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Old guy, new nature leaf

I’m an amateur naturalist and a pro (technically, I’ve earned $5.81 on Adobe Stock so far) photographer, with tons of photos and years of personal observation of what’s going on in the ever-fascinating world of nature.

So I’m going to post a pic and a bit of text every day. I hope you find it interesting, or enlightening or refreshing.

Any comments — and I’d love to hear your thoughts — can be directed to me at bobqsix@Verizon.net.

Pictured is Opie, our precious 17-pound rescue dog and best woods buddy ever.

Enjoy and please come back often.opie edit (640x426)

 

Maybe in his 2nd term, Wolf can get the frackers to pay their fair share…

 

frakBy Bob Quarteroni

So, sanity to the north of us has been joined by sanity to the south of us, leaving an island of environmental lunacy here in Pennsyl(less)vania.

That’s because Maryland has joined New York in banning fracking, putting the good of the environment and its people above the good of the gas companies, the lawmakers sucking – tick-like — campaign money off of them, and landowners reaping rewards for puncturing the land.

And this was a real shocker because Maryland’s governor, Larry Hogan, is a rock-ribbed pro-business Republican.

But in a rare non-partisan  — and eminently sensible — move, he signed a bill totally banning fracking in the state, saying “The possible environmental risks of fracking simply outweigh any potential benefits…”

Maryland follows New York, which in 2015 became the first state with significant shale gas potential to ban fracking. The Empire State’s decision came after seven years of extensive study of the environmental and health impact of fracking.

Which leaves us in the middle, bloated with gas but light on political will, commonsense and environmental concern.

But you say, you are dead wrong. Fracking is a good thing. Look at the jobs, look at the low natural gas prices, look at the economic development, look at the money flowing across the commonwealth from this mass gas dash.

To which I say, look at the drinking water contamination, health care costs, wastewater disposal mess, habitat destruction, methane pollution and its impact on climate change, air pollution, exposure to toxic chemicals, gas explosion blowout dangers and fracking-induced earthquakes.

That list could easily be tripled but you get the general idea of the true fun facts of fracking here in Gasland. The whole bloated mess is nicely summed up by Environment America.

“Over the past decade, fracking has spread rapidly, leaving a trail of contaminated water, polluted air, and marred landscapes in its wake. However, the true costs of fracking…are likely to be borne by the public, rather than the oil and gas industry. And as with the damage done by previous extractive booms, the public may experience these costs for decades to come.”

Aware of all this and more, both New York and Maryland did the right thing, and banned fracking.

Here? Just the opposite. Gov. Wolf, once called the most liberal governor in the nation by Inside.Gov, has drilled countless holes in that now hollow claim.

In late March, he released a report from a study that found  that Pennsylvania could support as many as four more ethane cracker plants, along with the one already ok’d in Beaver County.

And these cracker plants are such fun things.

According to Triblive.com, the proposed plant Royal Dutch Shell might build in Beaver County “would have the potential to rank among the top 10 air polluters in an area struggling with federal limits, based on estimates in its application for a state air permit.”

How a liberal like Wolf could have flopped on his back and started acting like a loyal spaniel for the gas industry leads to some interesting speculation. Worry about his political future? Realpolitiks?  Industry pressure? We can only guess.

But he’s all in on it, that’s for sure. Instances abound.

On Wolf’s Watch, the Department of Environmental Protection, responding to Right-to-Know requests, reported that it had approved 47 new natural gas power plants since the beginning of 2014.

As Will Bunch said in Philly.com, said “Pennsylvania should ban fracking — but that clearly won’t happen in the near future, not with so many members of our thoroughly corrupt legislature still milking the cash cow of Big Oil and Gas.”

Wolf’s lapdog act isn’t reserved for just the energy companies, he’s also being tickled in the belly by his fellow traveler, Donald Trump.

In a Pittsburgh speech at a fracking conference last September Trump outlined his scorched-earth policy, promising to lift environmental regulations and open federal lands to oil and gas production.

“I am going to lift the restrictions on American energy and allow this wealth to pour into our communities — including right here in Pennsylvania. The shale energy revolution will unleash massive wealth for American workers and families.”

So, while we’re sandwiched by two going-clean states, we’re also saddled with two going-nowhere-on-the environment political big dogs, barking out miasmas to choke us all.

What can we do?

