Updated: Jul 28, 2020
A mid-April blizzard in Minnesota is the setting for this month’s ALO news, and it’s a doozy. It is forecast to last 2-3 days and in some areas bring as much as 2 feet of snow. Nearly that much has fallen in places west of here already, but only about 4 inches have arrived at the farm. April snow storms are historically quite common in Minnesota but in recent years the intensity has been much higher. 24 inches is historic, and with that there is heavy thunder and hail, which is extremely uncommon. Late storms have the potential to be tough on wildlife, and because that is a main focus here on the farm it is always a concern how the local critters will do. Before the storm they were here in abundance.
Alaska’s weather is a different story. Bethel was among many Alaska weather stations that set all kinds of records this winter. Between Feb 1st and the end of March, which is typically solid winter weather, there were only five days that the temperature didn’t go above freezing, and many of those days it was way above freezing. Despite a decent snow covering in January, all the snow was gone in March, and ice started to fail on the rivers as well. This article points to some of the issues, which included the deaths of two men that went through the ice on a four wheeler near Bethel. While this winter was exceptionally warm, it is part of a pattern that has existed for many years. Alaska's rate of warming is twice the national average, and has resulted in substantial reduction in sea ice, which in turn hastens warming because the water warms quickly when the ice disappears. Readers who are climate skeptics must feel a bit uneasy knowing that science is proving right, and actual global warming is outpacing some of the predictions from years ago. Know this about climate change: the young people of America know that many old folks have it wrong. If you spend your time spouting climate skepticism around young people, those kids are privately talking about the weird old folks and will eventually blame them for the drastic changes in living conditions that are looming. It won’t be pretty. And if you wonder why there is resistance to the notion that there is a crisis at hand, look no further than this. The same people who make billions extracting and selling fossil fuel, spend immense sums to protect their turf. It comes down to this. Many politicians are bought off in this way, and those same politicians parrot the industry’s position in campaigns and in speaking engagements. Eventually people assume they are hearing the truth.
ALO was asked to contribute local information to a lawsuit pending in US District Court in Seattle, related to the Donlin mine Project. The Sierra Club and other groups joined forces to challenge loopholes in the 2015 rule defining "waters of the United States" for purposes of applying the Clean Water Act. The loopholes are designed to benefit industrial agricultural operations, surface mines, and companies that want to fill in, pave, and build over wetlands and small streams. The groups are now pressing the Court for the Western District of Washington to strike down the so-called "waste treatment system exclusion," a loophole that has been invoked by the operators of the proposed Donlin Mine to justify burying natural wetlands and streams on the site under mine waste and runoff, in a pit lake and contact water ponds that will be used to "treat" wastewater from the mine in perpetuity. In support of that, this affidavit was prepared. Its easy to support an organization like the Sierra Club. When there is a choice between protecting the environment and allowing corporate greed to destroy the environment, the Sierra Club supports the environment. They play for keeps and have won some monumental battles against great odds. In this case they needed a Sierra Club member who was personally involved in activities that could be affected by damage to the waters of the Kuskokwim, and was willing to take a stand against Donlin. As a long time Sierra Club member, that was an easy call.
Another project is in the works that calls for close scrutiny. A power company in the Dillingham area wants to install a hydro project on the Nuyukuk River which drains four lakes in the Wood-Tikchik State Park, including the lake where the Angstman cabin is located. The project would involve piping water around a waterfall on the river, which would take about ¼ of the water out of the river at that point. Of course a large number of salmon ascend that falls, and figuring out how much water they need to do so is tricky business, especially as glaciers in the area disappear and reduce the inflow. Potentially trashing an ecosystem for a small savings on electricity is not a good idea, especially if the power company has to maintain a power plant anyway as a back-up. This article from Dillingham discusses the project.
Speaking of fishing, this mink has devised a better plan. And these caribou might have a precarious perch. But they fared better than this moose near Bethel. Warmer conditions and less snow resulted in lots of rotting ice which creates hazardous conditions for all travelers. With a deep snow pack, the ice often gets broken in sturdy chunks like the caribou were riding. Those chunks break up as a result of high water surging down the river. Without a deep snow pack there is less high water, and the ice is not protected from the sun and rots, creating soft spots. This month’s mandatory moose ignored the stern warning signs at the edge of this Alaska Air Force base, and trotted right past the fighter jets parked there.
One of the best April Fool’s day pranks ever was recently recalled in Sitka. Mt Edgecumbe is a dormant volcano that dominates the harbor in front of Sitka. In 1974 a bunch of guys with a finely tuned sense of humor and access to a helicopter transported a huge batch of tires to the inner part of the volcanic crater. Then they lit them on fire. Of course, a dormant volcano is one that hasn’t gone off lately, but no one ever claims its forever. A brave soul took his plane to the scene and as he flew by he saw the smoke, the tires, and the word April Fool spray painted in the snow. Here’s a link to the whole story.
Pete Kaiser’s win the Iditarod continues to make news. Recently the Bethel City Council established Pete Kaiser Day, a city holiday for March 13, the day he won. In addition he will throw out the first pitch at an upcoming Seattle Mariners game. In so doing, he becomes the first, and likely last, member of the Old Friendly Dog Farm softball team to have such an honor. When asked whether he would be throwing a fast ball or a curve, Pete replied “underhand” and then texted a series of the worst ten celebrity first pitch efforts in history. Pete was a steady home run hitter for the Dog Farm. Speaking of Iditarod, this article recalls that Gold Rush town that now serves as a remote checkpoint for the race. In the 1979 race, it was 30 below when a thirsty rookie rolled into Iditarod at about 5 am after a rugged run that took longer than expected. The sparse check point crew was all sleeping, but one was rousted and he pointed out the water hole in the ice which served as the only water source for the checkpoint. A long walk revealed a six inch hole with a bit of an ice covering. An axe broke the ice, and there was a small metal sauce pan that served as a dipper. A dim headlight provided just enough light to see that the water was sort of a rusty orange color. The checkpoint sat on a back water slough of the Iditarod River, which accounted for the swampy water. There was no choice. Gulping down the first water in 12 hours was the only option. Bottoms up. Anyone who has consumed water from an ice hole, from a metal pan knows how cold that gulp was. Add the air temp, and the taste of the swamp water, and it was almost undrinkable. Why not have another? The second one did the trick. Nome was still more than 500 miles away, and at that point it seemed impossible.
Finally some Trump news. It was alarming to learn that windmills cause cancer. Of course there is a windmill right next to ALO in Bethel, and also one on the farm. There is some suspicion that windmills are also the cause of global warming. After all, something must be moving that hot air all over the planet. White House scientists will be working on that theory day and night. David Letterman used to talk about Trump back before he was elected and he was an occasional guest on the show. Apparently Letterman said some things about Trump one night that were not well received. Letterman was asked to make an apology. Being the stand-up guy he is, Letterman did apologize, and it was a classic.