Monday, June 27, 2011

Wildfires in New Mexico Destroy Valuable Forest Lands and Threaten Los Alamos...Again

The Las Conchas Fire began Sunday in the Jemez Mountains.  I saw the smoke plume that rose like a giant mushroom cloud while I was watching my daughter's softball game in Albuquerque in the late afternoon.  The temperature was near 100 degrees F. and the hot, dry winds were gusting at about 30-40 mph.  I looked at the rising thermal cloud thinking maybe rain was coming.  But, alas, it was a new wildfire by Valles Caldera in the Jemez Mountains and it is burning just 12 miles southwest of Los Alamos

Last night, from my back deck, I watched the horrible red flames burning along the extended ridgeline of the Jemez Mountains.  The flames leaped high into the sky as they greedily consumed the dry tender of the Santa Fe National Forest. Firefighters had already been fighting the Pacheco Fire southeast of Santa Fe for nine days.  It was a frightening sight and I felt sad for the disaster unfolding as people, animals, and the forest were threatened with their demise by fire.  I remembered that 11 years ago, I watched a similar event from Santa Fe where I had stopped for the night on my way back to my home in San Diego.  I had picked up my daughter, Amanda, from Drury University in Springfield, Missouri.  Her college room mate and fellow swim team mate, Libby, was with us. Libby was from Australia and the trip was to be a leisurely and scenic tour of the American Southwest.  Instead, we watched the frightening Bandelier Cerro Grande Fire with smoke covering the blue New Mexico skies. Refugees from the fire, primarily from Los Alamos, sought refuge in Santa Fe motels.  All the occupants of the Travelodge where we were seemed to have fled Los Alamos.  The Cerro Grande Fire is still fresh in the minds of those who live in Los Alamos which is the location of a major National Laboratory for nuclear energy development and weaponry.  You can see the Pajarito Mountain Ski Resort Webcam view of the current fire hereNews reports this morning say that the fire went from 5000 acres to more than 43,500 acres overnight and is zero contained!

Those of us in New Mexico have been closely watching the massive Arizona Wallow Fire which entered New Mexico last week and has been the source of smoke pollution throughout central and northern New Mexico since it began.  The Wallow Fire has burned more than 538,000 acres and is about 77% contained.  Now we face new threats and a potential disaster at Los Alamos where nuclear materials are stored. 

Having had no rain since May, the Sandia and Manzano Mountains are closed for the most part.  The Santa Fe National Forest began Stage III fire restrictions two days before the fire broke out.  Since we have not had any lightning storms, these fires have all been caused by humans, either accidentally or on purpose. We are facing the 4th of July holiday this weekend and with fireworks for sale legally throughout New Mexico, we all are on edge at the potential fires that can be started by stupid people using fireworks in our mountains.  I live in the mountains because I choose to.  It is a beautiful natural environment with birds and animals, dark nights to view the stars, a quiet and serene place with many junipers, pinon, and scrub oak trees. All it takes is one thoughtless or careless act to destroy this environment.

My home with gravel and few combustible plantings closest to my structures, has what is called "defensible space" 

Removing limbs 6-10 ft.from the bottom of trees deprives fire from ground-to-treetop ladder fuel, helping to slow the spread of fire 

Structures should have a minimum of 30 ft. of cleared space. Beyond my fence, the lot across the street has no defensible space at all and the house there is at extreme risk in the event of wildfire.

