Friday, November 16, 2007

A Damming Letter...

This is an actual letter sent to a man named Ryan DeVries regarding a pond on his property. It was sent by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Quality, State of Pennsylvania . This guy's response is hilarious, but read the State's letter before you get to the response letter.

SUBJECT: DEQ File No.97-59-0023;
T11N; R10W, Sec. 20; Lycoming County

Dear Mr. DeVries:

It has come to the attention of the Department of Environmental Quality that there has been recent unauthorized activity on the above referenced parcel of property. You have been certified as the legal landowner and/or contractor who did the following unauthorized activity:

Construction and maintenance of two wood debris dams across the outlet stream of Spring Pond.

A permit must be issued prior to the start of this type of activity. A review of the Department's files shows that no permits have been issued. Therefore, the Department has determined that this activity is in violation of Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act, Act 451 of the Public Acts of 1994, being sections 324.30101 to 324.30113 of the Pennsylvania Compiled Laws, annotated.

The Department has been informed that one or both of the dams partially failed during a recent rain event, causing debris and flooding at downstream locations. We find that dams of this nature are inherently hazardous and cannot be permitted. The Department therefore orders you to cease and desist all activities at this location, and to restore the stream to a free-flow condition by removing all wood and brush forming the dams from the stream channel. All restoration work shall be completed no later than January 31, 2006 .

Please notify this office when the restoration has been completed so that a follow-up site inspection may be scheduled by our staff. Failure to comply with this request or any further unauthorized activity on the site may result in this case being referred for elevated enforcement action.

We anticipate and would appreciate your full cooperation in this matter. Please feel free to contact me at this office if you have any questions.


David L. Price
District Representative and Water Management Division.

Here is the actual response sent back by Mr. DeVries:

Re: DEQ File No.
97-59-0023; T11N; R10W, Sec. 20; Lycoming County

Dear Mr. Price,

Your certified letter dated 12/17/02 has been handed to me to respond to. I am the legal landowner but not the Contractor at 2088 Dagget Lane , Trout Run, Pennsylvania.

A couple of beavers are in the (State unauthorized) process of constructing and maintaining two wood "debris" dams across the outlet stream of my Spring Pond. While I did not pay for, authorize, nor supervise their dam project, I think they would be highly offended that you call their skillful use of natures building materials "debris."

I would like to challenge your department to attempt to emulate their dam project any time and/or any place you choose. I believe I can safely state there is no way you could ever match their dam skills, their dam resourcefulness, their dam ingenuity, their dam persistence, their dam determination and/or their dam work ethic.

As to your request, I do not think the beavers are aware that they must first fill out a dam permit prior to the start of this type of dam activity.

My first dam question to you is:
(1) Are you trying to discriminate against my Spring Pond Beavers, or
(2) do you require all beavers throughout this State to conform to said dam request?

If you are not discriminating against these particular beavers, through the Freedom of Information Act, I request completed copies of all those other applicable beaver dam permits
that have been issued.

(Perhaps we will see if there really is a dam violation of Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act, Act 451 of the Public Acts of 1994, being sections 324.30101 to 324.30113 of the Pennsylvania Compiled Laws, annotated.)

I have several concerns. My first concern is, aren't the beavers entitled to legal representation? The Spring Pond Beavers are financially destitute and are unable to pay for said representation -- so the State will have to provide them with a dam lawyer. The Department's dam concern that either one or both of the dams failed during a recent rain event, causing flooding, is proof that this is a natural occurrence, which the Department is required to protect.

In other words, we should leave the Spring Pond Beavers alone rather than harassing them and calling them dam names. If you want the stream "restored" to a dam free-flow condition please contact the beavers -- but if you are going to arrest them, they obviously did not pay any attention to your dam letter, they being unable to read English.

In my humble opinion, the Spring Pond Beavers have a right to build their unauthorized dams as long as the sky is blue, the grass is green and water flows downstream. They have more dam rights than I do to live and enjoy Spring Pond. If the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection lives up to its name, it should protect the natural resources (Beavers) and the environment (Beavers' Dams).

So, as far as the beavers and I are concerned, this dam case can be referred for more elevated enforcement action right now. Why wait until 1/31/2006? The Spring Pond Beavers may be under the dam ice then and there will be no way for you or your dam staff to contact/harass them.

In conclusion, I would like to bring to your attention to a real environmental quality, health, problem in the area. It is the bears! Bears are actually defecating in our woods. I definitely believe you should be persecuting the defecating bears and leave the beavers alone. If you are going to investigate the beaver dam, watch your step! The bears are not careful where they dump!

Being unable to comply with your dam request, and being unable to contact you on your dam answering machine, I am sending this response to your dam office.



