To Blake Little, Gay Rodeo is Personal

Blake Little, Chute Dogging
From the moment he attended his first gay rodeo in 1988, photographer Blake Little was hooked. “I was completely drawn to it and I had to be a part of it,” he stated. “I wanted to be a cowboy.” Pursuing the thrill of his own cowboy dreams through the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA), Little became immersed in the spirited Western community. As a participant, Little found himself in a unique place where he could draw on his passion for photography and use his background and skills as a photographer to document the gay rodeo through his camera lens.

Little knew, of course, that the view through a camera lens can be unique, often capturing the world from a different angle than seen when simply passing by. Through his photographs, he invites us to view things as they are, while also challenging us to see them from a different perspective.

What resulted was a series of 41 stunning black-and-white photographs taken between 1988 and 1992. On exhibit at the HDM from December 15, 2017, through April 30, 2018, Blake Little: Photographs from the Gay Rodeo, presents a glimpse into a little-known world, allowing us to explore a story with the intimacy of an insider’s point of view. In addition to representing Little’s own experience on the gay rodeo circuit, the exhibition also celebrates the lives of many of its participants during those years, capturing the spirit and camaraderie of a vibrant community. The collection elegantly combines the action of roping and riding, while also presenting a portrait of the courageous cowboys and cowgirls behind the scenes.

The exhibition, Little explained, memorializes his own “unforgettable experiences in gay rodeo,” and honors “the cowboys who competed with me and left a huge mark on my life.” Competitors came from a wide variety of backgrounds, yet the relationships they formed became some of the most important in their lives. The gay rodeo community offered the LGBT cowboys and cowgirls a place where they could be themselves and embrace their true identities. Despite the competitive nature of rodeo, participants were supportive of one another. “For me that was the most memorable and rewarding thing about rodeo,” Little stated.
Some of the rodeo participants pictured in Little’s photographs still ride, but many have retired and some have passed away.
Blake Little: Photographs from the Gay Rodeo is curated by Johanna Blume, assistant curator of Western art at the Eiteljorg Museum, and offered through the courtesy of the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Indianapolis, IN.

This exhibit is a program of ExhibitsUSA and The National Endowment for the Arts. 
Made Possible by Cascade Arts & Entertainment, Oregon Cultural Trust and Zolo Media. This project has been funded in part by the Oregon Heritage Commission, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. With support from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation.

Blake Little, Chute Dogging, Phoenix, Arizona, 1989; archival pigment
printed on Epson exhibition fiber paper, 13.25 x 20 inches; Loan courtesy
of Blake Little.

Hope

Storytelling is a big part of what we do at the Museum. Narratives can be a powerful tool for teaching and learning, and for fulfilling our mission of connecting audiences to the High Desert region. All of the objects, exhibits, and staff at the museum have stories to tell, and so do each of our animals. One of the things we look for when we bring an animal to the museum is a good story, one that will spark a connection with our visitors.

Late last summer a new resident arrived at the Museum, one with a particularly dramatic and colorful past that paints a vivid picture of the recovery of her species from near extinction, and of the challenges they face in new habitats today. She is a peregrine falcon named “Hope,” one of a clutch of four hatched by wild parents high upon a building in Tacoma, Washington.

In the early 1970s peregrine falcons were among the first animals added to the Endangered Species Act, their populations ravaged by the effects of the organophosphate pesticide DDT. Thankfully they are also one of the ESA’s most resounding success stories, soaring back from near extinction and quickly recolonizing habitats across the continent, including in major cities where tall buildings simulate the cliffs they require for nesting, and where urban pigeon and starling populations provide an abundant food source. Once extremely rare, today peregrine falcons are part of the daily lives of people in major cities throughout the country, and Hope and her siblings enjoyed celebrity status for a short time in Tacoma. However, the attention urban raptors receive also means that human onlookers often get a front row seat to the harsh realities of their natural history.

