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Endangered Species Act restored

Jeff Chen | Mar 04, 2009 08:18 AM
Filed under: Politics , Wildlife

Gray wolves and other endangered species will be happy about President Barack Obama's decision on Tuesday to bring back the original rules of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).



In December 2008, as a parting gift, the Bush administration introduced rules to allow federal projects to bypass a mandatory review from either the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service. So if federal agencies decided that their proposed highways, dams or mines pose no threat to imperiled species, they wouldn't have to consult with scientists.

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Requiem for a jaguar

Jodi Peterson | Mar 03, 2009 06:21 AM

On Feb. 20, we wrote that for the first time ever in the U.S., scientists had trapped a jaguar and fitted it with  a radio tracking collar.  Just 10 days later, though, the big cat was dead.

Known as Macho B, he had prowled 500 square miles of the U.S.-Mexico border region  for more than a decade (see our story "Cat Fight on the Border"). Distinguishable by a Pinocchio-shaped rosette on his side, he was photographed by remote cameras 63 times during those years. In his prime Macho B weighed up to to 150 pounds, but he was down to 118 when he was captured in February, although scientists thought the 16-year-old cat still looked to be "in fine shape." When he was recaptured last Sunday and euthanized by a zoo vet, kidney failure had whittled his frame to 99 pounds, reports the Arizona Republic.

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Western water woes

Jeff Chen | Mar 03, 2009 05:15 AM

A deal in the 1920s divided water rights amongst Western states. But back then, water conditions were more ideal. Now that we're in somewhat of a prolonged drought, many water managers are warning that there may not be enough water to fulfill the Colorado River Compact. Matt Jenkins spun an excellent tale about the issue in the March 2 issue of HCN.

And KUNC's Kirk Siegler speaks with HCN editor Jonathan Thompson about future water woes in the West.

Be sure to check back each issue for more interviews with KUNC.

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A loss for Klamath dam and water deals

Felice Pace | Mar 03, 2009 05:10 AM

In a defeat for those organizations and interests which support proposed Klamath River Water and Dam Deals, the California Water Resources Board has rejected a request from energy giant PacifiCorp to once again delay consideration of the impacts PacifiCorp’s five Klamath River dams have on water quality.

In a late February letter to “interested parties” the Water Board refused to delay a key part of the dam re-licensing process. The water quality certification or “401” process determines what dams must do to meet established water quality standards. Some experts believe that completion of the process for the Klamath dams would make it clear that rel-icensing the Klamath River dams requires changes that could cost over $1 billion dollars for fish ladders, water quality treatment and other environmental mandates.

The water quality process which now continues will also determine interim changes in dam, powerhouse and reservoir operations and management which PacifiCorp must implement while it and the federal governments consider whether or not to remove the dams. Under an “Agreement in Principle” (AIP) which PacifiCorp, the federal Department of Interior, Governor Schwarzenegger (California) and Governor Kulongoski (Oregon) have signed, a decision on whether or not to remove the dams would not be made until the end of 2012; if the dam removal options is chosen, removal would not begin until 2020.

The long time lag under the AIP between when a decision on dam removal would be made and the beginning of the dam removal process - as well as the fact that PacifiCorp can “opt out” of dam removal in the meantime - makes the “interim conditions” placed on annual dam operating licenses between now and 2020 critically important. The Klamath River and its salmon suffer from terrible water quality conditions – especially below the dams. Recent assessments found that 100% of the salmon in the 30 or so river miles below the Klamath dams suffer from diseases associated with poor water quality. It is now well documented that many of the salmon produced in the Klamath River and its tributaries perish as a result of these diseases before they can reach the ocean.

Those who reject the 2020 time-line for the beginning of dam removal believe that requiring PacifiCorp to take steps to mitigate poor water quality now will persuade the company to agree to remove the dams well before 2020.  Interim conditions would also be likely for a fifth PacifiCorp dam and reservoir (Keno) which the company proposes to transfer to federal ownership. Keno Reservoir receives all agricultural wastewater generated within the 200,000 plus acre Klamath Project operated by the Bureau of Reclamation. Fish kills related to poor water quality occur in this reservoir every year including die off of sucker species listed as “endangered” under the federal ESA. Measures to mitigate Keno’s poor water quality could be included in the “interim conditions” PacifiCorp is ordered to implement.    

