Recent comments

  • Is New Jersey Delegation Unduly Forcing Great Falls of Paterson Park on NPS?   6 years 48 weeks ago

    Kurt, Thanks for bringing this to our attention. This seems not to be a problem of the NPS' creation (the NPS recommended it NOT be included in the system) but a problem of Congress' creation. Congress keeps adding sites without adjusting funding.

    My qustion for the editors and readers is this:

    Now that we're aware of this problem, what, if anything, can be done to stop this practice or to repair this system?

  • Is New Jersey Delegation Unduly Forcing Great Falls of Paterson Park on NPS?   6 years 48 weeks ago

    Well said Kurt and I agree with everything you wrote. Your inclusion of the NPS analysis of the site as being deemed unsuitable for inclusion points directly at the futility of continuing to pretend that political management of the parks can ever be done in a way that is anything but self-serving and corrupt.

    The creation of a new national park should be more significant that just another rider on an appropriations bill, sandwiched next to sugar subsidies and money for a new highway in South Carolina. It really goes against all that the national parks should supposedly stand for and why they were created in the first place.

    I wonder how much the owners in NJ are "selling" it for?

    What's next? Brooklyn Bridge National Monument? I shouldn't be giving them any ideas!

  • Is the Bear "Hunt" in Katmai National Preserve Sporting or Ethical?   6 years 48 weeks ago

    Mack, I would agree that bears feeding on salmon runs are very tolerant of humans, as evidenced in KNP as well as other places like the McNeil River. They are also tolerant of humans when they run out of salmon, and are happy to utilize them as a food source as Treadwell unfortunately found out.

    There are currently as many as 2500 bears in Katmai National Park, with the population steadily increasing for many years. KNP's website has a newsletter, "The Novarupta", that you can download and on p. 10, there is information on the bear population. Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game also has some information. There is some good information about bears in the ADFG "Wildlife Notebook" series on brown bears. I was interested to learn that brown bear cubs stay with their mother longer when food is scarce. This summer in KNP, I saw several mothers with cubs that were probably 3 to 5 years old. Normally, cubs leave their mothers at 2 to 3 years of age. I was on American Creek this summer, and food didn't seem scarce, as the water was literally choked with sockeyes. However, choice fishing locations may be getting scarce as bear numbers increase.

    I hope the video being displayed doesn't deter people from hunting bears, but I do hope it encourages people to be better managers of bears. KNP covers about 5700 square miles, which means there is a grizzly bear for every 2.3 square miles. Compare that with Yellowston NP, whose grizzlies just came off the threatened list in March of 2007. There are now over 500 grizzlies in YNP, which covers about 3400 square miles, for a ratio of 6.8 square miles per bear. Comparing YNP with KNP, KNP has triple the bear density of Yellowstone. All that to say, I think a little hunting in the Katmai Preserve is a good thing, and we should be rejoicing that we are doing so well at managing wildlife.

  • Director Bomar: Let Science, Not Politics, Decide the Yellowstone Snowmobile Issue   6 years 48 weeks ago

    Dr. Jim

    Frank is probably lamenting the fact that we both might consider enlisting the help of an editorial staff!

    From my information, the Marshall Institute is and has been for quite some time the procuators of bad science as I attempted to define it above. Not objective, agenda-based garbage research techniques, precisely as you recollected. Who they choose or chose as bedfellows comes as less of a surprise to me than you might believe. Even the folks at NASA, the most respected group of scientists in government, as subjected to the inane directives of Congress, to whom they are beholden. While individual projects are generally well conceived and executed culminating in what would be deemed "reliable" data, the direction of the overall program is NOT, by any means, a legitimate independent scientific arm of the government. That little nuance disturbes me greatly. But where else is an organization such as NASA going to go begging for funding? For a number of years there has been an accountability issue within the organization, but when your funding comes with strings attached, who are the ones TRUELY accountable?

    It would indeed be absurd for me to submit that scientists have no values. But I don't think I inferred that science is the determinate factor in the Yellowstone issue. Quite the contrary, I believe that my position was to utilize science as one and only one of the tools in the process. I am also a supporter of the position that even "good" science is not without fault; that is, there are multiple examples of good data being manipulated to support unsound reasoning, or hidden agenda, or for corporate gain, or.......well, you can fill in the blanks with your own list of abuses. But personal values aside, without objectivity, the design and execution, which are the only things that are of any scientific value and the legitimizing variables between compromised viewpoints whether its a Nielsen poll or a stem cell differentiation program. If one experiences difficulty separating their personal beliefs and values from the program, one has the duty to remove themself from the program so as not to compromise the integrity of the project. Similar to a judge voluntarily setpping down from a case in which they cannot remain impartial, such that the integrity of the trial will not be compromised, pure science demands the same impartiality or the whole program is worthless. The best science HAS to be done without becoming subservient to an agenda. Once an agenda is mandated the rest is meaningless. It is my belief based on my industry experience that the fallacy lies within the practice of science being conducted as a determinent factor, which is against everything I stand for, was taught and have taught. I guess that's the biggest reason I didn't follow E&E and instead went into chemotherapeutic research. Way much politics involved in ecological and environmental issues, as we have seen. That an I didn't want to spend eternity as a glorified statistician. But after being jaded by the Big Pharma experience, and the up-close and personal look at politics driving research, I decided pure research held a much more attractive future, albeit less profitable. But again, I digress.

