This week the Bush Administration, Warren Buffett’s PacifiCorp and the state governments of Oregon and California announced an “Agreement in Principle” to remove four of the five dams on the Klamath River. If all goes according to their plan, removal of four dams would begin in 2020. A fifth dam – Keno in Oregon – would be transferred to the US Bureau of Reclamation.
Members of three Klamath River tribes and others cheered the agreement even as they wondered why it is necessary to wait until 2020 to begin what promises to be a decade-long dam removal project. But the Hoopa Tribe -- as well as other environmental groups including Friends of the River, the Northcoast Environmental Center and Oregon Wild -- criticized the agreement. Critics say it unnecessarily delays dam removal for more than a decade and does not actually guarantee that they will ever come out.
Major river and fishing groups including American Rivers, Trout Unlimited and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association have signaled their support for the deal by joining the Bush Interior Department in a letter to the California Water Resources Control Board requesting delay of the Clean Water Certification process which the dams must pass before they can be relicensed. The Clean Water Certification is widely viewed as a hurdle which PacifiCorp could not overcome because of the pollution the dams and reservoirs generate. This includes toxic algae, water temperature inhospitable to salmon and trout and low dissolved oxygen. The poor water quality has been linked to epidemics which kill young salmon and other fish in and below the reservoirs and dams.Read More ...
Given the size of the federal debt, $10 trillion and growing, it shouldn't be a surprise that there are proposals to reduce it. And why go through the pain of raising taxes or reducing spending when the federal government could just sell some public land -- abundant in the West -- and apply the proceeds to the debt?
There is some historical precedent for this. The only time in American history that the federal government was totally out of debt came on Jan. 1, 1835, during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, and it was land sales that provided much of the federal income that made this possible.
Selling federal land for deficient reduction was recently proposed at the website marginalrevolution. Not all the money should go to debt payments; some should go toward buying private land in the depressed areas of the Great Plains to create the Buffalo Commons.
The land sales proposal got the attention of Tobin Harshaw at the New York Times.
From my reading of those pieces and their comments, I get the idea that the rest of the country doesn't know much about our federal land, which comes in many varieties: Forest Service, Park Service, BLM, military reservation, Indian reservation, etc. And the likely buyers, such as energy companies, are interested in the minerals under the land, which they can already claim or lease, not the land itself.
At any rate, this something to keep an eye out for because the notion might gain some traction.
While tracking this down, I ran across this interesting article, which posits that the West is leading the nation in many areas. However, its definition of the West is rather expansive, since it includes Texas.
Granted, Texas has some Western attributes (i.e., cowboy hats, cattle, vast stretches of dry prairie). But politically, it's a Southern state -- in presidential races, it's voted the same way as Mississippi in every election since 1968, and that's true of no other state out here.
Further, Texas has very little federal land. That's a result of the Compromise of 1850. Recall that Texas was an independent republic from 1836 to 1844, and ran up some bills. It also claimed half of New Mexico and a strip that extended north through Colorado into Wyoming. In the Compromise, Texas agreed to its current boundaries. In return, the federal government agreed to pay off the old republic's debts, and the public lands inside the Lone Star State were turned over to the state government instead of being retained by the federal government.
Texas managed to get someone else to pay off its "national debt," and got title to its public lands -- that's a better deal than we're likely to see if the federal government starts offering land for sale.
Wyoming’s industrious animal husbanders – who raise everything from cattle to pigs to yaks – will soon have yet another creature to cultivate. The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission is now formulating rules for sage grouse farming.
It all began with State Senator Kit Jennings, R-Casper, who initially proposed a $50,000 pilot program for farming the birds. When that didn’t fly, he attached a tagline to a Game and Fish Department appropriations bill stating that the Game and Fish Commission should come up with rules allowing farmers to raise sage grouse for release.
