Saturday, December 13, 2003


Endangered Species Act is 30; hold toasts

For 13 years, a lot of people in California's Central Valley were put through a lot of costly hassles because federal officials decided to protect an "endangered" flower that, it now turns out, isn't anywhere near extinction — and never was. This saga of bureaucratic bungling carries a blunt moral: federal endangered species law desperately needs reforming.

Lovers of flora naturally admire the simple nobility of the Hoover's woolly-star, an annual herb with gray fuzzy stems and tiny, white-to-pale-blue flowers. But sound science never dictated that this plant, which grows like a weed up and down the Central Valley, should have been classified as "threatened." That was the designation given by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in 1990. Recently, the bureaucrats backtracked, removing the special protections and admitting they were never needed.

So how did the non-threatened woolly star make the "threatened" list back in 1990? The answer goes to the heart of the defects in the 30-year-old federal Endangered Species Act. Billed as a shield for vulnerable animals and plants, the ESA is too easily used as a sword by anti-growth forces.

Cynicism and junk science

Clumsily written, it invites the cynical use of "junk science" to justify labeling hale-and-hearty plants and creatures as "endangered" in order to sideline housing construction and other land-use projects.

For instance, the ESA doesn't require up-to-date research before an official prognosis of a species' status. Old studies — or studies from a different geographical area — are deemed good enough for this kind of government work. Also, officials don't have to take account of economic impact, so species safeguards aren't tailored to minimize the hit on jobs.

Flawed survey

In the case of the Hoover's woolly-star, regulators decided that it was threatened based on surveys that looked at only limited regions and that had been conducted during a Central Valley drought. You might wonder how trained federal botanists could have missed the elementary biological principle that vegetation will drastically fluctuate depending on annual rainfall, but that's what happened.

In rushing to declare the herb imperiled, federal biologists also failed to consider that it's not on the menu of sheep, cows, or other herbivores; that it can be found in varied landscapes and locations from the Mojave Desert to coastal mountains; and that, all in all, it is remarkably resilient, capable of withstanding heavy foot and hoof traffic. Populations have been identified in Kings, Los Angeles, and San Benito Counties. In the Central Valley, it spreads like a weed after rains.

All this the FWS now, belatedly, acknowledges — after a decade of monitoring and micromanaging lands and landowners. This new realism is cold comfort for those who chafed under the regulations for so long. More than 286,000 acres of private and public lands were impacted. Grazing, oil, and gas development, and other economically beneficial uses of public lands were curtailed, and expensive, taxpayer-funded monitoring programs were imposed. Private landowners had to tiptoe around the protected herb or risk high fines or even jail time.

Many will second the FWS official who recently called the ESA a "broken law." The 30th birthday of this woolley-headed statute would be a time for celebrating — if Congress recalls it for a major overhaul.

