February 4, 2013
At the Inca Lounge and Bistro, dozens of gringos–tourists and resident expats both–have squeezed into this popular watering hole just off Calle Larga and overlooking the river. It is Super Bowl Sunday in Cuenca, Ecuador–and though the kickoff is still three hours away, owner Mike Sena must usher in his customers early and shut the doors. The sale of alcohol is highly restricted in Ecuador on Sundays, and so Sena, an American who moved here four years ago from New Mexico, is keeping a low profile this Super Bowl and designating the evening a “private party.”
Only a few Ecuadorians have shown. One, a 37-year-old gold mining engineer named Pablo Crespo, was a soccer fan all his life but learned to love (American) football–and the Ravens–during the eight years he lived in Baltimore. “American football is more interesting than soccer,” Crespo concedes. “Every play is different. The players have to be smart, too, and need to read the plays and know what the other team is going to do.”
Soccer, he adds, “can be a little boring.”
London travelers Solomon Slade and his girlfriend Rebecca Wyatt, who have spent the past eight months cycling through Trinidad, Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador, are soccer fans and aren’t quite sure what to make of American football.
“Why do they need all the armor?” says Wyatt, 25. “Rugby players don’t wear protection.”
The two have claimed a table inside the bar and are prepared to spend the evening here, though they dread the prospect of a 60-minute game spread thin across more than three hours through timeouts and commercial breaks.
“American sports in general are hard to watch because they’re so stop-start,” Slade, 26, says.
Sena, pouring beers and mixing drinks behind the bar, says that football season generates a spike in his business here–largely from expat Americans but also among native Ecuadorians. He says interest in football among native Ecuadorians is growing in large part because many citizens here who worked in the United States before the economic crash have since returned home–and many of them as football fans.
But Pedro Molina, brewmaster at the nearby La Compañía Microcervecería, at the corner of Borrero and Vazquez streets, told me on Saturday evening that he sees virtually no interest in football among locals. His brewpub is closed on Sundays, and he said he had no plans to watch the game elsewhere–for, like most locals as well as hundreds of millions of people worldwide, Molina prefers the other kind of football.
“Soccer is the king of sports,” Morena said. “It’s a better game. It requires more technique and skill, because you can’t make physical contact.” It’s like a dance, he said–an almost nonstop, 45-minute dance–requiring agility, balance and fancy footwork. “How long is a game of American football?” Molina asked me.
Sixty minutes, I said, plus a couple of hours of breaks. Molina nodded, satisfied that he’d adequately assessed the two games–one a nimble sport of lithe, quick athletes, the other a brutish but slow battle of bellowing muscle-heads and lumbering jocks.
Earlier that same day I questioned three young men working out on the chin-up bars at the popular Parque Paraiso, on the north side of town. They said they knew about the Super Bowl but didn’t seem to think much of it and had no plans to watch the game. I asked which of the two sports–soccer or football–they thought was more challenging.
“American football,” Juan Merchan, 28, said. “It’s tougher on the body.”
But Merchan added that “futbol real” is more interesting to play and to watch since “it involves more improvisation and less plans.”
In the Inca bar, perhaps 200 people of every age category and many nations have crammed into the private party. Still, the Super Bowl has yet to begin. Elizabeth Eckholt, a San Francisco Bay Area native who has been in Ecuador for the past two weeks, says she is routing for the 49ers–though not passionately.
“I’m really here to see the commercials,” she says.
The game begins but plods forward slowly. Every few minutes, a break arrives and we are subjected to another series of ads for cars, beer and junk food.
“I can’t believe the unhealthy junk they advertise on this game,” says Wyatt, voice raised to be heard.
I have never spent six hours in a bar and I don’t plan to tonight. Last May, the Wall Street Journal‘s Bruce Orwall recognized the virtues of what he called “real football”, including soccer’s “subtle athletic grace, fierce national and regional rivalries and mercifully efficient, commercial-free matches.”
