Sunday, May 16, 2004


Rock of ages Forest Service archaeologist James D. Keyser clambers up a basalt cliff to a ledge rubbed smooth over thousands of years by the backsides of visitors to this Columbia Gorge perch. "We affectionately call this butt polish," he says. Imagine no dams, no freeway traffic, no fences, no railroad tracks. Imagine the roar of the free-flowing Columbia River, loud as a freight train as it races through a narrow gorge. Imagine a young Indian sitting on this ledge through seven sunrises and seven sunsets, singing and chanting and running up and down the cliff, waiting for a vision of the spirits that will guide his life. The images painted and carved into the rocks surrounding this ledge, and the stories told by descendants of the first people of the Columbia basin, help Keyser imagine these things:.... also see Rock images finally see light of day and Gorge's 'Mona Lisa' has dark history.... Value nearly equal in proposed federal land swap The value of land proposed to be swapped between Pittsburg and Midway Coal Co. and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is nearly equal, according to appraisals released by federal officials. The proposal involves exchange of 5,900 acres of P&M property in Sheridan, Carbon and Lincoln counties for 2,000 acres of BLM-owned land near the Montana border in Sheridan County containing 84.2 million tons of mineable coal. The coal company's lands, valued at $5.444 million, include the JO Ranch in Carbon County, several tracts in and adjacent to the Bridger-Teton National Forest, and the Welch Ranch in Sheridan County.... Lawmakers fear drop in firefighter hirings The federal government may hire about 30 percent fewer firefighters for this year's Western wildfire season than it did last year, according to lawmakers. An internal memo for House Appropriations Committee members warned that "absent action, this will result in failed firefighting efforts, with potential for significant loss of lives and property." Last year, the Forest Service hired 10,500 temporary firefighters, but funding shortfalls mean the agency might hire only 7,554 this year, according to the subcommittee.... Column: OHVs raise ire of outdoorsmen This anecdote highlights a problem that grows more severe with each passing year. Of all the gripes from concerned outdoorsmen, one theme stands out - off-highway vehicles, or, if you prefer, all-terrain vehicles. Outdoor enthusiasts - and this runs the gamut of anglers, campers and animal watchers - hold no middle ground when it comes to OHVs. They either love them or hate them, mostly the latter. Few nonowners have anything good to say.... Fire and other dangers threaten city water supply, report finds Forest fires, noxious weeds and pollution from development threaten the Sourdough Creek watershed, which is Bozeman's primary source of water, a recently released report concluded. The Bozeman Watershed Council released its assessment of the drainage in April after spending two years and more than $60,000 on the project. The report examines the area's ecology and water resources, and threats to both. A catastrophic fire would denude the watershed of vegetation, leaving its slopes exposed to rain and floods, he said. Run-off would choke the creek and could overwhelm the ability of the city's water treatment plant to clean the water.... Critical Habitat Reform Act Pits Greens Against Business More than three decades after the passage of the Endangered Species Act, some congressmen are calling for its reform, saying the "critical habitat" designation for these protected species is too broad and unclear. Critical habitats are homes to endangered species and designated as essential to their survival. They are not allowed to be developed and owners of critical habitats are limited in what they can do with their property. With strong support from the Bush administration, the House Resources Committee is now considering the Critical Habitat Reform Act of 2003, which would allow the Interior Department more discretion in designating critical habitats for endangered species. The bill, which has broad Republican support, would allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to take into account the economic impact on a community before it makes a designation.... Wildlife group will no longer compensate sheep losses in Absaroka The owners of the last domestic sheep allotment in the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness no longer will be compensated when grizzly bears kill their animals. The decision was announced in a letter from Defenders of Wildlife, the environmental group that pays ranchers when grizzlies or wolves kill their stock. "It's a slap in the face," said Elaine Allestad, who with her husband, Lawrence, owns the allotment. "They're putting on pressure to make us just give up" grazing in the wilderness.... Bush official: Bald eagle will be off threatened list this year The American bald eagle -- the national symbol whose decline helped spur the Endangered Species Act and a ban on the pesticide