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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.


Pre-season politics

Cally Carswell | Jul 15, 2009 06:37 AM

"No matter how Diane Denish spins it, isn’t it still the same game?"

That’s the question—posed in a familiar, cynical tone—that kicked-off New Mexico’s election season this week. Unfortunately for New Mexicans who hadn’t quite recovered from last year’s ad wars, the ominous narrators of political advertising are already back to haunt the Land of Enchantment—a whopping 16 months before the 2010 elections.

The ad targeting current Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, a front-runner for the democratic gubernatorial nomination, came from the New Mexico GOP and took aim at what is expected to be the top issue in the campaign to replace scandal plagued Gov. Bill Richardson: ethics.

Also getting an early start in New Mexico is the race between incumbent Democrat Harry Teague and Republican Steve Pearce for the second district U.S. House seat in southern New Mexico. Writing for New West, Heath Haussamen speculates that the campaign "is certain to be one of the most hotly contested and high-profile House races in the nation next year."

Pearce announced his candidacy early last week, and quickly took aim at Teague for his support of the cap-and-trade bill, among other "reckless" policies.

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Still stuck in traffic

Cally Carswell | Jul 13, 2009 04:59 AM

Los Angeles commuters don’t so much drive to work as creep—slowly, very slowly. So slowly, in fact, that each L.A. driver wasted an average 70 hours stuck in traffic in 2007, which was actually a slight improvement over the 72 hours they squandered in 2006, according to a study released last week by the Texas Transportation Institute.

Despite a lot of huffing and puffing by politicians proclaiming their good intentions to fight global warming, their plans to reduce our dependence on cars are coming up short. A handful of recent reports and analyses reveal Western cities are still plagued by congestion and states’ transportation spending plans won’t do much to alleviate it.

The (sort of) good news from the Texas Transportation Institute is that traffic jams eased up ever so slightly on commuters in many of the West’s urban centers, including San Francisco, Phoenix, Portland and Denver, between 2006 and 2007.

But the report’s co-author, David Schrank, warned that these findings aren’t cause for celebration. "No one should expect to be driving the speed limit on their way to work because of this," he told the Portland Oregonian.


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Brewer's budget battle

Ariana Brocious | Jul 10, 2009 11:51 AM

A week into the 2010 fiscal year in Arizona, the state's budget is $2.1 billion in the red, worrying Tucson officials and others about committing money and jobs.  In the past six months since Republican Secretary of State Jan Brewer stepped up to fill former Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano’s post, the state has been embroiled in what the LA Times calls the “nastiest fiscal fight in Arizona history.”

It has been a surprisingly vicious conflict, given that the state legislature is predominately Republican. After years of going head-to-head with Napolitano, lawmakers were anticipating an easier relationship with Brewer, who took over after Napolitano was called to head Obama's Department of Homeland Security. Yet Brewer hasn’t toed the party line —instead, she’s supported tax increases and defended spending on health care and public safety. And she has refused to budge, resulting in months of battling over education allocations, spending cuts to rein in the rampant state deficit and Brewer’s big issue: increasing the state sales tax (to be voted on in a November election) which would raise around $1 billion to offset cuts to social programs.

Recent highlights include Brewer suing the Legislature for allegedly violating the state constitution, Senate President Bob Burns walking out on a meeting and later harshly criticizing the governor, and Brewer vetoing every budget proposal that cut money for state services.

Last Wednesday lawmakers ended the fourth-longest legislative session in modern times by approving a budget in the early hours of the 2010 fiscal year that included $600 million in cuts but not Brewer’s proposed sales-tax hike.

Brewer line-vetoed major parts of the budget, particularly education spending which she viewed as insufficient, and called the legislature back for a special session this week. On Monday state lawmakers finally approved the education funding, restoring $220 million in cuts.

