“Rants from the Hill” are Michael Branch’s monthly reflections on life in the high country of Nevada’s western Great Basin desert.
I live with my wife and two young daughters in the high desert of the western Great Basin, at 6,000 feet on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, on a desiccated hilltop so mercilessly exposed to wind, snow, and fire that our house appears to lean away from the trouble, like a tree canted by the blast of the Washoe Zephyr that sweeps these hills every afternoon. It is a stark and extreme landscape, utterly empty of any concern for our flourishing, or even survival. It is also, to us, the most remarkable home imaginable. I look forward to telling you more about this place and its human and nonhuman inhabitants in the monthly essays that will follow.
But first, in this essay of greeting, I offer a few reflections on how we human neighbors greet each other out here in the rural high desert. The fact that we are so few and far between in this big country profoundly conditions our modes of communication, increasing our dependence upon each other even as it intensifies the isolation we have chosen in coming here to dwell. Our challenge is to affirm the bonds of mutual aid so as to have them ready in times of blizzard, fire, and accident, while simultaneously protecting each other’s elaborate fantasies of independence. This is more difficult than it might sound, and it accounts for the ubiquity of discussions of the weather, without which my neighbors and I—there are eight of us strung along this nearly impassable, three-mile dirt road snaking through the sage and juniper hills—would have a rough time getting along. We’re all isolatoes here, distinguishable on any given day by our varying degrees of orneriness—by where we might each be placed on a narrow spectrum ranging from Tolerably Genial at the Mailboxes on up to Sociopathically Misanthropic. Despite our curmudgeonliness, we also know how to help each other when the need arises, which it does out here.Read More ...
Chris Clarke could see the entire northern part of the Mojave National Preserve from the summit of Kessler Peak. Light from that magical hour around sunset highlighted distant mountains and ridgelines. The view was spectacular. But as the sun dipped below the horizon he realized the path he’d taken to climb to the top was too steep to descend. Suddenly, he heard the melodic song of a canyon wren and saw a safe path open before him. “It was one of those moments when everything came together,” says Clarke. “The Mojave National Preserve took care of me.” Clarke has returned the favor. He’s a board member of The Mojave National Preserve Conservancy, a relatively new nonprofit friends group that seeks to protect the 1.6 million acre Mojave National Preserve. The conservancy works to protect the preserve by supporting educational programs, restoration projects, and capital improvements at the park.
Chris Clarke could see the entire northern part of the Mojave National Preserve from the summit of Kessler Peak. Light from that magical hour around sunset highlighted distant mountains and ridgelines. The view was spectacular. But as the sun dipped below the horizon he realized the path he’d taken to climb to the top was too steep to descend. Suddenly, he heard the melodic song of a canyon wren and saw a safe path open before him. “It was one of those moments when everything came together,” says Clarke. “The Mojave National Preserve took care of me.”
Clarke has returned the favor. He’s a board member of The Mojave National Preserve Conservancy, a relatively new nonprofit friends group that seeks to protect the 1.6 million acre Mojave National Preserve. The conservancy works to protect the preserve by supporting educational programs, restoration projects, and capital improvements at the park.Read More ...
I had read about "push polls," but until last week, I had never been exposed to one.
A "push poll" may sound like a real poll at first, but as the questions proceed, it's obvious that the pollster is trying to influence your thinking, rather than find out what you're thinking, which is what legitimate polls do.
My push-poll moment came after I returned from some errands and checked the answering machine, just in case an editor had called with the offer of some lucrative work.
No such luck. Instead, a robust voice started asking questions. Obviously this was a robo-call, since a human would have either hung up or left a message after getting the answering machine. I'm all for free speech, and I know the U.S. Supreme Court has decided corporations come under the First Amendment, but isn't there something we can do to make sure that robots don't have free-speech rights that annoy us?Read More ...
Ask John or Jane Q. Public about how the environmental laws in this country are implemented, and you’re likely to get a blank stare. No one really knows, but with the BP spill and Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant leaks in the headlines, people are sure the system isn’t working. As a practicing environmental lawyer, I’ll be the first to admit that this nation’s environmental law framework is dense and arcane. I’ll also be the first to second-guess its efficacy. So join me, won’t you, on a fantastic voyage into the murky underworld of environmental administrative law?
