Thursday, March 18, 2010

Status Update: Adirondack Club and Resort

The Adirondack Park Agency yesterday issued the following statement in response to “numerous inquiries” on the status of the Adirondack Club and Resort development proposed for Tupper Lake. The APA board sent the proposal to hearing on ten issues in February 2007:

The adjudicatory hearing is being conducted under the general supervision of Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Daniel P. O’Connell, assigned to the project from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Office of Hearings and Mediation Services. There are about 40 individual parties to the adjudicatory hearing.

Prior to the completion of a pre-hearing conference, and prior to commencing the formal hearing, the Adirondack Club and Resort project sponsor requested and participated in a mediation process that ended last summer. At the conclusion of the mediation process, the project sponsor asked for additional time to modify the proposal with mitigation measures based on the outcomes of the mediation. Submission of these materials is the necessary next step prior to resuming the formal hearing which will be conducted in public at a place and time to be determined by the ALJ. Project modifications are expected to be submitted in April or May, after which the ALJ will resume regular pre-hearing and hearing proceedings.

The Adirondack Park Agency may only act on this project after the conclusion of the public hearing on the modified proposal that is to be submitted by the project sponsor and following the receipt of the written hearing record.

The mission of the Adirondack Park Agency is to protect the public and private resources of the Adirondack Park through the exercise of the powers and duties of the Agency as provided by law. With its headquarters located in Ray Brook, the Agency also operates two Visitor Interpretive Centers, in Newcomb and Paul Smiths. For more information, call the APA at (518) 891-4050 or visit www.apa.state.ny.us.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Skiing the Top of New York — Badly

Mount Marcy, you are a fickle temptress.

Every year I skin up and ski down this mountain, at 5,344 feet the highest in the state. Sometimes twice. The 14-mile route is considered by many to be one of the finest backcountry tours on the East Coast.

All these trips, and I still can’t help feeling on the way down that I’m about to die.

Mind you, my ski gear has improved significantly from the first time nearly 20 years ago, when I used cross-country skis and boots so floppy that when I sat down and held my legs out in front of me the skis ticked back and forth like a metronome.

Today, I use telemark skis and plastic boots. I wear safety goggles. But I still can’t shake the feeling that around every curve is sure to be a fatal collision with a blue spruce tree or an overweight snowshoer.

Fear is my undoing, because it’s not my terrible skiing that turns a ski down Mt. Marcy to a fall down Mt. Marcy. It’s the speed, which makes me want to stop, which then causes me to fall. The only good side of this is that there’s not a chairlift in sight, so at least no one’s watching.

Marcy, being New York’s highest mountain, has always attracted visitors. And the extra bonus is that the trail was made for skiing. Unfortunately, it was made for skiers who clearly don’t mind shooting pell-mell down a tobaggan-run of a trail so curvy you never know what’s 20 feet ahead until you’ve risked becoming intimately acquainted with it.

I’ve always been envious of those who can ski down this trail with grace and poise. A few years ago, I was doing my usual ass-over-teakettle descent when I passed Tony Goodwin, the local trail guru. He was calmly and methodically descending the mountain on his old leather boots and cross-country skis, carving out a perfect snowplow in the spring powder as I blundered by. How did he do it?

I’ve had some good descents, generally dependent on snow conditions. Powder slows you down a lot, and makes turning easier, as does wet spring snow. During my most recent descent, with Adirondack Explorer Editor Phil Brown, the snow was powdery but also quite fast. Phil fell once. I lost track of the times that I threw my hurling body to the ground. But I made it down unpunctured by errant tree branch and uncontusioned by face plants.

The record for descent from peak to trailhead, as I understand it, is about 43 minutes. That’s by local skimeister Pat Munn of the famed Ski to Die Club, who was accompanied by his dog Otis. The time includes the few minutes he used to chat with friends at Marcy Dam. Doubtless he stayed upright the entire time. My descent time was more like two hours, though Phil and I did stop to take pictures (and a video, which you can see here).

Why do I keep coming back? Mt. Marcy is the consummate backcountry ski experience: a long skin up, a treeless summit (sometimes with a bowl filled with powder just below the top) and 3,000 feet of vertical drop that is — well, no matter what your skill level — never boring.

