Tuesday, July 25, 2017

No Stinking Merit Badges for the Cheeto-in-Chief

By Bob Ferris

I did the Boy Scout thing.  It was basically fine.   I absorbed what was good about it and let the other stuff fly on by.  It is not an experience I think of daily but it is there on occasion when my fingernails are dirty or I feel the need to help someone cross the street.  Knots and compasses along with the camping trips in canvas tents that always leaked come to mind too.  But a lot of it was about being with other boys and learning not to be…a dick.  Donald Trump was never a Boy Scout which makes me all the more angry about Trump’s political dog-and-pony-show at the National Jamboree in West Virginia.  

Boy Scout Oath:
On my honor, I will do my best 
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; 
To help other people at all times; 
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight. 
The above is the Boy Scout Oath we memorized and took at every meeting.  I can think of few in public life who live their lives less in line with these principles than Trump.  And while most presidents see their obligation to the Boy Scouts as one of setting an example and talking about principle-driven behavior and citizenship such as President Obama did in 2010, Trump took a wildly different road.

Boy Scout Law:
A Scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.
For those not familiar with the Boy Scout Law I have included it above.  Read the expected traits and let them sink in starting with trustworthy.  It is truly hard to see intersection points between this president and these desired characteristics.  In this I find myself surprisingly agreeing with Trump’s new press secretary Anthony Scaramucci who in 2016 condemned Trump for his demagoguery.  

Trump’s Boy Scout Jamboree appearance was a green-wood campfire started with gasoline.   All of it was wrong.  It exploited children and its campaign-style tenor violated Boy Scout policies about keeping out of the political sphere.  It should embarrass the organization as it did the nation (1,2,3,4).  And Trump's words and actions stomped on pretty much every principle imbued by this century old organization.  It does not take much to get a bunch of exited young males to roar, what does take skills and character is leadership and in Trump we have far too much of the former and absolutely none of latter.  Poorly done indeed.   

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Trump and the Foul Winds of Mrs. Kissell

By Bob Ferris

I used to have a friend who when faced with nonsense or ill-placed blame would say: We always kick the dog when the old lady breaks wind.  This could have been a recasting of the above clip from the movie 10, but might have come from something earlier.  I think about this as I watch Trump try to lay off some of his son’s blame on former Attorney General Loretta Lynch because she, after all, let the Russian Attorney in the country in the first place.  Hmmm.  
“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence [sic].” US Constitution Bill of Rights Amendment VI
Let’s think on this for a moment.  The Russian lawyer in question came to this country under what are considered emergency and deeply American conditions.  She was allowed into the US because her client—the son of a Russian oligarch—needed representation in a federal court case involving money laundering among other issues.  The judge in the case asked for this emergency immigration parole because we in the US believe that anyone deserves representation (see 6th Amendment above) when tried or testifying in the US.  So this woman was in this country because of that pesky document we call the US Constitution.  

This immigration parole was for a single, expressed purpose and had an expiration date like all of these paroles.  The expiration date was extended, but the purpose was not expanded.  Yet here she was with a support cast of Russian-born and Russian-connected helpmates meeting with members of candidate Trump's inner circle.  Loretta Lynch did not set up the meeting and the Secret Service did not review or approve the action.  But Trump still “kicks the dog.”

Two recurring themes are raised here.  The first is that Trump knows very little about the American principles embodied by our Founders or how government actually works.  This idea of a democracy or even a republic is fundamentally at odds with his apparent preferred state of a dynastic monarchy.  For how can we have King Donald I or Princess Ivanka and her consort Jared if they can be bound by the rules or norms of common folk?   

The second and perhaps sadder reality is that Trump and his gruesome gaggle of adoring family and sycophants seem as incapable of accepting responsibility or fault for anything as they do of embracing truthfulness.  For his entire career Trump has been the “bull in a china shop” leaving destruction in his wake never once owning his part in the wreckage.   One wonders in this if he even senses the broken plates and saucers or simply sees the shards and fragments as a logical by-product of the world enjoying his magnificent Trump-ness.  

Frustration and meanness bubbles up in me when I think about what we are seeing in DC.  Without much effort the classic cartoon sequence from Fantasia of a hippo dancing in a tutu comes to mind.  It is comical for a while but my smile leaves as I start to see modern-day parallels.  The circling hippos, for instance, isolate and enable the central hippo creating and reenforcing the false impression of true skills and grace.  That is before a lack of functional stamina forces a collapse on a fragile day bed or what is classically known as a fainting couch.  This last collapsing couch imagery compares much too closely for comfort to what Trump and his allies are doing to our expectations for the presidency and our system of government which are both strained to their limits by the weight of his corruption and ineptness.    

