Friday, December 12, 2014

Spring in December

Partial sunshine and mild air pushed into central Missouri today.  Down at the Forum Nature Area, it looked like winter but felt more like spring and the avian residents seemed to enjoy the conditions as much as I did.

As I wandered through the preserve, a background chorus was provided by robins, chickadees and roaming flocks of cedar waxwings, broken now and then by the harsh calls of crows, blue jays and red-tailed hawks.  At songbird corner (my personal label), northern cardinals, dark-eyed juncos and white-throated sparrows twittered among the thickets; the latter species, perhaps sensing the approach of spring, were delivering their homesick tune.  Out on the seasonal lake, a pair of great blue herons waded through the calm shallows, stopping now and then to spear a fingerling.

Of course, the mild interlude also brought out joggers, headphone-walkers and trail bikers, all zooming past on their way to a pre-ordained finish line.  Our spring in December is courtesy of the potent storm system that is bringing high winds, heavy rains and mountain snows to California; as it pushes east and  drags in warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico, the storm will ignite thunderstorms across the Southern Plains and Mississippi Valley before moving on to the Eastern States.  In its wake, winter will drop back through the Heartland.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Humans & Vegetables

Childrens' distaste for vegetables is both well known and a common theme in advertising and entertainment.  Yet, we must acknowledge that children tend to speak the truth, unencumbered by social pressure and adult taboos.

As an adult who freely admits a limited attraction to vegetables (raw carrots, celery and fresh salads are favored) I am inclined to defend the youth of our species.  While I suspect that most humans like the natural taste of meats, fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts, fruits and grains, most of us must season our vegetables, fry them in butter, caramelize them with sugar or smother them with sauce before we enjoy their flavor; even salads are made palatable by topping them with dressing, cheese and croutons.  By contrast, most of us enjoy fruits and nuts right from the tree (or shrub) and require only a bit of cooking before we eagerly consume meat, fish and eggs.

While early human ancestors may have munched on leaves and other plants to supplement their diet, one suspects that vegetables, given their taste, may have eventually gained favor in areas where other nutritious foods were in short supply.  Perhaps this is all my self-serving imagination, an attempt to justify my child-like approach to vegetables.  Then again, when certain companies market veggie drinks to make their consumption more tolerable, there must be something to my theory.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Boreal Owls

Boreal owls are small raptors that inhabit mixed conifer-aspen forests across Alaska, Canada and northern Eurasia; their range also extends southward through northern Minnesota, the Cascades and the Rocky Mountains.  Though widespread and fairly common, boreal owls are rarely encountered, primarily due to their small size and strict nocturnal lifestyle.

When observed, they are generally perched in a conifer, where they spend the daylight hours; identification is made by their small size (females are larger than males), tuftless head, yellow eyes, speckled crown, white facial disc and brown and white plumage.  Feeding primarily on mice and songbirds, boreal owls may fall victim to larger owls, fishers or pine martens.  Tree cavities are used for nesting and the clutch size varies widely, averaging 5-6 young; the female incubates the eggs while the male guards the site and brings food.

Though widespread in the subalpine forests of Colorado, boreal owls are (in my experience) most commonly observed and reported near Cameron Pass, west of Fort Collins.  Of course, this may reflect the large population of birders along the Front Range urban corridor and the accessibility of that relatively low pass (10,300 feet).

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

December Gray

A milky-gray dome stretched above central Missouri today, diffusing the sunlight and dulling whatever color is left in the mid December landscape.  Sunrise and sunset were also devoid of color, merely announced by a gradual brightening and darkening of the frosted-glass dome.

With a cold front sagging to our south, a stationary front to our west and the nearest low on the Eastern Seaboard, there was no lift or surface wind to disturb the calm, winter air mass.  While one might say it was a cloudy day, individual clouds could not be identified and no layering of the overcast was evident; neither pockets of blue nor bright horizons held promise of a coming change.

