Thursday, May 26, 2011 10:46 AM
Oyster mushrooms have a taste for dirty disposable diapers. Would you have a taste for the resulting fungi?
Ever sassy and sardonic, The Hairpin offers a list of online dating’s pros and cons.
“I’ve got nothing to hide” ultimately makes a poor pro-surveillance argument. Here’s how to go up against it.
You provide the punchline: Tim Pawlenty gives a speech to a libertarian think tank . . .
The Atlantic wishes a happy birthday to one of its co-founders, Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Discover magazine found that the phrase “blind as a bat” was more appropriate than we originally thought. “By making clicks with their tongue and listening to the rebounding echoes,” some blind people can learn to “‘see’ the world in sound, in the same way that dolphins and bats can.”
NASA turns focus to deep space.
These pajamas will watch you sleep.
Are the posters in your city as cool as the posters in Amsterdam? These come from a poster initiative by Jarr Geerligs, “professional dreamer and realizer.”
All human civilizations have collapsed. Start preparing now for ours.
Why don’t more African-Americans visit national parks? James Mills hits the road to find out.
The future of egalitarian parenting: male lactation.
Big Ag is trying to outlaw farm photos taken by whistleblowing meddlers. But the Farmarazzi can’t be kept down.
A hospital in Slovakia prescribes music therapy for newborn babies when they’re separated from their mothers.
A high-schooler debunks the misleading physics of My Little Pony.
Monday, September 20, 2010 12:13 PM
“National parks get all the glory,” writes Jesse Smith at The Smart Set, but he says state parks deserve props, too. Smith notes that what many state parks lack in epic grandeur, they make up for with accessibility:
The state park system is arguably more diverse than its national counterpart. This seems counterintuitive, considering the 58 national parks are made up of biological and geological features that range from volcanoes to giant sequoias, glaciers to dry deserts. But the epic-ness of the national parks gives the system a kind of sameness—a collection of Big Wonders.
State parks can at first seem a bit tame in comparison—many consist of forest, hiking trails, maybe a lake with a swimming beach. They’re meant to provide easy access to the natural world (when budget cuts aren’t reducing it, that is). None of us can visit on a whim, say, the deepest lake in the Western Hemisphere, formed by a collapsed volcano. But in the two free days we have each week, we can fairly easy get to Lums Pond State Park or Cherry Creek State Park or Mashamoquet Brook State Park.
Smith notes that there are more than 6,000 state park units in the nation, attracting more than 725 million visits a year. “And yet you’ll never see the state parks on any kind of national calendar, on the face of any coin.”
Smith’s point is well taken, though I would add other state-administered public lands to the beautiful-and-overlooked category, including state forests, recreation areas, and wildlife areas. And although the small, charming state parks he mentions are well worth appreciating for their modest wonders, some state parks, especially in the West, cover serious acreage and/or have Big Wonders that actually rival those of many national parks. California’s redwood-packed Humboldt State Park and Utah’s stunningly panoramic Dead Horse Point State Park come immediately to mind.
There are also lots of federally administered lands outside the national parks that get comparatively short shrift in the shadow of El Cap, including national forests, wild and scenic rivers, wildlife refuges, and marine sanctuaries.
A little-known holiday, National Public Lands Day, celebrates virtually all these public lands, from grand to podunk, this Saturday, September 25. Learn about volunteer projects from habitat restoration to boardwalk building on the National Public Lands Day website.
Come to think of it, I’ve now got one more reason to suggest that no one become too obsessed with visiting all 58 national parks in some sort of life-list exercise: With all these other lands open to us, it’s simply not necessary to do so to take in the great natural sweep of our nation.
Source: The Smart Set, National Public Lands Day
Image by Alaskan Dude, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, October 22, 2009 11:12 AM
Black bears at Yosemite National Park break into minivans more than any other type of vehicle to find munchies, according to a new study published in the October 2009 Journal of Mammalogy. If this sounds like one of the elaborate faux studies cooked up by the Journal of Irreproducible Results, rest assured that actual, trained mammalogists are behind this one—albeit mammalogists who have a sense of humor about their Jellystone-esque research. The press release announcing the study is titled “Yosemite black bears select minivan as ‘Car of the Year’ ” and begins:
For a seven-year period, the top choice of vehicle by black bears in Yosemite National Park has been the minivan. The bears seem to base this decision on “fuel efficiency”—that is, which vehicle offers the best opportunity of finding a meal. As a result, black bears have shown a strong preference for breaking into minivans over other types of vehicles.
