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Sage grouse robot video!

Ray Ring | Apr 01, 2009 09:55 AM
Filed under: Wild Thangs

Even though today is April Fool's Day, I think this is not made up.

Scientists studying sage grouse behavior in Wyoming have built an amusing but useful grouse robot. The robot looks like a grouse, if you have bad eyesight. It runs on a little railroad track that goes into a lek (mating ground). The grouse robot even has a camera that enables the scientists to see from the robot's perspective. They shoot video, as female and male grouse approach the robot kind of checking it out. And I have to presume, the real live grouse are thinking, what the gobbledy-heck?

And it is, of course, on YouTube:




Was our last wild jaguar euthanized by mistake?

Ray Ring | Mar 29, 2009 05:50 AM
Filed under: Wild Thangs


Until today, this was the sad story of Macho B, the last known wild jaguar in our country:

The jaguar was snared by accident south of Tucson Feb. 18. Wildlife agents decided to strap it with a radio collar to study its movements. Then they noticed the jaguar behaving strangely for 12 days, so they recaptured it, to see if it could be helped somehow. Then wildlife vets decided the jaguar had suffered kidney failure, and they euthanized it March 2.

And this has been the controversial question: Did the jaguar's handling by people -- the snaring and radio-collaring -- stress the jaguar enough to contribute to its death?

Since the death, there's been a swell of public sentiment that may lead to more effort to preserve habitat for wild jaguars.

Now, the Arizona Daily Star reports a new controversy that may make Macho B's story even sadder:

A pathologist, Sharon Dial, at the University of Arizona Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, has examined tissue samples from the jaguar, and she says the jaguar's kidneys may have been OK and the jaguar may have been euthanized by mistake.

... Bloodwork (that) state Game and Fish officials said showed "off the charts" kidney failure could actually have indicated dehydration, said Sharon Dial of the veterinary lab.

The (Phoenix Zoo vets) should have kept the animal on intravenous fluids for 24 to 48 hours before euthanizing it, Dial said. State Game and Fish officials and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials agreed to euthanize the animal about five hours after he first got fluids ...

"Nothing is absolute. There is nothing to say that he absolutely would have recovered, but I can say by looking at the kidneys that there is no structural reason why he would not have," Dial said last week. "... (Macho B) had damned good looking kidneys."

The update, by Tony Davis at the Star -- you may need to register to see it -- carries the headline:

"Did Macho B Have to Die?"


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Newsitos for 3/28/09

Ray Ring | Mar 28, 2009 05:50 AM
Filed under: Newsitos



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Some 'stimulus' may be bad for environment

Ray Ring | Mar 27, 2009 08:05 AM
Filed under: Ray's politics

Despite their greenish credentials, Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress are bound to offer a mixed bag of environmental policies. Reality ho.

Yes, they'll push conservation deals like the Omnibus federal-lands package that Congress just passed. They'll try to address climate change and energy and they'll try other greenish moves. But it's already apparent, some of their moves won't be so green.

Transportation is one sign. In their attempt to stimulate the sick economy, they're going to spend many billions on road construction in the West, funneling money through state governments. Those projects will "create" jobs, but they'll also encourage drivers to drive more -- which means more emissions -- and they'll encourage sprawl developments.

As Alex Steffen at warns:

… The vast majority of the transportation funding asked for by the states is for new highway construction, primarily on the suburban fringe ... At this critical juncture, nothing could be a worse investment … You can't build your way out of a traffic jam. As you pave more lanes, more drivers crowd on to them.

... (The effect on) pollution is critical. A highway-focused federal transportation agenda can't be reconciled with (Obama's) promise to take on climate change. Building new highways to provide mobility is the transportation equivalent of building new coal plants to provide energy.

A bold-face question: Do you ever get the feeling that your getting out of bed in the morning is bad for the environment?

Anyway ... Obama's choice to run the massive federal Transportation Department -- Ray LaHood, an Illinois Republican symbolizing bipartisan politics -- is also a worry, Steffens says ...

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Newsitos for 3/26/09

Ray Ring | Mar 26, 2009 06:06 AM
Filed under: Wild Thangs , Newsitos

Enviros are literally popping champagne corks to christen the Omni federal-lands package.

Undercover feds busted several American Indians, charging they killed eagles illegally to sell the feathers for ceremonies.

Mormon Church leaders calculated their moves quietly, leading many years of political campaigns against gay marriage, says a Salt Lake City columnist.

And as killer bees come out in springlike weather, some bees attacked an elderly couple and a 5-year-old near San Diego and sent them to the hospital.

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Western Repubs remain split as Omni wilderness deals pass

Ray Ring | Mar 25, 2009 08:00 AM
Filed under: Ray's politics

It required additional amazing tricky moves by Democrats running Congress.

But finally, culminating more than a year of wrangling, today the House of Representatives approved the substance of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. The Senate approved it most recently on March 19. President Obama will certainly sign it.

