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Unprecedented poaching in California

Marty Durlin | Jun 09, 2009 06:40 AM

According to officials at the California Department of Fish and Game, the illegal sale of wildlife and "wildlife parts" generates something like $100 million per year -- and it's going up, as hard economic times have forced the state to cut back on game wardens. Only 230 wardens regulate 159,000 square miles of land, including 1,100 miles of coastline going 200 miles out to sea. The number of game wardens in California is the lowest per capita in the U.S.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, game wardens have investigated the following:

-- Late last month, 11 people were arrested and 120 citations were issued in Sonoma and Mendocino counties after an elaborate ring of abalone poachers with headquarters in a hotel room was discovered.

-- In February, two people were arrested in Monterey County after they were caught with 51 black abalone, a federally listed endangered species.

-- In February, five antelope were fatally shot near Susanville by someone driving along a country road. The shooter just left the animals, two of which were pregnant, one with twins.

-- In 2007, a San Diego man was arrested by Redding undercover agents and charged with soliciting the killing of bears in Shasta County so he could buy their gallbladders. A gallbladder-processing operation was discovered when wardens arrested the man, who had a passport and tickets to fly to Southeast Asia. Bear gallbladders are used for medicinal purposes in Southeast Asia and can fetch $2,000 an ounce.

-- In Sacramento, a man was arrested after investigators used DNA evidence to identify the meat from 28 separate deer that had been shot in Calaveras, El Dorado and Placer counties. He was selling the carcasses from his house for up to $150 a piece.

"Over the last year and a half we've seen a marked increase in poaching and in people just killing animals and leaving them there for no apparent reason," Fish and Game enforcement chief Nancy Foley told the Chronicle. "I don't think it is a need to put food on the table. It's usually for greed and money and because people know we have a shortage of game wardens in the state."

California Fish and Game spokesman Patrick Foy told the Chronicle that wildlife officers -- who last year issued 14,543 citations -- catch between 1 and 5 percent of all violators. The penalty for poaching deer and waterfowl in California is a maximum of six months in county jail and a $1,000 fine, but Foy says many poachers have been fined as little as $150 and given probation.


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Is humanitarian aid really "littering"?

Michael Wolcott | Jun 09, 2009 05:10 AM

In summer, the southern Arizona desert is among the most merciless environments on earth. Temperatures spike at 120 degrees. Shade is scarce. Each year hundreds of undocumented migrants die trying to walk north from Mexico.
The grisly accounts of survivors and the quickly-mummified evidence on the ground suggest that a cooked brain and water-starved sensory neurons must know something of hell. The mouths stuffed with rocks, the claw marks--it happens. There are files.
For the past five years, the Tucson-based humanitarian group, No More Deaths, has worked to reduce such misery by providing migrants with food, medical care, and--most importantly--emergency water. The group has a bumper sticker: “Humanitarian aid is never a crime.”
Maybe that bumper sticker should read “almost never”: two No More Deaths volunteers, Walt Staton and Dan Millis, have been convicted of littering--for leaving drinking water in the desert.
Staton, 27, was found guilty on June 3 of littering federal property after he admitted to leaving jugs of drinking water on migrant trails that cross the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. He faces up to one year in prison and a $10,000 fine when he is sentenced on August 11. Millis, who was convicted in a similar case last September, has appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court. Staton also plans an appeal.
The two cases focus attention on a humanitarian crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border that is arguably the direct--and intentional--result of federal policy.

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Sunshine and water

Ed Quillen | Jun 08, 2009 07:02 AM

   The solar-electric generating systems in my area are "photo-voltaic." When photons from the sun strike certain materials, they give off electrons, which are then channeled to the electric grid.
    There's another way to generate electricity from sunshine: Concentrate the solar rays to heat a fluid that in turn boils water, resulting in steam that turns a turbine connected to a generator.
    In essence, it's a thermal generating plant, except that it uses sunshine for a heat source, rather than coal, natural gas, or decaying uranium.
    And like any other thermal plant, these facilities need to be cooled. This leads to a quandary. The best places for these solar thermal plants are where the sky is clear and sunny, like the Mojave Desert, and that's where water is scarcest.
    Here's a piece about this dilemma and its potential effects on the American Southwest. In short, such power plants might be new players in the old water wars.


Whoosh! Down it comes!

Emily Underwood | Jun 05, 2009 10:00 AM

I spend a fair amount of time at the HCN office reading online news, and writing blogs like this one. It's easy, when surrounded by abstractions, to feel a little bit cut off from what makes things work around here in Paonia. One quick antidote to that feeling is to go down to the river on my lunch breaks and stand on the bridge overlooking the North Fork of the Gunnison. Over the last few months, I've watched the river transform from quiet, dark, and ice-glazed--a secret under snow--to a silty torrent, flattening the willows, wrapping debris around the cement bridge pillars, and making a holy racket. Watching these changes feels like keeping my fingers on the pulse of what makes this place, not just Paonia, but Western Colorado, tick. 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

An equally good reality check is to attend a local water meeting. On Monday, Jun 1st, the smell of fried chicken wafted from the annual State of the Gunnison River meeting. The room at the Holiday Inn in Montrose was so packed with farmers, water district representatives and other community members that they had to bring in extra chairs. This year, said Bob Hurford, state engineer for the Gunnison Basin, early, fast runoff has made it "kinda tough for guys trying to manage dams and irrigate." The dust blowing in from Utah and Arizona made the snow melt fast and early, filling the reservoirs to, and beyond, capacity. The Bureau of Reclamation has had to let water out as fast as possible to avoid excessive spillover. Dan Crabtree described their efforts as similar to "driving a Ferarri and hoping we don't hit any sharp turns..." 