Between 2001 and 2007, bears broke into vehicles at the following rates: minivans, 26 percent; sport–utility vehicles, 22.5 percent; small cars, 17.1 percent; sedans, 13.7 percent; trucks, 11.9 percent; vans, 4.2 percent; sports cars, 1.7 percent; coupes, 1.7 percent; and station wagons, 1.4 percent.
Why is the minivan the vehicle of choice? Not simply because there are more minivans—many other types of vehicles were more often left overnight in the park, or “available” in the researchers’ parlance. The scientists from the U.S. Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Research Center offer four possible reasons:
Minivans are more likely to emit food odors, based on the fact that minivans are designed for families with children—who are more likely to spill food and drink in a vehicle.
Passengers of minivans are more prone to leave large amounts of food in a vehicle parked overnight.
Minivans may be structurally easier to break into than other types of vehicles. Bears most often gained access to minivans by popping open a rear side window.
A few individual bears could be responsible for all the break-ins, and they are displaying a learned behavior for choosing minivans.
In short, to campground bears who’ve learned bad behavior, vehicles are simply hard shells encasing many types of treats, whether it’s raw bacon and Bud Lite or goldfish crackers, dog food, and Juicy Juice. And minivans offer the best promise of treats and the easiest wrapper to open. The researchers noted that they “commonly saw car doors bent open, windows on all sides of the vehicle broken, and seats ripped out, all of which appeared effortless for bears.”
Amid the ursine humor in all this, let’s not forget that for bears, developing a taste for human food is often one of the worst things that can happen to them—“a fed bear is a dead bear,” as the saying goes. The researchers’ ultimate hope is to help resolve “bear-human conflicts” as people all around the world expand their range and more frequently come into contact with large carnivores.
See the instructional bear video that rangers show to overnight Yosemite visitors:
Source: Journal of Mammalogy
Wednesday, October 07, 2009 4:21 PM
I hope everyone who’s been watching the epic PBS documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea takes inspiration from the series, which was produced by Ken Burns and his longtime collaborator, writer Dayton Duncan. But one thing I hope they’re not inspired to do is follow in Duncan’s footsteps and attempt to visit all 58 national parks, a lifelong journey that he chronicles in the problematically titled article “Collect ’Em All” in the July-August Sierra magazine.
What’s wrong with visiting all the parks? Well, for starters, doing so would leave a massive carbon footprint. When Duncan unknowingly began his quest in 1959, visiting several parks on his Iowa family’s extended vacation, gasoline was cheap and seemingly plentiful and the idea of “carbon miles” was a million miles away. But now, alas, we know better: If we burned the auto and airplane fuel it would take to visit all the parks, many of which are in remote and hard-to-reach locations, we’d emit a huge amount of CO2 that ultimately would work against the very places we’re trying to preserve.
For another thing, “park bagging,” as I’ve heard it called, is ultimately an elitist pursuit, a game that very few can play. Face it, only the wealthiest and luckiest among us has the vacation time, the money, and the means to have a chance at ticking off all 58 parks, and even announcing your achievement to the world can come perilously close to bragging about what an amazingly fortunate life you lead—not the sort of message parks advocates should be sending. The National Parks quotes Teddy Roosevelt exclaiming at the Grand Canyon, “This is one of the great sights that every American, if he can travel at all, should see.” That middle clause, added wisely, is essential: Many Americans find it hard to travel to just one national park, let alone all of them.
Finally, the “collect ’em all” mentality goes against a better, nobler impulse, which is to get to know the land intimately. Better that we should acquaint ourselves with one, two, or a few parks very well than attempt to superficially survey them all in baseball-card-collector fashion. Several years ago, I worked for the summer in Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, driving a tourist shuttle van between the tiny gateway community of McCarthy and the mining relic town of Kennicott. Among my passengers I met a few park baggers, most memorably a man and his teenage son. They “explored” the park in an afternoon, which meant strolling among Kennicott’s dilapidated buildings, looking up at the stupendous glaciers around them, and then riding my van back down to resume their journey. Never mind that Wrangell-St. Elias is the nation’s largest park at 13 million acres, and that even someone who’s there for months, as I was, can barely claim to have scratched the surface of its vast wonder. The man told me that they were off next to the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, which they would fly over in a bush plane—not even setting foot on the tundra. They added both parks to their all-important list, yet they didn’t have a true wilderness experience in either place.
