Winter has fully thawed and traveling season is upon you. You’ve spruced up the RV, swept the garage and a cooler full of ice and Shasta is sparkling on your fresh-cut lawn. Now you’re sweating behind the knees and the children are whining with their mouths to the sky, like hungry eaglets. It’s time to start driving. But if these kids don’t get something in their stomachs, they’ll be scratching at your neck for the 15-hour drive to the Wild Horse Refuge. Just then, your ever-intuitive wife chimes in from the front seat where she’s been lounging with the daily news.
“Hey, all of Burger King’s chickens and pork will come from cage-free producers by 2017. We can eat there again.”
“Let’s eat there now,” you say.
“Yippee,” scream the kids, as they fly into the back seat. You start the engine and open the High Country News app on your iPhone.
“Read me the Friday news roundup, boy” you tell your son. “We’re gonna stay conscious on this trip.”
If you haven’t read Tom Knudson’s three-part series for the Sacramento Bee about the federal kill-agency, it’s better than this 100-word paragraph could ever be. Knudson investigated the work of Wildlife Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and found that employees have unintentionally killed with traps over 50,000 animals, including federally protected golden eagles and 1,100 pet dogs.
The highly secretive division is supposed to target coyotes, of which they’ve killed one million since 2000. But Knudson reports that the division kills a lot of non-target species and sometimes covers up evidence of their wrongdoing. Since Knudson’s story went public, environmental groups have filed suit to stop the program.
In a different attack on wildlife, Bonner County, Idaho officials have retained lawyers from the Pacific Legal Foundation--the arch nemesis of environmental laws everywhere--to petition to delist the woodland caribou as an endangered species because its habitat requirements put restrictions on logging, snowmobiling and forest access. Woodland caribou inhabit a remote area along the northwest U.S.-Canada border. Fish and Wildlife Service officials say they’ve been petitioned to delist the reclusive creatures before, but it isn’t likely to happen.
ENERGY & MINING
Allen Best reports for Wyofile.com that a Denver-based company, Rare Element Resources, expects to apply for permission from the U.S. Forest Service this year to mine rare earth minerals in the Bear Lodge Mountains near Sundance, Wyoming. China dominates the industry, producing 97 percent of the world’s rare earth elements, which are essential to produce gadgetry like smart phones, flat-screen TVs and night vision goggles.
Elsewhere in the state, an independent hydrologist, Tom Myers, has reviewed the EPA’s report on the town of Pavillion's water contamination. Pavillion has become a rallying point for anti-fracking advocates contesting the process’s environmental harm. Commissioned by the Natural Resource Defense Council, Sierra Club and the Oil and Gas Accountability Project, Myers confirmed that contaminants in a Pavillion, Wyoming water well are linked to either hydraulic fracturing or other activities associated with gas production in the area. But, Myers noted, “The situation at Pavillion is not an analogue for other gas plays because the geology and regulatory framework may be different.” He recommended (PDF) better mapping and well construction to avoid future problems.
Suncor Energy’s oil refinery in north Denver hasn’t stopped polluting the ground and waterways with benzene and other cancer-causing contaminants. Workers have extracted 697,200 gallons of pollutants from the ground with interceptor trenches and recovery wells. The state health department has known about the plume for more than a decade, but it wasn’t until 2011 that the EPA ordered an emergency cleanup. Benzene levels in Sand Creek and the South Platte River, a major drinking source for the Denver Metropolitan Area, doubled last month.
In New Mexico, thieves have started sacking barns for bales of hay. Alfalfa prices have soared higher than ever because of a regional drought, and ranchers are paying as much as $300 bucks a ton. "Any time the price goes up, people can't afford to feed their animals, so they go out and steal little bales," Hatch-area rancher, Duane Riggs, told the Las Cruces Sun-News. The result is that some people who can’t afford to buy hay and won't resort to stealing bales are leaving their stock unfed. If you need assistance feeding your horses, visit www.equineprotectionfund.org.
Forest Service crews have installed a 15-acre whitebark pine nursery south of Bozeman, Mont., to help the troubled tree recover its dwindling population. Experts say the trees, whose numbers have declined by 90 percent in some areas of the Northern Rockies, may face extinction in the next 120 to 180 years. Grizzlies and 20 other wildlife species depend on the whitebark pines' high-protein nuts. The Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, along with other environmental partners, plan to plant around 1,000 acres with seedlings across various Northwestern forests by 2014.
And for anybody worried about the United Nations controlling the world, they’ve initiated a human rights investigation into the health and status of indigenous peoples in the United States. Concerned about the prevalence of alcoholism, suicide and unemployment within indigenous communities, University of Arizona professor, James Anaya, who’s leading the inquiry, will visit Alaska, Arizona, Oregon, Oklahoma and South Dakota to assess the socio-economic situations of tribes before presenting his findings to the UN human rights council some time this year.
That’s it for now. Enjoy a piece of fruit and keep your eyes on the road.
Neil LaRubbio is a High Country News intern.