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Know the West

Two weeks in the West


"They’ve had so many C’s I can’t keep track anymore."

— John Kostyack of the National Wildlife Federation, commenting to Greenwire on the Interior Department’s announcement that it will add "community" to the "Four C’s" touted by former Interior Secretary Gale Norton. Environmentalists have widely criticized Norton for making a mockery of the original four: "communication, consultation, and cooperation, all in the service of conservation."

The Interior Department is all ears. On Aug. 9, new Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne kicked off a nationwide "listening tour" on "cooperative conservation" at a meeting in Spokane, Wash. Kempthorne asked a gathering of "citizen stewards" how the government can encourage disparate interests to work together to protect natural resources. He got an earful. Off-road vehicle riders and timber industry representatives said that the best way to win support for conservation is to overhaul burdensome environmental laws. Conservationists, meanwhile, argued that those very laws force people to the bargaining table. Interior officials will be "listening" in Redding, Calif., on Sept. 13, Colorado Springs, Colo., on Sept. 15, and Colton, Calif., on Sept. 28. For details, see http://cooperativeconservation.gov.

The Forest Service needs to do some listening, too. The day after Kempthorne kicked off his listening tour, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals shot down Forest Service rules that prevented public comment on some projects. The rules, devised by the Bush administration in 2003, allowed "environmentally benign" projects to cruise through permitting without the tedium of public input and appeals. Environmentalists sued the agency for using those "rules" to inappropriately approve thousands of not-so-benign projects, including salvage logging, oil and gas development and off-road vehicle trail construction. Judge James K. Singleton agreed with the enviros last fall, and the appeals court agreed with Singleton (HCN, 10/31/05: Forest Service tries to teach greens a lesson). The change may not last, however: The Senate Appropriations Committee passed an appropriations bill with a rider that would give the Forest Service its wish: a free pass for whatever projects it deems benign, no messy public input required.

The day after the circuit court ruling, a federal judge in Idaho, B. Lynn Winmill, decided that the Bureau of Land Management needs to listen harder. In that case, the Western Watersheds Project and other enviro groups are suing the BLM, challenging the Bush administration’s new grazing regulations. Those regs, which the BLM finalized in July, give ranchers more power over grazing leases, while reducing opportunities for public comment and appeals. Winmill used a temporary injunction that puts the diminished public input on hold, and scolded the agency, indicating that he’ll probably reject the new comment rules altogether when he issues a final ruling. "Public participation is, by nature, messy," Winmill said, and agencies should accommodate it.

The states are speaking up, but the feds don’t seem to be paying attention. Also on Aug. 10, the Bureau of Land Management auctioned off oil and gas leases on 22,000 acres of roadless forests in Colorado and Utah, on the White River, Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison, and Manti-La Sal National Forests. A roadless-area task force commissioned by Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, R, recently recommended permanent protection for most of the 4 million roadless acres in the state. Conservationists protested the sale, but their chances for success are not good. In June, the Forest Service approved logging in an Oregon roadless area burned by the Biscuit Fire over the objections of that state’s governor, Ted Kulongoski, D.

Fishing communities are calling on the feds for backup. Also on Aug. 10, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez declared a "commercial fishery failure" for salmon off the coast of California and Oregon, clearing the way for the two states to seek some $80 million in relief money for fishing communities. In April, the federal government essentially shut down the entire salmon fishery for the year to protect imperiled runs of fish from the Klamath River (HCN, 3/6/06: Fishermen blamed for salmon troubles). The underlying threat to Klamath salmon — excessive water diversion for farms — is still far from resolution. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., is urging Bush administration officials to hold a "water summit" for the Klamath Basin, but has yet to receive a commitment.

Bucks for brains

Rankings of the Western states in expenditures per pupil for elementary-secondary education.

12 — Wyoming

25 — Montana

26 — California

30 — Oregon

32 — Colorado

33 — New Mexico

35 — Washington

46 — Nevada

49 — Arizona

50 — Idaho

51 — Utah

Source: 2003-2004: U.S. Census Bureau, Annual Survey of Local Government Finances