Heating with wood provides a paradox. The process provides a warm indoor fire, isolating you from the cold outdoors. And yet it makes you more connected to the outdoors.
Let it be noted that I use wood for supplemental heat, more or less. Our century-old house has a gas furnace, and while I'm glad it's there, I want to run it as little as possible.
Start with the wood. Some people cut their own, which puts them outdoors in the woods for many hours. I've never mastered the art of sharpening a chain saw -- or getting one to start reliably, for that matter -- so I get my firewood from a local builder who logs for house timbers, and sells the scraps.
When he delivers, the cordwood is "bucked" -- that is, cut to 16-inch stove length. Then I split it and pile it (many people neatly stack their wood, but neatness is not one of my core values).
Until this winter, I split my wood with a chopping block and an eight-pound maul. Age may or may not bring wisdom, but it does bring enough sore muscles to inspire the purchase of a small, quiet electric-powered hydraulic wood splitter.
It's faster and easier than the maul. But I still spend a lot of time with the wood as I split it, enjoying the chunky heft of piñon and the vanilla aroma of ponderosa, sometimes fretting about all the blue-stained beetle-killed pine. or wondering what kind of wood exudes so much sticky resin that it will capture my glove if I'm not mindful.
Keeping the stove fed in the winter means at least one trip outdoors every day to fill my "woodbarrow" -- the old wheelbarrow I use to haul firewood from the far back yard to the front porch. It's sort of like walking the dog; no matter now cold, snowy or windy it is out there, it's an outdoor chore that must be done.
And even when I'm settled with a good book near a hearty fire on a cold night, presumably oblivious to the world beyond my walls, the outdoors is a constant presence.
The colder it is outside, the more often I have to get up and feed the fire. The stronger the wind outside, the greater the draft inside, and the stove's air intake must be adjusted accordingly. Outdoor wind gusts produce eerie, almost ghostly, indoor sounds from the 30-year-old airtight stove, odd noises that sometimes startle even our two house cats, who are otherwise catatonic as they bask by the warmth.
So, if you want to stay connected with the great outdoors, just stay home by the fire.
A scene I'd like to see:
The CEOs of the Sierra Club and other Big Green groups standing up in Congress and calling for financial help for the autoworkers in GM, Ford and Chrysler.
Haven't seen it, though. And that's a problem in itself.
The silence from environmentalists is one reason why they often struggle politically.
We all know the U.S. auto corporations are begging Congress and the Bush Admin for a couple of dozen billion dollars. It's chump change anymore, compared to the public trillions we're shoveling into mismanaged Wall Street banks, amid the global economic meltdown.
If the auto corporations don't get help, one or more will declare bankruptcy. Their industry will shrink more than it would outside bankruptcy. There are reasons to ignore their pleas for help. Like the ailing banks, they've had bad leadership. Their fat-cat top executives resisted regulations on tailpipe emissions and fuel efficiency. They stalled or killed projects to develop electric cars. They spent their advertising budgets on pushing stupid products -- macho gas-hog pickups and SUVs -- and lobbied to get tax breaks for customers who bought them.
There are also millions of reasons to help the auto corporations, under requirements that they reform their operations. Those reasons are people -- unionized workers in the auto corporations and other workers in related companies.Read More ...
HCN has been writing a lot lately about how the new mining boom is already going bust. Today, it got worse: global mining giant Rio Tinto announced it is laying off 14,000 employees, sending a clear message that the mining surge that was booming just a year ago has gone belly up. It's the biggest mining-related layoff yet, but not by any means the first. Mines are aching from the platinum and palladium diggers up in Montana, down to Colorado's and Utah's just resurrected uranium mines.
Rio Tinto's pain ripples. Though the company is based in Australia and England, its tentacles reach deeply into much of the West. It's involved in or owns projects ranging from Kennecott copper in Utah, to a boron mine in California, to Resolution copper in Arizona, to Sweetwater uranium operations up in Wyoming.
The mining bust is a huge double whammy for southern Arizona. First there was the housing downturn, which went extra deep into the suburbs of Phoenix; now this. Even big boxes are suffering down there, and shutting down, which is gouging municipal budgets that are highly dependent on sales taxes. For a while, copper's resurgence promised to replace a few of the job losses in the construction sector. No more.
And now this: Warm places are getting hit harder by the economic crisis than are others.
In a letter published in the November 24th edition, Jessica Hall urged HCN to “take a deeper look at water issues in California.” Around the same time there were several significant developments in the world of California water. And while GOAT is not the proper forum for a “deep” analysis, we can make readers aware of those developments and point you toward sources where you can find more information.
The California legislative analyst released a report on California’s Water Supply in late October which some hope will help shake up the world of California water. The Analyst called for “fundamental changes” in California’s water rights system. Part of that reform would be state groundwater regulation and a state-run well permitting system. According to the Analyst, California is one of only two states in the West that don’t have state-run groundwater permitting. The other state is Texas which some of us consider a southern state.
The lack of groundwater regulation has allowed irrigation and other interests to exploit groundwater at will. But when a few years ago an entrepreneur announced plans to drill a well and export groundwater to Nevada counties began to step into the void, passing groundwater ordinances. But county regulation has created a chaotic situation and most Northern California counties have yet to put any system in place to regulate groundwater. As a result landowners have been able to drill unregulated wells which appear to be tapping underground streams interconnected with surface flow. This has sometimes had a dramatic effect. In the Shasta River Valley, for example, Big Springs – a volcanic spring thought to originate on Mt. Shasta, - used to flow about 120 cubic feet per second.(cfs) year around. Then the landowner where the massive spring emerges drilled two irrigation wells not far from where the Springs emerge. Big Springs now flows at 20 cfs.
