Friday, December 19, 2008

Obama to Announce Final Cabinet Picks

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President-elect Barack Obama will announce the final selections for his Cabinet today, naming Rep. Hilda L. Solis (D-Calif.) as labor secretary and former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk as U.S. trade representative. The two will be in Chicago to be formally announced, along with Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), Obama's choice for transportation secretary. With his selection of Solis, a liberal member of Congress, the president-elect appears to be moving toward his goal of promoting "green-collar jobs" -- those that help promote more energy efficiency, through projects such as retrofitting, something Solis has prioritized during her tenure in Congress. She is better known for her effort on energy issues than for her work on matters relating to labor; she sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee, the Natural Resources Committee, the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, and the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee -- but not the Education and Labor Committee....

EPA Eases Emissions Regulations for New Power Plants

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The Environmental Protection Agency ruled yesterday that new power plants are not required to install technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, rejecting an argument from environmental groups. The ruling, in a memorandum signed by EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, turns on a seemingly arcane regulatory question that could govern the future of new fossil fuel-burning buildings and power plants under the Clean Air Act. During the Bush administration, the EPA has rejected the idea that greenhouse gases should be regulated like soot, smog precursors and other kinds of air pollution, despite an April 2007 Supreme Court ruling that said carbon dioxide fit the definition of a pollutant that could be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The case at issue yesterday began in 2007 when the EPA issued a permit to a new coal-fired power plant in Bonanza, Utah. The Sierra Club, an environmental group, filed a legal challenge, saying that the permit should have required the plant to control its output of carbon dioxide. In a case before the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board, the Sierra Club cited a rule that required plants to use the best available technology to control all "regulated" pollutants, as well as the April 2007 Supreme Court ruling....

Advocates for Action on Global Warming Chosen as Obama's Top Science Advisers

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President-elect Barack Obama has selected two of the nation's most prominent scientific advocates for a vigorous response to climate change to serve in his administration's top ranks, according to sources, sending the strongest signal yet that he will reverse Bush administration policies on energy and global warming. The appointments of Harvard University physicist John Holdren as presidential science adviser and Oregon State University marine biologist Jane Lubchenco as head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which will be announced tomorrow, dismayed conservatives but heartened environmentalists and researchers. Like Energy Secretary-designate Steven Chu, who directs the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Holdren and Lubchenco have argued repeatedly for a mandatory limit on greenhouse gas emissions to avert catastrophic climate change. In 2007, as chairman of the board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Holdren oversaw approval of the board's first statement on global warming, which said: "It is time to muster the political will for concerted action."....

Expansion of Biking in Parks Is Proposed

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Mountain bikers, now barred from most backcountry areas in national parks, could have thousands of miles of trails opened up to them under a rule change proposed Thursday by the Interior Department. The proposal raised tensions between hikers and bikers, who face off against one another on dirt byways all over the country. Each group is burdened with a stereotype that is part true and part myth: thrill-seeking gear heads on one side, plodding leaf peepers on the other, each group accusing the other of not fully appreciating the great out-of-doors. “The question is whether it can be managed well — whether one group doesn’t deprive others of their enjoyment,” said Jeff Ruch, the executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a nonprofit alliance of local, state and federal scientists, law enforcement officers and land managers. In any case, Mr. Ruch added, “it’s a symptom of growing user conflict in the national park system.” The proposal would not take effect until the middle of next year at the earliest, National Park Service officials said, meaning that the Obama administration will decide on the issue. Under the plan, many trail usage decisions would be made at the level of individual parks, rather than at the central National Park Service office. Both sides say that would accelerate trail decisions and probably result in a new arena of discussion — or conflict — at each park headquarters, with administrators being lobbied by the two groups. Existing trails would be the main focus of the change; most proposals for new trails would still have to go through a more lengthy process of review at the Park Service headquarters. Opponents said that the rule change could open up to bicycling millions of acres now designated as potential wilderness (bikes would still be banned in outright wilderness areas), and that changes in usage could affect whether those lands were eventually given permanent wilderness protections by Congress....Under the Bushies there has been an expansion of oil & gas leasing, an expansion of mining, an expansion of timber harvesting and now an expansion of bicycles. And livestock grazing? The headline would be "A Contraction Of Grazing Is Proposed."

Mont., fed gov't loosen rules on Yellowstone bison

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State and federal officials have agreed to allow bison to migrate into parts of Montana from Yellowstone National Park — a move expected to slow but not stop an annual slaughter of the animals. The agreement carves out two areas next to Yellowstone where bison can winter, ending a long-standing stalemate on the issue. That means at least some bison leaving the park could avoid a widely criticized slaughter program meant to guard against transmissions of a disease, brucellosis, to cattle. "This is a huge step in legally recognizing the bison's right to be outside the park," said Yellowstone Superintendent Suzanne Lewis. More than 3,000 migrating bison have been slaughtered or shot by hunters in recent years, including 1,601 last winter. That practice will continue for bison that migrate beyond the two newly designated areas. Wednesday's action was spurred by a recent Government Accountability Office investigation that sharply criticized the federal government's role in the bison slaughter. Livestock interests had resisted any changes to the slaughter program, while conservationists and bison advocacy groups criticized authorities for being inflexible. Several groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and Greater Yellowstone Coalition, praised Wednesday's agreement, but others said it did not go far enough....

Ranchers Taking A Stand In Agustin Plains Water Grab

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A group of New Mexico ranchers is spearheading an effort to convince the state Legislature to change the regulations governing the jurisdiction of the Office of the State Engineer. At the Joint Stockman’s Convention last weekend in Albuquerque, two resolutions were passed concerning the attempt by San Agustin Ranch LLC, a New York firm owned by Italian businessman Bruno Modena, to pump the San Agustin aquifer dry in order to sell water back to state entities. Caren Cowan, executive director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, said the resolutions were voted on by representatives from the cattle growers, wool growers, Cowbelles, dairy farmers and New Mexico Federal Lands Council. “We’re concerned about the lack of authority the Office of the State Engineer has over deep wells,” Cowan said. “As it stands now, the drilling of deep water wells of non-potable water greater than 2,500 feet, exclusive of produced water, is presently outside the Office of the State Engineer’s jurisdiction. The San Agustin Ranch application is for 3,000 feet.” She said the company amended its application to take it out of the State Engineer’s purview. The company’s original application was to receive permission to “divert and consumptively use 54,000 acre-feet, or 17 billion gallons, of water yearly for domestic, livestock, irrigation, municipal, industrial and commercial uses to include providing water to the state of New Mexico to augment its capacity to meet deliveries to the state of Texas at Elephant Butte dam and offsetting effects of ground water pumping on the Rio Grande in lieu of retirement of agriculture via a pipeline to the Rio Grande.” The original plan was to drill 37 wells with 20-inch casings about 2,000 feet deep within the exterior boundaries of Catron County, Socorro County and Augustin Plains Ranch. The amended application requests deeper wells, 3,000 feet, and takes in a wider area that would be affected....

Forest staff hopes families will take in wild mustangs

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The Carson National Forest staff hopes parents will consider adopting wild mustangs as presents for their children this year. Thirty-two of the iconic horses recently were gathered from the oversized herd with territory inside Carson National Forest near Bloomfield. The forest service needs to reduce the pressure the herd's grazing puts on forest land. Livestock grazing also is reduced on allotments ranchers have within the wild horses' territory. An 2004 assessment determined the territory can support between 50 to 150 horses, depending on environmental conditions. The most recent equine population estimate puts the herd's size at 428 horses. Efforts to gather the horses are going slow. The forest service planned to gather 93 horses during the fall. Only one-third of that amount, 32 horses, were gathered to date by Mount Taylor Mustangs, the company contracted by the forest service. Eleven of the horses remain available for adoption, including a bay mare whose filly colt is also bay-colored....

Ogden honored for range restoration

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A Carlsbad woman has been honored for her efforts in restoring rangelands on her family's two ranches in Eddy County and for enlisting other ranchers to do the same on their rangeland. Alisa Ogden, who currently serves as the first woman president of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, was presented the Bureau of Land Management's Restore New Mexico Award in Albuquerque last week. "It was a nice thing to get," Ogden said. "I believe this is only the second year for the award. I'm honored but I didn't do it all alone. I received the award, but it was not just me that did all the work. I was the one (BLM) worked with. I'm just the ranch manager. All the work on Ogden farms and ranches through Restore New Mexico was funded by our family business," Ogden said, clarifying her family's role in leading to her award. "I suggested to my dad and the rest of the family that we partner with the BLM in the Restore New Mexico Program, and the family agreed." Jesse Juen, BLM associate state director, said Ogden has made significant contributions to grassland restoration on her grazing allotments and on adjoining state and private lands. "She's also helped involve other ranchers in Restore New Mexico, a partnership of agencies, landowners and other entities that depend on individuals like Alisa to restore degraded landscapes throughout our state," he said. Ogden's family ranch and farm operation in the Black River area goes back to 1918. Ogden and her family have worked continuously to improve the health of the land. BLM officials said Ogden partnered in the 1980s with the BLM's Carlsbad Field Office on one of the earliest prescribed fires to control invasive shrubs. Since then, several other burns have been conducted on her allotments. Ogden said the relationship between the BLM, farmers and ranchers in Eddy County has come a long way from the acrimonious relationship of the 1970s and early 1980s....

