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Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Report: Alberta woodland caribou rapidly declining

ENDANGERED SPECIES — There appears to be no refuge for woodland caribou, which already has become the most endangered big game species in the United States.

Report says the number of woodland caribou on the decline in Alberta
A study published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology tied a rapid decline in woodland caribou numbers to increased industrial development, and called for an aggressive campaign to protect habitat to help the species stabilize.
—Calgary Herald

Alberta ranchers want hunts on problem grizzlies

ENDANGERED SPECIES – Although Alberta grizzly bears are officially a threatened species in recovery mode, ranchers are asking officials to resume hunting at least for the problem bears in the southwestern corner of the province.

A grizzly bear recovery plan was initiated in 2008 after studies found fewer than 700 grizzlies left in Alberta. Grizzly hunting had be curbed in 2006.

Continued research indicates the bear population healthier than previously known in some areas, especially in the southwest.

Across the province, 15 grizzly bears were killed in 2012 by poachers, motorists and landowners: one problem bear was destroyed; five were killed in self-defence; four were hit on roads; two were poached; and two were mistaken by hunters for black bears. One death was ruled as an unknown cause.

Read more in this Calgary Herald story.

Train travel brings community experience

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

I see a thousand automobiles every day. They’re all around me. They roll down my street in the morning and late at night. They ride in formation in front, beside, or behind me on the highways and freeways. And yet, never does it occur to me to wish I was in any of those steel cages. They hold no mystery. I suspect, for the most part, they are going to work, to the grocery story, to have the dog groomed or on any of the countless necessary but mundane trips I take each week.

But when I see a train, when I hear the whistle blow in the night or early in the morning, I automatically stop to listen; to wonder if it is a freight train or passenger train. To wonder where it is headed and where it has been. I put myself onboard, on the other side of the wide windows, and my imagination settles down onto the steel rails and is pulled forward with the chain.

I’m not alone. I hear others say the same thing. There is a romance to train travel that time and progress haven’t managed to dampen. A train is going somewhere slow and steady, rolling through valleys, over mountains and on high trestles spanning wild rivers. Even animals seem to catch the spirit, drawn to the fenceline beside the tracks and then stopping to lift their heads to watch the boxcars or coaches rumble by.

The last time I was on the Rocky Mountaineer, the luxury excursion train that snakes across British Columbia and Alberta, winter was closing in. We left Vancouver in the darkness of an October morning and pulled into stations in deep twilight at the end of each day’s ride. The rivers were low and slow and grasses and shrubs painted the hillsides with autumn color that flamed at the feet of tall evergreens and the pale skeletons of Pine Beetle-damaged pines.

But this trip I gazed out at the fresh green of a late Western Canada spring. Sipping coffee over breakfast in the dining car, we left the big city behind and moved out into the countryside. In mid-morning we watched eagles and Osprey fly over rivers that were swollen with snowmelt and spring rains. in the afternoon someone called out “Bear” and people popped up like Prairie Dogs, craning to see a big Black Bear grazing at the edge of the road. Bighorn Sheep perched on rocky outcroppings, tails flicking as they watched us roll by.

The next day we reached the Rocky Mountains and cameras clicked all around me. Many of the passengers were making the trip of a lifetime: a dozen or so from Australia, two women from Chile, a couple from Wales, another from Scotland. All were there to see the iconic Canadian landscape of the west, and Mother Nature happily obliged. Just as we pulled into Banff, as if cued to provide the grand finale, a grizzly sow and her cubs stepped out of the pines and stuck around just long enough to be photographed before melting back into the shadowy forest.

Listening to others in the coach talk about the bears, about the mountains and the places we’d passed on the trip, I was able to put my finger on one of the aspects of train travel that is so appealing: It is a community experience. It is a journey in the company of others who share the love. And, really, when you think about it, that’s what we’re all looking for in everything.



Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Note: The Rocky Mountaineer has added SilverLeaf service for the 2012 season. Find more information about it here.

