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The GLORIA project in the Beartooth Mountains

I was in the Pryor Mountains last month on a BioBlitz.  What’s a Bioblitz you might ask?  It’s an appropriate name, because in the span of about 24 hours people group up and find as many species as they can.  I of course signed up for the botany group, but other areas included bats, invertebrates, birds, or mammals. There was even a ‘spider’ category.  In that 24 hours, we hiked and drove from desert to alpine environment, documenting every plant we could find.  Those we were unable to identify in the field, we brought back to camp to identify where a nice shade tent with tables, microscopes, and plant books was provided.  It was a lot of work and a lot of fun.

At the BioBlitz I met Professor Lyman who is the botany teacher at Rocky Mountain College in Billings. She had other projects going which were near the Sunlight area that I offered to help on.  First we met up on Bald Ridge where she had a camera on Shoshonea pulvinata, a rare plant that appears on only a very few sites around the Cody area.  She wanted to discover what the pollinators were for this plant.  I offered to check the camera, but the plant had already finished blooming.  We hiked the ridge and discovered several pockets of this plant, mostly on cliff edges where the scree is thick and the drainage is perfect.

Rare plant at Bald ridge

Shoshonea pulvinata green plant not blooming

Where Shoshonea grows on Bald Ridge

Her next project began last week.  The GLORIA project was to be set up on four high peaks in the Beartooth Mountains.  This is a worldwide project that’s been going on for about 10 years and started over in Europe.  The idea is to monitor climate change by detecting changes in the plant life at these mountain summits.  The set-up is very detailed, pain-staking, and specific.  The peaks must be 50 meters minimum distance from each other and at least 50 meters elevational change from each other.  A formula is used to measure off distance down the slope at 5 and 10 meters North, South, East, and West; then a grid is installed at each bearing.  At the grid-mark, plants are counted and identified.  A heat sensor is installed which will record temperature changes.  Every five years the same exact area is recounted as to the plant material and the percentages of species change.

View from one of the GLORIA summits

The project set-up was a lot of work but very interesting.  One day I helped carry supplies in to the summit and measure off the  grid.

Marking the grid for photographs

Another day after completing a second grid area, we hiked the afternoon looking for another appropriate summit.  The top of the Beartooths is a beautiful location to spend the day, especially with the heat down lower.  One afternoon we got run off the mountain by fast moving thunderstorms.  The highest bare summit is no place to be in a lightening storm.

Counting plant material within the grid

One day in surveying the summit, which is treeless and fairly shrubless, we actually found a bird’s nest with chicks in it.  I would guess there are few predators up there.

Bird nest on summit with chicks

A possible summit

The Beartooths contain some of the oldest rock in the world.  Professor Lyman’s husband is a geologist and he pointed out some pure quartz veins to me.  Here’s a giant that I wished I could haul home (the rock not the dog!).

Quartz on the summit

Domestic sheep were run on these mountains until the early 2000’s.  Domestic sheep, when they intermingle with Big Horn Sheep, cause our natives to develop diseases like pneumonia  to which the native sheep have no resistance.  These old sheep allotments have been retired–a good thing.  But I suspect these summit cairns are left-overs from sheep herders.

Sheep herder cairn on a summit with quartz

On the way home one evening, right near the Top of the World store, a fox was in the road chowing down on a road-killed ground squirrel.  Oddly, he didn’t move for the traffic and I got some good photos.  Even when this motorcyclist was right bye him, he continued to eat for a long time.  Fox are considered predators in Wyoming and can be shot on sight at any time of the year.  Good thing none of these motorists were on that kind of a mission, just a sightseeing mission.

Earth Day countdown: Remember our Mother!

“What we call man’s power over nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with nature as its instrument.”  –C.S. Lewis “The Abolition of Man”

Bolivia is all set to pass a law that grants Mother Nature equal rights, the same rights afforded to all human beings.

“They include:  the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.”

Now, I ask you, if here in the United States corporations can have the same rights as an individual, why can’t we be as enlightened as Bolivia and grant Mother nature, our true sustenance, full rights.

I have always found sustenance and rejuvenation, spiritual and physical, in the natural world. Even before I moved to Wyoming, I was deeply attracted to its physical beauty and the richness of its wildlife.   There are so few places left where large animals still roam free, where a complete ecosystem exists, and where the natural world and its beauty awe one.

