Daytime Moon and jet

April 17, 2014

Passenger jet and Moon.  Photo by Rodger Schmitt, from Lake Powell, Utah.

Passenger jet and Moon. Photo by Rodger Schmitt, from Lake Powell, Utah.

Handheld Nikon.  Nikon stabilizing lens.  Good hands, I’d say.

Third to last time I was out near Lake Powell, I was with Rodger (and about a dozen others) organizing hearings of the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors.  We flew into Page, Arizona, on an Otter II coming up from Phoenix flying low, looking for elk, and legally buzzing Rainbow Bridge (impressive from the air, too).

We had a luncheon meeting at Wahweap Marina, as I recall; no time for boating.

Then we were off to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  There we inspected pine trees 30 feet tall, growing between the ties of the then-abandoned rail lines.  (And did a lot of other stuff.)

Today trains carry tourists to the South Rim on those tracks, the trees gone.  Progress, really.

Rodger carries on in the knowledge that use of the outdoors, especially these public lands, heals souls, and sometimes gives you great photos.

Rodger said I could borrow the photo.  Thanks!


Insta-Millard: Nevada’s Constitution doesn’t favor Cliven Bundy

April 15, 2014

It’s a relic of the Civil War and Congress’s intention to strengthen the Union when Nevada became a state in 1864, but there it is, in Section 2 of the Nevada Constitution, making a mockery of Cliven Bundy’s claim to owe allegiance to Nevada and its Constitution, but not to the U.S.:

Sec: 2.  Purpose of government; paramount allegiance to United States.  All political power is inherent in the people[.] Government is instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people; and they have the right to alter or reform the same whenever the public good may require it. But the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers as the same have been or may be defined by the Supreme Court of the United States; and no power exists in the people of this or any other State of the Federal Union to dissolve their connection therewith or perform any act tending to impair[,] subvert, or resist the Supreme Authority of the government of the United States. The Constitution of the United States confers full power on the Federal Government to maintain and Perpetuate its existance [existence], and whensoever any portion of the States, or people thereof attempt to secede from the Federal Union, or forcibly resist the Execution of its laws, the Federal Government may, by warrant of the Constitution, employ armed force in compelling obedience to its Authority.

Sheesh!

Here’s the essay quiz, students:  The standoff between the Bureau of Land Management cowboys — each of whom swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the U.S., in contrast to Mr. Bundy who claims to owe no allegiance to the U.S. — and the armed mob who threatened to kill those same employees of our U.S. government:  Did Nevadans  (or Idahoans) violate any part of Section 2 of the Nevada Constitution?  Which clauses?

I used to say “the Sagebrush Rebellion is over; sagebrush won.”  Even the sagebrush are losing this one.

From The Atlantic:  Eric Parker, who lives in central Idaho, aims his weapon from a bridge as protesters gather by the Bureau of Land Management's base camp in Bunkerville, Nevada. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

From The Atlantic: Eric Parker, who lives in central Idaho, aims his weapon from a bridge as protesters gather by the Bureau of Land Management’s base camp in Bunkerville, Nevada. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)  (See also Article III, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, with regard to Mr. Parker’s actions here.)

More: 


Insta-Millard: Bundy Ranch issue history

April 14, 2014

It’s an oversimplification, but not an oversimplification that leads to inaccuracy.

I say “oversimplification” because President Reagan did not impose grazing fees for the first time, but instead set rates at the time.  U.S. grazing fees grew out of the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act, which included among other noble purposes the saving of unoccupied public lands from erosion, to prevent them from contributing to a national Dust Bowl.  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages about 245 million acres of land in the U.S., highly concentrated in 13 western states (about 86% of Nevada is public lands of one sort or another).  Of those lands, about 155 million acres are open to grazing.  BLM is part of the U.S. Department of Interior.  Reagan’s Executive Order came when the law authorizing grazing fees had expired, and Congress was at an impasse in passing a new one, partly over a Reagan Administration proposal to raise grazing fees to market value, a multiple of fees then (and now) in effect.

Sagebrush Rebellion catches Tea Party Stupid disease, it seems to me.  If the virus hasn’t been cured since 1993, what are the odds Mr. Bundy will sit still for a cure now?

More to come?

More:

Mad City Quanta, a Nebraska on-line comic, on grazing fees issues in 2012.

Mad City Quanta, a Nebraska on-line comic, on grazing fees issues in 2012. To update it, substitute “Bundy” for “Fischer” on the tie of the steer on the left.


Sunrise on the Shenandoah Mountains

March 11, 2014

This is a hopeful picture.

