Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Obama creates 87,500-acre national monument in Maine’s North Woods

With the stroke of a pen, Obama created the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument – the second national monument in Maine history after Acadia National Park’s precursor – on land east of Baxter State Park in an area facing severe economic uncertainty. The move is likely to delight conservation activists and infuriate local opponents fearful the designation is trading potential industrial-based opportunities in the Katahdin region for mostly seasonal tourism jobs. The designation is a substantial yet partial victory for Roxanne Quimby, the wealthy co-founder of the Burt’s Bees product line whose nonprofit, Elliotsville Plantation Inc., donated the land to the federal government this week. Quimby has pushed for years for a full-fledged national park in the North Woods but sought a lesser monument designation because it did not require congressional approval.
Quimby and Obama timed the land donation and monument designation to coincide with Thursday’s 100th anniversary of the establishment of the National Park Service...more

Bull Report: Sue, Settle, and Sue Again

Washington, D.C. (August 24th, 2016)The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is approaching the end of a five year, 757 species work plan dictated by a court order drafted behind closed doors because of lawsuits brought by litigation happy groups like the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). Now the CBD is threatening to sue again on an additional 417 species, including 87 plants and 235 invertebrates such as snails, mussels, and beetles. The FWS had hoped the 2011 settlement would finally relieve them of the endless litigation it has faced since 2007, but it has only emboldened the CBD and other serial litigants.

The CBD has mastered its bullying tactics to the point where it now has full control over federal endangered species policy. The playbook is clear—flood the agency with petitions to list as many species as can be found under every rock and in every crevice, and then sue when the FWS is unable to meet rigid, artificial deadlines under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for reviewing those petitions. This time, the CBD is cutting right to the chase, demanding that the FWS negotiate with them and them alone to set policy for the next several years. And if FWS refuses they will face a massive lawsuit with no chance of winning. Once a bully gets what they want the first time, what’s to stop them from coming back again and again?

These sue and settle tactics do nothing to actually recover species, which the FWS has accomplished for less than two percent of the species on the endangered list. The CBD playbook serves only to drive the ESA through courtrooms instead of driving recovery through science and the on-the-ground conservation practitioners working to balance the needs of species and people.  For this, we give the CBD four bulls, with an honorable mention to the Obama Administration for failing to recognize the need for ESA improvements to bring the law into the 21st Century.

Press Release

Campers tearing down fences of Lincoln National Forest

A little mouse is the source of a big controversy in one part of New Mexico. The government has been fencing off areas in the Lincoln National Forest to protect the endangered species but now some campers have started tearing those fences down. The forest service is trying to protect the endangered animal’s habitat by fencing off parts of the forest near Cloudcroft. “It’s to try to keep livestock out so that we can have more vegetation there that is required by the mouse, they need quite of vegetation to have forage and then also cover,” said Ciara Cusack with the Forest Service. It seems that not everyone is okay with these fences. People have spoken out against them, saying they are causing problems for local ranchers. Now, the Forest Service says it’s campers who are taking down the fences. “There have been plenty of times where over the weekends people have put the fence down and driven over it to camp in these areas,” said Cusack. New warning signs mark the latest step in the fight over access to the public land. It is a necessary step according to the forest service. “Having these fences up will help the critical habitat by reducing the impact of both camping and livestock grazing in the areas,” said Cusack. The forest service thinks there’s enough room for campers and the meadow jumping mouse to co-exist. “We try to do where we won’t affect people’s experience out here and there’s still places to camp and for people to enjoy the forest,” said Cusack. The forest service also says people caught taking down the fences can be fined up to a $1,000 but they hope it won’t come to that.  KRQE

