Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Senate Republicans Allege Collusion Between EPA and Environmental Group Over Climate Regulations

A day after the Obama administration finalized a “historic” plan to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, Republicans on a prominent Senate committee are alleging that an outside group colluded with the Environmental Protection Agency to create the standards.  The allegations are detailed in a report released by the majority staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, following an ongoing investigation of the relationship between the EPA and the National Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group. “This majority staff report, based on the committee’s oversight to date, rebuts the Obama Administration’s narrative that NRDC [National Resources Defense Council] did not have any special access to EPA policy makers and that NRDC had minimal input into EPA’s development of greenhouse gas rules for power plants,” the report stated.  According to the new Senate committee report, years’ worth of unredacted emails between the EPA and National Resources Defense Council officials suggest that the environmental group played an “major role” in the rule-making process prior to the president’s directive. The report points to a legal challenge from the environmental group that pressured the EPA to regulate power plant emissions, a controversial practice known as “sue-and-settle.” This practice is used by outside groups to advance a policy goal by suing an agency, in this case the EPA, and the agency then settling the suit by agreeing to enact certain regulations...more

Editorial - Obama shouldn't have the last laugh on carbon rules

President Obama on Monday touted the Environmental Protection Agency's extremely strict new rules regulating carbon emissions for electricity generation, the final details of which were announced abruptly over the weekend.

Why are these rules so much more stringent than ones Obama had proposed earlier? The best explanation has nothing to do with science and everything to do with an administration seeking to boost its moral authority on the issue of climate change. There is a United Nations climate summit in Paris coming up this December. Obama does not believe he can bully developing countries into hobbling their economies unless he can claim he is hobbling his own country's economy first.

This is the simplest way of understanding why a president who is about to leave office would publish rules so onerous and so likely to go unfulfilled even under the best conditions. Moreover, accepting the scientific consensus that climate change is real, these rules are based on the scientifically unfounded notion that small but painful incremental reductions in carbon emissions can avert a worldwide environmental cataclysm.

Before Obama had put his first bad idea into effect, market forces were already conspiring to reduce carbon emissions in the field of electrical generation. The newly low price of cleaner-burning natural gas (thanks to improved fracking technologies) is already well on its way to making carbon-intensive, coal-fired power plants obsolete in the United States.

Obama's earlier proposed rule was at least somewhat respectful of this market reality and tried to move along with it. It was designed to encourage power companies to make the switch to natural gas more rapidly. Obama's new final rule, however, goes much further to crowd out natural gas as well. That's because it arbitrarily hikes the share of electrical generation that will eventually have to come from renewable power by 2030, from 22 to 28 percent.

Not that the earlier proposed goal of 22 percent renewable was ever attainable. For perspective: wind, solar, geothermal and biomass combined accounted for 7 percent of electrical generation in 2014, and that was right after a five-year push that included huge new stimulus grants, loans and incentives, as well as an energy bill laden with mandates for renewable use. There is no realistic chance of making that share triple or quadruple in just 15 years — and of course, doing so would only make the price of electricity that much less bearable.

The cost of fighting wildfires is sapping Forest Service budget

As 14 large fires rage across California, the U.S. Forest Service is sounding the alarm about the exploding cost of protecting people and property from a growing wildfire threat. In a new report to be released Wednesday, the agency says that while it spent 16 percent of its total budget on preparing for and fighting fires in 1995, it will spend more than half its budget this year on the same task — and a projected 67 percent or more by 2025 under current funding arrangements. By ten years from now, the agency’s expenditures for fighting wildfires as they flare up—dubbed fire suppression — are projected to increase from just under $1.1 billion in 2014 to nearly $1.8 billion. And that’s just one of a number of fire related costs; there is also an annual, fixed fire “preparedness” budget that exceeds $1 billion each year. The Forest Service report says the agency’s very mission is “threatened” by this trend of increased fires, which is having a “debilitating impact” on other Forest Service responsibilities due to a phenomenon where funds for other priorities get shifted towards immediate wildfire emergencies...more

They are reaping what they have sown, or more accurately, what the Forest Service along with Congress, the courts and the enviros have sown.

Feds under fire in Arizona for plan to round up wild horses

Conservationists in Arizona are ramping up efforts to stop the federal government from rounding up herds of wild horses in a local forest -- a move opponents say puts the animals’ lives in jeopardy. The Forest Service has placed a Friday deadline on wild horses roaming in Tonto National Forest for those who wish to make a claim on individual animals. The remaining horses will be sent to auction, and those unable to be auctioned off will be "sold at private sale or condemned and destroyed, or otherwise disposed of," according to the notice. Carrie Templin, a public affairs officer with the Tonto National Forest told that the Forest Service estimates there are as many as 100 horses running free. However, she said that while the deadline ends Friday, there is no date set yet to round up the animals. The Forest Service says the animals are a danger to public safety, but The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group -- a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and monitoring the horses -- contends there are other, less harmful ways to keep the wild horses from being a public safety risk. Conservationists fear that rounding up the animals could seriously injure them, while horses sent to auctions may be killed by so-called “kill buyers” who pick up the animals for the horse-meat trade...more

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Caution Urged over Editing DNA in Wildlife

