Yesterday, the BLM issued leases for natural gas drilling on the Roan Plateau. The leases were auctioned off about six weeks ago for a record-breaking $114 million. Environmental groups, hunters, anglers and Colorado politicians, including Governor Bill Ritter, opposed the BLM's management plans, advocating for stronger protections on the unique and beautiful sanctuary in western Colorado. Opponents of the BLM's plan filed more than 15,000 protests, but they were dismissed by the Department of Interior.
A coalition of 10 environmental groups filed a lawsuit, hoping to overturn the BLM's management plan. In the meantime, they are seeking a temporary federal injunction to block the leases until there is some resolution to the legal challenge.
The battle over the Roan -- which is a symbol of the West's struggles with energy development -- rages on.
The latest Colorado poll, conducted by Rasmmussen on September 28, has Obama up by one point. But is the race as close as it seems? Maybe not.
There's been some recent speculation, of course, that the the polls are skewing Republican because pollsters can't get in contact with young voters who don't have landlines. But in Colorado this year, there's something else that's even harder for the pollsters to account for: the potential effect of the disparities in the two candidates' ground games. Canvassing and get-out-the-vote efforts are what win close elections, and it's hard to do either without a whole lot of paid staffers and volunteers. While it's difficult to get numbers on just how many people the Obama and McCain campaigns have working for them in Colorado, the number of field offices that the campaigns have established just might be decent proxy. By that measure, Obama is winning hands-down. The Obama campaign website lists 33 offices in the state. McCain's lists only 9.
Perhaps more telling is the geographic distribution of offices. Obama has them in every part of the state besides the sparsely-populated, heavily-Republican eastern plains. Except for an office in Grand Junction (and one that just opened in Eagle county but isn't up on the website yet), the McCain campaign has limited itself to the Front Range.
There are a few other unofficial McCain offices set up by local Republican parties on the West Slope. But Sean Quinn of fivethirtyeight.com, who went on a field-organizing tour of the area about a week ago, reports finding many of them closed. It all points to a pretty big disparity in on-the-ground resources, especially in the rural parts of the state. How much of a difference will this make? Since the polls won't really tell us, we're going to have to wait another 34 days to find out.
In an election year already filled with topsy-turvy events and serial comeuppance, the stock market yesterday lost an average of $3 million per minute and chickens came home to roost on their dwindling 401K nest eggs.
The headlines were screaming: Massive credit contraction…worst drop in U.S. stock market since 911…strangled economy…serious recession looming. But despite dire predictions of crashing global markets and domestic job loss, 30 Western Democrats and 24 Western Republicans in the U.S. House joined their colleagues on Monday in voting down a $700 billion bailout plan, 228-205. (Twenty-eight Western Dems and 17 Republicans voted for the bill.)
Colorado Democrat Mark Udall voted no and called on Congress to create a better bill, citing the need “to fix the broken financial system that led us to this crisis.” Utah’s Republican congressman, Rob Bishop, voted no because “the free market probably hasn’t been given enough of a chance to perform.” All eight Arizona representatives – four Democrats and four Republicans – voted against the legislation, even though Ariz. Sen. John McCain "suspended" his presidential campaign to promote it. While Dems wanted more for the taxpayer, nay-saying Republicans couldn’t bring themselves to insert controls into their deregulation experiment. The GOP group has an alternative plan, with “market-based solutions” such as federal insurance for bad debt.
In the meantime, the Fed yesterday poured $490 billion into the economy, following a $430 billion infusion last week, trying to shore up financial systems around the globe and regain some stability.
After the vote, Congress adjourned for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish holiday that begins ten days of repentance before Yom Kippur. During that time, one should attempt reconciliation, according to tradition.
A recent piece by native rights attorneys Lloyd Miller and Heather Kendall-Miller -- getting wide play in Native and alternative media -- indicts Sarah Palin on Native issues in her home state.
