Next week, Cecile Hansen, a direct descendant of Seattle’s namesake Chief Sealth, will travel from one Washington to another.
Hansen, the chairwoman of the Duwamish tribe, has been invited to testify in D.C. at an upcoming hearing on H.R. 2678, a bill introduced in the House that would grant the Western Washington tribe the federal recognition it has been fighting for since, well, forever.
The tribe, comprised of nearly 600 members currently, was granted fishing and reservation rights way back in 1855, when Chief Sealth signed the Treaty of Point Elliott. Unfortunately, the U.S. government never saw fit to actually follow through with any of the promises it made.
Federal recognition would provide the tribe with government aid, and possibly restore their fishing rights and allow them to open a casino. This has caused alarm among other Northwest tribes, who are worried that recognizing the Duwamish would drain limited federal resources.
Specifically, the Muckleshoot have argued that Duwamish federal recognition would encroach upon their own fishing rights. Hansen believes the Muckleshoot are worried that the Duwamish could operate a casino in Seattle, diverting business from the Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn.
The Muckleshoot went so far as to seek court intervention in the Duwamish's other fight for federal recognition. In addition to the House bill, the Duwamish are involved in an expensive and lengthy legal battle to overturn the Bush administration’s declaration that the tribe doesn’t really exist.
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See, we need to mine uranium because there were no environmental laws around 6,000 years ago, when the earth was created. At least I think that's what Arizona State Sen. Sylvia Allen, R, is saying in this video clip. Huh?
A prominent group of biologists and scientists is strongly criticizing conservation plans for Tejon Ranch, a 270,000-acre property north of LA. The ranch is slated for 30,000 acres of housing, industrial and resort projects -- which will sprawl across roughly 20,000 acres of critical habitat for the endangered California condor. Tejon's developers have asked the Fish and Wildlife Service for permission to "take" more than two dozen imperiled species, including condors (see our brief in "Two Weeks in the West", and our pro and con opinion pieces).
But condor experts, including former leaders and members of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s condor team and federal condor recovery team, have just issued a report saying that the Tejon conservation plan, which attempts to mitigate the development's impact on all those rare species, would be a disaster for the huge birds:
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Summer is officially upon us and for many that means camping, often in the company of family or friends. This summer is an especially good time to get outside to spend a few nights under the stars, sing off-key by the campfire and roast all manner of food on a stick, because the National Park Service is offering three fee-free weekends at over 100 National Parks.
But for those who are less than comfortable with the prospect of potentially sleepless nights, mosquito bites and half-raw, half-charred hotdogs, yet still balk at exploring the great outdoors from inside a giant RV, there is a compromise in the Oregon State Parks.
Called “Camping Lite,” Oregon State Parks offer yurts, cabins and tepees in addition to the standard tent and RV sites. “Roughing it has never been so smooth,” says their Web site, which lists the amenities offered in both rustic and deluxe sites. Not all state parks offer all the options, but most have at least one alternative kind of camping site.
I stayed at a rustic yurt in the Valley of the Rogue State Park, Ore. at the end of May, after a day spent visiting Oregon’s only national park, the gorgeous Crater Lake. Nearing the end of a three-week road trip up the West Coast, it seemed like a fun break from tent camping. Our yurt could sleep five people on a combination of futon and bunk beds, had a table and chairs and was equipped with light and electricity—very useful for the coffee pot my trip companion insisted on hauling around everywhere (a concession I granted given his caffeine addiction and resulting nasty withdrawal behavior). All cooking had to be done outside, but we did have a nice porch on which to sit and watch the sunset.
Personally, I quite enjoy sleeping out in the cool night air, body close to the earth, hearing only the crisp silence of early morning and being lucky enough to witness wildlife. But I’ll be honest—a good night’s sleep on a real mattress in the screened yurt felt pretty nice. It's a happy middle ground for those between hard-core backpackers and RV devotees, which hopefully means even more people will leave their air conditioning, television and Internet behind for a few days and check out the natural beauty of Oregon.
I step out of my shack beneath a waxing half moon. Milky light pours down on northern Arizona. Scattered ponderosas march across the bunchgrasses of Government Prairie, casting oval shadows to the west of each tree. As usual, my walk takes me along the fence line.
