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Rants from the Hill: Beauregard puppy

Michael Branch | Aug 05, 2012 11:05 PM

"Rants from the Hill" are Michael Branch's monthly musings on life in the high country of Nevada's western Great Basin desert.

Rants from the Hill is now a FREE podcast! Listen to an audio performance of this essay, here.  You can also subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or through Feedburner for use in another podcast reader.

There’s nothing wrong with my old dog, except that she is unlucky thirteen years old, never recovered fully from a coyote attack, refuses to hike more than a few miles at a time, and snoozes while jackrabbits clearcut my gardens. Add to this that we have two young daughters constantly in need of photo opportunities, and it became pretty obvious that it was time for a new puppy on the Ranting Hill. Now, I’ve always owned mongrel bitches that I fetched from the pound for a few bucks and a promise to spay. But this time my wife, Eryn, suggested that I shouldn’t impose my own lack of good breeding on the new family pet, and instead proposed that we complete an online survey to determine which pooch variety would be right for us. It is now perfectly clear that I should never have agreed to this human-canine matchdotcom exercise, but at the time it seemed harmless enough to build a profile of the perfect dog. Did I want a dog that would be tireless in the field, better behaved than my children, and mellow even when I wail on the blues harp? You bet! So we clicked a bunch of boxes, and out popped the result: English Setter.

English setter puppyI’d never heard of an English Setter, and frankly I just didn’t like how English it sounded. But since my agency in a family controlled by women and girls has been reduced to weed whacking and whiskey drinking (though not always in that order), it was soon decided that we would fork over a mountain of cash to score this dog from a breeder on the California side of the Sierra. I’m too embarrassed to say how much this puppy cost, but it was exactly the same amount I’d have paid for a Stihl MS 291 chainsaw with a 20” bar, which is something I’ve always wanted but never felt able to afford. The upside was that after securing puppy naming rights I landed on “Beauregard,” which I taught the girls to pronounce with a jowly southern drawl. Five-year-old Caroline was quick to perfect her “southern accident,” as she innocently calls it, and soon was a dead ringer for Foghorn Leghorn after one too many mint juleps.

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Harvesting versus hunting

Jackie Wheeler | Jul 25, 2012 10:55 PM

One interesting effect of spending three weeks in the bottom of the Grand Canyon is the fresh view you bring to the “rim world” outside the canyon afterwards. Some of the novel experiences are pleasing (“oh yeah! Getting around is so convenient!”) while others are puzzling. One such moment occurred while I was catching up on local news. An Arizona Republic article, describing the controversy over whether to continue allowing bow hunting in the McDowell-Sonoran mountain preserve, a 17,000-acre area outside Scottsdale, with picturesque desert trails, popular with hikers, bikers, and equestrians, refers twice to killing game there as “harvesting.”

Rifle huntingOne of these euphemistic uses is by a bow-hunting advocate and representative of the Mule Deer Foundation. One expects such understatements from the public relations crowd, those types who constantly churn out such gems as “right-sizing” (which used to be unpleasantly though accurately called “down-sizing”) and “Obamacare” (i.e. “the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”).

What caught my attention, however, was that a local game and fish official, Kevin Bodmer, who was also interviewed for the story, was also paraphrased using “harvest” to describe the act of hunting. Has this terminology become ubiquitous, I wondered? I try to follow coverage of debates regarding hunting, hiking, and other uses of Western wild lands pretty closely, and as a rhetorician, I pay attention to the kinds of language being used. For some reason, this one seems to have slipped out of the spin cycle and into the general lexicon when I wasn’t looking.

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Wheels of change

Red Lodge | Jul 18, 2012 11:00 PM

By Heather Hansen, Red Lodge Clearing House

Many people who’ve hiked or run on mixed-use trails have experienced that moment when, lost in your mind, a mountain biker comes tearing down the slope from behind, scaring the spit out of you. I’m not fond of that particular sensation but, while I’ve been on umpteen trails over many years, I can count on one hand the number of times that has happened (and I live and play in Boulder, epicenter of fast-moving, sporty things).

