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Sacred Ground – The Fate of Elk & Man

This unique collection of new nature essays forthrightly addresses the environmental conditions and concerns of the 1990s. The contributors include an anthropologist, a filmmaker, and several novelists and fly fishermen and -women as well as established nature writers like Wendell Berry, Gary Nabhan, and Bill McKibben. Subjects range from hiking in Alaska to viniculture in France, and the tone and style vary from the Swiftian satire of Robert F. Jones to John Murray’s personal meditation and Wendell Berry’s passionate biblical rhetoric. Yet these diverse essays are bound by a single theme summed up succinctly by Mary Katherine Bateson: “Ethics follow efficacy.” Because we humans have become so many and so powerful, we must become environmentally responsible; we must reform our greedy, exploitative relationship to the natural world and learn to share the planet’s wealth with other species and future generations.
– Joan S. Elbers
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

 

Sacred Ground, Sacred Trust

 

By Michael Patrick McCarty

Animal signs and tracks have always fascinated me, no doubt encouraged by the knowledge that a living, breathing creature just laid them down and might be standing just over the next rise. Tracks are a record of nature’s wanderings and little doings, scratched and scribed on mother earth’s own back. They are placed there, as new each time, for those who wish to follow and investigate.

Temporary and ephemeral, they sing with animal promise and life eternal, bursting of meanings far greater than their small impression would indicate. They speak of purpose and plan, reward and desire, and adventure for all.

Tracks lead, I must follow. I aspire to ponder the possibilities of their message, and to attempt to practice what they may wish to teach. I wish could read them better. Maybe I can decipher them in this lifetime. I am determined to try.

I am a particularly fond of elk, and I am a dedicated student of elk tracks. Their shape intrigues me, and I like the way they cut deeply into the ground as if searching for the planet’s center, releasing the earth’s rich, dark aroma to mingle with their heavy musk. There is nothing subtle about the way that an elk marches through life, churning and slinging dirt and mud while becoming even more solidly rooted to the ground. It grounds my wandering boots as well. They pull me deeper into the ground with each step. I feel freer, calmer, and more fully connected to my life.

Their tracks tell their story, and I gain insight and know the characters more intimately through the added layers of each successive chapter. It is a long and complex tale. I have trailed along wherever and whenever I could. Later, my mind wanders, and I am on the move again, reliving old trails and experiences even when my body is somewhere else.

The characters in this tale are many and varied, each with their own unique qualities, motivations, and point of view. I can read the developing plot on the ground, at my feet, and just ahead. Here are tracks large and small, first meandering slowly, then running. Some are evenly spaced and calm, some are random and hurried. Yearling elk lay them down, as do old dry cows, new-born calves, and antlered bulls small and large.

They document the every day struggles, their hopes, their fears, joys, and occasional sufferings. I can picture in my visions the upturned head of an alert mother, nostrils quivering and searching for unwanted and dangerous scents. Ahead of her, I see a battle-scarred old warrior bull, standing tall in its last footprint, bugling and aching for a fight. It’s all written upon the ground, in the signs of animals and tracks.

Tracks have led me to vibrantly green, sundappled forests so beautiful it was difficult not to cry. It was tempting to lie down there forever, quiet and unmoving, until my body turned to stone, left to weather and crack and fall upon the earth.

I stood again, to wind my way through sage covered flats, with pounding rain and fog so thick that one is forced to look only down, watching the rain drops from your hat land squarely in the elk track below. Shielding my eyes from stinging, wind-driven snowflakes, I have waded through the unbearable snows of a terrible winter to find a calf’s last struggles against barbed wire and fence, too high.

More than once I have explored an anxious trail of tracks patterned by a solitary elk, and observed the paw prints of a mountain lion, or a bear, on top. Moving on intently, I have found only piles of hair or a few shards of bone in the last impression, with no elk left to pursue.

