Americans have a demonstrated enthusiasm for feeding birds. It's estimated that more than 50 million people feed wild birds in the United States each year. But little research has been done to determine what sorts of food are best for those birds.
In winter it's hard to miss the dark-eyed junco across much of the Colorado Plateau, and beyond. According to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, this widespread, sparrow-sized bird is the most common backyard feeder bird in North America.
You often see them in small flocks: gray-headed birds strutting on the ground or flitting into bushes, flashing their white-edged tails.
In 1874 an Illinois farmer named J.F. Glidden patented the invention of barbed wire after a prolonged legal battle with two rivals.
He wasn't the first to suggest the idea, but Glidden's design succeeded well. It not only twisted sharpened pieces of beveled iron on a wire, but also rolled a second wire around the first for extra strength and durability.
Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: New Mexico Forest Restoration
Jobs are scarce in the rural West, particularly in mountain villages traditionally dependent on forest work. In New Mexico, one bright spot is the Collaborative Forest Restoration Program run by the National Forest Service.
The program supports small-scale, local projects that link environmental and economic health. Over the past decade it has funded more than 100 projects in 17 counties, many of them in areas with large numbers of low-income Native Americans and Hispanics.
The Dugout Ranch sprawls at the door to Canyonlands National Park in southern Utah. One of the oldest cattle ranches in the state, it's now headquarters for The Nature Conservancy's Canyonlands Research Center.
Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: The Old Spanish Trail Stewardship Program
In the first half of the 19th century, the Old Spanish Trail traversed the Southwest as it linked two far-flung Mexican outposts: Santa Fe and Los Angeles. Mule trains transported surplus blankets and other woolen goods west, where they were traded for horses and mules.
Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: How To Be A Trash Detective
In the arid Southwest, discarded cans and bottles can last a long time and they provide archaeologists with important clues about the history of the old buildings and abandoned camps where they're often found.
The first tin can was patented in 1810. The oldest examples can be identified by lids with a central cap through which food was inserted before sealing. By World War Two this large hole had morphed into a tiny vent in the cap's center.
Flagstaff, AZ – In the chilly autumn of 1851, the Sitgreaves expedition crossed the parched cinder field of northern Arizona. Dry-mouthed and desperate for water, the men and mules followed the base of the San Francisco Peaks. To their great joy, they discovered a flowing spring there.
They lingered for two days, enjoying the sweet, fresh water flowing amid basalt boulders and ponderosa pines. Naturalist Samuel Woodhouse collected a toad that would bear his name. The springs themselves would be named for their able guide, Antoine Leroux.
As resource managers work to stem the tide of dying aspen trees across the West, they may do well to look at a small grove tucked away at Navajo National Monument, a remote park on the Navajo Nation about 30 miles west of Kayenta.
The grove is only about four acres in size, nestled under red sandstone cliffs in the back of Betatakin (Beh-TOT-a-kin) Canyon. The aspens are rare for such low elevations, unique relicts of a cooler and perhaps wetter climate.
Flagstaff, AZ – Mother Nature has been beating up on the Southwest's aspen trees but people are helping soften the blow.
Coconino National Forest silviculturist Patty Ringle has started a program called Adopt-an-Aspen Fence. The concept is simple: build fences around aspen groves that are already hammered by drought and disease. That way elk, deer and livestock can't munch new sprouts before they're tall enough to survive.