Saturday, November 08, 2003

Some interesting stories from the Elko Daily Free Press.

Ranchers, USFS meet Nov. 14 Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, said Thursday a meeting of ranchers and the U.S. Forest Service is planned for Nov. 14, and Ranger Bill Van Bruggen said today he is looking forward to the meeting. The meeting was arranged by the staff of Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., at the request of Elko County Commission Chairman John Ellison after Ruby Mountain ranchers organized a tour late last month to air their concerns...Shovel Shuffle: County to reconsider moving plaque Elko County residents who filled the commission meeting room Thursday convinced commissioners to reconsider their Wednesday vote to move the Shovel Brigade's commemorative plaque and photos of South Canyon Road to Jarbidge...Dann sisters to receive award Saturday Western Shoshone sisters Carrie and Mary Dann of Crescent Valley will receive a 2003 Petra Fellow Award in a Washington, D.C., ceremony Saturday for their longtime battle over Western Shoshone land rights. The Dann sisters have been locking horns with the federal government over land issues for many years, in and out of court, and they filed a new U.S. District Court lawsuit in October...

the NMSU NIRA rodeo is this weekend, as well as the Alumni Rodeo. So there won't be much posting until Sunday evening. See you then.

Friday, November 07, 2003


NOTE: Click on the highlighted areas in orange to go to the article, study, report, etc.

Tribe hopes technology will help save salmon Members of the Karuk Tribe have been dip netting for salmon on the Klamath River for as long as anyone can remember. Ronald Reed, cultural biologist for the Tribe, said the method of fishing goes back to the creation of the Karuk people. But now there is a technological twist to their age-old tradition. The tribe has been putting radio tags on native coho salmon...After the fires, walls of debris? In the wake of the blazes, geologists are particularly worried about thousands of homes in San Bernardino and Rancho Cucamonga that sit below burned watersheds covered with tons of loose boulders, rocks and trees. "These mountains are notorious for heavy rainfall," said Doug Morton, a senior geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey in Riverside. "If we get some big storms, there could be extensive debris flows coming down." As a stopgap measure, state and federal agencies are preparing to install up to 200 rain gauges in the mountains as part of an "early warning system" for rockslides. They also hope to enlarge and clean out dozens of bowl-like basins built to intercept debris flows before they roll downstream through schools, subdivisions and other structures...Feel like hiking? Got $85? A U.S. congressman who created the controversial recreation fee demonstration program wants to take it a step further and charge at least $85 annually for hiking in national forests and visiting other public lands. Rep. Ralph Regula recently introduced a bill that would make recreation fees permanent and expand the powers of the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and Fish and Wildlife Service to charge fees (Regula's bill is the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, H.R.3283)...Forestry Service defends early response to fires The "whole tragedy" of last week's wildfire disaster in the San Diego area was all but inevitable in light of its remote origins and the terribly untimely arrival of wicked winds, a federal official said today. Responding to criticism about early response to the 280,000-acre Cedar Fire -- which leveled 2,200 homes and killed 14 people -- Forestry Service Chief Rich Hawkins denied that "a lot of mistakes were made that first night." The conflagration happened to start in a rugged area between three back- country roads, and about a half-mile from the closest one, Hawkins told news crews during a briefing at the CDF's El Cajon headquarters. "If we could have driven to where this fire was, I think we could have extinguished (it) that night, and the whole tragedy could have been averted," he said. "It was the roadless nature of the fire origin that is the major problem in this whole story."(More roadless areas anyone?)...Military wins congressional approval of environmental exemptions One provision in the $401 billion defense bill amends the Endangered Species Act to prohibit setting aside any more "critical habitat" -- lands needed for species to recover -- on military installations that already have a plan for managing natural resources. Another amends the Marine Mammal Protection Act to lower the threshold on what can be considered "harassment" of a marine mammal. Until now the law has prohibited anything annoying or potentially disturbing; the new standard would be anything threatening survival or reproduction. The Bush administration lost out on its bid, however, to relax some of the military's requirements for complying with the Clean Air Act and toxic waste laws...Are Sagebrush Habitats and Their Birds Teetering on the Edge? John Rotenberry, a professor of biology and director of the UC Natural Reserve system at the University of California, Riverside, has co-authored a paper that says the quickly diminishing sagebrush landscapes in the western United States are leading to the rapid decline of bird species, such as the sage grouse and Brewer's sparrow. The report, "Teetering on the edge or too late? Conservation and research issues for avifauna of sagebrush habitats," was published in the November issue of the international peer-reviewed science journal The Condor. It reviews the problems facing sagebrush habitats and the challenges facing native birds that depend on this habitat for survival...Water move bathes mayor in delight Mayor Martin Chavez wasted no time in declaring "complete victory." The battle of Albuquerque's share of San Juan-Chama water is over, Chavez contended Thursday, and the city is the winner. According to initial reports, the issue was taken off of the table for only two years. But a spokesman for Sen. Pete Domenici, who authored the rider to the energy appropriations bill and shepherded it through Senate and conference committees, said those reports were inaccurate and confirmed that the exemption would be permanent under the bill. "Unless somebody else introduces new legislation to try to change it," the exemption from the Endangered Species Act would be permanent, Domenici spokesman Chris Gallegos said...Waterusers may quit talks after environmentalists file brief A group of water users are about to quit after several months of water rights discussions with Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, after a coalition of environmental groups filed a legal briefing with a Portland federal judge. Idaho Rivers United, National Wildlife Federation and Salmon Unlimited are among groups who asked a federal judge last week to include the entire Snake and Columbia rivers in its biological opinion on what the federal government needs to do to ensure the survival of salmon, a federally-listed endangered species. Last May, U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland threw out the original salmon plan, which said wild fish could be saved from extinction by sending more water downstream from Idaho instead of breaching four lower Snake dams in Washington...Conservation groups to keep court options open Conservation groups announced today that they will keep open the option of going to court to force the federal government to follow through on its legal obligations to recover Idaho's wild salmon and steelhead. But the groups pledged to U.S. Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) and the farming community to unconditionally forgo the opportunity to ask any court to deliver Upper Snake River water in 2004 beyond the federal government's maximum goal of 427,000 acre-feet...Editorial: Sins of Emission It's well known that former Utah governor Michael O. Leavitt, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is no friend of the environment. So it was only fitting that the Bush administration timed yet another rollback of environmental protections to coincide with Leavitt's first day on the job. Leavitt officially started his term as head of the EPA on Thursday, a day after EPA lawyers, on instructions from on high, announced that they would drop 70 investigations into coal-burning power plants that violated pollution laws. The move will benefit the utility industry, possibly saving it tens of billions of dollars' worth of pollution-control upgrades. The move comes as little surprise: it's part of a broader, systematic strategy on the part of the Bush administration to weaken the EPA to the point of irrelevance...Dry state will fight to restart desalter Down along the final, gasping miles of the Colorado River, on the edge of a desert too dry to notice the drought, an unusual skirmish has erupted over a plan to squeeze more water from the West's already over-tapped supply. The battleground is a water desalination plant on this city's west side, a $280 million white elephant that operated for all of nine months a decade ago, before floods and design flaws forced it into hibernation. The plant was designed to recycle agricultural runoff water that was otherwise too polluted and salty...Bears blamed for most elk calf deaths Researchers trying to understand how young elk die in Yellowstone National Park found this summer that grizzly bears and black bears killed most of the calves that were marked in the spring and were found dead later in the year. The results -- which researchers emphasize are very preliminary -- are from the first portion of a three-year study of elk calf mortality on Yellowstone's northern range. The study is being conducted by the Yellowstone Center for Resources, the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Minnesota...Builders hope land-sale failure sends message on high costs The Bureau of Land Management said it will have to do a re-evaluation of the 1,940 acres that no one bid on in Thursday's Las Vegas Valley land auction. Officials said they will have to look at when -- not if -- the land should be put up for sale again. In what could be construed as a mass demonstration against the appraised value of the land or the restrictions the city of Henderson places on developers, bidders began leaving the BLM auction as the largest -- and most expensive -- parcel, which was in southwest Henderson, came up for sale...Gibbons seeks to route land money to education Rep. Jim Gibbons announced a campaign Thursday to steer millions of dollars more from public land auctions in Southern Nevada into the state's fast-growing school system. The Nevada Republican said he will seek to alter a 1998 law that allocates 5 percent of the profits from Clark County federal land sales into the state's education fund. He proposed 35 percent of auction proceeds be directed to education and away from the purchase of sensitive environmental land around the state...Editorial: A raw deal Mike Leavitt is too polite and proud a man to announce that he's been snookered by his new best friends in the Bush administration. But the former governor of Utah was properly quick to object to a plan to drill for natural gas in an area that is on his own short list of natural spaces that may deserve to be off-limits to such exploitation. Off-limits is exactly what that territory would be, though, if Leavitt hadn't made the mistake of trusting Interior Secretary Gale Norton to watch over the 6 million acres of public lands that Leavitt wanted released from federal protection as potential wilderness...Summit sought on Yosemite Rep. George Radanovich seeks a summit, of sorts, amid a war of words over Yosemite National Park. Thursday, the Republican congressman from the 19th District -- stretching from Modesto to Mariposa -- proposed a meeting with Sierra Club leaders to discuss their differences over the park's future. The meeting would take place in the park, at LeConte Memorial Lodge. The 99- year-old structure is central to the dispute between Radanovich and the Sierra Club. Specifically, Radanovich has introduced legislation to have the lodge removed from Yosemite Valley...House names forest conferees, but bill still hung up in Senate The House on Thursday named conferees to complete work on forest health legislation. However, the measure remained stuck in the Senate, where Democratic and Republican leaders have objected to moving forward...Quality of life clashes with agricultural values Canyon County's rejection of a second dairy in less than a year signals a shift in Idaho's environmental politics. The county commission in a still largely agricultural county chose quality of life over economics last week. They did it because they don't have confidence in the state's capacity or will to stop air and water pollution. The political landscape is changing because neighbors of the dairies and even feedlots have become more sophisticated and vocal. They are challenging the traditional exemptions from environmental laws given to the agricultural industry. They also are going to court to force dairies and feedlots to meet the same laws that industries of similar size have to meet...Cattlemen discuss animal trace-back plan in Denver National Cattlemens's Beef Association, state affiliates and other industry partners met Thursday in Denver to discuss the next steps in the development of a national animal identification plan. The primary objective of a proposed US Animal Identification Plan (USAIP) is to enhance animal disease surveillance and monitoring, and to facilitate the ability to trace animals in the event of a reportable animal health incident...'Open Fields' bill would pay farmers to open lands to public use Do you think landowners should be able to receive public funds for letting hunters, bird-watchers and other outdoor enthusiasts use their land? Senators have introduced a bill that would fund state programs to do just that. The "Open Fields" bill was introduced by Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), and is co-sponsored by Senators Byron Dorgan, Mark Dayton, Max Baucus, Mike Enzi, Tim Johnson, Tom Daschle, John Kerry and Tom Harkin. Harkin today called the bill a win-win for landowners and outdoor enthusiasts (the legislation is S.1840, the Voluntary Public Access and Wildlife Habitat Program Act)...Japan mad cow case raising questions A new case of BSE in Japan is calling into question some long-held beliefs about mad cow disease. A 23-month-old bull has tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, and the disease is suspected in a 21-month-old cow. That flies in the face of the accepted science, which held that cattle under the age of 30 months were not in danger of contracting the disease. For that reason, when the United States began accepting Canadian meat, it was only from animals below that 30-month threshold. As well, when it published a rule that could lead to the border reopening to live cattle, again it only addressed animals younger than 30 months...

