Thursday, April 30, 2015

EXPLORING THE NIAGARA FRONTIER: Leeks – the flavor of spring

Summer and fall have their own special bounties, both wild and cultivated, to choose from on the Niagara Frontier. Spring, on the other hand, doesn’t have much to offer in the way of fruits and vegetables as the plants are still growing and recovering from the winter.

That doesn’t mean we are without something for our palates to enjoy. You can find asparagus on roadside stands. And, if you are the adventurous outdoors sort, you can find leeks in our local woods.

What to look for

Leeks often grow in large bunches like this. (PHOTOS BY BOB CONFER / 
This leek is a member of the onion family and also goes by the name of ramp, a name more commonly used in Appalachia. Unlike other wild onions, the leaves and flowers are not seen at the same time.

Instead, in these parts, the leaves come up around the second or third week of April (depending on the
severity and length of the winter) and typically last through the second week of May. Those leaves are eight to 12 inches in length and have reddish stems. They typically grow in tightly-packed clusters, in groups of two to as many as two dozen.

After the leaves have withered you will see in June and July a small cluster of creamy white flowers atop a single, naked stem.

Where to look for them

Leeks are found in cool, somewhat moist woods with rich soils. The best places to look for them are along streams, especially closer to the escarpment where the soils are more conducive to their growth.

That said, public places where they are likely to be found are Royalton Ravine Park in Gasport, the Gulf Wilderness Park in the city of Lockport or the town of Lockport nature trail on Slayton Settlement Road.

How to harvest leeks

Leek bulbs are much smaller than the onions you'll get at the grocery store.
This is the time of year to harvest leeks. To do so, you need only a small spade. Their bulbs are close to the surface (maybe 2” underground), so barely stick the spade in the ground and pop them out. It is that small white, onion-like bulb that you want, although you can also use the leaves (just not the red stems) in salads, and they too have an oniony flavor.

As with any wild plant or animal, sensible harvest is crucial to maintaining both the local and the greater populations. Do not take too many leeks; for a family of four just a dozen bulbs should satisfy what needs you may have for making a springtime dish or two.

If you take too many, you will prevent the leeks in the area from efficiently flowering and spreading their seeds, thus eliminating them from the forest. Plus, it’s laborious for the plants to provide you food: It takes a few years to make a harvestable bulb.

While this isn’t a problem in the Appalachian or Allegheny Mountains where the plants are fairly abundant, it is the further north you go. As a matter of fact, a black market for wild leeks exists in Quebec where years of over-harvest have made them a species of special concern. There, it’s illegal to

have more than 50 bulbs or plants in possession and leeks cannot be sold commercially or by the individual as they are in the south -- it’s not uncommon to see roadside stands selling leeks even here in Western New York (Allegany County).

How to eat leeks

A typical leek leaf. Note the red stems.
Leeks are culinary delights, so much so that, especially in Appalachia, people will take to the woods in small armies to harvest them each spring. There are numerous, well-attended ramp festivals throughout the Virginias, the Carolinas, and Tennessee, some festivals having attendance measured in the thousands and, in the case of the Cosby Ramp Festival, the tens of thousands. There, the pungent plants, which smell like garlic but have a more subtle onion flavor, are served in a number of ways, fried individually, put in eggs, pickled or turned into soup.

Here in Western New York, maybe due to some of us having German heritage, leek and potato soup seems to be the preferred dining option.

That’s how I eat them and this is the simple recipe that I’ve used over the years (serves 8):


  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 12 to 14 leeks (sliced)
  • 4 large russet potatoes (peeled, diced)
  • 9 cups of vegetable broth or chicken/turkey stock depending on your preference 


  • Melt butter in a saucepan. Add leeks and cover; cook until leeks are tender, stirring often. 
  • Add potatoes. Cover and cook, stirring often, until potatoes begin to soften. 
  • Add the broth or stock. Boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until the potatoes are very tender (about a half hour). 
  • Puree until potatoes and leeks are smooth. Season with salt and pepper.   

