Western Wild

Dave Showalter's Conservation Photography Weblog

Colorado, Energy

Oil Spill!

March 27, 2013 | Permalink | 2 Comments

Piceance industrial II

Aerial View of the Natural Gas Plant On Parachute Creek, near the town of Parachute, Colorado. There is an oil spill just below the plant. I made this image with the support of LightHawk.

I remember flying over this massive industrial plant to photograph Two Sides Of The Roan and wondering what would happen if there was a spill. The plant is situated on Parachute Creek, which flows into the Colorado River. Rigs, plants, and compressor stations line both sides of the river in between Rifle and Parachute. A spill has happened – an estiimated 6,000 gallons of oil and 60,000 gallons of contaminated water have escaped and are leaching into the earth. From the Denver Post: “Oil company workers investigating a weeks-old spill along Parachute Creek are focused on a valve box on a pipeline carrying natural gas liquids away from the Williams Midstream gas plant, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission said Tuesday.” The good news is that it’s not in the creek yet, but we don’t know how much has discharged, where it’s traveled to, what chemicals are leaking… At a time when Colorado is debating how close to site energy development to human development, and while our governor claims that the industry has proven they can extract oil and gas safely, this catastrophe suggests a more balanced discussion.

Photography, Ranching

Zapata Ranch Sandhill Crane Workshop

March 25, 2013 | Permalink | 3 Comments


Searching for owls – pygmy, Western screech, saw-whet, and great horned with naturalist John Rawinski as our guide. Zapata Ranch in Colorado’s San Luis Valley.

Michael Forsberg and I led our third annual Sandhill Crane Photo Workshop at Zapata Ranch from March 11-15. The class was full with 12 photographers, and featured John Rawinski returning as naturalist guide, 15,000 or so sandhill cranes stopping on their migration route to Yellowstone, amazing Zapata hospitality (one of the Top 50 Ranches In The World), close-up views of bison, the historic Medano Ranch homestead, no wind, Great Sand Dunes National Park, night photography of one of America’s best night skies, great food – even appetizers in the field, and fun photographers from all over the country who made many wonderful images. (more…)

From The Vault, Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR

Prairie Song

March 19, 2013 | Permalink | 3 Comments
western meadowlark, prairie

Singing Western Meadowlark : Prints Available

 Western meadowlarks are often seen singing from perches above prairie grass - yucca, mulleins, and fenceposts. While sitting in a blind waiting for burrowing owls to emerge, this nearby meadowlark was singing his head off. I opened a window slowly and saw that he was standing in the grass just a few feet away, He didn't care about the shutter firing, maybe because he was making so much beautiful noise. 


Audubon Rockies BIG Window

March 6, 2013 | Permalink | 7 Comments


That’s me standing in front of the big acrylic window at Audubon Rockies’ Office in Fort Collins, CO.

Last year, Brian Rutledge of Audubon challenged me to come up with a design to fill the huge front window space at the Audubon Rockies office. After a good bit of consternation, I came up with an idea for an acrylic piece that would have no back, just images printed on plexi, with light shining through like stained glass. I sent a sketch to Tim Emerson at Duraplaq and explained my idea, to which Tim said “we can do it.” The piece is 6′ x 9′ and had to be printed in two pieces, each framed by a thick wood frame. Tim came up with a custom creative hanging system and framed it on both sides, so it looks great from the street too. There are more than fifty images and it’s quite birdy, with some wildlife and human diversity as well. This custom piece challenged me and Duraplaq, and Audubon is happy with their one-of-a-kind art piece in the big window. Thanks to Audubon for entrusting me with this project, and to Tim and the great folks at Duraplaq for taking on such a big challenge. The service and workmanship at Duraplaq is second to none! (more…)

Colorado, From The Vault

Gunnison’s winter of 2007/2008

February 28, 2013 | Permalink | 4 Comments
gunnison, Parlin, winter

Parlin Barn Winter : Prints Available

 The winter of 2007/2008 was harsh, even by Gunnison standards. Gunnison is often called the doughnut hole by locals because winter storms sit on surrounding mountain ridges; but that didn't happen in that particular winter. It snowed with no relief and ungulates sought hay bales to avoid starvation. Eventually, the Colorado Division of Wildlife fed deer and elk from the air. Hundreds of resident pronghorn died and have since been reintroduced to the Basin. I made this image of the old barn near Parlin, a reminder of the heaviest snow cover I've ever seen. 

As another wimpy winter winds down, I’m feeling nostalgic for a full-on snow season.

Sagebrush Sea

The Green Sage Spirit “Donate” Button

February 21, 2013 | Permalink | Post a Comment
white-tailed prairie dog, keystone species

White-Tailed Prairie Dog Bark : Prints Available

 It's more like a chirp and prairie dogs aren't dogs... There are five species of prairie dogs in North America and all are imperiled due to habitat loss and a host of other reasons. These rodents are primarily sage dwellers and a keystone species for the ecosystem. Prairie dogs can communicate in sentences and form strong family bonds. 

