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Victorious in Victor

Ariana Brocious | Sep 10, 2009 08:15 AM

Students and teachers at the Teton Valley Community School in Victor, Idaho, are heading back to school with a new spring in their step.

That's because their design won the 2009 Open Architecture Challenge: Classroom--a competition hosted by Architecture for Humanity, selected from more than 400 qualified entries from over 65 countries, which I blogged about recently.

Congratulations are in order, since the school will receive $50,000 to carry out its design by month's end. Another $5,000 will go to the design team, Section Eight Design, whose community-collaborative efforts, cost-effective and sustainable building plan created a "classroom of the future."

The school plans to break ground this spring, allowing time for more fund-raising from the community and private donors, since the $50,000 will only cover the cost of one classroom out of five planned.

"What’s great about this design is that you can add on to it, so they can build one classroom at a time as they raise more funds," said AFH press contact Diana Bianchini.

You can see all the classroom design entries and awards here.

 

 

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Medic!

Sarah Gilman | Sep 09, 2009 04:50 AM

Picture yourself on the front lines of a massive wildfire -- soot smeared into the creases of your face, your clothes stiff and itchy with days-old sweat, your palms blistered from grubbing a fire line through duff and brush with a Pulaski. What dangers might you face? Falling snags? A fire sweeping uphill faster than you can run? Asphyxiation in smoke-thick air? Maybe.

But as the recent deaths of two firefighters in Los Angeles' Station wildfire show, the most likely dangers are often the same ones that haunt our everyday lives -- a car accident in that case, or heart attacks, or illnesses, or just plain lack of access to good medical care.

In Alaska, the trail to a fire line in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge may pass memorials to folks who died at the claws of grizzly bears. Fire camps in Interior Alaska have shotguns on hand to keep angry moose and hungry bruins away (Bear canisters nothing. We've got guns!). There are also the elements to think of, and rough terrain, and heavy equipment, and aircraft, and sharp tools, and, of course, the fire itself. Dramatic stuff, all of it.

So what was Michael "Kale" Casey  (pictured above) -- a Paonia, Colo.-based wildfire paramedic -- most worried about as he kept tabs on crews battling the 660,000-acre Railbelt fire complex west of Fairbanks this July and August?

Bee stings.

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It Happened in the Shrubbery

Judith Lewis Mernit | Sep 04, 2009 11:05 AM

Last weekend, as the Station wildfire on the northern edge of urban Los Angeles doubled, and doubled, and then doubled again – it has now grown to 250 square miles in the Angeles National Forest – I sat down to re-read “Fire Management of California Shrubland Landscapes” by Jon E. Keeley of the U.S. Geological Survey. The academic paper was given to me by Richard Halsey, the founder of the California Chaparral Institute, whom I profiled for this magazine two winters ago. And it lays out, in plain, clear language, why just about everything you hear about wildfire in Southern California – from politicians, newscasters and most of all homeowners on the edge of that urban-wildland interface – is wrong. 

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Obama's speech to students

Marty Durlin | Sep 04, 2009 06:57 AM

Whipped up by right-wing talk shows, conservatives are criticizing President Obama's back-to-school speech -- which will "challenge students to work hard, set educational goals and take responsibility for their learning," according to the U.S. Department of Education -- as "indoctrination." The Associated Press reports that:

Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna requested additional information from the U.S. Department of Education earlier this week before offering guidance to schools and notifying parents.

And here's an excerpt from a report from the Denver Post:

"I don't want that man talking to my children," said Crista Huff in Douglas County, who has three daughters in school. "Look at other leaders who had socialistic policies and chose to talk to children; this would include Hitler, Stalin, Lenin and Castro. I will keep my kids home from school that day and we will re-read the Declaration of Independence."

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"Nuclear whack-a-mole"

Arla Shephard | Sep 03, 2009 11:46 AM

Last week, attorneys for the state of Utah joined the fray against nuclear-waste disposal company EnergySolutions by filing an appeal against a ruling that would allow the company to import foreign nuclear waste to the state. 

EnergySolutions, a Salt Lake City-based company that disposes of low-level radioactive waste from other states, has been in talks to import up to 20,000 tons of nuclear waste from Italy, a proposal that alarmed both citizens and the state government

“No country in the world imports another country’s nuclear waste," says Vanessa Pierce, executive director of HEAL Utah, a nonprofit grassroots organization that has gotten into the habit of watchdogging EnergySolutions. "If you have the technical capability to generate the waste, you have the technical capability and the moral obligation to dispose it.”

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Hunters become the hunted

Ariana Brocious | Sep 02, 2009 09:08 AM

Yesterday, on the opening day of Idaho’s first wolf season in decades, at least two hunters made quick use of their recently purchased wolf tags. The hunt began amidst whirling debate, after Montana Federal Judge Donald W. Molloy delayed ruling on a lawsuit brought by 13 environmental groups to halt the hunt. Concerned that the hunt will damage recovering wolf populations recently removed from the endangered species list (“Still Howling Wolf”), the groups hoped Molloy would stop the hunt like he did last year. Now, the Idaho wolf season will continue until Molloy makes his decision, which will also affect Montana’s hunt, slated to begin on Sep. 15.

