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The birds are here!

May (and early June) is a wonderful time in Vermont because the migratory birds come back to visit (and breed, which is of course, their main objective.) It means that suddenly, after watching chickadees, blue jays, and goldfinches come to our feeders for months, we’re now finally getting those birds, plus a lot more (and more colorful birds). I really enjoyed watching the goldfinches transition from drab grey and brown to rubber ducky yellow. One day, we had about 20 or 30 goldfinches at our feeders, all at once. Suddenly, they flew up and away, and we saw a sharp-shinned hawk in the nearby trees. I think it got one of the finches and had a nice little snack. We have purple finches (the bird book says that they look like they’ve been dipped in raspberry sauce!), brown headed cow birds (much more attractive up close), and lots of warblers flying around the yard, inclyding blackburnian and black-throated green warblers. Yesterday, we saw an indigo bunting in the yard.

Whether you’re into birds or not, I would highly recommend that you put out a feeder if you can. If you don’t know anything about birds, it will be a way to start learning just a little bit. And, if you do know about birds, you’ll probably enjoy watching the succession of birds throughout the year as the seasons change. If you end up liking the birds and want to know more, you can take Ecology during the summer — you’ll get to learn birds and trees and plants and some other stuff, too. For me, it’s nice to be familiar with my surroundings, and in Vermont, it means learning these things. Hopefully you’ll get a chance to do a little bit of that — take your nose out of your book and stick it into a flower!


All politics are local…

If only that were true! I just spent an hour listening to Congressman Peter Welch talk to a group of concerned and engaged Vermonters at the South Royalton Co-op. I was so impressed by Congressman Welch’s ability to really connect with people, and to provide thoughtful, practical, logical responses to real concerns. If only more of Congress could be like him, I think this country could actually get something done. Perhaps most impressive was his ability to deal with a man who clearly had opposite views from him — he was able to speak reasonably and talk about how, even with different views, people can come together to get things done. What makes it hard to get things done is when people fight for ideology (rather than actual results) and choose to either ignore or make up their own facts.

I don’t know how others feel right now, but I feel like there are so many big issues out there and that very little progress is being made on any of them. I asked Congressman Welch what we could do to help get the message to Congress that we’re tired of all this fighting, all of these divisive politics, and that we just want them to get to work and do something and make compromises, which is what our system is supposed to be all about. He said that people are doing that in Vermont, and I think he’s right on that point. To see the state respond to Irene and to see how people are working toward real outcomes in this state is inspiring. He said that Vermont was a beacon, an example for others. So, here I am talking about Vermont being a beacon. In this state, we have people from all different parts of the political spectrum, but we are able to communicate, work together, compromise, and actually get things done. And there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be able to happen on the national level.

Thank you, Congressman Welch, for the good work you’re doing. I hope more of your colleagues in Congress will look to your example as a voice of reason, and someone willing to compromise and make sacrifices to achieve real good for the people of this country, rather than refusing to move from a position in order to protect an idea.

Something different

When you’re at VLS, I strongly recommend that you go to as many talks, presentations, activities as you can. Or at least go to a lot. Yesterday, I went to two very different talks at VLS. One was on the energy future of Vermont, in light of the recent decision on Vermont Yankee. In case you haven’t been following the story, Vermont has a nuclear power plant in the southern part of the State. It has been supplying a small part of Vermont’s electricity needs since it’s been running, but those contracts only go through March of this year. After that, the State had decided to shut down the plant. However, Entergy, the company who now owns Vermont Yankee, decided to appeal that decision. They recently won in court, allowing them to continue operating, but the State appealed the decision yesterday. So, the drama continues. But, almost everyone realizes that nuclear is not going to be a major part of Vermont’s energy supply in the coming years. That’s because all of the electricity companies have contracts with other suppliers, and the cost of building new nuclear plants is very high. So, the discussion yesterday is about where Vermont is headed. If you include transportation and heating into that discussion, it’s a very interesting one for Vermont, since those are the two major hurdles for the state.