“Crap!” That was the first word out of Kevin Esvelt’s mouth as he scanned a paper published in Science last March. The work described the use of a gene-editing technique to insert a mutation into fruit flies that would be passed on to almost all of their offspring. Although intriguing, the report made Esvelt feel uneasy: if engineered flies escaped from a lab, the mutation could spread quickly through a wild population. But that was exactly what exhilarated molecular biologist Anthony James at the University of California, Irvine. “Holy mackerel!” he wrote to the study’s authors. “Can we use it in mosquitoes?” On July 30, the US National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) held the first in a series of meetings meant to find ways to balance the promise and perils of the technique, called ‘gene drive’. The method can rapidly modify not just a single organism but a whole population, by inserting a desired genetic modification into an organism along with DNA that increases the rate at which the change is passed to the next generation. The technique could be used to render mosquitoes unable to carry malaria parasites or to wipe out harmful invasive species, but it could also have unanticipated environmental costs and might be impossible to reverse. “Once this is out there, you cannot call it back,” says Walter Tabachnick, a population geneticist at the University of Florida in Vero Beach. The idea of gene drive has been around for more than a decade. But its practicality was given a huge boost around three years ago with the arrival of CRISPR, a gene-editing technique that allows precise changes to an organism’s DNA...more

The Parks Service Just Added Four New National Historic Landmarks

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis have announced the addition of four new national historic landmarks. This comes on the heels of President Obama’s decision just a few weeks ago to declare three new national monuments, bringing the total acreage of land he has preserved during his time in office up to 260 million acres. The four new national historic landmarks were carefully selected for their ability to illuminate the country’s heritage: the Washington Post’s Patricia Sullivan reports that there are only 2,500 national historic landmarks across the entire United States...more

BLM May Change Way Travelers Visit The Wave Rock Formation

One of the most popular and spectacular natural sites in the state is the geologic phenomenon known as The Wave, near the Utah-Arizona border. If you’ve never seen it, it looks sort of like striped layers of cinnamon and sugar, curved and swirled around into a Dr. Seuss-like prehistoric landscape. In order to visit it, you have to obtain a permit from the Bureau of Land Management — and only about 10 percent of the 73,000 annual applicants get one. Now the BLM has suggested changes to the permitting process. Right now, only 20 people a day are given permits to visit The Wave. Ten of those permits are given through an online lottery, and 10 are given by an in-person one, which means you have to actually go to Kanab, Utah, to participate to get a permit for the following day. Now the BLM wants to get rid of the in-person lottery and instead have just an online lottery 48 hours in advance. There’s some concern by folks in Kanab that because people head up there, stay in hotels, eat at restaurants, if the system changes to an online one people may not spend as much time or money there...more

That's what you get when you depend on a federal program or policy for your tourism dollars.

Eco-friendly 3D printed supercar

A California automotive start-up is hoping their prototype supercar will redefine car manufacturing. The sleek race car dubbed 'Blade' didn't come off an assembly line - but out of a 3D printer. Kevin Czinger of Divergent Microfactories has spent most of his career in the automotive industry. One day he realized that no matter how fuel-efficient or how few tailpipe emissions the modern car has, the business of car manufacturing is destroying the environment. "3D printing of metal radically changes that. By looking at 3D printing not for that overall structure but to create individual modular structures that can be combined, that 3D printing transforms everything," said Czinger during an interview with Reuters in Silicon Valley. According to Czinger, 3D printing transforms everything by changing the way the structural components of cars are fabricated. Currently cars are pieced together on long assembly lines inside large factories that use massive amounts of energy. Even the most fuel-efficient car has a large carbon footprint before ever leaving the plant. Czinger and his team's approach was to take the large plant out of the equation...more

Climate Scientists Rip Apart EPA’s Global Warming Rule

The Obama administration recently unveiled regulations further limiting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, and some climate scientists are criticizing the rules for doing virtually nothing to reduce global temperature rises — the whole point of reducing CO2. “Well the one thing you don’t hear President [Barack] Obama mention is how much his proposed emissions reductions will reduce global warming,” wrote Dr. Judith Curry, a climatologist at Georgia Tech. “It has been estimated that the U.S. [climate plan] of 28% emissions reduction by 2025 will prevent 0.03 [degrees Celsius] in warming by 2100.” “And these estimates assume that climate model projections are correct,” Curry wrote, “if the climate models are over-sensitive to CO2, the amount of warming prevented will be even smaller.”...more

Forest Service: More than 5,000 lightning strikes recorded from Saturday

More than 5,000 lightning strikes were recorded across western Nevada and the Sierra mountains on Saturday, according to the U.S. Forest Service. A map from the National Weather Service showed several thousand strikes, including some in Plumas National Forest. The Forest Service said lightning strikes from Saturday caused 14 small fires in Plumas's three districts, which consumed about 5.7 acres total. Scattered thunderstorms will come through western Nevada on Tuesday, according to the Forest Service...more

