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Enviros worry about Utah tar sands water pollution

InsideClimateNews | Sep 13, 2012 11:00 PM

By David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News

The debate over whether oil sands mining should be allowed in Utah inched forward this week when an environmental group and the company that wants to open the mine both filed papers responding to a judge's recent ruling on whether water resources will be adequately protected.

Administrative Law Judge Sandra Allen ruled on Aug. 28 that the Utah Division of Water Quality acted legally when it decided that U.S. Oil Sands Inc. should not have to conduct water monitoring or obtain a pollution permit to begin mining on Utah's Colorado plateau, an arid region dotted with oil and gas wells and used by hikers and hunters.

PR SpringsOn Wednesday Living Rivers, a Moab, Utah-based environmental organization, submitted a 22-page brief arguing that the judge erred when she determined that the only water deserving of protection is found in deep aquifers and that there is so little water close to the surface that it does not qualify for protection under Utah law.

Rob Dubuc, a staff attorney for Western Resource Advocates, which is supporting Living Rivers' efforts to halt the project, said all that's needed to settle the issue is to look around the mine site and the entire Colorado plateau.

"What you see—the wildlife, the grass, the brush—means there has to be water," Dubuc said. "There is nothing in the statutes that talks about how much water, just that all water must be protected."

U.S. Oil Sands also filed a brief on Wednesday—supporting the judge's decision. The company plans to begin mining its first 213-acre site in 2014.

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Antibacterial soaps in the backcountry

jackiewheeler | Sep 12, 2012 06:00 AM

I try not to be one of those people who buy into every alarmist headline about how common products will poison me. Over the years, consumer safety scares have come and gone with predictable regularity. Eggs were forbidden cholesterol-bombs for a while. Caffeine was blamed for just about every possible malady, and then (at least partially) exonerated. And diet soda takes a new hit every few weeks, it seems. 

With guarded skepticism, then, I’ve been following the long-lived debate over another product: antibacterial sanitizers and soaps. Their popularity was reinforced to me last month on a Grand Canyon river trip. Official recommendations for avoiding the Norovirus outbreak that was circulating among some groups involved lots of hand sanitizing. Hand sanitizer cloudThe common denominators in many sanitizing products and soaps are the compounds triclosan or triclocarban, which have been in use since the mid-twentieth century in a wide range of consumer and industrial products. However, the 1990s saw an increase in development and marketing of antibacterial soaps and hygiene products. Soon after, disturbing reports about possible negative health effects, including hormone disruption, began surfacing, as well as questions about whether such products were any more effective than ordinary soap. These reports were well publicized. Around the same time, however, outbreaks of scary epidemics such as bird flu fueled hyperawareness of cleanliness. Hand sanitizer dispensers showed up everywhere. Most K-12 teachers I know keep large containers of the stuff in their classrooms. 

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Pesticides and salmon: It ain't about the fish

Ben Long | Sep 10, 2012 11:00 PM

Ask folks what is the most pressing environmental issue facing America and they’re most likely to say: Water. Protect the water.

So shame on Beltway lobbyists taking apart the legal framework we’ve built to protect our water and the species that depend on it. After all, those species include human beings.

King salmon caught off Alaska (C) Ben Long

See the photo here? That’s a king salmon caught by my Norwegian cousin Ole (hoisting the fish) and my dad (grinning next to him.) I’d try to describe how good that fish tasted, grilled that evening on the shore of Kechemak Bay, but I could not do it justice.

The problems salmon face because of dams and overfishing are well known. But another issue has received less press. Salmon are excellent “indicators” of clean water, the proverbial canary in a coalmine with gills.

Recently, scientists have noticed that even streams that look healthy can be loaded with pesticides from wind drift and runoff.

Pesticides do important work. We use them to control insects that spread disease and more efficiently grow food. But they can be bad news in the wrong places.

According to scientists like John Stark of Washington State University, many streams have become pesticide “soups.” Once in the water, these pesticides mix into super-concoctions, sometimes 100 times more toxic than the original chemicals alone.

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Rinella aims for the impossible, scores a hit

Ben Long | Sep 04, 2012 11:00 PM

Book Review:
Meat Eater, Adventures from the life of an American Hunter
By Steven Rinella
231 pages; Spiegel & Grau. 2012

Periodically, an outdoor writer aims for the impossible: to explain the why of modern hunting, as opposed to producing just another “how to” book.

The task is impossible because the motivations behind hunting are as individual as each hunter and go deep into the human psyche.

