have come up that Enbridge isn’t doing what it should, or as much as they could, the federal officials overseeing the clean up have defended Enbridge and the way it is handling the clean up.

Filing a lawsuit will only slow down the clean up. People will have to take the time to attend court hearings, give depositions in the case, and that will only distract them from the task at hand, cleaning up the spill and making sure that such a spill never happens again. Enbridge would have to spend huge sums of money defending themselves in court, and how often have companies been driven to bankruptcy leaving no money left to clean up the mess they created after fighting such lawsuits? I am not saying that Enbridge would be driven into bankruptcy, but it is a possibility, and then there would be no money left to clean up the spill other than public funds, and why should we force a company out of business, then pick up the tab for cleaning up after them?

That happens way too often in this country, but then there are those who have as a goal the putting companies such as Enbridge out of business. I see that as counterproductive. It is better that a company survive and pay for the clean up out of their profits than it is for Joe Taxpayer to foot the bill.

Maybe the editorial board of the Kalamazoo Gazette should inform themselves better before they go off on a rant. I know that Enbridge is installing new safety measures on pipelines they operate in the Pigeon River Country, including automated shut-off valves to limit any oil spills should a pipeline rupture. They are working with the Michigan DNR, and other state and local officials to come up with response plans should there be a leak, and they are taking other measures as well. I think I read that they are doing the same in other parts of the state, but I am not positive about that. Maybe we don’t have to wait for federal regulators after all.

The position of the editorial board of the Kalamazoo Gazette, that we should do something even if it’s wrong, is how we end up with bad regulations that do nothing to solve the problems they were intended to solve. I am not saying let Enbridge off the hook, I am not saying that the regulations  concerning the operation and maintenance of pipelines don’t need to be addressed, but let’s do it right for a change. Not as a knee-jerk reaction to a frenzy whipped up by the media trying to sell papers by creating a controversy where none exists.



The stench lingers on, the Pigeon River Part III

Just so that there are no misunderstanding, most of this post is going to be my recollections and my opinions about the Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning Ranch and the dam that they operate on the Pigeon River.

First of all, I have to correct an error in my previous post “Victory for the Pigeon River! Part II” concerning the history of the dam. It has been widely reported that the dam was originally built by the owners of the Lansing Club, however, further research has shown that the dam actually precedes the hunt club days and was built by the Cornwall Lumber Company to make it easier to float logs down the Pigeon during the lumber era. That’s what I get for trusting newspaper articles, but I wasn’t alive at the turn of the last century to know that.

Anyway, you can read the previous post for a history of the dam, or I’ll do a short one here. It was originally an earthen and log dam built to float logs downstream. After the Lansing Club purchased the property they maintained the dam and the pond above it. In May of 1957, a heavy rainfall washed part of the earthen dam out, releasing sediment from behind the dam and resulted in a minor fish-kill down river from the dam. The dam was reconstructed using concrete to repair the damage. In 1970, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning purchased the land and the dam and set up a yoga retreat on the property. In 1984, and again in 2008, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning  erred in their operation of the dam, causing two more massive fish-kills in the Pigeon River.

Which was worse? It’s hard to say. The reason for the 1984 incident was that there had been an inspection of the dam, and it was found that work needed to be done on the floodgates to prevent a failure of the dam. The Michigan DNR issued a permit along with a schedule for Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning to slowly release water from behind the dam in a controlled manner as not to cause a release of the sediment trapped above the dam, so that the floodgates could be repaired. As the drawdown began, the lowered water levels in the impoundment exposed acres of the black, organic silt that is the major portion of the sediment to view, and to air. Instead of the idyllic pond that Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning was used to, there were acres of rotting organic silt mudflats that offended senses of the guests that had paid to stay at Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning Ranch.

“Humans need as much consideration as some little goofy fish” J. Oliver Black, the founder of Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning once said while overlooking the dam that has caused so much destruction. “If it weren’t for the DNR, we wouldn’t have had this trouble in the first place”. Taken from the book “Pigeon River Country: a Michigan forest”  By Dale Clarke Franz

Richard Armour, the maintenance man for Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning told the real story in the court proceedings that resulted from the 1984 incident. He acted under the orders of J. Oliver Black, otherwise know as Yogacharya Black, and raised the floodgates high enough to perform the repairs, then quickly shut them as soon as he was finished, all under the cover of darkness. This was confirmed by an automated flow gauge operated by the United States Geological Survey just a few miles downstream of the dam.

Fearing a loss of income, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning opened the floodgates all the way, drained the impoundment way too quickly, and released tons of the rotting organic silt downstream that resulted in the first stage of the fish-killing process. After quickly repairing the floodgates, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning then closed them to refill the impoundment as quickly as possible to restore the pond to its normal level. That’s the second part of the fish-killing equation, because then, the sediment that is being transported downstream settles out, coating the river bottom with the sediment, and the reduced flow of water leaves most of any surviving fish stranded high and dry.

If Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning had followed the DNR’s orders, none of that would have happened. As it was, when the DNR investigated the fish-kill, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning tried to deny they were responsible. Of course that didn’t hold up, as the floodgates had been repaired, and the only way that could have taken place is if the impoundment had been drained.

Fast forward to June 22nd of 2008. The river was just getting completely healthy again, when Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning chose to ignore the fact that the automated system for the dam’s operation was malfunctioning, and needed to be repaired. The floodgates were opened all the way, releasing another torrent of sediment downstream, and rather than respond to the alarms going off, the operators of the dam ignored them until morning, when once again, they shut off the flow of water almost completely. Once again, they tried to deny that they were responsible for the resulting fish-kill. Once again, the denials from Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning didn’t hold up.

I was up there for the 4th of July weekend in 2008, and there was no one camping at the Pigeon Bridge State Forest Campground. No one could stand to camp there, it is just over a mile downstream of the Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning dam, and the stench of rotting fish and the organic silt released from behind the dam were overwhelming. Even as far downstream as the Pigeon River State Forest Campground, several more miles downstream, the smell was more than people could stand.

Maybe I should explain what the organic silt is. Some of it comes from the normal life functions of aquatic animals, some of it is the decomposing bodies of animals that have died in the river, but the majority of it is plant matter. Either aquatic plants that die, or the leaves, trees, and grasses that fall into the river. In a normal, free-flowing river, it is transported downstream and only accumulates in a few places in slow sections of a river.

 When a river is dammed, that plant matter begins to build up behind the dam and rot slowly over time, producing methane gas as it does. The methane builds up in the silt until there is enough of it to break free and bubble up to the surface. Go to almost any lake and watch the surface, you’ll occasionally see bubbles coming up from the lake bottom, that’s methane gas rising to the surface. Methane gas smells like rotten eggs, not at all a pleasant odor.

The rotting fish were gone in a few weeks, but the silt remains in the river, and the stench lingers on. There are once again, large pockets of the silt deposited in the slower waters of the river, it will take years for the river to flush itself clean again. Every time one of those pockets is disturbed, more of the methane escapes to offend the nose.

If it were just the smell, it would be bad enough, but the smell is just a small part of the problem. The silt is clogging up the gravel that fish need to be able to spawn successfully. Trout and other fish drop their eggs in gravel, the eggs fall down in between the rocks that make up the gravel, and water flowing through the gravel transports oxygen to the eggs. With silt clogging up the flow of water through the gravel, the fish eggs die.

The silt also clogs the gills of the insects that live in the river, so there isn’t the food available that the young fish would feed on even if the eggs did manage to hatch. It will take years for the river to flush itself clean and for it to return to a healthy state once again, that is if there are no more “mistakes” by Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning before that happens.

I was still a teenager when Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning bought the Lansing club, it was no big deal to me. I didn’t agree with their ideas as far as them being vegans or their religious views, but I wasn’t going to walk into their retreat and tell them how wrong they were, to each their own is my motto. Too bad it didn’t work the other way.

Over the years I have had a few run ins with some of the guests from Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning , they are opposed to fishing, and don’t mind telling you what a horrible person you are if you do fish. Back in the early years, I would just let them vent and ignore them, but after the fish-kill of 1984, I would tell them to ask the management of Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning how many fish they had killed, just to shut up the people accosting me. If you don’t want to fish, fine, don’t fish. Don’t lecture me about fish and fishing when you know nothing about the environment, or what the company you are a client of has done to the environment.

I guess that’s what really irks me, the air of moral superiority that these people come at me with. They don’t know me, or anything about me, other than I have a fish pole in my hands, and therefore I need to be taught the error of my ways. I’ve tried to hold a civil conversation with them, but that never works. It doesn’t take long for me to figure out that they have no clue as to how the environment actually functions, they just think its pretty and that they want to commune with nature. They don’t know a may fly from a caddis fly from a stone fly, and if I point one to them, all they want to know is if it will bite them or not. (Insert maniacal laugh here) I can appreciate that they love nature and think that it is beautiful, I do too, it’s just that I commune best with nature with a fly rod in my hand, standing in the river, learning as much as I can about the way nature works, as I catch a fish or two.

