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Ray Ring's West

New grazing technology might save streams

Ray Ring | May 14, 2009 10:20 AM
Filed under: Breakthroughs

I'm not sure how feasible this is for widescale installment on the many grazing parcels in the West. But it's worth spreading the word to help it catch on.

A grad student, Adam Sigler at Montana State University, has designed and tested a new technology that changes the way cattle use streams. It looks like this:


Sigler's invention might be a breakthrough -- a $1,500 framework of stanchions and fencing that controls how cattle approach and drink from streams. The cattle don't even touch the ground around the stream, and they're prevented from getting into the water and streambed. These diagrams show how it works ...

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How the rightwingers hold Interior hostages

Ray Ring | May 13, 2009 10:55 AM
Filed under: Ray's politics

Republicans in the U.S. Senate today stood up for a downtrodden victim -- the oil and gas industry. That's how they described it anyway. Really a lot more is at stake.

The superficial news: On behalf of their chosen industry, using classic Senate martial arts, the Republicans blocked the Obama administration's nominee for the Number Two job in the Interior Department.

Amid that noise, which is led by Utah Sen. Bob Bennett, the underlying character of today's Republican Party can be detected. It's more evidence of the tremendous leverage rightwingers have within the party, and how they exercise it in the Republican primaries, pressuring other Republican politicians to avoid any middle ground.

Interior's Number Two is a key for running much federal land and resources in the West. The Obamanites want a centrist environmentalist, David Hayes, to take the job ...

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No conspiracy in Libby, despite hundreds of deaths

Ray Ring | May 08, 2009 10:25 AM
Filed under: Green Justice

Maybe it's more incompetence by U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors -- kind of a holdover from the Bush era.

Maybe it's because a criminal conspiracy charge is always difficult to prove.

Or maybe it's a form of justice.

A jury in Missoula, Montana, just decided that the W.R. Grace corporation and some former Grace executives are not guilty of criminal conspiracy charges in connection with the deaths of hundreds of people -- and the illnesses of more -- in the small mining town of Libby.

The verdict shocked the surviving victims and kin of those who died from exposure to the corporation's asbestos mining. Gayla Benefield, who lost family and friends to lung disease and suffers effects herself, tells the Associated Press: "They have gotten away with murder. That's all I can say."

The Missoulian sums up the case and courtroom scene, and adds in a separate story: "Libby residents shellshocked by verdict."

The New York Times reports: "The verdict was a repudiation of the federal government’s case, which portrayed Grace as a greedy mine operator, aware of the dangers created by its mining operations and then callously, criminally covering up its crime."

The LA Times: "At least one juror was in tears as the verdict was read ..."

Judge Donald Molloy, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton and tends to rule for environmental claims, nevertheless slammed prosecutors during the trial -- as all the stories report, including an AP analysis headlined:"Prosecutors struggled in Grace trial."

And as usual, as I've often observed, environmental groups mostly continue to ignore this environmental crime because the victims are people, instead of ecosystems.



Obama's Forest Service nominee is a surprise

Ray Ring | May 07, 2009 05:25 AM
Filed under: Ray's politics

The Obama administration just nominated the next direct political boss of the U.S. Forest Service -- a job with huge importance around the West.

And behold, the Obamanites didn't pick the environmental movement's candidate -- Chris Wood, a Trout Unlimited leader who helped run the Forest Service during the Clinton Administration.

They also didn't pick the consensus movement's candidate -- Dan Kemmis, a political statesman in Missoula, Mont.

Instead, they picked an effective unknown -- Homer Lee Wilkes, a Mississippian who lacks experience in forest issues that play out in the West.

And I think it could mean more federal deal-making in and around the forests ...

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Some Mormons baptized Obama's dead mother

Ray Ring | May 05, 2009 12:55 PM
Filed under: Ray's politics

This is an amazing intrusion by one religion into a White House family.

Or add your own description of its significance.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports:

President Barack Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, who died in 1995, was baptized posthumously into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last year during her son's campaign, according to Salt Lake City-based researcher Helen Radkey.

Mormons often do such "proxy baptisms" of dead people -- without permission from relatives of the dead.

And it's highly controversial ...

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Watch falcons nesting high in downtown Boise

Ray Ring | May 01, 2009 05:05 AM
Filed under: Wild Thangs

This is a cool window into the wild -- make that, the downtown wild.

Two peregrine falcons are trying to hatch four eggs on the 14th story of a bank building in downtown Boise.

The Peregrine Fund and Fiberpipe have set up a webcam so we can all watch the falcons. The camera provides a live feed (what's happening in the nest right now) and archived footage (greatest hits since this nesting began).

More details are in the Peregrine Fund's text journal of events in the nest.

Interesting still photos are in a gallery at the Idaho Statesman -- including a shot of one falcon swooping in for a landing.

It's more evidence of the resiliency of some wildlife and the success of some conservation efforts -- thanks to an installment of eco-technology.

OK, as the video shows, many moments around the nest are kind of boring.

But I've saved the links to the webcam feed and plan to tune in now and then -- as the suspense of incubation builds and (let's hope) culminates in a hatching.


Idaho-style reality TV

Ray Ring | Apr 27, 2009 05:20 AM
Filed under: Amusements

Just a quick grin here.

Rocky Barker, a veteran Idaho Statesman writer and friend of mine, plays with this news:

... The Idaho Department of Commerce is planning on picking a Seattle family for an all-expense-paid trip to Idaho for fishing, rafting, hiking, horseback riding and the like -- in exchange for (the family) starring in an online reality show the state will produce.