Winter is Waiting

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 

 

I had a few October days to myself so I spent them in the little town of Banff, in Alberta, Canada. While there, it was impossible not to catch the energy of autumn, flagged by the flashing gold of the aspen leaves as they trembled in the breeze and the way the grasses and shrubs closer to the ground spread out in a fan of color, a wave of crimson and soft gold climbing up toward the jagged peaks of the Canadian Rockies. The sky was a dome of brilliant blue and the sun warmed me. It was the kind of perfect fall weather we cling to because we know, especially those of us who live in the Northwest, winter is only waiting for a chance to slip in.

I strolled through the town. I rode the gondola up and walked along the top of one of those mountains, looking down on the fairytale town below; a picturesque valley complete with a winding river and a castle—the historic Banff Springs Hotel—whose towers and steep sloping roof dominate the landscape. I walked along the Bow River and watched the water tumble over the falls. I bought a cup of hot chocolate and wrapped my fingers around it, letting the steam rise onto my face as I took each sip. I marked the end of summer and the short, sweet, season that brings us the prettiest weeks of the year.

But the day I was to fly back home, I awoke to a world that was painted in shades of gray, wrapped in thick white clouds that hung low and heavy obscuring the mountains and settling down onto the valley. A soft-focus, black-and-white view of the places I’d been a few just a few hours before.

Riding down the highway toward the airport in Calgary, I sat with my chin in my hand, gazing out the window. As the world slipped by something in the air shifted and, as if in salute, the layer of clouds parted, the way a curtain is pulled back on a stage and the change of scenery is introduced. I could see the first snowfall of the season had dusted the tops of the mountains.

After a few moments, the sky closed around the mountains again and the wreath of clouds settled again. But, having seen the sign, I pulled my sweater tighter around me and sat back in my seat.

It won't be long now. Autumn is fading fast and winter is already waiting impatiently for its turn.

  

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is a contributing the editor at Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

If you haven’t been there in 23 years…

…can you still recommend a place?

I'm going to say "Yes."

www.terragallery.ru

Spring grizzly bear hunt cancelled in Alberta

HUNTINGThe lack of a sustainable population of grizzly bears in Alberta once again prompted the province to cancel a spring grizzly bear hunt, according to todays story in the Calgary Herald.

For the fifth consecutive year, the province's traditional spring grizzly bear hunt is off. Conservation groups are please with the decision, but split on how the province should ensure survival of the species.

Cave Painting in Jasper National Park

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)   

 

 

    When we arrive at the starting point for our hike, Trevor, our Overlander Trekking guide, gives us all thick, insulated, boots and a set of cleats to strap on the soles.


    Checking that we have hats and gloves, he leads us across a narrow swinging bridge and up and along a trail that traces the rim of the frozen Maligne Canyon in Canada’s Jasper National Park.


    He shows us the trail we will follow at the bottom, walking on the frozen river that flows through the canyon.
    “Just watch me,” he says as we descend. “You’ll be safe if you watch where I step.”


    Stepping gingerly onto the path he makes as we move down into the canyon,  between high walls of stone, we follow a trail of thick, scarred, ice on what just a few weeks before was moving water. On thinner patches, you can, if you stop and listen for it, hear the deep roar of water moving freely below. It is an erie sound.


    Above, where the ground shears away, where in warmer seasons water flows over the rim, massive columns of ice descend the depth of the canyon walls forming layer upon frozen layer. At the tallest formation, the densest frozen waterfall, we stop to watch a pair of climbers. A man stands at the base, feet apart, a rope threaded through the harness around his waist and anchored at the top. He is belaying a woman who is slowly, one toehold, one pick into the ice at a time, climbing.
    
    We walk a bit farther to where the stone forms a dome over us. We are standing in a tall cathedral of limestone carved by rushing, swirling, water and polished by eons of ice and wind and snow. The rocks are coated with fine ice crystals and I notice that just above my head they are decorated by the handprints of hikers who have gone before us. People who, as they passed, put a hand on the stone. The warmth of their bodies melted away the ice and in the  shadowed, frigid, air the prints remained.


    It is a beautiful thing, this ice-walking.  Time and again we stop to take photographs, trying to capture the scale and majesty of what we are seeing. Time and again we look at the images on our digital cameras and are disappointed.


