Archive for July, 2012

John Lawson’s Voyage to Carolina (1700-1711)

July 27, 2012

I love reading accounts of the early explorers in America because they describe the natural environments before man modified (or in my opinion destroyed) them.  John Lawson was a well-to-do young man of 26 when he decided to explore and later settle in the Carolinas beginning in 1700.  He gives us the first literate account of the environments of the Carolinas in his book,  A New Voyage to the Carolinas, which was published in 1709.  Although his botanical descriptions don’t match those of William Bartram, who traveled through the south 70 years later, his account is fascinating nonetheless, and his quaint manner of language is interesting to decipher.

Route of John Lawson’s 1000 mile journey through North and South Carolina in 1700.

John Lawson’s journey in America began in Charleston, South Carolina shortly after Christmas.  In 1700 European colonization was restricted to a narrow band along the coast, and Charleston was the sole “metropolis.”.  Lawson took 6 Englishmen and 4 Indians on the journey with him.  They spent the first few nights at various islands along the coast including Bull’s Island where feral cattle and hogs abounded.  They spent another night with a Scotsman on Dix’s Island and ate oatmeal the Scot had scavenged from a Scotch shipwreck.  Despite the cool winter weather, mosquitoes plagued Lawson’s party at night.  While in the low country the party lived on venison, wild hogs, raccoons, fish, shellfish, waterfowl, and rice, the latter of which they purchased from nearby plantations.  They left the coast in a canoe and went inland for miles through uninhabited cypress swamp til they came into contact with Indians burning a canebrake.  Lawson related how the hollow bamboo stems exploded after ignition.

As we went up the river, we heard a great noise, as if two parties were engaged against each other, seeming exactly like small shot.  When we approached nearer the place, we found it to be some Sewee Indians firing the Cane Swamps, which drives out the Game, then taking their particular stands, kill great quantities of both bear, deer, turkies, and what wild creatures the parts afford.”

They continued their journey through cypress swamps that were in flood that time of year.  All the trees in 1 swamp had been felled by a hurricane, and they had a hard time navigating between the fallen giants.  During the journey they only slept on the ground when they had no alternative.  Usually, they could find a hunter’s cabin or an Indian town.  The hunter’s cabins were often unoccupied but well stocked with food.  As was the custom then, they’d leave beads and trinkets in exchange for food–a kind of honor system.  A typical  cabin pantry stored red beans, dried corn, dried peaches, and chinkapins–much healthier food than can be found in a McDonalds or any other fast food dump adjacent to our modern highways.  Indian towns were spaced about 20-30 miles, or a day’s journey, apart with nothing but wilderness in between.  At this particular time in history, all the Indians they met were friendly, though some tribes had a bad habit of pilfering Lawson’s party’s belongings.  One of Lawson’s comrades got robbed by an Indian whore on one occasion.  She stole his moccasins while he was sleeping after the party paid a fortune just so this 1 guy could get laid.

Upon reaching the piedmont region Lawson noted that his party could travel a whole day without seeing a single pine tree.  This region then was mostly an oak forest–a contrast from the second growth woods found in the Carolina piedmont today where pine is a dominant species.  The oak forests supported huge flocks of turkies.  Lawson saw 1 flock numbering over 500 birds.  At this point they ran short of bread and salt, and the only thing they had to eat was turkey.  They became so tired of eating turkey that 1 of the Indian guides shot and ate a skunk for variety.  Lawson also witnessed the legendary passenger pigeon and gives the following account.

In the mean time we went to shoot pigeons, which were so numerous in these parts, that you might see many millions in a flock; they sometimes split off the Limbs of stout Oaks, and other trees, upon which they roost o’nights.  You may find several Indian towns, of not above 17 houses, that have more than 100 Gallons of Pigeons Oil, or Fat; they using it with Pulse, or Bread, as we do butter, and making the Ground as white as a sheet with their Dung.  The Indians take a light, and go among them at Night, and bring away some thousands, killing them with long Poles, as they roost in the Trees.  At this time of the Year, the Flocks, as they pass by, in great measure, obstruct the light of the day.”

His noisy party kept away most predators but he does give this account of an encounter with a cougar (what he erroneously refers to as a tiger).

As we were on our road this morning, our Indian shot at a Tyger, that cross’d our Way, he being a great distance from us.  I believe he did him no harm, because he sat on his Breech afterwards, and look’d upon us.  I suppose he expected to have had a Spaniel Bitch, that I had with me,  for his breakfast, who run towards him, but Midway stopt her Career, and came sneaking back to us with her Tail betwixt her legs.”

After the journey was completed, Lawson settled in a cabin near the Neus River and worked as a surveyor when he wasn’t farming, and he founded 2 towns–Bath and New Bern.  He recounts an interesting experience with an alligator that took up residence under his first cabin.

I was pretty much frightened with one of these once; which happened thus: I had built a house about a half a mile from an Indian town, on the Fork of the Neus River, where I dwelt by myself, excepting a young Indian fellow, and a Bull-dog, that I had along with me.  I had not then been so long a Sojourner in America, as to be throughly acquainted with this Creature.  One of them had got his Nest directly under my House, which stood on high Land, and by a Creek-side, in whose banks his Entring-place was, his Den reaching the Ground directly on which my house stood, I was sitting alone by the Fire-side (about nine a Clock at Night, some time in March) the Indian fellow being gone to the Town, to see his Relations; so that there was no body in the House, but my self and my Dog; when all of a sudden, this ill-favoured Neighbor of mine, set up such a Roaring, that he made the House shake about my Ears, and so continued, like a Bittern, (but a hundred times louder, if possible) for four or five times.  The Dog stared, as if he was frightened out of his Senses; nor indeed, could I imagine what it was , having never heard one of them before.  Immediately again I had another Lesson; and so a third.  Being at the time amongst none but Savages, I began to suspect, they were working some Piece of conjuration under my house, to get away my Goods; not but that, at another time, I have as little Faith in their, or any others working miracles, by diabolic means as any person living.  At last my man came in, to whom when I had told the Story, he laugh’d at me, and presently undeceived me, by telling me what it was that made that Noise.”