Alaskan Native villages are spread across 375 million acres, many of them roadless. Subsistence foods -- fish and game -- still comprise 60 percent of the local diet. In Palin's scant two years in the governor's office, she has pursued a lawsuit which, if successful, would move every subsistence issue into the courts and thus tie up traditional rights for generations. Her reason? To expand sport and commercial fishing. A federal court in 2007 rejected Palin's primary legal challenge, and asserted the authority of the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture to protect Native subsistence fishing activities in most navigable waters. But Palin is now arguing that federal subsistence protections are too broad.
Palin has also tried to overturn federal protections for Alaska Native traditional uses of game, particularly for the Ahtna Indian people in Chistochina.
On the question of sovereignty, Palin has argued that Alaska tribes have no authority to act unless the state first permits a tribe to take a particular action.
In July the governor was ordered by a panel of federal judges to provide help to Yup'ik voters in southwest Alaska -- providing bilingual poll workers, sample ballots in Yup'ik, and other assistance -- to ensure informed voter participation.
Palin's record is clear, say the attorneys, and "that record is a failure."
Molybdenum. Uranium. Silver, gold, copper, coal. You name it and Colorado has probably mined it. Now a company called DiamonEx wants to exploit those mineral-rich mountains for diamonds. The Australia-based company is seeking a permit for exploratory drilling in Larimer County, along the Front Range. DiamonEx says they hope to mine as many diamonds as they currently do in Botswana – a southern African country not so far from Lesotho, where perhaps the world’s largest diamond was discovered this month.
It’s not the first time diamond diggers have scoped out the Centennial State. Until it went bankrupt in 2000, the Kelsey Lake mine near the Colorado-Wyoming border was the only operating diamond mine in the country. But DiamonEx’s potential new neighbors aren’t too thrilled with the prospect of a repeat: among the opponents is a new nonprofit group called Leave Our Valley Alone Forever. Just in the exploration phase, DiamonEx plans to excavate some 20,000 tons of material from a 23-acre area to see if Larimer County is indeed a diamond in the rough.
It sounds like common sense -- require ranchers in wolf-recovery areas to clean up their dead cattle, so that the predators don't develop a taste for livestock. Now, that may happen in eastern Arizona's Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. The forest is included in the struggling Mexican wolf reintroduction program. Only about 50 Mexican wolves now roam free in Arizona and New Mexico, while the feds have killed or captured more than 50 for preying on livestock over the last 10 years.
The anti-scavenging policy got its start in the Northern Rockies when wolves were reintroduced in that region in '95. To prevent wolves from chowing on cow and horse carcasses and thus learning to view the animals as prey, ranchers had to render their dead livestock impossible to scavenge (by hauling them off, burying them, dousing them with corrosive lime, burning them, or blowing them up with dynamite).
But in the Mexican wolf recovery area, ranchers have been allowed to leave dead cattle lying around, inadvertently tempting the wolves. Now, the draft plan for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest proposes adopting a policy similar to that in the Northern Rockies. "It's an important precedent," says Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, noting that other national forests in the Mexican wolf recovery area, such as the Gila, could follow Apache-Sitgreaves' lead.
But the new policy wouldn't address intentional baiting of wolves with live animals. As we reported last fall, a ranch-hand in Catron County, N.M. claimed to have deliberately lured a female wolf by branding cattle close to the animal's den and then leaving a vulnerable cow and calf in the area overnight. The wolf killed the cows and thus got its "third strike" (after three documented livestock attacks within a year, a wolf must be shot or permanently put into captivity). After the ranch-hand's revelation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began an investigation, which is still underway.
Despite the best efforts of many concerned friends, I remain something of an agnostic on whether climate change is caused by humans or is part of a natural cycle. After all, on my daily walks with the dog along the Arkansas River, I can gaze across our wide valley and stare up the narrow valley of the North Fork -- where there was a big glacier a few thousand years ago which melted long before there was an industrial civilization to spew carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
That said, those outings with the dog also provide some evidence of warming. We used to figure that the changing aspen would peak around September 15. For some years, though, it's been coming later in September. Here it is the 22nd, a week after the traditional peak, and the gold is just starting to show on the hillsides; the peak may come in another week.