New US Federal Office to Advise Ag Secretary on Ecosystem Markets

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It took the formation of the Securities and Exchange Commission to create a trustworthy market for securities in the United States, and it took the formation of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to legitimize futures and options trading by offering clear regulations backed by the rule of law. Now, a similar evolution is taking place in ecosystem markets, which supporters believe have the power to save the planets natural resources by identifying their economic value and encouraging Payments for Ecosystem Services. That looks set to change in the United States, where the Department of Agriculture (USDA), under a mandate embedded in the 2008 Farm Bill to promote incentive-based conservation, has announced the formation of an Office of Ecosystem Services and Markets (OESM), which will be headed by USDA Forest Service vet Sally Collins, who has won accolades for introducing market-based mechanisms into the Forest Service's sustainable land management policies. She will report directly to the Secretary of Agriculture, and the new office is charged with providing "administrative and technical assistance to the Secretary in developing the uniform guidelines and tools needed to create and expand markets for these vital ecosystem services," according to a press release posted on the USDA's web site. The OESM will also support the Conservation and Land Management Environmental Services Board, a massive oversight board comprised of the Secretaries of Interior, Energy, Commerce, Transportation, and Defense – as well as the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Commander of the Army Corps of Engineers....

Home, Home on the Web

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I'm not really writing this story from Westcliffe, Colorado. I'm only there digitally, through the magic of Google Maps Street View. Westcliffe is a small town in the Wet Mountain Valley, beneath the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. There's a main street with a few blocks of businesses, oddly named Silver Cliff Ave., after the neighboring town. The 463 residents of Westcliffe, some of them ranchers, are literally home on the range. It's about 7,000 feet (2,133 meters) above sea level, with rodeos and pickup trucks and big homesteads. As you can imagine, part of me wishes I were there. I made several summer trips to the area in the 1990s, when my parents had a cabin outside town. Yes, there are retirees and summer residents with vacation homes around Westcliffe, drawn by the jaw-dropping natural beauty of the area. Westcliffe isn't an untouched idyll by any means. It even has some broadband service. But when I found out that Street View had dramatically increased its coverage of America's byways, I immediately looked for Westcliffe and then was instantly dismayed when I found it. It feels wrong, somehow, that this isolated little town is in the ever-growing grasp of Google -- documented, catalogued, and searchable....

Burger King launches beef-scented body spray

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Looking to beef up your mojo this holiday season? Burger King Corp. may have just the thing. The home of the Whopper has launched a new men's body spray called "Flame." The company describes the spray as "the scent of seduction with a hint of flame-broiled meat." The fragrance is on sale at New York City retailer Ricky's NYC in stores and online for a limited time for $3.99. Burger King is marketing the product through a Web site featuring a photo of its King character reclining fireside and naked but for an animal fur strategically placed to not offend....

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Salazar at Interior: For Greens, Not a Dream Choice

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Environmentalists have so far been ecstatic over President-elect Barack Obama's Cabinet picks, with some even calling it the green dream team. And when Obama introduced Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar as his new Secretary of the Interior at a news conference in Chicago Wednesday morning, he was likely hoping for the same worshipful reaction. "It's time for a new kind of leadership in Washington that's committed to using our lands in a responsible way to benefit all our families," said Obama. "That is the kind of leadership embodied by Ken Salazar." But not all greens are so sure about the Colorado senator-and Salazar's nomination could represent Obama's first conflict with the environmental community. Although mainstream green groups like Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the Natural Resources Defense Council were quick to praise Salazar — Dan Grossman, head of EDF's Rocky Mountain office, calls Salazar a "rare talent" — other environmentalists were far less impressed. "His environmental record is pretty mixed," says Kieran Suckling, the executive director of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity. "He's far from the most anti-environmental guy out there, but he's no environmental hero." The chief complaints about Salazar — a rancher who worked as Colorado's attorney general before his election to the Senate in 2004 — center on his ties to the ranching and mining industries and some of his votes as a Senator. As attorney general he threatened to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — which he would lead as Interior Secretary — over the listing of the black-tailed prairie dog as endangered. (In Colorado, the animal is still classified as a "pest" to ranchers.) A relatively conservative Democrat, typical of the new centrist Western wing of the party, Salazar voted in favor of President George W. Bush's Interior Secretary nominee Gale Norton, who has been roundly criticized for her mismanagement of the beleaguered department. He also supported his friend Alberto Gonzales for U.S. Attorney General, even escorting Gonzales into the U.S. Senate on the first day of his nomination hearings. Although Salazar has since said that he was wrong to support Gonzales, who eventually stepped down after being accused of politicizing the Justice Dept., his critics view the votes as evidence that the Coloradoan lacks judgment. "This is the guy who will be in charge of picking the head of the Fish and Wildlife Department and countless other positions," says Suckling. "If you look at his record for sussing out personal character, it's bad."....

Green groups divided over choice of Salazar to head Interior

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...Jon Marvel, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project, called the appointment "a travesty" and said Salazar "will completely undermine Obama's message of change. He will not bring change to the public lands of the western United States." "Ken Salazar does not bring the change we need at Interior," said Nicole Rosmarino, the wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. "Salazar will not take strong stances on behalf of science and environmental protection and is not up to the task of undoing the enormous damage the Bush administration has done to public lands, endangered species, and the credibility of the Department of the Interior over the last eight years." Others are upset that Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D), who had been a favorite among enviros, was not selected. "We've seen [Grijalva's] record -- that's very strong in regard to public lands and endangered species," Oregon Wild spokesperson Sean Stevens told NPR. "And I don't think we have the same sort of confidence in Ken Salazar. Hopefully we can grow to have that confidence." But Salazar also has his supporters. "Throughout his career, Sen. Salazar has campaigned on a pledge of support for 'our land, our water, our people.' With a perfect 100 percent score on the 2008 LCV Scorecard, he has lived up to that pledge," said League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski in a statement. "As a westerner, Sen. Salazar has hands-on experience with land and water issues, and will restore the Department of the Interior's role as the steward of America's public resources. We look forward to working with him to protect the health of America's land, water, and people in the coming years." Mike Matz, executive director of the Campaign for America's Wilderness, also applauded the pick....

Praise and Criticism for Proposed Interior Secretary

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His efforts in the past as a state and federal official to thread the difficult political needle between the environment and energy brought him decidedly mixed reviews from environmental groups on Wednesday, but cautious praise from energy and mining interests. Environmental advocates offered mixed reviews of Mr. Salazar, 53, a first-term Democratic senator who served as head of Colorado’s natural resources department and the state’s attorney general. He was not the first choice of environmentalists, who openly pushed the appointment of Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona, who has a strong record as a conservationist. Pam Kiely, program director at Environment Colorado, said Mr. Salazar had been a champion of wilderness protection and strong water quality laws and a skeptic on oil shale development, a subject of controversy in the Mountain West. Ms. Kiely said she was unsure of his views on drilling in millions of acres of national forests and roadless areas. Daniel R. Patterson, a former official of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management and now southwest regional director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, described Mr. Salazar as the most controversial of Mr. Obama’s cabinet appointees. “Salazar has a disturbingly weak conservation record, particularly on energy development, global warming, endangered wildlife and protecting scientific integrity,” said Mr. Patterson, who was elected last month to the Arizona House of Representatives from Tucson and supported Mr. Grijalva for the Interior Department job. “It’s no surprise oil and gas, mining, agribusiness and other polluting industries that have dominated Interior are supporting rancher Salazar — he’s their friend.” Even as Mr. Salazar navigates the department’s tricky political crosscurrents, he must also deal with calls to reverse dozens of decisions made in the Bush administration on endangered species and oil and gas leasing....

