Saturday, May 07, 2005

Western Caucus Applauds Chairman Taylor’s Efforts to Decrease Federal Land Acquisition


Washington, D.C. – Members of the Congressional Western Caucus reacted positively to news from the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee that federal land acquisition funds would be reduced in the FY 2006 Interior Appropriations bill to $43 million – a reduction of $212 million.

For the fifth year in a row, the subcommittee has proposed decreasing funds allocated for federal land acquisition while increasing funding for the Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILT) program. The subcommittee also calls for a $30 million increase for PILT from the President’s FY 2006 proposed budget. The decrease in land acquisitions closely mirrors the request made in a letter to the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies earlier in the week by the Western Caucus.

Rep. Chris Cannon (UT-03), Chairman of the Western Caucus, said, “While many of the facilities in our national parks and on public lands have millions of dollars in maintenance backlogs, we’ve continued to add land to the national portfolio. This is ludicrous. Before we continue to purchase additional land, I want to make sure all 1,900 counties throughout the nation adequately receive PILT funding for the federal land already in their jurisdiction. I commend Chairman Taylor for opposing additional funding for federal land acquisition.”....

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NEWS ROUNDUP

Ranchers howl in protest of wolf management plan Jean Stetson already has felt the rake of a wolf’s claws, and the predator officially isn’t even in Colorado. Stetson, a third-generation rancher from Craig, was one of four livestock producers on the 13-person Wolf Management Working Group that painstakingly hammered out a wolf management plan adopted unanimously Thursday by the Colorado Wildlife Commission. The panel was composed of ranchers, sportsmen and conservation groups, and Stetson said the group’s decision to allow migrating wolves to come into the state brought howls of protest from the ranching community, some of whom clawed at Stetson and accused her of selling out by signing off on the group decision. The state plan allows wolves to migrate into Colorado without being harassed. However, once a wolf gets into trouble, including killing livestock, a quick response is urged. That might not be possible, ranchers fear, in the light of an Oregon judge’s recent decision to return the wolves to endangered status....
Gray-wolf releases could be postponed Wildlife officials want to hold off on Mexican gray-wolf introductions in eastern Arizona for a year, drawing criticism that the plan panders to ranchers. "They've bent over backwards to accommodate these ranchers, who are ranching on public land," said Sandy Bahr, conservation director of the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club. Wildlife officials don't deny that the moratorium was proposed to answer ranchers' complaints. But they said the one-year break would buy them valuable time to get a clearer count of how many wolves are in the wild, complete a recovery plan for the next five years and determine which practices are best for relocating wolves, among other things. State and federal wildlife officials estimate the current population at 45 to 50. Ranchers paint a different picture, saying there could be as many as 100 wolves between the two states. Their concerns about the wolf program got a receptive ear with U.S. Rep. Stevan Pearce, R-N.M.,who convened a special meeting between ranchers and wildlife officials that resulted in the moratorium proposal. The plan is open for public comment until May 31. A decision is due June 17....
Livestock-killing wolf pack being dissuaded with rubber bullets A wildlife team has been using rubber bullets to drive away a pack of endangered Mexican gray wolves from livestock in the Gila National Forest. The pack - an adult female, male and a yearling - killed two cows, one confirmed Thursday and the other confirmed April 29, said Vicki Fox, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman. The interagency field team has been monitoring and tracking the Francisco pack and will make future decisions about the pack based on what the wolves do, she said. Meanwhile, the Aspen pack - an adult male and female along with three pups - was captured after the animals bit a calf and a dog in Arizona, Fox said....
Editorial: Local control of national forests could harm pristine areas Roadless areas in national forests have been kept off-limits to oil and gas drilling, logging and mining because these largely pristine areas are among the last bastions of wildness in this country. President Bush's order to end federal protection of these areas wrongly takes their management out of the hands of far-sighted federal agencies and gives it to governors, most of them in the West, who are much more open to pressure from potential campaign donors and local industries looking to make a fast buck. The fate of Utah's 4 million acres of remaining roadless forests - some of the most important for water quality, recreation and wildlife habitat - will be left largely in the hands of Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., whose overriding concern is economic development....
Brush burn scaled back to protect sage grouse Under fire from state wildlife biologists, the Forest Service agreed Friday to dramatically scale back plans to conduct a prescribed burn this month on northern Nevada rangeland that is home to the sage grouse. The agency still hopes to set fire to about 300 acres of the 2,000-acre project area about 40 miles northeast of Winnemucca if unusually wet weather subsides in the coming weeks, said Bob Vaught, supervisor of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Biologists for the Nevada Division of Wildlife will accompany Forest Service officials on a visit to the area near the Santa Rosa Mountains to help identify which 300 acres can be burned without threatening any grouse or their nests, Vaught said....
Sheep ranch to become conservation bank for endangered shrimp A sheep ranch is set to become Solano County's first conservation bank for endangered species such as fairy shrimp and tadpole shrimp that live in vernal pools. The U-S Fish and Wildlife Service announced yesterday the creation of the conservation bank on Campbell Ranch. A growing number of landowners are converting their land to conservation banks to protect their property while allowing development to go forward elsewhere....
Judges resign from FREE board Three federal judges have resigned from a Bozeman think tank's board of directors following allegations that their involvement with the group was unethical. Judge Andre Davis of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Baltimore resigned last month from the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment's board of directors. FREE is a libertarian-leaning group that advocates free-market approaches to environmental protection. The resignation came on the heels of ethics complaints filed last year against four judges who sit on FREE's board. The complaints were filed by the Washington, D.C.-based Community Rights Council. In addition, Douglas Ginsburg, chief judge of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and Judge Jane Roth of the 3rd Circuit Court in Philadelphia resigned from FREE's board Friday. The complaint against FREE board member Danny J. Boggs, chief judge of the 6th Circuit Court in Kentucky, is still pending. CRC alleged last year that corporate interests were trying to influence judges who had environmental lawsuits pending in their courts....
Strange bedfellows unite against Nevada water pipeline Rural Republicans, urban Democrats, ranchers and environmentalists have found something they agree on in northern Nevada: They don't want to give their water to Las Vegas. "It's unanimous," said Bill Kohlmoos, a former Ely rancher. He was among about a 100 people who turned out at a federal public hearing Thursday night to oppose a proposed pipeline to tap groundwater in rural northeast Nevada to meet future growth in southern Nevada. As in previous hearings hosted by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, speaker after speaker lashed out against the $2 billion plan to build a network of 345 miles of pipeline across federal land....
Calif. shepherds are without basic amenities Most of California's shepherds are legal migrant workers from Peru, Chile and Mongolia. The few dozen immigrants roam the state's grasslands, deserts and foothills during grazing season. In 2001, lawmakers boosted monthly wages and required that living quarters include toilets, heating, drinking water, regular mail service, transportation to the nearest town and access to a telephone or radio for emergencies. Ranchers such as Dominique Minaberrigarai said California's mandated wage increase, from $900 to $1,200 a month, has hurt an industry that already was facing competition from synthetic fibers and the entry of China and other countries into the wool market....
Northwest has higher risk of mad cow exposure There is still a risk, though slight, of mad cow disease in the United States, and it is greatest in the three Northwestern states bordering Canada, according to Agriculture Department investigators. The investigators, after tracing the history of the four cows with the disease in North America, said the U.S. has minimized the risk by banning cattle remains in feed, the primary way mad cow disease is believed to spread. Three infected Canadian cows, including one from Alberta that turned up in the United States, probably ate feed contaminated with the same infected remains, and a fourth may have as well, investigators said. In its report, the team said the northwestern United States, particularly Washington, Idaho and Montana, could be considered at higher risk of exposure to BSE because it imported a substantial amount of cattle from western Canada along with a small amount of high-risk meat and bone meal. However, they said the feed ban and other measures "have effectively minimized the risk of transmission or amplification of the BSE agent."....
S. Dakota Is Bullish on Idea Of Carving Luxury Beef Niche South Dakota is trying to give this story a happier ending. This spring the legislature passed and the governor signed a first-in-the-nation law that catapults the state into the luxury beef business. The goal is to reinvent South Dakota beef as a gourmet foodstuff for upscale, socially conscious meat lovers. In effect, the state intends to drive a steak -- a homegrown, environmentally correct, premium-priced steak -- through the heart of its demographic decline. If all goes according to plan, increased profits from the steaks will stay home on the farm -- and so will more of the kids. In return, South Dakota is promising something that, so far, at least, no other cow-raising state is willing to match. Enlisting its police and administrative authority, the state guarantees consumers who buy South Dakota Certified Beef that they will be partaking of a computer-tracked cow that was born, fed and butchered inside state borders, using exacting standards of nutrition, with a humane upbringing and walled off from all possible contact with mad cow disease. After a consumer takes home the beef, he or she can use the Internet to find a photograph of the South Dakota family ranch where it came from. And if a rancher or a butcher cheats in caring for cows under the new rules, the state is ready and willing to charge him with a felony and send him to prison for two years....

