Early Signs of Spring

With lakes and rivers still mostly frozen, it may seem overly optimistic to think of spring. But it’s coming. Days are getting noticeably longer, and that’s the key. Photoperiod is nature’s only absolutely reliable timepiece. I’m hopeful that we’ve seen the last sub-zero and single-digit temperatures.

In spite of frigid temperatures and enduring snow cover, longer days trigger hormones that compel birds to advertise their presence. On February 19, when the thermometer soared to eight degrees above zero, Carolina chickadees and white-throated sparrows sang as I filled the feeders. Over the next several days, cardinals, titmice, bluebirds and song sparrows joined the chorus.

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Other early signs of spring are absolutely predictable.

Bald eagle nests in the mid-Atlantic states already have eggs, and incubation is under way. After 35 days, the first eggs will hatch in late March or very early April. Though many eagle cams can be found online, a high definition camera is trained on an active nest in south-central Pennsylvania at Click on the “Bald Eagle Live Stream.”

In about two weeks, the first eggs will appear in urban peregrine falcon nests. Links to falcon nests in Pittsburgh can be found at the National Aviary’s website, Click the “Conservation” icon, then click “Pittsburgh Area Live Nest Cams” in the dropdown menu.

I expect to hear wood frogs sing sometime this week. Sounding like muffled quacking ducks, they will just have thawed after having spent the winter frozen solid.

It’s true that wood frogs survive even the coldest winter temperatures. When living tissue freezes, ice crystals form, cells rupture and the organism usually dies. But in the dead of winter, wood frogs freeze solid. The body is rigid, breathing ceases and the heart stops beating. And yet, when winter thaws, they revive.

Wood frogs have perfected the cryogenic freezing process. In winter, almost half of the frog’s body may freeze and turn to ice. Freezing is made possible by specialized proteins and glucose, which prevent intracellular freezing and dehydration.

But don’t take my word for it. Watch a short video clip and see for yourself:

In low spots where seeps abound, look for skunk cabbage to emerge. Its own metabolic thermogenesis provides the heat needed to push through snow.

Rapidly growing skunk cabbage flowers can maintain a “body temperature” as much as 30 degrees (F) higher than ambient temperatures.

The growing skunk cabbage flowers generate heat via oxidation. This requires an unusually high rate of oxygen consumption for a plant. In fact, it’s comparable to the metabolic rate of a hummingbird. The purpose of the heat is two-fold. It produces the chemical odors that mimic decaying flesh and attract insect pollinators.

The plant’s body heat also warms the air within the flower, and this rising current carries with it the pungent odor of the plant. Think of it as a mini-thermal, similar to those that carry soaring hawks and vultures, only this one just carries aromatic molecules. Watch for a variety of tiny pollinating bees, flies and beetles attracted by the odor as they visit skunk cabbage on mild late winter days.

At these very same seeps or wet spots in slowly thawing meadows, I expect to hear the evening “peents” of displaying woodcock that have just returned from points south. On a moonlit night, I might even catch their distinctive sky dance in silhouette.

Woodcock are plump, quail-sized migratory birds that weigh six or seven ounces. Though classified taxonomically as shorebirds, woodcock live in damp, lowland woods. They usually return in late February, but I can always count on them in March.

Woodcock “dances” peak at dusk and dawn from early-March through early May. Males are promiscuous; they mate with any hen that finds the dance irresistible.

Finally, though I don’t expect ruby-throated hummingbirds to return until mid to late April, the year’s first hummers have already returned to Louisiana and Florida on February 22. Follow their progress north at Though I hang a nectar feeder on April 15, I realistically don’t expect to see the first hummer until after April 22.

~~  Dr. Shalaway - or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033 ~~

Servant Leaders vs. Empty Suits

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In a normal world, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress would have been roundly mocked by the audience for its hypocritical fear mongering. In a normal world, 70 years beyond Hiroshima, major powers would have long since acceded to the wishes of their constituents and established far more extensive arms reduction treaties. In a normal world, there would be a single, not a double, standard challenging the undiluted evil of nuclear weapons, no matter who possesses them. That single standard would underpin not only a regional but also a planet-wide effort at nuclear disarmament. And in a normal world, a foreign leader would not have been handed the most prestigious possible venue to undermine delicate, complex negotiations merely to allow him to score political points in two countries simultaneously.