I would cut Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning some slack, if the fish-kills hadn’t been deliberate. Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning claims they were accidents, BS!

When they received the permit from the Michigan DNR to draw down the impoundment and repair the floodgates, they were warned what the consequences would be if the opened the floodgates too far, too fast, but they did it anyway. Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning decided to put expediency over the safety and health of the river, and they wiped out 10 years of river life. When Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning ignored the alarm system for the dam, they once again put expediency over the safety and health of the river, and killed another 10 years of river life. Those are not the actions of a group that promotes itself as a friend to the environment. Or a friend to people.

Each time that Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning has caused these fish-kills, they have also impacted the local economy in a negative way. Vanderbilt is a poor area to begin with, and many of the locals depend on the tourist industry to make a living. When the fish have been killed, the fishermen don’t come, business suffers, and the people of Vanderbilt suffer. But then there’s that moral superiority thing again. The people at Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning don’t like the town folk, most of them are hunters and fishermen, and therefore the people at Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning don’t want to associate with the townspeople, and don’t really care what happens to them.

That air of moral superiority comes in handy when dealing with the media as well. When Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning does these things and is caught, they always fall back on the story that they are a non-profit group of Vegan yoga enthusiasts who just want to live in harmony with nature. That plays well with the media, who run a story or two about the events, then lets the story drop out of sight. If it was a for profit business that was ignoring DNR orders, sidestepping Federal Regulation, failing to maintain a dam, and killing thousands of fish, do you really believe the media would let the story drop?

Another thing that Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning does every time they are caught is to plead poverty. They can’t afford to pay the fines levied by the DNR, or afford to maintain the dam in good condition, or to remove the dam, according to them. Yogacharya Black, who founded Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning, was a multimillionaire who made his fortune in the auto industry. I don’t know what happened to those millions of dollars, but I have often wondered about a few things. Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning owns 800 acres of land, yet the yoga retreat only occupies a few acres very close to the dam and pond, the rest is all undeveloped. I have thought to myself, why don’t they sell off some of the land they aren’t using if they can’t afford to continue to own it. Well, that’s kind of tricky subject.

You see, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning still owns the land, but control of the land is now in the hands of the Clear Light Community Management Company. That’s a for profit subsidiary of Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning that is acting as a real estate developer for the undeveloped portions of the 800 acres that Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning owns. The vision is for a stand alone community, complete with housing and business owned by members of Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning. Not too long ago, they announced that they were getting close to a ground breaking ceremony to build their own fire station. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Carol Armour, the current head of Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning shares many of the same notions as her mentor, Yogacharya Black. She claims any study done that calls for the Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning dam to be removed is biased, and that the dam doesn’t harm the ecosystem of the river. OK, I guess she’s entitled to her opinion, even if it does fly in the face of science.

All I have to say is that the stench lingers on.


Victory for the Pigeon River! Part II

Paddle the pristine, nature-filled Pigeon River, stretch and rejuvenate your body with yoga, and dine like royalty as the kitchen staff pampers you with wonderful, gourmet vegetarian meals. Sound like a relaxing weekend? You deserve it! Treat yourself to all of the above and try some meditation, bring a good book, or hike the nature trails in your spare time. Led by yoga instructor, outdoor lover, and Song of the Morning staff member (name hidden to protect the guilty).”

Ahhhh, yeah, right. That was taken from the website for Song of the Morning Ranch, the yoga retreat on the banks of the Pigeon River, just outside the Pigeon River Country. That’s their advertising anyway, here’s the reality.

The dam, owned by the yoga retreat off Sturgeon Valley Road, has been in the spotlight since June 2008 when a release of water and sediment from the impoundment upstream of the dam caused a massive fish kill for miles downstream. After that incident, the DNR and PRCA filed a lawsuit against Golden Lotus, with TU signing on as an intervening plaintiff.”

That’s from a newspaper article online from the Petoskey News, you can read the entire story here.

The massive fish kill in June 2008 was the third such incident involving the old Lansing Club dam. First, a little history.

Song of the Morning Dam

The Lansing Club was a sportsman club that purchased 800 acres of land just east of Vanderbilt, Michigan, when that happened, I am not exactly sure. The Lansing Club built the dam on the Pigeon River over 100 years ago as a source for electricity back before there were any power lines in the area. Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning continues to use the dam to generate electricity, even though they admit it would be cheaper for them to buy electricity from a utility company. But that wouldn’t let them claim they are “off the grid”.

There was a major Fishkill before Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning purchased the land and the dam, back on May 15, 1957, a 1.09 inch rainfall washed out the dam and produced a 12-foot head of water that roared down the Pigeon River. The earthworks were replaced with concrete and the dam became known as the Song of the Morning Ranch dam after Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning purchased the old Lansing Club.

Since Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning has owned and operated the dam, there have been two major fish kills on the Pigeon River.

On July 3, 1984, the Song of the Morning Ranch dam operators ignored a DNR order to gradually draw down the impoundment to make critical repairs and released large quantities of water and silt from the 65 acre impoundment in their rush to get access to the bottom of the dam’s gates. The result was another silt spill into the Pigeon with the destruction of an estimated 22,000 fish! 

The second accident resulted in a four-year long court case that resulted in a Consent Order that required, among other things, “implementing an approved dam safety and management program” by the Song of the Morning Ranch so that there would never be another disaster on the Pigeon.

It was after that incident that a court ordered that if there were another such incident because of the dam in the future, the dam would have to be removed.

In April 2005 the State of Michigan petitioned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees 99 hydroelectric dams in Michigan, to regulate the dam at Song of the Morning. FERC denied the request, as well as a request for rehearing, saying the dam did not meet the requirements for federal jurisdiction.

The fact that Song of the Morning operates off the grid was a major reason its dam escaped FERC regulation. Bryan Burroughs, executive director of Trout Unlimited in Michigan claimed the retreat, which occasionally drew electricity from the grid but now uses a diesel generator for backup power, “didn’t disconnect until they smelled that people were trying to get FERC to regulate them.”

Indeed, just four months after the state’s initial request to FERC, Golden Lotus wrote the commission, stating its intention to disconnect from the grid. “Everybody we talked to said ‘Don’t be FERC regulated,’ Song of the Morning staff  general manager Ian Wylie said. “It’s a nightmare. The cost to do that would be outrageous.”

The June 2008 fish kill was due to operator error, and resulted in thousands of dead trout lining the banks of the Pigeon River for several miles below the dam.

Dead trout on the Pigeon River, from the Detroit Free Press

Sometime during the night of June 22 or small hours of June 23, 2008, a mechanical problem caused the dam gates to open completely, or nearly so. Tons of sediment rose from the pond’s bottom, churned in the sudden torrent, and rushed through the gates into the river.

An alarm sounded, indicating a low water level in the pond, but was ignored by Song of the Morning staff, said general manager Ian Wylie. In weeks prior, the dam’s monitoring system had fallen out of calibration, causing repeated false alarms and leading the staff to switch to a backup system. When the alarm sounded in earnest, Wylie said, it got the boy- who-cried-wolf treatment.

By morning, few fish survived immediately downstream. The rush of warm pond water and organic sediment lowered the river’s oxygen levels until trout, suckers and other species suffocated, said Dave Borgeson, a fisheries biologist with the Department of Natural Resources who investigated the fish kill.

After they were smothered in a warm slurry of muck, things got even worse for the fish. When Song of the Morning staff realized the pond’s level had dropped significantly, Wylie said, “a decision had to be made.” They opted to shut the dam gates completely to stop the sediment flow, and to refill the pond. For a time, the river downstream all but disappeared.

Normal flow of the Pigeon River is 60 cfs. The operators of the dam released 185 cfs (more than three times its normal flow) on June 22. Then, on the morning of June 23, they essentially shut the flow off to a water flow of 6 cfs. Even without the release of sediment, just the fluctuation in flow alone would have had a devastating effect on aquatic life. The  dissolved oxygen (DO) levels were at or close to zero. This has a fatal outcome for fish. At DO levels of 5, stress on fish is greatly heightened; and at DO level of 6 or greater fish actively thrive.

Dave Borgeson, a fisheries biologist with the Department of Natural Resources and others conducted a survey of the affected stretch of river using a mild electric shock to stun fish so they could be counted. For two miles downstream from the dam they saw a grim parade of belly up trout, but couldn’t find enough live fish to estimate the population.

