Thank you Edgar Boyles
Thank you Edgar Boyles
The Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Regional forester, Brian Ferebee, approved the use of chain saws to clear bark beetle-killed trees obstructing access to the Weminuche and South San Juan wilderness areas between June 1 and Aug. 17.
“Removing obstructions will enhance visitor safety, improve access and reduce resource damage that occurs when visitors bypass dead and downed or leaning trees, which can create social trails, trample vegetation and cause soil erosion,” the Forest Service said in a news release Thursday afternoon.
The Wilderness Act was passed into law in 1964, and it stands as the strictest form of protection for wild areas, not allowing any forms of mechanized use. Today, there is an estimated 235 million acres of wilderness, accounting for about a third of public lands.
Exceptions for mechanized use in wilderness areas include emergency situations such as firefighting and helicopter landings. But for the most part, exceptions are granted only when mechanized use solely benefits the environment.
But some wilderness advocates say allowing chain saws to improve recreation is an inappropriate, even unlawful, use of the rule.
San Juan Citizens Alliance director Mark Pearson wrote in a letter to the Forest Service that although some user groups may be “inconvenienced by deadfall across trails … the fact of that inconvenience does not rise to the level of the Forest Service attempting to administratively ignore the lawful dictates of the Wilderness Act.”
Anne Dal Vera, who recently retired, worked as a wilderness ranger for the Forest Service for 30 years, 19 of which were in the San Juan National Forest. She said trees in the Weminuche and South San Juan wilderness areas died about 10 years ago during the intense bark beetle outbreak in Southwest Colorado. Now, the trees are starting to fall over, a situation she estimated will be a tough reality for another decade or so.
Despite the hardship the downed trees bring to the Forest Service and recreational users, it does not warrant breaking the laws laid out in the Wilderness Act, she said.
“It’s a huge problem, but this is not an emergency that requires a huge effort with motorized equipment,” she said.
Jason Robertson, Forest Service deputy director for recreation, lands and minerals, said chain saws have been allowed in wilderness areas in the past, usually after a major storm event like a hurricane or a tornado that knocked down vast numbers of trees.
In the Weminuche and South San Juan wilderness areas, however, trees have been falling down at a slower pace, but with such frequency the Forest Service can’t keep up with clearing trails with cross-cut saws, Robertson said.
“We see this as a unique situation,” he said. “It’s unusual, but it’s not prohibited.”
Some areas, Robertson said, have 40 downed trees per mile of trail. In the worst spots, there are as many as 100 downed trees per mile.
“We want to protect the wilderness, but we also want to make sure people have access to the wilderness, and right now there’s effectively no access with so many trails closed,” he said.
George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch, said the purpose of the Wilderness Act is to protect wild areas, not provide recreational opportunities.
Nickas added that Ferebee’s “unprecedented” decision is a “disservice” to all who have fought for wilderness areas over the years. He said the move sets a precedent that other Forest Service districts might follow, posing a risk that the Wilderness Act could be chipped away.
“It’s just antithetical to the whole spirit and intent of the Wilderness Act,” he said.
Robertson said he understands concerns about allowing chainsaws into the wilderness, but he said the Forest Service is in a difficult spot.
“I don’t think it sets a precedent,” he said. “The situation we’re facing with the beetle kill is unique, and it is extreme. We’re in a hard place, but we’re trying to be responsible and do the right thing.”
Both Pearson and Dal Vera said the Forest Service was likely pressured by outfitters to clear the trails, resulting in the allowance of chain saws. Dal Vera said some of her former colleagues are “not supportive of this decision” but are afraid to speak out.
“Wilderness is not there for human comfort or convenience,” she said. “It’s a place where we can go slower, and accept the fact it’s going to be difficult.”
The decision, Robertson said, was internal with the Forest Service, but did take into account input from outfitters, local governments and other recreational users. He said chainsaws will only be used in areas with the heaviest tree fall under Forest Service supervision.
“We’re not trying to pull a fast one over anybody,” he said. “And we don’t want people to go crazy and think wilderness is open to all motorized use, because that’s not the case.”
The Weminuche Wilderness is Colorado’s largest wilderness area, at nearly 500,000 acres, north of Durango. The South San Juan Wilderness encompasses about 159,000 acres, east of Pagosa Springs.
What does a tornadic thunderstorm look like from space? The GOES-16 satellite captured a stunning view of a Texas supercell Sunday evening as it dropped a photogenic twister amid a busy day for severe weather in the Plains.