US Dept of Interior Tweet:  Beautiful #sunrise over @ShenandoahNPS last weekend. #Virginia #travel #nature pic.twitter.com/T2sEgczGsz

US Dept of Interior Tweet: Beautiful #sunrise over @ShenandoahNPS last weekend. #Virginia #travel #nature pic.twitter.com/T2sEgczGsz

Probably taken along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  At the bottom of the photo, note the stone wall, probably built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Franklin Roosevelt administration, and still contributing to America’s beauty and economy 80 years later.

I can imagine driving along, catching a beautiful sunrise, but not being at a point to stop to photograph it.  Driving farther along, the photographer found a safe place to stop, but the sunrise itself was gone by 15 minutes.  With the aid of a young tree, however, the photographer can recapture that moment of the Sun’s peeking over the horizon, without special effects.  Nice thought for the shot.


Perfect autumn walk, Rachel Carson NWR

September 24, 2013

Department of Interior  Twitter Photo: Rachel Carson NWR in #Maine

US Dept of Interior Photo ‏@Interior: Rachel Carson NWR in #Maine is the perfect place to see the leaves change this time of year. #nature pic.twitter.com/5kL9EArPaA

While we’re talking about Rachel Carson’s legacy, gander at this gorgeous fall walk at the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, in Maine.

More:


Steens Mountain, sunrise, or sunset?

July 31, 2013

Either someone just spent a very cold night to get a photo, or they’re getting ready to spend a very cold night.

Which is it?

Steens Mountain in #Oregon

US Dept of Interior: If you haven’t seen Steens Mountain in #Oregon, you really should check out this stunning photo from @BLMOregon pic.twitter.com/H2eePMmfsX

Steens Mountain at sunrise is a very popular image for photographers — but very few get a shot from the mountain itself like this one.

Steens Mountain is a large fault-block mountain in the southeastern part of the U.S. state of Oregon. Located in Harney County, it stretches some 50 miles (80 km) long north to south, and rises from alongside the Alvord Desert at elevation of about 4,200 feet (1,300 m) to a summit elevation of 9,733 feet (2,967 m). It is sometimes confused with a mountain range, but is properly a single mountain.

More:

English: The Alvord Desert playa, looking sout...

The Alvord Desert playa, looking southeast from Steens Mountain, southeast Oregon; Wikipedia image


Lake Superior, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

July 19, 2013

Superior Fury - Lake Superior near Miner’s Beach in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore during a gale at sunrise.  Photo: Steve Perry

Superior Fury – Lake Superior near Miner’s Beach in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore during a gale at sunrise. Photo: Steve Perry, via America’s Great Outdoors

Admit it:  That’s not how you usually think of Lake Superior, is it?

Tip of the old scrub brush to America’s Great Outdoor on Tumblr.

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Holes in the wall, Glen Canyon NRA

June 11, 2013

Ever get one of those days you just want to find a nice, warm hole and crawl inside?

Then head out to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area:

There are many unique areas within America’s public lands. Case in point this spot in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.  Photo: Cassandra Crowley

Caption from America’s Great Outdoors: There are many unique areas within America’s public lands. Case in point this spot in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Photo: Cassandra Crowley

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Watching the drought roll in at Colorado Bend State Park

July 6, 2011

It took me a couple of tries to figure it out — last week when I told people Kathryn and I were off to Colorado Bend State Park to spend time on the river, several people commented about how much cooler it would be there.

What?  West of Killeen about an hour, ten miles of dusty road outside of Bend, Texas (population 1,637), Colorado Bend is not cooler than Dallas.  It was over 100° F every day we were there, stayed well above 90° most  of the nights.

Kathryn Knowles checking wildflowers, Colorado River, Texas

Kathryn studied wildflowers at a spring at the side of the Colorado River during a break from kayaking; this spring's flow was reduced, but still moist enough to create a near-oasis.

Our well-wishers were geographically confused.  They thought we were headed to the Colorado River in Colorado, not the Colorado River in Texas, which is not the same river at all.  I didn’t bother to check the temperatures in Colorado, but one might be assured that it was cooler along the Colorado River in Colorado than it was along the Colorado River in Texas.

It was a return trip.  We stumbled into the park 16 years ago with the kids, for just an afternoon visit.  The dipping pools  in the canyon fed by Spicewood Springs captivated us.  It took a while to get back, and then the kids were off doing their own thing.

So, just a quick weekend of hiking/camping/kayaking/soaking/stargazing/bird watching/botanical and geological study.   Park officials closed the bat caves to human traffic in hope of keeping White Nose Syndrome from the bats; we didn’t bother to sign up for the crawling cave tour through another.