It was, indeed, a classic winter sky in the American Midwest, too cold for rain and too dry for snow.  Beneath the opaque sky, our wild neighbors went about their business, oblivious of the filtered sunlight, and many humans, focused on their holiday shopping, were happy enough to have clear, dry roads.  Some of us would prefer a good winter snowstorm to ring in the season while others despise the December gray, counting the days until the first crocuses poke above the cold, wet soil.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Birding the Wastewater Wetlands

Columbia, Missouri, has a state-of-the-art, eco-friendly wastewater treatment facility, consisting of a chain of wetlands in the lower Perche Creek Valley, southwest of town.  Surrounded by a raised levee and graveled roadway, it is an excellent area for birding; since our local wildlife refuge has been closed for duck hunting, I opted for the wastewater area, where the value of other life forms is clearly acknowledged.

Yesterday afternoon, green-winged teal were abundant on the open pools, joined by smaller flocks of gadwall and mallards. An adult and two immature bald eagles soared above the valley and a pair of noisy red-tails called from the forested hills.  Riparian woodlands north of the facility were filled with thousands of American robins while sycamore groves to the south were alive with woodpeckers and a host of winter songbirds.  Eastern bluebirds and American goldfinches perched on the wire fencing, dark-eyed juncos foraged along the roadway and song sparrows flitted among the marsh reeds.

Of course, I was hoping that the high-pitched calls of snow geese might pierce the gray overcast but those vocal migrants remain elusive this season.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed my stroll around the wastewater marshes, where solitude is almost guaranteed and where silence is broken only by the calls of avian residents, the distant rumbling of freight trains and occasional chatty bikers on the Katy or MKT Trails.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

America's Lucrative Pheasant

Native to Asia, ring-necked pheasants were introduced to North America in 1881; initially bred in captivity and released on private hunting reserves, this hardy game bird has become established in grassland habitats across the northern half of the U.S. and southern Canada.

Most abundant on the Great Plains and selected as the State Bird of South Dakota, ring-necked pheasants are polygamous and prolific.  Dominant males establish harems during the breeding season and females lay multiple clutches until chicks are successfully hatched.  Known to have a negative impact on greater prairie chicken populations (a native species), male pheasants chase male chickens from their territory and female pheasants may parasitize the nests.  Though hundreds of thousands of male ring-necked pheasants are harvested by hunters each year, such artificial population control is, to some degree, countered by the polygamous breeding habits of these popular game birds; of course, many others are killed by severe weather, vehicles or farm machinery.

More than a century after Americans introduced ringed-necks to our continent, we have, in effect, created a massive hunting preserve from the Pacific to the Atlantic.  In some Great Plains States, pheasant hunting is vital to the economy, bringing in funds from hunting licenses and the patronage of regional stores, hotels and restaurants.  While the pheasants have imbedded themselves in natural ecosystems across the country, providing sustenance for hawks, owls, coyotes, fox and a host of egg consumers, they are unwitting participants in man's manipulation of nature for his own benefit, a practice that has nothing to do with conservation.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Suet Platoon

As the dark, cold days of December envelop Missouri, I add suet to our backyard handouts.  While the chunks of high calorie food do not increase the diversity of common winter residents and visitors, the extra activity does augment the chance of attracting rare or uncommon species that might be in the neighborhood.

As is usually the case with new feeders, chickadees are the first residents to inspect the suet, followed by white-breasted nuthatches, titmice, Carolina wrens and downy woodpeckers.  Eventually, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers, northern flickers, red-breasted nuthatches and brown creepers join the suet platoon; indeed, any winter insectivore (including yellow-rumpled warblers) may partake at times.

Industrious (or frugal) birders often produce their own suet blocks, using a wide variety of ingredients.  Most of us, lacking such competence or enthusiasm, would rather shell out a couple bucks for the packaged suet sold at most markets and feed stores.  Fortunately, our Missouri squirrels (both gray and fox) do not have a taste for suet (unlike our Colorado fox squirrels) and keeping this winter treat available is a weekly chore at most.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Flooding in a Parched Landscape

Over the past week, an atmospheric trough developed off the California coast, sweeping Pacific moisture across that parched landscape.  Within a few days, many regions of the State received more precipitation than they had in all of 2013.

Falling on slopes ravaged by wildfires, the steady rains triggered floods and mudslides while, in some urban areas, storm drains could not handle the deluge, stranding motorists and producing sinkholes.  Welcome snows fell across the Sierra Nevada and Transverse Ranges but rapid runoff limited the storm system's benefit at lower elevations.

