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Water use: something we Arizonans can control

Jackie Wheeler | Jan 20, 2011 05:00 PM

It’s an understatement to say that we’ve had a pretty grim new year so far here in the Grand Canyon State. First, of course, was the horrifying shooting rampage in Tucson on January 8th. Plenty has been said already about the possible causes and implications of that tragic event, and plenty more hard things need to be said both nationally and regionally about how citizens, armed or not, should treat each other, sane or not. A few days after the massacre the Arizona legislature convened and set about, as promised, to balance the budget by ruthlessly gutting education and indigent health care. The state motto is ditat deus, “God enriches,” and we can only hope it’s true, because there’ll be scanty enrichment around here for anyone except weapons dealers from now on.

Out of all this despair came one tiny ray of hope in the form of a news story. The Arizona Republic reported a few days ago that the amount of snow pack in the mountains surrounding the Colorado River watershed is well above average. HCN Associate Editor Sarah Gilman also blogged about this promising situation recently from her birds-eye perspective in chilly Paonia, CO. If it doesn’t melt too quickly, it may fill Lake Mead enough to stave off the severe rationing that had been predicted, perhaps even until 2015. We’ve been hearing about the dire situation at Mead for some years now, so this comes as something of a relief.

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Tribes: The Overlooked U.S. Climate Delegate

Terri Hansen | Jan 19, 2011 04:49 AM

Editors Note: This piece is cross posted from Mother Earth Journal, where reporter Terri Hansen writes about indigenous people and the environment.

The Cancun dust has settled, though I can’t shake the images of tourist luxury.

As one of 10 Earth Journalism Network U.S. Climate Media Fellows I spent two weeks last December reporting the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change COP16 summit, hosted by Mexico at Cancun’s opulent Moon Palace Golf and Spa Resort.

COP Patricia EspinozaNumbed by my own hotel’s surreal landscape, I spent room time on the balcony watching a turquoise surf crash onto the sparkling white sands favored by tourists. Never mind that they were sucked from the ocean’s floor to replace coarser gray sand, the rhythmic sound reminded me of Pacific Northwest coastlines and lessened my startle response. By late afternoon immense shadows cast by high-rise hotels sent tourists scurrying inside, and then it was just the Caribbean and me.

Dec. 11, the day I flew home delegates from 193 countries emerged triumphant after pulling an all-nighter with the ‘Cancun Agreements.’ And though I’d been there to cover the involvement of Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples at the talks, missing from the U.S. delegation was a representative for the 565 federally recognized tribes in the U.S.

Indian reservations occupy 55 million acres, or more than two percent of the area of the United States. Federal agencies are required to consult with Tribes on all issues of common interest. The tribes have requested that the U.S. include a tribal leader on their climate delegation, yet there is no engagement by the U.S. with the Tribes in these climate negotiations.

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Tree equity

Marc Dadigan | Jan 13, 2011 02:17 AM

The Los Angeles community Sherman Oaks sounds like a place that should be verdant and laden with leafy trees. Not surprisingly, the students of Arbol University found that to be exactly true.

Yet the students, who were using trigonometry and other tools to collect data about Los Angeles’s urban tree canopy, were shocked at the disparity they found between the different neighborhoods they surveyed.

In Koreatown, a lower income community, the tree canopy was not only thinner, but the trees were much younger and more likely to be sick or affected by pests. Damaged sidewalks and other infrastructure problems also threatened the health of the trees there. And the obvious visual discrepancy between Sherman Oaks and the sparse vegetation of Koreatown raised questions in the students’ minds.

Los Angeles Koreatown

Los Angeles' Koreatown has fewer trees than wealthier neighborhoods. Photo courtesy Marc Dadigan.

“They were walking around in Sherman Oaks and seeing all these trees that were 60 to 100 years old, and they wondered, ‘How come this neighborhood has so many trees and others don’t?”” said Miguel Luna, a community organizer who created Arbol University through a National Science Foundation grant.

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The age of loudness

Bill Lascher | Jan 11, 2011 02:00 AM

“No age is louder than ours,” Ken McAlpine writes in his book, “Islands Apart.

“We have reached a crescendo of clamor, and it is both curse and comfort,” he continues. “Solitude, in our times, is rare and, for many, profoundly unnerving.”

What might solitude offer those who never have a chance to experience it? Can we all expect quiet? How should it be calculated in attempts to create more sustainable communities?

