Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cutting the Deficit

The Washington Post today advises us that our president has proposed a two-year wage freeze on the nearly 2 million strong federal work force. Of course, it's only a proposal. Action by the Congress would be required to implement such a policy. Estimates indicate that roughly $5 billion each year would be saved so the amount is a miniature segment of the vast federal budget. One federal worker gave her opinion of the idea:

"You could always count on your increase," said Danielle Swain of Manassas, an analyst for the foreign export service of the Agriculture Department who is nervous about the cut to her commuter-rail subsidy. "If you don't get a bonus, this is all you get. They're picking on the government because they assume we sit around and don't do anything. Well, it's not true."

There's no doubt that Ms. Swain is exhausted every evening when she's finished her analyst duties at the USDA, wobbled home on the commuter rail and lurched into her kitchen to prepare a bowl of gruel. But that's not the point. The real issue is the role of the federal government in providing a "foreign export service" through the USDA. Presumably, this office of the agency assists US farmers and agribusiness in exporting their products. Why should that be a function of the federal government at all? If exports are an important part of the agricultural complex, as they obviously are, wouldn't it be in the interest of farmers and agribusiness to set up their own organization and hire their own Danielle Swains to promote US agricultural exports? Why should a person in another line of work, a circus clown, for instance, be expected, through his tax payments, to subsidize the marketing efforts of pickle purveyors and pumpkin producers?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Thanksgiving Thought from "The Unbroken Window"

The Thanksgiving Gift

Nov 25th, 2010 by wintercow20

I wrote this for Thanksgiving last year. Didn’t get around to a new article for this year, but I hope you can enjoy this “reprint.”

Four centuries after the celebration of the first Thanksgiving, there is still widespread disagreement about the reason for the Pilgrims’ feast. But whether it was a harvest festival, a strictly religious observance, or a thank you to the local Wampanoag Indians, such a feast would not even have been possible were it not for the abandonment of the utopian ideas the Pilgrims laid out in the original Mayflower Compact.

Imagine a world where the earnings you generate from teaching, or nursing, or tending your orchard, from working the cash register, or mowing some lawns – all of the fruits of your efforts went into a common pool. Imagine further that each of your friends and neighbors, and every stranger in Monroe County was entitled to an equal share of what was placed into the kitty. It didn’t matter whether you mowed 20 lawns per day or one, whether you treated 30 patients per day or none, whether you taught 50 students per day or none – you received the same “income” as everyone else in the community. Imagine further that your home was owned in common by all in your community and that rearing your neighbor’s children was as much your responsibility as anyone else’s.

Such was the intention of the Compact – by eliminating any semblance of private property and personal accountability, which were declared to be the foundation for avarice and selfishness – prosperity and brotherly love would result. How did it work out?

You need only look at the cleanliness of your office fridge or the condition of a public bathroom for a glimpse into the horrors of such collectivism. People suffered, starved and perished. Governor Bradford wrote in his diary, “For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense … that was thought injustice.”

Most shocking perhaps is that this injustice generated penury, jealousy and sloth in a society comprised entirely of (self-professed) holy people, each with a common cause, each from a similar background, and in a community with less than 200 settlers. The lessons for a society comprised of people of varying degrees of “saintliness”, with differing interests and backgrounds, and hundreds of millions in size should be obvious.

Confronting the disaster of collectivism, Plymouth’s elders wisely “resorted” to a system of private property and free exchange. Bradford wrote of the reforms, “… it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression…By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the faces of things were changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God.”

I doubt many Pilgrims themselves properly understood the nature of their original problem, nor its solution – which is why I doubt that the first Thanksgiving was a celebration of liberty and private property. While they might have thanked Providence and luck for the bounties that followed the change in property institutions in 1623, it was only their industry, thrift and discipline in response to the formation of private property institutions that such a feast was even possible.

Fast forward to 2008, where the most productive among us are made to feel like criminals, and the non-productive (those who are able) are portrayed as innocent victims of a tyrannical system of capitalism. That Thanksgiving is a “national” holiday is ironic – for it is was a celebration enabled by an explicit movement away from “nationalistic” ideals – a celebration made possible by the unleashing of the individual productive efforts of all in the Plymouth colony.

