Community, Demography

Economic Drivers and Housing Shortages

Back in 1960, Lincoln County was timber, mining and farming.  There was a fairly stable population, jobs were available, and both small and large ranches.  Along with the Corps of Engineers planning Libby dam, and looking at flooding the lands near the Kootenai, by the middle of the decade our communities became boomtowns, needing housing for the newcomers who would be working on the tunnel, the railroad relocation, the highway relocation, and Libby dam itself. 

I was in high school – and Dad was looking at a trailer court, pretty much where the trailer court is today in Trego.  His advantage in negotiating with the company that had the contract for the tunnel was me being in high school.  Gail Tisdell, a classmate  who worked at Lynn’s Cafe over lunch hour, kept me informed about the company honchos lunch table discussions.  Long story short, we wound up with a trailer court built pretty much to the specifications they brought in from San Mateo.  Jack Price put in a trailer court down by the substation.  Up the creek were two more: Westwood Acres and S&S.  All told, Trego went from being virtually trailer-free to about 200 spaces in the course of a year. 

Likewise, when the tunnel and the railroad relocation ended, so did the largest trailer courts.  Across the county, we had a surplus of trailer spaces that would last for decades.  Many weren’t built to those California standards – I recollect septic tanks built from laminated cull 2×4’s.  The materials were cheap, the construction sub-marginal, and a place that had once housed 50 families emptied and left to collapse.

A half-century later, watching the ads and listening to people looking for housing shows me that we’re in a new housing situation.  Kind of a 55-year cycle – in 1910, all it took to resolve a housing shortage was an axe, a crosscut saw, a froe and a chisel.  In 1965, the spirit of capitalism moved in to develop trailer courts across the county as labor boomed in construction projects.  Now, we’re looking at a county that the USDA Economic Research Service lists as Government dependent. 

It says something when your county’s largest economic drivers are federal and state government employment – the definition is that over 14% of annual earnings are from federal or state government jobs.

Additionally, the ERS lists Lincoln county as a “low employment” county – and the definition is “less than 65 percent of county residents 25-64 were employed.”  The examples are often anecdotes instead of data – a friend from my youth, who hasn’t migrated out for work, explained that his highest paid years were in the seventies.  We’ve been migrating out for work, then returning, for several generations.  It makes a difference in the statistics. 

If you note the classification as a retirement destination county – “where the number of residents age 60 and older grew by 15 percent or more between the 2000 and 2010 censuses due to net migration.”  Home building, home purchases, are a bit easier for folks who are moving in at the end of their careers.  Some of our retirees are returning.  Others, not originally from here, still have the same motivation – in both cases, “going home to a place he’d never been before” is somewhat appropriate.

Anyway, watching the rental market shows that the world has changed.  An axe, saw and froe no longer combine with a strong back and a willingness to work to build a home.  There are safer, less regulated places for venture capital than building a lot of housing rapidly.  Young families compete with retirees – and it’s a lot easier to buy or build that second or third house when you’re holding the check for the house you sold in Oregon, or Washington, or California.

A Science for Everyone, Plants

Time to Plant Alfalfa

It’s time to plant alfalfa again.  I’m pretty sure that I last planted this field when I was in high school, in the mid-sixties, and it has run out.  But the world is a different place now, and many new varieties have developed in the past half-century.

I like alfalfa – it gets a couple harvests each year, even here, and the seed germinates in soil temperatures from 40 degrees to 104.  The big challenge is a well prepared seedbed and avoiding the last Spring frost.  Then comes hoping for rain.

About a century ago, someone decided the easy way to make a field here was dynamite – blasting a ditch that drained a lake and left only a pond.  It was an easy way to make a field, but the soil under the lake was glacial clay and silt, and the years had left it infused with calcium salts.  I don’t recall if the alfalfa I seeded back in the sixties was Vernal, Grimm or 9-19 – buying the seed was Dad’s responsibility, planting it was mine.  This time, I have the task of tillage – with a rototiller on the back of a tractor instead of a plow, and the task of selecting the variety of alfalfa.

