Friday, July 1, 2011

We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us

A California couple reserved a campsite months ago for a three-week stay in Kodachrome Basin State Park, one of the crown jewels of Utah's red rock country.

They pulled out after two days. "We've got welts from head to toe," they said.  A great swatch of southern Utah, including virtually all of the Grand Staircase/Escalante national monument, and much of Dixie national forest, is infested with biting midges -- also called "no-see-ums -- and they're making life miserable for early summer visitors.
Long-time residents can't remember anything equal to this infestation of the blood-sucking parasites.

"I don't know why they're so numerous, and so vicious, this year," said a ranger at the multi-agency visitor center in Escalante.

Short-term studies elsewhere in the world, in both the beach and mountain habitats the pests prefer, suggest that global climate change is the culprit.  The changes in climate seem to favor  parasites.

Shifts in climate alter the landscape.  When wildlife populations have to cope with changes in their habitat, their range and behavior often shift dramatically.  The timing of annual events such as migrations, mating seasons and hibernation are disrupted.  Not just individual species are so affected; the entire web of life, dependent upon seasonal rhythms to survive, is upset.

Thus a campground in Wyoming has suddenly been invaded by a horde of massasauga pygmy rattlesnakes -- hundreds of miles north of their normal range. Warning signs are posted at the entrance to the Firehole site, and the campground manager makes special trips to reiterate the warning for newcomers.

Human behavior is changing the planet that sustains us -- and not for the better.

Visitors to Green River and Rock springs, WY, are urged to travel a scenic loop through the foot of the Uinta Mountains.  Wildlife abounds for much of the route.  Then you enter the Clay Basin.  All you can see for miles is brown desert scrubland pockmarked with the  barren circles surrounding gas wells.  When the area had been sucked dry midway in the first decade of this century, Questar turned it into a massive gas storage operation: 89,000 feet of pipe, 29 field dehydration units and 44 injection and storage wells.  Not a creature stirs.  Barren and ugly.

There's a similar wasteland south of Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado.  The Worst Congressman, Stevan Pearce of New Mexico, wants to do this to a place called Otero Mesa.  It's not as spectacularly beautiful as the despoiled parts of Utah and Colorado, but it's a haven  for wildlife including several protected species.  If Pearce has his way, their habitat will be replaced by lifeless circles around gas wells.  The extraction procedures will threaten with poisons a vast underground water table,t he potential partial solution to a sere region's ongoing water shortages.

What fools these mortals be.

Wildfires, stoked by strong winds far beyond the normal windy season, are destroying swaths of trees and brush in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Tornadoes in record numbers and severity savaged other parts of the country.  In areas where water is abundant, swollen rivers flood cities and threaten  nuclear plants.    Atlantic coastal communities await with  trepidation the coming of the next hurricane season, and the biological fate of the Gulf of Mexico remains uncertain in  the wake of the BP oil disaster.

The profits of Questar and BP -- like those of their fellow corporate rapists Exxon, Chevron, et al -- soar and their CEO's bonuses soar with them.  Yet nearly one in ten Americans is jobless and those who are employed see no increase in their paychecks even as food costs skyrocket.

Happy Independence Day, America.

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