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Being "green" doesn't make you a radical

Jackie Wheeler | Mar 25, 2012 10:55 PM

I’m far from the first to notice the increasing popularity of the phrase “radical environmentalist” and its close cousin “environmental extremist” in political discourse lately, but I’m getting darn sick of it. Rick Santorum’s “phony theology” dust-up in February was a prominent national example; as I’m sure you remember, he accused President Obama of adhering to “dark green” religious principles, which he oversimplified thus: “that man is here to serve the earth as opposed to husband its resources and be good stewards of the earth.” For many of Santorum’s followers, the tautological absurdity of this explanation is immaterial; simply invoking “radical environmentalists” is enough to express condemnation. Linking it to exotic-sounding theology is simply icing on the cake.

High end Gucci shopEvidence of the spread of this terminology can be found frequently in local venues too, such as newspaper letters to the editor and public forums. One recent letter writer to the San Juan Record in San Juan CountyUtah, warned that if “radical environmentalists” are drawn to the area they will destroy its “rural, family oriented, agricultural” character with such evils as “political power” and “high-end shops.”

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A monumental proposal

Ed Quillen | Mar 20, 2012 11:00 PM

Things have sure changed around here. When I moved to Salida in 1978 to work for the local newspaper, I covered many hearings about roadless areas and their suitability as wilderness. And invariably, the local business community was opposed to "another federal land grab" that would "lock up valuable resources" and "deprive us of a livelihood."

Nowadays -- now that mining and logging have nearly vanished from the local economy, which has become based on tourism -- the attitude is different. At a meeting of the Salida Business Alliance last week, the president asked for comments about a proposed national monument designation north of town, and got unanimous encouragement to write a letter supporting it.

The area in question has been an issue at least since 1978, when it was known as Aspen Ridge and proposed for wilderness designation. It sits between Buena Vista and Salida in central Colorado, and runs from the east side of the Arkansas River to the crest of Aspen Ridge, the boundary between Park and Chaffee counties.

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Rethinking recreation in grizzly country

Red Lodge | Mar 20, 2012 12:25 AM

By Heather Hansen, Red Lodge Clearing House

In far north-central Glacier National Park (GNP), on the U.S.-Canadian border, is a spot called Goat Haunt. It’s a remote area on the U.S. side, accessed by most people via a ferry across Upper Waterton Lake from Canada. Several years ago I was walking from there toward the Kootenai Lakes mid-morning, along a narrow trail through boggy, willow-crammed country. Having forgotten our bear spray, my hiking partner and I sang especially loudly and often yelled, “Bears beware!” Our off-key renditions of Broadway show tunes didn’t bother other hikers because there were none, although they did destroy the serenity of the place and the normally hypnotic rhythm of our walking.

YNP Grizzly familyWhether due to our state of hyperawareness, or because the signs were so obvious, I started noticing things that made me uneasy -- scratch marks roughly six to eight feet off the ground on several trees we passed, some aging reddish-black scat and a few faint, five-toed tracks. Not far off the trail, some matted vegetation also suggested a large animal had bedded down there recently.

After about an hour of walking, we decided it was unwise to follow in the footsteps of what was likely a grizzly bear. We turned around and started double-timing it back toward Goat Haunt. That’s when I caught a flash of brown fur in the distance, attached to something huge plowing through the brush about 50 feet off of the trail. As the sun glanced off of its back, and the sound of breaking branches crackled in the distance, my heart lodged itself somewhere up around my tonsils.

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New Keystone XL route could still threaten Ogallala aquifer

InsideClimateNews | Mar 18, 2012 11:00 PM

By Lisa Song, InsideClimate News

"A relatively modest jog around the Sandhills"—that's how one TransCanada executive describes the Keystone XL oil pipeline's new route through Nebraska, which is expected to be released in the next few weeks.

But while the path will avoid the Nebraska Sandhills—a region of grass-covered sand dunes that overlies the critically important Ogallala aquifer—it could still pass through areas above the Ogallala, where the water supply is vulnerable to the impacts of an oil spill.

