The Monarch Butterfly vs. South Dakota Politics

Monarch Caterpillar - Danaus plexippus

A Monarch Caterpillar having lunch. This was taken in a roadside ditch in Minnehaha County, South Dakota, but it’s not nearly as common a sight as it could (should) be. Ditches here are mowed, sprayed, and otherwise managed, resulting in ditches (even on rarely used gravel roads) often looking like golf courses or urban lawns.

Yesterday I birded several locations to the northwest of Sioux Falls. I traveled through not only Minnehaha County (where Sioux Falls is), but also nearby McCook, Lake, Kingsbury, and Brookings counties. When I go birding around here, I typically travel on gravel roads, to minimize interaction with other cars and reach places where I can actually stop and watch for a while. While traveling gravel roads through these counties yesterday, I was struck by the incredibly variable management of roadside ditches.

What’s that? You don’t pay much attention to the ditches when you’re driving? I can’t say I normally do either, but I was recently at the North American Congress for Conservation Biology Conference (NACCB), where there were a number of presentations on the plight of the Monarch Butterfly. They’re a species dependent upon milkweed. One of the problems is that SO much of the United States landscape is now being used for agriculture, urban development, energy development, and other uses, and milkweed is crowded out.  Even in areas adjacent or near to agricultural land, herbicides are often used for weed control, further reducing milkweed abundance.

This spring, I was contacted by researchers who were studying landscape change, and how it potentially impacted Monarch Butterflies. Specifically, they were interested in using our landscape modeling to look at future landscapes, and the resultant impacts on both milkweed and Monarch butterflies. In the model they used, they were assuming that roadside ditches in most areas were places where milkweed was likely to be found.

As I quickly learned on my drive yesterday, that characterization is clearly NOT true in many areas, and seems to be strongly driven by local politics, in terms of local land management.  When driving in Minnehaha County, I often come across sprayer trucks, actively spraying herbicide in all the ditches to keep herbaceous weeds in check.  I also often come across tractors with mowers attached, mowing the ditches close to the ground.  Yes…even for the GRAVEL roads that rarely get traffic, the ditches are treated in this manner.  The result? The ditches around here often look like a well-manicured lawn (see photos below).  Hell, they often look BETTER than my yard does!! They often consists of nearly 100% brome grass (an exotic, BTW), while milkweed stems are few and far between, and are typically relegated to small spaces where a sprayer didn’t reach.

When driving through parts of Kingsbury and Brookings counties, I was struck by the incredible difference in the ditches. Many ditches clearly hadn’t been mowed in some time, if they were ever mowed. Grasses were mixed with wildflowers, other herbaceous plants, and yes…MILKWEED (see more photos below).  Milkweed was often present in very high abundance.  The issue clearly isn’t adjacency with actively growing agricultural crops. As the photos below show, the Brookings and Kingsbury County ditches often had an abundance of herbaceous plantlife in areas directly next to corn and soybean fields.

It is possible that I just happened to drive on some gravel roads yesterday in Kingsbury and Brookings counties where no action was taken, but spraying was occurring elsewhere.  On the Brookings County website, for example, I was disappointed to find this page, that notes the county DOES spray right-of-ways with “products such as 2,4-D, Tordon 22K, and possibly mixtures of them“.  They do note on their web page that they spray in May, so clearly they don’t spray all ditches, as the photo below (with the milkweed) is on a gravel road on the very western edge of Brookings County.

During the NACCB conference, one talk I heard focused on recovery efforts for the Monarch, and plans in place to improve Milkweed abundance and improvement. Even a dead-red, conservative state like Oklahoma is taking action, with the Oklahoma highway department specifically managing ditches for Monarch and pollinator habitat. They are specifically planting wildflowers and milkweed along highways in an effort to help not only Mmnarchs, but other species that depend on these plants. The discussion at the conference was a similar “Monarch Highway” stretching from Texas up northward through southern Canada, an area with highway ditches specifically devoted to herbaceous plants, including Milkweed.

