Sunday, March 26, 2017

Response re: article by Kollibri terre Sonnenblume

In response to this article:
and the ensuing discussion here:

My real name is Chuck Peterson. I started studying desert tortoises in 1987; my first Desert Tortoise Council meeting was 1985. I earned a PhD in 1993 from UCLA working with Ken Nagy. My dissertation was on the ecological physiology of desert tortoises. One of my study sites was the Ivanpah Valley. I was a consulting reviewer of the first Recovery Plan for desert tortoises when they were listed in 1990. I then spent 20 years as a scientist and college professor, studying other species of reptiles to the east, before quitting the academic grind and returning to the Mojave Desert in 2013. My publications are listed here: .  I worked on the Silver State South project and am now working on the MCAGCC translocation. OK? Those are my qualifications to opine on this issue. 

The linked article is political polemic, which is fine. I am no fan of militarism, industrial solar development, off-highway ‘wreckreation’, livestock grazing, predator killing, or anything else that despoils the desert environment and its natural inhabitants, all of which I love wholeheartedly. But I am also a scientist by inclination and training, and it bothers me—a lot—when issues I care about are presented in a misleading and/or dishonest way. And that’s how I would characterize the linked article.

I will briefly address four problems with it here. First, and of least importance, is the title, “Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises”. The problem with it is not that it’s wrong, because some tortoises will die as a result of the USMC’s activities. The problem is that the translocation project, which is the focus of the article, is actually designed to minimize such mortality, not cause it. As correctly stated in the article, Congress has given most of the public land in Johnson Valley to the USMC as an expansion of their already gigantic base. What they are going to do with it is to run twice-yearly combat simulation exercises, each of which will involve 15,000 Marines and 300 tanks converging on a single target area from three staging areas 50 miles away. These will use every weapon in the USMC’s arsenal, including all manner of machine guns, live-fire artillery, full air support, etc. Now you may not like this—I don’t—but that horse is way out of the barn; it’s going to happen. Tortoises would be killed by these exercises, every year, twice a year, and that’s undeniable, leaving translocation out of it. How many? No way for anyone to even tender an accurate estimate. (By the way, Johnson Valley has been “managed” for many years by the BLM as an open OHV area where any yahoo can drive any vehicle anywhere at any time. They never gave 2 shits about the tortoises that live there, and many have been killed, I’ve seen it myself.)

Second, a gross error of omission is the lack of even a single mention of the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Do you think it’s the USMC’s desire and idea to spend millions of dollars moving tortoises? As a Federal agency proposing a new action in endangered species habitat, the USMC had to enter Section 7 consultation with USFWS as mandated by the Endangered Species Act. It was USFWS that mandated the translocation project. Not the Marines’ idea at all, as implied in the article, including the title. Now you may disagree with USFWS’s reasoning here, but the knowledgeable and experienced tortoise biologists at the Desert Tortoise Recovery Center made the call that 1) it would be better to try moving tortoises out of the tanks’ way than to leave them there to be crushed in unknowable numbers, and that 2) translocation could be used as a proactive measure to repopulate areas that used to support tortoise populations but which have experienced recent declines (primarily, it is thought, from episodic disease and/or drought (desert tortoises are not supremely adapted to current desert conditions; multi-year drought kills them “naturally” as I showed in a 1994 paper)). So if you want to blame somebody for the translocation project, USFWS is responsible. I’d guess that left to their own devices and absent the ESA the USMC would be happy enough to ignore the issue and just run ‘em over if they could. That might not be fair though.

