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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.

 

A Severance Tax, now?

Talk about an addiction to spending other people’s money.

Yesterday in southeast PA, far away from the communities where this issue is most important and the citizens might not be so welcoming, Governor Tom Wolf staked out his position on creating a new 5% “severance tax” on natural gas from the Marcellus shale feature.

Right now, natural gas is selling at historic low prices, especially here in Pennsylvania.  The financial incentive to drill more or spend more money to get more gas is very low, and drill rigs have been disappearing from across the region for a year.

The Saudis began dumping oil months ago, in an effort to punish competing oil producers Iran and Russia, with the secondary effect of dropping gasoline prices so low that the natural gas industry got hit from that side, too.

So now is not only a bad time for the gas industry, it is also a time of greatly diminished returns on investment and on royalties received.  Scalping 5% off the top of that is punishing to everyone, including gas consumers, who will see their rates increase proportionally.

Here’s the biggest problem with a severance tax: Pennsylvania already has a 3% impact fee on Marcellus gas, and a Corporate Net Income Tax of 9.99% (let’s call it ten percent, OK?).  Most of the other gas and oil producing states have no such additional taxes; their severance taxes are the one and only tax their oil and gas producers pay, not the multiple high taxes and fees drillers in PA pay.

Pennsylvania government is therefore already reaping much higher revenue from the gas industry than other gas producing states.  That means that the companies doing business here are already burdened much more than elsewhere.

So adding a severance tax now, at this economically bad time, without commensurately lowering other taxes, or the existing Impact Fee, makes no sense.  Unless the people promoting this have an infantile view of how America and business work.

And that right there is the problem.  Way too many advocates for tax-and-spend policies like an additional severance tax have a Marxist view of business; essentially, to them, business exists to pour money into liberal schemes.

And speaking of spending, who believes that spending more and more and more taxpayer dollars on public schools, public teachers unions, and public teachers’ pensions, actually equates with better education?

So many studies disprove that (see the Mercatus Center), but it is a liberal mantra that taxpayers must spend ever more of their money to support public unions that support political liberals.  And both parents of students and taxpayers alike now correctly see that system for what it is – simple, legalized political graft to fund one political party.

Public schools are mostly a disaster, yet teacher’s unions and their political buddies continue to pound on the table for more and more money.  Homeowners are essentially now renting their houses from the teacher’s unions, and proposed laws like Act 76 seek to fix that unfair situation by removing the vampire fangs from homeowners and letting the larger society pay for its expenditure.

Going door-to-door for political races year after year, property tax has been the number one issue I have encountered among elderly homeowners.  So many of them can no longer afford to pay the taxes on their houses, that they must sell them and move, despite a lifetime of investing in them.  This is patently un-American and unfair.

So Tom Wolf is moving in exactly the opposite direction we need on this subject, and instead of trying to fix the tax situation, he seeks to make it worse.  To be fair, Wolf campaigned on raising taxes.  He just needs to remember that he did not get elected by voters who want higher taxes, they wanted to fire former governor Tom Corbett.

 

Natural abundance right now

Natural abundance surrounds us now. Apples, chestnuts, corn, osage orange “brainfruit,” and much much more. We scramble every day to snag wild apples along road sides, pick up chestnuts up the street before the squirrels eat them, and toss a few funky looking “brains” from a Lancaster farm road into the truck bed.

All with the intention of planting them on rural properties we manage.

By introducing new seeds to a given piece of land, we increase the species diversity and DNA stock on that piece of land.  Like Johnny Appleseed of old, we kick open holes in the dirt and pat a seed or apple core into place.

True, turkeys, bears, deer, chipmunks, and squirrels will eat much of what we plant. But if we do enough, some will survive.

And from there they will grow into trees and shrubs, feeding wildlife and people in the future, thereby perpetuating nature’s abundance.

US Supreme Court decides straight forward case with weird outcomes

Fernandez v. California was decided yesterday by the US Supreme Court.  Everything about it is just…weird.

In a holding that is enraging advocates of private property rights, limited government, and citizen privacy, the Court’s conservatives were joined by two liberals to allow the police to enter a private home without a warrant, even if one resident says they cannot enter, because another resident said they could enter.

In other words, if the police get a resident of a home to grant permission to enter that home for the purpose of searching for something illegal, which the police now do not have to specify in writing, the police may enter.  What they are looking for could be unknown, or undocumented.  Maybe they are on a fishing expedition, just looking for anything they could use against the person who said they did not want the police to enter.  It seems like planting evidence would be a lot easier, now.  In any event, your home is no longer your castle, if a pissed off teenager inside decides to take out their misplaced teenage aggression against their loving parents.

Seems like a recipe for disaster.

Justice Ginsburg wrote a dissent, noting the obvious erosion in Fourth Amendment rights against illegal searches and seizures that result from holdings like this.  Ginsburg is the court’s most liberal member, an extremist who has spoken out against the US Constitution she is sworn to uphold, and an authoritarian statist who otherwise just loves, loves, loves state power over citizens.

And here’s the really weird stuff: The facts involve “illegal guns,” which in California is anything down to and including a Daisy BB gun, and documented domestic violence.

The person blocking the police from entering the home to search it was the Mr. Wife-Beating Fernandez, a scumbag who held his cringing wife prisoner under brutal circumstances.  After he was momentarily out of the picture and not a direct threat, she allowed the police to search the house, where they found the illegal guns (let’s be clear – California is on the path to making all gun ownership illegal, except by the police, which is otherwise known as a police state, a separate topic).

Thus did Mr. Macho Wife Beater get into even more and more serious trouble with the legal system, and thus did he subsequently attempt to suppress the evidence the police found, which really put him away behind bars for a while.

