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Commitment issues

Arla Shephard | Nov 05, 2009 08:10 AM

Today, for the first time in 15 years, leaders from the United States' 564 federally recognized Indian tribes met with political leaders in DC to discuss the problems that blight their communities: lack of adequate health care, lack of adequate employment, lack of, well, a lot of things.

The day-long summit began with opening remarks from President Barack Obama, who promised to make good on some of his campaign commitments: 

Without real communication and consultation, we're stuck, year after year, with policies that don't work on issues specific to you and on broader issues that affect all of us. And you deserve to have a voice in both.

I know that you may be skeptical that this time will be any different. You have every right to be, and nobody would have blamed you if you didn't come today. But you did. And I know what an extraordinary leap of faith that is on your part.

The President continued with a laundry list of policies and appointments he's made to prove that, this time, the tumultuous relationship between the First Nations and the federal government will smooth out a little bit: Huge chunks of the federal stimulus package have gone to obtaining more jobs on reservations, improving educational opportunities and fighting domestic violence in Indian Country. In 90 days, Obama expects every Cabinet member to give him a detailed plan on how they're going to implement President Bill Clinton's 1994 executive order to establish regular communication between the tribal and federal governments.

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Coming soon to MTV: The Oilfield Blowouts

Jonathan Thompson | Nov 04, 2009 09:40 AM

Don't ask me how I found this. Okay, go ahead and ask: I was actually hard at work researching a story and, during one of those long, winding, fruitless trips down Google lane, I stumbled upon this. It was at, which is such a cool site that I'm hesitant to share it with all of you.

A couple of years back, Ray Ring wrote a powerful (and award-winning) cover story for HCN: Disposable workers of the oil and gas fields. Like so many of Ring's stories, it shed light on things many of us would rather not look at (see his most recent, Roadless-less, for another example of this sort of investigative reporting).

I immediately thought of Ring's harrowing story when I saw this and other videos on the roughneckcity site. Then, I thought: Wha...??? Apparently, some roughnecks cope with the agony and loss of oil rig accidents by making and posting videos of them, like this heartfelt piece, complete with Eagle's soundtrack.


Find more videos like this on Drilling Ahead


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Mules aren't burros

Ed Quillen | Nov 03, 2009 08:00 AM

    Lately I've encountered two novels which annoyed me because they treated burro and mule as synonyms, which they are not. The most recent was Abandon, by Blake Crouch; the title of the other one does not leap to mind.
    Mules and burros are related, but they're not the same animals. Start with the familiar horse, Equus caballus. An uncut male is a stallion and a female is a mare.
    Then there's the burro, Equus asinus, also known as an ass or donkey. Males are jacks and females are jennies.
    Donkeys and horses can interbreed and produce offspring which are almost always sterile. Most commonly, a jack breeds with a mare to produce a mule, which has big donkey-like ears.
    When a stallion and jenny breed, the result is a hinny; they're odd-looking beasts and the only time I've ever seen one was in a comedy act at the county fair rodeo.
    I asked a mule-breeder friend about the differences between hinnies and mules: "A mule generally gets the best of both parents -- a donkey's smart head on a horse's strong body. A hinny usually turns out the other way around, which is why hardly anybody breeds them."
    The burro has bloodlines that breeders track. As for the sterile mule, the old saying is that he has neither pride of ancestry nor hope of posterity (though racing mules have been cloned in recent years).
    The big ears on the mule inspired the name of our Western mule deer; the jack rabbit, with the long ears, gets its name from jackass-rabbit.
    But even though they both have equine features with some impressive ears, the mule and the burro (or ass or donkey) are not the same, and I wish people would quit confusing these animals that continue to do a lot of the world's hard work.

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Indian Eco-battles

Ariana Brocious | Nov 03, 2009 08:00 AM

Today the Arizona Republic wraps up an excellent three-part series on coal, water and green jobs conflicts on Indian lands in northern Arizona.

Sunday's story focuses on the Navajo Generating Station near Page, responsible for pollution haze over the Grand Canyon and ranked as the nation's third-largest emitter of nitrogen oxides by the EPA, who now wants the plant to clean up its act:

In the two months since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed rules that would require costly new air-scrubbing equipment at the plant, the debate has escalated into a war of increasingly dire predictions: Tribal economies could collapse. The plant itself could close. The price of water sold to Phoenix and Tucson could quadruple.

The coal-fired power plant and the mine where it gets its coal -- which lies on the Hopi and Navajo reservations -- provide hundreds of jobs to the tribal communities. The plant is also the powerhouse behind the Central Arizona Project (CAP) Canal, providing the electricity to move water from the Colorado River down to the thirsty southern metropolises of Phoenix and Tucson. The EPA's proposed rules would result in costly changes to the plant, costs which would likely be passed on to power customers.