“It will be five to 10 years before the river comes back to the condition it was in the week before this happened,” said John Walters, president of the Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Aside from the fish kill, organisms that serve as food were also killed by the sediments. Following the 1984 incident, fish were planted in the now depleted section of the river below the dam.

“They all died,” Walters said. “There is no food. They starved. We prefer to see the river make a natural recovery.”

The same scenario has played out after both of the fish kills they have been responsible for. Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning has been sued in court, fined by the Michigan DNR, and the resulting negative publicity has hurt the bottom line of Golden Lotus, which claims to be a non-profit entity. Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning quickly signs off on a deal with the state and other litigants to get the story out of the news, and as soon as that happens, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning just as quickly tries to go back on the deals they have signed off on, claiming that they can’t afford to live up to the terms of the agreements they have signed.

After the last fish kill in June 2008, the DNR fined Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning $1.3 million for the environmental disaster they caused. In addition, the State of Michigan and the public entity that oversees the Pigeon River Country, the Pigeon River Country Association, sued Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning for full removal of the dam under the terms of the court order from 1984. Trout Unlimited was allowed to join the suit as an interested party.

The parties involved negotiated a settlement that reduced the fine from the original $1.5 million to $150,000 to be paid in annual payments of $15,000 per year for ten years, with the understanding that Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning would use the money they no longer had to pay in fines to remove the dam once and for all. The PRCA and TU agreed to assist Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning in developing a plan to remove the dam. The judge assigned to the case and all interested parties, including Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning signed off on the negotiated settlement. That got the story out of the press, and ended the bad publicity for Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning at least at the time.

Before the ink was barely dry on the settlement they signed, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning was back trying to renegotiate the terms of the settlement, asking the state to allow them to only remove the mechanical parts of the dam that have been the cause of the fish kills, but allowing Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning to leave the impoundment itself in place.

What Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning is trying to do is escape their legal responsibilities as far as the dam is concerned. They hope that in removing the floodgates and power generating equipment that they will no longer be legally responsible for any future environmental damage that the remaining part of the impoundment may cause. I think they are acting on poor legal advice and are only concerned with their bottom line. As it is right now, they are legally responsible for any environmental damage the dam causes, even if that environmental damage was triggered by an act of nature, such as a heavy rainfall that would wash silt downstream.

Whatever their motivation is, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning is once again trying to weasel out of a deal they signed off on. That led the PRCA and TU to file suit again to force Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning to live up to the agreement that had been worked out before. Just this week, 46th Circuit Court Judge Dennis Murphy ruled that removal really does mean removal, and that Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning must remove the entire dam, not just the mechanical portions of it.

For the Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning side of the story, here’s a link to a document they have posted on the web.

William Schlecte, attorney for Golden Lotus, said he will “vigorously appeal” Judge Murphy’s decision and continue to support the ranch’s two-phase approach.

Schlecte said the appeal could first go back to Judge Murphy, then eventually the Michigan Supreme Court, potentially taking years to resolve. He also said Golden Lotus is a nonprofit organization that does not have enough money to do an all-out removal right away. He characterized his client as being devoted to a lifestyle that is harmonious with nature.

Harmonious with nature? That may be how Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning promotes itself to the well-heeled clientelle they hope to attract to their retreat, but their actions tell a different story. Paddle the pristine, nature-filled Pigeon River? Not after your client gets finished with it Mr. Schlecte, while most of the emphasis has been on the trout and other fish killed by your client, the truth is almost the entire aquatic ecosystem was wiped out for miles downstream of the dam your client controls. Not only were the fish killed, but also the insects, amphibians, and other lifeforms the fish eat, right down to the plankton that supports the entire ecosystem. Instead of the clear cool water that used to be the Pigeon, there is now the remnants of the silt lining the river bottom making it almost unrecognizable.

So your client is threatening to drag this out for years? Is that to give them more time to finish off the destruction they seem bent on inflicting on the river, Mr. Schlecte? Your client’s own document paints the dam and the associated pond as an ecological time bomb just waiting to explode for a fourth time.

Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning have proven they have no respect for the river or the environment. They have ignored DNR recommendations and orders in the past. They have ignored the warning systems they were ordered to install to prevent these events from happening. They have proven that they are incapable of operating the dam in a safe manner. They have compounded their mistakes in pathetic attempts to cover their tracks by closing the floodgates completely, hoping that they can refill the pond before any one notices the destruction they have wrought. It is time for the dam to go, NOW!

Court orders are all well and good, but we really can’t declare a victory for the Pigeon River until the dam is gone once and for all!


Victory for the Pigeon River!

I’m going to do something I don’t normally do, post an Email I just received from the Michigan Chapter of Trout Unlimited verbatim. I’ll add a few thoughts of my own at the end.

Court sides with Michigan Trout Unlimited and Pigeon River Country Association in Golden Lotus Dam case motion.

A recent opinion from the courts just validated what we at TU already knew, that an agreement for a “dam removal” means the physical removal of all of the parts of the dam. It does not mean partial dam removal, dam modification, or dam drawdown as alleged by Golden Lotus and the State of Michigan! With the judge’s ruling today, Golden Lotus is required to completely remove all of its dam on the Pigeon River – the same dam that has caused three large fish kills in the past.

Michigan Trout Unlimited and the Pigeon River Country Association (PRCA) filed motions in the case earlier this year when the dam owners, Golden Lotus, Inc., put forward a plan for dam drawdown that would not remove all of the dam, and would continue blocking fish passage. They stated their responsibilities stopped there, despite the Court Ordered settlement calling for “dam removal” (these documents can be found and read at www.michigantu.org ). The State of Michigan (the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Environmental Quality) represented by Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office surprisingly sided with Golden Lotus in their reinterpretation of the Court Order, and began processing a permit application for the project despite MITU and PRCA objections. Both Golden Lotus and the State argued that despite leaving the base and sides of the dam in the river and blocking fish passage, that the project should be considered “dam removal”.

In an Opinion and Order issued by the Honorable Judge Murphy of the Otsego County Circuit Court, on July 22, 2011, the Court sided in favor of Michigan Trout Unlimited and the Pigeon River Country Association. Judge Murphy stated “In other words, ‘dam removal’ means dam removal.” The court also found that “the meaning of ‘dam removal’ is clear and statutorily defined”, and “the Interim Order is not ambiguous.”

“We are very pleased with the opinion and its affirmation of our understanding of the settlement agreement we signed onto and of Michigan law,” states Bryan Burroughs, Executive Director for Michigan Trout Unlimited. “This required significant resources for us compared with that of the State of Michigan and an insurance company-paid Golden Lotus defense. But we knew what was right, and what the Pigeon River deserved, and standing up for that at all costs is what we do and why we exist.”

“It’s frustrating that the dam removal was so seriously side-tracked during this dispute,” states Dave Smith, Chair of Michigan Trout Unlimited. “We’re anxious to get back into a productive planning mode to see this project is done and done right, and get the Pigeon River healing from over 100 years of this dam’s impacts to it.”

The parties will now have to work together to develop a new plan for completely removing the dam.

Sincerely,

Dr. Bryan Burroughs
Executive Director, Michigan Trout Unlimited

The Pigeon River

I fell in love with the Pigeon River Country and the Pigeon River when I was just a kid, but my love for the area and the river hasn’t faded through the years, it has only grown stronger. I have written about that before, so I won’t bore you by repeating myself here.

In the years since Golden Lotus purchased the old Lansing Hunting Club, they have been responsible for three major fish kills on the Pigeon. They raise the flood gates, releasing too much water along with sediment trapped behind the dam. Then they realize their mistake, close the flood gates, and reduce the flow of the river to almost nothing. All that sediment fouls the water and suffocates the trout downstream by clogging the trouts’ gills.

That’s my river they’re messing with, and my trout that they are killing, I will be so glad when the dam is finally removed and the river is allowed to repair itself and revert completely wild again!

As in the past, the trout are rebounding from the last major incident a few years ago. But they shouldn’t have to rebound every few years as they have the last couple of decades. Since Golden Lotus loves conning people into believing they are all about peace, love, and harmony with the environment, I hope they stop fighting this now, and remove the dam once and for all, since they obviously care about nothing more than their bottom line.


More hating on my Nikon

I have been using my Nikon D50 for a couple of weeks now, ever since I killed my Canon Powershot while kayaking. In these last two weeks, I have taken around 1,000 pictures, and I’m finally beginning to figure the Nikon out, not that it is helping all that much.

Let me start by saying that Nikon has always had the reputation of producing superior optics, and I agree with that 100%, the Nikkor lenses are some of the best made. When everything comes together perfectly, the Nikon produces some stunningly clear photos, such as this one.