An honest broker at Interior

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Ken Salazar knows the landscape and the issues of the West, and the nation's land agencies will welcome a secretary with integrity. Here in the West, where the federal government owns three-quarters of the land, there's a lot riding on the experience, the beliefs and most important, the integrity, of the nation's Interior Secretary. Thus, it was heartening Wednesday to see President-elect Barack Obama standing with Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar, introducing the man wearing a cowboy hat and bolo tie as the nation's next Interior Secretary. The hat and the bolo were nice touches, but what really matters is that this country soon will have an Interior Secretary who understands the political and social landscape of the West and has a long record as an honest broker of the many competing interests on public lands. There was some grumping Wednesday from conservation groups that had hoped Obama would nominate a full-on environmentalist to sweep into Interior and overhaul the department, which oversees the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. But Obama was wise to choose yet another political centrist for his Cabinet. As a Colorado senator, Salazar has a long, strong record of brokering deals between the warring interests on public lands. He's an endangered political species in the West, a leader trusted by mining groups, oil and gas advocates and environmental groups....

Senator's style: reaching out, getting it done

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You can't talk about Ken Salazar without talking about the off- white Stetson cowboy hat. You can't talk about the hat without talking about the San Luis Valley, one of the state's poorest regions. You can't talk about the valley without talking about five generations of the Salazar family ranching and farming before Colorado was a state. And so it goes. Native son makes good. Again. The news became official Wednesday: U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar is President-elect Barack Obama's pick for Interior secretary. Salazar - who as a teen decided against becoming a Catholic priest after attending a Franciscan seminary for two years, who ran a couple of bilingual radio stations and a Dairy Queen with his wife - broke into the political sphere in 1986. That's when Democratic Gov. Roy Romer hired the then 31-year-old water lawyer and rancher as his chief legal counsel. Four years later, Romer tapped Salazar as director of the Department of Natural Resources. Ask people about Salazar, 53, and a member of the Senate Finance Committee, and they often point to his ability to garner respect from farmers and oil company executives alike. "He listens to people," Romer said. "He is able to balance one side of an argument with the other and finally come up with a decision that is best."....

Obama's choices know the West

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News that the president-elect intends to nominate Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., to head the Department of Interior is good for Westerners worried about the mindless rush to mine oil shale in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado and to open more public lands to drilling rigs and off-road vehicles. Obama's choice of Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate in physics, for energy secretary signals an abrupt change from Bush's industry-friendly mantra that America can somehow drill its way to energy independence. Chu's science background is made to order for putting the country on a new course for producing effective anti-pollution technology and quickly getting it on the market. Obama has done well by the West in his other Cabinet nominations --- New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as commerce secretary and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as Homeland Security secretary. As governor of a border state, Napolitano has a proven grasp of immigration issues important to Utah and the rest of the country....

Hope burns for less political, more collaborative Forest Service

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So, what exactly does a former community organizer from Chicago know about grizzly bears and board feet, or salmon and hydropower? That's the question in the West, where towns surrounded by federal lands eagerly watch President-elect Barack Obama's picks for leadership posts in both the departments of Interior and Agriculture. The U.S. Forest Service, in particular, has proved susceptible to politics in recent decades, with each administration redefining the agency to some degree. Currently, a former timber industry lobbyist - Mark Rey - oversees the Forest Service as undersecretary of Agriculture. Obama has not announced his short list for that job, but among the names to have surfaced is Missoula's own former mayor, Dan Kemmis. “It seems as if the public-land pendulum swings with each new administration,” Kemmis said. “It's been a kind of ‘now-it's-our-turn' game. I believe we need to slow the pendulum, and find the bipartisan middle ground where we can really experiment with consensus and collaboration.” His is a welcome perspective, with analysts from all sides of the public-land debate anticipating less political and more professional agency oversight under Obama. The Forest Service has of late found itself laboring beneath a nearly impenetrable lattice of laws, a framework Kemmis argues has resulted in “a very proceduralized decisionmaking process.” It is a process built for - and some would say by - lawyers and judges, “and it absolutely invites people to line up on one side of the fence or the other,” Kemmis said....

Secretary Formally Designates Bureau of Land Management Lands as the National System of Public Lands

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Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has signed a Secretarial Order to officially designate the 258 million acres of lands managed for multiple-use by the Department’s Bureau of Land Management as the National System of Public Lands. “These lands constitute an invaluable recreational, cultural, economic, and environmental legacy for the nation,” Kempthorne said. “And yet, those who own these lands – the American people – remain largely unaware of their critical importance to our quality of life, their value to present and future generations, or even the purpose for which these lands are preserved in public ownership.” As the principal steward of the public lands, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is directed by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 to manage the public lands for multiple-use, including recreation, conservation, wildlife habitat and economic activities, such as livestock grazing, energy and mineral production and the development of timber and forest products. “It’s time these great lands and resources, whose historical roots date back to the earliest days of our nation, are given their due by recognizing them officially,” BLM Director James Caswell said. “This official designation will ultimately make it easier for the public to identify these lands and more readily understand the multiple-use mission that Congress has given to the BLM.” While providing BLM-managed lands an official designation confers no change in land status, Caswell said that it will underscore several principles that are important to the stewardship of these lands. “Calling these lands the National System of Public Lands implies that all of our lands and resources are linked in some capacity,” Caswell said. “This linkage is at the heart of our landscape approach to land management.”....

Wolf impacts have hunters howling

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Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials in Northwest Montana are hearing from many hunters concerned about the rapid growth of packs and wolf numbers and an obvious decline in white-tailed deer populations. Regional Wildlife Manager Jim Williams said staffers at six game check stations heard plenty about wolves, particularly from hunters who were passing through the "no game" lanes. "One of the primary benefits of having check stations is we get to hear from hunters," Williams said. "And what we heard loud and clear is that people were seeing wolves, hearing them, seeing their tracks." When the five-week hunting season concluded at the end of November, Williams said he received at least 50 calls on wolves, "easily the most I've ever gotten in my career." The department's game wardens, biologists and front desk clerks have been getting similar calls. The reason, Williams said, is that the number of wolf packs has grown from 12 to 28 in Northwest Montana since 2005. And the number of packs throughout the broader Northwest Montana Recovery Area grew from 19 in 2005 to 36 in 2007....

Conservation groups sue to stop Utah drilling plan

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Conservation groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday to block the Bush administration's last-minute sale of oil-and-gas drilling leases in Utah on spectacular scenery near national parks and ancient rock art panels. The Bureau of Land Management has scheduled an auction Friday to sell drilling leases covering more than 100,000 acres of wild land in eastern Utah. Actor Robert Redford, a longtime environmental activist, called the lease sale "morally criminal." Redford, who owns a home in Utah and hosts the annual Sundance Film Festival there, said the leasing issue is emotional for him, since he has spent much of his adult life in southern Utah, on foot and horseback. "These lands do not belong to Bush and Cheney. It's our land — public lands — and the BLM is supposed to be protecting lands on our behalf," Redford said via satellite from Los Angeles during a news conference in Washington. Sharon Buccino, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the Bush administration was rushing to approve the leases before leaving office next month. "In their midnight maneuvering, BLM failed to complete the analysis required by federal law for the protection of America's natural and cultural treasures," she said. Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar, named Wednesday as Obama's choice for Interior secretary, has not spoken publicly about the Utah lease plan. Redford, who has worked with Salazar on environmental issues, called his nomination encouraging and said Salazar has sent signals he opposes drilling on sensitive lands. "He didn't farm oil rigs," Redford said, referring to Salazar's past as a rancher in Colorado. ...

Valles Caldera director's task to make preserve self-sufficient

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Artesia native Gary D. Bratcher, an agribusinessman and former state economic development secretary, was named Tuesday as executive director of the Valles Caldera Trust. He takes over at a critical juncture in management of the 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve in the Jemez Mountains. Congress approved money to buy the preserve in 2000, with the caveat it try to pay its own operating costs by 2015, something no other public land agency is expected to do. The preserve, which includes scenic valleys left by an ancient volcanic eruption, is managed by the Valles Caldera Trust, whose board members are appointed by the U.S. president. The Valles Caldera is an experiment in public land management. Congress mandated the protection of natural resources at the Valles Caldera and increased public access while continuing its operations as a working ranch — three goals often seen in conflict with each other....

