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Honoring the forgotten

Arla Shephard | Jul 28, 2009 07:34 AM

Today the remains of three African-American soldiers will be buried at Santa Fe National Cemetery, more than 130 years after their deaths.

Army Pvts. David Ford, Levi Morris and Thomas Smith were among the famous “Buffalo Soldiers,” African-American men who served in the military during the Civil War and later guarded the farthest reaches of the West. Their remains, along with more than 60 other sets, were exhumed from New Mexico’s Fort Craig cemetery, after the Bureau of Reclamation discovered extensive looting there in 2007.

The servicemen will receive full military honors at their ceremony, along with new headstones and forensic sketches of what they looked like in life displayed next to their caskets. Finding and honoring them is admirable, especially given how little the general public remembers the Buffalo Soldiers (outside of some very catchy Bob Marley lyrics). So here’s a little history lesson for you:  

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End of an exodus?

Ariana Brocious | Jul 23, 2009 10:27 AM

As the debate rages on over border fence construction and the environmental and population impacts of immigration, a report released yesterday by the Pew Hispanic Center showed a marked decrease in Mexican migrants entering the U.S.

Migration rates into the U.S. from Mexico dropped almost 40 percent between 2006 and 2009, while migration back to Mexico remained relatively stable, according to the report. Study author Jeffrey Passel told the Washington Post that "the faltering Mexican economy; tales of drug violence there  and indications (of) tougher enforcement by U.S. border patrol agents,"  could be factors influencing Mexican nationals to stay on this side of the border.

There is no single direct way to measure immigration since most Mexican immigrants are unauthorized and the U.S. does not monitor emigration. However, U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions of Mexicans attempting to cross the border illegally dropped by one-third between 2006 and 2008, according to the report.

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Uranium tangle, two years later

Cally Carswell | Jul 23, 2009 05:45 AM

It’s all about the water. More to the point, it’s about Jackie Adolph’s belief that everyone in Colorado has a right to clean water.

"Why would we not?" she asked.

Since 2007, Adolph and fellow members of Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction, or CARD, have been doggedly defending that right, which they say is endangered by a proposed in-situ uranium mine in Weld County, Colo., an area much more densely populated than those that usually skirt uranium mines.

The basic premise of the dispute between CARD and Powertech (USA) Inc., the company hoping to tap Weld County’s uranium deposits, has changed little in the last two years. CARD remains "horrified", as Adolph puts it, by the threats uranium mining poses to the area water supply, and Powertech still counters that it’s capable of restoring the water to its current level of quality or better.

"That’s always the goal, no matter where you are in the United States," said Richard Clement, Powertech President and CEO.

But a few things have changed. The stakes were raised by Powertech’s recent announcement that it optioned the mineral and water rights to an additional 3,585 acres in Weld County, practically doubling the scope of its original plan.

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Twilight bites into Forks

Arla Shephard | Jul 22, 2009 10:15 AM

Forks, Wash., just isn’t what it used to be.

I have fond memories of the once-sleepy little town. When I was a child, my family would camp out on the Pacific Coast and then make a leisurely  stop in Forks to eat and shower. Restaurants like Sully’s Drive-In and the Smokehouse have been around forever. And like most places on the Olympic Peninsula, the town is beautiful: beaches, rainforest, and mountains are only hours away.

So I guess I can’t blame Stephanie Meyer for choosing Forks as the setting of her immensely popular Twilight books. But I can express resounding surprise at the sudden transformation of the town into a thriving tourist destination. I doubt it will ever again be like I remember it. 

In case you're one of the lucky few who still don't know what Twilight is, it's the four-part saga of a teenage girl's crush on a good-guy vampire. Forks, population of about 3,000, has seen a tremendous increase in visitors since the book series debuted in 2005. The total number of visitors in June 2009 was 8,312, according to the Forks Chamber of Commerce. That’s more than the total number of visitors in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 combined.

As of June 2009, the total number of visitors who had officially signed the register at the Forks Visitors Center was 25,809, almost one and a half times the number in 2008 and nearly three times the number in 2007.

Twilight Sandwich

The fact that visitors from all over the world are now flocking to Forks would simply be amusing, if the town weren’t playing into the hype so heavily. In honor of the books' star-crossed lovers, Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, the town has Bella Burgers at Sully's, Bellasagna with EdBread and Swan Salad at Pacific Pizza, and numerous other tacky offerings. You can even stay at Twilight-inspired rooms at the local motels.