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Friday, May 06, 2005

NEWS ROUNDUP

Governors' input allowed on roadless areas New guidelines for managing the nation's public forests received wildly mixed reviews Thursday, with industry cheering and conservationists preparing for a fight. The Bush administration's rule, which pulls states into the controversy regarding roadless lands, "represents a better way," said U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey. Rey met with reporters in a Thursday morning teleconference, saying the battle over how best to manage roadless lands dates back some four decades. Several administrations have tackled the issue, he said, trying to determine how to handle lands that have not yet been roaded, logged, mined or drilled, but also have not yet been protected with wilderness designations. Nationwide, he said, some 58 million roadless acres are in administrative limbo, with 97 percent of that land in 12 Western states. The new rule, crafted by the Bush administration and announced by Rey on Thursday, rolled back roadless protections, replacing the Clinton rule with a process allowing individual governors to help design state-specific roadless plans. States have 18 months to petition the federal government with a roadless proposal. If a governor does not make a petition to be involved, the chore will fall to the Forest Service. The new rule also creates "advisory committees," Rey said, to help produce the state-specific management plans....
Labor Unions Support Bush Administration's Final Roadless Rule "The unions of the Forest Products Industry National Labor Management Committee and our 500,000 members applaud the Bush Administration's decision to finalize the so-called Roadless Rule. The previous Rule was an unworkable policy that would have done more harm than good to our national forests. "As announced earlier today, the new Rule returns the decisions that will guide management of the forests to the local level -- to the people who live near the land and know it, and its needs, the best. This is best done through local community involvement in the development of individual forest plans and the new rule will ensure this principle."....
Wolves kill three bear hounds in northern Idaho Wolves from a north Idaho pack have killed three bear hounds in the latest clash between hunters in this rural state and four-legged predators reintroduced into Idaho in the mid 1990s. The number of wolves in the state is expected to exceed 450 with this year's litter of new pups. Travis Reggear, a professional hunter in Orofino, Idaho, said he and nine Walker hounds were with clients Tuesday on the third day of the black bear season north of the Dworshak Reservoir. All nine dogs set off after a bear but only six re-emerged from a steep, heavily wooded slope on land managed by the Idaho Department of Lands, Reggear said Wednesday. Reggear, who said he never saw the wolves, wants federal and state officials to either relocate the wolves or kill them. He believes members of the Chesimia pack killed three of his dogs earlier this year as they were used by another Reggear Outfitters employee to pursue mountain lion in the same area. Disputes over wolves have galvanized ranchers and hunters across Idaho -- and across the West. The battle is often framed as a fight over property rights....
Wildlife panel OKs wolf return The Colorado Wildlife Commission on Thursday set a course toward reconciliation with an old enemy: the wolf. The Wildlife Commission, which sets policy for the state Division of Wildlife, agreed to accept the return of the migrating predators from Yellowstone National Park and to formalize a plan to manage the state's first packs. The vote on the policy, set forth in a report by the Wolf Working Group, a panel of sportsmen, ranchers and conservation groups, was unanimous....
Silver State, feds fight over burning sage grouse habitat State wildlife officials denounced federal land managers’ plans Thursday to burn as much as 2,000 acres of sagebrush-covered rangeland in Northern Nevada that is home to the troubled sage grouse. Nevada Division of Wildlife officials urged U.S. Forest Service officials to postpone plans to set the fires 40 miles northeast of Winnemucca, saying the prescribed burn could harm populations of the dwindling game bird during prime nesting season. “We’re not opposed to prescribed burns, but they should be done in the late winter or early spring, not when birds are on their nests,” Wildlife Division spokesman Chris Healy said Thursday. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists in Nevada share the state’s concerns about the timing of the project, said Jody Brown, the agency’s deputy field director. Most of the area to be burned is in Humboldt County near the Santa Rosa mountains and is high quality sagebrush habitat — much of it favorable to nesting and brood rearing, Healy said. Forest Service officials insist they’ll take care not to burn the birds or their nests and that the fires will improve grouse habitat over time....
FS considers privatizing work of informing public The jobs of Forest Service employees who give information to the public are being scrutinized to see whether they might be better handled by private public relations firms. The evaluation is part of a process that the Bush administration says could "increase the cost-effectiveness of Forest Service work," according to agency memos. But a national government employee watchdog group - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibil-ity - said this is a ploy to manipulate information. "Civil servants are under a legal obligation to tell the public the truth while PR firms specialize in shading it. Outsourcing the public information function risks putting a premium on spin at the expense of candor," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. Ruch said the plan calls for surveying 700 of the agency's informational positions, with an eye on putting 100 of those jobs out to bid at private public relations firms. The Forest Service would make decisions this fall, and contractors could be in place by January. He said hundreds of other Forest Service positions may be subject to similar privatization in 2006....
Federal land agencies plan to restrict off-road vehicles in West For decades, off-road vehicle enthusiasts have been mostly free to roam federal forests and rangelands at will. But their freewheeling days could be numbered. In a move expected to generate controversy, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are developing plans to restrict the vehicles to designated routes and areas. Federal officials say the proposal is essential to curb environmental damage and ease conflict among users of public lands. Nationally, they cite a sevenfold increase from 1972 to 2000 in the number of off-roaders to 36 million....
BLM orders railroad to halt flood repairs The Bureau of Land Management has ordered Union Pacific Railroad to stop repairs to flood-damaged tracks near the Meadow Valley Wash because construction might threaten wilderness and archaeological sites. The track repair work began after a series of severe winter storms caused flooding earlier this year to portions of Lincoln and Clark counties. The BLM has launched a preliminary investigation into whether the railroad violated the Wilderness Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, all federal laws designed to protect sensitive habitats, species and ancient sites of early humans, said BLM spokesman Chris Hanefeld. Biologists, archaeologists and law enforcement officers were in the remote wash on Monday as part of the investigation, Hanefeld said....
Coalition seeks action against rancher A coalition of environmental groups is pressuring federal authorities to crack down on an eastern Arizona rancher who has failed to pay his grazing fees and maintain the grazing land he has leased from the U.S. government. The groups say that rancher Abelardo Martinez has ignored an August order from the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests to remove his cattle from Forest Service land. Martinez was given 30 days to remove the livestock, but he has not done so, nor have forest officials carried through on their threats to impound the cattle, the groups state. This week, the groups gave the required 60-day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as Martinez and his son, Dan, who also grazes cattle on forest land....
Environmental sirens in Delta are screaming The Delta's open-water fish populations are mysteriously collapsing in a crisis that threatens to unravel the food web of the West Coast's largest estuary. Delta smelt, already a threatened species, fell last fall to the lowest level ever measured. Same with young striped bass, according to the results of annual surveys by the California Department of Fish and Game. And the key food source for small fish in the Delta, tiny organisms called copepods, are plummeting as well, with numbers of a key species falling to extremely low levels. The rapid, multispecies decline could trigger measures that might affect water quality and supply from Contra Costa County to Southern California. Scientists say information in a number of different surveys of the Delta and Suisun Marsh revealed an ongoing, sweeping population crash that could not be explained by drought or any other easily identifiable cause....
Bush plan to tap Nevada land sales money resurfaces in Congress A Bush administration plan to divert federal land sale profits out of Nevada has resurfaced in Congress. "We still think it's a fair proposal," said John Scofield, spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee. The panel on Wednesday directed Interior Secretary Gale Norton to report how the government has spent money from lucrative land sales conducted under the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act of 1998. President Bush in February asked Congress to change the law requiring all land sale revenues to be spent in Nevada. The administration proposal would instead funnel 70 percent of profits to the U.S. Treasury, leaving Nevada with 30 percent....
Sparse support shown in Las Vegas for big water pipeline plan Just one of more than 100 people raised a hand at a public meeting to show support for a plan to build a $2 billion pipeline to supply water from rural counties to southern Nevada. Others providing public comment Wednesday said that before building the pipeline to White Pine County, the Southern Nevada Water Authority should consider controlling growth, increasing water conservation and making deals to get more water from the Colorado River or by desalinating Pacific Ocean water. Jerald Anderson worried that pumping underground water and piping it 240 miles south to Clark County could wipe out wildlife and family owned ranches and farms....
Soaking up knowledge More than 500 fourth-grade students from every elementary school in Carlsbad are learning all about water at the first Children’s Water Festival. The children gathered Thursday for the start of the two-day event at the Pecos River Village Conference Center, where they learned about water agreements, erosion, conservation, water safety testing, run off and much more. The event was sponsored by the New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts, said Amber Hughes, who wrote a grant to the federal Bureau of Reclamation to fund the event. “Students will negotiate water-sharing agreements and purify water from the Pecos River,” she said. “They’ll look for ‘bugs’ in the water to determine its purity, create a mini-river and use a groundwater model to ‘see’ how water moves underground.”....
Column: Jagged Little Drill When the energy bill sailed through the House of Representatives late last month, the media reported that it was the same old grotesquely corpulent package that the GOP leadership had previously tried -- and failed -- to pass through Congress four times in the last four years. This is true. But what flew under the radar were a few new provisions snuck in at the 11th hour by Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), chair of the House Resources Committee, which have made the bill even more environmentally threatening than previous versions, many Democrats and environmentalists say. The environmental statute Pombo is targeting this time: the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act, long considered a cornerstone of U.S. environmental law. A Pombo-backed amendment sponsored by Rep. John Peterson (R-Penn.) and added to the bill the day before markup would allow energy companies to skirt NEPA requirements in a number of situations, with the aim of speeding energy development on federal land. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), the ranking Democrat on the House Resources Committee, told Muckraker it would grant the energy industry "carte blanche to conduct drilling and exploration activities on public lands without any kind of meaningful environmental review, and remove the legal grounds for scientists, communities, and local governments to intercede. It is an affront to the American people."....
State mineral rights bill likely to pass Environmentalists say they'll fight a bill that passed in the U.S. House on Thursday and is expected to pass the Senate next week, a measure they fear will open the Gulf Islands National Seashore to oil and gas exploration and drilling. U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., introduced an amendment to a defense and tsunami-relief spending bill that he said clarifies Mississippi's rights to any oil and gas underneath the federal Gulf Islands National Seashore, or Barrier Islands. State leaders pushing to explore and tap the state's offshore oil and gas reserves said Mississippi already had these rights, and asked Cochran to help intervene to prevent any litigation with the National Park Service, which questioned the state's rights to test and drill. Cochran's provision says the state retains the mineral rights to the islands it deeded to the federal park system in the early 1970s, and has the right to perform seismic testing in and around the islands and to extract minerals through "directional drilling," as long as it's done from outside the one-mile protective barrier around the islands....
Will wood help fill US energy needs? Forget corn processing. Don't wait for switch grass. The real key to producing enough ethanol for America's cars and trucks this century is wood. That's the contention of researchers at the State University of New York (SUNY). By revamping the way paper is made, they've found an economical way to extract important energy-rich sugars from the trees and then convert these sugars into ethanol, a gasoline additive, and other useful chemicals. It's a process the researchers call a biorefinery. Installed at the nation's paper mills, biorefineries could produce 2.4 billion gallons of ethanol a year, they estimate, or 80 percent of the nation's projected need this year....
Growers say it with organic flowers To many Americans, Mother's Day means three things: brunch, a card and flowers. But few doting sons and daughters realize that producing those pretty posies is one of the most pesticide- and poison-intensive agricultural endeavors on the planet. Organic flowers don't look or smell any different from non-organic flowers. And there's no good evidence that they're any healthier for the lucky recipient. But they are better for the environment, and especially for the tens of thousands of workers, most of them young women, who work in floral greenhouses in Central and South America, says Martha Olson Jarocki of the Pesticide Action Network. "Flowers are such a high-value crop that it takes a huge amount of pesticides to make them perfect," she says. That includes dousing them with insecticides, fungicides and growth regulators, Jarocki says, and fumigation with toxic methyl bromide....damn, we can't even celebrate Mother's Day without engendering environmental wrath....
'Dean of bootmakers' passes away at 93 A couple of years ago, Schuyler Jones overheard a disgruntled elderly rancher trying to buy boots at a western store. "He had a pile of boots three feet deep lying in front of him, and nothing he tried would fit, according to him," Jones said. "He started swearing and complaining. I was several yards away and heard him say, 'I haven't had a decent pair of books since Carl McDowell retired!' " Such was the reputation of Wichitan Carl McDowell, known as one of the finest bootmakers in the nation and nicknamed "the dean of Kansas bootmakers" by loyal customers, who sought out his hand-shaped soft-leather boots for decades. Mr. McDowell died Saturday at 93. Among his loyal customers were top military and political celebrities. "My father designed a battle boot that (Gen. George) Patton always ordered from us -- and Carl made those. He also made a pair of riding boots for Eleanor Roosevelt," Jones said....