You push your way up, with each step the view growing more and more impressive. And then, on a perfect day, the top is bathed in sunshine; the summit cone standing out like a tower amid the stunted forest below treeline; the High Peak’s most rugged peaks are your closest neighbors.

At the top, you fuel up on food and water, rip off your skins and prepare for the long descent. In Phil’s case, he brought a ski helmet. I just wore my fear. And some safety glasses.

Still, for all my sloppy schussing, I’ll keep coming back. The effort, the view (or the white-out, as was the case this year), and that exhausted feeling of satisfaction at the end makes it all worth it.

And the knowledge that with every trip I’m learning. Some day, I know, I’ll ski it clean.

* * *
Interested in skiing Marcy? Park at Adirondack Loj near Lake Placid (fee), and plan for five to seven hours for the round-trip. Backcountry ski gear is available for rent at The Mountaineer in Keene Valley and EMS in Lake Placid. The Visitor’s Center at the Loj parking lot also rents ski gear, but most skiers may find the equipment more suited to lower-angle trails than the steep slopes on Marcy. Remember not to go too fast!


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Adirondack Scat: The Scoop on Poop

It’s a glorious day. You decide to go for a walk. You step out the door and head for the hills. You are ready to take in everything Ol’ Mom Nature has to offer, so you’ve equipped yourself with binoculars, field guides, and a hand lens. You have your heart set on finding flowers, spying birds, or maybe, just maybe, stumbling upon that elusive moose. Anything could happen . . . the sky is the limit. Odds are, however, that you aren’t prepared to peek at poop.

I suspect that we all snigger at the mention of poo because we were raised to think of it as something “dirty.” And, well, I suppose it is, technically, so this is why those of us who study natural science refer to the offending matter as scat, or droppings—words that are less likely to elicit tittering. Still, when I work with kids, I do use the vernacular “poo” or “poop” because it helps move the stuff little further from its tarnished image—when words become familiar they become less taboo. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

John’s Ten Favorite Irish Songs For St. Patrick’s Day

Here are ten songs everyone with Irish aspirations should know, in no particular order. Learn these and you’ll never spend St. Paddy’s alone.

Whiskey in the Jar – This classic tune is believed to have originated in the late 1600s or early 1700s. Since then it’s by been covered by The Dubliners, Thin Lizzy, Peter, Paul & Mary, Gerry Garcia and David Grisman, and Metallica. My favorite line: “I first produced my pistol, and then produced my rapier.” » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Adirondack Family Activities: New York Maple Sugar Days!

There are a variety of places that a person can visit to see maple sap collected, especially this weekend as maple producers join together for the first of two New York State Maple Producers Association Maple Weekends, March 20-21 and 27-28.

My husband and I have had our experiences (and disagreements) with attempting to make maple syrup. All in all and only with the ability to look back do we both see it as something that was fun. It was hard work but we can say we did it. And have, ad nauseum, to anyone within hearing, to the point where our friends that actually produce syrup roll their eyes and remind us we made one gallon. Yes, but one gallon of pure liquid gold. Either way for now we are leaving it to the experts.

At Cornell University-Uihlein scientists and maple producers, on their 200+ acre forest research station, are perfecting ways to increase production rates so that the sap is collected and boiled at the same rate. In the Sixties scientists worked to improve sap collection by applying suction to existing networks of tubes that rendered the bucket collection technique inefficient. Now sap buckets are only used for demonstration purposes, school trips or home sugaring operations.

Another way the maple industry continues to evolve is through the New York State Maple Producers Association with its 502 members and 150 associate members. According to Helen Thomas, Executive Director of the New York State Maple Producers Association, the organization has many goals such as keeping its membership informed with legislature in New York and Washington. Members receive the publication Maple Digest and the NYS Association newsletter. Incorporated in 1954, NY Maple Producers Association provides educational training, energy grants, networking opportunities and maple promotion opportunities.

“It is an interesting sugaring season,” says Thomas. “We have two climates in New York, the Adirondacks and downstate. The north didn’t get the heavy snowfall and seems to be having a good year. It is a concern for downstate as well as Ohio and Michigan. That heavy snowfall they received didn’t allow producers to get started until the middle of March, which cuts into the average season. It is also warming up fast.”

