Wilderness is for wandering

Several years ago, when I was still a daily news reporter, I covered an event in which three busloads of youngsters from inner-city Philadelphia arrived to visit a potato chip factory. It was the first time most of them had been out of the city.

“We saw cows!” several of them reported excitedly.

Continue reading Wilderness is for wandering

Michaux rec site to be “improved”

For the past two years, the Watershed Alliance of Adams County, together with the county Conservation District, has arranged and participated in planting thousands of trees – trees to trap stormwater runoff (or at least slow it down), to provide shade to keep our streams cool enough for fish and other critters to live, filter dust from the air and trap and store carbon within their skeletons.

Continue reading Michaux rec site to be “improved”

What to do if you lose your compass

I sometimes go for a week or more without getting into the woods, then I go there and remember why I was feeling so badly about not.

I was able to visit my dry vernal pool Monday. Sure enough, a few of the recent rain clouds passed over and made it a pool with water in it. I shot a few minutes of underwater video and there clearly were multiple somethings, looking like translucent polliwogs, swimming around in there. Really tiny, but a few got to the correct focal distance and I could see their bulbous heads and skinny tails trailing behind like pieces of thread in need of a pair of scissors.

Continue reading What to do if you lose your compass

Tell the tadpoles

Tuesday morning there was a serious rain event in my neighborhood, too late for the tadpoles I had been watching in a pool up in Michaux State Forest.

I started photographing them at the end of March, when they were newly hatched.

The First of June marked nine weeks I had been visiting and photographing them. It’d been about a week since I’d last seen them and they did not have legs. They should have grown legs soon, but the lack of rain has transformed the vernal pool into a vernal bed of rapidly drying leaves.

Continue reading Tell the tadpoles

Water, water …

Rain needed, and lots of it!A blanket of golden leaves lies around the Silver maple trunk like the flannel skirt wrapped around the base of a Christmas spruce. The past few days have been excellent for photography. Clear or slightly cloudy skies and a solar studio light turning single trees into huge sparkling lights scattered through the forest.

Continue reading Water, water …

Play in it to preserve it

Water is not only for drinking and washing dishes.I often tout the idea of getting the kids down to the swimming hole. Let them splash in the creek, and watch the fish and turtles that live in the water and on the shores. Let them flip over rocks and identify some of the larva.

One of the ways biologists determine the quality of water is to check for macroinvertebrates such as May and Stone fly larvae. If the water is too polluted for human consumption, it also will not support the bugs – or the fish that feed on them.

Continue reading Play in it to preserve it

Flying in formation

Snow geese in flight.I saw something last weekend I’d never seen off television. Tens of thousands of Snow geese covered a rather large pond near Kleinfeltersville, occasionally lifting off en masse to create a low cloud of white over the water. The birds were enroute their Arctic birthing grounds.

At rest, they virtually blanketed large portions of the pond, mostly paddling around in small circles filling the air with a sound like hundreds of playing puppies. Here and there, a pair would actually move from one side of the crowd to another, but mostly they stayed where they landed.

Continue reading Flying in formation

Report: Lawmakers’ poor environmental performance

Long Pine Reservoir.Three conservation organizations have released their 2014 environmental scorecard, giving Pennsylvania lawmakers poor grades for protecting the environment in which we all live.

[pullquote]Place the right industry near the creek and the effect of all that work is gone.[/pullquote]

The report had been delayed to await the results of a Senate vote on a House initiated bill that essentially makes voluntary previously mandatory requirements that developers protect the state’s high value waterways as they pursue corporate profits. The Senate approved, and as I write this the bill awaits the signature of Gov. Tom Corbett, R-Marcellus, to turn it into law.

Continue reading Report: Lawmakers’ poor environmental performance

Japan, Ukraine foreshadow environmental risks in PA

John's thumbnail(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 5/9/2014)

Nuclear disaster in Japan and aggression in Ukraine could be good for natural gas producers in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region. For Pennsylvania taxpayers, not so much.

Much of western and central Europe buys about a third of its natural gas from Russia. That’s a lot of countries wondering how they will cope if Russian President Vladimir Putin makes good on his threats to close the valve.

Continue reading Japan, Ukraine foreshadow environmental risks in PA

Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting with Disaster

Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting with Disaster, by Walter M. Brasch(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 10/4/2013)

Well before most Pennsylvania residents were aware of a natural gas industry north of the Gulf of Mexico, it was taking root in the Commonwealth. “Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting with Disaster,” by Walter M. Brasch, is the story of that enterprise.

The narrative begins in 2000, when Mitchell Energy, with help from the U.S. Department of Energy, finally proved that extracting natural gas from shale a mile and-a-half below the state’s surface was a practical – read profitable – undertaking.

Continue reading Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting with Disaster

Carly came with the wine

The waitress recommended a wine, then brought the bottle.I’m pretty good at remembering who people are. I’m not worth a flip at remembering names – at least until I’ve sat down and chatted several times with a person, and then written about them.

