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.
Roosevelt 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.Read More ...
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.
The 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.Read More ...
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.”Read More ...
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.
Concerned 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.Read More ...
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.
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.Read More ...
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."
Last 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.Read More ...
An old bison bone on my desk has me thinking about air pollution, climate change and the American mind.
You remember the basics from history class: Tens of millions of bison roamed the Great Plains. Along came Manifest Destiny and market hunters shot them for hides, tongues and just to get the great beasts out of the way.
In the decades after the Civil War, scientists like William Hornaday warned America: we were shooting bison into extinction.
A few folks paid attention – bold leaders with a head for science. Theodore Roosevelt, probably the most scientifically minded person ever to occupy the White House, tops the list.
But nationwide, the response was a collective “Huh?” The idea that the once endless herds of bison could be shot out in a few years was simply inconceivable to most. “Bison have been here forever,” was the prevailing view. “How could something as puny as people wipe out buffalo? Bah!”Read More ...
Editor's note: This is the last story in a group of pieces produced for High Country News by students in the University of Montana's online news class. They ran over a period of two weeks in the Range blog. You can see a list of all the stories here.
By Daniel Viehland
On Nov. 10, Secretary Interior Ken Salazar highlighted 18 backcountry areas in nine states that he said deserved protection as national conservation or wilderness areas. Yet even though some of those areas are already managed as de facto wilderness, the proposal has been controversial. A closer look at one of them, the Sleeping Giant Wilderness Study Area in Montana, shows the back-and-forth involved in creating wilderness.
"We have heard from local communities, elected officials, and others that Montana’s Sleeping Giant, Nevada’s Pine Forest Range and New Mexico’s Rio Grande del Norte are among the many places that deserve protection by Congress for future generations," Salazar said in his announcement.
The Sleeping Giant Wilderness Study area, north of Helena, Mont., consists of about 11,000 acres that range from about 3,600 to 6,800 feet in elevation. About half of the area is forested and home to a variety of species, from elk to golden eagles. Its centerpiece is the Sleeping Giant formation itself, a local landmark visible from Helena. If the Sleeping Giant receives full wilderness status, it would add to the 3,443,000 acres of already existing wilderness in Montana.
Sleeping Giant’s inclusion on the federal protection list wasn’t exactly unexpected. According to Sherri Lionberger, a supervisory land use specialist at the Butte office of the Bureau of Land Management, Interior wanted only those proposals with broad public and community support. "Everyone we had gotten comments from had been supportive of this. It's kind of a local icon there," she said.Read More ...
On Wednesday, February 23rd, the four Republican presidential candidates were in my town, Mesa, Arizona, for yet another round of “debate.” As everyone knows (and as Tom Zoellner’s recent book excerpt reminded HCN readers), Arizona is friendly turf for these guys, and conservative Mesa may be friendliest of all. The audience at the Mesa Arts Center consisted mostly of local GOP bigwigs – there are lots of those, including virtually the whole state legislature -- so it was not surprising that Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul spent little time defending the substance of their remarkably similar views and instead squabbled about who disagrees most fiercely with President Obama.
Of course, that’s an oversimplification. No doubt some serious policy concerns were addressed, but isn’t it all starting to blur together after the nineteen previous debates? The local media complained afterward that few hot topics for Arizonans (except immigration, of course) came up, but by now the four men know the script so well they may not be able to stray from it.
So, what are some Arizona hot topics? One that we share with other Western states is energy development, both the renewable and non-renewable kinds. For a red state, Arizona’s been making some positive strides in solar and bio-fuel production. Where do the GOP candidates stand on those? Though the subject of energy was mentioned in Wednesday’s debate, I visited each Republican candidate’s website to check out his views
There are no big surprises, of course. They are unified in their desire to step up exploration for traditional non-renewable sources such as oil, natural gas, coal, and uranium. While Santorum’s site mentions bio-mass, wind, and solar (one of the few to do so) with the vague promise to “expand domestic innovations” into these sources, he is much more explicit about his plans to support private sector oil and natural gas drilling by gutting all regulations associated with them. And, of course, this is the guy who equates President Obama’s environmental views with “phony theology.” Romney and Paul simply dismiss efforts to expand alternative energy sources. Romney, echoing the “phony theology” reasoning, accuses the Obama administration of “operating more on faith than on fact-based economic calculation” in supporting green technologies. Paul blames “environmental alarmists” for designing “federal policies to punish traditional energy production.” Gingrich, on the other hand, proposes a fiendish compromise wherein the U.S. will “finance cleaner energy research and projects with new oil and gas royalties.”
I wish there were a better way – perhaps a real debate? – to engage the presidential contender in a serious, detailed discussion of energy policy. Unfortunately, voters must rely on the carefully spun, substance-free P.R. in websites, ads, and events like the one here in Mesa. Then again, Al Gore tried to talk energy and got dismissed as too boring and wonky. I guess we get what we ask for.
Jackie Wheeler teaches writing and environmental rhetoric at Arizona State University.
Essays in the Range blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.
By Heather Hansen, Red Lodge Clearing House
When the 20-year withdrawal of nearly one million acres of public land from uranium development near the Grand Canyon was finalized last month, reaction was mixed. Conservationists, who’d been warning of contamination of surface and groundwater flowing into the Colorado River from mining activity, mostly exhaled in relief. (Never mind the current GOP effort to reverse the decision) Mining enthusiasts complained of lost opportunities for revenue and employment.
Uranium development peaked here in the 1980s but fell off after demand for the ore dropped. When the price of uranium soared in 2006, and continued its climb the next year, a Bush administration policy fostered thousands of new claims on land administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service in the Grand Canyon watershed. Fearing the environmental impact of the bonanza, the Department of the Interior suspended new claims in 2009, pending environmental review.
There are over 5,000 active uranium claims within those one million acres. The withdrawal goes a long way toward protecting the watersheds, seeps and springs, sacred sites and critical wildlife habitat in the area because the only claims that can now be mined would have had to establish “valid existing rights,” before the 2009 moratorium. Yet even with these protections, the mines with existing rights -- the ones allowed to operate despite the moratorium -- may still have a significant negative impact on the Grand Canyon environment
Claims with valid existing rights within the withdrawal can be mined, or re-mined, which is the case here. There are four uranium mines in the withdrawal area, all built in the 1980s and all owned by Denison Mines, a Canadian/Korean mining firm. The Canyon Mine is south of the Grand Canyon in the Kaibab National Forest and the Pinenut, Kanab North and Arizona 1 mines are north of the canyon on the Arizona Strip.
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