Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Balsam Fir – An Adirondack Classic

The smell of balsam fir (Abies balsamea) brings a rush of Adirondack memories to anyone who has spent even a smidgeon of time in the Park. Whether it’s from sun-warmed needles scenting summer days at camp, or the woodsy scent of a balsam pillow on a cold winter day, for many people balsam fir means Adirondacks.

Now, I could use this post to regurgitate the statistical facts of the tree (it has blunt needles up to an inch and a half long, dark purplish cones two to four inches long, smooth to thinly scaly bark studded with resin blisters, grows forty to eighty feet tall and can live up to two-hundred years), but that would be boring. Instead, I’d like to take a look at how the balsam fir has ingratiated itself into the lives of so many people. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Good Start to the Adirondack Ski Season

Skiers rejoice—it looks like we’ll have a white Christmas this year in the Adirondacks.

The base may be a bit bullet-proof right now, but with snow on the ground and cold temperatures in the air, that means—with a bit of luck—good conditions for the ski industry during the all-important holiday season. The Christmas/New Year’s break is generally the most lucrative period for ski resorts during the season.

While conditions are nowhere as impressive as they were last year around this time, when back-to-back blizzards created some of the best early conditions in years, there’s enough snow to at least brag about.

Whiteface reports receiving 38 inches thus far, with 11-to 20 inches on the ground (“frozen granular,” the industry’s feel-good term for ice, thanks to a warm spell on Tuesday).

Gore is reporting 9- to 18 inches of base, and is optimistically calling it “packed powder.” Nearby Garnet Hill Cross Country Ski Center reported two inches of fresh snow on its 26 km. of trails from last night, so perhaps that’s where it comes from …

Backcountry conditions were good enough for skiers to get out for a few days, reports Garnet Hill guide Fred Anderson.

“The base is getting good,” said Anderson, who cautioned cross-country skiers not to try the backcountry until we get some more coverage: “It’ll be like a rock out there.”

Elsewhere, Mt. Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid is reporting 50 km. of trails, with an inch of powder over their hard-packed base. Nearby Cascade Ski Touring Center has 10 km. To the south, Lapland Lake near Northville reports 47 km and some very happy reindeer.

Meanwhle, to the west, McCauley Mountain in Old Forge still shows pictures of people in shorts on its home page. However, “It’s snowing right now,” reports an employee on the phone, and the mountain is open with 4 to 24 inches of packed powder. And Oak Mountain in Speculator is set to open this Friday.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Word of Life: Christian Fundamentalism in the Adirondacks

Oral Roberts died yesterday. He was one of the founders of televangelism and the principle behind Oral Roberts University. What you may not know is that the Adirondacks had its own radio evangelist, Jack Wyrtzen, the founder of Word Of Life ministries (in 1941) and the Word of Life Bible Institute (in 1971) in Schroon Lake. Unless you’ve spent some time driving around Schroon Lake, you may not realize that there is a two-year bible school here in the Adirondacks that grew out of the same kind of public evangelism made popular by Oral Roberts.

You won’t find fraternities or sororities at the Bible Institute, no late-night poetry readings or parties, and you also won’t find a degree, at least not one recognized as collegiate. But you will find a genuinely cult-like atmosphere to immerse your children, and a highly developed indoctrination program. As the Institute’s “Philosophy Statement” says “We believe that doctrine is the foundation for all of our endeavors.”

Word of Life Bible Institute‘s mission is to provide students “a rigorous academic atmosphere so that he or she might receive both fully transferable course work and structured discipleship in order to live his or her life with maximum effectiveness for the Lord.” How does today’s Christian youth achieve those goals at the Institute? Through rigid control of their every waking moment, isolation from their peers, parents, and culture, and severe punishment for falling out of line.

It’s all in the student handbook, and it’s quite a read (and quite different from Oral Roberts University). Of course the standard stuff is there:

Emotional exclamations such as ‘Oh, my God’ and ‘Oh, my Lord’ are a demonstration of disrespect for the name of the LORD

And sure we’ve got to figure that there is no swearing, gambling, sex, drinking, or drugs – but no physical contact?