Thursday, September 20, 2007

Aww shucks...

I knew I shouldn't have done it as soon as I walked into the place...

Stepped into the pet shop to buy the furry ones their food, and I was hopelessly, magnetically drawn to this beautiful creature seated quietly amid the noise and excitement of the puppy sales area at the back of the store.

I feel sorry for Huskies raised in Singapore - bred to brave the winters of the Northern Hemisphere, it must be uncomfortable being slow-baked in equatorial Singapore...

But this little fellow had such a look in his face, such a clever spark in his cool blue eyes, that I was tempted to just whisk him out of there... Cocoa would have been a happy little girl too - he is a handsome little devil...

Sigh... oh well, I hope he gets a good home - so many dogs in this country are bought on a whim and then discarded when the thrill rubs off. I wish him well.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Shop of Horrors

I am not often confronted by things which leave me at a loss for words, sickened and saddened at the same time.

But today during a casual wander through Singapore's shopping district, I came face to face with such an abundance of apparel and high fashion made from animal fur, that for a moment it felt that I had been transported into some kind of glorified slaughterhouse.

Name any top fashion label and I can tell you that almost all of them were stocking at least one piece of clothing made from, or adorned with fur. And we are supposed to living in an age of enlightenment...

It saddens me that wherever we went, there were hordes of young things fussing over these horrific creations. I tried to imagine if even the slightest shadow of doubt lingered somewhere in one of these impressionable minds - but this didn't seem very likely.

I don't want to sound preachy, but surely we've been through the whole fur issue time and time again. There have been countless campaigns, inumerable protests, several shocking ad campaigns - so what else does it take to open people's eyes?

This is not the Age of Enlightment, this is clearly the Age of Ignorance - and remembering the looks on those adoring faces, its seems that Ignorance is Bliss...

Saturday, July 21, 2007

How to Disturb the Dog

Now that she is 5 months old, Pumpkin, our resident cute kitten and Twinkie's pride and joy, has learned how she can get away with things that other animals in our household cannot.

Take Cocoa's tail for instance - many others would love to - but its seriously out of bounds. Cocoa does not like her tail being tampered with. But now Pumpkin has shattered that taboo completely, and Cocoa is at a loss - her brain is still telling her that this adorable little kitten is vulnerable and innocent and so should therefore not be physically harmed.

It will take a while before Cocoa's brain finally realizes the truth about Pumpkin, and until then, this little kitten plans to take full advantage of the situation.

Just check out Cocoa's hopeless, pleading expression...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I knew it, I just knew it...

Far from me to be a foreteller of doom and gloom, but I have to say that last year, when we were wrapping up our final weeks of filming in the glorious wilderness of Wasgamuwa National Park in central Sri Lanka, amid that slightly weightless feeling of being completely at peace with your surroundings, I commented, "this is too good to be true."

On our search for evasive Sloth Bears, we had witnessed the hand of Man wreaking havoc on part of the reserve, when a slash-and-burn fire from a farm on the park's boundaries had blown out of control and rendered huge swathes of the park into a lifeless, blackened wasteland. Of course the Earth eventually heals herself, as she did after the fire, but today I fear the outcome will be very different...

I've just heard from my uncle over in Sri Lanka, who is actively involved in wildlife conservation, that the government has given the go ahead to build a dam within Wasgamuwa, and along with it, will be installing a hundred or so families in the vicinity. I dread to think what is to follow. The repercussions for the wildlife will be devastating. The park already exists on a fine balance - throw in a bunch of humans and lets see what happens.

From what I understand the plan has yet to be implemented, and a campaign organized by wildlife enthusiasts and conservationists is about to ensue. More news as it follows.

I once half-joked to someone regarding my Sloth Bear documentary, that I hoped it would never become an epitaph for something that was now lost to the country - and that included the animals and their habitat.

Nothing to laugh about now.

Wasgamuwa - as it was when we were there

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

VIDEO: Battle to Save the Tiger

Found uploaded by someone else on Google Video - the full 49 min documentary. Watch it while it remains online. You can also download it and watch it with Google Video Player.

The Indian Tiger is in deep trouble. Thirty years ago India set aside over 30 tiger reserves controlled by Project Tiger. Initially it was hailed as a great success, but in the last few years hundreds of tigers have been poached from under officials' noses according to WPSI (Wildlife Protection Society of India) run by Belinda Wright. This film, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, looks at the controversy surrounding the plight of the tiger. Can they come back from the brink of extinction again?

Live Health and LIVE EARTH

My apologies for such a long absence. It has been an interesting time, where I've taken the opportunity to explore the hidden depths of hospitals and experience some of the most interesting observational procedures. Nothing life-threatening, just a few probes and scopes and scans just to figure out how my erratic transplanted kidney is faring.