    In response to Beamis, I don't believe Director Bomar has enough arrows in her quiver to make a sound, informed determination on this issue. The power she indeed possesses, most unfortunately for the rest of us, and she's not afraid to wield her mystical sword as she sees fit. However, I highly question her ability to see clearly based on her previous comments.

  • Leadership Summit: Some Afterthoughts   6 years 48 weeks ago

    Given that the President has just asked for billions more for the war, and the total cost of the Iraq war is something like $700 billion, and given the total cost will likely top a trillion, and given that this money is being borrowed and will have to be repaid by future generations, I don't think Congress or the next president will place the needs of the NPS high on the priority list. NPS advocates are merely one interest group out of thousands begging Congress for a share of the pie; there are so many other organizations which get federal money that are "underfunded", and there are only so many tax dollars go to around. This is why I advocate depoliticizing national parks. I like your suggestions for different employee assessments and assessing the 391-unit system, but I don't think it'll be enough.

    Many parks are already branded. They're branded with Ford's logo and Xanterra's name.

    Thanks for bringing your conversations with corporate donors to light. It's fascinating reading!

  • Director Bomar: Let Science, Not Politics, Decide the Yellowstone Snowmobile Issue   6 years 48 weeks ago

    Wow Jim! you certainly can write a provocative blog that cuts the sinew to the bone. I'm glad to see that your a local on this website, I tend to follow your blogs with sharp concentration and focus. I know where your coming from on this issue, my father was a gifted research scientist at a very prominent university were similiar tactics were used to distort and discredit valuable and meaningful research. Much as he enjoyed his work, he also sold his values to the evils of unjust men...called compromsing with the devil! The booze finally killed him!! Anyway, thanks for sharing your indepth work experience at G.C. Marshall Insititute.

  • 60 Minutes : The Age of Megafires   6 years 48 weeks ago

    I think your beliefs regarding the burial ceremonies are pretty secure. Thanks for the added info. But these communities who are against periodic smoke inhalation have no high ground, moral or otherwise. It reminds me of people who purchase homes near airports then complain about the noise, or those who choose to live in disaster prone regions then expect federal bail-outs when flooding or the like occurs. In terms of those in the fire regions, my advice to them would be to pick the intelligent lesser of two evils. Smoke every few years, or losing your precious belongings in a devastating inferno. Sounds like a no-brainer to me, but what do I know?

  • Director Bomar: Let Science, Not Politics, Decide the Yellowstone Snowmobile Issue   6 years 48 weeks ago

    So getting back to the question at hand, is Mary Bomar making the correct decision? Is there a definable set of standards and criteria to guide her in this matter? Does she have the political power to completely ignore overwhelming evidence that indicates that her decision could adversely affect the environment of Yellowstone? I say of course she does. Career survival and advancement in the NPS is always way more important than the fate of a mere park any day of the week, even majestic and venerable Yellowstone. That's why the only people in the agency that publicly speak out are safely retired and receiving their monthly checks.

    This should be a critical turning point in how the NPS is judged in conducting its job of resource stewardship. We are all watching this in slow motion and it shouldn't be too hard to discern whether or not valid science is being ignored by the director.

    I have my opinion, what about the rest of you?

  • Director Bomar: Let Science, Not Politics, Decide the Yellowstone Snowmobile Issue   6 years 48 weeks ago

    Lone Hiker,

    I have a lot of experience with the politicization of science. I don't disagree that it's heinous to take something that's value neutral, use it to support a certain set of values, use money to support only those people with the credentials to regurgitate your own point of view, and then use resources to amplify the point of view "as scientific." I think my point of view is that the response to that heinousness can be dangerous because people can go on to conclude fallaciously that science supported by an agenda is therefore no good (which assumes that science can be done simply by scientists who have no values, which is absurd). It can also lead people to the fallacious conclusion that un-politicized science will determine the question of what to do about snowmobiles in Yellowstone, which it doesn't. Science, not politics; science, not emotions is not a mantra that does as much as people sometimes believe. So, I had two points; objectivity is not what's void of emotion, or value; it's what is true regardless of emotion or value. Secondly, de-politicizing the science won't actually answer the policy questions involved; it will only help on a very narrow scale. It's also not clear how well that can happen in a world where science and policy also meet (which wasn't one of my two points, but something else besides).