Backtracking upon tracks I was stepping on, I have been confronted with the reality of mountain lion or bear tracks covering my tracks, in turn. Tracks have led me to the center of nowhere, and back again. On the way I found myself, staring back. I am always looking for the next track to chase, eager to discover where it may lead.

My life is surrounded by elk and their tracks. apparently, I’ve made sure it worked out that way, without fully realizing it. Tracks lead past my house on their way to hay fields below, and I often stand in them on my way to our garden. Even at work, I look for them out of the corner of my eye, knowing that they are often just yards away from my comfortable shoes.

I work as a security guard, and my “office” is a “shack” at the main entrance of a golf course, country club, and home development. The sprawling property is interspersed with large homes on small lots, with much open space, and for now, many vacant house lots. A river runs through it. Public lands are near and expansive. Elk and mule deer are a commonly seen, along with a variety of smaller animals, birds and waterfowl.  I am a most fortunate person.

You might say I have a room with a view. Red rocky ridges, sparkling clear water, and manicured greenery wrap around and fill the big windows of the small building. To the south, Mt. Sopris looms above us and refuses to be ignored. Broad shouldered and solid, with a long, deep blanket of shimmering snow fields below her twin peaks, it is one of my favorite and most comforting friends. The Ute Indians revered her first, and named her “Mother Mountain”.

Somehow I feel that she is watching, and that she is caring and protective of the many beings down below. I look to her often, and wonder what she would have to say about our human doings. She already knows that all is not always well in paradise.

“Mother Mountain” has a grand view of the “eagle tree” on the property, and a section of the development has been declared off-limits to all activity in an effort to honor the pair of bald eagles that raise their young here every summer. It is a grandfather of all trees, a towering ponderosa with heavy, thick branches, perfectly placed on the bank of a sweeping curve in the shallow river.

The eagles have been raising their young here for decades, perhaps millennia, or more. They have seen a lot, these eagles. The place would not be the same without them and it is a credit to the developer and others who planned it.

 

werner22brigitte / Pixabay

In the spring and summer people talk of them and wish to see them. They call for the daily eagle report. They are famous, they are legend. Homeowners and club members can see them whenever they wish. Outsiders cannot. We must protect the eagles from disturbance, we say. To appease the general public, we occasionally host a coordinated observation tour to show everyone that all is well in eagle world. It’s the least we can do.

However, limited and brief access does not satisfy the public demand. Most of the excited, would be visitors arrive by vehicle unannounced, without appointment. They wish to watch the eagles and they want to see them very badly. They are curious about their eaglets and they can’t wait to take their picture. One of the parent’s may return with a freshly caught and wiggling trout to feed the young, and they want to encourage them on. For their own reasons they are humans who want to be part of something else, something wild.

Birders and eagle lovers can be very determined folks, and they do not like to be turned away. But we do, because we must, and we can.  After all, it is private property, you see. Members only, I’m afraid.

The private in private property can define and expose some harsh realities. It means that something, in this case the eagles, belongs to someone else. They are not for you. When I deprive someone of the eagles, I know that it was not my idea and that I am only doing my job, but that does not make me feel any better.  I must wonder, as I turn to Mt. Sopris and ask, what would “mother” say”?

My head is out of the office as much as it is in, and when I slide the door open to greet a guest I cannot help but look in the direction of the river and the eagle tree. Perhaps I can catch a glimpse of that distinctive white head flashing in the light of a low sun, as it soars calmly over the back of an elk on its return to the comfort of the family nest.

After sunset, the night belongs to the elk, particularly during the long, cold nights of winter. I often can hear them calling back and forth to each other, conversing in a language as old as time. They paw and crunch through the snow just out of range of approaching headlights. On moonlit nights I can spot them weaving around the trees near the building, a ghostly apparition that begs me to leave my confines and join them. Unobservable to the casual traveler and yet so close, it is our little secret, the elk and I.