I’m looking to the east to find my alfalfa.  Not so far, just east of the Rockies where they have developed salt and water tolerant species to use in saline seeps.  My new variety should be able to handle the water table – it has both lateral and tap roots – and the calcium salts.  The rototiller is breaking up the moss that has moved into the meadow, demonstrating the compaction and reduced fertility.  Sometimes, decisions made a century ago still affect your options a hundred years later.

I’ll be maintaining the half-acre of salina wildrye – a range plant native to Utah.  Mine descended from a pocketful of seeds I picked around 1980, planted in the salt lick, and left it for 30 years to handle the overgrazing.  It’s been successful, and Utah’s Extension Service describes it “Salina wildrye is fair to poor forage for livestock and game animals, being most useful during the early spring. It is used to a limited extent by upland game birds and songbirds. It is a rather poor erosion control plant in pure stands because of its bunchiness. The foliage is harsh and tough to the touch. Salina wildrye is quite resistant to grazing.”  My half-acre matches that description, but has the advantage that it thrives alongside the 49th parallel, and likes fine-textured soils.  

After I get the first 3 acres of salt and water tolerant alfalfa in, I’ll be looking at the southwest and southeast corners of the field.  They’re up against the quarter line, and I’ll probably plant those edges into a herbicide resistant alfalfa – back to just deep roots, and an easier spot to control the occasional knapweed plant that the deer bring in.  The following year will be another small patch of the salt tolerant alfalfa. 

Maybe the second childhood just means returning to small scale farming.

A Science for Everyone

Measuring Forest Canopy

I like foresters – they have some fun tools.  In grade school, I learned how to use an increment borer to determine a tree’s age and it’s rate of growth.  Later, I learned how those tools, coupled with beams in cliff houses and other old dwellings in the American Southwest helped develop the specialized science of dendrochronology – determining dates by the study of growth rings in trees.  It turns out that it also provides a lot of information about past climate and weather.

This week, I got my hands on a spherical densiometer.  It’s a simple little tool, designed to measure the density of the forest canopy.  Fits in a shirt pocket, and shows that it was developed by a forester in the correction factor – you multiply your count by 1.04.  Others might try for a 1:1 reading – but a forester deals with Scribner scale, Doyle scale and International scale for measuring logs, and knows that what is correct with one method gives a different answer if you change methods.  1.04 is close enough in forestry.

I want to get a better handle on canopy because of a comment Joe Zacek made over 40 years ago in a conversation with Tim Wiersum.  Joe was a range scientist – one of the best – and Tim was trained as a forester.  They were closing in on a magic number in forest canopy figures . . . and figured that somewhere between 25 and 30 percent canopy would provide 100% of harvestable timber and 80% of potential grass.  I figured it was all a matter of sunlight – but as I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed that the open areas tend to have a bit more soil moisture in the Spring. 

Other studies have been done on canopy (or crown density) and the spread of fires.  I’m certainly no expert, but using the densiometer on the old road shows me that a road that made a good firebreak 70 years ago isn’t anymore. 

It’s a simple little tool – but if I can carry it in my pocket, improve grass growth, timber growth and fire safety, I’m going to enjoy using it.  A real forester might be better, but I’m happy with the tool. And things just might get better as I use it.


To End a Meeting

When I attend meetings, it frequently feels like a 12 step program for compulsive talkers.  Folks with a bottle problem have Al-Anon.  Druggies have Narcotics Anonymous.  I’ve never seen an advertisement for compulsive talkers, but I figure their meetings are probably called On and On.  In my imagination, they are like some of the community meetings I have attended in my life – endless.