Cibola National Forest hosting planning meetings

Work underway on a revised resource management plan for the Cibola National Forest includes the potential designation of new wilderness areas in the Sandia Ranger District. Marta Call, public affairs officer for the Cibola National Forest, said the public is being asked to comment on and contribute to the process at public meetings. She said the public is welcome to evaluate areas under consideration for classification as wilderness, a designation that would prohibit activities such as biking. “This is everybody’s forest,” Call said. “We want to know the community needs.” The revised plan applies to all four of the Cibola’s mountain districts – Mount Taylor, Magdalena, Mountainair and Sandia. A series of public meetings is scheduled so that people in each of these areas have a chance to see what’s being considered regarding wilderness, recreation and other services and resources. The Cibola has been working with 30 government units – cities, counties, tribes, land grants, state and federal agencies and soil and water conservation districts – to develop the new plan and co-host public meetings. These agencies have formed landscape teams to work on plans for each of the four mountain districts. “What happened in the past is that forest specialists would sit down and talk about their vision,” Call said. “Landscape committees are made up of people who live in the community. They helped fine tune our strategy, to fine tune our maps. We don’t want people to have to be a biologist to understand our strategy.” Brenda Smythe of the Edgewood Soil and Water Conservation District is the contact person for the Sandia landscape team...more

National Park Service buries report on effigy mounds scandal

The National Park Service has shelved a blistering internal report that details a "decade of dysfunction" as the agency allowed dozens of illegal construction projects to cause significant damage to an ancient Iowa burial ground that Indian tribes consider sacred. Titled "Serious Mismanagement Report," the document blasts the park service's failed stewardship of the Effigy Mounds National Monument from 1999 to 2010 and says the case should serve as a wakeup call for agency employees at all levels to avoid similar violations. Last week, NPS deputy regional director Patricia Trap told a resident who requested a copy of the 15-page report that it didn't exist. She later told The Associated Press that it did exist but hadn't been "agency approved." She said the document will contribute to - but be replaced by - another review that is looking at the root causes of problems as well as what went right during that time. Critics say the agency is trying to suppress the harsh report to soften its findings. "They're trying to avoid accountability, which goes all the way to the director. That's why this report `doesn't exist'," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which helped uncover the damaging projects. "Apparently, the park service doesn't want a wakeup call." The report says 78 construction projects costing a total of $3.4 million were approved there in violation of federal laws meant to protect archaeological resources and historic sites. The construction of boardwalks, bridges, roads and a shed damaged land around the mounds, and many had a "complete lack of compliance" as employees failed to conduct the mandatory environmental reviews and tribal consultation. The report was written by a four-person review team led by National Park Service special agent David Barland-Liles, who conducted a lengthy criminal investigation into the violations. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Cedar Rapids declined to charge then-superintendent Phyllis Ewing and monument maintenance chief Tom Sinclair with violating the Archaeological Resources Protection Act in 2012 after concluding the agency's "weak and inappropriate initial response" undermined a criminal case and would make them sympathetic defendants, the report reveals...more

Federal employees can violate federal law...and get away with it.  Do you think the US Attorney would have declined to prosecute if that had been a private individual responsible for the damages? 

Group wants North Dakota ranch to be national monument

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is pushing to turn a scenic ranch in the western North Dakota Badlands into a national monument. However, the idea isn't yet being actively supported by the U.S. Forest Service, which owns the former Eberts ranch. The 8-square-mile ranch in the Little Missouri National Grasslands is across the Little Missouri River from former President Theodore Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch site. The Forest Service's Dakota Prairie Grasslands bought it from the Eberts family in 2006 for $5.3 million, with help from conservation groups that pressed Congress to approve the deal...more

If its across from Roosevelt's ranch you might as well, as he was famous for using and abusing his executive authority to designate federal land.  He abused the Forest Reserve Act until Congress limited his authority in 1907.  For instance, in 1902 he withdrew the Lincoln forest reserve and in 1905 he enlarged the Gila and created the Jemez forest reserve.  Just getting warmed up, in 1906 he created the following NM forest reserves:  Mt. Taylor, Gallinas, Magdalena, San Mateo, Peloncillo, Manzano, and Taos.  In 1907, just before Congress limited his authority, he did Big Burros, San Jacinto, Las Animas, Guadalupe, and Sacramento plus he managed to enlarge the Lincoln, Gila and Gallinas forest preserves.  He was also, of course, the first President to abuse the 1906 Antiquities Act to create national monuments.  So yes, let's have Obama, another President renowned for abusing his executive authority, do this in honor of ol' Teddy.

Greens Go to Bat for Threatened Woodpecker

A rushed logging project clearing 5,000 acres in a burned Northern California forest could hurt the threatened black-backed woodpecker, a "keystone species," environmentalists claim in court. The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Forest Service on July 30 in Federal Court, claiming it violated the National Environmental Policy Act by approving a logging project without enough research on its environmental impact. The Center says the Forest Service fast-tracked the Bald Project without conducting an Environmental Impact Statement and the logging could have severe impacts on the threatened black-backed woodpecker. A keystone species has a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its abundance. Carnivorous predators may be keystone species, for instance, or insects that are the sole pollinators of a species of plant, upon which other creatures may depend, or a plant that provides the sole source of food for an animal during a season. The Center claims that four significant Lassen County fires in 2014 created "high-quality black-backed woodpecker habitat" and that the Forest Service's proposed salvage-logging project would eliminate 67 percent of the birds in the area. It claims the Forest Service misstated the impacts on the species by focusing on the broader population, which includes Canada and Alaska, not the Northern California population. "This resulted in the Forest Service minimizing impacts to the species by not focusing their analysis on the appropriate scale," the complaint states. "Impacts to an isolated distinct population will be much more severe than to a broader population." The center settled a lawsuit with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2014, forcing the federal government to consider listing the black-backed woodpecker as an endangered species and rule on it by 2017...more

