It’s become something of an Obama administration mantra: The latest economic stimulus package will help jumpstart the U.S.’s green economy. And at a press conference Feb. 20, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar repeated it yet again, as he spoke on how the Department of Interior, which oversees agencies like the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management, will use its $3 billion in stimulus funds.
“My hope and vision,” he told reporters, is that public lands will serve as an “engine for the clean energy economy.”
But wait. That sounds an awful lot like making our public lands the engine of energy independence -- by tapping their bountiful reserves of natural gas at the expense of pristine lands, and clean air and water. The first reporter to question Salazar ran with that theme: Can the department allow quick development of utility-scale renewable energy and transmission lines while at the same time preserving other public land values like wildlife habitat? he asked. And will that mean altering environmental oversight in some way to expedite permitting and construction?
Scientists studying black bears and mountain lions near Tucson, Ariz. found a surprise in one of their traps this week -- a 120-lb. male jaguar. They put a radio tracking collar on the big cat and released him. Now, for the first time ever, biologists will get regular updates on the location of a U.S. jaguar. The rare cat was added to the endangered species list in 1997, and over the past 10 years several have been caught on film in Arizona and New Mexico.
One of the biggest threats to jaguars, which regularly roam between Mexico and the U.S., is Homeland Security -- border fencing slices the animal's habitat into two disconnected chunks, and prevents breeding between different populations (see our story Cat Fight on the Border).
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Researchers John Swaddle and Stavros Calos have found that high bird diversity is linked with low incidence of the West Nile virus in humans. Their study can be found online.
Called the "dilution effect," the link between biodiversity and disease rates is not completely clear, but scientists believe that increased diversity within an ecosystem reduces the proportion of suitable hosts for a disease, and therefore reduces transmission rates.
The West Nile virus spread to North America in 2002, and since then more than 28,000 human cases have been reported, including more than 1,000 deaths. Western states have been particularly hard hit by the virus -- and avian diversity may be a factor.
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A few years ago, an industry-funded study indicated that prolific natural gas development on Wyoming's sagebrush-dotted Pinedale Anticline was hammering the massive mule deer herd that forages there in the winter. The herd, some 6,000 strong, had declined 46 percent between 2000 and 2004. A government-commissioned citizen oversight group pushed the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees energy development on federal lands, to act on those findings and rein in drilling. But the agency responded with only a weak proposal for maintaining the herd's "viability."
Now, however, it seems that the deer decline reversed between 2004 and 2007, at least a little bit. The Casper Star Tribune reports:
The study by Western Ecosystems Technology, Inc. concluded that mule deer numbers declined in the Mesa by 30 percent overall during the seven-year research project, which ran from 2000-2007. However, mule deer numbers stabilized and then increased during the final three years of the study. . .Read More ...
Yesterday, Feb. 18th, would have been Wallace Stegner’s 100th birthday (he passed away in 1993). Stegner, arguably the most iconic of Western writers and conservationists, is best known for his books “The Spectator Bird” and “Angle of Repose”. His prose has inspired generations of Westerners, including the founders of HCN.
His words are a key part of our mission: "to inform and inspire people to act on behalf of the West’s land, air, water and inhabitants (and to) work to create what Wallace Stegner called ‘a society to match the scenery.’ "
Timothy Egan has a thoughtful tribute to Stegner in the New York Times:
On his 100th birthday, it’s worth remembering another lesson of his life — to choose authenticity over artifice. “If you don’t know where you are,” he said, paraphrasing the writer Wendell Berry, “you don’t know who you are.”
Happy birthday Wallace, and here’s to the geography of hope.
Is Yucca Mountain about to implode? In this first month after the inauguration of President and Yucca Mountain-opponent Barack Obama, it's been a little hard to tell. Bush-appointed radioactive waste-czar Ward Sproat left the Energy Department on cue, but the man who rose from the ranks to temp in his spot, Christopher Kouts, spent 23 years on the project as an engineer. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, currently reviewing the license application Sproat hurried along, has approved its proposed radiation safety standards. And Obama's new energy secretary, Steven Chu, apparently implied in a New York Times interview that politicians should step aside and let the commission do its work -- in other words, the license review process should carry on for the sake of objective science.Read More ...
The Western Business Roundtable hosted a conference call yesterday. It was touted as a "sneak peek" into a new analysis of the Western Climate Initiative. But if you'd dialed in hoping to hear a fresh critique of the cap-and-trade framework designed to encompass 90 percent of the emissions across much of the west and part of Canada, you would have been disappointed. The Western Business Roundtable advocates for energy and mining companies. According to Sourcewatch, Arch Coal, Peabody Energy, Shell and Chevron sit on its board of trustees. Maybe that's why the report it commissioned is less interesting as a new analysis than as a case study in a few tactics people use when they want to protect their assets from climate rules:
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I just took a gander at www.recovery.gov. It’s the website the new administration made so we could keep ourselves informed and hold the government accountable in light of the economic stimulus package.
On the site, there’s a section that estimates the amount of jobs that will either be saved or created in the next two years. In the West, estimates amount to 769,000 jobs. Here’s how it looks state-by-state:
New Mexico: 22,000
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Summer nights wouldn't feel quite right if the open windows did not allow me to hear the occasional howling of coyotes. The wild canines provide a sonic reminder that even though I live in town, it's a small town surrounded by thousands of acres of wonderful Big Empty.
But actually, the coyote howls convey no such message. The critter manages pretty well around human settlement. Unlike many wild predators such as the wolf, the coyote has actually expanded its range in the past century, moving into the eastern United States. One even appeared in New York City's Central Park in 1999.
They're also doing pretty well in parts of the West. Upscale suburbs with big lots and greenbelts apparently offer good coyote habitat, as evidenced by recent events in Greenwood Village on the south side of Denver.
There, a coyote attacked a 14-year-old boy last December. He fought it off and was not injured. Since the start of 2008, Greenwood Village has logged 194 coyote sightings, and 20 attacks on animals, most of them pets.
On December 31st, a 66-year old Cheyenne River Sioux man died after a doctor told ambulance drivers to "take him back to his residence or dump him in a ditch" because there wasn't money for his care, recounted President of the National Congress of Indian Americans (NCAI), Joe A. Garcia, in his State of Indian Nations address on February 10th.
During his campaign, President Obama promised to appoint a Native policy advisor to his senior staff and holding a yearly summit at the White House for tribal leaders. He met with Pueblo leaders in New Mexico and was even adopted by the Crow nation in Montana.
President Garcia called on President Obama and the 111th Congress to build on those promises by investing $6.4 billion in Indian Country. As of February 13th, it looks like American Indian Nations are going to get between $3 billion and $4.2 billion in funds and bonds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which Congress finally passed after much compromise and debate. Although this falls short of what NCAI had hoped, it is an enormous improvement over the status quo.
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