Could such a thing happen up here in South Dakota? I’ll see it when I believe it. We have such an focus on agricultural production, that I find it hard to believe they’d accept any land management action that could possibly harm that production in any way.  Not that I BELIEVE an aggressive, pro-Milkweed, pro-Monarch Butterfly agenda would harm agricultural production, but in this VERY red state, environmentalists are usually portrayed as the enemy.  For a large portion of the populous here, I have no doubt they’d view a program like Oklahoma’s as an attempt by environmentalists to meddle in local affairs.

It’s hard to imagine now, but when we moved to South Dakota 25 years ago, our Congressional delegation was completely Democratic. Hell, we had Tom Daschle as a Democratic Senate Majority Leader.  How times have changed. Serendipity may have led to the 3 Democratic Congressional delegates 25 years ago, but in today’s anti-environmentalist concerns for issues like the Monarch Butterfly as far removed from most South Dakotan’s minds.

Minnehaha County Roadside Ditch

I wish my yard looked this green, lush, and free of weeds. Driving home yesterday through northern Minnehaha County, THIS is what roadsides looked like. Even for lightly traveled gravel roads such as this one. Frequent spraying and mowing ensure a monoculture of brome grass, with nary a milkweed stem in sight.

Brookings County Roadside Ditch

In contrast to the Minnehaha County ditch, this is what I saw in many parts of Kingsbury and Brookings Counties. This ditch clearly hadn’t been mowed or sprayed this summer, and was full of herbaceous plants other than brome grass, including many milkweed stems.

 

 

 

Climate Change is for the Birds

This morning was one of the most bizarre birding trips I’ve taken in a while. The forecast was clear skies and low wind, a combination you need to take advantage of when it happens in South Dakota. I headed up to the Lake Thompson area in Kingsbury County, South Dakota, to shoot gulls, terns, shorebirds, herons, egrets…all the wonderful water-loving birds you find up there this time of year.

I wanted to arrive just before dawn, and given it’s a 1 1/2 hour drive, I was up and on the road quite early. I knew right away something was different. Even before the sun arose, the lighting was strange. There were clearly no visible stars in the dark sky, but yet I had no doubt it was indeed cloud-free.  We had a hint of this phenomena yesterday, but this morning it hit full bore…a sky full of smoke from the fires hundreds of miles away in the western US and Canada.

Not was I was expecting when I left this morning, and it certainly changed the types of photos I went after! As usual at this time of year, there were birds everywhere. However, even after sunrise, the light was so poor that it was difficult to grab any decent photos.  It wasn’t until about half an hour after sunrise when it started to get bright enough to shoot. It’s not often you can point your expensive camera right at the sun at that time of day, and not permanently fry your sensor, but the light was so diffuse this morning I certainly could.  I ended up settling down at a wetland area near Lake Thompson, trying to shoot the numerous Black Terns against the odd, but beautiful lighting.  Not a situation I’m used to shooting in, but I was able to get some photos I thought were “cool”.

I’ve been in South Dakota 25 years now, and lived at basically the same latitude down in southern Nebraska before that. Until the last few years, I just don’t remember fire seasons out West being SO bad, that our air here on the eastern side of South Dakota was this affected.  But last year too, on one rock-hunting trip, the air was so bad that my eyes were watering and I started wheezing a bit. Something has changed!  That something most likely is due to, or at least severely exacerbated by, climate change!

Climate change is for the birds. But at least for one morning, it made for some cool photos.

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) - Flying through smoke-filled skies

Black Tern, flying through the reflection of a smoke-diffused sun. This is at LEAST half an hour after sunrise!

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger)Highway 81 Lakes and Smoky Sky

 

 

Burrowing Owl? Here?!? POTD – From 10 years ago today

It was 10 years ago when I had one of my better birding moments. There are always those great trips to “new” places that get the birding juices flowing, but one of the best aspects of birding is that you never know what you might see when you go out.

