Friday, September 30, 2005

NEWS ROUNDUP

House Votes for New Limits on Endangered Species Act By a vote of 229 to 193, the House of Representatives moved Thursday to undo some of the central provisions of the 32-year-old Endangered Species Act and to require that agencies enforcing the law reimburse property owners if the law's impact reduces the value of their land. Environmental groups expressed dismay at the measure, which, if enacted, would represent one of the most far-reaching reversals of environmental policy in more than a decade. Leading House Democrats also said it created an unlimited financial entitlement for landowners. The prospects for Senate passage are cloudy at best; even the bill's sponsor, Representative Richard W. Pombo of California, the chairman of the House Resources committee, said he did not expect quick action in the Senate. The vote, which came after the defeat of a rival measure that reworked the law but required enforceable protections for animals and plants in danger of extinction, was the culmination of a 12-year legislative mission by Mr. Pombo. The Bush administration gave its formal support to the measure a few hours before the vote....
Environmental Activists Target Small Property Owners While Calling Fifth Amendment a 'New Entitlement' The environmental community is in an uproar this week over a proposed measure that would reform the Endangered Species Act by including within it modest property rights protections for small landowners. The "Threatened and Endangered Species Reform Act" (TESRA) is being debated now and is expected to face a vote today in the House of Representatives. If green lobbyists and their congressional allies get their way, American property owners will continue to have their rights trampled by the Endangered Species Act, says the National Center for Public Policy Research. "In light of the enormous outcry over the dreadful Kelo v. New London ruling, it's hard to believe that anyone would so vehemently oppose protecting the property rights of American landowners," said Peyton Knight, director of the John P. McGovern MD Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs of the National Center for Public Policy Research. "Indifference to the suffering of small property owners would be bad enough, but actively seeking to harm them is beyond the pale." Knight refers to the onslaught of anti-property rights rhetoric that has poured out of the environmental community this week as a result of the proposal that landowners should receive compensation when the government takes their property under the Endangered Species Act. Under current law, the ESA takes private property without paying the owner a dime....
Column: Pombo-Cardoza wildlife bill corrects many flaws As a Stanislaus County supervisor, I have witnessed firsthand the shortcomings of the current Endangered Species Act and the pressing need for reform. The Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005, sponsored by Reps. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, and Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, does just that. It will enhance the ESA by shifting the focus of the act away from unproductive litigation back to its original goal -- the actual recovery of species. In 2002, when more than 128,000acres of Stanislaus County was proposed as critical habitat for vernal pool species and plants, we were troubled to learn the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had not based its decision on scientific or economic data, but simply on aerial photography. When pressed, the service acknowledged that it did not seek more accurate information and mapping from our county and other local governments because they were rushing to comply with an unrealistic court-imposed deadline. Our problems were further compounded when the service used only boilerplate economic analysis to review the economic impact on our county. When pressed as to why they didn't prepare an analysis that was specific to the proposed designation in our region, the response again noted a need to rush to comply with a court order. Unfortunately, in the haste to meet arbitrary court-imposed deadlines, the service actually designated parking lots and housing subdivisions as critical habitat for fairy shrimp....
Deal preserves land along North Rim Flagstaff environmental group Grand Canyon Trust will begin ranching on the Arizona Strip next year in what they're calling a move to conserve about 880,000 acres of public land between the Grand Canyon and the Utah border. The environmentalists say they're saving the land from impacts of more cattle, seeking to graze as few head of cattle as possible and fence off more sensitive areas. "We'll ensure we're managing livestock in an as ecologically responsible way as possible," Grand Canyon Trust ranch director Rick Moore said. "...We think this will be a place to go out and take a real hard look at ranching in an arid environment." The Trust plans to reduce the 2,175 cattle allowed to be rotated around the pastures per year by about 10 percent and hire a rancher out of Wyoming to manage the new North Rim Ranch. "This area has been severely impacted by grazing," Moore said. The ranch has not been worked in recent years while a sale was pending....
Court order stalls Forest Service daily operation Bitterroot National Forest officials had planned to spend Thursday at the Darby Public Library talking about plans for forest management. But a Wednesday court order effectively tied the agency's hands and halted much of what the Forest Service does. Bitterroot National Forest Supervisor Dave Bull said the agency will still be cleaning bathrooms, but that's about it. The order handed down from a U.S. District Court in California suspended a variety of projects on national forests because the public did not have the opportunity to comment on them or file appeals. The court found that public notice, comment and appeal provisions are required in all categorical exclusions - actions that were deemed not to have a significant effect on the environment and don't require environmental review. "There is a whole range of administration decisions that we make internally," Bull said. "Anything that did not have public notice, comment and appeal is effected." "The decision could suspend 100 or more projects underway in the Northern Region," regional forester Gail Kembell said in a news release. "Projects conducted by contract, permit or other means - like reducing hazardous fuels, improving wildlife habitat, repairing roads, fixing a toilet and even cutting firewood could be affected." Bull said officials at the national level were still scrambling to see how wide-ranging the order is and pursing legal remedies....
