Friday, January 16, 2009


Defense Infrastructure: Army's Approach for Acquiring Land Is Not Guided by Up-to-Date Strategic Plan or Always Communicated Effectively. GAO-09-32, January 13.

Defense Infrastructure: Additional Information Is Needed to Better Explain the Proposed 100,000-Acre Expansion of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site. GAO-09-171, January 13.

National Marine Fisheries Service: Improvements Are Needed in the Federal Process Used to Protect Marine Mammals from Commercial Fishing. GAO-09-78, December 8.

Traveling Eco-Friendly

And if people want to live “green” lives by voluntarily eschewing some of the advantages of modern life, that’s great. But sometimes the suggestions for eco-friendly living, including travel, seem, well, a little silly. has just put out a list of ten, which include buying luggage made of hemp, refilling your bottles of water with tap water, and arranging to be picked up by a hybrid vehicle. My favorite was number one: Go Before You Go. If you wanna avert a little CO2, use the airport lavatory, not the one on the plane, since, believe it or not, the fuel used for every mile-high flush could run a car for 6 mi. Plus, who doesn’t want to avoid the cramped, nasty-smelling airplane bathroom? Well, I guess that would work if it is a short flight. Perhaps eco-conscious travelers could wear adult diapers for the transcontinental flights!

Texans ask Bush to commute agents’ sentences

Nearly all members of Texas’ congressional delegation are asking President Bush to commute the sentences of two Border Patrol agents. All but three of the 34 Texans in Congress signed a letter to Bush asking for the leniency. Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean are serving sentences of more than 10 years each. The two were convicted in 2006 of shooting a man they suspected was a drug smuggler and trying to cover it up. The man was later convicted on drug charges from a separate drug smuggling attempt. The two agents were working the border in Texas.

'Attempted hit' put on Ramos family

The family of imprisoned Border Patrol agent Ignacio Ramos was the victim of an attempted hit on their lives this month, as the agent's wife says someone broke into their El Paso home and filled it with gas, trashing photographs and pummeling their dog. Just weeks after Monica Ramos spoke with WND about the difficulty of enduring Christmas without her husband, her family returned from visiting Ignacio in prison on Jan 3. While she was away, burglars stole DVDS, a BB gun and cell phone and slashed her couch with a knife. They even beat her dog and ripped cherished wedding pictures and family photos of their life with Ignacio off the walls, smashing them on the ground. But the vandalism wasn't the worst part, Monica revealed in a Jan. 12 BlogTalkRadio interview just before she left again to visit her husband. "It wasn't so much that stuff was burglarized or that they actually took much," she said. "What was really hard was that when we got here, the gas was turned on. It was very intentional in that somebody was trying to hurt us."....

Thursday, January 15, 2009

EPA nominee pledges to quickly review California's emissions standard

Lisa Jackson, President-elect Barack Obama's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, told senators Wednesday that she will move quickly on California's request to enact its own far-reaching vehicle emissions standards. "My commitment is that I will immediately review that," Jackson, New Jersey's top environmental official, told Sen. Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. "I will look to science and the law, and rely on the expert advice of the staff." That was a signal from Jackson, during her confirmation hearing to become EPA director, that she is likely to approve the state's bid — turned down by the Bush administration a year ago — for a waiver from the Clean Air Act to enforce its own standards. Obama pledged to grant the waiver during the presidential campaign. Stephen Johnson, outgoing EPA director, overruled the unanimous recommendations of his scientific and legal staff when he turned down the California standard, angering Boxer and other Democrats on the committee. New Jersey and at least 15 other states, with more than 40 percent of the nation's population, are ready to enact the California standard, designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in new cars and light trucks by 2016....

Salazar confirmation hearings expected to yield few fireworks

Compared to Norton, Salazar - whose confirmation hearings before the Senate begin today - is no lightning rod. To some environmentalists, the pragmatic Salazar was not the first choice. But along with a smattering of skepticism and criticism, his selection drew mostly praise from conservation groups that had worked with him to push for a more cautious approach on oil shale development and energy drilling in general. Compared to Norton, "Salazar's record is far and away a more reasonable record on the environment," said Culp, now communications director for the Alaska Wilderness League. "He has shown a much greater willingness to listen to the concerns of the environmental community." Even Republicans are predicting smooth sailing for Salazar when he squares off with his former colleagues on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee....

Pork-filled 'wilderness' bill gets Senate approval

Calling a rare Sunday procedural vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., moved the U.S. Senate closer to passing a 1,300-page lands bill that would allocate $5 million in federal tax dollars on botanical gardens in Hawaii and Florida and $3.5 million to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine in 2015 -- and place an additional 2 million acres in nine states off limits for any productive economic use by labeling them "wilderness" and/or declaring new and additional rivers to be wild and scenic. Yes, Americans who live so far away they will likely never see the "wilderness" areas in question -- all in the Western states, you understand, none throwing anyone out of work in Georgia, Illinois, Connecticut or Massachusetts -- may sleep more cozily now, believing that, far away in the distant West, something nice has been done for the birds and the bunnies. But those who actually live in the affected regions may not find it much of a "consolation" to be deprived of gainful employment in any number of resource industries -- mining, ranching, lumber -- that will now be barred from making any productive use of yet an additional 2 million acres. Such legislation is "necessary for the day-to-day functioning of the Western economy," intoned Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, and among the Senate's largest, second-generation pork wranglers. Oh, hogwash. To the Americans actually attempting to make their livings on or near the lands in question, "wilderness" is not just about cozier dreams of happy squirrels. It's about loss of livelihood as a full- or part-time miner, rancher, sawmill worker, or even mushroom picker....