Ed Darrell at Colorado Bend State Park, Texas

The author, still working to master that Go-Pro camera on the hat -- some spectacular shots, but I don't have the movie software to use it all; you know it's hot when SPF 75 sunscreen is not enough.

What did we see?  Drought has a firm grip on Texas, especially in the Hill Country, especially outside of Dallas.  The Colorado River  is mostly spring fed; many of the springs are dry.  No water significant water flowed through the park while we  were there — kayak put-ins have been reduced to the downriver-most ramp, and the bottom of the boat launch ramp is three feet above water.  Gorman Falls attracts visitors and scientists, but the springs feeding it are about spent this year — just a few trickles came over the cliff usually completely inundated with mineral-laden waters.

Drought produces odd things.  The forest canopy around the park — and through most of the Hill Country we saw — is splattered with the gray wood of dead trees, many of which at least leafed out earlier this spring.  The loss to forests is astonishing.  Deer don’t breed well in droughts; deer around the campsites boldly challenge campers for access to grasses they’d ignore in other seasons.  One ranger said he hadn’t seen more than about three fawns from this past spring, a 75% to 90% reduction in deer young (Eastern White Tail, the little guys).  Raccoons are aggressively seeking food from humans, tearing into tents and challenging campers for food they can smell (lock your food in the car!).  Colorado Bend is famous for songbirds, including the endangered Golden Cheeked Warbler, and the elusive, spectacular painted bunting.  But the most commonly-sighted birds this year are turkey vultures, dining on the young that didn’t make it healthy into the summer and won’t survive until fall.

Warming denialists’ claims of “not so bad a drought” ring out as dangerous, wild delusion.  (By actual measurement, Texas average rainfall the past nine months was 8.5 inches, the driest ever recorded in Texas, shattering the old record drought of 1917).

Great trip.  Kathryn’s menu planning was spectacular.  The old Coleman stove  — a quarter century old, now, with fuel almost that old — performed like a champ even without the maintenance it needs (later this week).  Other than the hot nights, it was stellar.

Stellar.  Yeah.  Stars were grand.  It was New Moon, a happy accident.  A topic for another post, later.  Think, “Iridium.”

So posting was slow over the weekend.  How far out in the Hill Country were we?  Neither one of us could get a bar on our phones.  We were so far out the Verizon Wireless guy was using smoke signals.

Thoreau was right, you know.


Scapegoat season

June 21, 2011

Say what?

John Cole at Balloon Juice:

Grampa Simpson at it again:

In comments made over the weekend, Senator John McCain R-AZ., blamed illegal immigrants for the some wildfires that have raged across his state of Arizona.“There is substantial evidence that some of these fires have been caused by people who have crossed our border illegally,” McCain said Saturday at a press conference. “The answer to that part of the problem is to get a secure border.”’

The Senator from Arizona’s comments set off a wildfire of their own, as the Wallow Fire currently blazes across his state across 500,000 miles.

A forest service spokesman on the Wallow fire in Arizona says there’s no evidence that this specific fire was caused by immigrants.

I still can not believe that there are people who want to argue that there would have been no difference between the current Obama administration and a McCain/Palin reign of terror.

What’s going on there?


Missed National Trails Day, June 4? Catch up later, on the trail

June 6, 2011

This is a little embarrassing.

National Trails Day logo from the American Hiking Society

National Trails Day logo from the American Hiking Society; click to go to AHS site

I missed National Trails Day this year.

Heck, I’ve missed it every year since its inception in 1993.

As usual, I’ll have to hit the trails later in the summer — hello, Colorado Bend State Park.  You can make it up, too.  National Trails Day is a celebration that can be done any time you find to do it, really, any place you find to celebrate it.

So, hey, buddy:  Take a hike!

And have fun doing it.

Information and resources for National Trails Day:


Public Lands insanity

November 16, 2008

Remember when Strange Maps “discovered” that so much of the 13 western states is owned by the Federal Government?  On the one hand, it was nice to see people paying attention to public lands in the west.

Public lands.  Photo from the Montana Wildlife Federation

Public lands. Photo from the Montana Wildlife Federation

At the Bathtub, we remarked on the history of the issue with a map that showed where the publicly-owned lands really are (the Strange Maps version only showed a dot in the middle of each state proportionate to the federal land held in the state.)  On the other hand, it was an open invitation for know-nothings and know-littles to jump in with silly ideas.  Remarkably, the post remained free of such folderol — until just recently.

None of these sites gives any serious thought to the idea.  None provides a scintilla of an iota of analysis to indicate it would be a good idea.