It was 10 years ago that I was coming back from a business trip. I flew into the Sioux Falls airport and was driving back to my little home town of Brandon (about 6 miles west of Sioux Falls). I was driving by an open alfalfa field, when I noticed a bird on a post.  It was a…no…couldn’t be…yes! a Burrowing Owl!  Here in far eastern South Dakota, just a few miles from Minnesota. Historically Burrowing Owls used to be around here, but there hadn’t been a breeding record of Burrowing Owls anywhere close to here in decades.  Our grassland is gone, and we just don’t have the prairie dogs or other creatures that Burrowing Owls are often found with.  Yet here was an adult Burrowing Owl, hanging out on a fence post, in early August.

I quickly drove the last 4 miles home, got my camera and returned. Upon looking around I saw another Burrowing Owl…and another…and another.  There were two adults, and at least four young!! It didn’t take long to find their home. They were using an old badger hole, in the middle of the alfalfa field by the road.  The young were already as big as the parents, although with a different plumage. I had a blast for the next month, watching the little Burrowing Owl family feed on grasshoppers, crickets, and other little critters, primarily using a big CRP (?) grassland that was right next to the alfalfa field. By early September they started disappearing, one by one.

That alfalfa field is now on a corn and soybeans rotation. The CRP field they were using to forage? Also plowed under, used for corn and soybeans. In the 10 years since, I’ve never again seen a Burrowing Owl anywhere close to  my part of the state. But I’ll always remember the little Burrowing Owl family that successfully fledged several young, just 4 miles from my house.  Here’s one photo I took at night, of one of the adults foraging for insects alongside the road.

Burrowing Owl - Athene cunicularia

POTD – Dreaming of our next Arizona vacation

A story of one of my all-time favorite photos, related to an upcoming vacation. We LOVE Arizona. The diversity of landscapes, the scenery, the wildlife…it’s just such a treat, and so different than what we have in our part of South Dakota.  We first went about 20 years ago and have been back many times since.  However, it’s been a few years!  We decided that we’d take a week-long vacation and head down to Tucson this winter.

From a birding perspective, the Tucson area (where we usually go) is birding nirvana for me, particularly when we go down to Madera Canyon and some of the other famed birding spots in the area. Winter is still good for birding, but not nearly as good as the spring and summer (HOT!!!!) months. But despite what birds we may find, there’s always the scenery.

If it weren’t for the oppressive heat in summer, if I had the choice of anywhere to live in the US, it would be in the Sonoran desert habitat of Arizona. My first time there, I was shocked not only by the beauty, but the amount of LIFE that you find there. Given the heat and aridity, I expected a place that was tough for live to thrive, but whenever we go, it seems full of birds, insects, reptiles, and other life.  The backbone of the ecoystem, the “big daddy” from a vegetation standpoint, are the giant saguaro cactus. So many species depend upon them, not only for cover and nesting cavities, but for food.  It’s really cool being there in May when the saguaro are blooming, and seeing how many critters utilize the big blooms.

The place we stayed many times is now sadly closed…”Hacienda del Desierto”, a former B&B that not only had wonderful hosts, but a massive acreage with their own Sonoran desert habitat. Many a morning on vacation I’d wake before dawn and roam their lands, running into critters including coyotes, javelina, birds, snakes, and even bobcat.  Right outside the Hacienda is one of the largest saguaro cactus you’ll ever see, a saguaro full of character, with all the nesting holes from the birds that have used it over the years. Elf Owls will often nest in this cactus, as will Gila Woodpeckers, Gilded Flickers, and other birds.

On one of these mornings at the B&B, I awoke just before dawn to a gorgeous sky full of wonderful, scattered clouds. As I walked out by the big saguaro, I thought I’d try something unique for me…a photo that wasn’t a bird! I wanted something that captured not only the grandeur of that saguaro, but the wonderful early morning sky.  I put on my (rarely used) wide-angle lens, and tried to get a shot that captured both the sky and the saguaro. Not happy with what I was getting, I decided to try something different. I laid down on the ground next to the saguaro, and shot straight up the cactus towards the sky.

I absolutely love the resultant shot.  I love it so much, I made a big 36″ tall print on canvas that adorns my office wall at work.  I paid the price for this photo!  I learned that even if you don’t see them, the Sonoran desert ground is LITTERED with cactus thorns of all shapes and sizes! After taking the photo, I returned to my room, and spent some time with my wife, who graciously removed the thorns from my back, and the back of my legs and arms.  A price, but oh so worth it for one of my favorite photos of all time.

Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea gigantea)

POTD for August 3rd – Kilauea one year ago

One thing Facebook is very efficient at is telling you what you were up to one…three…five…etc years ago.  It was one year ago we vacationed on the Big Island of Hawai’i.  My son, wife, and I each chose one “big” thing to do while we were there.  My “big” thing was to arrange for participation in a hike with “Epic Lava“.  The eruption of the Pu’u ‘O’o vent had been going on since 1983, and while changes in the eruptive activity had often occurred since then, the eruption was relatively reliable, for those willing to hike to an area of actively flowing lava.  Epic Lava Tours took visitors on hikes, promising to take you right up to active lava flows.

It was safe. It was semi-predictable.  So we met the tour group at some ridiculously early time (4:00 AM?), and drove down to the southeastern coast. The road was closed at one point, and thus it was necessary to hike a few miles to get to the area of actively flowing lava.  Epic Lava tried to time it so you arrived right around dawn, and they certainly didn’t disappoint.  The sun rose just a few minutes before we reached an area where we saw our first actively flowing lava.

It was…incredible.  It was mesmerizing watching the slowly moving lava, with sudden “breakouts” getting folks excited as we moved from location to location in search of the latest, newest flow.  The HEAT was incredible.  I guess we should have expected that, right?  It’s molten rock!  But it certainly amazing to not only see the lava from close range, but FEEL the heat and energy emanating from it.

A trip of a lifetime!  Today…one year later…The Pu’u ‘O’o vent has collapsed, after a 35-year run of continuous eruptions! Today’s activity is certainly much more “exciting”, with occasional lava fountaining and a massive, molten river of lava that dwarfs what we saw.  That activity is obviously devastating to those who have had their lives disrupted. The disruption extends to Epic Lava Tours, as that predictable, “safe” Pu’u ‘O’o flow is no longer available, and the owner is fighting for the right to bring visitors to the newest volcanic sights on the island.  But once you see it, you’re “hooked”, and want to do it again.  We hope to visit the Big Island again some day and see what sights Kilauea has to offer.

For now…today’s photo of the day, an example of the activity from Pu’u ‘O’o from last year.

Kilauea Lava - Pu'u 'O'o vent activity

No feathers! Not even fur! POTD…

Given we were on vacation for 2 weeks recently, and I was gone on travel for work last week, it’s been a while since I’ve been out birding locally.  With a great forecast temps, light winds, and partial cloud cover, it was shaping up to be a perfect day for bird photography!  I left at dawn this morning with the intention of finding migrating shorebirds and other goodies.

I didn’t want to commit to a long drive up to Lake Thompson where I was pretty much guaranteed of finding shorebird habitat somewhere. Given how wet our summer has been and the rain we had when I was gone last week, I thought there would likely be some standing water around locally…perfect habitat for migrating shorebirds. I was wrong! There were a few areas of standing water, but with crops at almost full height and other vegetation quite lush from the wet summer, most of those wet spots were hidden or surrounded by vegetation. Several did have a few shorebirds, but I never did get any photo opportunities.

The one great photo opportunity for today was a true rarity for me…something without feathers. Something without fur (a target of opportunity I always shoot when out birding). I was driving in western Minnehaha County about half an hour after sunrise, and saw an old…combine (?) in a partially cut wheat field. I say “combine” because it was so old, so simple a piece of farm equipment, that I don’t know what else you’d call it.  Curiously, it was sitting on the fence row right by the road, in a small area of cut wheat in a much bigger wheat field, and with a brightly painted “John Deere” sign facing the road. I couldn’t have designed a better photo opportunity, and with the warm morning light, I spent a good 30 minutes getting various styles of photos of the scene.

With such a perfect scene, I do wonder if it WAS some kind of display that someone had set up, but regardless of why it was there, I thank the owner for providing the photo opportunity!  It turned out to be a great photo day, despite few opportunities to actually shoot birds.