Thursday, November 06, 2003


NOTE: Click on the highlighted areas in orange to go to the article, study, report, etc.

Blame Game Begins in Calif. Wildfires The Southern California wildfires have been vanquished, but the second-guessing is in full swing. Politicians and residents have a lot of questions about how the wildfires managed to do so much damage, scorching more than 740,000 acres, burning about 3,600 homes and killing 22 people. They were the most destructive wildfires to ever hit California. In hard-hit San Diego County, they want to know whether a lack of coordination and equipment hindered the firefighting effort and prevented communities from being saved. President Bush, Gov. Gray Davis and a 1932 state law have all come under criticism...Bush takes quiet aim at 'green' laws Slowly but surely, the Bush administration is using courts and spending legislation to reverse Clinton-era trends in environmental protection. From the administration's point of view, this serves to: provide balance to the conflict between protecting nature and advancing the economy; give states and localities more say in such decisions; and reduce the "analysis paralysis" that can hinder federal government land managers from doing their job. This is being done in several ways...Human-caused bear deaths preventable, experts say Some Yellowstone National Park grizzly bear deaths could have been avoided, a federal biologist said Wednesday and called for a task force to study ways of reducing human encounters with the animals. Chris Servheen, speaking to a subcommittee of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, said at least 290 grizzlies have died in and around Yellowstone since 1980. Of those, 188 died of human-related causes. Servheen said hunters seeking other game killed 35 of the bears in self defense. He said that makes such deaths more common than in other bear habitats. Wildlife experts say the best ways of avoiding bear risks are to travel in groups, make loud noises and avoid dawn and dusk. Following this advice, however, also makes it difficult to stalk an elk...Competitive bidding comes to roost with Forest Service The Department of Defense went through it and now it's the Forest Service's turn. Competitive sourcing is the practice of replacing government jobs with private contractors. Lost River District Ranger Carol Eckert told the Custer County Commissioners at their October 14 meeting that the Forest Service has gone through the first wave of evaluating jobs within the trails, recreation and maintenance departments to see who can do the most efficient job. The Forest Service came out on top this time. She said the next stages are to consider everything else over the next couple of years. The Forest Service has contracted some jobs out in the past, such as National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), campground maintenance, and some trail and firefighting work...Lewis Hopes Lessons Learned Congressman Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands) hopes Congress has learned something from the devastating wildfires that have ravaged the San Bernardino Mountains and California in recent days. "I'm going to insist that we change current laws to allow activation of military aircraft to help combat firestorms," Lewis told The Mountain News and Crestline Courier-News in an exclusive interview conducted at the San Bernardino International Airport on Saturday. Lewis was referring to an arcane provision in the Economy Act of 1932 that prohibits the U.S. Forest Service from activating state-of-the-art Air National Guard fire-fighting planes until all commercial asserts are exhausted...In dense forests, bugs set table for flames The beetles that have chewed through pine forests in the San Bernardino Mountains, creating vast stands of tinder-dry wood just waiting to burst into flame, are as small as a grain of rice. They can fly for miles, yet spend most of their lives hidden under bark. They coordinate attacks with chemical signals. Some carry fungus in a special pouch in their heads as a weird sort of biological weapon. Bark beetles are a natural part of a healthy forest. By attacking and killing weak trees, they make room for new growth and create housing for birds and animals in the dead snags. They're also an important food for woodpeckers. But where entire forests are weakened by overcrowding, drought or disease, as they have been in Southern California and across much of the West, these tiny insects can be devastating...Fire's scapegoats: environmentalists For the past week, while Southern California has burned, environmental groups have been pilloried on talk radio. They have received streams of angry e-mail. Columnists have blasted them. As the story goes, tree-huggers blocked logging projects to thin the very forests that are burning. Had they not been so obstructionist, the fire danger would have been reduced, critics say. The reality, however, is not so straightforward. Environmental groups have indeed appealed and sued to block forest-thinning projects on public land in the Sierra Nevada and other fire-prone areas in the West in recent years. But U.S. Forest Service records show that in the four national forests in Southern California affected by this week's catastrophic fires, environmentalists have not filed a single appeal to stop Forest Service tree-thinning projects to reduce fire risk since 1997 -- the time period for which records are immediately available...The Death Of Fast Skiing? That vagary, however, was questioned last winter by the U.S. Forest Service, which oversees the use of public lands for many ski areas, including Aspen. Norton himself accused a young local skier of almost hitting him. After a confrontation and chase, the teen's season pass was pulled indefinitely. He protested to the Forest Service, which urged resort management to set a policy on reckless skiing and a process by which offenders could appeal. The kid got his pass back in two weeks. Now the Aspen Skiing Company is formulating guidelines similar to many resorts: First offenders get a warning; a second offense earns a pulled ticket; and repeat offenders may have their pass suspended for longer periods. Aspen, however, decided not to define "reckless skiing," nor does it intend to. "We don't think it's possible," says Norton...Congress limits outsourcing at Interior, Energy Congress has placed restrictions on competitive-sourcing programs at the Energy and Interior departments in HR 2691, the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. The appropriations bill has been passed by both the House and Senate and is awaiting President Bush's expected signature. The limits include new reporting requirements, and, most important, requirements for the cost savings that competitive-sourcing projects --in which federal employees compete with contractors for government work--at Energy and Interior must generate. According to the bill, Energy, Interior and the Agriculture Department's Forest Service must provide detailed reports on their competitive-sourcing studies to Congress by Dec. 30. The bill also requires the agencies to provide a detailed work program for competitive-sourcing efforts planned for fiscal 2004. The appropriations bill limits funds available for competitive-sourcing studies to $2.5 million at Interior and $500,000 at Energy in 2004, unless the departments seek congressional approval. The Forest Service may spend a maximum of $5 million on competitive-sourcing projects started in 2004, according to the bill...Forest Service blamed for Cascade II wildfire Officials have determined that improper planning on the part of U.S. Forest Service personnel caused the Cascade II Fire, a prescribed burn that raged out of control for a week in September in the Uintah National Forest. The prescription was originally set at 600 acres, with an extra 400 acres reserved in case something went wrong. It torched that plus 7,200 more acres. An interagency review panel, drawn from the Bureau of Land Management, the state and the Forest Service, determined that fire personnel had not conducted sufficient analysis to increase the burn to include the extra 400 acres. In a prepared statement released by the U.S. Forest Service on Wednesday night, the agency admitted ". . . an inadequate burn plan and inadequate pre-burn weather monitoring and analysis contributed to [the fire's] escape . . ."...DEC head blasts environmentalists Alaska's top environmental regulator scolded conservation groups Wednesday for spreading fear mongering about the condition of the environment and lambasted the media for being "eager apostles" of green activists. Ernesta Ballard, Alaska's commissioner of environmental conservation, spoke about public lands management at the Alaska Miners Association luncheon at the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel where the group is holding its annual convention this week. Besides criticizing journalists and environmentalists, Ballard also jabbed at the government's approach to tackling resource issues. Ballard said more than enough acres are managed for conservation in Alaska and that land set-asides aren't necessary for environmental protection. The proliferation of wilderness areas and monuments "demonstrates that we have lost our national resolve to develop our resources."...Elusive wolverines not "endangered" for now Whether you call him Gulo gulo, skunk bear or devil bear, one thing is for certain -- very little is known about the wolverine. So little, in fact, that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided not to consider listing the wolverine as an endangered species last month, saying there is not enough information to determine whether they are actually endangered. Wolverines "omnivorous members of the weasel family" survive primarily as scavengers and move about in a bear-like fashion on five-toed feet. The historic, as well as current, habitat and population numbers of these creatures seem to be just as elusive as the animals are. Local researchers are working to close this information gap...Deal Reached on $400.5B Defense Bill According to lawmakers and congressional staff, the bill also: Grants the military exemptions to the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Pentagon says those and other environmental rules impede training exercises. Environmentalists say exemptions could be detrimental...National Environmental Trust Statement on the Backroom Deal on Department of Defense Environmental Exemptions "Today the Republican Congressional leadership opened gaping new loopholes in two of the nation's bedrock environmental laws. The backroom deal on the Department of Defense authorization bill will significantly weaken the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. "This deal is a crippling blow for marine mammals. It lets the Secretary of Defense bypass these key protections, and appears to trump the recent court decision protecting whales and dolphins from the impacts of navy sonar. Does anybody trust Donald Rumsfeld to save the whales?...100 House members support plan to protect Northwest's economy, salmon, taxpayers Support for protecting the Northwest's economy and salmon runs reached a milestone today, with 100 House members signing on to the bipartisan Salmon Planning Act. Introduced by Representatives Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Thomas Petri (R-WI), this bill has three main elements -- a science analysis by National Academy of Sciences (NAS) of current and anticipated salmon recovery actions, General Accounting Office (GAO) studies on how to best transition local economies to a free-flowing lower Snake River and authority to the Army Corps of Engineers to remove the four lower Snake River dams, if dam removal is deemed necessary by the federal agencies charged with protecting salmon and complying with tribal treaties. "What this is really about is ensuring the region has a strong economy and healthy wild salmon runs," said Michael Garrity, associate director, federal dams program, American Rivers...Albuquerque wins huge water victory The City of Albuquerque won a huge water victory Thursday when a U.S. House and Senate Conference Committee approved language in an appropriations bill that bars the federal government from using the city's San Juan/Chama water to satisfy provisions of the Endangered Species Act. Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez announced the language approval during a hastily called news conference in his City Hall office. "This secures for all time Albuquerque's San Juan/Chama water supply," Chavez said while thanking New Mexico's two U.S. senators--Republican Pete Domenici and Democrat Jeff Bingaman for their work on the matter. Chavez said that the San Juan/Chama water represents 70 percent of Albuquerque's future supply. If the federal government were allowed to take the water for the slivery minnow, Albuquerque's future growth would have been jeopardized, Chavez said. At issue in the court case was whether the federal government could use what is referred to as "non-native" water to help the silvery minnow. Because the San Juan/Chama water is imported under the Continental Divide into the Rio Grande basin, it is not native to the system. Attorneys for the city had argued in court that water that is not native to a river system could not be used to satisfy the Endangered Species Act...Horseback riders, bikers team with national group on Headwaters plan protest Equestrians and mountain bikers frustrated with plans to all but close the Headwaters Forest Reserve to riding and biking have vowed to fight against the plan with a national access group's help. The Blue Ribbon Coalition, which normally concerns itself with preserving off-road vehicle access to public lands, has filed a protest letter against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's final management plan. The Idaho-based group claims BLM wants to manage the 7,400-acre property as a wilderness despite contrary direction from Congress. BLM, on the other hand, said its intended policy to keep horses and bikes out of the reserve is based on a strict legislative mandate. Limited hiking would be allowed under the plan, bikes will be kept from all but 3 miles of trail, and horseback riding would not be allowed...Leavitt asks BLM to delay drilling The Bush administration's push to drill for more oil and gas in the Rocky Mountains is apparently too aggressive for the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Mike Leavitt -- in one of his last gubernatorial actions before resigning to become Bush's top environmental adviser -- told the federal government he opposes 15 new gas wells proposed in the Book Cliffs of eastern Utah. In a letter this week to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Leavitt asks the agency to delay authorizing the wells, which would be within a portion of the White River Wilderness Inventory Area (WIA)...Editorial: End BLM horse adoptions But somehow, the BLM managed to spend $1,400 arranging each horse "adoption" -- three times what it would cost to simply graze the animal in knee-deep grass on government land in Kansas or Oklahoma. On top of that, while the word "adoption" brings to mind little girls festooning their ponies' manes with wildflowers, a 1996 investigation by The Associated Press found "a federal program created to save the lives of wild horses is instead channeling them by the thousands to slaughterhouses, where they are chopped into cuts of meat." Finally, the agency's Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board suggested this week that the costly and unaccountable program be suspended. Might there be a way to solve this problem not by increasing, but by reducing government involvement? Of course there is. There is a long history in the West of private horse roundups, which cost the government nothing. It's time to get Washington out of the absurdly expensive and bottlenecked "adoption" program. Simply issue permits to private individuals to go capture a dozen or a hundred wild horses at a time...California fires may threaten endangered butterflies The wildfires that ravaged San Diego County have proven deadly to some of its smallest inhabitants - fragile, endangered butterflies that live in the coastal regions and mountains and virtually nowhere else. Probably thousands of butterflies were killed in the fires because they were in the egg or larval stage and unable to fly away, researchers said...Largest parcel goes unsold at BLM land auction in Las Vegas Bidders passed on a southern Nevada parcel that had been expected to fetch at least $250 million during a Thursday land auction, leaving the Bureau of Land Management holding more than half the federal property it hoped to sell. "It's fair to characterize it as a disappointment," Merv Boyd, BLM Las Vegas land sale manager, said after the agency auctioned 750.5 acres for almost $131 million. The BLM had hoped to auction 2,723 acres and raise at least $361 million...Public-land swaps reveal firm's clout Western Land Group helps determine the land the federal government is interested in obtaining, negotiates to purchase those parcels for its client, offers the swap, organizes appraisals, arranges for environmental studies and other investigations, and follows it through closing. Individuals in the firm, who have handed out thousands of dollars in political contributions, know the politicians who can help the process or slow it with inquiries. At times, Western Land Group approaches lawmakers to write the swap into bills when the bureaucratic process stalls or is too slow. Those tactics result in a 95 percent success rate for the firm's clients and tens of thousands of acres changing hands, according to the company...Column: Teddy Roosevelt Would Have Put His Foot Down When the young Theodore Roosevelt went West to become a cattle rancher in the late 1800s, he was impressed by the flint of the Western character. In his travels through South Dakota and the Rocky Mountains, he met mountain men and cowboys and Indians so independent and strong-willed that even the robuster-than-robust Roosevelt confessed he sometimes felt inadequate. Today, watching some Westerners prostrate themselves to the Bush administration as it encourages energy companies to devastate the most delicate of our lands, I have to wonder what has happened to the Western character. My guess is that if Theodore Roosevelt were alive today, he would have a fit over what they are doing to the Powder River Basin and the Red Desert in what can only be called the Great Orgy to drill for the gas we know as coalbed methane. And then he would have fought it with every fiber in his body...New Study Reveals Critical Threats to Big Bend; Conservation Group Encourages Establishment of International Park to Protect Resources A dwindling water supply, air pollution, and an annual funding shortfall of more than $6 million threaten the health of Texas' Big Bend National Park, according to a new report released today by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). The nonpartisan organization is encouraging Congress and the administration to fund the needs of the park and support the establishment of an International Park to improve the condition of the area's fragile landscape. "Big Bend is a spectacular park, but there is trouble in paradise," said Jim Nations, vice president of NPCA's State of the Parks(r) program. "Without water and clean air the park will never be healthy. The United States and Mexico need to work together to protect this gem."...White House Acknowledges Climate Report Not Subjected to Sound Science Law The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has publicly acknowledged that the National Assessment on Climate Change was not "subjected to OSTP's Information Quality Act guidelines." This acknowledgement now appears prominently on the document posted on the U. S. Global Change Research Program's web site ( With this admission, the Competitive Enterprise Institute has withdrawn its complaint in federal court that the National Assessment did not meet the minimal scientific standards required by the Federal Data Quality Act. A subsequent product disseminated by the Environmental Protection Agency, Climate Action Report 2002, repeats many of the scientifically unsupportable assertions contained in the National Assessment and should now be subjected to FDQA guidelines, as should the next National Assessment due in October 2004. "The record shows that the Clinton White House pressured bureaucrats to rush out an incomplete and inaccurate report despite protests from government scientists," said Christopher C. Horner, Senior Fellow at CEI. "The government also subsequently confirmed that the two climate models selected for the National Assessment are 'outliers' chosen to guarantee extreme results and are incapable of replicating even past climate trends."...Proposal would limit wetlands protection Bush administration officials have drafted a rule that would significantly narrow the scope of the Clean Water Act, stripping many wetlands and streams of federal pollution controls and making them available to being filled for commercial development. The rule, spelled out in an internal document provided to the Los Angeles Times by a senior government official, says that Clean Water Act protection would no longer be provided to "ephemeral washes or streams" that do not have ground water as a source. Streams that flow for less than six months a year would also lose protection, as would many wetlands, according to the document....Most Voters Don't Consider Environmental Record Environmentalists critical of President Bush's record say they believe his policies will help get out the environmental vote for his Democratic opponent in 2004. But while Democrats generally fare better than Republicans when it comes to the environment, polls show that few voters make their decision on a candidate based primarily on environmental issues. A Harris poll survey last month asked voters to name the two most important issues confronting the government. Combining the two selections, voters ranked the environment 25th out of 43 issues...Senate supports plan for meat labeling; Opposes Canadian Imports The Senate insisted Thursday that the Agriculture Department move ahead with preparations for a law requiring meatpackers and grocers to inform consumers what country their meat comes from. Led by senators from some Western states, the Senate voted 58-36 to oppose efforts in the House to effectively exempt meat products from a law requiring that foods start carrying country-of-origin labels by September 2004. The Senate, in its consideration of a $17 billion agriculture spending bill for the 2004 budget year, also approved an amendment by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., that would put the Senate in opposition to an Agriculture Department proposal to allow Canadian cattle into the United States. The proposal would end an import ban imposed after a case of mad cow disease was found in Canada last May. Dorgan urged that the United States follow the guidelines of the World Organization for Animal Health, which recommends a seven-year import ban after mad cow disease is found. Opening the border now, he said, "could be a devastating risk to our livestock industry."...U.S. exports soar after mad cow case U.S. beef exports soared 17 per cent after world markets shunned Canadian beef due to a case of mad cow disease, Statistics Canada says. Most of the increase went to Mexico, Japan and South Korea, where Canadian and U.S. exporters traditionally compete, said the report released yesterday. But industry officials suggested the picture is not as bleak as it might seem. Re-establishing trade links will be easier because customers don't seem to have lost the taste for high-quality, grain-fed beef, said Ted Haney of the Canada Beef Export Federation. Haney's members have lost an estimated $1.65 billion in sales since May 20, when bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, was detected in an Alberta breeder cow. The Statistics Canada report said Americans have picked up much of the slack. Prior to the confirmed case of mad cow in Alberta, U.S. beef exports averaged $460 million (Canadian) a month. That monthly average jumped to $540 million in each of June, July and August... Rube and his new boots We had already finished saddling our horses in the dark and were standing around the fire telling stories and waiting for daylight when Rube drove in and parked his old pickup. Over the crackling and popping of the fire we could hear the squeaky door of Rube's pickup open and close and Rube cussing as he made his way to the tack house. He knew he was late, we knew he was late and once again the day would start with everyone making fun of him. It really didn't matter what the reason was, Rube was just one of those guys who naturally ended up being the butt of everyone's joke. It was quiet around the fire as we stared at the embers and listened to Rube cussing his impatient horse as he saddled it...
Western Caucus Calls on Senator Daschle to Act on Healthy Forests

Washington, D.C. -Congressman Chris Cannon, along with twenty-two other Members of the Congressional Western Caucus, sent a letter to Senator Daschle today, calling on the Senate Minority Leader to appoint Conferees to the Healthy Forests legislation without delay.