During the worst days of our long winters, the elk congregate on the property to escape the heavy snows of the high country. Skiers on their way to Aspen, most of them apparently from elkless places, slam on their brakes and leave the highway. They can’t believe their eyes. They shower me with questions. Is that an elk? How many are there? Where did they go? How long will they be here? They want to see the elk, and they want to see them very badly. They need to see them. Why are the elk here, they ask? I do not know the answer to that last one, but I am glad they asked. That is the million dollar question, after all.

I want to grant the them access, because I love the fact that they are so completely enthralled with an animal that I love too. Instead, I must say no, and turn them away. It is that private property thing again, rising to rear its ugly head. The elk are standing on private property, I explain. It is a private subdivision and a private club. The message is clear. They are “our elk”, not yours. They may wander about on public land most of the year, but they are “our elk” now. They are not for you. I cannot let you past. I cannot accommodate your request.

Most of the time they look past me and through me as if I’m not there, eager for another elk sighting. They plead and they reason, hoping to gain some toehold to hang on to and work a crack to break my resolve. They cannot believe I am blocking their way, incredulous at my lack of compassion and understanding regarding their need. I stand uninvolved, professional, resolute. They do not know that I wish for them to see them too. I cannot let them see the inner workings of my conflicted mind. If I only could…If they only knew…

The west is not the west that I came to 35 years ago. More populated, yes, but different  in ways apart from the addition of people. Attitudes have changed. Colorado has become more and more like…other places. It has never ceased to amaze me how people come here to escape the problems of the place they have come from – and then promptly try to change the new place back into the old place they just worked so hard to escape. Too often our stunning views become valued most for the picture through the picture window in the great room of the palatial house on the new hobby ranch estate.

Here, as in many areas throughout the west, the trophy houses perch like sentinels above the river, on guard against the boatman who pass on the public waters below. In Colorado only the navigable and flowing water is public; the river bottoms and shorelines are private. May the heavens part and jagged thunderbolts smite the poor, unwashed soul who touches the river bottom with the metal of boat or anchor, or wader covered foot. They are watching, and the fish policemen are but a moment away. I should know. I am one.

skeeze / Pixabay

The fish, of course, belong to the public. The finny creatures are managed by people who work for a public wildlife management agency, which is funded with public funds, paid primarily by private citizens who purchase a public fishing license with their private dollars, which pays for the public fish managed by the public wildlife management agency. Yet, there seems to be some confusion over who owns the fish.

The private property proclamations and numerous no trespassing signs are placed strategically and obviously to remind the boatmen not to stop. The signs imply the desired message. You may pass but do not enter. Wet your lines and be on your way. The area is designated as catch and release, the sign says, so put our fish back too. Like the elk, and the eagle, they are “our fish”, and not for you.  I blissfully fished on these river banks many, many times over the years, with the eagles over my shoulders. There were no signs or houses then. I quit fishing here, a lifetime ago. Somehow all of the joy has long since been squeezed out of these troubled waters.

I like my job well enough. Like many people I have too many bills to pay, a mortgage to service, and promises to keep. I must work, but the duty does not particularly suit me. I struggle with my inner wranglings, and find it difficult to relate to people on equal or near equal terms, in an effort to provide what they need. Mind reading and the decoding of a person’s unspoken and true desire is not one of my strong suits. Oh how I wish that it was.

On the other hand, my desire is clear. I would prefer to be glued to a hot track, or directly connected to a pulsating and surging fish. I want to be the eagle, to fly away, circling ever upward and screaming fiercely in a bold, blue sky. I do my best to smile. No one has ever asked my opinion about anything substantial. In the end, I am a glorified Walmart Greeter, waving contentedly like a trained and tethered circus monkey, guarding a lifestyle at my back that I could never attain financially, but would never chose if I could.