Army says it has been good steward in Pinon Canyon

Opponents of a proposed Army training site expansion in southern Colorado are disputing the military's claims that it has been a good steward of ranch land it seized by force in 1983. They include Gene Schroder, a third-generation rancher and one of a dozen ranchers who owned a grazing association when troops in military helicopters swooped in and ordered them off 33,000 acres of their land at gunpoint. That land went to the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, operated by Fort Carson south of Colorado Springs. "This isn't good stewardship. This is a fire hazard," Schroder said, pointing across the Purgatoire River during a recent field trip to swathes of wild plains where the Army conducts its training. Schroder said he visited his former property a year ago - with Army permission - and found windmills trashed, fences in disrepair and weeds and grass growing rampant, posing a wildfire hazard. The land is located west of Kim, 190 miles southeast of Denver, where roadsides are dotted with signs saying that private property is not for sale to the Army....

Army misfiring in shot at more Piñon Canyon land

The Army failed to adequately explain to Congress how it would use an enlarged Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site and its reasons for downsizing its request from 418,577 acres to 100,000 acres, according to a Government Accountability Office study. The report, released Tuesday, also questions why the Army says the estimated price of purchasing the land increased from $280 per acre in 2007 to a higher, undisclosed figure. In the report, the GAO said the Army budgeted $52.6 million over three years to expand the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site — which sits 100 miles southeast of Fort Carson — but the Army did not say how much would be spent per acre. According to the report, an Army official said the increased cost is partly a reflection of how buying from only willing sellers and not using eminent domain can raise the price-per-acre average. The report also said the Army shortened the acquisition schedule from five to three years in an attempt to "accommodate the concerns of expansion opponents" who said uncertainties over expansion caused them economic hardship. U.S. Sen. Mark Udall said he was disappointed in what the report disclosed....

Settlement reached over critical habitat in NM

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and two environmental groups have reached a settlement that requires the agency to consider designating critical habitat for four endangered species found in southeastern New Mexico and Texas. A federal judge approved the settlement Tuesday. It gives the agency until March 11 to propose the designation of critical habitat in the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Roswell. Three of the species — the Roswell springsnail, Koster's springsnail and Noel's amphipod — are found only at the refuge. The fourth species, the Pecos assiminea snail, is found at the refuge and two spots in Texas. Under the settlement, the Fish and Wildlife Service will have to make a final decision on whether to set aside critical habitat at the refuge and in Texas by July 2010. "Time is of the essence and we've lost a lot of time already," Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said, referring to the legal battle that resulted in the settlement. The Fish and Wildlife Service initially proposed designating more than 1,500 acres of critical habitat for the Pecos assiminea snail and just over 1,100 for the other three in 2002. A final decision released in 2005 trimmed the Pecos snail's critical habitat to nearly 400 acres in Texas and did not designate any critical habitat for the other species. The action prompted the center and WildEarth Guardians to sue. The groups argued that without critical habitat, the four species would be vulnerable to oil and gas development and other threats....

Environmental group wins oil and gas appeal

U.S. Forest Service officials, in a rare move, have granted an appeal by a Western environmental group concerned about the impacts of potential oil and gas development on tens of thousands of acres in northern New Mexico. The Santa Fe National Forest amended its land and resource management plan last summer to give forest officials more guidelines for dealing with oil and gas exploration and development on forest land that borders the San Juan Basin, one of the largest natural gas fields in the nation. WildEarth Guardians asked regional forest officials to overturn the plan, saying the Santa Fe Forest failed to safeguard air and water quality and wildlife. The group argued the forest's decision would have cleared the way for the Bureau of Land Management to lease more than 113,000 additional acres of the forest, resulting in more development and more emissions. Deputy Regional Forester Gilbert Zepeda granted the appeal, saying the forest's plan lacked analysis required by the Endangered Species Act and did not include current air quality data. The forest now has to prepare either a supplement with the required information or new environmental impact statement.

Credit Tightening in Agricultural Loans

The credit crunch may force local farmers and ranchers to tighten their already snug belts. "It's depressing it's not a lot of good news," Rancher Guy Bell at the annual Beef Expo, said. "Not everybody can survive it." Jason Henderson, Vice President and Branch Executive of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Omaha Branch gave the forecast to a crowd of ranchers on Tuesday. "Thinner profit margins in 2009," he said. Henderson says land values will dip slightly, while banks ask for more collateral of clients to offset risks in the market. "It is a gamble every time a farmer plants a crop, and it's a gamble when he comes to harvest a crop and that's what he and the banker are trying to sort out when they decide to loan him money," Jim Brueggen with the New Mexico Branch of the USDA, said. While profits are expected to fall in 2009 the cost of fertilizer and equipment continue to grow. Energy costs are yet another unknown in a business based on the biggest unknown of all, the weather. "Your whole livelihood is dealt around moisture," Bell said....

Raccoon: It's what's for dinner

He rolls into the parking lot of Leon’s Thriftway in an old, maroon Impala with a trunk full of frozen meat. Raccoon — the other dark meat. In five minutes, Montrose, Mo., trapper Larry Brownsberger is sold out in the lot at 39th Street and Kensington Avenue. Word has gotten around about how clean his frozen raccoon carcasses are. How nicely they’re tucked up in their brown butcher paper. How they almost look like a trussed turkey … or something. His loyal customers beam as they leave, thinking about the meal they’ll soon be eating. That is, as soon as the meat is thawed. Then brined. Soaked overnight. Parboiled for two hours. Slow-roasted or smoked or barbecued to perfection. Raccoon, which made the first edition of The Joy of Cooking in 1931, is labor-intensive but well worth the time, aficionados say. Raccoons go for $3 to $7 — each, not per pound — and will feed about five adults. Four, if they’re really hungry. The meat isn’t USDA-inspected, and few state regulations apply, same as with deer and other game. No laws prevent trappers from selling raccoon carcasses....I hereby designate Racoon as The Westerner's official Freedom Meat!
History teaches us that Davy Crockett ate more than his share of racoon meat.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Feds admit that decades-old Mexican gray wolf recovery plan needs updating