To focus upon the existential danger of a nuclear Iran is to miss the point Albert Einstein, one of the most prophetic Jewish thinkers, made back in 1946: “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” By making Iran into Israel’s nemesis, Netanyahu particularizes and localizes what should be universal and planetary: for Israel to be secure, all nations must be secure. Every nuclear point of tension on the planet today is equally an existential threat to all of us: Ukraine-Russia, India-Pakistan—and Israel-Iran.

Netanyahu did not call for general nuclear disarmament because he is stuck in an old mode of thinking based in his limited identification with his own nation, a nuclear-armed nation tied in ethical knots by the need to choose between democracy and privileging a particular ethnicity. In this old mode, self-interest is defined in terms of what’s good for my own country, in particular for the Jewish citizens of my country, rather than the planet as a whole. The scenario of a nuclear-free zone in the region is dismissed because it doesn’t fit with the Israeli—and American—right wing’s hyper-macho view of response to perceived threats. The drift toward nuclear catastrophe continues, even accelerates, in an atmosphere of mutual paranoia and denial.

In this obsolete mode of thinking, “we” are exceptional and “they” are the axis of evil. “We” project our own unacknowledged aggressiveness onto adversaries and dehumanize them, justifying endless mistrust, closed hearts, and killing that resolves nothing. “We” become more and more like the very thing we fear and hate, descending into torture, unjust land appropriation, secret arms sales, assassination, imperial expansion of spheres of influence—dysfunctional tactics common not only to both Israel and Iran, but also to the U.S. Fear of non-state actors having the same power as the nine nuclear states to incinerate millions in seconds rationalizes extreme behavior against perceived extremists. Would the United States have descended into torture so quickly and completely without the specter of an extremist Muslim with a suitcase nuke?

A new mode of thinking would acknowledge that the nuclear genie cannot be put back in the bottle, that the impossibility of victory in a nuclear war is a challenge shared by all nations, and that it is imprudent to let the tail of fear wag the dog of arms sales, both conventional and nuclear. In the new mode of thinking, the emphasis is taken off bilateral conflict and becomes a cooperative international effort to inventory, control, and lock down loose nuclear materials everywhere. This would cost infinitely less than the trillion dollars the U.S. is planning to spend over the next decade to refurbish its nuclear arsenal.

Netanyahu is inarguably right to assert that Israel lives in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world, but there is much that he and his fragile coalition could do to begin to make it a safer neighborhood for themselves—beginning with restraining illegal settlement colonization of Palestinian land.

An alternative vision of global security is taking shape, based in initiatives that slowly build trust on the basis of overlapping environmental crises and other challenges that simply cannot be addressed by militarism. To grow this embryonic vision toward robust maturity, we need fewer empty suits, pawns in the dangerous game of arms sales and endless war, and more servant-leaders, figures like Dag Hammarskjold, Oscar Arias, Vaclav Havel, and Aung San Suu Kyi, people who exemplify the new mode of thinking for which Einstein implied the need if our species is to survive beyond the nuclear age. As Netanyahu’s hero Churchill once said, “To jaw-jaw is better than to war-war.”

~~  Winslow Myers ~~

G-Comm™: Hoppy’s Commentary - Notes from Under the Capitol Dome


Last Wednesday was crossover day. Bills had to be passed out of their originating chamber by the end of the day to give them any chance of being approved by the other body. That means a lot of bills died yesterday; some good, some bad. There’s always next year.

—The House has passed the “forced pooling” bill. HB 2688 provides a way for reluctant gas rights holders to be required to participate in natural gas drilling when the rights holders for 80 percent of the property agree.  It’s a contentious bill, and opponents forced the bill to be read in its entirety first, all 68 pages. That was followed by a long debate on the floor where supporters argued that forced pooling will help the natural gas industry expand even more, but opponents argued that it amounts to an illegal taking of property.

—West Virginia will soon have a new, more strict abortion law. The House easily overrode Gov. Tomblin’s veto of the fetal pain bill Wednesday. The Senate will do the same. The legislation, which will go into effect in 90 days, prohibits abortions after 20 weeks unless the fetus is not viable or the mother faces a serious health hazard. The last time lawmakers overrode a gubernatorial veto was in 1987 when the Legislature turned back Arch Moore’s veto of the budget bill.