Physical contact between persons of the opposite sex is not permitted on or off campus.

Physical contact between members of the same sex must be within the bounds of biblically acceptable behavior.

There is one exception:

When ice and snow present hazardous conditions, a male student may offer his arm to a female student.

In fact two people of the opposite sex cannot be trusted to be alone, period. The “Third Party Standard” assures they are not:

Two students of the opposite sex must have a third party with them at all times.

You figure it might be tough to walk to class while avoiding encounters with someone of the opposite sex? They got that covered:

Students are exempt from the ‘third-party rule’ only in the central area of the campus.

What if a good Christian couple has secured permission from their parents to marry?

Marriages are not allowed during the school year without prior permission from the Executive Dean.

What about getting engaged?

The Student Life Department must be consulted prior to any engagement during the school year. Parental/guardian permission must be given prior to the engagement.

And just to remind those who have committed the greatest marriage sin:

Divorced or separated students are not allowed to date while enrolled at the Bible Institute.

The world is filled with pesky “culture” according to the leaders of the Bible Institute. They are there to make sure you don’t experience any:

Word of Life uses a content filtering and firewall system to prohibit access to Internet content that is contrary to the Word of Life Standard of Conduct. . . . All activity is logged and monitored by the Student Life Department.

Just in case a student finds a way to expose themselves to the outside world:

All computer monitors must face the public and must be in clear view of supervisors.

What about music? After students have completed their first semester, have written “their biblical principles for entertainment” and have provided the Institute with a copy, they can listen to approved music, but only in electronic format, and only by headphones:

Radios, televisions, clock radios, etc are not permitted at the Bible Institute. They are to be sent home immediately.

All music played publicly at the Bible Institute [a privilege permitted Institute staff] must be screened and approved.

What about movies?

No movies of any kind (DVD, downloaded, streamed, burned, or otherwise) may be played in the dorm rooms at any time, nor may they be kept in the dorm room.

There is to be no attendance at a movie theater.

What about leaving campus?

Special Permission is needed from the Student Life Deans for any of the following:

To travel home or anywhere that would involve an overnight stay.
To drive more than 100 miles away from school, (ie. Canada or New York City).

What about the Second Amendment?

All rifles, handguns, bows & arrows, knives, wrist-rockets, BB/Pellet guns, airsoft guns, etc. are not permitted in the residence rooms, in vehicles or on the person while on campus. If you bring them, you will be required to return them to your home.

The “Code of Honor” provides the general atmosphere and restricts:

The use of traditional playing cards

Participation in oath-bound secret organizations (societies), from social dancing of any type, from attendance at the motion picture theater and commercial stage productions.

Christian discretion and restraint will be exercised in all choices of entertainment, including radio, television, audio and visual recordings, and various forms of literature.

Furthermore, it is expected that associates will actively support a local Bible-believing church through service, giving, and allegiance.

That last one doesn’t always work out so well, readers will remember 20-year-old Caleb Lussier, a student at the Word of Life Bible Institute in 2006 who “actively supported” a local church, the 77-year-old Christ Church, just across the street from the Institute in Pottersville.

Only his idea of active support was to burn it to the ground, though he did remove the bibles for safe keeping before lighting the gas. Caleb also threatened three other houses of worship, plus the one he set to the torch in his hometown.

According to local news reports, “Warren County Sheriff Larry Cleveland said Lussier thought the members of Christ Church were hypocrites who deviated from the teachings of the Bible and the word of God. He allegedly robbed the church twice in May. On one occasion he left behind a message written in a Bible: ‘You’ve been warned.'”

Lussier was arrested in his dorm room after a member of another local church saw him at their services and warned the Warren County sheriff’s office that something wasn’t right.

“He didn’t think they were following the Bible the way he thought they should,” Cleveland told the press at the time, “He holds to the principle, but he said he went about it in the wrong way.”


