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My impression of Paul Mango, candidate for PA Guv

Three weeks ago I spent half an hour on the phone with Paul Mango, newly declared candidate for Pennsylvania governor.

We talked about his candidacy, his background, political issues, economics, hopes and challenges, etc. We then followed up with several back and forth emails, each one of his expressing specific appreciation and thanks for how the exchange had benefited him in a certain way. He is a new candidate, new to politics (other than as a very generous donor to Republican candidates), and he is digesting a lot of new information and ideas, new ways of thinking.

Last week I met Mango at his formal campaign announcement at the Twin Ponds sports and fitness center in Camp Hill\Mechanicsburg.

Twin Ponds previously served as the region’s HQ for primary and general election candidate Donald Trump, who won Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes by a margin probably accounted for just by the simple dedication of Central PA’s “normal Americans” in both political parties. The big facility is run by a pretty, petite firebrand of a woman, Mrs. Patton aka General Patton.

Here are my impressions of Mango (and yes, I know, he’s just getting started):

He is impressive in several key ways: His family background and values, his education and military service, and his high level professional work experience.

Paul Mango is a very smart, confident, and empathetic man, who comes across as a reserved, reflective, nice person, and a responsive, good listener.  He is positive and genuine.

I questioned him in person about how he will compete against candidate Scott Wagner, who has spent years battling in the trenches with a lot of conservative voters and activists, against entrenched establishment political hacks in politics for personal financial gain, and who has thereby built up credibility with many politically active citizens who value bravery and honesty.

When I pointed out that Wagner has also alienated a lot of people (including many of his former supporters) in that process (because Wagner seems selfish, arrogant, and unappreciative), Mango responded that he will not say anything negative because he has never seen valuable leadership succeed except through “inspiring people.”

That is a very high bar to set for one’s self, much less one’s political competitors, but it is worthy because it says Mango has integrity. The Wagner campaign has already criticized Mango for supporting Cruz first, and then Trump later, though I got the impression that is what Scott Wagner did, too, like a lot of us did in last year’s Republican primary. Here we go, the mud is already flying!

Well, to start, if Mango is going to inspire voters, then he needs to increase his positive speaking energy, his intensity, his passion. The other night he came across as a little nervous, and definitely way too deliberative, almost plodding, at his formal announcement. His prepared speech was long and the delivery was very, very slow.

Recall that Abraham Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg is so hard hitting because it was not long and plodding, but brief and hard hitting.

Despite serving in the 82nd Airborne and actually being a warrior, Mango’s even-keeled demeanor does not seem warrior-like, while his main competitor, Wagner, did not do military service and yet is a proven culture and fiscal political warrior.

Though he wore jeans, work boots, and an Oxford shirt, Mango is the very definition and personification of “corporate,” which will probably look or smell like moderate RINO to the trench warfare grass roots conservatives. Time will tell if that first impression is accurate.

His approach to fixing government is his approach to fixing businesses, about which it is best to just quote my activist friend Ron:

The problem with these guys [corporate/business/ Chamber of Commerce GOP candidates who compare running government to running business] is they all have plans to fix government by running it like a business. This is not a unique viewpoint and it has never worked. This is politics, not business. Took me a while to accept that.  He can have the greatest plan ever but it won’t matter because politicians don’t care [about people, policy, economy etc.].  They care about themselves and getting re-elected.”

It is a fact that careerist politicians in BOTH PARTIES do not act like corporate employees, because there is almost no accountability in politics. The old quip about the only accountability in politics resulting from being “found in bed with a dead girl or a live boy” probably doesn’t even apply today.

Like him or not, candidate Scott Wagner goes right to the key policy battles: Corrupt blood-sucking unions, ridiculous regulations that violate our federal and state constitutions, wasted and stolen taxpayer money.

That is where the rubber meets the road in the culture war for America’s soul and the war for a middle-income economy.

This is the battle front between America as it was founded and as we knew it, and America as a bastion of totalitarian socialism and politically correct thought police, envisioned by the Left.

Candidate Mango will probably arrive here at the same battle front, eventually, because the leftists’ violent street battles across America tell us that nice words alone don’t work, and Trump’s improbable win says it all (JEB! was also the quintessential corporate nice guy, and GOP voters utterly rejected him).

Mango’s steady personality seems to avoid conflict, which though commendable and reassuring in so many other settings, can send the message to some voters that he may be like a zillion other mainstream RINOs who are unwilling to dive into the bar room brawl that needs to happen for America to be set right. These careerist RINOs don’t want to get their hands dirty waging political war, which tells voters that they really just don’t care very much about political or cultural outcomes.