Still, Robert’s Rules of Order provides a method to end a meeting.  A motion to adjourn is a privileged motion and takes precedence over any other motion except a motion to fix the time of adjournment.  A motion to adjourn is non-debatable, cannot be amended and moves to an immediate vote.  While all motions technically need a second, if a motion to adjourn is moved to a vote without a second the motion is still valid.

Otherwise, if the chair is noticing that the meeting has been hijacked by On and On, the simple statement, “The chair will entertain a motion to adjourn.” can get things moving.  Since it’s a privileged motion the chair can actually move toward adjournment without so much as “I so move.” coming from the floor.

All of us want our opinions to be heard – but being able to shut off irrelevant debate is important.  Of course, that’s why I’m writing here.  If it’s irrelevant to you, you can click past at the start, the middle, or a paragraph before this one.

A Science for Everyone, Community, Meteorology

With the April Run We Could Make Solid Comments on Snow Pack

My last year of snow surveys – 40 some years ago – was, in some ways, the hardest one. Jay Penney was out on medical leave with congestive heart failure, Tom Engel had transferred to Phoenix, and I was handling both the Flathead and Kootenai drainages with help from the Forest Service. I can’t say enough good about those guys – over six months, I’d meet a new sidekick daily, few that I’d work with twice, and only one screwed up a snowmobile – and I could still drive it out without a ski (the old Alpines had only one ski, and it didn’t take much of a blunder in reverse to break it off).

In April I could confidently comment on the status of the snowpack. Then, telemetry was new. Today, we have a website and the graph does a good job of showing how the snowpack data gets a lot more solid at the end of March.

This next graph does a great job of showing why the measurements are in snow-water equivalents instead of just the depth of snow.  The green peaks show individual snow storms, and how quickly the snow settles from the fluffy snowflakes.

So where are we?  As of 04/03/21, these are the numbers.

Snow WaterPercent of Average
Stahl Peak27.0 inches78 %
Grave Creek11.2 inches81 %
Banfield Mountain13.7 inches77 %
Hawkins Lake20.8 inches84 %
Garver Creek 8.8 inches96 %
Poorman Creek29.5 inches83 %

If I were running the numbers, I’d say we’re on the light side of normal – but it isn’t my call. It is interesting to note that none of my measurements are left in the 30-year average.

A Science for Everyone, Community

Meriwether Lewis and his Assault Weapon

There weren’t any AR-15’s on the Lewis and Clark expedition.  But Lewis’ Girandoni air rifle served the purpose of showing firepower at the time.  We’re looking at half the congresscritters wanting to ban magazines that hold more than 10 rounds – and the Girandoni was a 20 round repeater.  The whole story is here: and it’s worth reading.  To convince you, I’ll bring in a few high points.

The Journals of Lewis and Clark that I read in my youth were incomplete – actual publication of the “whole story” didn’t come around until 2001 – so little was in print about Lewis’ air gun.  The Girandoni came from Austria.  About 1,500 of these air rifles made it into the Austrian army, beginning around 1770, and all were surveyed out of commission in 1815.  We know that Lewis bought it in Pennsylvania, and that he wasn’t fully proficient with it as he started the expedition:  “Thomas Rodney, who was a day visitor to Captain Meriwether Lewis while he was traveling down the Ohio River at Wheeling, Ohio in September of 1803, contains a tiny passage which has caused new thinking about the Lewis airgun. The passage reads:

Visited Captain Lewess barge. He shewed us his air gun which fired 22 times at one charge. He shewed us the mode of charging her and then loaded with 12 balls which he intended to fire one at a time; but she by some means lost the whole charge of air at the first fire. He charged her again and then she fired twice. He then found the cause and in some measure prevented the airs escaping, and then she fired seven times; but when in perfect order she fires 22 times in a minute. All the balls are put at once into a short side barrel and are then droped into the chamber of the gun one at a time by moving a spring; and when the triger is pulled just so much air escapes out of the air bag which forms the britch of the gun as serves for one ball. It is a curious peice of workmanship not easily discribed and therefore I omit attempting it.”