California’s Largest Fire Is Moving At An ‘Unprecedented’ Rate

Wildfires continue to rage in California, where the largest of the 21 blazes covered 65,000 acres Tuesday morning and has killed at least one person. At least two dozen homes have been destroyed by the Rocky Fire in Northern California, which jumped Highway 20 — a planned containment line — on Monday night. The blaze is only 12 percent contained and is not expected to be contained for at least another week, according to CAL FIRE, the state’s fire department. The Rocky Fire burned 20,000 acres in five hours, an “unprecedented” rate, according to Daniel Berlant, chief of public information for CAL FIRE.“We’ve been running fires here since the beginning of January,” Berlant said on KFBK radio Tuesday morning. The fire season “never really ended last year,” he added, blaming the four years of drought in the state. He said thousands of homes are still threatened...more

EPA Issues More Ambitious But Flexible Final Clean Power Plan

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) final Clean Power Plan will seek to tamp down the nation’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the power sector by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030—about 9% more ambitious than its original proposal. The first-ever final national standards to limit CO2 from power plants, released today—”the biggest, most important step we’ve taken to address climate change,” said President Obama—give states more time to develop and tailor plans. State plans are now due in September 2016, but states that need more time can make an initial submission and request extensions of up to two years for final plan submission. The compliance averaging period in the final rule begins in 2022 instead of 2020, and emission reductions are phased in on a gradual ‘glide path’ to 2030. According to documents released today, the Clean Power Plan is paired with a so-called “Clean Energy Incentive Program,” which is designed to drive “additional early deployment of renewable energy and low-income energy efficiency.” It will see credits for power generated from renewables in 2020 and 2021 be awarded to projects that begin construction after participating states submit their final implementation plans...more

New Mexico not expected to fight EPA's emission-cutting rule

New Mexico properly prepared for President Barack Obama's efforts to cut greenhouse gases from power plants and won't be among the many Republican-led states expected to fight the plan, state Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn said Monday. Flynn told The Associated Press that because New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez had previously brokered an agreement, the state is in position to adapt to the new rule. "I think we can look back at the decisions we made three years ago and say they paid off," Flynn said. Martinez moved to comply with the rule to allow the state to craft its own path to compliance. Flynn said New Mexico could have faced a federally imposed implementation plan. That brokered agreement targeted haze-causing pollution at the San Juan Generating Station, but carbon dioxide emissions will also be reduced by half as a result...more

The Martinez administration went along with the President on ObamaCare, and we've seen how that worked out.  Time will tell on this one.

If NM doesn't join with the other states in challenging the rule, then they are in effect saying they support the rule.  Don't Sec. Flynn and the Governor understand that?  

Move to Fight Obama’s Climate Plan Started Early

In the early months of 2014, a group of about 30 corporate lawyers, coal lobbyists and Republican political strategists began meeting regularly in the headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, often, according to some of the participants, in a conference room overlooking the White House. Their task was to start devising a legal strategy for dismantling the climate change regulations they feared were coming from President Obama. The group — headed in part by Roger R. Martella Jr., a top environmental official in the George W. Bush administration, and Peter Glazer, a prominent Washington lobbyist — was getting an early start. By the time Mr. Obama announced the regulations at the White House on Monday, the small group that had begun its work at the Chamber of Commerce had expanded into a vast network of lawyers and lobbyists ranging from state capitols to Capitol Hill, aided by Republican governors and congressional leaders. And their plan was to challenge Mr. Obama at every opportunity and take the fight against what, if enacted, would be one of his signature accomplishments to the Supreme Court Within minutes of the announcement, West Virginia’s attorney general, Patrick Morrisey, stepped before a bank of cameras for a news conference at the Greenbrier resort in his home state. Flanked by Mike Duncan, the president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, one of the nation’s top coal lobbying groups, and Greg Zoeller, the attorney general of Indiana, Mr. Morrisey announced that a group of at least 15 Republican state attorneys general were preparing to jointly file a legal challenge to Mr. Obama’s proposal. While Mr. Obama had not even put forth a draft proposal of his plans when the group started its work, the president had made plain in several speeches that he intended to act forcefully on climate change — and that he would flex the muscle of his executive authority to do so. “If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will,” he said in his 2013 State of the Union address. The lawyers and lobbyists wanted to be ready to fire back hard and fast when he did. In devising its strategy, the group worked closely with the office of Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader whose coal-producing home state also stands to suffer under the regulation. While Mr. McConnell opposes the climate change regulations, his advisers knew that he had little chance of enacting legislation to block them in Congress. Instead, Mr. McConnell has taken the unusual step of reaching out directly to governors and attorneys general, urging them to refuse to submit compliance plans for the regulations, and encouraging a state-by-state rejection of the rules...more

