Recently I had the opportunity to backpack in Northern California’s Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness. The wildflowers were wonderful and among the many birds I got a close up look at a Lazuli Bunting.
One day I climbed Black Rock Mountain which provides spectacular 360 degree views – including a view of several of last summer’s wildfires. One of those fire areas lay below my feet, mostly inside the wilderness. Forest Service firefighters had constructed a fireline with a bulldozer on the wilderness border. They had also fired a burn out into the wilderness from that line. Here is a photo showing the fireline (light line on the right) and portions of the burn out:
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The tussle over Adobe Town continues. This spectacular chunk of Wyoming's Red Desert has been in the sights of energy companies for years (see our story The desert that breaks Annie Proulx's heart) . But the area has also been designated "Very Rare or Uncommon" by the state, in recognition of its unique geology, fossils, and habitat for sage grouse, pronghorn and other wildlife. Now, the BLM plans to lease 11,000 acres of the Red Desert for oil and gas drilling, including land adjoining the Adobe Town Wilderness Study Area.
Some of the Red Desert lands that BLM offered for leasing in early June are lands that the agency officially declared had wilderness qualities in 2003. They're also within the Monument Valley Special Management Area, which the BLM is considering designating an "area of critical environmental concern".
The BLM is accepting comments on the proposed drilling through June 15th.
Among the subsidies we taxpayers provide for agriculture, especially stock-raising in the West, is an agency euphemistically called "Wildlife Services," which sounds like an organization that provides salt licks or improves habitat or something along that line.
But it's the old Animal Damage Control agency under a new name. It has the same mission: professional government hunters going out to kill predators, like coyotes and mountain lions, that go after cattle and sheep.
Now there's an account of "poaching" by Wildlife Services hunters. One of the hunters in Nevada reported -- to both his regional office and to the FBI -- that some of his colleagues illegal killed mountain lions from government airplanes.
And in return for his diligence, he got fired because his job was eliminated, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. So he's filed a "whistleblower" complaint. You can read the press release here.
Drilling for natural gas really hasn’t been the most natural process. Numerous reports of groundwater contamination have skeptics and homeowners worried over hydraulic fracturing, a process used in nine out of 10 natural gas wells in the U.S.
But finally, some proposed legislation to oversee the drilling: Representatives in both the House and the Senate introduced bills yesterday “to amend the Safe Drinking Water Act and give the Environmental Protection Agency authority over the controversial drilling process,” ProPublica reports.
Hydraulic fracturing was exempted from federal water laws under the Bush administration’s Energy Policy Act. That meant EPA scientists couldn’t really study the correlation between fracturing and nearby pollution.
Currently, the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing are considered proprietary ingredients, so the energy industry doesn’t have to disclose what they are. (Sort of like, Coke; we don’t know all the ingredients, but boy, we just can’t get enough of it.) If passed, the FRAC Act -- Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act -- will require the energy industry to disclose their trade secrets.
The House bill, introduced by Diana DeGette, D-Colo., Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., will now be debated in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The Senate version was introduced by Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Industry officials say regulation at the state level is sufficient. Federal oversight would cost each new natural gas well $100,000, they say. But honestly, what’s a few-hundred-grand to a multi-billion-dollar industry?
Domestic sheep and bighorn sheep don't mix. Or at least they shouldn't, say most biologists. The tame sheep tend to infect their wild cousins with fatal pneumonia. In Idaho's Payette National Forest, the Forest Service has even banned grazing in areas where flocks might encounter bighorns (see our story Sheep v. Sheep). Recent developments have made the state's bighorn and sheep ranching conflicts even more contentious.
The sheep industry and a few scientists maintain that there's no proof that domestics transmit disease, so there's no need to shut down grazing allotments on bighorn turf. One of the most vocal critics, Marie Bulgin, head of the Caine Veterinary Teaching and Research Center in Caldwell, Idaho, a state animal lab, has testified that "seventeen years plus of research by numerous researcher (sic) has not been able to prove that such is the case." Now, an advocacy group is charging that despite Bulgin's statements, Caine Center researchers have known for the past 15 years that domestic sheep can give deadly diseases to wild bighorns. The AP reports:
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According to officials at the California Department of Fish and Game, the illegal sale of wildlife and "wildlife parts" generates something like $100 million per year -- and it's going up, as hard economic times have forced the state to cut back on game wardens. Only 230 wardens regulate 159,000 square miles of land, including 1,100 miles of coastline going 200 miles out to sea. The number of game wardens in California is the lowest per capita in the U.S.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, game wardens have investigated the following:
-- Late last month, 11 people were arrested and 120 citations were issued in Sonoma and Mendocino counties after an elaborate ring of abalone poachers with headquarters in a hotel room was discovered.
-- In February, two people were arrested in Monterey County after they were caught with 51 black abalone, a federally listed endangered species.
-- In February, five antelope were fatally shot near Susanville by someone driving along a country road. The shooter just left the animals, two of which were pregnant, one with twins.