"We do raise different kinds of sport animals -- we raise a lot of fish, we raise a lot of pheasants -- and I really have a hard time understanding why we can't raise a couple of sage grouse and take them out there and let some guys hunt them," he told the Casper Star-Tribune.
But the commission wasn’t too keen on the idea. The sage grouse – which is constantly under consideration for an endangered species listing – has never been raised in captivity in Wyoming and only with limited success elsewhere, partly because of its space needs and unusual mating habits. Some opponents worry that captive birds could spread disease to wild ones, and that bird farmers could harm the species by gathering eggs from the wild, hastening its already steep decline.
The commission appealed to the state’s Attorney General to see if it could ignore the legislation forcing it to condone sage grouse farming, but no such luck.
Over the past couple years, it’s looked like the region would see a resurgence in hardrock mining, thanks in large part to China’s booming economy. As recently as late summer, copper prices were well above $3 per pound; molybdenum hovered over $30 per pound. Towns like Leadville, Colo., which was devastated when the Climax molybdenum mine (shown below) shut down in 1982, anticipated hundreds of new jobs from new, reopened or expanded mines.
But now, with moly prices plunging below $15 and copper flagging to between $1 and $2 as the global economy sinks into recession, some of those projects are in jeopardy.Read More ...
Bad news for grizzly bears, in Montana and Yellowstone. During the past decade, wildlife managers killed 58 of the federally-protected bruins in northwestern Montana. That makes biologists the biggest source of human-caused grizzly deaths in the region, ahead of train or car strikes (46), illegal shooting (34), and self-defense (20). The “management removals” happen when grizzlies raid garbage or kill livestock on private land. But only one of those removals took place in Glacier National Park, although it holds nearly half of northwest Montana’s 765 grizzlies and gets more than 2 million visitors a year. That’s because the park has few permanent residences and enforces strict rules for storing food.
Another population of grizzlies, in and around Yellowstone National Park, got off the Endangered Species List in 2007 thanks to their rebounding numbers. But since then, 64 bears have died, mostly in management removals and hunting incidents. If the trend continues, Yellowstone bears could regain protected status.
Grizzlies aren't about to pass by open trash dumps, ignore cows and sheep, and keep out of the way of hunters. "It's not rocket science," says Montana bear manager Jamie Jonkel in the Great Falls Tribune. "If you don't want the bears … get rid of the attractants that draw them in."
Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave was the Richard Pombo of the 2008 election, targeted by the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund and others for her anti-environmental votes (the League of Conservation Voters gave her a 15 percent rating this year, in 2006 she had an 8 and in 2005, a zero). The Defenders spent a total of $1.6 million on her defeat (they spent about $1.5 million to unseat Pombo in 2006). Rated as the most conservative member of the House by the American Conservative Union, Musgrave -- representing eastern Colorado including Greeley and Fort Collins -- served her three terms as a Christian, pro-gun, anti-abortion, anti-labor, anti-gay legislator.
As they did with Pombo, the Defenders started attacking Musgrave early, despite conventional wisdom that voters aren't paying attention four months out from election day. Originally planning to spend about $500,000 on her race, they redirected funds from a campaign to defeat Steve Pearce when it appeared Tom Udall had the New Mexico Senate race sewn up.
Unlike Pombo, Musgrave was not a powerful member of a committee dealing with the environment. But Defenders president Rodger Schlickeisen said "she stood out because we thought she was so out of step."
Ultimately, Democrat Betsy Markey defeated Musgrave 56 to 44 percent, although Musgrave has yet to concede the race.
Matt Jenkin’s article “Liquid assets” in the October 27th edition is a good introduction to Water Banking – a concept which westerners are likely to hear used increasingly if predictions of diminished water supplies resulting from climate change are accurate. But the article only scratches the surface of a subject which West-watchers will want to know a lot more about. And – because taxpayer funds are often involved in financing the operation of water banks as well as in some cases the water purchases themselves – it can be argued that everyday citizens need to better understand what is involved.
