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Tom Wolf & Republican legislature should agree on this, if nothing else

A version of the following essay was published by the Patriot News at the following URL: http://www.pennlive.com/opinion/2014/12/if_they_can_agree_on_nothing_e.html#incart_river

Conservation: An Area Where Democrat Tom Wolf and the Republican Legislature Should Agree
By Josh First

Land and water conservation are not luxuries, they are necessities in a world of growing demand for natural resources. As America’s population grows, the natural resources that sustain us, feed, us, cloth us, nurture us, warm us, and yes, even make toilet paper (and who can do without that), must be produced in ever greater supply.

Some of these resources are at static levels, like clean water, while others, like trees, are renewable. All are gifts that God commands us to manage wisely in Genesis.

Pennsylvania is facing some challenges in this regard, however, as the Susquehanna River shows serious signs of strain, and our world-famous forests face a devastating onslaught of invasive pests and diseases.

John Arway, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, has been advocating for officially declaring the Susquehanna River an “impaired waterway” for years. The data Arway draws upon support his concerns: Dissolved oxygen so low that few animals can live in the water, one of three inter-sex (hermaphroditic) smallmouth bass populations in the country, a bass population with insufficient young to keep the species alive, the remaining bass covered in tumors and pfiesteria lesions, invasive rusty crayfish pushing out the tastier native crayfish, among many other factors. Once-abundant mayfly hatches are now non-existent.

Fishermen used to travel to Harrisburg from around the country to fish for smallmouth bass; not any more.

This past September a friend and I hunted geese out in the river, wading in our shorts. We saw none of the usual turtles, water snakes, birds, or fish that once teemed there, and the water smelled…odd. One day later, a small scratch on my leg had became infected with MRSA, and I spent four days hooked up to increasingly stronger antibiotics at Osteopathic Hospital.

In November, we canoed out to islands and hunted ducks flying south. Except that over the past ten years there are fewer and fewer ducks now flying south along the Susquehanna River. We speculate that there is nothing in it for them to feed upon, and migrating ducks must have turned their attention to more sustaining routes.

The river almost seems….dead.

Feeding the waterways are Pennsylvania’s forests, the envy of forest products producers around the world. Our state’s award-winning public lands and their surrounding mature private forestlands sustainably and renewably produce a greater volume of the widest variety of valuable hardwoods than any other state in America.

Our forest economy isn’t just about timber production, however, as hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation themselves represent large economic sectors. Our robust black bear and wild turkey populations draw hunters from around the world, but these popular species depend almost entirely on acorns from oak trees; without acorns, they would hardly exist.

The oak forests at the core of our world-famous hunting and valuable timber were once considered under the gun from overabundant deer herds, but with that problem now resolved they face an adversary that could turn them into the 21st century version of the American chestnut – sudden oak death disease.

Recall that the American chestnut, like the now-extinct passenger pigeon, once carpeted the entire east coast with unimaginably abundant white flowers and nutritious nuts that fed wildlife and humans alike, and its wood was a more available version of cypress – strong, rot-resistant, straight grained, easy to work. And then, like the once unimaginably vast swarms of passenger pigeons that had blackened the day sky until they also suddenly disappeared, the mighty chestnut was wiped out in a few short years, 100 years ago, by an imported disease.

Our oaks, ash trees, and walnut trees seem to be facing a similar doomsday right now.

Thousand cankers, emerald ash borer, lanternfly, ailanthus, mile-a-minute weed, Japanese honeysuckle, Asian bittersweet vine, and many, many other non-native invasive plants, bugs, and diseases now threaten our valuable native forests on a scale unimagined just a few years ago.

Ironically, the edges of our state and federal highways appear to be the greatest means of spreading these pests.

Today, Pennsylvania has a true balance of power between Democrat governor-elect Tom Wolf, and an overwhelmingly Republican legislature. There isn’t much policy that these two equal forces are going to agree on. But if there is one area that they should easily find common ground, it is land and water conservation.

Something is seriously wrong with the Susquehanna River, and something is about to be seriously wrong with our forests.

Whether a crushing regulatory response is the appropriate way to address these issues, or not, let’s hope that Pennsylvania state government can help fix these problems before they become catastrophes future history books write about.

Josh First is a businessman in Harrisburg

Historic Harrisburg gets an A+

Annually, in mid-December, Historic Harrisburg arranges a tour of historic homes around the city.

In the interest of showcasing our wonderful city, participating private citizens open the doors to their homes to utter strangers, who, for the modest price of the ticket, can walk through at their leisure.