Herbert pleads with Obama to stop any new monument designations in Utah

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert wrote a letter to President Obama on Monday, urging the president to refrain from any new monument designations in the state. "There is a right way and a wrong way to determine land management decisions," he said. "Unilateral monuments are the wrong way. Ground up, open, public processes are the right way." Herbert noted the 1996 designation by then-President Bill Clinton creating the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, an action that still stings. "Nearly two decades later, this designation continues to be a source of mistrust, frustration and acrimony toward the federal government among local residents," he said. "I am certain that another presidential monument in Utah will likewise result in decades of resentment and conflict."...more

Utah's Governor takes a strong stand.  Our Governor was silent.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Photos of endangered animals shine on Empire State Building

Dozens of people stopped in Manhattan intersections gazing at photos of endangered animals shining on the side of the Empire State Building. Organizers say the Saturday night event was a first-of-its-kind live video projection. It drew large crowds of spectators, many taking photos with their smartphones. Images of endangered animals, including birds, tigers, bears and other creatures, shined on the south side of one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. The event was meant to spark conversations about mass extinction. It was organized as part of a promotion for a new Discovery Channel documentary, Racing Extinction, which is set to air in December.  AP

State Game and Fish Dept. rejects federal request to release wolf pups

SANTA FE – The state Department of Game and Fish has turned down requests from the federal government to release Mexican wolf pups and an adult pair onto U.S. Forest Service land in New Mexico this year. That followed the state Game Commission’s rejection of permit renewals for Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch wolf-holding facility in Sierra County, considered key to the federal program. Both denials are being appealed to the commission and are on the agenda for its Aug. 27 meeting. They’re the latest bumps in the road to Mexican wolf recovery, which has gotten rockier under the administration of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it’s the first time New Mexico has rejected the agency’s annual operational permit request. “Our desire is to work with the state as we move forward with wolf recovery. … The denial of this permit request will adversely affect our ability to recover the Mexican Wolf,” the federal agency said in a statement. Critics say the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t need state permission to carry out its mandate for wolf recovery and should just forge ahead. The Fish and Wildlife Service asked the state for permits to import and release up to 10 wolf pups for a cross-fostering program. Pups up to 10 days old that were bred in captivity in other states would be inserted into active dens in the Gila National Forest, then raised in the wild by the surrogate parents. Recovery advocates say it’s critical to the success of the program that the genetics of the wolf population – bred from just seven wolves – be broadened. The federal agency also asked for a permit for the release of two wolves and their offspring into the Gila. While the plan was to release them on national forest lands in Arizona, the Fish and Wildlife Service said it wanted New Mexico’s approval in case the plan had to be changed. New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Director Alexandra Sandoval rejected both requests last month, citing “the lack of a federal species management plan, i.e., recovery plan.”...more

Editorial: Feinstein water bill better than the last, but...

...The legislation's weaknesses come to light with a careful reading of the 147-page document, however.

Feinstein proposes allocating $600 million for additional storage in the form of new dams and reservoirs -- most of which would be less efficient and more damaging to the environment than alternative storage proposals.

Doug Obegi, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, says Section 312 of the bill would eliminate the requirement that Congress approve any new dams. Instead the U.S. Secretary of Interior would be able to approve a project if it is technically and financially feasible and -- here's the catch -- has what can be described as acceptable environmental impacts.

The language isn't as strong as Gov. Jerry Brown's $7.5 billion water bond, Proposition 1, that voters overwhelmingly approved last November. The measure required that any new dam projects must have environmental benefits, not just costs "acceptable" to whoever is sitting in the Secretary of Interior's office.

Feinstein says coming up with this bill, balancing all the vocal and conflicting interests, is one of the most difficult she's done in her 23 years in the U.S. Senate. We don't doubt it.

But it should pass only if it sufficiently protects California's environment for future generations -- and leaving it up to one political appointee, the Interior secretary, with no direct responsibility to voters looks dubious to us..

Someone should immediately shut off the water to this newspaper.  They can then layoff all employees, editors first.  Before they go they should explain to the rest of the employees and their families, and to any stockholders, that this is for future generations.

Sage grouse numbers surged in '14 and '15 -- report

Greater sage grouse numbers in the West have grown by nearly two-thirds since 2013, marking what could be a significant rebound to the bird's previous several years of decline, according to scientists in Western states. Western state biologists said they spotted 80,284 male sage grouse across the West in 2015, a 40 percent jump over the 57,399 that were spotted in 2014 and 63 percent over the 49,397 that were spotted in 2013, according to yet-to-be-published research compiled by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and shared with Greenwire. Sage grouse experts caution against drawing conclusions from the two-year spike, noting that sage grouse populations appear to fluctuate on roughly decadelong cycles and are influenced in the short term by precipitation. Yet the new data from state fish and game agencies is undeniably good news for Western states that are fighting to keep the bird from being listed under the Endangered Species Act. The WAFWA data are being sent to the Fish and Wildlife Service to inform its pending decision on whether grouse need ESA protection. The recent population bump "was huge," said Tom Remington, a sage grouse coordinator at WAFWA who compiled the data and presented it last month at WAFWA's summer meeting in Reno, Nev. Remington is a former director of the Colorado Division of Wildlife...more

