Tuesday, December 26, 2017 Blog · News

Reindeer on your roof. Santa, or the tax bill? Save Audrey II! Bears among us. Restoring Crab Bank.

by Dana Beach


If you heard the sound of hooves on your roof Sunday night, it could have been Santa (or Mrs. Santa) on their annual worldwide tour.  (Do they drive two sleighs?  I think so, for coverage.)  You might have confirmed this if you visited the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s (NORAD) Santa Tracker website.  This article from National Public Radio reports on the origin of NORAD’s famous Santa program, which began 60 years ago (long before Al Gore invented the Internet).

NPR: Tracking Santa tradition is serious fun for NORAD

The true story is just as delightful as Frank Capra’s classic movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”!  From the article:

The heartwarming and oft-reported tale of just how NORAD’s Santa operation came to be begins in 1955 with a typo in a Colorado Springs newspaper.

“Hey, Kiddies!” the Sears advertisement read over an image of Santa. “Call me on my private phone and I will talk to you personally any time day or night, or come in and visit me at Sears Toyland.” Signed, Santa Claus.

Except Sears misprinted the phone number and accidentally gave out Col. Harry Shoup’s secret hotline at the Continental Air Defense Command, today known as NORAD. 

NPR: NORAD’s Santa Tracker began with a typo and a good sport

In 2014, Shoup’s children talked to StoryCorps about what happened next.

After Shoup answered the phone, his daughter, Pam Farrell, recalled, “There was a small voice that just asked, ‘Is this Santa Claus?’”

Farrell’s sister, Terri Van Keuren, says her dad thought it had to be a prank. And amid Cold War tensions and fears of potential nuclear disaster, Shoup wasn’t happy about it.

But then he heard crying on the other end of the line.

“And Dad realized that it wasn’t a joke,” Van Keuren says. “So he talked to him, ho-ho-ho’d and asked if he had been a good boy and, ‘May I talk to your mother?’ And the mother got on and said, ‘You haven’t seen the paper yet? There’s a phone number to call Santa. It’s in the Sears ad.’ Dad looked it up, and there it was, his red phone number. And they had children calling one after another, so he put a couple of airmen on the phones to act like Santa Claus.”

Merry Christmas, NORAD and Col. Shoup!

Unfortunately, those hoofs could also have been the sound of reindeer, aka caribou, beating a hasty retreat from their wilderness home in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which has been opened to oil drilling, courtesy of the tax bill that Congress passed last week.

ABC News: Final version of the Republican tax bill includes major blow to environmentalists

This article from ABC News reports on the decidedly un-Christmas like, not to mention fiscally irrelevant, component of the new tax law.  This irony did not escape Collin O’Mara, the head of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), or our friend, Jamie Williams, head of the Wilderness Society.

And as Jamie points out, it’s not just reindeer who stand to lose critical habitat from the Trump Administration’s efforts to dismantle American wildlife refuges and national monuments, which, like our country’s national parks, represent what Wallace Stegner called “America’s Best Idea.”  From the article:

“I do find it ironic that at a time when American children across the country are singing about reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh, we are voting over destroying the most important caribou habitat, which are reindeer, in the entire country,” Collin O’Mara, President and CEO of National Wildlife Federation, said Wednesday, echoing Cantwell’s concern about the rareness and fragility of the land.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been a point of contention and political tug-of-war since its creation. In 1960, Congress first established the Arctic National Wildlife Range to preserve the unmatched wildlife and wilderness of the area. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act to solidify the area’s protective status.

“This is indicative of a much bigger agenda by this congress, led by Republicans, and this president to sell out our public lands to the highest bidder for short term gain,” Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, told reporters Wednesday, citing the Interior Department’s recent decision to change the size and status of public lands and monuments in Utah. “This is not an isolated story. We know it is widely unpopular with the American people and we think we will prevail in the long run once the public really understands what is being done here.”

Let’s hope so!  Fortunately, America’s environmental protection laws, passed in the 1970s, are still largely intact, providing opportunities for the public, and for groups like NWF and the Wilderness Society, to challenge these threats to our national patrimony and matrimony, reindeer and all.

One species that is almost incomprehensibly strange and beautiful, and also threatened, is the Venus flytrap.  Every single one that exists in the wild lives in either Horry County or southeastern North Carolina.  (They exclusively occupy Carolina Bays, one of the wetland types the Administration’s diminution of the Clean Water Act would leave vulnerable to destruction.)

As this article from the Sun News reports, the flytrap (which inspired the delightful musical, “Little Shop of Horrors”), is so rare that biologists will not reveal its locations, nor will they even speak about poaching for fear of giving people ideas.

The Sun News: Are those Venus flytraps near Carolina Forest in danger of extinction?

The good news is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended placing it on the Endangered Species List, thus conferring a higher level of protection on the little bug eater.  The article quotes me on the relevance of the listing to the dispute over paving International Drive, a road on the edge of Lewis Ocean Bay (the last stand for the flytrap in South Carolina):

Dana Beach with the Coastal Conservation League said they welcome the federal government’s actions, but don’t expect the proposed listing to prompt any further court battles to block the road’s completion, which is scheduled for March.

Critical habitat may be designated in the area if the species is listed, and Beach said he hopes that means the preserve would expand to the south side of International Drive.

“That would be beneficial for ecological reasons, and taking it off the table for development means traffic would not increase by that (section) of International Drive,” Beach said.

“It’s very wet over there and not really great for development, but great for conservation. So we hope over time that would happen, and it would make International Drive more functional to not have a lot of curb cuts and traffic coming in and out if that property were not developed.”

Johnny Vaught, Horry County councilman, grew up playing in the preserve, and feeding flies to the plants.

If the government does list the Venus flytrap as endangered and defines a critical habitat that could well expand outside of the preserve’s boundaries, Vaught doesn’t think it will have an effect on future development.

“Carolina Forest is almost completely developed like it is and everything is already permitted,” Vaught said. “If they do find any flytraps outside of the preserve, it’s likely in the wetlands that can’t be developed, anyway.”

The announcement should serve as a wake-up call to manage the property for the Venus flytrap’s maintenance, and that includes controlled burns, Beach said.

Council member Johnny Vaught’s points are right on, in my view.  The listing will do much more to stimulate a cooperative effort to protect the plant’s habitat than to force new restrictions on landowners (because almost none remain on private land).

Speaking of Horry County, South Carolina is blessed to have two populations of black bears – one on the coast centered in Lewis Ocean Bay, and one in the mountains above Greenville.

As every freshman biology student knows, the survival of a species depends on maintaining a diverse gene pool.  Cheetahs, for example, have alarmingly little genetic diversity.  As such, they run the risk of losing the ability to reproduce or becoming overly susceptible to diseases.  There are so few black bears on the coast that they face the same types of genetic threats.

The great news this week, according to Sammy Fretwell in the State, is that bears are showing up in the Congaree Swamp National Park, and biologists believe they may be moving between the mountains and the coast – genetically connecting the two South Carolina populations.

The State: Black bears spotted near Congaree National Park. Are they there to stay?

From the article:

Black bear populations plummeted after European settlers arrived in the Palmetto State, but the animals have made a comeback in recent years. They have been reported in most of the state’s 46 counties. Today, South Carolina has an estimated 1,200 resident black bears.

Since last summer, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources has received a number of reports about bears in lower Richland County and across the Congaree River in Calhoun County adjacent to the national park. Charles Ruth, the state wildlife department’s big game coordinator, said the sightings might involve multiple bears, although that is unknown.

This means it is all the more important to protect habitat corridors between reserves like Lewis Ocean Bay, Congaree Park and the Mountain Bridge Wilderness.

Finally, (in this slightly abbreviated news summary…), more on habitat and iconic species.  This op-ed from the Moultrie News, by Dr. Mark Hartley, extolls the beauty and practical importance of rebuilding the alarmingly eroded sliver of sand at the mouth of Shem Creek called Crab Bank, one of just five breeding sites for all seabirds (pelicans, terns, skimmers and such) in South Carolina.

Moultrie News: Crab Bank, 2 percent of its original size

Each one of these rookeries is critically important to the survival of seabird species, as Crab Bank’s tenuous existence illustrates.

From the article:

As the Corp. of Engineers prepares to dredge Charleston Harbor this winter, they should incorporate these benefits to birds, kids, the local economy, and the resiliency of our shorelines into their decision to approve and fund the expansion of Crab Bank. Let’s not waste an available and valuable resource that can provide lasting benefits to Charleston for many years to come. It’s just common sense, and again I salute Congressman Sanford for his leadership on this very important local issue.

Hooray for reindeer, bears, birds and common sense!  Enjoy the rest of your holiday on this sparkling Lowcountry day!


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