    As we make our way back out of the canyon, I take one more look over my shoulder. I notice again the pristine, crystalized surface of the limestone on either side of me. Like the others who’d come before me, I lifted my hand and placed it flat against frosted surface of the stone. Still and silent, I felt the sharp winter cold drawn into my skin as I exchanged it for the warmth of my body.    When I pulled away the distinct print of my hand, mine alone, decorated the rock.


    I was, in that instant, connected to the past in a tangible way. I imagined a woman who might have passed between the stone walls thousands of years ago and done the same thing - stopped for a moment to give in to the urge to paint the cave with her handprint.


    Seasons will change. The canyon will erase any trace that I was there. But, at least in my memory, the winter walk left a more permanent mark on me.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Taking in the Great Outdoors

    Usually, dawn is just touching the sky when I open my eyes. Still blinking, half-lost in a fading dream, I reach over to the table beside my bed for my glasses and my camera. I stumble across the dark room and make my way to the window or step out onto the balcony if there is one. I press the shutter.


    “Good morning,” I say to myself wherever I am.  “Good morning, world.”


    This mid-winter morning, I am far north, in the Canadian province of Alberta. Frozen, scenic, Lake Louise shines blue-white in the weak early light. My room in the historic Chateau Lake Louise looks out toward the lake and I watch as the mountains ringing the lake come into focus as a new day steals across the sky.


    These are private, personal, moments when I travel; watching the day begin and end from my window.


    This is not to say I don’t enjoy the outdoors. I do. I spend long hours exploring the landscape wherever I go. In winter at Lake Louise, the cold air bites, the wind tangles and teases. A few steps from the Chateau I am part of a wilder world. I can taste the Canadian wilderness and hear the sounds and soak in the silence of a truly wild place. I listen to the crunch of my snowshoes on the snow in the forest. I hear the distant sounds of others; the squeals and laughter of children skating, the jingle of the harnesses of horses pulling sleighs down the trail to Victoria Falls.  Outdoors, I am exhilarated, thrilling at the pull of muscles and the pounding of my heart. But there is something so satisfying about coming in from the cold. Walking into a room spiced with the fragrance of hot coffee and chocolate, laced with conversation and laughter. Hands cradling a cup, lulled by the warmth, it is a selfish pleasure to stand and look out at  where I have been.

     From the window-seat in my room, I watch birds circle the frozen lake and solitude-seekers skiing the perimeter of the lake in the morning. In the late afternoon I gaze down at families, toddlers on sleds in tow, skates laced together and tossed over a shoulder. A single-file line of children scale the high bank from the lake to the Chateau like Gold Rush hopefuls trudging up Alaska’s Chilkoot Trail.


     At night, I gaze, once more before turning out the lights, spellbound, as the stars spread across the sky over me.


    When it is time to leave, I buy a souvenir; a postcard reproduction of a 1930 Canadian Pacific Railroad poster advertising the Chateau. The grand hotel - now a Fairmont property - was built more than 100 years ago by the railroad as a way to lure travelers to the remote and singularly beautiful place. On the card, an elegant woman with bobbed hair and wearing jodhpurs, stands gazing out toward Lake Louise through one of the Cathedral windows of the Chateau. Tall, snowcapped peaks reach above it and the Victoria glacier can be seen in the distance. The view is framed perfectly by the arch of the window.

    In my imagination - oh, the occasional freedom of my imagination - the tall, slim, beautiful blond woman (my opposite in every way) is me.


    We are both captivated by a window on the world. We are captured by an unforgettable view.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Boomtown

Welcome to Fort McMurray, Alberta. In the last fifteen years, they’ve more than tripled in size as global energy companies descend on the largest oil reserve in the world outside of Saudi Arabia.