1,200-Year-Old Arizona Pouches Contain Prehistoric ‘Chewing Tobacco,’ Study Finds

Dozens of small, fiber-wrapped bundles discovered in a cave in Arizona have been found to contain wild tobacco, the first scientific evidence suggesting that Ancestral Puebloans of the prehistoric Southwest chewed tobacco for personal use, archaeologists say. Such chewed bundles, known as quids, have been found throughout the Southwest, from Texas to California, often with teeth marks still visible. But what they contained, and what purpose they served, was uncertain until now. The Arizona quids were originally excavated in the 1950s from a trash midden at the rear of Antelope Cave, a rocky enclave filled with artifacts left by Ancestral Puebloans over an extended period around 1,200 years ago. The cave contained a wealth of materials such as arrows, basketry, and feathered ornaments, giving researchers unprecedented insights into an early phase of Puebloan culture sometimes referred to as the Virgin Anasazi. But the quids remained unstudied, languishing in museum storage for half a century, until Keith Johnson of California State University, Chico, and his colleagues, took a closer look...more

Did they chew Red Man?

Judge Rebuffs Fossil Creek Grazing

A federal judge has dealt another setback to the Coconino National Forest’s effort to renew a grazing permit on the headwaters of Fossil Creek.  U.S. Circuit Judge Wallace Tashima ruled that the Forest Service had failed to consider how continued cattle grazing will affect the ability of the endangered Chiricahua leopard frog to spread along riparian areas from one stock tank to another.  However, the judge rejected three other assertions by the Center for Biological Diversity, which claimed the Forest Service’s finding that continued cattle grazing would endanger the frog.  The ruling means the Forest Service will have to undertake additional study on how the cattle will affect the frog’s ability to move between 13 stock tanks where they currently have small breeding populations — as well as have a chance to colonize new stock tanks. The frogs can move for miles along riparian areas, but the trampling of cattle make the journey far more hazardous...more

So why do these particular frogs exist?

Ironically, the frogs have been successfully established in stock ponds created by ranchers to provide water for their cattle. Several of the stock ponds are partially fenced, to keep the frogs safe from the cattle that use the unfenced portions of the pond.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the frogs as endangered in 2002 and came up with a recovery plan in 2007, which designated critical breeding areas and other riparian corridors linking them. The grazing unit includes 22 stock ponds that can support small populations of the frog. In 2002, the drought dried up all the stock ponds and killed off all but four of the frogs. A captive breeding program in the Phoenix Zoo rescued those survivors. Eventually, the zoo produced enough frogs to reintroduce them to four of the previously occupied stock ponds.  The Fish and Wildlife Service in cooperation with the Forest Service and the Arizona Game and Fish Department then fenced five of the stock ponds and worked to improve the conditions for the frogs.  Since then, the frogs have spread to 13 of the 22 stock ponds in the grazing allotment, although cattle grazing has continued throughout the period. 

And here are the important points where the judge ruled against the CBD.

...the judge rejected the argument that the Forest Service failed to consider how grazing would affect the non-core habitat areas — and therefore the frogs’ chances of full recovery. The court ruled that the Forest Service did “at least consider” the impact on dispersal and non-breeding habitats, which was all it had to do to comply with the law. The judge also rejected the Center’s claim that the plan would not protect wetlands as required by the Coconino National Forest Master Plan. The Center maintained that any riparian area qualified as a “wetland.” The judge decided that the provision in the forest plan only applies to marshes, ponds, streams and other areas that stay wet most of the time. In addition, the judge rejected the Center’s claim that the Forest Service had violated a provision in its own forest plan saying cattle should eat no more than 20 percent of the vegetation in a given area. The Forest Service plan allows the cattle unrestricted access to a 40-foot section of Fossil Creek, where they would likely eat most of the vegetation. The Center maintained the plan should allow only limited access to the creek. But the judge ruled that so long as the cattle didn’t eat more than 20 percent of the vegetation on the entire allotment, the Forest Service was in compliance with the forest plan.

The June 25, 2015 court decision can be viewed here.

Texas land owner claims victory in settlement with BLM

WICHITA FALLS, Texas - A Clay County landowner can claim victory in a long-simmering dispute with the Bureau of Land Management. Family farmer Tommy Henderson on Thursday got a patent from the U.S. government on land along the Red River he claims his family has owned since 1904. Henderson said he hopes the signing of the patent at the Clay County Courthouse paves the way for dozens of other landowners to resolve a dispute with the government that has dragged on for decades. In 1984, a court decision determined the federal government owned a strip of land Henderson held deed to along the river. Other landowners along the Texas bank found themselves facing the same predicament. In officially acquiring the patent on 94 acres Thursday, Henderson said he hoped a “step was taken that will help other landowners.” “This blazes the trail,” he said. Under the agreement with Bureau of Land Management, Henderson actually purchases the land in question. The purchase is possible under a “Color of Title” stipulation that enables a landholder to buy the disputed land if he can show clear title, payment of taxes, improvements and “good faith” possession. However the price can be offset by taxes he has paid and other considerations. With those deductions from the price, Henderson said he paid about $1 per acre plus some fees. “I can live with that,” he said. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-13th Dist., who has come down squarely on the side of the landholders in their dispute with the government, said Thursday, “It is good that Mr. Henderson was finally able to get back a portion of his land that he lost in the 1980s, but it never should have happened in the first place,” In his statement, Thornberry said “Three decades to correct that mistake is ridiculous.” Henderson’s land is just a small portion of about 90,000 of disputed acres that range along the river from near Doans Crossing in Wilbarger County to just north of the unincorporated community of Stanfield in northern Clay County...more