Mute swan

The problem is that getting a photo with this kind of quality is a rarity, and it shouldn’t be that way. But you can see that optically, the Nikon is a great camera.

When I say optics, I mean the glass in the lenses and camera, and Nikon’s are superior. There is no distortion of any type, not that the eye can see anyway. I am sure that using lab equipment, some one could measure the amount of distortion in this picture, but lab results are nothing, the finished photos are what count.

My Canon would take photos that at first glance seemed to be almost as good, but I could tell that it was because of the way the Canon is programmed to record the information reaching the sensor. The Canon engineers sharpen the images, much like you can do with software once you load your pictures on a computer, in the way the images are recorded digitally.

The Canon’s optics can’t match the Nikon’s, I wouldn’t expect it to. The Canon is a mid-priced compact all in one point and shoot camera, the Nikon is a high-end amateur SLR. But, I could go out with the Canon, shoot 100 pictures, and at least 90 of them would be good enough for me to use in my blog. I take the Nikon out, shoot 100 pictures, and I am lucky if 40 of them are good enough for here. So why the difference? I’m beginning to figure it out.

First of all, the Nikon’s auto-focus system sucks, I’ve said it before, and I’m not going to mince words about it. When I went for my 4th of July hike near Muskegon, the auto-focus would fail to lock on a focus probably 25% of the time when shooting landscape pictures. That was on a day when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, I couldn’t have asked for much better conditions for photography. And by failing to lock on a focus, I don’t mean that it was simply out of focus, but that the lens would cycle through its two attempts to find a focus, fail, and not let me shoot a picture unless I switched to manual focus. Then there were all the times it locked on a focus that was wrong, the shot was way out of focus, but the camera locked on, and told me it was OK to shoot. A camera such as the D50 should not have trouble focusing on a shot like this.

Coast Guard Station at Muskegon

To me, that is unacceptable performance. There are a few leaves in the shot fairly close, but almost everything else in the frame should have been focused at the infinity setting. At first I thought the camera just had trouble focusing on close-ups. Then I thought it had trouble focusing out to infinity, because it wouldn’t focus on a cloud, or in this case, a building in the distance. What I have figured out is that it has trouble focusing on close-ups, has trouble focusing on distant objects, and has trouble focusing on anything in between. The more I use it, the more I am using it as a manual focus camera. maybe it’s just my camera, or just my lens, I don’t know, and it’s too late to send it in under warranty, so I’m stuck with it the way it is. I know that I have to switch to manual focus so often that my left thumb now “knows” exactly where the switch for the focusing mode is.

One thing I noticed when the camera does focus correctly is that as I was getting ready to shoot, I could hear and see the servo for focusing making small adjustments as I was pressing the shutter. I figured out that the depth of field is so small, that any breeze that caused the subject to move, or movement on my part, was enough to cause my pictures to be out of focus. There are two reasons for this.

One is the lens, it has a very narrow depth of field, and there isn’t much I can do about that except to learn to live with it. The only thing I can compare the Nikon camera and lens to is my old Pentax Spotmatic II, which is a film SLR. I don’t recall the depth of field being so narrow with any of the lenses I have for the Pentax, but they’re all fixed length lenses, not a zoom lens like I have for the Nikon. I don’t know if the very narrow depth of field is because of the type of lens I have, or if it is in the way that Nikon designs their Nikkor lenses, but it makes getting the correct focus critical, which isn’t easy when the auto focus doesn’t work very well.

Also making the narrow depth of field problem worse is the way Nikon programmed the exposure control for the D50. It is heavily weighted towards fast shutter speeds, with the lens aperture quite wide open. I have been taking note of the exposure settings the camera has chosen when I shoot in the program mode in order to help me solve the problems I have been having. For example, for some of the landscape shots I took on the 4th of July hike, I was seeing exposure settings like 1/2,500 of a second at F/8. Or, 1/1,600 of a second at F/5.6

Huh?

The fastest shutter speed my old Pentax is capable of shooting at is 1/1,000 of a second for a comparison, and the Nikon was selecting shutter speeds faster than that, while keeping the lens aperture fairly open, no wonder the depth of field is so narrow! That also explains why focus is so critical on the Nikon, as well as other problems I’ll get to in a minute here.

To me, that’s an epic fail on the part of the Nikon engineers when they wrote the software for the exposure control for the D50. Every one who knows anything about photography knows that stopping the lenses down produces better pictures as far as overall quality. Haven’t they ever heard of Ansel Adams and the Group F/64? I think the Nikon engineers should have struck a better balance in the exposure control between shutter speed and lens aperture, going with slightly slower shutter speeds and stopping the lens down a little more. Instead of F/8 at 1/2,500 of a second, the exposure should have been F/16 at 1/1,000 of a second or so.

I know I could switch to the aperture mode and set the F-stop to what I would like it to be, and I may very well end up doing that, but I’ll have to explore some other options first. I like shooting in the program mode for the speed it gives me when I am trying to photograph animals and the like, when taking time to set the camera manually may take too long before the animal runs off.

The other problem I have always had with the Nikon is that it doesn’t do well as far as color rendition and saturation when shooting landscape photos. I think part of that is due to the wide aperture settings the exposure control chooses, but I think there is more to the problem than that. In the landscape photos I have taken, the colors look washed out or faded most of the time, especially the greens from the foliage. The camera does well with other colors, especially reds, oranges, and yellows.

I started playing with the exposure compensation, since my landscape photos looked washed out, I thought that they were over-exposed. By adjusting the exposure down manually, I was able to get better color rendition and saturation of the green of foliage, but then the other colors were out of whack, making the pictures look fake. I also got some really bizarre effects as well, completely unexpected, which I won’t go into here. Anyway, the exposure compensation wasn’t the answer.

Then came my hike at Muskegon on the 4th of July. A nearly perfect day for photography, bright blue skies with out a cloud in sight, low humidity and no haze, I should have gotten excellent photos, but I didn’t. I filled my memory card that day, 375 photos to sort through. One of the reasons I took so many photos is because I have to take two or three of the same thing hoping to get one good one out of the bunch.

There were quite a few of the fireworks, but over 200 of them were landscape photos, and less than half a dozen were really good. I was ticked, and disappointed. Then I did something I have always sworn I would never do, I adjusted many of the landscape pictures digitally on my computer. I felt I had no choice. The greens of the trees and grasses were washed out, as always, and I wanted to post some pictures of the day on my blog of it. I knew the Nikon software had the ability to edit photos, but I had never used it before.

I was looking at one of the photos, wishing the color had come out right, when I decided to see what the color booster included with the Nikon software would do. I clicked it to start it, and found it had a built-in automatic color correction feature for nature photos. Hmmm. I clicked that, and lo and behold, the photo then looked just the way I saw it when I snapped the shutter! The greens of the foliage , the blue sky, and the blue of the lake were now just right! They no longer looked faded and washed out.

So, I tried another, then another, and found that the automatic color correction for nature photos made all the pictures I had been disappointed in look like I wanted them to look. They didn’t look fake or phony, the auto correct did a great job of making the photos look just right.

Okay, so that begs the question of why I have to use the automatic color correction for nature photos in the first place? Apparently, the Nikon engineers know that the camera doesn’t record nature photographs well, and have programmed the auto correct feature to make up for that fact. So, my next question is, why didn’t they just program that into the camera in the first place?

Nikon has to know the weakness of their camera in reproducing landscape photos, or they wouldn’t have gone to the expense of writing an auto-correct feature in their computer software, and if they know there is a weakness, why not re-write the camera software to eliminate it?

I don’t get it.

So what I have is a camera and lens with superb optics, and poor software to go with it. A note to the Nikon engineers, in digital photography, the best optics in the world will produce poor results if your software sucks, and yours does!

The 70-360mm lens that I have has a narrow depth of field that makes focusing correctly more critical than ever, but that wouldn’t be that big of a problem if it weren’t for the way the camera is programmed. The auto focus doesn’t work, it is close to being useless. Then there is the exposure control that compounds the narrow depth of field by prioritizing shutter speed over aperture as far as photo quality is concerned, and to top it all off the camera software washes out the colors found in nature.

I guess I made a very poor choice in cameras and lenses seeing as how 99% of my photos are nature photos.

I am going to go out today and pick up another Canon Powershot, the optics may not be nearly as good as Nikon’s, but at least the engineers at Canon know how to make an auto focus system that actually works, and know how to write software IN the camera to accurately record colors found in nature. And I’ll just note in passing that the Canon is much easier to carry and use while on the go than the Nikon, but that’s due to the type of camera it is.