The twister struck just east of Tahoka, a community of 2,600 about 20 minutes south of Lubbock. It quickly grew into a large tornado, with the National Weather Service warning, “This tornado is wrapped in dust and rain and may be difficult to see.” The warning was labeled PDS — a rare “particularly dangerous situation.”
No injuries were reported, but the storm damaged power lines and barns and tore the roof off a home, according to EverythingLubbock.com. The tornado was one of 23 reported to the National Weather Service between Texas and Nebraska on Sunday.
Video shot by storm chasers shows the tornado dancing elegantly and ominously as it becomes enshrouded in rain, hail and dust. The dust acts as a tracer showing the pattern of the winds near the surface as they feed into the vortex from all angles. It’s a remarkable scene — but 22,236 miles above the surface, the view was equally impressive.
The GOES-16 satellite tracks cloud-top temperatures, a good indicator of just how high is a cloud. As the cap (a stable air layer that prevents early storm formation) erodes and storms explode, towers can be seen billowing upward like steam penned up beneath a lid in a pot of boiling water.
To better understand this feature on satellite, imagine holding a flaming lighter a few inches beneath a giant piece of white paper. The spot of paper just above the lighter would quickly become discolored and eventually burn. Then imagine moving the paper, as though it’s being blown by jet steam winds. Now instead of a burn, there’s a dark stripe marking all the places torched by this heat source. That’s kind of how an intense anvil can stretch so far downstream of a very localized heat source.
It’s important to note that the towering anvil cloud is not a hot plume, rather, a thick cloud of frozen particles (ice crystals and snow flakes).
Remnants of the storm’s anvil are carried hundreds of miles downwind, over long distances by the strong jet stream winds. Meanwhile, a constant plume of upward motion farther west sustains the behemoth storm, its updraft plume marked by a bubble of red colors. That’s the “overshooting top” — the product of an updraft so strong the storm punctures the tropopause — ordinarily an effective “ceiling” or stable layer for weather systems. But when a pocket of air rises with enough momentum, it struggles to put the brakes on even when it shouldn’t be able to rise. That’s a surefire sign of a vicious storm.
As a result, the cloud tops are extremely cold since they reach so high. Some may appear a bit warmer because of contact with the stratosphere — a region about 10-12 miles above the ground where temperature climbs with height.
At the same time, ripples can be seen propagating throughout the anvil. These are little waves in the upper atmosphere caused by disturbances originating from the turbulence around the overshooting top. It would be like diving to the bottom of a pool and then blowing a really big bubble. When that pocket rises (less dense) and then hits the top, concentric wavelets would ripple outward from the center.
Ground-based radars offered an equally remarkable perspective, peering into the storm and noting a rain-free void where the updraft was so intense that precipitation was unable to fall. Dust along a boundary wrapping into the tornadic circulation can be seen, as well.
They’re images that combine natural beauty with raw destructive power, and similar scenes may unfold on the Plains in the days ahead. Following scattered afternoon storms Monday, a more significant severe weather event could play out Tuesday and Wednesday.
The National Weather Service is readying to launch its “next-generation” weather model after a delay of several months.
Pending a successful test over the next 30 days, the Weather Service will replace its GFS (Global Forecast System) model, often referred to as the American model, with an upgraded version around mid-June.
The new version of the model is known as the GFS-FV3 (FV3 stands for Finite Volume Cubed-Sphere dynamical core), and it contains what is known as a “dynamic core.” The Weather Service says this dynamic core will make the model run more efficiently and modernizes the agency’s approach to forecasting.
The Weather Service had planned to launch the FV3 model in March but paused implementation after users of the test version of the model reported that its forecasts were unrealistically cold and snowy.
Since February, the Weather Service has worked to fix these problems. “We took this time to correct some of the deficiencies,” said Brian Gross, director of the Weather Service’s Environmental Modeling Center in an interview. “It’s better than where we were. We’re pretty confident in its performance.”
In a memo released Monday, the Weather Service explained that in previous test versions of the FV3, “snow was not adequately melting under warm conditions” and that its calculations for the sun’s intensity were incorrect. Together, these two factors meant the model’s forecasts were too cold and too snowy.
In recent months, the Weather Service made modifications to address these problems and, after some initial testing, concluded that “the results are promising and give NWS confidence to proceed.”
However, the memo noted that some cold bias remains in the model, which may still inflate snow amounts, mainly in forecasts three or more days into the future.
“The cold bias has been substantially reduced, but it is still there,” Gross said. “You get a cold bias, you can still get too much snow. That’s what we’re working on now and figuring out what to do.”