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Thursday, May 05, 2005

LICENSE TO KILL, PART 3

Scientists fault state habitat plan

The TV spots have been airing for years now, paid for by big timber companies in Washington. Their quest? A 50-year federal guarantee against prosecution under the Endangered Species Act. It would apply across 9.1 million acres -- one-fifth of the state, the bulk of private forestland in Washington. By next Thursday, federal officials want the public to weigh in: Does the industry's promise to keep waterways healthy justify granting nearly airtight legal refuge for logging that accidentally kills or harms salmon and 49 other kinds of fish, five kinds of salamanders and two types of frogs? If approved by federal officials, the Forest Practices Habitat Conservation Plan would be the largest in the West -- second nationally only to a Georgia deal that aims to protect red-cockaded woodpeckers. However, internal documents from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reveal conflicted agencies with serious internal disagreements about the plan, known as Forests and Fish. One government scientist even worried about "voodoo science" behind the plan....

Other articles in the series:

Best-laid plans can't foresee all

'Political realities' helped shape urban preserve

Lessons learned elsewhere put to good use in Arizona

Big thinking is required to overhaul habitat program

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A LICENSE TO KILL, PART 2

Too often, inadequate science hampers habitat planning

There is plenty of mystery surrounding Cave X -- an underground limestone cavern where insects have mutated over countless years, adapting to the darkness. It is the home of an extremely rare, itsy-bitsy spider -- eyeless with a creamy hue. There are only two places on Earth where the blind spider, Cicurina cueva, is known to exist, and one of them is Cave X, where the primary defense from extinction is a chain-link fence. The fence is supposed to shield the cave from intruders and suburban sprawl. But as environmentalist Bill Bunch stands there, surveying the row of two-story homes, the sprawling private school with the long asphalt driveway, the delivery trucks -- he knows the "postage stamp" preserve will fail. With all that development, how could groundwater feeding the cavern remain pure? What will happen to the foraging crickets and other animals that bring nutrients underground -- a crucial link in the food web? Scientists know little about the spiders and other subterranean creatures here. And yet the subdivisions sprouting around the scattered caves have the blessing of the federal agency responsible for protecting most endangered species....

Other articles in the series:

Lone voice challenges 'no surprises'

Idle preserves turn to eyesores

The public often has little role in the drafting of habitat plans

Montana's bull trout runs threatened

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USDA UNVEILS MULTI-YEAR DRAFT STRATEGIC PLAN FOR THE NATIONAL ANIMAL IDENTIFICATION SYSTEM

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns today unveiled a thinking paper and timeline on the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) and called on agriculture producers, leaders, and industry partners to provide feedback. Both documents are available on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's NAIS Web site at http://www.usda.gov/nais and will be published in the Federal Register. "The documents we're releasing today offer a draft plan to move the public discussion forward on this important initiative," said Johanns. "We created these documents with guidance from the NAIS advisory committee and with a great deal of input from producers. We're proposing answers to some of the key questions about how we envision this system moving forward. Now, I'm eager to hear from farmers and ranchers so we can develop a final plan." A comprehensive description of system standards will be determined over time through field trials, user experience and the federal rulemaking process. These documents lay out in more detail projected timelines and potential avenues to achieve system milestones. For example, these documents propose requiring stakeholders to identify premises and animals according to NAIS standards by January 2008. Requiring full recording of defined animal movements is proposed by January 2009. The Federal Register notice acknowledges the outstanding concerns of some stakeholders and frames questions for which USDA will be seeking answers as it moves forward with the NAIS. These questions pertain to funding for the system, confidentiality of data in the system and flexibility of the system, among other things....

