If you've ever tried to fondle a saguaro, you know they feature a pretty effective deterrent against such behavior. But spines, it appears, are now passé.
To combat cactus rustlers -- who can sell the saguaros to landscapers -- the National Park Service is planning to imbed microchips into Arizona's most enticing specimens. Once past the planning stages, officials at Saguaro National Park will begin injecting the cacti with dime-sized chips. Rangers will be equipped with magic microchip wands. Wave one over a marked saguaro -- be it in the back of a truck or in a plant nursery -- and bingo, the wand will pick up that plant's unique code.
Saguaros can live to be more than 200 years old. The microchip manufacturer claims its chips can last about half that time.
It's somehow sad that these wild old symbols of the Southwest will now be searchable in a database. But the price just one swiped saguaro can bring -- over $1,000 -- means that the plant's built-in bristling anti-theft devices are no longer adequate. Another case of codifying the wild in order to save it.
Just days after the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation raised serious concerns about the Bureau of Land Management's plan to open up rock art-rich Nine Mile Canyon to 800 more gas wells, the agency is under the scrutiny of the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office for its extensive use of categorical exclusions to permit energy projects in Wyoming and Utah without environmental review, according to the Associated Press.
The practice, authorized by the 2005 Energy Act, has been used thousands of times at field offices in Price and Vernal, Utah; Farmington, N.M.; and Pinedale, Wyo., said GAO officials, citing the bureau's own figures. Agency officials say they were just doing their job, and that they don't set policy.
In Vernal, the BLM field office waived environmental review of oil and gas projects 491 times during the 2007 fiscal year alone, GAO officials told the AP.
With the BLM rushing to open much of Utah's red rock country to motorized recreation and oil and gas development, and permitting 3,700 new wells on Wyoming's Pinedale Anticline in the midst of ozone spikes and precipitous declines of mule deer and sage grouse populations, the scrutiny probably couldn't come at a better time.
But the information is not exactly a revelation: It's no secret that the Bush administration has worked hard to fast track the development of domestic natural gas and oil supplies at the expense of wildlife habitat, air quality, recreation, and cultural resources.
More important is what will be done with these numbers. Given that Democrats and Republicans are pushing for more domestic drilling, with both Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain hammering that point in their energy platforms (albeit in different ways), it will be interesting to see if a new administration of either stripe will make any attempt to slow the natural gas rush on the West's public lands.
The October 1st edition of the radio science show “Earth and Sky” featured a US Forest Service official asserting that the acreage of individual wildfires has increased dramatically in just a decade. The Deschutes National Forest in Oregon was provided as an example and climate change was held up as the cause for the dramatic change.
These Forest Service assertions were – at best - half truths. The size of Western wildfires has also increased dramatically because:
- As research and experience on the ground have documented, logging usually increases the rate of spread of fire for up to 30 or more years after the area is logged and the extent of logged forests on public and private land has increased over time;
- The Forest Service regularly increases the size of wildfires with huge burn outs, which they then do not distinguish (subtract) from fire acreage statistics;
- The Bush Administration put Forest Service fire spending on a budget; since then some FS managers have used large burn outs to increase burned acreage in order to get larger future fire fighting budgets.
Most Forest Service managers – and most press outlets - are in denial concerning the connection between logging and fire. While there is a body of research on the connection between logging and fire intensity, rate of fire spread, etc., this research is rarely if ever mentioned in connection with fire risk. Instead, the timber industry exploits climate change and Western wildfires year after year to argue – often through surrogates - that more logging is need to reduce fire risk. This fire season we have seen a flood of such propaganda in the editorial pages of the regions large and small newspapers.
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The scandal-plagued Interior Department has certainly provided plenty of material for journalists during the seven-plus years of the Bush administration. Unfortunately, the tabloid-style headlines have come at a price: the pervasive mismanagement of the nation's natural resources, from endangered species and clean water to federally-owned oil and gas reserves. Are things likely to be any different under a McCain or an Obama administration? CQ Politics has tried to answer this question by publishing a list of each candidate's likely picks for Secretary of the Interior. If the list is accurate, it lends real credibility to the Obama camp's contention that a McCain presidency would mean more of the same.