Thinning democracy When the Bitterroot National Forest decided to finally release the final Environmental Impact Statement for its preferred alternative on the Middle East Fork Hazardous Fuels Reduction project last Thursday, it was an invite-only affair. If you weren’t one of the lucky members of the community, the “credentialed press,” the Ravalli County Commissioners or the State Senate, you were likely to be escorted from the public building by armed (and armored) Forest Service law enforcement officers. That’s what happened to Bitterroot Valley residents and avowed conservationists Stewart Brandborg, Larry Campbell and Jim Miller. The three members of Friends of the Bitterroot (FOB), a local conservation group, say they have no history of criminal or violent behavior, yet their presence at the meeting was apparently deemed dangerous by Bitterroot Forest Supervisor Dave Bull, who later told the press that the men were removed by armed guards because the agency wanted to provide a “safe environment.” “The only violence inflicted here is that of the Forest Service against public participatory process guaranteed in the United States Constitution,” says Brandborg, 80, whose father was the Bitterroot forest supervisor from 1935 to 1955....
Agencies claim success in bison plan Federal and state agencies claim success in carrying out a five-year-old plan for managing bison that leave Yellowstone National Park, even though the plan still is in the first of its three phases. The assessment released Thursday determined the five agencies are not ready for the next step because five of the 14 objectives in the bison management plan have not been met. The unmet goals include inoculating bison against the disease brucellosis by administering vaccine using means such as darts fired from rifles. Steps to meet the various remaining objectives have been initiated, said Yellowstone spokeswoman Cheryl Matthews. The agencies said they have been successful in meeting the management plan's main goals, which include keeping bison and livestock apart, and preventing the potential spread of brucellosis to cattle from bison that enter Montana in search of forage....
Judge lets cougar hunt stand On Saturday, the mountain lions of the Black Hills will need their eagle-sharp eyesight, all their cagey, elusive instincts, and their ability to remain invisible as South Dakota's first-ever mountain lion hunting season gets under way. A judge's ruling late Thursday, after an all-day court hearing, clears the way for hunting to begin Saturday as scheduled. Circuit Judge Max Gors said the Mountain Lion Foundation and other opponents who had sued to stop the season failed to show that hunting will cause irreparable harm to the Black Hills lion population. The opponents argued that there was insufficient data to justify a lion season - warning that hunting could result in extinction of the big cats in South Dakota. As the largest - and often most misunderstood - predator in the state, the Black Hills mountain lion will now go from stalker to stalked. The season, which was approved earlier this year, has created more controversy than excitement in the state. Wednesday, the Mountain Lion Foundation, a national conservation agency, filed its lawsuit to stop the season before it began....
It's Always Fair Game for Wild Pigs Her quarry in these golden Mendocino hills was Sus scrofa, a squat, muscular wild boar with coarse dark hair, hairy ears, a thick armor-like hide and skewers for tusks, which is now overrunning the countryside to become the latest plague of California. Along with states like Texas, Florida and Hawaii, California has become a prime habitat for pigs, so much so that the state Department of Fish and Game has begun offering advanced wild boar hunting clinics to encourage people like Mrs. Straub, a 29-year-old executive secretary from Santa Rosa, to hunt pigs. The pigs are a nonnative hybrid species that can run up to 25 miles an hour and whose meat is prized by cooks - Mrs. Straub and her husband, Randy, among them. They flourish in all but two counties of the state, and their moonlit sashaying in search of grubs and acorns along Highway 1 near Carmel has become so treacherous to motorists that the state Department of Transportation put up "Pig Xing" signs last year. In a sense, Mrs. Straub and her pork-loving brethren are ground troops in an escalating war between man and beast. Although culinary politics here lean more toward organic broccoli than firearms, wild pigs are regarded as fair game by state fish and game officials, who have declared a 365-day open season on pigs, with no bag limit. Wild pigs, prolific breeders, can double their population every four months, causing environmental havoc. The fish and game department puts the population at 100,000 to 250,000 statewide....
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is Taking Aim at Wetlands After decades of slowing down, the loss of United States wetlands that are home to migratory birds and endangered species may start climbing again, following decisions by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to open up 11,000-15,000 acres of wetlands in 15 states since 2004 in the aftermath of a Supreme Court decision narrowing Clean Water Act protections, according to an analysis conducted by the nonprofit and nonpartisan Environmental Integrity Project (EIP). Nearly five years ago, the Rehnquist-led Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Clean Water Act did not protect so-called "isolated" wetlands that provide critical habitat for migratory birds. The 15 states with the most wetlands exempted by the Corps' aggressive implementation of that decision since 2004 are: Nebraska (2,970-3,139 acres); North Dakota (2,134-2,474 acres); Florida (1,699-1,884 acres); Illinois (643-1,332 acres); Texas (642-887 acres); Georgia (539-1,104 acres); South Dakota (479-704 acres); Colorado (469-872 acres); Wisconsin (434-641 acres); Indiana (407-645 acres); Ohio (259-325 acres); California (215-344 acres); Minnesota (169-356 acres); Iowa (150-274 acres); and New York (140-205 acres)....