I, like him, I assume, am not entertained by Doritos and Calvin Klein ads. Okay–let Beyonce sing if she must, but this game should really be done by 8. I leave before half-time. In the United States, virtually every sports bar must now be crammed with football fans. But in Cuenca, beyond the Inca Lounge and Bistro, the Super Bowl may be happening but this world is not watching. The Sunday evening air of Cuenca is calm and still, the nation quiet on a day without drinks. In this land, soccer is the king of sports and athletes–not advertisers–kings of the airwaves. And for fans of futbol real, even after they watch a televised afternoon match, there may remain enough daylight to go play a game.
November 5, 2012
The presidential candidates look as suave and dapper as ever each time they step to a new podium on the long and winding campaign trail—but each man’s well-groomed countenance belies the rigors of the arduous road each has traveled during the 2012 presidential race. Following is a discussion, with some facts and figures from behind the scenes, about the two men fighting to have America’s most demanding job and each candidate’s long, long journey that ends tomorrow at the polls.
Where the candidates have been:
Between June 1 and November 2, the Obama camp—including the president, the vice president and each man’s spouse—made 483 campaign-related appearances. Barack Obama was present for 214 of them. The same four-tiered Romney party, meanwhile, made 439 appearances, with 277 by Romney. In late September, the Obama campaign’s efforts seemed to max out: on September 22, the Obamas and the Bidens made 11 appearances, and 10 the day prior. The Romney camp has more recently made its most active efforts, with 10 appearances on October 31, and 11 the next day. Barack Obama has not visited Montana, Idaho, or Wyoming, among other states, and neither candidate has bothered appearing in Maine, Kansas, Nebraska, Tennessee, Kentucky and Oklahoma.
On October 24, Obama had what may have been the busiest day of his campaign. He flew 5,300 miles and made appearances in Iowa, Colorado, California (to appear on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno) and Nevada, before, at last, catching some sleep on an overnight trip to the major swing state of Florida (which has seen 112 campaign visits by both presidential husband-wife quartets since June), where the campaigning commenced the following morning. Later that day, the president continued to Virginia, Ohio and Illinois, where he cast an early vote. A week later, Obama made another campaign sprint beginning on October 31; forty-eight hours later he had bounded 6,500 miles around the country. November 1 was a particularly exhausting day. After leaving the White House at 9:20 a.m., he hit Green Bay, Las Vegas, Denver and, finally, Columbus, Ohio. And on November 4, he left the White House at 8 a.m. and made visits to New Hampshire, Florida, Ohio, Colorado and Illinois.
How they get there:
The president gets around in his own private jet, called Air Force One. While “Air Force One” is, in fact, the call sign of any Air Force plane on which a U.S. president is traveling, the term more commonly refers to a particular pair of customized Boeing 747s used exclusively by the White House. Operating the planes is not cheap. ABC News has reported that an hour of flight on Air Force One costs about $180,000–usually of taxpayers’ money, unless a flight is considered strictly part of the campaign. But Obama does occasionally journey overland by bus—specifically in a black, slick and shiny armored coach that, just like its duplicate vehicle, cost $1.1 million when the Secret Service purchased the pair last year. By some guesses, Ground Force One, as it’s been dubbed and which has been active during this campaign, travels just six to nine miles on a gallon of gasoline.
Mitt Romney has also covered some impressive distance during his campaign. According to the Huffington Post, Romney will make a last-minute, four-day, 15,000-mile dash that ends tonight after visits to seven states, and he has traveled tens of thousands of miles throughout the campaign. As of late August, he has been traveling mostly on a private jet—a McDonnell-Douglas 83. Running mate Paul Ryan has his own plane—a similar model called the DC-90.
Where they sleep:
Luxury travel goes hand in hand with luxury lodging, and the president has stayed at the Beverly Hills Beverly Hilton Hotel in a room that costs $4,000 per night, the Ballantyne Hotel in Charlotte, North Caroline, the Hotel Bellevue in Washington, and many other fine establishments. And Romney has stayed at the Charleston Place Hotel in Charleston, the New York Palace Hotel, which can cost $9,000 per night, and the Millennium Bostonian Hotel.