According to CQ, McCain's top picks would be Wayne Allard, Steve Pearce, and current Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. Allard is the retiring Colorado senator who earned a 20% rating from the League of Conservation voters during the 107th Congress. Pearce, a U.S. House member from New Mexico who looks likely to lose his ongoing Senate race to Democrat Tom Udall, owns an oilfield services company and has received more donations from oil companies than from any other industry. His lifetime LCV rating is 1%. He has voted for bills designed to scale back the Endangered Species Act and the Environmental Policy Act, and wrote in the Albuquerque Journal that "Inflexible environmental extremists create a tremendous problem for our environment."
CQ's Obama shortlist, on the other hand, contains Brian Schweitzer, governor of Montana, and two U.S. House members: Mark Udall and Jay Inslee. Udall would get picked only if he loses his race for the Colorado U.S. Senate seat that Allard is vacating. Schweitzer's support for "clean coal" might rankle some environmentalists, but he is a Western populist who might be able to win grassroots support for more environmentally-friendly Interior Department policies. Inslee, a member of House Energy and Commerce Committee, has been a strong proponent of action on climate change -- he was, for a time, a guest blogger at climateprogress.org -- and was the House sponsor of the Roadless Area Conservation Act, a bill that would make permanent the Clinton-era rule protecting National Forest roadless areas.
With 79% of Americans now convinced the country is on the wrong track, both presidential candidates are trying to lay claim to the mantle of "change." But when it comes to the Interior Department, it's becoming more and more evident that one of them is just posturing.
The EPA's "self-inflicted lobotomy" is about to be reversed -- at least partially. More than a year ago, in response to Bush budget cuts, the agency began dismantling its network of 26 technical libraries, a crucial repository of scientific information for the agency's own researchers and the public. It closed several regional libraries and moved tens of thousands of documents into uncatalogued "information dumps" so that it could digitize those documents. Critics saw the move as an attempt to restrict access to information on health risks, corporate polluters, and other important data, and Congress finally forced it to stop "deaccessioning" its holdings.
Now, as of Sept. 30, the agency has reopened at least four of those closed facilities, and is once again providing library access to the public and its own staffers, according to a notice in the Federal Register.
But the damage inflicted on the EPA's vast collection of scientific, environmental and legal documents may be hard to undo. Jim Retting, president of the American Library Association, testified before Congress in March:
"Unfortunately, there continues to be a lot that we don't know: exactly what materials have been being shipped around the country, whether there are duplicate materials in other EPA libraries, whether these items have been or will be digitized, and whether a record is being kept of what is being dispersed and what is being discarded. We remain concerned that years of research and studies about the environment may be lost forever," he said.
Both the agency and Congress would do well to bear in mind Carl Sagan's words: "I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries."
Renewable energy sources may not belch carbon dioxide or other nasty
gasses into the atmosphere, but that doesn't mean they're impact-free.
Solar power, if done on the scale necessary to replace coal, would take up huge swaths of desert land. Wind turbines kill
birds and bats and, to some people's eyes, just aren't very pretty.
Geothermal development carries with it the risk of drilling into hell.
All will require the construction of a lot of new transmission lines, some of which may have to go through some sensitive -- and scenic -- places.
That's what makes this map of EPA-listed contaminated sites with high wind-energy potential so interesting. The places on the map are pretty messed up already, so it's hard to imagine that anyone would have a problem with re-developing them as wind farms. And many of the places, as industrial sites, already have transmission lines going to them.
If you go to the EPA website, you'll find data that you can plug into Google Earth to make maps of contaminated sites with potential for other types of renewable energy-development. These contaminated sites won't provide all the energy we need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. But developing them for renewable energy could be an uncontroversial -- and redemptive -- way to start.
This week, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation sent letters to the Bureau of Land Management raising concerns about plans to open Nine Mile Canyon for new energy development. The canyon, situated in eastern Utah's Tavaputs Plateau, is home to ancient rock art, which has already endured damage due to increased truck traffic from the current energy boom. The BLM's plans will allow more than 800 new gas wells in the area.
The Advisory Council claims that the BLM has not adequately assessed the damage that drilling could have on the cultural sites in the canyon, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
The council's intervention comes as welcome news to archaeologists, conservationists and area tribes who have criticized the hasty giveaway of these public lands to the Bill Barrett Corp.