He also had lots of experiences with black bears while living in the North Carolina low country.

The bears here are very common, though not so large as in Greenland, and the more Northern countries of Russia.  The Flesh of the Beast is very good and nourishing, and not inferior to the best Pork in Taste.  It stands betwixt Beef and Pork, and the young Cubs are a dish for the greatest epicure living.  I prefer their flesh before any Beef, Veal, Pork, or Mutton; and they look as well as they eat, their fat being as white as snow and the sweetest of any Creature’s in he World.  If a Man drink a Quart thereof melted, it never will rise in his Stomach.  We prefer it above all things, to fry Fish and other things in.  Those that are strangers to it, may judge otherwise; But I who have eaten a Great Deal of Bears Flesh in my Life-time (since my being an Inhabitant of America) do think it equalizes, if not excels any Meat I ever eat in Europe.  The Bacon made thereof is extraordinary meat; but it must be well saved, otherwise it will rust.  This Creature feeds upon all sorts of Wild Fruits.  When Herrings run, which is in March, the Flesh of such of those Bears as eat thereof, is nought, all that Season, and eats filthily.  Neither is it good, when he feeds on Gum-berries, as I intimated before.  They are great Devourers of Acorns, and oftentimes , meet the swine of the woods, which they kill and eat, especially when they are hungry, and can find no other food.  Now and then they get into the fields of Indian Corn or mais, where they make sad Havock, spoiling corn ten times as much as they eat.  The Potatoes of the Country are so agreeable to them, that they never fail to sweep ’em all clean, if they chance to come in their way.  They are seemingly a clumsy Creature, yet are very nimble in running up Trees, and traversing every Limb thereof.  When they come down, they run Tail foremost.  They sit by the Creek-sides, (which are very narrow) where the fish run in; and there they take them up as fast as it’s possible they can dip their paws into the Water.”

By herring, Lawson meant shad which is in the herring family.  He also wrote a long paragraph about hunting bears and the uses of bear’s oil.  Today, I don’t think there are any bears in the Carolina low country.

Lawson enjoyed an idyllic life of fishing, hunting, and farming while he lived in the North Carolina low country.  Like the majority of people living in the days prior to grocery stores, his life focused upon food production.  He grew corn, wheat, and vegetables, and he had a successful fruit orchard.  Unlike most fruits, peaches produce true to seed–the offspring resemble the quality of the parent.  Peaches were so widespread among the Indians that Lawson mistakenly believed they were a native fruit.  The Indians obtained peaches from the Spanish as early as 1550, and it quickly became an important food they ate fresh, dried, stewed, and in bread. Most, if not all, of the varieties Lawson grew came from seed he got from the Indians.  One variety was large and luscious.  Lawson called it a vinegar peach because he made vinegar from the fermented fruit.  He also had a tree that produced yellow freestone nectarines.  He claimed this tree never produced less than 15-20 bushels of fruit every year.  This is surprising considering he only farmed for about a decade and the tree must have been young.  He also claimed his peach trees began producing when they were as young as 3 years old.  Lawson’s vinyard consisted of native grapes, but he did have to import apple scions because all good cultivated apples are mutants.  Cider was an important drink and a substitute for beer which was considered essential for civilized life then.  His list of apple varieties includes rare antique types and some that are probably extinct.  He planted a 200 foot row of native strawberries, and like Bartram, he reported seeing wild strawberry fields of miles in extent. (See https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2011/04/)

John Lawson is the sole source of information for many of the Indian tribes who inhabited the Carolinas.  Most of these tribes suffered extinction during the 18th century.  Lawson estimated the population of Indians in the Carolinas decreased by 85% between 1650-1700, explaining why wilderness was reclaiming so much land.  Smallpox and alcohol addiction caused the decline.  The Indian words for rum (the chief spirit they imbibed) was sick or poison, yet they couldn’t control their addiction.  Indians evolved in isolation from these 2 scourges, and they had little resistance.  Smallpox occasionally annihilated whole Indian towns.

I was surprised to learn some Indians that bring to mind the far west lived in the Carolinas.  Most of the tribes were Sioux.  Lawson even met some Flatheads who made their skulls flat by fastening a board to their infants’ heads.

Most Indian culinary practices revolted Lawson.  They cooked most game without removing the entrails.  A favorite Indian dish was deer fawn, removed from a dead pregnant deer and cooked in the natural placental bag.  However, Lawson did praise 1 particular Indian cook who repeatedly washed her hands before cooking and could make white bread.  Other Indian women ladled out stew with their bare hands even though they possessed wooden ladles.  Red beans were an Indian favorite, and Lawson provides an amusing account of its effects.

The small red pease is very common with them, and they eat a great deal of that and other sorts boil’d with their Meat, or eaten with Bears Fat, which Food makes them break Wind backwards, which the Men frequently do, and laugh heartily at it, it being accounted no ill Manners amongst the Indians.  Yet the Women are more modest, than to follow that ill Custom.”

Lawson held liberal views on Indians, so it’s a shame they captured, tortured, and killed him in 1711.  The stupid, sadistic brutes tied him to a stake, stuck wooden splinters all over his body, and set him on fire.  Lawson never married his sweetheart, Hannah Smith, but she bore him a daughter.  He left all his land to them in his will.

Artist’s depiction of the Tuscarora Indians capturing Lawson who was surveying land up the Neuse River.  He must have known the Indians were unpredictable and his job was hazardous because he wrote a will.   They let his partner go to spread the word and scare the settlers.  It was an act of terrorism that ultimately failed.  A war between the settlers and the Tuscarora Indians broke out shortly after they burned Lawson alive, and the Indians were defeated.