Third. It is implied, if not stated outright, that translocation is a guaranteed death sentence for tortoises. The objective fact is that nobody—not you, not me, not “biologists involved with the project”, not the Center for Biological Diversity—can say that with any assurance. USFWS, for one, is hypothesizing that it’s not true. It is true that results of previous projects have been mixed. (Not universally disastrous; mixed. A second grader could see the intellectually dishonest bullshit in a passage like : “Though the rates of survival have varied from project to project, they are often no better than 50%...This particular translocation at the Twentynine Palms base will be the largest so far attempted, of over 1100 animals. So it would not be surprising if at least 500 deaths resulted, and perhaps far more.” Give me a fucking break.) Moapa was a travesty of stupid mismanagement. Ivanpah results are incompletely known; thanks private-corporation “science”. Mistakes have been made. On the other hand, those industrial solar projects completely obliterated the habitat (it makes me sick to my stomach) and mortality would have been guaranteed 100% without moving them. But let’s talk about Ft. Irwin for a second, because that’s the one that CBD points to as the indicator of Doom. Yes, 50% mortality occurred in one subset of translocated tortoises. But what doesn’t get mentioned by polemicists and activist “scientists” is that mortality was also very high that year—in fact, statistically indistinguishable—in nearby control populations that were neither moved nor received relocates. It was bad for tortoises in that area that year, period, moved or not moved. There were no rabbits or rats and that’s when coyotes turn to tortoises. The timing was extraordinarily bad, but there is NO EVIDENCE that translocation per se was responsible for the mortality. USFWS is trying to learn lessons from these previous attempts and failures. The MCAGCC project is being run as a large, well-considered and –designed scientific experiment to see if large-scale translocation can be used in the future as a viable conservation tool (in the face of seemingly inevitable continued development of habitat). And the FACT is that no matter what anybody says, nobody knows how it will turn out. I can say that everybody involved in running the project—I have known most of the principals for 30 years or more—is sincerely dedicated to doing right by the animals. I won’t stand for hearing their motives impugned by ignorant blowhards.

Finally, Laura Cunningham supplies an accurate depiction of the protocols for 100% tortoise clearance for industrial solar sites. But it’s completely irrelevant to the MCAGCC project. The habitat at solar projects is going to be completely bulldozed and graded, and that’s why every effort is made to locate every single tortoise by digging up burrows, tearing up Yucca clumps, etc. I did it myself at Silver State South. BUT: it’s not happening at MCAGCC. Burrows are not being excavated. Habitat of other wildlife is not being damaged (by biologists; the Marines will sure as hell tear some up though). So all the concern about other species that use tortoise burrows is misplaced. Instead, the protocol relies on repeated surveying. Before EVERY Marine exercise, every square kilometer in which two or more tortoises were found on the previous survey will be re-surveyed. This is scheduled to continue for 30 (THIRTY) years. As will follow-up studies of relocated tortoises, “recipient” tortoises that already live at release sites, and control populations without relocation. (By the way, contra Ileene Anderson in the article, there is no evidence whatsoever that tortoises compete among themselves for limited resources. It’s either a good year with plenty for everyone, an OK year with not much for anyone, or a crap year with nothing for nobody.) It is an experiment. In science we don’t prejudge the results of an experiment. It may well turn out to be a good thing to have done; that’s what USFWS thinks anyway. Anybody who thinks they know better is deluding themselves.

But gah I don’t have time for this. I just wish that well-meaning people who love the desert and its fabulous wildlife would take the time and effort to get their facts straight before going off half-cocked. It doesn’t help anything to promulgate bullshit. That’s all I have to say on the subject.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Tortoise Splitters II

Totally for real this time.
This here article, facebook'd to me by Chris Clarke, is pretty cool. Marshalling new and old genetic evidence, they show convincingly that the Galapagos island of Santa Cruz (aka Indefatigable) hosts not one but two genetically and geographically distinct populations of tortoises. This means one species (or subspecies, depending purely on opinion) (Chelonoidis porteri is the species version) gets Officially Split, with the newly identified Eastern population dubbed Chelonoidis donfausti (or C. nigra donfausti).
'kipedia link

The coolest part of the article to me, though, was their Fig. 2, showing a phylogenetic tree for all specimens of Galapagos tortoises that have been sequenced to date, including lots of museum specimens:

Which, ignore the nighbor-joining expercise on the right and check out the beeyootiful tree on the left there. Clades marked in red and orange are the two populaitons from Santa Cruz, and you can see how different they are in context.
As I sez to Chris on Facebook I sez "why no map of the islands with that tree mapped on there?" I sez and then I sez "Now I have to do it myself" I sez and then "also shell shapes oughta be mapped on that tree there too" sez I.
So here's my map [click to N-large]:
Where the amoebas enclose nested genetic clades according to the tree. Island by island, there have evidently never been tortoises on Genovesa and Marchena, hence the Xs. Tortoises are extinct on Floreana, Santa Fe, Pinta, and absent-and-maybe-extinct-but-maybe-never-really-there on Rabida (small) and Fernandina (new), hence the slashes.

Here's a simplified version of the big detailed tree, showing populations by island with color coding corresponding to the map [clickable]:
 ...where X marks extinct taxa and the circled S, I, and D tags refer to Saddle, Intermediate, and Dome-shaped carapaces, as per the Intro from the article at hand here.
For reference, slightly different lists of recognized species (or subspecies) are  here ('kipedia text and photos, here (text), and here (map) [differ mainly in recognizing or not the populations on the 4 other volcanoes of Isabela].