Deer trafficking: Texas case raises questions about deer industry

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Two years ago, Brian Becker drove 1,008 miles from Madelia, Minn., to the small East Texas town of Bedias, unaware that federal authorities had him under surveillance after being tipped off that his gooseneck trailer carried contraband -- trophy deer. His smuggling operation, which reaped $300,000 from a single customer in four years, exposes a dark underside to Texas' $73 million deer-hunting industry, which has provided jobs and other economic benefits to many rural areas of the state. On Nov. 24, Becker, 38, already on probation for smuggling deer to Oklahoma in 2005, was sentenced by a federal court in Plano, Texas, to 33 months in prison. The buyer, Robert L. Eichenour, 51, a wealthy Houston businessman and owner of a posh hunting ranch in Bedias, received an 18-month term and was ordered to pay a $50,000 fine. Both had pleaded guilty and did not dispute the charges. "This is just the tip of the iceberg," said Mike Merida, a Fort Worth-based special agent with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, referring to interstate deer trafficking, which he said threatens herds with bovine tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease, a devastating condition likened to mad-cow disease but spread among deer, elk and moose. "From my perspective, there's a lot of movement of black-market deer, whether it's wild deer 'laundered' into a high-fence operation or 'put and take' hunting," said Capt. Greg Williford of Texas Parks & Wildlife, who says smuggling is an open secret in the industry. "We're out to try to prove it." When breeding bucks with the right genetics can fetch as much as $500,000 at auction, "you always have some trying to go around corners," said John Meng, marketing director of the Texas Deer Association....

Legal Defense Fund to Answer to USDA, Michigan Department of Agriculture Motions to Dismiss NAIS Suit

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Motions filed by the U.S. and Michigan Departments of Agriculture seeking to dismiss the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund suit to stop the implementation of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), incorrectly claim that NAIS is a voluntary program. "Even as the agencies try to deny the clear facts of what they have done in Michigan, the USDA recently issued a memo that confirms what the Fund has stated in its lawsuit: NAIS is not voluntary," said Pete Kennedy, interim president of the Fund. Kennedy cited Veterinary Services Memorandum No. 575.19 addressed to USDA's "Veterinary Services Management Team" that requires NAIS premises registration for various disease program activities. "The memo includes activities such as vaccinations, testing, and applying official ear tags for programs for every livestock species, ranging from brucellosis to scrapies to equine infectious anemia," Kennedy noted. "One of the most important aspects of this memo is that people who refuse to have their farms registered will be registered against their will. Thus, USDA has officially abandoned the supposed 'voluntary' nature of NAIS." NAIS is the USDA's plan to electronically track every livestock animal in the country. The Michigan Department of Agriculture has implemented the first two stages of NAIS - property registration and animal identification - for all those who own cattle across the state as part of a state-wide bovine tuberculosis disease control program required by a grant from the USDA. The suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court - District of Columbia on September 8 asks the court to issue an injunction to stop the implementation of NAIS at both the state and the federal levels by any state or federal agency. If successful, the suit would halt the program nationwide. The suit charges that USDA has never published rules regarding NAIS, in violation of the Federal Administrative Procedures Act; has never performed an Environmental Impact Statement or an Environmental Assessment as required by the National Environmental Policy Act; is in violation of the Regulatory Flexibility Act that requires the USDA to analyze proposed rules for their impact on small entities and local governments; and violates religious freedoms guaranteed by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act....

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New Report Lists Top 10 U.S. Species in Need of Protection

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Ten species have been named the most in-need of protection under the Endangered Species Act in a report released today by the Endangered Species Coalition. The report, “Without a Net: Top Ten Wildlife, Fish and Plants in Need of Endangered Species Act Protection,” demonstrates the grave problem in the current implementation of the Endangered Species Act—a listing program that has been crippled. The report includes ten species plus three honorable mentions that are in danger of extinction, but are not protected under the Endangered Species Act. “The Endangered Species Act is our nation's safety net for the wildlife, fish and plants at risk of disappearing forever,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “Sadly, too many species are being left without the Act's protections.” The first step to implementing the Endangered Species Act is to place an animal, plant or fish on the “endangered species list.” Yet some species wait to get on the list for years. Under the Bush administration, listings have greatly decreased—accounting for the lowest per year listing average of any president in the history of the Endangered Species Act. Now there are hundreds of species on and off the “candidate list,” that are in jeopardy and are waiting to be officially recognized as endangered....Go here to view the report.

Green lobby critical of Obama's new-roads agenda

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Friends of the Earth on Monday attacked President-elect Barack Obama's call for new infrastructure projects in his economic-stimulus package, saying it's a road to pollution. The 39-year-old environmental group launched a new Web site (www.roadtonowhere .org) and announced plans for ads, grass-roots mobilization and lobbying of Congress to keep new construction of roads out of a stimulus bill. "More roads mean more pollution and more dependence on oil, hurting our economy, security and climate," Friends of the Earth's Colin Peppard said. The group, which includes more than 100,000 members and activists in the U.S., said transportation is responsible for 30 percent of the country's global-warming pollution and nearly 70 percent of its oil use, and that 10 miles of new four-lane highway result in emissions equivalent to the lifetime emissions of more than 45,000 Hummers. Mr. Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress have made building roads, bridges and schools - and repairing or repaving existing infrastructure - a cornerstone of a stimulus that could cost between $600 billion and $1 trillion early next year....

Vilsack tapped for agriculture secretary

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Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack is expected to be named President-elect Barack Obama’s designee to be U.S. Secretary of Agriculture on Wednesday, Democratic officials said today. Obama is expected to make the announcement at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday in Chicago, where he is expected to be joined by Visack. Vilsack would be the first Iowa Democrat to serve as a Cabinet secretary since Henry A. Wallace held the same position during President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. It would also mark the first time the agriculture secretary and Senate Agriculture Committee chairman were both Iowans, creating a unique confluence of Iowa authority over agriculture and food policy. As governor, Vilsack had been a proponent of renewable energy and worked to develop industry related to the state’s ethanol and wind-generated electricity production. Iowa is nation’s leading producer of ethanol and among the leaders in wind-generated electricity....

Obama to Pick Tom Vilsack To Lead USDA
Both environmentalists and food industry leaders reacted positively to the choice of Vilsack, a political centrist. "We're encouraged by it," said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group. "He thinks we need to reform the subsidy system, he recognizes the importance of the food programs, and he's very good on conservation." Tom Buis, president of the National Farmers Union, called Vilsack a "great choice" who "has an understanding of the challenges and opportunities that exist in rural America." Left as an infant at a Roman Catholic orphanage, Vilsack was raised by his adoptive parents in Pittsburgh. He settled in his wife's home town of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, and was elected governor in 1998, serving two four-year terms. On the often controversial issue of farm subsidies, Vilsack has taken a moderate position, siding at times with those favoring a shift of funding in the agriculture budget from traditional subsidies to new kinds of supports for farmers that improve soil and water management....

Big Drilling Issues Await Salazar

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Sen. Ken Salazar, President-elect Barack Obama's choice to run the Interior Department, is a Colorado Democrat who has opposed Bush administration efforts to open more Western land for oil-shale exploration, but worked with Republicans to broker a deal to allow more offshore oil exploration. Mr. Salazar has been an outspoken advocate of renewable-energy sources, as have Mr. Obama's pick for energy secretary, Steven Chu, and his choice to be the top White House environmental adviser, Carol Browner. But as head of the Interior Department, Mr. Salazar will be both custodian and gatekeeper for the extensive fossil-fuel resources on public lands. Among Mr. Salazar's mandates at Interior will be restoring confidence in the department's management of mineral resources following a series of scandals at Interior's Minerals Management Service. One of the hottest issues Mr. Salazar would face would be a decision on where and when the government should allow oil and gas exploration, particularly on the Outer Continental Shelf where experts say billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas lie untapped. Despite falling oil prices, the Obama administration will have to readdress the drilling issue in the new year. Under pressure from voters whose budgets were hit hard by $4-a-gallon gasoline, Congress allowed a federal moratorium on offshore drilling to expire, paving the way for a new lease schedule unless lawmakers and the administration reinstate the ban....

Fixing Interior - NY Times Editorial

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Senator Ken Salazar, the Colorado Democrat who is President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for secretary of the interior, will inherit a department riddled with incompetence and corruption, captive to industries it is supposed to regulate and far more interested in exploiting public resources than conserving them. No cabinet post is as critical to the integrity of the nation’s parks, its open spaces and its animal species. Mr. Obama, and his environmental adviser in chief, Carol Browner, must be prepared to offer Mr. Salazar full support, especially in fending off the ranchers and the oil, gas, mining and other special interests who have always found the Interior Department to be a soft target, never more so than in the Bush administration. Mr. Salazar’s most urgent task will be to remove the influence of politics and ideology from decisions that are best left to science. Mr. Salazar’s second big task will be to achieve a rational balance between the department’s oil and gas leasing program and its obligation to protect environmentally sensitive lands and the wildlife that depend on them. Reconciling energy and environmental demands has never been easy, but some interior secretaries — notably Bruce Babbitt, who served under President Bill Clinton — have proceeded with greater care than others. The third big task will be to deal with departmental corruption, some of it extending back many years....