I am not going to give up on the Nikon though, not this time. I did when I bought my first Powershot, it took such good pictures without any hassles that the Nikon was relegated to back up duties. The superior optics and larger sensor in the Nikon means the potential is there for some truly fantastic photos, but I have to find my way around the software roadblocks the Nikon engineers programmed into the camera. Now that I am getting a handle on those roadblocks, I think I will be able to make the Nikon live up to its potential. Time to read the manual again, right after I get back with my new Canon.


Bysterveld Park, in praise of the smaller parks

Bysterveld Park is a small, 70 acre park in the northeast corner of Allegan County, Michigan. It isn’t the type of park or place I normally look for to go hiking or exploring, but this one is personal. My uncle and aunt, John and Josie Bysterveld, donated the land for the park to Allegan County, to be used specifically for a park.

Entrance to Bysterveld Park

I didn’t know my aunt and uncle well, but I can still remember visiting them when I was young, and John B, as we called him, showing us around the property that has become Bysterveld Park. I can still remember how he knew every inch of the land, the plants and animals that lived there, and how much he cared for them.

 My aunt and uncle never had any children, but what they did have was that seemingly unique Dutch trait of being generous tightwads. By that, I mean they lived a frugal life and never spent a penny they didn’t have to, but, they donated generously to the church, other charities they believed in, as well as friends and family. So my uncle donating his property to the County for every one to enjoy is right in character.

My aunt Josie passed away first, and John B lived alone for the rest of his life. When he was making out his will, he included a provision donating part of his land to Allegan County, with the stipulation that the land be used as a park. The County fought him on that stipulation, they would accept the land alright, but they wanted the ability to turn around and sell it.

It is kind of funny reading about the park on the County’s website now about what a great piece of property it is, when they didn’t want it as a park when my uncle first proposed it. This is from the County’s website…

“It encompasses a beautiful 70-acre parcel of natural area generously donated to the County by the late John and Josie Bysterveld. …. There are many splendid natural features that can be found on the park property, including rolling hills, wet meadows, wetlands, and woodland areas”

There are no spectacular scenic overviews, no bright blue lakes with sandy beaches, and no clear, fast flowing rivers, it is a quiet, unassuming place, much like John B and Josie were in life. Most people would drive by and pay it no notice, if it hadn’t become a park. But, it is exactly one of the types of lands we should be preserving. As the County website says, it is rolling hills, wet meadows, wetlands, and woodland areas. It is home to dozens of species of wildflowers, birds, and animals. It is the type of wetland area that holds and controls rain run-off, and protects our clear, fast flowing rivers from sediment and flash flooding.

Open meadow wetland

There are small streams connecting the small wetlands, and those streams eventually flow into our rivers and lakes. The wetlands trap and hold rainfall, releasing it slowly into the streams and rivers, and that provides moisture to plant and animal life during times of drought, as well as helping to control flooding when the rain does fall. The water from the wetlands in Bysterveld Park flow into first the Little Rabbit River, then Rabbit River, a fair trout stream, then the Kalamazoo River, and eventually into Lake Michigan.

Not every area is a Yellowstone or Yosemite, but they are worth preserving never the less. In some ways, these small places are more important to preserve for the effect they have on our local environment, and our quality of life.

I love Yellowstone, I would love to live near there and spend as much time exploring it as I do the Pigeon River Country here in Michigan, but that isn’t going to happen, not soon anyway. But, these small parks like Bysterveld are only a few minutes from where I live, I can visit them often, not just once or twice a year, or once or twice in a lifetime.

The wetlands and streams in Bysterveld Park play a huge role in maintaining the water quality in a trout stream I fish once in a while, the Rabbit River. That in turn helps a river that needs all the help it can get, the Kalamazoo River, probably the most polluted river in southwest Michigan. And when millions of people go to the fabulous beaches of Lake Michigan, they aren’t thinking of little places like the wetlands in Bysterveld Park, but they should be. For it is because of areas like Bysterveld Park that the water quality of Lake Michigan is as good as it is.

It isn’t as if these small parks are without beauty, it’s there but on a small-scale, and you have to look for it. It doesn’t overwhelm you like Old Faithful or the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone do, but it’s there. In the wildflowers blooming.

Wildflowers in bloom

The birds that call the area home.

Rose breasted grosbeak feeding on berries

The insects.

Dragon fly

The small mammals.

Fox squirrel watching me

Did I mention the wildflowers?

Wild rose

Yes, the beauty is there, if you take the time to look for it. But the beauty doesn’t end there, it is just the beginning, for as I have pointed out, what starts in these small wetlands eventually ends up here.

Lake Michigan

The beauty doesn’t really end at Lake Michigan either, for there is an intangible beauty to these small parks as well. Many of our larger, better known parks are over crowded, some get so full there’s no place park. The smaller parks relieve some of the pressure on the crowded parks, and give people a place to go where they can away from it all.

I was at Bysterveld Park on July 3rd, the middle of the long 4th of July weekend, and there were only a couple of families there in the park, enjoying a beautiful Michigan summer day. They didn’t have to fight for a parking spot, or a picnic table, their kids didn’t have to wait in line to use the playground equipment, and it was quiet and peaceful in the park, which is why some of us avoid the crowded parks in the first place.

I’ll admit I would have preferred to have been up north this weekend, but on the other hand, it was nice not having to fight the crush of holiday traffic all the way there, and all the way back home again.

Some would argue that since some of these smaller parks don’t get many visitors that we have enough parks as it is and shouldn’t be adding more. I would say just the opposite. We need more of these small parks, not only for the environmental good they accomplish, but also to relieve the pressure on our larger parks, and to cut down on holiday traffic. What we really need is an attitude change in the users of this State’s parks, myself included.

I have already begun to spend more time in the local parks nearest to me. Part of that is because of my job. As a truck driver, I drive about 350 miles a day, every day, and that’s down from the 400 to 500 miles a day I drove when I worked as an over the road driver. By the time the weekend comes around, I don’t feel like driving any more than I have to. I also feel it is the responsible thing to do environmentally, cutting down on driving when ever I can. I know that with gas close to $4 a gallon, my wallet likes that idea as well.

Driving less and buying less gas is my way of thumbing my nose at the big oil companies, who jerk us around like puppy dogs on the end of a leash. I was planning on going up north this weekend, until gas jumped 35 cents a gallon for no other reason than it’s the long holiday weekend, and many people will be travelling. Not me, I’ll stay close to home until the price of gas falls back down, then I’ll go up north for a weekend, I’m not going to let Big Oil gouge me if I can help it. I know I am only one person, but if more people would do the same thing, then maybe we could cut the leash that Big Oil jerks us around on, and I’m all for that.

It goes right along with the buy local movement, shopping at locally owned businesses, and buying products that are locally manufactured or grown. I’ve always done that, but now, I recreate locally, whenever I can. Maybe I should start a new movement based on that idea.

I do know that I have discovered many local small parks that are very pleasant places to spend an afternoon at, and I am finding more all the time. Since I hike not just for photography, but for exercise as well, I was worried about the short hiking paths at many of the smaller parks. No problem, I do them twice. When I finish going around them once, I turn right back around and do them in the other direction. You’d be surprised at how much you miss the first time around, and going the other way around changes your view most of the time. That way, when I hike a park such as Bysterveld that only has two miles of trails, I hike four miles by doing the same paths twice.

I’ll continue to visit the larger, more wilderness areas like the Pigeon River Country, but not as often, for I am finding that many of these smaller parks are pretty cool as well. They aren’t like being in a wilderness area, but they do have a charm all their own, and are worth checking out. You may be surprised at what you find, I know I am. For nature is nature, where ever you find it, and that’s what I am really looking for in the first place. For as my uncle John B wold say….

Foundation brick from Bysterveld Park

Thank you uncle John…..

And aunt Josie too…


Round Lake Campground to stay open and other news

To begin with, lots of good news lately, I am going to be selfish and start with one that affects me the most, Round Lake State Forest Campground and the other 22 that were scheduled to close are all going to remain open! Michigan was going to close 23 “underperforming” rustic campgrounds, that isn’t going to happen now. I’m thrilled about that, since I thought that when I took my vacation in the Pigeon River Country last month that it would be my last stay at Round Lake. Round Lake is one of the prettiest campgrounds you’ll ever see, it would have been a shame for it to close.

Round Lake State Forest Campground

In other news, there was a forest fire just south of Goose Creek State Forest Campground this week. That is on the upper Manistee River just a few miles west of Grayling, Michigan. Goose Creek is another of my favorite campgrounds, it is actually three campgrounds in one. There is a small state forest campground, a large equestrian area, then a small and very beautiful camping area set aside for kayakers and canoeists. According to the news reports, the fire started on the west side of the Manistee, jumped the river, and burned its way to the northeast. The firefighters were able to contain the fire to around 800 acres or so, between M 72 and CR 612, and along Manistee River Road. I wonder if it has changed the river at all, that is one of the premier areas for fly fishing as far as I am concerned. I love that stretch of river, lots of fish, easy to wade, and very picturesque. I may have to change my plans for the summer around to fit a weekend there into my schedule just to see it for myself.