Like many others, I think the nation’s system of environmental laws and regulations, both at the state and federal level, is broken and its problems need to be addressed. One of the biggest problems can be summed up in two words: “agency deference.” “Agency deference” is the judicial doctrine that precludes judges from revisiting administrative agency decisions (s/a those made by the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Forest Service) except in the most extreme circumstances. It’s also the doctrine that has made it nearly impossible for there to be any independent and dispassionate review of decisions made by federal agencies that have become more like industry enablers than hard-nosed neutral regulators.Read More ...
With production supposed to start soon, I've encountered even more criticism of the Nestle bottled-water operation in Colorado's Chaffee County, where I live.
In brief, Nestle will take 200 acre-feet a year of water from springs near Nathrop, between Buena Vista and Salida, and transport it in tanker trucks to the Denver area. There it will be bottled and sold under the Arrowhead brand.
To make up for the water taken to the bottling plant, water that would have otherwise flowed down the Arkansas River to other users with senior water rights, Nestle made a deal with the City of Aurora, a suburb just east of Denver. With the economic downturn, Aurora doesn't need all the water it has rights to. So Aurora will lease "augmentation water" to Nestle. Thus the river flow is preserved, and downstream water users will not be harmed.
Now, I've never been a fan of this scheme. But I don't think it's fair to criticize our county commissioners for granting the relevant permits to Nestle. They have to follow the law, not the widespread disgust with the bottled-water industry.
Not long ago, Pacific salmon geographies of harvest, consumption, and reproduction were conterminous. Forten millennia, where fish spawned was also where they were caught and eaten, but in the last two centuries industrial fishing techniques launched harvestersdownstream and out to sea, while salting, canning, and freezing technologies expanded consumption across time and space. We now eat Pacific salmon in any season anywhere in the world. The tight linkage of fish, habitat, and humans shattered, replaced by modern spaces that are increasingly irreconcilable.
This disconnect was brought home yesterday when the Monterey Bay Aquarium advised consumers not to buy salmon caught off of most of the Oregon coast. The MBA’s downgrading of salmon caught south of Cape Falcon hit the state hard. The Portland Oregonian and Oregon Public Broadcasting covered the story not only for the sake of urban consumers but for rural fishers who will suffer from any decline in consumer demand.Read More ...
I had to post this reader photo, from Flickr member ben j. It's a great shot! He took it in Boulder, Utah.
Add your photos to the HCN Community Flickr pool; we feature selected photos from the group from time to time on this blog. You can also enter HCN's many 40th anniversary photo contests at our 40th anniversary web site.
Sometimes no news is good news, so I’ll count last week's relatively uneventful oral arguments as a boon for continued wolf recovery efforts in the northern Rockies. But the mood both inside and outside the U.S. district courthouse in Missoula shows there’s still much work to be done to ensure sustainable wolf management in the region.
Defenders of Wildlife and other conservation organizations brought suit against the federal government for not providing adequate protections for wolves under the Endangered Species Act. The legal question at stake is whether wolves can be protected in one state (Wyoming) while remaining under aggressive state management in neighboring states (Idaho and Montana).
Wyoming’s wolf plan would have allowed the animals to be shot on sight in 90 percent of the state, which was previously deemed to be inadequate protection for the species and resulted in their re-listing in Wyoming. Meanwhile, Idaho and Montana adopted more reasonable wolf plans, only to allow hunting in 2009 to cull the growing population. Unfortunately, the wolves don’t know when they’ve crossed state lines, leaving them in the precarious position of being safe on one side and targeted by hunters on the other.
Two years ago High Country News’ cover boldly proclaimed Peace on the Klamath. The reference was to the Klamath River, where a collection of federal and state agencies, irrigators, fishing organizations and environmental groups had announced an agreement which the article claimed would end the river's water wars and result in a future characterized by harmony and collaboration on water issues.
Subsequent events indicate that the resulting Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) has itself resulted in conflict and controversy. Two environmental groups – Waterwatch of Oregon and Oregon Wild - were expelled from negotiations; they have been joined by the Hoopa Tribe and the Northcoast Environmental Center (NEC) in opposing the final deal. Both the Hoopa Tribe and the NEC participated in negotiations until the end but decided the final deal is not in their or the Klamath River’s interest.
Also opposing the deal are Siskiyou County and many local politicians and non-federal irrigators in the Upper Klamath Basin. They allege that the KBRA favors those irrigators and other interests which get water via the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Project over other irrigators in the Basin.Read More ...