“Action is long overdue to help prevent the catastrophic forest fires that are scorching the West. The current fires ravaging homes and public lands are at least partly the result of a lack of an effective management plan that has created forests of tinder. The Healthy Forests legislation is a balanced and comprehensive approach to forest management that will help restore our public lands and prevent future fires. I hope that Senator Dashcle will stop playing politics with this issue so that we can send this vital legislation to the President quickly,” said Cannon, who is Chairman of the Western Caucus.

The text of the letter is as follows:

Dear Minority Leader Daschle:

As Members of the Congressional Western Caucus, we were pleased that both the House and the Senate passed legislation to help address the causes of wildfires plaguing forest communities across our country. The fact that the bills passed out of the respective bodies of Congress were similar in scope and language gave us great hope that this essential legislation could be approved and enacted expeditiously.

As we have just seen in California, far too many homes, watersheds and natural resources are being destroyed or damaged as the result of catastrophic fires, and after much debate, we are now poised to put in place management initiatives that could very well help prevent some of these fires in the future. All that remains is to convene a conference so that we can reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions and send a compromise bill to the President.

As we approach the final step of this process, we are now dismayed to learn that you are not naming conferees. We are unable to see what can justify a delay in moving this important initiative, and fear that it will be recognized by the American public as an attempt to obstruct final passage of healthy forests legislation. It would appear that as the fires in California have started to cool, so has the motivation of some to address this important issue.

After all the time and effort that has gone into this important legislation, and after all the human and environmental injury that has occurred in California during the last couple of weeks, now would be a sad time to use procedural tactics to keep forest health legislation from being signed into law. Two hundred and fifty six members of the House and eighty members of the Senate have spoken. Now is the time to move this bill.

We urge you to act expeditiously in naming conferees and to remove any procedural roadblocks that might get in the way of prompt consideration of the bipartisan Healthy Forests Restoration Act. Our land managers desperately need the tools this legislation will provide in order to begin the task of better managing our resources and hopefully reducing the devastation of fires in the years to come.


Wednesday, November 05, 2003


Government Removes U.S. Flag From Colorado Peak The Forest Service has quietly removed an American flag from 14,000-foot Grays Peak under a policy barring permanent memorials in the wilderness. ''This is a very sensitive issue,'' said Martha Ketelle, supervisor of the White River National Forest. ''I'm trying to deal with the sensitivities of people who want flag displays, but we also want to make sure we don't disregard the policy or have a proliferation of these displays.'' Someone last month placed the flag on top of 14,270-foot Grays Peak. Dan Lovato, district ranger for the Arapaho National Forest, had not heard about that flag until a question from a reporter for The Denver Post. He dispatched an employee to retrieve it last week. ''Our policy is, we don't want memorials or flags or anything left permanently on the national forests,'' he said. ''Then you have the whole issue of how you display the flag: If it's at nighttime, it must be illuminated and so forth.'' The Grays Peak flag, badly shredded by the high-elevation winds, will be turned over to a Scout group for a retirement ceremony...After the flames In the aftermath of fires that have burned more than 750,000 acres and killed 22 people over the past two weeks in the Golden State, immediate concerns rightly focus on the human recovery, Morrison notes. But as people rebuild and populations grow at the edge of the wilderness, researchers are gauging the broader effects large wildfires have on air and water quality, as well as on the diversity of wildlife. Of major concern: mudslides, long-term smog, and tainted soil. For humans, flooding, landslides, and an increase in smog can linger long after the flames are doused. For wildlife - particularly endangered species, broad-scale fires can wipe out crucial habitat. Often, habitat loss brought such species to the brink of extinction in the first place. More broadly, scientists are getting a better handle on the impact wildfires can play in the global ebb and flow of atmospheric carbon...Column: Just a Match Away, Fire Sale in So Cal Sooner or later all big fires become political events. Even before before becalmed Santa Ana winds and mountain sleet quenched the blazes in southern California, politicians from both parties raced to exploit the charred landscape for their own advantage--a kind of political looting while the embers still glowed. Republicans, naturally, pointed an incendiary finger at environmentalists, rehashing their tired mantra that restrictions on logging had provided the kindling for the inferno that consumed 3,600 homes (largely in Republican districts) and took 20 human lives (the non-human body count will never be tallied)...Reps. Maurice Hinchey and Charles Bass Call for End to Yellowstone Buffalo Slaughter; House Bill Receives Bipartisan Support Today conservationists praised Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) and Charles Bass (R-N.H.) for introducing legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to protect America's last wild and genetically pure buffalo. The Yellowstone Buffalo Preservation Act would end years of seasonal hazing, capture, and killing of buffalo in and around Yellowstone National Park by federal and state agencies until specific, common-sense conditions are met. "The Yellowstone buffalo herd should have the freedom to roam our federal lands like any other wildlife," said Rep. Hinchey, who serves on the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee which has jurisdiction over the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Forest Service. "The current policy of hazing and slaughtering these majestic animals is unnecessary and shameful. My legislation will put an end to these misguided management practices and ensure that our federal agencies act as proper stewards of this wildlife icon." Acknowledging that the American buffalo (Bison bison) has profound ecological, cultural, historical, and symbolic significance to the United States, the Hinchey-Bass bill mandates efforts to allow Yellowstone buffalo to use public lands, including U.S. Forest Service lands next to Yellowstone National Park, through incentives and cooperative efforts with adjacent private landowners and ensures buffalo within the park are under the sole jurisdiction of the National Park Service...Helicopters irk hunters If there was a conspiracy, it was instigated by nature, not the U.S. Forest Service. That's the punchline to a story about several dozen people whose intention was to go elk hunting, but who ended up watching a weeklong air show. "The Forest Service was fertilizing with helicopters. They had two helicopters going all day long, all week long," Bob Burton of Salem said about the 2003 edition of his 20-plus-year record of elk hunting trips to central Oregon. "I thought I was in Iraq," joked Gary Williamson of Salem, Burton's son-in-law. "It wasn't pleasant at all."...Bush administration yanks Missouri River scientists off project The long-running dispute over management of the nation's longest river took another twist when the Bush administration yanked government scientists off a project to study the waterway's ecosystem. The team had been on the job for years and was within weeks of producing what could have been its final report. Conservation groups criticized last week's unreported decision to remove the scientists, which they said was to protect business interests at the expense of the Endangered Species Act. The move may block changes to the Missouri River's flow, because the scientists had ordered the switch. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has resisted changing river operations but is under a December deadline to come up with a new plan that meets requirements of the Endangered Species Act...Wolf-like animal's carcass investigated The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to determine the species of a wolf-like animal before launching an investigation into its death, an investigator said Monday. Biologist collected the slightly decayed carcass Oct. 2 northwest of Pinedale. It had characteristics that made investigators question whether the animal was a wolf or a wolf hybrid, the service's resident law enforcement agent in charge for Wyoming, Dominic Domenici, said Monday. "We're still trying to determine if it is a wolf," Domenici said. The carcass has been sent to a forensics lab for analysis and results should be available soon...Colorado's Roan Plateau expected to be focal point of gas debate A key battle in the Bush administration's effort to open more of the Rocky Mountains to gas drilling will unfold in the coming weeks atop the sheer cliffs of Colorado's Roan Plateau. The sprawling plateau sits on an estimated 7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in one section alone, making it one of the most sought-after reserves in the West. As early as next week, the Bureau of Land Management is expected to release a draft of a plan detailing how much oil and gas drilling and recreation the agency envisions on the 73,000 acre expanse...Kane County officials face federal subpoenas in Escalante road sign removals A federal grand jury has issued at least three subpoenas in Kane County requesting documents and other items related to road signs that county officials removed from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Among those who have received subpoenas were County Commission Chairman Ray Spencer, Sheriff Lamont Smith and Lou Pratt, director of county roads. In August, Kane County Commissioner Mark Habbeshaw and Smith removed 31 road markers that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management had placed on routes within the 1.9 million-acre reserve in southern Utah. Wednesday was the deadline for responding to the subpoenas, which were issued in mid-October, said Spencer, who added that county officials intended to comply...Monument employee investigated for allegedly taking artifacts A federal employee has been reassigned while authorities investigate allegations he removed Indian artifacts from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Gregg Christensen, the monument's lead rangeland management specialist, has been employed in Escalante since before the monument's 1996 designation. He was put on ''temporary detail'' Tuesday at monument headquarters in Kanab. Christensen also temporarily was relieved of his duties as lead rangeland specialist, according to a memorandum circulated to all monument employees by monument manager Dave Hunsaker...BLM considers suspending wild horse adoption program The Bureau of Land Management says it may suspend a wild horse adoption program that has been criticized as costly and ineffective. Taking advice from an advisory council, the agency said Tuesday in Washington, D.C., that it will consider setting aside its Adopt-A-Horse program for several years to concentrate on reducing the number of animals in herds of wild horses and burros and shipping the animals to long-term facilities. The cost to the BLM to arrange an adoption is equal to three years of holding a horse at a long-term facility, said Jeff Rawson, BLM wild horse and burro group manager. Still, he added, the long-term holding costs may be greater. BLM will perform a study comparing the costs of adoptions with the costs of putting a larger number of animals out to pasture at government centers in the Midwest...Democrats stall talks on wildfire bill Because Democrats have been cut out of past conference committees where final legislation is hammered out, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada objected Monday night to naming negotiators to meet with their House counterparts about the wildfires bill. "We want the Healthy Forests Initiative to pass, and we want it to pass yesterday," said Reid, the No. 2 Senate Democrat. But, he said, "you can't have conferences where there's no conference, (where) basically the majority meets in secret, and when they complete their secret meetings, they bring their conference report and say, 'Take it or leave it.' " Senate Republican leaders dismissed the Democrats as obstructionists. Majority Leader Bill Frist said that Republicans would try to wear down Democrats with a series of procedural moves. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, accused Democrats of trying to kill critically needed changes in public forest policy that they had embraced in an 80-14 vote on the bill last week, when wildfires in California dominated the headlines...Compromise on Forestry Bill Urged Days after Senate Democrats blocked talks with the House on a compromise forestry bill, the two leading Democratic advocates urged congressional leaders to begin negotiations. In a letter Wednesday to Republicans, Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Dianne Feinstein of California said partisan bickering should not prevent Congress from passing important legislation to reduce the danger of wildfires in national forests. The Senate approved the bill last week by an 80-14 vote, ending a three-year impasse on wildfire prevention. But many of the 29 Democrats who voted for the bill said they could not accept the terms of the original House version, which closely resembles President Bush's Healthy Forests initiative. Wyden and Feinstein suggested informal meetings with Republican leaders in the absence of an official conference committee, with representation from both chambers and both parties. Similar informal meetings between senators and Bush administration officials led to the compromise approved last week. Senate Democrats blocked formal negotiations on the bill this week, saying they were worried that majority Republicans would keep them on the sidelines in an effort to adopt a bill closer to the House version approved in May...Forests' fate causes concern along Sprague Now they are worried because of the talk that public lands might become a reservation for the Klamath Tribes. The Bowas are not alone in their concerns about the possible transfer of up to 690,000 acres of national forest land from the federal government to the Klamath Tribes. Those concerns are shared by many who live near the national forest land that once was the Tribes' reservation. Ever since word of the informal talks between irrigators from above Upper Klamath Lake, Klamath Reclamation Project irrigators, the Klamath Tribes and Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust started to spread across the Klamath Basin, small-acreage landowners near the lands at issue have been wondering what it will mean for them and what it will take to get their voices heard...Changes to wilderness process could affect Vermillion Basin A recent decision by the Bush Administration aims to change the way public lands become wilderness areas -- a move that may alter future land management for areas such as the rugged Vermillion Basin. The ruling handed down Oct. 30 halts more than 10 years of BLM policy that opponents say may now keep millions of acres of qualifying public lands from receiving wilderness distinction. Because the directives are so new, land use officials are caught with how to move forward. According to Moffat County's Natural Resources director, the decision may help "keep public land open instead of locking them up." "It's a step in the right direction, but there are still issues that need to be worked out," Jeff Comstock said...US MMS reports large increase in state mineral revenues The US Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service said Monday that state governments' share of federal mineral revenues from public lands increased 30% in the fiscal year (FY) that ended Sept. 30. MMS said it distributed more than $1 billion to 35 states during FY 2003 compared with FY 2002 payments that totaled $716.3 million. The money distributed through September represents the states' cumulative share of revenues collected from mineral production on federal lands located within their borders, and from federal offshore oil and gas tracts adjacent to their shores. As has typically been the case, Wyoming in FY 2003 received the most royalty receipts, a record $467 million, an increase over last year's $359.3 million. New Mexico was next with $297 million, compared with $191.4 million in FY 2002. Other large revenue-sharing states include Colorado, which received $53.9 million; Louisiana, $30.7 million; Montana, $25.5 million; California, $25.4 million; and Texas, which nearly doubled its royalty share this year to $17 million...Brain disease could be 'catching' Swiss researchers said on Thursday they found infectious proteins in the muscle tissue of patients who died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) and said the finding may suggest the rare and fatal brain disease could be passed on during standard surgery. The study, published in this week's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, also raises the question of whether mad cow disease N bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) N might be passed on in muscle tissue and not simply in brain, lymph and spleen tissue...Italy reports latest case of mad cow disease in country's herds Another Italian cow has tested positive for mad cow disease, raising to 114 the total number of cases of the brain-wasting disease in the country's herds since the start of 2001. The Health Ministry said Wednesday that the latest case was found on a breeding farm in the countryside outside Milan. Under European Union rules, cattle older than 30 months and destined for slaughter must be tested for the disease. In Italy, 50 cases were reported in 2001, when the mandatory testing began, 36 in 2002, and 28 so far this year...Fast Food Embracing Animal Welfare You'll never guess what's different about the Egg McMuffin at McDonald's. It's not the eggs that come first here. It's the chickens. Quietly, both McDonald's and Burger King have become leaders in animal welfare, demanding improvements for the hens that lay the fast food eggs and new standards for cattle and hogs destined to become sandwiches. The hens, raised in crowded cages, must now have room to flap their wings, and at the slaughterhouse, chickens can't be thrown around like trash. But, as CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports, why would a restaurant that serves up so many animals care? "In our minds it's a big movement," says Bob Langert, Director of Social Responsibility for McDonald's. Langert says the company is simply responding to consumer demand...RIDING INTO THE SUNSET George Strait bows to the frenzied, packed-house crowd and tips his trademark cowboy hat as his Ace in the Hole Band hits the final notes of his classic "I Cross My Heart." With applause still ringing in his ears, the superstar strolls offstage to a dressing room. He unwinds himself into a chair and lets out a long, drawn-out breath, then a smile. It's a scene he's played out for the past 20 years - over millions of miles - from city to city, small arenas to massive football stadiums. But for how much longer?...
Grazing foes win key case