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NEWS ROUNDUP

Tale of The Sea Ranch Ruminants The Sea Ranch has hired Falk and his flock to mow the fields and the common areas on the property. Actually, there's a fancy name for this practice. It's called prescribed grazing, and the emerging land-management technique is increasingly replacing the notoriously noisy and pollution-spewing machines that had once displaced the animals. Prescribed grazing is also thought to be beneficial in controlling noxious and invasive weeds and encouraging diversity. Falk's day-to-day routine consists largely of herding his flock from one grazing area to the next. To contain the animals, he rolls out bales of portable electrical fencing, enough to encircle a 5-acre paddock, which he and his buddy, Ira, move from field to field, sometimes twice a day, depending on how low the animals have munched the grass. The fence, which draws its power from a solar panel that feeds a battery, delivers an irritating, harmless pulse that largely succeeds in keeping the animals inside it. If that doesn't keep them contained, Tess, Falk's Border collie, is the backup plan....
Column: Burrowing Into the Mythology about Prairie Dogs A popular fiction in South Dakota and elsewhere is that one nibble, one burrow, one high-pitched chirp at a time, the black-tailed prairie dog is invading and destroying grasslands for livestock. As Blaine Harden recently reported in The Washington Post, third-generation rancher Charles Kruze even compared South Dakota's rodential downpour to a "prairie fire" sweeping across the plains. The irony of Kruze's analogy is that prairie fires, like prairie dogs, are restorative forces that keep the ecosystem healthy and balanced. A misinformed mythology of prairie dogs as apocalyptic pests, however, now threatens a nearly endangered species that is both native and beneficial to the prairie and those who graze it....
Litigation attempts to halt grazing on 800,000 acres of BLM land The little guys will suffer, too. It's not just the big-time ranchers who could find themselves without a place to graze cattle, pending the outcome of an environmental group's lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management. And, that was on the mind of one of those "little guys" at a public meeting in Twin Falls on Wednesday to discuss the Western Watersheds Project's call to put a halt to grazing on 800,000 acres of BLM lands in the Jarbidge area. The Hailey-based group alleges that BLM violated its own guidelines when granting increased grazing permits on 30 allotments. Although the lawsuit would impact one of the largest livestock producers in the country in J.R. Simplot, it will also affect ranchers like Joe Leguineche, who has been grazing roughly 100 animals in the Jarbidge region since 1962....
Eco-groups seek to lift roadless-rule injunction A Wyoming court ruling that opened the door to energy development and road-building on 58.5 million acres of national forest should be overturned, environmentalists told a federal appeals panel in Denver on Wednesday. During a hearing before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, attorneys for the Wyoming Outdoor Council and seven other conservation groups argued that U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer incorrectly interpreted the law and the evidence in the case when making his ruling of July 14, 2003. Brimmer found that the public had an inadequate chance to comment on the Clinton-era roadless rule and that prohibiting new roads was equivalent to designating new wilderness - a role reserved for Congress. He issued an injunction blocking the rule from taking effect across the country. "This regulation was the subject of more public involvement than any in the nation's history," Earthjustice attorney Jim Angell said. "If this doesn't pass muster, nothing ever will."....
Conservationists say salvage sales endanger grizzly bears Removing Flathead National Forest trees burned by wildfires in 2003 jeopardizes grizzly bears in one of the few U.S. areas they still inhabit outside of Alaska, and the projects should be blocked, two environmental groups say in a lawsuit filed in Missoula. The Swan View Coalition and Friends of the Wild Swan say the projects were approved without adequate consideration of their effect on grizzly bears, protected under the Endangered Species Act. The fire-salvage projects require forest roads and helicopter logging that stand to cause the incidental death or injury of grizzlies beyond levels the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permits, the groups said. Defendants in the lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court here include Flathead National Forest Supervisor Cathy Barbouletos, who authorized the salvage work. The Forest Service's regional office earlier denied an appeal of her decision....
USFS buys, swaps land to protect 132-acre wilderness ranch Government officials announced that 132 acres inside the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area are getting federal protection. What was once a 1908 homestead known as the Seminole Ranch has been purchased by the Forest Service in a buyout and land swap with a Virginia-based conservation group. Ranger Joe Hudson says getting control over the land will protect it from development. The 1.3 million acre wilderness is home to bighorn sheep, grizzlies and elk. In all, the Forest Service had to pay $1.5 million and swap 180 acres of timberland to get the property....
DISASTROUS BILL WILL EXEMPT THOUSANDS OF ACRES OF WILDERNESS FROM ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS The so-called “Real ID” Act, expected to pass the House tomorrow, will expose thousands of acres of public land, including national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas along the U.S. border to extreme environmental damage, according to Defenders of Wildlife.“By exempting the Department of Homeland Security from environmental laws within public lands along the Mexican and Canadian borders, some of our nation’s most valuable wilderness areas are now prone to a new level of destruction as new construction projects begin,” stated Rodger Schlickeisen, President of Defenders of Wildlife. “Certainly we do not need to sacrifice some of our nation's most cherished wilderness areas to protect our borders.” The “Real ID” Act will include sweeping language allowing the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to exempt the agency from all federal, state and local environmental laws when constructing walls, fences, roads and other barriers along U.S. borders. Nearly 7,500 miles of land along the U.S. International border is affected by this bill. It will also eliminate vital protections under the Endangered Species Act, National Forest Management Act and other laws intended to protect wildlife, laws that every other federal agency must obey....
Idaho closing portion of Snake River to chinook fishing Hit by paltry numbers of returning salmon, Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials say they're closing a 23-mile stretch of the Snake River near Lewiston to spring chinook sport fishing to preserve the few fish headed upstream. In a related action, four Northwest Indian tribes said they would not conduct ceremonial or subsistence fishing on part of the Columbia River this year. Sharon Kiefer, the Idaho agency's manager of anadromous fisheries, said the closure, set to begin Wednesday, protects fish headed to Snake tributaries, including the Salmon and Grande Ronde rivers....
Poachers stealing national park heritage Increasingly organized gangs of poachers are killing wildlife, yanking up plants and stealing valuable bits and pieces of the nation's parks, threatening the biological diversity and cultural heritage they were created to protect. Black bears have been slaughtered in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia for their gallbladders, used in traditional Asian medicines. Nearly every week rangers in Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida stumble upon headless carcasses of alligators butchered for their skulls and tail meat. Cactus rustlers are depleting prized saguaro and barrel cactus from Southwestern parks to feed demand from the domestic landscaping market and cactus collectors in Europe and Japan. Rocks, shells, sponges, herbs, flowers, butterflies, beetles, spiders, fish, reptiles, mushrooms, moss, fossils, Indian artifacts, human remains - if it can be found in a national park, chances are someone is trying to pilfer it....
House panel boosts national park spending A House panel cut federal aid for local water projects but boosted money for National Park Service operations in a bill that devotes $26.2 billion to natural resource programs next year. Together, the natural resources and arts programs controlled by the panel would absorb a 3 percent spending cut from $27 billion this year. A program that grants money to states, which then loan the funds to local governments for water treatment and sewage programs, was targeted for a $241 million, or 22 percent, reduction. Money to fund day-to-day operations and attack a backlog of maintenance projects at the National Park Service were both increased. Overall, the park service would see its total budget cut $137 million, the result of decisions to eliminate a $90 million grant program for state parks and virtually halt government land acquisitions....
NPCA: Drug War Spreads to America's National Parks The nation's leading park advocacy group, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), today announced that America's national parks are under assault from drug cartels and illegal drug trafficking and called on Congress to provide adequate funding and staffing to enable the National Park Service to combat this growing threat to parks and visitors. "Our national parks should be a refuge for visitors and a safe haven for wildlife and other treasures, but that is not always the case," said NPCA President Tom Kiernan. "America's national parks are under assault-and need immediate attention." The number-one national park for growing marijuana in the United States is Sequoia National Park in California, which is next to the number-one county in the nation for illegal marijuana cultivation. Since 2001, the National Park Service has attempted to thwart cultivation of more than 180 acres of marijuana gardens guarded by armed growers in dense terrain. Last year, rangers found more than 44,000 marijuana plants with a street value of $176 million....Let's see, maybe the best way to wrangle some money out of a Republican congress is to use the mantle of the war on drugs. Nice try fellas....
Fossil thief put officials between a rock and a hard place The discovery in southern Utah of a new birdlike dinosaur with an unprecedented combination of meat- and plant-eating characteristics put paleontologists in an awkward position. Researchers cannot justify the theft of fossils from public land, but they might never have found this new therizinosaur without the help of a thief. Lawrence Walker found the site in the late 1990s, said James Kirkland, Utah's state paleontologist. Walker spent a few years mining and selling the bones before realizing that he found a new species that should be studied, according to Kirkland. Through a third-party, Walker passed along rough coordinates, but Kirkland and others could not find the spot. Eventually, Walker had to walk Kirkland to the elusive location. The act of coming forward revealed Walker to federal investigators, who were trying to find the fossil thief. Walker pleaded guilty in 2002 to charges of stealing dinosaur bones - government property - from the Cedar Mountain rock formation on a Bureau of Land Management parcel. Walker, who did not want to be interviewed, was sentenced to five months in jail, 36 months of supervised release and ordered to pay restitution of $15,000....I see, Walker spends 5 months in jail but it's the Feds who are between a rock and a hard place. A great example of MSM thinking....
Editorial: BLM should exclude petroglyphs from list offered for drilling There is still time for the Bureau of Land Management to exclude the archaeologically sensitive Parowan Gap from its list of land parcels to be included in a May 17 auction of oil and gas drilling leases. We fervently hope that it does. Parowan Gap, 10 miles west of Parowan in Iron County, contains an irreplaceable collection of Native American rock art images so numerous that it has been called the Newspaper Rock of the West Desert. The petroglyphs are recognized on the National Register of Historic Places. Survivors of thousands of years of exposure to the elements, they should be protected against the intrusion of modern man. Since 1982, about 34 million acres of Utah land have been made available for oil and gas development leases - 61 percent of the state. Nearly 3.8 million acres of public and private land are currently under lease, but oil and gas are being extracted on just 1 million acres....
Oil driller claims big strike in Utah A tiny oil company has snapped up leasing rights to a half-million acres in central Utah that it says could yield a billion barrels or more of oil. Geologists are calling it a spectacular find -- the largest onshore discovery in at least 30 years, located in a region of complex geology long abandoned for exploration by major oil companies. It's turning out to contain high-quality oil already commanding a premium at refineries. At today's prices, the oil reserve could bring Utah $5.6 billion in royalties, state auditors conservatively estimate. Although the discovery still is playing out, the oil will take years to recover, and some skeptics question the company's projections for a region yet to be fully surveyed....
Editorial: Water decision disappointing The U.S. Interior Department's decision to maintain the current rate of water released from Lake Powell could spell future problems for Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico. Most troubling, Interior Secretary Gale Norton didn't strongly signal seven states that share the Colorado River about the need for long-term drought plans. Norton said she won't reduce the amount of water released from Lake Powell for the rest of 2005. Snowmelt projections in the upper Colorado River indicate that by year's end, Lake Powell should fill to 48 percent of capacity. That's better than the 34 percent of normal the lake had this spring. Even so, Powell likely will end the year behind Lake Mead, which could reach 57 percent of normal, thanks to an unusually wet year in the lower river basin. Norton's decision not to take steps to refill Powell rests largely on the assumption that another year of near-normal moisture will bless the West in 2006. If that turns out to be wrong, her decision could spell trouble. We wish she had chosen the more prudent course....
The Climate of Man Wherever Weiss and his team dug, they also encountered a layer of dirt that contained no signs of human habitation. This layer, which was more than three feet deep, corresponded to the years 2200 to 1900 B.C., and it indicated that, around the time of Akkad’s fall, Tell Leilan had been completely abandoned. In 1991, Weiss sent soil samples from Tell Leilan to a lab for analysis. The results showed that, around the year 2200 B.C., even the city’s earthworms had died out. Eventually, Weiss came to believe that the lifeless soil of Tell Leilan and the end of the Akkadian empire were products of the same phenomenon—a drought so prolonged and so severe that, in his words, it represented an example of “climate change.” Weiss first published his theory, in the journal Science, in August, 1993. Since then, the list of cultures whose demise has been linked to climate change has continued to grow. They include the Classic Mayan civilization, which collapsed at the height of its development, around 800 A.D.; the Tiwanaku civilization, which thrived near Lake Titicaca, in the Andes, for more than a millennium, then disintegrated around 1100 A.D.; and the Old Kingdom of Egypt, which collapsed around the same time as the Akkadian empire....
Column: Reports of Environmentalism’s “Death” May be Exaggerated Clearly, we’re dealing with a more conservative population today than we were a dozen years ago, and environmental positions do not enjoy the same level of support they did in the 1990s. If polls weren’t enough to enforce that point, the 2004 election cycle made it abundantly clear. Those results have caused a good deal of soul-searching, not only among Democrats and liberals generally, but also in the environmental movement. The tragedy, say many green leaders, is that Americans are tuning out the environment at the very time that big-ticket crises—from global warming to endangered species loss and overfishing of the oceans—need immediate attention. Activists who had thought that President Bush couldn’t get away with simply ignoring the clear evidence that climate change was real were stunned to see that he could…and did....
Column: Ego Gates Get My Goat So, my neighbor finally got a ranchette. Whether it's five acres or 40, the next step is apparently the perfect entrance gate. Rancheteers have made these huge gates the latest symbol of affluence in the West. They boast uprights bigger than my house, flanked by imported decorative boulders. The crossbar seems sometimes to be a whole tree. The majestic sign in the middle may perpetuate some notion of Western myth: Misty Mustang Meadow Ranch. Or the place is named for the wildlife driven out by building: Dancing Deer Development. Honesty would call it Gone Grizzly or Elk Eradication Estates. Some folks try to be clever: Poverty Pastures. An immodest rancher might reveal his first name on his belt -- but not in letters a foot high. We prove our financial worth by supporting our community directly -- no billboard boasts. Antique machinery sometimes gets piled next to these self-important gates, turning tools into d├ęcor or even worse, planters for geraniums. This array is exhibitionism, a thug flaunting victory over the vanquished. You might as well decorate a driveway with the tombstones of neighborhood ranchers, or hang their heads in your den....

