Friday, May 03, 2013

Ongoing drought poses high fire risk, poor outlook for state’s crops

When it comes to chile, red is good. When it comes to drought outlook and wildfire risk maps of New Mexico, red is very bad indeed, especially for the state’s farmers. On recent maps, much of the state is colored deep red through at least midsummer, indicating the state faces higher than normal drought conditions and higher than average wildfire potential. The May and June wildfire risk maps show the north central part of the state, as well as large swaths of Central and Western New Mexico, more ripe than usual for a blaze, according to the Predictive Services arm of the National Interagency Coordination Center in Boise, Idaho. By July and August, the state’s wildfire potential is predicted to ease. Meanwhile, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor map released April 30, the portion of the state in exceptional drought — the highest level — more than quadrupled in the last week in April. Northern New Mexico parciantes — irrigators — are already feeling the pinch, expecting mostly dry acequias through the summer. Based on the latest information about soil moisture, stream flows and expected precipitation, the drought in the state is expected to only get worse through the summer. Color that a very dry brown on the drought prediction map. Stream flows on the upper and middle Rio Grande and on the upper Pecos were less than half of normal in April. Elephant Butte Irrigation District is receiving even less inflow than predicted. The district oversees water distributions to 8,500 Southern New Mexico farmers, who are looking at receiving less than 0.3 acre-feet of irrigation water per acre of farmland. “Normally, we would deliver 3 acre-feet per acre,” said district manager Gary Esslinger. “This year, we have enough for one irrigation, and that’s it.” Esslinger said until now, a few dry years in the 1950s were the drought of record for the project. “This drought, which started in 2003, may surpass that record,” he said...more

Deming Dust Bowl

Hyatt Ranch 1998

Hyatt Ranch 2013

Luna County has drought ratings of extreme and exception - the worst rating - according to an Office of the State Engineer release on Thursday. But depending on who you ask, there are varying outlooks on the severity of the ongoing drought conditions. Some view it within the context of nationwide droughts and others view it at the state or county level. But the experts all agree that the dry conditions are creating problems for some agriculture producers and ranchers. County Chairman Javier Diaz runs a well drilling company and says they are having to drill deeper wells than ever. For example, near the Deming Municipal Airport, he is having to drill about 240 feet down, where in year's past he could drill 90 or 100 feet to water...Their cattle largely depend on natural growth cycles of native vegetation for sustenance, but when drought conditions devastate plant growth, they have to rely more on hay or other nutrition supplements. And due to drought conditions across the country, the price of hay as skyrocketed, creating a vicious cycle for the livelihood of ranchers. "A lot of this range will never recover and never did from the 50s," Blandford said. "If you were to get the average rainfall, you're looking 10 to 15, even up to 20 years, for a recovery period for normal grazing and/or growing seasons." Without foliage on the ground, he explained, it is easier for the top soil to blow away. "We're losing a lot of our top soil nutrients and it's hard to get top soil back on a range condition because we can't amend it like on a farm," he added. George Chavez, State Resource Conservationist with the NRCS, says ranching is "bleak" statewide. It's bad all over and most ranches that we've been on are either totally destocked, or up to 25, 27 percent destocked," he said. "They've either gotten rid of, or are in the process of getting rid of their livestock." Adding to the woes of ranchers, he explained that the price of cattle right now is "pretty high" and that with supply and demand, the price is likely to remain high, meaning it will be even harder for ranchers to get back into business once destocked...more

Chama water shortfall likely

Climate change is likely to render a key part of the water supply for Santa Fe and Albuquerque increasingly unreliable in coming decades, according to a new analysis by federal scientists. The San Juan-Chama project, which imports water from the mountains of Colorado for use in New Mexico’s most populous cities, is likely to see shortfalls in one of every six years by the 2020s, and four out of every 10 years by the end of the century, according to researchers at Sandia National Laboratories and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The study comes as federal officials are warning that for the first time in the project’s 40-year history, the San Juan-Chama project may not deliver a full water supply in 2014. Whether the current shortage is a result of climate change or natural variability is uncertain, but this year’s shortfall could be “a harbinger of things to come,” the study’s authors wrote. The federal project diverts water from the mountains of southern Colorado through a series of tunnels beneath the Continental Divide. It allows New Mexico’s populated central valley to use some of New Mexico’s share of the waters of the Colorado River Basin. With river water and groundwater outstripped in recent decades by water demand in the Rio Grande Valley, the San Juan-Chama water has become an increasingly important backup supply, especially for Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The communities have separately spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build water treatment plants and distribution systems to deliver San Juan-Chama water to their customers. But both communities’ water agencies have already run into problems using the water, as drought and fire damage to Rio Grande watersheds have made it harder to use because of low river flows and ash-laden flows during the heat of summer, when it is needed most...more