U.S. Says Court Decisions Slowing Forest Road Ban The U.S. Agriculture Department said on Friday a barrage of court decisions blocking a Clinton-era plan to protect millions of acres of forest land has forced the agency to make significant changes and slowed implementation of the rule. The measure, signed days before President Clinton left office in January, 2001, would prevent road construction and the removal of oil or lumber from 58.5 million acres of federal forest land, unless needed for environmental reasons or to reduce the risk of wildfires. But the so-called "roadless rule" has since been subjected to nearly a dozen lawsuits, mostly from western states which harbor many of the trees that would be protected...Grazing rules put ranchers in the saddle California ranchers gain while environmentalists seethe under sweeping new grazing rules unveiled by the Bush administration this week. In a marked reversal from previous public-land policies, the Interior Department now is pushing grazing plans that largely ease ranchers' burdens. "We're very pleased, actually," Ben Higgins, executive vice president of the California Cattlemen's Association, said Tuesday. "They took the industry's input into consideration," Higgins said, "and we're hopeful that these rules at the end of the day will provide for greater management flexibility." The new proposals, for instance, will make federal land managers take into account economic and social circumstances, not just habitat protection, when deciding whether to reduce grazing levels...Logging of Forest Near Lake Tahoe Halted A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that forest burned by a 2001 fire near Lake Tahoe cannot be logged despite government fears of renewed fire danger. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals faulted forest officials for approving the cutting plan without adequately considering the California spotted owl and other environmental concerns. In approving the cutting on 1,700 acres, the U.S. Forest Service said the burned area was so ravaged, it was no longer attractive to owls. Environmental group Earth Island Institute sued to block the cutting, alleging owls still lived in the area...Senate supports Winchester Bay land swap Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Gordon Smith, R-Ore., who sponsored Senate Resolution 714, announced its approval in a joint press release. The proposal calls for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to turn over 68.5 acres west of the Salmon Harbor RV Park to county control. SR 714 is calculated to improve safety and access to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area by providing a staging area for all-terrain vehicles, thereby keeping them off Salmon Harbor Drive, currently the only access route to the dunes. Bringing the area under county policing also is intended to better prevent unauthorized camping and parking, according to the press release. The bill would bring centralized law enforcement to parcels currently overseen by the state, BLM, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Coast Guard...Weyerhaeuser stole thousands of trees, ex-investigator testifies A former U.S. Forest Service investigator testified yesterday that Weyerhaeuser stole at least 66,000 healthy trees from Oregon in the early 1990s but the agency never recovered damages or prosecuted any corporate officials. Dennis Shrader told a judge that he briefed former Forest Service chief Jack Ward Thomas about the potential scope of the alleged theft but instead of taking action, the agency disbanded the investigative unit. Shrader testified that he had feared Weyerhaeuser would exert political pressure on the agency and the Clinton administration -- and the decision in April 1995 to disband the Timber Theft Task Force created by Congress in 1991 to investigate the industry suggested his concerns were legitimate...Daschle seeks to end ESA review of prairie dogs Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., has urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to end a review of prairie dogs as potential candidates for protection under the Endangered Species Act. In a letter to Fish and Wildlife Service director Steven A. Williams, Daschle cited substantial prairie dog populations in South Dakota, and said, "The notion that the prairie dog is threatened defies logic." In 2000, the Fish and Wildlife Service found that the black-tailed prairie dog deserved listing as a threatened species, but the agency delayed an official listing until it finishes with higher-priority species. Significant recent studies have concluded that prairie dogs are not threatened and do not meet the definition of an endangered species, according to a news release from Daschle...Carbon County takes aim at wolves As of Thursday, wolves in Carbon County are considered "problem predators" under current federal management. The county commissioners voted unanimously to adopt a resolution that uses their state authority to establish predatory animal control to protect livestock. The resolution endorses part of the draft state wolf management plan and calls for the federal government to quickly remove wolves' protected status under the Endangered Species Act. Once wolves are placed under state wildlife management, the resolution calls for seeking federal money to reimburse the state for management efforts. The resolution also takes a jab at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for not "acknowledging or notifying Carbon County and its citizens of the presence of wolves, nor are they managing wolves in Carbon County." The commissioners and some of the more than 50 people who attended their meeting at the county courthouse chastised the FWS for not sending a representative to the meeting...Another record year for Columbia salmon returns More than 920,000 chinook salmon passed the Bonneville Dam fish counters this year, breaking last year's record, reported the Federal Caucus, the nine federal agencies engaged in salmon recovery efforts in the Columbia River Basin. The 2003 results announced Friday are the largest returns since construction of the Bonneville Dam was completed in 1938 and far exceed the most recent 10-year average of 399,000. Similar encouraging adult-return numbers were reported at Bonneville for other species: 364,000 steelhead, 126,000 coho and 39,000 sockeye, with both steelhead and coho well above their 10-year averages...Federal judge rejects species law Sullivan, in a 47-page ruling, said "flagrant violations" were committed when the Clinton administration first adopted the so-called "no surprises policy" in 1994 without public input. "The public has consistently been denied the opportunity to be notified of substantive changes to regulations enforcing the ESA (Endangered Species Act), and to weigh in on decisions likely to have significant effects on public resources," the Washington, D.C., jurist said. The policy was built into habitat conservation plans as a way to give developers assurances that once they comply with a plan, they won't have to face further building restrictions or fees, even if new species are listed or more habitat is required to protect a species. The judge essentially told the U.S. Department of Interior to revise the policy in a way that would include the public's voice. In addition, he invalidated a companion policy that set forth circumstances in which "no surprises" assurances could be revoked...Feds out to kill wolf pack that preyed on sheep Federal biologists plan to kill three members of the Lone Bear wolf pack to scare the pack away from an area where the predators killed at least 17 sheep on two Paradise Valley ranches. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also issued kill-on-site permits to the two ranch owners and another adjacent landowner, allowing them to kill up to two wolves each on their ranches about 13 miles south of Livingston...Pilgrim son accused of running trail tour without permit The Pilgrims are back in federal court to answer allegations that a family member led an undercover ranger on a commercial horseback tour in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve without a proper license. The National Park Service contends that Joshua Hale _ the family's legal last name _ took ranger Stephen Rooker from Kennicott to Bonanza Mine in August but didn't have a permit to conduct business on federal land. In U.S. District court Thursday, Joshua Hale's defense attorney argued the road from Kennicott to the mine is a state right of way, a contention similar to the one the family is using in a pending federal case over access to their homestead. In documents filed Thursday, the federal government said the Pilgrims have failed to justify their request that a federal judge reconsider his ruling against them in that case...Park Service files response in Pilgrim family case The Pilgrim family failed to justify its request that a federal judge reconsider his ruling against them in their access feud with the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, federal officials said in documents filed Thursday. The Pilgrims, whose legal name is Hale, "merely rehash arguments that this court has already properly considered and rejected," federal attorney Bruce Landon wrote in a 20-page opposition to the request. U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline ruled last month that the National Park Service had the right to require a permit before the Pilgrims can use a bulldozer to haul supplies over a historic mining route to their property inside the park. Beistline said the 17-member family must go through the permit process...10,000 stolen relics from American West recovered in probe More than 10,000 artifacts taken from historic sites throughout the West have been recovered as part of one of the largest archaeological cases ever investigated, authorities said. The two-year investigation, dubbed Operation Indian Rocks, has led to a ring of relic hunters who were stealing remnants of the past, including arrowheads, ancient corncobs, hammer-stones and clay figurine fragments, the Las Vegas Sun reported Thursday. The last major defendant in the case, Nevada resident Bobbie Wilkie, has pleaded guilty to two counts of excavation and removal of archaeological resources and aiding and abetting. His sentencing was scheduled for Monday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas...Mutiny in the Parks Park Service employees are a typically loyal bunch who just want to work in nature and preserve national treasures. But as federal outsourcing begins in earnest, many retired Park Service employees are voicing concerns with the agency's current leadership. One hundred and twenty-six Park Service retirees -- former rangers, superintendents and regional directors --signed an Aug. 26 letter to current Park Service Director Fran Mainella condemning her support of Bush administration park initiatives in no uncertain terms. Today the National Park Service is no longer being run wholly in the interest of the public which it serves, the letter stated, citing an opinion piece in The Tennessean in which Mainella had argued that President Bush's Clear Skies plan is the affordable way to go....EPA wrestling with politics, workers say in survey EPA employees in the Rocky Mountain region say that politics is taking precedence over science in the agency's work, resulting in a lack of consistent enforcement of environmental laws and low morale among staffers, a survey found. "Politics now plays a pre-eminent role in day-to-day work at EPA," said Chandra Rosenthal, director of the Rocky Mountain chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The advocacy group sponsored the survey, which was released Wednesday...Interior disciplines 4 behind proposed San Rafael Swell land swap The Interior Department has disciplined four officials behind a Utah land swap and reformed its land appraisal process after an investigation revealed they concealed details that showed the exchange would have shortchanged taxpayers. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, had singled out the actions of the attorneys and negotiators behind a proposed land exchange in Utah's San Rafael Swell, saying they misled Congress and top Interior officials. He also demanded to know whether the Interior Secretary Gale Norton considered such behavior acceptable...

Friday, December 12, 2003

There will be no news or commentary this morning.

I returned home late after attending the Memorial Service for Congressman Joe Skeen. It was a moving experience. Joe was a personal friend and a great advocate for producers and rural citizens across the nation. All of the NM Congressional delegation was there, as well as the Governor, former Governors and many other dignitaries. It was a beautiful service for a wonderful man.

My strength will return and I will be back posting the latest news and commentary later today.


