Joe Griego hasn't worked in nine months. He hasn't been able to do much since a bull crushed his ribs and damaged his spinal cord while he was on the clock at a New Mexico dairy.
He hasn't been sitting around milking workers' compensation checks while he recovers, either. In fact, Griego's had little help paying off more than $30,000 in medical bills because New Mexico's workers' comp law doesn’t mandate coverage for farm workers—an injustice a lawsuit filed against the state this week on Griego’s behalf intends to right.
The complaint contends that the exclusion violates farm workers' rights to equal protection under the New Mexico Constitution, and shines another spotlight on the vulnerabilities of the West’s agricultural workforce, covered in HCN’s recent feature, The Dark Side of Dairies.
Griego's employer hasn't totally abandoned him, according to Maria Martinez, a staff attorney for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, which filed the suit. The dairy's insurance covered $5,000 of Griego's medical bills, and he garnered $1,800 in lost wages, a fraction of what he would have earned had he been working.
If you haven't read Rebecca Clarren's excellent HCN cover story on the West's immigrant dairy workers and the on-the-job dangers they face, do it now! If you have read it and want to learn more, you should check out the story's hefty (and heavy) sidebar: A comprehensive list of deaths and injuries in the West's dairies spanning the last six and a half years. Click on the pink listings to see original accident reports and investigations.
"A healthy, fit firefighter is a safe firefighter."
This is what Stan Palmer, a member of the Northwest Wildfire Coordinating Group's Safety and Health Working Team tells me when I ask about firefighter fatalities (See the related infographic on the top five causes of firefighter deaths since 1910). Over the years, firefighters in the West have died in numerous ways: brain aneurysms, asphyxiation, falling rocks; the gruesome list goes on and on.
But through efforts of the NWCG team, there have been major improvements in firefighting safety measures and firefighter nutrition. Usually, significant changes are made after extreme wildfires lead to numerous fatalities.Read More ...
High Country News reported this phenomenon four years ago, in a piece by Adam Burke called The Public Lands' Big Cash Crop. But this year the story is making big headlines around the West as huge gardens of marijuana are discovered and destroyed on public land from California to Colorado. The Denver Post reported today that more than 20,000 marijuana plants have been found this summer on Colorado's national forest land -- most recently in Pike National Forest on Friday, where 14,500 plants along with garbage, a drying shed, a rifle and propane tanks were recovered. The Post says the pot garden -- about the size of a football field -- could be the largest marijuana-growing operation ever found in the state.
Michael Skinner, assistant agent in charge of the USFS Rocky Mountain Region, says the huge operation indicates that Mexican drug cartels "have discovered the Rocky Mountains." Skinner has requested $100,000 to cover costs for searching for the marijuana farms -- but with only 29 rangers overseeing more than 14 million acres of forests and grasslands in the state, the odds are against success.
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In eastern Idaho, one small rural school recently gained international fame. In late July, the Teton Valley Community School of Victor, Idaho, was recognized as one of eight finalists in the 2009 Open Architecture Challenge: Classroom. The competition, sponsored by Architecture for Humanity, received 400 submissions from 65 countries.
Finalists included two other U.S. teams as well as teams from Colombia, India and the U.K. The winning team, to be announced in September, will be awarded $5,000 dollars and the partnering school will receive $50,000 to carry out the design.
Last week, Nestle received approval to tap mountain spring water and haul it to Denver for bottling and distribution under its Arrowhead label.
The approval came from a unanimous board of Chaffee County Commissioners, following months of deliberations and lengthy hearings. Chaffee County, with about 15,000 residents, sits along the Arkansas River in central Colorado.
The county's two largest settlements are Salida, the county seat, and Buena Vista, about 25 miles north. The springs at issue are between the two towns on the east side of the Arkansas River, and were once used to feed a private fish hatchery.
Nestle plans to take about 125 gallons a minute from one or two wells that will tap the same aquifer that supplies the springs. The water will be piped four miles to a loading terminal at the Johnson Village truck stop (the intersection of U.S. 24 and U.S. 285 at the foot of Trout Creek Pass), then loaded into tankers (about 25 per day) and trucked 120 miles to Denver.
Chaffee County Commissioners attached a host of conditions -- 44 in 11 pages -- to the permit for a land-use change. The stipulations range from monitoring wells to the hiring of locals for construction and truck-driving. Nestle will replace the water (200 acre-feet a year) it is taking from the Arkansas River with Western Slope water it has leased from the city of Aurora, a Denver suburb with more water rights than it needs right now, on account of the housing slump.
Nestle's proposal inspired plenty of local controversy, although that may not be the right word for it, since almost everybody who addressed the topic was against it.
There were objections to bottled water in general, and to Nestle as a multi-national preying on a rural area. And, of course, to exporting water, although that's what rural areas do, except they often put the water in potato skins or yearling steers first.
Then there were alarming stories about Nestle operations in California and Michigan, with the fear that once the camel got his nose under our tent, he'd drink it dry.
Now, Colorado's arcane and complicated water laws come in for a lot of criticism. But the water laws are set up to protect existing water rights from being injured by developments like Nestle's, and so I have trouble imagining some dark scenario where the Arkansas River bed is dry one afternoon because Nestle is hauling it all to its bottling plant.