We have to channel the nascent grass-roots fervor that Trump’s election has aroused and use that energy to stand up to the power brokers, the pay-to-play politicians, the turncoat governors, the powerful lobbyists and the deep pocketed energy companies.

And we have to be willing to pay more — and I have no idea how much more that would be – for natural gas if we hope to have the wherewithal to hold the energy companies to more stringent operating guidelines, to hire sufficient enforcement personnel, to mitigate the environmental messes the companies inevitably cause and to keep fighting for clean renewable energy sources as an alternative to the gas blast.

What else can we do?

Especially when you consider the state of confusion we live in – the dirty meat in a clean gas-free sandwich — where the “most liberal governor” in the nation has to learn an environmental lesson from a staunchly conservative Republican governor

Forget political labels, just color Wolf opaque to reason and very, very stupid for not seeing the environmental light, as Maryland has so clearly done.

The evil that are coyote hunts

 

coyBy Bob Quarteroni

 

Coyote hunts are widespread and popular in Pennsylvania – at least 23 are listed for 2017. The coyotes are shot, weighed and then thrown away, like so much garbage.

The “hunts” — in which participants pay a fee and vie for cash prizes for the biggest coyote killed — are touted as a method of attracting young hunters to the shooting sports. They are also promoted as a way to manage the coyote population, to stop coyote attacks on humans and to stop coyotes killing deer and decimating the herd.

On top of that, they are just plain fun, their supporters say.

Only problem is, that they are none of these things. They are simply wanton killing events, which do not belong in a civilized society

As Dan Flores wrote in the New York Times, “Their victims are not only coyotes but the very image of rural America, tarnished by widespread photos of beefy, middle-aged men in camouflage, with guns in hand and dead animals no one is ever going to eat piled up in the backs of pickups.”

The hunts are anachronistic blood baths, just like our dwindling pigeon shoots, and just as meaningless and ineffective in correcting problems that, quite simply, does not exist.

So while there are crazies like rocker Ted Nugent who posted on Twitter that “The only good coyote is a dead coyote,” the facts say otherwise.

Let’s dismember them one by one. First, the hunts attract more young people to the sport.

Wrong. According to the Game Commission junior resident licenses dropped from 30,539 in 2014 to 28,111 in 2015 to 24,771 in 2016. So that dog don’t hunt.

Second, coyotes are rabid killers.

The Humane Society of the U.S. puts that canard into perspective.

“Coyote attacks on people are very rare. More people are killed by errant golf balls and flying champagne corks each year than are bitten by coyotes.”

There has been exactly one recorded fatal attack by a coyote in the United States since the 1980s, when a child was killed in Southern California. No one has ever been killed by a coyote in Pennsylvania.

Since three million children are bitten by dogs every year, your small child is millions of times more likely to get hurt by the family pet than by a coyote.

Adds the Humane Society, “In many human attack incidents, it turns out that the offending coyote was being fed by people. In many other instances, people were bitten while trying to rescue their free-roaming pet from a coyote attack.”

Next, coyotes are decimating the deer population. Hardly.

Coyotes do prey on deer, taking about the same number of fawns as bears do, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Most prey are fawns younger than 9 weeks of age. Among deer that reach 6 months of age, less than 1 percent died because of predators, based on a study the game commission did while putting radio collars on more than 1,000 deer.

Third, and perhaps, most important, coyote hunts help reduce the coyote population. Absolutely, totally wrong.

In a seven-year study of coyote populations published in 2005, Eric Gese, of the USDA’s Wildlife Services research center, found that coyote culling does not facilitate population management of the species. Coyote-killing might result in the opposite.

Research suggests that when aggressively controlled, coyotes can increase their reproductive rate by breeding at an earlier age and having larger litters, with a higher survival rate among young. This allows coyote populations to quickly bounce back, even when as much as 70 percent of their numbers are removed.

Nevertheless, Pennsylvania allows hunters to harvest coyotes around the clock every day of the year. They can use dogs, bait and decoys but still haven’t pushed coyotes to the brink.

AND despite the fact the Commission’s own fact sheet on the Eastern coyote concludes this way: “Coyote populations throughout North America have continued to expand, despite man’s attempt to control them. If there’s one thing we have learned about this intriguing animal, it’s that the coyote, not man, controls the coyote’s destiny.”

So call the hunts what they are: Mindless blood baths.