+Bob Confer lives in rural Gasport where springtime means leeks and, in turn, a stinky kitchen. Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer or email him at

From the 30 April 2015 East Niagara post

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Fetal homicide must be penalized

I’m sure you heard of the horrific violence perpetuated by Dynel Lane in Colorado earlier this year. She attacked Michelle Wilkins, whom she had lured with an online ad for baby clothes, and beat and choked Wilkins who was seven months pregnant – that is, until Lane did the unfathomable and cut the baby from Wilkins with a kitchen knife because she wanted a baby she could call her own. Of course, the baby – named Aurora -- died from the shock.

What’s almost as disgusting as the act itself is how Lane was treated – and how Aurora was mistreated – by Colorado’s legal system. Prosecutors did not charge Lane with homicide in the brutal murder of the baby. That’s because Colorado is one of thirteen states where there is not a fetal homicide law on the books which would include personhood for the unborn in violent incidents such as this.  

Colorado officials, and even the state’s voters via referendum, have consistently voted down such measures because they fear that it would, in turn, classify abortions as illegal.

If there is any one incident that highlights how wrongheaded that is in so many ways, it’s this one.

Imagine the love and the bond that Michelle Wilkins had for young Aurora after seven months together, the handful of sonograms that showed the young life, the heartbeats that reinforced those images and the kicking that showed someone raring to come out. Aurora was just as real in the womb and her family’s hearts as she would be if she were resting in a bassinet.

If you are remotely human and possess just the smallest amount of love in your heart, and even if you support abortion, you know that this was murder – undeniably and unequivocally.

Yet, as universal as love is to the human condition, we do not permit laws to exist that would penalize such murders because so many people are afraid to admit what those with respect for life know to be true – it doesn’t matter if someone is seven months or seven weeks pregnant; there is a life in there.

It’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever change abortion laws, but we can change their ugly domino effects which directly or indirectly allow fetal homicide and treat it as nothing more than a punch to the gut of the expectant mother.

Some legislatures have already taken it upon themselves to right that wrong. Twenty-nine states grant full coverage to unborn victims, and recognize them as victims from the moment of conception. Eight other states grant victimhood to the unborn after what would be the period of viability.

Here in New York, though, it’s not so cut and dry. Under statutory law, the killing of an “unborn child” after twenty-four weeks of pregnancy is homicide. But under a separate statutory provision, a “person” that is the victim of a homicide is defined as a “human being who has been born and is alive.” That Jekyll and Hyde approach has led to an amalgamation of sentencing, which, more often than not, has treated the perpetrator with far more respect than the child who was murdered in the womb.

In previous legislative sessions in Albany, some senators tried to correct and clarify by introducing laws that would match those of the 29 states that grant victimhood for their entire period of gestation. But, those attempts were turned back by the Assembly.

It’s something that needs to happen, because we can assume – even know -- that hundreds of deaths occur each year in the wombs of New Yorkers as an outcome of brutal domestic violence. Those tragic deaths don’t make the papers because, by not having been granted personhood to the babies in the eyes of the law, police reports only indicate the simple or aggravated assault committed against the pregnant woman.

The Niagara County Sheriff’s office responds to 4,000 domestic calls a year, while Niagara Falls police arrest 1,000 people a year for domestic violence. There are tens of thousands of such across the state. How many of those involved fetal homicide? How many more incidences went unreported? One can only assume there were numerous bruised and battered women out there who didn’t say a word because their child was “only” a few weeks along.

Life is important at no matter the stage. It’s time we treated it like that and punished those who take it. Why should we be robbed of the Aurora Wilkinses of the world while those who take them from us can roam free? 