“We think it will be a short season for sugaring but there will be plenty of syrup for everyone in the New York State,” she laughs. “So not to worry.”

In order for the sap to flow temperatures must rise above freezing during the day and drop below freezing at night. The recent melts may be bad for the ski industry but it’s good for maple producers.

Last year the snow level was so high that the tubing remained under the snow. In some locations maple production was low because the sap remained frozen in the line. This weekend should not be a problem. It is supposed to be high 40s, low 50s allowing the sap to thaw and flow throughout the day.

“This is a great weekend activity for families. There is a producer in just about every county in upstate New York. There is someone within an hour drive,” assures Thomas.

Each producer may have different activities planned such as samplings, face painting, petting zoos and horse-drawn wagon rides. It is best to check with each location.

An all time favorite for this family is the pancake breakfast. It is a perfect avenue for my ten-year-old to attempt to fill his bottomless pit while I stock up on the maple cream. I am not a maple connoisseur and have no interest in being able to distinguish the various grades of syrup available, but with each pancake I eat, I do appreciate the amount of work each drop took to bring it to my table.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Let’s Eat: The Camp Food Grub List

In 2010 the Adirondack Museum will celebrate the food, traditions, and recipes of Adirondack residents, visitors, sportsmen, and tourists with a new exhibition called “Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions.” One of the hundreds of objects featured in the exhibit is a list of supplies for a camping trip made by two New Jersey fishermen.

William Pollack Meigs, Jr. and his cousin Edwin Oscar Perrin took yearly fishing trips in the Adirondacks from 1914 until 1947. Endion, on Long Lake, served as base camp. Over the years, they were accompanied by an assortment of friends and family, and left amusing handwritten accounts and photographs of their adventures. In 2009, Jonathan Murray donated his uncles’ photo album and documents to the Adirondack Museum.

Getting in and out of the woods for an extended fishing trip required careful planning. Meigs and Perrin prepared detailed lists of supplies. Food was a particular preoccupation—what to take and how much were carefully documented for each trip on the “Grub List,” which included Borden’s Milk Powder, Knorr’s Oxtail Soup, bread, chipped beef, bacon, cheese, dried apricots, onions, beans, sugar, tea, rice, prunes, oatmeal, salt, flour, dried potatoes, and—always–curry powder, whiskey, and chocolate.

The men strategically stored food and other supplies in caches along planned routes. Items in their 1946 “Calkins Cache” were “1 can beans, 1 bottle syrup…1 pt Red Eye, 1 lb Sugar—glass jar—screw top, 1 can Hygrade Sausage, 1 batch oatmeal—Tobacco tin—paraffin seal…3 lb salt—In heavy waxed cardboard…and 2 old unidentified cans paraffin sealed.”

At the end of their 1942 trip, taken with friends Ole Olsen and Albert Graff, Ed Perrin tallied up the costs for each member of the party: “You will note that the total amount paid for food was $9.17. That was the only expense we had in camp. That amounts to $2.29 per man per week, or 32 cents per day. We all agreed that we had enough grub for two weeks (or to have gotten along with half as much food), which brings the cost down to 16 cents per day per man….Actually, such a vacation is a lot less expensive than staying at home so, if business gets any worse, we will have to take a lot of trips like this just to save money.”

The men exercised some culinary imagination on that trip with ingredients on hand, making a meal of “Lobster Puree a la Calkins”:

1 can (15 ½ ) old fashioned K beans

1 fried onion

1 cup “Klim” (1/2 cup water, 4 tablespoons Borden’s Milk Powder)

2 good slices cheese, diced

1 ½ oz (about 1 jigger) Bourbon, added last

Pour on cupful [of] fried croutons

There is no record of how well this peculiar recipe tasted.

Laura Rice is Chief Curator at the Adirondack Museum. For more recipes, and Meigs and Perrin’s list, visit “Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions” at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. Open for the season on May 28, 2010.

