This coming Monday, February 18, is the official observance of George Washington’s birthday. It’s kind of a curious observance in that the Father of our Country was born on February 22, and the designation of the third Monday of February as the day to commemorate his birthday guarantees that the holiday will never fall on his actual birthday.
The holiday has unofficially come to be celebrated as Presidents Day, in honor of all past U.S. presidents.
If this coming weekend is Presidents Day weekend, it’s time for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count.
The 22nd annual Great Backyard Bird Count, or GBBC for short, will take place this weekend, from Friday, February 15 through Monday, February 18. Volunteers from around the world are invited to count the birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the weekend and then enter their checklists at birdcount.org.
Anyone with internet access can participate, no matter what their skill level might be. It’s a great opportunity for a family to take a walk around the neighborhood or a park to see what kinds of birds are in the area and to report their findings.
Dr. Gary Langham, vice president and chief scientist of the National Audubon Society says, “The Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way for all bird watchers to contribute to a global database of bird populations. Participants in the GBBC help scientists understand how things like climate change are impacting bird populations so we can better inform our conservation efforts.”
I’m not a birder, meaning someone who maintains detailed checklists of bird sightings, though I do enjoy watching birds in our environment, not to mention hunting game birds. Casual studies of birds enrich the experience of our outings.
For example, one weekend last summer when we were camping on the upper Big Hole River, every morning a bunch of bluebirds would check out our campsite, probably looking for crumbs from a picnic dinner the night before. It made a good weekend on the river even more fun.
So, take an escape from winter boredom and get outside, look around and keep track of what birds you see. Then get on the internet and report your findings. It’s easy, it’s fun, and you can contribute to scientific knowledge in the process.
On the topic of presidents, our current president has nominated David Bernhardt to replace Montana’s Ryan Zinke as Secretary of Interior. Zinke, we’ll recall, was forced to resign in December because of all the scandals swirling around him.
David Bernhardt is currently Deputy Secretary, the No . 2 job at Interior, and during his year and a half on the job has worked hard to roll back environmental regulations and accelerate oil and gas leasing on public lands.
Bernhardt is a long-time lobbyist who has worked to expand oil and gas drilling on Interior lands. He was previously an Interior lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, and as the Washington Post reported, “Bernhard has made it his mission to master legal and policy arcane to advance conservative policy goals.”
After returning to Interior, after being a partner at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Bernhardt had so many conflicts of interest that he carries a card with him listing his former clients so he would have a reminder on when he needs to recuse himself. Some 26 companies were listed initially, though a few companies have dropped off.
During the recent government shutdown, Bernhardt came up with special tactics to ensure oil and gas drillers could continue to get permits during the shutdown.
While many environmental organizations, such as the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society, oppose his nomination, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation announced that it would support confirmation. Safari Club International sent an email sounding almost rapturous about having him in Interior’s top job.
Republicans control the Senate, so Bernhardt is almost assured of confirmation, though it’s likely he’s going to face rigorous questioning in the process.