Good People Doing Good Things — National Park Volunteers

As a result of the Trump government shutdown, some 800,000+ federal employees are either furloughed from their jobs, else are asked to continue working without immediate compensation and with only the hope of back pay at some elusive date in the future.  Among those who are on furlough are the employees of the national parks around the nation.Trash-overflowing.jpgWith nobody to empty trash, clean restrooms, move debris from public areas, the parks were, after nearly three weeks untended, falling into a state of disrepair.  But last week, some good people took notice.  Let me introduce you to just a few …


Mike Skelton is the owner of Yellowstone Wonders, a company that offers tours of Yellowstone National Park.  Last week, with the holidays in the rearview mirror, Mike noticed a serious buildup of trash in the park.yellowstone-4

“We all live here. When it gets down to it, it is our park and it belongs to all of us in this country.”

Yellowstone-3.jpgAnd with that, he gathered a few other local residents and got to work.  They brushed snow off entrances, cleaned toilets, replaced toilet paper and switched out garbage bags, and they’ll likely do it again most weekends, if the shutdown continues.  The first day, Saturday, Mr. Skelton was joined by about 15 volunteers, but the next day, Sunday, there were 40!  Some volunteers brought supplies from home or bought them along the way.yellowstone-2In addition to individuals lending a hand, dozens of small businesses located in proximity to Yellowstone National Park have all chipped in thousands of dollars to keep the park open and tidy during the winter tourist season … they even offer free pizza to the volunteers!


gsm-signIn Tennessee, Marc Newland and his 10-year-old daughter Erica have spent their days in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, hiking the mountain trails with trash bags in hand so they can pick up litter along the way. gsm-3The Newlands have always been avid hikers, but when Marc told his daughter about how the shutdown would affect the mountain park, she suggested that they take it upon themselves to keep the trails tidy.

“Erica says that she would like to challenge other hikers to take one day off from getting in miles and impressive vista pics and instead, give back by grabbing a trash bag, heading to the park and collecting some litter!! These mountains give so much to so many people. Imagine if only a fraction of those people decided to give back to the mountains.”


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Ever hear of Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association (AMYA)?  It is a Maryland-based organization that regularly organizes community service cleaning efforts across the country, and presently they are mobilizing to clean up in Joshua Tree National Park, Everglades National Park, the National Mall, and Independence Hall in Philadelphia and Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio.

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Joshua Tree National Park – California

At least 70 members of the group emptied overflowing trash cans, picked up piles of litter and swept the streets over the weekend.  Young.  Muslim.  Men.  The ones who so many call terrorists … are picking up trash in order to keep our national parks clean.  Think about that one for a minute, if you will.


These are but a few of the groups and individuals who are stepping up to the plate during the Trump shutdown to help keep things running smoothly.  Unfortunately, due to a weekend incident where park visitors damaged trees while driving off-road, Joshua Tree National Park is now closed to visitors.  Had park rangers been on the job, the incident likely would not have happened.

Nonetheless, there are thousands of people out there volunteering to pick up the slack left by the Trump shutdown, and I, for one, am grateful to them.  The parks belong to us all, and we should offer kudos to these fine volunteers for helping to take care of the parks so that we can continue to enjoy them.  Thank you ALL!!!

World That Once Was …

I was sitting dozing before the fire when my two great grandchildren rushed into the room …

“Grannie, Grannie … we’re bored!  Will you tell us some stories?  Will you tell us about the cabin in the woods?”

“Yeah, an’ Grannie … will you tell us again ‘bout how you used to play outside … an’ how there was grass an’ you could even see the sky?  Please, Grannie, please?”

Now, I know their mother would not wish me to fill their heads with what once was and can never be again, but … it is all I have left to give them … the world that once was.  And so, I make room for one of them on either side of me, and I begin …

Well, you see, when I was a little girl, so many years ago, I would wake up on Saturday morning, do the few chores assigned to me, and then run outside to play with my friends.  Sometimes we played football in the street, sometimes we rode bicycles, and other days we went out in search of caterpillars that we would keep in canning jars with holes poked in the lids and some grass and water in the bottom.  And then we would wait for them to turn into beautiful butterflies.

“An’ you didn’t even have to wear an oxygen mask to go outside, Grannie?”

“What’s a butterfly?”

No, child, we didn’t need to wear oxygen masks to go outside back then, for the air was fresh and clear, and you could look up and see how blue the sky was … not like today when all you see is murky yellow air.  A butterfly, sweetie … well here … let me draw you a picture …butterfly

They aren’t around anymore … I guess they couldn’t survive in the bad air. We would play outside all day, sit in the grass to eat our sandwiches, and when night fell, we caught lightning bugs.  They aren’t around anymore either, but they were little bugs that had some chemical at the tail end of their body, and as they flew, they lit up a pale yellow or green colour.  It was how they ‘talked’ to the other lightning bugs. When I was a young girl, sometimes there would be hundreds of them in the yard, all lighting up at once.  Oh, it was quite a sight to see and I always looked forward to their arrival in summer.