Photo: “Looking crestfallen after hard day of slash thrashing and rock garden crotch splitting”: William Meigs, Edwin Perrin, Ole Olsen, Albert Graff, 1942.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Reminder: St. Patrick’s Day Donegal Beard Contest

A quick reminder that tomorrow (Wednesday, March 17th) is the day for this year’s Adirondack Donegal Beard Contest. A Donegal Beard (also called a chin-curtain or Lincoln) is a particular style of Irish beard that grows along the jaw line and covers the chin — no soul patch, no mustache.

In order to take part in the contest (and all are welcome) contestants should have a Donegal Beard grown since January 1st. Judging will be tomorrow (St. Patrick’s Day) at the Black Mountain Inn at the corner of Peaceful Valley Road and Route 8 in Johnsburg (North Creek), 4 to 7 pm.

Contestants are judged on the following criteria:

1. Length
2. Fullness
3. Style and Sophistication

To see pictures from last year’s contest, and to join the Facebook group, go here.

Photo: 2009 Adirondack Donegal Beard Contestants.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Phil Brown: Wilderness as a State of Mind

The state Department of Environmental Conservation’s proposal to remove fire towers from St. Regis and Hurricane Mountains raises some difficult philosophical questions, starting with: what is wilderness?

In calling for the towers’ removal, DEC relies on the definition in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, which is taken from the federal Wilderness Act: “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man—where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” » Continue Reading.


Monday, March 15, 2010

2010 US Alpine Championships Preview

March 20th through 23rd, the 2010 US Alpine Championships will be held at Whiteface Mountain. The host town of Lake Placid is prepared to welcome the athletes, including recent Olympians from Vancouver.

Olympians competing at the competition include three-time medalist Julia Mancuso (Olympic Valley, Calif.), 2006 gold medalist Ted Ligety (Park City, Utah) , Steven Nyman (Sundance, Utah), Jimmy Cochran (Keene, N.H.), Will Brandenburg (Spokane, Wash.), Tommy Ford (Bend, Ore.), Nolan Kasper (Warren, Vt.), Alice McKennis (Glenwood Springs, Colo.), Stacey Cook (Mammoth Mountain, Calif.), Leanne Smith (Conway, N.H.), Chelsea Marshall (Pittsfield, Vt.), Hailey Duke (Boise, Idaho), Megan McJames (Park City, Utah), Kaylin Richardson (Edina, Minn.) and Sarah Schleper (Vail, Colo.).

A notable name is missing from this line-up- Lake Placid native Andrew Weibrecht. After winning a bronze medal in the Super G event at Vancouver, Weibrecht dislocated his shoulder. Still, he anticipates being at the event to cheer on his teammates- “It would have been perfect to wrap up my competition year at home, but I’ll still be there to support my teammates and the hundreds of racers from across the country gunning for U.S. bragging rights.”

The US Alpine Championships is an opportunity for young racers as well as seasoned veterans to race for National titles. Whiteface Mountain also hosted the event in 2003, when lack of snow in Alyeska, Alaska motivated the Olympic Regional Development Authority to pick up the races.

On Saturday March 20th, an Opening Ceremonies celebration will be held in Lake Placid. For more information, visit http://www.whiteface.com/events/alpine/index.php.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Adirondack Bracket 2010: Selection Day

In limited areas of the Adirondack Park, an understated excitement built gradually throughout the day yesterday as selections were made for the 2010 Adirondack Bracket.

Bracket pairings were made by combining the top 28 randomly selected entrants from two lists (a longer list of general Adirondackiana, and a shorter list of 2009’s Adirondack headliners). Four more slots were reserved for last year’s final four, including 2009 Bracket champion Stewart’s Ice Cream Shops. The remaining slots will be filled later this week by a play-in round which sets four randomly selected entrants from a list suggested by our readers, against the Bracket judges’ “Hand o’ God” choices (our favorites that somehow missed the first cut). A preview of the play-in round follows the jump. . .

So here is how things stack up for this week’s play-in round:

Game one pits late 19th/early 20th Century painter Winslow Homer (who spent time throughout his career at the North Woods Club in Minerva—his last visit to the Adirondacks occurring one hundred years ago this summer, shortly before his death), against the frankenpine: that towering synthesis of artifice and nature, and itself a subject of contemporary Adirondack painting (not to mention inspiration for an excellent band).