Coal Mines, Casinos, and Cocaine

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The current Bush administration has gone further still. Bush's Interior transition team, after all, included GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff and stuffed the department full of former industry officials, many of whom were unqualified to do the conservation jobs they were given. The key figure early on was deputy secretary Steven Griles, an ex-mining executive who flouted ethics rules by conferring with former coal clients over mountaintop mining and coal-bed methane drilling. (His meetings were discovered by Kirsten Sykes, a young staffer at Friends of the Earth.) Griles was eventually ousted after the Abramoff scandal, when it was revealed that he had pledged to block approval for an Indian casino that Abramoff was fighting to kill while the lobbyist poured money into a front group run by Griles's girlfriend. (Griles later served ten months in prison for obstruction of justice.) During the Bush years, Interior officials catered entirely to miners, ranchers, and loggers--and paid virtually no attention to conservation. The tone was set from the beginning, when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) diverted thousands of gallons from the Klamath River at the behest of farmers, despite scientific findings that the diversions would lead to massive kills of endangered salmon and suckerfish. (Later reporting revealed that Dick Cheney had pressured the department to divert the water.) Bush's first Interior secretary, Gale Norton, interfered with scientific assessments of the impact on Arctic drilling, suppressed a report on mountaintop removal mining, and refused to list a single new endangered species. Again, the difference with what was going on in the EPA was stark--Jeff Ruch of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, whose group works with whistleblowers at both agencies, told me that at the EPA, scientific recommendations would simply be excluded from consideration by political appointees; at Interior, however, officials like Julie MacDonald, the deputy assistant secretary for Fish & Wildlife & Parks, would order the conclusions reversed. (MacDonald, semi-hilariously, resigned after it was revealed that, among other things, she was sharing internal agency documents with a teenage online gaming friend via his father's e-mail account.) Then, of course, there was the spectacularly sordid ongoing scandal at the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the federal agency that sells oil and gas collected as royalties from energy companies drilling on federal lands. As an inspector general's report revealed earlier this year, MMS employees were receiving thousands of dollars of gifts from the oil companies they were supposed to oversee. Stacy Leyshon, who had received $2,887 worth of meals, drinks, and golf passes from oil companies between 2002 and 2006, later allowed companies to revise their bids for oil after they had been awarded--118 amendments that cost the government $4.4 million. The manager of the royalty program was steering contracts to his outside consulting firm, all while buying cocaine from and sleeping with subordinates....

Greens Send Obama Quick Fix List

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Environmentalists see the Blue Tide as more of a Green Tide, and they not only have their hopes up, but their sleeves rolled up. A huge coalition of green groups, 98 in all, has just finished a massive analysis of the current regulatory situation governing the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service amd prepared a lengthy quick fix list to President-elect Obama’s transition team. Based on this action-packed letter, Obama’s choices for Secretary of the Interior and Secretary of Agriculture will have a lot of homework to do long before they start work in January. In a November 26 letter, not yet formally released to the press, Randi Spivak, executive director of the American Lands Alliance and 97 other officials from conservation groups from all across the land--and with a combined membership of 1.5 million earth-friendly people--sent their “100-Day Prioriies” to David J. Hayes, who is coordianting energy and natural resource issues for President-elect Obama’s transition team....Go here(pdf) to view the document.

Florida Water Board, Voting 4 to 3, Approves U.S. Sugar Deal in the Everglades

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Florida’s water managers agreed to buy nearly 300 square miles of land from United States Sugar on Tuesday, approving a $1.34 billion deal that could reshape the Everglades, the sugar business and several small towns that have relied on agriculture for decades. The decision by the board of the South Florida Water Management District, by a vote of 4 to 3, with one abstention, moves the state closer to completing its largest and most expensive environmental acquisition. But supporters and opponents said economic uncertainties could keep the deal from closing. Board members were so concerned about the worsening financial picture that they added an amendment to the contract that says its debt burden from the purchase must not “adversely affect” the district’s core operations, like flood control. Tuesday’s vote begins a 60-day auction period, in which competing offers — one has been made, by a family-owned farming company called the Lawrence Group — must be considered by United States Sugar’s shareholders. Florida Crystals, a politically powerful competitor that owns strategically located land for restoration, has also sued to stop a state court from approving the state’s contract....

Pot raid nabs drugs, guns $625,000 in cash

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A multiple agency drug task force hit nine suspected indoor marijuana growing operations in rural El Dorado County and Nevada County earlier today, seizing pot, guns, cultivation equipment and about $625,000 in cash. A total of 10 search warrants and five arrest warrants were served. About 200 law enforcement officers from the state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, El Dorado County Sheriff's Office, the U.S. Forest Service and many other agencies participated in the coordinated raids. In a press release, Attorney General Jerry Brown noted that armed guards protected the sites and he called the indoor growing operations "a threat to public safety." Search warrants were served at six locations in El Dorado County. Those homes were located on Silver Ridge Court, Camino, High Twist Lane, and Grizzly Court, Somerset, Fort Jim Road, Placerville, Mosquito Road, Swansboro, and Spring Valley Road in Pollock Pines....Next time you hear Forest Service law enforcement crying they don't have the budget or personnel to protect federal lands, ask them how come they have the budget and personnel to raid indoor growing operations on private property.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Obama picks Salazar as Interior secretary

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President-elect Barack Obama plans to name Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) to lead the Interior Department -- an appointment that could put the brakes on several controversial energy development projects across the West. Two senior Democrats said Monday that Obama would name Salazar, a Latino, to the post, rounding out an energy and environmental policy team announced at a Chicago news conference. Salazar was not the first choice of some environmental groups, who had favored Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.). A coalition of 141 environmental groups, biologists and other scientists launched an e-mail and letter-writing campaign in support of Grijalva. Karen Schambach, the California coordinator for the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, described Salazar as more of a centrist. Still, she expected he would be a "sympathetic soul" in a department that had offered a cold shoulder to the environmental community. Salazar's family helped settle what is now New Mexico in the 1500s. He was raised on a ranch in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado, and became an attorney with expertise in water law....

Mr. Interior Secretary

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If anyone had doubts about Sen. Ken Salazar's commitment to the welfare of public lands, they should have vanished in the wake of news that he will be named Interior secretary in President-elect Barack Obama's Cabinet. Say this much about Salazar: He's qualified for the job. Highly qualified, in fact, both in professional expertise and in life experience. The cowboy hat he often sports in public is of course partly a prop - a down-home Western image never hurts a politician - but it is also a genuine symbol of his roots on the land in the San Luis Valley. Combine that background with his experience as head of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and then as state attorney general, where he dealt with a host of public lands and water issues, and Salazar will take the Interior post with more than enough knowledge to hit the ground running. As senator, Salazar has crafted a mostly deserved reputation as a moderate Democrat, and we hope that perspective carries forward into his new job at Interior. Salazar is known for his deliberate style, assimilating as much information as possible before drawing a conclusion. It's a habit that should serve him - and the nation - well in his important new job....You can here all those folks concerned about Grijalva sighing with relief.

Hard Task for New Team on Energy and Climate

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The team President-elect Barack Obama introduced on Monday to carry out his energy and environmental policies faces a host of political, economic, diplomatic and scientific challenges that could impede his plans to address global warming and America’s growing dependence on dirty and uncertain sources of energy. Acknowledging that a succession of presidents and Congresses had failed to make much progress on the issues, Mr. Obama vowed to press ahead despite the faltering economy and suggested that he would invest his political capital in trying to break logjams. “This time must be different,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference in Chicago. “This will be a leading priority of my presidency and a defining test of our time. We cannot accept complacency, nor accept any more broken promises.” The most pressing environmental issue for the incoming team will almost certainly be settling on an effective and politically tenable approach to the intertwined issues of energy security and global warming....

Report: Endangered species decisions tainted

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A high-ranking Interior Department official tainted nearly every decision made on the protection of endangered species over five years, a new inspector general report finds, concluding she exerted improper political interference on many more rulings than previously thought. Julie MacDonald, a former deputy assistant secretary overseeing the Fish and Wildlife Service, did pervasive harm to the department's morale and integrity and may have risked the well-being of species with her agenda, Interior Inspector General Earl Devaney said in his report out Monday. The Interior Department last year reversed seven rulings that denied endangered species increased protection, after an investigation found that MacDonald had applied political pressure in those cases. The new report looked at nearly two dozen other endangered species decisions not examined in the earlier report. It found MacDonald directly interfered with at least 13 decisions and indirectly affected at least two more. "Her heavy-handedness has cast doubt on nearly every ESA decision issued during her tenure," from 2002 until 2007, the report said. MacDonald was deputy assistant secretary from 2004 to 2007 and a senior adviser in the department for two years before that....Go here(pdf) to read the 140 page report.