As one of the the principal spokesmen for the Sagebrush Rebellion in the early days, I want it known that I’ve thought these issues through, and argued them through, and followed the documentation for 30 years (Holy frijole!  I’m old!).  Issues with public lands revolve around stewardship.  Bad stewardship is not improved by a change in ownership.  Ownership change has all too often only led to worse stewardship.  Selling off the public lands is a generally stupid idea.

Certain local circumstances change the nature of a tiny handful of such deals — but not often, not in many places, and not enough to make a significant contribution to retiring any debt the federal government owns.

On the other hand, incomes from these lands typically runs a few multiples of the costs of managing them.  The Reagan administration discovered the lands were a great source of money to offset losses in other places, and for that reason (I suspect) never really got on the Sagebrush Rebellion band wagon — or, maybe Reagan’s higher officials just didn’t get it.

It’s troubling that such a flurry of stupidity strikes now, during a transition of presidents. This is how stupid ideas get traction, like kudzu on a cotton farm, while no one is paying deep attention.  Let’s put this idea back into its coffin with a sagebrush stake in its heart.

Bottom line:  Keep public lands in federal trust.  The Sagebrush Rebellion is over.  The sagebrush won.

_____________

Speaking of presidential transitions, who should be Secretary of Interior?  Stay tuned.


Geography hidden in plain sight

June 18, 2008

Strange Maps features federally-owned lands. Those of us who grew up in the west tramping those federal lands, and those of us who worked policy for those lands rarely think they should be listed as “strange” maps. Beautiful land maps, perhaps. God’s Country. It’s funny others regard it as so strange.

But we get clues. In comments at Strange Maps I noted a corporate meeting where I was chastised and ostracized for making a simple statement of fact about the ownership of lands in the west. Other than we veterans of the Sagebrush Rebellion (on all sides), ranchers, miners, and members of the Sierra Club, Wilderness Society, National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) [Barry Tindall? Are you still out there?], National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), and enrolled tribal members, who pays attention to that stuff?

Too few in government pay enough attention. Fewer people outside government pay attention, especially if they don’t live in states in which the federal lands reside.

Public lands are all around us, yet we don’t see them as anything much different from any other land. Too often we don’t even see them for the resources they are. It’s as if we had a treasure of diamonds, rubies and gold, and we put it on display, and no one could see it.

For example, there was a major decision in federal district court on an issue of federalism last Friday — did you hear of it in your local newspaper, or on your local television or radio news? Nor are most people familiar with the move to amend the 1872 Mining Act, nor could most Americans describe for you what the 1872 Mining Act is or why it’s worth billions of dollars annually to the federal government, state governments, and mining corporations.

Strange Maps showed only the amount of land in federal hands in each state. Below is a map that shows where are the actual federal holdings, from the online National Atlas (nationalatlas.gov) – a map of federal lands and Indian Reservations. (A .gif preview is below; below that is a link to a .pdf file you can download.) The light green is National Forest land; the yellow is Bureau of Land Management land. The red plots are Indian reservations. Click on the map for the enlargement, you can see that Nevada, for example, has just thin threads of private lands (in white), mostly along U.S. Highway 50, and around Las Vegas.

Federal Lands and Indian Reservations, National Atlas

natlatlas-fed-lands-indian-res-fedlands31

Flip the pages of most geography texts, however, and you’ll find little clue of the role federal lands play in modern America, let alone the historical roles played.

History?

Sure. Notice that most of the public lands held today are in 13 western states, generally the last states allowed into the union (not exactly; Oklahoma is a 20th century admission — but it has Indian reservations; read on). Outside the 13 original colonies, which became the 13 original states, and Vermont (#14), all the land in the U.S. was held by the federal government at one time. Much of the territory between the 13 original states and the Mississippi was ceded to the U.S. by Britain in the Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolution. Americans thought the land useful for farming, chiefly, so the intention was to devise the lands to private holders. To that end the various Northwest Ordinances (e.g., 1785, 1786, 1787 and later) established systems to sell off the lands into private hands.

Disposal of the lands required the creation of a bureau to do the job. The General Land Office was created in 1812, and remained part of the federal government until it was folded into the new Bureau of Land Management in 1946.

That some of the lands might have national value, and should be held in federal title, did not surface as a complete idea until the Progressive Era, with the emphasis on land stewardship, under Teddy Roosevelt, Taft, and their successors. Even then, the general idea was to get most of the lands into private ownership. Roosevelt worked to preserve the most scenic and most unique lands.