Yes, there are docents, volunteers who stand guard over privacy and valuables, but nevertheless, strangers in abundance are in your home. Homeowners exhibit grace and panache, some swilling their umpteenth glass of wine, yes, but they maintain decorum and patience through a six-hour tour that would put me over the edge within an hour. Maybe less. Well, for sure less.

It’s an impressive commitment to place and pride in community displayed by these homeowners. In fact, the tour is a big statement about the sense of close, shared community we all share here in Harrisburg. Although I have lived in a bunch of different places, I have never seen anything like this tour, or this shared sense of belonging. Again: Absolute strangers are in your home, hundreds of them, and it works really well. It is an unusual arrangement. I like it.

Today’s tour was of homes mostly in Bellevue Park, a grand island of landscaping, natural contours, natural areas, and spectacular homes. My grandparents built a beautiful home in Bellevue Park many many decades ago, and I grew up going there for holidays. Summer visits involved playing in the large in-ground pool with my cousins and eating huge amounts of delicious food prepared by our grandmother, Jane. Winter holidays involved eating huge amounts of delicious food prepared by our grandmother, Jane, and then walking it all off around the park, followed up with playing pool in the basement.

My memories of Bellevue Park are long, distant, and misty-eyed. My grandparents were loving people, and we kids felt their love. Oh, how one longs for the simpler days of youth, with innocence and guileless smiles, statements of affection truly meant. Being in Bellevue Park today was like taking a time machine trip back 40 years. In a way, today’s tour was an expression of the same guileless, innocent sharing that we had as kids, but today was between and among adults and families who have previously never met one another.

Trust is the by-word for today’s Historic Harrisburg tour.

As it turns out, many of the older residents whom I met today recalled my family, and recounted trips they had taken with them, pool parties they had enjoyed there, John Harris High School events and teams they had played in together, and political events where the pool evoked then-fresh images of “Mrs. Robinson” and her lifestyle. And I met quite a few former colleagues and acquaintances, themselves taking stock of these updated homes for their own renovation plans, or providing valuable assistance as volunteer docents.

Isn’t that something. Community may always be where you find it, but one place it never disappeared from is Bellevue Park, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. One other similar historic neighborhood I have seen is Squirrel Hill, in Pittsburgh.

It is also important to recognize the many gay men and couples who have ventured further out of the city’s center to bring revitalization to some of the park’s older homes. If there is a ‘down’ side to tolerance, it is that gays are moving ever farther from the urban cores where they have traditionally played a pivotal and leading role in the fight against urban blight by rehabilitating decayed neighborhoods. Now, gays are recognized as exemplary and desirable neighbors in traditional family areas; their colorful sense of style and personal flourishes are valuable, and are just not going to be replicated by anyone else. Surely not by me or my fellow knuckledraggers. Bellevue Park is now home to a large number of gay men. I won’t say it is a gay community, because it is not. It is simply a community with many gay people in it, and it is a great place as a result.

Thank you and an A+ to Historic Harrisburg for a fine afternoon well spent with my wife, who doted on every kitchen, every light fixture, every antique stained glass window, who relished meeting every single person today, and who left the going ga-ga over the omnipresent quartersawn oak all to me. Yes, there was tons of beautiful quartersawn oak in every home. That is pretty much all I remember. Oh, that and the old friends.

Pennsylvania Society: If not then, why now?

Pennsylvania Society: Great idea, wrong time, wrong place

Every year in early December, Pennsylvania’s glitterati and politicos hobnob in Manhattan.

This gathering is known as the Pennsylvania Society, and it’s mostly invitation – only, or you can pay big bucks to throw your own event.

As fun and as useful as this gathering is, and yes, a lot of political sounding boards get twanged, plucked, drummed, and thumped here, it is still at the wrong time and the wrong place.

If you’re a Pennsylvanian, by God, you’re out deer hunting the second week of December. You’ve got no time for more chit-chat in black tie and bow tie inside yet another building (and with due respect to those people who spend their time indoors: Get outside. It’ll do you and everyone else a world of good). You’d prefer to be stalking some steep mountain ledge or sitting overlooking an oak flat, waiting for a deer to jump up or stroll through.

And Manhattan at Christmas time is great. Our family goes every year. Our kids have been raised on Fifth Avenue window shopping and everything that goes with it. Heck, movies have been made about this, it’s so special. It’s a fantastic time for anyone, and if the gathering was fit in to that experience, it’d make sense.

But that best time is at Christmas time. The week before and the week after. Not weeks before. So the Pennsylvania Society is missing the boat there, too, with timing that just doesn’t make sense.