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Jim Eischeid’s letter to HCN in the November 24th edition pointed out the irony that “the large majority of those ranchers get sweet subsidized deals on the use of the public lands for grazing, and yet they vilify the efforts to restore the wolf on those very same lands.” Eischeid then goes to the heart of the reason why public land grazing is environmentally destructive. It is the failure of ranchers to maintain the tradition of riding the range and moving the herd that results in these cattle hanging out in riparian areas where they munch willows and aspen as well as grass, deposit their waste directly into the streams and trample stream banks.
This is also true of Northern California where I live. In the old days, ranch teenagers spent months in the mountains each summer moving the herds and protecting them from predators. Often they were alone in the wilderness for weeks on end. These real cowboys developed a deep bond with the wild lands – the very bond which livestock organizations still talk about but which is increasingly rare in ranching communities. If the government agencies required range riding and other active management practices necessary for grazing to be done in an environmentally responsible manner we would not need to buy out grazing permits because many ranchers would abandon their permits as not “penciling out” – i.e. not worth the cost of management. Undoubtedly those ranch families which really cherish the Old West lifestyle would once again begin riding the range – or having the teenagers in the family take on the job. Perhaps this would result in a new generation of ranchers who value wild lands and wild critters like those old timers who have now mostly passed on.
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Some of the land recently marked for drilling in Utah may be pulled from the oil and gas auction block. In late summer and early fall, six resource management plans were rushed through at a break neck speed, opening up 80 percent of the 11 million acres in the planning areas for energy development.
Cultural and wilderness conservation groups, as well as other government agencies like the National Park Service, argued that the planning process was too fast and that they did not have time to adequately respond to the radical changes that the plans outlined for Utah's public lands. NPS officials were particularly concerned that air quality within the parks would degrade if the lands surrounding them were opened for drilling.
At the time, these grievances seemed to fall on deaf ears at the BLM. After some urging from U.S. Senators, meetings with NPS and pressure from the incoming Obama administration (not to mention plummeting energy prices), however, some of the lands that ring Utah's national parks will be withdrawn from the oil and gas lease sales slated for later this month.
This is a small step backward for the Bush administration's last minute drill, drill, drill! campaign. However, it's not exactly cause for celebration. The change -- withdrawing 38,000 acres from drilling -- is a minor adjustment to majorly flawed plans, and the vast majority of the contested land is still going to be leased on December 19.
The Bush administration is attempting yet another under-the-radar rules change on its way out the door (watchdog Propublica keeps a complete list of other such changes). This time it's wresting away Western states' abilities to manage their bighorn sheep populations. Wildlife management has historically been the responsibility of state wildlife agencies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Now, the Department of Agriculture wants jurisdiction over bighorn sheep transplants on public land.
Because wild bighorns tend to catch deadly diseases from domestic sheep, there have been major legal battles over allowing sheep producers to graze their flocks in bighorn territory (see our story Sheep v. Sheep).
The secret agreement, which was penned in September and revealed this week, would require, among other things, that wild bighorns be tested for diseases by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service before they're released on national forests, and that the Forest Service approve such releases.
Bighorn advocates are outraged, saying that the move benefits sheep ranchers at the expense of wild sheep, and undermines state authority over wildlife.
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Here's one more addition to the list of Western industries being affected by the economic downturn: coal. Peabody Energy -- the world's biggest coal company, made famous as the villain in the John Prine song "Paradise" -- has announced that it is freezing all hiring at its three Wyoming coal mines. The company said in an letter to its employees that it plans to reevaluate all its capital projects and defer or cancel many of them.
And that's a real shame, because a job in coal mining offers the opportunity to swing a pick alongside some smokingly hot -- and scantily dressed -- co-workers.That, at least, seems to be the take-away message of this GE ad promoting clean coal.
The classic coal-mining song "Sixteen Tons" is playing in the background, but viewers of the ad never get to hear the chorus, which goes like this: "You haul sixteen tons, and what do you get? / You get another day older and deeper in debt." That's probably because the ad's producers realized that the chorus is no longer accurate. Nowadays you haul sixteen tons and what do you get? You get really, really, ridiculously good-looking.
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When I was in high school, my history teacher assigned each member of my class to interview someone who had lived through the Great Depression to better understand how life had changed during that time. I chose to interview my grandmother, who was 20 in 1929 when the stock market crashed.
I anticipated tales of woe and of desperation and Grapes of Wrath-like suffering. Instead, I got this: Things really didn’t change much around here. We hardly noticed, I guess.
It didn’t provide the dramatic story I had hoped to take back to my classmates. But it did provide a valuable lesson.
Even though the West was a key battleground in the 2008 presidential election, our issues -- public lands, water, endangered species, etc. -- didn't get a lot of attention from either candidate.
And for the past three months, the economy has dominated the news. But our issues do appear in this interesting piece by Les Blumenthal of McClatchy Newspapers.
It starts like this:
Here's the question: What does a community organizer from Chicago who spent four years in the Senate before being elected president know about spotted owls, endangered salmon, mountain bark beetles, Western water rights, old-growth forests and the maintenance backlog in the national parks?
The answer: Probably not much.
President-elect Barack Obama has offered only scattered clues as to where he stands on the most pressing public lands and endangered species issues.
And you can read the rest of it here.