How they stay fit:
In spite of their busy schedules, Obama and Romney both take the time to care for themselves and maintain physical fitness. Romney, it’s been reported, jogs three miles daily, whether on treadmills, around the hotel premises or on trails. Obama, too, keeps an exercise routine and aims for 45 minutes of boosted heart rate per day, achieved through running, basketball and even boxing. Although one of the Air Force One jets contains a treadmill, as Obama recently told Jay Leno, the stationary running machine was installed during a previous presidency and Obama does not jog on it during flights.
In the end, for all the sleepless nights and airport marathons and shaking of hands, we wonder: Did their campaign efforts steer the election? Whether Romney wins or Obama, America will know soon which man will get to spend the next four years flying in Air Force One.
September 13, 2012
Dog versus bear: An ancient duet of nature? Or an artificial battle royale staged by sport hunters?
Advocates and critics each flaunt the opposing characterizations—but either way, hound hunting can be simply defined: the pursuit of a large mammal using a pack of trained dogs that, often, chase the quarry up a tree. Many times, the human hunter, who often locates his dogs by following the signal emitted from their radio collars, shoots the animal out of the branches. Other times, the hunt ends without a gunshot as the houndsman, satisfied only by the chase, leashes his dogs and leads them away, leaving the quarry—very often a black bear, other times a cougar or bobcat—alive in the treetop. Still other times, the pursued animal may fail to make it up a tree and get mauled by the dogs.
This is hound hunting.
In England, foxes have long been the target animal of the sport as highbrow hunters on horseback follow their bawling hounds to the eventual death of the fox. Such hunting has been banned in the United Kingdom, though hunters seem to be thumbing their nose at the law; they continue mounting their steeds and trailing their hounds—”at least as much as ever,” according to one hunter quoted by the The Telegraph. And in America, hound hunting was romanticized in such literature as The Bear, by William Faulkner, and Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls.
But state by state, the practice—call it a sport, a tradition, a hobby, a way of life—is becoming illegal as people sympathetic to the well-being of wild animals campaign to abolish hound hunting. Of the 32 American states that permit black bear hunting, 14—including Montana, Colorado, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington—prohibit hunters from using dogs to chase the animals. Now, California could be looking at a statewide ban. Senate Bill 1221, introduced earlier this year by Senator Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), will ban the use of hounds while hunting bears and bobcats if Governor Jerry Brown signs the bill.
The ban would not affect bird hunters who rely on retrievers to recover ducks and other fowl, researchers who hire houndsmen to assist in treeing study animals, and wildlife officials who conduct depredation hunts of bears and mountain lions deemed dangerous to the public or their property.
Hunters are up in arms and have been protesting at public gatherings. Josh Brones is among those leading the defense of the sport. As the president of the California Houndsmen for Conservation, Brones says that hound hunting does not usually involve killing the bear and, what’s more, brings to life an ancient and natural drama between black bears and canine predators. During an interview, Brones said hound hunting is rather like a game of “hike-and-seek.” In these pursuits, the bear leads the hounds through the woods, often for many miles, before climbing a tree. The houndsman, slower but just as dogged as his hounds, eventually arrives, shoots some shaky video of the bear to post on YouTube and finally departs. Hunters sometimes call this activity catch-and-release—and even many wildlife researchers rely on it.
Brones, like many houndsmen, almost never kills bears, he says.
“In my 28 years of hunting with hounds, I have only killed four [black bears], and the last one was more than a decade ago,” he said. “I don’t even take a weapon when hunting for bear.”
Brones assures that catch-and-release hunting is not stressful to the bear. Though hunting publications frequently characterize bear hunting as the most epic of adrenaline rushes (just Google hunting bears adrenaline rush), Brones says black bears themselves do not experience particularly increased adrenaline levels when chased by dogs. Rather, by fleeing for miles through the woods, bears—as well as other large game—are answering to basic instincts; they are not afraid—just running, he explained to me. He also described treed black bears yawning and nodding off to sleep in the cozy crook of a tree, indifferent to the dogs below. Department of Fish and Game warden Patrick Foy similarly told of treed mountain lions, which are sometimes pursued via hounds by researchers, as appearing “like they don’t have a care in the world.” Foy said, too, that a chase covering several miles of rough terrain is not especially hard on many large wild animals—just a walk in the woods, really.