A federal judge has kicked 1,425 cows off 140,000 acres of national forest in Arizona and New Mexico in response to a lawsuit filed by environmentalists.

U.S. District Judge David Bury canceled seven grazing permits, four of them in the Coronado National Forest near Tucson. The other permits are in New Mexico's Cibola National Forest and Arizona's Tonto and Coconino national forests.

Santa Fe-based Forest Guardians successfully argued that the Forest Service hadn't done enough to gauge the impact of grazing on endangered species, in particular the Mexican spotted owl, lesser long-nosed bat and two fish - the spikedace and loach minnow.

Harold Lackner, 70, a lifelong rancher whose family has three of the four canceled leases in the Coronado, wasn't aware of the ruling until contacted by a reporter Tuesday.

"I'll lose what I've got invested in them," said Lackner, who estimated he has spent $30,000 in improvements on just one of the grazing allotments, near Fort Grant.

Arizona's livestock industry has already been devastated by the drought, so more hardships may limit ranching "to rich people who buy a ranch just to have a ranch," he said.

"I try to make a living at it, but it's getting to the point where I can't do it," he said.

Forest Guardians has won similar cases before, but this one sets a precedent since the judge ordered cattle off public lands, said Laurele Fulkerson, an attorney for the group.

"Usually we win on the merits, but nothing is done on the ground," she said. "This ruling is critical because it will give these important landscapes time to heal from harm caused by cattle grazing."

The Forest Service, citing a 1995 federal spending act, said it only had to look at the effects of grazing over three years.

But in his Oct. 30 ruling, Bury said the agency must study the impact of livestock over the full 10 years of the permit.

Doc Lane, director of natural resources for the Arizona Cattle Growers Association, called Forest Guardians' repeated lawsuits "an abuse of the system."

"They want to get rid of livestock grazing in the West because they don't happen to like it," he said.

"It costs them nothing, but it costs us everything."

This is the Forest Guardians Press Release.

In a precedent-setting ruling, a federal judge invalidated seven livestock grazing permits across more than 140,000 acres of national forest land in New Mexico and Arizona. The judge found that the U.S. Forest Service violated the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to fully consider the effects of grazing on endangered wildlife, including the Mexican spotted owl, lesser long-nosed bat, loach minnow, and spikedace.

In his 10-30-03 order, Judge David Bury canceled grazing permits on seven allotments in the Cibola, Coconino, Coronado, and Tonto national forests due to the Forest Service's failure to analyze the effects of grazing prior to issuing a grazing permit and consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the effects of grazing on endangered wildlife over the entire ten-year term of the grazing permits. Judge Bury also ordered the Forest Service to consult for the full ten-year term of twenty-one other grazing permits on seven New Mexico and Arizona national forests.

The Forest Service has preferred to analyze grazing on only a three-year term—even when issuing permits for a 10-year period. The three-year consultation process sought to expeditiously bring all national forest grazing activities into compliance with the Endangered Species Act. However, an analysis of three years of grazing is much less likely to show the long-term adverse environmental impacts of a ten-year grazing permit on threatened and endangered species. Now, based on the ruling, the Forest Service must submit the allotments to a more rigorous and binding consultation process under the ESA.

"This ruling is a huge victory for wildlife because Judge Bury did not merely slap the Forest Service on the wrist," said Laurele Fulkerson, Forest Guardians' Grazing Program Director. "Instead, he required the removal of cattle until the necessary analyses are completed, reversing a long standing Forest Service policy of permitting grazing damage while lengthy analyses are conducted," added Fulkerson. "This ruling is critical because it will give these important landscapes time to heal from harm caused by cattle grazing."

Judge Bury's ruling is analogous to two recent decisions—one by Judge Christina Armijo last December and another by Chief Judge James Parker last April—which ordered the Forest Service to consult over the entire ten-year term of grazing permits on the Copper Creek allotment in the Gila National Forest and the Sacramento allotment in the Lincoln National Forest.

Like Judges Armijo and Parker, Judge Bury rejected the Forest Service's defense that a 1995 federal budget law called the Rescissions Act exempted the agency from complying with environmental laws, stating that "[t]he Rescissions Act did not suspend Defendant's duty to comply with the ESA, including its duty to analyze the entire scope of its action."

This lawsuit is one of more than a dozen legal challenges brought by Forest Guardians to ensure that the Forest Service protects native forests, rivers, and endangered wildlife from damage by livestock. To date, the group has won important protections for many of the species dependent on healthy ecosystems on national forests, such as reducing the number of cattle that can graze in key sensitive habitats and barring cattle from a number of streams and rivers throughout the southwest...

To read the decision, click here(pdf).

Loving Monsters

NPR science reporter David Baron has a new book out, called The Beast in the Garden: A Modern Parable of Man and Nature. Baron's book is about the return of cougars to the Boulder, Colorado area after decades of hunting-induced absence, and their eventual taste for eating human beings -- along with the various fantasy ideologies regarding wildlife and nature that this chain of events revealed..

Cougars were once regarded as timid, fearful of humans, and far more likely to flee at the sight of
people than to regard us as food. Of course, there was a reason for that: for millennia, humans had attacked Cougars whenever possible, regarding them as a menace to safety and as competitors for valuable game. Showing one's face around Indians produced arrows, spears, and torches; later on, appearing around European settlers produced a faceful of lead. Aggressive cougars tended to die young, or to receive sufficient aversive conditioning to learn to leave humans alone.