Federal wildlife officials admit in a new assessment that the plan guiding their efforts to return the endangered Mexican gray wolf to its former glory in the Southwest is nearly three decades old and in need of an update. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a conservation assessment of the Mexican wolf on Friday. The public has until March 10 to review the draft document and submit comments. The agency said litigation over the status of gray wolves in other parts of the country has prevented it from creating a new recovery plan for the Mexican wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf. However, Fish and Wildlife Service regional director Benjamin Tuggle said the assessment will provide the most up-to-date scientific information on the beleaguered wolf. "It will help to inform the many other components of our conservation efforts for the Mexican wolf, including captive management, reintroduction and recovery planning and implementation," Tuggle said in a statement. Environmentalists are calling the assessment "a substitute for action." Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, which has been pushing for reforms in wolf management for years, said Tuesday the report contains valuable information about the Mexican wolf but fails to set new policies....

Fish and Wildlife Service to delist gray wolves

Montana’s gray wolf may be off the federal threatened and endangered species list next month. “We believe this is a major success story for conservation,” deputy secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett said Wednesday in a teleconference from Washington, D.C. “We’ve laid the groundwork for recovery to continue far into the future.” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials decided to delist most of the wolf populations in the continental United States, including those in Montana, Idaho, Utah and the Great Lakes states of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. However, they stopped short of including Wyoming’s wolf population, citing that state’s inadequate wolf management plan. The change should be published in the Federal Register next week, Scarlett said. It will formally take effect 30 days after publication. Delisting means wolf management will become a job for state and tribal wildlife agencies instead of the federal Fish and Wildlife Service. There are about 1,500 wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains. That includes about 390 in Montana and 788 in Idaho. Wyoming has about 340 wolves....

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Environmental groups appeal to Obama for shift in land use

Some 40 Western environmental groups are asking the incoming Obama administration for a fundamental shift in the way the federal government manages energy production in Colorado and the West. In a detailed, 17-page letter, the groups cite a litany of Bush administration actions they say have put energy development too far ahead of other land uses, including wilderness and wildlife protection. Much of the letter identifies locations at risk in Colorado. "We urge the Obama administration to restore balance to the management of our public lands and resources and to ensure that oil and gas development does not compromise the West's water, air, wildlife and rural communities," the letter said. The letter, written in December but released Monday, puts more pressure on the nominee for Interior secretary, U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, who must juggle the demands of many environmental and conservation groups with the desire of an industrial coalition for continued access to federal lands. An advocate for energy development said the letter and other recent documents from environmental activists show their real interest is in shutting down industry on public lands....

Democrats Look for Ways to Undo Late Bush Administration Rules

Democrats are hoping to roll back a series of regulations issued late in the Bush administration that weaken environmental protections and other restrictions. Potential targets include regulations allowing concealed weapons in some national parks and forbidding medical facilities that get federal money from discriminating against doctors and nurses who refuse, on religious grounds, to assist with abortions. “Congress is going to have to roll up its sleeves and review these midnight regulations,” Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said in an interview, “because it’s clear that they are part of a desire for the administration, as it heads out the door, to put some ideological trophies on the wall.” Mr. Wyden, the chairman of a subcommittee on natural resources, said he was focusing on a series of recently issued environmental rules. Among them are measures relaxing protections for endangered species, allowing uranium mining near the Grand Canyon, and making it easier for coal companies to dump mining debris in nearby streams and valleys. The enactment of such rules has been the subject of a drumbeat of news reports in recent months. Though it can take years for a new administration to complete the process necessary to overturn a rule that has taken effect — allowing a president to tie his successor’s hands — Democrats will have far greater opportunity to rescind Mr. Bush’s late rules than has typically been the case in a period when the party in power changes. With Democratic control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, the political planets are aligned to make much of the Bush administration’s late handiwork unusually vulnerable....

Obama bumps up against egos in Congress

Obama was mindful of the week's perils and, in several cases, managed to resolve the conflicts. But others remain in play to varying degrees of tension. For one thing, even some Senate committees had to scramble to learn Obama's Cabinet choices. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee, led by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), never got official notice of two Cabinet nominees within its jurisdiction: Energy Secretary-nominee Steven Chu and Interior Secretary-nominee Ken Salazar. Rather, the staff of the committee pestered aides on the Obama transition team for clues as to whom the picks might be, ultimately ferreting out the names through their own efforts. "Did Bingaman receive a phone call from Obama, Biden or [transition co-chairman John] Podesta? No, he did not," a committee aide said. "We were very curious and wanted to keep our chairman informed. At our initiative, we pressed these [Obama staff] guys pretty hard. And through breaking news and leaks and our own undisclosed sources and through our own people working on the inside, we did know in advance."...Hat Tip Mathew Reichbach.

Colorado Senators propose land-protection bills

Colorado’s U.S. senators moved to protect cultural and environmental resources in the state last week, introducing a series of bills that would designate new wilderness in Rocky Mountain National Park and in the Dominguez Canyon area on the Uncompahgre Plateau. Closer to Summit County, one of the measures, the South Park National Heritage Act, would protect 19 working ranches along 30 miles of stream corridor and 17,000 acres of wetlands and agricultural lands in the headwaters of the South Platte River. Another measure, dubbed the Front Range Mountain Backdrop Act, would protect open spaces and natural resources between burgeoning cities and suburbs. “I have pushed for these important bills since my first days in the U.S. Senate,” Sen. Ken Salazar said in a press release. “They all reflect the input and support of local communities and will help protect the land and water that is fundamental to our way of life. I am hopeful we will have an opportunity to pass them in the coming days.” Salazar, a Democrat from the San Luis Valley, has been tabbed to be President-elect Barack Obama’s Interior secretary and likely will not shepherd the legislation through Congress....