My backyard trees have been thinned and limbed

Last week, I worked hard to clear low limbs from trees, tall grasses and weeds, and "slash" (wood piles from tree trimmings) from my property.  This is a constant task. However, many of my fellow neighbors are too lazy or ignorant to clear their property of overgrown forest, brush, and dead trees.  Fire is a constant and natural occurance in the mountains.  It's not a question of "if", but "when" a fire will hit my neighborhood.  People who choose to live here must think about creating defensible space that slows the speed of fire and deprives it of fuel near structures. offers excellent information for homeowners to prepare their homes and land for wildfire. When a tragedy like the current massive Las Conchas fire occurs, public interest is high in how to prepare for a wildfire.  However, the time to prepare is not only now, but tomorrow, next week, and next year.  Preparing for the eventuality of wildfire is being responsible for making your over-grown lot more defensible.  We are in a long-term drought.  The overgrown forest is not only a fuel supply for wildfire, but it is not healthy.  Thinning trees will help the remaining trees get adequate water and sunlight resources that they struggle for in an overgrown forest. 
My neighbor to the left of my fence above has too many trees for half an acre, plus dead and fallen trees, weeds and brush that will feed a fire easily.

Update 4:30 PM Monday 6/27/11Los Alamos is now under mandatory evacuation orders.  Live updates on the Las Conchas Fire are here.  Rain is starting to fall in the area.  A house fire near my neighborhood (Frost Rd. and Gutierrez Canyon Rd.) began at noon today, rekindled at 2:30 and is still kicking up flames.  Very scary!  The clouds look promising for rain.  I hope we get some soon.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Spring Wildflowers of Cienega Canyon

Northern Anemone or Windflower Anemone canadensis
The last days of Spring drift by, bone dry days, with hot winds blowing unceasingly. We've not seen rain since May and very little then. In late May, I scouted the lower trails Cienega Canyon, Tree Spring, and Tecolote to see what was growing. Local wildflower expert Pearl Burns was totally pessimistic about the wildflower season and was ready to cancel our Summer hikes.  The drought, along with severe winter cold and successive freezes in the Spring,  has taken its toll on the wildflowers of the Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque. On June 20th, most trails will be closed  in the Sandia Mountains as the Forest Service goes to a Stage III Closure of the forest due to lack of rain. The Cienega Picnic Ground will remain open, but the trail will be closed. 

As a Forest Service Volunteer, I led two wildflower walks June 4 and June 11 in Cienega Canyon.  We found Windflowers, or Northern Anemone, along both sides of the road by the picnic table with two parking spaces before you get to the last parking area of Cienega Picnic Grounds.  There is water seepage and shade here to support their abundant growth.


We parked in the last parking area just up from the Windflowers at the trailhead which is at about 7400 feet elevation. Volunteers from Friends of the Sandia Mountains (Friends of the Forest) have worked hard to remove dead and fallen trees in the canyon where the trailhead begins just a short walk from the Sandia Wilderness area.  The hike along the creek just above the last parking lot has been greatly disturbed and the tree canopy had been largely removed to reveal many new wildflowers growing in the sunny exposed areas.  After passing the beginning of the trail with it's Box Elder, Aspen, One-Seed and Alligator Juniper, Gambel and Wavyleaf Oak and New Mexico Locust trees, I found Ninebark, Wood's Rose, Hoptree, Chokecherry or Capulin, and Red Elderberry blooming. Smooth Sumac and New Mexico Locust weren't blooming yet but are evident here close to the trailhead.

Chokecherry or Capulin Prunus virgiana

Red Elderberry Sambuscus microbotrys

Ninebark Physocarpus monogynus

Wood's Rose Rosa woodii

The trail is initially a concrete path until you arrive at the first bridge over the creek bed. The following flowers were found here.

Hoptree Ptelea trifoliata

Mountain Figwort Scrophylaria montana
(bud stage)

Leaf of Mountain Figwort

Sweet Cicely Osmorhiza obtusa

Leaf of New Mexican Scorpianweed
New Mexican Scorpianweed Phacelia neomexicana

Golden Smoke Corydalis aureus

Purple Geranium Geranium caespitosum
Double nut seed pod of Goosegrass or Cleaver
Hooked hairs on stems and leaves

Leaf of Goosegrass or Cleavers Galium mexicanum

Northern Bog Violet in wet area on trail

Northern Bog Violet Viola americana

Shephard's Purse  Capsella bursa-pastoris
Distinctive heart-shaped seed pod

As you walk a little further on the trail, you will encounter more trees allowing for shade that encourages the growth of wildflowers that are more sensitive to sunny and dry conditions.