Later on, a generalized revulsion against predators set in. As Baron notes (it's the source of his title, in fact), meat-eating was supposed by some to have begun with Original Sin -- "carnivores" in the Garden of Eden were said to have eaten fruits. In the post-lapsarian world, however, hunting was long seen as something manly, championed by those, like Teddy Roosevelt, who feared that excessive urbanization and industrialization would cause Americans to become too distanced from the reality of nature. But as that distancing took place in spite of Roosevelt's efforts, what is now called "fluffy bunny" syndrome appeared, and predators were regarded as inherently evil. Coupled with stockmen's continuing aversion to having their cattle and sheep eaten by predators, this produced programs of predator eradication that led to the near-extinction of cougars' only natural enemy, the gray wolf, and the removal of cougars from all but the most remote areas...

Conservative Spotlight: Partnership for the West

Somehow, the "rights" of endangered insects and weeds have become more important in the minds of our cultural elites than the rights and livelihoods of American workers and property owners, not to mention the rational use of natural resources for the long-term economic health of the country. The Endangered Species Act and other extreme environmentalist measures have been putting the squeeze on property owners and business for decades, particularly in the Western states—far from the big metropolitan areas in which most of our cultural elites live free from worry that they could be displaced by rodents with more civil rights than American citizens.

The new Partnership for the West has been formed to try to halt this erosion of Western Americans' property rights and prosperity, and is an umbrella group for industry and activists working to hold back the Green Tide. "Already, it has linked leaders from an extraordinarily wide range of Western interests," boasts the non-profit 501(c)4 group, "including: farm/ranching, coal, financial services, hard rock mining, timber/wood products, small businesses, utilities, oil & gas, construction, renewable energy advocates, manufacturers, property rights advocates, higher education, recreational access proponents, county government advocates, local, state and federal elected officials, grassroots groups and many others." Partnership for the West's members range from the American Gas Association, Coldwell Banker Commercial, the Colorado Farm Bureau, and the Western Mining Council to the American Land Rights Association, Citizens Advocating Local Control of Our Forests, and the Warrior's Society Mountain Bike Club...Their website is here.

Hillary's New Hysteria: 9/11 Air

Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York is falsely claiming the White House "deliberately misled" New Yorkers about air quality immediately after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

Even the New York Times doesn't buy it.

In a September 8 editorial, the Times, while not naming Clinton, ridiculed the attacks on the White House—fueled by radical environmental groups and Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.)—as "retrospective nitpicking." "The broader public faced little or no risk from breathing the outdoor air once the initial cloud settled," the Times correctly reported...

Tuesday, November 04, 2003


Bighorn forest management praised for ties with counties Area county officials complimented the Bighorn National Forest for its job of including the public in early discussions about the latest revision of the forest-management plan. “The Bighorn National Forest has bent over backward to listen to our input, and let the counties make comments on this plan as it is being formulated,” said Sheridan County Commissioner Larry Durante, who is the board’s liaison to the Bighorn Forest. Washakie County Commissioner Terry Wolf said he is pleased Bighorn Forest officials have allowed county commissioners to participate in monthly meetings of the steering committee, which is offering advice to the forest on its long-term management plan...Wilderness study areas: Supreme Court could influence Montana suit The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a Utah case that could significantly affect the outcome of a lawsuit filed over Forest Service management of wilderness study areas in Montana and the Bitterroot, attorneys said Tuesday. The nation's highest court will review a Utah case in which environmental groups sued the Bureau of Land Management for failing to protect areas under consideration for wilderness study from damage by off-road vehicles. Similarly, in 1996 Montana environmental groups sued the U.S. Forest Service over management of seven wilderness study areas, including two in the Bitterroot. The groups, including the Montana Wilderness Association and Friends of the Bitterroot, were successful in U.S. District Court in Missoula, and later the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the groups in ruling that the Forest Service had a legal obligation to maintain the wilderness character of the areas, but also said a trial was warranted to hammer out arguments about whether the agency had done so. Last summer, the federal government petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the Montana case, and, separately, asked them to hear the Utah case, Alan Campbell, an attorney for the Forest Service's Office of General Council in Missoula, said Tuesday...Groups threaten suit over owl-area logging Three environmental groups told a timber company and the state Department of Natural Resources on Monday to make logging practices in the state's Central Cascades friendlier to the northern spotted owl within 60 days, or gear up for a court battle. The Seattle and Kittitas Audubon Society chapters and the Washington Forest Law Center say New York-based U.S. Timberland's logging in the Teanaway River Valley, near Cle Elum, has been too aggressive in recent years, jeopardizing crucial habitat for the threatened owl...Alaska Game Board Approves Aerial Killing of Wolves, Says Defenders of Wildlife Today the Alaska Board of Game approved permits that will allow the shooting of large numbers of wolves either directly from airplanes or after chasing the animals to the point of exhaustion and then landing the aircraft to kill the them on foot. The Board's decision came despite the fact that twice Alaskans have voted to ban the practice (1996 and 2000) in statewide referenda. "The voters of Alaska have twice rejected this practice," said Karen Deatherage, Alaska Program Associate for Defenders of Wildlife. "The State Legislature, the Governor, and now the Game Board have trampled on the voters' wishes and opened the door to the wholesale slaughter of hundreds of wolves. Senator Lisa Murkowski is on record opposing this practice; we need her to step forward and speak out on behalf of Alaska's voters."...Legal Eagle: Bobby Kennedy, Jr. Fights for the Environment In addition to his professorial role and his own law practice, Kennedy serves as president of the Waterkeeper Alliance—an international coalition that now numbers 99 grassroots groups—and as a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). He’s also co-author of a best-selling book, The Riverkeepers, writes op-ed columns for the New York Times and other major newspapers, and speaks to large audiences all across the country. In recent years, Kennedy has emerged as one of America’s most charismatic environmental activists. Not only in his own backyard, where he was instrumental in forging the 1995 Watershed Agreement to protect New York City’s water supply, but in working with indigenous tribes in Latin America and Canada to protect their traditional lands. He’s also an avid outdoorsman—a master falconer, kayaker, skier, sailor and fisherman who’s led white-water rafting expeditions down several relatively unexplored rivers in South America and Canada...Group questions salamander listing A 42-page response filed on behalf of local residents challenges the science behind federal protections for the California tiger salamander populations in Santa Barbara and Sonoma counties. Crowell & Moring LLP., a Washington, D.C., law firm, submitted the document to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is considering reclassifying the population of tiger salamanders in Santa Barbara and Sonoma counties as threatened, rather than endangered. The agency also has proposed listing Central California tiger salamanders as threatened. The public comment period closed Friday. Lawyers representing a broad coalition of landowners and businesses in Santa Barbara County contend protections were improperly implemented on a piecemeal basis. The federal agency ruled that Santa Barbara County's salamanders require protections because they are a "distinct population segment," A 2000 decision to list Santa Barbara County's salamanders as endangered angered local farmers, developers and politicians...Lawsuit seeks protection for Western gray squirrelThree environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit yesterday seeking to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Western gray squirrel for protection under the Endangered Species Act, saying a proposed highway in Pierce County threatens it. The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Portland, site of Fish and Wildlife's regional headquarters, challenges the agency's June decision that the Western gray squirrel does not warrant federal protection. "We did determine that this population was discrete but not significant, and that was based on genetic analysis," as well as studies of species behavior and geographic distribution, Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Joan Jewett said...Talk of Gas Drilling Splits Pro-Bush Factions in West But now, with natural gas prices up sharply and with President Bush making domestic energy production a national security priority, the fight over the Front is back on. Although the Forest Service's ban on new leases remains in effect, the Bureau of Land Management is reviewing plans by three companies with existing leases to extract gas from eight wells. If they find significant amounts of gas, there will almost certainly be many more new wells, plus roads, pipelines and processing plants. Rumbles of renewed resource extraction along the Front are echoing across the country -- with prime hunting and fishing habitat coming under threat in the federal forests, plains and wetlands of Alaska, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, South Dakota, New Mexico and elsewhere. The gathering din has begun to worry -- and, in some cases, infuriate -- America's fishermen and hunters, many of whom are Republicans who voted for Bush. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates about 47 million Americans fish or hunt...Governor, PAW offer split estate bills Gov. Dave Freudenthal and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming have each proposed their own bills to lawmakers who are considering legislation to give more bargaining power to those who own surface lands but not the minerals that lie beneath. The "split estate" issue became a focal point of the coalbed methane gas development in northeast Wyoming when several landowners complained they had little leverage in striking compensation agreements with developers for surface damages. Mineral developers typically negotiate a "surface use agreement" with surface owners, but if negotiations don't go well, the mineral owner can fall back on a state statute that allows them to post a bond and extract the mineral without a surface use agreement...Eminent domain a high wire in energy bill America needs energy. Americans prize private property rights. Moving energy from new sources, such as mine mouth power plants in the West, to its markets elsewhere in the nation, implies the need to build new transmission lines that may need to cross private property. And that puts U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas on a wire. The proposed energy bill before Congress includes a provision to allow the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to condemn private land for the construction of those lines by "eminent domain." "There's a reluctance on my part, at least, to give FERC the authority to march in to private lands and decree that rights-of-way will be granted," said Thomas, who was in Casper to be with his wife Susan, who was scheduled for a medical treatment. The energy bill's architects are Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La. and Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., the GOP chairmen of the House and Senate energy committees...Congressional delegates back effort to restore Great Basin A diverse coalition from eastern Nevada has gained the support of the state's congressional delegates in an effort to restore the Great Basin. An amendment written by Sen. Harry Reid and co-sponsored by Sen. John Ensign would allow the federal Bureau of Land Management to work with the Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition on the project. The Senate measure will be backed by Rep. Jim Gibbons when it reaches the House. The coalition, which includes ranchers, conservationists and sportsmen, is committed to restoring approximately 10 million acres of public lands in Lincoln, White Pine and a portion of Nye counties...Commission wants BLM land kept open Concerned about restrictions on use of public lands, Park County commissioners said Tuesday they will urge the federal government to lift the "wilderness study area" designation on 23,930 acres south of Powell. Commissioners are concerned that Congress eventually could designate the area near McCullough Peaks as a wilderness, which is meant to protect natural and remote places by restricting activities there. In particular, they said they were worried that locals would not longer be able to use motorcycles, trucks or other vehicles on the land, which is owned by the Bureau of Land Management...Agency heads back Interior finding Top officials at the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say they strongly support a decision by the Interior Department earlier this year to withdraw its concerns about whether a proposed power plant near Roundup would degrade air quality in Yellowstone National Park. Interior's decision to withdraw its "adverse impact" finding was the subject of a lawsuit filed by environmental groups last week. In a story about the lawsuit, The Gazette reported than Fran Mainella, director of NPS, and Steve Williams, director of FWS, had raised concerns about the decision by Craig Manson, assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks at Interior. The story quoted from a letter obtained by environmental groups through the Freedom of Information Act. The letter, which was marked as a draft, said it was from Mainella and Williams but was not signed. On Monday, Mainella and Williams said in a letter to The Gazette that they neither requested nor saw the draft letter, which was written by a "junior staff member" and was "diametrically opposed" to their position in the case...Conservation Groups Intervene to Protect Alaska's National Parks The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Alaska Center for the Environment (ACE), and The Wilderness Society (TWS) today came to the defense of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska, intervening on behalf of the National Park Service in a lawsuit filed by a family who have illegally bulldozed a road through the park. The conservation groups are represented in the case by Trustees for Alaska...National Park's Overestimated Emission & Sound Levels Set Unjust Standard for Snowmobiling in Yellowstone The terms under which the National Park Service (NPS) is proposing to allow snowmobiling to continue in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks have left snowmobile makers in a quandary, according to the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (ISMA). The group has fought hard to preserve access, and in March the NPS announced its intention to allow snowmobiling to continue on portions of Yellowstone's roadsystem; 99 percent of the Park and all its backcountry -- over 2 million acres -- would remain off limits to snowmobiles. Snowmobiles would travel the same roads used in the warmer months by more than 1.7 million automobiles and busses. Annual snowmobile traffic in the parks is estimated at approximately 65,000. ISMA's concerns are centered on the drastic overestimates of snowmobile emission and sound levels, which the NPS has used in establishing requirements that would govern snowmobile access, according to Ed Klim, president of ISMA...Water plan is all washed up Voters didn't just say "no" to Referendum A. They said "no way." The referendum that sought $2 billion for water projects in Colorado went down to a defeat so resounding, it stunned opponents and proponents alike. "This is mind-boggling to me," said Don Ament, Colorado's agriculture commissioner and a Referendum A supporter who was left wondering what just happened. Referendum A, which was championed by Gov. Bill Owens since May as a weapon against Colorado's drought, was losing by a nearly 2-to-1 ratio, with most precincts reporting...Korea says U.S. cattle diseased South Korea says eight of 762 live cattle imported from the United States have tested positive for blue tongue, an insect-borne viral disease that is harmless to humans but possibly fatal to cows. The affected cows have been destroyed and the other cows would be re-examined, with their quarantine extended by more than 40 days, the agriculture ministry said in a statement Wednesday...Panel Doubts Finding on Cloned-Food Safety Just days after the Food and Drug Administration announced preliminary findings that meat and milk from cloned animals were safe to consume, a scientific review panel for the agency said on Tuesday that there was not enough data to support that conclusion and asked for more studies. Last week, the F.D.A. released a draft report with its findings, which was the first step for the agency to determine whether animal cloning was another stage for agricultural reproduction or a process that should be regulated in the same manner as that for drugs, said Stephen F. Sundlof, director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the agency...R-CALF offers list of COOL benefits they say USDA omitted A week after USDA went public with its proposed rules for mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL), a producer group is pointing out they didn't include an analysis of the benefits - only the costs. USDA did not provide "even an elementary benefit analysis of COOL within its proposed rules," says R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA). It did provide a cost estimate that has been criticized by COOL supporters and members of Congress for being biased in favor of the meatpacking industry, which vehemently opposes the legislation, the group says...