(Beeman’s excerpt of Thomas Rodney’s letter.)

Other articles describe how Lewis would show that his rifle could fire 20 shots without reloading when he met with natives – and that they really weren’t sure that his was the only repeater.  For years, I believed the expedition was armed with model 1803 rifles – until I got to TSJC, and the college library showed the first 1803 was completed in October.  It looks like Lewis highgraded the Harpers Ferry arsenal for fifteen 1792-94 contract rifles – and he may have had some cut down by arsenal smiths, as his journals refer to “short” rifles.  Authorized more than the 15 men he had rifles for, the record suggests that the rest brought their model 1795 muskets along.  With Clark bringing a 36 caliber rifle, the expedition definitely did not have standardized weaponry.

Again – the Beeman article is worth reading – click on it, and enjoy reading how the most unusual gun carried by the Lewis and Clark expedition was discovered and identified by its history of repairs.

A Science for Everyone

Mass Shootings and Jumping to Conclusions

I noticed reports of a supermarket shooting in Colorado – at first the perp was a white supremacist, then an ISIS influenced domestic terrorist, and, most recently a Syrian-born immigrant with mental health issues.  There’s a challenge when you need to get a story into print quickly, and the first story often changes.

Mass shootings have been a topic for research, and data is available online.  I’ll refer to  Emma Friden’s study in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence – it can be accessed at here.


Excerpts show some of the challenges in dealing with the topic.  Friden begins by separating these into 3 categories- familial, public and felony. 

The public area mass shootings are what we tend to think of most frequently, but her chart shows that the most common mass shootings are familial, when someone loses it and murders their family.  Felony mass shootings refer to the shootings that occur during a felony, often to get rid of witnesses.  Her descriptive statistics are below.

Sometimes the interesting part of the statistics is what isn’t there – in this case, there is no category for sex of the offender.  I’m not certain, but I suspect it’s all male in the data set. 

The second set of numbers that set off a mental bell was for immigrant offenders.  It seems disproportionately high – though I’ll need to use Census data to check.  I like seeing data – it makes things much more understandable.

I can’t make a good excerpt of the paragraph that sums up her work, so I’ll ask you to read the whole thing: “These findings are broadly consistent with prior research, as familicides are primarily differentiated by victim characteristics, felony killings by offender characteristics, and public massacres by incident characteristics. Specifically, offender and victim characteristics distinguish family from felony murder; victim and incident characteristics distinguish family from public killings; and offender and incident characteristics distinguish felony from public massacres. However, only a few traits consistently differentiate each type from all others: Family killers target children and other family members of the same race, felony offenders rarely perish after their crimes, and public attackers use guns to injure as many victims as possible. More interesting than these anticipated differences among the three groups are the traits that do not significantly vary, contrary to traditional assumptions. Although previous studies have suggested that family killers are older than their counterparts, suffer from financial stressors, and tend to target more female victims, none of these predictors could significantly differentiate familicide from the other two types when all other variables were accounted for in the model. Similarly, felony killers are no more likely to be Black over White in comparison with family killers, and no more likely to have a violent criminal record than either of the other categories. Far from mentally ill pseudo-commandos, public killers were just as likely to have been treated for mental illness or have military experience as other assailants.”

Usually, criminology isn’t my thing – generally, crime is defined socially and is kind of a moving target.  I’ve watched marijuana go from felony to legal, varying by time and state line.  This study deals with something that is consistently considered a crime, and categories that are definitive.  Her article is definitely worth reading.

Laws, Ordinances & Regulations

Possibly the Nastiest Death Sentence Ever

When I began teaching at Trinidad State, the cop instructor’s classroom was kitty-corner across from my office in the science building.  Each Spring, he would greet his class with a recitation of this sentence from Judge Kirby Benedict, in Taos, New Mexico.