DDT -- will be off the threatened species list this year, a top Bush administration official promised Saturday. Craig Manson, the administration's point man on the Endangered Species Act, agreed with a leading environmental group which said it's time to concentrate recovery efforts on other, more needy species.... Threatened species of bird puts California city's fireworks show on endangered list The Western snowy plover's status as an endangered species is threatening to make this bucolic beach-front city's annual Fourth of July celebration extinct. The California Coastal Commission has notified city officials they must obtain a special state permit before they can hold their annual holiday fireworks show this year. They gave the reason as the potential danger the birds face from fireworks being launched from a barge in the bay.... Ranchers and officials feud over water rights The matriarch of the Hammond Ranch, nestled in the Blitzen Valley about 60 miles south of Burns in eastern Oregon, said she doesn't like the neighbor she has: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A towering woman with short, white hair, diamond rings on her fingers and a no-nonsense look, Hammond said the fights with the refuge began in the mid-1970s when the agency made drastic changes to its livestock grazing program. Confrontations between the Hammonds and the refuge landed Hammond's husband, Dwight, in federal prison for several days in 1994 for interfering with federal contractors.... Nez Perce water use at heart of agreement The Nez Perce Tribe, state and federal agencies have agreed to augment Snake River flows to aid endangered salmon, improve fish habitat in the Salmon and Clearwater rivers, and officially recognize some of the tribe's claims to water in the Snake River Basin. Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and Nez Perce Tribe Chairman Anthony Johnson announced Saturday that a proposed settlement had been reached in one of the largest water rights cases in the West. Kempthorne said the agreement preserved existing state and private water rights while it established a framework for water use and timber management compliance under the federal Endangered Species Act.... Deal developed over a decade of talks Many different interests had to come a long way to reach the deal announced on Saturday. For the people who negotiated the deal, it was like a marathon. "I don't know how many times we've reached agreement on one day and they fell apart the next," said Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, a farmer and member of the powerful Committee of Nine, which represents canal companies and irrigation districts in the Upper Snake River Valley and the Twin Falls area. "Yet we always returned to the table." The talks began informally in 1993 when the tribe filed its claim to all of the flows of the Snake River. But the idea that some kind of talks could address most of the salmon issues in Idaho grew out of the unsuccessful "Salmon Summit'' in the early 1990s.... Livestock losses leave ranchers worn down by wolves The magpies tipped him off. Robert Weber saw them out his kitchen window, hopping in inch-deep snow in the pasture where his sheep were supposed to be. Out of the house to investigate in the early morning light, Weber saw what had drawn the black-and-white scavengers to his Paradise Valley ranch. The birds were picking away at his dead sheep. "I counted eight dead sheep and a couple more torn up pretty bad," Weber said, recalling the morning last December. "I could see wolf tracks all over, about five inches long. That's one hell of a track." The sheep that survived were huddled together and terrified - some are still stricken with fear today, Weber said. The wolves returned the next night to his brother's place next door, scattering 17 dead sheep over a half-mile, according to Weber.... Controversial flat-tailed horned lizard protection plan updated The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with several other state and federal agencies, has updated plans to protect the habitat of the flat-tailed horned lizard, a lightning rod for controversy in public lands debates. The original agreement between several federal departments, branches of the military and California and Arizona state agencies was signed in 1997 and identified five management areas to conserve habitat for the lizard that comprise about 35 percent of the species' remaining habitat in the U.S.... Tribe's whalers await chance to hunt again Inside the school wood shop here, just past a knot of student canoes crafted from cedar, the skeleton of a goliath spreads across a concrete floor, offering testament to this tribe's past and raising questions about its future. With the calloused hand of an aging fisherman, Wayne Johnson feels the jagged edges of a hole in a massive skull where a bullet once blasted through bone -- the shot that took life from a young gray whale and, as some here say, simultaneously breathed it back into an ancient tribe of people. "It was just so amazing, that