Mango is smart enough to see these facts and voter trends. Whether he arrives at that messy policy battle front sooner or later is the question. If he finds a way to comfortably voice his quiet intensity, his passion, his compassion for working Pennsylvanians, then he will overcome the potential impression that he is another empty GOP suit (I was told that PA GOP kingmaker Bob Asher has NOT supported Mango, which appeals to the conservative, independent-minded base).

I like the guy and I am looking forward to seeing him develop over the next six months, because, again, he is new to politics and just getting started.

Harrisburg’s Mayoral Race: Not Even One Lesser of Many Evils

Here in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, we are cursed with the single-party dominance that is the bane of nearly every other American city.

The lack of political competition means that voters and citizens are offered few choices, and a very narrow band of philosophical differences to choose from.

Like most other American cities, Harrisburg is dysfunctional, broke, mostly black, and run by the Democrat Party. American blacks vote overwhelmingly for Democrats and the corrupt special interest groups that hover about them, like the teacher’s unions.

Until American blacks start asking themselves why they keep voting for the failure and poverty that the Democrat Party has afflicted them with since the days of Southern slavery and Jim Crow, these cities will remain in their broken status.

Even state capital cities like Harrisburg. Our city’s school district is the worst in Pennsylvania, because it is dominated by the teacher’s unions. With bad schools, would-be taxpayers flee to school districts where they get something positive for their property taxes. And where their kids are more likely to get a decent education.

And to be fair, while you are more likely see better financial success in a conservative-run city, the fact is that cities dominated by a single party of any sort become playgrounds for careerists and corruption.

So here we are, with Eric Papenfuse as our current mayor.

Eric’s big claim to fame is that he graduated from Yale University. Seriously, I am not joking. Eric uses that assertion as if it is the beginning and dramatic ending of any policy discussion. It is as if he is stating “I am simply smarter than you, because I went to Yale, so discussion is over.”

Yale is like all the other Ivy league schools: Utterly worthless. Yale’s Politically Correct indoctrination has dumbed down students, not made them smarter. The liberal Borg mentality brooks no questioning, no competition.

As a human, if you do not question, then you do not develop critical thinking skills. Simply being “right” on a long list of leftist talking points does not make a person smart. It makes them intellectually inferior, even disabled. I believe this is why so many liberals get crazy mad when they are debated – they simply lack the ability to logically, calmly debate.

I will always give credit where it is due, however, and even sweaty faced Papenfuse has some achievements under his belt.

By withholding expenditures, the city now has some money. And some departments are actually functioning for the first time in a long time, like trash pickup and public street sewers.

Eric’s main political ally, Alex Hartzler, has felt comfortable enough to continue to make risky, low-yield redevelopment investments in bombed out ghettos. This generates new home sales and a new tax base, a sense of security and community. The private market can work, if allowed to work.

Laugh at these small accomplishments if you will, Harrisburg was on a trajectory to become another Detroit.

And to be fair, being the Harrisburg mayor is probably an unwinnable job, regardless of party or of personal charisma. It just may be one of those roles that in the current environment cannot be done well by anyone. The constraints are tight, the flexibility is low, and the wildcard variables are numerous.

A fractious and unimpressive city council does not help, either.

So it makes sense to make no predictions or endorsements in this race.

Even with six or seven mayoral candidates to choose from, it doesn’t appear that we even have a lesser-of-two-evils to choose from. They are all disasters.

Papenfuse has his hands full with city council member Gloria Martin, who may win simply because of  identity politics. If she wins, we may go forward, we may go backwards.

It is doubtful anyone could tell the difference.

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May 11, 2017 UPDATE: Jennie Jenkins has been recommended as a strong mayoral candidate by someone whom I and many other Harrisburg City voters look to for guidance and leadership.


May 14th UPDATE:  I learned Jennie Jenkins is a former city police officer. Great! Who was apparently fired or dismissed or who voluntarily left the police force because she was accused of stealing $350 from a police benevolent association fund. She’s suing various city leaders over this and says all charges were dropped. Patriot News reporters say almost all the charges were dropped, except one light misdemeanor that included no admission of guilt, repayment of whatever sum got misplaced, and ARD. Like I said above, the list of mayoral candidates is not super strong.


May 14th UPDATE: Mayoral candidate Anthony Harrell describes himself as a patriotic Iraq war veteran (thank you for your service, Anthony) who supports Second Amendment rights. His writeup in the recent print version of the Patriot News is the first I’ve heard of him. Definitely the kind of candidate Harrisburg needs. But no one knows he’s a candidate, except him.