But more to the point, aren’t Philadelphia and Pittsburgh pretty great cities, too? Why can’t we keep the Pennsylvania Society in Pennsylvania? Rotate it around the state, or at least switch between east and west.

I know the folks who really made the Pennsylvania Society take off, and I’m not picking on them. They’re good people, with great ideas. This is just a question of timing, if not venue. And if the venue stays, then change the timing, so our politicians conduct their off-line business in the atmosphere of holiday cheer, giving, forgiveness, and merriment.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

A plea for a small slice of reality

Marketing hype for any and all kinds of products has resulted in any and all kinds of hilarity, humor, bloopers, and ironies.

Hype, by its nature, kind of skirts facts and embellishes upon irrelevancies. Thus does hype almost inevitably lead to unintentional silliness.

For whatever reason, the outdoor sports are loaded with marketing hype.

Trail cameras are notoriously both marked by near-claims of X-Ray vision and simultaneous failures to perform their most basic functions.

Clothing that keeps your funky, unwashed armpits from making deer say “Uncle!” is another proven fraud.

The list goes on. I won’t belabor the list.

What really irks me are the male and female models used to promote outdoor gear, and specifically I mean hunting gear.

Cabelas, Bass Pro, Eddie Bauer, LL Bean, and many advertisers in Field & Stream magazine all use models for hunting gear who look nothing like hunters.

Probably universally, the guys are either effeminate, urban, slender professional model hipsters from NYC with a day-old facial hair growth, or they are occasionally hunting “stars” whose annoying braggadocio, bravado, machismo, and one-dimensional arrogance inspires mostly dismissiveness.

Neither of these model types fit the mold or image of real world hunters. Like me, probably you.

For example, I’m well overweight and struggle to make time to exercise, because being a husband, father, and small business owner all preclude time for developing hour-long fitness routines and pumped biceps.

And neither I nor any of my friends aspire to look effete, lanky, or effeminate. Our problem is probably that we don’t spend enough time cultivating our looks, complexions, or clothing fit, because these are unimportant sideshows in a life of meaning and real substance.

Hunting is, after all, about woodcraft, a conservation ethic, stealth, mastering one’s emotions, mastering firearms and bows, teaching our kids these skill sets with patience and love, and so on. Studly macho guys would be quickly drummed out of every group I hunt with. Hunting has zero to do with being macho.

So a simple plea here for reality: Use models who look like us Average Joes. We are much more likely to be interested in your products when you use people who actually look like us. Sinewy urban guys struggling to look male don’t interest us, and selfish guys who wear tinted contact lenses and who spend time on their biceps instead of their community don’t interest us, either.

Sure beats the alternative

Getting older signifies wisdom, life experience, contribution to community, commitment to family, and other desirable attributes.

It also means leaving behind youth, strong knees, a tolerant back, a cast iron stomach, and lifestyle options associated with vibrant health.

Saying goodbye to these basic comforts is tough, but it beats the alternative, which is the endless black sleep of death.

Today I turned 50, a significant age, for people who are mature and who act their age. For me, turning fifty means I wonder daily why my eyebrows are going grey while my hair remains mostly brown. Clearly forces are at work inside my body that I neither recognize nor really welcome.

Today I celebrated by hunting, alone, in a remote area, which I enjoy greatly. As if a lifetime of hunting would result in good hunting skills, irony struck and I managed to distract, disturb, and disrupt every deer I contacted today. No bullets were fired in making this message. Nevertheless, hunting is about serene contemplation, which I enjoy tremendously.  So I killed a lot of bad ideas all day.

Thanks to my friends and family for their fantastic memories and gifts. We will be having an open door party very soon. A real celebration is necessary.

We interrupt this marriage to bring you hunting season…

Thank you to my wonderful wife, the Princess of Patience, for letting me hunt so much.

Knowing how many other “hunting widows” there are, I am confident I speak as one with many other appreciative husbands.

Thank you

Dear friend, thank you for your friendship, affection, and trust.

Dear clients, colleagues, and partners, thank you for your trust. Taking risks and making sacrifices with you in the spirit of entrepreneurial pursuit is tremendously satisfying.

Dear family, thank you for your love (which I try to return equally), hard work, support and for getting good grades in school.

Dear God, thank you for making me a natural-born American citizen, and for having me live in a time of great material abundance and comfort.

Dear fellow citizen….Enjoy Thanksgiving in the greatest nation on Planet Earth.

Chapped hands? Recondition your winter boots

My hands have been badly chapped for weeks now. Outdoor work and play, and cold weather have chewed up the thumbs and finger tips on both my hands.  You’d think I actually worked for a living to look at them.