    Now, I do have experience with this. When I was working on my Ph.D. in philosophy at Catholic University, I was fairly poor, trying to support the cost of living in Washington, DC, while I studied. So, work was a necessary addition to me, even though I received free tuition. I finally landed a job at a place that I very quickly discovered after accepting the job was a very right wing think tank called the George C. Marshall Institute. They claim that they are a non-partisan organization interested in the de-politicization of science. In fact, their two main issues that they use supposedly to highlight this mission are the issues of climate change and the issue of a missile defense system. In their case, they argued that there is no evidence that humans actually are causing global warming, and they argue that we need a missile defense system now and that the science supports putting up some system immediately. They received sums of money from right wing foundations like Scaife, and they were also funded by the oil industry. My job was simply as a kind of receptionist, lowest level admin, for this very small ineffectual organization - just one among a number of satellite organizations funded by the same people to serve as skeptics on climate change. I hated it, but I wanted to see firsthand how this works, and for awhile, I contented myself as a kind of Robin Hood, who got paid too much to do as little as possible, while learning all kinds of ridiculous things about the way right wing organizations work through think tanks. Our organization was thoroughly incompetent and far too small to matter, but we continued to do enough to justify to our funders that we were relevant.

    Anyhow, one of the most egregious things that I witnessed at Marshall was when we were putting together a directory of climatologists as a guide to media and others researching climate change. It was simply a directory of addresses, contact information, and specialty. As far as climatologists, we put both skeptics and non-skeptics to the list; however, a lot of other non-climatologists were being added to the list. All of these people were skeptics. When a couple of us sought to balance this, knowing that our credibility would be shot as a non-partisan, non-ideological organization if we weren't consistent in our criteria, the President of the organization (a former head of the American Petroleum Institute) shot it down. When we argued that it would look better for us, especially on something as innocuous as a directory, if we were consistent, his response was something I'll never forget. He said, "Why should we give aid and comfort to our enemies?" He had just put all his cards on the table and proven that he had no interest in anything but promoting the skeptics' agenda on climate change. (This was only one small example; we used to have press releases ready on missile defense tests ready to release as soon as the test was successful but nothing at all sometimes if a test turned out to be a failure).

    Once, this President came up to me and told me he expected a call from the Vice President's office (yes, Cheney) based on a conversation they had had during one of his vacations to Jackson Hole. Just by coincidence, this guy was taking his vacations to Jackson Hole the same time Cheney was. I always suspected that this had to do with the secret meetings Cheney was alleged to have been having with the oil industry. Here he confirmed to me that he was meeting with Cheney and not just on vacation. The info was so sensitive that he didn't even want the Executive Director to know that he was expecting this call. Here I now had firsthand evidence of what Cheney was then keeping a guarded secret, that he was meeting with oil people to talk and strategize over climate change.

    This same guy was also still a registered lobbyist with the oil industry. One Executive Director resigned after challenging him on that. The President held strongly that his two hats were separate. Umm, no, they were never separate. He wasn't even a scientist, but the scientists at the organization were not any better. Some really believed; however, all used dubious assertions and claims if it kept their funding sources happy. You had astrophysicists making plugs for clean coal, in one case that comes to mind.

    So, I know firsthand about this and have seen inside an organization that was using the de-politicization of science as a smokescreen to further politicize science. It was disgusting, and finally getting fired for slacking off was about the best thing that happened to me. I was already an activist; I had seen enough of this world.

    And, yet, having seen all that, I am perhaps more convinced of my initial two points, perhaps because all that time in the office around this issue forced me to think about the intersection of values and science. When reading our reports, I needed to know how I could separate the chaff from the wheat. There were a lot of ufair criticisms of the Marshall Institute as well, often based on various ad hominem arguments. Being in that position, you realize more and more that science has been overblown in our society as an arbiter, and that everyone wants a piece of it. Yet, perhaps there are other reasons behind what we should do on issues like climate change and missile defense that don't depend on what the science says or doesn't say is possible, answers that are accessible to everyone. I was and am certain that there are.

    And, as for who these wicked people are, I've said more than enough that just a little research will tell you, or I'll gladly share offline. This was years ago, but many of the same people are still in the same game, and some are actually true believers - you can't simply look at their funding sources; they really believe in the science they have done. That was always refreshing, even if you still thought the whole enterprise sickening.

    Jim Macdonald
    The Magic of Yellowstone
    Yellowstone Newspaper
    Jim's Eclectic World

  • 60 Minutes : The Age of Megafires   6 years 48 weeks ago

    Re: Smokey
    From: My forthcoming (someday?) book

    In a way, I am very resentful of Smokey. Growing up, whenever I saw a blackened forest, I remembered those cartoon commercials where a group of talking animals gathered in an idyllic forest setting to celebrate Smokey’s birthday or just to hang out. It was a peaceful world where black bears and bunny rabbits co-existed in harmony and happy little birds sang beautiful melodies. And then a human forgot to put out a campfire, and all the animals scattered with looks of terror painted on their anthropomorphic faces as the forest erupted into a blazing inferno around them. Cut to devastation. As far as you could see, it looked as though someone had dropped an A-bomb; only charred skeletal trees remained; animals that weren’t burned to a crisp were now “homeless” and morosely surveyed the holocaust landscape as tears streamed down their faces. Then Smokey turned the camera and begged us to be careful with fire. It made me feel horrible. When I saw real blackened landscapes, all I could think about were all the sweet, innocent animals destroyed by the fire.