Tuber Starwort Stellaria jamesiana

Star Solomon's Seal Maianthemum stellatum

Canada Violet Viola canadensis

Richardson's Geranium Geranium richardsonii

Oregon Grape Holly or Creeping Mahonia Mahonia repens

Dragonhead is a member of the Mint Family

Dragonhead Dracocephalum parviflorum

Drab Buttercup or Crowfoot Ranunculus inamoensis

Drab Buttercup

Doing well, despite the drought, were Jacob's Ladder (both blue and white varieties) and Meadow Rue as were many species of Fleabane. 

Jacob's Ladder Polemonium foliosissimum
Meadow Rue Thalictrum fendler

Spreading Fleabane Erigeron divergens

Update June 30, 2011: The Forest Service has closed Sandia Crest Road, so all of the Sandia Mountains are closed except for the Sandia Tramway. This is necessary due to the very high fire danger.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Unchallenged by Facts, Bachmann Tells a Big Whopper

I watched the New Hampshire Republican Presidential Debate with interest last night. I was curious what this pack of seven aspirants for the most difficult job in the world would say to differentiate themselves from one  another.

 I found that most of the"debate" were unchallenged attacks upon President Obama and his administration of the past two and one-half years. What a smart deal they made to not attack one another, but instead, to use the two hours of free prime television time to attack President Obama without having to substantiate any of your facts. CNN Moderator John King couldn't even get Tim Pawlenty to "bite" when he asked him why he had called Mitt Romney's Massachusetts health care initiative "Obamneycare" on last Sunday's talk shows. Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann was the winner of the debate because she came off coherent and relaxed contradicting her weird and extremist past persona that sees unamerican and socialist conspiracy at work in President Obama's policies:

In a move toward a more controlled style that sounded less conspiratorial, she told some of the biggest and unchallenged whoppers of the night, and since her primary target wasn't there to defend himself, she thought she could get away with it.  Her biggest lie was that the Health Care Law would kill 800,000 jobs.
Let's look at just this one charge from Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN): “The CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, has said that Obamacare will kill 800,000 jobs. What could the president be thinking by passing a bill like this, knowing full well it will kill 800,000 jobs?”   Ms. Bachmann, like so many other charismatic Tea Party spokespersons, likes to get her "facts" from her own conservative blogs and digests rather than from primary sources, like the actual CBO Report.  She picked out this "factoid" from such sources as an edited  You Tube of  CBO Director Doug Elmendorf    that further promoted false conclusions in conservative magazines/blogs including  Yuval Levin's article in The National Review (he had to correct later in an "Update") and The Weekly Standard Blog of Jeffrey Anderson.  The truth is that the CBO Director was citing the CBO Report of August 2010, Chapter 2, page 48, Box 2-1. "Effects of Recent Health Care Legislation on Labor Markets" that reads (italics added):

"The expansion of Medicaid and the availability of subsidies through the exchanges will effectively increase beneficiaries’ financial resources. Those additional resources will encourage some people to work fewer hours or to withdraw from the labor market. In addition, the phaseout of the subsidies as income rises will effectively increase marginal tax rates, which will also discourage work. But because most workers who are offered insurance through their jobs will be ineligible for the exchanges’ subsidies and because most people will have income that is too high to be eligible for Medicaid, those effects on financial resources and marginal tax rates will apply only to a small segment of the population.

Other provisions in the legislation are also likely to diminish people’s incentives to work. Changes to the insurance market, including provisions that prohibit insurers from denying coverage to people because of preexisting conditions and that restrict how much prices can vary with an individual’s age or health status, will increase the appeal of health insurance plans offered outside the workplace for older workers. As a result, some older workers will choose to retire earlier than they otherwise would."

In other words, people would voluntarily leave the workforce because of incentives and changes in the new health care law that would enable people to obtain private insurance on health insurance exchanges without limitations due to pre-existing condition and to possibly receive new subsidies to afford insurance.  This would allow persons afraid to leave a job and employer provided health insurance to retire, change careers, start a new business, go back to school, etc.