Bikers in Arches NPLast week the National Park Service issued its final rule expanding biking opportunities on trails, fire routes and maintenance roads in national parks. Various stakeholders have been scuffling over this issue, it seems, since the wheel was invented, but certainly since this proposal was introduced four years ago. Since then, the original concept has evolved quite a bit, appeasing some trail junkies, but not all.

Some of the comments I’ve seen misinterpret, or misunderstand, what the final rule actually allows. Here are several main points:

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Disney's Unlikely Heroine: The Huntress

Ben Long | Jul 17, 2012 11:00 PM

For decades, Disney cartoons have reliably produced two stereotypes: brutish, cruel hunters and dizzy, passive princesses.  But, holy daughters of Diana, times have changed.


Maybe Disney’s anti-hunter bias is just the natural result of having a cast full of talking animals. But think about it: there’s Clayton, the evil hunter who nets Tarzan’s family of apes; there’s Gaston, the arrogant brute after the Belle in Beauty & the Beast; there’s Bugs Bunny’s nemesis Elmer Fudd. (OK, that last one is Warner Bros., but you get the idea.) Most notorious is the invisible hunter who kills Bambi’s mother, burns down the forest and set back public tolerance for deer culls and prescribed burns for generations.

But that was then. Have you seen the Disney-Pixar movie, Brave? If not, do. If you don’t have kids, borrow some. It’s a gas.

And the heroine, Merida, is more than just a pretty head of hair. She’s a cross between Annie Oakley, Howard Hill and Rob Roy.

She rides horses! She has a falcon! She shoots arrows! (With excellent form.) She stands up to angry bears! She endures disapproving mothers and oppressive social norms! (“Princesses shouldn’t have weapons, in my opinion, ” says the Queen Mother.)

Truth is, we hunters probably deserve whatever reputation we have. It’s easy Hollywood shorthand to throw a deer head on a set wall when a director wants to say “this character is a redneck idiot.” But hunters’ real-world behavior is what makes their reputation, for better or worse.

Still, in this overly urbanized world, I had to smile at Brave’s expression of elan for the outdoor life. One scene, young Merida must survive in the woods with her loving, but overbearing, mother. Hungry, Merida shoots a salmon out of a spawning stream, presenting the fish still quivering on the shaft to her mother.

It was … touching. Like a Mother’s Day special of MeatEater.  Hurray for Merida. Hurray for Brave and for Pixar’s screenwriter Brenda Chapman. They’ve come up with something new and delightful.

Essays in the Range blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for their content.

Ben Long is an author, outdoorsman and conservationist in Kalispell, Mont. He is senior program director for Resource Media and father to a boy who loves all things Disney.

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Seeing the (overcrowded) forest for the trees

Red Lodge | Jul 12, 2012 10:45 PM

By Heather Hansen, Red Lodge Clearing House

I was wandering around Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) last week, absorbing the cooling sight of snowfields and the 30-degree temperature drop earned by more than doubling my elevation from Boulder. On my way along Trail Ridge Road, I stopped at the Farview Curve overlook on the west side of the park, so named because you’d swear on a clear day you could see the Golden Gate Bridge from there. The tantalizingly-named Never Summer Mountains look like stone-faced sentinels watching over the Colorado River, just a glimmering ribbon from here, as it drops into the lush Kawuneeche Valley.

Beetle kill in Northern Williams Range, Colo. Because I like to hear what other people think of such remarkable sights, I was eavesdropping on a mother and daughter standing nearby. The young girl asked her mom, “Why are all the trees changing color when its summer?” The observant child had noticed the reddish-brown beetle-killed pines that stretch like an angry scar across the landscape. When her mom responded that they must need some rain, I didn’t have the heart to say they’re actually dead; that this view will be very different in the years to come.