The movie 10 was a comedy and Fantasia was a cartoon that used absurdity to draw people to neglected classical music like the hippo piece—Amilcare Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours.” This was fine music that Walt Disney felt that most would sadly fail to hear or appreciate.  That was unless they were eventually fans of a 1960s era parody song by Allan Sherman.   But the presidency cannot be a comedy or descend to absurdity if we hope to remain a world leader or vibrant nation.  

Moreover,  there comes a time in everyone’s life when they finally have to face the music for their actions.  And if we want to regain credibility, this should be Trump’s.  We simply cannot have a shell-company or LLC-type of presidency.  I am encouraged by this discovery of a memo indicating that the president can be indicted and agree with those who are wearing t-shirts or caps emblazoned with the slogan “It’s Mueller Time.” In point of fact it is well past time.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Wolves: A Fierce Green Fire or Beasts of Waste and Desolation (from April 2012)

By Bob Ferris
Mark Johnson DVM training me to listen to wolf's heart beat on animals being processed for release in Yellowstone in 1996.
I once read a piece written by astronomer Timothy Ferris (no close relation) about science and politics.  Part of his argument was that science, true science had to be conducted in a liberal setting.  He further argued that conservative and liberal were not polar opposites.  He put forth cogently in the piece that progressive and conservative were on opposite ends of the political spectrum with conservatives being people who were more comfortable with the past and progressives being more at home in the future and embracing change.

Add to this linear construct measures of the relative degree of political system constraints from totalitarian to liberal and you end up with a model that allows you to efficiently map political regimes.  Under this design conservative totalitarianism would be fascism and the same restrictive approach embracing the future (progressive totalitarianism)would represent communism.  Libertarians would actually be liberal conservatives (i.e., don’t tread on me and I love the past or status quo) and socialism would hug the progressive end of the plot somewhere north (more liberal) of communism.

I have often shared this with folks when they start calling me names like Nazi or Commie—sometimes both simultaneously—as a method for clarifying my position and adding a common language to these often acrimonious and sometimes silly and artificially polarized conversations.  Today as I was participating in some debates between wildlife biologists about wolf recovery, it hit me that we could probably map biological philosophies and biologist types using a similar method.  But what would or should we use as the scalars?

Here I think that conservative and progressive could also apply but those could be replaced easily by Teddy Roosevelt (yes, I know he founded the Progressive Party) and Aldo Leopold and the totalitarian versus liberal could be replaced by applied versus theoretical.  The conservative side of this could also be thought to be grounded in wildlife management primarily for human benefit such as hunting or prevention of crop or livestock damage.  And the progressive could be linked with a desire for understanding rather than controlling.  These are obviously gross and not completely accurate representations, but useful nonetheless.

Before you start going on and on about the problems of generalizations and stereotypes, think about wildlife and conservation biologists you know and see where they might end up on this diagram.  In my experience, biologists found in the lower right hand corner of this diagram are much more likely to see predator control as a viable and necessary component of wildlife management.  Someone in the upper left is much less likely to hold those same beliefs.

I have purposely narrowed the gap between theoretic and applied because I think that the philosophical divide between TWS and SCB members has narrowed as well over the years.   This is in part because Michael Hutchins (TWS CEO) has been trying to push his membership more in that direction.  The soon-to-be-released analysis of predator control programs by TWS is a case in point.  I am not sure that we would have seen something along those lines in the mid-1980s when I initially joined TWS.  That said, the proof in this particular pudding will be the content and thrust of the analyses contained in the report.

The above is not to say that there are not some wildlife or conservation biologists who are off the charts in all directions, just as there are climatologists who do not absolutely embrace the reality of climate change or our role in that phenomenon.  But this is really not about those souls more than two standard deviations from the norm; it is about the rest of us and seeing how grounding and professional entry points might subtly or profoundly influence our relative takes on predator value and management.
With Steve Fritz and Dave Mech in Fort Saint John, British Columbia.  Minus 45 degrees F is pretty cold for a boy raised in California.

