Friday news roundup: Defense goes solar and helicopter bear shooting goes legal


While presidential opponents dropped like flies, news affecting lands west of the 100th meridian continued to spit and sputter out onto the interwebs, mimicking the sleet-snow we got here in Paonia this weekend. Here's a roundup of the important news of the week:

President Obama announced his rejection of the Keystone XL project on Wednesday, citing an unrealistic deadline. Congress had imposed an artificial deadline, he said, in a move to force the project through. The pipeline would carry Alberta crude south, through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska on its way to Gulf Coast refineries. Reactions were predictable - environmentalists cheered, Republicans booed. (Rick Perry, somewhat incomprehensibly, blamed Obama of focusing more on the next election than on the next generation.) But while the project has been halted, it's not over yet. TransCanada can, if it chooses, resubmit their application for the pipeline.

This in from the "dubious-but-awesome idea" department: Geothermal engineers plan to pump water into a dormant volcano, hoping for a cheap, safe, near-endless source of hot water to generate electricity. The project will get underway this summer at Newberry Volcano, near Bend, Ore. Several geothermal power plants exist in Europe -- one of which was shut over earthquake concerns -- but, so far, the technology has been tricky and difficult to scale up.

The Department of Defense, whose energy bills stack up to about $4 billion annually, is cozying up to the sun, both at home and abroad. In its foreign operations the use of green technology saves money and lives (oil convoys, attractive insurgent targets, are extraordinarily dangerous). A new report commissioned by the DoD says greater adoption of solar technology on its domestic military bases could save the government as much as $100 million annually.

It turns out the Gem State is anything but a workers paradise. In Idaho, according to a new Pew Research Center report, low-wage jobs are growing faster than the national average, high-wage jobs are on the decline. The state's legislature has made the state an attractive place for call centers and water-polluting concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, but the work is low-skilled and poorly paid. Perhaps it's no surprise that record numbers of Idahoans are on food stamps.

As part of his effort to streamline the government, President Obama would like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to move out of the Commerce Department and into the Interior Department. It’s not an unreasonable move, since NOAA and the DOI are both charged with conserving and protecting natural resources. The former arrangement allegedly had something to do with Nixon being unhappy with his Interior Secretary, reports the Washington Post. Of course not everyone approves. We sympathize: change is hard. 

Low levels of asbestos found in woodchips from a Superfund site pose no threat to human health, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Thousands of tons of asbestos-tainted woodchips had been sold from the area around the site and used in residences, business and schools around the country. In a report released by the EPA on Friday, Jan. 13, just one of 15 samples tested positive for low asbestos levels. However, no asbestos could be detected in the air tests designed to mimic human exposure. Despite the reassurance, Libby councilman Allen Olsen said he would no longer use the woodchips.

South Dakota researchers and tribe members are hoping that bison will be what’s for dinner. Sioux students at the Flandreau Indian School are learning to cook buffalo meat, as part of a project to restore demand for their traditional meat source. The Flandreau Santee Sioux once relied on bison for survival, though they’ve now become more ceremonial. Project organizers hope a renewed appreciation or buffalo meat, and the knowledge of how to prepare it, will improve health (bison is leaner than beef or pork) and help reestablish regional herds.

On Wyoming's Wind River Reservation, tales of cancer deaths run rampant among residents living near uranium tailings piles. Over the next two years, epidemiologist Folo Atinkan, acting director for the Rocky Mountain Tribal Epidemiology Center, will collect data to see if high rates of cancer could be linked to uranium contamination.

WILDLIFE, gains and losses
Whisked back from the brink of extinction, the Catalina Island fox has rebounded, thanks to conservationists' efforts capturing foxes for breeding and vaccinating for distemper and rabies. In 1999, ravaged by an accidentally imported disease, only 100 individuals remained of this island-endemic subspecies. A count released Wednesday reports about 1,500 foxes scamper around the island.  

In a move seeming to hail from an other era (the one when we cooked over fire and still thought of ourselves as prey), the Alaska Board of Game has introduced new, bizarre wildlife management policies targeting bears, including grizzlies. The new measures are meant to prop up declining moose and caribou populations. In some parts of the state, bears and wolves can now be shot from helicopters, and wolf pups in their dens can be gassed. Come March the board will decide if other areas can allow bears to be baited and snared.

Danielle Venton is an intern at High Country News. 

Photo of bull elk herd and snow in Paonia courtesy of the Forest Service.