-- In 2007, a San Diego man was arrested by Redding undercover agents and charged with soliciting the killing of bears in Shasta County so he could buy their gallbladders. A gallbladder-processing operation was discovered when wardens arrested the man, who had a passport and tickets to fly to Southeast Asia. Bear gallbladders are used for medicinal purposes in Southeast Asia and can fetch $2,000 an ounce.
-- In Sacramento, a man was arrested after investigators used DNA evidence to identify the meat from 28 separate deer that had been shot in Calaveras, El Dorado and Placer counties. He was selling the carcasses from his house for up to $150 a piece.
"Over the last year and a half we've seen a marked increase in poaching and in people just killing animals and leaving them there for no apparent reason," Fish and Game enforcement chief Nancy Foley told the Chronicle. "I don't think it is a need to put food on the table. It's usually for greed and money and because people know we have a shortage of game wardens in the state."
California Fish and Game spokesman Patrick Foy told the Chronicle that wildlife officers -- who last year issued 14,543 citations -- catch between 1 and 5 percent of all violators. The penalty for poaching deer and waterfowl in California is a maximum of six months in county jail and a $1,000 fine, but Foy says many poachers have been fined as little as $150 and given probation.
In summer, the southern Arizona desert is among the most merciless environments on earth. Temperatures spike at 120 degrees. Shade is scarce. Each year hundreds of undocumented migrants die trying to walk north from Mexico.
The grisly accounts of survivors and the quickly-mummified evidence on the ground suggest that a cooked brain and water-starved sensory neurons must know something of hell. The mouths stuffed with rocks, the claw marks--it happens. There are files.
For the past five years, the Tucson-based humanitarian group, No More Deaths, has worked to reduce such misery by providing migrants with food, medical care, and--most importantly--emergency water. The group has a bumper sticker: “Humanitarian aid is never a crime.”
Maybe that bumper sticker should read “almost never”: two No More Deaths volunteers, Walt Staton and Dan Millis, have been convicted of littering--for leaving drinking water in the desert.
Staton, 27, was found guilty on June 3 of littering federal property after he admitted to leaving jugs of drinking water on migrant trails that cross the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. He faces up to one year in prison and a $10,000 fine when he is sentenced on August 11. Millis, who was convicted in a similar case last September, has appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court. Staton also plans an appeal.
The two cases focus attention on a humanitarian crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border that is arguably the direct--and intentional--result of federal policy.
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The solar-electric generating systems in my area are "photo-voltaic." When photons from the sun strike certain materials, they give off electrons, which are then channeled to the electric grid.
There's another way to generate electricity from sunshine: Concentrate the solar rays to heat a fluid that in turn boils water, resulting in steam that turns a turbine connected to a generator.
In essence, it's a thermal generating plant, except that it uses sunshine for a heat source, rather than coal, natural gas, or decaying uranium.
And like any other thermal plant, these facilities need to be cooled. This leads to a quandary. The best places for these solar thermal plants are where the sky is clear and sunny, like the Mojave Desert, and that's where water is scarcest.
Here's a piece about this dilemma and its potential effects on the American Southwest. In short, such power plants might be new players in the old water wars.
I spend a fair amount of time at the HCN office reading online news, and writing blogs like this one. It's easy, when surrounded by abstractions, to feel a little bit cut off from what makes things work around here in Paonia. One quick antidote to that feeling is to go down to the river on my lunch breaks and stand on the bridge overlooking the North Fork of the Gunnison. Over the last few months, I've watched the river transform from quiet, dark, and ice-glazed--a secret under snow--to a silty torrent, flattening the willows, wrapping debris around the cement bridge pillars, and making a holy racket. Watching these changes feels like keeping my fingers on the pulse of what makes this place, not just Paonia, but Western Colorado, tick.
An equally good reality check is to attend a local water meeting. On Monday, Jun 1st, the smell of fried chicken wafted from the annual State of the Gunnison River meeting. The room at the Holiday Inn in Montrose was so packed with farmers, water district representatives and other community members that they had to bring in extra chairs. This year, said Bob Hurford, state engineer for the Gunnison Basin, early, fast runoff has made it "kinda tough for guys trying to manage dams and irrigate." The dust blowing in from Utah and Arizona made the snow melt fast and early, filling the reservoirs to, and beyond, capacity. The Bureau of Reclamation has had to let water out as fast as possible to avoid excessive spillover. Dan Crabtree described their efforts as similar to "driving a Ferarri and hoping we don't hit any sharp turns..."
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OK, so the Park Service didn’t put out a press release about how they’ll start allowing certain firearms in parks. But thankfully, they put one out about a few fee-free weekends this summer. That's right, you won't pay to enter "America's Best Idea" on these weekends: June 20-21, July 18-19 and August 15-16.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazaar said the waived entrance fees would allow more Americans to enjoy an affordable vacation during tough times. The fee-free weekends are also supposed to give a boost for all the communities that surround our parks.
Arches National Park - FREE
Photo by Jeff Chen
Just don’t bring your gun; you can’t do that ‘til next year.