I am blessed to have a healthy family, the ability to have completed my formal education, and the discipline to work hard with the lot I was given in life. Providence and luck has been kind to me. I give thanks to that every single day of my life. But on this day, this 385th renewal of Thanksgiving Day, as many in our nation clamor to gallop anew down a 21st century style collectivist path (health care for everyone, financial bailouts, auto bailouts, fairer taxes, public schools, managed trade, green-collar subsidies, farm subsidies, licensing restrictions, “living wages” and more) littered with the tragedies of hundreds of failed experiments before us, let us remember what made the first Thanksgiving possible, and what has made our modern prosperity possible.

The productive efforts of billions of individuals past and present who unknowingly cooperate each and every day in an effort to improve their own lots, have bestowed upon us a gift even greater than the yams, apples, turkeys, wheat, and other resources that we were naturally endowed with. Just how large a gift have they given to each of us? Imagine yourself alone in the New England wilderness on a cold and wet November day 500 years ago. The difference between the “fire roasted” yam you might conjure up with days of immiserating work in 1508 and the majestic spread set out before you today in 2008 is but a glimpse of the bounty that liberty and property have bestowed upon us. Let us hope that the light of liberty remains lit, so that we may see our way through harsh and brutal winters that might lie ahead.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

That Obscure Object of Desire

The last film directed by Luis Bunuel, "That Obscure Object of Desire", was released in 1977, the same year as David Lynch's first film, "Eraserhead". There can't be any doubt that Bunuel's picture had a major influence on the ideas of Lynch.

TOOD is the story of Mathieu, played by Bunuel regular Fernando Rey, an affluent widower, and his tortured relationship with a younger girl, as related by him during a Canterbury Tales-like train trip across Spain and France. He explains to the odd assortment of travellers sharing his compartment why he poured a bucket of water over the girl's head as she attempted to join him on the train. We see their initial meeting after she has been hired as his new chambermaid and their subsequent difficulties. The most notable aspect of this film is that the role of the girl, Conchita, is played by two different actresses with dissimilar appearances and temperaments, Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina. The two exchange places in adjacent scenes and even in the same scene, but Mateo doesn't seem to notice the difference. Set in the late 1960's, there is a backdrop of urban terrorism running through the movie, car bombs and armed robberies are frequent occurrences. The contrast between the lavish surroundings and lifestyle of the wealthy businessman Mathieu and the impoverished squalor of Conchita is tempered by curious incidents such as a mouse being caught in a trap in Mathieu's study and a fly landing in his water glass in an exclusive restaurant. A burlap bag carried by Mathieu at occasional moments is never explained.

The focus of the film is Mathieu's lustful obsession for Conchita, which she foils at every turn. But there is much more to the story than that. TOOD is an enjoyable and engrossing romp with a cinematic master. Professional bullriding score: 93

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Re-cycling a Strategy

Perhaps they deserve credit for tenacity, even though their premise is doubtful and their tactics are loathsome. It appears that it will take the sight of a mile-high glacier sliding down the Hudson River and wiping out Yonkers before the climate alarmists will turn their disaster scenario in a different direction. This from the NYT:

"The treaty, the Montreal Protocol, was adopted in 1987 for a completely different purpose, to eliminate aerosols and other chemicals that were blowing a hole in the Earth’s protective ozone layer.

But as the signers of the protocol convened the 22nd annual meeting in Bangkok on Monday, negotiators are considering a proposed expansion in the ozone treaty to phase out the production and use of the industrial chemicals known as hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs The chemicals have thousands of times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas.

HFCs are used as refrigerants in air-conditioners and cooling systems. They are manufactured mostly in China and India, but appliances containing the substance are in use in every corner of the world. HFCs replaced even more dangerous ozone-depleting chemicals known as HCFCs, themselves a substitute for the chlorofluorocarbons that were the first big target of the Montreal process.

“Eliminating HFCs under the Montreal Protocol is the single biggest chunk of climate protection we can get in the next few years,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, a nongovernment organization based in Washington. He noted that the ozone protection effort had begun under former President Ronald Reagan and continues to enjoy bipartisan support.

The United States has thrown its support behind the proposal and negotiators said there was a strong current of support for the move at the meeting on Monday. All the signatories to the Montreal Protocol would have to agree to the expansion, but no further approval from Congress would be needed. So far, there has been no Congressional or industry opposition to the idea.

But the plan is not expected to be adopted this year. Large developing countries, including China, India and Brazil, object that the timetable is too rapid and that payments for eliminating the refrigerant are not high enough.