“What about the parks, Grannie?  Tell us ‘bout the parks … pleeeeease!”

Oh yes, the parks.  Sigh.  Back then, we had national parks … hundreds, maybe even thousands of acres of forests with streams where the water was so clear you could see the fish swimming and the rocks in the very bottom.  And nobody could build a business or a factory or even houses in the national parks, because they were protected land.  The government protected them so that the critters that lived in them could live in safety and so that we would always have beautiful natural land to visit.

“What kind of critters lived there, Grannie?”

Well, it depended on where the park was, but most were home to deer, elk, snakes, squirrels, bears, wolves, coyote, birds and many others.

“Why did the parks go away, Grannie?  Didn’t people want them anymore?”

“What happened to the animals?”

Well, child, I think that most of us wanted the parks, we appreciated them and loved being away from the cities, just enjoying the beauty of nature.  But, there were some people who thought it was more important to use that land to drill for oil and gas, and to build hotels and factories, and the government gave in to the wishes of those people without listening to the rest of us.

“Why?”

Because those people who wanted to get rid of the parks had more money than the rest of us, and people with more money … well, they always get their way.  Now as to what happened to the animals … some of them were taken to other places, but as a rule they didn’t adapt well to their new environments and … well, they … just … died.

“Grannie … why are you crying?  Are you sad because the animals died?”

Oh, child … yes, I am very sad because the animals died, but I’m also sad because … well, because the whole life I once knew has died.  I remember running through open fields, watering flowers and letting a big bumblebee land on my nose.  I remember hiking in the woods with my friend Herb, how green the foliage was, how tall the trees, how clear the water in the streams.  And I am sad, for all of that is gone now.  Did I ever tell you about the great redwood trees on the west coast?  Why, those trees … some were so wide that they even made a road right through the center of the tree!!!  And they got so tall that you could barely see the top … sometimes as tall  as almost 400 feet!!!  I saw them plenty of times when I was a girl, but they were always a sight to behold.

“What happened to the redwoods trees, Gran?”

Well, mostly I think they were chopped down, but I hear the ones that were left just died for lack of oxygen.  They can’t put oxygen masks on trees like they can people, you know.  Same reason there’s no grass left in people’s yards … living things need clean air to breathe, even plants.  I’m tired now, children, and it makes me too sad to remember how life used to be.  Tell you what … bring that book about the bears that you like so much and I’ll read to you.

“Grannie … how come you never go to church with us?”

Because, child, I don’t believe in any of that nonsense they tell there about how some people are better than others because of the colour of their skin or who they choose to love.  It’s a waste of time that I can spend doing better things.

“But mommy says you’re gonna get in trouble with the law and have to go to jail if you don’t go to church …”

Hush child … it matters not anymore … now go get that book like I told you.trees-2.jpg

Protecting the Grey Wolf is Protecting Our Public Lands

One blog I recently began following, Nomad Advocate, is written by Travis Deaton, an adventurer, humanitarian and advocate, as his by-line says. He is doing some excellent volunteer work to preserve our national parks and wildlife. Last night, his post struck a chord with me, and I feel compelled to share it today. Under the new administration in Washington, some 3.3 million acres of public land may be sold in the near future for the purpose of mining and drilling. Not only would this destroy some of our most valuable resources, but poses a significant threat to the wildlife on and around that land. Please take a few minutes to read Travis’ excellent, well-researched post. Thank you Travis for all the good work you are doing, and for permission to share this post!

Nomad Advocate

The United States Congress has already introduced legislation to sell off 3.3 million acres of public land, the White House has already appointed a pro-drilling, anti-federal land head to lead the Department of the Interior, and this current 6th Mass Extinction is still raging onward. It can be easy to think of conservation of land and conservation of wildlife as two separate entities, but often times they are tightly correlated. Take the grey wolf and preservation efforts here in the U.S. Grey Wolf populations have a substantial impact on the environment and positively impacts dozens-hundreds of other species. The United States Congress has introduced legislation to remove ESA protections from wolves in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Wyoming, in an attempt to expand their land-grab from the American people. Why would Congressional Republicans and a drill-hungry White House care about wolf protections?