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An old idea reborn

Ed Quillen | Jul 09, 2009 09:23 AM

   Sometimes old ideas become new ideas.
    On July 9, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter announced plans to seek federal funding to study a high-speed rail corridor from Denver south through New Mexico to El Paso, Texas.
    Take out the "high-speed" part of it, and you've got the dream of Gen. William Jackson Palmer in 1870 -- to go south from Denver to the Rio Grande valley (thus the name of his Denver & Rio Grande Railroad) to El Paso, where it would connect with Mexican lines.
    Palmer's railroad (absorbed by the Union Pacific in 1996) did reach the Rio Grande, but never went south of Santa Fe. His preferred route, over Raton Pass, was blocked because the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad got there first. And the 1879 silver bonanza of Leadville turned Palmer's attention to a different direction.
    So the line became the Denver & Rio Grande Western, and evolved into an east-west link rather than the original north-south route.
    About 60 years ago, in an introduction to a book called Cities of the West, Carey McWilliams observed that even though the mountain ranges of the West trend north-south, the major transportation corridors oppose this geography by running east-west.
    In the view of McWilliams (who grew up on a ranch near Steamboat Springs, Colo., and went on to edit the Nation magazine after a productive literary career in California), the West's transportation network was aligned to serve national needs, rather than regional needs. The railroads that got the land grants -- that is, the government support of the era -- were east-west lines.
    In the formative years of the American West during and after the Civil War, the national government wanted the West Coast tied to the Midwest. Some north-south corridors that tied Helena to Phoenix might have encouraged a regional economy and identity -- and after four years of bloody civil war, another regional culture may have been the last thing the United States wanted or needed.
    The pattern persists to this day. It's easier to catch a plane from Denver to Philadelphia or Los Angeles than it is to fly to Boise or Helena.
    Or take a look at a modern Amtrak map, which reflects certain contemporary national transportation priorities. It shows four east-west corridors. As for north-south routes, there's one along the West Coast, and another from Minneapolis through Chicago to New Orleans. But there's nothing in between, out where we live.
    So if Colorado Gov. Ritter and his colleagues, Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Rick Perry of Texas, manage to get federal support for a north-south corridor in the West, they'll accomplish something new -- or something as old as Gen. Palmer's plan of 1870.


Will money talk?

Marty Durlin | Jul 09, 2009 06:50 AM

It's a sweet-voiced, normal-looking middle-aged woman who looks sincerely at the camera and tells us that she's one of millions of Californians who want to pay taxes on marijuana, legalizing her drug of choice and helping to refill the state's empty coffers (the taxes could fund 20,000 teacher salaries, she says). This is an ad from the Marijuana Policy Project, founded in 1996 to remove criminal penalties for marijuana use. 

Even though Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (who's admitted to inhaling) suggested in April that it's time for a debate on the legalization and taxation of marijuana, and even though there's a pro-pot bill in the California legislature (AB 390, which would tax and regulate the drug), many TV stations have refused to run the 30-second ad, either ignoring requests for rate cards or rejecting it on the basis of "standards" or "comfort" level.

A Field Research Corporation poll in April revealed that 56 percent of Californians favor legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

To bolster its case further, the Marijuana Policy Project offers these arguments:

  • In 2007, more than 74,000 Californians were arrested on marijuana charges – 80% for simple possession, not sale or manufacture. During the same year, more than 66,000 violent crimes went unsolved.

  • Marijuana is California’s top cash crop but this industry goes untaxed while Sacramento raises taxes on middle-class families and is making deep cuts to police, schools, and hospitals.

  • Prohibition creates an unregulated, criminal market for marijuana where drug dealers routinely sell to kids. Regulating marijuana will take marijuana out of the hands of criminals and put it where it belongs: in a well regulated, licensed market only available to adults.

The lady in the ad says marijuana is "a substance safer than alcohol." Alcohol abuse kills 75,000 Americans annually. Cigarette smoking accounts for more than 400,000 deaths each year. But recent research on the health impacts of smoking marijuana shows mixed results. While a study by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Drug Abuse, released in 2006, found no connection between marijuana smoking and cancer, a 2007 British study revealed that one ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, produced temporary psychotic symptoms in people, including hallucinations and paranoid delusions.

We've legalized alcohol and cigarettes. In the name of saving an economy, we now may legalize pot -- allowing people to make their own decisions about a substance that has not yet been shown to cause any deaths.




Duwamish not dead

Arla Shephard | Jul 09, 2009 02:40 AM

Next week, Cecile Hansen, a direct descendant of Seattle’s namesake Chief Sealth, will travel from one Washington to another. 