Many of the Big Greens -- mainstream environmental groups -- are celebrating victory. The Omni is the most remarkable package of federal-lands deal-making in decades. A sample of their cheers includes a map showing the Omni's many wilderness designations in the West.

It's worth noting here, the Big Greens and the Democratic leadership had to use questionable tactics. First they rolled about 170 bills into a single package, then they tried to get it passed with no discussion -- and failed. I blogged about that power play. Then they hollowed out something called the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Battlefield Protection Act, stuffed the Omni into it, and slid that masquerade through Senate and House. No kidding. Bill Schneider at describes the tactics.

Can you imagine the reaction if the opposition used such tricks? The Greens and Dems would be howling.

Such is politics.

Meanwhile, the final Omni votes continue to show some interesting splits.

The West's Republicans came down 32-11 in the final Omni round ...

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Newsitos for 3/23/09

Ray Ring | Mar 23, 2009 05:20 AM
Filed under: Newsitos

Who's the most reasonable Republican in the Interior West? The latest evidence is here and here.

Obama's Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, is this unique: He has "a Nobel Prize, a YouTube following (for his lectures on climate change) and an unofficial theme song (Dr. Wu by Steely Dan.)"

For a glance at the nuclear waste crisis, here's a map of the storage sites and a good summation.

And note: California has at least one wolverine.

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Newsitos for 3/20/09

Ray Ring | Mar 20, 2009 07:20 AM
Filed under: Newsitos

Birds are in trouble. Pretty much everywhere. Largely thanks to our appetite for energy. "In the last 40 years," reports AP, "populations of birds living on prairies, deserts and at sea have declined between 30 percent and 40 percent."

The biggest bundle of federal-lands deals in decades (the Omnibus Lands Bill) -- which died last week in the U.S. House -- remains so popular, it's been revived, passed again by the Senate and shipped back to the House where it'll likely pass next week -- thanks to political trickery by Democrats.

A top ecologist -- Jane Lubchenco from Oregon State University -- has been confirmed as the new head of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), where she's expected to pump new life into salmon restoration programs.

And a Clinton-appointed judge in D.C. has blocked Bush's attempt to let tourists carry concealed guns in national parks. The judge was scornful saying Bush "ignored" federal laws in a process that was "astoundingly flawed."

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Western states flex various Congressional muscles

Ray Ring | Mar 19, 2009 12:30 PM
Filed under: Ray's politics

Keep in mind the famous line: "There are three kinds of lies -- lies, damned lies, and statistics."

Roll Call, a 54-year-old Washington, D.C. insider magazine, has announced its latest ranking of the political clout of each state's Congressional delegation. The Western states are ranked:


California has the most influential delegation of all the states, because (1) it has the most people, thus the most total members in the House and Senate, and (2) many of them are Democrats, the party in power, and (3) they hold key positions (Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and many committee chairs).

Idaho ranks at the bottom, because its population means only a few Congressional members, most of whom are Republicans, including two freshmen who'll have to work their way up the hierarchies.

It's interesting to see how clouts have shifted over time, as some incumbents (such as Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici, Montana Sen. Conrad Burns and Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith) have been replaced by less powerful relative newcomers.

The "lies" angle comes in when I look at Nevada's ranking ...

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Enviros suffer first major setback in Obama era

Ray Ring | Mar 15, 2009 06:50 AM
Filed under: Ray's politics

The environmental movement has just fallen short of a major goal, for the first time in the new green-trending era of President Barack Obama and the ramped-up Democrats in Congress.

The stakes of this national battle are mostly on Western ground. It's the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 -- the biggest public lands move in decades, trying to designate more than 2 million acres of wilderness, plus new national parks and monuments, park expansions, wild and scenic rivers, remarkable trails etc.

The enviros have been aching to make this power play -- 164 bills wedged into a single package of more than 1,200 pages. Many of the bills got stalled in the ungreen era of the previous president, Republican George W. Bush, and previous sessions of Congress run by other ungreen Republicans.

The Omni indicates that enviros may be getting heady and overreaching. It also reveals new alignments in Western politics -- mainly the increasing fractures in the Republican Party.


Every Western Democrat in the House and Senate has voted for the Omni.

And Western Republicans split 30-13 over the Omni, with these voting YES:

California Rep. Mary Bono Mack
California Rep. David Dreier
California Rep. Jerry Lewis
California Rep. Buck McKeon
Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson
Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo
Idaho Sen. Jim Risch
Oregon Rep. Greg Walden
Utah Sen. Bob Bennett
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch
Washington Rep. David Reichert
Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso
Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi

The Omni's terms would be felt almost entirely in the West, including ...

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About Ray

Ray has been a Western journalist since 1979. He's now High Country News senior editor, based in Bozeman, Montana. He's earned national recognition including a George Polk Award for political reporting, a Sidney Hillman Foundation Journalism Award for investigating oil-field accidents, and an Investigative Reporters & Editors scroll for going undercover as a prison inmate. He's had three novels published.

Articles by Ray

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