The original Keystone XL would have crossed through 100 miles of the Sandhills on its way from the tar sands mines of Alberta, Canada to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. But TransCanada agreed to reroute it in November, after thousands of Nebraskans joined environmentalists to protest the pipeline's path over the aquifer.

The aquifer spans eight states and supplies 83 percent of Nebraska's irrigation water. It's also connected to the High Plains aquifer, which in many places lies above the Ogallala aquifer. Although residents of the Sandhills technically rely on the High Plains aquifer for drinking and irrigation, most refer to the Ogallala aquifer when talking about their water supply.

"It was always about the water," said Amy Schaffer, a fifth-generation Nebraskan whose father runs a Sandhills ranch. "This isn't over until they get [the pipeline] out of the Ogallala aquifer."

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"Sportsmen" stab Theodore Roosevelt in the back

Ben Long | Mar 14, 2012 06:00 AM

One of the goofier gaffes Mitt Romney has made on the 2012 Campaign Trail was when he recalled a recent Montana hunting trip – but forgot if he had pursued elk or moose.

Dig deeper, though, and that hunting trip reflects something more sinister than a slip of the tongue.

President Theodore Roosevelt left America a rich legacy of abundant wildlife and millions of acres of public lands.  Now, some influential, well-heeled hunters are stabbing Theodore Roosevelt in the back, and trying to recruit Mitt Romney to undermine TR’s legacy. 

TR smilingRoosevelt championed a simple idea that is the foundation of all conservation and wildlife management in North America. This idea is that wildlife belongs to all of us, not to the rich or the land-owning elite. That is the idea underlying America’s national parks; the effort to restore now-abundant game animals like whitetail deer, turkey to elk, from near extinction and rescue endangered species like peregrine falcons and bald eagles.

This is a uniquely American idea. In Europe, wildlife is considered the property of the landowner or nobility. Hunting and fishing -- what little remains -- is entirely in the hands of the elite.

The idea that wildlife belongs to all and should be managed by professionals using sound science is called the North American Model of Wildlife Management. Most all hunting and conservation groups, including conservative, venerable hunting/gun organizations such as the National Rifle Association, Boone & Crockett Club and the Pope and Young Club, embrace the model.

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Wildlife on working lands get a leg up

Red Lodge | Mar 13, 2012 01:15 AM

By Heather Hansen, Red Lodge Clearing House

Rural landowners in the West, and in several states back East, just got a big incentive to protect seven vulnerable species on their property.

Working Lands for Wildlife, a new partnership between the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was announced last week.

Willow flycatcher nestThe program aims to dole out $33 million to ranchers, farmers and forest landowners who sign on to restore high-priority habitats for the greater sage-grouse, lesser prairie-chicken, bog turtle, golden-winged warbler, gopher tortoise, New England cottontail and Southwestern Willow flycatcher.

The money is being channeled from the Wildlife Habitats Incentives Program, which is offered under the 2008 Farm Bill. There is a total of $2 billion worth of conservation programs in the bill, which is set to expire this fall. The Senate Agriculture Committee is in the midst of hearings on the next farm bill but progress has been slow in confirming which programs will be funded going forward and which ones will get the ax.

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Expedition Denali, exploring why diversity matters

James Mills | Mar 04, 2012 09:55 PM

For the first time a team of African-American climbers is assembling to make a bid for the summit of the tallest peak in North America, Denali. Led by the National Outdoor Leadership School in 2013, this expedition aims to encourage minority youth to enjoy outdoor recreation as part of an active lifestyle as well as create a cadre of role models for careers in environmental protection.

Also known as Mount McKinley, at 20,320 feet Denali is the highest physical point anyone can reach in the United States. And as a metaphor, this mountain can also represent exactly what a person in this country can achieve, as a literal height of ambition. Unfortunately far too few people of color in our nation are likely to attain it. But this group of adventurers aims to inspire a new generation to ascend beyond their life circumstances, by ascending Denali themselves.

NOLS Denali Expedition participants Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin, Chelsea Griffie, Philip Henderson, James Mills and Stephen Shobe.