Ginsburg and other liberals typically trumpet the rights of domestic abuse victims, but here they are clearly ranking them beneath the rights of the gun-owning wife beater.  Weird.

Conservatives like Alito typically champion the rights of gun owners and are split 50/50 on privacy rights.  But here they are so obviously opening up the flood gates of potential abuse by police.  No warrant?  No documentation for probable cause? Husbands and wives typically cannot testify against each other, but here they are now allowed to defy one another in the family ‘castle’ so the state apparatus may enter at will.

Seems like a pretty huge detonation of American citizens’ privacy rights.  Weird.

 

Warmer weather can’t come too soon

What began as a happy trip to the wood shed for a load of seasoned oak in the Fall is now a crabby trudge through deep snow and ice, a drudgery opposite the cheerfulness felt with the first flames to beat back Winter’s early chill.

Spring warmth cannot come too soon.  Naturally, it will arrive, melt the Arctic snow cap occupying my lawn, and probably result in some Biblical flood carrying my home down river to the Chesapeake Bay.

Speaking of floods, and flood insurance, I am hopeful that the insane congresswoman Maxcine Waters will have her bizarre legislation permanently overturned, so that people can either afford to own their homes (something she is not familiar with or supportive of) or the Federal government will buy out the landowners so the societal costs and benefits are not concentrated on just the private property owners.  Government cannot change the social contract in one week.  Well, under liberals it can, of course.  Let’s rephrase that: Government should not restructure the social contract in such a short time that private property owners see their investments destroyed overnight.  That would be good government, something unknown to Maxcine Waters and her fellow liberals.

Do you believe in your private property rights?

Isn’t it intriguing that the establishment wings of both the Democrats and the Republicans believe that your private property rights are actually theirs?

Several weeks ago, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party took a position on natural gas drilling in deep shales, saying that a moratorium on “fracking” is needed. That adds up to the government taking away from you the right and ability to develop a resource on your property, without compensating you and without demonstrating good cause.

When I inquired of a bewildered Democratic operative whether or not the proposed fracking moratorium would include nitrogen, or be limited to just water, he said “I don’t know, I don’t know. I cannot believe they did this. It makes no sense.” To be sure, it’s an indefensible and politically suicidal position. Unsurprisingly, I don’t believe any of the Democrat gubernatorial candidates have adopted this fatally flawed position.

This week, Republican Governor Tom Corbett signed into law a bill that, aside from two deadly sentences, was an otherwise fine solution to a lot of outstanding, unresolved problems associated with deep gas extraction.

Two deadly sentences are an issue, however, because they basically strip landowners\ oil, gas and mineral owners of their ability to negotiate new leases when the prior one has ended. The new law is a theft from you and a gift to a select industry. Gas is a good and necessary industry, for sure, but no more deserving of a free ride on someone else’s dime than you or I.

The arguments made in favor of what I would call ‘forced apportionment’ were ridiculous and laughable, except that so many private property rights have just been in effect taken and handed over to industry, so it is not funny. Apportionment is a term never used before in Pennsylvania OGM, and the 11th-hour two-sentence amendment to the bill lacks a definition of it. Surprise, surprise.

The worst argument is that by being forced into a “pool” of landowners, basically a fragmented production unit, this new law is guaranteeing that landowners will get paid (!). The state minimum payment, by the way. Never mind that you are due that payment already, and you’d prefer to renegotiate an expired lease on your own, thank you very much.

My sense is that these two sentences could cost Governor Tom Corbett his governorship and several lawmakers their seats. State representative Garth Everett and state senator Gene Yaw were the sponsors of the two sentences. Both are from Lycoming County, a place where private property rights are still held dearly and natural gas is plentiful.

How sad that the establishment wing of the Republican Party is so close to the Democrats that they adopt policies that are practically the same….

Next up, the courts will undoubtedly weigh in on this new law. Let’s hope they save the Republicans from themselves.

Texas Oil & Gas Companies Gone Wild – Part 1

Imagine my disgust and fury when out with my son on our hunting camp the other day we discovered four fresh survey stakes with gobs of ribbons placed on our property. No one had permission to enter our heavily posted, heavily surveyed property that adjoins PA State Forest.
Yes, I had been in discussion with a Texas-based company to come and explore the property, but we had signed nothing and they were in the process of negotiating.
So, finding the four stakes, which marked planned drilling and blasting locations, strategically placed around the property, but far enough away from the cabin that we were less likely to find them, conjured up the worst stories we have heard and seen about rogue Texas oil companies that trample on private property rights.
Luckily, I wasn’t present when the “surveyors” trespassed on our property. Had I encountered them, I would have held them at gunpoint until the State Police arrived to cite them for trespass. And I can tell you from personal experience, confronting trespassers out in the woods is uncomfortable and potentially explosive. Unless the trespasser does everything the landowner legally demands, which is a lot, the potential for gun fire is extremely high. People who defiantly trespass are probably violent, too. So the landowner has to be aggressive and controlling, ready to defend himself at any second.
I contacted the company, and their representative told me that — no kidding — my boundary is wrong and he will be happy to have a surveyor come out and fix it.
I am not lying about this. He actually said that.
Our boundary with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has been surveyed by both my surveyors and the state’s surveyors, many times. It is clearly marked and has Posted No Trespassing signs along it, closely spaced so that no one can say they didn’t see them.
Interestingly, their stakes were conveniently placed so that they were least likely to be found. And whoever placed them had to walk past a bunch of big yellow Posted signs.
I am preparing the civil lawsuit and the criminal complaint as I write this, and hopefully the company will make good, so I don’t have to rub their thieving name in the dirt.
See, they stand to make a lot of money by finding out what is under my property, but they don’t want to work with me on it, so they tried to steal the information, instead.
And it is sad, because I love Texas.