Reference:

Lawson, John

A New Voyage to Carolina

The University of North Carolina Press 1967

The whole book is available for free online at http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/readfile?fk_files=1447078&pageno=6

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The Elm Spanworm (Ennomos subsignarious) and Fluctuating Bird Populations

July 22, 2012

An infestation of pine bark beetles in Stevens Creek Park has killed a grove of pine trees, resulting in a natural opening.  I want to visit the park and write about this interesting ecological occurrence, but it’s just too hot this time of year to do any kind of nature rambling.  Instead, I’m staying in the air conditioned environment of my house, and I’m writing about another type of insect infestatation reported in the scientific literature.

I think the average person underestimates the influence insects have over plant species composition.  During the warmer months of the year the biomass of insects far exceeds the weight of vertebrates, and they consume more organic material.  Just 1 species, the Elm Spanworm, can defoliate as much as 500 square miles of forest.

Larval stage of the elm span worm, aka an inchworm.

Adult stage of the elm spanworm.

Forest defoliated by elm spanworm.  The only green left is from pines and tulip trees, species the spanworm won’t touch.

The elm spanworm is a misnomer–it feeds on every hardwood species with the exception of tulip trees.  They highly favor ash, hickory, and walnut, but they also like basswood, beech, elm, oak, dogwood, locust, maple, and willow.  During cyclical outbreaks they drop from the tree tops and feed on understory plants as well.  Trees survive defoliation, but it slows their growth and weakens them, increasing their mortality rate.  The trees are forced to expend more energy refoliating and are more likely to succomb to disease and other insect infestations that they normally could endure.  The chestnut borer is notorious for finishing off trees that earlier suffered defoliation from the elm spanworm.

The elm spanworm has many color variations, but during cyclical outbreaks when the population explodes exponentially, most are black with red heads.  The adults are white moths with a tan spot.  The female moth lays eggs on twigs or in bark crevices.  The eggs hatch and the larva begin feeding immediately.  They shoot silk strands that serve as parachutes, allowing the wind to spread them from tree to tree.  The pupal stage lasts for 10 days.  Then they emerge as adult moths.  Twenty cyclical outbreaks occurred during the 20th century, so defoliation events occur about every 5 years, though, of course, the damage varies, depending on each individual geographical location.  The species ranges from Canada south to Florida and Texas.

The cyclical outbreaks of the elm spanworm are a feast for birds.  One study determined bird density was 15% higher in areas of forest infested with the elm spanworm, and bird species abundance was as much as 33% higher.  Elm spanworm infestations attract many species of warblers, as well as deep forest species such as woodpeckers, nuthatches, and ovenbirds.  Their numbers all increase following spikes in spanworm populations.

Ovenbird, a deep forest species of thrush.  Ovenbirds are known to increase the number of clutches they lay during insect infestations.

Black poll warbler.  They are attracted to insect infestations in forested areas.  I think I saw some of these while staying at a vacation home in the Nantahala National Forest 3 years ago.

However, birds aren’t the elm spanworm’s most devastating enemy.  An army of invertebrate predators including spiders, beetles, bugs, and wasps take their toll, but a tiny parasitic fly (Telenomus alsophilae) is the #1 agent of spanworm control.  This fly parasitizes overwintering eggs.  Larval diseases may doom even more elm spanworm spawn than all predators combined, and unusually late freezes prevent outbreaks by killing newly hatched larva.

A parasitic fly layed 50 eggs on this moth larva.  Parasitic flies kill more spanworm larva than any other predator including birds.

Insects surpassed the megafauna in shaping the forests of the Pleistocene.  Insect-killed trees became dry deadwood and tinder for fires that transformed forest into prairie.  Temporary defoliation of trees allowed more sunlight to reach the forest floor, drying the soil, and changing the compostion of the undergrowth.  A dead tree here and there served as hollow snags and shelter for some species.  Several dead trees opened up the canopy for shade intolerant saplings and bushes.  Insect infestations are just another example of the constant flux found in the natural environment.

Reference:

Haney, Christopher J.

“Numerical Response of Birds to an Irruption of Elm Spanworm (Ennomos subsignarious; Geometridae: Lepidoptera) in Old Growth Forest of the Appalachian Plateau USA”

Forest Ecology and Management July 1999 Volume 20

Using Fossil Beetle Assemblages to Determine Temperature Ranges During the Late Pleistocene

July 18, 2012

Man’s scientific investigation of the natural world will always remain incomplete.  The amount of potential knowledge seems infinite while the number of scientists available for study will always be quite finite.  Some topics have never even been explored or they’ve barely been studied.  So if a single scientist takes a sincere lifelong interest in one obscure topic, they can make a big difference in the state of mankind’s knowledge of at least that singular subject.  Dr. S.A. Elias is an example of a difference-maker.  He took an interest in Pleistocene-age fossil beetle assemblages, and how ancient climate could be reconstructed based on species composition.  Without just this one scientist, we would know next to nothing about this obscure but fascinating topic.

Dung beetle moving a beagle turd.  Photo from www.nativeplantwildlifegarden.com There must have been a lot of dung beetles  pushing megafauna dung around in the Pleistocene environment.

Past climates can be derived by comparing the current mutual range of extant beetle species with that of fossil beetle assemblages found in various Pleistocene-age sites across North America and Eurasia.  This is known as mutual climate range reconstruction or MCR.  Species of beetles have specific maximum temperatures in summer (TMAX) and minumum temperatures in winter (TMIN) within which they or their eggs and larva can survive.  So by cataloguing the species of beetles and their present day temperature requirements, scientists can determined the approximate maximum and mininum temperatures that occurred at a certain site during the time of deposition.  And they can determine what type of environment prevailed because most species of beetles are associated with specific habitat types.  The geographical ranges of different species of beetles have shifted over time in correlation with climate change.  Surprisingly, the geographical ranges of slow moving flightless beetles and even cave beetles have also shifted in correlation with climate change. Very few, if any, Pleistocene beetle species, became extinct at the end of that era.  They survived changes in climate by shifting their geographical ranges.