The Advisory Council is supposed to have authority over the BLM when it comes to interpreting the National Historic Preservation Act. For now, driling is delayed. But it is possible that modest modifications to the BLM's drilling plan could be enough to satisfy the council.
The September 15th edition’s Snapshot focused on the high cost of restoring the Going to the Sun road in Glacier National Park. The Snapshot reports restoration which is now underway will cost $240 million to complete.
I found this price tag for “restoring” only one Glacier NP road curious. I live near Redwood National Park which, like Glacier, gets lots of visitors each year. But the roads at Redwood National Park are in serious disrepair. Big pot holes have appeared which are capable of rendering a vehicle’s suspension suspect with only a single encounter. And at Redwood NP it is not only the roads which are in disrepair. Popular trails are also deteriorating due to several successive years without maintenance.
So I decided to do a little digging.
Glacier NP ranks 38th out of 360 National Park Service “units” managed by the National Park Service in number of visitors per year. The 360 units include national seashores, historic sites, parkways and national monuments in addition to national parks. Glacier had 2,083,329 visitors in 2007 which represented 0.76% of all visitors to “units” managed by the National Park Service. National Parks which had more visitors in 2007 include Grand Teton, Zion, Rocky Mountain, Olympic, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Great Smokey Mountains National Parks. Among these parks Great Smokey had the most visitors in 2007 – a whooping 9,372,253 visitors or 3.4% of total 2007 visits to units managed by the Park Service. Redwood NP ranked 136th with 385,171 visitors in 2007. You can read the entire report on line.
HCN first covered the issue of what should be done about the Going to the Sun road in 1998. Congress got involved in the debate in 2005 when Senator Max Baucus of Montana was able to get an earmark into the federal highway budget for some of the funds needed to repair the road. But that Baucus earmark faced opposition in the House of Representatives.
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At the moment this post goes live -- 12 am, October 1, 2008 -- the West will be one step closer to commercial-scale oil shale development. That's because the provision that Ken Salazar inserted into last year's Interior Department appropriations bill forbidding the BLM from issuing final regulations for granting oil shale leases will have expired, despite last-minute efforts by Senate Democrats to keep it alive. President Bush had threatened to veto the this fall's appropriations bill -- known as a continuing resolution because it will maintain funding levels until the next president takes office -- if it included a continuation of the moratorium.
Now that the moratorium is gone, it's likely that the Bush administration will attempt to issue final oil-shale leasing regulations -- the next step towards leasing and actual oil production -- before it leaves office in January. Doing so would satisfy not only the Republicans' oil-industry donors but also the party rank and file who took to yelling "drill, baby, drill" at the national convention.
But it's not not as if there will be shale-cooking towers popping up on public land before the Bush administration leaves office. Whether or not the West is going to find itself rushed into oil shale production ultimately depends on the next president and the future makeup of Congress. The expiration of the oil shale moratorium just serves to highlight one more way in which this election is becoming awfully important for people who care about public lands.
We've been hearing a lot about small towns during the campaigns this year, ranging from Barack Obama's comment about bitter residents to Sarah Palin's service as a small-town mayor.
That means it might be a good time to find out whether you live in one. Community size is a consideration, of course, but these factors may be more relevant:
-- You can dial a wrong number, and still talk for 20 minutes.
-- Drivers don't use turn signals because everybody knows where they're going.
-- Off the top of your head, you don't know which key on your ring fits your front door.
-- When you're driving down the street and stop to talk to someone who's driving the other way, no one honks.
-- People stop for squirrels in the street.
-- Seldom are you asked for ID when you write a check.
-- And when you go to write the check and ask the date, there's an argument about what day it is.
-- The only thing in town that runs on time is the school, and that's because it has an automatic system to ring its bells at the appropriate times.
-- People don't read the local newspaper to find out who did what; they read it to find out who got caught.
-- You refer to locations by what they were when you moved to town -- i.e., "across from Woolworth's," even though that store closed 20 years ago.
-- You can predict an election by watching yard signs, and it's especially significant if you see a Republican sign in a Democratic yard, or vice-versa.
-- Your kids say there's nothing to do, and when they do do something, you hear about it before they get home.
-- You try to defend your long-time resident status by pointing out that your kids were born in your town, and hear a real old-timer reply that "Just because kittens were born in the oven, doesn't make them biscuits."