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Navajo Nation passes green jobs legislation, 62-1

Marty Durlin | Jul 21, 2009 08:55 AM

Some 50 Navajos -- including elders and youth and those in-between -- donned green shirts today and filled the chambers of the Navajo Nation Council to promote legislation designed to transform the reservation’s mineral and fossil fuel-based economy into a sustainable, community-based, green system. The show of support paid off: The Council passed the legislation by a vote of 62 to 1.  According to Enei Begaye, who spearheaded a coalition to create the legislation, it is the first tribal government initiative to create green jobs policy and structure. Undoubtedly ambitious -- combining traditional culture, web-based marketing and cutting-edge green technologies -- the plan could transform the Navajo Nation and serve as a model for other tribes.

The legislation will establish a commission to implement projects in seven areas: renewable energy (large-scale and small), green manufacturing (focused on traditional crafts such as rug-weaving, combined with sophisticated marketing and PR campaigns), sustainable agriculture, weatherizing and making energy-efficient traditional and nontraditional homes, green workforce training, management training, and a small business initiative.

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A dismal future for tourism?

Ed Quillen | Jul 21, 2009 08:45 AM

    Back in 1997, I ventured to Boulder for a conference about tourism put on by the Center of the American West. Easily the most provocative speaker was the late Hal Rothman, professor of history at the University of Las Vegas.
    It's easy to bash Vegas as a greedy place of contrived attractions, he said, but that's the tourism industry, and "If your local economy needs tourists, then Vegas is your future, like it or not."
    Tourists are willing to spend good money to get a certain experience, he said, which means there's a "script" -- a set of expectations that a successful tourism operation must meet.
    The Vegas tourist wants bright lights and the chance of getting rich quick. The Iowa tourist in the Rocky Mountains might want to catch fish -- and to assist with the script, the streams and lakes are stocked with rainbow trout. The cultural tourist in Santa Fe wants "authenticity" -- so there are strict building codes to insure that every exterior is constructed "authentically."
    But Rothman made another point about Las Vegas -- thanks to strong unions, it was a great city for working Americans: "This is the last place in the United States where you can have no skills and make a middle-class wage," he told High Country News in 2000.
    That article noted that "If tourism is Las Vegas' industry, then casinos, some with as many as 5,000 rooms, are its factories. And these 'factory' workers aren't struggling to survive on minimum wage....a maid can make $14 an hour, buy a home and a car, and send her kids to college. Elsewhere in the West, service workers struggle to earn a living wage; they rent mobile homes and commute long distances."
    But the bloom is off that rose, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. Unemployment is up and the population is dropping.
    More laid-off Americans mean fewer people with discretionary income for casinos, and many of us who still have work are pinching pennies. Further, corporate America has cut way back on those conventions that were a mainstay of Vegas commerce.
    So if Rothman was right that Las Vegas represents the future of tourist zones in the American West, then even harder times loom. But on the other hand, as Las Vegas and Phoenix wither, there won't be as much demand on the hard-pressed Colorado River.


Fossil Creek fracas

Ariana Brocious | Jul 21, 2009 05:57 AM

A few hours northeast of the 110-degree concrete jungle of Phoenix, Ariz., a powerful, cool creek courses through a lush oasis, creating blue-green swimming pools and dramatic waterfalls for campers and day-hikers.

But lack of funding for a Forest Service management plan has allowed Fossil Creek to become a refuge for drug and alcohol use, weapons, vandalism and graffiti.

Last week the Camp Verde Bugle reported that:

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WOPR goes down in flames

Felice Pace | Jul 20, 2009 12:27 PM

 In a development applauded by environmental interests and even some Oregon politicians, the US Department of Interior announced on July 16th that it would withdraw the proposed Western Oregon Plan Revisions (WOPR) because it “is legally indefensible.”

The WOPR was part of a suite of efforts by the Bush Administration to weaken protections for the Northern Spotted Owl, other wildlife, fish and clean water in order to increase logging on public lands in Western Washington, Western Oregon and Northwest California. Most of these attempts have been defeated; some are still pending. For example, the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in NW California has proposed large timber sales within the Old Growth Reserves established pursuant to the Clinton-era Northwest Forest Plan.  Here’s a photo of older forests in these reserves which the Forest Service claims need to be logged to reduce the risk of catastrophic fire.