Ranchers struggle with grizzly numbers

It’s a rancher’s worst fear when you do your morning livestock check and find dead animals. That sickening feeling when you find the first dead ewe sits with you and weighs heavy on your mind. The first thought that crosses your mind is the coyotes must have hit again. Conflict rises as you think about the situation further, thinking coyotes usually don’t take down a ewe. You think maybe you have a lion problem. Concern grows as you find six more ewes and three lambs spread over the 1,200 acre pasture. Then you find the grizzly tracks and five pound scat and think, “We need a bigger trap.” The fact that this was all found within a half mile of the family home alarms you. Due to the fact that this was a livestock depredation, USDA Wildlife Services (WS) was contacted first. The WS specialist promptly arrived and after hours of thorough investigation, tracks, kill patterns and scat confirmed these were indeed grizzly bear kills. The grizzly bear is a threatened species protected under the Endangered Species Act, therefore limiting the rancher’s ability to protect their livestock and livelihood. Over the next three days, there were three more ewes and one lamb found dead and confirmed to be grizzly kills as well. According to the rancher and the WS Specialist, only one of the animals had been eaten. The WS Specialist, by protocol, notified Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) of the grizzly kill. While FWP did send a representative to the site to assess the situation, the FWP Head Grizzly Bear Specialist was not available to report to the kill site until five days later due to personal activities. Wildlife Services worked alongside the rancher to set traps to try and catch the bear (or bears) for five days with no luck....more

Interior chief makes climate change a part of parks' centennial

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell will make climate change a focus of the celebration of the National Park Service's 100th birthday on Thursday. Jewell is celebrating the centennial of the park service by spending the morning in Montana's Glacier National Park. She will spend much of the morning hiking around the peaks of the park, learning about how climate change is affecting the mountain glaciers that give the park its name. Many of the park's glaciers have shrunk over the last few decades. Scientists predict the park will be glacier-free by mid-century if the current rate of global warming persists. Many scientists blame the burning of fossil fuels for causing climate change and the subsequent warming of the globe...more

Greens' massive lawsuit aims to force FWS deadline deal

The Center for Biological Diversity today threatened legal action against the Fish and Wildlife Service to jump-start the stalled Endangered Species Act status reviews of 417 imperiled species — a move that could set the stage for another major legal settlement between the conservation group and the agency. The species listed in the notice of intent to sue were all flagged for ESA protection by CBD and other nonprofits over the past eight years. They include coastal flatwoods crayfish, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, panhandle lilies and hundreds of other species. After 90-day reviews, FWS found that all of the conservation groups' ESA petitions presented "substantial scientific or commercial information" that the animals or plants should be added to the endangered or threatened species lists. But the agency then failed to complete more rigorous 12-month reviews of the imperiled species to determine whether listing is not warranted, warranted or warranted but precluded by other priorities. "You are in violation of the law and have abrogated your duty to ensure that protection of endangered species occurs in a timely manner thereby avoiding further decline and increased risk of extinction," CBD said in today's notice...more

Been working on my Stockman column. Hope to get some posts up later today.

Been working on my Stockman column.  Hope to get some posts up later today.

Ranch Radio Song Of The Day #1685

Here's an early tune by Don Gibson: Walkin' In The Moonlight.  The tune was recorded in Nashville in 1951 for the Columbia label.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Legal teams begin putting together jury for Malheur trial

Some people claimed to believe in “guilty until proven innocent” with an unshakeable bias toward law enforcement. Others wrote of their disdain for the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Still, others said they had a two-week vacation scheduled at the end of September, didn’t speak English well enough to serve on a jury (despite having served on one in 2011) or said that their children are leaving for college. Those are just some of the challenges defense attorneys and prosecutors grappled with Monday as they took the first step toward piecing together a jury for those accused of conspiring to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January. The hearing was a view into the public’s perception of the occupation and the upcoming trial. It also underscored the challenge of seating a jury willing to keep an open mind after one of the most publicized events of early 2016. Earlier this summer, federal court officials sent 1,500 summonses out to prospective jurors throughout Oregon. The courts followed up with a detailed questionnaire. It’s those responses that were the subject of Monday’s pretrial conference, which U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown read aloud in court. “I only feel contempt for such individuals who arm themselves,” wrote one potential juror. “U.S. Fish and Wildlife has one political agenda and that is to inflict as much hardship on ranchers,” stated another potential juror. “They are no longer land managers, but political pawns,” the same person wrote of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The potential jurors who remain in the pool will be selected at random, 30 at a time, to appear for jury selection starting Sept. 7. Brown dismissed dozens of jurors over challenges raised by defense attorneys and the government. Others, Brown said, would need to provide more information about their views before deciding whether or not to excuse them from service. The identities of the jurors are kept secret, but defense attorneys, the court and prosecutors know the people who submitted questionnaires. “I do not believe any individual has any right to seize public lands,” one potential juror wrote in the questionnaire. “Although it is my civic duty, I do not like to sit in judge of another,” stated another. Defense attorneys for the group of eight going to trial in September worked as a team. At times, Assistant U.S. attorneys Ethan Knight and Geoff Barrow and defense attorneys were in agreement over the dismissal of a potential juror...more