May 14th UPDATE: After previously waging jihad against and attempting a political suicide attack on the Harrisburg Civil War Museum that caused city residents to shake our heads in mystified disbelief, Eric Papenfuse now says the place he wanted to bomb into rubble is actually “a valuable city resource.”  Uhhhhh, OK. Like we all know, the list of Harrisburg mayoral candidates is pretty weak. This is the best we’ve got….

 

 

The Sad Situation in Standing Rock

A person must be cold blooded to not at least feel sad for the Standing Rock folks.

This is a group of ancient people who have watched their culture, lifestyle, property, and land heritage melt away under the weight of newer tribes. They really don’t have much left, and now a pipeline threatens to take away even more.

The Dakota Access pipeline is important, heck, all the new pipelines are important because energy independence is critical to American political independence. The more America can rely on domestic energy, the less we need foreign sources of energy. The less we depend on those foreign sources, the freer we are to make tough but necessary decisions about domestic and foreign policy.

What saddens me is the win-lose situation in Standing Rock. The pipeline is presented as a take-it-or-leave-it outcome. Surely there is some other way to resolve this, other than ramming it through. After all, that has been a hallmark of the failed Obama administration and their legislative allies on so many other policy fronts, ramming decisions down everyone’s throats. It is a negative way to run government. It unnecessarily creates winners and losers.

Creating winners and losers is a recipe for serious problems down the road. Resentment runs deep. Grudges are created. Losses are forever mourned.

I know from experience that the Standing Rock situation presents us with an opportunity to create winners and winners.

How well do I recall sitting in a conference room at my office in downtown Harrisburg in 2001. Gathered around the table were representatives from Audubon, Sierra Club, recreational ATV riders, hunters, trail hikers, and the timber industry.

I had successfully negotiated the purchase of a privately owned 12,500-acre inholding in the huge Sproul State Forest from the Litke family. Donna Litke was a neat Pennsylvanian who loved her family’s rugged wilderness land in the northcentral country, but who also had a fiduciary commitment to her family to get the best financial results possible from any purchase. Her private land would become public land after we acquired it.

But Everyone wanted the whole property for their own interests. Or they wanted to block their political opponents from getting something out of it.

After hearing all the crabbing from all sides, left and right, environmental groups and industry, I decided that we would not acquire the property unless everyone got something out of the deal. Everyone needed to share in the success, or else we were not going to see the deal close.

So the day we sat down with a map of the Litke land, and began to discuss where certain activities could or would best take place, was the day we began to get to a win-win outcome. In the end every interest group got something out of the acquisition. Audubon and Sierra Club saw certain sensitive lands there set aside as natural and wild areas, where logging, road building, and gas drilling would not occur. We created a 1,400-acre ATV riding area on reclaimed and unreclaimed coal mining land there, too, the first one on public land in Pennsylvania, which today has generated substantial economic activity in ultra-rural Beech Creek.

Much of the Litke forest was set aside as “plain vanilla” State Forest, where people can walk, hike, camp, hunt, trap, fish, and cut timber. The streamside railway that came with it became an important rail-trail, drawing tourists (and their dollars) from far and wide.

And I did not learn how to do this cold. Rather, in 1995 to 1996, I had successfully used the same approach in the Middle East Peace Process agricultural projects in Jordan, Israel, and the West Bank when I was at US EPA, representing our agency in the diplomatic process.

Boy, you talk about competing interests! There was no shortage there, but in the end I was dubbed “Little Kissinger” for the sidebar negotiations I created, which got the overall projects back on track. Winners and winners.

My hope is Standing Rock will provoke the best in us. Barack Hussein Obama did nothing to help the folks there, until two weeks ago he made a purely political and symbolic decision against the pipeline. Obama has always been about winners and losers, heck he enjoys creating losers, so who can be surprised by his action here. Like everywhere else over his eight-year tenure, Obama squandered an opportunity to facilitate competing interests find common ground.

And that is what needs to happen at Standing Rock: Common ground.

Aren’t there potential solutions to this standoff that are win-win? I can think of three or four potential solutions that would probably be acceptable to the main parties.

We have a new president who understands the concept and importance of win-win outcomes. Hopefully President Trump appoints a solid and good-faith negotiator to resolve the head-on collision at Standing Rock, for everyone’s benefit.

Winners and winners.

 

Bear and Deer Seasons in the Rearview Mirror

The old joke about Pennsylvania having just two seasons rings as true today as it did fifty years ago: Road construction season in the Keystone State seems to be a nine-month-long affair everywhere we go, a testament to how not to overbuild public infrastructure, if you cannot maintain it right.