    During my tenure as a ranger, I stumbled across a slide of a poster–probably from the 1940s or 1950s–that further illustrated how the Forest Service anthropomorphized animals to indoctrinate young children. The poster shows the usual scene of devastation in the background, and Smokey’s in the foreground, his shadily acquired NPS flat hat held respectfully across his chest. At his feet are two small mounds of earth marked with crosses; two young gophers kneel in prayer beside the graves, their small hands folded, their tiny heads bowed. In bold letters at the top of the poster:
    PLEASE . . .

    Please, indeed.

    Fire, I’ve learned, has many effects on animals. But I’m relatively sure it doesn’t induce them to have Christian burials for their fallen brethren.

    Smokey is one of the reasons why prescribed fire is such a hard sale; the public still holds major misconceptions about fire's necessity in the ecosystem. Thanks Smokey!

    Rx fire produces smoke, and some local communities fight management ignitions 'cause people don't want to breathe smoke. However, the land will eventually burn, and with Rx fire, smoke impacts are far easier to mitigate than wildfire smoke. I could go on and on about crowning in different fuel and vegetation types, risk management, and modern fuel loads, which is the real culprit (it's easier and sexier to blame EVERYTHING on global warming), but I'll save it for another time.

  • 60 Minutes : The Age of Megafires   6 years 48 weeks ago

    Again, just one more item...

    "more land burned in 2006 than in any previously recorded year". Bear in mind that this "any previously recorded year" qualifier translates into a pretty small body of work, and as previously stated, I'm big on sample size. I don't buy into the media ploy of utilizing stunning titles to grasp the public eye. Before I label anything the "Age of .......", I want historical backing. Drought can be evidenced by studies on tree rings, among other things. Floods leave tell-tale signs, as do boom-times for growth. And even fires leave scorch-marks on whatever they leave behind, but I know of no historical research project ever conducted that sought to measure scope, intensity, frequency, or the other factors of previous burns, floods or drought. The reason is that as of yet the instrumentation to accurately define how much rain fell, how hot the fires were, and how much flooded exactly what region simply don't exist. Specific to drought conditions, even if you could measure how much rain fell, there is no historical precedent or measuring stick that allows for competent comparisons and accurate dissemination of the data that you've gathered. That's why I get such a kick out of the "Hundred Years Storm" dooms-dayers. Our weather records ony go back about 135 years, and they make the "Hundred Years" statment. It just can't be substantiated. Maybe that's why they feel safe with these preposterous statements. The best source of these data (specific to fire damage and water rates) would have been through intensive studies of long-lived trees in old-growth forests. Unfortunately, much of that information has been forever lost to the logging industry, and thier own particular brand of environmental mismanagement practices. Most assuredly, the acreage burning is significant. But that IS what forested regions are prone to periodically.

  • 60 Minutes : The Age of Megafires   6 years 48 weeks ago

    Sorry about that sir. Guess I should refer back to the list once in a while when responding. The Smokey reference was actually directed slightly above you, back to Frank and Anon. My error, and apology.

    I remember the commercials.......and the "Only You" slogan. I still think the intent was good, as obviously only we can save ourselves from ourselves. Nature, being the bitch that She is, as Haunted Hiker confirmed, can and will do as She pleases, and good luck to anyone trying to prevent her from competion of her appointed task. Overgrown undergrowth (?) not withstanding, the inception of lightning induced fires is beyond the scope of our ability to control. The intensity of said fires, that's another matter completely. That's why the Native's practiced prescribed burns in the first place, to limit the rage of the fires. But as we all know, they were determined to be "ignorant savages", so how could we possibly learn anything from a people SO inferior to the Great White European tribes?

    I, like Beamis, am no expert on the subject. All I can attest to is what I have personally witnessed. I have had camping trips affected by lightning-induced fires on the North Rim as recently as 2006, and was unfortunately part of the group to be unceremoniusly evicted from the park. Upon my return a week later, during an escorted passage along Hwy. 67, the "controlled burn" made for a rare opportunity for amatuer footage of how the park attempted to contain the spread, but how they were unable to prevent the periodic "crowning" event which is the most devastating portion of any fire. After a long conversation with some of those involved and with the rangers, I was made to believe that the "controlled" aspect was a regular practice, as it pertains to this location. That being the case, maybe Frank can lend a bit more insight as to why this practice is a sporadic event instead of a regular habit within the scope of the parks. It appeared to work well in the Kaibab National Forest, although some additional investigation led me to one particularly egg-on-the-face event back in the 90's that cost the same area a few thousand acres, that most agreed was the result of general incompetence by fire management personnel. But hey, nobody's perfect!

  • 60 Minutes : The Age of Megafires   6 years 48 weeks ago

    You haven't heard me slam the bear.