Saranac Lake’s doyens of drill. . . the Idas of March. . . those angels of aluminum and mesh—the incomparable Lawnchair Ladies—sashay into the Bracket against an equally formidable lineup of local adirondack ski hills. This squad of impressive topography (talking about the ski hills, now), once thought to be heading downhill, fast, has made a strong comeback this winter led by Big Tupper and Hickory. The list also includes a couple cross country ski mountains, one of which boasts the only ski mountain palindrome in the Adirondacks: “O! Dewey. Aye, we do!” This match up could go either way, but one thing you can count on: Chairs will certainly be lifted, and might be thrown.

Game three features perhaps the most interesting play-in pairing, with Olmstedville’s Pete Hornbeck and his fleet of featherweight canoes taking on Lake George’s Winter Carnival, the village’s annual string of wintertime events held every weekend throughout the month of February. Any other year this would have been no contest as canoes are not much use on a solid lake surface, especially with a lot of cars and snow machines and dog sleds racing around. This year, however, warm weather forced cancellation of some carnival events, premature demolition of the ice palace and relocation of the dog sled races from the slushy lake top to safer ground inland. The Fund for Lake George reports that the lake failed to fully freeze over this winter (the first time since 2002). Though this might be an advantageous climate for a naval assault, Hornbeck will have his work cut out for him if he is to make it to a much anticipated confrontation with Senator Betty Little in the “Upstate Great Eight” round next week.

The final play-in contest throws New York State’s official fish, the brook trout, into the mix with back yard sugarin’. Not a whole lot to say about this one except: that is some mighty fine eating.

Join us later this week for play-in results and a preview of the first round.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Wright Peak Avalanche Survivor Tells His Story

The Adirondack Almanack is pleased to have the unique opportunity to present the first-hand experience of Ian Measeck of Glens Falls, who along with Jamie McNeill of Vergennes, Vermont was caught in an avalanche on Angel Slide, Wright Peak on February 27th. The potentially deadly avalanche occurred just a month after Phil Brown wrote A Short History of Adirondack Avalanches. Phil reported a week ago that Angel Slide was still unsafe. What follows is Measeck’s story in his own words:

The day had turned sunny with the slightest hint of spring. I pulled in to my driveway and saw my wife and two year old daughter standing in the picture window at the front of the house. My daughter, Charlotte, had nothing but her diaper on and judging by the look on her face it was Christmas morning. I was so happy; I couldn’t get inside fast enough. Earlier in the day, I had almost died in an avalanche. Those were not words that I considered myself likely to write or even think.

On Saturday February 27th, Jamie Mc Neill and I planned to ski the Angel Slide on Wright peak. I had been there before on several occasions and it seemed a reasonable choice this day in order to make as many turns as possible. There had been a significant snowfall earlier in the week but it was wet and heavy. Realizing the potential risk for avalanche, we brought transceivers, shovels, and probes. The day started overcast with scattered flurries but contained a slight promise of sun.

We both felt good so the ski in was brisk and proved a nice warm up for the day. We followed a broken ski track towards the base of the slide. When we were about level with the base of the slide, the ski track continued up and left. Here we turned right to access the slide. At the base I dug a test pit on a slope that I thought was fairly representative of the slide’s average slope. I saw no weak layer or unconsolidated snow that would lead me to believe there was high avy danger, so we headed up and right towards the right “skinny” side, with the intention of digging another pit part-way at a group of trees. We never got the chance. [Since the incident I’ve learned that there were several problems with my test pit. A sobering thought that sometimes we know just enough to get into trouble but not enough to keep out of it.]

A quarter of the way up the slide we heard an unsettling “whoomp” Recognizing its significance, we both said “I’m not too sure about this” nearly in unison. Since we were 30 -40 feet apart and halfway across the slide, the plan was to continue to the trees to dig another pit and reassess. Moments after we uttered the words a wisp of snow caught my eye as if the wind were beginning to blow it around. I glanced up in time to see a cloudy wall of snow speeding down the slide. I turned to try to ski down and left out of the avalanche path but I still had skins on so I was, in effect, immobilized.