Chart from one of the below referenced studies comparing modern day average annual maximum temperatures in Alaska and the Yukon with those from different periods during the last Ice Age based on data from beetle species composition.  Not included on this chart is information about the Sangamonian interglacial in Alaska.  TMAX temperatures during the last interglacial were 5 degrees F warmer than those of today.  Paradoxically, TMIN temperatures in January were slightly warmer than those of today during the Last Glacial Maximum when TMAX temperatures during the summer were as much as 10 degrees F cooler.  This indicates less seasonality then.

Pleistocene beetle fossils have mostly been found in 3  regions of North America.  In the midwest and east they’re found in bogs.  In the west they’re found in ancient packrat middens.  And in Alaska they’re found in permafrost.

In the east and midwest, Pleistocene-age beetle fossils have been found in Canada, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa.  Six beetle assemblages excavated from a site in Titusville, Pennsylvania date to between 48,000 BP-43,000 BP.  Interstadial conditions occurred here ~47,500 BP with average annual temperature maximums only about 3.5 degrees F cooler than those of today (I converted the celsius temperatures in the scientific study to Fahrenheit).  However, the fossil beetle assemblages suggest average annual minimum temperatures were almost 11 degrees F cooler than those of today.  By~43,200 BP temperatures here cooled even more drastically.  Fossil beetle assemblages at a site in St. Charles Iowa also indicate decisive environmental change.  ~38,500 BP, a prairie/savannah environment prevailed here with some mixed conifer/hardwood forests, but by 32,900 BP  a cool spruce forest predominated.  Boreal and arctic species of beetles lived in the midwest during the Last Glacial Maximum beginning ~30,000 BP.

Beetle species compositions from ancient packrat middens (packrats collect shiny objects including beetle exoskeletons) in Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Montana, North Dakota, and California indicate alternating wet and dry climate phases.  Paradoxically, during stadials when the rest of the continent endured cold dry conditions, the southwestern region of the continent was wet with lush vegetative growth and many lakes.  As recently as 13,500 BP, the Great Basin in Utah, today a hot dry desert, hosted a composition of beetles presently found in the Pacific northwest.

Permafrost in Alaska preserves beetle fossils from as old as 150,000 years ago.  Evidence from changing beetle compositions here demonstrate alternating cycles of dry steppe grassland and wet tundra.  During the grassland phase, ground beetles from the genuses Amara and Harpalus, pill beetles, dung beetles, and sagebrush weevils compose the assemblage, while during the wet tundra phase ground beetles from the Cryobius and Pterostichus genuses, rove beetles, and dwarf birch weevils dominate.  The Cordilleran Glacier expanded south of Alaska during the Ice Age.  This ice sheet locked up atmospheric moisture, creating a frigid grassland environment with little snow here.  During interstadials and interglacials, more snow and rain fall on Alaska, fostering growth of spruce forests and wet bogs.

Sagebrush weevil.  Fossils of this species indicate a dry grassy sagebrush environment.  There is little sagebrush in Alaska today, but it was a dominant component during stadial phases of the Ice Age.

Ground beetle from the Harpalus genus.  This genus of beetles predominated in Alaska during stadials when dry steppe grasslands were widespread in this region.

The La Brea Tar Pits in California also trapped beetles.  Many of the species found at this fossil site are the same as those found in the area today, but there is a slight difference.  The types of beetles are more representative of those found in San Francisco rather than present day Los Angeles, indicating slightly cooler climatic conditions.  The only beetle fossil site in the southeast that I could find in the literature is Vero Beach, Florida.  The fossil beetles found here are the exact same as those found at the present time.  Other localities in the south probably would show changing compositions of beetles, but perhaps to a lesser degree than those from other parts of the continent because the Atlantic Ocean had a moderating effect on climate in this region.  Currently, there isnt’ enough data here to know for sure.

References:

Elias, Scott A.

“Mutual Climate Range Reconstruction of Seasonal Temperatures Based on Late Pleistocene Fossil Beetle Assemblages in Arctic Beringia”

Quaternary Science Review 20 (1) Jan 2001

Elias, Scott A.

Encyclopedia of Quaternary Science

Elsevier Science Publisher 2007

Environmentalists have no Reason to Vote

July 15, 2012

I apologize for getting on my soapbox again.  I promise this will be the last time I write about politics this year.  Next time, I’ll return to the theme of this blog–Pleistocene ecology.

President Obama and the Democratic Party don’t really care about the environment.  The last time they sent me a form letter requesting a campaign donation, they included a survey asking me what I thought were the most important issues facing our nation.  Protecting the environment, the issue I think is most important, wasn’t even listed.  I sent them nothing and never will again.  Obama has been a terrible president on environmental issues, worse even than George W. Bush.  Obama only cares about getting re-elected.  I think George W. Bush cared about the environment, and he honestly believed industry and the pro-pollution cronies he appointed to Interior Department offices would self-regulate.  Bush was naive and stupid, bless his heart.  The reason Obama fails to protect the environment is because it just doesn’t matter to his re-election strategy.  Progressives who think re-electing Obama would be beneficial to the environment live in a dreamworld.  Here’s his disastrous environmental record.

1. As a Senator, Obama voted in favor of the Energy Act of 2007.  This law subsidized the ethanol industry which turns corn (our food) into fuel.  Turning our food into fuel caused an immediate increase in our grocery bills.  But it didn’t lower the price of gas.  In fact gas prices have gone sky high since the Energy Act was passed.  It’s a failed economic policy causing hardship among  middle and working class families.  Moreover, farmers are plowing more land under to plant corn, destroying quality wildlife habitat in the process.