High court to hear dispute over Alaska gold mine

A case before the Supreme Court on Monday could set a precedent for how mining waste is disposed of in streams, rivers, lakes and even wetlands. The justices are hearing arguments on whether an Alaska gold mine can dump metal waste into a nearby lake. A ruling in favor of the mining company could allow the Clean Water Act to be interpreted to allow mining waste to be dumped into waterways throughout the United States, said Tom Waldo, a lawyer with the environmental group Earthjustice. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit for waste disposal at the proposed Kensington mine north of Juneau in 2005. Under the plan, tailings - waste left after metals are extracted from ore - would be dumped into Lower Slate Lake. Environmentalists sued to halt the practice, saying it would kill fish. A federal appeals court blocked the permit, saying the dumping is barred by stringent Environmental Protection Agency requirements under the Clean Water Act of 1972. The EPA had agreed to a regulatory change in the case defining "fill" as "tailings or similar mining-related materials." The mine's owner, Coeur Alaska Inc., said tailings are inert sandy material, and that almost half of the tailings created by the mine would be recycled back into mine operations. The remaining tailings would be placed in a small unproductive lake, which the company called the best option for disposal....

Where the buffalo roam, so may brucellosis

Paying ranchers to let bison roam in areas typically used for cattle grazing — rather than killing the giant animals — could reduce the risk that the bison will transmit a bacterial disease to cows, ecologists say. Some 1,600 Yellowstone National Park bison were killed last winter to control the spread of brucellosis, a disease that causes miscarriages, weight loss and reduced milk production in cattle that inhale infected bison afterbirth or aborted fetuses. Brucellosis was widespread in cows in the 1800s, but cattle in most states are now free of the disease. No cases of bison-to-cattle transmission of brucellosis outside of captivity have ever been documented, according to the National Park Service, but they are periodically slaughtered as a precaution. Yellowstone's 4,000 bison typically stay in the Montana park's higher elevations, but they sometimes graze at lower levels near cattle-grazing areas if heavy snow or ice makes food scarce. Limited numbers are allowed to roam in those areas as part of the Interagency Bison Management Plan devised by government agencies including the National Park Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Montana Department of Livestock and the state's Fish Wildlife & Parks department. If too many bison leave the park and are found to have antibodies to brucellosis, they're killed....

Texas headed back into drought conditions

Longtime rancher Barbara Mazurek remembers watching her father fall into despair while trying to keep their Central Texas spread afloat during the state's worst drought in the 1950s. Now, looking across her parched ranch near the one where she grew up, those days don't seem so long ago. "It's beginning to look like that," the 72-year-old rancher said. "It was terrible. I remember that well." Despite hurricanes Dolly, Gustav and Ike soaking Texas in 2008, about 58 percent of the nation's second largest agricultural state is in some stage of drought, according to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor map, released Jan. 6. That's up from about 30 percent in mid-October. Parts of Central Texas and the Hill Country—about 4.2 percent of the state—are in exceptional drought, the most severe stage of dryness. Three months ago none of the state was that parched. Texas received an average of 24.6 inches of rain last year, the 31st driest year since 1884. That's 3.3 inches below the normal average of 27.9 inches. And conditions are expected to worsen before they improve....

Final U.S. Country-of-Origin Labeling Rule Draws Criticisms

Longtime supporters of U.S. regulations requiring meat and fresh produce to be labeled by country of origin say the government’s final rule on the matter doesn’t do enough to distinguish U.S. meat from competitors. The rule announced today allows U.S. meat produced in a domestic facility that also is processing imported animals to carry a multicountry designation. That blurs the distinction between U.S. and foreign meat, according to critics, especially ranchers in northern states who compete with Canadian cattle. They pushed for a U.S.-only label to spur consumer purchases. Country-of-origin labeling, also called COOL, “is supposed to let Americans know where their steaks come from, and to help American ranchers market their products,” said Senator Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, in an e-mailed statement. “It’s not supposed to be complicated or watered- down.” The labeling requirements will take effect March 16. They were originally passed as part of the 2002 farm bill and first took effect under an interim rule Sept. 30. Some lawmakers and consumer advocates have also criticized provisions in the rule that exempt mixed vegetables and many processed foods....

US beef producers hot over COOL flaws

For U.S. cattle producers, the concept of country-of-origin labeling seemed simple: Require all muscle cuts of beef to be labeled with their countries of origin, much like the labels affixed to televisions and furniture. That way, U.S. consumers could easily identify U.S. beef products, and buy them because of their reputation for safety and quality. As it turned out, it wasn’t that simple. Although country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for beef products was originally written into the 2002 Farm Bill, its implementation has been delayed six years because of continued arguments between ranchers and meat packers over how to interpret the law. Labeling for beef finally became “mandatory” last Sept. 30, and the Agriculture Department will begin enforcing its regulations beginning April 30. Yet the battle over country-of-origin labeling still rages. Bill Bullard, chief executive of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA), said he is “definitely looking forward to the full implementation” of the labeling regulations, as spelled out, once again, in the 2008 Farm Bill. But he added that the USDA, under pressure from politically powerful meat packers, has undermined the intentions of Congress by writing interim rules that restrict the scope and power of the country-of-origin labeling. For example, Bullard said the USDA’s interim final rule for the labeling, issued Aug. 1, excludes any beef products that are cooked, smoked or cured. “The USDA is engaged in mischief in the rule-writing process. We are prepared to go back to Congress if they don’t do it properly,” Bullard said. “We’d ask Congress to amend the law to remove any discretion on the part of the USDA.”....