Beginning with the Northwest Ordinances, the federal government set aside two sections in every township for the benefit of education. Local governments sold the tracts and put the money to school construction, or put the schools on those sections. Some of the tracts in the far western states are still there, unsold and providing no benefits to the schools. In some cases this is because the tracts are stuck inside federally-held tracts, in National Forests, in National Parks. Texas dedicated some of its state lands to provide funding for the University of Texas. Fortunately, these tracts happened to be on a pool of oil. When oil development took off, Texas’s university systems benefited (the Texas A&M System got a third of the rights along the way).

Poster advertising lands in Nebraska and Iowa

Development of the Transcontinental Railroad was financed by massive grants of land to the railroad companies. Even today the fortunes of the old Burlington Northern Railroad (now BNSF) are swelled by coal on land granted to the original companies building the rails, land the company has held for all these years. The thin line of private land across northern Nevada originally was the route of the Central Pacific Railroad — now it is approximately the route of U.S. Highway 50, “America’s Loneliest Highway.”

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act on May 20, 1862. Under the Act, any American could lay claim to public lands for a small fee, and if he could live on the land for five years, title was vested in that citizen. This explanation comes from a lesson plan at the National Archives:

The new law established a three-fold homestead acquisition process: filing an application, improving the land, and filing for deed of title. Any U.S. citizen, or intended citizen, who had never borne arms against the U.S. Government could file an application and lay claim to 160 acres of surveyed Government land. For the next 5 years, the homesteader had to live on the land and improve it by building a 12-by-14 dwelling and growing crops. After 5 years, the homesteader could file for his patent (or deed of title) by submitting proof of residency and the required improvements to a local land office.

When I was a child in southern Idaho, customers at my parents’ furniture store included many people who were still trying to make a go of things on homesteads north of Burley, Idaho, on “the North Side.” Much of the land granted this way could not support a family, and the failure rate of these homesteads in the 1950s and 1960s was probably more than 50 percent (I’m swagging the figure — if you have better statistics, send them along).

Overall, the Homestead Act shaped America’s character as a home for entrepreneurs:

By 1934, over 1.6 million homestead applications were processed and more than 270 million acres—10 percent of all U.S. lands—passed into the hands of individuals. The passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 repealed the Homestead Act in the 48 contiguous states, but it did grant a ten-year extension on claims in Alaska.

Much of the land that open for homesteading was desert, unsuitable for farming. It was available for grazing cows and sheep, though, and much of it was overgrazed. (Grazing alone wouldn’t meet the homestead requirements.) It was not until the 1970s that people outnumbered sheep in Utah, for example. In the first three decades of the 20th century enormous flocks of sheep grazed much of what is now considered Utah’s western desert territory, flocks of thousands of sheep, or tens of thousands.

These lands, too arid for farming, too hilly for much of anything else, too far away from settlements for other commerce, eventually formed the core of lands held by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the Department of Interior. BLM manages 264 million acres of land, far and away the biggest land management agency in the federal government. Much of the land was severely overgrazed by 1930, and after the harsh lessons of the Dustbowl, Congress tried to rope in grazing and set it up in a rational scheme in the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, one of the lesser noted chunks of the New Deal era.

The major federal land management agencies today include the Department of Interior’s BLM, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and to a lesser and more complicated degree, the Bureau of Indian Affairs; the Department of Agriculture’s National Forest Service; and the Department of Defense, especially in the western public lands states (think Nevada gunnery range, Skull Valley and Dugway Proving Grounds, Utah, and Area 51).

Each area of land management policy is controversial to some degree, but even these controversies rarely rise to the level of public acknowledgment. The latest starlet’s sexcapades will grab headlines away from the major effort to overhaul mining law, for example. In the 1980s, Alaska voted on a proposal to secede from the union, but the issue barely got three paragraphs in the Washington Post or New York Times, two of the newspapers that are generally very good in covering such issues. This post barely scratches the surface of these issues.

(Digression: I first encountered Molly Ivins when she reported for the NY Times out of the Denver bureau; as a Scout I had hiked and traveled much of Utah and the west; as a Senate staffer to a western senator, I was intimately familiar with most of the land in Utah especially. Ivins wrote a story on a protection issue on a chunk of land and a formation I’d not been familiar with, and in sparring with her about the article, it became very clear that she had pulled out sources we didn’t know about, and that she knew the stuff about as well as we did. Anyone who bothers to give a damn about western lands can earn my respect with such careful research.)

As a side note, Strange Maps suggested that the District of Columbia was all federal lands, but most of the District has been devised into private property, and commenters noted that. Here is a map of the District showing its federally-maintained lands.

District of Columbia and Federal Lands

Other resources:

Other related posts at the Bathtub:


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