Evidence list against refuge occupiers contains arsenal of weapons, ammo

The U.S. government has filed a 34-page list of 707 exhibits it plans to use in next month’s trial of Ammon Bundy and other Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupiers. The Friday, Aug. 19 court filing includes an extensive list of weapons and ammunition that the government intends to use as evidence against the occupiers, who took over the refuge for 41 days just after the beginning of this year. The document discloses that the government has seized thousands of rounds of shotgun, handgun and rifle ammunition as evidence. It has also seized as evidence at least 60 guns by KATU’s count. Those guns include semi-automatic rifles, shotguns and handguns. The court filing also includes items like computers, phones, cameras, media storage devices, interviews with the media, phone calls between negotiators and occupiers, emails, text messages, Facebook messages, aerial surveillance and photographs. The list could become longer. “If new exhibits are identified they will be promptly disclosed to the Court and to defendants,” wrote Billy J. Williams, a U.S. attorney, who filed the document...more

The evidence list is below:

The political crusades targeting national parks for drilling and exploitation


The boom in cheap natural gas has led to drilling and flame flaring just outside the boundaries of the 110 square mile national park, located in North Dakota’s badlands. There is virtually nowhere in the park in which its 600,000 annual visitors cannot see a drilling rig, an oil pump, a highway or a cellphone tower in what was once a sleepy rural area.

Ross said she is bombarded by letters and messages on Facebook from tourists over these eyesores. She frets that the park’s special status for clean air will be ruined by pollution and that a new oil refinery, planned for an area just two miles east of the protected area, will heighten this clash between nature and mining.

“The visitor experience is impacted by this type of structure,” Ross said. “These proposals all add up, they have a cumulative impact. There’s a perception that we are trying to shut down the energy industry but we just want responsible placement of these things.”

The challenges facing Theodore Roosevelt national park are emblematic of a fresh struggle for the soul of national parks. The parks, “America’s best idea”, have to define what they are for and whom they serve. Once-simmering tensions are starting to pop.

“The attacks on public land have become more visible and increasingly agitated, it’s got more muscle in recent years,” said Lynn Scarlett, chief operating officer of the Department of the Interior through George W Bush’s presidency.

“My discussions with Congress used to be about practical things, whether funding was enough,” she said. “It wasn’t like this. I didn’t find this general tenor of discussion that was anti-federal land and certainly not sentiments that were anti-national parks.”

There is a new crusade by some lawmakers, dubbed the “anti-parks caucus”, to unlock more public land to drilling and other development. This is a sharp divergence from the broad consensus forged since Roosevelt, a Republican, spurred the expansion of America’s network of national parks almost 110 years ago. This network now spans 412 federally protected places, including 59 national parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite as well as hundreds of battlefields, monuments and historical trails.

A long piece, but an excellent example of how the left is portraying recent land-use and land ownership issues.  

For a rancher's perspective, see the next post

Leviathan in the Desert

...Are we overrunning the land in the name of saving it?

Never underestimate irony. In 1996, President Bill Clinton designated nearly two million acres in nearby Garfield County, Utah. During the last twenty years, vandalism has increased at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. In 2015 alone 1,400 cases of rock defacement were documented. In comparison, twenty-five cases of vandalism were documented in the Bears Ears area between 2011 and 2016. Increased visitation has led to greater deterioration of archaeological and geological resources in Utah’s national parks.

The problem is one of scale. As ranchers, we understood the connection between scale and stewardship. The size of a herd, the use of a pasture, the distribution of water had to bend to the limits of the environment. But the sheer size of this monument complicates stewardship, for everyone. Instead of a land that is parceled among many groups of stewards, the area becomes a single space governed by a single entity. And what it lacks in manpower it will make up for in regulations.

