Thursday, August 28, 2008

Battening down for Gustav

Three years ago tomorrow Hurricane Katrina ravaged coastal Mississippi and Louisiana. I'm currently in Leakesville, a really nice small town of about 1,000 just 50 miles inland from the Mississippi Gulf Coast. All the local talk is about Tropical Storm Gustav, which is now forecast to be a Category 3 or so hurricane making landfall somewhere around Louisiana late Monday or early Tuesday morning. But that's four days away and it's still way too early to tell where it will actually go. Today Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour declared a state of emergency for this part of the state. My gopher tortoise trapping over here will end tomorrow, and I'll be headed back home to Andalusia, a south Alabama town almost nine times bigger than Leakesville but still a small town, which hopefully will be out of the path of the storm. I wish my friends in Mississippi safety, but I must say a good hurricane or two every few years is probably needed to give pause to those who see our coastlines as places to "develop" rather than protect. Hurricanes are scary, but thrilling at the same time. It should be interesting...

I suppose I should be...

...non-partisan on this blog, but this is too good not to use (as I sit here in a rented travel trailer in Leakesville Mississippi 3 hours from home awaiting B. Obama's historic speech from Denver at 8:40 PM CST on 08/28/08).

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Are You From Dixie?

Well I am; born in Birmingham just like EmmyLou and E.O. Wilson. Here's some classic Grandpa Jones, at his peak.

Hello there stranger! How do you do?
There's something I'd like to say to you.
Now don't be surprised, you'll recognize
I'm no detective but I just surmise.

That you're from the place where I long to be,
Your smiling face seems to say to me,
You're from my homeland, sunny homeland,
Now tell me can it be?

That you're from Dixie, I said from Dixie!
Where the fields of cotton beckon to me.
I'm glad to see you, tell me how be you
And the friends I'm longing to see?
Are you from Alabama, Tennessee or Caroline,
Any place below the Mason-Dixon line;
Are you from Dixie, I said from Dixie?
'Cause I’m from Dixie too!

It was a way back in eighty nine,
I crossed that old Mason-Dixon line.
Gee but I've yearned, longed to return,
To that old place that I left behind.
Well my home is way down in Alabam'
On a plantation near Birmingham.
There's one thing's certain, I'm always flirtin'
With those south-bound trains.

That run to Dixie, I said to Dixie!
Where the fields of cotton beckon to me.
I'm glad to see you, tell me how be you
And the friends I'm longing to see?
Are you from Alabama, Tennessee or Caroline,
Any place below the Mason-Dixon line;
Are you from Dixie, I said from Dixie?
'Cause I’m from Dixie too!

And Scotty Anderson will make you want to throw your guitar away...

Last but not least, Ernest Thompson from 1924:

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ophidiophobia, Part 3

Georgia youngsters posing with an eastern indigo snake they killed, mid-1990s

I'm so tired of the media running sensational photos of people proudly holding up snakes they killed. Huntsville Times outdoor writer Alan Clemons posted on his blog today a photo of a guy holding a dead timber rattlesnake. It's the typical dead snake picture: held out toward the camera so it looks much bigger than it really is. Clemons defends the killing of this animal that was posing no imminent danger, saying, "I don't blame [the killer]. I'd have put the sucker out of business, too." Ironically, Clemons wrote a mostly pro-snake column in yesterday's paper, saying, "I've never figured out why people kill snakes just to kill them," and "...if I'm in the woods and run across a rattler, copperhead or moccasin, I'll give it wide berth as often as possible because I'm on his turf." I applaud him for saying that, but today's blog entry seems inconsistent with that stance. Clemons says he will have another post on snakes Thursday, and hopefully that will clarify things a bit.

This seems as good a place as any to mention that several years ago I wrote this article, "Speaking Up for Snakes," for the magazine of the Alabama Wildlife Federation.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Gopher Trapping

I'm at this B&B in Leakesville, Mississippi while trapping gopher tortoises in Greene County to collect blood for testing for upper respiratory tract disease. In the past 5 days I've gotten 20 tortoises. Thanks to Emmett Blankenship for invaluable help in drawing blood. A few pictures below.

