Friday news roundup: environmental antiheros and solar booms


Picking apart the news through the hurried swoosh of this stunted week, I leaned back in my rickety desk chair for a few minutes to consider which rugged individualist in this day and age concerns me more. Is it the ironman fugitive on snowshoes who vanished in the powdery woods of Southern Utah nine years ago, since identified by police as Troy James Knapp, who breaks into remote cabins, stocking his cargo pockets with ammunition and food before defecating in a pan and leaving it on the kitchen floor? Or is it Frank VanderSloot, the billionaire from Idaho, financial advisor to the Romney campaign, who suppresses speech opposing his politics by waging expensive defamation suits against journalists and publications that affront his name? Perhaps he’s the more fearsome. But then there's also scientist Peter Gleick, whose admission of falsifying his identity to obtain finance documents from the Heartland Institute, an Argonaut in the world of climate change denial organizations, has now soiled his reputation and bolstered his foes, leaving schoolrooms across the West vulnerable to climate teachings based on industry "facts."

"Forging bravely ahead -- as we would say here at HQ, I’ll pretend those guys don’t exist. Let’s get on with this week’s Roundup.


Books -- thirty thousand of them -- known to a few as the Rocky Mountain Land Library, need a new home. Right now, they’re stacked in every available space at Ann Martin and Jeffrey Lee’s home in Denver. Scholars call their collection of naturalist tomes a Colorado treasure, but Martin and Lee are losing the rented space they've called home for 23 years, and they need a place to stow the treasure. They’ve considered campuses, ranches and building their own Welsh-inspired “bed and book” business. They began packing with 600 boxes at hand, and they say fear that might not be enough. March 8th is their deadline to move.


Peter Metcalf, CEO of Utah-based Black Diamond Equipment, told the Salt Lake Tribune that land bills before the Utah legislature were, “absolutely ridiculous, egregious and stupid.”

Metcalf was referring to a string of bills in the Utah House of Representatives that would demand that Congress relinquish ownership of all federal lands back to the state by 2014. Legislative lawyers repeatedly told the feisty representatives their measures were unconstitutional, but Chief Deputy Attorney General John Swallow promises to back them up if they bring the fight to Congress.


California’s almond farmers have raised concern over the health of honeybees that pollinate their trees and help produce two-thirds of the world’s almonds. After the almond bloom, many apiaries get trucked back to North Dakota where farmland planted to clover, alfalfa and wildflower await the busy bees. Yet, the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers to set aside marginal farmland so that land can conserve soil, water and provide wildlife habitat, is becoming less appealing to farmers since the price of corn keeps shooting up. Experts expect nearly half of the once ubiquitous bee habitat to be plowed for corn this year.

Gray wolves in Mexico aren't doing too hot either. Four out of five wolves released by Mexico’s Environment Department in a mountainous region just south of the U.S. border have died of poisoning. Blood samples confirmed levels of warfarin, a blood thinner common in rat poison. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Mexican wildlife officials still support the reintroduction program to enhance the genetic character of Southwestern wolves.


Land speculators have a new energy industry to exploit. The Los Angeles Times reports that desolate, sun-scorched, hell-on-earth acreage that once sold for 500 bucks can now go for $20,000 an acre. Blythe and Mojave, Calif. as well as Gila Bend, Ariz., have already cashed in on big solar projects that are hungry for land.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management in Arizona has identified 237,100 acres of public land suitable for development by renewable energy industries. Environmental groups, politicians and industry associations alike appear to be on board for handing over the acreage to wind and solar farms.  Read the draft environmental impact statement contained within this link to see if you agree.


And Interior Secretary Ken Salazar poked the hornet’s nest when he proposed to raise royalties on oil and gas operations from 12.5 percent to 18.75 percent. Director of the American Petroleum Institute, Erik Milto, says the industry already gives $86 million a day to the federal government and further increase would disincentive exploration. Proponents of the increase say it brings federal royalties in line with those of states. Obama’s 2013 budget also looks to roll back $40 billion of oil and gas tax breaks over the next 10 years.  


Gila River otters have renewed hope in life, and so should I. After blogging on the New Mexico Game Commission’s decision in early January to deny a reintroduction plan for the otters, the commission has reconsidered. On Thursday, February 23, the commission voted to defer a decision on the river otter release until more information on their potential impacts to endangered species in New Mexico and Arizona has been compiled.


Rest assured, we’re headed into another worry-free weekend.

Neil LaRubbio is an intern at High Country News.

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