And the two-week rifle deer season brings out the passion among nearly one million hunters like an early Christmas morning for little kids (I doubt the Hanukkah bush thing ever took off).  All year long people plan their hunts with friends and relatives, take off from work, spend lots of money on gear, equipment, ammunition, food, and gas, and then go off to some place so they can report back their tales of cold and wet and woe to their warmer family members at home. These deer hunts are exciting adventures on the cheap. No bungee jumping, mountain cliff climbing, jumping through flaming hoops or parachuting out of airplanes are needed to generate the thrill of a lifetime as a deer or bear in range gives you a chance to be the best human you can be.

Both bear and deer seasons flew by too fast, and I wish I could do them over, not because I have regrets, but because these moments are so rare, and so meaningful. I love being in the wild, and the cold temperatures give me impetus to keep moving.

One reflection on these seasons is how the incredible acorn crop state-wide kept bear and deer from having to leave their mountain fortresses to find food. Normally animals must move quite a bit to find the browse and nuts they need to nourish their bodies. Well, not this year. Even yesterday I was tripping over super abundant acorns lying on every trail, human or animal made.

When acorns are still lying in the middle of a trail in December, where animals walk, then you know there are a lot of nuts, because normally those low-hanging fruits would be gobbled right up weeks ago.

After still hunting and driving off the mountain I hunt on most up north, it became clear the bear and deer were holed up in two very rugged, remote, laurel-choked difficult places to hunt. Any human approach is quickly heard, seen, or smelled, giving the critters their chance to simply walk away before the clumsy human arrives. All these animals had to do was get up a couple times a day, stretch, walk three feet and eat as many acorns as they want, and then return to their hidden beds.

This made killing them very difficult, and the lower bear and deer harvests show that. God help us if Sudden Oak Death blight hits Pennsylvania, because that will spell the end of the abundant game animals we enjoy, as well as the dominant oak forests they live in.

The second reflection is how we had no snow until Friday afternoon, two days ago, and by then we had already sidehilled on goat paths, and climbed steep mountains, as much as we were going to at that late point in the season. With snow, hunting is a totally different experience: The quarry stands out against the white back ground, making them easier to spot and kill, and snow tracking shows you where they were, where they were going, and when. These are big advantages to the hunter. Only on Friday afternoon did we see all the snowy tracks up top, leading over the steep edge into Truman Run. With another two hours, we could have done a small push and killed a couple deer. But not this year. Maybe in flintlock season!

And finally, I reflect on the people and the beautiful wild places we visited.

I already miss the time I spent with my son on stand the first week. He was with me when I took a small doe with a historic rifle that had not killed since October 1902, the last time its first owner hunted and a month before the gun was essentially put into storage until now.

And then my son had a terrible case of buck fever when a huge buck walked past him well within range of his Ruger .357 Magnum rifle, and he missed, fell down, and managed to somehow eject the clip and throw the second live round into the leaves while the deer kept moseying on by. When I found my son minutes later, he was sitting in a pile of leaves where the deer had stood, throwing the leaves around and crying in a rage that we needed to get right after the deer and hunt them down. The boy was a mess. It was delightful to watch.

I miss the wonderful men I hunted with, and I miss watching other parents take their own kids out, to pass on the ancient skill set as old as humankind.

It is an unfortunate necessity to point out that powerline contractor Haverfield ruined the Opening Day of deer season for about three dozen hunters by arriving unannounced and trespassing in force to access a powerline for annual maintenance in Dauphin County. We witnessed an unparalleled arrogance, dismissiveness, and incompetence by Haverfield staff and ownership that boggles the mind. I am a small business owner, and I’d be bankrupt in three days if I behaved like that. Only the intervention of a Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer saved the day, and that was because the Haverfield fools were going onto adjoining State Game Lands, where they also had no business being during deer season.

Kudos to PPL staff for helping us resolve this so it never happens again.

Folks, we will see you in flintlock season, just around the corner. Now it is time to trap for the little ground predators that raid the nests of ducks, geese, grouse, turkey, woodcock, and migratory songbirds. If you hate trapping, then you hate cute little ducklings, because the super overabundant raccoons, possums, skunks, fox, and coyotes I pursue eat their eggs in the nests, and they eat the baby birds when they are most vulnerable.

 

Property Taxes: Vote them OUT

A version of this opinion-editorial was submitted to the Patriot News editorial editor, John Micek. He usually prints my opinion pieces, but it also takes a lot of hemming and hawing. UPDATE: The Patriot News did run this op-ed on 11/2/16. Thank you, John Micek.

Property Taxes Must End

In graduate school, our economics professors gave us hypothetical tax and income scenarios to solve. Our homework was to critique various tax and revenue structures, and find the optimum public fund distributions, based on subjective values. These learning exercises were designed to give us the ability to present decision makers with a range of policy options best suited to a particular culture or economic perspective. A lot of my peers there were international students headed home to basically run their countries.