John Deere in the Wheat Field

An old but brightly colored piece of farm equipment, sitting in a partially harvested wheat field. Too perfect a photo opportunity to have occurred without someone actually designing the scene!

Photo of the Day: Broad-tailed Hummingbird

I was going to go birding today, but alas, my Sjogren’s was flaring up and I wasn’t feeling very good. I stayed home and started processing my (many thousands) of old, unprocessed photos.  I have SO many photos I’ve taken over the years, and so many photos that I have yet to publish online (even on my massive out-of-control website), that I thought I’d start a new feature on my blog…the Photo of the Day. Oh, make no mistake, there’s no way I’ll ever publish a new photo of the day, every day.  Consider it more the photo for THAT day, rather than a series of daily photos. 🙂

First up…one of my favorite photos from our recent vacation to Colorado and Utah.  We visited 12 different National Parks and National Monuments in Colorado and Utah, and as we wound our way through Colorado, we stopped for one night at Winter Park, Colorado. When on vacation, I typically get my birding fix in during the early morning hours, waking before dawn and going out while my wife and son sleep in.  From our room, we could see a trail that ran along the shores of the Fraser River, so I thought I’d give it a try.

I was a bit surprised when I got out that morning, in that the warm summer’s day started out with a chilly 38-degree morning!  I started walking the trail just as the sun came up, but it took 20 minutes or so before the sun peeked over the adjacent ridge and started to brighten the area along the trail. Birds were a bit sluggish at first, perhaps because of the cold.  As I walked along, I saw a tiny bird on the top of a bush. As I approached, I saw a stubborn Broad-tailed Hummingbird, one who decided he wasn’t moving for any reason.

A challenge when shooting hummingbirds is getting the right light for the gorget of a male to “light up”.  I took many photos of this bird, but alas, for most of the time I spent with him, he was facing away from the sun. It wasn’t until I was about to move on that he shifted position, gave me a look, and then turned his head towards the sun.  BOOM…that brilliant magenta gorget lit up in the early morning’s sun as I took photo after photo.  The close range, the detail in the plumage, the clean background, and that gorgeous bright gorget made this one of my favorite photos from the trip.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus)

Male Broad-tailed Hummingbird, hanging out on a sunny perch on a cold Colorado morning.

A visual depiction of the problem with men…

I haven’t done much with the website or blog lately, as I’ve been quite busy with work, including some travel.  I’m back home this weekend and am having a lovely morning, going through old, unprocessed photos, of which I have many.   I came across this photo of a pair of Bufflehead drakes fighting (a photo taken so long ago I don’t even remember it), and a blog topic came to mind.  The topic…just how dangerous it is leaving us men in charge.

This photo perfectly demonstrates men.  Testosterone…conflict…trying to prove your manliness with a show of strength.  When a problem arises, THIS is how men tend to handle things.  OK, sure, it’s all well and good if it’s a couple of cute little ducks on the pond, but the same concept applies to world leaders with powerful armies and weapons at their disposal.

Cheery thoughts to start the weekend!

Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola) fighting

Boys being boys…two Bufflehead drakes fighting.

 

Confirmed! The Three-eyed Raven is Real

Common Raven - "Three-eyed Raven"

The Three-eyed Raven, in the flesh. Evidently he lives in Colorado, at Colorado National Monument.

I have a feeling that if I had time to go through all my photographs that I haven’t had time to process and look at, I would have some real surprises…birds I forgot I’d shot, a mis-identified species, etc.  On a lazy Sunday afternoon I thought I’d start to go through some of the hundreds of photos from our western US vacation in June, and this is what I discovered…

The Three-eyed Raven. HE.  IS.  REAL.  In Game Of Thrones, you know how both the “original” Three-eyed Raven and Bran have their eyes go blank as they warg into another creature? Or how that creature (or someone like Hodor) have their eyes go blank when they have been warged into?  PROOF of the reality of the concept, right here. 🙂

For those of you who can’t wait to see how the last season of Game Of Thrones turns out, perhaps a visit to Colorado National Monument is in order (the place where this raven was found).

Hodor - Warg Eyes

Hodor when Bran warged into him, with the SAME. EXACT. EYES!!