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Adirondack Family Activities: Newcomb VIC

This is a last weekend in many ways; last weekend of Hunting Season, ending of Hanukkah and the final weekend for holiday shopping. If you want to get all “glass half-full” then it is the beginning of snowshoe season and the start of the ski season and beginning of holiday sales! For us it is a time to get outside and safely enjoy one of the many reasons we chose to live in the Adirondack Park.

It is easy to get caught up in the pressure of the holidays no matter what we celebrate. So whether you are looking for a safe place to hike to avoid any hunters using the last eligible days to tag a deer or wish to spend time rather than money, the New York State Adirondack Park Agency Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC) at Newcomb is well worth a visit.

Open since 1990, the Newcomb VIC is part of the Huntington Wildlife Forest preserve owned by Syracuse University and maintained by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. The 236-acre property consists of an Interpretive Building that houses educational exhibits and a trail system for seasonal activities.

There are four trails to choose from: Rick Lake, a .6-mile loop; the 1-mile Sucker Brook (which allows for skiing along the northern section only); the Peninsula Trail, a .9-mile loop which intersects the Rick Lake Trail and the R.W. Sage Memorial Trail, a 1.1-mile trail open to both skiing and snowshoeing. The bonus track is the .7-mile connector trail from The Sage Trail that links to Camp Santanoni, a 12-mile round trip ski.

Snowshoes are now required so no foot travel is allowed on any of the trails. If you don’t have your own snowshoes, you may sign out a pair for free; just provide a license as collateral. For small children (seven-years and younger) sizes may not be available so bring a sled or your own equipment.

Please keep in mind that dogs are not allowed on the trails in the winter months to enable naturalists to lead winter tracking clinics so visitors can see wildlife rather than dog prints.

The Newcomb VIC is located 12 miles east of Long Lake on Route 28N. The trails are open from dawn to dusk while the building is open from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.) No dogs are allowed on the trails during the winter months because of Call 518-582-2000 for current trail conditions. The VIC is free and open to the public.

Photo: Rich Lake Outlet in Winter courtesy Newcomb VIC


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

New: Winter Sports Coverage at the Adirondack Almanack

Please join me in welcoming Christie Sausa of Lake Placid as the Almanack‘s newest contributor, heading up our winter sports coverage. Christie is a member of the historic figure and speed skating culture in the Olympic Village, and writes about those sports for the Lake Placid News and on her own blogs, including the popular Lake Placid Skater which she founded in 2007.

Sausa, who attends North Country Community College (she’s pursuing a sports and events management degree), will be taking her budding journalism skills behind the scenes at local competitions, and will also be writing about our local athletes, including the many World Cup and Olympic hopefuls. Her reporting for the Almanack will include the more popular sports (like ski-jumping, downhill, snowboarding, and cross country) the sliding sports (luge, skeleton, and bobsledding), as well as the more obscure local sports like biathlon, skijoring, and dogsledding.

When Sausa is not on the ice herself, or writing about what happens there, or learning about managing what happens there, she is helping her mom with their local business, the Lake Placid Skate Shop. Sausa was recently invited to join the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, and is also a member of the Kiwanis Club of Lake Placid, the Connecting Youth and Communities Coalition, the Skating Club of Lake Placid, and the Lake Placid Speed Skating Club.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dude: Where Did You Learn to Say That?

You hear it all the time, dude. It seems some Adirondack folks can’t stop using it at the beginning or end of nearly every sentence. A remnant of the 1980s? You bet. A remnant of the 1880s? Dude, also correct. It turns out dude is one of those words often cited as “origin unknown” in English dictionaries that is in fact an Irish word adopted as slang by the rest of America (including all those Warren County Dude Ranches).

According to the late Daniel Cassidy, who spent six years dissecting the etymology of American slang words for his book How the Irish Invented Slang, dude is one of the many slang words and phrases that have come to us from Gaelic by way of the poorest Irish immigrants. Jazz, snazzy, moolah, slugger and even poker, are Irish words spelled phonetically in English brought to us by Irish street toughs.