One of the most controversial provisions of the Agreement in Principle on the Klamath River dams would link it to an even more controversial Water Deal. That proposed deal would require federal legislation to give water allocation priority over salmon to irrigators within the federal Klamath Project. Federal legislation would also be necessary to provide close to a billion dollars in new subsidies for Klamath Basin Agricultural Interests and federal tribes and to free PacifiCorp from liability not only for dam removal but for Klamath Hydro-Project legacy impacts going forward.

Under the proposed Water Deal, State of California legislation would also be required to exempt irrigators who commercially farm on Klamath Basin Wildlife Refuges from provisions of the California Endangered Species Act. The C-ESA prohibits “take” of the Bald Eagle and other listed species. Scientific assessments have concluded that farming on the refuges “takes” Bald Eagles when the Bureau of Reclamation allows refuge marshes to be dried up in order to supply irrigation water for farming on the refuges.  This occurs during drought years.

A recent meeting of the California Water Resources Board, at which PacifiCorp’s request for another water quality certification delay was discussed, revealed where various Klamath “stakeholders” stand in relationship to PacifiCorp, the Agreement in Principle on the dams and on the Water Deal which has been linked to a dam removal agreement. Those standing with PacifiCorp and in support of a delay in 401 and interim water quality programs include Trout Unlimited, the Yurok Tribe and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association. These organizations are also among the most avid proponents of the proposed Water Deal. Opposition to delaying the water quality process included the Hoopa Tribe, Klamath Riverkeeper and the Northcoast Environmental Center, an alliance of several environmental organizations based on California’s Northcoast.     



Tell me sweet little lies...

Emily Underwood | Mar 02, 2009 04:30 AM

Bottled water has always been an elaborate PR scam-- both an invented necessity and a bizarre symbol of luxury. Nevertheless, I buy it sometimes, especially on long car trips. I don't know why, but I usually pick Fiji. Maybe it's the square shape and snazzy palm frond label. 

I have always known that I am being seduced by shameless greenwashing: "natural artesian water" so eco-friendly that "every drop is green." However, like most of us, I enjoy forgetting what I know, as I listen to the  gurgle of gasoline filling up my tank and eat a frozen Snickers bar.

Every bottled water company has a special spin: Evian has tried for years now to convince us that drinking its bottled water will make us thin and sophisticated, possibly even French. Dasani, by Coca Cola, goes for mystery with its shapely blue bottle and "mouthwatering" mineral formula.  

Something all the bottled water companies have in common these days, however, is aggressive greenwashing. It turns out Fiji is running one of the most surreal and manipulative campaigns.

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Power Shift 2009

Photo courtesy of Shadia Fayne Wood

Federal action on climate change. Green jobs. Youth empowerment… and economic development. Am I buying it? Yes. Are energy companies buying it? Sometimes.

I am – by default (because of age) – part of this Millennial generation, and we’ve been called lazy, yes, but we’ve also stood up for the things we believe in. Maybe we’re not as radical as the baby boomers that protested the Vietnam War and nuclear proliferation, but our voices are heard – sometimes.

We were heard in November 2008. While former President Bush was making it "easier for coal companies to dump rock and dirt from mountaintop mining operations into nearby streams and valleys," I was part of a campus coalition at the University of Maryland protesting corporate banks that financed mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia.

Why? I’m not entirely against coal. I’m just against the destruction of the most diverse temperate hardwood forest in the world, and all the water pollution, cultural damage, and landslides that accompany that destruction.

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Wind power and wildlife don't mix

Marty Durlin | Feb 26, 2009 07:10 AM

Montana ranks fifth in wind energy potential in the U.S., with an estimated capacity of 116,000 megawatts over 17 million windy acres. To date, the state has installed less than 300 MW of wind power, but more projects are underway.

Hoping to "spark cooperative efforts between wind energy and conservation interests, so that the promise of renewable energy can be achieved without sacrificing Montana's cultural, aesthetic, or biological heritage," The Nature Conservancy has released a 54-page study ("Ecological Risk Assessment of Wind Energy Development in Montana") cataloguing the most susceptible species in the state's windiest areas, urging that developers avoid nearly 8 million acres deemed "high-risk to ecological values."

The study says:

Montana is home to extensive intact habitats, retaining much of the species
and viewsheds first documented by European explorers.  It contains some of the largest,
intact grasslands remaining in North America and more mixed-grass prairie than any
other state in the Great Plains.  It also retains extensive examples of montane coniferous
forest systems that today support the most complete carnivore assemblages in the lower
48 states.  Compared to most of the West, it has some of the least developed
intermountain valleys.  It also is home to the nation’s longest free-flowing river and
harbors high quality aquatic and riparian habitats across the state.  