Bran and the Three-eyed Raven

Bran and the original Three-eyed Raven, with the same blank eyes

Visiting Bear’s Ears, Reflecting on Roosevelt and Zinke

Teddy Roosevelt Display - Natural Bridges National Monument

A display greeting visitors at Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah, with Teddy Roosevelt’s proclamation declaring the area as protected lands. An ironic display given the proximity to Bear’s Ear’s National Monument, and what supposed Roosevelt devotee Ryan Zinke and his Department of Interior have done to conservation efforts in the US.

In June, our family took a vacation to the western United States, visiting almost a dozen different National Parks and National Monuments. For a part of the trip we were based in Moab in eastern Utah, with two subsequent days in Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado.  On the travel day in between those two locations, we were going to Natural Bridges National Monument in southeastern Utah when we realized that Bear’s Ears National Monument was nearby. Given the controversy surrounding Bear’s Ears, we had to make a short detour to visit.

Bear’s Ears is so named for a pair of adjacent buttes thought to resemble a pair of bear’s ears.  In Navajo legend, the buttes were formed from the ears of Changing Bear Maiden, who was beautiful and desired by all men.  Tricked into marrying Coyote, Changing Bear Maiden’s brother attempted to hide her from him by cutting off her ears and changing her form. The ears became the prominent buttes for which the National Monument was named.

Bear’s Ears was targeted by the Trump administration for a reduction in size. Key to that move was Senator Orrin Hatch, who suggested the move to the administration shortly after the January 2017 inauguration.  Why reduce the size of a National Monument?  Money of course. It was thought there were some potential oil, gas, and mineral sources on some of the land.  Hatch submitted his own proposed “shapefile” (a digital boundary) to the administration, looking like a heavily gerrymandered political district, with boundaries drawn to eliminate potential resource extraction locations from the Monument boundaries. The suggested boundary was adopted largely as is.  The move was completed on December 4th, 2017, when Trump issued issued a proclamation reducing the size of the monument by an astounding 85%.

The area itself is gorgeous. On much of the lowlands around Bear’s Ears, sagebrush flats are interspersed with dry pinyon and juniper woodlands.  The two Bear’s Ears buttes themselves reach up to 9,058 feet, with heavily forested and green slopes.  It’s rugged and wild land, with little in the way of current development or anthropogenic land uses other than some grazing cattle.

Bear's Ears National Monument - Summit

A small gravel and rock road leads to a small pass between the “ears” of Bear’s Ears, giving you wonderful looks at the two rugged buttes.

There’s a rough unpaved road that leads up to the buttes themselves, allowing you to drive between the two buttes and towards the interior of the National Monument. When I say “rough”, I mean a road that you DEFINITELY wouldn’t take if there had been any recent rain, and a road that we probably had no business taking our rental car. Given the infamy of what’s happened to Bear’s Ears though, we did make the drive up.  It’s quiet and isolated…we only encountered one other car on the road (thankfully, given the narrowness of the road!). The literal quiet in places such as this is something I’ve REALLY learned to appreciate, as there are fewer and fewer locations where you can sit and enjoy your surroundings without hearing even a hint of noise from nearby transportation routes or people.  A beautiful location that we thoroughly enjoyed.

Natural Bridges National Monument is adjacent to Bear’s Ears. We spent time hiking in that Monument, and also stopped at the visitor’s center (Bear’s Ears doesn’t have it’s own visitors center). As you enter the Natural Bridges visitor’s center, you’re greeted by a lifesize cutout of Teddy Roosevelt, with a quote of his own proclamation from 1908, establishing the area as a National Monument. Irony…pure irony.  That’s what went through my mind after seeing the Roosevelt display, just after visiting Bear’s Ears.

