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Death by suicide | Sep 24, 2010 01:00 AM

By Clarence Worly, Guest Writer, 9-22-10

 Between 1999 and 2007 there were nearly as many suicides as highway fatalities in the Mountain West states. In the case of Colorado, Utah and Nevada there were more self-inflicted deaths than traffic deaths. Am I the only person west of the Mississippi to see a problem here?

I attended my first funeral at the age of 15. It was for my friend and teammate who passed away in the spring of 1977 due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He just turned 16.

This was my first experience dealing with the death of someone with whom I was close. I couldn’t get my mind around the fact he was gone.  We wouldn’t be taking cheap shots at one another during football practice the next fall. We wouldn’t be shot-gunning beers stolen out of his dad’s garage fridge. We wouldn’t be grab-assing in the halls or lying to each other about all the girls from other schools.

He was gone, stuck in time as a standout high school half-back and all around good dude. After 33 years, I still feel the initial shock and emotional devastation when I dwell on it too long.

There were no warning signs, no telltale “I-should-have-seen-it-coming” behavior. I remember the last thing I said to him as we walked out to the parking lot after school like it was yesterday, “Let’s get shit-faced this weekend.” He yelled back over his shoulder, “Sounds good, call me.”

He died that night.

I wish I could say this was an isolated incident: Chalk it up to teenage angst and blame the mental health community for letting one rare case fall through the cracks. But I know better.

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The organic growth of Portland's green roofs

Sightline | Sep 23, 2010 08:00 AM

By Lisa Stiffler

Portland's ecoroof program is enough to turn other sustainability-striving cities green with envy. The City of Roses boasts 351 green roofs and rooftop gardens covering more than 26 acres.* By comparison, Seattle has 62 vegetated roofs totaling about 9 acres.

How'd they do it?

I had the opportunity to talk to Amy Chomowicz, one of the city's top ecoroof officials, for a story that's out today on the Seattle P-I's website and got the skinny. 

Green Roof - Portland

Green roof photo is courtesy of Flickr user Ben Amstutz under a Creative Commons license.

Turns out that the roots of Portland's ecoroofs can really be traced back to one guy: Tom Liptan.

Here's the story.

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The difficult windows of September

Ed Quillen | Sep 23, 2010 05:20 AM

Often I have observed that September is our reward for putting up with Colorado the rest of the year: Generally clear skies, warm sunny days that don't get too hot, brisk mornings, glowing aspen leaves -- what's not to like?
Well, as the nights get cooler -- our first killing frost typically arrives around Sept. 20 -- there's a problem with windows.
Not with Windows on the computer in my home office; I eliminated those problems eight years ago when I switched to GNU/Linux. This window problem is distinctly low-tech. Like most old houses (mine was built in 1885 and expanded in 1908), mine uses double-hung sash windows with wooden frames. In theory, both the top and bottom sashes can slide up and down to provide for ventilation.
In practice, however, nothing just "slides."

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Do Indian Country voters have the president's back?

Mark Trahant | Sep 22, 2010 04:00 AM

By any objective measure Barack Obama has been the most engaged and effective president on American Indian issues since at least since Richard Nixon. You could even make the case that Obama is better than Nixon because there has been so much successful legislation and Executive Branch action in less than two years.

A quick review of the Obama record:

  • A summit with elected tribal leaders where the president and cabinet members held a town hall. Immediately after the meeting the Office of Management and Budget was charged with the task of improving the government-to-government consultation process;
  • Enactment of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act as a permanent statue;
  • A significant number of key appointments of Native Americans at the White House, cabinet agencies, even the Interior Department’s chief legal counsel;
  • Increased budgets at the Indian Health Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs plus a sizeable slice – some $3 billion – of stimulus fund money that were directed at Indian Country.

I could go on and on with the real results from this administration.  (If you need a contrast, remember the frozen glare of President Bush when I asked him about tribal sovereignty or what it was like when the entire budget for urban Indian health programs was to be “zeroed out.”)

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Native discovery could save important fish

Terri Hansen | Sep 16, 2010 05:50 AM

The scientific discovery of an ancient stress hormone by a tribal member could lead to the survival of the most ancient of the native fish in the Pacific Northwest, the Pacific lamprey, an eel like fish that evolved more than 500 million years ago.