Most writers wilt at the challenge. Exceptions include Jose Ortega y Gasset, Ernest Hemingway, Tom McGuane and David Petersen. Put Steven Rinella’s new title, Meat Eater, on the same shelf as the classics.

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Rants from the Hill: Pleistocene rewilding

Michael Branch | Sep 02, 2012 11:00 PM

"Rants from the Hill" are Michael Branch's monthly musings on life in the high country of Nevada's western Great Basin desert.

Rants from the Hill is now a FREE podcast! Listen to an audio performance of this essay, here.  You can also subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or through Feedburner for use in another podcast reader.

In a 2006 article [PDF] in The American Naturalist, a small herd of perfectly respectable conservation biologists advocates a bold ecological restoration project they call “Pleistocene Rewilding.” The concept itself is outrageously wild. First of all, “rewilding” is the process of reintroducing species to ecosystems from which they have been extirpated—usually by that big bully, Homo Notsosapiens. Think wolves in Yellowstone. Pleistocene rewilding, by contrast, is the incredible idea that we can enhance ecosystem health by reintroducing many of the large mammals that were driven to extinction between 10,000 and 13,000 years ago. The so-called “pre-Columbian benchmark” of 1492 is the commonly used target for restoration efforts. To achieve this benchmark we just figure out how the world looked on the day Chris Columbus made landfall—say, at about cocktail hour—and then restore North American ecosystems to that condition by extirpating exotic species, reintroducing natives, and rehabilitating habitat. It isn’t easy to do, but at least it’s easy to understand.

Then along come these provocative Pleistocene Rewildatators, who ask why we’re so stuck on 1492. In fact, it was about 13,000 years ago that humans showed up in North America, where they wasted no time poking spears into everything that moved—a habit that probably contributed to the disappearance of large mammals. And the mass extinction of megafauna during the Pleistocene—along with a secondary wave of extinctions resulting from the disappearance of those keystone species—caused severe damage to the fabric of North American ecosystems, which have been slowly fraying and unraveling ever since. Since the fossil record gives us a pretty good idea of what beasts roamed here 13,000 years ago, before the arrival of human hunters, why not select an ecological restoration benchmark that is closer to Pleistocene cocktail hour? Why not acknowledge that North American ecosystems are full of holes—ecological niches that have gone unoccupied for 10,000 years—and then do our best to fill those holes by reintroducing large mammals?

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Hope on eight legs

Red Lodge | Aug 31, 2012 02:05 AM

By Heather Hansen, Red Lodge Clearing House

Sometimes when I grow weary of news of natural disasters, wars and political squabbling, I flirt with the idea of creating a Great News Network (GNN) which only reports positive events. Effervescent anchorpeople with gleaming smiles would talk of ceasefires, people and pets rescued from peril, Rover landings, that sort of thing.

A story I saw recently in Scientific American would make the cut for GNN. Accompanied by a huge, hair-raising image of a yellow-orange, clawed spider, the article gleefully announces the discovery of the creepy-crawly, previously unknown to science, in a cave in southern Oregon.

Trogloraptor spider

An amateur biologist, who also happens to be a Deschutes County deputy sheriff, was poking around the dark recesses near Grants Pass when he found the Trogloraptor, or “cave robber.” The remarkable find marks a new family, genus and species in the spider family tree—a rarity in science. Since then, similar spiders have been documented in the dim, damp old-growth forest of the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Kudos to those plucky folks who went in search of the sizable, battle-ready arachnid clinging in darkness to its tacky web.

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Reviewing how native peoples will deal with climate change

Terri Hansen | Aug 24, 2012 05:00 AM

Editors Note: This piece is cross posted from Mother Earth Journal, where reporter Terri Hansen writes about indigenous people and the environment.

Extreme weather events forced an awareness of urgent climate disruptions this year, with July 2012 being the hottest month on record – hotter even than the Dust Bowl’s July 1936.The science tells us climate changes would be abrupt and include extreme weather events. The book, Asserting Native Resilience – Pacific Rim Indigenous Nations Face the Climate Crisis, issued June 1, 2012, couldn’t be more timely. In the book’s introduction editors Zoltán Grossman and Alan Parker tell us, “Climate change is already here.”

Native Resilience book coverGrossman, a professor of Geography and Native American and World Indigenous Peoples Studies at The Evergreen State College (TESC) in Olympia, Wash., and Parker, a Chippewa Cree tribal citizen and Professor of Advanced Studies in Tribal Governments, and executive director of the Northwest Indian Applied Research Institute at TESC, write, “The people of the world, and especially Native communities, no longer have five to 10 years to begin planning. We must begin today!