To all intents and purposes it has shut down for good, but its still physically stable, so not at risk from infection, which is a relief, because that scenario would have led to more medical fun and games. After several visits along the long white corridors, I was finally introduced to the CT Scan machine - a wonderfully futuristic device that section by section, recorded a 3D image of my internal structures. Quite fascinating really, apart from the slight discomfort of having to be injected with some kind of fluorescent red dye.

Anyway all this probing has revealed nothing out of the ordinary, and that's good to know - so I am back to work on various projects and functioning as per normal.

I've given the blog a bit of a spring-cleaning, and although its not completely ready yet, and yes indeed it may seem a bit childish - I thought it would be nice to inject a bit of colour into the scheme of things. Let's see how long it takes for Charith to get bored with this look...

Anyway, in terms of all things green and environmentally friendly, I tuned into LIVE EARTH last week, and dutifully wore green over the weekend to show my support. I then watched as much of the concerts as I could, and then waited for global impact to take place like the proverbial shockwaves from an earthquake. Of course those ever expanding ripples of awareness never really took shape. I am old enough to remember the Live Aid concerts and the Amnesty International concerts before that, and the incredible impact they had on audiences across the world - it wasn't just the music, but it was the messages that the musicians were actively conveying on stage that really hit home.

Live Earth seemed far more of a passive affair from what I experienced - most performers just did their sets and left the stage without so much as a word of green advice to their adoring audiences. A wasted opportunity.

And then of course there was the strange paradox of an event celebrating environmental-friendliness, while over 100 popstars jetted around the world, using vast amounts of power to light up their shows and pump up their amplifiers. Of course a true green, carbon-neutral, eco-friendly music concert would have been the popstars performing unplugged to small intimate audiences in pubs and clubs across the world, without any spectacular lightshows and no big sound systems.

But would that make good TV? Of course not.

And anyway, an eco-friendly music extravaganza is sorely lacking if Bono and U2 are not involved. Did anyone else notice their strange absence? This should have been right up their moral alleyway...

Linkin Park were good though

Thursday, March 15, 2007

cuteness - a dangerous trait

Well the kittens are now five weeks old. They seem to have already developed some personality, having discovered early on the many advantages of being cute, small and furry and therefore entirely and instantly forgiven for any misdemeanor.

Having learned to climb before they could walk, they have established the sofa as their new domain. Here they are captured in a brief moment of rest - that's the youngest, No.2, who is still deciding if she is either Noodles or Peanut - she is probably meditating here on the merits of both names...

No.1, or Pumpkin is the psycho attacking her own shadow at the back. No.3, who is not pictured, is Lemony, and is probably off somewhere scaring one of the dogs...

As you might have guessed, we don't spend a great deal of time mulling over names for the kids - they just make themselves known somehow. For some mysterious reason, almost all of our furry ones are named after items of food. Some kind of subliminal message there perhaps...

No accounting for Good Taste

Well alright! "Spirit Bear" has been nominated for an award at the Wildlife Asia Film Festival, currently happening here in Singapore.

It has been shortlisted for the "Best Director who is bald and very tall" category - a hotly contested award as you might expect... And if for some reason I'm not victorious there, it's also been entered into the "Best Local Production" category, which is a bit more nerve-wracking, as the other entries are very good indeed.

Well, I've always wanted to be nominated for something, so if that's as good as its going to get, then a nomination is just fine with me.

Until the next time, of course...

(Those old Sloth Bears have been good to me)

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

King Ape

Last year, new genetic tests comparing DNA from humans, chimps, gorillas and orangutans revealed striking similarities in the way chimps and humans evolve - which set them apart from the others.

The finding added further weight to a controversial proposal to scrap the long-used chimp genus
Pan and reclassify the animals as members of the human family.

The move would give chimps a new place in creation's pecking order alongside humans, the only survivor of the genus

And now more fuel to the fire - the discovery of a tribe of chimpanzees in Senegal, Africa, that have been observed fashioning and then using wooden spears to hunt smaller primates...

"Researchers documented 22 cases of chimps fashioning tools to jab at smaller primates sheltering in cavities of hollow branches or tree trunks ... witnessed a chimpanzee extract a bushbaby with a spear."

This is a fascinating and yet disturbing new discovery. One wonders if the boundaries between chimps and humans are now just a matter of a few facial expressions and an upright backbone. They may not speak like we do, but just look at the list of similarities that we share with our ape cousins. They've already been documented hunting smaller monkeys, committing genocide and even torturing.

Many experts believe because of our own human impact on the Earth, that chimpanzees have reached the end of their evolutionary journey - but given these traits, and another million years or so, and of course taking us out of the equation, I am sure that chimps would go on to fill our shoes quite comfortably.