I don’t remember any pain when the avalanche struck me. The sensation is best described as almost instant acceleration in a river of wet cement. I was suddenly surrounded by this flowing snow bank. I have no idea how fast it was moving and I don’t remember much aside from the dark, the fear, and the thought that I had to try to stay on top of it somehow. I don’t think I tumbled, and maybe my skis helped to stabilize me. [Although, I’ve been told after that it’s better for the bindings to release because the skis can actually pull you under.] I was strangely cognizant of my surroundings and as I realized I couldn’t stop myself or get out, I tried to keep the area in front of my face clear. I remember the thought crossing my mind that I was most likely going to die, but it was brief and fleeting. Almost like an irrelevant thought that my mind didn’t have time for or was unwilling to process.

As quick as it began, everything stopped and my face was out of the snow. I was buried lying on my back. I couldn’t move my legs or arms…but I was alive! I could see the sun, the sky, and I could breathe! I was alive! Everything in me wanted out of that hole, but I was alive! Panic and fear had coursed instantly and fully through my body. It was then I remembered Jamie, and screamed his name. I heard no reply, only the mountain silence. I became frantic. I could move my left hand and after much struggle, managed to free it. My pack was holding me down and I had a difficult time loosening the straps.

What seemed like an eternity passed but was probably only a few minutes? I had snow packed in everywhere but I didn’t hurt. I screamed for Jamie again. At that moment my sole focus was on him. I switched my transceiver to receive and spastically tore at my pack to get the shovel and probe. No signal on the beacon so I started back up the slide. He started above me so I could only hope he had stopped above me. I screamed again and heard nothing, but I began to get a signal. As I scrambled up the slide I heard a call. I stopped, yelled, and listened. Jamie returned my call –he was ok- but stuck. The wave of relief was indescribable. Just over a small rise he had been stopped by a rotten stump. He was alive, and uninjured. Alive! I didn’t spend time thinking about what if he’d been buried. That thought passed as quickly as the death thought had earlier. We were alive.

I had slid more than the length of a football field, and I hadn’t hit anything. I stopped with my face above the snow. Jamie had stopped with his legs wrapped around a tree stump, yet no broken bones. All we had to show for this experience was a couple of nasty bruises and scrapes, a broken pole and one less ski. It was unbelievable considering what could have happened. And people say God doesn’t exist.

The following day, I spent the most of my waking hours playing with my daughter. The furthest away from the house I got was the corn field across the road. I couldn’t shake the flashbacks of getting swept away in the slide and the panic that ensued. That evening, I received my first phone call from a reporter. I was offended at first. I saw it as audacious to tell thousands of people about my intimate brush with death. I began to soften and the logical part of my brain took over to convince the crazy part that Adirondack avalanches are rare. Even more of a rarity are survivors that walk away to talk about it. People could learn from my experience and mistakes, and if that kept someone else alive then I was more than willing to let my ego take a hit.

Work was nice to return to, if only to occupy my mind with a sense of normalcy. I continued to have flashbacks of getting swept away followed by a wave of panic. The incident, as I now like to call it, only lasted a few moments but living with the memories and constant retellings has, perhaps, been the more difficult part. Everyone wants to talk about it, and I can understand that so I try to be patient. The trouble is I relive it slightly every time I tell the story. But more, it’s the shame. I feel ashamed that I got into a situation that I wasn’t smart enough, or I didn’t know better, to avoid. I almost died because I was wrong; because I was stupid.

Two weeks have passed now and I’ve stopped having flashbacks. The questions, comments, and jokes have subsided at work. Life seems to be back to normal, but I still remember. For most, the almost complete lack of physical injury diminishes the severity of my experience. Only I really know how close I came to death. I have noticed small changes in my psyche. I’m certainly content moving slower and certain things don’t really seem as important as they used to. But most importantly, my family is without a doubt the most beautiful thing in the world, and I am a blessed man to be here to see that.

Photo of Angel Slides on Wright Peak from Wikipedia.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

State of the Birds: 2010 Report on Climate Change

Climate change threatens to further imperil hundreds of species of migratory birds, already under stress from habitat loss, invasive species and other environmental threats, a new report released today by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar concludes.