One advantage to using the Montreal protocol as a vehicle, supporters say, is that negotiations over the treaty have been utterly unlike the contentious United Nations climate talks that foundered in Copenhagen last year. Negotiators say that without legislative action on curbing greenhouse gases by the United States, little progress will be made when countries gather in CancĂșn, Mexico, late this month for another round of climate talks.

In a post-election news conference, President Obama noted that it was doubtful that Congress would do anything to address global warming “this year or next year or the year after.”

Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the Montreal treaty has been signed by all nations. They conduct their business with little drama and with broad scientific and technical input from governments and industry. The financing mechanisms, while occasionally contentious, are generally quickly resolved and seen as equitable.

The ozone treaty was unanimously ratified in 1988 by the United States Senate, which a decade later unanimously voted against adopting the Kyoto Protocol to address climate change. Montreal’s pollution reduction targets are mandatory, universally accepted and readily measurable. None of that is true of the climate process.

The Montreal Protocol has phased out nearly 97 percent of 100 ozone-depleting chemicals, some of which are also potent climate-altering gases. The net effect has been the elimination of the equivalent of more than 200 billion metric tons of global-warming gases, five years’ worth of total global emissions, far more than has been accomplished by the Kyoto process.

It has been, according to the former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, “perhaps the most successful international agreement to date.”

The proposal to eliminate HFCs was advanced several years ago by the tiny island nation of Micronesia, one of the places on Earth most vulnerable to sea-level rise and other global warming effects.

The United States quickly signed on. Along with Mexico and Canada, the Obama administration has proposed a rapid series of steps to reduce HFC production, with rich countries meeting a faster timetable than developing nations and helping to pay the poorer countries to find substitutes. But the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that adopting the HFC proposal could eliminate the equivalent of 88 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2050, and slow global warming by a decade.

Daniel A. Reifsnyder, the deputy assistant secretary of state for environment and the nation’s chief Montreal Protocol negotiator, said that it might take several years to persuade the ozone treaty countries to back the plan.

In addition to pace and cost issues, some countries say that HFCs have little impact on the ozone layer and thus should be handled under the United Nations climate change talks. Mr. Reifsnyder dismissed that as a legalistic argument and said that the ozone treaty could and should be used to achieve broader environmental objectives.

“What we’ve found is that the Montreal Protocol has been a very effective instrument for addressing global environmental problems,” Mr. Reifsnyder said in an interview. “It was created to deal with the ozone layer, but it also has tremendous ability to solve the climate problem if people are willing to use it that way.”

Mario Molina, the Mexican scientist who shared the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his groundbreaking work in identifying the role of chlorofluorocarbon gases in the breach of the stratospheric ozone layer, said that it might take two or three years for other countries to see the virtues of the HFC reduction.

“My hope is that everybody will agree with this proposal from the United States and Mexico and a few other countries because the Montreal Protocol has been so successful at controlling these industrial chemicals,” he said in an interview from his institute in Mexico City.

Dr. Molina said that extending the protocol to include HFCs could reduce the threat of climate change by several times what the Kyoto Protocol proposes. He noted that the climate treaty had fallen far short of its goals, and that there was no agreement on what should replace it when its major provisions expired in 2012.

“We understand it’s a stretch to use an international agreement designed for another purpose,” he said. “But dealing with these chemicals and using this treaty to protect the planet makes a lot of sense.”