Rocky suggests that the Department of Commerce should show everyone a slice of the real Idaho -- by inviting out-of-state couples to drive around rural Idaho, for a show called something like Survivor Idaho Style:

Each pair will be driving a pink Prius with an assortment of bumper stickers that read:

"Potatoes Suck." "Brigham Young should have stayed in Illinois." "Cattle Free by 2023." "Reelect Obama." "Ban assault weapons." "California, America's Paradise." "Socialism Rules!" and "Save wolves, shoot a rancher."

The first one to make it back to Boise alive wins.

Those of you who don't know the Idaho basics that Rocky is also playing with, please note: The state's license plates have carried the slogan "Famous Potatoes" to celebrate farmers, the state has a lot of Mormons, a lot of political conservatives, a lot of ranchers who disagree with environmentalists over wolves and cattle, etc.

Rocky is not trying to insult potatoes, of course. Between the grins, he is making a point:

Tourism promotions, "reality" TV -- and even enjoy-nature documentaries -- are never as real as real life.

Confession time: That also applies to a great deal of journalism.


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Ex-congressman dies in Utah ATV crash

Ray Ring | Apr 19, 2009 09:05 AM
Filed under: Off-road wreckage

For years I've collected stories about people around the West who get killed or seriously hurt in off-road driving wrecks. I got interested in the ongoing tragedy when an admirable young man I knew crashed his machine in a popular ATV playground. He was a math teacher who inspired one of my kids. He went off for a motorized weekend in the sand dunes near St. Anthony, Idaho, and came back to school in a wheelchair.

Saturday, in a famous ATV playground in Utah called Little Sahara, a likable "political maverick," Bill Orton, drove his ATV over a drop-off, crashed and died.

Orton served three terms in Congress (1990-1996) as a Democrat representing a conservative, usually Republican district. He was 60 years old and he left behind a wife and two kids. His death is also "a great loss" for his state.

The same day Orton crashed, a 49-ear-old woman, Karin Vandenberg, died in a Utah hiking accident. So better acknowledge: Non-motorized outdoor sports are also dangerous.

But the ATV culture is largely about taking risks. The salesmen hype the machoness of the machines. Many drivers use them for racing through difficult terrain, thrill-seeking, pushing the limits -- the scene on busy weekends when tens of thousands of off-roaders gather in Little Sahara. The psychology causes some ATV drivers to be irresponsible tearing up Western landscape and habitats for plants and animals. It also provides a rush of temporary freedom -- and too often it ends sooner than expected.



Battle for justice in Libby might collapse quietly

Ray Ring | Apr 09, 2009 12:00 PM
Filed under: Green Justice

Environmental groups send me many press releases. And I read many news stories about environmental issues -- news framed by the groups.

The influential groups are busy designating more wilderness, and filing lawsuits to protect wolves, and pushing Congress to reform mining law, battling coal, battling oil and gas, battling off-road drivers etc. etc.

But I hear very little from the groups about the biggest environmental disaster directly affecting people. I'm talking about the poisoning of hundreds of working-class people in Libby, Montana, by asbestos fibers. Mining from 1924 to 1990 spread the deadly fibers throughout the small town. Hundreds of locals have died from terrible lung disease and more suffer every day.

Only a few environmental groups have tried to highlight the Libby disaster and help the people. I wrote about the movement's blind spot in a 2005 High Country News think piece headlined, "Where were environmentalists when Libby needed them the most?"

Lately, federal prosecutors have dragged former executives of one mining company, W.R. Grace, into a criminal trial in Missoula. The charge: While the men were W.R. Grace execs, they formed a conspiracy to expose the people of Libby to a toxic substance. It's probably the biggest environmental-crime trial ever. There's arguable evidence that the defendants knew their mining practices endangered people's health -- including testimony by a "corporate insider."

But in the way of courtrooms, prosecutors have a hard time connecting the dots and meeting the burden of proof for a conspiracy charge ...

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Montana wrestles nation's boldest gun-rights bill

Ray Ring | Apr 04, 2009 06:45 PM
Filed under: Ray's politics

If you have a taste for irony and political dilemmas, this is delicious.

We all know how Western Democratic politicians get more popular by coming out for gun rights. They're packing guns and twirlin' and shootin' … partly because some are gun folks, and mainly because it's good for the image. It differentiates them from effete gun-controllin' Democrats on the ocean coasts. It wards off attacks by zealous Western gun-rights voters.

This 2008 TV ad for Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, for instance, shows the Democratic governor blasting clay pigeons with a shotgun -- a modern classic. The governor is a good shot:



Fair to say, the West has a thing for guns. But sometimes the most zealous gun-rights advocates, pushing to throw off all regulations, seem unreasonable to a lot of people -- and that puts Western Democratic politicians on the spot. It's happening now in Montana -- and the way gun-rights campaigns spread, it could happen soon in other states.

The Montana Shooting Sports Association wants the Legislature to pass a bill that has highly controversial provisions. The National Rifle Association also pushes it. The bill -- titled HB 228 -- would make it easier to brandish a gun and easier to blow away someone in Montana, if you feel threatened ("easier" means, cops and prosecutors would have less grounds for questioning your gun behavior). The most controversial provision would make it easier for people to carry concealed guns WITHOUT A PERMIT …

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About Ray

Ray has been a Western journalist since 1979. He's now High Country News senior editor, based in Bozeman, Montana. He's earned national recognition including a George Polk Award for political reporting, a Sidney Hillman Foundation Journalism Award for investigating oil-field accidents, and an Investigative Reporters & Editors scroll for going undercover as a prison inmate. He's had three novels published.

Articles by Ray

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