My take on property tax is that it spreads the burden around to those least likely to directly benefit from it, those least likely to see an indirect benefit from it, and those least likely to afford it. It penalizes working people the most. Politically it is treated like an off-the-books cash cow, pushing an increasingly unmanageable burden on our most vulnerable citizens. School property taxes are the worst and most unfair form of tax possible. A thousand years ago in Europe they were considered fair, because the taxing authorities no longer had to search and pillage individual farms while looking for “extra” grain and meat hidden among the farmer’s possessions. Land taxes were then tied to the particular land’s productive capabilities. Thin soils on rocky terrain in cold climates with short growing seasons were “penny lands,” because they annually produced only pennies worth of food and fiber beyond basic subsistence levels. “Ouncelands” farms on rich soils in warmer climates produced enough “extra” food to be annually valued in ounces of silver. And so on.

Today even this basic leveling philosophy is long gone from our property tax arrangements, as is the agricultural world that started property taxes altogether. Now it’s a free for all, with school property taxes disconnected from serving students, and directed to gold plating the various administrative and pension arrangements concocted by politically powerful unions, or building unneeded, expensive monuments to the failed educational profession in the form of elementary and high school “campuses” on productive farmland. Thus, the poorest cities with the lowest real estate values have the highest school taxes. This is bad policy, bad government, bad taxation, and it must end. We citizens deserve much better from our government.

Here in Pennsylvania’s 15th senate district, one candidate (the incumbent) has voted several times against repealing, changing, eliminating, or even reforming school property taxes. Then again, he has received tens of thousands of dollars from government school unions.

The other candidate has pledged to support Act 76, the property tax elimination bill that would keep Grandma from getting ejected from her home of fifty years because she can’t pay $23.76 in back taxes to a school district that only knows how to spend, spend, spend, and to which she has not sent a kid since 1963.

If you live here in the 15th senate district, next week you should vote for the candidate who says he supports Act 76. That person is John DiSanto.

Josh First is a businessman living in Harrisburg City.

Friends in low places

Several years ago several ambitious construction projects were begun, where the building material would come from our own oak trees on our property. Oak may not be the best or easiest building wood, because when it dries it is heavy and as hard as iron, and thus tough on tools and shoulders alike, but it is what we have there.

So oaks were cut, skidded, piled, and then milled in situ over about a five year period. An injury and subsequent surgery prevented me from continuing this remote effort, which then moved forward in fits and starts over several years. When we finally got around to completing the actual projects, much of that beautiful oak had been sitting out for a long time, and in some cases too long. After using up much of that oak lumber, a large amount yet remained in piles, where it had air dried.

Last week was my final drive to get under roof thousands of board feet of two-inch-thick oak boards, heavy beams, and smaller posts, before they started to rot. It was a lot of work. The unusual heat and blazing sun made the work go slower. One thing that surprised me was the absence of mice living in these outdoor piles. Normally mice run and scurry as the wood is moved, having nested among the boards in perfect little hidey holes.

The last pile of drying lumber was finally put away, with just a few boards remaining at the very end, butted up against a huge boulder that makes up part of a stone wall around the yard. As I dismounted the tractor, stepped over to the board ends, and reached down to grab them, a sound caught my attention.

It was a sound that set off primitive alarm bells in my brain.

At first it sounded like a cricket, and then a grasshopper, and then a second later my mind concluded it was a timber rattlesnake. After stepping back, well, let’s say it was an inelegant, well, ugly (it’s a big fat man jumping, after all) leap, minus my usual little girl scream that seems to accompany most of my unplanned and close-up rattlesnake encounters, I looked down.

A long black snake with a yellow diamond pattern was stretched out next to the boulder, about six inches from where my boot heel had settled moments before. The long grass against the boulder had concealed the snake from my eyes, which, frankly, had not looked there, but had rather been focused on the heavy boards, and how I was going to pick them up and manhandle them to their destination across the yard.

The snake’s angular head and erect tail with rattles confirmed it as a timber rattlesnake.

While it was not a huge male rattler, the likes of which I have caught and moved to safety off of roads and trails a number of times since I was a kid, it was nonetheless big enough to permanently remove a chunk of leg muscle. So I admired it for a minute, and then went on to other work elsewhere. When I returned an hour later, it was gone, though I thought I could see it coiled up right under the boulder’s edge. Instead of reaching down with my hands, I used the pallet forks on the tractor to pull out those last boards.