In 1973 Sherwood Rowland, a professor at the University of California-Irvine, and a graduate student there, Mario Molina, were studying atmospheric aerosols. At that time geophysical research seemed to indicate that there were annual fluctuations in the stratospheric ozone content over the poles, especially over the Antarctic. The media became obsessed with the possible ramifications of this, a supposed increase in ultra-violet radiation reaching the earth's surface that would cause increases in skin cancer and blindness in humans and animals. Television news stories gave ultimately fictional accounts of blind sheep wandering around in Patagonia and Chilean children unable to attend school due to poisonous sunlight. At just this moment, Molina ran a computer simulation of what would occur if molecules of popular and effective refrigerants, HCFCs, compounds of chlorine, were to enter the atmosphere, as they invariably would, due to leaks in refrigeration equipment. Aside from the fact that the chloroflourocarbon molecules are much heavier than air, Molina's experiment indicated that over time they would migrate to the highest reaches of the atmosphere where ultraviolet rays would break these incredibly stable molecules down, releasing chlorine atoms that would unite with the O1 ozone atoms and allow ultra-violet rays to penetrate to the earth. There was never any physical evidence that this process was actually taking place and none has been found to this day.
Nevertheless, portions of the scientific community and the media embraced the theory. Much like climate change today, opinions were polarized. However, the businesses most affected by proposed bans on HCFCs, the refrigeration and air conditioning industry, chemicals, building materials and aerosol cans didn't put up much of a fight. They saw opportunities to increase profits with newer, more expensive products and more expensive service techniques and were happy to consign R-12, R-502, and, eventually R-22, to the scrap heap. The Montreal Protocol forbids the use of these products in industrialized nations but they are still legal in the developing world. Keep in mind that all the HCFCs ever produced, and being produced to this day, will eventually end up in the atmosphere. While a certain proportion of them are recycled for further use, even that quantity will eventually escape. These compounds are not broken down into some other substance.
One would expect, if the Rowland-Molina theory had any validity, that after the adoption of the Montreal Protocol in 1987, there would be a continuing fall in polar ozone levels for an extended period of time followed by a slow rise. This has not happened. And, as soon as the signatures on the paperwork had been signed, the media and parts of the scientific community moved on to something else, climate change. We haven't heard about the ozone hole in years. Researchers with an ideological and financial interest in climate change hoped that a direct assault on what remains of free market civilization would find success with visions of world-wide calamity. Not enough people fell for it. The antidote was just too extreme. The Montreal Protocol, the most expensive and needless attempt to shape human life on a world-wide basis ever attempted, had succeeded. But Kyoto had not. Thus they will attempt to change our lives on the basis of an international treaty restricting refrigerants.

Update: They haven't given up at all. Now it's the whales that are in trouble.

Sunburnt whales: Rising UV radiation could be damaging whales' skin

November 10th, 2010 in Biology / Plants & Animals
A  blue whale swimming in the deep waters off the southern Sri Lankan town  of Mirissa


A blue whale swimming in the deep waters off the southern Sri Lankan town of Mirissa. A closely-studied community of whales, including the threatened blue whale, showed worrying signs of sunburn, possibly because of ozone depletion in the atmosphere, biologists reported on Wednesday.

Whales exhibit skin damage consistent with acute sunburn in humans, and it seems to be getting worse over time, reveals research published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Queen Mary, University of London and CICIMAR, studied blue , fin whales and in the Gulf of California to determine the effect of rising levels of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) on their health.

For a number of years scientists have observed blisters on the skin of whales. Now, using high-quality photos to give accurate counts of the blisters and analysing areas of damage in skin samples, this research has found that the three species of whale exhibit that is commonly associated with acute sunburn in humans.

Notably, the scientists also found that signs of sun damage were more severe in the paler-skinned blue whales, compared with the darker-skinned fin whales, and that in blue whales the symptoms of sunburn seem to be getting worse during the three years the study took place.

The UV index for the Gulf of California fluctuates between high and extremely high throughout the year. Lead author, Laura Martinez–Levasseur from ZSL and Queen Mary, says, "Whales need to come to the surface to breathe air, to socialise and to feed their young, meaning that they are frequently exposed to the full force of the sun.

"The increase in skin damage seen in is a matter of concern, but at this stage it is not clear what is causing this increase. A likely candidate is rising UVR as a result of either ozone depletion, or a change in the level of cloud cover."

Co-author Professor Edel O'Toole, from Queen Mary, says, "As we would expect to see in humans, the whale species that spent more 'time in the sun' suffered greater sun damage. We predict that whales will experience more severe sun damage if continues to increase."

The next phase of the research will look at the expression of genes involved in the production of skin pigmentation and DNA damage repair and try to gain a greater understanding of the consequences of sun damage in whales.

Lead author Dr Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse, from ZSL says, "We have shown that exposure to strong sun is damaging to whales' skin. We now need to understand the knock-on effects and whether whales are able to respond quickly to increasing radiation by enhancing their natural sun-protection mechanisms."

More information: The paper 'Acute sun damage and photoprotective responses in whales' ( DOI:10.1098/rspb.20101903 ) will be published online in Proceedings of the Royal Society B on Wednesday 10 November.