A cloud shutters the moon. Across the barb-wire, two huge silhouettes emerge from a clump of pines: horses. Big, solid geldings. Sorrels, I think. But in the gauzy moonlight you can’t really tell. The grass is silver, the trees black; a star on the bigger horse’s forehead seems to be a watery yellow. The horses’ bodies appear a vague, pastel blue.
Blue horses in moonlight. They consider me from the edge of the trees, then walk to the fence. One shoves its great blue head toward me. The other tries to move close, but gets pushed away. They smell like horses: dried sweat, leather, and damp sweet-grass. That scent carries memory:
It is sunrise on the first day of June a decade ago, at a place in Wyoming called Blackrock. Twenty miles to the west, the saw-tooth profile of the Tetons shines platinum in the brand new day. To the north, the blocky Absarokas are silver and white with snow.
I am walking the south bank of the swollen Buffalo Fork where it loops around the bunkhouses and barns, the pasture and corrals of the Forest Service compound. I am hoping to spot a moose, or maybe a grizzly. It’s my second day on the district.
The morning will be warm, but for now the mud underfoot is still frozen. Two sand hill cranes rise from the willow bottom on six-foot wings. Their ratcheting voices sound like dry tree branches rubbing together.
I climb up out of the riverbed into the pasture, strewn with purple larkspur and yellow balsamroot. White phlox blossoms fleck the new grass like patches of snow. Suddenly, without warning, comes that cliché: thundering hooves.
A hundred yards away, a stand of lodgepoles seems to part like some wild-west version of the Red Sea. Out of the breach come fifty horses: bays, buckskins, sorrels, pounding the ground at a dead run. They bob shoulder-to-shoulder across the meadow, fleeing with one mind. I can see the whites of their frightened eyes.
Three crazed border collies work the herd from the sides, funneling them through a wide metal gate, into a chute that leads to the corrals. Bringing up the rear are two black-hatted cowboys, whooping and spurring. I do not care about horses, yet it is impossible to not be stirred by this sight.
Later today the wranglers, Jack and Bill, will teach me to saddle a horse. In the years to come, I will learn a few other things: to avoid a horse's deadly hooves, to pack loads that will ride twenty miles, to keep my broad-brimmed hat on in a windstorm. I’ll lope across summertime meadows, drag a string up over Two Ocean Plateau in a snowstorm, and get bucked into Soda Fork Creek by a paint mustang named Kid. I will get back on the horse.
The Wyoming summers will come and go. Without bothering to consult me, the future will become the past. I'll move on. I stroke the gelding’s withers, breathe in that unutterable fragrance, and remember. Blue horses carry me back.
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Like hundreds of small towns around the West, Paonia will celebrate the Fourth of July with a parade down the main drag (Grand Avenue, in our case) and festivities in the park. It's the annual Cherry Days event, some 62 years old, awash in tradition and punctuated by occasional sparks of innovation. There will be the inevitable Clown Band in their ancient red and yellow costumes, the Shriners in their miniature cars, the handsome horses, the cherubic children stained with cherry juice and sticky with cotton candy, the Cherry Day Queen waving from a float, the cherry cook-off, the barbecues, the carnival rides. The "new" events this year include a cake walk and a bed race, and a bunch of us from High Country News are participating in the Ladies' Precision Irrigation Shovel Brigade, complete with accordion accompaniment.
I've attended Cherry Days off and on since 1953, when my father brought me, a six-year-old with a pony tail in a dress of cherry-print fabric. As a budding politician, my father was campaigning in the Democratic stronghold of the county and took me along, while my mother remained in the Delta hospital with my new baby sister. At one house we drank thick fruit juice -- made from home-canned peaches, apricots and plums -- and at a potluck luncheon we ate batter-fried chicken and thick slices of chocolate cake. I remember that year especially well because it was so unusual to be alone with my father, and I was treated like a star wherever we went, everyone congratulating us on the birth of my sister.