David Close, Ph.D. is a Cayuse and a member of the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla in Northeastern Oregon, a Columbia River treaty fishing tribe that’s been at the forefront in calling the Pacific lamprey’s restoration.

Close, a professor at the University of British Columbia discovered the corticosteroid hormone, which is important for monitoring environmental impacts that stress the lamprey like when they’re going down river in barges or trying to negotiate fish ladders designed for salmon.

LampreyLike salmon, the Pacific lamprey is born in freshwater and travels to the ocean for its adult life, then returns to the upper reaches of rivers where it forgoes food for a year before spawning. Before construction of the dams, tribal peoples fished for the once abundant lamprey in the falls along the Columbia and its tributaries. There are only an estimated 11,000 left in the Columbia River.

The lamprey is a culturally important subsistence and medicinal fish for the Columbia River tribes, who want it targeted for conservation in the way that endangered salmon populations are in Washington, Oregon and California rivers.

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Rants from the Hill: Guests in the house of fire

Michael Branch | Sep 15, 2010 01:00 AM

“Rants from the Hill” are Michael Branch’s monthly musings on life in the high country of Nevada’s western Great Basin desert.

For once, fire has remained absent from our home landscape this summer. Winter was so long and wet as to have repressed fire season, and it seems strange that our home mountain, valley, and foothills have remained unscorched even into September. After six years of calling in plumes, scrutinizing weather, spending July and August with a beer in one hand and binoculars in the other, there’s something almost disconcerting about this lack of fire. This fireless summer has made me feel like the urban dweller who flees to the rurals to escape the constant noise and then can’t sleep because it is too quiet. After all, this land was sculpted by burning, the natural fire cycle here having been as short as fifteen years. Wildfires are common, and their fuel is as much the intense aridity and desiccating winds as it is the sage, rabbitbrush, and bitterbrush, the juniper, gooseberry, and desert peach. While a fire in town seems tragic and unexpected, out here fire isn’t accident, it is weather.

Last July a simultaneous trio of wind-driven wildfires burned more than 12,000 acres of our home mountain and valley, prompting evacuations along the wildlands interface where we live. The first two nights of the fire, which my wife and daughters spent in town, were relatively uneventful. I was fortunate to have a crew of wildlands firefighters occupying my two main firebreaks, and I spent those nights bringing them coffee and listening to their incredible stories about the unpredictable power of fire. Even as the glowing smoke clouds in the western sky reflected the flames marching up the valley on the other side of the foothills, I remained fairly confident that my defensible space and fuels reduction efforts would make it possible for these guys to save our house even if the fire ultimately burned over our home hill.

By afternoon on the third day, however, things were a good deal worse.

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How bad projects get built

David Zetland | Sep 13, 2010 05:01 AM

Editor's note: David Zetland, a water economist who recently finished a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley offers an insider's perspective into water politics and economics. We will be cross-posting occasional posts and content from his blog, Aguanomics, here on the Range.

RM sent me the "Review budget for Bay Delta Conservation Plan and Delta Habitat Conservation and Conveyance Program" [pdf] that the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (Met) has prepared.

I was interested to see that Met assumes it will pay less than 25 percent of short- and long-term project costs.

So who's going to pay the other 75 percent? Farmers who participate in the CVP and SWP and take 75 percent (let's assume) of the water from those two projects.*

Now, I don't know about you, but I don't have many examples of farmers paying the full cost of water infrastructure.

What if they don't pay? Well, then Met will pay the difference. Does that make sense? Yes, it does to Met, since their 25 percent share of the water is worth far more than 25 percent of the value of that water in use. In other words, Met will probably end up paying a larger share of the total cost because Met gets more value from the water.**

So here's my thought: If Met's directors believe these estimates and fund this project, and the project gets going, then they will have a hard time NOT spending more money when it comes time to pay a larger-than-25 percent share. That's because it's hard to shut projects down once they get started.

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The Public Trust makes a comeback in California

Felice Pace | Sep 10, 2010 03:45 AM

When the Mono Lake Decision  was issued by the California Supreme Court in 1983, environmental spokespersons claimed that it would revolutionize the way water is managed in California. Citing both the ancient Public Trust Doctrine (which dates to Roman Times) and a modern California Fish & Game Code, the state’s highest court stated unequivocally that those diverting water from streams must leave enough water in those streams to maintain aquatic ecosystems below the point of diversion. Environmentalists celebrated. Not only was Mono Lake saved, they crowed, but irrigated agriculture and municipalities would no longer be able to dry up living streams and rivers.

