Sad proof that it's not wise to feed wildlife:
Last week, a housekeeper found the partially eaten body of 74-year-old Donna Munson outside of Munson's Ouray County, Colo., home. Munson regularly fed nine bears, and had been repeatedly warned by officials to stop. Authorities have since determined that Munson was killed by a 394-lb male black bear. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reports:
“We don’t know for sure, but what we feel it was one of the bears who regularly came to her residence,” (Ouray County Sheriff’s investigator Joel Burk) said.
Authorities believe Munson was standing on her porch, behind a seven-foot high wire fence she had built on the property, at the time of the attack. The wire fence includes holes, roughly 4 by 6 inches wide.
“We believe she was close enough to the fence for the bear to be able to reach through and make contact with her,” Burk said.
Munson appeared to have been dragged underneath the fence — multiple wounds were found to her head, torso, and legs, he said. Munson’s walker (her daughter told The Daily Sentinel she was in failing health and showed signs of dementia) was found on the porch, Burk said.
Bear attacks are extremely uncommon, especially lethal ones. This fatal attack is only the third recorded in Colorado. Back when I was a reporter working the bear beat at the Aspen Daily News, Colorado Division of Wildlife Spokesman Randy Hampton gave me the rundown on the two others:
In 1971, a newlywed on his honeymoon in Grand County was dragged out of his tent and killed by an older male black bear. When officials tracked down and killed the animal, they found it had worn, abscessed teeth and a plastic bucket in its stomach, indicating that it was probably desperate for food, Hampton said.
In 1993, a black bear broke into a camper in Fremont County and killed its 24-year-old male occupant after the young man fired off a shot that only grazed the bear's ribs.
However, black bear attacks tend to be more common than grizzly attacks, if only because there are more of the former in the lower 48. If you're morbid like me, you might find this comprehensive list of fatal bear attacks pretty interesting.
On the Web site of GreenBiz.com, Mark Gunther describes Bill Gross as "a serial entrepreneur" and "one of the most interesting business people I've known." Gross is the guy who gave Google its paid-search idea. He likes robots. He has Google's money invested in his electric car project (only fair, right?). He also may be the guy to best solve the land wars that continue between desert conservationists and national environmental organizations over large-scale concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) in the desert.Read More ...
It starts with a $50 bill. Then $5,000, just to look the other way at the port of inspections. Suddenly the formerly-loyal U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer has become yet another link in the chain of corruption, bribery, contraband and violence that plagues the southern border.
And he’s not the only one.
An Associated Press investigation has found that U.S. border officials are being charged with criminal corruption in numbers previously unseen: More than 80 federal, state and local law enforcement officials have been leveled with such charges since 2007.
Meanwhile, both governments are stepping up patrols, according to the AP:
As Calderón sent thousands of soldiers to northern Mexico to stop the gruesome cartel violence and clean out corrupt police departments, Customs and Border Protection — the largest U.S. law-enforcement agency — boosted its border forces by 44 percent, or 6,907 additional officers and agents, on the southwestern border.
At the same time, CBP saw the number of its officers charged with corruption-related crimes nearly triple, from eight cases in fiscal 2007 to 21 the following year.
Corruption runs the gamut, allowing activities such as drug-trafficking, human smuggling, weapons trade and unauthorized entries across the border--committed by high-ranking, established BP officials down to recent agency hires, some of whom are planted by the drug trade. And while bribery (a bargain for smugglers to ensure safe passage) is the leading incentive, drug cartels frequently use another powerful motivator—offering agents a choice between “plata o plomo”--silver or lead.
As continuing border wall construction endangers wildlife and the President requests ramped-up CBP funding, citing Mexico’s long-reputed corrupt officials has been an easy way to dodge the blame. But it finally seems we’re taking a necessary hard look at our own side of the problem.
Graph from the Arizona Daily Star.
The Centers for Disease Control say that only 35 cases of the West Nile virus have so far been reported in the United States this year, but the season is just getting started: late summer and early fall are the times when most infections occur.
Of the 35 cases, 19 are in the West and 10 of those cases were reported as encephalitis/meningitis. Researchers caution that the high percentage of neuroinvasive disease is often overstated because serious cases are more likely to be reported than mild cases.
In 2008, 1,356 cases were reported nationwide, including 44 fatalities. About half the cases were neuroinvasive. There were 680 cases in the West, with California reporting the highest number (445) and Washington the lowest (3). There were 398 cases of encephalitis/meningitis, with California again having the most: 292. Montana and Wyoming reported no cases of neuroinvasive disease.
The peak of West Nile infection in the U.S. occurred in 2003, when cases totaled nearly 10,000 nationwide and 264 people died of a neuroinvasive strain.
In general, I think it is no coincidence that the words "travel" and "travail" have the same root -- the Latin word "tripalium," a three-pronged instrument of torture. But on occasion, there are pleasant surprises.
It was time for Martha and me to visit our daughters (and grandson) in Oregon. In the past, we've always flown, which is a pain when you live in Salida, 150 miles from Denver International Airport. Further it is hard to express just how much I loathe standing in lines and going through security just to jam myself into a cramped airline seat.
