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In Alaska, a health care model for the nation

Mark Trahant | Feb 16, 2010 07:56 AM

It takes about 30 seconds of walking around the campus of the Alaska Native Medical Center to see that this is what the Indian Health system should look like across the country. “No,” a friend corrected me, “this is what the U.S. health care system should look like.”

The Alaska Native Medical Center is two facilities in one. Essentially, there is an in-patient hospital and some statewide services managed by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. And outpatient services are administered by the Southcentral Foundation. The two management teams work closely together.

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Booms, Busts, and B.S.

Jim Spehar | Feb 16, 2010 03:40 AM

I'd have to look at 60+ years of calendars, but suffice it to say this Grand Junction native has lived through his share of hometown booms and busts.  Off the top of my head, there've been a couple of uranium booms and the oil shale boom that infamously ended with a Black Sunday in May just over a quarter century ago, and now natural gas.  I'm likely skipping over at least a couple more.

It'd take more than a century's worth of calendars to track my family's journey through those same cycles.   My forefathers on both sides of the family immigrated to Crested Butte in the 1880s, leaving Eastern Europe's poverty to better themselves in a mining economy.  They ended up chasing coal and precious metals to a host of other Colorado communities between Glenwood Springs and Trinidad. Extended family members toiled everywhere from the copper mines of Butte to the steel mills of Pueblo and the oil industry in Houston.  Some of my own professional work followed that same path for a half-dozen years.

There's no doubt the economy of Mesa County and all of northwest Colorado has been hurt by the loss of energy-related jobs as we experience yet again the peaks and valleys cycles of extractive industries.  

It's also certain that the economic ups and downs experienced here in Colorado and elsewhere in the West by five generations of the Spehar and Kapushion families will be repeated.  We all like to be warm in the winter, cool in the summer.  We enjoy and benefit from the products produced from wood and metals via processes using energy from oil and natural gas, water and coal, less occasionally from uranium, and increasingly from the sun and wind and other alternative sources.

There's one product being produced to excess while the energy industry suffers…one more commonly associated with the ranching industry my family has been part of for most of its time in Colorado.   It's a smelly product, whether distributed over pastures and corrals or through political discourse.

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Native Farmers and Ranchers

Felice Pace | Feb 12, 2010 07:36 AM

In my last post, I reported some of the results of the USDA’s 2008 Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey which is part of the 2007 Census of Agriculture. The 2007 Census has given us the first good data on Native American farmers. That’s because in prior surveys the USDA treated reservations as if they were one big farm or ranch rather than containing an amalgam of farms and ranches operated by individuals and families. 

When compared to other US farmers and ranchers, the typical Native farmer or rancher earns substantially less income.  But the typical Native agriculturalists also works more land as compared to non-Natives engaged in agriculture. So why does more land produce less income?

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It's time to put aside the fairytales

Erin McCallum | Feb 05, 2010 08:30 AM

It's tough being a wolf these days. Despite barely having recovered from being indiscriminately hunted to near extinction during the last century, wolves continue to face the rampant persecution and vitriol of yesteryear from legislators, corporations, citizens and even state and federal governments.
Most recently, Utah's Senate has passed a bill that (if enacted) would make it next to impossible for wolves to ever repopulate any of their historic range in Utah. Not that wolves currently pose a problem; only a handful has strayed into Utah in recent years, and none are known to be living there now.
The sponsor of the Utah bill, Senator Allen Christensen (R-North Ogden) described his designs by: "Simply say[ing] any wolf within Utah will be captured and killed. We don't want any of them here."
The "we" he refers to is unclear, as is much of the reasoning behind such an extreme affront against wolves. In fact, a 2004 poll (Bruskotter, J. T., & Schmidt, R. H. 2006) taken of 700 Utah residents - including landowners and rural residents - shows that the majority are receptive to having wolves in their state.
Senator Christensen's bill would, with the stroke of a pen, undo the painstaking and sincere work of the 13-member stakeholder group, including ranchers and sportsmen, who worked for over a year to craft the Utah Wolf Management Plan adopted by the Utah legislature in 2005.

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The 2008 Farm and Ranch Survey is out!

Felice Pace | Feb 04, 2010 08:15 AM

The USDA has released the results of the 2008 Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey. The survey is taken every five years nationwide. Much of the regional information below is based on comparison of the 2003 and 2008 surveys.

Nationwide the number of irrigated acres increased over the five year period from 52.5 million acres in 2003 to 54.9 million acres in 2008. In the Upper Colorado River Basin the number of irrigated acres held steady at about 1.4 million acres. But in California irrigated acreage declined sharply from 8.7 million acres in 2003 to 7.4 million acres in 2008.

Some of the decrease in California may be the result of extended drought. However, the bulk of the decrease is likely due to sprawl which brings housing and commercial development into areas of prime farmland. Increases in irrigated acreage occurred in the Mid-West and South; in the West – including Hawaii – irrigated acres held steady or declined.

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Wolverines, snowmobilers, and the ESA

Rebecca Watters | Feb 04, 2010 02:00 AM

Last week, the Idaho Statesman newspaper published an article about recreational vehicle impacts on wolverines in the Payette, Boise, and Sawtooth National Forests. The piece focused on a study investigating questions about the extent to which snowmobilers and wolverine tracksskiers disturb denning female wolverines, and researchers' desire to find out whether winter backcountry recreation really does threaten the animals. Now that the wolverine is up for consideration for listing under the Endangered Species Act, answering this question has become pretty important.