Wednesday, December 10, 2003


Rehberg fights for backcountry airstrips Chuck Jarecki's preferred mode of transportation into the wilderness is his Cessna 180. The 65-year-old Polson resident is urging lawmakers to implement a law to prevent federal officials from closing backcountry airstrips. "The airstrips are basically like a trailhead," the retired rancher explains. "It's like the end of the road for a car. It's a point from where you can access the wilderness." Environmentalists oppose the effort, saying remote airstrips harm wildlife and ruin the wilderness experience for other people. "More motors, more noise, more speed all violate the intent of national monuments, wilderness areas and wildlife areas," Montana Wilderness Association field representative Mark Good said. "There need to be some areas where there are no motors." Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., is a strong supporter of the bill, HR 2776, that would require the Interior and Agriculture departments to consult with state aviation departments and the Federal Aviation Administration before attempting to close airstrips. It would also require the federal government to give 90 days notice by publishing its plans in the Federal Register, giving pilots time to review the plans...U.S. judge rules for BLM in CBM leases The Bureau of Land Management in Montana acted properly when it issued leases for coalbed methane before conducting a comprehensive environmental study of the activity, a federal judge ruled Wednesday. Senior U.S. District Judge Jack Shanstrom adopted the findings and recommendations of U.S. Magistrate Richard Anderson and granted summary judgment in favor of the BLM. The Northern Plains Resource Council sued BLM in 2001, saying the agency failed to properly study the potential effects of developing coalbed methane with an environmental impact statement before issuing leases between 1997 and 2001. As a result, the leases were invalid, NPRC said...MT GOP still wants all federal land; bad idea, say Schweitzer and access group The Montana Republican Party still wants the state to take over all the federal land in Montana, with the exception of military bases. "Be it resolved that the Montana Republican Party supports the transfer of administration of all federal lands, excluding military installations, in Montana to the State of Montana," says a resolution posted on the party's Web site. The plank is there even though former Gov. Marc. Racicot, a Republican, decided years ago that the state didn't have the money or manpower to manage an extra 30 million acres...West Texans Sizzle Over a Plan to Sell Their Water Angry West Texans and some state officials are demanding a halt to a deal that allows a group of politically well-connected Midland oilmen to tap the desert and sell billions of gallons of water from the state's public reserves. The venture was advancing without announcement or competitive bidding by the powerful Texas General Land Office, which controls 20 million acres of public lands and the liquids and minerals beneath them. The agency has never licensed private sale of its water. The eight-man water partnership, Rio Nuevo Ltd., seeks to be the first, pumping out and selling some 16 billion gallons a year to municipalities and ranchers in drought-parched far west Texas, where many people fear that their own wells could go dry as a result. Since last year, people involved in the matter say, the land office -- steward of a nearly $18 billion permanent school fund to benefit public education -- has given an exclusive hearing to Rio Nuevo, prodded by the speaker of the Texas House, Tom Craddick, Republican of Midland. The proposed deal has raised a ruckus in this remote town of 6,000 and its Big Bend country sister communities Marfa and Marathon. Since the news leaked out two months ago, lawmakers and others have called on the land commissioner, Jerry Patterson, to avoid any action pending further examination...Committee proposes land grant legislation Members of a new legislative committee proposed legislation Wednesday intended to address what they said were decades of injustices committed against land grant heirs and communities. "Some rulings have been imposed against you, and that's why we've proposed legislation. We don't want to see that happen in the future," Land Grant Committee Chairman Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, told land grant representatives who filled the committee room. "We've seen where the Legislature has worked with the courts to swindle land grant holders from their property," he said. "They do it legally, but not morally. "We've been part of the problem," Garcia said. "Now we're trying to be part of the solution." One of the proposals to be introduced in the legislative session in January would direct the Office of Cultural Affairs and state Attorney General's Office to work together to determine if there is any land owned by the state that was "obtained through dishonest, unjust or illegal means" from land grant holders...Disease on Down the Road It's easy to look at disease outbreaks as acts of God, or fate, or chance. After all, diseases are often so capricious, so stubbornly beyond our full control, that it can seem as if we humans have little to do with them -- beyond suffering the consequences, that is. But in many cases, argues journalist and veterinarian Mark Jerome Walters, we have far more influence over disease than we think. In Six Modern Plagues and How We Are Causing Them, he contends that disease outbreaks are often triggered by the damage we've done to the environment. To build his case, Walters looks at the origins of mad cow disease, HIV/AIDS, an antibiotic-resistant strain of salmonella, Lyme disease, hantavirus, and West Nile virus. In each case, he finds evidence that human manipulation of the environment is at least partly responsible for recent outbreaks. The modern epidemic of mad cow disease, for instance, was most likely sparked by the widespread and longstanding practice of "rendering," or using animal parts in cattle feed. The brisk bush-meat trade in some African markets may have been responsible for passing the HIV virus from apes to humans -- and could someday send new, similarly deadly viruses our way as well. There's also evidence that modern-day outbreaks of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, an often-fatal respiratory disease carried by rodents in the U.S. Southwest, are linked to global climate change...NCBA is working on a new voluntary labeling program A task force of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association will be working over the next two months to come up with a voluntary labeling program for beef, leaders from the cattle producer group said Wednesday. The task force hopes to have a plan to present to NCBA members at their annual meeting in Phoenix at the end of January, NCBA vice president Jim McAdams told reporters today. The task force will meet with all representatives of the industry, including retailers that NCBA hopes will partner in a program to test consumer demand for beef with a U.S. origin label, said the Atkins, Texas cow-calf rancher...Cat kill worries Winston residents It's a regular residential neighborhood with children, pets, a nearby church and school -- and, residents believe, a cougar. Roger and Lori Bankes have lived on Winston's Parkway Drive off Thompson Avenue for four years. They'd never heard of a dangerous animal wandering around their home, until the family cat was killed early Monday morning. A neighbor, Freada Hanson, awoke around 1 a.m. Monday and says she saw a cougar walking in the street. She also discovered sizable pawprints in her yard. Monday afternoon, one house over, the Bankes' cat Oliver was found dead and mangled...Wyoming Man Treated for Brucellosis A man from Johnson County is being treated for brucellosis. Tracy Murphy of the State Health Department says the source of the disease has not been determined. The department was notified of the diagnosis last month. Murphy says there have been no other cases of brucellosis in humans and the agency doesn't have reason to believe the Johnson County case is a risk to others...Editorial: No More Big Straw: Legislature needs to rethink water laws They call it the "law of the big straw" in West Texas. And there's a good reason. The state's "rule of capture" law allows Texans to extract as much water as they want from an aquifer. This means those with the biggest straw get the biggest gulps from underground water supplies. Ranchers with big spreads, farmers with huge crops and cities with booming populations can draw out more groundwater than their smaller neighbors. It's been that way for 100 years, but Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson wants to change the status quo. So does Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs. Both Republicans recently said they want the state to think anew about how much water Texans can draw from an aquifer... Ariz. Ranchers Sued by Civil Rights Group A monastery official and a human rights advocacy group sued a southern Arizona ranch family Wednesday, accusing them of impersonating federal agents and violating the rights of undocumented immigrants. Border Action Network, a human rights organization, and Donald J. Mackenzie, groundskeeper for and vice president of Summerland Monastery Inc., filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Roger Barnett; his wife, Barbara, and his brother, incorrectly identified as Ralph. The lawsuit will be amended to correct the name Ralph to Donald, attorney Jesus Romo said. The civil action accuses the Barnetts of conspiracy to interfere with the civil rights of immigrants and seeks preliminary and permanent injunctions against them...Senate Delays Vote On 2004 Ag Spending Until January The U.S. Senate will not vote on the fiscal year 2004 agriculture spending bill and legislation to block mandatory country-of-origin labeling until Jan. 20 at the earliest. Both issues are wrapped into an $820 billion "omnibus" appropriations bill the Senate had been scheduled to vote on Tuesday, a day after the House of Representatives approved it on Monday. Minority Leader Tom Daschle objected on the Senate floor Tuesday to the bill and specified mandatory country-of-origin labeling as a key issue of contention. "The omnibus legislation I have in front of me includes language actually delaying the implementation of country-of-origin labeling for two years," Daschle said. "The Senate passed country-of-origin labeling on two occasions - in May of 2002 as part of the farm bill, as well as just last month with a vote of 56 to 32."...