Coyote hunting competitions were banned in California at the end of 2014. It’s high time Pennsylvania did the same.

Oh, and as for that the hunts are fun argument. Consider what Greek philosopher Bion said thousands of years ago, “Though boys throw stones at frogs in sport, the frogs do not die in sport, but in earnest.”

 

 

Hey, it’s mid-January, we’re scraping the bottom of the nature barrel

golf

But to our rescue  come   Opie and Molly after a brisk 18 holes at Wilkes-Barre Municipal Golf Course.

Yes, Opie was channeling Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl and was having a costume malfunction, but my hands were too cold   to fix his really weird little jacket.

And just to pad this baby out, 10 dog facts from Caesar the whisperer.

If ever a state needed an official fossil;(nation already has one in Trump)

fossilBy Bob Quarteroni

 

Well, in a state where it’s still unlawful to sing in a bathtub, sleep on top of a refrigerator or catch a fish with your hands – you may not catch a fish by any body part except your mouth – this really isn’t surprising.

All these…things…are still on the books in Pennsylvania, the result of the clear thinking and sensible actions we have come to expect from our legislators. And I haven’t even mentioned Allentown’s law banning men from becoming aroused in public.

Still, the first time I heard that we have an official state fossil I thought these legislators have waay too much free time.

They used some of that time, in December of 1988, to pass an act “designating the Phacops rana, a trilobite, as the official State fossil of the Commonwealth….”

For those of you not keeping up with these things, a trilobite is an extinct marine arthropod that occurred abundantly during the Paleozoic era.

But a little digging found that there was actually a good reason for this: An elementary school science class campaigned for the trilobite to be enshrined as the state fossil.

Which means that our elementary school students are intelligent enough to believe in Darwinian evolution, not necessarily the case with our alleged educational leaders.

In Arizona – where the state fossil is petrified wood – fossils may or may not exist, at least in the classroom textbooks.

Last month, WKOV.com reported that “School Superintendent Diane Douglas is apparently behind a rewrite of science standards for all Arizona school children that would delete references to evolution and allow ‘intelligent design,’” that cleaned-up phrase for creationism, to be taught.

So it would seem that petrified might be sort of a theme out there.

But let us not wander from our own little playground.

I’m pleased to inform you that Pennsylvania also has a state insect – politicians apparently being wrongfully omitted from bug classification: the firefly.

Well, at least it’s better than Rhode Island’s incomprehensible choice of the American burying beetle. However, Rhode Island does have a state appetizer: calamari. Interesting state, Little Rhodie.

Back home there’s more. Official state dog: The Great Dane, which would seem more appropriate for Denmark but hey, William Penn was said to have one.

Our politicians were at their best for the 1965 vote.

According to statesymbolsusa.org, “When the Speaker of the House called for a voice vote to designate the Great Dane, yips, growls and barks assaulted his ears from every part of the chamber! With a rap of his gavel, the Speaker confirmed that the ‘arfs have it’ and the ‘Barking Dog Vote’ entered the annals of legislative history.”

And while everyone knows that mountain laurel is the state flower, betcha didn’t know we’ve also got an official state plant: penngrift crownvetch.

As statesymbolsusa.org notes “The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has planted it along roads throughout the state. “

One tiny problem. The State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has it listed as “invasive” on its invasive plant fact sheet.

As the Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Arkansas says, “Once touted as the end-all for erosion control along road cuts and other difficult locations, it’s now being considered an invasive weed by many.”

Well, can’t win ‘em all.

So many more.

State beverage: milk.

State song – hold onto your hats – “Pennsylvania.”

The chorus makes it pretty clear this is DOA.

“Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, may your future be, filled with honor everlasting as your history.”

State colors? blue and gold. State firearm: The Pennsylvania long rifle.

We even have a state aircraft, the Piper J-3 Cub (pay no attention to wags like Max Stanley, a Northrop test pilot, who said “The Piper Cub is the safest airplane in the world;…it can just barely kill you.”).

But of more importance – and boy, isn’t this all important? — are three things that haven’t received the official state designation.

First is the state soil. Proposed is “Hazleton soil,” which is listed as only the “unofficial” soil right now.

Named for the Luzerne County city where Lou Barletta ran amok as mayor, the soil occurs in half of the counties of the state.   I have nothing further to say about this.