Like most raptor species, peregrine populations endure high mortality rates in the first year of life. At least 60 percent of peregrine falcons will not make it to age 2. Big cities can be good habitat for falcons, but they are also dangerous places for learning to fly. Hope and one of her brothers both fell from the nest to city streets below, but were “re-nested,” or returned to the high ledge by humans for their parents to continue care. Eventually, two of her brothers, including the one that fell, successfully fledged. However, a third died after flying into a window, and Hope eventually fell a second time. The injury to her wing was too severe for her to make it as a wild falcon.

The High Desert Museum is a refuge for many native animals that would not survive in the wild, serving as both steward and custodian of animals that by law belong the people of Oregon and the United States. Non-releasable animals come here from rehab facilities across the west for lifelong care, and are made accessible to the community through dynamic educational programs that emphasize wildlife ecology and conservation in our region. Each individual animal is evaluated carefully based on its preferences, history, and physical limitations for what programs it wants to participate in, and is trained accordingly not only for public presentation, but also for daily exercise and enrichment. The goal in all cases is to give these animals the best quality of life possible.

Hope has proven to be a very special bird. After a few short months of careful handling and daily exercise, not only has she learned to sit on the glove for daily bird of prey talks, but she has very quickly progressed through an intensive training, physical therapy, and exercise regime, and has once again learned to fly on a limited basis with her injured wing, and she absolutely loves doing it! Flying sessions have become a highlight of every day for both Hope and the wildlife staff.

Because of her story, Hope will be especially useful for connecting audiences to the adaptability of peregrine falcons and their increasing use of urban environments, and also to the additional challenges they face in those habitats. This winter and spring you will be able to come to our daily Bird of Prey talks, and next summer she will debut in our Raptors of the Desert Sky free-flight program where she will educate audiences about the recovery of her species throughout the High Desert region and beyond.

Treading Lightly on Nature

Responsible recreation benefits us all.

Like many people who are drawn to live in the West, I’m happiest when I’m out in nature.

Some of the best, most inspiring moments of my life have happened while running, hiking or horseback riding on trails. Here in Central Oregon, we are blessed with world-class recreation opportunities just outside our front doors. Outdoor recreation supports our health and wellbeing and brings economic benefits to the local community. I would rather see a packed trailhead than a packed shopping mall on a Saturday, as it indicates that folks are out experiencing and forging personal connections with nature — and will, hopefully, care more about it as a result.

But as Lauri Turner and Brock McCormick of the U.S. Forest Service recently discussed during one of our thought-provoking Natural History Pubs, while making humans healthier, recreation can harm wildlife and our public lands. Land managers must therefore balance their goals for recreation, habitat restoration and wildlife conservation. Most outdoor recreationists appreciate and respect the trails and the habitats they lead us through, but mounting issues include people dumping trash, leaving poop unburied, and forging new, unofficial trails. Some people also approach wildlife far more closely than animals can tolerate. While slightly less than 200 feet is felt to be an acceptable distance by recreationists, about 500 feet is the actual flight distance of mule deer, bison and pronghorn. Even those of us who set out with the best leave-no-trace intentions have unseen impacts on the many species who call the forest or desert home. We may contribute to soil compaction and erosion, tree-root damage, or cause deer to flee long before we spot them.

The decisions we make on the trail — and about which trails we use, and when — impact numerous species, from salamanders to elk. Wildlife responds best to predictable disturbances. For example, if trails get busy at certain times of day, they may learn to avoid, or at least expect, that disturbance, only returning during quieter times. If you roam far off-trail in the early morning and meet a deer, it’s likely to be startled and make a hasty retreat. Body fat that the animal had stored for winter survival may end up being used for running, instead.

No-impact outdoor recreation doesn’t really exist, but low-impact recreation can! What can we do, as a community, to reduce our impact while continuing to enjoy our trails? A few actions to consider include:
• Keep to designated trails. We have enough official trails (not including user-created, BLM, Bend Parks and Recreation or State Lands) in the Deschutes National Forest for a person to hike 38 miles per weekend, May through September, without needing to repeat a single inch of trail.
• Respect seasonal restrictions in sensitive habitats.
• Give wildlife space. This is especially important when nesting or mating is occurring, and during the winter. Invest in a pair of binoculars, rather than getting too close.
• Try to keep your dog on a leash or under control. This is especially important during the winter and spring.
• Clear up your trash. Follow the Leave No Trace principles.
• Share responsible recreation tips with friends and family.