Hansen, the chairwoman of the Duwamish tribe, has been invited to testify in D.C. at an upcoming hearing on H.R. 2678, a bill introduced in the House that would grant the Western Washington tribe the federal recognition it has been fighting for since, well, forever. 

The tribe, comprised of nearly 600 members currently, was granted fishing and reservation rights way back in 1855, when Chief Sealth signed the Treaty of Point Elliott. Unfortunately, the U.S. government never saw fit to actually follow through with any of the promises it made. 

Federal recognition would provide the tribe with government aid, and possibly restore their fishing rights and allow them to open a casino. This has caused alarm among other Northwest tribes, who are worried that recognizing the Duwamish would drain limited federal resources

Specifically, the Muckleshoot have argued that Duwamish federal recognition would encroach upon their own fishing rights. Hansen believes the Muckleshoot are worried that the Duwamish could operate a casino in Seattle, diverting business from the Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn.

The Muckleshoot went so far as to seek court intervention in the Duwamish's other fight for federal recognition. In addition to the House bill, the Duwamish are involved in an expensive and lengthy legal battle to overturn the Bush administration’s declaration that the tribe doesn’t really exist. 

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6,000 years without enviro laws

Jonathan Thompson | Jul 08, 2009 11:04 AM

See, we need to mine uranium because there were no environmental laws around 6,000 years ago, when the earth was created. At least I think that's what Arizona State Sen. Sylvia Allen, R, is saying in this video clip. Huh?



Condor quandary

Jodi Peterson | Jul 08, 2009 06:20 AM

A prominent group of biologists and scientists is strongly criticizing conservation plans for Tejon Ranch, a 270,000-acre property north of LA.  The ranch is slated for 30,000 acres of housing, industrial and resort projects -- which will sprawl across roughly 20,000 acres of critical habitat for the endangered California condor. Tejon's developers have asked the Fish and Wildlife Service for permission to "take" more than two dozen imperiled species, including condors (see our brief in "Two Weeks in the West", and our pro and con opinion pieces).

But condor experts, including former leaders and members of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s condor team and federal condor recovery team, have just issued a report saying that the Tejon conservation plan, which attempts to mitigate the development's impact on all those rare species, would be a disaster for the huge birds:

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Roughing it the easy way

Ariana Brocious | Jul 08, 2009 03:10 AM

Summer is officially upon us and for many that means camping, often in the company of family or friends. This summer is an especially good time to get outside to spend a few nights under the stars, sing off-key by the campfire and roast all manner of food on a stick, because the National Park Service is offering three fee-free weekends at over 100 National Parks.

But for those who are less than comfortable with the prospect of potentially sleepless nights, mosquito bites and half-raw, half-charred hotdogs, yet still balk at exploring the great outdoors from inside a giant RV, there is a compromise in the Oregon State Parks.

Called “Camping Lite,” Oregon State Parks offer yurts, cabins and tepees in addition to the standard tent and RV sites. “Roughing it has never been so smooth,” says their Web site, which lists the amenities offered in both rustic and deluxe sites. Not all state parks offer all the options, but most have at least one alternative kind of camping site.

I stayed at a rustic yurt in the Valley of the Rogue State Park, Ore. at the end of May, after a day spent visiting Oregon’s only national park, the gorgeous Crater Lake. Nearing the end of a three-week road trip up the West Coast, it seemed like a fun break from tent camping. Our yurt could sleep five people on a combination of futon and bunk beds, had a table and chairs and was equipped with light and electricity—very useful for the coffee pot my trip companion insisted on hauling around everywhere (a concession I granted given his caffeine addiction and resulting nasty withdrawal behavior). All cooking had to be done outside, but we did have a nice porch on which to sit and watch the sunset.

Personally, I quite enjoy sleeping out in the cool night air, body close to the earth, hearing only the crisp silence of early morning and being lucky enough to witness wildlife. But I’ll be honest—a good night’s sleep on a real mattress in the screened yurt felt pretty nice. It's a happy middle ground for those between hard-core backpackers and RV devotees, which hopefully means even more people will leave their air conditioning, television and Internet behind for a few days and check out the natural beauty of Oregon.

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