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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

KIT LANEY/DIAMOND BAR

Forest official charged with abusing cows

Marcia Andre, the supervisor of the Gila National Forest and an employee of the U.S. Forest Service, has been indicted by a Catron County grand jury on one count of cruelty to animals. The indictment stems from the winter 2004 roundup of hundreds of head of cattle that belonged to embattled rancher Kit Laney. A federal court ordered the impoundment in December 2003, after ruling the rancher was in contempt for failing to follow earlier court orders. Also indicted by the grand jury on one count of animal cruelty was Neddie Archuleta of El Rito. Archuleta was the cowboy contracted by the Forest Service to round up the cattle. Under state statute, the charge is a misdemeanor. The description of the charge states the defendants negligently mistreated, injured, tormented or killed an animal without lawful justification, or that they abandoned or failed to provide necessary sustenance to an animal under their custody or control. The indictments were based on the testimony of seven witnesses, including Kit Laney’s former wife, Sherri; Russell Laney of Reserve, a relative; Joe Delk of Mesilla Park; Zeno Kiehne of the Messenger Newspaper in Reserve; Dr. Robert Morris of Edgewood; Gary Webb of Lake Roberts and Catron County Sheriff Cliff Snyder of Reserve. Bruce Burwell, chief deputy district attorney for the 7th Judicial District in Catron County, said the indictments were only the beginning. “It isn’t the end of the book, it’s not the first page, its not even the first sentence,” he told the Sun-News Tuesday. “We have a long way to go. Like any criminal case, it will develop.” Burwell said an arraignment would be the next step and that the state then would have six months to bring the cases to trial....