Now, I’ve got to cut Duncan some slack: He racked up some of his visits while researching and filming The National Parks, and the greater good that may come of the series is arguably worth the carbon he burned to do it. (This sort of rationale is how many “environmental” speakers and writers justify their flight-intensive, conference-hopping lifestyles.) But still, it seems that he, of all people, ought to know better than to wear his completed life list as some badge of honor.
Sour grapes? Maybe. I once thought I would travel to many of the world’s most beautiful places. The Patagonian Andes, Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands—all awaited my intrepid exploration. Now, with the reality of climate change hitting full force, I see that even if I had the means, visiting all my dream destinations just wouldn’t be right, and that in some ways staying close to home is the best way to honor the earth. So yes, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there are some national parks I will never see, and that photo or video images will be my only acquaintance with them. Which is why I’ve been watching every last episode of The National Parks.
Sources: PBS, Sierra, Teton Gravity Research, National Park Service
Image by Alaskan Dude, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, July 31, 2009 4:39 PM
Helvetica Man is a fixture of national parks, coffee shops, and airports around the world, helpfully pointing the way to bathrooms, elevators, and wet floors. His bulbous head and shapely figure are easy to understand, no matter what language a person speaks. This innocuous, multicultural figure did not emerge by accident. He was invented by the Austrian philosopher and social scientist Otto Neurath, according to the Smart Set. Neurath believed that language wasn’t the best way to impart knowledge universally, according to the article, and “sought instead a uniform visual communication system that relied on observation and experience.” Helvetica man, as he was later dubbed, became the cornerstone of that system.
The Smart Set
Friday, March 20, 2009 10:12 AM
Drug traffickers grow millions of pot plants in national parks, plundering public lands’ rivers and creeks to keep their thirsty crops thriving. Terrain, the eco-news magazine of Berkeley’s Ecology Center, reports that these illegal grows, which started in Southern California, have since infiltrated “every national park on the West Coast” and are rapidly spreading eastward.
We’re not talking about small patches of plants grown by enterprising hippies. Ron Pugh, a U.S. Forest Service agent who investigates these grows, clarifies to Terrain that the problem is with large-scale operations, not the gentle Humboldt County tokers you might be imagining.
He’s come prepared with a list of comparisons between a “hippie”grow and a DTO site—one maintained by a drug trafficking organization. A traditional garden on public lands, Pugh says, has one or two growers and fewer than fifty plants. The gardener, who lives locally, hikes in every other day or so, carrying water for his plants. Firearms are uncommon, and locations are predictable. “They’re within a quarter mile of a road,” Pugh explains, “and they’re rarely uphill. White guys are lazy.”
DTO sites, on the other hand, average 6,600 plants, and growers go to great lengths to keep them watered, using pumps and hoses to divert water from streams and rivers, and sometimes constructing illegal dams.
Image by LancerenoK, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009 11:52 AM
Call it scenery stimulus. America’s national parks are getting more than $900 million in funding in the recently passed stimulus bill, a much-needed shot in the arm for a system that has been underfunded for years. The money will be spent on a host of projects including maintaining trails, fixing roads, cleaning up old mine sites, constructing new facilities, and doing “energy efficient retrofits of existing facilities.”
The almost-a-billion amount hammered out in the Senate is quite a bit less than the $2.25 billion originally approved by the House, and far short of what is needed in the eyes of the National Parks Conservation Association, which says the parks have amassed a $9 billion backlog of maintenance and preservation projects.
Still, NPCA President Tom Kiernan welcomed the “reinvestment” in the “crumbling national park infrastructure” in a statement. “This is a very strong step toward restoring our national parks by 2016, the centennial of the National Park Service,” he said.
Parks aren’t the only outdoorsy beneficiaries of the stimulus package, whose details are being parsed by bloggers. Bill Schneider at New West describes the fish and wildlife habitat improvement projects in the bill. Greg Peters at EnviroWonk asks the broader question “The Stimulus: What’s In It for Enviros?” And Ned Hudson at The Daily Green takes a historical view of public works projects in “Why Investing in Parks Is Smart Economic Stimulus.”
Image of Lake McDonald courtesy of
Glacier National Park
Sources: National Parks Conservation Association, New West, EnviroWonk, The Daily Green, National Park Service
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