Provided by Zoological Society of London

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bison and Bureaucracy

There are two ecotypes of bison in North America, the plains bison that roamed the inter-mountain area of the continent in millions before European settlement, or bison bison, and the wood buffalo, bison athapascae, a larger animal with some differing features, whose range has shrunk from a large swath of present-day Alaska, the Yukon and Northwest Territories, British Columbia and Alberta to a small area of northern Alberta. These animals are not different species, they can interbreed and produce fertile offspring. The average person could not distinguish one from another. Beginning in 1957, when the wood buffalo were recognized as such, the Canadian government has made an effort to increase their numbers and provide a buffer between these wild animals and the pressure of surrounding agricultural interests.

The American bison of the great plains, whose migrations by the many thousands once extended from the Llano Estacado of western Texas to northern Saskatchewan, are familiar to everyone, found in reduced numbers in the wild and semi-domesticated on ranches and in images ranging from one side of a nickel coin to the mascot of the University of Colorado athletic teams. Buffalo meat is available at many supermarkets. The state of Alaska has established three different bison herds in locations in the central part of the state that are apparently thriving. A percentage of the herds are thinned by sport hunting each year.

Now comes this piece of news:

State ready to release wood bison, waiting on federal protection
by Tim Mowry / tmowry@newsminer.com
FAIRBANKS — The state Department of Fish and Game says it is ready to release at least 40 wood bison on the lower Innoko River country in the western Interior and is just waiting for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create protection from the Endangered Species Act for future resource development.

“There’s nothing else that can hold us back at this point,” wildlife planner Randy Rogers with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks said this week.

The ADF&G announced a target release date of spring 2012, but that hinges on the federal government creating a special rule that will designate wood bison in Alaska as a “nonessential experimental population” under section 10j of the Endangered Species Act.

“I’m optimistic,” the state’s endangered species coordinator, Doug Vincent-Lang, said on Friday. “That’s not to say there won’t be surprise here and there but I’m confident once we get the nonessential population rule put in place and get the allowed take we would like to have associated with that rule put in place that we will be able to go ahead with the release.”

The state has been holding wood bison it imported from Canada in captivity for more than two years in anticipation of restoring the animals to Alaska, where it’s believed they roamed hundreds of years ago. The state has a herd of 89 wood bison at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Girdwood south of Anchorage.

“We cannot maintain this captive herd of bison indefinitely,” Rogers said.

It’s costing the state about $100,000 per year to house, feed and care for the bison, the state’s wood bison biologist, Bob Stephenson at ADF&G in Fairbanks, said.

Waiting on feds

The animals have been tested for diseases such as tuberculosis and brucellosis three times and have been given a clean bill of health by state veterinarians, Rogers said. All that remains is coming up with a management plan that addresses the future harvest of wood bison in Alaska and the regulations to deal with the Endangered Species Act.

Officials with the Fish and Wildlife Service say they are still reviewing the special rule that would designate wood bison as a nonessential population and pave the way for their release in Alaska.

“The law says you have to have a rule in place before you can release these animals,” Stephenson said.

Once the regional office in Alaska comes up with a draft rule, it must be sent to the national office in Washington, D.C. for final approval before it is published in the Federal Register, said Steve Klosiewski, deputy regional manager for the USFWS in Anchorage.

“It’s easy for us to do our work here, but the Washington office has all these various Endangered Species Act rules they have to deal with,” Klosiewski said.

Once the proposed rule is written, it must be published in the Federal Register for a 60-day public comment period, after which it could be amended before it is finalized.

“Assuming the endangered species regulations come out the way we proposed them, we should be OK to do the release in the Innoko,” Rogers said. “It’s not 100 percent guaranteed by any means. There’s still a lot of things that have to fall in place.”

The state has met several times with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials in Alaska and Vincent-Lang said the two agencies “fundamentally came into agreement on what the (10j) rule should look like.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service has told the state it hopes to have the final rule in place by the end of July.

“We’re working with the state to help them meet their timeline,” Klosiewski said.

Release plans

The department recently received a $152,350 grant from the Wildlife Conservation Society for the restoration effort. The department will use the money to help develop a cooperative management plan, set up a temporary corral and move hay and supplies to the release site, and transport bison to the site.

The state settled on the lower Innoko River area, which is about 400 miles southwest of Fairbanks, after efforts to release the animals in the Yukon Flats and Minto Flats were met with resistance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Yukon Flats) and Fairbanks Native corporation Doyon Ltd. (Minto Flats).

“That’s the way things lined up politically,” Rogers said of why the lower Innoko River was chosen as a release site.