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NEWS ROUNDUP

Denver Federal Appeals Court to Hear Roadless Rule Argument On Tuesday, May 3, Forest Service officials were telling reporters to standby for the release of a Bush administration replacement to the Clinton era roadless rule. Nonetheless, arguments are scheduled to go forward tomorrow morning at the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver over the legitimacy of the Clinton roadless rule. This visionary forest protection originally called for the protection of 58.5 million acres of large blocks of unroaded forests and grasslands that belong to all Americans. The State of Wyoming, which is defending a Wyoming federal district court's ruling striking down the roadless rule, argued to the Tenth Circuit that the court should dismiss the case because a replacement rule would soon be forthcoming from the Bush administration. So far the appeals court has not accepted that argument but indications are the Bush administration may attempt to avoid a legal ruling by releasing its replacement rule as soon as this week. Regardless of Bush administration actions, Earthjustice attorney Jim Angell will defend the landmark forest protection measure Wednesday morning at the court of appeals in Denver....
FS removes records; bison group 'shocked' A bison activist group and the U.S. Forest Service are at odds over the relevance of a cache of documents on a $13 million land deal north of Yellowstone National Park. The Buffalo Field Campaign alleges Gallatin National Forest officials intentionally removed several hundred pages of records on the 1999 agreement the group had sought under a Freedom of Information Act request. The Buffalo Field Campaign wants to study the effect of the deal on area bison herds. Gallatin National Forest officials maintain the records in question were old or duplicate documents and were removed as part of agency-wide housekeeping efforts. "They weren't anything that was relevant to what we're doing at this point," forest spokeswoman Lorette Ray in Bozeman said Tuesday. The 7,000-acre deal, involving public and private land, was brokered as a way to preserve wildlife habitat and protect park bison that wander into Montana each winter in search of forage. Bison that can't be herded back into the park are captured under a joint state-federal management plan, and those animals that test positive for brucellosis are sent to slaughter. The Buffalo Field Campaign opposes the management plan....
Judge throws out challenge to Volusia beach driving A judge has thrown out an environmental challenge to beach driving in Volusia County but said a new version of the lawsuit could be filed after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rules on the county's 25-year permit request. Sea turtle activist Shirley Reynolds and New Smyrna Beach condominium resident Robert Godwin, who claimed beach motorists were harming five species of endangered sea turtles and a protected shorebird, have not decided whether to appeal the 35-page ruling by U.S. District Judge Gregory A. Presnell. In the sharply worded order, he rejected some of the claims as invalid, decided some were outside his jurisdiction and ruled others should be decided by the federal wildlife agency. The plaintiffs "seem to believe that what is 'necessary' for (endangered) species is procedural quagmires, uncompromising administrative oversight and scorched-earth litigation," the judge wrote. "That is not so, if for no other reason, because Congress has not mandated such an utter waste of resources."....Hey, maybe we've found our Supreme Court nominee...
Search Continues for Southern Arizona Jaguars Rare and exotic are just some words that might come to mind at the surreal sight of a jaguar just lounging in a tree, the sight that Anna and Jack Childs saw one late August day in 1996, near Baboquivari Peak, southwest of Tucson. With the help of grants and Humboldt State University graduate student Emil McCain, Childs now has several pictures, like the one to the left of this story, that prove at least two male jaguars in southern Arizona. "The deal is now to educate people and give the jaguar a noble status to where when they are found, they aren't killed,” Childs said. Thirty cameras now stretch from Baboquivari Peak, where the Childs first saw a jaguar, to the New Mexico State line, all to find out more about jaguars, determine if any are living in southern Arizona, and if so, how to protect them. "We're still uncertain whether these animals are moving up from Mexico and going back, how often they're doing that, what areas they are doing that,” said Tim Snow, a non-game specialist for Arizona Game and Fish....
Lawsuit Seeks to Save Millions of Songbirds From Tower Collisions Millions of birds die each year in the United States because the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has failed to comply with environmental laws in its licensing of television, radio, cell, and other communications towers, according to a lawsuit filed Monday by two conservation organizations. The American Bird Conservancy of Washington, DC; and the Forest Conservation Council of Santa Fe, New Mexico, filed suit in federal court against the FCC to activate a formal petition they filed with the agency in August 2002 requesting the agency’s environmental compliance in licensing communication towers, and requiring mitigation techniques to avoid bird deaths. The current lawsuit, filed on behalf of the groups by the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice, requests that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia order the FCC to respond to the petition....
Front study up for public comment The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released a Rocky Mountain Front environmental study, part of a proposal for protecting wildlife habitat, and will be taking comment on it until late May. The agency issued the environmental assessment Monday as part of the process for establishing a Rocky Mountain Front conservation area by acquiring easements from landowners. The assessment and an accompanying plan spell out what must be done to establish the area and examine the environmental effects of those actions. The proposed conservation area would consist of 918,000 acres on the east side of the Continental Divide. The Fish and Wildlife Service would acquire conservation easements on 170,000 acres of private land between the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and the South Fork of the Dearborn River....
Corps plan: Protect birds, conserve water The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to reduce flows from Gavins Point Dam to conserve water and discourage endangered birds from nesting too close to the Missouri River, a corps spokesman said Monday. The corps expects to conserve 500,000 more acre-feet of water over last year in the three upstream reservoirs fed by the Missouri. Paul Johnston, spokesman for the corps' Omaha district, said the goal is to save as much water as possible while meeting downstream navigation needs and protecting endangered least terns and piping plovers that nest near the river. The corps on Monday increased releases from Gavins Point, on the Nebraska-South Dakota border, to 23,000 cubic feet per second....
Housing project runs into problems high and low A 108-home development in north Redlands may find itself stuck between objections from pilots overhead and kangaroo rats below. Public Works Director Ron Mutter reminded the committee that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will probably require that the rat habitat be fenced off and labeled with "no trespassing" signs a plan that does not exactly match the spirit of the usable open space requirement for planned residential developments. "Based on that, I do not see him as having a (municipal) code project right now," he said....
Oil projects may get less scrutiny But in the future, companies like Barrett that produce oil and gas in the Rocky Mountain West may not have to undergo that kind of environmental analysis. A section of the energy bill approved by the House of Representatives last month would exempt many federal energy projects from the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act. If the Senate passes the bill and the president signs it into law, many oil-and-gas projects will no longer be analyzed for their environmental effects or be open to public comment. Some examples: Oil and gas wells that disturb less than 5 acres of land. Kermit Witherbee of the Bureau of Land Management says, "Most of our drill pads are less than 5 acres. Our average is less than 3 acres."....
Governor: Don't cut protest period A proposal by Gov. Dave Freudenthal to provide for public involvement in federal oil and gas lease sales is being called a good-sense solution by people on both sides of the issue. Freudenthal sent a letter this week to Bureau of Land Management State Director Bob Bennett asking the agency to reconsider its decision to shorten the public comment period by 15 days. "I fully understand the problems faced by the Wyoming BLM State Office in accepting lease protests the day before the lease sale and believe it is a wise decision to allow the BLM to fully analyze the protests before the sale," Freudenthal said. "However, I am concerned that the time for the public to review documents and conduct research has been reduced to accommodate the BLM's needs." The governor also said the requirement to have an original signature -- not a fax or e-mail -- on lease protests further shortens the public review time because mail can take several days....
Proposed sale of gas leases near Parowan Gap decried Environmental groups are protesting the Bureau of Land Management's plans for a new round of auctions of oil and gas leases that include parcels around Parowan Gap - a nationally recognized collection of Native American rock art in Iron County. The Parowan Gap petroglyphs, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, are located about 10 miles west of Parowan and feature a wide variety of Native American images; so many that some have dubbed the site the "Newspaper Rock" of the West Desert. In that context, conservationists say they are flabbergasted that the BLM is considering offering a half-dozen parcels within view of the rock art, one of which includes part of the site itself....
BLM lease plan draws fire A coalition of environmental groups and Dinosaur residents are denouncing Bureau of Land Management plans to auction mineral leases along the entrance to Dinosaur National Monument. On May 12, the BLM plans to offer for auction about 1,100 acres of public lands for oil and gas development near the monument's southern entrance and along Harpers Corner Drive. Many of the monument's visitors enter through the scenic drive. Dinosaur business owner Bill Mitchem worries that oil and gas drilling within sight of the road would hurt the area's tourism industry. "The town of Dinosaur is just now starting to understand how we can capitalize on our assets. Our biggest asset is Dinosaur National Monument," said Mitchem, owner of the Bedrock Depot in Dinosaur. "As we seek to attract tourists, we need our biggest asset to remain intact. We want people to come to the monument, and I'm just not sure how oil and gas development fits into the equation," he said....
Environmentalists protest West Mojave Plan Environmental groups Monday formally protested the Bureau of Land Management's West Mojave plan, a prelude to a possible lawsuit against the 900-page document that will guide development and environmental protection for decades. The BLM is supposed to provide for conservation and recovery of wildlife within a 9-million acre area of the California desert, said Daniel Patterson of the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Ariz. The West Mojave Plan has been more than 10 years in the making and is aimed at balancing development with environmental issues. But critics say the plan does a poor job protecting endangered plants and animals. The plan would increase urban sprawl, off-roading, livestock production, mining, and big utility projects, Patterson said....
Spikes spur concern of eco-terrorism He and the 20 other members of the Desert Climbers Association have gotten to know the mountain, built pedestrian trails and enjoyed many climbs on its rocks. Lately though, he and other members have come across some indications that they are not welcome: Six inch long nails, with sheet metal backing, sticking a half inch through the dirt placed along trails and in the parking lot. Also, the pedestrian trails they have labored to build have been blocked by big rocks. "The booby traps are over the line," Andrews said. "They are jeopardizing safety and property."....
Column: Where Does Animal Advocacy Come In? While the alliance of animal advocates and immigration restrictionists wanting to influence the Sierra Club’s future has caused a furor, the role that animal advocates could actually play is largely unexamined. The issues, however, are serious: Do environmentalists view other animals as resources to be protected? As objects of aesthetic interest? Or should environmentalists take the position that animals, other than the human ones, have their own interests? One in five current Sierra Club members is an angler or hunter. [2] And although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that animal farm waste has polluted more than 27,000 miles of rivers, and the demand for meat has become a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage [3], materials offered by the Sierra Club do not face this issue squarely. [4] Information published in connection with a recent Sierra Club campaign, The True Cost of Food, tells readers that three-fourths of the land in the continental United States is devoted to agribusiness, and much of the cropland produces grain for cows, not people....
Augmenting the Animal Kingdom Natural evolution has produced the eye, butterfly wings and other wonders that would put any inventor to shame. But who's to say evolution couldn't be improved with the help of a little technology? So argues James Auger in his controversial and sometimes unsettling book, Augmented Animals. A designer and former research associate with MIT Media Lab Europe, Auger envisions animals, birds, reptiles and even fish becoming appreciative techno-geeks, using specially engineered gadgets to help them overcome their evolutionary shortcomings, promote their chances of survival or just simply lead easier and more comfortable lives. On tap for the future: Rodents zooming around with night-vision survival goggles, squirrels hoarding nuts using GPS locators and fish armed with metal detectors to avoid the angler's hook....
Rural land owners rally against transportation plan Rural land owners carrying protest signs and shouting angry slogans gathered at the Capitol to speak their minds. Their goal: Stopping Gov. Rick Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor. Farmers and ranchers say the huge highway project will gobble thousands of acres of their property only to make money for private toll road companies. "The government is out of control. They're trying to take our property rights away from us," said Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, one of the legislators who spoke at Tuesday's rally. Republican Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn - one of Perry's potential GOP primary opponents in 2006 - joined in, calling Perry's associates "land-grabbing highway henchmen." She said Perry and the Texas Department of Transportation want to cram toll roads down Texans' throats....
Bear River flood drowns livestock, swamps ranches Farmer Todd Yates is calm now, but he will never forget those panicky predawn hours Sunday, when he tried to save his cows and calves from drowning. Foxes and skunks were darting everywhere, scrambling to find their way back to dens that had been submerged by the Bear River's floodwaters. Deer raced ahead of the rising water, and ducks, geese, avocets and shorebirds raised a cacophony. Their nests, filled with eggs, floated by Yates as he waded through thigh- and chest-high water to reach the 68 head of cattle he had left on the river's south side. He wanted to coax them to higher ground but, for many, it was too late. In the dark, he watched several cows and calves slip under the water. He figures he lost 20 or 30 when the river, fed by heavy rainfall in northern Utah, flooded lowlands for miles around....
Feds Probing Alleged Mad Cow Cover-up Federal investigators are looking into allegations by a former U.S. Agriculture Department inspector that the agency sought to cover up cases of mad cow disease, United Press International has learned. Lester Friedlander, a former USDA veterinarian, told UPI he was questioned recently by two representatives from the USDA's Office of Inspector General who were investigating statements he made before Canada's Parliament in April. "I told them I think there's a cover-up," said Friedlander, a 10-year veteran of the USDA who received official praise and recognition for outstanding performance during his tenure with the agency. Friedlander's claims include that a USDA official told him in 1991 not to say anything if he ever discovered a case of mad cow disease, and that he knew of cows that had tested positive at private laboratories but were ruled negative by the USDA. He said he was interviewed by Keith Arnold, from the OIG's regional office in Kansas City, Mo., and William Busby, of OIG's Denver office. The officials told him Phyllis Fong, the USDA's inspector general, ordered the investigation....
Texas ranch preserves old-school cowboy style Bawling beef cattle saunter past obeisant pumpjacks that suck sweet Spraberry crude from vast petroleum pools. Springtime’s annual roundup is under way at the sprawling Rocker b Ranch. Dennis Webb leads 10 cowboys through pre-dawn darkness to gather 72 cows, calves and range bulls from the 5.3-square-mile North Mustang pasture. Clad in faded jeans, broad-brimmed hats and tough leather leggings, riders quietly push their herd into corrals at Elbow Trap. We are in Centrailia Draw, which Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving blazed in the 1880s. With a little imagination, you can visualize vast herds of longhorns plodding the 96 scorching miles from the head of the Middle Concho River to Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos River....
Pony Express stamps available for June ride The clippity-clop of horse hooves will be heard June 3 and 4 when the 2005 Pony Express West comes through the Permian Basin. About 70 riders from Eastern New Mexico and West Texas are expected to take part in the 300-mile journey, “Red” Harmon Hann, ride coordinator and general manager of KHOB 1390 AM in Hobbs, N.M, said. Mail will be picked up June 1 in Odessa. Participants will ride two miles, then let someone else ride. That way horses — and people — don’t overdo it, Bert Madera, rider and Lea County, N.M., rancher, said. Tom Cone, this year’s express master, will receive the mail at the end of the ride. Cone’s signature is on the 2005 Pony Express West stamp. Howard County Sheriff Dale Walker and his wife, T.J., members of the Howard County Sheriff’s Posse, will take part for the second consecutive year....