Snowmobilers, backcountry skiers, and advocacy groups all have a stake in the outcome of this study.  The script of the traditional Western endangered species conflict [PDF] calls for outraged recreationists to accuse environmental advocacy groups and the federal government of infringing on their rights, while environmental advocacy groups evoke wilderness and science to enforce their aims. Meanwhile the researchers remain stuck in the limbo of trying to maintain objectivity while taking shots from all sides. Wolves and spotted owls are probably the best examples of this predictable drama, which serves--over and over again, ad nauseum--as a proxy for deeply rooted values conflicts.

If the US Fish and Wildlife Service determines that wolverines are threatened, land managers may have the latitude to make land use changes to remote backcountry in order to protect wolverines--if  researchers determine that human disturbance actually does result in den abandonment.

Hidden in the Statesman article, however, is a line that suggests that the wolverine case could turn out differently: "The study about wolverines is co-sponsored by the Idaho Snowmobile Association."

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Western resource extraction, now and then

Lissa James | Jan 28, 2010 03:45 AM

For four years Boston-based photographer Eirik Johnson, a Seattle native, travelled around Washington, Oregon, and northern California taking pictures of loggers and fishermen. His photographs, collected into the series "Sawdust Mountain," are on display at the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington until this Sunday. The series depicts the visual impact of natural resource extraction--clearcuts and slash piles, dams and gill nets--alongside the social impact of collapsed natural resource-based industries. Former timber boom towns like Aberdeen, Wash., decorated with murals of men using cross-cut saws in old growth forests, now have abandoned log dumps and factory buildings and a population struggling to find an economic alternative to timber.

Log photograph by Eerik JohnsonThe photographs document both man's awesome ability to alter the natural environment and his adaptability: mills now cut less desirable species like alder instead of fir or cedar, forest workers salvage cedar shakes from old growth stumps, and nurseries and hatcheries produce millions of seedlings and eggs to supplement natural supply. These images are disturbing but not judgmental, inviting sympathy for the people still dependent on the natural resource-based economy rather than animosity. The photos and the people in them are sad and gray and hushed, hunched beneath a perpetually cloudy and beautiful sky, and the series comprises what Johnson describes as a "melancholy love letter of sorts" to life in the rural Northwest.

At the University of Washington exhibit Johnson's work is accompanied by a collection of old-growth logging photographs taken in the late 1800s and early 1900s by the likes of Darius Kinsey and Carleton Watkins.

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Sundance, Redford and Obama

Felice Pace | Jan 25, 2010 09:20 AM

The Sundance Film Festival is underway at Park City, Utah. This year the annual event is being covered by the alternative media news program Democracy Now!. Today,  Democracy Now aired an interview with Sundance founder and LA native Robert Redford.

Redford was asked to describe Utah where he owns land and a home. He did not hesitate - describing what he called Utah's "theocratic stance" and alleging that it is  "overdeveloped". You can listen to or read the interview by following this link.

Late in the interview, Goodman asked Redford for his opinion of the Obama Presidency and by implication the Democratic Party’s control of the federal government for the past 12 months. It is a question that is on the minds of many left-leaning and progressive Americans: why does government under the Democrats seem less confident and effective compared to government under the Republicans? Redford suggested the problem was essentially that Obama is too nice a guy; that he went for bipartisanship rather than aggressively using the mandate he had been given. He contrasted this with Bush II who had no legitimate mandate but acted as if he did. 

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Tribal push to regulate Native ceremonies

Rob Capriccioso | Jan 21, 2010 02:51 AM

When I first saw the headlines coming out of Arizona regarding a push to regulate tribal ceremonies, I couldn't help but think tribal sovereignty might be in danger.

But then I learned that the effort is coming from tribal leaders themselves in response to the three Sedona, AZ deaths and 19 illnesses that took place as a result of a non-Indian sweat lodge in October.

The horror-inducing mock Native American ceremony was led by spiritual guru James Ray, who's being investigated for his role in the situation. His lawyers have said his actions weren't criminal.

Tribal citizens have long said that Native-based sacred rituals shouldn't be propagated by new-age spiritualists who really don't have a solid foundation in what they are trying to do.

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Venison a la plomb

Michael Glenn Easter | Jan 13, 2010 04:10 AM

Deer hunting season is over in the West. And if you were a good aim, your freezer is chock full of venison — looking a lot like the meat section at Costco. But be warned, new research suggests that eating game shot with lead bullets may expose you and your family to lead, a poisonous heavy metal.

A large federal study recently discovered that deer hunters and their families have, on average, 66 percent more lead in their bloodstream. And although none of the participants in the study had blood lead levels high enough to be considered poisonous, experts are still concerned.

The lead-exposure-via-wild-venison connection was brought to attention by Dr. William Cornatzer, a long time hunter, Peregrine Fund member, and professor at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks. After attending a Peregrine Fund meeting about the California condor  — a bird whose populations suffered in part from eating lead-riddled animal carcasses — Cornatzer theorized that humans, just like the condor, are exposed to lead by eating wild deer shot with lead bullets.

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