Take this front page article from the February 25, 1883 edition of the Brooklyn Eagle:

A new word has been coined. It is d-u-d-e or d-o-o-d. The spelling does not seem to be distinctly settled yet… Just where the word came from nobody knows, but it has sprang into popularity in the last two weeks, so that now everybody is using it…

A dude cannot be old; he must be young, and to be properly termed a dude he should be of a certain class who affect Metropolitan theaters. The dude is from 19 to 28 years of age, wears trousers of extreme tightness, is hollow chested, effeminate in his ways, apes the English and distinguishes himself among his fellowmen as a lover of actresses. The badge of his office is the paper cigarette, and his bell crown English opera hat is his chiefest joy… As a rule they are rich men’s sons, and very proud of the unlimited cash at their command… They are a harmless lot of men in one way… but they are sometimes offensive.

According to any standard Irish dictionary, a Dud (pronounced Dood) is a foolish-looking fellow, a dolt, a numbskull; a clown; an idiot.

Sounds right to me, dude.


Monday, December 14, 2009

In the Adirondacks Quitting is Always an Option

The Climbing Code in The Freedom of the Hills has nine precepts meant to promote safety in the mountains. Some are common sense, such as No. 1: “Leave the trip itinerary with a responsible person.” Others are technical: “Rope up on all exposed places and for all glacier travel.”

Most of us violate some of the rules on occasion. Many times I’ve gone on a short hike without telling anyone or without carrying the ten essentials.

But I’ve had the hardest time over the years with precept No. 7: “Never let judgment be overruled by desire when choosing the route or turning back.”

When you set out to climb a mountain and you travel for hours in pursuit of that goal, it takes mental discipline to turn around short of the summit if, say, bad weather or fatigue slows your progress. If you’re a mountain climber, after all, you’re probably the sort who takes risks, the sort inclined to push on despite the dangers.

Several years ago, I violated six or seven of the precepts when I climbed the slides on the east side of Giant Mountain. I went solo, I didn’t tell anyone, and I got into a situation above my ability. I ended up ascending a very steep face, scratching dirt out of cracks to make holds. Essentially, I was rock climbing in hiking boots, and I had no rock-climbing experience.

It wasn’t the only time I got lucky.

This past weekend, I set out to climb Debar Mountain with Mike Lynch, the outdoors writer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. I needed to get photos for a snowshoeing story that will run in the January/February issue of the Adirondack Explorer.

It’s a round trip of nine and half miles. We skied in a few miles and then switched to snowshoes when the trail got steeper. We were breaking trail the whole time.

Most of the climbing comes in the final mile or so. As we ascended, Mike started to fall behind, so I waited for him. He told me his asthma was acting up. He also may have been worn out from skiing eight days in a row. We decided to go a little farther to see if he felt better. He didn’t, so with less than a half-mile to go to reach the top, we turned back.

No doubt we could have made it had we pushed on. In the past, I might have regretted turning around, but I felt we made a smart decision—especially as we were running out of daylight—and that gave me as much satisfaction as reaching the summit.

A wise man once said: “The mountains will always be there; the trick is to make sure you are too.”


Monday, December 14, 2009

North Creek-Gore Mountain-Ski Bowl Shuttle Slated

A public transportation shuttle is being established in North Creek with hopes of more closely linking Gore Mountain with the village of North Creek. The shuttle will also make a stop at the historic North Creek Ski Bowl allowing skiers and boarders to take a single trail down and shuttle back up. Additional trails are expected to be open next winter.

Locally owned Brant Lake Taxi & Transport Service will operate the shuttle, which is being paid for by hotel occupancy tax receipts and local businesses. The free shuttle will run just 39 days during the ski season beginning December 19th, including weekends and holiday weeks, from 8 am to 4:30 pm, with a break for the driver’s lunchtime.

Gore Mountain spokesperson Emily Stanton told the Glens Falls Post-Star that the shuttle will provide access to North Creek village for Gore visitors who arrive at the mountain by chartered bus.

