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Feinstein and Westlands – who’s running whom?

Felice Pace | Mar 07, 2010 05:15 AM

There has been an interesting development in the ongoing story of Big Ag v fish in the Great Central Valley of California. Back in January HCN featured an article by Matt Jenkins on that conflict and in particular on the part played by the powerful corporate farmers of the Westlands Water District on the West side of the San Joaquin Valley which extends south from San Francisco Bay.

In spite of the fact that Westlands holds only junior water rights, the powerful District has been able to secure a lion’s share of available irrigation water – that is until the federal Bureau of Reclamation was so hemmed in by drought and ESA court decisions that it could simply no longer deliver the water which Westland’s corporate farmers desired.

Matt Jenkins reported what happened next. Essentially Westlands partnered with conservative members of Congress to take a run at the Endangered Species Act. Like all other Ag interests that have been faced with complying with the powerful endangered species law, Westlands wanted an exemption; let the tiny Delta Smelt get along with less water during the drought so that Westlands could continue to have all the water it desires.

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Rolling Boulder up the mountain

Tom Yulsman | Feb 22, 2010 03:05 AM

Boulder Child Protests CoalIt is almost an article of faith among climate activists that only a lack of political will is preventing us from taming global warming. As Al Gore puts it in his book, Our Choice:

 "It is now abundantly clear that we have at our fingertips all of the tools we need to solve the climate crisis. The only missing ingredient is collective will."
 
If any place on the planet has the collective will to put those tools to use, it's Boulder, Colorado -- a city that is probably home to more people working on one aspect or another of climate change than any other place on Earth. But according to a recent article by Stephanie Simon in the Wall Street Journal, even liberal Boulder, that bastion of environmentalism, and the first place in the United States to actually enact a carbon tax, is struggling mightily to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
 
The city is no doubt learning from its mistakes and may well do better and better in coming years. But its experience so far, along with that of European nations, which have been working hard for years to reduce their emissions, should stand as a cautionary tale for those who buy Gore's assertion. Breaking political logjams probably isn't going to be good enough.

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Tribes and Enviros mixed on Klamath Agreement

Valerie Brown | Feb 19, 2010 05:49 AM

In a refreshingly cordial ceremony on February 18, three Native American tribes, the federal government, the states of Oregon and California, and an electric utility signed two agreements that promise to restore the Klamath Basin to health and end decades of rancor among the region's stakeholders.

The documents were signed in the echoing rotunda of the Oregon State Capitol beneath a mural of the traditional Native American salmon fishing platforms at Celilo on the Columbia River (long since drowned by The Dalles dam). The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement lay out plans to remove four dams and rebalance water distribution to farmers and ranchers, tribes, wildlife, and hydroelectric interests.

The Klamath Basin straddles the Oregon-California border. Its rivers and lakes have suffered an all-too-familiar litany of insults, including fish die-offs, algal blooms, droughts, and other noxious events as a result of hydroelectric modifications, industrial farming, and climate variations.

During a drought in 2001, matters rose to a fierce boil. In accordance with the Endangered Species Act, the federal government cut off water to agriculture to protect the endangered sucker fish and threatened coho salmon. Angry farmers, defiantly camping along an irrigation canal, installed their own pump and irrigation pipe to bypass the canal headgates.

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In Alaska, a health care model for the nation

Mark Trahant | Feb 16, 2010 07:56 AM

It takes about 30 seconds of walking around the campus of the Alaska Native Medical Center to see that this is what the Indian Health system should look like across the country. “No,” a friend corrected me, “this is what the U.S. health care system should look like.”

The Alaska Native Medical Center is two facilities in one. Essentially, there is an in-patient hospital and some statewide services managed by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. And outpatient services are administered by the Southcentral Foundation. The two management teams work closely together.

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Booms, Busts, and B.S.

Jim Spehar | Feb 16, 2010 03:40 AM

I'd have to look at 60+ years of calendars, but suffice it to say this Grand Junction native has lived through his share of hometown booms and busts.  Off the top of my head, there've been a couple of uranium booms and the oil shale boom that infamously ended with a Black Sunday in May just over a quarter century ago, and now natural gas.  I'm likely skipping over at least a couple more.

It'd take more than a century's worth of calendars to track my family's journey through those same cycles.   My forefathers on both sides of the family immigrated to Crested Butte in the 1880s, leaving Eastern Europe's poverty to better themselves in a mining economy.  They ended up chasing coal and precious metals to a host of other Colorado communities between Glenwood Springs and Trinidad. Extended family members toiled everywhere from the copper mines of Butte to the steel mills of Pueblo and the oil industry in Houston.  Some of my own professional work followed that same path for a half-dozen years.

There's no doubt the economy of Mesa County and all of northwest Colorado has been hurt by the loss of energy-related jobs as we experience yet again the peaks and valleys cycles of extractive industries.  

It's also certain that the economic ups and downs experienced here in Colorado and elsewhere in the West by five generations of the Spehar and Kapushion families will be repeated.  We all like to be warm in the winter, cool in the summer.  We enjoy and benefit from the products produced from wood and metals via processes using energy from oil and natural gas, water and coal, less occasionally from uranium, and increasingly from the sun and wind and other alternative sources.

There's one product being produced to excess while the energy industry suffers…one more commonly associated with the ranching industry my family has been part of for most of its time in Colorado.   It's a smelly product, whether distributed over pastures and corrals or through political discourse.