2.  Obama’s administration is still issuing permits allowing Mountain Top Removal Mining.  This practice is the absolute worst environmental catastrophe of our generation.

3. Obama opened up 4 tracts on public land in Wyoming for coal strip mining. This permanently destroys the land and the quality of life for local residents, and it contributes to the increase in greenhouse gases.  He appointed a pro-coal industry insider to run the Surface Reclamation office.

4. Obama opened up 75% of potential offshore oil and gas territory, despite the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

5.  The Obama administration issued the permit that led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  During this crisis, Obama proved to be little more than a paid puppet of British Petroleum (a source of campaign donations).  Obama didn’t allow the EPA to become involved in the clean up.  When the EPA ordered BP to stop using a toxic dispersent, BP refused.  Obama completely failed to enforce the EPA’s order.

6. The Obama administration gives the natural gas industry an exemption from Clean Air and Water regulations when the industry conducts hazardous fracking operations.  This is illegal. President Obama should be placed in prison for this criminality.

7.   According to one source reporting on NPR, Obama has overturned more environmental regulations than George W. Bush.

8.  Obama has pulled back from tougher smog standards promised by the EPA.

9.  Obama has undercut the Interior Department’s power to designate and protect public lands.

10.  Obama has rolled back Reagan era safeguards requiring the U.S. Forest Service to maintain fish and wildlife populations.

11. Obama has undermined the Endangered Species Act by raising the threshold for listing.  An animal or plant can only be listed, if its final population is restricted to one geographical area.  Under these new standards, the bald eagle would have never been listed and today would be extinct everywhere except Alaska.

12.  Obama stripped federal protections for endangered timber wolves.

13. Obama refuses to list the Pacific walrus as an endangered species.

14.  Obama has completely abandoned efforts to decrease global warming.

Environmentalists should despise Obama, not vote for him in the futile hopes that he’ll be better in his second term.  Of course, republicans openly say they want to get rid of the EPA.  Their alternative is to let the states regulate toxic waste  as if water and air pollution magically stop at state borders.  Letting the states alone regulate pollution would mean no effort to control pollution at all in southern states where politicians perversely favor business fascism, racism, sexism, and ignorance.

As an environmentalist, I say let the republicans have their way.  Most Americans today have transmogrified into a bunch of stupid tattooed fatsoes.  Maybe, if they turn on the kitchen faucet, and diarrhea pours in their glass, they’ll start to care about the environment, but probably not.  They’d rather go into credit card debt paying for bottled water.  It’s evident that most Americans don’t care about the environment now.  I say let them choke on the smog.  They deserve it.

Here are 2 candidates I often write in for political office.  Either would make a better President, Senator, congressman, or governor than the drek on the ballots reality imposes on us.

Magnus: Robot Fighter.  He could smash the robotic puppets of big corporations that currently control the U.S. government.

Tommy Chong.  He was held as a political prisoner by George W. Bush.  He used to sell bongs over the internet.  Selling bongs within the state of California was legal but it was illegal to sell them across state lines.  The U.S. government  held a sting operation trying to get him to sell a shipload of bongs to Pennsylvania.  Well aware of federal law, Mr. Chong refused.  So the agent drove a truck to California and bought the bongs within state lines–clearly not a violation of federal law.  Nevertheless, government agents then arrested Mr. Chong.  Mr. Chong’s lawyers said he could probably beat the rap in court, but the government offered him a plea deal, promising not to prosecute his wife and son, if he agreed to plead guilty.  (What a dirty trick.) To protect his family from any chance of incarceration, Mr. Chong agreed.  Mr. Chong showed more backbone and integrity than any politician in U.S. history.  That is why he gets my vote for president.  Besides, he’d probably legalize marijuana–an act that would directly improve my quality of life.

The North American Horse Holocaust Act II

July 11, 2012

Horse fossils have been found at most Pleistocene fossil sites, proving they were once common and widespread throughout North America as well as Europe and Asia.  Paleontologists assigned new species names to many late Pleistocene horse fossils.  However, it’s likely the great variation in size within the horse population confused the scientists, and all late Pleistocene horse fossils can be lumped together into just 2 species–horse and donkey.  A DNA analysis of 12,000 year old horse bone from Idaho determined that the late Pleistocene horse was the exact same species as the modern domesticated horse.  Between ~15,000 BP and ~7,000 BP, humans gradually overhunted these beautiful beasts into extinction on the North American continent.  Obviously, climate change could not have been a factor in their extinction across the entire continent because when Europeans reintroduced horses in the 15th century, they thrived everywhere including Florida and Georgia.  We can’t fault the Indians for their extinction.  They had no way of knowing they were roasting the last of the American horses over the campfire.  For millennia the Indians wandered into new territory, wiped out the big game, and moved on, not knowing there were no new territories left with herds of horses.  Act I of the North American horse holocaust is understandable, but there is no excuse for Act II.

The Bureau of Land Management claims there are 38,000 wild horses roaming western lands, though horse advocacy groups insist that number is closer to 10,000.  The BLM is the government agency charged with managing America’s wild horses.  When they determine the range is being overgrazed, they conduct helicopter round-ups.  The horses are driven into crowded corrals and eventually are sold at auction.  Some people keep them as pets and attempt to tame them.  Some of the horses allegedly are sold to meat processors who transport them across the Mexican or Canadian border where they are slaughtered, and the meat is sold to fancy French restaurants.  Horses that remain unsold are euthanized.  Wild horse advocacy groups and humane societies are understandably upset about this.  They accuse the BLM of cruelty, and many believe the ultimate goal of the agency is to annihilate all wild horses, so greedy mining companies and cattle ranchers can have all the public land to themselves.  I’ve come to the conclusion that the wild horse advocates are right.