A significant dent in California's severe, multi-year drought will require recurrent Pacific storm fronts throughout the winter months.  The current atmospheric trough (produced by a dip in the jet stream) is already moving on and meteorologists remain uncertain whether an El Nino pattern will take hold; that oceanic and atmospheric phenomenon would favor the development of recurrent storms in the coming months as the waters of the eastern Pacific begin to warm.  By contrast, a La Nina pattern is characterized by high pressure off the California coast, driving warm surface water and moist air to the west and shunting storm systems northward into Canada and Alaska.  Californians are certainly hoping for a boy this winter!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

White-Crowned Sparrows

Summer residents of Alaska, northern Canada and the alpine tundra of North America's western mountains, white-crowned sparrows winter across most of the Lower 48 (the Northern Plains, New England and South Florida excluded).  There they are usually found in sizable flocks, feasting on a variety of seeds in abandoned farm fields or in shrub lines along pastures; they might also visit feeders, especially in rural towns or semi-rural suburbs.

In Colorado, white-crowned sparrows are among the more common alpine summer residents and are best found near the stunted spruce and bristlecone pines at timberline.  While they migrate through the Front Range urban corridor in spring and fall, they are especially abundant in May as they return from the Southern Plains.  Here in central Missouri, white crowns are locally common winter residents on the farmlands that surround Columbia and, in my experience, are most often observed at suburban feeders in March or early April.

On their northern or alpine breeding grounds, these slender but hardy sparrows place their nest in low shrubs or directly on the ground; 3-5 young are raised and the family feasts on both insects and seeds throughout the summer months.  The male parent is highly territorial during this period and his distinctive song is delivered day and night.  By early autumn, the family members disperse; juvenile white-crowns retain their buff-colored head stripes until the following spring and are thus easily identified in winter flocks.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Cheap Oil & Climate Change

Now that oil prices have dropped to their lowest point in years, Conservative pundits are predicting the demise of clean, renewable sources of energy.  Investors have also punished the stocks of solar, wind and fuel cell companies, concluding that their glory days are over.  Neither group seems terribly concerned about the issues of pollution and climate change.

Of course, in this fickle world, where a terrorist attack or military conflict is just a news day away, the price of oil could rebound at any time, rescuing the profits of oil companies and the budget of several fragile oil-producing countries.  As we accept the gift of low gas and heating oil prices for the holidays, business panels debate whether Americans will return to gas-guzzling vehicles and lose interest in electric cars.

Once again, corporate policies focus on the short-term prospect for profits and the global factors that might impact that goal; the opportunity to address global warming has taken a back seat to dealing with a worldwide glut of oil.  In the end, of course, it doesn't matter if we destroy our planet by burning cheap or expensive fossil fuel.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Fishers of the Forest

Fishers are large members of the mustelid (weasel) family; second in size only to the river otter, male fishers may weight up to 13 pounds.  Solitary for most of the year, fishers prefer dense, old-growth forest where they hunt on the ground and in the trees; snowshoe hares and porcupines are their most common prey species but these omnivores also consume other small mammals, wild turkeys, grouse, fish (rarely, despite their name), fruit, nuts, mushrooms and carrion.  Though they seem to have few natural predators, records of attacks by lynx, coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions have been documented.

Fishers reach sexual maturity within one year and generally have a lifespan of 5 years or less in the wild; captive animals may live ten years or more.  Females give birth to an average of 3-4 kits in spring, most often using a tree cavity as a den; mating occurs soon thereafter but implantation of the fertilized eggs is delayed until the following spring.  Young fishers become independent by autumn and the litter mates disperse to establish their own territories; like their parents, they may be active day or night.

Native to North America, fishers inhabit the boreal forests of Canada and mature forests in New England, the Upper Great Lakes Region and the Northern Rockies (primarily in Canada, Idaho and Montana); isolated populations have also been found in the northern Sierra Nevada.  Over-trapping significantly reduced their population by the early 1900s but their numbers have since rebounded and stabilized.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Environmentalism & Religion

Several days ago, the PBS News Hour reported that the Communist Party of China is beginning to soften its stance on the expression of religion, apparently convinced that faith will boost support for environmentalism.  While their shift toward individual human rights is refreshing, I fail to see the connection between mysticism and a commitment to conservation.