We had stopped at our favorite winery in North East, Pa, one to be lauded for its Port – a good Port being sometimes difficult to find, in a vineyard or a storm. After chatting a few minutes with the clerk – an Australian lass whose husband had brought her back to Pennsylvania – we headed for a restaurant at which we had dined on our previous trip. Continue reading Carly came with the wine

Judge’s decision could have broad consequences for public Right to Know

Author's pen seeks to expose government secrecyA Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, judge may soon have a say in whether citizens have a right to know what decisions are made when their elected officials gather to make them. Currently, some gatherings of elected officials are claiming to be protected from the state’s Right to Know Law. A decision either way could affect other agencies, from school boards to economic development corporations.

Last July, a Bloomsburg-based author asked the PA State Association of Township Supervisors for information about its lobbying efforts as the legislature formulated a law to, purportedly, regulate the controversial Marcellus Shale industry. Continue reading Judge’s decision could have broad consequences for public Right to Know

Letter to Obama

A natural gas pipeline slashes a mountaintop in Trout Run, PAMy son used to tell untruths. Sometimes he’d even say he hadn’t done a thing I’d just stood there watching him do. But he’s all grown up and haired over – except that place on his head where you could draw a map of Alaska and not mess up any follicles.

OK, maybe a map of Delaware. What’s a little exaggeration between friends? I’m guessing if you and Mitt would get in a private room together, both of you could come up with some things you wished your parents hadn’t found out didn’t happen just the way you said they did.

 Continue reading on Rock The Capital …

Shorting-funding DEP is false economy

Several pipelines arrive at a compressor collector before gas is sent over a mountain in Loyalsock State ForestPennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection may not be protecting the environment and the Commonwealth’s citizens as much as they deserve.

That is the assertion of a report issued Tuesday by Earthworks, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental watchdog agency.

The report begins by noting “more than 5,700 ‘unconventional’ shale gas wells have been drilled (in Pennsylvania) since 2005.” It also acknowledges DEP’s claim that staffing has increased – including, in 2012, about 83 inspectors. If the “unconventional wells” – a euphemism referring to deep shale fracking wells – were the only wells needing oversight, that would mean about 68 wells for each inspector.

 Continue reading on Rock The Capital …

State and national parks and forests: a great value for taxpayers’ dollars

A footpath through Michaus State ForestMichaux State Forest encompasses more than 87,000 acres of woodland, including a reservoir, several streams and a section of the Appalachian Trail.

The Pa. Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website still claims about 85,000 acres, but I think that does not include 2,500 acres purchased from Glatfelter’s paper company circa 2008 and donated to the state.

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Pocket change: Fracking industry invests $23M in Pa legislature, reaps $1T profit

Fracking money pours from a golden faucet into capitol dome inverted to be a funnelAccording to a release last week by MarcellusMoney.org, the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry has spent $23 million in direct contributions to favored legislator campaigns and lobbying efforts since 2000.

The big winners in the Cash for Legislation sweepstakes between 2000 and April 2012 were:

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“UnClean Coal” not listed on billboards

Coal heaped and waiting for customersKing Coal loudly proclaims its place in our society, from the employment it claims to offer to the electricity it sends to our homes. Billboards along the Interstate insist that coal – often referred to as “clean coal” – is the way to go for continued prosperity and energy independence.

But the billboards and television commercials leave out some established, and troubling, truths their supporters hope we will not notice lurking behind those huge signs.

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Pennsylvania’s parallel governments: a journey to The Outer Limits

Two Pennsylvania capitals side by sideFor decades, science fiction has been telling of parallel universes. I was introduced to the idea in my youth by “The Twilight Zone,” a weekly television show that ran 1959 – 1964 and featured people in strange situations – often in places they thought they recognized, but were not where they thought they were – their home town, but with no people, for instance.

Or “imagine, if you will,” as show host Rod Serling would say, finding yourself on the street where you lived. You walk up to your home and are met by – yourself. It’s you, your wife, your child, your dog – and none of them know who you are.

Sometimes the evening news resembles reruns of those old shows. We recognize the representatives we voters sent to Harrisburg to oversee the state’s operations, but they seem not to recognize us. It’s as though we live under parallel governments.

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Pa. lawmakers find billions for Marcellus Shale Welfare Fund

Mountaintop cleared for a well pad and pipeline connecting to wells across Gray RunIt’s looking as though Pennsylvania lawmakers may repeat last year’s performance and get the 2013 budget approved in time for them to go home for the July 4 holiday. The hot dog industry is depending on them.

To get it done, House and Senate Republicans (Democrats – at least those who would object – have pretty much been left out of the discussions) seem to have struck a deal with Gov. Corbett. If he gives back the cuts he proposed to higher education, they will give him another $1.65 billion for his favorite charity.

 Continue reading …

Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

Sign identifies Range Resources drill site and DCNR permit for five million gallons a day water useLower-than-hyped revenue, plunging natural gas prices, and growing environmental concerns could spell trouble for the Marcellus Shale industry.

It’s attempt to recover corporate value could be problematic for Pennsylvanians at both ends of the state, as natural gas producers leave the northeast for the, hopefully, more profitable western hills.

While those away from the drilling fields see little effect from the industry’s efforts, those within it notice promised riches, flammable water, and eviction notices.

Continue reading …