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Yesterday, a federal judge once again struck down an attempt to revise the rules governing national forest planning (see our story "The End of Analysis Paralysis"). Environmentalists had filed suit, charging that the changes would weaken protections for wildlife (by getting rid of the viability requirement) and exempt national forest plans from formal review under the National Environmental Policy Act. It's now the third time the changed rules have been pushed back in court. The San Francisco Chronicle reports:
The decision means the Forest Service will have to reinstate rules protecting fish and wildlife and limiting logging in 150 national forests and 20 national grasslands covering 192 million acres, including more than a dozen national forests in California.
"It is a great victory for national forests," said Marc Fink, a lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity, which was one of the plaintiffs. "We're hoping today's ruling is the final nail in the coffin for the Bush forest policies and that we can move forward and do what is right for the forests."
The agency will now have to return to either its 1982 or 2000 planning rules. But those cumbersome, inflexible rules are still in need of an overhaul. “We’ve sort of run the course (with the previous rule) and a lot of things haven’t worked,” said Tony Cheng, associate professor of forestry and natural resource policy at Colorado State University (quoted in our 2007 story). “Maybe it’s time to try something new. Public lands are an experiment in participatory democracy.”
The West's renewable energy resources -- especially the wind, solar and geothermal energy concentrated on our vast public lands -- are in the limelight a lot these days. With that in mind, HCN put together this summer's special issue around the concept of alternative alternative energy -- as in, not just those big solar and wind plants that everyone's jawing about these days, but also the role small, local energy projects could play in helping solve climate change, and the big challenges in the way of any attempts to change our energy mix to make it less greenhouse-gassy.
Conrad Wilson of KDNK, a community radio station in Carbondale, Colo., recently interviewed HCN Assistant Editor Sarah Gilman about some of the stories in that issue. You can find their conversation here.
Who owns the rain?
In Colorado, you generally didn't have any right to use the rain that fell on your property.
But that's changing, as the New York Times explained in a recent article. Now some property owners will be able to use rain barrels legally.
Colorado's water laws are arcane and complex, but there are two main principles: "beneficial use" and "prior appropriation."
It's the "prior appropriation" that became an issue with rainwater. There's a detailed explanation here, and the quick way to explain is by a hypothetical example.
Suppose you live on the family ranch along Remote Creek. Your great-great-grandfather settled there in 1868 and began irrigating the hay field with a ditch he dug that taps Remote Creek.
And suppose I bought some land upstream in 1993, built a cabin, and started holding rain water in barrels.
A dry year comes along. Remote Creek isn't carrying enough water to meet your needs, even though you have an 1868 water right. And here I am, capturing water upstream, a process I started in 1993. You could argue that I'm depriving you of water that is rightfully yours, since you've got a much older claim to the water.
That's the legal theory. In practice, the connection is rather tenuous, since so much rainwater either evaporates or is consumed by vegetation in the distance between my water barrel and your field.
During the eight years of the Bush Administration a number of bills which included designating wilderness in the West were passed by Congress, signed by President Bush and became law. Most mainstream national and regional environmental organizations praised them as great victories. A few long-time activists, including this blogger, raised an alarm.
Grassroots activists’ concerns with Bush-era public lands bills are of two types:
- Provisions within the legislation which activists say undermine the integrity of wilderness and the intent of the Wilderness Act. For example, some of these bills allow helicopter and airplane uses within wilderness for various purposes or select users.
- Provisions included which have nothing to do with wilderness but which critics claim are anti-environmental. One example of this sort of legislation is a bill pushed through by Nevada Senator Harry Reid which designated a small amount of wilderness in his state but also authorized the pipeline by which Las Vegas intends to exploit Eastern Nevada groundwater.
Now the Seattle-based Western Lands Project has come out with a new book – Carving Up the Commons: Congress and our Public Lands – which not only “examines the emergence of ‘quid pro quo’ land bills of 2000-2008” but also includes sections on the origins of our public lands, the process and pitfalls (unintended consequences) of congressional land deals and deals in which powerful western members of congress have served the interests of well-connected private parties. The book examines five land deals in depth in order to “illustrate the elaborate machinations and distortions….that can characterize these projects.”
Best of all, the book is cheap ($10 for printing and shipping a hard copy) and it is available as a free download. To order, download or for more information visit the Western Lands Project web site.