A little side note about Goose Creek State Forest Campground. When I was the organizer for the large kayaking group, I scheduled one of our outings on the Manistee, planning for us to stay at the small area reserved for river users in the campground overnight. To be sure that was OK and that we didn’t need to make reservations, I called the DNR field office in Grayling to check. The people there had no idea what I was talking about, they didn’t know that there was the small campground there for kayakers and canoeists, they had to research it, and call me back later. The reason I knew it existed was that I had found a very old, very weathered sign about it on the river. There is nothing to denote it from the side people normally see when they drive into the main campground. Maybe I should have kept it my little secret.

In more good news, the state has budgeted 6 million dollars to continue the clean up of the old Zephyr Oil refinery site near Muskegon. You can read a news article about it here. The problem there is contaminated ground water from oil, gasoline, and other petroleum products that leached into the ground. The Michigan DEQ had shut down around half the wells that were pumping the contaminated water out, and was threatening to completely shut down all cleanup operations there because of a lack of funding. That would have been very bad. The site is between the Muskegon river to the south, Bear Creek to the north, and Muskegon Lake to the west. Of course both the Muskegon River and Bear Creek flow into Muskegon Lake, and eventually, Lake Michigan. With the new budget, not only will the pumping of contaminated ground water continue, but there are also plans being drawn up to remove the contaminated soil as well, and fix the problem once and for all. In fact, this isn’t good news, it is fantastic news!

Also announced this spring is a $12 million cleanup for Muskegon Lake itself, removing tons of contaminated sludge from the lake bottom, and restoring shoreline habitat.

I know the Muskegon area isn’t thought of as an outdoorsman’s paradise, since it is an industrial area, or at least used to be. I am sorry for all the people who have lost their jobs as company after company has closed, but it could turn out for the best. The industries that have closed down were not exactly environmentally friendly, from this old refinery to the paper mill that closed a couple of years ago. The Muskegon area has the potential to rebound from over a century of being used as a dumping ground for all kinds of things we shouldn’t have dumped there, but we didn’t know any better back then. We do now, or at least I hope we do. It will take some time, but the area’s economy will rebound, and the quality of life will be so much better for every one once we do get the area cleaned up. Not only that, but cleaning up the mess we made in the past will make it easier to attract new industries to the area to help grow the economy again.

The Muskegon River is Michigan’s second longest river, after the Grand. It starts near Houghton Lake in an area of large marshes and flows southwest to Muskegon Lake. It is completely different from the Grand in character, the Muskegon is classified as a cool waters river. I could go on at length about why it is important to clean up the river and Muskegon Lake, but I won’t. I will just say that cleaning up the old Zephyr refinery is another very good step in repairing the damage we have done. That goes right along with another recent story, a group is surveying the lower Muskegon River area and hopes to restore the Maple River.

 The Maple River was diverted more than a century ago to add more flow to the Muskegon River to make it easier to float logs down the Muskegon to the sawmills in Muskegon. It is nothing more than a stagnant slough now. Restoring the Maple will be a good thing.

All this leads me to another point. I try to keep politics out of this blog as much as I can, but I have to tell you, our new governor, Rick Snyder, is impressing the heck out of me! I know he has a lot of people up in arms to the point they are trying to recall him already, but he gets things done whether you like what he does or not. It’s still early in his term, but from what I can see, he may be the best friend to the environment this state has seen as governor since Bill Milliken.

Our last Governor, Jennifer Granholm, received high marks from the media and the so-called environmental leaders, mostly because she mandated “green” energy sources, such as wind, solar and bio-mass. I don’t think any of the alternative energy sources are all that environmentally friendly, in fact, in many cases they are a step backwards. Under her mandate, we now have 6 so-called bio-mass electrical generating plants that are nothing more than wood fired generating plants. That’s right, saw down our forests to burn the trees to produce electricity, that’s not environmentally friendly to me. At least a couple of these plants are lobbying for more permits to log more land, as they can’t get enough wood to keep the plants in operation. Do we really want to log off the entire state again as we did in the late 1800’s? I think not!

Building solar farms in Michigan makes about as much sense as trying to build igloos in the desert, it doesn’t work. Because of the Great Lakes, we are one of the cloudiest regions of the country, and besides, solar farms only produce 50% of the time, you get nothing from then at all at night. I don’t want to see vast amounts of land cleared to build solar farms that don’t work. There was another news story about one here in Michigan just a few weeks ago. Despite the fact that the utility company has to pay the operators of the solar farm 10 times the going rate for electricity, the operators can not produce enough electricity to pay their property tax bill. And we’re going to pay to build more? I hope not!

 Then there’s wind. Another winner, not. There are proposals to build hundreds of wind turbines in and/or near Lake Michigan. In the first place, as other countries are learning, wind turbines are very inefficient and never produce the output that is claimed for them. I don’t want to see those ugly monstrosities out in Lake Michigan, any more than I want to see oil derricks out there. The environmentalists don’t want to see oil derricks either, but they seem to be OK with wind turbines, which are just as ugly as oil derricks. I have yet to see the problem of ice in the lake addressed at all in any of these proposed wind farms in the lakes. There’s too much not to like about them to put it all in this post now, so I will leave it for now.

Proponents of solar and wind energies claim they will reduce our reliance on coal-fired power plants, but the truth is that they won’t, not one iota. Neither wind or solar are reliable, steady sources of power that we can depend on to deliver when energy is needed, so the coal-fired plants have to remain online all the time anyway. Think about it, the sun only shines during the day, it is at night that we need the electricity to light our homes. Winds are usually light to calm at night as well. For an alternative energy source to be feasible, it needs to be able to operate and produce on demand, not just every once in a while when conditions are right.

I am not opposed to alternative energies that work, and are truly green. For example, they are building a bio-digestion plant in Fremont that will take waste food from the Gerber Baby Food plant and other sources, extract the methane for fuel, and what’s left afterwards will be used as fertilizer by area farmers. Now that makes sense. The methane can be stored and used on demand, and is much cleaner than coal.

I am all for ending all coal mining, if we can. There is no such thing as clean coal, burning it pollutes the air no matter how many scrubbers are installed on the stacks. And, coal mining is one of the worst things that we still do to the environment. Chewing up entire mountains and reducing them to nothing more than a pile of rubble can’t end soon enough for me, when we come up with a viable alternative. Spending billions of dollars to build wind and solar farms that don’t work makes no sense, as we will have to live with their legacy for years to come, and pay to remove them when it becomes clear to every one what a boondoggle they are now. That money would be better spent either perfecting the technology behind them, or, developing other sources of energy that will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Building boondoggles now will make it that much tougher to build power plants that do make sense later on when they are developed because every one will remember how much money was thrown down the drain building the boondoggles.

Getting back to Jennifer Granholm, under her administration there was ever enough money to do the cleanups that need to be done. Her administration was going to shut down the cleanup of the Zephyr oil refiner due to a lack of money. Not only that, but her administration seemed to be willing to destroy this state’s natural resources in order to get more money coming into the treasury. There was the infamous Merit Energy deal, where her administration was not only going to permit Merit Energy to dump questionably treated water into Kolke Creek, the headwaters of the Au Sable, they were going to let Merit Energy destroy the creek by doubling its flow, and awarded Merit Energy a special easement to do so.

 Her administration also issued permits to allow logging in the Mason Tract, among other places. In fact, her administration seemed intent on logging off the entire state again, just to get the money from the permits required. I’m done bashing her now, she’s gone, hopefully never to return.

On the other hand, Gov. Snyder impressed me before he even took the oath of office by announcing Rodney Stokes to take over the Michigan DNR. If you’re not familiar with his name, Mr. Stoke’s background is in parks and recreation, and he is not a political person. He stands up for what’s right, and is willing to take a tough stand when needed, a great choice to head the DNR. Now if Gov. Snyder really wanted to impress me, he would undo the executive order signed by his predecessor and return the appointment of the Director of the DNR to the Natural Resources Commission like it was before Ms. Granholm made one of her many power grabs.

Gov. Snyder also named Dennis Muchmore, the former director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, as his chief of staff, that tells you something about where the guy’s head is at.

Since Gov. Snyder took office, I have read more and more stories about funding being found to do the cleanup work that had been put on the back burner for way too long. I have included a few here, but there have been many more that I have read from around the state as well. I guess that’s not surprising, since he was a member of the board of trustees of the Michigan Chapter of the Nature Conservancy. I may have issues with the way the Nature Conservancy is run and their priorities, but I still believe it is one of the better environmental groups that there is.