A few months ago I visited Portland's Forest Park with a friend. Up among the dripping, fern-shrouded hills, we heard the constant roar of a power boat from the Willamette River far below. The noise had followed us into the hills, muting the crunch of our footsteps and quieting the chirps from unseen birds. As we hiked, my friend said she'd just read Leslee Goodman's interview of acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton in The Sun. My friend explained to me how Hempton described his research into diminishing noise-free time in wild spaces, and what that research said about the health of those ecosystems.

Natural as it may be, Forest Park is not a wild space, though it is, at least, a refuge for many of us in Portland, especially those who lack the means or ability to escape further afield. I returned there this weekend precisely because it was so convenient. Grateful for the fresh air and exercise, within minutes I realized how inescapable the city really was. I didn't hear any power boats, but I did hear airplane engines, beeping trucks, slamming car doors and even a ringing cell phone carried by a passing hiker.

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Extracting the West

Bill Lascher | Jan 04, 2011 04:49 AM

As another year begins, extractive industries continue to mine the West for opportunity, even when the economic activity they promise has little to do with the American West. Now it's increasingly clear that battles that seem localized to the West have far-reaching impacts.

The West has long been treated as a transitional zone, as if it is some sort of connective tissue between the rest of the world. Frequently this connectivity has to do with extracting value from the region's resources. Lewis and Clark, after all, mapped much of the West in search of a Northwest Passage and the imagined opportunity of a navigable water route to the Pacific. The Golden Spike of the Transcontinental Railroad may have been driven into the soil of Promontory Point, Utah, but the Golden State's wealth drove its construction.

Of late, this extractive connectivity has meant worries about how proposed “megaloads” of mining equipment bound for Canada will impact the conditions on U.S. Highway 12 in Idaho and Western Montana. The building-sized pieces of equipment – constructed in South Korea and shipped to Vancouver, WA before taking their barge trip to Lewiston, ID and starting on the Highway 12 journey – will be used by ConocoPhillips in its efforts to squeeze petroleum from the hydrocarbon-rich soil of Alberta (other companies also propose to use the Lochsa corridor to ship tar sands equipment). The trip would carry the equipment along part of the route taken by Lewis and Clark, through the Lochsa River Valley, over  Lolo Pass and straight through the birthplace of the Nez Perce tribe (other U.S. tribes also worry about the shipments, and many indigenous groups in Canada have opposed the Tar Sands).

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Not so simple living

Jackie Wheeler | Jan 03, 2011 06:33 AM

What was your first exposure to ideas of environmental justice? Mine, I'm ashamed to say, was very low-key: I saw a bumper sticker. It was affixed to a co-worker's car, back in the early 1980s, and it said, "Live Simply, That Others May Simply Live." I was in college at the time, in a town with a strong hippie vibe. Messages of social justice and environmentalism were ubiquitous there, so such a publicly-displayed motto was not unusual. Still, that one stuck in my head -- not just because of its clever play on words -- and I found myself fretting about it at odd moments. As a young person in the very early stages of developing a mature political and ethical consciousness, I wavered between skepticism and acceptance.  On the one hand, I did live simply. Trying to work enough retail industry hours to pay my own way through school was a constant struggle. "Dietary variety" for me consisted of choosing between beef or chicken-flavored generic ramen noodles. It was hard not to resent the girls in my circle of friends who could not only eat and party well, but could do so in astonishing arrays of costly Ralph Lauren clothing (this was the early 80s, remember). I wasn't immune from acquisitiveness. I wanted stuff, and it was difficult to see how my scrimping and living simply could possibly help others.

Still, I got it. From another perspective, my own life was one of undeserved privilege. For one, I was able to attend college full time, something few members of my family had yet been able to do. I had a job. I didn't have to risk my life or denude the landscape to get food or shelter. I could drink all the tap water I wanted virtually for free and not worry about its safety or availability if I didn't want to. Someone else had to deal with the after-effects of deforestation so that I could have cheap paper to write essays on martial metaphors in Much Ado About Nothing. Further, virtually every region in the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe was chock full of twenty-somethings like me, who had every reason to hope for a bright future at others' (and the earth's) expense.

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Not in my backyard?