Please see the U.S. Forest Service’s website for further information about how we can reduce our impact on the flora and fauna that make this region so beautiful.

Turn Off the Lights for a Brighter Future

The Museum’s staff is thrilled to have recently become a partner of Lights Out Bend, a volunteer-operated education and advocacy program that seeks to highlight the issue of light pollution and inspire the community to reduce light pollution. In becoming partners, we join fellow local organizations keen to make a difference. This includes the Deschutes Public Library, East Cascades Audubon Society and Ruffwear.

What is light pollution and why should we care? Simply put, light pollution is the inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light, and human activities are lighting our night sky like never before. You’ve probably seen many businesses and homes leaving lights on at night. While this may seem harmless, it has major implications for native wildlife species. They evolved with predictable phases of light and dark, and many species are guided by celestial sources of light—such as the moon, stars and planets. Artificial lights interfere with these natural rhythms and behaviors. Bats, birds, moths and other species may suffer reduced hunting success, collisions with windows, disorientation and numerous other problems. Light pollution puts lives on the line.

Luckily, the solution comes with a simple flick of a switch! By turning off unnecessary lights, using motion sensor lights or lower intensity bulbs or installing fixtures that don’t direct light up into the night sky, we can improve the lives of birds and animals with whom we share the High Desert. We can also close our curtains at night to reduce the amount of light that can escape to the outside environment. While these actions are meaningful year round, they are particularly important during spring and fall migratory seasons.

Protecting the starry night sky saves wildlife. We also benefit from energy savings and a better view of the stars. It may even improve our health, as electric lights are thought to influence our own biological clocks. The Museum’s staff is committed to switching off all unnecessary lights at night. We hope you’ll join us.

For more information about this issue and what actions you can take to help, visit Lights Out Bend or the International Dark Sky website.

Telling Native American Stories Through Art

Ben Pease has been awarded the Jury’s Choice Award at the High Desert Museum’s Art in the West exhibition for his 2017 work “Honor and Respect Come to Thee”. It was among 226 pieces submitted in response to a nationwide call to artists for the Museum’s annual juried art exhibition and silent auction.

Ben is a young Native American artist whose work is deeply steeped in identity. Born on the Crow Indian Reservation in 1989, he has deep roots in both the Crow and Northern Cheyenne nations in southeastern Montana. While Ben has been making waves in the art world for several years now, he is currently working on his undergraduate degree at Montana State University with a major in Art and a minor in Native American Studies. Ben considers himself a storyteller by vocation, and feels strongly that he has a responsibility to tell the stories of Native people.

“Honor and Respect Come to Thee” is a mixed-media painting that shows a digitally manipulated historical photograph of a mounted Native American warrior superimposed on a rich and layered background composed of washes of acrylic paint, glass beads, antique ledger papers, an antique mail envelope and a US telegraph ticket. The dense but transparent surfaces of his paintings are somewhat hazy, and we get the sense that we are viewing an image from memory through the fog of time. His paintings are accumulations of meaningful materials and processes, where successive layers of later marks obscure earlier ones. The ledger pages remind us that we need to account for the past, and the acrylic paint almost becomes a kind of whitewash, which reminds us of our desire to avoid dealing with difficult and unpleasant aspects of our national history.

Composed as they are of historical images that are depicted using a combination of traditional painting techniques and modern, digital processes, Ben’s paintings elegantly express the tension between the traditional and the modern. His works are almost a tug-of-war between the past and the present, and his imagery is a rich stew of culturally-transmitted memory and history seasoned with the awareness of what it means to live in America as a Native person today.

What draws me to Ben’s work is his willingness to make art that can speak to difficult and painful aspects of the past while at the same time celebrating the positive elements of Native identity today. His work is a tribute to people who have been tested by great adversity, but have retained a strong sense of who they are and where they come from.

