Posted on | June 8, 2013 | 3 Comments
I write about minnows in the Rio Grande, and smelt and salmon in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Richard White writes about salmon in the Columbia.
In all three cases, we’re discussing species-focused environmental efforts – to “save” the silvery minnow in the Rio Grande, or salmon and the delta smelt in California, or salmon in the Columbia. White, in his I-highly-recommend-it book “The Organic Machine”, makes a point that applies to all three situations. We’re fixated on species, but in a river system that’s been heavily remodeled:
If this were the old Columbia River System there should be salmon, but this is a different river. It is not the river salmon evolved in.
On Twitter this morning, southern New Mexico journalist Heath Haussamen commented on the water currently flowing through his community:
That irrigation canal is the Rio Grande.
Posted on | June 6, 2013 | No Comments
In a democracy boredom works for bureaucracies and corporations as smell works for a skunk.
Richard White, The Organic Machine
Posted on | June 4, 2013 | 2 Comments
So I’m all, like “view from nowhere” in this piece in this morning’s newspaper. I’m genuinely agnostic on the question of the fate of the silvery minnow, an endangered fish found only on the stretch of the Rio Grande that flows through Albuquerque and points slightly north and south. But I think we need to be frank about the fact that, whether explicitly or implicitly, we’ve all but decided to let the fish go, that human management and use of the river has precedence.
With the exception of a late push by the environmental group WildEarth Guardians, no one in the community seems to care. My phone’s not ringing off the hook with people upset about the minnow’s fate. No political actor with stature has stepped forward to give voice to those in the community whose values might align with Richard Nixon when he wrote, in signing the ESA back in 1973:
Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed. It is a many-faceted treasure, of value to scholars, scientists, and nature lovers alike, and it forms a vital part of the heritage we all share as Americans.
The ESA’s shortcomings are on display here. As I wrote in my column, the minnow has already been extirpated from much of its range, and nobody gives a second thought to drying large stretches of this river so water can be stored for later use:
On the lower Rio Grande, below Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs, the silvery minnow is long gone. In that stretch of the Rio Grande, the river’s job is to deliver water to farms and cities, and if that human end is well-served by shutting down flows in the winter to save water for spring planting, we do it without question. No one has batted an eye about leaving the Rio Grande itself dry for more than eight months so that water can be stored up for a short irrigation season.
Instead, we’re left with a perverse set of policies in which water users who’ve already killed off the minnow on their stretch of the river bear no burden, while water users in the one place the fish is left – the Albuquerque reach – bear all the burden under the Endangered Species Act for keeping the remaining fish alive. But as biologist Jim Brooks argues in my story, the steps were taking this year will not likely be enough to save any wild populations of silvery minnows:
On Friday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a plan that allows farmers from Sandoval to Socorro counties to continue diverting water from the Rio Grande to irrigate their crops while the flows are cut to a trickle through Albuquerque.
Stretches of the Rio Grande have dried before. Old-timers love to tell stories of the river’s sandy bed through Albuquerque during the drought of the 1950s, and point out that the minnow survived that drought and returned.
But this time is different, Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Jim Brooks told me Monday. In the 1950s, minnow populations survived the drought in fragments of river habitat to our north. When wet weather returned, so could the minnow. But those refugial habitats are gone, Brooks pointed out, destroyed in the 1970s by the construction of Cochiti Dam.
With no such refuges left, Brooks frankly acknowledged that he believes the operating plan approved by his agency last week will leave so little water in the Rio Grande that no minnows will survive in the wild. The only refuges left will be hatcheries, to be used to restart populations once wetter conditions return, Brooks expects.
Given the lack of political support for saving the minnow, this conclusion should not be surprising. But the point of this morning’s column was that we at least need to be up front about it.
Posted on | June 3, 2013 | No Comments
another Not On My Employer’s Production Server experiment
Posted on | June 3, 2013 | No Comments
Recalling one of Inkstain’s two mottos*, I’m experimenting here with fire maps. This is an attempt at the perimeter/heat map for the Thompson Ridge fire in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico, as of last night’s IR overflight, GIS data courtesy National Interagency Fire Center. The “view larger map” link allows you to do what it says, which is the whole point of this little exercise:
View Larger Map
* There are some things you don’t want to try on your employer’s production server.
Posted on | June 2, 2013 | No Comments
One of an amazing set of pictures Lissa took on the Olympic peninsula last month. Our New Mexico sky looks nothing like this:
Posted on | June 1, 2013 | 3 Comments
In the last five years, I’ve somewhat haphazardly accumulated what’s turning into a pretty good time series of data on the ecology of my backyard. Or, more specifically, the birds therein.
Since 2008, when I caught the eBird bug, I’ve submitted 483 lists for the yard. Number 484, collected this evening, is a puzzle.