Recently, I posted the trailer for Petroplis: Aerial Perspectives On The Alberta Tar Sands and this week Grist’s Jonathan Hiskes is on the ground, exploring this bizarre, modern-day example of a resource driven boomtown:

In a few hours, I’ll join conservationists from the group ForestEthics for a helicopter tour of the tar sands, one of the largest industrial excavations in the world, and by any measure an environmental catastrophe. The entire oil deposit that could be mined or drilled here is the size of North Carolina. I’m eager to see that first-hand. But I’m also interested in the town of Fort McMurray itself. What happens when a community grows from 34,000 to more than 100,000 within 15 years? How does a town function (if it does function) when the vast majority of residents come from elsewhere and don’t intend to stay for long?

After just a few hours here, I’ve spoken to taxi drivers from Somalia and Ethiopia, an equipment operator and a bartender from Nova Scotia, and hotel workers from the Philippines and Labrador. They’ve come to this remote place for the money. You hear talk of drivers pulling $140,000 for six months’ worth of long shifts, of safety technicians earning $200,000, of McDonald’s workers making $20 an hour. The cost of housing says plenty about the high demand for labor. One worker pays $1,900 a month to rent a single room — about the going rate. Another bought a trailer home for $400,000 four years ago and figures he can pay it off in another five or six years. Subdivisions and apartment blocks rise up along the town’s busy ring road, and many workers for the big oil companies like Syncrude and Suncor don’t even need private housing; they stay in camps of stacked trailers at the work sites. I saw a middle-aged man sleeping in a parked Mercedes with British Columbia plates.

Read his full report HERE. That opportunity comes at a profound ecological cost.

Tuesday Video II: “Dirty Oil”

Finally: A documentary about Alberta’s pollution delivery system. The cosmic open pit mines up north produce vast quantities of oil from tar sands and they’ve made Canada the top foreign supplier to America. In fact, the province is the second-largest storehouse in the world, next to Saudia Arabia. Reserves in Alberta alone hold 173 billion barrels, 96 percent of Canada’s oil exports. The oil is low quality, and the process (watch here) of extracting from the sands to meet refineries needs produces as much carbon dioxide as 6 million cars annually. (Three times conventional drilling.) Those emission numbers still belie the full damage when you imagine what the toxicity of open pit mining itself has done to the ecosystem where green wilderness has turned to bubbling black goop.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper once described it as “an enterprise of epic proportions, akin to the building of the pyramids or China’s Great Wall. Only bigger.” But at what cost?


Day-after Alberta

I was going to make one long post, but we’ll break it up. First up is the day-after post from Monday’s exhibition win over Alberta. I’ll be back in a bit with some updates from the WCC coaches conference call that took place during the noon hour.

Read on.

 

Zags roll past Alberta in exhibition

Gonzaga opened its season with a 94-53 exhibition victory over the visiting University of Alberta Golden Bears on Monday night.

I’ve posted my unedited game story below.

Zags tip off against Alberta

It’s game time, sort of. GU opens tonight with an exhibition game against the University of Alberta at the MAC.

A short, short preview below and updates on ex-Zags in the NBA.

Canada vs. America

Obama will make his first international visit as president to Canada, a critical moment for the future of clean energy as Prime Minister Stephen Harper plans to discuss the controversial tar sands oil development. Alberta alone represents the second-largest oil reserve in the world, after Saudi Arabia.

Tar sands production is literally the dirtiest oil in the planet, emitting three times the greenhouse gas emissions as conventional oil and gas production for low quality crude, turning green wilderness to massive pits and bubbling black goop. The impact is evident: By 2015, the tar sands could emit more greenhouse gases than Denmark.

It feels like virtually every environmental group in the country is taking action. Our inbox is flooded with petitions, and there is a coalition composed of fifteen organizations at the very informative Obama2Canada. Forest Ethics even had this extreme (maybe Sherwin Williams inspired) ad in USA Today pictured below.




It’s hard to play down the negative role of the tar sands. Harper describes it as “an enterprise of epic proportions, akin to the building of the pyramids or China’s Great Wall. Only bigger” and we wrote a pretty mean-spirited post a month ago titled “Crude Awakening.”

In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) from last night, Obama gave his thoughts on the tar sands and energy at large, citing technology as a solution to fuel tradeoffs. Part of the transcript after the jump: