Birds and politics

Musings on the end of the story

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

John Tierney wrote in a recent edition of “The New York Times” (science section) about climate change, and the fat chance we have of a sincere political solution. He is not optimistic. Me neither. There is no political will to bite hard on the issue. We beat around the edges of things, pasting impressive titles on weak efforts. Mr. Tierney suggests we consider moving ahead with engineered solutions — improving the reflectivity of clouds to bounce some of the sun’s rays away from us, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere not by preventing its creation in the first place but by simply removing it. We’re not close to any of this, but then we’re not close to anything else meaningful either. If legislation was proposed that cramped our style in serious ways, well, look at the health-care “discussion.” If you don’t understand it or don’t like it, lie, and if that isn’t enough, lie loudly. Political philosophy is not necessarily pertinent to all issues. Neither is noise. Yes, I believe the world’s climate is changing. Even if I didn’t believe in change, the possibility is there. You can bet against that possibility, but if you lose the loss is enormous. If you bet on change, and support your wager with climate solutions, well, sure you could lose, all of that effort and money for naught. But the two possible losses are hugely different. We buy insurance for everything, protecting ourselves against unacceptable outcomes. Even the slightest possibility of climate change is acceptable? I won’t live long enough to turn the page on the end of this story, or even get to its last chapter. I do like to know how things end. In this case, though, maybe not. (Right — I should go birding and cheer up.)

Remember Chickadee Checkoff

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008


Tax time, soon to arrive, is the time to remember Minnesota’s Chickadee Check-off. This is a line on your state tax form that gives you the opportunity to designate a portion of your tax refund for use by the DNR’s non-game wildlife department. Non-game efforts are important to song birds. If you have no refund you can make a contribution by adding that amount to the tax you owe. Tax returns filed for 2007 produced $1.1 million for the department, almost half the department’s annual budget. Average contribution was about $16. Check-off contributions made this coming tax season are likely to be even more important than in the past, given the budget deficit state government faces. This is a very simple way to help keep song birds on our landscape. If someone else prepares your taxes, be sure to tell them you want to use the Chickadee Check-off.

Birding and the border wall in Texas

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

 white-winged-dove.jpg The Rio Grande Valley in south Texas, along our border with Mexico, has long been a favorite destination for birders. It is a place where you can see bird species found nowhere else in the country. If you want to visit this special place, don’t delay. Go before our government finished The Wall. The Wall is that 16-foot-high concrete and steel barrier being built on our side of the Rio Grande River as part of our solution to illegal immigration.These comments are not about protecting our borders. I have no argument with that. What I don’t understand is why we can’t find a way to do that without demanding such huge environmental sacrafice. The Wall, according to an article in the American Birding Association’s newsletter, simply will remove some species from the United States. The Wall is being built within a 100-foot clearcut through habitat that sometimes is hardly 100 feet deep, squeezed between the river and the ag fields that dominate the Valley. Audubon’s Sabal Palm Bird Sanctuary actually will wind up on the Mexican side of the wall, access all but impossible. This sanctuary and several others sit in this special and rare wildlife corridor that our government has spent $100 million purchasing and restoring. Why is it that we so often seek to solve national problems by giving the environment a good shot in the shorts? Is this really the best we can do? (The White-winged Dove in the photo is found along the Rio Grande River.) 

Wind-powered generators and birds

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

sharp-shinned-hawk.jpgThese are hypothetical questions. There is no study. But what if there was a study stating that installation of wind-powered electrical generators along the ridge above Duluth would pose only minor problems for birds. Hawk Ridge is up there, one of North America’s best places to watch raptors during fall migration. Birders are up there right now, with tens of thousands of migrants flying above the ridge possible on a good day. Only minor problems for birds: is there an acceptable size for such problems? (The bird in the photo is a Merlin, a common Hawk Ridge migrant.)

Kill them to save them?