“For a bear, six miles is nothing,” Foy said.
Some biologists, however, assure that hound hunting has considerable impacts on wildlife. Rick Hopkins, a conservation ecologist in San Jose, California, said in an interview that he participated in a long-term study more than 20 years ago in which he helped catch and radio collar 30 Bay Area mountain lions. In three of the chases, a cougar was caught and viciously attacked by the dogs. He says he knows, too, of cases in which a research hunt led to a cougar kitten getting killed by the hounds.
“Even in research hunts, which are carefully controlled,” dogs catch and maul the quarry, he said. “And I can guarantee that in less controlled hunts, bear cubs get caught.”
Hopkins went on to say, “It’s absolutely silly to suggest that it’s OK to run animals to exhaustion and chase them up a tree, and think that they’re fine.”
To the sport’s many opponents, hound hunting appears like little more than brazen wildlife harassment. Jennifer Fearing, the California director of the Humane Society of the United States, recently told the press, “It’s just reckless wildlife abuse. Even if [hunters] don’t intend to kill the bear, there isn’t such a thing as benign catch-and-release hound hunting.” Fearing noted that many public parks prohibit unleashed pet dogs.
“And yet we allow this narrow field of people to not only run their dogs off-leash but with the express purpose of chasing wildlife,” she said.
Brones says bears are very rarely injured by dogs, and he says he doesn’t know of any incidents in which cubs were attacked, though this (incredibly graphic, so be forewarned) video shows it happening. While such tooth-and-claw combat may be rare, no one seems really to know how often it occurs. Hunters are regularly separated for lengths of time (that’s why they use radio collars) from their dogs, which may show extreme aggression toward the pursued animal (the dogs often mob dead bears that have been shot from a tree). And for every dog-and-bear fight videoed and posted online, other similar skirmishes likely go unseen or undocumented. In one case described by an official with the Haven Humane Society in a recent letter to Senator Lieu, an injured bear fleeing from hounds happened to enter the city limits of Redding, California, where it climbed a tree. The said official tranquilized the bear, discovered that it bore severe dog bites and euthanized the animal.
Hounds on the chase almost certainly scare and disturb nontarget wildlife. One European study (Grignolio et al. 2010) found that roe deer, though not the subject of hound hunts, would shift to less desirable habitat during the boar hunting season, where food was less abundant but where regulations precluded hunters and their hounds from entering. And in a July 2006 report (PDF) from the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Management, wildlife biologist Mark Ternent wrote, “Pursuit with hounds also may impose stress, disrupt reproduction, and alter foraging effectiveness of bears or other wildlife. Family groups may become separated, or cubs occasionally killed by hounds. However, several studies have concluded that most biological impacts from hound hunting are minimal (Allen 1984, Massopust and Anderson 1984), and the issue of hound hunting is largely social.”
As a species, black bears are not considered threatened. Scientists believe that there are about 30,000 in California, some 300,000 in the United States, and as many as 725,000 across their entire North American range, from Mexico to Alaska. Every year, licensed bear hunters in California take no more than 1,700—a quota set by the Department of Fish and Game. Half or less of these are currently taken with the assistance of dogs—and it’s almost certain that in California, even if houndsmen are soon banned from unleashing their dogs onto a scent trail, the bear hunt will still go on.
The dogs will just have to stay home.
Weigh in in the comment box below: Is hound hunting of bears, bobcats, mountain lions and other animals a fair chase? Or a sport whose time must end?
August 31, 2012
Now, after more than 50 years of absence, the animals are staging a comeback. They have established themselves in the eastern quarters of the state and are subsisting on local elk and deer herds–and, as might be expected, the occasional cow and sheep. Also quite predictably, the return to Oregon of one of the world’s most maligned and persecuted predators has Oregonians passionately polarized on the matter, with many people fully in support and others adamantly opposed to the animals’ reappearance. Livestock ranchers have led the campaign to stop the return, which is occurring naturally–although only as a result of the 1995 reintroduction of Canadian gray wolves to the Yellowstone National Park region, in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Those animals have thrived and flourished, and experts expect that the same could happen in Oregon.