From the 04 May 2015 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Friday, April 24, 2015

EXPLORING THE NIAGARA FRONTIER: The turkey vulture – the grossest member of the bird world

One of the signs of spring is the return to the local skies – and roadsides – of the turkey vulture. Called “buzzards” by old-timers, they are the most common local raptor, far outnumbering red-tailed hawks and American kestrels (“sparrow hawks”). Most people are familiar with them – and many are even repulsed by them.

Their appearance

I say that people are repulsed because, up close, turkey vultures aren’t the most attractive birds in the world. Over the years, I’ve heard many people call them the ugliest bird they’ve ever seen.

Turkey vutures are just plain ugly. (WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
That’s because of their bald head. Unlike the bald eagle with its white-feathered dome, turkey vultures truly are bald. The head is devoid of feathers and just as red as the meat that vultures consume. A young turkey vulture will have a black head in its first year.

It’s that naked head and neck that led to the moniker of turkey vulture as the turkey that fills our dinner tables also struts around with an unfeathered head.

Without feathers to add the appearance of mass, the vulture’s fleshy heads look small compared to the rest of their body.

Those bodies, though, are impressive. They are so dark brown that they appear black. And they are big: An adult vulture will be 27 to 32 inches in length, which makes them a half foot taller than a red tailed hawk. That’s huge in the bird world.

Their wingspan is huge, too. Their wings fully spread come in at 6 feet, making them an awesome sight in the skies. No doubt you’ve seen them in flight in farm country – with the tell-tale long “fingers” at the end of the wings which are held in a shallow “V.” It’s that “V” that makes the bird instantly identifiable from even a half mile away; that, and their habit of rarely flapping those wings — for long periods of time vultures will just ride the air currents and thermals, sometimes soaring for hours before a single wing beat.

What they eat

Turkey vultures are always soaring because they are constantly on the hunt for food. But, unlike other birds of prey, they lack the talons and claws (and the flight speed) necessary to kill small animals. Their feet look closer to those of a turkey than they do of a hawk.

Instead, they eat dead animals (carrion).

Believe it or not, turkey vultures really aren’t soaring the skies to look for carrion from above. They remain in the skies so they can smell the stench of the bodies as their scent wafts through the air.

Vultures have the most powerful sense of smell in the bird world, and maybe the entire animal kingdom. They can smell dead bodies from over a mile away and can even detect death in the air at only a few parts per trillion, which is almost implausible. While it takes some time for a dead creature to ripen before a human being can smell the rot of death, a vulture can smell animals that have been dead for as few as 12 hours.

Vultures don’t have impressive claws, but their beaks are incredibly strong. They can use them to tear apart the strongest of hides, like on a deer or cow, and can rip apart muscle and sinew like we would rip a piece of paper.

They jab their heads into the body cavities of the dead – even through their anuses -- and tear out the insides for their culinary delight. This is why they have bald heads --- the blood, undigested food, digested food and all similar gross stuff from the cadavers would stick to feathers and make for some serious discomfort. Chunks don’t stick too well to bare skin and a nice rain will give their mug a bath.

Vultures don’t get sick from eating dead animals and all of the bacteria and other goodies that come with them because of their natural defense mechanisms. The acid in their stomach is up to 100 times more powerful than that of other invertebrates and they have two specialized bacteria that live in their guts that can help fight other bacteria.

Benefitting from our car culture

The turkey vulture was rare in the northeast in the early 1900s but, around mid-century, they made a serious move north and saw their population explode. It had nothing to do with global warming and everything to do with America’s burgeoning car culture.

As more Americans bought cars and cars became faster, road kill became a normal part of the landscape. From house cats to raccoons to deer, vultures have a cornucopia of death to choose from. You will often see them in small groups roadside serving as nature’s clean-up committee, doing away with all of the bodies. Because of the availability of food, their numbers in New York State have grown at a rate of 6.4 percent per year over the past 30 years. That’s staggering growth.

More disgusting behaviors   

Vultures also have a few more behaviors that lend themselves to repulsion.

