How long will the health care reform debate drag on? The Hill newspaper says “deep into December and possibly beyond by a lengthy floor debate.”
If that seems like a long time, consider that the reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act has been pending since 1999.
Last week hearings were held in the U.S. House of Representatives to move that legislation forward. Again.
Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, opened hearings on the Indian Health Care Improvement Act Amendments of 2009 by once again saying that, yes, there is a federal obligation to provide health care, and, no, the United States doesn’t deliver.
“Putting all the legal aspects aside, I think the trust responsibility can be summed up by saying that something is owned to American Indians for the lands that were both voluntarily given to the United States and forcefully taken, as well as the atrocities that were committed against their peoples,” Pallone said. “But the federal government has consistently failed to live up to this responsibility in almost every respect.”
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There is a saying in the West that water flows toward money. That saying seems to be playing out in California this fall.The California legislature is currently considering legislation that some say will fix California’s water woes and others say is intended to result in more North State Water going to powerful agricultural corporations and urban developments on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley and elsewhere in Southern California.
Governor Schwarzenegger and leaders of the legislature have been meeting with some of those water interests behind closed doors. But farm, fishing and conservation groups that make up the Restore the Delta coalition say the interests they represent – and legislators who represent the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta – have been locked out of the process.
Earlier in October California Senator Diane Feinstein announced that she was preparing legislation to address California’s water problems. Feinstein is considered California’s pre-eminent water broker and she has consistently favored corporate farms on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley. Those corporate farms have junior water rights but senior political influence. Recently Feinstein echoed Fox News personality Sean Hannity in calling for suspension of the Endangered Species Act in order to move more water to the farms.
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This week's reader photo seemed to all-too-perfectly match the theme of the latest issue of High Country News, which focuses on "cultural collisions" and those bringing new traditions to the West. While our recent reporting highlights cultures new to the West, this image, from the Trailing of the Sheep festival in Idaho, shows cultures that came to the West years ago who have integrated themselves into the increasingly-diverse group of people that, woven together, make up the fabric of the American West.
Add your photos to the HCN Flickr photostream - we love seeing the multitude of images our readers have been posting!
I'm continually amazed and inspired by the beauty captured and posted in photographic form by High Country News readers at our HCN Flickr Pool. Not only are readers capturing the beauty of the West, they're cataloging their fascinating explorations and keen observations of the landscape they call home.
It's getting harder and harder to choose a weekly reader photo, (submit yours!) but I kept coming back to this one, an deeply saturated image of a thermal pool in Yellowstone, submitted by reader/photographer SigmaEye.
Of the many findings presented in a recent American Civil Liberties Union report, which concludes that many Indians face discriminatory policies and actions that deny them their constitutional right to vote, poor circumstances facing western tribal citizens tend to stand out.
One of the most shocking cases of disenfranchisement highlighted in the report, titled “Voting Rights in Indian Country,” centers on Buffalo County in central South Dakota, which, until recently, had a decades-old plan in place for electing its three-member county commission.
“Despite the fact that 83 percent of its population is Indian, the plan packed nearly all of them – some 1,500 people in a county of 2,000 inhabitants – into one district,” according to the report.
“Whites, though only 17 percent of the population, controlled the remaining two districts, and thus controlled the county government.”
And this wasn’t in ancient times. This was just a few short years ago.
In 2003, tribal members filed a lawsuit with the help of the ACLU, in which they alleged that the districting plan inequitably divided its population for representation and had been drawn to discriminate.
The county ended up admitting its plan was discriminatory and agreed to submit its future plans to federal supervision.
The situation in Buffalo County is just one of many bad scenarios presented in the report involving Indian voting rights that have called for legal intervention.
Interestingly, almost every lawsuit cited was filed on behalf of Native Americans in western states, namely Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.
After reading about so many discrimination cases throughout the region, I grew curious—why? Is the West more likely to discriminate against Native voting rights? Are Indians there more likely to litigate?
To help answer those questions, I turned to a couple of Native voting rights experts, including Daniel McCool, a professor of political science at the University of Utah who co-authored the 2007 book “Native Vote: American Indians, the Voting Rights Act, and the Right to Vote.”
He explained that there have been many voting rights cases filed in the old confederacy, but the numbers of African-American and Hispanic voters dwarf the number of Indian voters there, so that's where the attention from advocates tends to be focused.
Not fair, but reality.
McCool also said that protections in the Voters Rights Act tend to favor situations where Indians are concentrated in a certain area, which is often the case involving many western reservations.
He added that cases involving Natives and language assistance have all been in the West because that is where there are still significant numbers of Indian people who do not have a mastery of English and prefer using their own language.
McCool’s explanations tell me that the West is not necessarily any worse than any other region on Native voting rights—but it is fertile ground for study. And with study comes attention. And with attention comes change.
We're loving the variety and beauty of the many photos HCN readers are posting up on our Flickr group. This week's selection was tough, since there are so many amazing images. But the old-timey feel of this image makes it an instant classic - it seems like a snapshot you'd find in an old shoebox in your grandma's attic.
The Pew Charitable Trust has launched a new effort and website which "aims to raise public awareness about the role of federal subsidies in the economy. Subsidyscope should be useful to Westerners who want to know the details of where federal subsidies are distributed around our region. it has long been observed that - while Westerners generally extol the virtues of "rugged individualism" - they have been nevertheless both eager and effective at getting the federal government to subsidize the region's industries and governments.
