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Know the West

The Latest Bounce

  Interior Secretary Gale Norton has announced that 70 percent of full-time National Park Service jobs may be farmed out to the private sector — up from the 10 percent predicted last year (HCN, 12/9/02: The push is on to privatize federal jobs). The Interior Department paid CH2MHill, a private company, $5 million to design a “Competitive Sourcing” plan that calls for replacing 11,000 permanent federal employees, including biologists and archaeologists, with private contractors.

The northern pike in California’s Lake Davis are proving strangely resilient. Three years ago, the state’s Department of Fish and Game began killing the invasive predator fish to protect downstream trout fisheries. But the pike’s numbers have continued to increase: In 2000, the agency killed 600 fish, then in 2001, about 6,000 (HCN, 12/17/01: Pesky pike persist). And in 2002, the agency killed almost 18,000 pike — most of them less than a year old.

In August, when a drunk driver in New Mexico hit a truck carrying radioactive waste to Carlsbad’s Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP), the Energy Department assured the public that radioactivity had not been released (HCN, 9/30/02: Nuclear waste road accidents don't faze WIPP). But when the double-containers were unloaded, WIPP workers found that radioactivity had, in fact, leaked through the inner lining of one of them, although the outer steel containment held. Unable to accept the tainted cargo, they sent it back to Idaho, where it originated — and where it remains unopened.

Washington state officials have expressed “grave concerns” about plans by the federal government to reclassify the radioactive substance technetium (HCN, 11/11/02: Feds find shortcuts in nuclear cleanup). By downgrading technetium to a less dangerous classification, the Energy Department can cut costs on cleanup methods at Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Seven years ago, a plume of technetium was found in the groundwater below Hanford, creeping toward the Columbia River (HCN, 9/1/97: Radioactive waste from Hanford is seeping toward the Columbia).

A plan to protect forests near Snoqualmie Pass just bit the dust. When Weyerhaeuser announced that the 104,000 acre Snoqualmie Tree Farm was up for sale, the Evergreen Forest Trust made an offer to buy the land and protect it from development, while still keeping it open to commercial logging (HCN, 5/13/02: Landmark timber deal stops Seattle sprawl). To pay the $185 million price tag, the group proposed to sell tax-exempt bonds to investors, then pay off the debt through timber sales. But last session, Congress failed to approve the trust’s use of bonds, and the one-year sales agreement expired on January 16.