Vultures will defecate on their legs. It was once believed that this was done to cool off their naked legs in the summer heat, but ornithologist now surmise after analyzing the fecal matter that the same bacteria and acids that protect their belly also act as a shield to infection. If the vulture has cuts and scrapes on its legs that would allow sickness to enter its bloodstream and kill the bird, it just poops on its legs and kills the offending bacteria.

Vultures will also puke defensively. If a coyote or fox comes too close to the body they are eating, they will projectile vomit onto the canines. That vomit contains the nasty stomach acids (so it burns, especially in the eyes) and the equally nasty contents of the belly (which don’t smell good at all). Baby vultures will also do this to anyone who visits their nest – so if you encounter a vulture nest on the ground, stay back about 5 feet or you will regret it.  

From their faces to their dining choices to their defense mechanisms, turkey vultures can really be one of the most disgusting of our avian friends. But, all of that also makes them one of the most interesting. So, the next time you see them at work on a road kill, take the time to appreciate those rather strange nuances. They are unique birds…to say the least.

+Bob Confer lives in rural Gasport where vultures are Mother Nature’s DPW, cleaning up the roadsides. Follow him on Twitter at @bobconfer or email him at

From the 23 April 2015 East Niagara Post


A debate that has dominated the American political scene for the past few years has been this premise that everyone should “pay their fair share”. So much attention has been trained on this matter at the national level (in the form of federal income tax) that most people have almost totally ignored the concept at the local level (in the form of property taxes) where it would carry even greater weight.

Think about these disconnects in fairness concerning local taxation:

In comparing properties of equal size, why should a childless couple pay as much as a family of four, when the family of four consumes far more in public services (especially public schooling)?

How is it just that municipalities and schools in Allegany County and the Adirondacks can reap revenues from what are basically absentee landowners living elsewhere (camp owners) who come to town just a few weekends and weeks a year and acquire almost no benefit from the taxes they’ve paid? Why should those non-resident property owners be excluded from having their say (a vote) in how their taxes are being used in the places where they are paying them?

In rural locales like Niagara County, why should farmers carry the highest portion of the revenue burden just because they happen to own vast tracks of land? It’s not as if they are receiving a proportionate amount of services.

Why should property owners pay so much for Medicaid (in most New York locales it’s 52 to 64 percent of the county tax) when it should be the obligation of the population as a whole to fund this forced benevolence deemed to be so necessary?

Why should senior citizens on fixed incomes who have been paying into the system their whole adult lives continue to pay high taxes for things they won’t use anymore, but once did and once paid for accordingly through taxation at that time?

Why should someone who loves his home and wants to make it better with a swimming pool, patio or an addition have to suffer the consequences at reassessment and end up paying more in taxes than someone who left his land idle?

Beyond those glaring displays of wrong, consider the very act of property taxation itself. You are led to believe – and even possess legal documents that show as much – that you own your property. You really don’t; ownership is only theoretical. It’s more accurately stated that you are renting the property from your local governments and school districts at a premium, because, if you didn’t pay your taxes it wouldn’t take long for that governing body to take that property from you --- even if the mortgage was fully paid-for! How is that fair?

This travesty carries special meaning in New York State, where property taxes are 70% above the national average. Across America people think of their property taxes in terms of hundreds of dollars; here, we think of them in thousands of dollars.

In Niagara County the average home of $95,800 has a property tax of $2,800, meaning that local homeowners pay over $1,200 more than their peers in other states with equally-assessed properties. New York’s cure for the problem was not to cut property taxes, but rather to still allow them to grow, but only at a supposedly-stunted rate (2 percent tax cap). That’s still a princely sum: After just 5 years of capped increases, the average homeowner will find herself paying $3,091, nearly $300 more than she had.