Whistleblower testifies timber theft unit disbanded A US Forest Service timber theft unit was disbanded just as it found evidence of massive theft on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, according to testimony heard today in a Portland courtroom. Former investigator Steven Slagowski testified that logs worth millions of dollars routinely disappeared while they were being floated down Alaskan rivers in the early 1990s. He says the logs ended up being secretly sold in Asia for inflated prices. He also testified that entire islands in southern Alaska were clearcut but a fringe of forest was left standing to make it appear as if nothing had been removed. But he says his reports were ignored, and former Forest Service chief Jack Ward Thomas eventually decided to disband the unit in 1995...Environmentalists Sue Over Alaska Logging Plan Environmentalists said on Wednesday they have sued the U.S. Forest Service over a plan they say threatens to open up valuable sections of the largest national forest to clear-cut logging. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Juneau, said the Forest Service's six-year-old management plan for Alaska's Tongass National Forest was based on flawed information that exaggerated the demand for timber from there. The lawsuit also challenges six Tongass timber sales now pending as a result of the 1997 plan. The lawsuit seeks to have the Tongass management plan and the six sale plans rewritten, said Tom Waldo, an attorney with Earthjustice, which is representing the six plaintiff groups...Forest Service defends effort to outsource analyst jobs Contrary to the environmental group's claims, the Forest Service has no political motives for outsourcing the work, Mills said. Rather, the agency thinks the jobs are more appropriate for private companies with flexible workforces. Right now, the federal employee analysts work for limited, two-to-four-year terms, Mills said. But even those terms can be too long, he explained, because the workload fluctuates frequently. The Forest Service is "seeking some additional clarification" of the Interior budget law, and has extended the deadline for contractor proposals by about a month, to Jan. 5, 2004, Mills said. That may be enough time to resolve the court case, he said. But he added that he is "fairly confident" the outsourcing would be legal, since the Interior budget measure is designed to provide funding and guidance for fiscal 2004...Forest OHV trails ruling to face appeal Partners in Recreation, a group of off road enthusiasts, is not happy with the recent Interface trails decision and has decided to appeal it. The Stanislaus National Forest decision announced last week by Tom Quinn, the U.S. Forest Service supervisor in Sonora, closes some Interface trails while creating some new ones...Off-road vehicles face detours The U.S. Forest Service wants to close most of Spring Mountains National Recreation Area to motorized, cross-country travel, leaving up to 70 miles of designated roads and trails open to all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles, trucks and cars. The reason, according to District Ranger Steve Holdsambeck, is fast-paced growth in the Las Vegas and Pahrump valleys that is closing in on the 493-square-mile recreation area and is posing a threat to fragile species and the landscape...Lawsuit filed over Preble's mouse protection A lawsuit has been filed against the federal government over protection of a mouse that lives along stream banks in Colorado and Wyoming. The Mountain States Legal Foundation of Lakewood, Colo., a nonprofit legal center, claims a 1998 decision listing the Preble's meadow jumping mouse as threatened is based on incomplete habitat and population data. The lawsuit was filed against the Interior Department on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne...Water pact in reach The Navajo Nation, the state of New Mexico and the federal government have reached a proposed settlement over water claims. The complex 120-page settlement, announced here Friday, is the closest the parties have gotten to a resolution in their 30-year battle over water in northwestern New Mexico. It must be officially approved by the state, Congress and the Navajo tribal government. Under the settlement, the tribe agreed to a 322,000 acre-feet annual share of San Juan River water and pledged not to claim more water in the future. The tribe, in exchange, would get nearly $900 million in public works projects...Ogallala Water Quality Results Released The U.S. Geological Survey, tested the Ogallala Aquifer from Amarillo to Odessa. Water samples were taken from 48 wells in the region and tested for more than 240 constituents. Of the constituents, 10 exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recommendation for drinking water. Some of the substances found were arsenic, fluoride, nitrate, radon and sulfate. But the good news is, the levels of these substances are no reason for concern, and most of them are caused naturally in water...Wesley Clark vows to clean up air Democratic presidential hopeful Wesley Clark, charging that President Bush cannot be trusted "with the air we breathe," promised Tuesday to clean up polluted air he blames for 30,000 premature deaths a year. The Clark environmental plan includes setting tougher standards for power plants and demanding that the Environmental Protection Agency fully implement the Clean Air Act. The retired Army general said he would restore EPA inspections and personnel, strictly enforce all EPA rules, and stiffen fines for polluters...

A New Beginning for our Forests

The devastating Yellowstone National Park fires of 1988 first began to focus national attention on the condition of our nation's forests. The highly controversial policy of letting nature-caused fires burn uncontrolled (called "natural regulation"), touted by one of Yellowstone's top ecologists, quickly caused debate in the U.S. Congress. Eight Congresses have since convened, and hearings have occupied ever-growing time in the Senate and the House. Forestry professionals, ecologists, biologists and environmentalists in government, academia and non-governmental organizations have presented volumes of studies, data and photos. It has become clear to almost all parties that there is a crisis in the national forests.

A century of federal and state total suppression of all fires, propelled by Smokey the Bear's constant harangues, has created historically unnatural forests, dense with hazardous accumulations of dead and dying trees, duff, pinecones and fallen or wind-toppled trees and near-impenetrable thickets of smaller trees crowding the forest floor under the mature forest. Prolonged droughts across much of the West, together with the dense, overcrowded young trees, have stressed the forests and weakened their resistance to disease, insects and beetles, which have reached epidemic levels in many national forests...


I was starting to wonder why I'd come to the COP-9 conference. It didn't threaten to be very newsy, and just about everyone now realizes that the Kyoto Protocol, the reason for these regular gatherings of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is deader than a gathering of Iowans for Al Sharpton. Other than the rather seductive allure of Milan's shopping district, there wasn't much to recommend the journey here.

Then I picked up a press release on "Gender and Climate." Now here was something worth writing home about.

"Simply stating that both men and women are affected by climate change does not bring out the fact that women in many cases are more vulnerable, and also less involved in the technological changes proposed to mitigate climate change," this incredible statement read. "Climate change is not a gender neutral process and this needs to be explicitly recognized and dealt with."...

Nitrate Alarmists Cost Consumers Plenty

Early in the Bush administration, a political row erupted over proposed changes in the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for arsenic in drinking water. In its final weeks, the Clinton administration initiated a 10-fold reduction in the MCL for arsenic, from 50 parts per million (ppm) to 5 ppm. The Bush administration suspended the change pending a reexamination of the science by the National Research Council.

The new MCL would be particularly burdensome on poor, rural communities, Bush administration officials explained. While the health risks of maintaining the MCL at 50 ppm appeared to be small, the compliance costs for reducing it were very high.

A similar small risk/high cost drinking water regulation has received almost no attention: the limit on nitrate in drinking water, currently set at 10 ppm. That regulation is costing U.S. communities and homeowners hundreds of millions of dollars per year, and the cost is increasing.

The Environmental Protection Agency is increasing its pressure on state agencies to enforce the standard, even though there is no evidence of a problem. Moreover, as communities grow, more are reaching the threshold at which the regulation is enforced. (The regulation applies to community water systems serving more than 15 homes or 25 people.)...

Meet Me in Milan

Some 4000 delegates from 188 countries have been convened since December 1 in Milan at the ninth Conference of the Parties (COP9) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The delegates will be joined later this week by at least 74 environment ministers from around the world.

The delegates and environmental activists had hoped that the COP9 would be the occasion for announcing that the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC had at long last come into force. The Kyoto Protocol has already been ratified by 100 or so countries but is not yet internationally binding. That's because it must be ratified by a set of industrialized countries whose collective emissions add up to 55 percent of their total emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.

President George W. Bush pulled the United States out of the Kyoto Protocol in March 2001, which means that the 55 percent limit can only be reached if Russia ratifies the treaty. And that may not happen. Russia has been very coy about whether it will in fact ratify the treaty. Just last week, a prominent advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin strongly suggested that his country would not ratify the treaty on the grounds that it would harm Russia's economic growth...

An Energy Policy That Makes Sense

When is a filibuster an opportunity?

When failure by the Senate to cut off debate and vote on a $31 billion energy bill gives members one last chance to govern responsibly.