Debate assumes that there are at least two opposing views who attempt to win over their opponent with facts and logical argument. Ms. Bachmann, who is by training a lawyer and by occupation a politician, is not stupid; she favors the use of rhetoric and ad hominem  attacks as her main means of winning the hearts and minds of the jury -- the American people.  The facts be damned!

Current Weather At My House in Central New Mexico

This weather station is the closest to my house.  It refreshes with weather data every few seconds.  My home is located at 6901 feet/2103 meters elevation. This year, we are experiencing extreme drought and face fire restrictions and very high fire danger in the surounding area. We hope that the monsoon rains will arrive by July to help our situation.  We get nearly 50% of our annual rainfall from the monsoon season (July 15-September 30) with an average of 7.76 inches/19.71 centimeters of rain for those two and a half months.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

"We can no longer afford to keep you on our payroll if you want to act out your fantasies on company time."

Democrat Rep. Anthony Weiner gets caught in a lie over his emailing pictures of his male body parts to women who he met online. "Embarrassed"?  Well, yeah...  But the real question here is what are these guys (elected to run our government) doing on "company time"? We're paying them to work for us. In private business Weiner would be fired immediately.  It's only been 4 months since Republican Rep. Chris Lee got caught exposing his shirtless body to a Craigslist user, just what is it about these guys who seem to be in total gridlock in Congress...are they bored, secretly want to sabotage their career, just stupid with "power"?  Hello Congress: We've got a couple of wars where young men and women are dying, we've got a divided country that thinks the other half that doesn't agree with them are _________ (traitors, unamerican, ignorant rednecks, racist..... fill in the blank) and ought not be listened to.  We've got religious wars disrupting the planet's peace and economy.  We've got massive natural disasters world-wide as a result of climate change leaving 42 million people homeless in the past year alone.  We've got huge unemployment, hundreds of thousands of home foreclosures, an untenable budget battle and a national debt that threatens our economic stability.  What the *$#@ is going on?  I,  for one, am sick of people who get elected to office and appear distracted by the immensity of the problems.  The mud-slinging and nastiness of the current American political sideshow has trumped the need for resolve and compromise by our leaders.  Right-wing newshound Andrew Breitbard and his Big Government website is just part of the problem, not the solution, because it stokes political division and hate.  American Politics is becoming the biggest "Reality Show" on TV.   A lot of people are making money from scandals and "gotcha exposes."  With people like Donald Trump and Sarah Palin doing pseudo-campaigns (and making a lot money doing them) and the sex scandals of our politicians dominating the media, I for one am sick of the sideshow that passes for our political process.  There are some good men and women out here who are trying very hard to solve our problems.  I hope Nancy Pelosi sends Weiner packing with his tail between his legs.  No matter how much the right wing tries to demonize Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama, they have moral character and truly work hard for the taxpayers. I believe that several Republicans do the same and are "uniters not dividers."  Jon Stewart was right to say that the real political problem is that people delight in demonizing the "other side"but can't see the corruption of their own guys because of the toxic 24 hour cable news demands for our attention . what?  As voters, let's support those who are seriously trying to fix things, who don't spend their hours "on the clock" day-dreaming about their sex lives,  and who work to negotiate agreement rather than to demogogue their opposition.  This is all I ask of our elected men and women regardless of their political party.   I will not waste my time watching the media sideshow because there is too much at stake and it is really a poisonous cess pool that drags us all down with the excrement.  There are millions of us out here and we will be judging both character and competence  in the 2012 election candidates.  We can no longer afford to keep you on our payroll if you want to act out your fantasies on company time,  or if you don't have the fortitude to do what needs to be done to reach agreement with people in different political camps who seriously want to fix our problems.  Nor do I have any use for people who do little more than spout "red meat" rhetoric and hate speech to get elected.  In a divided nation, hard choices need to be made and if you're not up to the job, get out of the way.