Announcing the new green donate button for the Sage Spirit project! My Sage Spirit conservation project requires extensive travel and funding to be able to make images and tell the story. The new green button to the upper left allows donors to give in a tax deductible way that helps me stay in the field doing project work. I’m working with a great publisher with big plans for a book, multimedia, social media, speaking engagements, a traveling photo exhibit and more. I’m targeting next year (2014) to complete the project and need to raise roughly $36,000 for field expenses. Contributing is a piece of cake: Click the “Donate Now” button which will take you to the Sage Spirit page – click that “Donate Now” button and make a contribution, noting Sage Spirit. That’s it. You’ll get a tax-deductible receipt and Laramie Audubon Society, my awesome fiscal sponsor will cut me a check. Thanks for your support and feel free to tell your friends!

Colorado, Sagebrush Sea

Ice Crystals

February 18, 2013 | Permalink | 6 Comments


Ice Crystals On The Gunnison River, Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado

While in Gunnison last week, I took a walk at Neversink in the Curecanti NRA on a twelve below zero morning looking for photo possibilities along the Gunnison River. The river is a frozen trickle in mid-winter, with small patches of open water surrounded by a cottonwood gallery forest. It’s a vital riparian area, with woody vegetation to give birds and rabbits cover – a wildlife oasis in the sage. I like to check the holes in the cottonwoods for an owl or a flicker, sometimes a raccoon. There were deer, rabbit, and coyote tracks in the snow and these interesting patterns of ice crystals on the frozen river. I talked to Western State College University wildlife biologist and professor Pat Magee about the crystals that form when dry cold air pulls moisture from the ice. Pat explained that the process goes from gas to solid, skipping liquid altogether. The crystals disappear as the valley warms and will reform when conditions are right, darn cold and dry. Fascinating, don’t you think?


Drilling Setbacks – Too Close?

February 5, 2013 | Permalink | 4 Comments

Front Range Drilling

This drilling rig is on the edge of a development near Frederick, Colorado, in the I-25 corridor. The corridor between Denver and Fort Collins is mixed ag land and housing development, with rigs, pumpjacks, and compressor stations bumping up against housing. My map calls this the Spindle Oil Field.

I travel the I-25 corridor to Fort Collins regularly and mark the increase in energy development along the route, drilling rigs in corn and sunflower fields next to housing developments. Colorado is considering new setback regulations to regulate minimum distances between drilling pads and various types of development. Knowing what we know today about fracking (hydraulic fracturing) and the proprietary cocktail of 550 or so chemicals that get pumped into the earth to release gas and oil, what’s a comfortable distance to live in proximity to a drill pad? Is 350 feet far enough? (current housing reg.) How about 500? One of the comments in a recent Greeley Tribune article caught my eye: “We acknowledge that public interest is driving the call for increased setbacks, and we are interested in discussing the practices that can address these concerns in urban drilling,” COGA president and CEO Tisha Schuller said recently in a prepared release. “At the same time, we cannot forget the stakeholders most affected by drilling. Any setback solution must acknowledge the legal, regulatory, and technical complexity of well-siting.” (more…)

From The Vault

18,900 Feet

February 2, 2013 | Permalink | Post a Comment


On the summit of Nevado Pisco.(5752M) Cordillera Blanca, Peru

Standing on the summit of this “easy” climb in the Cordillera Blanca is still one of thie highlights of our adventure life!

Colorado, Endangered Species


January 28, 2013 | Permalink | 2 Comments

Brooke Palmer, a seasonal trapper with the Colorado Division of Wildlife holds a female Gunnison Sage-grouse. The grouse was trapped and collared for relocation to “seed” a satellite lek outside of the Gunnison Basin.

It’s been a long wait for a Gunnison Sage-grouse (GuS-g) listing decision and the Jan. 10 US Fish and Wildlife News Release didn’t surprise anyone close to the issue. The Service officially proposed listing the Gunnison Sage Grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In the News Release, the USFWS applauded local partners and agencies – and rightfully so, Gunnison formed a GuS-g working group years ago, bringing together the entire extended community where grouse habitat exists. Ranchers, conservation groups, Western State College, land managers, and government agencies are on the same page and managing the grouse as if they were already listed. Sisk-A-Dee is managing the public viewing blind and special events like the Gunnison Sage-grouse Festival so people actually have an opportunity to see and learn about the grouse.The ESA is a powerful tool and it’s not easy to get a species listed – there’s a long waiting list of “Warranted But Precluded” species deserving of ESA protection. But there are only 4,000 or so GuS-g’s left in the world, mostly in the Gunnison Basin, literally all of the eggs in one basket, so they had to be listed. (more…)

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