Not so dead on arrival

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The Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which Bill Clinton signed into law eight days before he left office, protected 58.5 million acres of national forest land from logging and energy development. It was one of the boldest conservation measures in the history of federal land management, but it seemed doomed to a very short lifespan. Because it was only an administrative rule, it could be overturned by the next administration, which strongly opposed it. But nearly eight years later, the Clinton Roadless Rule remains in effect for 35.6 million acres of national forest in seven Western states. Idaho has adopted, and Colorado is about to adopt, state-specific roadless regulations that fall short of the Clinton rule but still provide protection for large swaths of land. (Roadless lands in Wyoming and Utah are currently unprotected.) The Clinton rule's survival still hangs on the outcome of two ongoing court cases, but even if it were to succumb, it is likely that Democrats in Washington would replace it with either a new administrative rule or legislative protection for roadless areas. Thanks to the incompetence of the Bush administration and the tenacity of some never-say-die environmental lawyers, the long-shot maneuver might have worked....

Green activists find new ally in US unions

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Some U.S. labor groups that have long feared environmental campaigns as a threat to American jobs are starting to see advantages in going green. This evolution was clear at this week's U.N. climate talks in Poland, where several American labor groups and environmental activists made joint appeals for policies that would promote high-tech renewable energy as the answer to both climate change and job losses. About 25 representatives of U.S. unions were in Poznan — about twice the number at last year's U.N. talks in Bali, Indonesia — representing workers from the electrical, transit, steel, service and other sectors. "There is a very wide cross-section of American unions that reflects the growing engagement of American unions' support of climate change policies," said David Foster, executive director of the Blue Green Alliance. The group was founded by the United Steelworkers, North America's largest manufacturing union, and the Sierra Club, the United States' largest and oldest grass-roots environmental group. The Blue Green Alliance was founded in 2006 and expanded this autumn to include three more unions and another green group....

Goose Eggs May Help Polar Bears Weather Climate Change

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As polar bears adapt to a warming Arctic—a frozen seascape that cleaves earlier each spring—they may find relief in an unlikely source: snow goose eggs. New calculations show that changes in the timing of sea-ice breakup and of snow goose nesting near the western Hudson Bay could provide at least some polar bears with an alternative source of food. This new analysis appears in Polar Biology. Polar bears' habitat rings the Arctic south of 88˚ latitude. Most of this area is sea ice from which bears hunt seals, although the breakup of sea ice over the summer forces some bears to move north, to pack ice, or onto land. More often, it is subadult males that are pushed to these less ideal conditions, where they live, in part, off stored fat reserves. When bears switch to the tundra in some areas, they may enter the nesting grounds of snow geese. Goose eggs and developing embryos are a highly nutritious source of food to opportunistic foragers. Although geese populations were in decline in the early 1900s, the population rebounded and expanded. There are now too many geese for the Arctic to support in the summer, mainly because their over-wintering habitat has increased to cover the northern plains, where they eat waste corn and forage in rice fields. Polar bear and snow geese populations come into contact in the Hudson Bay. Here, some bears routinely live on land for 4-5 months of the year, subsisting on fat reserves. The new research shows that the effects of climate change will bring additional sources of food as the movement of both populations begins earlier each spring....

Contraceptive for wild horses in Utah

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Eighty wild mares gathered by Utah authorities will be released back in the wilderness after receiving contraceptive pellets. The Bureau of Land Management in Utah is this month removing wild horses from the Cedar Mountain Herd Management Area (HMA). About 630 wild horses currently roam the Cedar Mountain area, which covers about 212,000 acres north of Dugway, Utah. The appropriate management level for the area has been established at 190 to 300 wild horses. The bureau wants to remove 440 horses to get to the low end of that level. About eighty of the mares gathered will be administered a pelleted contraceptive vaccine and returned to the range. Since 1992, the Humane Society of the United States has collaborated with the BLM to develop a contraceptive agent that meets the BLM's requirements for practical and cost-effective wild horse population control.

Feds limit the miles of Utah rivers up for protection

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The final list of Utah's potential wild and scenic rivers in national forests is short -- too short, some say. On Monday, the U.S. Forest Service announced it would recommend a total of 108 miles of river in 10 segments -- less than half the waterways the agency originally proposed for congressional consideration. River advocates expressed disappointment, especially since they pushed for federal protections on all 840 miles of Utah waterways that run through national forests in 86 rivers and streams, an optimistic goal. But elected officials, residents, energy developers and the state objected because they didn't want wilderness-style restrictions on so many rivers or streams. Utah is one of nine states without any wild or scenic river segments and just one of two Western states -- Nevada is the other -- where no free-flowing waters have been granted that special status....

Rare NM fish to be released in Texas

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A team of experts at the Albuquerque Biological Park braved the cold and snow Monday as they loaded thousands of endangered minnows into trucks for a 12-hour trip to Texas, where the tiny fish will be released into the Rio Grande near Big Bend National Park. Biologists said the release will be a big step toward ensuring the survival of the rare Rio Grande silvery minnow, which was listed as endangered in 1994 due to its plummeting population. Between 400,000 and 500,000 minnows were being taken from the breeding facility at the biopark and a fish hatchery in southeastern New Mexico to the Big Bend area. The fish were riding in special tanks in trucks equipped with monitors and oxygen. Once the minnows get to Big Bend, they will be placed in holding pens in the river so they can acclimate. There are two release sites within the park's boundaries as well as one upstream and one downstream. Biologists expect to open the pens and let the minnows explore more of their new home on Wednesday. The minnows that will be released in Big Bend will be considered a nonessential, experimental population, meaning they will not have the same Endangered Species Act protections as those in the Middle Rio Grande. The Fish and Wildlife Service said the experimental designation ensures that the daily activities of private landowners and water users will not be affected by the reintroduction....A lengthy AP article, but no mention of the cost.

Investigation continues into decapitation of cow

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A rancher who found the body of a decapitated cow on his Logan County ranch thinks thieves wanted the animal's head for its horns. Bruce Carlson says he found the cow's body last Tuesday morning while doing chores. He believes the cow was killed earlier that morning. Carlson says the mixed-breed Angus cow had black horns that measured about 20 inches across and eight inches tall. He says the unusual nature of the horns meant they could be sold for $2,500 or more. Authorities agree with Carlson's theory that the thieves were interested in the cow's horns. Col. Mike Grimes, who works for the state Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department, says he thinks the thieves cased the area before shooting the cow in the head. He says they removed the head with a knife. Grimes says that in 40 years of law enforcement he's not seen a similar case.

It's All Trew: Old mining days were hazardous

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The early mining towns usually shared the same progression of building. First came the strike and mine development while living in tents and dugouts. Once the strike was proven and ore was being removed to market, a sawmill arrived sawing lumber for crude clapboard dwellings and places of business. All buildings were heated by wood stoves and this led to most being burned to the ground at least one time. If the mines were profitable over a period of time structures were rebuilt of brick or stone and the fire departments improved to where fire was not an eminent danger. Almost every mountain ghost town chronicle tells of the long, bitterly cold winters with intermittent blizzards and the ever-present danger of avalanche. Some of these snow slides carried entire towns and ore mills over cliffs to the valleys below. One snow slide covered a mine entrapping the owner inside. With tools at hand it required three days to tunnel outside where he arrived in town in time to attend and interrupt his own funeral....

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wolves may be delisted -- again -- this week

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The Bush administration could remove wolves from the federal endangered species list this week, an official said. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had previously announced its intention to delist gray wolves in the Northern Rockies by the end of this year. But Ed Bangs, the federal gray wolf recovery coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said it is possible a new delisting rule could be out and published in the Federal Register on or before Friday. "We're hoping to get it out [this week], but whether that happens or not, I don't know," Bangs said. Critics reacted harshly to the news, saying the Bush administration is rushing to push through a flawed plan, simply to make sure it is enacted before President-elect Barack Obama takes office....

Wolf kills rise in Northern Rockies

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Record numbers of endangered gray wolves were shot this year by government wildlife agents and ranchers in the Northern Rockies, as the predator's attacks on livestock met with an increasingly aggressive response. In a case that underscores the brutal efficiency of those government wolf control efforts, wildlife agents recently killed all 27 members of a wolf pack near Kalispell, Mont. Their removal followed repeated attacks on livestock within the pack's territory. The Bush administration is poised to remove the region's estimated 1,500 wolves from the endangered species list as soon as this week. Environmentalists - who successfully fought to reverse a prior removal of endangered protections - are gearing up to again challenge the government in federal court. Through early December, 245 wolves were legally killed by wildlife agents and ranchers - a 31 percent spike over last year's figure, according to state and federal records. That included 102 wolves in Montana, 101 in Idaho and 42 in Wyoming. Another nine wolves were shot in a specially designated "predator zone" in Wyoming that has since been struck down by a federal judge....