And so but if we naively and foolishly but heuristically take the genetic data at face value, then the tree plus map means that:
1. There are two main groups of GTs; one (1) comprises populations from Santiago and Volcano Wolf, the northernmost volcano of Isabela (where the new pink iguana species was found not long ago...uh...  link), and the second (2) is everybody else (green lines on map). That split represents a very early dispersal event. The northwestern Wolf/Santiago clade is in relatively new territory, but seem to represent an ancient lineage. (Galapagos tortoises probably evolved on islands that are long gone to the southeast).
2. Clade 2 separates nicely into two clades corresponding to eastern (2E) and western (2W) areas. The convincing thing about the article at hand is that the two populations on Santa Cruz belong to separate branches of this split. The newly named species (or subspecies) is marked with a star.
2A. Dome-shaped carapaces look to have evolved separately in the two Santa Cruz species (or subspecies). That, or saddle shapes evolved at least 6 times independently. Maybe a nice example of eviolutionary convergence.
3. Within the eastern clade 2E, samples referred to Santa Fe are most distinct. That's interesting because Santa Fe's purported population is listed in the references linked above as "disputed" and "of doubtful existence," apparently deriving from but a few bone fragmen ts. But if the DNA is that different, one's doubt dissapates a bit. The green coding of the speciment numbers in Fig. 2 of the article at hand means data from museum specimens that were previously reported; I have not dug back to find where.
4. Pinta island tortoises were most closely related to the once-relict-but-now-a-thriving-conservation-success-story torts from Espanola, way the hell down at the totally other end of the archipelago. [the last Pinta Island tortoise, the well-known Lonesome George, is specimen # abiLG in the tree. I have photos of him alive in 2009 someplace.]
5. Over in the western clade 2W, tortoises from the little island of Pinzon are most distinct. One of the 'kipedia articles linked above sez that there is yet a third distinct tortoise population on Santa Cruz, in the northwest, and that they are closest to Pinzon animals, which would be cool.
6. The disputed population from tiny Rabida looks like a transplanted Isabela tortoise, and the specimens attributed to the various volcano-based species (or subspecies) of Isabela are all pretty well jumbled together in this analysis. Maybe should be lumped back into C. vicina as on the linked map.
7. The "doubtful" population from Fernandina is interesting. It's from a single specimen (1906) and no other evidence of tortoises has ever been found there. Here it looks genetically distinct, but closest to the tortoises from southwest Santa Cruz. Except that the Santa Cruz animals are dome-shaped and the speciment allegedly from Fernandina is said to be saddled. And Santa Cruz is clear over on the other side of Isabela and Pinzon from Fernandina. WTF.

All in all, some satisfylingly tidy stories of vicariance, and some puzzles too. It's complicated.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

hello world

1 tall glass, ice
Frank's Hot Sauce, too much
shot of Evan Williams bourbon
top off with last 2/3 can of Rolling Rock, now warmish

Enjoy alone.

Hello, World.

Monday, March 25, 2013

I'd rather see centipedes


...than not see whatever they're eating.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tony Soprano out of context

Cunnilingus and psychiatry brought us to this. season 1 ep 13

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

cast of Enterprise 2

Cdr. Charles "Trip" Tucker III is a chimera-character. I'm prety sure he's designed to combine the homespun Southern charm, best-personal-friend-o-the-cap'n role, and emotional-homunculus-on-the-right-shoulder trope-purpose of McCoy with the more cynically targeted appeal-to-young-women function of Chekov*, wrapped up in Scotty's old crew-slot.

Unfortunately he comes across to me mostly like a Pensacola frat-boy. Since I already know he gets the girl woman Vulcaness in the end, that's kind of a drag.

* even to me, tuning in to the second-season primetime premier the night before my 8th birthday, it was clear that Chekov was a Russian Davy Jones.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Heart of Cheney

I just learned that Dick Cheney received a heart transplant a few weeks ago.
They say he had suffered "at least five" heart attacks, the first at 37 yoa. Many of us have always suspected, however, that his real cardiac problems were similar to The Grinch's:
3, maybe 4 sizes too small?
In any case, the guy's heart was so dead that for almost 2 years he was a cyborg, with an implanted pump doing the work that his left ventricle couldn't. No pulse.
here's the device:
I forget where I got this pic; maybe the NY Times.
Now it's all been pulled out and he walks yet among the living with somebody else's heart.
But it's the end of a beautiful metaphor.