Assuming the Weather Service determines that the FV3 is ready to go after its upcoming 30-day test and launches it mid-June, it will continue to run the old version of the GFS until Sept. 30 so users can compare and contrast forecasts.
Gross said user feedback on the experimental version of the FV3 thus far has been “enormously” helpful.
“One of our key messages to our partners is to keep it [feedback] coming,” he said. “The more eyeballs we have, the better it’s going to be.”
When Doug Peacock returned from his second tour in Vietnam, he was ready for some peace and quiet. He found it in the wilds of Montana and Wyoming, where Yellowstone National Park provided refuge for thousands of species of wildlife. Peacock learned to live among these creatures in the mountains and on the plains. An encounter with a grizzly bear, however, would change everything.
“My companions ended up being grizzlies,” Peacock says in Ben Moon’s short documentary Grizzly Country. “Those bears saved my life.”
Grizzlies, classified as an endangered species, have dwindled in number, from the estimated 50,000 bears that roamed between the Pacific Ocean and the Great Plains in the 1800s to just over 1,000 today.
In the film, Peacock explains how observing the bears in their natural habitat inspired him to become a naturalist. “The voiceless really needed a human voice,” he says, going on to describe how he has dedicated his life to documenting grizzly behavior and advocating for the preservation of their habitat.
“Living out on the land with the grizzly bear, you’re not the dominant creature, and you’re physically aware of that,” Peacock says. “The grizzly bear is the one animal capable of reminding the most arrogant species on Earth of its true place in the world.”
“In a culture like ours, we fear what we don’t know, and we really hate what we fear,” he adds. “To make a friend of that kind of fear—it really does expand a tolerance towards all other kinds of beings.”
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WASHINGTON — Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.
The 1,500-page report, compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, is the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers that creates for human civilization. A summary of its findings, which was approved by representatives from the United States and 131 other countries, was released Monday in Paris. The full report is set to be published this year.
Its conclusions are stark. In most major land habitats, from the savannas of Africa to the rain forests of South America, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century. With the human population passing 7 billion, activities like farming, logging, poaching, fishing and mining are altering the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”
At the same time, a new threat has emerged: Global warming has become a major driver of wildlife decline, the assessment found, by shifting or shrinking the local climates that many mammals, birds, insects, fish and plants evolved to survive in.
As a result, biodiversity loss is projected to accelerate through 2050, particularly in the tropics, unless countries drastically step up their conservation efforts.
The report is not the first to paint a grim portrait of Earth’s ecosystems. But it goes further by detailing how closely human well-being is intertwined with the fate of other species.
“For a long time, people just thought of biodiversity as saving nature for its own sake,” said Robert Watson, chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services,which conducted the assessment at the request of national governments. “But this report makes clear the links between biodiversity and nature and things like food security and clean water in both rich and poor countries.“
Five friends, 1,200 miles, one iconic river. That could be a formula for a great buddy movie. But “The River and the Wall,” a film that begins with that premise, is no rollicking road trip.
The film, now in theaters and on-demand on major online platforms, follows a different path: the U.S.-Mexico border. The Rio Grande forms part of that border, and it serves as a vehicle for an exploration of the environmental and social impacts of a potential border wall.
Director Ben Masters is an environmental documentarian with a background in wildlife biology. He’s also a character in the film, which follows a trip he took with four friends by bike, horse and canoe. An ornithologist, a river guide, a conservationist and a National Geographic explorer round out the crew. Two of the characters have a special connection to the wall itself: Illegal border crossings are part of their personal stories.
The mission is to find out how a wall might affect the people, wildlife and plants along the river. The friends follow the river and even get in it, stopping to interview wildlife biologists, Border Patrol agents and then-U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.).
But the real star of the show is the river. It’s home to birds, bears, fish. It feeds delicate and varied ecosystems. It creates a deep sense of identity for both Mexicans and Americans.
This is a film with an agenda. Scientists have long sounded the alarm on the wall. In 2018, more than 2,500 researchers signed a paper that lays out some of the threats, which range from wasting conservation investments to causing floods, endangering animal migrations and destroying all kinds of habitats.
The film sides with those scientists — and will probably prompt passionate conversation. It may stoke more than debate, however, leaving viewers with a new perspective on the river.
The soaring visuals of the Rio Grande have a grace and gravitas that transcends politics. And though “The River and the Wall” has something to say, it’s most powerful when it doesn’t say anything at all.
The Winter’s Snowpack is the visible interface
between meteorology and geography.