The State of the Birds: 2010 Report on Climate Change, follows a comprehensive report released a year ago that argued that nearly a third of the nation’s 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline. The report is available online at http://www.stateofthebirds.org/

“For well over a century, migratory birds have faced stresses such as commercial hunting, loss of forests, the use of DDT and other pesticides, a loss of wetlands and other key habitat, the introduction of invasive species, and other impacts of human development,” Salazar said in a press relase issued last week. “Now they are facing a new threat–climate change–that could dramatically alter their habitat and food supply and push many species towards extinction.”

According to the reports authors, which included the collaboration of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and experts from some of the nation’s leading conservation organizations, climate changes will have an increasingly disruptive effect on bird species in all habitats, with oceanic and Hawaiian birds in greatest peril.

Key findings from the “State of the Birds” climate change report included in the media release include:

• Oceanic birds are among the most vulnerable species because they don’t raise many young each year; they face challenges from a rapidly changing marine ecosystem; and they nest on islands that may be flooded as sea levels rise. All 67 oceanic bird species, such as petrels and albatrosses, are among the most vulnerable birds on Earth to climate change.

• Hawaiian birds such as endangered species Puaiohi and ’Akiapōlā’au already face multiple threats and are increasingly challenged by mosquito-borne diseases and invasive species as climate change alters their native habitats.

• Birds in coastal, arctic/alpine, and grassland habitats, as well as those on Caribbean and other Pacific Islands show intermediate levels of vulnerability; most birds in aridlands, wetlands, and forests show relatively low vulnerability to climate change.

• For bird species that are already of conservation concern such as the golden-cheeked warbler, whooping crane, and spectacled eider, the added vulnerability to climate change may hasten declines or prevent recovery.

• The report identified common bird species such as the American oystercatcher, common nighthawk, and northern pintail that are likely to become species of conservation concern as a result of climate change.
White-tailed Tropicbird chick by Elena Babij

Birds are considered indicators of the health of our environment. The reports offers suggestions such as conserving carbon-rich forests and wetlands, and creating incentives to avoid deforestation and reducing emissions.

The report is the product of a collaborative effort as part of the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative, between federal and state wildlife agencies, and scientific and conservation organizations including partners from American Bird Conservancy, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Klamath Bird Observatory, National Audubon Society, The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, U.S.D.A. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tests Show Lake George Clearest of 113 NY Lakes

Lake George received the best reading on a measurement for clarity among 113 New York lakes in 2009, according to a press release from the Lake George Association, which follows.

Peter Leyh, an LGA member, was one of several LGA volunteers to participate in the 2009 Citizen Statewide Lake Assessment Program (CSLAP), coordinated on Lake George by the Lake George Association.

On September 2, Peter was sampling water near Gull Bay on the north end of the lake, and sank a measuring disk for clarity, called a Secchi disk, into the lake. He was
able to see the disk in the water at a depth of 13.55 meters, or almost 44 and 1/2 feet. No other lake participating in the CSLAP program last year could match it.

“This is great news for Lake George,” said Walt Lender, Executive Director of the Lake George Association, “but by no means does it mean we are free to relax our efforts to protect the Lake and keep it clean. In fact, it is just the opposite. This reading shows what a unique treasure we have in Lake George, and how diligently we must work to keep it that way. People need to know that this reading was taken at the north end of the Lake on a dead calm day. The clarity and cleanliness in the south end of Lake George, near West Brook, is not anywhere close to this. The water in Lake George flows from south to north, and it takes eight years for a drop to flow from the south to the north. Our challenge is to ensure that in eight years at Gull Bay our Secchi disk reading will remain at or beat 13.55 meters.”

Every summer since 2004, the Lake George Association has coordinated volunteers to assess water quality and clarity through the CSLAP program. The data gathered is used to help manage and assess trends in New York’s many lakes. The program is sponsored by the New York Federation of Lake Associations. In addition to CSLAP, the Lake George Association actively encourages adults and children to learn more about lake monitoring and stewardship aboard its Floating Classroom, a specially equipped catamaran which takes groups out on the Lake from May through September.

To learn more about CSLAP or how you can help Lake George, contact the LGA at (518) 668-3558 or visit the website at www.lakegeorgeassociation.org.