Thus it appears to me that the Chaffee County Commissioners did the best within their powers; they made the best deal they could with Nestle and avoided what could be some very costly litigation.
I did read some commentary about how Chaffee County could become famous as the place that "Just said no" to Nestle, but I didn't see any offers to help finance the lawsuits that would inevitably emerge. And I sure don't want my local taxes increased for a court battle with Nestle.
I've joked before that rural areas have two major exports -- water and smart kids, and they don't get a nickel for either. At least this time around, the county got something, even if it may turn out not to be enough.
Besides, "the market" may resolve the bottled-water issue. According to the Wall Street Journal, Nestle's profits dropped in the first half of 2009 as compared to a year earlier, primarily on account of declining sales of bottled water because recession-era customers are going back to tap water, and the trend is expected to continue.
Sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona, and the Arizona Attorney General's Office, a new campaign aims to slow the flow of guns bought in Arizona and smuggled into Mexico.
"Don't lie for the other guy" is currently emblazoned on 92 Tucson billboards and repeated through public service announcements in Spanish and English, reminding people that buying guns and then selling them to someone buying for drug cartels is a federal felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Of the guns recovered in Mexican crimes that have been traced in the past three years, more than 90 percent came from the United States, according to the ATF -- most from Texas and Arizona.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation is a trade association for the firearms industry, and it's spending $500,000 to roll out the "Don't lie for the other guy" campaign in the border states this summer. Since the "Don't lie" program began in 2000, the NSSF has provided nearly half of the $4.3 million it has cost, with the Department of Justice providing the rest. The NSSF has also worked with the ATF to help gun dealers detect "straw-man buyers."
"We don't want the industry or the dealers to get a black eye or be perceived as the problem here. In fact, the dealers are part of the solution. Dealers are very receptive to the program. They don't want to be associated with a gun that was used to kill somebody," Lawrence Keane, senior vice president of the NSSF, told the Arizona Daily Star.
According to the ATF, there are 7,300 licensed retail gun dealers and pawn brokers operating in the Southwest border region.
They’re all participating, in one way or another, in the Clear Creek restoration project at the Arapaho National Forest this Saturday, as part of the National Forest Foundation’s third annual Friends of the Forest Day. Other partners include the National Forest Foundation, the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation and the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
“Clear Creek is a major water supply for 20 cities and towns, from Idaho Springs to the Denver-Boulder area,” says Jim Maxwell, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service. “People as far down as Omaha, Nebraska drink water from this watershed.”
Volunteers from MillerCoors, Trout Unlimited and the microbiology department of the University of Colorado Denver are seeding native plants along Clear Creek, creating wetland ponds for native boreal toads to colonize, and repairing stream beds by planting vegetation and building buck-and-rail fences to block vehicle access. Eventually, the native greenback cutthroat trout (Colorado’s official state fish) will be re-introduced to the stream.
Volunteers participate in last year's Friends of the Forest Day.
“The real value is getting local people who care about the quality of their water and fish habitats together to do the work in their own back yard,” Maxwell says. “They’re investing their sweat and in the case of MillerCoors $40,000 of their own money to heal wounds on the land.”
It wasn't really my intention, but I was part of the "rural renaissance" of the 1970s when, for the first time in generations, many rural areas starting gaining population. In 1974, my wife and I, both Baby Boomers, moved from the civilized Front Range piedmont of Colorado to a rather remote rural area -- the town of Kremmling in Grand County, Colorado, which then had about 5,000 people.
We weren't moving "back to the land," since about all you could grow in Middle Park was hay, on account of less than a month of frost-free growing season. The move came because the only newspaper job I could find was editing the weekly Middle Park Times in Kremmling.
But we've remained in rural Colorado ever since with its ups (1970s and 1990s) and downs (1980s and perhaps the 2000s).
It may be time for another Baby Boomer migration to the boondocks, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture summarized on newgeography.com, one of my favorite websites.
"As many boomers end child-rearing duties, enter peak employment earnings and ponder retirement options they are now poised to significantly increase the population of 55-75 year olds in rural and small town America through 2020, with major social and economic implications for their chosen locations," the summary says.
It predicts that growth will come to "rural places with high levels of natural amenities and affordable housing that are already popular as second-home destinations. For these areas the economic future looks good as a potential influx of spending power and seasoned, footloose talent boosts development prospects."
I can't say I'm thrilled about "development prospects," but as recent history demonstrates, these things tend to come and go.
Ten simple words.
For the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in western Oregon, ten words introduced into an existing law would restore their relationship with the land upon which their ancestors lived. Other tribes, however, consider the move risky.
Last month, Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) introduced a bill in Congress that would add the Grand Ronde to the list of four tribal groups who currently have treaty and consulting rights in the Columbia River Gorge area under the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act of 1986. The Grand Ronde tribes, who were forcibly removed from their homeland along the Columbia River in 1855-56, were busy fighting for federal recognition and a reservation when the law was passed.
“It’s a matter of simple justice,” says Siobhan Taylor, public affairs director for the Grand Ronde. “When Lewis and Clark came to the area they mention meeting speakers of the Chinook languages … descendants of those speakers are members of the tribe today.”Read More ...