“Honor and Respect Come to Thee” and the other works in Art in the West are on view in the Brooks Gallery through August 26. The silent auction culminates at the High Desert Museum’s gala, the High Desert Rendzvous, that evening.

Photo: Honor and Respect Come to Thee by Ben Pease (Jury’s Choice Award)

6 Ways to Keep Pets Safe in Summer

Here at the High Desert Museum, we’re taking steps to keep the wildlife in our care healthy and safe during this summer’s high temperatures, like providing fruit pops to the porcupines and spritzing the raptors with water. The otters? They’re content swimming and sunbathing. Caring for them in this extreme heat made us think of you and your beloved pets. We thought we’d share some simple things you can do to keep your pets safe at home and as you travel this summer.

1. Offer plenty of cool, fresh drinking water to keep your pet hydrated.

2. Dogs transpire through their foot pads, so offering cool water for them to stand in is an excellent and safe method to cool them off. During backyard play, sprinklers and kiddie pools are a fun and effective method of keeping cool while getting in some exercise.

3. Brushing your pets regularly can help keep them cool by removing excess fur. Avoid shaving or trimming the fur to short when grooming, as this can lead to sunburn. Pro tip: wet a cloth with cool water and pet your dog or cat with it. This aids in removing shed fur, as well as cooling.

4. Frozen treats are a great way to keep your pets cool! Plain yogurt with a bit of your pet’s favorite fruit is a delicious treat (avoid grapes and raisins, as these can be extremely toxic to animals). To help with hydration, freeze water with a bit of fruit for flavoring. Quick recipe: fill a yogurt cup or similar sized container with water, then stir in a tablespoon of plain applesauce (no sugar or cinnamon added). Pop in the freezer until solid.

5. When your pets are inside, ensure that the temperature stays cool by leaving the AC on. If you do not have AC, circulate the air with fans. Elevating their beds can also help by allowing air to flow underneath them.

6. Most importantly, never leave your pet in your car, and always allow them reprieve from direct sun. Fifteen minutes in 90 degree heat is enough to cause heat stroke in your pet. Always offer shade and/or the ability to come inside.

Growing Up Otter

When the otter pup arrived at the Museum, he was a 6-week-old wiggly bundle of energy that tripped over his own feet when he followed after me. When he wasn’t running around and playing with his stash of toys, he was either napping or eating. With neither of us being experienced at bottle feeding, mealtime tended to result in a huge mess.

Cleaning up after these feedings started out as warm, shallow baths in the sink and a thorough towel drying afterwards to make sure he was warm and dry. As he became comfortable with the sound of the running faucet, the otter pup started sticking his face underwater and blowing bubbles, learning how to close his nose and small ears while in water.

As he grew, so did his love of water, and bath time moved from the sink to a tub. He started using his webbed toes and muscular tail to turn and spin. He went from holding his breath for barely a minute to holding it for three minutes, still a ways off from the nearly six minutes adult river otters can hold their breath.

Though otter pups in the wild are taught to swim by mom around 8 weeks of age, this slower lead up to swimming continued until our pup shed his thinner baby fur and grew in his denser and warmer adult fur around 11 weeks of age. An adult fur coat has 350,000 hairs per square inch and is made up of two layers: guard hairs and under fur. Their outer coat of water repellent guard hair helps prevent the insulating under fur from getting wet, which helps keep their bodies warm while they hunt for aquatic prey such as fish and amphibians all year round.

Since mastering a full bathtub of water, the otter has begun swimming in a large stock tank that allows him to practice swimming, diving, and catching small, live trout with his sharp claws and teeth. He’s also begun exploring the shallows in the museum’s stream habitat where he tosses around pebbles and chases after bugs.

Keep an eye on our Facebook page to follow along as the otter grows!

Part 3: Bringing Phillip Home

A few years ago, High Desert Museum staff learned from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the Blue Mountain Wildlife Center in Pendleton, Oregon, had several non-releasable eagles.