It won't be easy. The $350 million in tax-exempt bonds for "green" development projects would have to go. That would mean Syracuse, N.Y., wouldn't get its subsidized-soybean-powered mall. And Bossier City, La. -- a town virtually awash in casino money -- wouldn't get its riverfront development project that includes an "energy-rich Hooters" restaurant. And Iowa wouldn't get its million-gallon aquarium.

Alaskans would have to be told that the $18 billion in loans needed to build a natural-gas pipeline would come without federal guarantees of repayment. (As if a project that would deliver that much natural gas to a hungry American market has any real chance to fail.)

In Minnesota, residents would have to be told that a coal gasification plant will be built in the state only if private interests step forth to finance it.

The toughest task would fall to senators in the farm states of the Midwest. They'd have to tell their gasohol-producing constituents --or at least the board members at Archer-Daniels-Midland and ConAgra -- that the federal government no longer will spend billions to drive up the price of gas, drive down the health of engines and prop up an industry that, absent huge subsidies, would fade into obscurity in months...

Enviros seek court order to stop layoffs of Forest Service employees An environmental group that sued the Forest Service over a move to privatize some jobs here and in Utah is asking a federal judge for a court order blocking layoffs until the lawsuit is settled. The group Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics filed a request Friday for a temporary injunction against the agency, saying Forest Service employees should be allowed to continue doing the reviews of public comments on logging and other projects while the lawsuit is pending, rather than putting the work up for bid by private firms....Federal officials release peregrine falcon monitoring plan Wildlife officials have released their plan for monitoring American peregrine falcons to make sure the world's fastest bird doesn't return to the endangered species list. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan essentially outlines ways to track how the species is doing since it was removed from the federal threatened and endangered species list in 1999, and sets national protocols for monitoring efforts that have been ongoing in states where peregrines dwell, including Montana, the agency said. It also initiates monitoring in new places, where necessary, the agency said. The required national plan was under development since 1999, the Fish and Wildlife Service said, and was hailed as a first for a recovered species that ranges so widely...Nearer My Sod to Thee Eighteen years later, Billy Campbell is at the vanguard of the tiny but growing "green burial" movement in the U.S. He is also the inspiration for a Los Angeles cemetery entrepreneur who is planning a nature-friendly burial ground that will be a haven for hikers as well as a home for those who have taken their final step. Cassity has purchased a suburban San Francisco cemetery with 20 pristine, wooded acres that will remain just that, even after graves are dug amid the trees. There will be no emerald-green lawn with row after lock-step row of white monuments. New arrivals will not be embalmed. Some could be planted sans casket. In a multiple use never envisioned by the U.S. Forest Service, hikers will meander down woodsy trails as the less fortunate come to the end of theirs. With the deal just recently concluded, Cassity plans to open his green-burial ground next year. Such cemeteries could give the dead a way of making a statement from the grave. Cassity sees them as prototypes for larger natural cemeteries in Southern California, where land preserved for the dead could be protected from suburban sprawl...Grizzlies hear 'dinner bell' when hunters move in, researchers say Hunters who talk about "dinner-bell" grizzly bears just might have a point, says a study by a group of carnivore researchers who work in and around Yellowstone National Park. When hunting season opens, grizzly bears move in, according to the results of the study to be published shortly in the Wildlife Society Bulletin. The researchers monitored radio-collared grizzlies, wolves and cougars in the park's northern range and in the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness Area, just north of the park...Federal Highway Bill Could Benefit Wildlife and Outdoor Enthusiasts Ducks Unlimited (DU) and other leading hunting and fishing conservation organizations are working with Congress on the reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act, also know as the "Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act" (SAFETEA). The Senate's proposal for SAFETEA includes a significant funding increase for National Wildlife Refuge System roads, which will improve habitat quality and access to hunting and fishing areas for sportsmen. Other provisions in the Senate bill include funding for recreational trails, invasive species control, and habitat mitigation projects. The sportsmen-conservation groups are collaborating to ensure these critical SAFETEA provisions become a reality...Editorial: Fund forest protection Thinning forests doesn't come cheap. But someone needs to tell President Bush. A lack of money, not environmental studies or lawsuits, has been the biggest obstacle to reducing fire hazards. Yet the spending bill Bush signed last month provides a meager 3.6 percent increase in money to thin forests. The Interior Department's budget for thinning actually was reduced. Federal officials say 190 million acres of federal land are at high risk for catastrophic fire, yet the budget does little to solve that...'Howl-in' protests planned over wolf-shooting program An animal rights group is planning "howl-ins" in at least a half-dozen cities the weekend after Christmas to protest a predator control program allowing wolves to be shot from airplanes in Alaska. Using the Internet to spread the word, Friends of Animals is making plans for protests Dec. 27-28 in New York; San Francisco; Sacramento, Calif.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Lansing, Mich...BLM will restudy CBM plan The Bureau of Land Management will rewrite its environmental review of a coalbed methane project in southeastern Montana to better study potential effects on air and water quality, the agency's director in Montana said Tuesday. Marty Ott said the agency will also order a stay of activity by Fidelity Exploration & Production Co., which already had begun to drill 85 wells on federal leases in the area as part of a larger expansion project...BLM reports remain under wraps Federal oil and gas officials are meeting this week in Washington to discuss what Bureau of Land Management inspection and enforcement records should be open to the public. Wyoming BLM offices have been ordered by state BLM Director Bob Bennett to withhold from the public all documents relating to inspection, violation and enforcement actions. They will only be considered for release under a Freedom of Information Act request. BLM spokeswoman Susanne Moore said that the director's office also has told state field offices that all ongoing enforcement actions, such as assessing penalties and noncompliance situations which are "capable" of being appealed or are under appeal, "cannot be released to the public under any circumstances, not even a FOIA request." Rebecca Daugherty of the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press said the BLM may overstep the law if it doesn't consider a FOIA request for even a portion of the documentation...BLM office to step up CBM permitting The U.S. Bureau of Land Management will speed up processing coal-bed methane drilling permits in northeast Wyoming, according to a memorandum from BLM State Director Bob Bennett. Bennett said in a memo that the U.S. Interior Department has determined that Wyoming, and specifically the Buffalo field office, must prepare to handle up to 3,000 drilling permit applications to help meet the nation's demand for natural gas. Bennett sent the memo to Buffalo Field Manager Dennis Stenger last week. One of the main complaints from the coal-bed methane industry is that the current federal permitting process takes too long...Mexicans seeking action on river; Strain offers strategic action plan proposal There is growing concern in the Mexican portion of the Upper San Pedro Basin that if action is not taken soon, both the water quality and quantity will be degraded and could hurt users in Sonora and Arizona. The quest of a series of binational meetings is to find ways to address the growing problems now, not later...Effort against extinction A sixth mass extinction is under way, driven by humankind's exponential population growth and expanding use of land and sea. Thirty years ago this month, the emerging crisis drove Congress to pass the broadest and most powerful wildlife protection law in U.S. history -- the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Its urgent goals: to fend off further extinctions; to restore imperiled species to self-sustaining abundance; and to protect the prairies, mountains, lakes, streams and other habitat needed to sustain wildlife...Glacier sheep's fall puzzles scientists For the second time in two years, a bighorn sheep fell to its death within days of being captured by researchers, and scientists are wondering whether their work might have contributed to the accidents. The female sheep was radio-collared Nov. 21 as part of a research project in Glacier National Park. Its carcass was recently found, and evidence suggests it died from a fall within a couple days of its capture and release in the Many Glacier area. Last year, another female sheep captured for the study died in a similar fall just days after being collared and released...Yellowstone Snowmobile Rules to Be Set The National Park Service is choosing the stricter of two ways to test snowmobile emissions when it wrote final rules for snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park. Conservationists attacked the rules, expected to be published on Thursday, saying the service ignored thousands of people who said they don't want snowmobilers in the iconic national park, the first created in the United States...Scientists Measure Human Impact on Climate Analysis of air trapped in ice cores drilled from the Antarctic ice sheet show anomalous increases in carbon dioxide levels beginning 8,000 years ago -- just as crop lands began to replace previously forested regions across Asia and Europe. About 5,000 years ago, the ice cores reflect a similarly anomalous rise in methane levels, this time tied to increased emissions from flooded rice fields, as well as burgeoning numbers of livestock, Ruddiman said. The prehistoric practices apparently overrode a buildup of ice that models predict should have occurred beginning 5,000 years ago...Beef prices surge, but profits elude drought-stricken Colorado ranchers Beef prices are at record highs, but cattle rancher Oscar Massey won't be splurging on a surround-sound home theater or a hot tub for Christmas. He also won't be replacing the old pickup truck. Many of Colorado's 15,000 farmers and ranchers aren't making the money they might have from the price surge because they sold off some of their cattle in the past several years, when drought left them with sparse stubble on grazing lands and a shortage of hay. The Colorado Cattleman's Association reports that the 2.65 million head of cattle left in Colorado represent a 13 percent decrease from last year...Another possible brucellosis case in Wyoming Another possible case of brucellosis in Wyoming is being investigated, State Veterinarian Jim Logan said. Logan told the legislature's Joint Appropriations Committee that officials are checking whether a cow at a Wyoming sale barn has brucellosis. However, he said it was not immediately known where the cow came from...Ranch access upheld The descendants of the 1840s San Luis Valley settlers have won a 40-year legal struggle to graze cattle and gather firewood on the 77,500-acre Taylor Ranch. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal of a Colorado Supreme Court ruling last year that returned access rights to residents of Costilla County, one of the state's poorest counties. The tract is part of an 1843 Mexican land grant that was settled by Spanish and Indian farmers and ranchers who had the right to graze, gather firewood, hunt, fish and hold family celebrations on the land. The United States acquired the land in 1848, but the settlers' descendants retained the access rights....Researchers Report Cloning of Mad Cow-Resistant Calves research team has succeeded in cloning mad cow disease-resistant cows and gnotobiotic (sterilized) miniature pigs, which can provide for human organ transplants. Each of the exploits in animal cloning technology marks the first of its kind in the world and Korea has already applied for international patents for both. Seoul National University (SNU) professor Hwang Woo-suk and his research team made public the breakthrough on Wednesday at a news conference at SNU Hospital in Seoul...U.S. proposes plan to vaccinate bison Young bison that stroll out of Yellowstone National Park could be vaccinated for brucellosis as early as this winter, according to a new federal proposal. The Animal and Plant Health and Inspection Service is seeking approval for a plan that would allow state and federal workers to inject bison calves and nonpregnant yearlings with a vaccine in an effort to reduce the spread of the disease in the area...Stroke, heart surgery give calf roper fresh perspective Eight months ago Stran Smith couldn't yell fire if his boots were burning, but today he's a commentator on a national radio broadcast of the National Finals Rodeo. The six-time calf roping Finals qualifier is itching to get back onto the floor of the Thomas & Mack Arena instead of working in the announcers' booth. But he's not complaining. Having a stroke and undergoing heart surgery at age 33 have a way of making you look at life differently...