And we have a proposal for a state toy, the Slinky. An Act was proposed by Rep. Richard Geist in 2001, but not enacted, which is a shame.

A Slinky is a perfect symbol for Pennsylvania: wobbly, always going downhill and without a spine. It’s a match made in heaven.

Lastly, consider the monumental battle for state cookie: In 1996, a group of 4th grade students started lobbying to have the chocolate chip cookie named the official state cookie.

But in mouth-dropping wonder, usastatesymboles.org reveals “The legislation to adopt a state cookie has been held up for several years as lawmakers struggle between the chocolate chip, Nazareth sugar cookie (House Bill 219), and the oatmeal chocolate chip cookie (House Bill 2479).”

And we actually pay them.

 

                 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bald Mountain hike takes you to the top of the world

bald.jpg

 By Bob Quarteroni

“I was told it was called Bald Mountain because in the past they would burn the top off – making it appear bald – so the blueberry bushes would thrive,” said Charlene Wildes, North Branch Land Trust volunteer naturalist.

And thrive they have, a low, sprawling counterpoint to the gigantic alien-looking wind turbines that make up the Bear Creek Wind Farm at the very top of Bald Mountain in Bear Creek Township.

A unique combination of the natural – and a view of technology that harnesses the natural to provide clean energy — greet trekkers on a hike of Bald Mountain, a unique nature preserve.

The hillside preserve stretches from Bear Creek Camp to near the top of the mountain, where the privately owned Bear Creek turbines spin, and which is privately owned and not open to hikers or sightseers. But looking at the turbines even from a distance makes you realize just how massive these whirring sentinels.

Starting in 2011, NBLT worked with the landowners and others to preserve the property. They secured $850,00 in funding for the purchase from a Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Program Grant and in 2013 the 385-acre Bald Mountain Preserve on the East Mountain came into being.

“North Branch Land Trust conserved a 385-acre portion of Bald Mountain in 2013 and transferred the property to Natural Lands Trust that same year,” said Paul Lumia, NBLT Executive Director. “Bald Mountain is a unique natural area in that it straddles two significate watersheds, the Delaware watershed to the east and the Susquehanna watershed to the west. The mountain also harbors a globally rare scrub oak barrens habitat that is invaluable to wildlife at local and landscape scales.”

So now, Lumia said, “When you’re driving on the Cross-Valley Expressway and you look up at the windmills, you know all that property below the windmills is protected.”

The rugged terrain of this mountain is largely forested. Dominant species include red oak, white oak, and red maple. Two state-designated “high quality” streams flow through the property, bordered by native hemlocks and aspens.

And the trail abuts a large glacial bog that is home to several rare and carnivorous plants.

Wildlife abounds, from the chattering of migratory songbirds – such as scarlet tanagers, Eastern towhees and hermit thrushes — to black bears, bald eagles and the red eft (salamander) that charmed folks on Sunday.

The walk left hikers feeling inspired.

Sue Lenahan of Penn Lake said that “it’s very exciting to have opportunities to explore wonderful new places like this. I’m very happy NBLT is sponsoring these hikes.”

“Today was a reminder of how fortunate we are to live in this area,” said Debb Krysicki, also of Penn Lake. “The hike with good people and company, the size of the turbines and the picturesque view of the nearby towns in the distance provided a great experience.”

Like many of Natural Lands Trust’s other nature preserves, Bald Mountain Preserve eventually will be open — free-of-charge — to visitors for passive recreation. Since its founding in 1953, Natural Lands Trust has protected more than 100,000 acres of land, including 42 nature preserves that it owns and manages in 13 counties.

 

 

 

 

 

California barking up right tree; Pennsylvania isn’t

twoCalifornia just became the first state to allow pet shops to only sell rescue pets. What a great, progressive idea, especially compared to Pennsylvania. I’m pitching an article on that right now to my various editors.

In the meantime, an earlier article on the dog struggle in the Commonwealth.

By Bob Quarteroni

When you run across something like this, it makes you understand that Mark Twain’s opinion of the human race was, if anything, a little too charitable: “Can any plausible excuse be furnished for the crime of creating the human race?”

No, I would say, and this is just one more log on the fire of that proof.

Pennsylvania State Representative Ryan Bizzarro (D-Erie) is again sponsoring a bill (House Bill 13) to address problems that one would have thought would have disappeared along with the cavemen. But, in our enlightened society, apparently not.