U.S. forest chief could have local ties

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Two U.S. Forest Service officials with Central Oregon connections are being mentioned as candidates to head that agency after President-elect Barack Obama takes office, according to environmental groups and former Forest Service officials. The Forest Service chief is a civil servant, not a political appointee, but past presidents have chosen chiefs who reflect their policy goals. Because of that, Obama isn’t expected to retain current Chief Gail Kimbell. Two names that have been floated as replacements are Forest Service Associate Chief Sally Collins, who is currently number two at the agency, and External Affairs Officer Leslie Weldon. Both served as supervisors of the Deschutes National Forest and now work in the agency’s Washington, D.C., headquarters. But with an abundance of high-profile problems to tackle, it will likely be sometime next year before the next administration chooses a new agency head, according to people in contact with the Obama transition team. After all, Obama has yet to name a secretary of agriculture or the undersecretary of agriculture who oversees the Forest Service, let alone a Forest Service chief. Andy Kerr, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, said either Collins or Weldon should be in discussion for chief. Collins is an automatic candidate as the agency’s current second-in-command, while Weldon is seen as a rising talent in the agency. Former Oregon Natural Desert Association Executive Director Bill Marlett also said Collins has long been regarded as a future candidate for Forest Service chief....

Bighorn Sheep Rule Stirs Debate in West

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A new policy issued by the Bush administration for managing fragile populations of bighorn sheep has angered Western environmentalists, hunters and state wildlife managers, who claim it is a move by the outgoing administration to reshape the Western landscape in favor of industry. A new federal policy regulating how bighorn sheep are transported across state lines has drawn criticism from state officials and environmentalists in the West. They say it threatens efforts to restore the wild sheep. Federal officials say the policy -- set out in a Memorandum of Understanding with the Forest Service -- is intended to protect bighorns from disease. But critics say it threatens their decadeslong effort to restore the wild sheep population from near-extinction. Mark Rey, undersecretary for natural resources with the Department of Agriculture, who helped write the bighorn policy, dismissed the complaints. Officials from several Western states have sent him letters denouncing the policy as an illegal usurpation of state authority. Mr. Rey is reviewing the comments but said he sees no reason to change course. The new policy requires that all wild bighorn be quarantined and tested for disease by federal labs before they can be moved across state lines by relocation programs designed to protect their populations. Mr. Rey says the current protocol, which leaves testing up to the states, is "hit or miss" and thus not good for the bighorn. "If everything is fine," he said, "why do we see diseases cropping up hither, thither and yon?" But state officials worry the new policy could slow their efforts to protect the sheep. The crux of the problem, they say, is that domestic sheep too often intrude on bighorn territory -- leading to encounters that, for reasons not fully understood, are often fatal to the wild sheep....

Forest Service expecting positive change under Obama

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Conservationists hope that the incoming Obama administration will boost protection for national forest roadless areas and make other changes aimed at conserving natural resources. Some shifts in policy will take time to implement, but in some key areas, the changes could be immediate and dramatic, and will be felt on national forest lands in Summit County, according to Andy Stahl, director of a watchdog group called Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics. The Portland-based organization is comprised of current and former agency employees, and offers cover for whistle-blowers along with closely tracking and analyzing Forest Service policies. Stahl said standard moves during a transition include the immediate suspension of any rule-making processes and the withdrawal of non-finalized rules. The most sudden changes could affect a contested set of rules for managing inventoried roadless areas, including about 60,000 acres of White River National Forest land in Summit County. Under the Bush administration, the Forest Service also adopted regulations that drastically cut public involvement and environmental studies associated with developing national forest plans. Agency officials said the goal was to speed planning and implementation, cut red tape and reduce planning costs, but the change widely was seen as a serious blow to resource protection and public involvement. The planning rule has also been tangled up in court, and was rejected by a federal judge in California last year....

Forest Service ramps up climate-change information

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Climate-change specialists are visiting Forest Service offices in the agency's Northern Region to educate employees about shifting climatic conditions and their ramifications. The Forest Service is looking at how best to manage its vast and varied natural resources, while reducing the agency's environmental footprint. Besides dispatching climate-change specialists to its offices, the Missoula-based Northern Region covering 12 national forests has been polling employees. Officials say the polling will help focus Forest Service policy.

Rich-Poor Rift Persists Over Climate

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The idea, through two weeks of climate negotiations that ended Saturday, was to find new ways to craft a common, global approach to avoid overloading the atmosphere with greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels and forests. So far, every such effort has faltered or proved a dead end — from the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Elizabeth Rosenthal, who covered the talks, sent in a final dispatch over the weekend once the last prolonged plenary session concluded. Her note, posted below, illustrates the deep “climate divide” that persists. On one side are the world’s industrialized nations, which largely built their wealth through a century of fossil-fuel combustion; on the other, those seeking a path out of poverty that, for the moment, has to depend on the same energy sources, and in many cases also on clearing forests. Many experts on the talks see little likelihood of a full-blown, completed treaty a year from now in Copenhagen, in part because the incoming Obama administration must shape its approach around the concerns of the Senate (where a two-thirds vote must consent to United States treaty participation). And Congress remains divided over climate steps not just by party, but by geography, with states rich in coal or clinging to industries reliant on oil most resistant to change....

Bush Administration Issues Final List of Candidates for Protection as Endangered Species

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The Bush administration today issued its final notice of review identifying 251 species that are candidates for protection as endangered species. The first such list produced under the Administration in 2001 included 252 species, indicating that although some species have been removed and others have been added, the administration has not made substantial progress in reducing the list. To date, the Administration has protected a mere 61 species, for a rate of less than eight species per year. This compares to 522 protected under the Clinton administration, a rate of 65 species per year; and 231 species protected under the George H.W. Bush administration, a rate of 58 species per year. The low rate of listing under the George W. Bush administration occurred despite a budget for the listing of species that has risen from just over $3 million in 2002 to more than $8 million in 2008. During his two-and-a-half-year tenure, Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne has overseen the listing of just one species — the polar bear. “Secretary Kempthorne surpasses even James Watt as the most anti-environmental Secretary of Interior in history," Greenwald said....

Obama to announce environment, energy team

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President-elect Barack Obama, who has vowed to adopt an aggressive approach to global warming and the environment, will hold a news conference on Monday to announce his picks to lead the effort. At the news conference Obama is expected to name Nobel physics laureate Steven Chu as his energy secretary and former Environmental Protection Agency chief Carol Browner as the head of a new council that will coordinate White House policy on energy, climate and environment, Democratic sources have said. Obama is also expected to announce he has chosen Lisa Jackson, the chief of staff for New Jersey's governor, to run the EPA and Nancy Sutley, a deputy mayor of Los Angeles, as head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.At the news conference Obama is expected to name Nobel physics laureate Steven Chu as his energy secretary and former Environmental Protection Agency chief Carol Browner as the head of a new council that will coordinate White House policy on energy, climate and environment, Democratic sources have said. Obama is also expected to announce he has chosen Lisa Jackson, the chief of staff for New Jersey's governor, to run the EPA and Nancy Sutley, a deputy mayor of Los Angeles, as head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality....

'Cow Tax' Uproar Underscores Greenhouse-Gas Divide

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Is the Environmental Protection Agency preparing to slap a "cow tax" on bovines for their contribution to global warming? The agency says no. But in recent weeks, farmers and livestock ranchers have flooded the EPA with letters warning of catastrophic consequences if such a tax was imposed. The idea of a so-called cow tax might seem far-fetched. But the uproar highlights a serious policy decision awaiting Mr. Obama's administration: whether to use the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions -- effectively branding as harmful pollutants carbon dioxide and other gases generated both by industry, as well as by the digestive processes of livestock. Many environmental groups want the Clean Air Act used to control greenhouses gases. The EPA document only briefly suggested that livestock could be subject to regulation. But the document went too far for the Bush administration, which -- in an unusual step -- published comments from four federal agencies slamming the EPA's work. The Agriculture Department said regulating emissions from agriculture could subject "numerous farming operations" -- including "dairy facilities with over 25 cows" -- to the "costly and time-consuming process" of getting permits to operate. The American Farm Bureau Federation alerted its members that the EPA was on course to saddle them with "costly and burdensome permits," costing as much as $175 per cow per year for dairy cattle, enough "to force many producers to go out of business." Local chambers of commerce, meanwhile, began disseminating estimates of what such fees would mean for farmers at the state level -- arriving at a figure of $24,995 a year for the average dairy farmer in North Dakota....