Jose Manuel Miguel Xavier Gonzales, in a few short weeks it will be spring. The snows of winter will flee away, the ice will vanish, and the air will become soft and balmy. In short, Jose Manuel Miguel Xavier Gonzales, the annual miracle of the years will awaken and come to pass, but you won’t be there.

The rivulet will run its soaring course to the sea, the timid desert flowers will put forth their tender shoots, the glorious valleys of this imperial domain will blossom as the rose. Still, you won’t be here to see.

From every treetop some wild woods songster will carol his mating song; butterflies will sport in the sunshine, the busy bee will hum happy as it pursues its accustomed vacation; the gentle breeze will tease the tassels of the wild grasses, and all nature will be glad, but you. You won’t be here to enjoy it because I command the sheriff or some other officers of the country to lead you out to some remote spot, swing you by the neck from a knotting bough of some sturdy oak, and let you hang until you are dead.

And then, Jose Manuel Miguel Xavier Gonzales, I further command that such officer or officers retire quickly from your dangling corpse, so that vultures may descend from the heavens upon your filthy body until nothing shall remain but bare, bleached bones of a cold-blooded, bloodthirsty, throat-cutting, murdering son of a bitch.”

This version seems a little sanitized with politically incorrect comments removed – but it didn’t take a lot of time to find it.  It is Spring, and Terry Walker, the criminal justice instructor back in the mid-eighties and I are still here to enjoy it.


Life Expectancy Reported Down, with multiple reasons

I’ve seen another release about the US life expectancy dropping a year during 2020 – but this one didn’t credit Covid exclusively.  It pointed out that the US Life expectancy has been dropping for several years due to an increase in drug overdoses and suicides.  Please remember – causality is inferred, not statistically proven.

Covid, with most fatalities occurring among the the oldest, has a hard time reducing the life expectancy by a year. (Social Security has its work on life expectancy, going back to 1940, another table, for life expectancy at specific ages, is available at here)

The article reminded me of the drop in life expectancy that followed the end of the Soviet Union.  That was credited to alcohol overdoses, violent death, and suicides.  The chart shows that it happened there, so it can happen here.  The thing about the calculated life expectancy is that one 21-year-old male death takes 55.91 years from the life expectancy chart, while a 75-year-old male death takes only 11.14 years from the collective pool.

The Soviet figures suggest that a major economic or governmental change can have some immediate changes – though today’s Russians, who made it through the collapse of the Soviet Union were back on track in 2019.  CDC has released data showing excess US deaths in 2020, but they are by state and weekly.  Hopefully they will condense the data – 50 states and 52 weeks make a spreadsheet that takes a lot of effort to get through.  Summing up the data to one nation and one year will make it a lot easier to comprehend,  The data that is currently available is at this link.  It is interesting to look at – and I expect that they will have it compiled at a national level soon.


The Excess Death Data is Available from the CDC

The Center for Disease Control has compiled and released the excess death data for 2020 that gives us a better handle on Covid.  The first charts give a bit of a handle on what was happening:

There are a couple of interesting conclusions – first is that about a third of the excess deaths are not due to covid.  The second is that either the virus treats hispanic and black people different than whites, or that there are intervening variables or spurious correlations.  First, let’s look at the charts by age cohorts

They confirm that Covid was a greater threat to older folks than younger – just like the statistics have been showing us. Next, let’s look at the charts by race and hispanic ethnicity:

I’m not real sure about the relationship based on hispanic ethnicity – one of my colleagues qualifies as hispanic, but mostly Apache ancestry.  Gina is hispanic, but both parents were born in Spain.  Heck, genetically I have some Spanish or Portuguese ancestry, and my people otherwise come from Scotland and points north of there.  On the other hand, I’m waiting for the research that explains the extreme deaths in the category.

The lower left chart shows that the disease did not hit the white population so hard – which intrigues me because that is the oldest of the groups.  I’ll be waiting for more data before I make any inferences.

So click the link, read the CDC article, and start wondering – what hit us half as hard as covid at the same time?