One of the birds was a sub-adult male golden eagle that appeared to have been struck by a car. It also had serious levels of lead poisoning. Lead levels in raptor blood more than 65 micrograms are considered “clinical poisoning”. This eagle had levels more than 100, enough to be lethal.

Lynn Tompkins, the executive director of Blue Mountain Wildlife, successfully chelated the eagle (a process where lead is chemically removed from the bloodstream) and lowered the blood lead levels to under 5 micrograms per deciliter. She then flight conditioned the eagle and, after a few weeks, considered it strong enough to be released.

Unfortunately, six weeks after its release, the eagle was recovered starving, likely the result of a permanent wing injury and possible continuing neurological effects from lead poisoning that made it unable to hunt successfully.

This bird was now considered ”non-releasable,” yet still had some flight capability and looked perfect to the unsuspecting eye. Knowing this opportunity may not come around again for years, Museum staff completed the necessary transfer permits and made arrangements to travel to Pendleton.

Upon arriving at Blue Mountain Wildlife, staff watched the male golden eagle fly swiftly in the large chamber. While he looked strong, they saw a slight hitch in his left shoulder, which is what made him unable to capture prey following his initial release. He would be perfect for the education programs at the High Desert Museum, and (hopefully) be a candidate for the Museum’s Raptors of the Desert Sky and Sky Hunters free-flight programs.

Almost three years later, Phillip is one of the most important birds at the Museum. Phillip ties the research work the Museum has done into lead poisoning directly to the Museum’s education programs. He is a living example of how lead poisoning affects raptors and though he displays ongoing signs of neurological damage, he has a even temperament while being handled.

It took about a year of training before Nelson was comfortable having Phillip participate in the public education and free flight programs. The trainers combined traditional falconry training with positive reinforcement (food) and increasing exposure to people to bring Phillip’s comfort level with the public to the point where he participates in three-to-four programs a week, primarily educating visitors about lead poisoning in the wild.

Fun Facts about Phillip

  • He weights about 8 pounds.
  • His wingspan is 6 feet plus.
  • His favorite food is rats.
  • He can still fly, but is limited to 100-150 yards at a time because of a damaged wing.
  • He is well mannered and allows people to get near so they can see up close this magnificent bird.

 

Part 2: Searching for the Perfect Golden Eagles

Finding the right raptors for the Donald M. Kerr Birds of Prey Center is one of the most challenging aspects of managing the High Desert Museum’s wildlife education program.

One priority for the limited space at the Museum is conserving species of special concern, species that depend on public support for their survival. In many ways, the golden eagle is the epitome of this strategy. It is an apex predator of the High Desert and its survival is essential to sustaining a healthy ecosystem well into the future.

But there are many things to consider when assessing a new bird of prey for the Museum. First of all, these birds are not captives; they are wild raptors that have been deemed non-releasable due to severe injury or poisoning. As such, a facility must have highly-trained staff that understand the wild raptors and have the skills to interact with them and manage their health and safety.

Many non-releasable eagles have wing amputations due to car strikes or electrocution. At the Birds of Prey Center, the strategy is to acquire birds that appear normal as opposed to birds with conspicuous injuries. Wildlife curators feel strongly that exhibiting intact, vibrant individuals helps visitors connect to the majesty and beauty of species in the wild as opposed to the pity and sadness that often accompanies seeing a conspicuous amputee. It is a hard choice to pass on birds that need homes, but it is important to keep focused on the mission at hand – to educate visitors about High Desert wildlife.

The ideal candidate is a golden eagle that has experienced independence in the wild, having learned survival skills and is able to hunt, but has not developed an extreme resentment of humans due to the rehabilitation process.

Think about it from the raptor’s point of view. It is injured or poisoned as a result of human activity; it is captured, restricted, and subjected to repeated and extensive medical treatments. If it survives, the golden eagle, a very intelligent animal with a strong memory, often remembers the involvement of humans and can harbor deep resentment, but hopefully not too much because a rehabilitated golden eagle suitable for an education program must eventually bond with its trainers in its new home if it is to be successfully integrated into the facility.