Not even minimal improvements to the land, such as planting grass, clearing small areas of brush and trees, grading roads, or cleaning ponds and springs will be allowed. A monument designation will implement a new travel-management planning process to decide which roads and sites may be accessed. Native Americans will be able to gather wood, nuts and ceremonial herbs only from approved roads.

Though existing grazing and mineral rights will be preserved, the logic of regulation tends toward its own growth. Again, the experience of Garfield County is instructive. Since the designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, grazing has decreased by 31 percent, mineral extraction has been restricted, and the county recently had to declare an economic state of emergency. Regulated out of viability. Tourists come for a season, but residents are relocating for good.

If Bears Ears must be designated a national monument, then a more natural, manageable size for it would be a quarter of what is proposed. The real jewels of the area are the canyons and ruins of Grand Gulch and Cedar Mesa. If this were the extent of the proposal, more locals could stomach it. But the proposed boundaries violate all sense of proportion, swallowing two whole mountain ranges, huge swaths of rangeland, native land allotments, and watersheds of entire towns. The park service already has a deferred maintenance backlog of 12 million dollars. How can it manage still more?

In rural life there’s a human scale too. People work with people they know. Everyone has a family, a history, and, for better or worse, a reputation. Park rangers are cordial but largely unknown entities, rotating in and out. Relationships break and heal, hearts listen and learn, only when the social scope is small. A bigger land boss from Washington would disrupt this exchange by elevating itself as the arbiter. Rural folks see themselves as actors shaping the world around them, not spectators watching things happen.

Rancher billboards promote grazing, logging on public lands

Stevens County ranchers are using billboards to raise awareness about public lands issues. The Stevens County Cattlemen are advertising with a billboard on Highway 395 south of Colville, Wash. The billboard depicts the message “Public Lands: Log it, graze it or watch it burn.” A billboard featuring the message “Wilderness: public land of no use — no logging, chainsaws, grazing, mining, bikes, wheelchairs and ATVs,” was located on the highway in Arden, Wash., earlier this year. The group first used the billboards in 2015. “Much of the policy being set for public lands emphasizes conservation and recreation, but shuns good management like grazing and logging,” said Jamie Henneman, spokesperson for the group. “The best management uses holistic tools like grazing and timber harvest to keep wildfire fuel loads down in the forests.” The county wants to see public lands be sustainable and healthy for the benefit of all, Henneman said. “Some of the best recreational benefits — clear trails, healthy stands of trees, reduced brush and vegetation — are because of cows and loggers,” she said. “It may not be politically correct to say right now, but these methods work.”...more

Rancher crew helps control range fire near Idaho border

Firefighters from the Jordan Valley Rangeland Fire Protection Association and the Bureau of Land Management worked through the night Sunday to build a line to slow the spread of the fast-moving Cherry Road Fire. Starting about 4 p.m. Sunday, they completed a 20-mile fireline with burnouts and bulldozers at the southern edge of the fire along Succor Creek Road by 7 a.m. “Last night it was just blazing,” said Kari Clark, a Homedale resident who watched the fire. “You could see the whole hillside lit up.”Clint Fillmore is the leader of the Jordan Valley crew of ranchers who make up the association, the members of which were watching aircraft drop water on hotspots in the canyons around Owyhee Reservoir at 6:30 p.m. Monday, more than 24 hours after they’d started. “Winds pushed it all night,” said Fillmore. “There were a couple of times it almost got away from us.” The fire was reported about 1 p.m. Sunday, at about 3,500 acres. By Monday morning, it was 31,210 acres nearly 10 times that size. About 100 people worked the fire. The cause of the fire is undetermined...more