This time around, though, we had more time available since we'd sold our little magazine (Colorado Central) earlier this year.
As a railroad buff, I considered Amtrak: Catch the California Zephyr in Colorado, ride it to Emeryville, Calif., then board the Coast Starlight north to one daughter's home in Eugene, Ore. But that meant something like 48 hours each way on the rails, a bit much even for me. The logistics of a compromise -- flying one way and using the rails for the other -- got more difficult the more I pondered the matter.
So why not a Great American Road Trip? We finally own a vehicle with air-conditioning, cruise-control and a fine stereo. We wouldn't have to meet the airline or train schedules. As history buffs who weren't in any special hurry, we could stop at all historic markers, scenic overlooks, and the like.
My only worry was eastern Oregon. Several people had described it to me as boring, arid territory, fit only to hold the rest of the world together, and traversed by bad roads at that.
But instead I found decent two-lane highways through scenic hills, mountains and forests, all pleasantly uncrowded. In ways, I liked it better than western Oregon, since in the east, the forests were seldom so thick as to block the vistas.
On the way to Bend from Ontario, we took U.S. 20 through Burns and discovered the pleasant Malheur River valley, as well as Stinkingwater and Drinkwater passes, only a few miles apart. To return, we drove U.S. 26 through Prineville, John Day and Unity. Little towns, big views, abundant pullovers -- wonderful territory for a leisurely road trip.
I'm beginning to think that those people who tried to warn me away from eastern Oregon were really just trying to keep it for themselves.
You may be one of those people who thinks Twitter is some kind of narcissistic echo chamber. That it's a place where folks broadcast their breakfast to the world in 140 characters or less.
Still, even the social media skeptics here at the High Country News have gotten swept into the Twittersphere and we've discovered that ... it's not all bad. In fact, Twitter can be a very valuable tool for catching news and gleaning important opinion from all of those Inter-Tubes running around cyberspace. Indeed, following @highcountrynews is a great way to keep track of breaking and ongoing Western news.
For those of you who're thinking of taking the dive into this Twitterific new world, or if you've already started tweeting but still find yourself following Tweeple who update on every personal hygiene event and non-thought that enters their minds, we compiled a list of some of our staff's favorite quality tweeters out there - Tweeps whose tweets show that Twitter can provide substance beyond the musings of superstars like @aplusk and @oprah.Social Media Guru Stephanie Paige Ogburn @highcountrynews
@matt_weiser: Sac Bee reporter on water and environment. Posts great breaking news stories and tweets interesting news items.
@EnviroLawNews: A good source for wonky updates on environmental law.
@revkin: Indispensable NYTimes reporter covering climate and planet-wide environmental challenges.
@ThePhoenixSun: Freelance writer Osha Gray Davidson's always up on solar and other Western environmental news
@agahran: Western-based new media guru with an environmental bent.
@cfra: Center for Rural Affairs - not only Western news but rural news and issues important to many Westerners
@tomphilpott: NC-based food editor for grist.org; a must-follow for anyone who cares about food.
@AmericasPower: follow coal industry front group to see what PR trick the coal kings have up their sleeve next.
@wildnevada: The Nevada Wilderness Project. Need I say more?
@navajonation: News from the Rez. Infrequently updated but always interesting.
@gjsentinel: The Grand Junction Sentinel helps me keep up with Western Colo. news.
@seedmag: The dorkiest accessible science news around (closely tied with @newscientist)
@ConsBio: Conservation Biology news from Corvallis, Ore.
@NREL: The National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden's always working and tweeting on something interesting.
@COIndependent: great local investigative reporting out of Colorado
@Sightline: Environmental, economic and social news from Cascadia
Editor Jonathan Thompson @jonnypeace (Where he micro-blogs about mostly un-HCN stuff, like good food and weird thoughts.)
@jontalton: The Rogue Columnist tweets about the Arizona "Kookocracy" and more.
@CalFireNews: It's like watching the fire scanner of the whole state of California, with commentary tossed in.
@Defenders: Defenders of Wildlife gives an activist-bent to enviro news.
@jfleck: Thoughtful, sometimes snarky, take on New Mexico water and more.
@drgrist: No holds barred mini-blogging from David Roberts of Grist. Likes to tear @AmericasPower a new one.
@humphryslocombe: Okay, this is a San Francisco ice cream place. It has nothing to do with Western news, and I can't get any of their ice cream here (Golden Beet Saffron; Bacon Peanut Brittle). But after a long day of slogging through copy, I want some ice cream (even if just vicariously).
Associate Editor Jodi Peterson @Jodi_Peterson
@NewsRimes4Lines: From Native journalist Mark Trahant. Sample Tweet: Congress in a mad rush to sell more cars/finding a subsidy from the stars/Oh wait that money's not free/we're actually borrowing it you see
@HDJEditor: Western lit mag High Desert Journal's twitter feed.
@nytimesscience: Science, environment and space news.