The reason? Ryan Zinke, Trump’s Secretary of the Interior, fancies himself as a Teddy Roosevelt devotee.  From the day he started the position, Zinke has constantly compared himself to Teddy Roosevelt.  As a “fan” of the outdoors and using the outdoors for personal enjoyment, Zinke and Roosevelt may have some common ground. Roosevelt himself has a checkered past.  He’s considered an icon for conservation in the United States, while simultaneously being labeled as deplorable for his treatment of Native Americans.  Other informational signs at Natural Bridges note that Bear’s Ears is considered sacred land by the Pubelos, Utes, and Navajos…given that Zinke and Trump completely ignored the Native American communities’ history and desire to protect this land, it’s clear that Zinke too shares Roosevelt’s complete lack of respect for Native American rights.  It’s not forgivable in either case, but with Roosevelt it was more a mirroring of prevalent attitudes in the country.  Over 100 years later, you’d hope someone like a Zinke or Trump would be more enlightened (hint…they’re not).

Bear's Ears National Monument

A view of the two famed “ears” of Bear’s Ears National Monument, from the small road leading to the top. A dry sage, juniper, and pinyon pine landscape becomes more lush as you move up towards the buttes, with greener deciduous and evergreen forests at the top.

Soon after the naming of Zinke as Secretary of the Interior, Grist published an interview with Roosevelt scholar and historian Douglas Brinkley about the comparisons between Zinke and Roosevelt. Brinkley notes some similarities, stating that both were military men, both have/had massive egos, and both were “conservationists”, in that they appreciated our natural lands. Again, however, much of that “appreciation” is based not on environmentalism or even protection of a natural state, and more on the exploitation of that land for human gain.  “Human gain” can mean the hunting and fishing that both Zinke and Roosevelt enjoyed, but also means timber harvesting, cattle grazing, and mineral extraction.

Brinkley does make the clear distinction between “Conservationist” and “Environmentalist”.  The Zinke definition of “conservationist” is a far cry from the modern definition of conservationist, and in complete opposition to modern environmentalist views. Zinke has a history of touting himself as a modern-day Roosevelt conservationist, but turning a blind eye on environmental issues when push comes to shove.  When Zinke ran for Congress in Montana, he was originally given skeptical-yet-hopeful grades for his supposedly pro-environment ideology. That changed the moment he took office. His voting record consistently showed a complete disdain for conservation and environmentalism, with the League of Conservation Voters giving him  a lifetime score of a mere 4% (!!!) for their National Environmental Scorecard. Similar to the somewhat hopeful attitudes towards Zinke before he took office a DOI, I suspect the Brinkley interview would be quite different if held today, after Zinke’s anti-environmentalist views were made even more clear.

Despite Roosevelt’s well-established faults, there’s little doubt he was a true “fan” of America’s natural heritage. Roosevelt has to be rolling over in his grave based on supposed fanboy Zinke’s moves related to conservation of US lands.  Under his guidance the Department of Interior has eliminated over 2 million acres of protected lands. They’ve moved to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.   After a very successful program under Obama to establish state, federal, and private partnerships to protect the Sage Grouse in the Western U.S., Zinke and DOI have scrapped the plan and moved to expand mineral extraction and grazing on fragile sagebrush habitats on which the Grouse depends. As with much of Trump’s administration, Zinke is clearly beholden to the oil and gas industry, with conservation barely considered in any of DOI’s land management decisions. As this story from the New York Times reports, Department of Interior personally were LITERALLY asked by Zinke to prepare a summary of each National Monument in the United States, and what the oil, gas, and mineral production potentials were on those lands. 

Ryan Zinke…other than your ego and your disdain for Native American rights, you are no Teddy Roosevelt.  

It’s such a beautiful, rugged landscape. I  hope it’s kept in this state in the coming decades.  However, indications aren’t favorable, based on what’s happening at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, another Monument that was drastically cut in size by Zinke and the Trump administration.  Mere months after a reduction in size of that monument, a Canadian mining company has announced plans to mine copper and cobalt from lands that were previously protected.

Your national “protected” lands, up for auction to the highest bidder. THAT is the legacy you shall be remembered for, Mr. Zinke.

Bear's Ear's National Monument - Sign

A display at Natural Bridges National Monument, with the two prominent buttes from Bear’s Ears in the background. As the sign notes, Bear’s Ears is considered sacred land by multiple Native American Tribes, tribes which all put heavy pressure on the Trump administration and Zinke to keep the land protected.

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