It was on the west side of the park the effects of the mountain pine beetle on the these forests first appeared. Now, all over RMNP, felled trees have been reduced to logs and stacked in pyres like giants’ bonfires ready to be set alight. These 10,000 or so slash piles are the product of several forest thinning and hazardous tree mitigation projects aimed at both improving forest health and getting rid of beetle killed trees, especially ones close to campgrounds and other areas frequented by people. But conditions were poor, too warm and dry, for the park service to burn the stacks, and so they sit.

As those of us who have been charting the relentless advance of the bark beetle over the past decade know, winter temperatures haven’t been cold enough to kill beetle eggs and larvae that have infiltrated trees. A prolonged drought has further weakened the trees’ resolve. The current epidemic now extends from the Yukon Territory down into New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains, having killed nearly 22 million acres of trees in the Intermountain West alone (more than three-quarters of which are on U.S. Forest Service (USFS) land).

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Rants from the Hill: I brake for Rants

Michael Branch | Jul 02, 2012 03:00 AM

"Rants from the Hill" are Michael Branch's monthly musings on life in the high country of Nevada's western Great Basin desert.

Rants from the Hill is now a podcast! Listen to an audio performance of this essay, here.  You can also subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or through Feedburner for use in another podcast reader.

I’ve never been a fan of bumper stickers, though I’ve always thought the idea had potential. Done right, you’d think a bumper sticker could be a sort of ideological haiku, an elegant little distillation of a person’s unique perception of the world. Or, alternatively, that it could express genuine wit by being a joke that doesn’t take too long to tell. And even if a bumper sticker isn’t very likely to prompt people to act, it should at least make them imagine. As in, for example, “Visualize Whirled Peas.”

Unfortunately, the problems with bumper stickers far outweigh their benefits, and so the potential of this unique genre remains for the most part unrealized. The first problem with bumper stickers is that they aren’t sufficiently site specific. Maybe that’s a good thing, if the point of the sticker is to demonstrate your commitment. So if your bumper sticker says “How Can You Be Pro-Life and Eat Dead Animals,” and your car breaks down in front of a cattle ranch or poultry farm, you’ll just have to stick to your values during the six days it’ll take for the local tow truck driver to help you out. Second, bumper stickers are usually so polemical as to be rhetorically ineffective. Time never moves more slowly than when we’re being preached at by somebody’s bumper at the Church of the Red Light. Besides, too many sticker sound bites are already threadbare and clichéd. It is far too late now to tell folks to “Be the Change You Want to See in the World” (could I somehow be colder beer?), “Simplify” (this turns out to be incredibly complicated), or “Love Your Mother” (which could be disturbingly ambiguous). As an environmentalist, I’ve observed than many “green” bumper stickers are factually incorrect (“Trees are People Too”), unintentionally ironic (“Question Consumption” on a Lexus), incredibly corny (“May the Forest Be With You”), or intolerably sappy (“Keep All of Nature Special!!”). Finally, environmental stickers rarely respond to issues usefully because they can’t afford to represent more than one point of view. You might see a bumper sticker that says “Save the Earth, Because You Can’t Eat Money,” but you won’t see one that says “You Can’t Eat Money, but You Can Use Money to Buy Food.” Once you get away from monolithic ideological pronouncements, bumperfied environmental sloganeering just loses its pop.

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Putting the West on a low-carb(on) diet

Red Lodge | Jun 21, 2012 11:00 PM

By Heather Hansen, Red Lodge Clearing House

The day after the University of Colorado Law School’s annual summer conference -- “A Low Carbon Energy Blueprint for the American West” -- had ended, I was walking in downtown Fort Collins, when something above the foothills caught my eye. The dense white puff looked like a blooming thunderhead but the black tendrils rising quickly around it confirmed the worst -- wildfire. Since that morning, the High Park fire has exploded to more than 68,000 acres, killing one person and destroying at least 189 homes. The fire’s ravaging of that area and those lives is a great sadness, but it is no surprise.