Additionally, a controversial “Gold Parking” program has been getting a lot of discussion on the lifts and in the lodges. About 200 spaces have been set aside for paid parking. The $10 fee has led to quite a debate over at skiadk.com and the Gore Facebook page.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Leg-Hold Traps Criticized: UPDATED

Wildlife rehabilitators who helped rescue a bald eagle last week say trappers and state regulators should reconsider use of leg-hold traps.

This bald eagle became ensnared near Moffits Beach, on Sacandaga Lake in Hamilton County, but was able to fly off with the trap still attached. The five-foot-long chain it was dragging then snagged in the branch of a tree 16 feet above the ground. The bird was discovered by the trapper on December 6 hanging upside down.

The trapper contacted the Hamilton County Sheriff’s office, which called Lake Pleasant–based Forest Ranger Thomas Eakin, who used a pole to bring the bird safely to the ground. He then wrapped the bird in cargo netting from his pickup truck and kept it warm until wildlife rehabilitator Wendy Hall, of the Wilmington refuge Adirondack Wildlife, arrived. She transported the eagle to two Saratoga-based North Country Wild Care rehabbers.

Hall said that the eagle is perching and appears to be mending well from superficial wounds. She thinks its chances of release back into the wild are high. However, the prospects of a red-tailed hawk whose leg was severed this fall in a leg-hold trap in Brushton are not as good. Most raptors brought to wildlife rehabilitators have been hit by cars, Hall said, and most cannot be released. Many captives then become part of educational programs.

The trapper broke no rules and acted responsibly by reporting the injured eagle, those involved in the rescue said. But these two birds prompted Hall to write an essay, “What’s wrong with leg-hold traps?”, for her Web site, adirondackwildlife.org. She respects hunters and says they are wildlife rehabilitators’ best allies. “However, we will never understand why New York continues to permit the use of leghold traps for wildlife. They banned the use of snares and toothed leghold traps, but this does not really address the two main problems with the non-toothed clamp traps which are still legal in New York.

“The first problem is that any wildlife so trapped is going to suffer unimaginable agony, and in many documented cases, the animal will chew off its own leg to effect its escape. These traps do not legally need to be checked by the trapper more than once every 24 hours, which means the captive animal not only may suffer for long periods, but runs the additional risk of drawing in predators attracted by the noise of the creature’s struggles, and who will naturally take advantage of the creature’s inability to flee. Some folks say that’s nature. We call it interference.”

Others say the problem is not the traps themselves. There is movement to change the regulation to prohibit use of “exposed” bait, which can be seen from the air by raptors, which are sight hunters. The Moffits trap was baited with a beaver carcass with the intention of trapping a coyote. Pelts are a source of income for many Adirondackers.

Photograph by Thomas Eakin, NYS DEC


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lake Champlain: The Water in Between

The eastern edge of the Adirondack Park stretches into the middle of Lake Champlain, that great river-lake 120 miles long, four times the size of Lake George. Standing between the states of New York and Vermont, it’s the largest body of water in the Adirondacks, one that connects to the St. Lawrence River and Atlantic Ocean by way of the Quebec’s Richelieu River. A new book of 120 color photos of the Lake Champlain by more than 35 local photographers and edited by Jared Gange, does a remarkable job of capturing the lake: The Water in Between: A Photographic Celebration of Lake Champlain.

The book includes images by Carl Heilman II of Brant Lake, and Gary Randorf, former staff member for The Adirondack Council, along with those from other photographers from Vermont, New York and Québec, including John David Geery, Paul Boisvert, Robert Lyons, Daria Bishop, David Seaver, Marshall Webb, Steve Mease, Matt Larson, Dennis Curran, and Brian Mohr.