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No entrance fees

Jeff Chen | Jun 03, 2009 07:59 AM

OK, so the Park Service didn’t put out a press release about how they’ll start allowing certain firearms in parks. But thankfully, they put one out about a few fee-free weekends this summer. That's right, you won't pay to enter "America's Best Idea" on these weekends: June 20-21, July 18-19 and August 15-16.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazaar said the waived entrance fees would allow more Americans to enjoy an affordable vacation during tough times. The fee-free weekends are also supposed to give a boost for all the communities that surround our parks.

Arches National Park - FREE
Arches National Park
Photo by Jeff Chen

Just don’t bring your gun; you can’t do that ‘til next year.


Mixups over tribal IDs

Marty Durlin | Jun 03, 2009 06:21 AM

From Walmart to the U.S.-Canadian border, Indians are encountering problems with their tribal IDs -- partly due to new laws which went into effect June 1, partly due to bureaucratic glitches, and partly because of the ongoing failure of the U.S. government to treat Native Americans fairly.

HCN reported on this problem in a story by Krista Kapralos titled Security vs. Sovereignty. Here's how NativeAmerican Legal Update explained it in a March posting:

In order to comply with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and the Real ID Act, travelers seeking entry into Canada from the United States must present either a current passport or a security-enhanced ID card by June 1, 2009. The federal government has provided millions of dollars to state governments to develop the chip-embedded ID cards and supporting database systems – but no money has been provided to Tribes to equip their members with the necessary cards and support.

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May Bats Prevail

Emily Underwood | Jun 02, 2009 05:01 AM

Back in March, I wrote a post about the grisly lawnmower effect wind turbines can have on bats. Well, there's some good news: a new study conducted by Iberdrola Renewables and independent conservation group Bat Conservation International found that bat death can be reduced by more than 70 percent if the turbines are turned off when wind speeds are low. Even better, the power lost from shutting turbines down at these speeds was only 2 percent of total output. As thrilling as this information is all on its own, I point to the study as an example of the collaboration and problem-solving that will be necessary for the renewables industry to live up to its promise of clean energy with minimal collateral damage. See Sarah Gilman's excellent and much commented-upon essay,  "For the Love of Wastelands" for a meta-discussion of the impacts of wind and solar.




Give me your huddled masses...

Terray Sylvester | Jun 02, 2009 03:57 AM
Filed under: The Border , Latinos

If America is the land of beckoning opportunity, Mexico is the land of bargain operations -- and cheap dental care, and sensibly-priced treatments for chronic illness. At least, that's what Mexico is to about a million Californians each year.

A group of researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles recently added another scuff mark to the travel-worn line that separates the U.S from Mexico. It's old news that many Americans buy antibiotics south of the border, but according to the latest findings, nearly 500,000 of the Californians who cross the border each year on health-related errands are actually Mexican immigrants. Their reasons are somewhat varied, but in the end the situation pretty much boils down to dollars. Mexican immigrants might find work in the U.S., but relatively few find health insurance. Even after living north of the border for 15 years or longer, as many as 30 percent lack general medical insurance and nearly 50 percent lack dental coverage. Those numbers are roughly double the corresponding figures for non-immigrant Caucasians.

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Salmon scuffle

Sarah Gilman | Jun 01, 2009 01:50 AM

If you've been following the comment stream on High Country News' recent two part series on salmon ("Columbia Basin (Political) Science," by Steve Hawley, and "Salmon Salvation," by Ken Olsen), then you know how fired up people can get about fish. That includes, of course, the authors of the articles and the primary agencies involved. The Bonneville Power Administration, which sells low-cost electricity from many of the dams in the Columbia Basin, has protested both stories. We ran the agency's first letter, along with Hawley's response, in the print magazine. The letter the agency sent in response to Olsen's story was so similar to the first we decided not to run it in print. But we'd still like readers to see what the agency had to say, and we invited Olsen to respond in kind. Definitely worth the read:

Salmon simplification (BPA's letter)

Ken Olsen responds



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BLM's unheroic response to civil disobedience

Michael Wolcott | May 29, 2009 04:26 AM

"One day the South will recognize its real heroes.” – Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail

In the Alabama of the mid-nineteen sixties, Martin Luther King could see the arc of history bending before him. He knew that the South’s real heroes were people like Rosa Parks, who defied the law because she wanted to make a better world.

In today’s Utah, the Bureau of Land Management is apparently not so visionary. The BLM’s wildly inconsistent responses to two recent civil-disobedience cases suggest that the agency is as far out of touch with America’s direction now as George Wallace and Bull Connor were in 1963.

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