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Vesicular Stomatitis Detected in Arizona

Vesicular stomatitis (VS) has been detected in a horse on a premises in Maricopa County, Ariz. (Maricopa County is located in the south-central portion of the state and is home to Phoenix.) The owner of the 5-year-old gelding reported that the animal was purchased about three weeks ago. Sores appeared in the horse's mouth in mid-April, and tests run at the USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, confirmed the infection. Arizona was spared in the 2004 VS outbreak, when Texas had 15 cases, New Mexico had 80, and Colorado 199. One premises in Grant County, N.M., remains quarantined where two horses are recovering from the viral blistering disease. Infected and susceptible animals remain under movement prohibition until at least 30 days after all lesions heal, and a state or federal regulatory veterinarian examines the livestock. Vesicular stomatitis can cause blisters and sores in the mouth, and on the tongue, muzzle, teats or hooves of horses, cattle, swine, sheep, goats, llamas, and a number of other animals. Lesions usually will heal in two or three weeks. Because the signs of VS mimic those of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), animal health officials strongly urge livestock owners and caretakers to report potential cases of VS to their private veterinary practitioner or state livestock health officials. Laboratory tests run at no charge to the producer will differentiate whether infection is caused by VS or FMD--the latter is a dreaded foreign animal disease....

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LICENSE TO KILL, PART ONE

Flaws in habitat conservation plans threaten scores of species

The federal government is handing out licenses to kill endangered species. Hundreds of exemptions to the Endangered Species Act have been issued nationwide since the mid-1990s, covering some of America's most sensitive lands. The deals being cut are perfectly legal. Many last for decades. And they are helping push creatures to the brink of extinction, conservation biologists and other critics say. Agencies entrusted to protect animals have allowed driving on Florida beaches where threatened sea turtles nest, the electrocution of rare birds on security fences at California prisons and the killing of protected salmon in one of southwest Washington's last undammed rivers. These "habitat conservation plans" authorize developers, miners, loggers and others to "take" -- that is, harm, injure or kill -- creatures on the brink of extinction. Theoretically, the permit holder must do something good for the species to compensate for the bad. Washington state is about to become the epicenter of this little-noticed trend. By the end of the year, about 11 million acres -- about one-quarter of the state -- are expected to be covered by habitat plans that focus largely on logging of private forests. Other deals in the works could expand the total to more than 15 million acres -- tops in the country....

Other articles in part one of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer series:

Some see politics in habitat planning

Pioneer conservation plan falls short

Toad's fate in landowners' hands

Lands lose guardian when trust goes bust

State profits from logging trees they previously fought to preserve

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NEWS ROUNDUP

Parks' top billing EVERY year, film crews roll into national parks. They set up actors and products beneath towering redwoods or sandstone buttes and use the scenery to sell cars, beer or a blockbuster movie. Hollywood makes millions of dollars from these images, ad agencies get rich and actors get paid. With no costly sets, nature provides a dirt-cheap stage for motion pictures, TV shows, commercials and documentaries. In exchange, the National Park Service gets nearly nothing. But Congress once cared. It adopted a law five years ago authorizing the Interior and Agriculture departments to charge daily fees for film shoots. But since then, nothing has changed. The Park Service blames bureaucratic inertia for the delay. Now the Government Accountability Office wants to know what went wrong. Congress' nonpartisan watchdog is investigating and expects to release its findings next month....
Top forester who altered Sierra forest plan retiring Regional Forester Jack Blackwell, 58, will step down June 3 and be replaced by Bernie Weingardt, the deputy regional forester for resources. The Pacific Southwest Region oversees 20.6 million acres in 18 California national forests – a fifth of the state's land area. Shortly after Blackwell took the post in December 2001, he said the plan approved in the waning days of the Clinton administration to manage 11.5 million acres in the Sierra did not do enough to prevent catastrophic wildfires. He developed a new plan to triple logging in the 11 national forests that straddle the 400-mile-long range....
Vandals Strike Loggers "Get Off The Mountain" was spray painted on several pieces of equipment owned by Arrowhead Enterprises of Blue Jay this past weekend. Vandals struck sometime Friday evening or early Saturday morning at the proposed site of Church of the Woods on Highway 18 near Bear Springs Road in Rimforest. "We have nothing to do with the proposed Church of the Woods complex," said Arrowhead Enterprises spokesperson Vic Leader, "we're conducting a bark beetle tree removal project for San Bernardino County and are a local logging company. "They used a stencil to put the warning to get off the mountain on the windows of two of our tractors, on the side of skidders and on the side of my roll offs also," Leader stated. "In all, four different pieces of equipment were tagged with the slogan."....
Column: It's Fire Season Again We're in the seventh year of drought in the Northern Rockies, with precipitation deficits running about 20% annually. At the same time poor management of the regional national forests has left them brush-choked and bark beetle-ravaged and susceptible to wildfire. The Bush Administration's 2003 "Healthy Forests Initiative" is designed to prevent these conflagrations by streamlining the bureaucratic "analysis paralysis" when processing timber sales. But the scope of the problem is such that these conditions will remain for years to come. In this year, the centenary of the United States Forest Service, the woods are a wreck. How did our national forests get into this predicament? For a century it's been the policy of the U.S. Forest Service -- simply put -- to fight forest fires. This seems like sound practice, but in the end it has disrupted the natural benefits of small fires -- usually caused by lightning strikes in remote areas -- that are useful to keep brush and ground fuel down. This constant fire suppression over a century has been detrimental to forest health. In the last few years 51 wildland firefighters have lost their lives in the West. In 2002 alone, some 7 million acres burned. In 2003, a record 6,800 "structures" (mostly private homes) burned. And this summer big swaths of the public domain will go up in smoke....
Alaska fire season off to a blazing start Alaska's fire season has already heated up, with crews scrambling to battle numerous blazes, including a fire from last year's record season that smoldered all winter. Fire managers said Sunday the outbreaks in Homer, Interior Alaska and Hoonah hit even before some crews have completed their annual training and safety refresher courses held at the beginning of each season....
Water decision to benefit steelhead Officials at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have cranked up water releases into the North Santiam River from Detroit and Big Cliff dams. Releases of up to 1,350 cubic feet a second (cfs) from the previous 900 cfs began Wednesday to help threatened, naturally spawning native winter steelhead. The request for the increased flows came from officials at the request of National Marine Fisheries Service, according to corps officials. The releases were bumped up to 1,500 cfs on Thursday. Corps officials said the plan is to manage flows at 1,500 cfs through May 15 at a minimum, and could continue as late as May 31, to provide adequate spawning habitat for winter steelhead. After that flow schedule, releases are scheduled to drop to 1,200 cfs and hold at that rate until July to ensure incubation of the eggs on the nests, known as redds....
Ducks Move Upstream From Treasury Dept. The hottest new tourist site in the nation's capital is no more. After a boffo four-week run, the Treasury duck has been moved from her prime nesting spot in the midst of heavy tourist traffic a block from the White House to a more peaceful setting along a quietly flowing stream. The mallards in the classic children's book "Make Way for Ducklings" may have only needed the help of the Boston police department for their relocation, but their Washington relatives got assistance from several federal agencies. The Secret Service uniformed division provided security during the four weeks the mother mallard, given various nicknames from T-bill to Quacks Reform, was sitting on her eggs. A metal barricade was constructed and then expanded as the tourist crowds wanting to get a look grew larger....
Park Police Face Growing Challenges With Fewer Officers As Teresa Chambers awaits the outcome of her case for reinstatement, the National Park Service is staging a four-hour ceremony for the formal investiture of her former deputy as the next Chief of the U.S. Park Police, according to invitations posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As he is sworn in, Dwight Pettiford inherits an organization that is smaller than it was on September 11, 2001 but with much greater responsibilities than ever before. In December 2003, Chief Chambers was suspended for confirming to the Washington Post that protection of national monuments aggravated shortages of officers available to patrol parks and parkways. Since that time, there are even fewer sworn U.S. Park Police officers yet demands on those officers have grown....
Agencies working to protect Old Spanish Trail After 150 years, it could be difficult to pinpoint the exact route of the Old Spanish Trail that linked Santa Fe, N.M. with Los Angeles. The route was used between 1829 and 1848 by Mexican and American traders exchanging commodities, including woolen goods and horses. Historian John Hockaday of Lytle Pass said the Old Spanish Trail broadened through Cajon Pass as eastbound horse traders and thieves scattered along diverse routes to evade incensed owners shortchanged in their deals. "They were heading back (to Santa Fe) as fast as they could and picked the shortest way through the pass,' he said....
Wilds impasse to end? Republican Sen. Bob Bennett has agreed to draft legislation protecting some of Utah's sculptured canyons and soaring cliffs as wilderness, breaking a political stalemate to safeguard public lands around Zion National Park. Bennett's involvement, confirmed Monday by The Associated Press, was solicited by Gov. Jon Huntsman's office and Washington County commissioners and signals a breakthrough in Utah, where no representative or senator has been willing to touch a comprehensive Utah wilderness bill for decades. By tradition Congress defers to a state delegation in designating wilderness, but advocates have had to rely on an upstate New York congressman to carry a comprehensive Utah wilderness bill. Rep. Maurice Hinchey's sponsorship of the failed Redrock Wilderness Act each year since 1993 is symbolic of the political stalemate in Utah dating to 1984 — the last year Utah allowed Congress to designate any wilderness....
Taking no chances at Interior Bureau of Land Management officials have established an Incident Command Center to strengthen the agency's computer systems defenses and restore Internet access. Senior agency officials cut off BLM's Internet access last month after the Interior Department's inspector general issued a report warning that the agency's computer systems are susceptible to cyberattacks. The April 8 shutdown, which came two days after the report's release, is the latest blow in a long-running dispute about securing Indian trust fund data stored on departmental computers. Interior's IG found that poor network security and weak access controls could easily compromise "the confidentiality, integrity and availability of the identified Indian trust data residing on such systems."....
Wet Winter Doesn't Douse Water Wars The issue Norton must decide seems extremely technical: how many million acre-feet of water federal engineers will shift this summer from Lake Powell to Lake Mead, the two main reservoirs that control flow on the Colorado. That hydrological determination, though, reflects intense competition in a region where, as the saying goes, the whiskey is for drinkin' and the water is for fightin'. A seven-state compact created in 1922 governs allocations of Colorado River flow. For most of its life, the agreement was fairly easy to adhere to, because there was more water in the river than the people, factories and farms in the Southwest could use. But a tidal wave of population growth -- coupled with a drought that made a dry region even drier -- has aggravated the water wars. The Colorado River begins as a foot-wide trickle of melting snow in Colorado's Never Summer Mountains, northwest of Denver, and flows 1,500 miles southwest toward Baja California. Fed by major tributaries such as the Green, Gunnison, Yampa and San Juan rivers, the Colorado cuts through 200 miles of rock to form the Grand Canyon; it once poured billions of gallons each year into the Gulf of California in northern Mexico....
Norton won't cut Colorado River water releases from Lake Powell In a victory for California, Arizona and Nevada, Interior Secretary Gale Norton on Monday rejected a plea by four other states to cut releases of Colorado River water from drought-depleted Lake Powell. In letters to governors and water officials in seven Colorado River basin states, Norton said melting snow is projected to be slightly above average for the rest of the year and reservoirs have more water now than had been projected last year. "We have concluded that an adjustment to the release amount from Lake Powell during the next five months is not warranted," she said....
Editorial: Gale Norton takes easy way out The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation issued an ultimatum last year to the seven Western states that share the Colorado River: Come up with a drought-management plan by April 30 or live with a federal plan that will divvy up the water for them. With the states still feuding, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton finally weighed in Monday, but her status-quo decision does little to alleviate the simmering conflict over the river's future and could actually hurt Colorado's efforts to protect its supply during a drought. The Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico had balked at the requirement of delivering 8.23 million acre-feet a year of Lake Powell's reserves downstream, saying they have long exceeded that amount and that the faster-growing Lower Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada have grown dependent on the extra water. It's true the river this year will receive nearly normal runoff for the first time in six years. But that's precisely why it's a good time to reduce deliveries from Lake Powell. After all, California and other states could tap local water supplies before calling on Colorado River water from Powell....
The return of Glen Canyon The desert's own extreme makeover began March 13, 1963. Diversion tunnels closed, and the flow of the Colorado River began flooding sandstone gorges near the Arizona-Utah border. The new reservoir transformed Glen Canyon, "The Place No One Knew," into Lake Powell, "Jewel of the Colorado." A rafter's river became a boater's haven. Although the aquamarine lake augmented access to the blushing tapestry of canyon country, many of the area's grandest cliffs, slots, arches, bridges, windows, domes, pits, alcoves, grottos, seeps, springs, fins and falls lay seemingly drowned forever beneath the wakes. Times have changed. The West's lingering drought has dropped Lake Powell more than 130 feet, and formations that have been waterlogged for more than three decades now stand high and dry. Boaters today have what may be truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see sights unseen since the year Neil Armstrong sauntered on the moon. It may not last. Already, with the spring runoff just beginning, the lake has risen 3 feet. And it could, according to a National Weather Service forecast, rise another 42 feet by July 1....
El Paso, New Mexico take a year off from drought A spring blizzard that caused havoc for Colorado and New Mexico last month may have a positive trickle-down effect for those who depend on the Rio Grande in southern New Mexico and far West Texas. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimated this week that the spring runoff in the Rio Grande would be 162 percent of normal. "We have not had a runoff of that magnitude since 1995," a bureau news release said. As a result, the agency predicted a full supply for irrigation this summer. The past two years, the Rio Grande Project water users were allocated 34 percent to 38 percent of a full supply. Project users, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District and the El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1, took the news with caution. The districts are talking about not using their full allotments but leaving some water behind the Elephant Butte dam in New Mexico for next year....
Leading scientific journals 'are censoring debate on global warming' Two of the world's leading scientific journals have come under fire from researchers for refusing to publish papers which challenge fashionable wisdom over global warming. A British authority on natural catastrophes who disputed whether climatologists really agree that the Earth is getting warmer because of human activity, says his work was rejected by the American publication, Science, on the flimsiest of grounds. A separate team of climate scientists, which was regularly used by Science and the journal Nature to review papers on the progress of global warming, said it was dropped after attempting to publish its own research which raised doubts over the issue. The controversy follows the publication by Science in December of a paper which claimed to have demonstrated complete agreement among climate experts, not only that global warming is a genuine phenomenon, but also that mankind is to blame....
Column: Environmentalists Thrive on Mayhem An important lesson, I learned about environmentalists, is that they "play" dirty. One example of the underhandedness this lumber company endured, at the hands of environmentalists, pertained to a false claim that a wolf’s footprint was found on a remote road that went through a timber sale my client had recently secured (in a nearby national forest). Based upon the "discovery" of this footprint, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) shut down this sale and called in wildlife biologists to investigate the matter – after all, wolves are an endangered species and hadn’t been seen in this particular national forest for decades. Several months elapsed and it was finally determined that the footprint was either that of a coyote or some hiker’s pet dog. By the time the USFS gave my client the approval to harvest the timber, winter was upon us and the timber would have to be harvested in the ensuing summer. The environmentalists knew that the trees would eventually be harvested; yet, they had accomplished the goal of inflicting economic damage on this family-owned business – for the revenues, profit, and cash flow this timber contract would have generated, in the current fiscal year, had to be pushed into the next year....
At the Derby, Racing Is Facing Its Drug Problem Beneath its twin spires, Churchill Downs has completed a sparkling $121 million makeover in time for the 131st running of the Kentucky Derby, America's most famous horse race. But this year's Derby, which will be Saturday, may be best remembered for the plainclothes investigators roaming the dusty barn areas and for testing the horses for illegal performance-enhancing drugs before and after the Run for the Roses. After decades of rumors about "juiced" thoroughbreds and ineffective attempts at regulation, the horse racing industry has acknowledged that it has a drug problem. "It's a very serious problem, and the public perception is that it is a huge problem," said C. Steven Duncker, chairman of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association's Graded Stakes Committee, which mandated the increased postrace testing for the Derby and the rest of the most important races in the United States. "I don't know if you can put a dimension on how widespread it is because, like in every other sport, our testing seems to be a step behind the cheaters."....
It's All Trew: Some old-time superstitions prevail When I began asking friends about this subject I learned many early-day superstitions are alive and well today. As my research continued, I had problems differentiating between superstitions, old sayings, old wives' tales and plain old exaggerated lies. Most agreed it was not superstition but stupid to walk under a ladder where something could fall on your head. However, these same people agreed that breaking a mirror most certainly brought seven years of bad luck. Even those who scoffed at superstitions remembered to say bless you when someone sneezed and took detours when a black cat tried to cross their path. They might not believe, but wanted to be safe, just in case....

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