Tuesday, December 09, 2003


One creek as a test of Western land use Flowing through the steep Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon, Rough & Ready Creek lives up to its name. It tumbles through rugged, forested canyons of Port Orford cedar and Jeffrey pine. Wildlife is abundant. More than 300 plant species - some found nowhere else in the world - grow in what is one of the most biologically rich areas of North America. But the creek drainage is also the scene of a classic old West-new West fight over natural resource extraction and property rights. And a $600 million lawsuit by miner Walt Freeman could affect not only the future of this patch of mountainous terrain but the balance of economic development and environmental protection across the West. Mr. Freeman holds 161 mining claims here - some dating back more than half a century. He believes there's enough nickel, iron, and chromium - major elements in stainless steel - to make mining worthwhile. But so far, federal agencies have delayed the project on environmental grounds. So Freeman wants Uncle Sam to pay him for the loss of his property - in this case, the mining claims he (and his parents before him) staked on government land...Column: The New Bear in Town A deep disquiet attends the solace we take from hearing of the wild's re-emergence within our civil environs: white-tailed deer, coyotes, black bears, even bobcats. Their presence seems, at first, to engender a kind of reprieve, as though we've finally arrived at a truce with our wild counterparts. The actual story is more complex and less idyllic. With the steady shift over the past century of agriculture to the Midwest and the Plains, along with the replacement of wood heat with coal, oil and gas, the East Coast's forests have, by and large, been allowed to flourish. And within them have returned many of the animals we long ago assumed had been permanently displaced. This change, in tandem with the spread of suburbia into those same reforested regions, has brought two burgeoning populations (animal and human) face to face. And this, of course, is where the trouble begins -- where our romanticization of the wild gives way to thornier questions about how best to broker the peace with it...Editorial: Extreme behavior The president of the lead group opposed to Alaska's latest wolf-control plan exhibited typical behavior Friday when she engaged in a bit of extremism following a sound court ruling that allows the program to proceed. She said she hoped the state would not "rush out and annihilate the wolves." That, of course, is not the state's plan. About three to four dozen wolves in a small portion of the state near McGrath will be killed, with the aim of improving a moose population whose numbers have consistently remained too low for that community's subsistence needs. A few dozen wolves likely will remain in the area...Hot air over bird deaths to stall windmills? They were touted by environmentalists as an alternative source of pollution-free electric power that was good for the planet, but 20 years and countless dollars later environmentalists are now crying foul over the Altamont wind farm east of San Francisco Bay. Two organizations seek to block the renewal of permits for nearly 1,400 wind towers -- for the sake of birds. An estimated 22,000 have died due to run-ins with the structures' blades, including golden eagles, red-tailed hawks and other raptors...Feds say four of five wolves were killed Of the five area wolf deaths under investigation, four did not die naturally, said special agent Tim Eicher of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Three of the four dead wolves from the Sunlight Pack died from gunshots. The radio signal from the third shot wolf, No. 263 a black male, was located last week emanating from the water near Buffalo Bill Dam...Nevada keeps on the attack in its nuclear war with feds Outvoted in the political arena, Nevada will ask a federal appeals court next month to block the U.S. government from burying the nation's deadliest nuclear waste in the desert state. Despite Nevada's objections, President Bush and Congress last year approved a permanent national repository for 77,000 tons of radioactive waste on federal land 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. That defeat for Nevada merely heated up the fight the state has waged since 1982 to nuke the $58 billion Yucca Mountain Project. It has been one of the most contentious not-in-my-backyard environmental feuds between a state and the federal government...Column: Getting the Word Out President Bush has been roundly criticized for his attacks on environmental protection on newspaper editorial pages, but amazingly he's managed to fly under the public's radar for most of this. The administration makes its onerous announcements on Friday afternoon when media coverage is lightest. Bush stands in front of national parks for the TV cameras and speaks soothing words. He calls his weakening of clean air laws "Clear Skies" and he calls his plan to increase logging on public lands "Healthy Forests." Our challenge is to communicate what we know to friends and neighbors and family who don't. That's what Sierra Club members in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania were doing in late October -- going door to door in Concord, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. Organizers in other states are planning similar outreach activities...Editorial: Federal land sales The federal government owns about 85 percent of the land in Nevada. But that's not enough for the environmental lobby -- even if it comes at the expense of raising more money under the guise of helping "the children." Wired with an almost pathological aversion to the concepts of "profit" or "private property," the greens oppose an effort by Rep. Jim Gibbons to rejigger the formula for dispersing the cash raised by the sale of public lands in Southern Nevada. Under current legislation -- passed in 1998, thanks to Sens. John Ensign and Harry Reid -- 85 percent of the proceeds raised from federal land auctions in the Las Vegas area are used to gobble up more real estate for Washington. The remainder goes to education and infrastructure improvements in Clark County...Report looks at flows of the past Toward the end of summer, the Klamath River gets low - the source of controversy over fish and irrigation. But a new government study says that before the Klamath Reclamation Project was developed, the water used to get a lot lower. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has been trying to figure out how the water flowed in the Link River, and then into the Klamath River, before the concrete and steel of the irrigation project were added to the mix of reefs, bends and eddies. Friday, the Bureau released a draft of its report...Congress to hold hearings on Animas-La Plata U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M, plans to convene congressional hearings next year over why costs for the Animas-La Plata Project have increased so much. The senator, a longtime proponent of the project, wants to be sure the cost increases are justified and to make sure they do not go up any more, said Domenici spokesman Matt Letourneau...Domenici is particularly interested in the report's placement of blame for much of the increase on the terms of the Indian Education and Self Determination Act, Letourneau said. Under the act, tribes get first-refusal rightsfor construction contracts on any projects done to benefit an Indian tribe. According to the report, contracts awarded to the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes have been as much as 37 percent higher than if they had been awarded through competitive bidding...Montana likely won't ban cattle from Wyoming No cattle from a Wyoming herd infected with brucellosis have yet been traced to Montana, and livestock officials here say they do not anticipate banning the import of cows from Wyoming over the incident. "This is not the appropriate time to make that decision," said Karen Cooper, a spokeswoman for the Montana Livestock Department. A herd of 391 cattle in Sublette County, Wyoming, has been placed under quarantine after tests showed 29 of the cattle had brucellosis. Colorado officials declared a ban on Sublette County cattle last week when the outbreak was announced...US House backs 2-year delay in food-origin labels Grocers and foodmakers would not have to put country-of-origin labels on meat, fruits, vegetables and peanuts until late 2006 -- a two-year delay -- under a bill passed by the U.S. House Monday. The delay was part of a mammoth $375 billion bill that funds the Agriculture Department and several other federal departments for fiscal 2004. It was scheduled for a vote in the Senate Tuesday, where objections might postpone a vote until January...On The Edge Of Common Sense: Advice to lovelorn may come from California cowboys I got a lesson awhile back from three California cowboys who were considering a sideline occupation; advice to the lovelorn. I should note that some people's conception of a "California cowboy" as a latte drinking, Hollywood primping, designer chaps wearing, buff, puff buckaroo, does not describe these gentlemen. They had hard hands, a wary look and rolled their own. Some samples of their advice a la Dear Abby, might go like this:....