  • Director Bomar: Let Science, Not Politics, Decide the Yellowstone Snowmobile Issue   6 years 48 weeks ago

    Science can indeed be classified as either good, insofar as being soundly researched and executed, or poor, referring to it being targeted toward a specific agenda or hypothesis, but I would tread lightly around the term proven. Even a preponderance of evidence doesn't automatically qualify as proven beyond a given measure. At best, it lends credence to one's position, but the meaning of the term proof is something science prefers to leave in the courtroom environment, to be bandied about and abused by the legal profession. The entire purpose of research is to gather data and let those data guide the investigation to its' eventual end, be it in support of the original hypothesis or not. If the weight of these data support the hypothesis, and the experimental protocol can be duplicated over time by independent researchers or teams, only then does the hypothesis evolve into an accepted theory. If the evidence serves not to support the intent of the experimentation, so be it. You then follow the new course that the data charts for you, and follow IT until you have enough evidence to support the new hypothesis. The true purpose behind any scientific exploit is discovery, whether it follow the original intent of the process or not is completely irrelevant. It's always nice to be correct in your initial assumptions, but it's also a far cry from the norm. The term serendipity best describes how the majority of discoveries were and are found throughout the history of most branches of science. That's why we're taught that Rule #1 is "always keep your eyes and mind open", as observation and conclusion are the mother of all discovery. Any idiot can find what they're looking or manipulate data sets to support poor experimental design that allows them to "discover" that which they seek if they follow the poor science methods. Such are the fantasies of the closed mind. But most often the clues are subtle at best and hidden at worst, and without the ability to dig beyond the obvious and truly see all that is presented, most of what would be the more noteworthy accomplishments and greatest discoveries would have remained forever lost.

    Should it be the sole arbiter? God forbid! Not in ANY instance, nor should be the sole determinant for ANY issue. But the service that it can lend should neither be completely ignored. In our modern world, science functions as a tool, an aide, a crutch, a compass, an additional source of information from which conclusions can be drawn. Unless, of course, you're Director Bomar, and you're too busy to read that which was commissioned specifically for your very benefit. Science was never intended to serve as the "be all, end all" in any forum. But what other method of gathering information is currently available that serves the same purpose as scientific research, and if they exist, are they any more reliable than the current methods?

    For the record Jim, the politicization of science is the worst form of evil, as it subscribes to the "poor" scientific methods that are an abomination to the field as a whole. Science and politics cannot co-exist. Science is the elimination of specific agenda, which is the diametric opposite of politics. It's oil and vinegar, night and day, positive and negative poles of the battery. Politicos not only seek but require justification, science seeks NOT to justify, but hypothesize and investigate. The last time anything was deeply investigated on the Hill was during the Watergate era, and where did that get us? Science in politics equates to a Surgeon General, who cautions against smoking, trying miserably to save face for a government who lives off the revenues generated by, while simultaneously fiscally supporting that very same industry that the "official chief government scientist" abhors. Politicization of science is an FDA who protects the Big Pharma more than it does the American consumer. Countless times in just the past 2-3 decades, drug discoveries that were made in other countries were put on the FDA "banned" list, not due to any factor except that which allowed for profits to be made by overseas research firms. But yet, who allowed Big Pharma to be the first to jump on the "generic equivilent" knock-offs once the initial proprietary periods had expired? Our same two-faced FDA. Yet at the same time, do I need to mention either the company names or the compound names that was forcibly removed from circulation due to an accumulation of patient deaths, due SOLELY to improper clinical trials and manipulated data by the manufacturer? Did anybody bother to print the "behind the scenes" story of why these clinicals were rushed through the system? Did anyone bother to investigate and discover that again, Big Pharma was about to be beaten to the punch by off-shore competition, and stood to lose BILLIONS in R&D and God forbid, future profits, had they completed their studies "by the book", so instead the FDA allowed, nay, FACILITATED their gamble and approved experimental drugs that were responsible for the deaths of DOZENS of patients world-wide? I could carry on, but this should give you a pretty good idea why the marriage of science with politics makes for a nuclear meltdown waiting to happen.

  • Director Bomar: Let Science, Not Politics, Decide the Yellowstone Snowmobile Issue   6 years 48 weeks ago

    I don't particularly have a strong opinion on the science because I'm woefully ignorant of those things. It is interesting to read the conflicting views on the science, but I'm usually not in the business of arguing about things I don't pretend to know. This is helpful information.

    Now, on the second question, you say first that science serves as an "emotionless arbiter." First, I think that's something of a false dichotomy. Rather than say that any judgment is without emotion, it is more precise to say that any sound judgment is true regardless of emotion. That distinction might be subtle, but we have to be careful. A triangle, for instance, has three sides regardless of whether it is equilateral, scalene, or isosceles. However, there is no such thing as a triangle that is not either, equilateral, scalene, or isosceles. There is no such thing as a scientific judgment that is uttered without emotion, unless judgments can exist without judges. However, that something is a triangle does not depend upon the type anymore than a sound judgment depends upon emotion.

