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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




Eenie meenie (money) moe

Ariana Brocious | Aug 31, 2009 04:44 AM

In this era of hyped-up security concerns about our southern border, why would a remote Montana border station with a daily average of three travelers get $15 million of stimulus money? Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus say it’s because they asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to fund projects in their state, whose border has been "unfairly ignored" (see HCN's story).

Napolitano, however, denies politics had anything to do with how $720 million in border upgrade funds were distributed, which the AP reports resulted in out-of-order funding as marginal projects jumped ahead of high-priority ones. Yet the Nogales, Ariz. border checkpoint, in Napolitano’s home state, will receive almost $200 million, five times more than any other project, according to the AP.

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Funding to fight domestic violence

Arla Shephard | Aug 28, 2009 09:51 AM

In recent weeks, the Obama administration has made safety on Indian reservations a major priority, doling out a slew of grants to tribes all over the West.

"The Department of Justice is well aware that Indian Country is struggling with complex law enforcement issues involving violent crime, violence against women and crimes against children, and that tribal communities are doing what they can with limited resources," said Deputy Attorney General David Ogden in a press release. 

Thirty-four percent of Indian or Alaska Native women will be raped or sexually assaulted during their lifetimes, compared to the national average of 21 percent, and 39 percent of Indian women will suffer domestic violence, compared to 25 percent nationally. 

Tribes in North and South Dakota received more than $1 million for shelters and domestic violence programsfour New Mexico tribes were awarded $1.2 million for equipment and law enforcement officers and the La Jolla band of Luiseno Indians in California received $400,000 for a domestic violence program

Most recently, the Dept. of Justice announced that 16 tribal communities in Washington will receive more than $5 million, primarily for the addition of new police officers and domestic violence programs, funded by the Justice Department's Office on Violence Against Women

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Down and out

Cally Carswell | Aug 28, 2009 07:25 AM

Joe Griego hasn't worked in nine months. He hasn't been able to do much since a bull crushed his ribs and damaged his spinal cord while he was on the clock at a New Mexico dairy.

He hasn't been sitting around milking workers' compensation checks while he recovers, either. In fact, Griego's had little help paying off more than $30,000 in medical bills because New Mexico's workers' comp law doesn’t mandate coverage for farm workers—an injustice a lawsuit filed against the state this week on Griego’s behalf intends to right.

The complaint contends that the exclusion violates farm workers' rights to equal protection under the New Mexico Constitution, and shines another spotlight on the vulnerabilities of the West’s agricultural workforce, covered in HCN’s recent feature, The Dark Side of Dairies

Griego's employer hasn't totally abandoned him, according to Maria Martinez, a staff attorney for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, which filed the suit. The dairy's insurance covered $5,000 of Griego's medical bills, and he garnered $1,800 in lost wages, a fraction of what he would have earned had he been working.

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Milk: It doesn't always do a body good

Sarah Gilman | Aug 27, 2009 09:09 AM

If you haven't read Rebecca Clarren's excellent HCN cover story on the West's immigrant dairy workers and the on-the-job dangers they face, do it now! If you have read it and want to learn more, you should check out the story's hefty (and heavy) sidebar: A comprehensive list of deaths and injuries in the West's dairies spanning the last six and a half years. Click on the pink listings to see original accident reports and investigations.

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Fighting the fire

Arla Shephard | Aug 27, 2009 08:34 AM

"A healthy, fit firefighter is a safe firefighter."

This is what Stan Palmer, a member of the Northwest Wildfire Coordinating Group's Safety and Health Working Team tells me when I ask about firefighter fatalities (See the related infographic on the top five causes of firefighter deaths since 1910). Over the years, firefighters in the West have died in numerous ways: brain aneurysms, asphyxiation, falling rocks; the gruesome list goes on and on

But through efforts of the NWCG team, there have been major improvements in firefighting safety measures and firefighter nutrition. Usually, significant changes are made after extreme wildfires lead to numerous fatalities.

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