The extreme view would see property taxes abolished. We know that will never happen. But, a myriad of changes could be accomplished to mitigate the unfairness of property taxes in the Empire State. Just a few of those ideas discussed in this column over the past 10 years: replace the state’s Medicaid program with an HMO-driven voucher system (which would cut costs by a whopping 75 percent); utilize clawbacks on businesses that break their promises to IDAs; utilize assessment caps and adjust assessments to true market value (how in the world did assessments go up during the Great Recession?); and add another 1 to 1.5 percent on sales taxes across the state to use a fairer consumption-driven tax to decrease property owners’ contributions to Medicaid.

Those are all common sense measures that could cut back on some of the unfairness and high costs that are inherent to our property taxes. But, instead, it seems like the state legislature and Governor prefer to maintain an air of unfairness by adding more unfunded mandates and more enrollees to Medicaid over the past few years.    

From the 27 April 2015 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Thursday, April 16, 2015

EXPLORING THE NIAGARA FRONTIER: Avoiding conflicts with coyotes

Last week, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued guidance on preventing conflicts with coyotes. I thought it was a highly unusual move because they hadn’t done that before.

It could be chalked up to a few things such as the increased population of coyotes in suburban and urban environments, the canines’ decreasing fear of human activity, and the growing number of coyote attacks (mostly in Canada). As a higher-level predator and Man begin to share the same habitats, I suppose there is always need for some caution, maybe even concern.

The DEC said in its press release that conflicts with people and pets can occur as coyotes tend to be territorial around den sites during the spring through mid-summer as they forage almost constantly to provide food for their young. Officials offered a variety of tips on how to prevent attacks on people and pets.

Purposeful and unintentional feeding 

The DEC said property owners should not feed coyotes and should discourage others from doing so. They also made note that unintentional food sources attract coyotes and increase risk to people and pets. To reduce risks they said do not feed pets outside; make any garbage inaccessible to coyotes; fence or enclose compost piles so they are not accessible to coyotes; and eliminate availability of bird seed (concentrations of birds and rodents that come to feeders can attract coyotes).

The DEC is warning about potential encounters with coyotes and how they 
All of the above certainly makes sense, not only for keeping coyotes out of your yard, but other pesky animals as well, such as opossums and raccoons and — who knows — maybe even a wandering bear.

Coyotes are pretty fearless when it comes to what were traditionally the confines of Man. If you can catch the 2014 episode of Nature about the Eastern coyote being rerun on PBS or watch it online you’ll be amazed at the overnight footage filmed with night vision in residential areas of Toronto. Stealthy and otherwise undetected, the animals would eat out of dog and cat dishes on front steps and sniff around garbage cans and bags. It’s wild stuff.

That’s happening not only in the Big City but also out here in the rural landscape where those wild dogs are much more abundant. If I have a dusting of snow at home it shows that coyotes of various sizes traverse my lawn most every night. This past winter, as brutal as it was, forced coyotes in many places to change their habits: One of my coyote neighbors seemed to avoid the deep snow entirely and walked the roads and local driveways at night, likely hoping to catch rabbits that were at bird feeders in the dark.

Do not approach coyotes

The DEC also said that you should not allow coyotes to approach people or pets, while teaching children to appreciate coyotes from a distance. They also said that if you see a coyote, be aggressive in your behavior - stand tall, and hold arms out to look large. If a coyote lingers for too long, then make loud noises, wave your arms, throw sticks and stones.

Once again, those are common sense approaches to avoidance of conflict.

It is critical that you spend some time online or with a good field guide familiarizing your family and yourself with what a coyote looks like. You need to learn the difference between them and a “police dog” or German shepherd. But, don’t fall into the trap of thinking larger canines are not coyotes – many websites will say that coyotes top out at 45 pounds. They do out West or when they are purebred coyotes. But, the coyotes here have wolf genes and, therefore, can be large, anywhere from 50 pounds to 80 pounds.