High Park Fire Smoke Plume 620 pxImage of the High Park Fire's smoke plume on June 9 courtesy Flickr user Sam Cox.

Throughout the spring we were warned that this perfect storm was brewing. Our warm, dry winter left us with a record low snowpack and high spring temperatures exacerbated the situation. Colorado's Water Availability Task Force reported that last April was the fourth warmest on record in Colorado (since record-keeping began in 1895), and March was the third warmest. As a result, 96 percent of Colorado was experiencing some level of drought conditions last month. Seventy percent of 11 Western states currently are considered “abnormally dry.” A recent study showed that the Southwest in the fastest-warming region in the country.

Months ago, the federal wildfire forecast warned of an increased risk for catastrophe this year, particularly on the Front Range. Last week, there were 20 wildfires burning in eight Western states. (The U.S. Forest Service’s map of active wildfires paints a sobering picture of the West ablaze.) Yet another recent study predicts that, if left unchecked, climate change will increase the number and ferocity of wildfires in the West over the next 30 years.

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Enjoying the wilderness

Jackie Wheeler | Jun 18, 2012 01:00 AM

Only five days left. Amidst the turmoil of final preparations – checking and re-checking gear, packing, food-shopping – I’m engaging in a little psychological battle with myself regarding the object of all this activity: a 19 day, 16 person, DIY rafting trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. For those of us who are “private” boaters (i.e. we use our own boats and equipment and don’t hire professional guides) as well as for those who go on trips with commercial outfitters , “The Grand” is the apex of all U.S. river trips, the longest, most difficult to secure, most challenging and most beautiful adventure of them all. This will be my third private “Grand,” each trip nearly a decade apart (yes, permits are that difficult to get), and the two previous experiences together with hundreds of trips on other western rivers have made me pretty confident that all the logistics involving supplies, safety, and comfort – my role in them, anyway – are well accounted for. So, why the psychological battle?

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Aging mining law handcuffs the American West

Ben Long | Jun 11, 2012 11:00 PM

Two of my favorite western cities, Tucson, Ariz., and Boise, Idaho, share some common blessings and one common curse.

The blessings include lovely mountain backdrops, vibrant universities and increasingly diverse economies.

The shared curse: badly misguided mining claims upstream.

Santa Rita mountainsWhy, in the 21st Century, should communities like Boise and Tucson be shackled to an antiquated federal mining policy dating back to the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant?

I was a newspaper reporter in Boise for a short spell and when I return, I am drawn to the Boise River and its marvelous greenbelt. It’s a rare city where the trout fishing and kayaking are so good within city limits.

Folks in Boise are rightfully concerned about a Canadian company that has proposed a cyanide-leach gold mine upstream from the Boise River. Besides fishing and floating, the Boise provides about a fifth of drinking water for the largest metro area in Idaho. The battle cry there is: the Boise River is more precious than gold.

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Don't be too self-righteous

Jackie Wheeler | Jun 05, 2012 11:00 PM

Many years ago, in an interesting turn of events, I found myself in the same truck (mine) as a famous environmental writer. I can take no personal credit for her presence there; she was speaking that evening at a literary event sponsored by a local college. A good friend of mine was organizing the event and was much occupied with preparations, so he pressed my spouse and me into giving the famed personage a ride from her hotel to the college. Of course, I was flattered at the opportunity to meet her but also a bit flustered, as I usually am around people I admire. As we drove through the outer Phoenix suburbs, the writer commented on all the newly constructed offices and shopping centers we were passing. I replied that the area had seen extensive growth in recent years, and that, unfortunately, some of the particularly lovely foothills desert nearby had been bulldozed in order to accommodate the infrastructure needed by the new residents. At this, the author turned to me and asked, coolly, “how long have you lived here?”

Ouch! I answered her (“since 1965”), but I also felt the sting of the implied rebuke. Somebody had bulldozed some desert to make room for me, too. Point taken. Luckily we arrived at the event soon after, so I didn’t have any more opportunities to put my foot in it.

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