Clean Power jolt, East Coast meddling and shrinking wetlands

HCN.org news in brief.

 

CLEAN POWER STAY SPURS GREEN ACTION
Environmentalists started the year on a high, after the Obama administration took action on coal leasing on public lands, Keystone XL and carbon emissions. Then last month, the Supreme Court delivered the movement an unexpected defeat by staying the Clean Power Plan. The 5-to-4 decision showed environmentalists just how fragile their victories are – and re-energized their efforts to influence the coming elections and the search for a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Green groups, like the League of Conservation Voters, received an influx of donations following the stay. The Democratic National Committee released a video with members of Congress, most from Western states, talking about the toll climate change will take on their states, a signal of the larger role environmental issues play in this election than in the past. On the line are the hard-won policies of the Obama administration, not least of them the Clean Power Plan. 
-Elizabeth Shogren

A man wears a Bernie Sanders mask during a November rally in Los Angeles calling for action on climate change, just before climate talks in Paris. The Supreme Court’s stay of the Clean Power Plan last month has re-energized environmental groups’ efforts to raise the issue’s profile.
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

AUDIO

“Sheriffs are the ultimate law enforcement authority. Because they are elected officials, they have more power than anybody in their county, including the president of the United States.”

—Richard Mack’s philosophy, as explained by HCN senior editor Jonathan Thompson in “West Obsessed: What the heck is a Sagebrush Sheriff?” Mack is founder of the Constitutional Sheriff and Peace Officers Association, and author of the book The County Sheriff: America’s Last Hope.

SHRINKING WETLANDS
In the last century, California wetlands have decreased by 90 percent. That trend has continued over the past five years of drought. Birds that once nested in the wetlands are finding their habitual spots dried out, leading to reduced breeding. As they crowd together on diminishing wet areas, diseases spread, further weakening populations. Conservationists and farmers have tried to slow the slide, but dwindling water allocations have hindered their efforts.
-Paige Blankenbuehler

Click to view larger.
Disappearance of Central Valley wetlands. Central Valley Historic Mapping Project, California State University, Chico, Geographic Information Center

1,000
Roughly the number of Yellowstone bison killed in this year’s controversial cull. Biologists say development has ended the animal’s historical migrations; without management, bison could overcrowd the park.
-Krista Langlois

GRAZING RIGHTS OVER TIME
Battles over who should be able to graze livestock on the vast stretches of federal land in Western states have raged for over 150 years. Central to these disputes is whether grazing is a “right.” Federal laws treat grazing on public land as a privilege, but permits are often tied to property, and some ranchers consider them their due.
-Tay Wiles

General Land Office surveyors in Oregon, circa 1923. The GLO, called by some the “Gateway to Land Ownership,” because it facilitated settlement, later merged with another agency to become the Bureau of Land Management.
Bureau of Land Management

THINK TANK INFLUENCE
In early March, an Idaho Senate panel passed a bill that would help lay the groundwork for more local control of federal lands. The bill was based on model legislation written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative think tank whose Western influence has grown. The group has played a role in public-lands debates as far back as the 1995 “Sagebrush Rebellion Act.” During the first half of last year, a third of the public land transfer bills introduced in the West could be traced back to ALEC, and more have appeared already this year.
-Lyndsey Gilpin

You say

Je N Nay: “Public-lands policy coming from a place with negligible public lands. Makes sense.”

Amy Brunvand: “ ‘Local control’ is always the buzzword, but most of the locals are not actually in favor of handing our quality of life over to corporate and private interests.”

Michael Stiehl: “Why is this a surprise? What baffles me, though, is why the conservation and wilderness organizations don’t use similar tactics by introducing their draft legislation.”