—House Republicans say a bill that would have required drug testing for welfare recipients has died, an apparent victim of time constraints with just a week and a half left in the regular session. The bill passed the Senate earlier. At least 12 states have the drug testing requirement, although Florida’s law was struck down in the courts.

—Gov. Tomblin has signed into law HB 2004 which gives lawmakers oversight for how the state Department of Environmental Protection plans to meet the federal EPA’s sweeping plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. State DEP Director Randy Huffman opposed the bill, but he decided not to put up a big fight against it. The whole issue may be moot since there’s a legal challenge to the EPA’s authority to force states to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

—Lawmakers are taking yet another crack at campaign finance reform. SB 541 raises the contribution caps in West Virginia elections from the current $1,000 to $2,700 per cycle with an inflation provision. The bill also calls for greater disclosure by those making contributions. Supporters say they want to try to slow the growing amount of spending by independent groups, which currently do not have to disclose their donors. Senators worked out a bipartisan bill and it passed last night.

—Labor is planning another big demonstration at the Capitol. UMWA president Cecil Roberts, AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, state AFL-CIO President Kenny Perdue and Teamsters Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall headline the Saturday rally, which they say will bring in 40 busloads of demonstrators. The labor leaders will speak against a coal mine bill that changes safety standards and legislation that alters how prevailing wages are determined.

—One glaring omission from this year’s otherwise productive legislative session is anything significant on roads. The West Virginia Contractors Association released a study this week indicating a $500 million increase in spending on highways and bridges would create 10,000 new jobs and generate $1 billion in additional economic output. But the question remains, where does the $500 million come from? That will have to be an issue for another legislative session.

G-Comm™: Hoppy’s Commentary - Lawmakers Strike a Balance on Natural Gas Drilling


The House of Delegates has passed an important but controversial bill that provides a fair and equitable way for the natural gas industry and mineral rights holders to take advantage of the state’s massive gas reserves.

HB 2688 creates “lease integration” (or “forced pooling” as many call it) for deep and shallow wells. A driller who gets permission from 80 percent of the mineral rights owners on a tract of land can petition the seven-member Oil and Gas Commission to force the holdouts into the pool. Currently, a single holdout can block horizontal drilling into the Marcellus Shale.

The bill includes important protections for the holdouts.

The gas company must first make a good faith effort to negotiate with the holdouts. They must be paid “just and reasonable” royalties based on comparable payments in the region. The gas company cannot deduct any production and post-production costs from the royalties. (Those deductions are a sore spot with mineral rights holders.) There can be no surface disturbance on the forced pool tracts. Holdouts who are dissatisfied with the commission’s findings can appeal to circuit court.

The oil and gas industry has failed several times in recent years to pass forced pooling, but proponents took a different approach this year. Del. Woody Ireland (R-Ritchie), who has a long history of working with—and sometimes fighting with—the gas industry brought all the stakeholders together for meeting after meeting to reach a compromise.

The West Virginia Farm Bureau eventually signed on, saying the bill balances the importance of private property rights with the desire of farmers to capitalize on their gas and oil mineral rights. The West Virginia Royalty Owners Association, which historically opposed forced pooling bills, supported this bill. Spokesman Tom Huber says HB 2688 is a fair bill that “addresses both the needs of the oil and gas industry and the legitimate concerns of West Virginia property owners.”

Not everyone is happy. Among the 40 opponents in the House—the bill passed Wednesday 60-40—was a coalition of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats. They argued forcing a property owner into a deal he objects to amounts to an illegal taking of property.

Historically, the courts have disagreed. Most states have some form of forced pooling law and the doctrine has been tested many times.  An American Law Reports review of state and federal court rulings concerning laws in a dozen states found that “compulsory pooling… ordinances are valid” and do no violate due process.

The opponents to HB 2688 chose to ignore that West Virginia already has forced pooling for all deep vertical wells into the Utica Shale and the current statute provides little protection for those mineral owners. This bill provides assurances for them, as well as the rights holders of the Marcellus deposits.

The stakeholders worked long and hard to write a reasonable bill and it appears they have done just that.

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