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Native Farmers and Ranchers

Felice Pace | Feb 12, 2010 07:36 AM

In my last post, I reported some of the results of the USDA’s 2008 Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey which is part of the 2007 Census of Agriculture. The 2007 Census has given us the first good data on Native American farmers. That’s because in prior surveys the USDA treated reservations as if they were one big farm or ranch rather than containing an amalgam of farms and ranches operated by individuals and families. 

When compared to other US farmers and ranchers, the typical Native farmer or rancher earns substantially less income.  But the typical Native agriculturalists also works more land as compared to non-Natives engaged in agriculture. So why does more land produce less income?

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It's time to put aside the fairytales

Erin McCallum | Feb 05, 2010 08:30 AM

It's tough being a wolf these days. Despite barely having recovered from being indiscriminately hunted to near extinction during the last century, wolves continue to face the rampant persecution and vitriol of yesteryear from legislators, corporations, citizens and even state and federal governments.
 
Most recently, Utah's Senate has passed a bill that (if enacted) would make it next to impossible for wolves to ever repopulate any of their historic range in Utah. Not that wolves currently pose a problem; only a handful has strayed into Utah in recent years, and none are known to be living there now.
 
The sponsor of the Utah bill, Senator Allen Christensen (R-North Ogden) described his designs by: "Simply say[ing] any wolf within Utah will be captured and killed. We don't want any of them here."
 
The "we" he refers to is unclear, as is much of the reasoning behind such an extreme affront against wolves. In fact, a 2004 poll (Bruskotter, J. T., & Schmidt, R. H. 2006) taken of 700 Utah residents - including landowners and rural residents - shows that the majority are receptive to having wolves in their state.
 
Senator Christensen's bill would, with the stroke of a pen, undo the painstaking and sincere work of the 13-member stakeholder group, including ranchers and sportsmen, who worked for over a year to craft the Utah Wolf Management Plan adopted by the Utah legislature in 2005.

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The 2008 Farm and Ranch Survey is out!

Felice Pace | Feb 04, 2010 08:15 AM

The USDA has released the results of the 2008 Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey. The survey is taken every five years nationwide. Much of the regional information below is based on comparison of the 2003 and 2008 surveys.

Nationwide the number of irrigated acres increased over the five year period from 52.5 million acres in 2003 to 54.9 million acres in 2008. In the Upper Colorado River Basin the number of irrigated acres held steady at about 1.4 million acres. But in California irrigated acreage declined sharply from 8.7 million acres in 2003 to 7.4 million acres in 2008.

Some of the decrease in California may be the result of extended drought. However, the bulk of the decrease is likely due to sprawl which brings housing and commercial development into areas of prime farmland. Increases in irrigated acreage occurred in the Mid-West and South; in the West – including Hawaii – irrigated acres held steady or declined.

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Wolverines, snowmobilers, and the ESA

Rebecca Watters | Feb 04, 2010 02:00 AM

Last week, the Idaho Statesman newspaper published an article about recreational vehicle impacts on wolverines in the Payette, Boise, and Sawtooth National Forests. The piece focused on a study investigating questions about the extent to which snowmobilers and wolverine tracksskiers disturb denning female wolverines, and researchers' desire to find out whether winter backcountry recreation really does threaten the animals. Now that the wolverine is up for consideration for listing under the Endangered Species Act, answering this question has become pretty important.

Snowmobilers, backcountry skiers, and advocacy groups all have a stake in the outcome of this study.  The script of the traditional Western endangered species conflict [PDF] calls for outraged recreationists to accuse environmental advocacy groups and the federal government of infringing on their rights, while environmental advocacy groups evoke wilderness and science to enforce their aims. Meanwhile the researchers remain stuck in the limbo of trying to maintain objectivity while taking shots from all sides. Wolves and spotted owls are probably the best examples of this predictable drama, which serves--over and over again, ad nauseum--as a proxy for deeply rooted values conflicts.

If the US Fish and Wildlife Service determines that wolverines are threatened, land managers may have the latitude to make land use changes to remote backcountry in order to protect wolverines--if  researchers determine that human disturbance actually does result in den abandonment.

Hidden in the Statesman article, however, is a line that suggests that the wolverine case could turn out differently: "The study about wolverines is co-sponsored by the Idaho Snowmobile Association."

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Western resource extraction, now and then

Lissa James | Jan 28, 2010 03:45 AM

For four years Boston-based photographer Eirik Johnson, a Seattle native, travelled around Washington, Oregon, and northern California taking pictures of loggers and fishermen. His photographs, collected into the series "Sawdust Mountain," are on display at the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington until this Sunday. The series depicts the visual impact of natural resource extraction--clearcuts and slash piles, dams and gill nets--alongside the social impact of collapsed natural resource-based industries. Former timber boom towns like Aberdeen, Wash., decorated with murals of men using cross-cut saws in old growth forests, now have abandoned log dumps and factory buildings and a population struggling to find an economic alternative to timber.

Log photograph by Eerik JohnsonThe photographs document both man's awesome ability to alter the natural environment and his adaptability: mills now cut less desirable species like alder instead of fir or cedar, forest workers salvage cedar shakes from old growth stumps, and nurseries and hatcheries produce millions of seedlings and eggs to supplement natural supply. These images are disturbing but not judgmental, inviting sympathy for the people still dependent on the natural resource-based economy rather than animosity. The photos and the people in them are sad and gray and hushed, hunched beneath a perpetually cloudy and beautiful sky, and the series comprises what Johnson describes as a "melancholy love letter of sorts" to life in the rural Northwest.

At the University of Washington exhibit Johnson's work is accompanied by a collection of old-growth logging photographs taken in the late 1800s and early 1900s by the likes of Darius Kinsey and Carleton Watkins.

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