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

“History has shown that if you want to save something on this planet, make it a huntable or fishable species, and allow a constituency to form around it.” Dennis Anderson, outdoor editor of the Star Tribune, wrote that. I found the quote in the summer issue of the Delta Waterfowl magazine. Delta Waterfowl is an organization devoted to waterbird conservation and hunting. Hunting seasons for songbirds are not going to happen, obviously, and shouldn’t. But songbirds have more population problems than game birds do. Why? Could it be that hunters invest more passion, energy, and money into conservation of their chosen species? Do hunters have more political clout than birders do?Except for the bang factor, do you see difference between hunters and birders? If Anderson is right, why do we have to kill them to save them? 

Rep. Bachmann’s wilderness adventure

Monday, July 21st, 2008


Rep. Michele Bachmann (MN 6th District, R) has returned from her visit to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska. She was one of 10 Congressmen making that trip this past weekend. The purpose was to assure us all that drilling for oil there poses no problems for wildlife. She did not set foot on the refuge. This was an overfly visit. She was in a plane large enough to hold perhaps 15 people. Looking at the photos that accompany her blog today on the National Review web site, the plane probably flew at no less than 1,500 feet, say at 120 mph.

I’ve flown in Alaska. Those are reasonable assumptions.

This is what she says today: “Visiting ANWR also revealed that almost no wildlife exists in the 2,000-acre area (proposed drilling site). It was flat arctic tundra with absolutely no trees in view. And, caribou and wildlife were nowhere near the possible drilling sites. Furthermore, we know that nine months out of the year this area is hidden under snow and ice and three months out of the year the area is covered in complete darkness.”

What snow and ice and darkness have to do with wildlife, particularly breeding birds in spring and summer, is beyond me. And her view from one side of that plane zipping along high above the treeless (what did she expect?) tundra was never going to reveal most of the wildlife to be found there.

Upon arrival in Alaska, Rep. Bachmann received a briefing packet containing checklists for the 45 species of land and marine mammals, 36 species of fish, and 180 species of birds that can be found on the refuge. Rep. Bachmann didn’t do her homework, or she didn’t take a good look at her briefing packet, or she just says whatever supports her position, true or not.

If you’d like to hear what the proposed drilling location sounds like in June, check the last 25 percent of a podcast available at The photo is of a Willow Ptarmigan hen, a species that nests in ANWR. The hen obviously would be clearly visible from an airplane if the hen really was there.

No wildlife in wildlife refuge?

Thursday, July 17th, 2008


Some bird species using the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for breeding can be seen in Minnesota. Long-tailed Duck is one of them. Some Long-tails spend the winter on Lake Superior, and at times can be seen from various North Shore vantage points.

Ten Congressional Republicans, including our own Michelle Bachman, will be in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska this weekend. This is billed as a fact-finding trip. (The ANWR is sometimes pronounced as ann-whar.) The refuge is the subject of much debate over drilling for oil. These particular Congressmen/women strongly support drilling. And that should pose no problem for wildlife if you believe what House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said at a news conference this week. “We’re going to look at this barren, Arctic desert where I’m hoping to see some wildlife. But I understand there’s none there,” he said.

No wildlife in the wildlife refuge! Imagine that!

Unfortunately, this is essentially a fly-over visit for the Congressional party. Jimmy Fox, deputy manager of ANWR, said Thursday in a telephone interview that it is his understanding that Rep. Boehner, Rep. Bachman, and their associates will not set foot on the refuge, although they will spend a couple of hours in a village within the refuge.

Wouldn’t it be nice if they put on boots and tramped around on the tundra for a day or two, actually took a look at things? More value for dollars spent, you might say.

“We have no input in what they will see or do,” he said. “They basically come to us for information.” He said refuge personnel will accompany the Congressmen on the overflight. He was uncertain of the type of aircraft to be used, but guessed it would not be the slow, low-flying type of aircraft used for wildlife-management work. He did say that various wildlife lists would be included in the briefing packets each Congressmen will receive. We can only hope that Boehner and his colleagues pay attention to work done by his fellow government employees.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service notes that ANWR is inhabited by 45 species of land and marine mammals, 36 species of fish, and 180 species of birds. Not that it’s going to matter much, right?  For more on this issue seen Kenn Kaufman’s remarks at