To be fair, many of the residents love the elk and respect and cherish the gift of wildlife around them. They wish to help much more than harm. Most of the rest are nice enough. Some of the others, not so much. Some of the not so nice have long since moved away. Selling out, they were eager to move on to the next better place and conquer new-found worlds. Godspeed. I wish them well. Continue reading Sacred Ground – The Fate of Elk & Man

NBCI’s State of the Bobwhite 2018 Reports 24% Increase in Managed Bobwhite Acres Over Last Year

For the Health of the Land: Previously Unpublished Essays And Other Writings (Hardcover)

Aldo Leopold’s classic work A Sand County Almanac is widely regarded as one of the most influential conservation books of all time. In it, Leopold sets forth an eloquent plea for the development of a “land ethic” — a belief that humans have a duty to interact with the soils, waters, plants, and animals that collectively comprise “the land” in ways that ensure their well-being and survival.For the Health of the Land, a new collection of rare and previously unpublished essays by Leopold, builds on that vision of ethical land use and develops the concept of “land health” and the practical measures landowners can take to sustain it. The writings are vintage Leopold — clear, sensible, and provocative, sometimes humorous, often lyrical, and always inspiring. Joining them together are a wisdom and a passion that transcend the time and place of the author’s life.The book offers a series of forty short pieces, arranged in seasonal “almanac” form, along with longer essays, arranged chronologically, which show the development of Leopold’s approach to managing private lands for conservation ends. The final essay is a never before published work, left in pencil draft at his death, which proposes the concept of land health as an organizing principle for conservation. Also featured is an introduction by noted Leopold scholars J. Baird Callicott and Eric T. Freyfogle that provides a brief biography of Leopold and places the essays in the context of his life and work, and an afterword by conservation biologist Stanley A. Temple that comments on Leopold’s ideas from the perspective of modern wildlife management.The book’s conservation message and practical ideas are as relevant today as they were when first written over fifty years ago. For the Health of the Land represents a stunning new addition to the literary legacy of Aldo Leopold.

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October 5, 2018

By The National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative

Now reported at nearly four million acres, bobwhite management across 25 states is up 24 percent over the 3.2 million acres reported the year before — or 771,345 acres added — according to NBCI’s Bobwhite Almanac: State of the Bobwhite 2018. That’s just one insight provided by the eighth annual report by the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI), its 25-member states and partners on progress in restoring wild quail to the landscape.

“Because habitat is managed for bobwhites doesn’t necessarily mean quail are there,” cautioned NBCI Science Coordinator/Assistant Director Dr. Tom Dailey in reference to the Bobwhite Habitat Inventory Index. “It means it’s suitable for bobwhites in the year it’s reported or will be in the near future. It can take some time after initial management for a population response. But habitat management is trending in the right direction.”

You Can Read The Full Post Here

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*Bobwhites have always been near and dear to my heart, and it is heartwarming to know that groups like the NBCI are working so hard to preserve one of our most cherished gamebirds. The future of bobwhite quail may very well depend on private land partnerships such as this.

Michael Patrick McCarty

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Flying Proud – The National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative

bobwhite quail

 

The National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) is the unified strategic effort of 25 state fish and wildlife agencies and various conservation organizations — all under the umbrella of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee — to restore wild populations of bobwhite quail in this country to levels comparable to 1980.

The first such effort, in 2002, was a paper-based plan by the Southeastern Quail Study Group under the umbrella of Southeastern Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies. That plan, termed the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, attracted considerable attention around the country, including that of the other states in the bobwhite quail range. The result was a broad expansion of the effort and a revision of the plan (and the Southeastern Quail Study Group itself, now the National Bobwhite Technical Committee) to include 25 states in the bobwhite’s core range.