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Wolves have a large territorial pattern so any efforts to…

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Busy Little Rats …

The House of Representatives that opened the 115th session on Tuesday, 03 January 2017, is 88% the same House that we had last year and the year before.  Only 52 representatives changed, 25 Democrats and 27 Republicans, for a 12% overall change.  Why do I mention this?  Well, think about it.  This is NOT an all new House of Representatives, but for the most part is the same tired old House from 2016. Congress as a whole last year did almost nothing.  They refused to even interview the president’s nominee for Supreme Court, Merrick Garland.  They refused to fund efforts to combat the Zika virus, refused to provide resources to help Louisiana after severe flooding, and much more. They sat on the Flint water crisis. Politico dubbed Congress as the “Seinfeld Congress”, all about nothing. They should have been ashamed to accept a paycheck, but obviously it did not occur to them.

rats-1So here it is, the fifth day of January, and the 115th Congress convened just two days ago.  The essentially same lazy congress of 2016, however, is suddenly energized and ready to get down to business.  They are so eager, in fact, that they even started early with the now historic, failed move by Republican representatives on Monday night to dismantle the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) without giving the electorate or the Democratic representatives a chance to weigh in.  Aren’t they just the most ambitious little creatures, rather like rats running around the ship’s deck while the captain sleeps at the helm? Such dedicated rats they are.

But they did not stop there.  On Tuesday, still patting themselves on the back over what they thought was their success the night before, they effectively changed the way Congress calculates the cost of transferring federal lands to the states and other entities, making it much easier to give away federally-owned lands.  Understand that when I say federally-owned lands, I mean lands that you and I own, land belonging to We The People.  Under this legislation, public lands including national parks and forests could be turned over to the states, who could then sell them to private companies for activities such as mining, logging, and otherwise destroying not only the natural beauty, but in many cases, water and other resources, as well as wildlife. Unlike most legislation, it is not subject to approval by the Senate or a presidential signature. It is effective immediately. The House rules change was met with sharp criticism from conservation and watchdog groups, as well as hunters and fishermen.

They also found time to put together a four-point plan for dismantling the nation’s Affordable Healthcare Act, though they have not yet come up with the promised “wonderful, great” plan that Trump promised would replace ACA and be so much better, while costing the government less.

And then there is the Midnight Relief Bill that breezed through on Wednesday.  This bill will allow Congress to repeal in a single vote any rule finalized in the last 60 legislative days of the Obama administration.  President Obama has said he will veto the bill if it makes it to his desk before January 20th.  Now seriously, what are the odds??? Are you getting the picture now?

rat-2These ambitious rats did more work in one day than the mostly same group of rats did in all of 2016!  If only they had done a percentage of this much last year …  What amazes me is that so many Republican representatives were re-elected last year after a do-nothing year … nay, two do-nothing years!

The ultimate agenda of this Congress includes a reversal of environmental regulations they feel has limited energy production as well as financial regulations that they say burdened businesses and employers. Planned Parenthood, one of several women’s health organizations Obama took steps to protect with new regulations last month, will find itself once more on the chopping block. Yesterday, The House passed a resolution calling for the repeal of a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements that the United States allowed to pass last month by abstaining from the vote. Several senators want to use the Security Council vote as an excuse to start defunding the United Nations and withholding foreign aid from countries that supported the resolution.

It becomes more clear every day, though there was little doubt to begin with, that the only goal of the 115th Congress is to reverse the gains that have been made over the past eight years by the Obama administration.  We may well lose the protection of our national parks, forests, and even some national monuments.  Environmental protections are likely to be a mere shell by the time the next Congress takes office in two years.  And of course, the great strides we made in equality have already suffered and we will almost certainly see wide-spread, state-sponsored discrimination by the end of 2017.

There are two factors that could block much of the planned legislation of the Republicans in Congress.  If enough Republican senators and representatives possess values and the courage to defend those values, they could turn the tide.  The news coming from the House so far hasn’t given much hope for that, but that leads to the other thing that could stop this trainwreck … us.  Yes, you, me, your friends, your neighbors, your family.  We are not powerless, but we are if we sit back and helplessly shrug our shoulders, grumble & complain, and do nothing.  Write to the members of Congress representing your state!  Tell them that you do not like their agenda and the when they next come up for re-election you will not vote for them unless they do the right thing.  These men and women are OUR employees!  We put them in office, we pay their salary, and they are supposed to represent US.  Currently they are representing themselves, their agenda reflects that which benefits them and the lobbyist organizations such as big business, the NRA and others who compensate them monetarily and in other ways for voting for those things that will add to their bank accounts.  Meanwhile, We The People are losing ground every day.  I have included links to the government sites where you can find complete contact information for both representatives and senators at the end of this post.  Share it with anybody you know who is willing to take a stand, to fight against the injustices that I believe we are about to be subjected to. Our nation is depending on us.  The planet is counting on us.  And now, I shall step down from my soapbox.  Thanks for listening!

Contact list for House of Representatives

Contact list for Senate

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Chief Rat