    The point in all of this is that people with emotional biases are not necessarily acting without sound science. The science should be able to stand on its own regardless of what someone believes, and sound science, if there is such a thing, does not require arbiters who don't have opinions and emotions about things. The reason we seem to care about this and become cynical and suspicious, for instance, of an oil industry study on climate change, is because very few of us understand the science enough in order to come to our own conclusions. In that case, we are not judging science but whether we trust a source. Many of us who are not scientists end up basing our judgments about these matters not on science but on trust; in many cases, that is a reasonable response because so often our suspicions turn out to be right.

    You go on to assert that science should at least guide questions that involve the environment. I don't think I'd dispute that, but the question is how so. What does science actually show? Science can show, perhaps, that a certain number of snowmobiles will pollute the air in a certain way and will have such and such effects on various features and wildlife. That's certainly very useful information when we are presented a question of whether snowmobiles should be allowed because it clarifies the shared reality in which we make value judgments. However, it is not science that answers the "should"; it only does so assuming that people have the same set of shared values and the same interpretation of those values to the specific situation in which the science applies. What should govern those values? And, even if we can determine those (for instance, one answer might be the laws that currently govern Yellowstone), the application of those values to a specific situation is always going to be subject to further value judgment. These are not scientific questions.

    I think one can make a scientific case (that is observe, measure, and document) that the disputes about snowmobiles in Yellowstone are only secondarily questions of science but foremost questions of values. Though there seems to be some dispute over the science (for instance, snowmobiles versus snowcoaches), there is greater dispute on the purpose of national parks, specifically Yellowstone National Park, and more specifically the best way to use and regulate use of Yellowstone National Park in the winter. Even you resort not to science but rather an aesthetic argument at one point to justify keeping this argument about over-the-snow vehicles rather than automobiles.

    I don't believe we will move forward in this until people stop using science as a smokescreen (a snowstorm?) blocking our view from the critical values issues that have to be tackled, and beneath those, the ontological assumptions behind them that drive values discussions. When it comes down to it, this is not really about science. This is about how well science conforms to values. That doesn't make science irrelevant; it just means that from a policy standpoint, it is not ultimately the scientists as scientists who should make these decisions.

    However, if it's not scientists as scientists, and the political system is not responsive to the value judgments of the people whom they represent (and no way of knowing whether those value judgments are in any way sound), what is there to be done?

    Now, that's getting ahead of ourselves; if people don't follow my points that far, there's no way to get at the larger social implications.

    Jim Macdonald
    The Magic of Yellowstone
    Yellowstone Newspaper
    Jim's Eclectic World

  • Director Bomar: Let Science, Not Politics, Decide the Yellowstone Snowmobile Issue   6 years 48 weeks ago

    What amazes me, this big beautiful country called Yellowstone, is why would anybody want to bring all this motorized crap into the park during the winter. There's something very peaceful and full of blessed solace about Yellowstone in the winter, but why can't we leave it that way, and just enjoy the simple things that the park has to offer. Such as snowshoe hiking, snow camping, skiing and outdoor photography...and many other healthy activities. Why does it have be this thing about a faster, easier and sedentary way of activity in Yellowstone...like traveling in your own personalized highly mechanized snowmobile (and forgetting you have two legs to exercise and walk on). This is not a elitist attitude, but a attitude that we need to address to are younger generation the critical importance of good wholesome rugged exercise that Yellowstone has to offer. What I see in are younger generation today, and this greatly alarms me, is the huge obesity problem in this country (did you check your own weight and blood pressure lately...and your kids?)...it's a major catastrophe waiting to happen...kids having diabetic and heart problems before there twenty. The message should be, less mechanized toys, such as snowmobiles and more snowshoes and hiking...etc...This is a far better trade off then having just "one snowmobile" in the park.

  • 60 Minutes : The Age of Megafires   6 years 48 weeks ago

    I can't find it in me to find fault with the aspect of overtime pay, and Frank is wholeheartedly right in stating that these people EARN their money. You're damn right it can be lucrative, but the risks associated with the job and the physical nature of the beast only serve to lend support to the overtime payscale. These factors, and the fact that worker shortages are common lead to inflate and skew the "average" income ratio. How many of us would jump at the opportunity to join their ranks? I'm fully aware of the seasonal aspect of the job, but in most of the nation, construction workers are "seasonal" as well, and their basic pay rate is enough to make you cry, without considerations for overtime.

    The fire suppression tactics and techniques that were, and is many cases still are practiced are the result of our ignorant attitude towards the environment. A good house-cleaning serves to revitalize the ecosystem, not destroy it as we once believed. Leaving nature to itself would be the most proper course of action to self-contain the intensity of the fires.

    Beamis, last year when I lived in southern Utah, as Kurt may well substantiate, I believe there were something in the neighborhood of 18 fires between June and August, of which only 2 qualified as man-made in origin. One was set by drunken teenagers whose "bonfire" got out of control, the other was pure arson. I'm aware of the dry thunderstorm phenomenon and the resulting devastation that can be traced directly to their doorstep. But I still wouldn't start going off on Smokey.