Farmers Weigh In on Syngenta Deal

ChemChina's takeover keeps China on course to become big supplier to the U.S. Farm Belt For U.S. farmers, China just got a lot closer. The $43 billion deal spotlights U.S. farmers' complex relationship with China, whose economic growth in recent decades has spurred demand for agricultural commodities ranging from pork to soybeans. China is the world's top consumer of both, and Syngenta's sale to ChemChina, a Chinese state-owned enterprise, has provoked both fears and hopes across the U.S. Farm Belt. Some farmers are optimistic that the deal will force China to take a more direct interest in the fortunes of U.S. farmers. But others remain wary of China's regulatory system that some have seen prioritizing national interests at U.S. farmers' expense, and some U.S. lawmakers have warned the deal could pose new food-security concerns.  But competition among the six big companies that dominate the $100 billion global market for seeds and pesticides has become a hot topic at grain elevators and Midwestern coffee shops over the past year as a succession of merger deals promises to reshape the business. In December, DuPont and Dow Chemical Co. announced plans to merge while German pharmaceutical conglomerate Bayer AG, which maintains an agricultural division, has proposed to buy Monsanto for $65 billion, though those companies have yet to agree on a deal. Some farmers prefer Syngenta selling itself to ChemChina versus merging with a direct competitor and further shrinking the field. "If you take the word 'China' out of this thing, the competition is still there," said Ken McCauley, who farms 4,500 acres of corn and soybeans near White Cloud, Kan...more

Editorial: Red-cedar threat to school funding

The eastern red cedar tree can bring benefits to parts of Nebraska in the form of windbreaks and neighborhood landscaping. But in many areas of the state, the species is an unwanted invader.
The trees are highly flammable and can spread rapidly. Red cedar infestation was a central factor behind the wave of nearly 1,600 Nebraska wildfires in 2012 that burned more than 500,000 acres and cost more than $12 million to contain.
Wildfires along the Niobrara River east of Valentine that year destroyed more than 76,000 acres over a 10-day period.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service says that red cedars “can spread across an area and convert prairie into a dense forest.” This transformation displaces existing plants, including native shortgrasses, and reduces habitat for wildlife.
This threat is particularly a concern for the cattle industry. A new report from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln points to how the transformation of rangelands into red cedar woodlands has been particularly damaging to livestock production in parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.
Additionally, the UNL study notes, the cedar- based degradation of grazing land means Nebraska’s public schools will receive less funding.
The Nebraska Board of Educational Lands & Funds, the largest landowner in the state, owns and manages nearly 1.26 million acres of agricultural land, leasing it to farmers and ranchers. More than 950,000 acres are grasslands that generate income for public schools from grazing fees.
Over the past 15 years, such payments to Nebraska public schools have totaled $573 million.
If the red cedar infestation is unchecked, the UNL report says, “steadily declining profitability will slowly consume school budgets at the rate of a few million dollars a year in the near term.”

'Legal rebel' sets her sights on pipeline projects

As a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission lawyer in the 1980s, Carolyn Elefant annoyed her co-workers by doling out free advice to landowners. "My colleagues would say, 'You know, they should hire their own lawyers. We don't work for them,'" Elefant recalled recently. "No, we do work for them," she would reply, relishing her quiet rebellion. Today, Elefant is a hired gun for landowners battling her former employer and some of the nation's biggest energy companies. The 52-year-old New Jersey native works for small towns, ranchers and farmers fighting pipelines and other infrastructure linked to the nation's natural gas production boom. Her solo law firm in suburban Washington, D.C., is on the rise. "She's the pipeline lawyer. Nationally, she's the first go-to person," said Lynda Farrell, who hired Elefant in the 1990s to keep a gas pipeline from crossing her Chesterfield, Pa., farm. "She's the staunchest advocate for the landowner I've ever met."...more

The Testicle Festival returns

Nine years ago, young farmers looking to raise money for the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau approached the Estrada family with a controversial idea: They wanted to hold a testicle festival. Today, the tradition continues with Loretta Estrada at the helm, cooking and preparing more than 100 pounds of “Rocky Mountain Oysters” for the masses. “They wanted something different, something new and threw the words out, ‘let’s have a testicle festival,’” Estrada said. “We said, ‘that is a very catchy little name.’” For the first three years, organizers tried out different locations, before finally taking it home to the Estrada Ranch in Watsonville. Having bucked it for three years, Estrada said they have held it there ever since and has declared Deer Camp at Estrada Ranch the perfect location. A few years after its inception, organizers began holding a dipping sauce competition complete with a trophy. Bowls labeled “Great Balls of Fire” or something just as catchy now adorn the table for people to judge...more

Ranch Radio Song Of The Day #1684

Here's a nice western swing number by Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard & Ray Price from their 2007 CD Last Of The Breed.  The tune is Please Don't Leave Me Any More Darlin'.