Though Buddhism and other Eastern Religions are more in tune with a nature-based spirituality than the more human-based dogma of Western Religions, all forms of mysticism diminish the authority of science, which is vital to our understanding and effective protection of natural ecosystems.  This is especially true when religious faith depicts man as a chosen species, endowed with spiritual traits that are not shared by other forms of life.  Once we deny our interdependence with the plants and other animals that inhabit this planet, the less committed we are to their welfare and protection.

While there are certainly many ardent conservationists who are also religious, relying on mysticism to promote environmentalism is, in my opinion, misguided.  We debase intellectual honesty and a science based search for truth at our own peril.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Nature of Hanging Valleys

A hanging valley is generally defined as a stream or glacial valley that ends abruptly atop the steep wall of a deeper valley or sea cliff.  Such formations are especially common in glacial terrain and where the sheer wall of the deeper valley or cliff is composed of resistant rock (e.g. granite, marble, etc.).

In mountainous regions that have been subjected to glaciation, the major glacial tongues erode deep, U-shaped valleys through the range; smaller tributary glaciers feed the primary ice flow from either side.  When the glaciers melt back as the climate warms, the deep, steep-walled glacial valley is lined with hanging valleys on either side, where streams run down the shallower tributary valleys and then plunge into the deep, central valley via magnificent waterfalls; Yosemite Valley offers an excellent example of such post-glacial topography.  Of course, if the glaciated terrain has since become an arid landscape (e.g. ranges of the Great Basin) the streams and waterfalls are seasonal.  Finally, in unglaciated regions of the globe, similar topography may develop when rock falls broaden the central valley, cutting off feeder streams well above the primary river.

Hanging valleys may also form atop sheer sea cliffs, where streams draining higher terrain create valleys that end abruptly at the edge of the cliff; there, the stream becomes a waterfall, plunging to the rocky shore or directly into the sea.  In all of the above scenarios, the feeder stream valley is "left hanging" above the central valley floor or coastal beach.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Gila River

Covering more than 58,000 square miles, the watershed of the Gila River includes most of Arizona south of the Mogollon Rim.  The river itself rises on the west side of the Continental Divide in western New Mexico; flowing westward into Arizona, it receives the waters of the San Carlos River within the San Carlos Reservoir, northwest of Mount Turnbull.  Continuing westward, the Gila takes in water from the San Pedro River (flowing north from Mexico), flows south of Chandler, Arizona, and then angles northwestward, passing between South Mountain and the Sierra Estrella, just south of Phoenix.  In southwest Metro Phoenix, it merges with the Salt River; the latter courses westward through the heart of the city after gathering flow from numerous tributaries that drop from the edge of the Mogollon Rim (among these are the Verde, White and Black Rivers and Canyon Creek).

Just west of its junction with the Salt, the Gila receives the waters of the Agua Fria, which rises east of Prescott and flows southward through western Metro Phoenix; en route, the Agua Fria is dammed to form Lake Pleasant.  Below the mouth of the Agua Fria River, the Gila dips southward, passing Gila Bend, and then enters Painted Rock Reservoir; beyond that reservoir, it continues westward through low desert terrain, joining the Colorado River at Yuma, Arizona. At its mouth, the Gila has flowed 650 miles and dropped 5500 feet from its source in the Gila National Forest of New Mexico.

As one might expect in the Sonoran Desert, flow volumes through the Gila River and its tributaries are highly seasonal, fed primarily by the monsoon rains of summer, by mountain springs and by winter snows across the Mogollon Rim.  Reservoirs along the Gila, while providing irrigation for agriculture in its valley, have all but eliminated its contribution to the Colorado, further ensuring that America's great western river will never again reach the sea (unless, of course, human civilization fails and our massive dams succumb to the Colorado's untamed torrent).

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Pioneers of Enlightenment

On this annual American holiday of Thanksgiving, we stop to ponder our good fortune (however meager or extravagant that might be) and to thank those who have had a positive influence on our life.  While many will direct prayers of thanks to a deity and most will focus on the love, encouragement and devotion of family and friends, we should not overlook the gifts bestowed by past members of human society.