  • 60 Minutes : The Age of Megafires   6 years 48 weeks ago

    Frank, I was really just making an observation not a statement. It could easily be a mis-impression on my part but it just seems that all of the really big fires in the West are on BLM or USFS lands. Of course Los Angeles and San Diego are burning today (what else is new?) and it's obviously a combination of public and private lands that are being affected.

    If I had to offer a reason as to why I think government land tended to burn more often I would say that it might have something to do with the vast size of the holdings involved. Private land is generally divided into smaller parcels and thus might also be more carefully watched over by individual owners.

    This may be a totally bogus conjecture on my part but that was all it was. I'm no expert on wildland fire.

  • What is YOUR Favorite Park Experience?   6 years 48 weeks ago

    I agree - this is a REALLY tough decision - there are SO many!
    But, if I had to pick one, it was at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park in 2005. Our plan was to hike the Kilauea Iki Trail our first morning. I'd always wanted to hike this trail that goes across a volcanic crater, but it was almost 5 miles long, and my husband was still only just starting to "be OK" with hiking - although I've been "outdoorsy" all my life, he is more of a city boy, so it is tough to convince him of the "joys" of hiking sometimes when you can get great views "from the car."
    So, in 2005, he was just getting to the point where he wouldn't complain of a 2-3 mi hike - as long as significant elevation changes weren't involved, and he was consistently "comfortable."
    Well, that morning, it started to rain - that typical tropical rain forest rain....that is, a steady, light, never-ending mist. We did bring ponchos, and although I'm ok w/ hiking in the rain, it didn't bode well for Jacob's experience.
    Regardless, he was a trooper, and donned his poncho, and we took off.
    It continued to drizzle the whole time, and I was constantly fretting about how he was "suffering" and how I'd never hear the end of it, and he'd never hike with me again.
    Well, about 1 mile into the hike, we had descended through the tropical forest to the bottom of the crater and were about to start the trek across it. I turned around on the trail and saw Jacob in his cheap poncho, soaking wet.
    Through the mist and fog, I could see him - he was smiling, and his eyes were taking it all in and bright as sapphires....and he said just one word looking out over the crater - "Wow!" Discomfort was the farthest thing from his mind.
    It ended up being his most favorite hike in all the national parks we've visited to this day (he's now proud to say he's visited over 100 national park sites!).
    Since then, he's upgraded to roadside camping in the parks, and this year he even did his first backcountry camping experience - pack and all!
    But, I think it was this favorite hike in Hawai'i that I think that started it all - and it was one of my most memorable for that reason alone.

    Tristan

  • 60 Minutes : The Age of Megafires   6 years 48 weeks ago

    Lone Hiker:

    Smokey Bear has to do with everything fire-related; he's a propaganda machine that lied to generations of young Americans saying only YOU can prevent forest fires when 75% of all wildfires are lightning caused.

    Leaving Smokey aside, Anonymous is right that firefighting is quite lucrative. I say this as a former NPS fire fighter and having personal experience. And fighting wildland fires is often wasteful monetarily speaking, and I have many stories to support my claim. But private fire fighting firms can be just as wasteful and can be more inept than well-trained NPS and USFS employees. And the money firefighters made is hard earned money. Have you ever swung a polaski at 100-year-old sage? It's hard f--ing work! Limbing trees, digging line, inhaling smoke, putting their lives at risk. This is serious work and most firefighters earn their seasonal pay.

    And Beamis, here I have to disagree. I spent some time working on the Deschutes National Forest this summer, and private land around Bend and Sisters burned just as often and as intensely as wildland fires on private land. Framing this in free market economics or competition won't work. The real problem is cultural. Had new Americans refrained from building homes in ponderosa pine forests that burn every 3-5 years, and had the USFS and private harvesters not viewed forests as dollar signs and not seen fire as a threat to their property, the Native American practice of prescribed fire might have continued and we might not be in this mess today.

    The key is prescribed fire. It costs a fraction of fighting wildfires, and we need to accelerate the pace. The NPS excels in their prescribed fire program, and it should be a model to all land managers, public and private, throughout the West.

  • Director Bomar: Let Science, Not Politics, Decide the Yellowstone Snowmobile Issue   6 years 48 weeks ago

    Jim, in answer to your first question, yes, snowcoaches would be less-polluting than snowmobiles. According to the EPA, the initial preferred alternative to allow up to 720 snowmobiles per day into Yellowstone, when compared to the snowcoach only alternative, "would result in five times more carbon monoxide emissions and 17 times more hydrocarbon emissions," according to Kerrigan Clough, the deputy regional administrator of EPA Region 8. "This alternative also would double the acres in Yellowstone impacted by over-snow vehicle noise for more than 50 percent of the day."

    You can find the rest of that story here.

    Now, under the currently preferred alternative, which would allow upwards of 540 snowmobiles into the park, those numbers would change a bit, but snowcoaches still would be cleaner. Would they be cleaner than plowing the roads and letting folks drive in? I can't answer that question right now. But the aesthetics would certainly change, and I think part of the joy of visiting Yellowstone in winter is coming in over snow, as opposed to driving in on pavement.

