Sen. Edward M. Kennedy jumped into American Indian issues with zeal after his brother, Bobby, was assassinated. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy had used the Indian Education Subcommittee as his platform during his extensive travels across Indian Country with the anti-poverty tour.
A young Ted Kennedy wrote in Look Magazine that RFK “saw, as I have seen, the resilience of the Indian way of life, a way of life that has for many generations resisted destruction despite government blunders that almost seem designed to stamp it out.”
In October 1969 Kennedy attended the National Congress of American Indians meeting in Albuquerque and called for the establishment of Select Committee on Human Needs of the American Indians in the U.S. Senate. The young senator blasted away at the Nixon administration. “We need no more presidential task forces. We need no more buck passing; we know where the blame lies,” the Albuquerque Journal quoted him telling the delegates. “We need no more empty promises; we know they are empty.”Read More ...
I catch fish with my hands. In the Wyoming Rockies, where I have spent my best summers, the high meadow streams are thick with brookies, cutthroats and rainbows. I hide behind willows and boulders, spying, greedy to catch, kill and eat them.
The fish hang suspended in liquid moments then shear off like startled birds, crowding the shallow meanders, hiding beneath the undercut banks. I kneel, slip my hands into the streaming snowmelt, and wait. The water is icy, but the waiting is important. I ease my hands toward the hiding place, fingers splayed, until I feel the first brush of the trout’s life against my own—the liquid silk of its skin, the bony head, the muscled curve of its body.
Fins and tail flutter against my outstretched hands. The twists and turns grow frantic. I tighten my grip until the trout runs out of room, then slam it against a rock. The pectoral fins give me something, but not much, to hang on to. I probe with numb fingers, finding a grip behind the gill flap. The trout flogs itself against my hand until it lapses into a spasm that tells me I’ve won.
This is not sport fishing. It may not even be legal, but I don’t care. I’m comfortable with how I fish, and why. This practice takes me back to a moment I need to remember:
It is October, 1974. I have hitchhiked away from the wreckage of my freshman year at an Eastern college to see the Rocky Mountains. After the predictably stoned and desultory road trip, I wander for five days along the Continental Divide alone, with no map and no clue, pretending to be Jim Bridger. My Day-Glo backpack contains a Sterno stove and a Boy Scout mess kit. A dull buck knife rides in a leather sheath on my hip.
Days unfold, sun-splashed and dreamlike. I walk the trails, putting distance between myself and the ivy-strangled campus, the lost scholarships, the shamed telephone calls home. I step around steaming piles of bear scat and scramble on granite boulders stamped with hieroglyphs of orange and green lichen. At sundown, purple shadows slide off the ridges. Dense cold air fills the glacial basins. The night is full of stars and possibility.
I wake one day in a frosted meadow to a sound I’ve never heard and could not have imagined—a shrill, compressed whistle so urgent, so full of longing, that it presses against my chest. When I see the elk straining against its own desire, neck muscles bulging, I know that I am where I belong.
When the food runs low, I wonder how quickly I can get to town and back, how much oatmeal and peanut butter I can buy with my last six dollars. I wonder if I could live like a shaman, on sunlight and mountain water. I do not consider how I will feed myself on the trip back East.
I walk up a tiny stream in the Indian summer afternon, boots scraping rock, spooking pan-sized trout. I wish for a hook and line. When a brook trout grounds itself on a gravel bar, I realize that I don’t need fishing gear. I build two rock dams, take off my shirt, and start catching dinner with my hands. I’m completely happy, doing what boys always say they will do someday: I am living off the land.
But boiled trout tastes a lot like hot water. You can only eat so much of it, even when you’re 18 and on a magic journey. I hiked out of the mountains two days later, spent the last of my money on a giant breakfast at Howard Johnson’s, walked up an east-bound entrance ramp and stuck out my thumb. I was broke, filthy, and returning to the scene of my first failure. As I hitched toward the gray Northeast, I vowed to come back, and soon. I would learn the edible plants and live in the mountains, maybe year-round.
Back in my hometown, I bragged up the mountains to my buddies as we passed around the bong. I was going back, I said, but could never seem to get it together. It would be 12 years before my next trip west—a vacation from a Manhattan desk job—and another five years before I finally moved here. The tingle of that afternoon stayed with me, though. There would not be a day in all those years that that I didn’t think about the Rockies.