On the cast of Enterprise

Hoshi is the nerd's Mary Ann to T'Pol's nerd's Ginger.

UPDATE 4/30/2012: bwa-ha!!! 2004!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

100 Outstanding US Journalists. and years.

Here's the list.

All the usual suspects you'd usually suspect, but I smiled to see many of my favorites:

John McPhee!
Garry Trudeau
Rachel Carson
Howard Cosell (yes, I'll stand by that)
Tom Wolfe

The rest (the Professor + Mary Ann), with nice bios for everybody at the link above.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

an old poem

Ring around the rosie,
 a pocketful of posie.


We all fall down.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

classic Star Trek dialog

Absoluely  critical moment:
Season 2, Ep. 1: Amok Time @ ~20.00:
Kirk [of Spock, to McCoy; and defying direct Starfleet orders]: I owe him my life a dozen times over: Isn't that worth a career?!
He's my friend.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Sunday, August 21, 2011

People for the Ethical Treatment of Opisthokonts

...or Deuterostomes, or Lophotrochozoans, or whatever.

[the point being, y'see, the completely arbitrary whim by which "animals" is typically defined]

Thursday, July 14, 2011

not my chair

yeah, I just saw this for the first time the other day. Sue me.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

You read it here first

...unless you, you know, didn't.

Idea for a new social media platform: combine Blogger and Twitter.
People can issue 'bleats'.

as they follow the flock, see...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tortoise splitters

According to Bob Murphy et al. the desert tortoise ought to be split into at least two species, called Gopherus agassizi (California/Nevada/Utah) and G. morafkai (Arizona and, for now, Sonora and Sinaloa).

My reaction to most taxonomy papers is basically The Dude's:

But as opinions go, I guess Bob Murphy's is a good one.

I am happy they used the opportunity to coin a new North American tortoise name to honor Dave Morafka; he was a good guy.

Look for serious conservation/political fallout from this one.


here's a FAQ

and here's a map:

Friday, May 6, 2011

nother Hero

because at the moment  I am digging Reese and the Smooth Ones (1969), Lester Bowie:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

there goes the East Mojave

UPDATE: oh dear. Google Earth has updated to the post-landrape landscape.
Well, rest assured that both photos now (4/21/2012) show early stages of the planned landrape construction and so pretty soon, I guess, with further updates at G**gle's end, the contrast will go the opposite way.
damn it.

Ivanpah Valley, north of I-15.
Then, via Google Earth:

View Larger Map

Now, via Basin and Range Watch

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Saturday, March 5, 2011

re: the Thread, anymore

I will stipulate the almost incredibly passive-aggresive nature of this post.
have a nice day

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Two years of the as yet interminable Thread

So that's two years, 175.76 subThreads, 135,539 comments.
Year Two alone accounted for 144.76 of the subThreads and 107,490 of the comments (= 79%).
Here's the overview:
Fig. 1: [click to enlarge] Comment count for the first two years of Pharyngula's Endless Thread. The colorful vertical lines mark each of the first 50 or so subThreads, but I gave up on that shit. Red threadmarkers with adherent vestigial green threads mark anastomoses. The pink threadmarkers are the 1- and 2-year marks. Somewhere in there in light blue are the parallel subsubThreads CXXVb and CLXIIb.

Up, up up. It's a long way from last year for damn sure.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

by pretty much unpopular request

man, am I loath to re-enter this conversation, but

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

posted in memory of someone I did not know

for SC
Hemiphractus fasciatus via Jerry Coyne

Kermit the Frog via Jim Henson

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Colors of Christmas Through the Decades

White Christmas (1942)

Green Christmas (1958)

Blue Xmas (1962)

Black Christmas (1974)

Yellow Christmas (1986)

(Charlie) Brown Christmas* (1992)

Orange Christmas Orange (2003)

*yeah, kind of a stretch. *shrug*

Thursday, August 26, 2010

last chance? please help

Laura Cunningham photo.

If enough people write letters in the next few days, it seems there is a chance to stop the TopKill of a big chunk of Ivanpah Valley.
Please read and act if you can:
Save Ivanpah Valley

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

depressing news

I used to know this place really well*.
Read it and weep.
I did.

*I spent a good part of three years just below the first 'e' of 'Preserve' in the map shown here. Keep reading.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

teh Truth

Biology is always more complex than you think.