The first wolf to return to Oregon in modern times entered the state from Idaho in 1999. The animal, known as B-45F to researchers, was trapped and sent home to Idaho by wildlife officials, however. Subsequently, two other wolves were hit and killed by cars in Oregon, and one was shot by a poacher, according to Sean Stevens, executive director of the wildlife and natural space advocacy group Oregon Wild, who recently spoke with me by telephone. But in 2007, an animal wearing a remote tracking collar and named B-300 by researchers, who had tranquilized and handled it in Idaho, entered Oregon. Here, it put down roots, and in the summer of 2009, officials with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed the presence of three adult wolves and three pups in Wallowa County–the first wolf pack in Oregon in about six decades.
Now, at least 30 wolves in five packs live in Oregon, according to Michelle Dennehy, communications officer with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“We want confirmation of two pups for an adult pair before we consider it a
pack breeding pair,” she said. “By now, all five packs have produced multiple pups.”
Dennehy says that the Department of Fish and Wildlife has confirmed 54 head of Oregon livestock killed by wolves as of July, with most kills being cattle, a few sheep and one a goat. Several wolves have been legally killed, she said, as a result of habitual depredations on livestock, and Dennehy says that the state of Oregon, along with Defenders of Wildlife, have joined resources to reimburse farmers who have suffered losses. The state’s Department of Agriculture has allocated a reimbursement fund, too.
Even before the first modern-times wolf moved permanently into Oregon, officials foresaw the potential for the species’ return and the problems the wolves might cause. And so the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan [PDF] was enacted in 2005 by the state of Oregon with the intention of readying the state and its people for the presence once again of the gray wolf. The wolf plan outlines just how to respond to wolves that prey upon livestock and at what point Oregon wolves might be removed from the state’s endangered species list as their numbers grow, among other issues of question. Ranchers, hunters, hikers, conservationists, government land managers and other stakeholders took part in developing the wolf plan, Dennehy said.
According to Stevens at Oregon Wild, roughly 1,000 wolves could probably live in Oregon’s vast wild spaces, mostly in the arid eastern half of the state. Ranchers of cows and sheep are hardly thrilled at the idea, however. They have already helped write and introduce multiple legislative efforts to block the wolves’ return–one a proposal that, had it become law, would have allowed a person to shoot a wolf onsite if he or she deemed the animal to be a threat.
It would have also done something else controversial. “It would have taken the management of an endangered species out of the hands of government and given it to private citizens,” Stevens said.
It was the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association that introduced that proposed law. This year, the same group introduced another effort to rid the state of wolves–a piece of legislation calling for a state of emergency in eastern Oregon because of the wolves’ presence. Both proposals were rejected by lawmakers.
More than 1 million cows live in the state, according to Stevens. In 2010, he says, 55,000 of those cows died prior to entering the slaughterhouse of disease, nasty weather and other non-wolf causes.
But Rod Childers, the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association’s Wolf Committee Chairman, says that ranchers are suffering far greater financial losses because of wolves than have been conveyed to most media. Childers, who raises cattle in Wallowa County, says that for every dead cow or sheep confirmed as a victim of wolves, several more wolf kills go unconfirmed, due either to inconclusive evidence or the entire lack of a carcass. That is, some animals simply go missing–and they’re doing so at about double the rate that they once did. Childers says he is certain that the wolves are involved.
“Because nothing’s changed but the wolves,” he explained. “We’ve always had cougars, bears, coyotes. But now wolves are here, and our losses are up.”
Childers says that in Wallowa County, 26 head of cattle have been confirmed as killed by wolves. But 86 other animals have disappeared–almost certainly, he says, killed by wolves.
And the reimbursement plan is not a fair deal, Childers says, because it only provides payment for confirmed wolf depredations. Childers also points out a more subtle loss that he and other ranchers are enduring: Their animals have been returning from their high country summer pastures thinner than they once did–a result, he explains, of being continually harassed and attacked by wolves. Such underweight animals bring ranchers less profits than properly fattened cows might.