The court decision on who owns the land remains intact - its the BLM.  And according to BLM these Color of Title patents must conform to a 1923 Supreme Court Decision on boundaries of the Red River, no matter what state title laws says.  Two previous land owners had their applications denied.

So many questions remain.  For instance, why did it take 30 years for this Color of Title remedy to surface?  Who brought this remedy forward, the BLM or a landowner?  Why was BLM holding planning meetings on this  90,000 acres if most of it could be transferred under this process?

This whole situation cries out for a legislative solution, and Congressman Thornberry promises just that:

“I am continuing to pursue legislation that I introduced with Sen. John Cornyn to protect private property rights and clear up the uncertainty that many landowners along the Red River currently face,” Thornberry said in his statement.

In the 113th Congress Thornberry introduced H.R. 4979, the Red River Private Property Protection Act, which was favorably reported out of Committee in Dec. of 2014. We are now in the 114th Congress, and of this date the legislation has not been reintroduced.

As wolves rebound, range riders keep watch over livestock

Bill Johnson’s border collie, Nip, was just doing her job when the black cow wheeled and lunged at the dog. Before wolves returned to this valley, that kind of behavior was rare, said Johnson, who — with Nip’s assistance — was driving a group of cattle up a dusty canyon. Now, cows aggressively confront any canine that gets close to their calves.  “It’s a sign that the wolves have been probing the cattle,” he said. As part of a project called Range Riders, it’s Johnson’s job to keep cows and wolves away from one another. Every day before saddling his horse and heading into the field, he logs onto the computer to see exactly where the valley’s resident wolf pack has been hanging out. On this scorching summer day, radio collar signals placed them very near the spot where the cow spooked. “They were right here at 7 a.m.,” Johnson said, reining in his mount along a small creek. Close examination of the muddy banks revealed a few smeared paw prints. Nearby were piles of scat.  Johnson dismounted, poked at the poop with an antler handle knife and declared that the wolves had dined on elk, rodents and robins’ eggs. Johnson became a range rider shortly after wolves returned to the Teanaway area four years ago. With funding from Conservation Northwest and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the project helps ranchers hire seasoned cowhands to watch over their herds and keep tabs on wolves in the hope of reducing conflicts with the new predators in the neighborhood. Seven ranch families around the state signed up this year to receive up to $9,000 each — money the conservation group raises from donors. Under a separate program, WDFW signed agreements with 41 ranchers to provide up to $300,000 in statewide subsidies for range riders and other measures — like automated lights and sirens, guard dogs and special flagging for pens — to discourage wolves from attacking livestock...more

EDITORIAL: Green activists kill jobs

Environmental activists may cost Colorado's economy hundreds of millions of dollars a year with a looming victory in the war on coal. They will cause hardship for more than 200 Colorado families, putting their breadwinners out of work. Here is how much one leading environmentalist cares about those people.

"My initial response is 'tough (expletive)'" said Jeremy Nichols, the energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, as quoted July 13 by the Colorado Independent.

WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit effectively seeking to close the Colowyo Mine near Craig. A federal judge ruled in May the Department of Interior's Office of Surface Mining did not fully comply with federal procedures in approving plans for the mine nearly a decade ago, explains the Colorado Consumer Coalition. Nichols made his "tough (expletive)" comment after the Interior Department refused to appeal the adverse ruling - a decision that reflects the Obama administration's complicit role in the war on coal.

"They [the Interior Department] didn't appeal, and there is nothing they can do about it now," Nichols said of the people who may lose their incomes.

The judge gave the agency 120 days to complete an environmental analysis for Colowyo that conforms to the procedures laid out in the National Environmental Policy Act. The deadline is Sept. 6.

"If the analysis is not completed within the timeframe - a tall task - the mine will be ordered to shut down," says a public statement by the coalition.

The mine's 220 employees earn an estimated $25 million annually. The value of mine's commodity production equals more than $100 million a year. The direct and indirect economic contributions of the mine total about $206.7 million annually, the coalition reports.

It gets worse. The Colowyo Mine supplies the Craig Station power plant, which means a shutdown will adversely affect power consumers in that region. Power generation in the region contributes $441.3 million to the economy, and the Colowyo Mine also provides coal for other residential and commercial consumers throughout the state. In the past, it helped supply Colorado Springs Utilities.

The likely shutdown has united Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner and Republican Rep. Scott Tipton in a fight to save the mine from extreme environmental activism.