day," recalls Johnson, 51, then captain of the Makah whaling crew that successfully landed the tribe's first whale in more than seven decades.... Truckee's flow may be improved for boaters, fish As Reno’s downtown white-water park splashed into being with its official weekend opening, efforts are mounting to ensure the entire river flows freely for boaters and fish alike. About 30 different dams and diversion structures — many a century old — stand along the Truckee River as it winds 116 miles from Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake. Many of these aging structures block passage by the river’s fish, including Nevada’s state fish, the threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout. Some also pose churning hazards for rafters and kayakers.... Lawsuit in deaths of aliens lingers A lawsuit many called frivolous because it sought more than $41 million from the U.S. government for the relatives of 11 Mexican nationals who died trying to cross illegally into the United States has proven to have more staying power than predicted. A federal court in Tucson has given the relatives another two months to prove accusations that their family members died in the treacherous southern Arizona desert in May 2001 because the Interior Department failed to approve the installation of water stations "in the exact area" of the desert where the Mexicans were found dead.... Frogs' friend could face federal rap: Refuge ex-chief ran afoul of U.S. species law The deposed manager of Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge said he may face federal felony charges because he tried to save endangered frogs after their tank threatened to go dry in the drought. Wayne Shifflett, removed from his post of 19 years in January, also said Sue Chilton, a neighboring rancher and chairwoman of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, repeatedly blocked his and others' attempts to help Chiricahua leopard frogs.... Discovery of endangered fish stalls river work As crews worked on refurbishing a portion of the San Lorenzo River levee this week, they got a big, or maybe little, surprise — a creature known as the tidewater goby. Officials believe this may be the first-ever sighting of the endangered fish in the San Lorenzo. The discovery is a biological gem but a construction obstacle. Crews have had to stop work while the contractor and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on how to proceed.... Bison, bears and asphalt: Yellowstone takes another step in long-range road repair program About 3 million people roll into Yellowstone National Park every year, driving, stopping and gawking along 300-plus miles of roads. The wear and tear of car, truck and RV traffic comes with a price, usually in the form of potholes, cracks and other luggage-rattling bumps and bruises. This summer, park officials will continue a long-range program to rebuild the park's roads. The work - and consequent delays for drivers - will be limited this year to the park's eastern half.... NYT Editorial: Rescuing the National Parks t is mainly the views that lure nine million visitors a year to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The problem is that on some days no one can see anything. Over the last few decades, average visibility in summer months has shrunk from 77 miles to 15, and it is not at all unusual for visitors who climb to Look Rock, high on the park's northern edge, to find themselves cocooned in a uniform, whitish haze. This haze is not to be confused with the blue mists that arise after rainstorms and give the Smokies their name. It is man-made, consisting mostly of sulfates produced by coal-fired power plants upwind of the park. One administration after another has failed to deal adequately with this problem despite Congress's express mandate more than 25 years ago to do so. Great Smoky is not alone among the nation's national parks in its failure to meet expectations. Hardly any of the Park Service's 387 parks, historic sites and monuments are trouble-free. Joshua Tree National Park, in California, is threatened by residential development; Padre Island National Seashore and Big Thicket National Preserve, both in Texas, by oil and gas drilling. Roads and buildings in Glacier National Park are in appalling shape; Yosemite is choked with traffic. Biscayne National Park is vexed by overfishing and pollution. The backlog of deferred maintenance has budged little from the $5 billion deficit President Bush inherited; the operating budget is about two-thirds of what the parks need just to maintain the status quo.... Fire season early, possibly ‘active’ Mother Nature’s roller coaster of weather has created a potential tinderbox for western Colorado. Back-to-back record dry months and record wet months have paved the way for an early fire season with a plethora of fine fuels, without moistening large fuels enough to make them less fire-prone. Across the Southwest, the drought is persisting, and national officials are expecting this fire season to be active, and early. “Our fire season is