In particular, the pioneers of science laid the foundation for human progress, insisting on objective methods in our search for truth and understanding.  Ridiculed and persecuted by the power brokers of society (a resistance that continues today), their perseverance has been vital to both the enlightenment and the very survival of our species.  In like manner, those who championed the rights and dignity of the individual, thereby stemming the forces of oppression and discrimination, fueled the spread of democracy, personal freedom and international cooperation across the globe.  And, of course, the work of early conservationists, long challenged by the captains of industry, is admired and appreciated by all humans who share their concerns for the welfare of Earth's natural ecosystems.

While we cannot personally thank these and other pioneers of human enlightenment, we honor them by acknowledging the benefits of their courageous work and by resolving to build on their past achievements.  We owe that commitment to future generations.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Raptors in the Cold Sunshine

Clear skies and cold air enticed me down to the wooded hills and open farmlands south and east of Columbia this morning.  Besides, a steady north breeze held the promise of migrant snow geese that, like most avian travelers, take advantage of tail winds on their seasonal journeys.  Alas, no snows were spotted in the deep blue sky but thousands of starlings offered some consolation, their spectacular aerial ballets rising like smoke signals in the cold morning sunshine.

But this day belonged to the raptors.  A pair of bald eagles soared above the icy Missouri River while a second pair rested in trees near a rural park, surveying flocks of hooded mergansers and common goldeneyes that had gathered on its lake.  As usual, red-tailed hawks were abundant along the country roads, joined by several red-shouldered hawks and a large number of American kestrels.  Finally, a sharp-shinned hawk streaked across a barnyard, hoping to nab one of the sparrows that fed among the haystacks.

Other sightings included Canada geese, pileated and red-bellied woodpeckers, northern mockingbirds and a flock of cedar waxwings, among more common winter songbirds.  Invigorated by the cold air and bright sunshine, all species were especially active and conspicuous; once the lakes freeze up north, migrant snows and white-fronts will hopefully join the pre-winter frenzy (and make my day in the process!).

Monday, November 24, 2014

Refuge Closed for Killing

On this cold, gray, November morning in central Missouri, I headed down to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area on the Missouri River floodplain, hoping to observe snow geese or tundra swans.  Unfortunately, I found that most of the refuge is already closed for duck hunting, a season that seems to arrive earlier each year (surely an illusion, triggered by my biased imagination).  While I understand the need for hunting under some circumstances (to provide sustenance for isolated human cultures and to control the population of certain wildlife species....do to our annihilation of their natural predators), most hunting is purely a sport, matching one's skill against the natural abilities of the prey.  None of the duck hunters at Eagle Bluffs will starve if they miss their targets.

Of course, many will point to the contributions of Ducks Unlimited and other "conservation groups" that fund the restoration and protection of wetlands, thereby sustaining healthy populations of waterfowl species.  Others will remind us that hunting license fees are used to manage open space that benefits a wide variety of wildlife species (not to mention the humans who enjoy watching them).  Perhaps I am unduly cynical but this is the same argument used to justify public gambling programs (i.e. lotteries).

When "conservation funds" are used to provide live targets for hunting, one questions the value of the programs that generate those funds.  Then again, perhaps I should thank the duck hunters for the bald eagles, red-tails, kestrels and oblivious waterfowl species that I did manage to observe during my aborted visit to the refuge.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Great Appalachian Valley

The Great Appalachian Valley of North America, a series of topographic valleys separated by low divides, stretches for more than 1200 miles, from the Richelieu Valley of Quebec (which drains Lake Champlain) to the Coosa River Valley of northeastern Alabama.  While rivers have eroded (and continue to mold) the component valleys, geologic downwarping also shaped the terrain as adjacent mountains rose.

The eastern wall of the Valley is composed (from northeast to southwest) by the Green Mountains of Vermont, the Taconic Highlands of southern New England and the Blue Ridge Mountains, from south-central Pennsylvania through Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and northern Georgia.  The west wall consists of the Adirondacks and Catskills of New York and the easternmost ridge of the Ridge & Valley Province, from Pennsylvania to Alabama.  Some of America's most famous rivers course through sections of the Valley (including the Hudson, the Susquehanna, the Shenandoah and the Upper Tennessee) while others, such as the Mohawk, Potomac, Delaware and James Rivers, enter or cut across the Valley.  Cities within the Valley include Burlington, Albany, Harrisburg, Hagerstown, Winchester, Harrisonburg, Bristol and Maryville, among others.