“For many of our NOLS grads the experience has been so meaningful to them that they went on to do great things,” said Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin, expedition member and diversity and inclusion manager at NOLS. “There are studies that show that being outside really changes your view on education and achievement.”

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Crowd control and wilderness redux at Yosemite's Half Dome

Red Lodge | Feb 29, 2012 10:00 PM

By Heather Hansen, Red Lodge Clearing House

Every year, from sunup ‘til sundown, from Memorial Day into October, there’s a traffic jam of sorts high above the Yosemite Valley floor. The trek to the top of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park’s iconic peak, is a destination hike for people from all over the world. The trail, which ascends nearly 5,000 feet over seven to eight miles, is crowded with upwards of 1,200 people per day vying for panoramic views of the High Sierra from the granite cap.

cables at Yosemite's Half DomeConcerned about safety, visitor experience and wilderness impacts, the National Park Service (NPS) is now considering permanently limiting the number of people per day that can ascend the final portion of the Half Dome Trail to the summit. This 400-foot section is made of steep, smooth rock that, without the aid of the existing cable system, or technical climbing gear, is treacherous. Lose your footing here, which is easy enough when it’s wet, and your next stop would be the valley floor. 

In 1865, J.D. Whitney, California’s state geologist, called Half Dome, “perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of all the prominent points about the Yosemite which never has been, and never will be, trodden by human foot.” Little did he know that, a decade later, Yosemite guide George Anderson would become the first person to summit Half Dome, laying the ground work for the cables, poles and planks that were anchored to the rock in 1919 and remain in use today.

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Lessons from the Musselshell: the aftermath

Wendy Beye | Feb 28, 2012 10:00 PM

Editor's note: This is the fourth blog in a series by contributor Wendy Beye, chronicling a restoration effort on Montana's Musselshell River.

Floodwaters dallied in Musselshell River's floodplain for months, precluding any attempts at damage assessment or repair. The first priority was to restore community water systems and roads. Dump trucks, excavators, and graders were tied up for most of the summer repairing damage to basic county and city infrastructure. The ranchers would have to wait, watch, and wonder about the future of their livelihood.

The Musselshell Watershed Coalition arranged for an aerial tour of the river using LightHawk volunteer pilots and their planes. A delegation of ranchers, water user association managers, and river water commissioners took advantage of the opportunity to survey the devastation from the air, and their reactions ran from bemused to bleak.

Twisted railroad bridge

The 2011 Musselshell flood washed out the approach to this circa 1907 abandoned Milwaukee Road railroad bridge and twisted the metal as if it were a wet lasagna noodle.

Peter Marchi, Chief Water Commissioner of the river for the reach running from Martinsdale at the upper Musselshell down all the way to the Fort Peck Reservoir, was surprised to see evidence of how the river had undergone channel shifting over its history, but noted that with this flood, the river tended to straighten its channels rather than create new oxbows. The river's new shorter path and steeper gradient does not augur well for the ranchers along the river during future flood events. His final comment was that he felt like “a man without a country,” with no downriver water flows to manage for the 2011 irrigation season.

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Land of Disenchantment

Ed Quillen | Feb 28, 2012 10:00 PM

The Territory of New Mexico became the 47th state of the union in 1912, so the state is celebrating its centennial this year. It's also looking for a new marketing slogan to revive its tourism industry. 

For nearly 80 years, it's been "the Land of Enchantment," but the spell seems to be wearing off. As the Wall Street Journal explained in a story published in January, "Overnight tourist trips in New Mexico have dropped by nearly 10% in the past three years, and spending on everything from souvenir magnets to turquoise jewelry fell by hundreds of millions of dollars." 

NM BalloonLast fall, the state's tourism department convened some focus groups in Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles. "Enchantment" was not among the statements, which included responses like "close to Arizona," "arid and barren," "artsy," "dull" and "dreamcatchers." 

Some focus group participants associated New Mexico, which is landlocked, with beaches, and for years, some Americans haven't quite connected New Mexico with America. I have a friend who lived in Boston for a couple of years and during that time, went to mail a present to her parents in Belen, N.M.; the postal clerk wanted her to fill out a customs deceleration because New Mexico just had be a foreign country.

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