about four to eight weeks ahead of schedule,” said Jim Dollerschell, a Bureau of Land Management rangeland management specialist.... Grizzlies test food-storage products Sam, an Alaskan grizzly, twitches his nose as he picks up the scent of mackerel juice and peanut butter lathered on a 95-gallon metal trash can. "It's an enjoyment for him to break things open," says Randy Gravatt, a naturalist at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, during a product testing session last month. "He's been called Houdini more than once." At 920 pounds, Sam will decide whether this trash can, an invention of Colorado prison inmates, is worthy of a coveted "bear-resistant" label from the Living with Wildlife Foundation.... Coal is back, cleaning up its act With the price of oil and natural gas climbing ever higher, the alternative fuel grabbing the most attention and the bulk of federal research dollars is the same one that's been the backbone of U.S. electricity needs for a century -- coal. After a decades-long slump, coal is once again a top priority among energy producers who see it as an answer to the nation's long-term needs -- this despite its nasty reputation as a major contributor to pollutants from sulfur to mercury to nitrogen oxide.... Scientists: Warnings on Grand Canyon ignored It's hard to get the sense anything is wrong in the Grand Canyon while floating through it. On a recent spring morning, the Colorado River was cool and calm. Trout leapt, splashing back into the river with a thick plop. Stands of salt cedar lined the banks, offering shade from desert heat. But all is not well in this crown jewel of America's national park system. The salt cedar and trout are invaders, part of a wave of alien fish and plants that have moved in. Native species are disappearing, beaches are washing away, and once-buried Indian archeological sites are eroding into the river.... Colorado gas wells rely on true grit Everyone knows Colorado imports cars and computers and bananas. But one precious import may come as a surprise: sand. Colorado is full of sand, but it's useless for luring natural gas out of the earth through an increasingly important drilling method called hydraulic fracturing, or fracing (pronounced "fracking"). Colorado produces 900 billion cubic feet of natural gas a year, worth nearly $5 billion. "The vast majority of that would be left in the ground if one could not hydraulically fracture these wells," said J. Greg Schnacke, executive vice president of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association. But the sand itself is becoming scarce, putting pressure on already-rising natural-gas prices.... Editorial: Putting 'trust' in trust reforms Yes, it's possible. The proposal for state trust land reform, put together by a broad coalition of groups, can make everyone in Arizona a winner. It would send more money flowing into classrooms. It would protect stunning scenery, rich wildlife habitat and irreplaceable archaeological sites. It would help communities shape development in ways they want. It would encourage responsible ranchers. It would streamline the process for builders and developers to lease and buy trust land. The Legislature is still wrestling with the state budget, but lawmakers shouldn't let that be the last piece of business this year.... Klamath Indians sue utility An Indian tribe in Oregon has filed a lawsuit seeking $1 billion from PacifiCorp, seeking a billion dollars for loss of salmon in the Klamath River. The Portland Oregonian reports that the Klamath Tribes filed documents in U.S. District court claiming that a hydroelectric project operated by the utility and its five dams keep salmon from migrating upstream to spawn. In their complaint, the Klamath cite treaty rights and traditional dependence on fishing for salmon in the river's upper basin.... Bogged down with wetland issues: Bitterroot ranch family copes with bureaucracy in pursuit of water conservation When Jay Meyer started removing some old cottonwood trees on his farm last winter, he thought he was doing the right thing. Some of the trees were going to be in the way of a new pivot sprinkler irrigation system for which his ranch had recently been approved through the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Environmental Quality Incentives Program. But because the trees were on wetlands, he was in violation of the Clean Water Act. On May 5, representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service came to the Meyer ranch to assess the violations.... Pickens group, CRMWA talk water contract T. Boone Pickens and Canadian River Municipal Water Authority members are talking water. There's no water flowing, no agreement yet, but during a meeting Friday at Pickens' ranch in Roberts County, CRMWA Manager Kent Satterwhite made a formal proposal to buy all the water that Pickens' Mesa Water Inc. owns or controls. Other Mesa officials and Anita Burgess, Lubbock city attorney, attended the meeting, some via conference call....

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