Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Canadian seal hunt information/misinformation

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Spend any amount of time surfing the web for information about Canada’s annual seal hunt, and you will find statements such as:

  • The harvest is unsustainable and is endangering the harp seal population
  • The seal harvest provides such low economic return for sealers that it is not an economically viable industry.
  • The seal harvest is loosely monitored and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) doesn’t punish illegal hunting activity or practices.
  • The Canadian government allows sealers to harvest whitecoat seals.
  • There is no relationship between the seal population and the abundance of cod stocks.
  • Seals are being skinned alive
  • The club – or hakapik – is an inhumane tool that has no place in today’s world.
  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada provides subsidies for the seal harvest.
  • Canadian harvesting practices are worse and more inhumane compared to other countries.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has responses to those claims here, as well as a lot of other information about the seal harvest at their “Seals and Sealing in Canada” website.

Hemp and the amazing continuing influence of Hearst and DuPont

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

In more than one discussion about the merits of decriminalizing marijuana use, I have heard people state that the reason that marijuana use is a criminal offence can be traced back to the efforts of a couple of influential U.S. businessmen in the 1930s. The way the narrative goes, the newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (with big investments in forest plantations) teamed up with the DuPont chemical company (with big investments in petroleum-based products) in an effort to make the growing of hemp illegal.  Using the services of Henry J. Anslinger, the head of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics, they supposedly embarked on a successful campaign to demonize and eventually criminalize marijuana.  Do a Google search on the keywords hemp, Hearst, DuPont and Anslinger for lots of detail.

The thing that puzzles me about that story is the fact that it addresses legislation in the United States approximately 70 years ago, and in recent decades several countries including Canada have legalized the growing of industrial hemp, yet most paper is still made from trees.  It seems odd to me that William Randolph Hearst could still dictate to countries like Finland that they must not use hemp for paper production.

It seems more likely to me that paper producers likely prefer making paper from trees instead of hemp for technical and economic reasons, not to mention environmental reasons (forest crops are grown over many decades with minimal site disturbance, providing a full suite of environmental benefits, whereas hemp requires annual site inputs).

With a bit of digging I found an article “Debunking the Hemp Conspiracy Theory” that I think makes sense.

Climate science and media

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

It’s been a couple of months since I posted anything about climate change, so I guess it’s about time.

In January, NASA released its analysis of land and ocean temperature analysis for 2009, and declared the year in a statistical tie for the 2nd-warmest year on record, and the period 2000-2009 the warmest decade on record.  Unlike my post of December 15 I haven’t bothered to produce my own updated graph, but here is one produced by NASA.  (Instead of absolute temperature this shows temperature anomaly, where zero is the average for the period 1951 to 1980).

Maybe I’m missing something, but it certainly appears to me that a warming trend is occurring.

However, Les MacPherson wrote in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix a few days ago, “Even the leading alarmists now are compelled to admit what already was apparent to anyone who looked at the record, namely that there has been no global warming for the last 15 years.”

Les MacPherson has confirmed to me by email that the “leading alarmists” referred to is Dr. Phil Jones, one of the climate change researchers whose emails were hacked at the University of East Anglia recently, and the admission was made in a  BBC interview.  Here is what was actually said:

Q – Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming?

A – Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.

I’m not going to get into the concept of statistical significance, whether at the 95% or any other level, and perhaps Les MacPherson is being totally without guile in his interpretation, but I would respectfully suggest that not everyone examining the record is  finding it “apparent” that “there has been no global warming for the last 15 years.”

I’m siding with the scientist rather than the opinion columnist on this one.

Scientists and statisticians and their tricks

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

In the weeks since the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, UK was hacked into, a lot of pundits  have been declaring the stolen emails to be the final nail in the coffin of climate change science.

One of the most damning emails was sent in November 1999 by Dr. Phil Jones, where he discusses using a “trick”,

“I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”

As shocking as that revelation is, Oxford University Press actually published a textbook in 2002 with the title, “Teaching Statistics: A Bag of Tricks” (click on image at left for more information or to order).

There must be a word ending in -gate to describe this statistical skulduggery.

It’s cold outside – must be global cooling

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

With the bone-chilling cold snap that we’ve been having here in the Canadian Prairies for most of December, it is obvious that the earth is cooling.  Here is a graph that I produced using NASA data, that provides all the proof needed:


But on second thought, I’m remembering that November was an unusually warm month.  So the earth was obviously warming back then.

But on third thought, maybe both of the above statements are confusing weather with climate, if we accept the following definition:

Climate in a narrow sense is usually defined as the “average weather,” or more rigorously, as the statistical description in terms of the mean and variability of relevant quantities over a period of time ranging from months to thousands or millions of years. The classical period is 30 years, as defined by the World Meteorological Organization. These quantities are most often surface variables such as temperature, precipitation, and wind. Climate in a wider sense is the state, including a statistical description, of the climate system.