I think the BLM stands for the Bureau of Lying Morons.  Because activist groups are critical of the BLM’s inhumane and destructive management of wild horses and burros, the BLM has a webpage where they defend their department from some of the accusations.  It’s in the style of a myth vs. fact structure.  As the following photos show, the so-called myths are true and the so-called facts are lies.  George Orwell’s 1984 comes to mind.

Myth #2: Horses are held in crowded “holding pens.”

Fact: This assertion is false.  The BLM’s short-term holding corrals provide ample space to horses along with clean feed and water.

BLM corral.  Looks like a miserable crowded holding pen to me.

Myth #7: Gather of horses by helicopter is inhumane

Fact: This claim is false.  The BLM’s helicopter assisted gathers are conducted humanely…Helicopters start the horses moving in the right direction, and then back off sometimes a quarter to a half mile from the animals to let them travel at their own pace.

Another lie exposed.  This helicopter is practically bumping this herd in the ass.

Myth 8: If left alone, wild horses will limit their own population.

Fact: There is absolutely no scientific evidence to support the idea that wild hoses will automatically limit their own population.

The BLM is wrong again.  A recent study found that cougars kill enough horses to control their population.  In some areas of Nevada wild horses make up a greater proportion of cougar diet than any other animal including mule deer.

Myth 5: The BLM removes wild horses to make room for more cattle grazing on public rangeland.

Fact: This claim is totally false.  The removal of wild horses and burros from public rangeland is carried out to ensure rangeland health.

I don’t have a photo for this one, but the logic behind the BLM’s defense defies logic.  The BLM allows an average of 8.3 million cattle on public lands every month.  Compare this with 10,000-38,000 horses.  Which is overgrazing the rangeland–millions of cattle or thousands of horses?

Myth 11: Wild horses are native to the U.S.

Fact: This claim is false.  The disappearance of the horse from the Western hemisphere for 10,000 years shows that today America’s wild horses should not be considered native.

The fossil evidence proves wild horses are native to North America.  Man is the reason they were driven to extinction once.  It seems a travesty for man to drive this beautiful animal into extinction in the wild again.

A child could explain why the BLM is a wicked agency.  They allow stripmining and they mistreat animals.  It’s as simple as that.  And a child could explain why the politicians who fund the BLM are evil.  Yet, adults vote for them.  This makes the American people the villain in my opinion.

A strip mine on land owned by U.S. taxpayers.  The company that destroyed this mountaintop and stream in Arizona leased the land for $5 an acre.

President Obama could end the North American horse holocaust with an executive order.  But he is a bastard who doesn’t give a shit about the environment.  The only thing he has cared about since the day he got elected was getting re-elected.

Here’s the Horse-killer in Chief. I hate this bastard.  His environmental policies have been worse than George W. Bush’s.  I didn’t think this would be possible when I voted for him in 2008.  Environmentalists have no reason to vote in the upcoming election.  A choice between the democrats and the republicans is like a choice between shit and vomit.  It’s the pigs vs. the pussies.

The Devil’s Den Fossil Site may have been Located in One of the Last Refuges of the Megafauna

July 8, 2012

The Devil’s Den fossil site is located near Williston, Florida in Levy County.  It’s a sinkhole that served as a natural trap between 9,000 BP and 8,000 BP.  Apparently, the sinkhole closed until a few hundred years ago when it reopened and began trapping animals again.  The sinkhole ranges between 5-90 feet below the average water table and accordingly is filled with water.  It also serves as a bat roosting site, explaining the numerous chiropteran remains.  Rainwater dissolving limestone bedrock creates sinkholes such as this one.

Location of Levy County (red), site of the Devil’s Den sinkhole.

The area immediately adjacent to the sinkhole originally consisted of a dense mesic forest of hardwood, but beyond this moist environment, a grassland savannah with widely spaced live oaks predominated.  Scientists believe this was also the type of environment that occurred here 9,000 years ago at the time of the fossil depositions.  Indians later periodically cultivated some of the land.  Though watermelons didn’t originate in North America, Indians in Florida grew large quantities of them from seeds they obtained from Europeans.  The earliest recorded use of the land around Devil’s Den was as a watermelon field.  The next owner used the sinkhole as a garbage dump.  By the time scientists were granted permission to excavate fossils here in the late 1960’s, it was in the middle of a cow pasture.  Today, it is a private resort and a destination for scuba divers and campers.  There are 4 chambers in the sinkhole that scuba divers enjoy exploring.  The excavated fossils came from chamber #3, but scuba divers report seeing fossils all over the bottom still.  

On lists of megafauna terminal extinction dates, the data from the Devil’s Den fossil site is always excluded.  I never understood this, but I think I’ve finally been able to piece together enough information to assume an answer.  H.K. Brooks wrote a research paper detailing the radiocarbon dates and the geological information that made him conclude the fauna from this site was between 7,000-8,000 years old.  As far as I can determine, this paper never was published, though the information has been mentioned in several published works including the one referenced below.  Because this information was never published in a peer-reviewed publication, it’s  disregarded by scientists arguing over the cause of Pleistocene megafauna extinctions. But that doesn’t mean the data is wrong.  One of the reasons he may have had a hard time publishing his data was because it contradicted the preconceived notion of when megafauna became extinct.  It also contradicted both competing models of megafauna extinction.  In 1974 most vertebrate zoologists believed climate change caused the extinction of the megafauna.  But the climate and environment of 9,000 BP in north Florida were about the same as it is during the present time.  Yet, many notable species of megafauna were apparently still extant.  His data also conflicted with Paul Martin’s sudden overkill “blitzkrieg” model of extinction in which he proposed all the megafauna were wiped out in a few hundred years between 12,000 BP and 11,000 BP.  Without either school of thought in his corner he found it impossible to get his data published.  The later extinction dates do fit within a protracted overkill model of extinction that had not yet been proposed or considered.  Evidence at Devil’s Den suggests declining populations of some megafauna, while others are already extinct.  This perfectly supports a model of extinction that includes gradual and haphazard human overhunting. SedaDNA found in Alaska permafrost also suggests younger extinction dates for megafauna than are commonly accepted.  (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2011/02/)

H.K. Brooks’ study was in 1974 before radiocarbon dating was recalibrated.  This means the dates of the fossils at Devil’s Den probably are from 8,000 BP-9,000 BP rather than 8000 BP-7,000 BP, but this is still 3,000 years younger than the commonly accepted terminal extinction dates of most megafauna species.

