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Friday news roundup: reporter spies and Bryce Canyon coal mine

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Neil LaRubbio | Feb 10, 2012 06:00 AM

Annals of paranoia

Vigilantes in Nevada cracked an alleged Los Angeles Times spy network last weekend, revealing the identity of an undercover ‘reporter,’ Ashley Powers. Disguised beneath her press pass issued by the Clark County GOP and madly scratching words in a suspicious yellow notepad, the proud, alert citizens of Nevada precinct #1721 properly "uncovered" Ms. Powers as a reporter, then booted her out of the room, preventing the reporter from recording their hallowed custom of casting votes for Republican caucus candidates.Aerial fear

“She’s a spy!” arose one voice amongst many. Her cover blown, security escorted her to the outside patio. The Clark County GOP later apologized for its constituents' behavior.

Housing

While some residents of the Bakken shale boomtowns rent the tiniest parcel to desperate rig workers for the price of a Brooklyn brownstone, Walmart has had it with freeloaders in their parking lot.

Space is limited in towns like Williston, N.D., and RVs and small campers packed with four or more gruff men have effectively scared off the locals from shopping. Rig workers sometimes brave the winter without heat, electricity or plumbing. Walmart’s parking lot had been a free space for workers to anchor their digs, but not anymore. The retailer has told them to clear out, or they'll be towed.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management has offered a land exchange to the Navajo Nation to solve an issue of tribal families housed without permission on BLM land. Navajo families in New Mexico, Utah and Arizona sometimes build houses without verifying landownership within the checkerboard of federal and tribal land. And if they come to find they’re on BLM land, they have problems hooking into electricity and water. The BLM and Navajo Nation have completed three land exchanges to address the same discrepancy in the past 20 years. This time, in return for land the Navajo’s presently inhabit, the BLM wants the tribe's Chacra Mesa.

In the similar vein of exercising home ownership, members of the Hualapai tribe voted to seize control of the Grand Canyon Skywalk. Las Vegas promoter, David Jin, who built the glass-floored walkway, wants $100 million dollars to relinquish his ownership, but the tribe will give him only $11 million. Lawsuits from both sides about mishandling of management and funds were previously dismissed, so the tribe chose another course of action by claiming eminent domain.

“The tribe did not ask for this dispute,” said councilman Charles Vaughn. “At this point, there are simply no other options.”

Energy

The Journal of Geophysical Research revealed that natural gas producers in the Denver-Julesberg Basin in northeastern Colorado lose four percent of their product through leaks and vents. The releases are primarily methane; not only a valuable commodity for gas companies, but also a premier earth warmer in the epic cascade toward climatic doom. The environmental blog ClimateWest, calculates that the four percent gas escape equates to adding one year’s worth of 3 million fuming cars to the atmosphere.

Listen to this. Areas of Bryce Canyon National Park possess such serenity that natural sound escapes detection from measuring devices. For this reason, and for sage grouse habitat, and for the 119 Hopi Indian archaeological sites, and for bat sonar that relies on darkness to catch prey, and for the sake of clean air, and to avoid a cacophony of dynamite and short-haul trucks erupting continuously for the next 30 years, representatives of the Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency have voiced their opposition to the BLM’s consideration of 3,500 acres of coal mine leases less than 12 miles outside Bryce Canyon National Park. The Florida mining companies say they’ll compensate for bird declines, archaeological disturbance, bat disruption, air fouling, and aural molestation with 240 jobs and $1.5 billion dollars for the local economy.

Forests

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack outlined a new framework for forest management that has worried some environmental groups. A specific language amendment gives more power to regional foresters in determining if species are adequately protected, removing a requirement for wildlife to be "well-distributed" throughout a forest.

“This plan is much less protective than the 1982 Reagan-era one on wildlife protections,” Niel Lawrence of the Natural Resources Defense Council told McClatchy Newspapers. “This provision is the single strongest protection for the national forests, and the agency is not retaining it.”

The provision is coveted as the single most important protector of old-growth forests, which were defended by linking owl habitat and distribution to that ecosystem.

The USFS is accepting recommendations for an advisory committee to guide Vilsack’s implementation of the final rule until February 21. The new forest plan is set to become final in May.

Water

Colorado mountain towns are getting antsy about water diversions to heavily-populated Front Range communities, and they’re beginning to lobby legislators for more caution.

Grand Country supplies Denver and other Front Range cities with over 300,000 acre-feet per year, and Pitkin County, home to Aspen, supplies 99,000 acre-feet of water per year.

The mountain towns rely on flush streams for fishing and boating recreation, but say their riparian habitat is also being strained by water diversion. Mountain towns worry that new oil and gas fields on the Front Range will only exacerbate the water situation because the operations require large quantities of water.

Agriculture

CAFO

And to end this week’s Roundup in circuital fashion, highlighting habits of the paranoid, we have a quote from National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Deputy Environmental Counsel, Ashly Lyon, who rattled to ag publication Farm Futures about the EPA’s plans to list information about Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations on their website:

"The problem with this rule is one we think it goes beyond the EPA's authority to make such a broad request. Number two, is the privacy issue. We are very concerned that putting the location of every single CAFO in an easily searchable database on EPA's website not only increases the attacks by environmental extremists on our operations but even terrorists from other countries." 

Perhaps the paranoia is somewhat grounded. Not to give potential CAFO terrorists any ideas, but a dirty gym sock of 50-cent M-80s could easily turn the stank marshes of confined poultry, pigs and cattle into a true dirty bomb.

Neil LaRubbio is an intern at High Country News.

Flickr photo of paranoia courtesy of James Vaughan

Flickr photo protesting factory farms  courtesy of johnnyalive

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