In New York I would sometimes sit on a basalt outcrop in Riverside Park with a paper cup of coffee, staring across the West Side Highway and the Hudson River at sunset, past New Jersey all the way to the Continental Divide, where the streams were full of treasure. Trout swam in my dreams, or flew.
I didn’t fish in the east, though. There were trout in the Adirondacks, where I spent my outdoor time, but it wasn’t the same. The humid closeness of that country always left me longing for what I had touched briefly in the Rockies.
The human population out here has doubled since I first caught trout with my hands, and the place was feeling the crunch even then. For a time, though, I was innocent enough to believe that the spoiled world could be left behind. The newness of the West would free me from history—my country’s, and my own.
I was ignorant of natural history, too. I didn’t know, for example, that the brook trout I caught with my hands were transplants, an Eastern species that outcompetes native cutthroats in the West. To me, the trout were merely beautiful. They promised a meal in the mountains—a meal of the mountains—and so gave me the purest kind of joy. Somehow, contrary to all that I know and can never unlearn, they still do.
I’m reading a job announcement for a great gig. It pays $15 an hour. Flexible hours. Important work – and it’s classified as “long-term temporary.” That’s another way of saying: no benefits.
In a country that has opted for an “employer-based” health care system this should be the smoking gun; primary evidence that it’s a mistake to tie health insurance to our work.
But under health care reform there would be an employer mandate and the company that put out the job announcement would be required to offer insurance or pay a fine. Right? Wrong. The letterhead on the job announcement says: U.S. Census Bureau. The same government that demands employers offer health care tells its own workers simply, “no benefits.” This is not uncommon in either government or in the private sector. Some 12 percent of the work force is classified as part time and employers design jobs keeping in mind a rigorous enforcement of that 30-hour work week. A few employers do provide benefits to part time employees, but there are also people who work two or more part time jobs without benefits.
Here is the strange part: What would happen to this Census worker with the health care bills that require individuals to purchase insurance? The United States would have to write a subsidy check for the individual it has hired on the cheap in order to save money on benefits.
The individual mandate has been called the common thread in all of the health care reform proposals before Congress.
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The collapse of the housing industry hasn’t been good to log prices. According to a report (pdf) published in June by Northwest Farm Credit Services, log prices are as low as they were in the 1980s and can barely cover the cost of logging. Across the Northwest, timber companies are delaying harvests and mills have either stopped buying logs or put log producers on quotas.
With the prices of both logs and real estate in the gutter, it seems reasonable to think that the price of timberland would follow suit. But according to the NFCS report, forestland prices have been “disconnected” from log prices, and are holding steady despite the recession. And that’s great news for Weyerhaeuser, which, in the past year, has sold thousands of acres of Oregon and Washington forestland. The Associated Press reported
in July that Weyerhaeuser beat Wall Street earnings expectations by selling off “non-strategic timberland.” By “non-strategic,” company officials mean pine and hemlock forests, as opposed to the more profitable Douglas fir forests.
On August 14, the company announced that it had a $300 million deal to sell 140,000 acres in northwestern Oregon to an international timber investment management organization, or TIMO, called The Campbell Group. Weyerhaeuser spokesmen have also hinted that they may sell up to 82,000 additional acres in Washington. (Find detailed lists and prices here here ).
Unlike an old-fashioned timber company, which owns mills and other timber-based infrastructure and cares what happens to them, TIMOs aren’t invested in the local community and will do whatever needs to be done to get the best return on their investment. TIMO “capital is more flighty,” Bettina von Hagen of Ecotrust told the Daily Astorian. “It can go anywhere. It doesn't have to stay in the community."
Mark Twain famously suggested that we should “buy land, because they aren’t making any more of it.” As we learned earlier this year, applying this logic to overpriced spec houses leads to disaster. When it comes to houses, we can indeed make more. The same can’t be said for thousand-acre tracks of unbroken forestland, and TIMO ownership makes converting forestland to “highest and best use” easier, if not inevitable.
This week’s reader photo comes from Flickr contributor T. R. Baker, and features Nevada, in black and white.