In a memorandum accompanying his bill, Bizzarro a third-term legislator serving the 3rd Legislative District, explains:

“A horse was beaten to death in broad daylight and captured on video. A firecracker was forced under a turtle’s shell and lit. A dog was left to die, suffering for days or weeks from illness, injury and exposure.

“In Pennsylvania, the maximum punishment for all three is the same as a traffic ticket.

“In Pennsylvania, the penalty for stealing 50 cents from someone’s car is tougher than for stabbing a dog.”

We kid you not. Stealing change out of a car is a third-degree misdemeanor and carries a jail sentence of up to a year and a $2,000 fine. Stabbing a dog is only a summary offense with a maximum penalty of a $750 fine and 90 days in jail.

And in one of those we-couldn’t-make-this-up-if-we-tried things, even if convicted, the heinous stabber can have his dog back.

Bizzarro is showing exceptional intelligence for one of our legislators (hell, room temperature intelligence for most of them would impress me) – in re-introducing the “Animal Cruelty Bill.”

Yes, oh fellow befuddled readers, the bill didn’t pass the first time around, failing to secure a final vote before the legislative session ended.

Well, in a state where it’s a crime to shoot a big game animal while it’s swimming, where it’s illegal to use dynamite to catch a fish and where it’s also illegal for a minister to perform a marriage when either the bride or groom is drunk, this kind of dynamic legislative action should come as no surprise.

All I know if someone stabbed Opie, Molly, or frequent flier Reilly, he’d have a lot more to worry about that a $750 fine, since I consider my animal friends as least as important as my human friends.

They are not clods of dirt, o pieces of offal or meat by-products that can be damaged with a shrug and a “sorry.”

So I am behind Bizzarro big time.

His bill would require that upon conviction of a misdemeanor level charge of animal cruelty, the abused animals be forfeited to an animal shelter.

It puts reasonable limitations in place for tethering a dog outside as a main means of confinement, including that they cannot be chained for longer than nine hours in a 24-hour period and cannot be tethered for longer than 30 minutes when it is under 30 or over 90 degrees.

It creates an offense of aggravated cruelty to animals which is graded as a misdemeanor of the first degree or — if it causes serious bodily injury — a felony.

Pennsylvania is virtually alone in the nation in still needing such commonsense laws.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund ranks Pennsylvania in its “bottom tier,” 44th out of 50. And Safeway, a security organization, ranks the Commonwealth even lower, 47th.

We’re 47th because Pennsylvania is one of only three states – along with Idaho and Iowa – to not provide meaningful penalties for first-time animal abusers or provide reasonable safeguards for animals.

To quote Mark Twain again, such laws are needed because the human race is not wont to do the right thing without some prodding.

“Of all the animals,” Twain wrote in a wonderful essay entitled “The Lowest Animal,” “Man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it. It is a trait that is not known to the higher animals.”

Because of that, It’s time to put teeth in the state’s animal cruelty laws. So please contact your state representative or senator and ask him to support this bill.

Dog bless.

Bob Quarteroni, a prolific freelance writer with articles appearing in the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Saturday Evening Post and many other publications, is a former columnist and editor at the Centre (cq) Daily Times in State College, Pa. He was director of Public Information at Montclair State and Alfred universities and Senior Writer in Information Services at the University of Florida. He lives in Swoyersville, Pa. 33 New Sullivan St. Swoyersville, PA 18704; 570-331-7401; bobqsix@verizon.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deep Hollow: A natural treasure you can’t legally get to

I love Deep Hollow. It’s several dozens of miles of trails, its varied habitats, its dam and wetlands, its precious trove of fringed gentians and other treasures and miles of cliffs like these, this one often used as a shelter and for campfires.

Only problem is that there’s no legal public access. We go in at the end of Baltimore Drive but that’s only thanks to a gated road that leads to a power substation.

I asked a Pinchot State Forest Recreation forester for an update and this is what he emailed me:

“As for Deep Hollow, a small piece of land was acquideep hollowred recently off of 115 opposite the Seven Tubs. This acquisition will help protect a High Quality tributary to Laurel Run. It is not known at this time if an access point is feasible here or not.”

So I guess we’ll have to keep leaning on the kindness of the power company until Pinchot figures out a way to get a legal enrance point for this local  gem.