These places need special protection to continue to exist in a world that is becoming more crowded everyday, and so desperate for resources that we are willing to tear our home apart. Large animals need large spaces to forage and find food.  In our very deepest places, what some might call our sub-conscious, we share a connection with the animal world.  Whether we see it or not in our everyday lives, our lives intertwine with them.  Without them, the natural world is reduced to a nice view, humorless and cold.

I have been moved to write this blog because I am so in love with the natural world and all the wildlife it contains.  It is my small way of reminding people, in our hurried existence, of the feeling we have when we sit by a stream, or take a vacation to a lonely beach, or sit and watch bison, or get a thrilling glimpse of a wolf and her pups.   I am hopeful that people can take time from all the complex problems of todays’ society, and remember how much we need these wild places and the wildlife in them.

The legislation that is in the budget deal, and the legislation being proposed for next years’ budget, contains cuts and provisions that affect many areas.  In terms of the environment, the Republicans have an agenda to eliminate protections for these animals, and wild places, as well as the health of the natural world.   Democrats are willing to meet them more than halfway.  And our environment and its inhabitants (hey, that includes us people) are going to suffer, while oil and gas and corporate interests will be the ones to prosper.

One instance of this politicizing in this ‘compromise’ is the delisting of wolves.  This is not to say that at some point wolves should not be delisted.  But all delisting according to the Endangered Species Act, must come from scientific review, not through the politics of Congress.  This ‘rider’ to the budget would delist wolves and make that non-negotiable through the inability of the courts to challenge the legislation.  The beginning of the end for the Endangered Species Act.  When politics in Congress can decide what to delist, in what states, and where, without the courts being able to challenge it–this is a dark time.

Folks, this is only the beginning unless we wake up.  I do not usually post political statements.  My intention is to turn people on to what is good about places like the Greater Yellowstone Area where I live.  We only protect what we love, and I attempt to encourage everyone to remember our love for places like this.  But these threats are very real and will be affecting us and our children, as well as the health of the wildlife and the environment for years to come.

Earth day is coming up, April 22nd.  Let’s remember her and give her an equal vote.  Please, call your congressional leaders and tell them to give Mother Earth the same rights they have given corporations.  Tell them, Earth Day is coming and let’s legislate for Our Mother.

For Gaia lovers

For all you Global Warming non-believers, environmentalists, politicians, city dwellers, pet lovers, gas guzzlers, consumers, cheese eaters, gardeners, youngsters, oldsters, or hipsters, I only have one recommendation for todays’ post:  Read James Lovelock’s new book The Vanishing Face of Gaia.  A Final Warning. Too little, too late, a new hot world is coming, sooner than we think, and we can’t solar or wind-proof our way out of it.  Lovelock says to prepare the lifeboats and come to agreement who will be in them, if that is even possible.  There will be islands of refuge, tiny places, where only at best 100 million of us can survive.

Lovelock’s point is, of course, Gaia; that we’ve failed to take her into account.  That our scientists measure and analyze her like she’s just a predictable rock, rather than a living force that fights back.  That Gaia needs her forests and entire biosphere to keep her running and healthy, and that as humans, our main fault has been overpopulation and therefore overuse.  It’s not that fossil fuels themselves are bad, its that we burn more than She can make.  He makes the point that between all the humans, their pets and livestock, and the engine it takes to feed us, that’s almost half of all the CO2 produced!  We are the sorcerer’s apprentice unable to solve the spell of technology and overpopulation we’ve unleashed.

Lovelock himself is an optimist by nature.  So he looks for hope in the new world we might create while we live in a hotter place, with far less people.

I hope that all he says does not come true, that his calculations are off, that we’ll be able to come together to reduce our numbers, that breakthroughs will occur in practical science to help us.  But his book strangely echoes the words from over 10 years ago of biology teachers  I had.  And it is quite obvious to those who see, that our small gestures of recycling, green goods, wind farms, ‘sustainable living’, or our grand conferences with promises for future reductions in 2050 cannot steer us much off course, if at all.  Lovelock’s metaphor:  “but are these, however well meant, any more than the posturing of tribal animals bravely wielding symbols against the menace of an ineluctable force they do not understand?”

Not a book for the fainthearted.