Congress Looking At Renewed Coastal Drilling A move is already underway to open up California’s coast to oil exploration. In the past, a large majority of Californians has strongly opposed any more oil and gas drilling off of our coast, but some members of Congress are hoping current events will cause people to take another look. “We’re looking at prices going up significantly during the winter months,” says Jeff Smith of PG&E. “The estimates right now are forty to fifty percent higher.” Some say the solution is renewed offshore drilling for California. New congressional legislation would end the longtime ban on energy development along the coast. The bill passed the House Resources Committee with support from both Republicans and Democrats. Opponents say it's a sham....
Column: Bush appointee’s assault on parks has deep roots Ten years ago this October, my fax machine rattled and hummed. It coughed out a couple of sheets of “minutes” transcribed from what had been an unpublicized closed meeting in West Yellowstone. Few people knew it had occurred. Details were passed on by an anonymous source with the hope they would be divulged in a newspaper column I was writing. Readers soon learned about the infamous “brainstorming session” that involved members of various Greater Yellowstone area chambers of commerce arrayed under the nebulous banner of the Yellowstone Gateway Alliance. The Gateway Alliance was led by Paul Hoffman, who in recent weeks as a Bush administration political appointee has come under fire again for orchestrating another brainstorming session, this time at the U.S. Interior Department. Hoffman, who once was a congressional aide to Dick Cheney, today serves as a deputy assistant Interior secretary. Beyond public scrutiny, he has been quietly rewriting the government manual that guides management principles in our national parks....
Woman fights to keep cabin in park bounds An 83-year-old woman moved a step closer to keeping her summer home inside Rocky Mountain National Park Wednesday when a U.S. Senate committee approved a deal that would provide her with a lifetime lease on the cabin. The National Park Service wanted to evict Betty Dick when her lease expired July 16, but after the intervention of two U. S. senators and a congressman, a compromise appears near. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a bill that essentially extends Dick's lease, allowing her to rent the cabin and eight surrounding acres for $300 a year for the rest of her life. Under her previous lease, Dick got the cabin and 23 acres for $300 a year. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said the Park Service faces 186 similar disputes in 29 locations. He said he plans to introduce legislation setting up a process to settle them without resorting to "private legislation" like the bill resolving the Colorado case....
Alaska proves a prime hiding spot for man accused of abuse With a land mass constituting one-fifth of the continental United States, there are simply too many places to hide in Alaska. And that's the vexing part for Alaska State Troopers, who are scouring the vast Alaska wilderness and its sparsely populated communities for the man known as Papa Pilgrim, the patriarch of a self-styled pioneering family accused of sexually abusing one of his 15 children. But in Alaska, it can take a long time to ferret someone out of the wilderness, even if they want to be found. So it's worse when the person is Robert Allen Hale — Papa Pilgrim's real name — an experienced outdoorsman who apparently doesn't want to be found....
Herd killed to stem bovine TB The slaughter of a cattle herd this week in northwestern Minnesota is part of an ongoing effort to contain an outbreak of bovine tuberculosis, officials said. Eighteen Minnesota herds are under quarantine and will be tested for possible TB infection. Terry Bolding, veterinarian for the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, said it's still not clear where the TB originated. It may have come from cattle in another state, or it may have been spread to cattle by whitetail deer. He said it's possible for people to get the disease, but unlikely. They would have to drink unpasteurized milk from an infected cow or get sneezed on by an infected animal. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources plans to test about 500 deer killed by hunters this fall. Bolding said that if the disease is in deer, it will be much harder to control....
Cowboy up? Fort Worth hollers "heck yeah" Steve Murrin is the informal mayor of "the stockyards," a small area of "Wild West" saloons, steakhouses, honky-tonks and clothing stores that blossomed in the middle of a poor neighborhood. The Fort Worth Stockyards used to be the heart of a vibrant cattle industry within the city limits. Then, says Murrin, it became skid row. Now it's a tourist attraction - men wearing various authentic 19th-century cowboy costumes, for example, drive longhorn cattle down the brick streets twice every day - but it's also the home of Billy Bob's Texas and the White Elephant Saloon, a storied and superb live-music venue. The Cowtown Coliseum - an ornate Spanish-style building that holds rodeos on weekends - dominates a stretch of the Stockyards area....

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