Monday, December 08, 2003


Forest-care shift sparks controversy The letter that California's Republican congressional delegation wrote to the U.S. Forest Service last month -- urging revisions to a Sierra wildlife preservation and fire protection plan -- was music to the agency's ear. A storm of criticism over the agency's proposal to triple the volume of logging to pay for fire prevention has delayed a final decision by at least three months. The letter from all of the state's Republican representatives and three of its Democrats was a show of support for the administration to scale back environmental policies it regards as overly protective...Forest Health Bill a "Jobs" issue, former Forest Service boss says The healthy forests bill signed by President Bush last week won't stop wildfires, but it will put a lot of people on the government payroll, according to the man who ran the nation's two biggest land management agencies during the Clinton administration. "We're probably sitting on a local jobs bill second to none'' since the Civilian Conservation Corps, a 1930s jobs program, Mike Dombeck said Friday. He addressed well over 200 people gathered for the annual meeting of the Montana Wilderness Association...Volunteers say they were "staged" Along with fighting fires, Helena National Forest employees also are battling the perception that they look with disdain upon local firefighters and are reluctant to use them. Volunteers tell story after story about offering their services, only to be rebuffed or sent to "staging" or home while fires rage...Editorial: Forest law makes obstruction harder President Bush on Wednesday signed into law the Healthy Forests Restoration Act. This law won't live up to all the promises its backers have made. Nor will it result in the ecological disaster predicted by its opponents. But the law will make it easier for the U.S. Forest Service to manage our national forests according to the judgment of the country's best and brightest land-and-resource managers, and that's a change for the better. As supporters of this legislation, we find it a little embarrassing to hear the president of the United States say, as he did Wednesday, that the new law will "help prevent catastrophic wildfires" and relieve Americans from "enduring season after season of devastating fires." Many variables contribute to massive forest fires and no legislation can affect the most important ones - they're dictated by nature...Experts say wildfires have endangered state's water supplies, wildlife The deadly Southern California wildfires that stripped forest hillsides have created threats to drinking water supplies for millions of people and to the already endangered California condor, the chief of the U.S. Forest Service said Friday. Dale Bosworth also warned that homes in the scorched areas of the San Bernardino Mountains face dangers from winter rains washing through barren hillsides. "You could have mass soil movement, you could have mudslides into homes," Bosworth told the House Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health...Off-road vehicles back on mesa trails Eight years after off-road vehicle groups objected to a U.S. Forest Service decision closing trails and roads on Grand Mesa, the agency decided to reopen 30 miles of routes to motorized use. Although the Forest Service's walk-in only access to 25 lakes and reservoirs will be preserved, 30 miles will be opened to connect routes or provide loops in already allowed routes...Sheep butt bighorns in grazing plan A conservation group has told the Bridger-Teton National Forest it is ready to fight in court over a decision to open three grazing allotments to domestic sheep. The grazing areas are south of Jackson in the Wyoming Range and overlap habitat used by the Jackson herd of wild bighorn sheep. Western Watersheds Project Wyoming Representative Jonathan Ratner gave the Forest Service a letter, dated Nov. 16, threatening a lawsuit if the Bridger-Teton sticks with its proposal to allow one permitee to run up to 6,500 ewe-lamb pairs on the 67,500 acres. But Bridger-Teton District Ranger Greg Clark defended the grazing proposal as meeting forest standard and guidelines. He also said his decision to open three vacant allotments was backed by regional forest officials. He said they gave him the green light to do so without first completing an environmental impact statement...Fish fleet buyout sends industry into uncharted waters A once-thriving part of the northwest economy is about to undergo a major change. Roughly half of Oregon and Washington's commercial fishing fleet is being bought out by the federal government to save dwindling fish numbers. However, KATU's Grant McOmie found it also brings economic uncertainty to coastal businesses and fishermen...U prof supports wolves removal from U.S. endangered species list Wolves -- long on the federal endangered species list -- might soon lose that protection if a University professor has his way. Professor David Mech recently became the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service chief adviser for a proposal that would remove all wolves from the endangered species list. The U.S. Geological Survey researcher said he hopes to rid people of one of their greatest misconceptions about wolves: that they are endangered...Bombs ready to blow at Camp Navajo The Arizona National Guard will start detonating old bombs at Camp Navajo left over from the years the facility served as a munitions depository. But the Guard will have to take into account two local residents that happen to live on the property: bald eagles and Mexican spotted owls. The 28,000-acre Camp Navajo, located west of Flagstaff in Bellemont, has become home to the two endangered species, and the potential disruption caused by open detonation has brought the National Guard and U.S. Fish and Wildlife together to formulate a plan...Expert upset over grizzly delisting Wilderness supporters have a "huge responsibility" to make their views known about a process that could lead to removing grizzly bears from endangered species protection, bear specialist Doug Peacock said. If the delisting proposal goes through, "the people of Wyoming will bear the onus for the future of the grizzly," Peacock declared at a meeting on Friday sponsored by the Wyoming Wilderness Association and allied groups...Column: Case against copter pilot for the birds Jim Cheatham doesn't look like a guy who wants to harass birds. A trim man of 61 with a white beard and a faint resemblance to Ernest Hemingway, he's first and foremost a pilot. He has 43 years of flying experience and 22,000 hours -- 2 1/2 years -- in the air. The Salinas-based pilot, however, stands accused of ruffling the feathers of 43 seabirds April 27 as he flew a helicopter to take photos of the popular Big Sur Marathon...Remote Nevada Road's Status in Limbo Any day now, Mother Nature will dump enough snow on South Canyon Road to