This editorial is misguided. The enviros simply went to court to have their legal concerns addressed, and that is not "extreme environmental activism".  No, the editors should aim their arrows at the entire Congress which passed NEPA and watched while the courts have turned this into a paper-pushing albatross around the neck of any federal agency that tries to do anything. And save a few of those literary projectiles for the US Senate, which has confirmed the appointment of judges who write law instead of interpreting it. Aim your armaments at the real culprits.

The Great Plains' invisible water crisis

The prairie wind buffeted Brant Peterson as he stood in a half-dead field of winter wheat. In front of him, a red-winged blackbird darted in and out of a rippling green sea of healthy wheat. Behind him, yellowed stalks rotted in the ground. The reason for the stark contrast was buried 600 feet under Peterson’s dusty boots: Only part of the field — the thriving part — had been irrigated by water pumped at that depth from the ancient Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest underground sources of fresh water in the world. “If not for irrigation that whole field would look like this,” Peterson said, nudging the dead wheat with the toe of his boot. But irrigation soon could end on Peterson’s southwest Kansas farm. The wells under his land in Stanton County are fast running dry as farmers and ranchers across the Great Plains pump the Ogallala faster than it can be replenished naturally. Three of his wells are already dry. Within five years, Peterson estimates, he likely won’t be able to irrigate at all. The depletion of groundwater stores also is a problem familiar to farmers struggling with drought in California, where pumping for irrigation has put the state’s Central Valley Aquifer under the most strain of any aquifer in the U.S., according to NASA satellite data. But California also has surface water: reservoirs, lakes, streams, rivers, snow melt from the Sierra Nevada and a water transportation system. Western Kansas’ only significant water source is the Ogallala. Unlike in California, where national headlines, severe water-use restrictions and images of cracked earth bear testament to the ravages of drought, the crisis unfolding on Peterson’s farm and others like it across western Kansas is mostly invisible. It’s taking place underground, in a sparsely populated rural area — out of sight, out of mind for most Americans...more

Low wages in high places: U.S. proposes big pay hike for state sheepherders

MEEKER — The anglers and bikers traveling to the mountains slowed their cars to a crawl as hundreds of sheep flocked the country road north of Meeker. Ahead, a sheepherder on horseback surveyed the animals and behind them, the man’s small camper, or “campito,” was hidden by trees. From Moffat to Alamosa counties, Colorado is a big player in the nation’s sheep industry. The animals thrive in the state’s high, dry mountains. Colorado raised the third largest number of sheep in the U.S. this year and ranked third in the value of sales of sheep and goats at $87 million in 2012, the latest data available, according to a 2014 USDA fact sheet. Sheepherders — mostly immigrant guest workers from South America on H2-A visas — are responsible for the health of the flocks, day to day. The workers aren’t subject to minimum wage like other farm workers. Instead, their wages are set specially by the federal government at $750 a month in Colorado, a wage that has increased by only $50 in the past 20 years for most states, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Now, the sheep industry is girding itself for what it sees as a storm. The labor department has proposed more than tripling the minimum wage in Colorado to $2,441 a month by 2020. The industry is counter-proposing a wage closer to $1,400 a month, fearing wages any higher would upend generations-old family businesses, flooding the market with unwanted animals and sending ripples through rural economies. “I won’t be in the sheep business,” second-generation Meeker-area sheep rancher Tom Kourlis said. “If these come into play, I’m going to implement an exit strategy in September.” Immigrant rights groups in Colorado and across the country, and even the Episcopal Church, support the higher wages...more

Woman turns cattle ranch into vegan animal sanctuary

For generations, Sonnen Ranch has been a place for raising livestock, where animals, though treated humanely, were destined to be used for meat or dairy products. Now, after several rounds of fundraising, the ranch has been transformed into Rowdy Girl Sanctuary, a safe haven for farm animals, allowing the creatures to live out their lives without distress. The sanctuary’s development was the brainchild of Renee King-Sonnen, who moved to the ranch when she and Thomas Sonnen remarried. “I’m a Texas girl through and through, grew up eating barbecue, wearing boots, going to the rodeo,” King-Sonnen said. “Until I moved out here to the ranch, there was no connection to the animals that ended up on my plate. I’d experimented with vegetarianism, raw food diets, but never really called it ‘vegan.’ It all happened as a result of me living here.” Being in the presence of farm animals — and seeing their reaction after calves were sold — was enough to change her mind about her diet and lifestyle, King-Sonnen said. “The cows were so depressed,” she said. “I wasn’t prepared for the way it happened. And every year, it got harder for him to sell the calves, because he didn’t want me to see, wanted to hide it from me.” “I’d been trying to sneak them out whenever she wasn’t around,” Thomas Sonnen said. “But she’d know anyway.” Eventually, King-Sonnen laid down the law: If the “red trailer” came again to take calves to the sale barn, she’d follow it herself...more 

The title should have had something in it about a pw'd cowboy.

Ranch Radio Song Of The Day #1459

Its Swingin' Monday and today we have a...gospel tune?  That's right, and the Pickin' On Band calls it Swing Down Sweet Chariot and you'll hear some great guitar, dobro and mandolin' pickin'.  The tune is on their bluegrass tribute to the Gaithers titled Raising The Praise