The Water in Between explores the culture, history, and environment, of both the New York and Vermont sides of the lake as well as images from Quebec and the Richelieu River. According to the publishers, “the book showcases the lake’s setting, its various river and lake sources, many activities both on and off the lake, and a number of towns, familiar bridges and buildings.” The book also includes a short narrative on the history, culture, and geography of the region.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

APA Schedules Hearings on Boathouse Regulations

The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) has scheduled four public hearings to encourage comments on the agency’s proposed revisions to its Boathouse regulations. Designed to protect ecologically sensitive shorelines, boathouse regulations, were first adopted in 1979 and revised in 2002. This newest proposed revision limits the overall footprint of boathouses to 900 square feet and the height to fifteen feet. This criteria revises the previous “single story” limitation, which was being violated with large “attics” and rooftop decks, according to the APA, and clarifies that boathouses are for boat storage only.

The proposed revisions would continue prohibitions on using boat houses for anything but boats, building’s constructed for other uses will be required to meet with APA shoreline setbeck regulations. According to the APA public hearing announcement, “other structures such as decks, guest cottages, and recreation rooms are prohibited on the shoreline if greater than 100 square feet in size. Under prior regulations, landowners attached these components as part of what would otherwise be a boat berthing structure, and argued these components were part of the “boathouse” because the previous definitions did not specifically exclude them.”

Here are the further details from the APA:

The 2002 definition limited boathouses to a “single story.” However, the definition fails to prohibit large “attics,” and extensive rooftop decks, resulting in some very large non-jurisdictional shoreline structures. The lack of clarity requires architect’s plans and time-consuming staff evaluation.

The 2009 proposal retains the 2002 provisions that define “boathouse” to mean “a covered structure with direct access to a navigable body of water which (1) is used only for the storage of boats and associated equipment; (2) does not contain bathroom facilities, sanitary plumbing, or sanitary drains of any kind; (3) does not contain kitchen facilities of any kind; (4) does not contain a heating system of any kind; (5) does not contain beds or sleeping quarters of any kind”.

The proposal adds: “(6) has a footprint of 900 square feet or less measured at exterior walls, a height of fifteen feet or less, and a minimum roof pitch of four on twelve for all rigid roof surfaces. Height shall be measured from the surface of the floor serving the boat berths to the highest point of the structure.”

The change is prospective only; lawful existing boathouse structures may be repaired or replaced pursuant to Section 811 of the APA Act within the existing building envelope. For those who wish to exceed the size parameters or expand a larger existing boathouse, a variance will be required. Standard shoreline cutting and wetland jurisdictional predicates still apply in all cases.

Shorelines are important to the Adirondack Park’s communities and environment. The dynamic ecosystems that edge Adirondack Park lakes, wetlands, rivers, and streams are critical to both terrestrial and aquatic species. Well-vegetated shorelines serve as buffer strips, protecting banks from erosion, safeguarding water quality, cooling streams, and providing some of the Park’s most productive wildlife habitat.

Large structures and intensive use at the shoreline causes unnecessary erosion and adverse impacts to critical habitat and aesthetics and raises questions of fair treatment of neighboring shoreline properties.

The Statutes and Regulations that the Agency is charged to administer strive to protect water quality and the scenic appeal of Adirondack shorelines by establishing structure setbacks, lot widths and cutting restrictions. However boathouses, docks and other structures less than 100 square feet are exempt from the shoreline setback requirements.

The four hearings are scheduled for the following dates and locations:

January 5, 2010, 6:00 p.m.
Adirondack Park Agency
Ray Brook, New York
This hearing will be webcast at the APA website.

January 6, 2010, 6:00 p.m.
Town of Webb Park Ave. Building
183 Park Ave.
Old Forge, New York

January 7, 2010, 11:00 a.m.
Department of Environmental Conservation
625 Broadway, Room 129B
Albany, New York

January 7, 2010, 6:00 p.m.
Lake George Town Hall
Lake George, New York

Written comments will be accepted until January, 17, 2009 and should be submitted to:

John S. Banta, Counsel
NYS Adirondack Park Agency
P.O. Box 99
Ray Brook, New York 12977
Fax (518) 891-3938


Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Weasel: Black and White and Curious All Over

In my humble opinion, one of the most adorable animals in our Adirondack woods is the weasel in winter. To be more precise, it’s two animals: the short-tailed weasel, or ermine (Mustela erminea), and the long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata). Both animals, with their pristine white fur, black-tipped tails, black button noses and alert black eyes, embody the essence of cute and curious, while at the same time filling the role of efficient predator.