Monday's story took a closer look at Joe Shirley Jr., president of the Navajo Nation, and his battle with environmentalists and tribal concerns, something HCN editor Jonathan Thompson recently discussed. Shirley, who denies the impacts of climate change, says he's fighting for the interests of the Navajo people:

"I'm working on independence, period," he said. "If it takes green jobs to get us back to standing on our own two feet, I'm for green jobs. If it takes Desert Rock or Navajo Generating Station...I'm for Desert Rock and Navajo Generating Station."

Today's story reports on a similar dilemma on the Hopi reservation, where jobs in the coal mines and power plant clash with environmental conservation interests--leading to conflicts among tribal government members. Some believe coal is a resource that should be exploited by the tribe to boost the economy, while others see the industry threatening the tribe's ecological heritage.

All three stories present different angles of the same larger story: in the debate between economy and ecology, who wins?





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Wanna hunt here? Just sign this petition

Jodi Peterson | Nov 02, 2009 08:50 AM

Landowners unhappy with government regulations are protesting this fall -- by locking out hunters.  Fred Hirschy, a Montana rancher, says he's been losing cattle to wolves and is fed up with the lack of response from Montana's wildlife department, reports The Montana Standard. For years Hirschy had allowed moose and deer hunters onto his land in exchange for state payment, but this fall he hung up the No Trespassing sign. Then he told those disgruntled hunters that he'd open his land to hunting again if they'd call Fish, Wildlife and Parks and complain about wolf management. 

It's a growing trend, apparently. The Standard reports numerous incidents across Montana and other Western states of landowners denying hunter access in anger -- over grazing restrictions, shorter hunting seasons, even over a state wildlife department's purchase of a ranch. Some landowners have even asked hunters to sign a petition for a cause before allowing them onto the property.

The landowners say blocking access is an effective tool for getting government to listen to their concerns, but wildlife officials say it can create more problems than are solved:

"When people use hunter access to make a political statement or to gain leverage on a particular issue, sometimes the implications or consequences go far beyond the target that the landowner might have intended," he said.

For example, if a group of hunters has a trip planned and learns it won't have access to a particular ranch days ahead of time, it's left scrambling. The group could quickly make plans in the same area and keep its accommodations, or decide on an entirely different part of the state.

That could hurt hotel owners, restaurants and other businesses that count on hunting season business.

If you've encountered situations like this or have heard of similar cases, post a comment and let us know.  Also see our story on a different but related issue: "Private landowners become lords of the public estate".


Poisoned plains

Arla Shephard | Oct 30, 2009 07:27 AM

When Kaput-D enters a rodent's bloodstream, it causes the animal to bleed through several orifices. In a matter of weeks, the rodent might bleed through its skin, becoming weaker and more susceptible to predators.

Last week, the Center for Biological Diversity submitted official comments to the Environmental Protection Agency against the pending approval of the poison, which they believe could severely affect ecosystems. While the poison is meant to target the black-tailed prairie dog, other species -- gold and bald eagles, black-footed ferrets, whooping cranes and others -- could pick up the poison if they eat the dead rodents.

“This is like kicking someone when they’re already down,” said Justin Augustine of the Center for Biological Diversity in a press release. “Less than a year ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the black-tailed prairie dog may need to be protected under the Endangered Species Act because of already approved poisons that are killing the species. EPA should be withdrawing prairie dog poisons from the market in order to protect this imperiled species, and instead they’re considering allowing more."

 The protections offered to non-target species are insufficient, agreed U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Assistant Director for Fisheries and Habitat Conservation Bryan Arroyo in a letter to EPA. Furthermore, he wrote, there haven't been enough realistic cost-benefit studies on the poison.

Kaput-D's label would instruct people not to use the anticoagulant in places where non-target species could be harmed, but such areas might be difficult to avoid because the black-tailed prairie dog inhabits about 2.4 million acres in the Western United States.

Rural communities in the West aren't always receptive to the furry, little rodents. The prairie dogs mow down grass that ranchers would rather see going into their cows and chew through fence posts and phone lines (check out Mark Matthews' 1999 feature story "Standing up for the underdog").

But does that merit slowly bleeding to death?

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Marty Durlin | Oct 27, 2009 03:55 AM

Has it come to this already?

Time to Eat the Dog: The real guide to sustainable living is the name of a new book written by two Victoria University professors, Brenda and Robert Vale. The couple -- both architects who specialize in sustainable living -- have computed the carbon emissions created by pets, taking into account the ingredients of pet food and "the land needed to create them."