The department’s plan calls for releasing a minimum of 40 bison. More animals could be released depending on what the prospects are for releasing animals in the Yukon Flats and Minto Flats by then, Rogers said.

“If we think we can release bison in the other sites in a two- to four-year time frame we will hold some back,” he said. “If we’re uncertain whether we’re going to be able to proceed in the other areas, we’re going to have to take more out to the Innoko so we don’t end up with crowding at the AWCC.”

While the wood bison habitat in the Yukon Flats and Minto Flats is considered better than the lower Innoko River, there is ample habitat to support a herd of at least 400 animals, according to department studies.

Doyon, which opposed the Minto Flats as a potential release site because the corporation is actively drilling for natural gas in the region, owns several hundred thousand acres in the lower Innoko River area, too, but Jim Mery, the corporation’s vice president for lands, said Doyon does not have any pending oil, gas or mineral exploration projects in the area and releasing animals there “is something we can live with.” Doyon has some done some mineral exploration in the area, primarily for gold, but not in the last five or six years, Mery said.

“The lower Innoko country would be fine with us assuming the communities want the animals down there,” he said.

Residents in local communities have been very supportive of releasing wood bison in the area, Rogers said.

The department’s tentative plan is to fly the bison to an airstrip near Shageluk, a village on the Innoko River, in March 2012. They will be held in a temporary corral and fed for about a month before being released just prior to greenup and calving. Stephenson referred to it as a “soft release.”

“The idea behind that is so they don’t just start walking when they are released,” he said. “If you hold them quietly in a new area for awhile and release them when good, green forage is not far away and they’re about to calve, then they’re kind of stuck.”

Still wild

Even after being kept in a captive environment for what will be almost four years by the time they are released, Stephenson said the bison shouldn’t have any problems adjusting to life in the wild.

“Bison are hardwired,” the biologist said. “You’d have to select them genetically for generations to change them into something more like cattle.”

Even in their captive setting at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, the bison display wild behavior. Competition for feed is intense and fights between the bison are not uncommon. Eleven bison have died in the last year and a half, Rogers said. Once an animal is injured in a fight, other bison “gang up on” the weakened animal and kill it, he said.

“Overall this is a pretty natural occurrence within a bison herd,” Rogers said. “We’ve tried to get necropsies (animal autopsies) of all of these mortalities. Several have shown there have been some wounds that only can be goring from other bison. Sometimes some of the dominant bulls are pushing younger animals away and getting mean at times.”

Most of the deaths have involved young bison, he said.

The breeding season recently concluded and the department is hopeful of having a crop of about 30 new calves next spring, Roger said.

Currently there are about 10,000 wood bison in the wild in Canada and another 4,000 disease-free animals being held in captivity in Canada.

What can be the possible impetus for all this activity? Is there some group of citizens lobbying for an expanded population of wood buffalo? Four thousand miles away from the permanently frozen ground of the lower Innoko River, the Wildlife Conservation Society, an expansion of the New York Zoological Society and proprietor of the Bronx Zoo, among others, was instrumental in the recovery of the plains bison in the early years of the 20th century. They have now provided financing for the initial stages of this project. However, they are not paying all the bills. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and State of Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game are now heavily invested in it. We're talking large amounts of public money. Wildlife planner Randy Rogers, endangered species coordinator Doug Vincent-Lang and wood bison biologist Bob Stephenson are all full-time employees of the state of Alaska. Their very livelihoods are dependent on just this sort of undertaking. As are those of their federal counterparts in the regulatory maze that the unwitting bison must navigate along with their human advocates. The entire boondoggle is a monument to the state gone mad. From the feel-good thinking of some environmental faddists ensconced in the most densely populated city in the country, a project has been adopted by public bureaucrats that can never be arrested, that will furnish them with a lifetime income and retirement benefits, and whose accomplishments can never be measured in terms of return on investment or anything else. In fact, chances are nobody but the bureaucrats involved and a few interested locals will ever lay eyes on these animals, helpless pawns in a bizarre game played out across an immense continent and nearly as large a bureaucratic landscape.

This is not the only example of government bureaucrats hitching their wagons to an animal star. The re-introduction of the Mexican gray wolf to eastern Arizona and western New Mexico has followed a similar path, from the bright idea of a retired Honeywell employee in Phoenix to nearly open warfare on the range land of the White Mountains over cattle depredations by transplanted wolves wearing blaze orange radio collars.