Not all those cleanups are being done with state funds alone, many rely on Federal dollars for the majority of the funding, but the state had to come up with its “share” of the funding in order to receive the Federal dollars, and Gov. Snyder and his team are finding the funds to get these cleanups started.

And if you think I am a Republican shill, think again. I would love to take Rep. Dave Agema back behind the woodshed and teach him a lesson or two about the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. In case you haven’t heard, this idiot wants to raid the NRTF for other purposes than what it was constitutionally protected to do, which is to fund parks, boat launches, natural areas and state parks. Then’s there’s the backdoor approach being used by state Sen. Tom Casperson of Escanaba, who wants to limit the amount of land the state can own, as I posted about before.

In case you’re not familiar with what the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund is, this is from the Michigan DNR website.

What is the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF)? 
The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) began as the “Kammer Recreational Land Trust Fund Act of 1976” via P.A. 204 of 1976. Act 204 created the Michigan Land Trust Fund (MLTF) program to provide a source of funding for the public acquisition of lands for resource protection and public outdoor recreation. Funding was derived from royalties on the sale and lease of State-owned mineral rights.
 On November 6, 1984, Michigan residents voted in favor of Proposal B, which amended the State Constitution and created the MNRTF. The constitutional amendment required that oil, gas, and other mineral lease and royalty payments be placed into the Trust Fund, with proceeds used to both acquire and develop public recreation lands.

The MNRTF is currently capped at 500 million dollars, if more money than that is taken in, then the next $200 million is to be spent on our state parks. The MNRTF is one of the best things to ever happen to this state, but when you put a pile of money in front of a politician, they will try to find a way to spend it on their own pet projects.

There have been proposals to raid the fund in the past, and fortunately, the voters in Michigan have had enough sense to vote them down, let’s hope that continues. Because the trust fund is constitutionally protected, any change to the way the funds are used has to be approved by the voters.

You know, maybe I spend too much time reading the news. Maybe not, for if one doesn’t know what’s going on, then one can not make an informed decision, and I prefer informed decisions rather than knee jerk gut reactions.

So I will continue to read the news, real news that is, not the fluff and celebrity gossip that passes for news these days. I will continue to monitor what our new governor is doing, as well as the legislature, the DNR, the DEQ, and the Natural Resources Communion, and I will continue to make informed decisions, I hope those that read this will as well. As of right now, I give Gov. Snyder two thumbs up, the legislature two thumbs down (even though they passed the budget that is providing the funding for all the environmental cleanups I’ve been reading about. It was Gov. Snyder’s budget, and I don’t think the legislature would have funded those projects otherwise), the DNR two thumbs up, the DEQ two thumbs up, and the NRC, one thumb up (They voted to allow deer baiting again, which I disagree with).


Preserving for the future

I read an article online at MLive.com about a state senator who wants to cap the amount of land the State of Michigan can own. The gist of it is that local units of government are suffering because the state doesn’t pay property taxes like a private entity does, and therefore, state ownership of land is hurting local units of government. I understand the problem, but the solution is not to cap the amount of land the state owns. For the article, click here.

Here is my reply.

I am opposed to any cap on the amount of land the state owns for many reasons. First, I think that a cap is a backdoor way of eventually raiding, and possibly ending, the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. If state ownership of land is capped, then there is no reason for the trust fund to exist any more, and politicians would love to get their hands on the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to use for purposes other than what the citizens of Michigan intended it to be used for.

I understand the plight of communities surrounded by state land as far as the reduced funding because of the state’s lower payments in lieu of property taxes. However, does Sen. Tom Casperson believe that there are buyers waiting to purchase any of the state’s land holdings? Wishing something doesn’t make it happen. In fact, what we’ve seen over the last 30 plus years is just the opposite, owners of large parcels of land in Michigan have been selling, even at very reduced prices, or donating their land holdings, to the state to get out from under the property tax burden here in Michigan. I don’t think that Sen. Casperson or David Bertram, legislative team leader for the Michigan Townships Association, would be too happy if the state were to try and sell off some of its land holdings. With property values already depressed, if the state were to put even more land on the market, prices, and assessed values would plummet even further, and local governments would be no better of financially than they are now.

That’s what a cap on the amount of land the state can own would do, because as pointed out in the article, the state owns very little land in the lower third of the lower peninsula, where we need more recreational opportunities, not less. A cap would force the state to try and sell off some of its existing land holdings in order to purchase more land close to the population centers where state ownership of land is lower. It makes sense for the state to develop more recreational opportunities down state, so that the citizens of Michigan don’t have to drive “up north” to enjoy our great state. 

Mr. Bertram complained that “Michigan owns more land than any other state east of the Mississippi”, which is what makes us the envy of all the other states east of the Mississippi. That’s why every weekend we see droves of cars with license plates from Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and other states heading into Michigan. That’s why I choose to live in Michigan rather than any other state east of the Mississippi, as do many others in this state.

At a time when the state is pouring millions of dollars into the “Pure Michigan” ad campaigns every year, this is no time to cap the amount of land the state owns. The money spent on those ads will be money poured down the drain if people from out of state get here to find the campgrounds full, the beaches crowded, and the woods so full of people that the visitors never want to return. Tourism can play a huge role in turning our state’s economy around, as we are finally starting to learn. But tourism won’t continue to grow if we don’t continue to grow our recreational opportunities for the visitors we seek to attract.

Capping the amount of land the state owns is a shortsighted attempt to solve a funding problem that probably won’t work even if it is tried, for reasons I pointed out earlier. Instead of capping the state’s land ownership, we should be increasing the amount of land the state owns. It is the second best investment we can make, after education, in the lives’ of our children, grand children, and beyond.

Michigan is a unique state, two peninsulas surrounded by the Great Lakes, with vast tracts of forests, and clean, free flowing rivers. We have some of the world’s finest beaches, rocky coastlines, and we have some of just about everything natural that people could want. We have the choice to preserve our state as an oasis of nature in the middle of an industrialized world, or destroy what nature has given us. We owe it to our children and our children’s children to preserve what we have. We owe it to the world as well.

There were people who complained when our Nation Park system was created, and those who continue to complain to this day. However, I think history has proven the complainers to be wrong. Yellowstone National Park wasn’t just the first National Park in the United States, it was the first National Park in the world. We started something which is now called “America’s best idea”, preserving natural areas for future generations. We were the leaders in something that the rest of the world is still trying to catch up to us in doing.

Michigan has always been a leader in preserving our natural areas, this is not the time to change that. Our system of parks and recreational areas is one of the finest in the country. Looking forward with a vision towards the future, we should expand on that even as the rest of the country continues to industrialize. That will make Michigan an oasis of nature that millions of people from neighboring states and even the from around the world, will want to come to in order to enjoy what we can offer that no other state can. People two hundred years from now may not know who we were, but they will thank us for having the foresight to preserve the natural areas in this state. The time to do that is now.


Slow motion spring, or is that no motion

I just got back from my daily walk around the apartment complex, wearing one of my winter parkas, again. It seems that spring refuses to make a sustained appearance this year. It’s been two months since I posted “The Season of the Black Snow“, when I thought spring was just around the corner. There have been just a couple of days when I have been able to wear my lighter jacket, and only one day that I have gone with no jacket. It has been a cold spring. Since I posted The Season of the Black Snow, we’ve had two major snowstorms, and many, many, smaller snowfalls. Sunday night into Monday morning, we got another two to three inches, some of which was still on the ground last night when I got home from work, in a thunderstorm. That sort of sums up this spring, 35 degrees with a thunderstorm and snow on the ground.

If I sound depressed, I’m not, it has been a good spring for me, but I am ready for some warmer temps. I have been kayaking three times so far this year, Muskegon Lake twice, and once on the only warm day so far this year, in a swamp near Cascade, in the burbs. Or should I say hot day, we went from 50 degrees on a Saturday, to a record high of 85 degrees on Sunday, back down into the forties for highs most of the time since then. Hiking has gone well, as did the kayaking trips, and my trip to photograph some of the lighthouses along Lake Michigan. I am still sorting through the 200 or so pictures I took that day to decide which ones to post in the photo gallery.

It dawned on me as I was walking this morning that it has been such bad weather that I have yet to clip my little camera to the strap of my backpack while I’ve been hiking. It has been either too cold, or raining when I have been hiking. I have a beiner (carabiner) attached to the chest strap of my backpack, and when the weather is nice, I hook the camera strap to the beiner so the camera is right at hand. I can even shoot pictures without unclasping the strap. I can reach down and turn the camera on as I am lifting it into position to shoot in less than a second, comes in handy for shooting quickly when a critter makes an appearance. But, I keep the camera in my pocket in cold or wet weather, to keep the batteries warm so they don’t go dead from the cold, and to protect the camera from the rain.