Outgoing ag secretary defends new labeling rules

The outgoing U.S. secretary of agriculture defended new country of origin labeling requirements, predicted improving conditions for producers and expressed optimism about agriculture's future during a visit Monday to San Antonio. On Monday, the department released details of the final country of origin labeling regulations that came from the new farm bill. The Food & Water Watch repeated its criticism of the regulation, saying “a massive loophole” governing processed foods will allow large quantities of meat products, frozen vegetables and nuts to be sold without a label saying where they were produced. But Schafer said the regulation struck a good balance between the needs of farmers, retailers, food safety interests and others in the production chain. Despite concerns raised by growers in Canada and Mexico, the regulations will comply with world trade agreements and should be given a chance to work, the secretary said....

Hard Times: “Child of Steens Mountain”

Child of Steens Mountain By Eileen O’Keeffe McVicker with Barbara J. Scott Oregon State University Press, 160 pages Child of Steens Mountain is Eileen O’Keeffe McVicker’s fascinating chronicle of her depression-era childhood on Steens Mountain in southeast Oregon and her adolescence spent in the nearby town of Burns. Her Irish immigrant father was a sheep rancher, and her story has a lot to teach readers about not just surviving, but getting the most out of life during hard times. Written with homey eloquence, it reads like a collection of a grandmother’s most memorable stories, and Barbara J. Scott, McVicker’s writing partner, has structured it into a compelling coming-of-age narrative. The small house in which the family of five lived lacked indoor plumbing, necessitating daily treks of a half-mile roundtrip to fill buckets with water from a mountain spring. When McVicker starts high school, she and her younger brother are sent to live in a cabin in town by themselves while their parents continued their ranch work. The kids have to run the household, feed themselves, do their homework, and arrive on time to school every day with no adult help....

Pam Minick was already a legend, but award makes it official

Pam Minick has done so much for cowboy and cowgirl culture that it would be hard to fit them all in this space. Fortunately, she’s been given a title that will sum them all up pretty nicely. From now on, Minick will be officially known as a Cowtown Legend. She will receive the award this weekend as part of the Western Heritage Trail Drive Celebration, a free event put on by Score a Goal in the Classroom on Saturday though Monday in downtown Fort Worth. That wasn’t her first or only foray into acting. She was part of the stunt team for the 1991 movie Necessary Roughness and played a TV reporter on the 2001 movie Cowboy Up. Minick is still on screen as the host for RFD-TVs The American Rancher. Minick got these parts because she is one of the best cowgirls to ever work on an arena floor. She was a Nevada High School Rodeo Barrel Racing Champion and the 1982 Women’s World Champion Breakaway calf roper. She is also known as one of the best rodeo commentators in the business. For her contributions to rodeo culture as a competitor and for all her other successes, Minick has been given several titles and awards, including Miss Rodeo America and induction into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 2000. All of that had already made her a cowtown legend. But now we get to capitalize the title....

Monday, January 12, 2009

Wilderness bill moves forward in the Senate

In a rare Sunday session, the Senate advanced legislation that would set aside more than 2 million acres in nine states as wilderness. Majority Democrats assembled more than enough votes to overcome GOP stalling tactics in an early showdown for the new Congress. Republicans complained that Democrats did not allow amendments on the massive bill, which calls for the largest expansion of wilderness protection in 25 years. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other Democrats said the bill — a holdover from last year — was carefully written and included measures sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats. By a 66-12 vote, with only 59 needed to limit debate, lawmakers agreed to clear away procedural hurdles despite partisan wrangling that had threatened pledges by leaders to work cooperatively as the new Obama administration takes office. Senate approval is expected later this week. Supporters hope the House will follow suit....

Freezing out the facts

The deaths are a sad reminder that cold weather, not warm weather, is the main killer of people, especially the elderly. Last year England had 25,300 elderly die due to cold weather, that was up on the previous year when 23,740 died from the cold. A spokesman for the National Pensioners Conventions says: “Since 1997, we have lost over 260,000 pensioners during the winter months because of cold-related illnesses...” I remember in 2003 that a particularly unusual heat wave hit France while many physicians were on their annual holiday. That summer France saw 14,802 people die from the heat. That got reported in the US. Now we read that cold has killed over a quarter of a million elderly people in just the UK alone in the last decade. The French heat wave from 2003 has not yet been repeated so those 14,802 deaths were in one year only. The UK sees that number of deaths EVERY year from cold plust around another 10,000 more. Did you see that reported in the US media? This is a far more tragic set of statistics but one the media in the US doesn’t find “sexy”. It doesn’t have that “global warming” angle to it that the media loves so much....

Obama climate czar has socialist ties

Until last week, Carol M. Browner, President-elect Barack Obama's pick as global warming czar, was listed as one of 14 leaders of a socialist group's Commission for a Sustainable World Society, which calls for "global governance" and says rich countries must shrink their economies to address climate change. By Thursday, Mrs. Browner's name and biography had been removed from Socialist International's Web page, though a photo of her speaking June 30 to the group's congress in Greece was still available. Socialist International, an umbrella group for many of the world's social democratic political parties such as Britain's Labor Party, says it supports socialism and is harshly critical of U.S. policies. The group's Commission for a Sustainable World Society, the organization's action arm on climate change, says the developed world must reduce consumption and commit to binding and punitive limits on greenhouse gas emissions....