Right after that discussion, I went to meet with a group of Egyptians who are in the US on a State Department sponsored program. There were five professionals from Egypt, and it was just an open discussion with them. Of course, we were all very keen to know what things are like in Egypt right now, and what’s happening with their constitution, laws, etc. It was a pretty interesting talk. I was most impressed with a young woman who was so articulate and seemed to know so much. I feel like it is people like her who give hope in these uncertain times. She was clearly well-educated and was working for women’s rights and democracy, among other things. Pretty cool. I’m not entirely sure why they came to VLS, or to Vermont for that matter, but it was a really neat opportunity.

So, my advice is, make time for these interesting and different events while you’re here. You never know what you’ll learn or get to experience.

Another cool dam removal video

Here is a cool dam removal video I just watched yesterday:

It’s for the Elwha River in Washington State. You know, although environmentalists are probably very excited about this, my guess is that there are engineers and people who like explosives who are also excited by this. The comment at the very end of the video is great — I bet the people who built this never thought someone would be trying to take it down with dynamite one day.

It’s probably true — I happen to be doing a lot of research on early hydropower in this country, and the mood at the time was that hydropower was the greatest unrenewable energy resource that could provide unlimited energy for this country, and should be developed as completely as possible. The people making the policies at the time probably never even conceived of possibly removing dams for environmental reasons. But, what they did think about was the fact that there might be unforeseen or unpredictable conditions in the future which might mean that future generations would need to make changes. And so they built into their policies the ability for future generations to make those changes.

Although they might be shocked to see what’s happening to some of the dams in this country, I would bet that the people who passed the Federal Water Power Act (now Federal Power Act) might be pretty excited to know that the policies they put in place to give future generations some flexibility were very wise and forward looking. Now, we just need to make sure we do the same for the generations that will come after us!

Searching for a new Dean

I just wanted to report on the process that’s currently happening here at VLS. The law school is looking for a new dean, and so all of the final candidates are coming to the campus to visit and meet with different people. Even if you don’t have a special meeting with the candidates, each one is holding a ‘town meeting’ type session where anyone from the VLS community is welcome to come and ask any question they want.

I’ve never been at a school before where they were looking for a new dean or president, but I have to say, it’s pretty cool to get to be involved, even on a small level. I don’t have a vote (a few student representatives do, though), but it’s still nice to meet these potential leaders and to hear about their vision for VLS.

There are still 2 more candidates to come, but what I can say so far is that I think this will be a really good thing for VLS. A new leader will bring new ideas and new enthusiasm, both of which seem to be needed here right now. I think it will mean good things for the MELP degree, and for the school more broadly. In fact, makes me wish I got to stay around a few more years to see the kinds of changes that will happen. But, that will be something you future MELPs will get to do instead!

First ski of the year (and season)

Well, snow is here. Finally! After soooo much snow last year, it’s been pretty sparse so far. We went away over the break, and thought we would miss all sorts of opportunities to go skiing. But, we didn’t really miss anything at all. I’m going to ski the Craftsbury half marathon this year, and hopefully there will be enough snow for it. It’s only two weekends away now.

I have to say the ski really helped to get me into positive thinking about winter. As long as you can go outside, it’s just great. If you’re moving around, you’re not that cold, and then it doesn’t seem like winter is that cold. Of course, I say that as it’s getting down to single digits tonight… Good thing to be inside by the cozy fire 🙂 Now, if only the Broncos weren’t doing so poorly against the Patriots. At least the Patriots are my second favorite team, but it’s sad to see the Broncos lose so badly. Ouch. Football… another great thing to help get through the winter!

And, of course everything looks so beautiful with white snow covering it. So, my suggestion is to look for all of the great things about winter, because it’s gonna come, and it might be long, so you may as well revel in it!


I have to post about this…

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted, but I have to write about the removal of the Condit Dam on the White Salmon River in Washington. Just yesterday, dam removal began with an explosion, allowing the White Salmon to rush through the dam. You can see a photo blog here, or read more about it here and here. Even though I’m on the other side of the country, this is really something incredible. This river has been dammed for 100 years and in one day, the reservoir was drained, and the river is running through a hole in the base of the dam. Incredible! The complete removal will be finished sometime next summer, but it’s amazing that fish will be again be able to swim upstream of the Condit Dam. Wow.