I decided to use the database to see if the West as a region receives more federal subsidies than do other regions. Here's what I found.One of the first areas which Subsidyscope investigated is subsidies to airports which rate as low priorities according to the National Priority Ratings system (NPR). According to the Federal Aviation Administration "NPR is a numerical model that is one of several tools FAA uses to prioritize airport development projects."
The Pew database “includes information on enplanements —the number of paying passengers who board scheduled airlines or charter planes—to give users a sense of the level of commercial activity at a particular airport.” It “also includes data on operations—takeoffs and landings of air carrier, air taxi, general aviation and military aircraft—when such numbers are available.”
What I found is that of the 20 airport receiving the most dollars per enplanement during the 2005 through 2008 federal fiscal years eleven of the projects are in the West, seven are in the South and two are in Minnesota. For this purpose Texas and Oklahoma are not considered part of the West; there were no Texas projects in the top 20 but there was an Oklahoma project. You can check out the 20 projects and other related information on the Subsidyscope website.
It is clear that too many airport subsidies are going to airports which do not serve many everyday citizens, i.e. those who do not own a private plane. Most of the traffic at many of the subsidized low enplanement airports are private planes piloted by wealthy Westerners who want to commute from rural locations to western cities.
Pew seems to be arguing that this money would be better spent on airports that serve more people. In the West we have lots of rural land but we are also the most urbanized region in the nation. In accordance with my Western populist tendencies, I’d argue that the rich private aircraft owners should have to pay their own way….or at least that urban Westerners should get a fair share of the airport subsidies.
Did you notice the two projects in Minnesota? I decided to check the Congressional Directory at Congress.org to determine if Minnesota has powerful senators or representatives on the committees which oversee the FFA.
Low and behold, I found that Representative James Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat, chairs the House Transportation and Infrastucture Committee and that Democrat Tim Walz is a member of that committee. I suspect that one of the criteria the FAA uses to select airport subsidy projects is the political power wielded by members of Congress with jurisdiction over FFA activities.
No surprises there; I can't wait until Pew takes a look at water subsidies!
I’d like to invite HCN reporters, bloggers and readers to use the Pew Subsidyscope database to investigate where illogical distribution of federal subsidies reflects political power rather than social priority. Maybe by shining light on these boondoggles we can cause our politicians to think twice before they deliver the pork. I think that is exactly what the Pew Trust is hoping will happen.
On October 1st, we trailed 136 cow/calf pairs down Dry Cottonwood Creek and settled them in a stubble field near the Clark Fork River. This cattle drive marked the end of the 2009 grazing season and the beginning of our shift toward winter management of the ranch and herd. Now, with the days getting shorter and fall’s first snow on the ground, it seems like a good time to revisit some of the summer’s challenges and achievements.
The D.C.C.R. ran two herds this year: The smaller bunch, which grazed on our deeded ground, rotated through a series of six pastures over the course of four and a half months. Moving in accordance with a season-long grazing plan, the herd passed quickly through the ranch’s more fragile areas and spent the bulk of their summer up on the high, grassy benches between Sand Hollow and Dry Cottonwood Creek. Temporary electric fence and consistent herding kept our cattle moving, and close attention from ranch staff ensured that we left ample grass in each pasture for wildlife and general improvement of the range. We were able to defer grazing in two pastures, allowing for reseeding on than 800 acres of native grassland.
On the National Forest, things were a bit more complicated: We share a grazing permit with three other ranchers, and have a combined herd of more than 500 cow/calf pairs. The allotment consists of four enormous pastures, which are better measured in square miles than acres and span the drainages of four perennial creeks. Three of these pastures are grazed each summer, while one enjoys a full season of rest.
The allotment’s vast scale and steep topography make it difficult to manage cattle well. It’s hard to find the cows up there, let alone control where and when they graze. In past years, intensive management on the allotment was viewed as something of a lost cause. The herd went where it pleased, and fragile riparian areas around Orofino, Sand Hollow and Dry Cottonwood Creeks suffered as a result.
This year marked the beginning of a new era on Dry Cottonwood Creek: In May we joined forces with our co-lessees to hire an allotment rider. Our rider, Jim, herds cattle away from creeks and other fragile areas, and does his best to avoid overgrazing. I supplement this work with a comprehensive range and riparian monitoring program to track improvements and identify problems.
All in all we’re making progress. Although a few trouble spots remain, the allotment looks healthier than it did last October. In some places our efforts have produced striking results: There are areas along Dry Cottonwood Creek where I can walk with grass up to my knees, see new shoots on what used to be browsed-out willows, and feel as though we’re getting somewhere—forging a balance that works for wildlife, livestock, and the land.
Bryce Andrews is the Ranchlands Program Manager for the Clark Fork Coalition, the "Voice of the River." More information can be found at www.clarkfork.org.
Fall, for me at least, is the time of still moments, of stepping back and watching silently as the light shifts and the colors change. This photo, by Flickr user juliaahbell, while black and white, seemed to capture that feeling perfectly.
High Country News picks a reader photo each week (approximately) - join our Flickr group and add your unique images from the West.
A recent opinion piece by Mike Medberry wisely suggested that there needs to be a reasonable middle ground in the deeply polemical attitudes toward managing wolves in the West.
Unfortunately, this encouraging argument was followed by much of the same tired, politicized and oversimplified rhetoric, pitting environmental groups against the government and mischaracterizing the premise and background behind the ongoing legal actions.
The truth is that the restoration of a viable wolf population to the West could be “the most successful program ever accomplished under the Endangered Species Act [ESA]” – but we still have a little ways to go. And, as much as we’d love to, given our decades of time, money and energy on this recovery effort, we cannot declare victory until the criteria of the ESA are met.
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