Bobby Magill | Dec 29, 2010 03:35 AM

The New York Times reporter Kirk Johnson gave the NIMBY question some thought in a story and blog post this week profiling the political tug of war between anti-uranium milling NIMBYs in Telluride, Colo., and those who live in Naturita, Nucla and nearby towns around Colorado's Paradox Valley. Many residents in those towns see the proposed uranium mill as an economic boon and not as an environmental threat to the region.

The Piñon Ridge mill, slated to be built in the remote Paradox Valley 12 miles west of Naturita, would be operated by Toronto-based Energy Fuels Resources and be the first uranium mill in North America to be constructed in more than 25 years. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment expects to approve or deny a permit application for the mill by Jan. 17.

In his blog, Johnson asks whether uranium milling and the transportation of the uranium ore are as dangerous as those who don’t want it in their backyard say it is. Proponents claim that what’s dangerous is human error -- the error of mishandling the ore to promote the spread of cancer in mill workers and among nearby residents -- not the ore and the milling themselves if handled carefully. Rules and regulations, they say, will protect people from the radiation.

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California’s tribal harvesting imbroglio

marcdadigan | Dec 23, 2010 02:00 AM

Frankie Myers’s tribe, the Yuroks, have gathered and harvested everything from mussels to seaweed on the Northern California coast since “the beginning of time,” as he puts it.

The myriad coastal resources are of important cultural value to many Pacific tribes, and recent studies have shown that pre-contact hunter-gatherers were extremely adept at harvesting in sustainable and ecologically conscious ways.

It’s, thus, ironic that a California measure to protect coastal ecosystems could have rendered traditional tribal gathering illegal if it had not been for the protests of activists such as Myers.

“The legislators who wrote the law simply didn’t remember Native Americans and tribal harvesting,” Myers said. “They failed to see us as distinct political entities, and this is something that happens on many occasions.”

Yurok Coastal Trail

The Northern California coast, near the Yurok Coastal Loop trail. Photo courtesy Wing-Chi Poon,

The Marine Life Protect Act (MLPA) was signed into law by Governor Gray Davis in 1999, and it calls for the creation of a network of marine protected areas along the California coast. It’s intent is to protect threatened marine life and preserve relatively pristine coastal areas for research and study.

As written, the law stipulates that regulated “taking” should be allowed within certain parts of the marine protected areas but only for commercial or recreational purposes. Nowhere in the law are the needs and rights of tribal communities identified or accounted for.

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A new standard for tribal and U.S. relations

Mark Trahant | Dec 21, 2010 03:05 AM

 WASHINGTON, D.C. -- What’s my take away from the White House Tribal Nations Conference? Easy. This is an administration that actually believes the United States government must represent all of the people, including American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Make no mistake: Everything is not perfect between Indian Country and the United States as we close the year 2010. There are lots of legitimate complaints about how the federal government executes its responsibilities towards indigenous people. The list ranges from the failure to fully fund treaty and trust obligations to the problems associated with fixing the government’s own mistakes. (One of my favorite examples of that last point was reported out of a break-out group by Assistant Secretary Larry EchoHawk. The policy of termination—the U.S. withdrawal of recognition and support for tribal governments—was repudiated some 40 years ago by President Nixon. Yet laws, such as public law 83-280, an act favoring state jurisdictional authority over tribes, remain in force and on the books.)

Let’s pull back and look at the view from where the eagles fly. Then we can see how the Obama administration is busy planting new standards.

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The price of green

Jackie Wheeler | Dec 16, 2010 05:00 PM

This holiday, the spouse and I have decided to use some of our days off work to catch up on long-overdue home maintenance projects. For us, as for most other people, money is tighter this year, and we’re looking for ways to save on the supplies we’ll need. However, we’re also hoping to be as “green” as possible, and combining these two values has turned out to be quite a challenge. Because we hate painting and have avoided it as long as possible, this chore will be our main focus and the paint itself will take up most of our funds. For indoors at least we’re planning to use low- or no-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints. These products have gotten a lot of publicity in the last few years and are now pretty widely available, although their cost is still considerably higher than the old-school, smelly paints we’re more familiar with.

As I’ve written before in this blog, I’m not completely sold on “green” and “greener” products, for two reasons; the first is the widespread use of “greenwashing” by manufacturers to exaggerate their green claims. The second is cost, which keeps them (presuming they are indeed safer for people and environment) less accessible to everyone but especially the underprivileged, who can be disproportionately affected by both indoor and outdoor pollution.

 paint cans

Photo courtesy of Bree Bailey, licensed under Creative Commons.

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