Illustration: 2006 graph showing Secchi depths for various locations around Lake George; from the Fund For Lake George website.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Forest Economies: It’s Maple Sugaring Season!

It’s bright sunny days like we’ve had for most of this month that bring maple sugaring to mind. There’s just something about the quality of the light that says it’s sugar season. And sure enough, Wednesday morning I heard the first newscast from a sugar house. So, I thought I’d jump in with the best of ‘em and write a post about the sweetness of spring: maple syrup.

Maple sugaring and natural history go hand-in-hand. At least it has seemed that way to me, for most places where I have worked have operated some sort of sugaring operation. One ran a small scale commercial operation (see photo), but the majority were simple demonstration set-ups, where visitors walked a “sugaring trail”, each stop featuring a different time in the history of sugaring, from the Native hatchet in a tree with a wooden bowl on the ground to catch the dripping sap, to high tech tubing that brought the sap directly to the sugar shack.

My favorite, however, was the final stop on the sugaring trail we had in New Jersey. The guys on the staff built a device called a “lazy man’s balance”, consisting of a long arm (log) balanced across the fork of an upright log, with a kettle suspended from one end and a heavy rock tied to the other end to act as a counter-balance. The kettle was filled with sap and dangled above a fire, which boiled off the water. What made this set-up so fascinating to me, however, was the simplicity of the engineering: as the water evaporated, the kettle lost weight. As the kettle lost weight, it would rise a bit higher from the fire. This ingenious device would allow the syrup to condense without scorching.

One of the best things about visiting a sugar bush is getting to sample the merchandise, so to speak. While commercial outfits provide samples in hopes that you will buy some syrup or sugar to take home, nature centers have a different take on it: they just want you to try the stuff. The best sample tables not only give you a taste of maple syrup, but they also test your tasting skills. For example, one place where I worked had samples from sugar, red and Norway maples, Vermont Maid and Golden Griddle (the former has something like 3% real maple syrup, while the latter has none), and a syrup we made from potatoes. Visitors would spear a chunk of Italian bread on a toothpick and dip it into a cup of syrup to taste it. The goal was to pick out which was the real maple syrup. I grew up on the real stuff, so it always amazed me when people couldn’t pick out the real from the fake. And, just for the record, the potato syrup was often picked as the real McCoy.

Which brings us to sugar versus red versus Norway versus black maple. All maple trees produce a sweet sap that can be tapped and boiled to make a sweet golden syrup. So why the hoopla over sugar maple? Because sugar maple (Acer saccharum) has the greatest quantity of sugar per gallon of sap. In other words, you need a lot less sap from a sugar maple to produce a gallon of syrup than you would from a red, black, or Norway maple. And how much is that? The general rule of thumb is 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to produce one gallon of sugar maple syrup. For red maple, you need upwards of 80 gallons of sap to get that single gallon of syrup. On the other hand, red maples (Acer rubrum) are a lot more common across a larger portion of the US than sugar maples, so for many folks they are the tree of choice.

Sugar production doesn’t start and end with maple trees, however. If one travels to Alaska, or Siberia, one will find syrup produced from birch trees. Birch syrup has a different flavor, so don’t dump a bunch on your pancakes and expect it to taste the same. It is described as being a bit more spicy and reminiscent of sorghum or horehound candy. And if you think maple syrup is expensive, birch syrup is even more so. This is because it requires almost 100 gallons of sap to produce a single gallon of syrup, there aren’t many people producing it, and it is therefore considered a gourmet item.

March is the time to visit a sugar bush near you. And you might want to take in more than one, because each sugar operation may offer something a little different. Here in the 21st century you can see the whole spectrum of a sugaring operation from a sugar shack that’s deep in the woods and uses horses and sledges to haul the sap from the trees to the evaporators, to a high tech operation that uses a vacuum set-up to suck the sap out of the trees, and then applies reverse osmosis to remove water before the sap even sees the glint of an evaporator pan. A perusal of maple operations in the Adirondacks will turn up outfits at both ends of the scale. So get out your mud boots, grab a road map, and hit the woods – you won’t want to let this springtime tradition pass you by.


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