    Plus, I think if you opened that door you'd have to open more, such as turning the lodges into year-round destinations, and that certainly would add more (if not overload) the system.

    Now, your latter pondering isn't easily answered. Who's values are we holding decisions up to? Those of the rich? Of the middle class? Of any other social or cultural group?

    Science, though not always an absolute, serves as an emotionless arbiter (or it should). If the science is good and proven, I believe it should guide questions that involve (at least) the environment. Should it be the final arbiter or considered a panacea? I don't think so, not in all cases. I still believe we have to add the human factor into the equation.

    But in the case of Yellowstone and snowmobiles and snowcoaches, phasing out snowmobiles by itself does not deprive anyone of visiting the park (although mounting costs of visiting surely does) and it lessens the impacts on the resources -- the wildlife, the air, the soundscapes, the visitors, the employees. In this narrow instance -- which is better for Yellowstone's resources, snowmobiles or snowcoaches? -- I don't believe science, or relying on science, trivializes any larger questions.

  • Director Bomar: Let Science, Not Politics, Decide the Yellowstone Snowmobile Issue   6 years 48 weeks ago

    First a scientific question. Do snowcoaches actually reduce pollution? I keep reading on another blog of someone who studies this stuff that they don't. Her preference: plow the roads.

    Secondly, an ethical question. Do we really want scientists making value-laden decisions? Does science ever answer values questions?

    And, having said that, I'm not fond of snowmobiles in Yellowstone, or snowcoaches, or cars, but I'm less fond of a winter playground monopolized by the rich and argued over by the rich. The snowmobile issue points to so much else, but don't we trivialize it to see this as simply science versus policy? It's ethics and values; the science only clarifies the values questions. Setting science up as a value arbiter is neither scientific nor sound. I guess I answered my own question 2 (still would like to understand question 1 more), but I'm curious why science is thrown around like it is as the panacea for all environmental questions (and politicization of science the greatest evil).

    Jim Macdonald
    The Magic of Yellowstone
    Yellowstone Newspaper
    Jim's Eclectic World

  • Is the Bear "Hunt" in Katmai National Preserve Sporting or Ethical?   6 years 48 weeks ago

    I just now spoke with Marcia Blaszak and must say she was very gracious. She said she could not take a unilateral action - said shutting down the hunt was beyond her authority. Apparantly it would take an act of Congress to shut down the hunt? She said the "incident portrayed in the media is under investigation" - I understand that one party guided shooters in while another brought "media" in and therein lies a conflict. She said "ethical chase is a social concern..." And said of course that Alaska manages the hunt.

    She also disputed the notion that those bears are habituated to humans and said that brown bears, feeding on salmon runs, are very tolerant of humans. Can anyone verify this?

  • 60 Minutes : The Age of Megafires   6 years 48 weeks ago

    Lone Hiker-

    The 11-14 hour rate you quote is completely misleading. That is just the basic pay. Firefighters get hazard pay and typically overtime, which usually jacks up the rates of pay a ton as they work long hours in hazardous situations. I have friends who have purchased expensive 12K motorcycles just through working fire, on top of their normal salary. Now, to further the point, consider those compensation rates with GS-9 and GS-11 employees that go on fires... let alone the fact that they aren't doing their day to day real duties.

    Additionally, drought and snits against "global warming" aside, years and years and years of fire suppression inevitably jacks up fuel load. Most ecosystems across North American really didn't evolve without fire, so combine building fuel load with drought and you have potential for increased wildfires.

  • 60 Minutes : The Age of Megafires   6 years 48 weeks ago

    First, I don't consider the $11-14/hr rate that the government pays qualifying as a lot of money by ANY standard.

    Second, I would have guessed that the folks at Berkeley intelligent enough to lend some REAL insight that was truly significant, not something that most anyone could have predicted in the typical cause and effect scenario.

    Third, granted I didn't view the video, but somewhere it should be noted that most of the Western states have been subjected to an extended period of drought over the past ten or so years, with many areas classified as "significantly" moisture deficient, or in layman's terms, bone dry. This is obviously a contributing factor, as not only are many areas "living in kindling", but the rains that the smoke-eaters relied so heavily upon for assistance less frequent than in seasons past.

    Culprits have been suggested that include the usual global climatic changes to severe El Nino phenomenon, Communist satellites and increased vulcanism on the Ring of Fire. It's even been suggested that the increase in volcanic activity along the Pacific Rim is the result of global warming, which is an arguement so juvenile it doesn't even merit discussion. From what I've experienced, cheatgrass is a minor annoyance more than a major factor leading to the spread of "uncontrollable" fires, due to the fact that it combusts so rapidly and completely that, while it spreads a fire quickly, it can't sustain the spread for very long. I've investigated its possible usage as barriers or containment areas against wildfire advance, since fire can't exist without fuel and this stuff burns out quicker than your typical punk rocker. The problem is by May-June, it's dry, ugly, and propagated by those nasty little spine-covered seed pods. Bad stuff for air mattresses, tent floors and bare feet for both little critters and us bigger critters as well!

    And what's Smokey got to do with anything?