Over the course of the next two days, my mind kept replaying the encounter. In July 2001, when we had owned the property for seven months, DCNR forester Jim Hyland and I had scoured our property, as well as the adjoining State Forest and part of the adjoining private land, looking for rattlesnakes. That day we found a corn snake, a garter snake, a ring neck snake, and two green snakes. No sign of rattlesnakes among the rock and old slate quarries up high. Not even a shed skin.

So for sixteen years we had enjoyed our property without being mindful of rattlers. Our children had been born and raised around the cabin, running freely around the property. Sure, I spent a lot of time in our woods, a certified Tree Farm, and I have always been on the lookout for rattlesnakes, as well as other snakes, but I had seen few snakes at all, and never a rattler.

Snakes are awesome, they are awesomely cool creatures. I bear them no animosity whatsoever. In high school and college a pet boa constrictor kept me company, until she had grown so large that she was regularly breaking out of her cage and hunting our house cats. When I last saw her, she filled up one side of the man’s living room, and he regularly fed her rabbits and squirrels he trapped in his yard. She weighed about 150 pounds then, and was ten years old. I hugged her, but she just laid there, limp and dozing. Snakes…what can you do? Love em the best ya can.

And so now I am confronted with the fact that a potentially dangerous animal shares our camp with us. All around us we have seen rattlesnakes over the years, mostly run over by cars down on the highway, and increasingly I see them all over central and Northcentral Pennsylvania while cruising timber and looking at land. At some point I did expect them to join us as tenants of one sort at the cabin. Under the front porch is where I thought they would first show up, because it’s good cover and the mice like it there. Struggling emotionally to adjust to this new arrangement has not been painful, but it has been harder than I thought it would be.

The absence of mice under the wood piles reminded me why I accept and even welcome the presence of timber rattlesnakes, intellectually if not emotionally. Mice are a major pest, and they are destructive little bastards. Hearing them chirp and run inside the walls of the cabin at night, right next to my bed, is a source of aggravation. When they eat porch and barn furniture for nesting material, it is infuriating. They pee everywhere, and it stinks. We regularly trap them around the buildings and poison them inside the barn. Help reducing their numbers is most welcome, and anyone or anything that helps achieve that goal is a friend of mine.

Timber rattlers are beautiful to look at, and they are normally pretty docile, requiring a lot of pestering and rough handling to elicit a strike. But like all wild animals they are unpredictable, and the risk they pose to little kids playing outside is significant. Fortunately, our kids have reached ages where they can think carefully for themselves, consciously avoiding areas where rattlers would naturally congregate. And we now infrequently host families with little kids as guests, as most of our friends have kids the same ages as our own children, able to take guidance, if they are with their parents at all.

So the risks versus the benefits works out in our favor. The benefits of rattlers sharing our property are high, because they eat the hell out of mice. Rattlesnakes are my new friends, in low places, where they are needed most.

Welcome, friends.

 

Major Conservation Milestones Remind us of Happy Things

Amidst all the present misery, happy reminders float to the top of our consciousness. That America and Pennsylvania have achieved great conservation successes amidst tremendous challenges.

The US National Parks turned 100 this year.

What would America be without our national parks and monuments? These special places define who we are; they are the cultural blood quietly flowing through our national body.  Green, magnificent, beautiful, beyond human abilities, our national parks should be celebrated. Like our own blood, we only see them if we prick the skin to see what is underneath. Go ahead, take a drive and visit a national park; discover yourself.

This spring our family vacationed in Yosemite, and hiked day after day, lusting after photo-perfect landscape views and heavenly skies within our grasp, and without end. Last year it was Sequoia. I remain proud of my contributions to the creation of the Flight 93 Memorial, which has grown up and flown far beyond my 2003 expectations.

Here in Penn’s Woods, the Fish & Boat Commission turned 150 years old this spring. Yes, the PFBC is as old as the first US Civil War, a reminder that even in the often lawless throes of the industrial revolution’s filthy sewage, Americans, namely Pennsylvanians leading the way, valued their clean water and healthy fish stocks.

Mostly innocuous, the PFBC is like the angel in white whispering on our shoulder, reminding us of the good things we should do. Several years ago the agency survived an assassination attempt. Turned out, angel’s voices are too pure for industrial-strength greed and career politicians’ wishes for unlimited power and public wealth.

Also in Penn’s Woods, the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources recently named six new wild areas on existing public land. While wild areas are nice and welcome, waving a magic wand over existing public land and renaming it kind of begs the question: Why is this conservation agency not adding additional new acreage to the public holdings, and then striking a balance with the new designations?

Last week my son and I drove through the heart of Pennsylvania’s state forest complex, up in the northcentral region. Natural gas development arrived there and changed some of the publicly owned landscape in the past nine years. While gas drilling brought much needed cash and energy independence, laudable and valuable results, they came with a price – our public lands bore new scars from industrialization.  DCNR would do the public interest best if it sought to balance impacts on its land with the addition of new acreage purchased from willing sellers. Then the new wild areas would really mean something.