The Dangers of Disputing Warming Orthodoxy

Those of us who refuse to accept calls from proponents of global warming for drastic restrictions on production often confront objections like this: You skeptics, blinded by fanatical devotion to the free market, ignore evidence. True enough, you can trot out a few scientists who agree with you. But the overwhelming majority of climate scientists view man-made global warming as a great threat to the world. The course of inaction you urge on us threatens the earth with disaster. Christopher Horner's excellent book provides a convincing response to this all-too-frequent complaint. But how can it do so? Will not an "anti-global-warming" book of necessity consist of an account of scientists who dissent from the consensus? If so, will it not fall victim to the difficulty raised in our imagined objection? The book will pick a few favored experts to back up a preconceived political agenda. Horner strikes at the root of this objection: it rests on a false premise. Contrary to what our objection assumes, there is in fact no consensus of scientists behind global-warming alarmism....

Decree gives park water right

The last day of 2008 also brought the end of Colorado’s longest-running water-rights contest. On Dec. 31, state water court Judge Stephen Patrick in Montrose signed a decree finalizing a water right for the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The decision recognizes a year-round base flow of 300 cubic feet per second along with seasonal peak and shoulder flows, echoing the natural rise and fall of the river, depending on water availability. “This landmark ruling acknowledges that the Gunnison River offers recreational and natural resource benefits that deserve protection,” said Drew Peternell, director of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project. The park’s water right goes back to the 1933 establishment of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument. But that water right was never quantified, and in 2003 the state Department of Natural Resources signed a controversial agreement with the U.S. Department of Interior that would have abrogated the park’s water, in effect making it available for other appropriation, including Front Range development. That agreement was challenged by a coalition of conservation groups, and in 2006 a federal court upheld the challenge and set aside the 2003 agreement. Last June, the conservation groups along with state and federal agencies, ranchers and water officials hammered out an agreement that provides for guaranteed minimal flows through the park.....

Veterinarians oppose brucellosis 'hot-zone'

A federal government plan to carve out the Yellowstone area as an animal disease "hot-zone" faces opposition from some state veterinarians, who worry the move would lower cattle industry safeguards. Creation of the zone would recognize Yellowstone as the last remaining region in the country where the disease brucellosis lingers. That could ease sanctions faced by some cattle producers when infections occur. State veterinarians from across the country had backed the idea last year at an annual convention in North Carolina. But several have since said their support hinges on stepped-up efforts to curb the disease in Yellowstone's wildlife - something they say hasn't yet occurred. "You can't address the root problem without addressing the wildlife populations that are infected," said Texas State Veterinarian Bob Hillman. "The wildlife populations know no boundaries ... At some point you increase the risk that transmission is going to occur."....

Merle Haggard sues Nashville's Green Train

Country legend Merle Haggard today filed a lawsuit in Davidson County Chancery Court against the Nashville-based Green Train and its founder, Bob Wolf. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for the alleged unauthorized use of Haggard’s name and forged signature to raise contributions for the organization, which promotes environmental concerns through a national musical train tour. The lawsuit, which has sparked a state investigation, alleged that the defendants have engaged in dishonest and illegal behavior, using substantial amounts of money for personal purposes. Wolf denies the allegations. Haggard’s lawsuit states that the Country Music Hall of Famer acted because such an association wrongly suggests that Haggard is involved with and condones the group’s conduct. Todd Kelley, director of the Tenessee Secretary of State’s Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming, said the Green Train has not registered with the Secretary of State's office or filed for an exemption, so fundraising would be in violation of the Charitable Solicitations Act. He said he will launch an investigation. This state division only has the power to assess civil penalties and cannot seek criminal charges....

Alpine farmers harvest snow

Cash strapped Alpine farmers are raking in a fortune harvesting snow and selling it to desperate ski slopes. Despite a freezing winter, snowfall levels at lower altitudes are down and Austrian resorts have had to buy in trailerloads of the stuff from higher up the mountains. In Austria the biggest "snow harvesters" are the owners of the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrassen AG (GroAG), a 40-mile stretch of road 8,200 feet above sea level which is Europe's highest Alpine crossing. GroAG spokesman Dietmar Schondorfer said: "Even if it doesn't snow, every day we have tonnes of snow dumped on the road by the wind, all we have to do is drive back and forward to scoop it up....

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cowgirl Sass & Savvy

Unappreciated gifts come in all shapes

Julie Carter

In this season, just past the giving frenzy of December, there remain those things that were gifted with a subtle message.

The gift and message are not always appreciated with the same humorous sentiment with which they were given.

Ranch wives across the West are dutifully using their new Christmas double-bit axes to break ice on water troughs while the frozen January winds carry their muttered retorts to empty spaces.

Others are marveling over their new set of wire stretchers for fixing hot wire fences that came with an immediate demonstration on how to use them.

Then there is the new mop bucket, an upgrade complete with wheels.

One cowboy carefully counts the number of folks he plans to give a gift to and then purchases that same number of pairs of socks.

He buys equal amounts of small, medium and large and tells each recipient, "If they don't fit, trade them with someone."

Living dangerously or with a credible amount of stupidity - sometimes with cowboys it's hard to tell the difference - one such fellow gave his wife a new set of bathroom scales for Christmas.

Years later, she is still pointing out to him that perhaps he should use them himself as he has reached the appearance of someone about to give birth to twins.

Lex Graham, cartoonist and Western artist, offered his brand of humor with a drawing of a goofy-looking kid with his cap on sideways opening presents and his father talking to his mother saying "I got him that one - it's a job application."

Unappreciated gifts are not exclusive to Christmas. In fact, when cowboys are involved, the gifting continues in the form of joking fun throughout the year and paybacks become an ongoing effort working toward that moment that the recipient least expects it.