Indeed, the Great Appalachian Valley is not a closed basin and its walls are not continuous.  Rather, rivers enter and leave the Valley through "water gaps" that formed as the mountains rose beneath the entrenched streams.  Nevertheless, the "Great Valley," with its rich soil, diverse ecosystems and scenic vistas, has long provided a natural highway through mountainous terrain for wildlife, Native Americas and modern travelers alike.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Two Cities, Two Owls

Great horned owls are the nocturnal avian predators along the Colorado Front Range, feasting on prey as large as skunks, geese and raccoons.  Not often heard during the warmer months of the year, their gruff hoots begin to echo across our Littleton farm by mid November, continuing through their mid winter breeding season and trailing off by early spring.  Utilizing abandoned hawk or magpie nests (or drum nests placed by humans), these powerful raptors are perhaps best observed in late winter, when mom and her downy youngsters stare down from their roost in a cottonwood grove.

In Columbia, Missouri, our neighborhood is amidst a network of wooded stream valleys and barred owls are far more common than their larger cousins; delivered throughout the seasons, their mellow, questioning calls may be heard day or night.  Barred owls lack the "ear tufts" of great horned owls, have dark eyes and often tolerate close approach, peering down from a trailside tree as hikers pass below.  Their diet, consisting primarily of mice, voles and rabbits, may also include reptiles, amphibians and songbirds; tree cavities are generally used for nesting and, in my experience, mother and young are far less conspicuous than the families of great horned owls.

In either of my home towns, I relish the sight and sound of owls, a natural highlight of the fall and winter months.  Hardy yet mysterious, these efficient hunters rule the night, the hours when we humans are ill equipped to function; it is perhaps that sense of inadequacy that fuels our admiration for these nocturnal raptors.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Snow Disaster in Buffalo

The poster child for lake-effect snow events struck South Buffalo, New York, this week, dropping up to six feet of snow.  According to local weather officials, this is the greatest one-day snowfall in at least 40 years; given the fact that the Great Lakes have existed for about 12,000 years, it's anyone's guess where this crippling storm falls on the spectrum of past lake-effect snow events.

Frigid air, moving west to east over the relatively warm waters of Lake Erie, produced the spectacular accumulation of snow.  Once the wind shifted from a more southerly direction, the skies cleared and the snow machine was shut down; unfortunately, that wind shift is expected to be brief and lake-effect snows are forecast to resume in the Buffalo area, perhaps dropping another two feet or more.

Lake-effect snow bands, like snow-guns used at ski areas, can produce dramatic snow accumulation in one linear region with little or no snowfall to either side of that band; though South Buffalo was buried under six feet of snow, the city's airport, to the north, received only six inches.  Those caught within the band may be trapped in their homes or vehicles and face the threat of falling limbs or collapsed roofs; worse yet, subsequent rainfall, which is expected in the region, is absorbed by the snow, increasing its weight before spawning destructive floods.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pipeline to Oblivion

Political, corporate and public support for the Keystone Pipeline is a direct repudiation of efforts to reduce fossil fuel consumption across the globe.  Touting the economic and societal benefits of the project, supporters voice little concern for its environmental impacts, including our continued reliance on a product that threatens the welfare of our planet.

The tar sands of northeastern Alberta, Canada, lie within Cretaceous sediments of the Athabasca River Valley.  Extraction of their heavy crude has involved both open pit mining and in situ techniques (which require large volumes of water, diverted from the river).  Both forms of extraction threaten the regional environment, either via direct destruction of boreal bogs and forest or by pollution of the river and its tributaries.  Of course, transportation of the heavy crude in a pipeline that crosses the American Heartland raises the possibility of spills in rivers, prairies, wetlands or vital agricultural areas along the way.

But the primary threat of the Keystone Pipeline is its reinforcement of our dependence on fossil fuel.  A shift toward natural gas utilization and clean, renewable energy production have gained significant traction over the past decade, fueled by the threat of global warming, recurring incidents of pollution (such as the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico) and the political ramifications of the international oil market.  Support for the Keystone Pipeline demonstrates an unwillingness to address the ongoing, man-induced degradation of Planet Earth and our accelerating march toward oblivion.