“But that’s not accounted for in the wolf plan,” he says.
While tempers flare and the occasional bullet flies at a wolf, the biggest wild canine is still expanding its range. Now, as officials and others expect continued growth in the wolf population, another question arises: How far will the wolf go? In fact, one wolf, a collared animal named OR-7, became the first wolf to go west of the Cascades since the bounty days—and eventually entered California. The animal has been nicknamed “Journey,” and the California Department of Fish and Game is tracking and publicizing the animal’s approximate whereabouts via the Internet.
The wolf situation in Oregon is extraordinary because the animals are coming back on their own–a rare example of a large predator actually expanding its range instead of, as is the more common pattern, diminishing ever closer to extinction. Moreover, the fact that their swelling population has spilled into Oregon’s more vacant regions indicates that, aside from a few conflicts with livestock, there may be room for the animals.
Today, wolf tourism could be a new draw for visitors to wolf country. Oregon Wild has led tours to eastern Oregon each of the past three years to show groups of about 10 people the state’s wolf habitat—and to meet the ranchers who believe their livelihoods may be imperiled by the animals. Check the organization’s website to learn more.
Size matters. Some wolf opponents are arguing that the wolves now recolonizing Oregon are larger than those wiped out last century. If true, this would be more than just interesting. It would also mean that the animals need more food and are more capable of taking down large head of livestock. While it may be true that the wolves of Oregon today are of different genetic roots than those that inhabited the state in the past, scientists and experts have denied that they are substantially larger.
What do you think? If wolves want back in to Oregon and California, should we welcome them?
August 16, 2012
Headlines this summer have announced 2012 as America’s hottest year on record, with particularly brutal heat waves striking the Northeast, and stunning temperature highs all but cooking Death Valley and other Southwest desert hotspots.
What many papers have not pointed out, however, is that 2012 is shaping up to be among the warmest on record worldwide. In June, across the planet, the average land temperature was the highest since such record-keeping began in 1880. And factoring in ocean temperatures, the month of June was the fourth hottest June since 1880. The same data source, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows that May 2012 was comparably scorching in the Northern Hemisphere. The global report for July is not yet available, but the national analysis is in—and the month burned like never a July has before. The lower 48 states’ 31-day temperature average of 77.6 degrees Fahrenheit made July 2012 the warmest single month ever recorded in America since national records began in 1895. Also during July, fires across America burned more than two million acres. Now, it’s August, and while we’re eagerly awaiting the next monthly summary, we don’t need a government climatologist to tell us that it’s broiling out there. Fires are sweeping the country, and farmers are grumbling about a drought. Global warming? It feels that way.
Following are a few of the hottest of hotspots where recent weather extremes are making 2012 a summer to write home about.
Spain. I was there, pedaling a bicycle through the Spanish interior in late June, and I almost cooked. The land was erupting in flames. Distant plumes of smoke marked brush and forest fires while helicopters in response came and went. Nights were balmy and comfortable, and mornings weren’t intolerable—but by noon each day the mercury edged past 100, and from 3 p.m. until about 7, the heat made riding a bike impossible. For four days I baked, spending one miserable afternoon on La Ruta de Don Quixote, a pathetic gravel trail through the scrub and desert, and itself the subject of a feeble tourism marketing campaign. Signage was poor and of water there was none. Windmills towered above me on a low ridge—but there was not a shade tree to be found. Relief came two days later, on the 26th, when, at last, I rolled into the air-conditioned terminal of Madrid-Barajas International Airport. June 2012 in Spain would clock out as the fourth-hottest Spanish June since 1960. The day I got out of that oven, temperatures peaked, reaching 111 degrees Fahrenheit in Cordoba.
Death Valley. On July 11, the temperature hit 128 degrees Fahrenheit in Death Valley. Through the night, the mercury crashed more than 20 degrees to 107, which tied the world’s record for the warmest daily low, and the 24-hour average for the same day was a world record 117.5 degrees. Just four days later, scores of ultramarathoners embarked on the annual 135-mile Badwater foot race, which leads from 282 feet below sea level, where asphalt can get hot enough to melt rubber, to 8,360 feet above, at Whitney Portal. And while the race is considered one of the most brutal competitions in the world, climbing almost two miles straight up from the aptly named Furnace Creek, starting point of the race, may be about the surest way to beat—or simply escape—the heat of Death Valley.