Most of us, upon encountering a weasel, would be hard pressed to say if it was the long- or short-tailed variety, mainly because the encounter is likely to be fleeting. As the names suggest, the primary difference between these two mammals is the tail length: on the long-tailed weasel the tail is almost half as long as its body, whereas on the short-tailed weasel the tail is maybe a third of the body length. The short-tailed weasel is also the smaller of the two, but sometimes, without a side-by-side comparison, it can be difficult to tell which you have. According to D. Andrew Saunder’s Adirondack Mammals, the long-tailed weasel is the less common of the two species, but you couldn’t prove that by me, because I think every weasel I’ve encountered has been M. frenata.

Long and slender, weasels are ideal little predators. Their tubular bodies and short little legs enable them to flow easily across the landscape and into the dens of their favorite prey: mice and voles. But, just like any good predator, if the opportunity arises to take something larger, like, say, a gigantic snowshoe hare, it will. Food is food, and if the weasel can take it down, it will.

When it comes to energy conservation, however, this lithe body shape is far from ideal. If you look at most northern mammals, you see a tendency towards rounded body shapes, with abbreviated ears, short snouts, and short legs. Compactness is what it’s all about, for by being stocky an animal is better able to prevent heat loss during the long, cold winters. So how is the weasel, with its long body, short fur, and big ears, able to compensate? By feeding heavily and feeding often.

Many references, in describing weasels, refer to their tendency to partake in “bloodthirsty killing sprees.” This is really no more than an anthropomorphic description of an efficient hunting strategy. If you had to consume upwards of forty percent of your body weight every day just to stay warm, you’d probably do as the weasel does: take advantage of every prey item that passes your way. And if this means killing a whole family of mice when you are really only hungry for one, well, then you will just have to store the extra food away as insurance against lean times. Of course, this biological imperative is not likely to endear you to the farmer whose chickens you just wiped out.

While I know that weasels live in my neighborhood year-round, it really isn’t until winter that I become aware of their presence. As with all winter wildlife, any movement they make is recorded in the snow. The track pattern that catches the eye as distinctly weaselish is the 2×2 pattern, wherein you see two footprints side-by-side, followed by a space with no tracks, then another set of two. This pattern is made as the weasel leaps over the snow, its back humped slinky-like, its hind feet landing in the same pair of prints the front feet just made. Anyone who has had ferrets in his life knows exactly what this looks like (I used to have ferrets, so I speak from experience).

Winter is also when weasels are at their cutest, for it is now that they are all decked out in their splendid white fur. The only color that remains is the black tip on the tail, and the alert black eyes and little black nose. In the summer, the only white they sport is the fur on their bellies, the rest of their pelage being a basic brown (the tail keeps its black tip, regardless of the season). A weasel discovered in the spring or fall is likely to be a mottled mix of brown and white as the animal goes through its change. In the fall, the brown fur is shed and the new fur grows in white, thanks to hormones turning off the production of melanin, the pigment that determines coloration in fur (and hair, eyes, and skin). Come spring, the process is reversed and melanin is turned back on, causing the new fur to grow in brown as the white fur is molted out.

But why change color at all? It’s all about camouflage. Because it is constantly on the move looking for its next meal, a weasel’s cryptic coloration isn’t designed to improve its odds as a predator. Instead, it serves to help it avoid becoming dinner for something bigger, like a coyote, hawk or owl. This is also where the black-tipped tail comes into play. In one account I read, a hawk was presented with a stuffed weasel that had no black-tipped tail. The hawk attacked this presumed-food item on the head every time. When presented with a stuffed weasel that had a black-tipped tail, the hawk hesitated before striking (weasel has more time to escape) and then, more often than not, attacked the tail end (increasing the odds of weasel survival).