The Devil’s Den sinkhole.  Imagine a deer being chased by a dire wolf and falling in this hole.

Businessmen built a a stairwell down to the sinkhole, providing easier access for scuba divers. http://www.devilsden.com/  

If a person could go back in time and camp at this site 9,000 years BP, they would find a wilderness rich in wildlife.  Several species of megafauna may have already become extinct while others were in decline, yet they still existed.  Bison, horses, and flat-headed peccaries roamed the savannahs and rested in the shade of centuries-old live oaks.  Great droves of white-tail deer outnumbered all the other ungulates because they were better able to withstand human hunting pressure.  White-tail deer fossils were by far the most common of the ungulates at this locality.  This is unusual compared to other Pleistocene fossil sites in Florida.  Dr. Webb suggests competing tapirs, llamas, and long-nosed peccaries had become extinct by this time.  All of these species favored forest or forest edge habitat.  Without them deer had this niche to themselves.  Mastodons and Jefferson’s ground sloths browsed the moist woods.  A camper going on a hike would need to carry a firearm.  Saber-tooths, jaguars, and dire wolves still stalked the range.  Two species of bears might prove troublesome too, but by this time they probably had learned to fear man.  Paleo-indians and their dogs occasionally passed through here as well.  But the most common carnivore was the striped skunk.  Scientists found 36 striped skunk skulls at Devil’s Den.  Either they were abundant, or they had a knack for falling into sinkholes.  The same might be true for cottontail rabbits which left more fossils at Devil’s Den than any other animal.  Below is a list of mammal species recovered from the Devil’s Den fossil site. * denotes extinct species.

opossum

least shrew

short-tailed shrew

eastern mole

southeastern myotis bat

gray myotis bat

Florida yellow bat

eastern pipistrelle

human

*Jefferson’s ground sloth. (Dr. Webb erroneously considered the sloth fossil found here as Wheatley’s ground sloth.  Bjorn Kurten corrected this misidentification.)

gray squirrel

fox squirrel

southern flying squirrel

southeastern pocket gopher

old field mouse

cotton mouse

gopher mouse

golden mouse

rice rat

woodrat

cotton rat

meadow vole

pine vole

muskrat–Archaeological records suggest muskrats lived in Florida as recently as 3100 years BP.)

Florida round-tailed muskrat

*southern bog lemming

cottontail rabbit

*dire wolf

red wolf

domesticated dog

gray fox

raccoon

*Florida spectacled bear

black bear

long-tailed weasel

striped skunk

spotted skunk

bobcat

jaguar

*saber-tooth cat

*mastodon

horse

*flat-headed peccary

white-tailed deer

bison

In addition cows and pigs from more recent times had fallen in the sinkhole and they left bones.

Although a study of bird fossils from Devil’s Den was conducted, the results were never published.

J. Alan Holman did publish his study of reptile and amphibian fossils from Devil’s Den in Herpetologica 34 (2) in 1978.  The abstract of that paper claims 1 salamander, 5 species of frogs, alligators, 1 species of lizard, and 15 species of snakes were recovered here.  Devil’s Den is also the  youngest known record of both species of extinct giant tortoise–Hespertestudo crassicutata and Hesperotestudo incisa.

Reference:

Webb, David

Pleistocene Mammals of Florida

University of Florida Press 1974

Interestingly, in addition to discussing the site and the fossils, Dr. Webb came up with a long convoluted statistical analysis that allegedly showed how the evidence from Devil’s Den supported climate change as a cause of megafauna extinction.  His analysis came to the conclusion that the mass wave of extinction at the end of the Wisconsinian Ice Age was not unusual–a ludicrous claim.  Dr. Webb is retired now, but in his later work he did come to accept that man played an important role in the extinction of at least some of the megafauna.

Colorful Fox Squirrels–Were they the More Common Squirrel in the Southeast During the Pleistocene?

July 5, 2012

The extinction of the megafauna saddens me.  America’s wilderness areas are devoid of mammoths, mastodons, ground sloths, and so many other animals, and an ungodly long drive is required to see the remaining species such as bison and elk, unless a person is lucky enough to live somewhere near Yellowstone National Park or in Alaska.  But at least squirrels and rabbits are still abundant in most places.  They are every bit as interesting as the extinct species of megafauna and during the Pleistocene the total biomass of smaller animals probably outweighted that of the larger beasts, so they were common then too.

Tree squirrels are relatively rare in fossil sites because they live in wooded habitats.  When they die, their bodies mix with acidic leaf litter which dissolves bones, if a scavenger doesn’t come along and munch them down first.  Thanks to predatory birds, squirrel fossils do occur in cave deposits.  Hawks and owls capture squirrels, carry them to roosting sites in caves, and often sloppily drop pieces of squirrel where the cave environment preserves them.  Yarbrough Cave in Bartow County Georgia yields the remains of 5 squirrel species–woodchucks, chipmunks, gray squirrels, fox squirrels, and 13-lined ground squirrels.  This cave deposit dates to the Last Glacial Maximum (~20,000 BP carbon date average based on 4 sample dates).  The variety of squirrels is evidence of a diversity of habitats.  Gray squirrels prefer young dense forests; fox squirrels like open mature woodlands; chipmunks inhabit boulder-strewn woods; woodchucks live in open meadows; and 13-lined ground squirrels are denizens of prairie.