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The rich black allure

Terray Sylvester | Feb 26, 2009 04:40 AM
Filed under: Public Lands , Energy , Bad Judgment

Oil shale is kind of like online journalism -- there's such potential there, but from the looks of it, we may never figure out how to make a profitable industry of it. Which must partly explain the contradictions in Ken Salazar's latest plans for the resource.

Yesterday, the secretary of the interior announced he'll be scrapping a set of research, development and demonstration leases in Colorado and Utah approved by the Bush administration six days before Obama's inauguration. Salazar called the leases "flawed," and the product of a rule-making process that was, "under the last administration, turned upside down" -- driven by political agendas instead of scientific timelines. He objected to the size of the leases (at 640 acres they were four times larger than the initial six RD&D leases doled out in 2006), and said the low royalty rates included in their terms would have "sold taxpayers short."

Then he reiterated the significant unanswered questions that still surround around oil shale: How many more booms and busts can communities be expected to weather?  The technologies currently under development are extremely energy intensive, will shale ever prove viable on a commercial scale? Why, with the threat of climate change hanging over us, would we pour more resources into such a dirty, dirty energy source? How much water will commercial production require and where the heck (in the over allocated, arid west) will it come from?

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Fueling the fire in Mexico

Jonathan Thompson | Feb 26, 2009 03:05 AM

I recently wrote about the drug-related violence in Mexico and along our southern border. That generated some nice discussion. Even in the short time since I wrote that, the violence seems to have intensified: Already, more than 300 people have been murdered in the Juarez area this year. Yes, THIS year -- that's less than two months. The governor of Texas has called for 1,000 U.S. troops to guard the border. The Juarez mayor fled to El Paso after he received multiple death threats. The Juarez police chief resigned after six of his officers were killed, and the culprits threatened to do away with more if the chief didn't step down.

And there are signs that the bloodshed is spreading into the U.S. Last year Phoenix was number two in the world for kidnapping for ransom, second only to Mexico City.

But the latest news, reported by the New York Times, may be the most interesting. It turns out that because U.S. gun control laws are so much laxer than those in Mexico, the drug cartels are relying on U.S. dealers for a lot of their firepower. 

Drug gangs seek out guns in the United States because the gun-control laws are far tougher in Mexico. Mexican civilians must get approval from the military to buy guns and they cannot own large-caliber rifles or high-powered pistols, which are considered military weapons.

Now, there are different ways you can spin this. If you're a gun rights advocate, you'd probably say that Mexico's violence is proof that gun control doesn't work -- down there, the criminals are just going elsewhere to get arms. On the other hand, if the U.S. had laws that were as strict as Mexico's, then the narcos would have to go much further and through more trouble to get the big guns.

But there's also a tangential angle to consider. I've often been told that gun control laws in the rural West would be detrimental to our rural culture. There's a belief that somehow firearms are as integral to our identity as pickup trucks, Wranglers and cheap canned beer, and outlawing guns -- even if it's only assault rifles that are banned -- will somehow kill a piece of that identity. 

That's funny. Because if any culture is more gun-dependent than ours, it's Mexico's. They ban big guns. And their culture hasn't suffered a bit: Just spend a New Year's Eve in a small Mexican village and you'll hear how true that is (and watch out for falling bullets).



The big, bad, brucellosis-spreading wolf?

Jodi Peterson | Feb 25, 2009 05:30 AM

In Wyoming, some legislators are straining to connect the dots between two of their biggest management headaches. The livestock disease brucellosis, which causes cows to abort their calves, has cost ranchers millions. And the gray wolf, reintroduced in '95, has created huge controversy.  Now, a state lawmaker is asking for $45,000 to test wolves for brucellosis -- despite the fact that studies have shown that wolves cannot transmit the disease to other animals, and that testing in the state over the past 15 years has never found an infected wolf.

Apparently, Sen. Kit Jennings, R-Casper, was inspired by a South Korea study he said proves that dogs can pass brucellosis to cows (actually, what the study showed is that cows can pass brucellosis to dogs).  The most likely path of  transmission to cattle is from wild elk, although bison have been blamed too (they probably don't infect cows directly, but may provide a reservoir for the disease). The AP reports, in regards to the idea of testing wolves:

"It's not even an issue," said Mike Jimenez, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's wolf recovery project director for Wyoming. "No one's ever really been concerned about it, but for whatever reason if there is a concern, it's easy enough to test for it."

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