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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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"Organic mecca" organizes against GMO sugar beets

Marty Durlin | Jul 17, 2009 08:20 AM

The Boulder Daily Camera calls them "organic industry heavyweights." And they're out to make sure Boulder County Commissioners disallow the request of six area farmers to grow Roundup Ready sugar beets on open space land. Not because of the scientific and economic arguments against GMOs -- enumerated later -- but because it may besmirch the name of Boulder.

Steve Demos, who started the organic soy-product company White Wave 30 years ago in Boulder, told the Camera:

"The Boulder community derives billions of dollars in revenues — and I mean that literally — from association with the organic and natural products industry. If the headline when you wake up in the morning says on the national wire that the organic mecca has decided to grow GMO (genetically modified organism) beets on public land, that’s almost as effective in diluting a brand as if Rolls-Royce announced it was making an economy-model engine for airplanes. ... You’re playing with the identity of Boulder, Colorado.”

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Not out of the woods

Arla Shephard | Jul 16, 2009 09:32 AM

History is rife with artists who were underappreciated in their time: Vincent van Gogh, Johann Sebastian Bach, Emily Dickinson, etc.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, whose elaborate outdoor art installations include “The Gates” in Central Park and “The Umbrellas” in California and Japan, are not those kind of artists. While their works are usually met with some kind of opposition, you’d be hard-pressed to say that they’re underappreciated.

In fact, Colorado congressional representatives are already flaunting their support for the artists' latest project, “Over the River,” a plan to suspend 5.9 miles of fabric panels above the Arkansas River along a 40-mile stretch between Salida and Cañon City, Colorado.

Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien even wrote an op-ed in The Denver Post calling the project “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” that will leave Colorado with “a creative legacy” to inspire our children.

Haven’t we jumped the gun a bit? Like most of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s works, “Over the River” (which would be removed after two weeks) will take at least two years to construct. But before that, the artists have to wait for the Bureau of Land Management to release an Environmental Impact Statement, which won’t be ready until 2011 at the earliest.

Declaring support for a project with so many unknowns at this point seems a little hasty.

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Numbers for the Birds

Ed Quillen | Jul 16, 2009 08:08 AM

    My experience with bird-watching is generally limited to trying to answer the question of "What did the cat leave in the yard this time?"
    And sometimes I've pulled over to watch eagles eating roadkill. But I do not recall ever driving out of my way to see a pelican or a ptarmigan.
    However, lots of other people feel differently about our feathered friends, according to a report released earlier this week by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
    The report says that about 48 million Americans watch birds, and the state with the highest proportion of birders -- 40 percent -- is Montana.
    The report also provides information about the demographics and spending habits of birders, and it's an addendum to the 2006 (the last year for which economic data were available) National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.
    I haven't had time to do more than scan these, but past reports have been useful at public hearings. When a developer touts the economic advantages of a new subdivision, it is useful to be able to say something like "But it will displace a herd of 150 mule deer, which bring in XX hunters, who spend an average of $YYY per day ..."
    Many controversies in the rural West end up focusing on economics, and it's helpful to have some dollar numbers on your side.

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Food fight

Ariana Brocious | Jul 16, 2009 04:10 AM

Who knew ordering a steak dinner could be so political?

The American food industry is undergoing some major policy changes, challenging ranchers and farmers across the West. Oregon cattle ranchers are struggling to deal with the recession, increasingly health-conscious consumers, and environmental concerns about land use . Fears over food safety have led to a push toward sanitization of American agriculture, leading to the destruction of ponds and acres of crops in the process. Consumers are losing faith in food manufacturers due to serious contamination outbreaks with spinach, beef and peanut butter, to name a few.

It’s been hard to figure out exactly where the Obama administration stands in all of this, despite a recent press release regarding its commitment to upgrading the U.S. Food Safety System. On Monday the administration announced it would seek to ban the use of many antibiotics in healthy farm animals to increase growth, a practice linked to treatment-immune bacteria in humans—a measure supported by the American Medical Association but not the farm industry. The FDA also recently passed a new public health regulation to improve egg safety and reduce salmonella illnesses.

However, the appointment of Michael Taylor as senior adviser to the FDA commissioner has caused a hullabaloo over the failure to mention Taylor’s ties to agricultural industry giant Monsanto, and what industry-insider status might mean for someone in charge of regulating food safety.

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NW Renewables: Infrastructure needed | Jul 15, 2009 08:40 AM

By Sharon Fisher, NewWest.Net Guest Writer, 7-14-09

The Northwest—Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana—is arguably the riches region of the United States for renewable energy resources such as geothermal, hydro, wind, and solar, said Paul Manson, president of Seabreeze Power Corp., speaking at the Pacific Northwest Economic Region conference today (with a windmill pin on his lapel).

There are currently 3000 megawatts of renewable energy generation in the Northwest, powering 700,000 homes and reducing carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to 950,000 cars, said Suzanne Leta Liou, Senior Policy Advocate for the Renewable Northwest Project, a nonprofit based in Portland, Ore. Most of Montana has excellent wind potential, Leta Liou said, as does the Oregon-Washington border on the eastern side (to which anyone who’s driven through Pendleton could attest).

Solar has its best potential in extreme southwest Idaho and extreme southeast Oregon, while the geothermal potential is high in Idaho, southern Oregon, and some areas of Montana, Leta Liou said.

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Species viability on national forests preserved!

Felice Pace | Jul 15, 2009 09:10 AM

Yet another attempt by the Bush Administration to change federal regulations in order to accelerate logging on the national forests has apparently gone down in flames. On the last day of June a federal judge in Oakland overturned regulations the Bush Administration crafted in order to gut a provision of the National Forest Management Act. That provision requires that the Forest Service protect fish and wildlife on the national forests. The Bush Administration sought to maintain habitat but not to monitor whether that habitat was effectively protecting fish and wildlife.

Regulations implementing the “viability provision” of the 1976 Act have been used by forest activists to stop numerous timber sales and other commercial developments in national forests around the country.  It is unlikely that the Obama Administration will appeal the district court ruling.

The lawsuit was led by Citizens for Better Forestry – a small forest protection organization based in the village of Peanut in Trinity County, California. Co-plaintiffs include the Environmental Protection Information Center, Center for Biological Diversity, Wild West Institute, Gifford Pinchot Task Force, Idaho Sporting Congress, Friends of the Clearwater, Utah Environmental Congress, Cascadia Wildlands Project, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Wild South, the Lands Council, Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, Oregon Wild and WildEarth Guardians. The environmental groups were represented by attorney Pete Frost of the Western Environmental Law Center.

The decision marks the third time a federal court has rejected revisions of the species viability regulations over the past decade. While the Bush Administration gets points for trying hard, the judge admonished government lawyers for repeating the same arguments that were twice rejected previously by the courts. A separate lawsuit by Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, and Vermont Natural Resources Council challenging the same rule was consolidated with the case.

The list of plaintiffs in this case tells a story in itself. All plaintiffs are grassroots forest activist organizations. In the past national and grassroots environmental groups coordinated forest strategy and often collaborated on national-impact lawsuits of this type. But that collaboration waned during the Clinton Administration when most large national environmental groups went along with Clinton Administration rule changes which grassroots forest protection groups believed weakened protection for fish and wildlife on the national forests. These days national and grassroots forest protection organizations rarely collaborate – a development this blogger believes has weakened the public forest protection movement.


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