Shasta-Trinity National Forest Reserve slated for logging


Conservationists claim that removing mature trees from the reserves will increase rather than decrease the risk of damage by wildfire. Their arguments are supported by a scientific study which was published recently in the influential journal Conservation Biology. The study “found no increasing threat of severe wildfires destroying old growth forests in the drier areas where the owl lives in Oregon, Washington and Northern California.”

Efforts to increase big tree logging on West Coast public lands has also been setback by an Obama Administration decision to withdraw the Bush-era Spotted Owl Recovery Plan which had substantially reduced forest areas designated as “critical habitat” for the Northern Spotted Owl. An Inspector General report found that politics had compromised science in development of the Recovery Plan. The WOPR – as well as many other proposals to log older public forests – were based on the Recovery Plan which has now been withdrawn.

In an editorial commenting on the WOPR’s withdrawal, the Medford Mail Tribune Newspaper of Southern Oregon editorialized that the withdrawal was “sensible” because the WOPR “overreached.” The newspaper called for the BLM to “replace that flawed document with a new plan rather than continuing to sell timber under the Clinton administration's Northwest Forest Plan.” According to Mail Tribune editors “the trick will be to fix the shortcomings of the 1994 plan, which never produced the harvest levels it was designed to allow, without weakening necessary protections for healthy forests and the species that depend on them.”

What the Mail Tribune and many local officials are calling for, however, may be impossible. Even in times of high demand for wood products, the cost of removing timber from steep and remote western public forests dictates that big trees must be logged and the forest canopy must be opened significantly or even clearcut. Timber sales that do not include the “incentive” provided by big trees and clearcuts (the Forest Service and BLM call them “regeneration” cuts) do not attract buyers.  

Some resource economists and community forestry advocates argue that illegally weakening wildlife and stream protection is the only way a timber sale can be designed that will actually be bought by a timber company. These folks want the federal government to end the commercial timber sale program and instead directly hire or contract local loggers to remove the smaller trees and brush associated with intense, fast moving forest fires. Commercial logs removed in this way, say these advocates, can be sold to wood products firms from log sort yards after they are removed from the woods.

This sort of basic reform would, however, require federal legislation; no legislation of this type is currently being considered by Congress.  


A dam marvel

Ariana Brocious | Jul 17, 2009 11:30 AM

hoover dam bridge

Hundreds of feet above the Black Canyon's raging Colorado River, the longest concrete arch in the Western Hemisphere is almost complete. In a month workers will finish construction on the arch support of the Hoover Dam Bypass bridge, open to the public in fall 2010.

The new 4-lane bridge, on Highway 93, will replace the busy road on Hoover Dam, alleviating bottle-neck traffic and high accident rates by providing a safer route from Phoenix to Las Vegas and allowing truckers to return to a major NAFTA traffic route.

The Arizona Republic calls the project an "epic marvel," given the difficulty of building on faces of sheer rock and project challenges of drastic weather, accidents and one worker fatality.

When the bridge is complete, it will be the third-highest bridge deck in the country. How's that for modern marvels?

See more photos of the bridge construction here.


Wild horses gone wild

Cally Carswell | Jul 17, 2009 09:32 AM

In 1971, Congress made the iconic status of wild horses a matter of law. That year they declared "that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West ..." Wild horses "enrich" our lives, they continued, and "are fast disappearing from the American scene."

Today, not so much. A Government Accountability Office report last year found that the BLM may need to slaughter as many as 30,000 horses removed from the open range in order to sustainably maintain other uses of public lands. The increasing costs of holding the animals off-range, the report said, were eating up the horse management program’s budget, accounting for 67 percent of its costs in 2007 and a projected 74 percent in 2008.

What remains the same since 1971 is our reluctance to put them down. Today, by a 239-185 vote, the House passed the Restore Our American Mustangs act—cleverly shortened to ROAM—which would ban slaughter of wild horses.

The bill applies only to BLM’s management program, and would not impact plans currently under consideration in the Northwest to establish horse slaughter facilities on tribal land, according to the office of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

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