The United States Team Roping Championships (USTRC) has a 100,000-plus membership roster.

Their classification system handicaps ropers with a numbering system based on a collection of data on each one that creates a performance profile.

The object, always, is to provide everyone, regardless of age or ability, the fair and equal opportunity to compete.

Renumbering of ropers is an ongoing process and the ropers can find a new USTRC number card in their mailbox at any time.

Keeping in mind that the folks at the USTRC are cowboys and cowgirls first, the opportunity for a little practical joke didn't get by them.

Blonde Sally is ever alert to the possibility of get-evens from her friend and roper Jess.

It started a couple years ago when he gifted her with a bottle of Geritol.

A few months later, he worked some friends into the script and had them "secretly" reveal to Sally that Jess is a retired DEA agent and not unlikely to shoot somebody if necessary.

Dutiful in her job at the USTRC, Sally listed Jess' occupation as Disabled Elderly American, batting her eyelashes with an innocent "Isn't that what it stands for?" look.

Plotting for good get-evens is never ending and most recently, Jess opened his mail from the USTRC to see a new number card bumping him from a #4 to a #7.

While a bit of prestige comes with being such an elite roper as a #7, it also limits the roping options for the everyday amateur roper, and Jess was mortified at the possibility of never being welcome again at Mineral Wells.

He'd been set up. Sally called Jess' wife and had her retrieve the "real" numbering card that followed the joke card and requested a report of "reaction" to come.

When Jess called the USTRC office to plead his case, the crew, in fun, put him on hold, and indefinitely passed him from person to person.

Sally eventually assured him that contrary to his legendary view of himself, being a #1 in this case, was not the top of the list, but the very bottom.

Furthermore, giving him a #10 would have allowed him to think he was a real "hottie" among ropers, also not an option.

It was evident that the USTRC number was quickly becoming about ego, not about skill.

As a disclaimer, names have been changed to protect the guilty and the USTRC office staff and organization are completely blameless for any inference that the business is anything but credible. Find Julie through her website .

It’s The Pitts: I Miss My Boots

Due to neuropathic problems with my feet I haven’t been able to wear my cowboy boots for awhile and it’s driving me crazy. I, like many people, took my boots for granted and now I feel so ashamed. Here are the ten things I liked most about my boots.

#10 Boots hide your socks: When you wear boots it doesn’t matter what color your socks are, or if they have holes in them, because no one can see them. I happen to own exactly one pair of black socks and the rest are white cotton socks from JC Penny, some of them dating back to my high school days. And many of them are holier than a Catholic cemetery.

#9 They aren’t flip flops: Have you ever tried to buckle a pair of spurs on to a pair of moccasins, sandals or flip flops? It would be easier to perform brain surgery while trying to stay on the hurricane deck of a Brahma bull.

#8 They are a status symbol: When you wear cowboy boots other people associate you with a higher class of people, like truck drivers and cow buyers. Whereas, if you wear soft shoes the general public might mistake you for a lowly investment banker, CEO of a failed Fortune 500 company or the Treasury Secretary.

#7 Cowboy boots are sexy: Given the choice, I am told that a woman will pick a man wearing Lucchese cowboy boots every time over some namby-pamby dude wearing the most expensive Italian loafers or wing tips. When I wore cowboy boots I walked with a swagger and had self confidence. I felt more manly, free and brave knowing I could survive any attack by an ankle biting Dachshund. And if I died after being bit by a rattler or munched on by a grizzly at least I’d be a hero and die with my boots on.

#6 They hide your feet and you don’t have to polish them: Or at least I never did! I ask you, is there anything uglier in the world than a person’s feet? The popping veins, ugly ankles and a gnarly big toe that is shaded by that long, crooked appendage next to it. I swear, most people’s feet are as appealing to the eye as a crooked hay stack.

#5 These boots are made for walking (and riding): not running, bowling, mowing the lawn or any one of a number of things that your wife is always harping at you to do. I’ve always found that boots provide the perfect excuse: “I’m sorry, I can’t go the beach because my boots don’t go with my Speedo,” or, “I’d love to go bike riding with you but wouldn’t you be embarrassed being seen with someone wearing a pair of bicycle shorts, skin tight shirt, dorky looking helmet and Tony Llamas? I thought so.”

#4 They are made from leather: I’ve always made my living off the cattle business and I was always proud to wear cowboy boots because they were made from the leather of American cattle. Oh sure, some expensive pairs of dress shoes are made from Italian leather, but they weren’t made in America, like every pair of cowboy boots I own. When was the last time you bought a pair of tennis shoes or house slippers that weren’t made in China?

#3 Your feet stay clean: I hate to admit this but I’ve always had a foot fetish. I never liked getting my feet real dirty. Cowboy boots keep out the dirt, rocks, stickers and squishy stuff that gets between your toes when wearing Nikes or Adidas. Anyone who has ever walked into a feedlot pen while wearing sandals knows what I mean.

#2 Boots make me taller: I am five feet ten inches tall in my bare feet and six feet four in my cowboy boots. Or, at least I feel like it. I’ve got a much loftier view of myself and the world in my boots than I do in a pair of soft shoes or slippers.

And the number one reason I prefer cowboy boots to other forms of footwear...

#1 You don’t have to tie them: And that’s a very big deal amongst fellow members of my social, economic and age demographic who many times can’t bend over to tie their shoes or, in some cases, can’t even see their feet to begin with.