Austria. Since the country began keeping records in 1767, Austria recorded its sixth-hottest June this year. On June 30, temperatures maxed out at 99.9 degrees Fahrenheit in both the capital city of Vienna and in German-Altenburg, Nope.
Canary Islands. Recent soaring temperatures, preceded by one of the driest Spanish winters in seven decades, have sparked raging fires on the islands of Tenerife and La Gomera, of the Canary Islands. Four thousand residents have been evacuated and British tourists have been asked to report to the Foreign Office as firefighters struggle to control the flames. Eight fires were recently burning on Tenerife and ten on La Gomera, where the inferno has threatened Garajonay National Park, a Unesco World Heritage site containing prehistoric woodland dating back 11 million years. Authorities report that the La Gomera blazes may be the result of arson.
The Arctic. If it looks freezing, and it feels freezing, it still might be warmer than ever—and in the high Arctic this summer, the sea ice has shrunk to historic lows. Though July’s ice cap cover was up slightly from last year, it was the second lowest recorded by NASA’s satellite monitoring program for polar ice extent. But the ice has been melting in the past 30 days, and now the square mileage of sea ice—2.52 million—is the lowest ever recorded for the month of August.
Lassen Volcanic National Park. A fire that broke out on July 29 in the California park has since scorched 24,000 acres of forest. A recent article predicted that the fire might be contained by the final days of August. The main highway through the park and over the mountain—a living volcano and no stranger to heat and fire—has been closed, and numerous homes around the park are threatened. Elsewhere throughout California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, fires have burned half a million acres of countryside, all of it parched by summer heat. In Redding, California, for instance, at the north end of the Sacramento Valley, summer started early, with the temperature reaching 102 on the last day of May. Twelve days in July were hotter than 100 degrees, and only four days in August so far have been less than triple digits. On August 12, the temperature reached 112.
In Related News:
Bearing the Heat. Across the United States, hungry black bears, facing a heat-induced food shortage, have resorted to breaking and entering to meet their daily caloric demands. With berries and other food forage shriveled by high temperatures, the animals have been raiding trash bins, cars and cabins with unprecedented frequency. In New York State, one black bear reportedly broke into a minivan stashed with goodies. When the door closed behind it, the bear became trapped and, in its efforts to escape, shredded the interior of the vehicle. And in June in Aspen, where searing heat has dried up the chokecherry and serviceberry crops, a female black bear with three cubs broke into at least a dozen cars in a guerrilla quest for calories.
Climate Change a Boon to English Tourism. While the subtropics burn, the higher latitudes are starting to feel just right for summer travelers. English officials expect the heat of continental Europe to be a great boon to tourism at U.K. beach towns. A document (PDF) produced by the University of Wales Swansea reports that erratic heat waves are expected to occur with frequency in the future in Europe—and whereas summers under the Greek, Spanish, Majorcan, Corsican and Tuscan suns have historically been regaled as idyllic icons of high-season tourism, replete with vineyards and wine tasting and so many pleasures Mediterranean, experts believe that, increasingly, Britons will stay home during the high season as southern Europe bakes under hotter and increasingly unpleasant summers.
Global Warming at Work? Maybe. Because federal government data like this is darn hard to argue with: “June 2012 also marks the 36th consecutive June and 328th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average.”
British Winemakers Say “Cheers” to Climate Change. The unfurling story of Southern England’s new and growing wine industry also seems to leave little doubt that global warming is real. More than 400 wineries are now producing good whites and reds in what scientists assure is a steadily warming region—one which they say warmed by 3 degrees Fahrenheit from 1961 to 2006. Don’t believe them? Then just look at the vines, which are thriving where 30 years ago winemakers say they couldn’t produce decent fruit. Sure: Data can get goofed—but grapes don’t lie.