For me, there is something awesome and majestic about rivers, and to think of a river that had been turned into a lake for 100 years to be transforming back into a river is just awe-inspiring. Obviously when these dams were built, people didn’t really understand river science or fish ecology. In fact, some of the research I’m doing right now is giving me a sense for how people viewed hydropower in the early 1900s — they felt that there was an incredible amount of potential to generate electricity from hydropower, and wanted to be sure that dams were developed to provide this power for people. But, to see us able to decide that today these dams are no longer serving a useful purpose, that they’re causing more harm than good, and to decide to remove them, is just incredible. It gives real hope for rivers in this country. Just last month, dam removal began on the Elwha River.

Of course what remains to be seen is how salmon respond to these dam removals. But, given what these incredible fish can do (swim upstream for hundreds of miles without eating in order to spawn), I think that they’re likely to respond quite positively. For now, I’m basking in river restoration glory — what river will be next?!

And, check out this blog and the video which shows the explosion — incredible how much water there is!

Oh, and you can watch this video, too!

Weekly brown bags

This year, the Environmental Law Center has organized weekly brown bags where anyone at the law school can present on just about any topic that they’re interested in and know about. (I think I just ended that sentence in a preposition — shoot!) Anyways, it’s a really nice thing because people have the chance to talk about a topic of interest them, and the law school community has the chance to go listen.

This week’s brown bag was on a recent conference in Nuuk, Greenland, which a VLS student recently attended. She went to present on whether Greenland’s laws were likely to protect the environment and communities adequately from the impacts of likely oil and gas drilling. It was an interesting topic, but also a neat forum. It was pretty informal — the presentation wasn’t entirely polished, and there was a lot of opportunity for back and forth between the presenter and the audience.

There are so many things you have to do when you’re in grad school, but it’s nice to be able to go things because you want to, and to learn things that you just wouldn’t in a class. Also, it’s a nice break from research for me! Indeed, I am scheduled to do one of these talks, so I guess I better start thinking of what I’m going to talk about. (Ooops… that one ended in a preposition, too!)

Fall is here!

Oh my goodness, it is definitely not summer any more. This morning felt and looked so much like fall. It was cool out (pulled out the down blanket last night!) and the leaves are very clearly starting to change colors. It already looks beautiful, and it’s only going to get more so over the next few weeks and months. I love Vermont at nearly all times of the year, but I LOVE the fall. It is just so darn pretty outside!

I am not sure, but I remember hearing once that a wetter summer makes for more vibrant fall foliage. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but if it is, then we should be in store for a very vibrant fall! We’ve certainly had our fair share of rain late this summer, and even earlier in the summer. Things are definitely wet! Of course, the combination of factors that determine whether the leaves will be especially bright or not are probably far more complex than how much rain we’ve received recently…

Anyways, I would try to describe how wonderful the fall is here in greater detail, but really, you should just come and experience it. There’s nothing like it anywhere!

Elwha dam removal!

I have to post about the Elwha dam removals that starts Saturday, September 17th in Washington state. The Glines Canyon Dam, which is 210 feet tall, will be the tallest dam ever removed. The Elwha is a river that used to host a substantial salmon population, and the possibility that the salmon could return in considerable numbers to the Elwha after these two dams are removed is pretty high. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s pretty exciting.

Here is a video about the dam removal and you can get updates from American Rivers Facebook page and website. Incredibly, this year we will remove the 1000th dam in this country (yes, that’s right – one thousand dams will have been removed from rivers in this country by the end of this year!). Whoa!

Sometimes it’s easy to not pay attention to the good things that are happening out there in the real world while I am sitting here doing research. But, my research is about rivers and water and so it’s really cool to read about real (good) things that are happening to rivers. Now, if only I could find a way to go out and see it happening…. I guess I have a few years to do that, though, since this dam removal will take 2 or 3 years, I think. I remember awhile back there was a lot of discussion over what the best way to remove a large dam would be. I think they’ve probably decided that slower is better than faster, so that there isn’t one big huge rush of sediment and water. Probably a good idea… I’m sure there are a lot of geomorphologists and dam removal people who are trembling with excitement to get data from the removal of these dams!