Recession? Not for PETA and friends

In 2008, there appeared to be an increase in well-funded animal-rights activities directed at animal agriculture. Based on their research, the Animal Agriculture Alliance understands why. In 2007, the latest reporting period available for review, charitable donations to animal-rights groups rose 11 percent, providing activist groups with more funds to develop wide-ranging activities such as California’s Proposition 2, undercover video operations, legislative initiatives and legal actions. Donations to the extremist People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and its subsidiaries increased 11 percent.

The alliance research used a variety of sources including independent examinations of some groups’ Internal Revenue Service Form 990, which the IRS requires non-profits to file, and the 2008 Animal People Watchdog Report on 150 Animal Charities — the newspaper Animal People’s annual review of animal-charity budgets. Donations to Humane Society of the United States, the largest animal-rights activist group in the United States, remained about the same as 2006 when including its subsidiary organizations, the Fund for Animals and Doris Day Animal League.

On the international front, the World Society for Protection of Animals, a relatively moderate animal-rights group, increased its donations 80 percent, displacing PETA as the third-largest activist group targeting modern animal agriculture. However, in terms of assets, PETA and FSAP combined still can claim being the third-largest animal-rights groups with assets of $34.5 million. Additionally, UK-based Compassion in World Farming raised revenues 60 percent.

A very significant increase in charitable donations to an animal-rights group was to Acton, Calif.-based Animal Acres which increased donations 443 percent. Animal Acres was founded by Lorrie Bauston, a co-founder of the East Coast animal-rights group Farm Sanctuary. For all who value animal agriculture, this group warrants watching.

Total donations to the most significant domestic and international animal-rights groups reached nearly $330 million in 2007. This level of funding will only improve the ability of animal-rights groups worldwide to continue their multi-dimensional efforts, attacking animal agriculture and other animal-use businesses. Below is a comparison of 2007 and 2006 fundraising for some of the most notable activist groups’ funding.

Though revenue for groups with animal-rights and anti-animal agriculture programs was up in the low double-digits, total assets expanded 31 percent, due to conservative spending by the groups. Animal-rights behemoth HSUS had assets increase about 5 percent, slightly less than the S&P 500 gain of 6 percent for the year. However, the group still retains enough assets to fund itself for over two years and four months at its 2007 budget level.

“Much of this increased funding is attributed to donors who are not fully aware of the anti-animal use campaigns of many of these groups,” Alliance Executive Vice President Kay Johnson Smith said. “It’s unfortunate many portray themselves as mainstream and working to improve animal care, yet their funding is primarily spent on campaigns to ban or restrict essential uses of animals such as being raised for food or for research to find cures for diseases. Even worse, many of their campaigns demand changes that are actually harmful to animals’ overall health and well-being.”

The alliance encourages all potential donors to thoroughly evaluate the true goals and campaigns of all animal-rights groups before making a contribution. American farmers and ranchers work hard every day to provide consumers with wholesome products from humanely raised animals. Be sure your tax-deductible contributions are not going to groups working to eliminate your right to choose those products.

Not So Fast the Electric Cars, Buried Study Says

Contrary to popular belief, all useful information does not emanate exclusively from the United States. Likewise, governments other than ours can, on occasion, be as guilty as ours in suppressing useful information that is inconvenient for governments, not to mention advocates of and special pleaders for suspicious causes.

Thus it was that while Americans were busy holidaying, the Financial Times (FT) reported that the government of French President Nicolas Sarkozy was busily burying an inconvenient study – analyzing options for cleaner and more efficient mass-market cars -- commissioned by that very same government.

The study was conducted by Jean Syrota, a former French energy industry regulator.

According to Paul Betts and Song Jung-a of FT, the study “concludes that there is not much future in the much vaunted development of all electric-powered cars. Instead, it suggests that the traditional combustion engine powered by petrol, diesel, ethanol or new biofuels still offers the most realistic prospect of developing cleaner vehicles. Carbon emissions and fuel consumption could be cut by 30-40 per cent simply by improving the performance and efficiency of traditional engines and limiting the top speed to about 170km/hr [105 mph]....

“Overall, the Syrota report says that adapting and improving conventional engines could enhance their efficiency by an average of 50 per cent. It also argues that new-generation hybrid cars combining conventional engines with electric propulsion could provide an interesting future alternative.

“By combining electric batteries with conventional fuel-driven engines, cars could run on clean electricity for short urban trips while switching over to fuel on motorways. This would resolve one of the biggest problems facing all electric cars – the need to install costly battery recharging infrastructures. The report warns that the overall cost of an all-electric car remains unviable at around double that of a conventional vehicle.”

A single, buried French report cannot and should not curtail the development of electric cars. But it should be a cautionary note to all governments (California among them) rushing to embrace, with taxpayer money, the automobile panacea that could in reality never amount to more than a niche product with negligible impact on energy or transportation needs and considerable impact on consumer and taxpayer cost.

Not a week after FT reported on the buried French study, other news reports indicated that 14 U.S. companies had formed a coalition to seek $1 billion in U.S. government funding to develop batteries for electric cars. (You may have read that all free-market principles having now being discredited, the government will be responsible for all venture capital.)

That’s your money, as the ad slogan says. Call and let us know how far it gets your electric car across Route 66.

Feds have plan if Mexico drug violence spills over

If Mexican drug violence spills across the U.S. border, Homeland Security officials say they have a contingency plan to assist border areas that includes bringing in the military. "It's a common sense extension of our continued work with our state, local, and tribal partners in securing the southwest border," DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said Friday. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who described the contingency plan in an interview with The New York Times this week, said he ordered specific plans to be drawn up this summer as violence in Mexico continued to mount. The plan includes federal homeland security agents helping local authorities and maybe even military assistance from the Department of Defense, possibly including aircraft, armored vehicles and special teams to go to areas overwhelmed with violence, authorities said....