I can attest to the DEC’s statements that movement and aggressiveness can keep coyotes at bay, especially in close quarters. A few years ago I was turkey hunting in Allegany County when a coyote zeroed in on my calling and thought I was a hen. The coyote quickly and quietly appeared of nowhere, navigating the series of rises on the ridge behind me. I didn’t see or hear him until he was less than 10 feet away, coming in from my blindside to get what he thought was an easy meal. He moved fast and was just feet away by time I could react. I raised my arm to protect my neck and face and that was more than enough to deter him as he immediately bolted upon figuring out I was a human.

But, being a loud, large and angry human doesn’t always work (although it does most of the time), and I’m surprised the DEC didn’t touch on the fact, even briefly, that coyotes can have rabies, both from being a social animal and from feeding on common carriers of rabies.

Just ponder what happened in North Tonawanda a few years back. A fearless coyote was seen a few times in the city. One morning, when I arrived at work, the coyote was in our driveway and couldn’t care less about my truck being alongside him. I purposely parked next to him and he never ran off. Two days and a few blocks later, the coyote bit a man who went to pet him thinking it was a small shepherd (it was the third coyote bite in that city in 3 weeks). When police finally caught up with the coyote, the sickened dog came up to the officer’s cruiser and even attempted to climb it before being shot. Of course, the predator tested positive for rabies.

Do not allow pets to run free 

The DEC said it’s critical to supervise all pets, especially outdoor pets, to keep them safe from coyotes and other wildlife, especially at sunset and at night.

This fox was killed by coyotes. Don’t let your small dog end up this way.
They say small cats are especially vulnerable to coyotes. That is something I know too well. In high school one of our favorite cats was out at night when a coyote killed her, only for the sake of killing her.

The coyote didn’t eat the cat, it only eliminated a threat. Coyotes don’t want to co-exist with other carnivores that might be pursuing some of their favorite foods like mice.

The DEC also says that owners of small dogs should have cause for concern. They say that small dogs are at greatest risk of being harmed or killed when coyotes are being territorial during denning and pup-rearing. I disagree and say they are at risk all year, for the same reason the coyote killed the cat – coyotes don’t like competition.

I saw the outcome of this in the natural world this past winter. Coyotes had brought down a deer on our farm. A few days later there was a dead red fox lying just 60 yards away from what remained of the deer. It had a few puncture wounds from teeth in it, coyotes being the culprit. We took the fox to a coworker so he could produce a pelt and he said when he skinned it, the skeleton virtually fell apart because the coyotes were strong enough to snap the fox’s back and multiple ribs.

If you don’t want your pup to end up like that, the DEC says small dogs should not be left unattended in backyards at night and should remain supervised.

Coyotes may approach small dogs along streets at night near natural areas, even in the presence of dog owners. Officials also tell you to be alert of your surroundings and take precautions such as carrying a flashlight or a walking stick to deter coyotes. They also say that owners of large and medium sized dogs have less to worry about, but should still take precautions.

There’s a lot to digest here and it’s certainly worthwhile to ponder as local coyotes become more numerous and more brazen. Some people think that coyotes are moving into our domains, but one could argue that it was theirs to begin with. So, we need to understand these canine neighbors and approach these animals with respect – and a little common sense.

+Bob Confer  lives in rural Gasport where he is routinely serenaded by coyotes. Following him on Twitter @bobconfer or email him at

From the 16 April 2015 East Niagara Post

Friday, April 10, 2015

EXPLORING THE NIAGARA FRONTIER: Snow geese becoming a common sight in Niagara County

It has always been the case that migrating snow geese were an uncommon if not rare sight in Eastern Niagara County. You would have to put a lot of miles on your car in an effort to see just a few of these snow white birds mixed in with flocks of the Canada goose.

But, they times, they are a changin’.

Suddenly, snow geese have become common local visitors. They are a now a daily sight during the spring migration. Once, I might have been lucky to see a dozen in a month’s time. Now, I see a few dozen a day. And, two weeks ago a mammoth flock (at least by local standards) of 200 to 300 birds tried landing on our farm until they figured out that our ponds were mostly iced-over.