Live on, PFBC, long may you prosper and guard our most basic nourishment, the water we drink.

Live long, national parks, long may you remind us of our best, purest selves.

A nod to a real artist

Geoffroy Gournet is a pilgrim among pagans.

A real Frenchman living among the natives here in Pennsylvania, we are fortunate to have him.

How such a refined and accomplished artist landed in our midst one can only guess. I think I asked him, but somehow he shrugged it off. Something about enjoying watching his dogs work, the close proximity of good bird hunting, the ease of getting to New Jersey and New York, and then getting right back out again.

Whatever his response, I forgot it. But I do not forget how fortunate East Coast  sportsmen are to have this artist so close to our guns, knives, and other objects we want engraved with the talismans of our times afield. He lives right in Easton, Pennsylvania, in a beautiful historic neighborhood on the banks of the Delaware River.

Geoffroy’s website is www.gournetusa.com. If you decide to have the engraving of a lifetime put on a favorite gun, or even just on a pocket knife, get in touch with Geoffroy.  You will be happy you did.

One may tend to think of French artists as hoity-toity, aloof, nearly effervescent, but Geoffroy is a very kindly, friendly, and manly man. It is true he has a thing for fancy French bicycles, but then again he is French. We accept these things.

His engraving is second-to-none, and he has greatly improved our own family’s enjoyment in the smallest ways.

Thank you, Geoffroy.

 

Our dear friend, Don Heckman

Don Heckman needs little introduction in the sporting circles of Pennsylvania and the East Coast.

A founding member and long time leader of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, Don’s cheerful, generous and kind personality and locomotive work ethic helped re-establish wild turkeys to Pennsylvania in the 1970s, when the conventional wisdom said it was impossible.

Don was also a powerful advocate for the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsman’s Clubs, the National Rifle Association, and many other similar groups to which he was a devoted life member.

He was a persuasive advocate for the continued success of the Pennsylvania Game Commission on the whole, and its land acquisition and science-based habitat management programs in particular.

Don was both an incredibly good hunter, and at times also exasperating to hunt with. This is because of his own unique standards: He refused to shoot a gobbler (male turkey), unless it was both strutting and gobbling at the same time. Sneaking toms, peeping toms, cautious toms, running or flying toms he would not shoot, no matter how close or in range of his gun. None of those were sporting birds, in his estimation. Only a completely unaware longbeard was worthy.

Don and I turkey hunted together a number of times over the years, mostly in the central Pennsylvania farmland we both love. While it would be easy to regale Don’s skill as a caller and hunter, two instances come to mind that sum up the attraction of having Don as your hunting partner.

First was his wry humor. He meant it with love, of course.

“Mmmmmm, uh huh. That sounds like a turkey,” was a frequent back handed compliment from Don as I was scratching away on a friction call, mostly slates.

He wouldn’t care that my calling had actually lured in a nice longbeard to within range. That was no inoculation against the compliment. For Don, it was important to remind me that my calling could always improve, whenever he had the chance. And he was right, of course, as much as I do not like to admit it.  That’s what good teachers are about. He was, after all, a many time champion caller whose skill I could only marvel at and never hope to replicate.

And just to prove his point by spiking the ball, Don might decide to stand up and switch locations even as the gobbler was determinedly marching across a cut corn field directly to us.

Watching the alarmed bird take wing and sail to the other side of the valley, the now standing Don said to my sitting figure, “Yeah, he must’ve seen you move.”

Movement is the biggest no-no of all in turkey hunting, and rookies move a lot. Even veterans get caught moving their eyeballs by wary gobblers fifty yards out. To attribute the alarmed and rushed exit of a wild turkey to a hunter’s movement is a gentle way of saying “Your hunting skill needs some work.” Even if it didn’t at that very moment.

And then there was that truly exasperating standard of his, the one where he would only shoot a gobbler in full strut AND gobbling. That performance is like looking up in the sky and seeing the sun and moon align, because a longbeard gobbler that is both strutting and gobbling is completely in the moment. He feels no fear or wariness that usually accompanies most alluring hen calls by hunters.

As I am not ever going to approach Don’s skill as a turkey hunter (he has racked up more annual grand slam turkey hunts species-wise and across multiple states than anyone else I know), I feel fortunate to shoot any gobbler, strutting or not.

And it is a fact that my poor skill as a turkey caller usually results in birds sneaking in, peering in, or darting in for a quick look before running like hell to get out of Dodge, or “putting” (turkeys make a putt-putt alarm call when they are suspicious enough to flee) from 40 yards out, so that most of the gobblers I have killed were shot mid-stride to the next county.