This morning I was reminded about the best way to fix that chapped skin: Recondition leather work boots and hunting boots. Whether it’s Sno-Seal, Danner Boot Cream, or some other natural salve for dry leather, it also works healing wonders on the hands that apply it. And sitting by the warm fire helps, too.

Tests of America’s endurance; we shall overcome

Barack Hussein Obama declared a law singlehandedly last night.

Not that it’s legal or constitutional for any president to impose so much change on American citizens by himself.

American checks and balances of power between the three branches of government require debate and approvals across the board to achieve law or the effects of law.

But we have just witnessed our first rogue, imperial president, whose disgust with everything about America means he has no time or respect for its laws, history, and Constitution.

Obama’s unilateral “amnesty” for millions of illegal aliens is a test of our nation’s endurance, just as we have experienced in the past. Say, the Civil War…….

We have overcome all of those tests and we shall overcome this test, too.

America’s dalliance with this false messiah Obama has resulted in an unprecedented assault on individual rights. Using the IRS and other federal agencies to aggressively “investigate” opponents of the Obama Administration has opened the flood gates among the citizens. Sure, a bunch of innocent citizens will go to jail to satisfy this one man’s hunger for power, but the citizenry increasingly takes notice.

Yes, Obama is making an effort to take over the internet, and thereby suppress citizen dissent in that space. He may very well try another unilateral “executive action” that assumes the bureaucracy will go along with him.

“Tyrants beware!” was a common motto among our founding citizenry. That tyrant, King George, also was arrogant and also believed that the iron fist of armed government coercion would put down the rebellion.

This tyrant, Obama, is well down that old path. What disturbs me is that so many Americans would rather see our democracy fail, or be sorely tested, than to be honest about Obama’s failure. What does that say about our neighbors and friends, upon whom we rely for so much and yet who would see the nation descend into chaos and rebellion.

Answers are tough to come by on this stuff. The questions alone are terrifying.

I love America. That is why I fight for her

I don’t doubt that the people on the left “love” America.

What I also know is true is that their definition of “love” of America is 100% the opposite of mine.

My love of country is frequently called “jingoistic” in online debates, a term once used by America’s arch-foe, the Soviet Union, and their treasonous allies planted on American soil.

The left’s “love” for America is for its rich opportunity to be turned into a fantasy utopia, the likes of which Marxists have been pursuing one way or another for over 100 years.

Leftists would take all of our material success until now, and convert it into state-controlled property, to be doled out sparingly to everyone equally.  That policy failed awfully in the Soviet Union, but as someone once close to me used to say, “Communism failed only because the Soviets did not implement it correctly.  It is otherwise a great thing and still ought to be pursued.”

The Soviets failed, and the Berlin Wall fell (25 years ago), because a tidal wave of individual hope for freedom and liberty continually corroded state power; eventually, the system just leaked throughout its faulty pipes.

The left would ignore all that and return us to those dark days.  Oh sure, they don’t say the days will be dark.  Neither did the Soviets, and neither do the Chinese or the North Koreans – they all say things are just rosy.

I love the America that was founded in 1776 and 1787 and 1794 and 1812 and 1867 and 1922 and 1948 and 1954 and 1964 and…….Yes, America as it was founded had the tools built into it to overcome the many challenges the young nation inherited (slavery and abolition) and later worked through (women’s suffrage, Negro voting rights, etc.).

America is not perfect – what nation is? – but America is perfectly designed and built to successfully process all challenges.

The challenge we face now is the same we faced when the Soviets had their agents working to damage us on the home front.  We face domestic political opponents who really do not believe in the America as it was founded.  They do not really love America, as it was created.  They are like little Benedict Arnolds, riding through the countryside at night, doing their utmost to un-do all the goodness.

I and tens of millions like me, however, we do love America as it was founded and as it has progressed since its founding.  And we will not sit idly by as our great nation is “transformed” into something unrecognizable.  Our fight is as much with liberals in the Democratic Party as it is with liberals in the Republican Party, and there are plenty there, too.

Speaking of the traitor Benedict Arnold, he was caught by two ragamuffin Patriot soldiers, more militiamen than regulars, and he offered them huge sums of money if they would but let him go to his British handlers waiting for him not far away.  Our two boys were destitute of money, but not of spirit, and in their ragged clothing they held him at the end of their loaded barrels and marched him back to patriot lines.

Today, people like me, no matter how much money is thrown at us, for or against us in supportive politics or opposition politics, we are going to keep on fighting to bring back the America we once knew – The America that offers full and equal prosperity to all who are willing to work hard and contribute to a society bound by Constitutional obligations and opportunities, and nothing more, or less.