Monday, November 03, 2003


Supreme Court jumps into fight over wilderness study areas The Supreme Court said Monday it will review whether environmentalists can sue the government over its alleged failure to protect wilderness study areas from off-road vehicles and other possible threats. The high court agreed to review a case in which environmental groups had sued, accusing a federal agency of not following a congressional mandate to preserve the pristine qualities of areas being considered for wilderness designation. The Bush administration maintains that an agency's daily activities such as managing federal land cannot be challenged in court. The law does not allow courts to ''entertain challenges to anything and everything that an agency may do, or fail to do, in the conduct of its business,'' Solicitor General Theodore Olson told justices in a filing. At issue is land in Utah's backcountry being considered for special wilderness designation. Under federal law, those lands must be managed as if they were official wilderness areas until Congress decides what to do with them, meaning no motor vehicles or development. The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Bureau of Land Management has a statutory obligation to protect wilderness study areas, and could face lawsuits for failing to do so. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco came to a similar conclusion in a Montana case...Click here to read the opinion of the 10th Circuit....Full containment of Calif. fires near Exhausted firefighters were sent home Monday as remaining crews doused hotspots and watched for new ones -- the vast wildfires that ravaged parts of Southern California all but surrounded. More than 27,000 people remained displaced from their homes, but that was well down from the 80,000 at the peak of the fires, said a spokesman for the state Office of Emergency Services. All fires were expected to be surrounded by Tuesday, if not by Monday evening, said Andrea Tuttle, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection...California's search for wildfire solutions In the manzanita expanses of Ventura County just north of Los Angeles, last week's fires swept through the area as they did elsewhere in southern California - with little sympathy for anything in their path. With one important exception. Even though the fires consumed 172,000 acres, relatively few homes in the county were destroyed. One reason: strict laws that order backcountry residents to clear brush from within 100 feet of homes. As mundane as it sounds, strictures like this are part of a fundamental rethinking going on across California in the wake of the worst fires since the Yellowstone infernos in 1978. From forest- thinning practices to the role of the military, California officials are examining ways to prevent a repeat of the fires that cost the state more than $2 billion. Yet for all the regulations and new funding likely to come out of the disaster, a larger question underlies the debate: Does the main responsibility for protecting structures ultimately lie with homeowners themselves - with their choice of roofing, landscaping, and even windows? Certainly, the issue isn't likely to vanish any time soon. While the overall acreage burned in the latest fires was extensive, it barely amounts to a few smudges on a California map. The Golden State has plenty of acreage left to burn. "This is not the last fire," says Thomas Bonnicksen, a forestry expert who has monitored wild lands for three decades. "We're not going prevent the fire process. That will never happen."...The Nature Conservancy and Partners to Focus on Fire Management, Recent Controlled Burns In the wake of the wildfires that have devastated southern California, The Nature Conservancy and its Fire Learning Network partners will convene Nov. 5-7 at Camp Ripley in central Minnesota. The Fire Learning Network Workshop will focus on building support for collaborative, community-based fire management planning that can protect people and property while restoring natural landscapes. In many landscapes, human alterations to the role of natural fire has altered ecosystems and increased wildfire risks. Scientific management strategies include controlled, prescribed burns in forest and prairie landscapes and forest thinning techniques. The Fire Learning Network (FLN) is a cooperative effort of The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior...Dead trees: Little-known ecological disaster fueled SoCal fires A day after the Southern California wildfires erupted, the Fall 2003 edition of "California Forests," the official publication of the California Forestry Association, arrived at the news desks of the state's newspapers. Its content while reflecting the fact that it had been printed prior to the outbreak of flames described in exact and almost-prophetic detail the potential disaster awaiting the southland's over-dense and diseased forests. The most uncanny words published in the edition were those spoken by Peter Brierty, fire marshal for San Bernardino County. Brierty said that Californians are facing the "worst predictable disaster in state history."...Flooding, Landslides Pose Risk Flood control experts fear that wildfires have created potentially catastrophic landslide hazards in charred areas throughout Southern California -- especially in San Bernardino County, where as many as 50 catch basins built to block falling boulders, mud and trees may not be adequate. Debris flows, as the deadliest form of the slides are known, can be ferocious, crashing down mountain slopes, overwhelming barricades and dropping tons of rubble on unsuspecting communities during heavy rains. The San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains are dotted with catch basins -- government's response to a long and violent history of sudden landslides. The basins are typically engineered to capture the muddy fallout from a 100-year flood -- a heavy rainstorm whose likelihood of happening in any given year is only 1 percent. But in areas damaged by wildfires, the volume and velocity of material washing down can be 10 times greater than usual -- and exceptionally heavy even four to five years after a blaze...EarthWhere from SANZ Enhances USGS Support for Fighting Wildfires in Southern California SANZ today announced that a multi-agency effort led by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Denver, has successfully implemented the EarthWhere(TM) Spatial Data Provisioning Application from SANZ to provide timely mapping data to help combat the wildland fires burning throughout Southern California. The Geospatial Multi-Agency Coordination Group or GeoMAC, is an Internet-based mapping tool designed for fire managers to access online maps of current fire locations and perimeters in the conterminous 48 States and Alaska. Using a standard Web browser, fire personnel can download this information to pinpoint the affected areas. SANZ' EarthWhere has been integrated into GeoMAC to allow first responders and planners to quickly download accurate maps and imagery of fire-affected areas...Protesters cut into Bush forest policies Protesters opposing President Bush's Healthy Forests Initiative struck a chord Friday with passers-by, who honked approval at the Halloween demonstration outside the Bridger-Teton National Forest office. Seven adult protesters and two kids held up signs including a white sheet with the painted message: "Our forests will not be Bushwhacked." The protest comes one day after the U.S. Senate approved on an 80-14 vote a bill that would put Bush's Healthy Forests Initiative into law. The bill now moves to conference committee where the Senate and U.S. House of Representatives will reconcile their differences...Forest plan criticized Plans to rehabilitate part of the Stanislaus National Forest land that burned more than 15 years ago include aerial herbicide spraying on more than 1,000 acres, but the proposal is drawing fire from several environmental groups. The U.S. Forest Service has released a draft environmental review of its Larson reforestation and fuels-reduction project, which calls for treating nearly 4,000 acres of land that burned in the 1987 Stanislaus Complex Fire. The property is south of Highway 120, north of the Merced River canyon and is bounded on the east by Yosemite National Park. Forest Service officials say plenty of vegetation has grown back since the fire. But rather than a mix of pines, firs, cedars and other natural vegetation -- known as a mixed-conifer forest -- the area has given way to dense brush, grasslands, oak woodlands and noncommercial conifer. The goal, said John Swanson, the forest's Groveland district ranger, is to fashion a forest that more closely mimics its pre-fire condition, when about 84 percent of the area was covered with a mixed-conifer forest...An Uncertain Future Awaits an Enduring Piney Enclave, Residents fear the Forest Service may refuse permission to rebuild nine cabins that were destroyed in the Grand Prix fire For eight decades, the 10-cabin settlement known as Middle Fork had survived every calamity the San Bernardino National Forest could muster -- flame, flood and falling rock. Its luck ran out two Saturdays ago. Little more than hearths and chimneys are all that's left of nine of the cabins, which burned as quickly as wood chips in one of California's wildfires. They mark the blackened earth like tombstones. Now, as Middle Fork residents rake through the rubble, the mountains around them still smoking, they fear their tiny redoubt along Lytle Creek is dead for good, a way of life gone forever. They say the U.S. Forest Service, which owns the land on which the cabins sat, had been eager to get rid of them -- and could refuse permission to rebuild. Some also say that the Forest Service had mounted only a halfhearted effort to save the structures from the Grand Prix fire, having written them off as a low-rent nuisance not worth the risk of a determined defense. "They didn't really try to fight the fire back here," said Martin Ruff, 34, a truck driver whose cabin was reduced to charred skeletons of appliances, plus the chimney. "They let the fire go -- because they want us out of here."...National survey evaluates presence, status of wolverines in Michigan Did real wolverines ever roam the Wolverine State? Patrick Rusz of the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy says yes. "I'm a believer that there once were wolverines," he said. The question surfaced recently when the Predator Conservation Alliance, based in Bozeman, Wyo., petitioned to place the wolverine on the endangered species list. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined the motion due to what they claimed was insufficient information about the mammal. In response to the petition, the U.S. Forest Service will conduct a study in 2004 to determine the wolverine's biology, ecology, distribution and habitat " as well as potential threats to its existence," said Ralph Morgenweck, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service's Mountain-Prairie Region, in a written statement...Reintroduced Wolves Dying in Southwest Five years ago, federal biologists began to introduce endangered Mexican gray wolves in remote mountains near the Arizona-New Mexico border, half a century after the end of concerted campaigns to wipe them out. Wolf pairs have been added over the years, with a goal of establishing a population of 100 wild wolves. But now someone is killing them. There are 24 wolves living in the wild in the Southwest. But nearly that many, at least 22, have died under "suspicious circumstances," investigators say, since the program began. Six have been killed in the past two months, three by gunshot and three by cars. Curtis Graves, the special agent with the federal Fish and Wildlife Service who is responsible for the wolf cases, is reluctant to assign a motive. He said the shootings could be a result of confusion by hunters who thought they were lawfully killing coyotes. But neither he nor local ranchers rule out the possibility that some ranchers may be shooting wolves to protect their cattle. "If the wolves continue to be dumped in here and continue to destroy people's way of life in the cattle industry," said Sam Luce, a rancher in Blue, Ariz., "people are going to defend themselves." The reintroduction effort has been plagued by other problems. Officials say they are frustrated by political constraints...Law called threat to states' rights States could lose the power to enforce such environmental agreements if Congress approves legislation requested by the Pentagon. The Readiness and Range Preservation Initiative would make military bases exempt from environmental laws that cover everything from hazardous waste, air quality and endangered species. In Colorado, the change could affect environmental cleanup projects, including the former bombing range, a one-time ammunition depot in Pueblo, and chemical weapons and pesticide removal at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in northeast Denver...Toxic Immunity From Cape Cod in Massachusetts to McClellan Air Force Base in California, the Pentagon is facing mounting criticism for failing to clean up military sites contaminated with everything from old munitions to radioactive materials and residues from biological-weapons research. Now, citing the demands of the war on terrorism and working with sympathetic officials in the administration and Congress, the department has stepped up efforts to remove substantial parts of its operations from environmental oversight. Last December, Defense officials drew up a 24-page strategy memorandum, laying out a plan for a "multi-year campaign" to exempt the military from federal laws including the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Clean Air Act, as well as rules governing solid and hazardous wastes. The strategy also called for Congress to state "that munitions deposited and remaining on operational ranges are not 'solid wastes'" -- a move that with one stroke would exempt the Pentagon from having to clean up the old shells, fuels, and other weapons "constituents" that turn places like Badger into health hazards. The Pentagon is seeking these changes even though current law already allows it to gain exemptions from any environmental regulations that might hinder military preparedness; according to a 2002 study by Congress' General Accounting Office, the Defense Department has never run into any significant problems in this regard...Let River Flow, or Let It Grow? On a recent visit to the Santa Ana River, Jan Vandersloot peered over the steep concrete embankment. If there was a river down there, he sure couldn't see it. Covered by tons of sediment, the stretch of the river through Costa Mesa now sustains an environment where migrating birds, including an endangered species, seek refuge. Willow trees tower 40 feet. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now wants to clean up a 3.6-mile stretch of the river from its mouth at the Pacific to just upstream from Adams Avenue. Activists such as Vandersloot, however, see a golden opportunity to let the river revert to its natural state and allow some of the wildlife habitat to remain...Stranded salmon The Columbia River can drop about 10 feet in 12 hours, said Don Anglin, supervisory fishery biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. River water is released from behind dams when there's demand for power -- every time a light is switched on or a hair dryer plugged in. Then when demands for power stop, so does the water. And almost every time the river fluctuates, it traps tiny fish. "They are in a pool and the river goes out," Anglin said. "Then the pool drains out." "We know we are killing fish, and we know we are killing big numbers." And how many salmon come from the Reach is a vital concern to many in the Mid-Columbia and beyond. The concern comes despite this year's record returns of fall chinook, about 607,000 have swum past Bonneville Dam near Portland so far. That's the largest run of fall chinook since officials began counting in 1938, said Matt Rabe, spokesman for the Portland District of the Army Corps of Engineers...Interior to consider dropping claims to some monument roads The Department of Interior will consider dropping federal ownership claims to some roads within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and turning those routes over to Utah counties, Interior Secretary Gale Norton said Friday. But each of the disputed road claims put forward by Utah under a first-ever agreement will be determined through a public-input process that won't always lead to counties getting control of the routes and may still wind up in court. "There are a number of things about [the Utah pact] that are a good model and could resolve a vast majority of the road disputes in the West," Norton said in an interview with reporters from Western news outlets. "There are other issues where the federal government and the local communities will have to agree to disagree and resolve that in the judicial process." In July, the U.S. House approved language modifying the April memorandum of understanding between Norton and Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt to add "national monuments" to the deal's existing exclusions of national parks, wilderness areas and wildlife refuges. Those areas of public lands will not be considered by the Bureau of Land Management in issuing "recordable disclaimers of interest" that surrender federal ownership on rights-of-way claimed by counties under the 1866 mining law known as Revised Statute 2477. But this week a House-Senate conference committee stripped the House-passed monument exclusion language from the Interior appropriations bill and a Democratic-led effort to reject the spending measure fizzled Thursday. The Senate is expected to approve the bill next week without changes, allowing Garfield and Kane counties to request federal disclaimers on roads traversing the 1.9 million-acre monument...Family battles U.S. over road The Pacific Legal Foundation, in a lawsuit filed yesterday, accused the National Park Service of trying to force a family to abandon its Alaska ranch, which is surrounded by federally owned property, by closing a mining road in violation of state and federal laws. "The Park Service wants to starve out and crush the Pilgrim family," said Russ Brooks, managing lawyer for the PLF. The 17-member Pilgrim family uses the road to haul supplies from the nearest town, 15 miles away. The PLF's lawsuit on behalf of the family, filed in Anchorage, says the rugged road was established by the Kennecott Mining Co. more than 100 years ago and is protected as an existing right under federal law. It was used by the Pilgrim family until April, when the Park Service closed the road without public notice or hearing...Editorial: A safe bet Last week, the FDA came to the preliminary conclusion that cloned animals and their offspring are as safe to eat as conventional animals. That decision, encapsulated in the executive summary of the draft report, "Animal Cloning: A Risk Assessment," will be vetted today in a public meeting of the FDA's Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee. Although many may have a negative emotive response to the idea of eating either an animal clone or its offspring, the FDA's conclusions appear to be well-warranted. The report's authors evaluated the potential risks of consuming food from cloned cattle, sheep, goats and pigs, and their progeny. Not all of the sample sizes were large, but the conclusions were almost identical in each case -- such foods are almost certain to be safe for consumption...A REGION ON THE ROPES: Rural ranchers and farmers fight to survive as their political power withers Seven generations of Hanleys have wrangled a living out of the sage and rabbit brush since settling in Eastern Oregon in the early 1880s. Man-made and natural forces have forged their resilience: rustlers, restless cattle markets, volatile weather, grasshoppers of biblical proportions. Today, like thousands of Eastern Oregon ranchers and farmers, they see themselves under siege by city dwellers -- latte-sippers armed with legal briefs. As they see it, environmental groups in Portland and Eugene are searching for a crowbar big enough to pry them off the land. "I suppose what we are going through now is just another type of plague," said rancher Mike Hanley, 62, of Jordan Valley along the Oregon-Idaho border...Japan reports possible 9th case of mad cow disease; experts meet A bull in Hiroshima has tested positive for the mad cow disease, which if confirmed would be the ninth detected in this country, health officials said Tuesday. The 21-month-old Holstein tested positive when it was brought to a slaughterhouse in Hiroshima state in western Japan on Oct. 29, according to Yuki Ueda, a spokesman at the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. The bull has been killed, he said...Mail carriers source of varied services Today, the United States Postal Service is often the object of criticism for late mail, continually rising costs and tons of unwanted junk mail. But talk to most of the older generation and they hold the "mail carriers," as we called them, in high esteem. Nearly every rural resident has a good mail-carrier story or two to tell. Long before towns were settled, crank telephones invented and decent roads established, the horse-drawn mail hack kept the thinly settled West in touch with itself and the world...Cowboy crooner chose his own path A quarter-century after leaving the music world to become a cowboy, Carl Smith will climb from the saddle long enough to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 1978, after a 35-year career, the classy crooner from Maynardsville, Tenn., put aside his songbook that included such hits as Let's Live a Little, Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way and It's a Lovely, Lovely World and literally went out to pasture...