"If you have a German shepherd or similar-sized dog, for example, its impact every year is exactly the same as driving a large car around," Brenda Vale told The Dominion Post. (Be sure to check out the comments after the article, including this one:

The "role" of the conspicuously useless pet has in our modern lives seems only to prove Thorstein Veblen right. When once pets ate mice or hunted with us now they are trophies of their own uselessness. That owners become emotionally attached to them is perhaps simply even more indicative of the inappropriate emotional role played by pets in the lives of the lonely modern person/family.)

The Vales believe that the reintroduction of non-carnivorous pets into urban areas would help slow down global warming. "If we have edible pets like chickens for their eggs and meat, and rabbits and pigs, we will be compensating for the impact of other things on our environment," says Robert Vale.

Cats have an eco-pawprint equal to a Volkswagen Golf. If you have two hamsters, it's equivalent to owning a plasma TV. Goldfish have an eco-finprint equal to two cellphones.

The study was published in New Scientist.


Cold War clean-up

Ariana Brocious | Oct 26, 2009 06:39 AM

Stimulus funds are now being used to tackle one of the West's biggest nuclear messes: The 65-year old atomic dump in Los Alamos, N.M. is finally getting some much-needed attention. On Thursday the New York Times reported that a team of workers using $212 million in federal stimulus money will clean up the site on the Pajarito Plateau—part of a larger stimulus-funded program of $6 billion to “clean up the toxic legacy of the arms race.” Another site in Hanford, Wash., is receiving $1.9 billion for a similar undertaking.

The projects will also provide employment—more than 10,800 positions have been saved or created with the money, according to the New York Times. However, the Times added that:

…the money was only a down payment on what is still a staggering task: the Department of Energy is responsible for cleaning up 107 sites, with as much acreage as Delaware and Rhode Island combined, in work that could take decades and cost up to $260 billion to complete.

Some residents of the town that has grown up around the old laboratory, including businesses across the street from the dump, are suspicious of the clean-up operations. Over the years many lab employees have suffered from chemical exposure-related health problems as a result of the dangerous materials used on site. Yet officials are taking extreme care to protect the public:

They asked scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory to come up with the worst-case scenarios of how explosive the chemicals dumped there might have grown over the years—and then they blew up the equivalent amounts of dynamite to test all the safety measures that they would be taking.

Officials say that after the clean-up and waste removal, houses can someday be built on the land.

For more on atomic experiments at Los Alamos, see our story: “New Mexico goes head-to-head with a nuclear juggernaut.”

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Well hell, continued

Cally Carswell | Oct 22, 2009 08:02 AM

Watch what you drink in the Yakima Valley. Groundwater contaminated with nitrates and bacteria, which is pumped by private well owners for drinking, is turning the lower valley into “the toilet bowl” of Washington, as one resident puts it.

Dirty drinking water is a “widespread and long-standing” problem in the valley, according to the Yakima Herald. So the EPA’s announcement this week that it finally plans to crack down on area polluters and enforce clean water laws was welcome news. The agency will start sampling well water and inspecting dairies and feedlots, which have long been eyed as potential culprits behind the pollution.

The Yakima Valley isn’t alone in its well-water woes. According to a piece from the New York Times’ excellent series, “Toxic Waters”:

Agricultural runoff is the single largest source of water pollution in the nation’s rivers and streams, according to the E.P.A. An estimated 19.5 million Americans fall ill each year from waterborne parasites, viruses or bacteria, including those stemming from human and animal waste, according to a study published last year in the scientific journal Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.

… In California, up to 15 percent of wells in agricultural areas exceed a federal contaminant threshold, according to studies. Major waterways like the Chesapeake Bay have been seriously damaged by agricultural pollution, according to government reports.

In Arkansas and Maryland, residents have accused chicken farm owners of polluting drinking water. In 2005, Oklahoma’s attorney general sued 13 poultry companies, claiming they had damaged one of the state’s most important watersheds.

For more on problematic wells in the Yakima Basin, see my recent story, "Death by a thousand wells," which covers controversy in Kittitas County over the impact of unregulated domestic wells.


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Recession blessings

Ed Quillen | Oct 22, 2009 03:48 AM

    Christina Davidson, a correspondent for The Atlantic, has been touring the country on a "Recession Road Trip."
    One recent stop was in Lolo, Mont., where local rancher Tom Maclay has been trying to build a major ski resort called Bitterroot on Lolo Peak. Some ski runs have already been cut.
    Now it appears that the project could be a victim of the recession, with a major creditor threatening foreclosure.
    According to Davidson's piece, most locals see this as a silver lining:
    "Nope. I don't feel sorry for him one bit," one longtime resident says when I approach him in the parking lot of a local deli. "We didn't want it and he didn't give a damn. This isn't the perspective of poor folk resenting the wealthy local landowner. It's practicality. We didn't want the traffic, higher property taxes, expensive housing, and all the rich la-di-da yuppies that would have come with it. God bless this recession if it puts an end to that nightmare."

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