Hunters and ranchers eager to have their first legal shot at the controversial canine have already bought roughly 10,000 wolf tags in Idaho and at least 2,500 in Montana. But both states have set limits on the total number of wolves hunters can kill: Idaho’s quota is 220 out of about 850 and Montana will allow 75 out of roughly 500.

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State Parks Spread the Wealth

Judith Lewis Mernit | Sep 02, 2009 04:08 AM

The Road-Warrior anarchy that may await some state parks in the West (see "Lawless Future" in this week's issue) if funding cutbacks close park gates may not have much of an impact on overall state revenues. Despite what many good-hearted park defenders argue, state parks don't rake in piles of cash. Only 13 of California's sexiest state parks -- the surfer-riddled state beaches and the near-mythic Hearst Castle -- generate enough revenue from camping and visitors’ fees to pay for themselves. The rest limp along on state subsidies, straining the public coffers with repair bills and rangers' salaries.

The same holds true in other Western states; almost nobody in any state can argue that historic buildings preserved with state funds help balance budgets. There is, however, more to life than generating revenue. There is also merit in spreading revenue, which may be what state parks in the Western states do best. “There is a dramatic impact [from state parks] on the local, rural economies,” says Oregon State Parks spokesperson Chris Havel. “It’s difficult to put numbers on it because the psyche of the traveler is strange. But we know it’s enough to help keep some towns alive.”

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The River Dry

Jodi Peterson | Sep 01, 2009 08:46 AM

If we keep sucking down Colorado River water the way we have been (likely), and if climate change reduces the amount of water in the system (also likely) there's a fifty-fifty chance that the system's reservoirs will hit bottom by the middle of this century. That's the stark conclusion of a new study released in July by the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Other river researchers say that a 1 degree Celsius increase in average temperature will translate to a 5 percent drop in annual water discharge from the Upper Basin, which produces the vast majority of the system's water. But even small attempts at conservation could have big impacts.  A 6 percent reduction in current demand results in a 37 percent reduction in the risk that the reservoirs will dry up. (For more background on the Colorado River, see our stories "A tug of war on a tightrope", "Arizona returns to the desert", "What's worse than the worst-case scenario? Real life" and "How low will it go?".)

"Water managers are used to engineering solutions," says CU-Boulder scientist Doug Kenney, "but we've hit the limits there. Now we need political solutions and reallocation of water rights." But even that may not be enough, as witnessed by what's happening in Australia's Murray-Darling Basin.

 

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Today's best fire pics

Jonathan Thompson | Sep 01, 2009 02:50 AM

This morning, the fires continue to burn in California, Utah, Arizona, Colorado and elsewhere. And the haunting yet beautiful fire photos continue to make their way into the Intertubes so that those of us who are lucky enough to be far away from the fires can experience them vicariously, and safely.

The L.A. Times probably has the most comprehensive selection of pics of the Station Fire. 

And the Sacramento Bee's "The Frame" photo blog has some of my favorites, especially the first in this series

This is an amazing, stop-action look from the Mt. Wilson tower cam, currently at the edge of the fire, but also threatened by the flames. 

And how about a couple of videos. The first, of a DC-10 tanker making a drop on the Station Fire, as captured by Fireground Action Photography, will get the adrenaline flowing. The second is a more tranquil view of 100,000 acres going up in flames, time-lapsed, with a Brian Eno soundtrack. Watch:

 

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Summer's almost over (and fire season is here)

Jonathan Thompson | Aug 31, 2009 09:06 AM

Yowch. It's hot out and it's dry and it's smoky. Often, in this part of Colorado, the end of August marks the tail end of the wet monsoon season. This year, the monsoons were rather feeble, if they arrived at all, and during the last two weeks we've experienced some of our hottest days of the summer. Apparently, the same fire-friendly weather has been hitting points further West, too. Currently, at least 20 "large incident" fires are burning in the West, with the most, and the most severe, in California. Los Angeles' edge is currently getting singed.

The news and images from L.A. is harrowing, sometimes tragic: Two fire fighters were killed in a vehicle accident while battling the Station Blaze. Several houses have burned and thousands more are threatened. And as of this afternoon, the Mt. Wilson observatory and communication towers was in the path of the flames, which had charred more than 105,000 acres.

That's just the biggest fire in California. A handful of others, from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada near Sacramento, back down to the southlands are also threatening homes. Further east, a fire near Payson, Ariz., forced the evacuation of some 500 homes. More than 300 homes were evacuated near New Harmony, Utah, thanks to a lightning-caused blaze. Active fires were reported in Oregon, Washington, Montana and Colorado, as well.

Keep up with the latest on the fires here:

InciWeb gives a quick, up to the minute overview of current fires (Click on the fire's name in the left-handed column for specifics on that particular fire).

The L.A. Now blog has the latest developments of the L.A. area fires.

NASA has amazing satellite images of the fire and smoke.

The Sacramento Bee's "The Frame" photo blog has incredible images of that state's fires.

Large Fires 8/31


 

 

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