The editors maintain, “Indigenous nations are on the front line of the climate crisis. With cultures and economies among the most vulnerable to climate-related catastrophes, Native peoples are developing twenty-first century responses to climate change that serve as a model for Native and non-Native communities alike.” Climate change threatens health, culture, livelihoods, species migration and traditional foods for place-based communities, the availability of fresh water, and oceans with increasing acidity (think of it as turning into a cola drink).

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Will Utah clean up its sale of public wildlife?

Ben Long | Aug 15, 2012 11:00 PM

For years now, well-connected hunting groups in Utah have figured out a way to make big bucks off big game. Now news reports indicate sportsmen in Utah are getting fed up.

Will Utah’s lawmakers put a spotlight on these transactions?

Here’s the deal: Every year, two sportsmen’s groups, Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife and the Mule Deer Foundation, raffle off a slate of highly prized licenses to hunt special areas with special privileges in the Beehive State.  They do it at a big expo held in downtown Salt Lake City.

Trophy elk

The two groups pocket about $1 million a year from the raffle, no questions asked and no strings attached.  In theory, the money benefits everyone by being plowed back into conservation. After all, the wildlife belongs to everyone.

Trouble is, as the new watchdog group, United Wildlife Cooperative points out, there is no transparency and no accountability as to how the money is spent.

“They could buy a condo in Bermuda for all we know,” says Utah sportsman Tye Boulter.

The money is supposed to help these groups defray the costs of holding an expo and selling the tickets. But they already charge admission, charge for food, charge for entertainment and charge for vendors to have booth space.

In effect, the raffles are a seven-figure slush fund for a private political agenda.

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Desert solitaire: Las Vegas bets big on rural water

Red Lodge | Aug 14, 2012 11:00 PM

By Heather Hansen, Red Lodge Clearing House

A water mining project that’s been a quarter-century in the making took a major step forward last week, when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recommended approval of a plan for diverting groundwater from three counties in eastern Nevada to Sin City.

In its final environmental impact statement (FEIS), the BLM looks at six alternatives for the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s (SNWA) plan to siphon water from several rural valleys and to transport it 300 miles south. The BLM’s preferred alternative “F” (the plan they recommend implementing) was crafted, they say, in response to public comments submitted on the draft EIS, as well as input from the SNWA.

Alternative F of the “Clark, Lincoln and White Pine Counties Groundwater Development Project” appears to differ from the proposal submitted by SNWA in a few key ways. While SNWA asked for a 96-inch pipeline to transport 176,655 acre-feet per year (AFY) of groundwater from five basins in northeastern Nevada, the BLM recommends an 84-inch main pipeline to transport up to 114,000 AFY from four of those basins—Spring, Delamar, Dry Lake and Cave valleys. Diverting water from the fifth basin, Snake Valley, which straddles the Nevada/Utah border, is not included in Alternative F. In 2009, the states had reached an agreement on sharing the water in the hotly-contested Snake Valley, but Utah ultimately never signed the deal.

For those whose oppose the project overall—and there are many different groups that do—the BLM’s recommendation to extract less water from the region is scant acknowledgement of the environmental, economic and cultural issues that have been raised since 2004, the year the SNWA first asked the BLM for the rights-of-way needed to construct the pipelines (and related infrastructure including roads, wells, power lines and production facilities). Since then, the BLM has been reviewing the potential impacts on federal land.

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Digital detox in the high Cascades

Ben Long | Aug 09, 2012 11:00 PM

Turns out, I’m so far behind the curve in the electronic media I’m cutting edge. 

Years ago, I realized my basic neo-Luddite constitution did not square with making a living in the modern communication industry. So I learned to download and up-link. I “blog” and “friend” as verbs. I’ve got desktops, laptops, tablets and a phone that is smarter than me. But, in my heart, give me a good book or even smoke signals. 

Last week, I spent a day climbing a minor peak in the Washington Cascades with several of my second cousins, nieces and nephews.  They ranged from a quarter to half my age. I would like to say I lead the group, but fact is I was puffing hard to keep up.

 Frisk Family Cousins in the Cascades

They are digital natives. I’m an analog mind, trying to squeeze into a digital age. They were almost a parody of their wired generation; I was a parody of the clueless curmudgeon. 

I was doing a digital detox – a week at the lake house without computer or cell phone. My younger compatriots were having none of that. 

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