Although Pleistocene environments in Georgia consisted of many constantly changing stages of succession, I think 0pen mature forests would have been the most common type.  Frequent fires, megafauna foraging, insect infestation, tree diseases, windthrows, and drought eventually convert dense young forests into open parkland environments with widely spaced large older trees lucky enough to survive the ravages of nature.  Gray squirrels are more common today in Georgia because young dense forests predominate, following the clear cutting of yesteryear.  These squirrels escape predation by jumping from tree to tree which is possible in forests with closely spaced trees, but bigger clumsier fox squirrels run along the ground to reach the safety of a tree.  They’re better adapted to open forests.  Therefore, fox squirrels may have been the more common squirrel of the late Pleistocene in the upper south.  (Fossil evidence suggests they didn’t arrive in Florida until very late in the Pleistocene.)

This fox squirrel was recently spotted in Ringgold, Georgia which is in the northern part of the state where fox squirrels are said to be rare to absent.  This proves they still live in this region.  The lady who took this photo didn’t know what this animal was and posted it online.  Notice to college biology students searching for a thesis idea:  No recent study has been conducted on fox squirrel populations in Georgia.

Mounted fox squirrel killed by a hunter in Georgia.  I lifted this and the following photos from the Georgia Outdoor News forum.  Check out their political forum.  They aren’t exactly open to progressive politics. 

Another mounted fox squirrel killed in Georgia by a hunter.  Note the orange color phase.  Fox squirrels in northeastern Ohio are orange but have no white marking on their nose.  Fox squirrels are locally common on the southeastern coastal plain.

 

 

Note all the color variations on these fox squirrels killed in just 1 locality on the South Carolina coastal plain.

In present day Georgia and South Carolina fox squirrels occur locally on the coastal plain.  They are reportedly rare to absent in the piedmont and mountains, though the the top photo proves they’re not extinct in the region.  In the southeast they seem to prefer open pine forests with a few oaks.  Curiously, in the midwest they’re restricted to hardwood forests.  On average they weigh twice as much as gray squirrels and come in a much greater variety of colors.

I grew up in Niles, Ohio, a small town in northeastern Ohio.  Big orange fox squirrels were the only kind of squirrel I ever saw there.  Our house was surrounded by an oak-dominated woods on 2 sides.  Unlike the orange color phase of southeastern fox squirrels, the ones in Ohio had no white marking on their nose.  I also saw gray and black fox squirrels at a park next to Niagara Falls.  In Georgia I’ve only seen a fox squirrel once.  It was a black one among a dozen gray squirrels poaching pecans in a Burke County orchard.  They are reportedly common on golf courses in the South Carolina coastal plain.  I haven’t seen a fox squirrel in 20 years.  I’m trying to determine how I can find some time to scope this species out on a beach trip next month.

Trail #97 in the Cohutta Wildlife Management Area

July 1, 2012

I think the name of Trail #97 is the Etterle Creek Trail, but I didn’t write it down and now I can’t remember for sure.  

Our trip 2 weeks ago to Land Between the Lakes was an 8 hour drive.  I decided to break 1 of the travel days in half and stay in Chatsworth, Georgia, so we could hike the Birdsong Trail on Grassy Mountain.  When we got to the mountain the paved road became a gravel road.  The gravel road was in good condition, but  I’m never too thrilled with driving on unpaved roads.  I would have kept going because the trail sounded like a great bird-watching destination, but my daughter suggested we stop and walk on any of the perfectly lovely trails that we kept passing by.  On the route to Grassy Mountain, CCC Road turns into Lake Conasauga Road which leads to the Birdsong Trail.  I didn’t know if we had reached the latter road yet and had no idea how long it would take to get there.  Winding mountain roads are slow-going, so because we had a 4 hour drive to Clarkesville ahead of us anyway, I agreed to stop at Trail #97 instead.

The trail is little more than a wide ledge between a steep mountain rise on one side and a creek gorge on the other.  The trail is about 400 yards long and dead ends at a gorgeous shoal on the creek where enormous Paleozoic-age boulders rest.  Dominant trees in the adjacent forest are white oak, sweetgum, and hemlock.  The white oaks include 2 different leaf variations.  Some of the white oak leaves had such fat leaves, I thought I was looking at a different species, however, upon studying a tree field guide, I learned that some white oaks do grow much fatter leaves than others of the same species.  Sweetgum prefers warm moist conditions; hemlock prefers cool moist conditions, so both species reach a happy medium in this locality which is southern but at a high elevation.  I only saw 1 dead hemlock tree here.  I walked about a half mile up the road where the trail begins and could see in the distance a whole hillside of healthy hemlock trees.  Evidentally, the trees here are still unaffected by the scourge that’s wiping them out elsewhere.  Also growing in the nearby woods were mountain laurel, beech, white pine, river birch, loblolly pine, shortleaf pine, and post oak.

Big boulders across the trail make for a bit of a rugged hike. 

View of the gorge.

A healthy hemlock tree.  Almost all the ones I saw at this locality were healthy still.

Another view of the gorge from the trail.

The trail is a wide ledge with a gorge on one side and steep rock like this on the other.

I thought prohibition ended. 

Boulders at a shoal at the end of the trail.

A ten inch tall waterfall!

The creek is eroding through to bedrock.

The hillside in the background is an almost pure healthy stand of hemlocks.

I saw 2 species of birds–a belted kingfisher, and a common crow, but it was the latter that had successfully captured a fat minnow.  I’d never seen a crow catch a fish before.  Kingfisher’s are interesting birds that burrow and nest in muddy creek banks.  Two human fishers were fly-casting for trout at a bridge down the road.  The water here was cool and tasted good.