If you’d like to bring weasels to your property this winter, you can try putting out stashes of suet near good weasel habitat, such as brush piles. If there are weasels around, this will likely draw them out, for they are highly inquisitive animals and suet is a high-energy food source that will not fight back if pounced upon. Of course, you might have to fend of squirrels and other wildlife that are also attracted to your bait station. I may try this myself this winter, once the bears are denned down, and see if I can finally capture a photograph of weasel in its winter whites.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Weekly Adirondack Web Highlights


Friday, December 11, 2009

Lake George Sewage: DEC Demands Upgrades Costing Millions

New York State has officially closed its investigation of the July 5 sewer break that spilled thousands of gallons of sewage into Lake George and closed Shepard Park Beach to swimmers for the remainder of the summer.

But according to a consent order drafted by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, Lake George Village must agree to complete millions of dollars worth of improvements to the Village’s wastewater collection system if it is to avoid $10,000 in fines and other enforcement actions.

The Village’s Board of Trustees has not yet authorized Mayor Bob Blais to sign the consent order, said Darlene Gunther, the Village’s Clerk-Treasurer.

“The board is awaiting notification that the Village has received a grant that will help pay for the improvements, said Gunther.

“Once we receive the grant, we’ll sign it and then go ahead and do everything that is required of us,” said Mayor Blais.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has placed Lake George Village’s wastewater collection system on a list of municipal projects eligible for immediate federal funding, said Blais.

The Village should hear within a matter of days whether it has been awarded the grant, said Gunther.

Lake George Village has also submitted an application for funds that would allow the Village to install equipment at the Wastewater Treatment Plant that would remove nitrogen from effluent, said Blais.

Even if it signs the consent order, Lake George Village will still be required to pay $5000 in fines, but Village officials hope that sum can be reduced through negotiations, said David Harrington, the Village’s Superintendent of Public Works.

In return for agreeing to improve the system, state officials will agree to forego additional enforcement actions against the Village for violating, however inadvertently, state laws prohibiting the discharge of sewage into Lake George, the consent order states.

Among other things, the DEC requires Lake George Village to repair the broken pipe that caused the sewage spill and undertake remedial actions at the pump station in Shepard Park.

According to Harrington, those actions were completed within days of the break.

Crews from Lake George Village’s Department of Public Works and the construction firm TKC completed repairs to the pump station in Shepard Park and a new section of pipe where the break occurred was installed. Village crews also installed additional alarms within the building, said Blais.

The consent order also requires Lake George Village to draft an Asset Management Plan for the wastewater system, which, according to the consent order, must include: “an inventory of all wastewater collection system assets; an evaluation of conditions; a description of necessary repairs or replacements; the schedule for repairs; costs of repairs.”

At its November meeting, the Lake George Village Board of Trustees appropriated $5000 to retain C.T. Male Associates to draft the Asset Management Plan.

According to Blais, C.T. Male associates helped develop the application for the grant that is now pending.

“We were asked by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s staff to establish our priorities, and our priority is to slip line every sewer line where there’s a problem with infiltration of water,” said Blais.

“DEC’s priorities, as we understand them, are the priorities we’ve established,” Blais added.

Walt Lender, the Lake George Association’s executive director, said that he had not yet seen DEC’s order of consent and could not comment on its terms.

Peter Bauer, the executive director of The Fund for Lake George, praised the DEC for requiring Lake George Village to complete an Asset Management Plan.

“This is the first step in the prevention of future sewage spills; we need to know where the flaws in the system are, and this will help identify the improvements that must be made if we’re to address the chronically high coliform counts in waters near the Village,” said Bauer.

Dave Harrington estimated the costs of improvements to the wastewater system to be $3.2 million.

DEC’s consent order requires those improvements to be completed by September, 2011.

Photo: Shepard Park in June, before the spill that closed the beach. Lake George Mirror photo.

For more news from Lake George, read the Lake George Mirror. http://lakegeorgemirror.com


Friday, December 11, 2009

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