Dorgan hopes cattle methane emissions fee runs out of gas

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Sen. Byron Dorgan is raising a stink about feds who may have their eye on taxing cow farts. In response to an Environmental Protection Agency report citing the amount of greenhouse gases — methane, that is — produced by belching and flatulence of cows and pigs, Dorgan has introduced the Livestock Emissions Tax Ban Act. It would stop the EPA from putting a fee on livestock owners for gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Farm groups, including the Farm Bureau, are worried the EPA could be taking steps that could lead to taxing ranchers’ livestock. He said that while EPA said it’s not proposing such a tax, he wants to ensure that doesn’t happen....

Sonora nurtures efforts to attract US hunters

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U.S. hunters looking for prized game are giving beef and dairy cattle ranchers in northern Mexico an economic boost. And more and more ranchers are cashing in on the growing industry of "hunting tourism" by making their lands — inhabited by mature deer, bighorn sheep, Gould turkeys and buffalo — available to well-aiming foreigners. Three years ago, Enrique Savedra opened his 6,400-acre La Jagüey Ranch to U.S. hunters. He receives $3,000 per hunter whether or not they make a kill. Sonora gets about $30 million annually from hunting tourism, according to state tourism officials. Of the 7,248 permits issued in the 2007 season, more than 5,000 were awarded to U.S. hunters. Hunters are brought to the ranches by coordinators on both sides of the border who make the arrangements for accommodations, meals, travel, permits and — most importantly — the import of weapons into Mexico. The ranchers must provide room and board for the hunters at their ranch homes, including running water, hot showers and electricity. The ranch cowboys are used as guides, and their wives do the cooking. The rancher incurs no other responsibility, other than getting the ranch registered for hunting with the Mexican government....

Five Minutes With PETA’s ‘Secret Agent’

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Just when the uproar over the Hallmark and MowMar animal abuse incidents were fading away, an undercover PETA agent dropped another bombshell on the industry. Video showing seriously troubling abuse at Aviagen, one of the major players in the turkey industry, surfaced on November 19. Just a few days before the Thanksgiving holiday. Convenient timing, huh? The fact that PETA was able to easily place an undercover agent on Aviagen’s workforce was almost as troubling as the video. It raised questions about their pre-employment screening, a critical step in insuring that people with serious personal problems aren’t hired. I certainly hope the ‘series of actions’ outlined in Hofmann’s statement addresses that issue. I was also curious about the PETA person who took the video. How did he get hired? What training did he receive? How long did he work for Aviagen before he went public? Tracking him down through a contact at PETA, I asked him to answer those questions. Because he will continue to do undercover work at other plants, he refused to reveal his identity but he did agree to answer a few questions. So here are his responses....

'As Big as the West' by Clyde A. Milner II and Carol O'Connor: The larger-than-life life of Granville Stuart

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Most people who know the West would recognize Granville Stuart's name and might link him with famed cowboy Teddy Blue Abbott. Few, though, could state details about what importance Stuart played in American history. In this new biography, Clyde A. Milner II and Carol O'Connor correct that problem by offering a highly detailed account of this astonishing figure. In many ways, Granville Stuart's story is the story of the American West. Leaving his Midwestern home in the early 1850s, he and his brother followed their father and thousands of other Argonauts to the California gold fields. On a return trip to visit their home, they were sidetracked in Montana. From then on, Granville Stuart steadily developed into one of the most significant figures of that state's history. Ultimately, as a politician and diplomat, he would make a larger mark on the whole nation. Stuart's experience was nothing short of remarkable. Growing from pioneer miner to small-time stockman to mercantile entrepreneur then major rancher, land speculator and political dilettante, he built on his successes and suffered his defeats with equanimity, always showing strength in the face of adversity and audacity in the face of challenge. At the same time, the individual behind the public and historic image was a mass of contradictions. He promoted law and order in the frontier but he also led vigilante parties and participated in the lynching of miscreants and thieves. He had antipathy for Native Americans, but he was for more than 20 years married to a Shoshone woman, with whom he produced 10 children....

Peppers Pride runs to record 19th straight victory

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Peppers Pride earned a record 19th consecutive victory in as many career starts with an expansive five and three-quarter lengths win at Sunland Park racetrack today. Racing as the 4-5 favorite, Peppers Pride placed her unblemished 18-race streak on the line in the 6 furlong stakes race for New Mexico-bred fillies and mares. Under jockey Carlos Madeira, the 5-year-old mare responded with a bold move passing the quarter mile marker. The big favorite made up over 5-lengths on the front running Negotiablafections. She holds the North American Thoroughbred record for consecutive wins.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cowgirl Sass & Savvy

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Camp cookie and the fire truck


By Julie Carter


“You ain’t never seen a hawk on the wing,
ain’t never heard old camp cookie sing.”


Ranchers are not immune to the romance involved in cowboying. Many of them spent years working up from the hired-hand to owner status.

Some cowboys, not wanting to give up enough of their freedom to become owners, have gone down other roads.

Tommie was such a cowboy. However, even Tommie needed to make a living, and so at some point in his cowboy life, he took an honest job as a firefighter in town.

But even in that, he never quite got away from the cowboy spirit and recalled that there was a tradition among ranch and rodeo hands. Many of them became cooks on the wagons at the big ranches.

This enabled them to still be part of the atmosphere, take their part in the fun, and not have to ride the broncs or flank the calves.

The bonus of the job was that nobody, or at least nobody in their right mind, ever crossed the cook. Everybody who wanted to eat would listen attentively to Cookie’s stories and praise his abilities as a cowboy and a cook. Tommie thought that would fit him just fine.

Incorporating his former cowboying with the town job seemed easy enough. He would cook from a fire truck and capitalize on the mystique of the cowboy and the firefighter.

Kids and adults alike would be fascinated with the truck as well as him. He just knew he would make a fortune. All that was required was his own personal fire truck.

There was only a slight problem with the one he found to buy – it was in Missouri and that was a far piece from home. Seemed like a small step for a stepper because his wife Sally had a nice big pickup truck that could easily pull a trailer loaded with the fire truck.

He had somehow miscalculated. While focusing on the usefulness of the truck, he not factored in the detail that it belonged fully to Sally.

It took some begging and pleading, but cowboy charm prevailed. Sally finally agreed to make the trip, drive her truck and haul his personal fire truck home so Tommie could enjoy cooking.

She had done her share of “camp cooking” and figured the fire truck would also come in useful watering the arena down faster than her current methods. While planning the trip she also hoped her kid would be over his stomach virus before it was time to leave for Missouri.

The trip was 13 hours long, one way and the stomach virus seemed to last about 100 hours. To top that off, the weather produced the proverbial hundred-year snowstorm. There are no words to describe the tension felt by the fair-weather cowgirl driving that distance on black ice.

The trip back with the fire truck loaded on a flatbed trailer didn’t seem to be any shorter. Again, driving every foot of the way with a sick kid, a sleeping husband, a snowstorm and a too-heavy tow package did not put Sally in a happy mood.

Everything seemed to be going pretty fairly well until Tommie, waking up just as they arrived at the driveway to their home, stretched and told her, “I think I’ll treat myself to a big breakfast this morning – I’m tired.”

We may never find out how cooking from a fire truck would have worked out, but there is a new big red water truck for the arena with Sally’s name painted on the door.

Julie can be reached through her website site at www.julie-carter.com . Her new book, Cowboys You Gotta Love ’em is shipping now. Orders will be shipped priority mail to arrive in time for Christmas.

South Dakota Stockgrowers Angered By USDA-APHIS Letter

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South Dakota Stockgrowers are extremely upset and angered by a correspondence received yesterday by most of South Dakota’s livestock producers, from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and their Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), stating the use of the USDA 840 tag is “your Passport to Compliance” for Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). According to South Dakota Stockgrower Animal ID Chairman Bill Kluck, Mud Butte, “this is not only misleading to livestock producers, but is deceitful and coercive.” There is absolutely no need for this 15 digit number, or any other USDA controlled number in order to comply with COOL. In fact language was written into the COOL law prohibiting the use of the 15 digit National Animal Identification Number (NAIS) from being used for COOL Compliance. Kluck also said “the brochure is asking producers to “Step up to the 840 ID Solution” which USDA-APHIS describes as a “standardized 15-digit numbering system to create the official animal identification number (AIN). Again, according to the brochure sent to producers, the “AINs, along with your Premises Identification Number (PIN), may be used on official paperwork”. Bill states that the “passport to COOL compliance” phrase used in the brochure is a backdoor attempt to lead producers to believe they have to obtain a PIN and NAIS number even though USDA-APHIS has repeatedly stated that the PIN and NAIS are not mandatory....