Fortunately, there is a goodly amount of information readily at hand. Most of the information on water banks aims to educate farmers and ranchers, many of whom have been encouraged by property rights extremists to view water banks as a socialist plot designed by government bureaucrats and environmentalists to undermine water rights. On the other side of the spectrum some river advocates view water banks as part of an attempt to turn what were intended as use rights into property rights that are not attached to specific uses. If water rights become like other property rights, these folks assert, the Public Trust Doctrine will have been all but destroyed with respect to water resources. From this perspective water banks are seen as part of a world-wide movement to privatize water resources.
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The news chatters with suggestions that some Western Democratic governors will take jobs in the new cabinet being formed by President-elect Barack Obama.
Montana's Gov. Brian Schweitzer ... !
Arizona's Gov. Janet Napolitano ... !
Wyoming's Gov. Dave Freudenthal ... !
New Mexico's Bill Richardson ... !
Any of them would be good as the next Secretary of Interior or Energy or elsewhere in the Obama cabinet, because they'll connect the new presidency with its Western power bases and make more friends in the West etc. etc. -- that's what the pundits and conventional wisdom say.
But there's a big problem with three of the four ascending to Washington, D.C.
Schweitzer, Napolitano and Freudenthal would all be replaced by Republicans who now hold lower offices. And that would turn their states' politics pretty completely Republican, because right now, those three governors are Democratic bulwarks against Republican legislatures.
Montana's Schweitzer craftily named a moderate Republican as his lieutenant governor, when he first ran for governor in 2002 -- claiming middle ground to get elected. He still has the Republican as his lieutenant, and the lieutenant would take over if he leaves. Montana columnist George Ochenski notices the problem.
In Arizona, Napolitano would be replaced by a Republican Secretary of State, an important fact buried in this story.
In Wyoming, Freudenthal would also be replaced by a Republican Secretary of State, a fact no one seems to have noticed.
Only New Mexico's Richardson could leave without causing wreckage in his state, because his state is run by Democrats.We'll see whether the national Democratic Party bosses consider the local fallout as they make their decisions, and whether the governors' ambitions conflict with the needs of their home states.
Yes, Colorado turned blue. But in western Colorado's Delta County, the GOP prevailed, giving the nod to the McCain-Palin ticket. Democratic congressman John Salazar fared best, getting about 45 percent of the vote. Not one Democratic candidate won here, from the top to the bottom of the ticket.
I know something about being a Democrat in Delta County. My father was a state representative when I was a child, and I vividly remember his losses as painful and personal. Even after he'd become Speaker of the House, he was defeated in Delta County. During his first (unsuccessful) campaign in the 1950s, his own aunt spread the rumor that he was a communist.
But that was 50 years ago, and I was hoping for an evolution. Alas, our own Ed Marston, making a run for County Commissioner, lost this week in Delta County by the two-to-one margin that reflects political affiliaton here -- the same fate that Obama suffered even as he took the state by 7 points.Read More ...
Swayed by an alliance of the Mormon Church, evangelicals and Catholic bishops, voters decided yesterday to use two states' constitutions to ban marriage for gays and lesbians …
… even though, I'll interject, constitutions are normally intended to ensure the civil rights of minority groups.
California's Proposition 8 was the most intense gay-marriage battle ever -- and the most expensive ballot measure in any state this year. More than $70 million was spent on it. Exclamation point.
The Proposition 8 battle continues, though -- already there is talk of a lawsuit challenging the vote. In my High Country News take on how the battle involves many Westerners, I reported that Mormons had donated more than 30 percent of the total war chest for Prop 8. More recent estimates have the Mormons donating more than 75 percent. And the Daily Kos blog has uncovered an internal Mormon Church memo that shows Mormon leaders have quietly planned to ban gay marriage since the late 1990s.
Meanwhile, in Arizona, with a Mormon push, Proposition 102 writes the denial of civil rights into the Arizona Constitution.