Not necessarily a good thing 

Snow geese are on the rise in Niagara County. (PHOTO COURTESY OF
While the increasing numbers of snow geese make for pleasant viewing for local birdwatchers, it’s not good news when you ponder the big picture.

We are not on a traditional snow goose flyway — a flyway being a relatively narrow corridor that migrating birds travel.

They had always frequented the eastern half of the Atlantic Flyway and you would find them in the easternmost Finger Lakes and along the Atlantic coast. There, some 1 million snow geese traverse that path every year.

Then there’s the Central and Mississippi Flyways, where more than 5 million snow geese pass through.

To put that into perspective, on their primary travel routes they outnumber the abundant Canada geese 3-to-1, sometimes 4-to-1. In the heartland, their flocks darken the skies (and are probably the closest thing we have to imagining what Passenger pigeon flocks were like in the 1800s) and make bare fields and prairies seem buried in snow when there is none.

Those numbers represent a remarkable return for a bird that was nearly made extinct around 1900 by overharvest and the population of which totaled just 60,000 birds in 1960.

It’s because of that stunning increase that we are now regularly seeing them in Niagara County. Their traditional flyways and stopovers can no longer support such growth, so they are spilling over to the “in-between” areas like the Niagara Frontier. This year’s sightings have me convinced that perhaps in less than two decades we will see just as many snow geese as Canada geese in the skies, ponds and fields in the area.

That’s not necessarily a good thing.

If you followed them north to their breeding grounds in the arctic, you would see devastation. They are so many and so damaging in how they eat that the tundra and near shore areas are destroyed and in many places it will take decades for it to come back — and that is only if the population drops to manageable levels, which is highly unlikely in the near term even as gosling mortality rates rise due an occasional lack of food in the Far North. In many places now, the northern shores are totally devoid of grasses and seem almost like a desert.

The coastal shorelines in the US have not fared well, either, as the wintering birds have destroyed vast swaths of plants and made the shores barren, destroying the environment.

Things are so bad that Canadian and American wildlife officials have worked together to allow longer hunting seasons in atypical months of the year with virtually no bag limits – wildlife management principles that are typically never used on migratory birds. It hasn’t helped to encourage harvest, because snow goose meat is not tasty like that of other gamebirds like pheasants or turkeys; it’s gamey and strong.

What accounts for their population growth  

Before Man, their population never came close to the numbers they are at now.

Uncreative environmentalists blame global warming, which seems to have become the unscientific catch-all for every trend under the sun. The population growth has nothing to do with global warming and everything to do with land management.

Since the 1950s, as people left the cities and suburban living boomed, marshlands and swamps where the birds typically migrated and wintered have been filled-in and houses built where the waters once were. This pushed the birds to the various flyways they use now, where they have found changing farming methods to be to their dining pleasure.

At one time rice fields were drained after harvest and the stubble burned, but this is no longer the case. They are kept flooded as the water aids in speedy and effortless decomposition of the plants and wasted rice. That creates vast marshes for the wintering geese to live in and the rice plants give them an endless supply of food.

Also, thanks to the ethanol boom and the world’s appetite for corn syrup, much of the farmland in the central US has been converted to corn. In the winter, those gigantic fields are chock full of corn stubble and kernels, keeping the birds fat and happy.

What to look for

Snow geese, as their name implies, are white, except for black wingtips that are visible in flight and differentiate them from swans which are all white and much larger.

A snow goose has a slightly shorter neck than a Canada goose and they are just a little smaller than your typical Canada. They have pink bills and pink feet.

Their calls aren’t very attractive as their version of the goose honk sounds like a dog bark. Flocks of snow geese will make that unattractive call in chorus while in flight.

While these birds might be a nice change of pace for local birdwatchers, there’s not much to appreciate beyond their snow white beauty – they are a danger to their environment and are having a detrimental effect on populations of other waterfowl and shorebirds.