Sometimes a bird list is as quick as 5 minutes with a morning cup of coffee, sitting bundled on the back porch. When the weather’s warmer (data bias!), the lists get longer. In the warm half of the year, Lissa and I will often sit in the back until there’s too little sun for her to see her book and me my birds. I’ve gotten a great feel for what to expect, and what’s unusual.
Even if I’m only out for a few minutes, I’m reasonably certain to get house sparrows, house finches, lesser goldfinches and our two most common doves (white-winged and mourning). In recent years, add lesser goldfinches, since I began feeding them. In the winter, add dark-eyed juncos to that list. In summer, add black-throated hummingbirds. The pigeons that live at the market down there street almost always show up pretty quickly.
There’s a second category of birds that usually show up if I’m out long enough – robins are in that category. Recently, a pair of ladder-backed woodpeckers have taken up residence in a neighbor’s yard. These birds are around, just in lesser numbers, so probability requires more time before they pass through our yard.
Then there’s the long tail of the statistical distribution, birds I only see once or a few times each year, the odd yellow-bellied sapsucker and brown creeper in my yard lists. The long tail is fun.
Tonight, two long tail birds showed up – birds that are relatively common locally, but uncommon as visitors to the strangely altered ecosystem that is a suburban neighborhood.
Down in the valley, along the Rio Grande, lesser nighthawks are relatively common. They’re a fun bird, showing up around dusk and chasing insects, looking like a long-winged bat, kinda flappy. I’ve only seen them six times at my house, and when I’ve seen them it’s never been more than a quick look. Tonight, I watched them come and go for an hour, swooping and flapping and hunting their hapless insect prey.
Cliff swallows are incredibly common in Albuquerque’s flood control system and along the river, nesting on the underside of bridges. But I’ve only seen them eight times at my house, and again, never for more than a quick look. This evening, we saw a cliff swallow in the front yard as we got home around 6:30 p.m., and there was a pair around off and on until dark – 8:30-ish. That’s never happened before.
So. Two bug-chasing birds that are normally found regionally, but not commonly in this locally distended part of the suburban ecosystem, show up this evening and hang around. Of course, being obsessed with the topic, I blame drought. If I was smarter, I’d probably just chalk it up to coincidence in a noisy data set.
Posted on | May 29, 2013 | 1 Comment
In conservations with reporters over the last week, Mike Connor of the US Bureau of Reclamation has mentioned an agency analysis showing a substantial chance of a Colorado River lower basin shortage declaration happening by 2016. This would occur if Lake Mead’s surface elevation drops below 1075 feet above sea level. Here’s my story, explaining how such a declaration, which would initially only impact lower basin states, could over time reach upstream to New Mexico and the other upper basin states:
The Colorado River Basin could see shortages as early as 2016, according to a new analysis by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Initially, shortages would be borne by Nevada and Arizona, but states using water farther up the river’s basin, including New Mexico, could see shortages in the years that follow, Mike Connor, head of the Bureau of Reclamation, told the Journal in an interview Tuesday.
Posted on | May 28, 2013 | 2 Comments
Via Henry Brean, Pat Mulroy shares her views of the Imperial Irrigation District’s efforts to funnel water into the Salton Sea:
Mulroy is definitely worried about Lake Mead, which supplies about 90 percent of the Las Vegas Valley’s drinking water. But she also voiced broader concerns about river water being used to prop up a shallow lake in the California desert that was formed by a man-made flood on the Colorado more than a century ago and is now sustained by water running off fields in the Imperial Valley.
“The Salton Sea is an accident,” Mulroy said. “It’s agricultural runoff; that’s all it is.”
She said it’s ludicrous to imagine fresh water being sent to evaporate in a lake that’s already saltier than the Pacific Ocean while Lake Mead threatens to shrink low enough to shut down Las Vegas’ water intakes and the turbines at Hoover Dam.
No, Pat, tell us what you really think.
(Quipping aside, the context is a significant story on a dispute between IID and the Bureau of Reclamation on water IID sent to the “Sea”.)
Posted on | May 27, 2013 | No Comments
Supplying European farmers with guano would involve transporting large quantities of excrement across the Atlantic, a project that understandably failed to enthuse shipping companies.
Charles Mann, in his fascinating 1491, on the slow uptake in Europe of the South American innovation of mining for fertilizer from Peru’s 147 guano islands.
Poop jokes notwithstanding, the 19th century guano trade is fascinating, a tale of slavery of the most horrific kind, “guano barons” in Peruo, built on the reality that agriculture was the dominant economic activity in nations of the day, and depleted soils was an ever-present reality. Europe got over its reticence regarding a global shit trade. Guano became a very big deal.« go back — keep looking »