In the 27 years since the Mono Lake Decision, however, the dewatering of California streams has proceeded. Many streams which once provided valuable fisheries, recreation and other amenities are now bone dry much of the year. Salmon and steelhead fisheries and swimming holes used by generations of Californians are among the resources which have been sacrificed to water California’s agribusiness and its thirst for development. 

Recently, however, Public Trust claims appear to be making a comeback. In June the Environmental Law Foundation and commercial salmon fishing interests filed a Public Trust lawsuit aimed at ending the dewatering of Northern California’s Scott River – a major Klamath River tributary.  

And this month, the California Water Impact Network  filed a Public Trust lawsuit aimed at restoring the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The lawsuit claims that pumping from California’s largest delta to supply Southern California’s corporate agribusiness and cities violates the ancient law and therefore must be curtailed.

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A new twist in an old contention

Ed Quillen | Sep 09, 2010 05:30 AM

For more than a century -- the first court case was filed in 1901 -- Kansas and Colorado have fought over the Arkansas River, with Kansas claiming that Colorado keeps too much of its water.
Now there's a new twist in the long dispute. (The two states can't even agree on how to pronounce the river's name. It's "Ar-kan-saw" in Colorado and "Our-Kanz-us" across the state line.)

Sunflower Electric plans to build a new coal-fired electrical generating plant in southwestern Kansas. It will consume 3.9 billion gallons of water a year. But most of the electricity it generates will go to Colorado.
Critics charge that in effect, this is exporting water to Colorado, since Kansas water gets consumed to produce something consumed in Colorado. And that doesn't seem right, given the years of Kansas litigation to get water from Colorado.

Others point out that even if the water remained in agriculture, it would effectively be exported to other states where the products are consumed. I ran some numbers on this last year. A farm-fresh potato is about 80 percent water, so a ton of potatoes contains about 200 gallons.  Every 700-pound yearling steer that leaves my county, and most of them do, is 65 percent water. 

So maybe there's no way around the persistent truth that the two major exports from rural areas are smart kids and water -- either flowing, used to make electricity, or contained inside potato skins and cattle hides. 

Ed Quillen is a freelance writer in Salida, Colorado.

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Mystery Salmon

Joseph Taylor | Sep 08, 2010 02:00 AM

Pull up to any fish buying station in the Salish Sea and you will likely spy many stupid grins.  The reason, as Mary Ellen Walling crowed last week, is that “The Sockeye are back!”  The news is as good as it gets in this long suffering fishery.  In the last few decades sockeye runs have underperformed so often that the dominant question among researchers and fishers has been what happened to the disappearing salmon.  In fact, last year there was no fishery at all.  Thus for anyone who pays attention to salmon, the last month has represented a violent cognitive rupture as Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) had to repeatedly up its estimate of the number of sockeye running into the Fraser River to the now historic figure of 34 million.  Nobody alive has seen this many salmon, not since the ill-fated year of 1913, when a railroad-induced landslide at Hells Gate effectively destroyed an already declining fishery.  There are no experiential reference points.  We instead lean on aging stories of the good times told by people now long dead, and we struggle with, as one native fisher remarked, “overwhelming emotions.”

Indeed, this is the best of times, and as is wont in such circumstances, the spin has been fast and furious.  The DFO Minister cited the run as evidence of the Conservative government’s dedication to conservation.  A. Brian Peckford, who works in the offshore oil drilling industry, claimed the run proves that the problem with Fraser River salmon is not decline but “variation.”  Walling, who is executive director of the B.C. Salmon Farmer’s Association, pummeled critics of aquaculture, including biologist and activist  Alexandra Morton, who has linked industry practices to sea lice outbreaks and devastated pink salmon runs in the Broughton Archipelago.  According to Walling, the run proves salmon farms are not a problem.  Boldest of all has been the Marine Stewardship Council, which in late July, in an act that can only be described as stunningly prescient, anointed the Fraser sockeye fishery as an MSC-accredited sustainably managed fishery.

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