If climate requires averaging over decades, perhaps graphing four years isn’t enough.  I’ve decided to add on another 124 years:

Global temperatures 1880 to 2008.

Maybe I’ll stop worrying about that global cooling trend.

The prairie chicken is gone

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

The Greater Prairie-Chicken, a bird that once numbered in the millions on the grasslands, is now considered wiped out in Canada, scientists from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada reported Monday.

The medium-sized grouse, Tympanuchus cupido, has not been seen in Canada in more than 20 years, according to the latest update on the species.

It is on a worrisome list of 23 wildlife species in Canada that are considered extirpated, or no longer found in the wild. It does have populations in the United States and some states, including Missouri, have initiated conservation programs to bolster its numbers.

During the committee’s recent meetings in Ottawa, it was determined that the bird has not been seen in Canada since 1987. In 1900, by contrast, it was estimated that there were at least a million prairie-chickens breeding in Canada.

(full news story here)

Browsing through some on the public comments on this news story, I was struck by a number of things:

  • Firstly, the number of people stating that the article is wrong – that there are a lot of prairie chickens still around.  This is an unfortunate result of the fact that the term “prairie chicken” is commonly used in the prairie provinces to refer to another species, the sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus).
  • Secondly, several commenters state that hunting is to blame for the prairie chicken’s extirpation.  However according to the federal “species at risk registry, the real reason is habitat loss.  Very little natural grassland remains in Canada.
  • Thirdly, the range of views on whether it even matters.  Some people feel that the loss makes no difference – it’s just a bird that was too stupid to adapt.

For the record, I think it does matter that the prairie chicken is extirpated from Canada.  I have never seen a prairie chicken, but I would love to see one some day.  Life goes on, but I believe that we are poorer  without the prairie chicken, whether we realize it or not.

Coyote bounty

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

This news story took me by surprise.

Sask. offers $20 bounty on coyotes

The Saskatchewan government is offering a $20 bounty on every coyote killed.

Agriculture Minister Bob Bjornerud announced the bounty Tuesday as part of the Saskatchewan Coyote Control Program.

The program is to help farmers and ranchers who are having trouble with coyotes killing their livestock.

Coyotes have been a perennial problem in rural Saskatchewan, but the situation has been getting worse in recent years, Bjornerud said.

“Producers … have coyotes coming right in their yards and mixing with their cattle right now,” Bjornerud said. “It’s dangerous out there for farm families that have little kids and that, when they are coming right into the yards. In some cases. they are taking the yard dog and leading him out of the yard and killing him.”

A trial version of the program will run until March 31, 2010. After that, the province will look at extending the bounty.

(Full article here)

I expect some angry letters to the editor in the next few days about us slack-jawed Saskatchewan redneck yokels.  It should be entertaining.

But actually, I have mixed feeling about this announcement.  I’m all for letting nature find its balance, but if humans are going to produce the food that we need, I think that active management of predators is required.  The coyote population is high, probably due to a combination of factors, including several mild winters and reduced hunting and trapping as a result of low fur prices.  Part of me doesn’t like the idea of a coyote bounty, but I do sympathize with my farming friends who have lost farm animals to coyote predation.

Ideally I’d like to see fur go back into fashion, but until that happens, I guess a bounty is probably a valid solution to curbing the coyote population.

At least it’s probably preferable to the mange.

Wangerinian weather

Monday, October 26th, 2009

It has been many years since I read Walter Wangerin Jr.’s novel The Book of the Dun Cow, and I have forgotten many details of that Christian allegory.  However, something that I do remember  is the dark, bleak mood created by the leaden sky, incessant rain and  soaked earth – a literary device as background to an epic struggle between good and evil.

That novel has came to mind often this month.  This is weather of Wangerinian proportions.

And it looks like it’s not about to end.


I know that in some parts of the world this kind of fall weather would be considered normal, but this is Saskatchewan, for Pete’s sake.  It’s supposed to be dry and sunny, and my farming brother-in-law should have more than half of his harvest completed.

By the way, I realize that Walter Wangerin, Jr. is not a household name, so this may not be something to boast about, but I think that I’m the first to use the adjective Wangerinian, if Google can be trusted.

Planting trees on the woodlot

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

On Saturday our family went out to our land, and together with co-owners Pastor Glenn & Gloria and family, we pounded in the tree and shrub seedlings that we had ordered from Shand Greenhouse.

Iain Chentunkel  dropped by and entertained us for awhile.

It was a good day.  I’ve uploaded some photos to a gallery. Click the image below for more.

Clearing trails

Monday, April 20th, 2009

With the snow almost all gone I’ve been itching to get out to our land at Shell Lake.  I knew that some trees had fallen across the trails in a big windstorm in October, so on Saturday I loaded the chainsaw and together with some helpers, spent some time clearing trails.  It was a grey, drizzly day, but it was nice to get out of the city.  Here are some pictures …

Some water and snow on the trail

The work crew beside the "wagon field"

The handful of spruce planted in 2008 have survived