+Bob Confer  lives in rural Gasport where he won’t be practicing snow goose population control as he has yet to convince his palate that geese make a nice addition to the dinner table. Follow him on twitter @bobconfer or email him at

From the 09 April 2015 East Niagara Post

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Debunking the equal pay for equal work myth

During her Academy Awards acceptance speech earlier this year, actress Patricia Arquette briefly drifted away from the standard “thank you” and said this: “To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

The crowd erupted in one of the loudest and most immediate applauses of the night and social media blew up over her statement.

Such a reaction wasn’t entirely unexpected. Hollywood is in the business of peddling myths, made-up storylines that are supposed to tug at the heartstrings of the masses, and there’s nothing more mythical than the widely-held belief that women don’t earn equal pay for equal work.

That baseless socioeconomic theory has been pushed not only by feminist fervor but also by political gamesmanship to gain favor with half of the population; after all, President Obama and Governor Cuomo pushed the issue almost immediately upon taking office even though anti-discriminatory protections have existed for decades. The equal pay warriors base their efforts on the commonly-touted statistic that women earn 77 cents for every dollar that men do (although the Bureau of labor Statistics has shown that it has grown to 81 cents in recent years, a statistic we will use in this discussion).

What they don’t do is tell you the full story. As a matter of fact, they even lie. The 19% income difference has absolutely nothing to do with equal pay for equal work, even though they will tell you that it does until they are blue in the face. Instead, it has everything to do with career choices and, in turn, unequal work.

The BLS says that women working full-time – and by “full-time” the BLS means at least 35 hours – earn $691 per week while men earn $854. A good portion of that gap can be attributed to the number of hours worked because you’re not comparing apples to apples; the BLS is using a wide brush stroke to cover all full-time workers, whether they work 35 hours or 60 hours.

The statistic doesn’t indicate that, as a rule, men have longer workweeks than women. Men are twice as likely to work in excess of 40 hours a week. The hours differential indicates a trade-off that still exists, even in this post-women’s lib era: Mothers opt to spend more time at home to care for their children emotionally and intellectually while fathers choose to work longer hours at the plant or office to take care of their children financially. By working less (at least from a career standpoint, because raising children is work unto itself and may be the most important “job” of all), women earn less.

Another driver of the income gap is career paths. Men still dominate what are higher-paying fields by the very nature of the work that are women aren’t as keen on, be it for physically-demanding reasons (manufacturing, construction, mining, maintenance) or high-risk, high-reward criteria (policing, prison guarding, logging).

Even some of the most highly-compensated white-collar jobs are more likely to be chosen by men. In a study by Georgetown University that looked at the academic majors that lead to the greatest incomes, those roles were dominated by the guys. Among the top five, women were the majority for only one of them: Petroleum Engineering (87% male); Pharmacy Pharmaceutical Sciences (48% male); Mathematics and Computer Science (67% male); Aerospace Engineering (88% male) and Chemical Engineering (72% male).

That same study looked at the least remunerative college majors and found those to be mostly dominated by women: Counseling Psychology (74% female); Early Childhood Education (97% female); Theology and Religious Vocations (34% female); Human Services and Community Organization (81% female) and Social Work (88% female).

In essence, by being the creatures that they are, men choose the individualistic and deeper-thinking roles which are handsomely-funded by the private sector in direct relation for the revenues and profits they create, while women choose the more interpersonal and deeper-loving careers which typically reside in the public sector where there is a limit to the wages that can be paid.   

The simple truth of the matter is that the Patricia Arquettes, Barack Obamas and Andrew Cuomos of the world are dead wrong – and purposely misleading - when it comes to the wage gap between men and women. The “equal pay for equal work” routine is sheer nonsense. Women’s incomes are not lower on average because of some evil corporate conspiracy; they’re lower because of how women willingly choose to participate in the workplace.

From the 13 April 2015 Lockport Union Sun & Journal