I have through experience and age a foot solidly in both camps with my early technical exposure coming from khaki-shirted deer and fish maximizers when Nixon was still president and my graduate work on the eve of the Clinton candidacy.  It puts me in a spot where both factions have made me cringe at times.  And that is OK and all part of a healthy discipline and dialog.  So where am I going with all of this?

The wolf debates in the Intermountain West have jumped off the logic tracks and been driven there equally by hysteria and dismissiveness.  My plea is for biologists from all parts of this construct to first have some self-awareness about where you might fall in this philosophical dynamic and how that might color your view.  And then, regardless of how uncomfortable it might make you, speak out publicly and call for an end of the hysteria (i.e., wolves are driving elk to extinction) and dismissiveness (i.e., nothing is happening) in favor of an honest and rational examination of what is transpiring and why.

The two exemplars I used above—Aldo Leopold and Teddy Roosevelt—and others helped to draw many of us into our profession.  These two in particular are important because they were also very principled players who staked out defensible positions and then defended those positions in the face of robust opposition.  We should all remember that the next time someone says that wolves have decimated elk populations in the Rockies or that predation is always compensatory and never additive.  We have a responsibility and an obligation to set them straight and demand that they support their claims.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Trump and the Secret of Quail Hunting

By Bob Ferris

In the late 1970s when I was vacillating between vocation and avocation I took the insane step of buying a feed and seed store and then another.  It was the initial step in transitioning from office work in a suit and tie with higher pay to returning to my wildlife conservation pathway with its own set of mostly non-monetary rewards.  One of the few perks of the feed store gig was that I was occasionally asked by ranchers who grew alfalfa, oat hay or straw for the store to hunt their harvested fields with them.  This is where I was first exposed to California quail.  It takes an adjustment.

My mother was born in Willows, California.  This is rice country near the refuge so we would hunt ducks and pheasants on our fall visits.  I would do the same with ducks and doves visiting my relatives in South Carolina.  But quail…quail are different.  They do not fly so much as burst and explode.  It is adrenalin-dripping, startling and distracting.  Much like this drama we are seeing with Trump and the Russians. (Below is a video of a different species of quail in New Jersey likely filmed during census work.  Imagine a covey three or four times this one and flying faster.)   

My first experience yielded two birds and more spent shells than I care to recount.  My pair looked meager next to the pile of birds one of my compatriots was plucking.  I sat and he turned to me and said one word: Focus.  I must have looked confused so he continued: Focus on one bird and then move on to the next.  He went on to argue that coveys were primarily air so random shots at a covey got you mostly atmosphere and not birds.  Somehow this got me thinking about the same being true for atoms and electrons, but I saw his point.  And it had broad applicability.  

So if we think about the Trump Clump as a covey of quail, we see what is so frequently transpiring.  When we come close they scatter and flap loudly causing confusion hoping that we take aim at air rather than any one individual.  To be crystal-clear this analogy ends at drawing parallels between the actions of flocking birds wishing to evade predators and this cadre of casual or conscious colluders and does not encourage violence of any sort beyond that wrought in courts of law and voting booths. There is a hope in this that those investigating and pursuing this “covey” maintain their focus and are not distracted by the flapping wings of those in flight or others who would like to see those in this covey fly free without consequence.  This latter happenstance would seem tragic given the great damage this covey and their allies have done our country and our democracy.

Interestingly, I have not hunted quail since then as I left the sweat and growing debt of that enterprise to return to school and enter this more natural realm for me.  But I always appreciated the opportunity and those who provided it.  I appreciated the lessons too and stuck them along with others in my mental filing cabinet.

Processing one of the captured deer on my study site in the 1980s.
Coincidentally, nearly a decade later when I was in graduate school part of my research area abutted a ranch held by the same family.  They were donating this land to the state park system.  I had special access to this additional area and often tracked my radio-collared deer through the oak-studded rangelands.  And one day while walking the fence I spied one of their calves that had somehow slipped through the wire to the road side of the fence.  The calf was a long way from being weaned and was bawling for its agitated mother.  I scooped the calf up and deposited where it need to be.  I felt good about the act as it seemed like some sort of minimum re-payment for the hunting trip and access.   And it was the right thing to do.

I mention this calf and act as a lesson too.  As once we deal with this destructive covey and those that have enabled it, we will have a massive amount of repair work to undertake. During that process we will have to remember and remind others that we are part of a community, culture and country that looks out for each other and can pull together in times of crisis.  We do not take the calf that has wandered selfishly keeping it is as ours, but put it back where it rightfully belongs.