@NewWest: Western growth and development, plus environment news and great book reviews.
@ecopolitologist: Tim Hurst's thoughts about politics, energy, environment.
@RDavidian: This SoCal guy tweets about all things outdoors: hiking, backpacking, birding, wilderness survival and photography.
Assistant Editor Sarah Gilman @Sarah_Gilman
@inciweb: Regular status updates on nearly every wildfire in the country, with cool statistics on firefighters and equipment involved in various blazes, acres burned, acres contained, and any new developments.
@AltEnergyNews: Good rundown on national energy news, with western tidbits.
@kate_sheppard: Grist's snarky political writer, who often blogs on energy-related stuff
@TheOilDrum: Wonk-fest about fossil fuels and peak oil. Energy expert Randy Udall turned me on to this one.
@judlew: HCN contributing editor Judith Lewis, who tweets infrequently, but insightfully.
Intern Arla Shephard @tres_arla
@moniguzman: Monica Guzman follows Seattle's more quirky news for seattlepi.com's award-winning The Big Blog (@bigblog), but it's her personal Twitter that keeps me in tune with what's happening in the Emerald City.
@BluandYellow: This Denver-based environmental justice group, formed by women of color, aims to promote economic, social, and racial diversity in sustainability issues.
@seattletimes: The Seattle Times covers cultural, political, and social issues in Washington— and is still my favorite Western paper.
@TreeHugger: TreeHugger's extensive number of media platforms (blogs, Twitter, daily newsletters, video segments) keep enviros up-to-date on all things sustainability.
@highcountrynews: I can't help it. Where else can I get comprehensive coverage on environmental issues in the West?
Did we miss your favorite Western Tweeps? Add them on to our list in the comment section!
When Laura Amos of Silt, Colo., was diagnosed in 2003 with a rare adrenal condition, she began to suspect that it had something to do with four natural gas wells less than 1000 feet from her home.
After EnCana Corporation drilled the wells in 2001, the family’s tap water resembled fizzy, gray soda pop. Amos says that while fracturing the wells, the company created a connection between her water well and one of the gas wells -- lacing the family's drinking water with methane. Amos later discovered that the company had used the compound 2-butoxyethanol in the hydraulic fracturing. The chemical can be found on California’s list of hazardous substances but was removed from the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of hazardous pollutants in 1994.
Amos’ story is only one featured in a new documentary about the effects of the oil and gas industry in the Rocky Mountain West. Split Estate premieres this week in New York and Los Angeles, and is the directorial debut of Debra Anderson. The film is narrated by Academy Award-nominated actress Ali MacGraw.Read More ...
Statistics released by the USDA yesterday paint a sobering economic portrait of the rural West.
The agency reported declines in agricultural land values across the country for the first time in more than 20 years. And it’s the Mountain states that have been clobbered worst of all.
Montana farmland values fell a whopping 22.2 percent from 2008 to 2009, compared to an average 3.2 percent decline nationwide, and 10.5 percent drop in the Mountain state region.
But anyone looking for a real steal should head to New Mexico, which claims the cheapest farmland in the country at an average $480 an acre. Just how dirt-cheap is that? It’s pretty bottom of the barrel compared to the nation’s most expensive farmland, found in Rhode Island, which commands $15,300 per acre.
According to the Wall Street Journal:
The USDA's report is consistent with what farmers, ranchers and bankers have been seeing over the past few months. Some farmland in the Plains, for example, has fared better because grain prices, while coming off their highs, remain relatively strong.
On the other hand, the Mountain states have seen bigger declines largely because of the prevalence of livestock. Cattle ranchers have been struggling amid low cattle prices and high feed prices.
California’s farmworkers support an $11 billion industry, making the state the nation’s leading agricultural producer and exporter. But their working conditions are often difficult – they’re exposed to harmful pesticides and dangerous levels of thirst and heat. Now, the LA Times reports that the state is considering approval of another hazardous pesticide, and it’s facing a lawsuit over shade and water requirements for workers.
Read More ...
Lilacs bloomed on the corner next to the hostel. A freight train rumbled through the little downtown, the third one in the past hour; the swirling clouds of railroad noise carried echoes of Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie. A block south of the tracks, a black Irish beauty from New York stood in front of a coffee shop, holding hands with her boyfriend. The lucky guy was me. It was 1987 in Flagstaff, AZ, and we were on a Grand Canyon vacation. Manhattan felt as distant as Pluto.
That morning, for the first time in my 32 years, I had set foot in the desert Southwest. It was the same for her; we had both grown up in upstate New York. I was addled by the utter strangeness of everything in Arizona, high on all of it: the crazy, crumbling mountains; an electric blue sky; prickly, misshapen plants that seemed to have been invented by wizards. The sound of trains—like the smell of lilacs and the piercing silver light—added to the mix. The whole big show seemed to be rearranging my cells.
I read aloud from an index card scotch-taped to the plate-glass window: FOR RENT: Small cabin near town. Wood stove, electricity, and outhouse. No running water. $100/month.
“What do you think?” I said. “Could we do it?”Read More ...