Not in full strut AND gobbling, like Don would have.

One morning in Dauphin County about four or five years ago, Don and I were lying in a field while I called to turkeys below us. They came well within range, but the lead gobbler, a huge bruiser boss bird, stopped gobbling and was “only” fanned out and puffed up, strutting. Such an impressive performance was insufficient to move Don’s trigger finger backwards, despite my harsh whispers of expletive-laced encouragement.

Nope. Instead, Don stood up in plain view of the flock, maybe thirty yards away, with his shotgun trained on the head of the strutting gobbler, and he began simultaneously calling with his mouth diaphragm call.

Wild turkey hunters know that at the sight of a man standing up within two hundred yards, let alone thirty, wild turkeys scatter like dust in a hurricane. They are gone in the blink of an eye.

Not these birds. Don’s calling was so good, so realistic, so enticing that the entire flock turned to look at us with concern for the grossly misshapen hen addressing them, and then they calmly walked away.

Don never shot, though he would have easily bagged any of the gobblers there. He just said “Oh, well, let’s go try another spot.”

Don is now in another spot, a turkey chaser’s dream spot, I am sure. He was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor in late January this year, and he rode it out with the help of his devoted wife, Sandy, for the next few months, until he died on the night of May 17th, in the central Pennsylvania region he loved so much.

Like all of his friends and acquaintances, I will miss Don Heckman enormously. Sitting in a turkey blind I cried yesterday, thinking about his loss. Don died way too young, barely into his retirement, and not in time for me to prove to him that really, I can get a gobbler to strut AND gobble in range. But that is what I will continue to do, to aspire to, in Don’s memory, as representative as it was of one of the last great generational wildlife conservation leaders in Pennsylvania and in America.

Bye, old friend, boy do I miss you.

 

Invasives & Sustainability

Invasives present a challenge to sustainability because they quickly fill gaps where natives take longer to grow and thrive. Natives evolved in their environment over long periods of time and they perform certain key services and functions that are necessary for the overall system to function properly.

As non-native invasives proliferate, they choke out the natives and reduce their ecosystem services. Almost always, the non-native invasives perform limited or no services, despite showy appearances. Their presence is totally unsustainable and is ruinous if left unchecked.

A day or so ago while walking on my favorite rail-trail, it was impossible to ignore the sickly sweet smell of Japanese honeysuckle, a huge invasive nearly everywhere in Pennsylvania. For whatever reason, Japanese honeysuckle has spread like wildlfire in the past few years. My only neighbor’s property is like Ground Zero, so whatever fight I am carrying on at my place is limited in effect by the invasive sanctuary across the boundary line. Like a shrub explosion.

Sure, the ruby throated hummingbirds benefit from honeysuckle, and who doesn’t like watching the gentle, delicate little birds flit around?

But this much honeysuckle is quickly crowding out native trees that benefit our native wildlife. Occasionally deer will browse the tender tips of a honeysuckle shrub, but after the first inch it’s just tough woody debris that deer won’t eat. So it grows pretty much unchallenged. And boy does it ever grow!

Along with Japanese honeysuckle comes barberry, multiflora rose, and autumn or Russian olive, often all popping up unannounced in large clumps. Interesting, isn’t it, that they all appear together? Once in a while a nasty ailanthus (“Tree of Heaven”) will push its way in among the other invaders.

After years of battling these non-native invasives, I have come to rely on pulling up the barberry by hand, usually with the aid of a length of re-bar, and spraying the smaller olives, honeysuckle, and multiflora rose with glyphosate. Sawing substantially into the larger honeysuckle shrubs and spraying the cut with glyphosate usually does the trick; it works much better than trying to spray the whole big shrub.

Intriguing, don’t you think, that the biggest advocates of fighting non-native invasives are the ones most aggressively pushing non-native invasives in the form of lawbreaking illegal border crashers?

Recently I was on the West Coast, in an area in the grip of a Biblical-size drought. Water scarcity is becoming a serious problem. Public demand for water far outstrips supply. A drive through the Central Valley revealed apocryphal “Dustbowl” conditions, with signs everywhere warning about the consequences of poor water management.

It is not a sustainable situation. Yet this area also holds the greatest number of illegal invaders in America, who put an unsustainable demand on other public services besides water. Public transportation, public schools, roads, highways, sewage treatment, public spaces like parks, police, fire and hospital services are all stretched way beyond capacity by the presence of the non-native, non-tax-paying  invasives.

And yet the voting citizens of Los Angeles and California continue to aggressively vote for unsustainability.

Boggles the mind.