This is often possible because wild golden eagles with hunting experience, even if injured or recovering from poisoning, bond more quickly with a trainer and learn faster given food motivations, creating an opportunity to truly spotlight the behaviors one would see in the wild.

At the High Desert Museum, golden eagles are flown and trained every day, including feeding from the glove. However, if they chose not to fly or train, food is never withheld.

The High Desert Museum currently has three golden eagles in residence. Phillip is an education raptor, especially telling the story of lead poisoning in the wild; Nicholas is on exhibit; and Walter is currently being trained for education talks and free flying. They can be viewed at the Donald M. Kerr Birds of Prey Center.

 

Part 1:  The Story of the Golden Eagle

Since its inception, a cornerstone of the High Desert Museum has been maintaining the Donald M. Kerr Birds of Prey Center and its collection of rehabilitated birds. It is a critical part of educating people about the support necessary for several species’ survival.

This is the story of the golden eagle on exhibit. His name is Phillip.

The High Desert regions of Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon and Washington have become an important refuge for the golden eagle, a species whose breeding range once encompassed large tracts of the northern hemisphere. The vast high desert in the West still offer isolated nesting sites and the surrounding sagebrush seas offer abundant food in the form of jackrabbits, ground squirrels rodents and other birds.

However, raptor biologists began realizing that populations in the High Desert were declining, threatened by a number of human-based causes including electrocutions; car strikes; habitat degradation and loss, including higher exposure to people, exposure of isolated nesting sites, and threats to food resources; exposure to lead; and persecution in the form of shooting, trapping, and deliberate poisoning. In addition, people often ask about wind turbines affect the golden eagle population. While it is an active area of study, power lines and cars kill far more raptors than wind turbines.

Biologists believed these issues presented an alarming future for this apex predator. Based on these concerns, in 2013 the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service established the Western Golden Eagle Conservation Team. Its mission is to evaluate the various threats to golden eagles and recommend conservation strategies to curb mortality rates.

This is where the Donald M. Kerr Birds of Prey Center comes in. It has in residence many birds of prey that were injured in the wild. Those injuries were so severe they resulted in permanent disability, at which a point a wildlife veterinarian deemed them non-releasable. In these cases, the birds were evaluated and based on the findings, euthanized or transferred to an education facility such as the High Desert Museum.

At the High Desert Museum, birds of prey, including its three golden eagles, are wildlife ambassadors, working with Museum staff to educate the public. Staff talk with visitors about raptor conservation and demonstrate the power and magnificence of these birds through free-flight programs and interpretive talks. Nothing is more impressive than a golden eagle standing on a perch 10 feet away. Visitors experience first hand the keen gaze of the eagle that can spot prey far away and the enormous spread of its wings that, when healthy, would have carried them miles, soaring above the High Desert.

Visitors also learn about their habitats and habits, and how we can all participate in minimizing human-cased threats to ensure their survival. For example, lead poisoning in birds of prey.

In addition to live rodents, rabbits, ground squirrels and other birds, golden eagles feed on carrion in the wild. And this carrion, often remains left by hunters, carries lead from bullets that gets ingested by golden eagles. Once lead is incorporated into the bloodstream at a large enough concentration, a bird can become very sick, exhibiting a range of neurological symptoms, such as tremors, convulsions, lack of coordination, and paralysis of the digestive system.

If the bird gets a large dose it can deteriorate and die directly from the lead poisoning. However, even at lower concentrations, lead in a raptor’s system impacts motor control and reaction times, likely contributing to other kinds of injury or mortality. This would account for why so many birds taken to rehabilitation centers for various mechanical injuries also turn out to have been exposed to lead.

According to the American Bird Conservancy, millions of birds are poisoned by lead every year.  Unfortunately, only a portion of these find poisoned birds find help at raptor rehabilitation centers like Blue Mountain Wildlife in Pendleton, Oregon, and eventual homes at facilities like the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon. Switching to alternative source of ammunition, such as copper, would prevent many majestic birds of prey from being poisoned.