It would be nice to have a few days with highs in the upper 50’s or maybe even the 60’s for a few days, to get the grass to green up and the tree leaves to start opening up. The grass is trying to turn green, and the leaf buds on the trees are set to open, we just need some warmer temperatures. I am taking my vacation in just a couple of weeks, and I would like it to look like spring while I’m there. “There” is going to be Round Lake State Forest Campground, the state has it slated to be closed the week after my vacation. That’s in the Pigeon River Country, my favorite part of Michigan. It will be a bittersweet week for me, knowing my favorite campground is going to close, and it may be the last time I am able to camp there. I know I will be packing at least one winter parka for my vacation, that’s a given up there, even in the summer, as nights can be chilly up there any time of the year. That doesn’t mean I want to have to wear one while I am fishing though.

The second weekend I am up there, some friends are going to join me to kayak the south branch of the Au Sable, I hope. I am not sure how many people are going to show, it seems more than a few of the kayaking group are ticked off at me. Oh well, that’s the price I pay for being me. That reminds me of a couple of things I need to do, send out a reminder about that trip to the group, and to stop fooling around at work, risking an injury just before my vacation. Two weeks ago I pulled a muscle in my leg which has just healed up nicely, and last night I lifted a couple of the 300 pound empty carts on top of some full ones, just to prove to myself that I could do it. That was dumb! Trying to get back in shape is one thing, but not just before a vacation. The last thing I need to do is injure myself to put a crimp on my one week of vacation per year.

I was trying to quit smoking, and I have managed to get down to a pack a day and stay there, but I also want to lose some of the extra weight I accumulated while driving over the road. Actually, I was down to half a pack a day, but the cravings were driving me to eat more, so I have leveled off at a pack a day until I shed some weight, which I think is finally starting to happen. I stepped on the scale at work last night, and I think I have lost 5 pounds in the last few weeks. I changed my diet, again, a little over a month ago, it looks like it is working this time. We shall see. If I am losing weight, then I’ll start cutting back on my smoking again. I hate those days as an over the road driver, smoking two and a half to three packs of smokes a day, and looking like a beached whale, I hope I never have to go back to that again!

As I have been writing this, I received a note from the Little Traverse Conservancy that their Earth Day cleanups are postponed for a week, due to snow. That’s the story of the spring of 2011, postponed due to snow.


Noooo, not Round Lake!!!!!!

I have just read that the Michigan DNR is asking the Michigan Natural Resources Commission for permission to shut down 23 “underperforming” state forest campgrounds. Among those 23 are three that I have stayed at, and two I visit often. I am not going to list all 23, but the ones I use are Round Lake, Pigeon Bridge, and the Manistee River Bridge State Forest Campgrounds.

My family has been going to the Round Lake State Forest Campground since the mid 60’s, almost 50 years. It is still my first choice as far as a campground when I visit the Pigeon River Country, and the reason I use that campground is the reason the DNR wants to shut it down, few people camp there. Well, there are some of us who camp to get away from it all, especially the crowds, and Round Lake was perfect for that. I was there twice last year, both times on busy long holiday weekends, when other campgrounds tend to fill up. It was nice to know that when I pulled into Round Lake that I would be able to find a spot to set up camp, and wouldn’t have to drive around, looking for a campground with an opening. As I wrote about here, and here, I love that place, where you go to sleep at night listening to the coyotes and the owls, not some group of drunks partying the night away. Closing Round Lake and Pigeon Bridge is going to put even more pressure on the other campgrounds in the Pigeon River Country that remain open, like Pickerel Lake and Pigeon River. I will not stay at either of them, especially Pickerel Lake, as it is way too crowded for my tastes.

Round Lake Campground

 

Round Lake

 

While Round Lake is my first choice, my second choice has always been Pigeon Bridge State Forest Campground. It is right on the Pigeon River where the Sturgeon Valley Road crosses the river. On short weekends when my plans were for some hardcore trout fishing, I would stay there, and still would, if it remains open. It was already closed down for a while a few years ago, supposedly the well had gone bad, but it has been open again for a couple of years now. I think that it would get enough use to justify its remaining open, as a number of people use it as a base camp when they hike the Shingle Mill Pathway. It is a great little campground, tucked in between the Pigeon River and the base of one of the many large hills in the area. I would use it more often, if I didn’t love Round Lake so much.

As far as the Manistee River Bridge State Forest Campground, I admit that I have only stayed there twice, once, when the equestrian campground at Goosecreek was so full that it was bothersome to me, and once when the state forest campground at Goosecreek was full . Goosecreek is my first choice when I camp near the Manistee River, but it was great knowing there was another campground close by in the event that Goosecreek was full, or there was a group of rowdies staying in the equestrian camping area.

 I understand the budgetary pressures the DNR faces, they have been all but cut off from any general fund monies over the years, which is a shame. Because now it seems, every recreational opportunity has to not only offer access to the great outdoors, but must also generate revenues for the state. Some things can’t be measured by money alone, especially not a wilderness experience. I would think this would be more true than ever, as many people are beginning to get back into the wilderness way of camping and backpacking. I think that’s one of the great ironies in all of this, the Pigeon River Country is being managed as to make it as much of a wilderness as possible, and now, the DNR is going to close down two of the campgrounds there because they are wilderness settings, and don’t get much use.

But how do you measure the “performance” of a campground? Is it only by the revenue it generates? I don’t think so, there is much more to a campground, and people’s experiences there, and their enjoyment that can’t be measured in dollars.

All of this points out a major flaw in the way most of our outdoor resources are funded in this state, mostly with user fees. I am not opposed to user fees, but they shouldn’t be the only source of funding, because not every one who uses recreational facilities pay the user fees. The Pigeon River Country is a good example. There are many people who take advantage of the fact that you can camp for free in most of the Pigeon River Country, and all state forests for that matter, as long as you camp outside of an established campground. I see more of this all the time, people who camp out in the sticks, and pay nothing towards the maintenance of the state forests. They will often drive into one of the campgrounds to use the outhouses, or to replenish their water supply from the wells there. And, you have the hikers and backpackers who never pay any of the user fees, even though they are hiking on trails the DNR paid to build, and continues to pay to maintain. That isn’t fair. But, I really don’t want to see a “trail fee” either, where you have to pay for access to the trails.

It used to be that camping in any state forest campground was free, then the state instituted a $3 per night fee at the campgrounds. Then the fee was raised to $10, and now it stands at $15, which the DNR admits is so high that it is driving some people away from using the state forest campgrounds. I don’t much care for the fact that it costs me $45 to spend a long weekend at a state forest campground, but I know I have to pay to keep the campgrounds open. Those who camp out in the sticks pay nothing, yet they’re hiking the same trails I do, fishing the same waters I do, and enjoying the same beauty I do, I guess that means I’m the stupid one.

How do you put a price tag on a campground as remote, quiet, peaceful, beautiful, and rustic as the Round Lake Campground is? I can’t, it is priceless to me, both because of my memories spanning 40 plus years, and plans to continue to make more memories there. When I take my vacation this May, my plan is to stay at the Round Lake Campground at least most of the week. I may well stay one or two nights someplace else, but Round Lake was my planned destination. I don’t want to see the campground closed, but neither do I want to see it become as crowded as many of the other  campgrounds are either.

 There has to be a way to fund the more rustic campgrounds that get little use, just for the fact that they are rustic and get little use. We need those kinds of places, for what good is a wilderness if we have to close access to it because it is a wilderness?

The new Recreational Passport will eventually trickle some money down to the state forests, but that may take a few years with the huge backlog of maintenance that needs to be done at the state parks in Michigan. And who knows if it will ever generate enough revenue to re-open the campgrounds that are being considered for closure?

This is what I would like to see happen. I would like to see that it is made mandatory that every one camping in a state forest, whether in a campground or not, to have a Recreational Passport. I don’t think that $10 per year is too much to ask of those who make use of our state lands. I would then like to see the price per night for camping in a designated campground dropped to say $5 or $10 per night, so that more people would consider using them, rather than camping in the sticks. I am not an economist, and I don’t have access to the numbers to crunch to do the math, but I would be willing to bet that my proposal would fund not only our state parks, but our state forest campgrounds as well.

I think that my proposal would require the approval of our state legislature, and the signature of our Governor, but until then, I hope the Michigan Natural Resources Commission votes the proposal to close the 23 campgrounds down, and that the DNR finds a way to fund them for now.