Theoretically it was only a million years or so in the past when one tribe of apes, outmaneuvered and out-competed by a dominant forest-dwelling chimpanzee ancestor, was forced to take to the open plains in search of new territory and stride out on their hind limbs...

The chimps were always Kings of the Forest, perfectly adapted to the more rigorous demands of surviving in this complex environment. I'm sure that there'll be further secrets to their success revealed in the years to come...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

In the family way...

I guess the time finally comes to everyone, when they must assume the reigns of responsibility.. and guide a new soul into this world. Well ladies and gentlemen, that time has finally caught up with me... I have become a grandfather.

Twinky has given birth to 3 kittens, amidst much panic and nervousness and commotion (coming mostly from Kristen and myself).

So this past week I have focussed my attention on the animal life that lives in my house...

Having never witnessed a cat giving birth before, it was a fascinating experience - and had its fair share of drama, as it turned out that a fourth kitten ultimately refused to enter the world, and we had to rush Twinky to the vet's for a Caesarian. Against all odds, the little thing was alive even though it was almost half a day overdue.

Unfortunately, being a runt, and as is the way of Nature, the little fella didn't make it, and I think because he was delivered artificially, Twinky never seemed to bond with him, so that lessened his chances even further.

But enough chatter - the main thing is that the other three are now a week old and growing rapidly - by their markings and some obvious deductions, we know who the wandering scoundrel is who got Twinky into trouble in the first place. Funnily enough, he disappeared from our neighbourhood as soon as the kids were born - typical...

Jelly, the grand matriarch of the family is not as thrilled as her humans at the prospect of these new arrivals, and is currently making herself invisible.

But she is also steadying herself to make the announcement in her own inimitable way...

Anyway, for the time being - BEHOLD.... the grandchildren!

A day old - the Three Musketeers

Instinct No.1 kicks in - GIMME FOOD!

Twinky - tired out

Instinct No.2 - SLEEPY TIME! (one week old)

At this stage their individual coat colours are coming through; their eyes are beginning to open, although still not focussed on anything, and their ear canals are still blocked - and yet for some reason we still whisper when we are around them...

Friday, January 05, 2007

Singapore: Turning the Tide

There's something about Singapore that makes me smile - in spite of the workaholic days, the tremendous expense of almost everything (not including the food or the cinema tickets thank goodness), and the perpetually steamy sub-tropical temperatures. And that something - is the wilderness - and yes, it is still here.

Because you see, in spite of the citystate's well-founded reputation for urban development, manic industriousness and land reclamation on a nation-building scale - there are little gems of forest and mangrove and coral reef that persevere in the nooks and crannies that the bulldozers (to date) have overlooked.

Upon arriving on Singapore's shores six years ago, I was (and continue to be) amazed by the sheer diversity of plants and animals that live and grow within this maze of concrete and steel. As a person born in the lush highlands of Sri Lanka and raised within walking distance of southern England's softwood forests, it has always been important for me to be able to escape 'back to the wild' from time to time. Of course I was pensive when moving here, and so were many who knew me and my frequent need to step out of the rat race.

And yet, as unlikely as it seemed back then, Singapore did indeed offer me that chance to escape. Because in an area of land ten thousand times
smaller than North America, there is tropical rainforest, freshwater swamp, rambling mangrove, a scattering of secret rocky shores and reefs. And looking after these gems are a committed group of individuals who are rightly gems themselves - just visit some of the links on the right sidebar to meet a few of them, and through them, many others.

Although I am not even half as physically proactive as I should be, these green warriors are out there pre-dawn, morning, noon and night, documenting what's still roaming around in the urban jungles and along the city coastlines - and I feel very fortunate to know them.

So, by way of welcoming in the New Year, I announce one of my resolutions - to highlight the work and subjects of these dedicated few - on film; so here's hoping that the TV Gods smile on me in '07!

Even as I write, plans are underway to develop Singapore's precious southern islands into exclusive resorts, and these offshore islands are the very thing that makes Singapore's resilient marine life so unique!!! Its baffling - they should be an asset instead of something to sweep under a carpet of imported sand and manicured lawns!

Fortunately the nation's naturalists are not keeping quiet about it...

From the infectious enthusiasm of Ria Tan, to the meticulous observations of Joseph Lai and the Bird Ecology Study Group, to the colourful aquatic discoveries of Debby Ng and the Pulau Hantu divers, and of course scientific and practical guidance and constant shoulders to lean on from Siva and Subaraj. And many many more, who I still haven't got round to yet.

It may be a small island, but its got a great big green beating heart.

Happy '07 to all of you.