Does that indicate a warming climate? Hard to say. The botanists tell us that the chemical changes that make the leaves turn yellow are not a result of temperature, but instead by the declining hours of sunshine as the days shorten in the fall. Temperature, and thus global warming, shouldn't be a factor.
But another local spectacle might be a result of climate change. On a 14,157-foot peak west of Salida, there is a seasonal snow formation called "the Angel of Shavano" that emerges as the winter snowpack melts.
Generally, it doesn't look all that cherubic. I've always though the Angel looked more like Woody Woodpecker, and my kids said it resembled the Grinch.
At any rate, old guidebooks up into the 1930s said the Angel was at its best around Independence Day. These days, it's pretty well melted by July 4, and reaches its peak around Memorial Day -- five weeks earlier.
That appears to be solid evidence of a warming climate.
And I'd like to know -- is there anything like this happening where you live?
The interior West has long been a source of raw materials for the rest of the nation. Copper mines gauge the hills of Arizona; long trains run day and night hauling low-sulfur coal from the massive mines of Wyoming's Powder River Basin and Colorado's West Elk Mountains to the East Coast; gasfields on the Pinedale Anticline and in the Piceance Basin feed a spiderweb of pipelines to the Mid- and Northwest. As a result, we rural Westerners can get worked up over our remaining "pristine" landscapes. After all, why should the places we love be sacrificed to energy and mineral hungry metropoli back east? But with natural gas prices trending up over time and technology advancing by leaps and bounds, it's become pretty clear that just about anywhere, USA, (provided it has a wee bit of retrievable natural gas or oil) is fair game these days.
High Country News hasn't dealt with the new gas plays in the East and Midwest, since they're out of our coverage area (hey, we gotta draw the line somewhere), but some other publications are doing a fantastic job digging (drilling?) into the issue.
The Christian Science Monitor just ran a great story about how companies are now using hydraulic fracturing to retrieve gas in 19 states. And earlier this summer, the nonprofit Propublica teamed with the public radio station WNYC to produce this excellent investigative piece on the Marcellus shale gas play in Pennsylvania and New York.
Poignant reminders that the resource-heavy West used to be a lot further East. . .after all, the first oil wells were drilled in West Virginia and Pennsylvania in the 19th century. Hopefully the lessons of runaway energy development in our neck of the woods (and of the very distant past) aren't lost on those city slickers over yonder.
The Senate Finance Committee has come up with a new bill which would extend the Secure Rural Schools Act.
Secure Rural Schools, enacted in 2000, was a response to the decline in logging in the 1990s. Counties that once depended on a share of the timber profits from their federal lands saw their budgets plummet when logging slowed on large swathes of federal forest land. Secure Rural Schools provided each county with roughly the same amount of money it had received in timber receipts during the boom years. The Act expired in 2006 but was extended for one year in the spring of 2007. Congress turned down a second extension early this summer, and counties in heavily forested Western states—particularly in the Northwest—have already made drastic cuts in county services.
The new extension would run through 2011. It is part of a package that would also extend billions of dollars in tax credits for renewable energy, as well as allowing Washington state residents to continue deducting state sales taxes on their federal income tax returns. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill this week.
NASA just gave the University of Colorado at Boulder its largest research contract ever – to lead the mission that will launch an orbiting probe to Mars in 2013. The benefits of the nearly half-billion-dollar project are many: Every dollar spent on space exploration has an eightfold economic benefit; studying other planets helps us better understand our own; space expeditions are the 21st century-equivalent of Columbus’s voyages. And NASA’s $16 billion annual budget is a drop in the bucket compared to the $10 billion a month we spend in Iraq. Still, a half-billion dollars could help with some urgent problems down here on Earth. The National Priorities Project estimates that it could provide a year of health care for 165,000 people, or power 830,000 homes with renewable energy for a year, or build 2,200 affordable housing units.
But the study of Mars may still prove useful to Westerners: Our arid southern Utah desert is already used for Mars simulations, and that lifeless, dusty planet might foreshadow what’s in store for the rest of our region as the climate warms and dries.