May 31, 2019
How Indiana Dunes became the newest national park
By Morgan Greene/Chicago Tribune
Photo by Tom Gill/flickr
Past the southeastern tip of Lake Michigan’s horseshoe shoreline, beyond the rustling hum of cottonwood trees and prickly jack pines, a boy walked up to the silver water creeping up West Beach and dared it to strike his toes. The city of Chicago was a shadow miles away and straight ahead. As he waited for the water’s shock, the boy paid no attention to the left or right reaches of the beach, where manmade clouds rose up into a pale blue sky above America’s newest national park.

In February, the Indiana Dunes joined a small group of destinations east of the Mississippi River that hold the elite title,  becoming the country’s 61st national park .

For those who worked for more than a century to solidify the national park title , staging pageants and lobbying for legislation longer than it took to build the Great Pyramid of Giza, the name means a lot — even if it doesn’t technically mean anything.

As a national lakeshore, the dunes were already under the purview of the National Park Service. The park title doesn’t come with more money or resources, especially as the park service is expected to face a 15 percent budget cut in the coming year. 

Can duck legs really spread fish eggs?
By Spencer Neuwirth/
Photo by Natural England/flickr
My first fishing memory involves pulling bullhead after bullhead from my grandpa’s stock pond. They outcompeted everything else in the shallow waterhole and would grab any bait as soon as it hit the water. It was the perfect situation for a budding fisherman who just wanted fish on the line. But I soon longed for greater challenge, something more sophisticated like bluegill, bass and crappie.

I asked my father as to why they put so damn many bullheads in Grandpa’s dam .

“Well, we didn’t,” he said. “Waterfowl brought them here. Ducks get fish eggs stuck to their feet and carry them around to other lakes.”
Dad’s explanation blew my mind. How does that even work? Where are they coming from? Why do mallards hate Grandpa’s pond so much that they overpopulated it with bullheads? I still ponder some of those questions today.

On the trail of the tiger poachers
By Terrence McCoy/Washington Post
Photo by amanderso2/flickr
He was up there somewhere, at the top of the hill, the man Karl Ammann had come to see. It would soon be night. The forest was all shadows and sounds. Ammann had driven across the country to reach this remote river village, and now he was finally here, looking to the top of the hill, ready to confront the person he believed had murdered more tigers than anyone in Laos. In the distance, he could hear them: dozens of tigers roaring.

For nearly five years, Ammann, 70, a Swiss counter-trafficking conservationist, had tracked the tiger butcher, a man named Nikhom Keovised. He had placed hidden cameras inside what had once been the largest tiger farm in Southeast Asia, an illegal operation where tigers had been raised to one end — slaughter — and where the man doing the slaughtering had been Nikhom. And he had listened to Nikhom describe it all in his own words: “Use the anesthetic,” he had said. “Then just cut the neck.” Then “peel its skin.”

Now Nikhom had established himself here, in this half-splash of civilization near the Vietnam border, where he’d just opened what his boss — considered one of the nation’s biggest wildlife traffickers — described as a zoo, but what Ammann suspected was a front for selling tigers.

The crisis facing ruffed grouse habitat
By Phil Bourjaily/Field & Strea
Photo by Public Herald/flickr
Words fail guide Paul Jaeger when the grouse blasts off. “AAUGH!” he screams. I think he’s fallen into a hole until he adds “grouse!” and I glimpse a fleeting gray blur zipping through the woods. It’s day two of the Ruffed Grouse Society’s National Hunt near Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and Jaeger’s hard-working Gordon setters have finally found us a ruff. But like so many others, this one escapes without a single shot being fired. The ruffed grouse’s explosive flight unnerves even seasoned hunters like Jaeger. And, setting aside the fine doubles and pipe smoke for a moment, it is Everyman’s gamebird, found on land open to the public across the United States. That combination of excitement and accessibility makes the  ruffed grouse  a national treasure—but this treasure is in deep trouble.

Last year, Indiana listed the ruffed grouse as endangered. A state listing isn’t as strong as the federal designation, but it’s still a full-on SOS, with distress flares. The ship appears to be sinking, and not just in Indiana. Eighteen northeastern, Midwestern, and southeastern states list the ruffed grouse as a “species of greatest conservation need,” and the problem is the same in every case: As forests mature, they become deserts for grouse, devoid of berries and buds to eat and thick cover in which to hide.

Maybe the endangered listing is the kick in the pants we need. “I’ve gotten more calls about grouse in the six months since it was listed than ever before,” says Indiana DNR biologist Steve Backs, “and I’ve been raising red flags for 30 years.” Backs saw the crisis coming in the mid-1980s, when the state and the U.S. Forest Service stopped cutting trees on their respective holdings.

85 years of the art of conservation
By Chris Madson/Ducks Unlimited
In the 85-year history of the federal duck stamp, it has featured the work of just 66 artists. Only 13 have won the competition more than once. Scot Storm is a member of that elite group. His work graced the 2004−2005 stamp and will appear again in 2019−2020.

With those paintings, he joins a tradition that reaches back to one of the most influential artists and conservationists in American history—J.N. "Ding" Darling.

Nearly a century separates Storm from Darling, but the lives and careers of the two men bear some similarities. Like Storm, Darling was born in the north country—specifically, the logging settlement of Norwood, Michigan, at the mouth of Grand Traverse Bay about 40 miles southwest of the Straits of Mackinac. 

“I want there to be woodcock forever flying over in October, and solitude, and Hunter’s Moons. But most, I want there always to be Grouse -- of all wild things, the wildest -- in these endless mountains we call home.” 

- George Bird Evans

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