You can add your photos to HCN’s Flickr photo pool. We’ll pick one to feature each week on our Web site. Don’t forget to tag them “highcountrynews.” You can also check out last week’s selected reader photo here.
Lightning flares in the bruised afternoon sky over the Arizona-New Mexico line. Wind scrapes across the grey-green flats from the west, flinging a fistful of gray birds through the air. Purple rags of cloud stream ahead of the storm.
A chill strikes the desert. Thunder claps. I take cover under the overhung cut bank of a deep wash. Mesquite roots claw at the air where the bank has collapsed. I crouch with my back against the earth, staring at the weather. I have never been here. I am home.
I will probably never see this patch of ground again. Habit brings me to such places. Season after season I fill a backpack and walk, grazing the thin pasture of the desert. I never know what I'm looking for till I find it. This morning it was a pale blue trailer out on the flats a mile west of U.S. Highway 70, not far from where I sit. Abandoned trailers always seduce me.
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While Americans love animals—half the nation are pet owners and billions of dollars are spent on wildlife and bird watching each year — our animal affinity seems to wear a little thin when it comes to nitty-gritty policy debate.
But policy is what allows forests to be clear cut and hazardous mining runoff to end up in streams and rivers. It’s not until the land in our backyards is leveled or a species is pushed to the brink of extinction or until the world becomes a gigantic furnace that we make a ruckus about policy.
Perhaps that’s why a court ruling (pdf) received so little fanfare. The rejected regulations would have turned forest-planning standards (including protections for wildlife on 193 million acres of public lands) into virtually meaningless suggestions, making it easier for industry to log, mine and drill national forests with little to no regard for impacts on the land.
On Friday, the Obama administration decided not to appeal the court’s decision. It’s a bold move that deserves some recognition. U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Vilsack has charted a new course for our nation’s forests — focusing on protecting water supplies and helping forests survive the ravages of global warming.
This is good news for wildlife. Secretary Vilsack has reaffirmed the important stewardship role that the Forest Service has in helping wildlife and other natural resources adapt to a changing climate.
And while the Obama administration ponders its next moves, some members of Congress have already put forth one great idea. A bill called America’s Wildlife Heritage Act would ensure that wildlife is always taken into consideration, not only on our national forests but also on the Bureau of Land Management’s National System of Public lands. Smart policy and balanced management like this will help to keep this nation of animal lovers happy.
Cat Lazaroff is the Director of Communications for Defenders of Wildlife, a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org
If you pay attention at all to the network news, you’re no doubt aware of controversy surrounding August Recess town hall meetings which Members of Congress have been conducting in their districts. The news reports I’ve seen show folks making angry accusations and claiming that aspects of health care bills which have been moving forward in the House of Representatives will usher in an age of draconian government control, socialism and euthanasia. From the repetition and other evidence it is clear that these folks are being organized by Republican operatives and encouraged by the likes of Rush Limbaugh.
I decided I’d like to attend one of these meetings to see for myself what is going on and maybe even to challenge some of the anti-reform folks if they disrupted the meeting. Like most of the West’s rural areas, the Klamath Mountains of Northwest California and Southwest Oregon are home to active, anti-government and anti-environmental sentiment. Grassroots organizations focus this sentiment in opposition to environmental protection and government regulation. I wanted to see if these folks would come out on the health care issue and I wanted to make sure those like me who favor a single payer system would be heard.
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Late last week the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in California challenging approval of 400 acres of clearcuts in Northern California’s Sierra Mountains. In the press release announcing the lawsuit, the Center claims that approval of the clearcutting by California’s Board of Forestry violated California law which requires that state agencies analyze and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from a project when they approve it. The Board of Forestry claims the trees will grow back in 100 years and that the clearcutting is therefore carbon neutral.
This is believed to be the first time logging has been challenged on the grounds that it will damage the climate. It comes at a time when there are signs that the Forest Wars may be once again heating up in California.
The Board of Forestry is under attack from environmentalists and fishing groups for seeking to weaken logging rules that were enacted a decade ago to protect Coho salmon and other at risk salmon. Those rules only apply to watersheds where Coho and other at risk salmonids spawn and rear. The logging rules were themselves deemed inadequate to protect Coho by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
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