effectively close it -- by anybody's standards -- and the question of whether the remote backcountry road is technically open or legally closed will be moot again until spring. In the meantime, just as it has for eight winters since a 1 1/2-mile stretch washed out in a 1995 flood, the legal status of the road remains in limbo. And the fractious dispute over property rights, government authority and a dwindling species of trout will continue to simmer in remote northeast Nevada... Conservation Leaders Lay Out Top Priorities To Secretary of the Interior Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton and top Interior Department officials met Monday November 24 with the leaders of several sporting organizations to discuss the top policy priorities of the conservation community. Secretary Norton requested the help of the TRCP in pulling together a representative group of leaders from some of the country's hunting and angling groups to meet with her and other top Interior Department officials. The meeting was convened in order to give Secretary Norton and the Interior Department leadership a clear understanding of which common issues are of greatest immediate concern to hunters and anglers...HSUS Calls For Immediate Rescue Of Stranded Cows The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is demanding that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) officials intervene immediately to save 23 wild cows who have been suffering and dying from extreme stress, overcrowding, injury, dehydration and starvation on a barge on Alaskan waters for almost three weeks now. "It is unconscionable that U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials would allow these animals to suffer this traumatic journey and confinement over the last two weeks," said Kelly Peterson, program coordinator for The HSUS Northwest Regional Office, on Thursday...Groups crying foul because of dune closure violations Environmental groups are crying foul after the 2003 Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area Thanksgiving weekend, saying the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has neglected to thoroughly enforce court-mandated closures in the sensitive dune areas. The Center for Biological Diversity and the Desert Protective Council joined in criticizing the BLM's stepped up law enforcement presence, saying that little to no attention was given to the areas restricted to off-highway vehicle use north of Highway 78 or in areas such as the closures near Buttercup Valley south of Interstate 8...Nevada hunters split over proposed off-road vehicle regs proposed regulation to restrict hunters' use of off-road vehicles stirred emotional debate before the Nevada Wildlife Commission. The proposal to prohibit hunters from driving all-terrain vehicles more than 25 yards off established roads is pitting traditionalists who hunt on foot against machine sportsmen. Wildlife division officials said it comes in response to numerous complaints by traditional hunters about ATVs' impact on wildlife and habitat...IRS still pursuing cattle scam investors Thousands of investors in an ill-fated tax shelter scheme run by a smooth-talking cattle baron from Eastern Oregon are facing an ongoing investigation by the Internal Revenue Service. Known as the "Paper Cowboy," Walter Hoyt III of Burns was sentenced in 2001 for selling cattle that existed only on paper, in addition to other schemes. Investors used shares in the nonexistent herds for tax shelters. Hoyt conned investors in 41 states out of more than $100 million, in a case that has been called the biggest agricultural scam in U.S. history. Now 63, he is at a low-security federal prison southeast of Phoenix, Ariz., and is scheduled for release in 2018. But for investors, the headaches didn't end when Hoyt went to prison because they now must deal with the IRS. The federal tax collection agency thinks that investors into Hoyt's scheme were not victims of a scam but willing accomplices and tax cheats...Editorial: Keeping consumers in the dark It is fitting that Congress is burying its effort to delay a country-of-origin labeling law, known as COOL, in a massive end-of-session spending bill. This is all about keeping information from the American people. COOL, approved as part of the 2002 Farm Bill, set a Sept. 30, 2004, deadline for mandatory labeling identifying which country fruits and vegetables, beef, pork, lamb and seafood come from. Now Congress, pressured by retailers and meat packers, is preparing to delay the deadline another two years... Ranch style: Wal-Mart heiress content with her kingdom for horses Making her morning rounds from stall to stall, Alice Walton stops to greet, pamper and occasionally plant a nuzzled kiss on the noses of her 80-some prized cutting horses at the Rocking W Ranch. To the horses, she's not the Wal-Mart heiress or the richest woman in the United States, but a warm hand and a priceless pat on the neck. Walton, a proactive member of the National Cutting Horse Association, calls herself the "Baby Tamer" of the Rocking W, earning that nickname by developing a knack for picking out 2-month-old weanlings who will grow up to be 3-year-old champions...Column: Ranchers ain't dead yet There is nothing quite like reading your own obituary. Unfortunately, I get to read mine a lot. Please consider this a huge scream of protest, a wake-up call from 6 feet below: I ain't dead yet...Home on the range at twilight The signs over the door say "Old Cowboy" and "Old Cowgirl." The doorbell is a dinner bell. At first, no one answers except the cattle dog, Roama. Then 89-year-old John Sharp comes to the door, looking like a Hank Williams' song in his red flannel shirt, jeans, boots and a silver belt buckle won in a rodeo. He apologizes for napping. His wife, Joyce, is in town at an auction buying some calves...Trade deal stalls The US and Australia have failed to reach an agreement as planned this week on ending trade barriers and will meet next month to try to bridge differences over pharmaceutical pricing and farm tariffs. Negotiators from both sides spent a week in Washington, and reported progress on all aspects of a free-trade accord. An agreement, if reached next month, could still get congressional approval next year, said Ralph Ives, the chief US negotiator...Cattle test positive for brucellosis in Wyoming county For the first time in 16 years, cattle in Wyoming have tested positive for brucellosis, a discovery that raises concerns about exporting cattle from the state in the future. The cattle come from a ranch near Boulder in Sublette County. Of 391 cows tested earlier this week, a "significant number" showed positive signs in preliminary tests for the disease, according to Jim Logan, Wyoming's state veterinarian. State officials are looking to confirm those findings through testing at the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa. The results are expected by next Thursday...