Today, NBCI is a multi-faceted initiative characterized by key elements:

  1. an easily updated, online strategic (NBCI 2.0) plan released in March 2011
  2. a massive and easily updated online Geographic Information System (GIS)-based conservation tool to help state biologists and other conservation planners identify and achieve individual state objectives within the overall national strategy, also released in March 2011. (Over 600 biologists within the bobwhite’s range participated in building this conservation tool.)
  3. The NBCI Coordinated Implementation Program (CIP) to help states adapt the national strategy to the local level
  4. A small team of specialists in grasslands, forestry, government, communications and research to work at regional and national levels to identify opportunities and remove obstacles to bobwhite restoration

NBCI Principles

  1. Working lands habitats
    • Bobwhites and grassland birds can be increased and sustained on working public and private lands across their range by improving and managing native grassland and early successional habitats, accomplished through modest, voluntary adjustments in how humans manage rural land.
  2. Landscape-scale habitat problem
    • Long-term, widespread population declines for bobwhites and grassland birds arise predominantly from subtle but significant landscape-scale changes occurring over several decades in how humans use and manage rural land.
  3. Stewardship responsibility
    • Reversing long-term, widespread population declines of wild bobwhites, associated grassland birds and the native grassland ecosystems in whichthey thrive is an important wildlife conservation objective and an overdue stewardship responsibility.
  4. Heritage
    • Northern bobwhites (Colinus virginianus) are a traditional and valued part of our nation’s cultural, rural, hunting and economic heritage.  Widespread restoration of huntable populations of wild quail will have myriad positive societal benefits for individuals and families, rural communities, cultures and economies.
  5. Interjurisdictional responsibilities
    • State wildlife agencies bear legal authority and leadership responsibility for bobwhite conservation, while migratory grassland birds legally are a legal co-responsibility with the federal government; however, the vast majority of actual and potential grassland bird habitats is privately owned.
  6. Partnerships and collaboration
    • Restoration success depends on a comprehensive network of deliberate, vigorous and sustained collaboration with land owners and managers by state, federal and local governments as well as by corporate, non-profit, and individual private conservationists.
  7. Strategic approach
    • Success requires a long-term, range-wide strategic campaign combined with coordinated, effective action at all levels of society and government, to create a public movement to address conservation policy barriers and opportunities that have the needed landscape-scale influences.
  8. Adaptive management
    • Adaptive resource management principles will inform and increase the efficiency of restoration and management and to satisfy multi-resource and multi-species needs.
  9. Long-term challenge
    • Following a half-century of decline, landscape-scale restoration of bobwhite and grassland bird habitats and populations across their range will require determined and sustained conservation leadership, priority, funding and focus for decades to come.

You Can Help

The bobwhite quail and the suite of other species in peril won’t survive as part of America’s landscape without a larger community working toward the goal. Here are a few things you can do to help:The National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI)

  • First, spread the word about the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative by sharing this website with friends and acquaintances who care about bobwhite quail and/or the suite of other wildlife species being wiped out by destruction of their habitat.
  • Keep current with efforts to save the bobwhite by subscribing to NBCI news releases and the NBCI blog, and encourage others to do the same. Keep passing that information along to others.
  • NBCI is an organized effort by the states for the states, so contact your state department of conservation or fish & wildlife commission (check the web links under About Us), tell them you support their efforts to restore quail to America’s landscape and ask them how you can help.
  • Join one of the non-governmental grassroots organizations, like Quail Forever, Quail and Upland Wildlife Foundation, Quail Coalition or the National Wild Turkey Federation (yes, they have a effort on the quail’s behalf), and put your boots on the ground to help restore habitat in areas targeted by your state. (Again, check the web links under About Us/State Quail Coordinators.)
  • See if any members of your Congressional delegation is a member of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus. If so, contact him/her about the bobwhite’s plight and the NBCI.
  • Contact your local county extension office and ask them what they are doing to promote improved quail habitat with agricultural interests in the county. Share the NBCI story with them.
  • Ask your state forestry commission how they are working with the state’s wildlife biologists to manage state forests in a way that will help recover wild quail populations. Share the NBCI story with them.
  • Donate dollars to the cause. NBCI, working with its headquarters institution the University of Tennessee, is establishing an avenue to allow financial contributions, including establishment of an endowment to help support what is sure to be a long-term effort.

 

bobwhite quail hunter with hunting dog

 

All information taken from the NBCI website here.

Posted by Michael Patrick McCarty

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