Me processing a gopher at the shade tent

Emmett drawing tortoise blood

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bigfoot Hoax

Right now a couple of guys in Georgia are enjoying their 15 minutes of fame, claiming they have a genuine north Georgia bigfoot in a freezer. Fox News picked it up this morning (video here). There's supposed to be a Friday press conference in Palo Alto California (of all places) where they claim DNA and other proof will be revealed. As I said before, I'm not buying it. I predict the body will disappear, or they'll admit to a publicity stunt. Let's see what happens by Friday.

Update: I just saw that none other than the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization has a thorough and convincing debunking of this hoax. When these typically credulous folks de-bunk, that's saying something. Looks like Fox didn't do their due diligence on reporting this one.

An interesting thread on this topic has developed on the JREF site.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

ADCNR Shoots a Bear

(I've made a couple of changes to the original text here after talking with people familiar with the case of an Alabama conservation officer shooting a bear over the weekend.)

A timeline of the roaming young male's captures, releases, and final shooting appeared in this morning’s Athens News Courier’s update to the story.

WAFF 48 has their news video posted under the headline, “Protected bear shot by authorities.” “Conservation Officer Travis Gray said, ‘We had no choice...with all the people and everything we had to put him down.’ They said they tried to get a big tranquilizer dose for the gun, but couldn't. That infuriates [Sue] Cooper. She says she talked with a vet who had the proper dose and was waiting on someone to pick it up, ‘I spoke with him this morning. He waited an hour for someone to come and get it.’"

The story has been picked up by the AP and is getting wider exposure. The Anniston Star, Macon Telegraph, Orlando Sentinel and Miami Herald are all running the headline, “Officers shoot, kill protected black bear in Ala.” It quotes a very angry Sue Cooper, who first reported the bear: “I was so upset because the wildlife officer told me they were going to tranquilize it and relocate it, but they just shot it." Later the article says “Dr. Robert Pittman said animal control officials had called him, but no one ever came to pick the tranquilizer up.”

The News Courier article identifies shooter Travis Gray as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent, but the ADCNR-DWFF 2007-08 hunting/fishing regulations book shows a Sergeant Travis Gray in Law Enforcement District One in Limestone County, and the video on WAFF shows him in ADCNR uniform.

I have no problem with humane euthanasia (or in emergency cases, shooting) of a genuine problem bear, and I wasn’t there, but this seems more like a public bear execution than a planned strategy. I doubt the conservation officer had gotten any Standard Operating Procedure training regarding such things, and I share Mrs. Cooper’s frustration over how it was handled. A state wildlife agency should be prepared for situations like this. They had 24 hours from the initial sighting Friday until killing the bear Saturday night. The “we didn’t have tranquilizer” claim only highlights a chronic incompetence in dealing with bears, and what message does it send when conservation officers gun down a bear in front of the public?

Permanent removal of this problem bear may well have been the best option, but I have been involved in the Alabama Black Bear Alliance since its inception in the late 1990s, and little I have seen to date indicates ADCNR is truly committed to managing for future bear populations. The critically small breeding bear population in the Creola area of Mobile County is being displaced by development and needs help. Translocation to other areas of suitable habitat to the north has been recommended by bear experts, but ADCNR has so far said no.

If nothing else, one suggestion I would make to ADCNR is to have tranquilizer and a culvert-type bear trap located in every district for quick deployment so a problem bear doesn't become a dead bear.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Still Hopeful

Breaking silence (I've been busy, okay?), all I've got here for now is a link to Bill Pulliam's thoughts on the significance of the recent phenomenal discovery of 125,000 lowland gorillas in the Republic of Congo. I have long had a link to Pulliam's "Notes from Soggy Bottom" blog in the blogroll here (see right column), but I credit Cyberthrush for tipping me off to this. I first saw this gorilla news on CNN two nights ago at a Tallahassee motel following a red-cockaded woodpecker meeting. We saw the news on the motel lobby's big-screen TV, and although I didn't come out and say it to the other woodpecker folks present, I did ponder the potential parallels with the IBWO (Google it if you don't know the acronym).

I remain IBWO-hopeful (although "optimistic" might still be a stretch). It could happen.