Oil Drilling Technology Leaps, Clean Energy Lags

Technology created an energy revolution over the past decade — just not the one we expected. By now, cars were supposed to be running on fuel made from plant waste or algae — or powered by hydrogen or cheap batteries that burned nothing at all. Electricity would be generated with solar panels and wind turbines. When the sun didn't shine or the wind didn't blow, power would flow out of batteries the size of tractor-trailers. Fossil fuels? They were going to be expensive and scarce, relics of an earlier, dirtier age. But in the race to conquer energy technology, Old Energy is winning. Oil companies big and small have used technology to find a bounty of oil and natural gas so large that worries about running out have melted away. New imaging technologies let drillers find oil and gas trapped miles underground and undersea. Oil rigs "walk" from one drill site to the next. And engineers in Houston use remote-controlled equipment to drill for gas in Pennsylvania. The result is an abundance that has put the United States on track to become the world's largest producer of oil and gas in a few years. As domestic production as soared, oil imports have fallen to a 17-year low, the U.S. government reported Thursday. And the gushers aren't limited to Texas, North Dakota and the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Overseas, enormous reserves have been found in East and West Africa, Australia, South America and the Mediterranean. "Suddenly, out of nowhere, the world seems to be awash in hydrocarbons," says Michael Greenstone, an environmental economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The consequences are enormous. A looming energy crisis has turned into a boom. These additional fossil fuels may pose a more acute threat to the earth's climate. And for renewable energy sources, the sunny forecast of last decade has turned overcast...more

Governors refuse to return money to U.S. Forest Service

Gov. Matt Mead is refusing to return or repay more than $200,000 sought by the U.S.Forest Service because of federal sequester budget cuts. In an April 19 letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas L. Tidwell, Mead said $197,225 in Secure Rural Schools money was paid to 19 Wyoming counties on Jan. 16, well before the March 1 automatic budget cuts deadline. The counties spent the money on public schools, roads, conservation, emergency service and wildfire protection, Mead wrote. “I have yet to see a legal justification for the U.S. Forest Service to require the state or counties to pay back funds to which they were rightfully entitled and which have been lawfully distributed,” the letter said. Mead added that he would not refund an additional $21,807 that was paid to the state from a second federal fund. Alaska’s governor, Sean Parnell, also is refusing to pay or return money to the Forest Service, in his case more than $800,000. In his letter to Tidwell, Parnell, like Mead, questioned the agency’s authority to demand a refund or to reduce funding to offset the cost. Forest Service Chief Tidwell sent letters to 41 states, asking for the return of $17.9 million in timber payments used to pay for schools, roads, search and rescue operations in rural counties and conservation projects...more

The Forest Service battles placer mining with an obscure law

The Forest Service's ability to deny mining proposals is severely limited by the 1872 General Mining Law, a frontier remnant that prioritizes mining above all other land uses. But another, little-known law gives it a straightforward way to prevent mining in at least a few locations. The Mining Claims Rights Restoration Act of 1955 lets the federal government challenge placer mining in locations that it once reserved as potential hydropower sites. And on the North Fork, the law is giving the Forest Service the upper hand. "We wouldn't be doing any of this (contesting placer mining) if it were under the regular old 1872 mining law," says Hughes. The Department of Interior began reserving certain river-valley public lands for hydropower development in 1909, as dam building in the West was revving up. In these "power site withdrawals," mining was restricted. But in 1955, as dam-site exploration slowed, the Mining Claims Rights Restoration Act eased the restrictions, with a caveat: The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management could reject placer mining if it would "substantially interfere with other uses" like recreation. Although the law applies to more than 7 million acres of public land -- roughly three times the size of Yellowstone -- it hasn't come up often because placer mining techniques like panning are generally low-impact, and because relatively few claims fall in these sites...more

New Mexico group aims to protect Great Basin silverspot

A New Mexico environmental group is seeking to get the Great Basin silverspot butterfly, found in wet areas of the Southwest, listed as an endangered species. According to an Earth Day release from the nonprofit WildEarth Guardians, the organization is petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the butterfly under the Endangered Species Act. “This rare butterfly inhabits wet meadows, seepage areas and marshes in otherwise desert habitats of the Southwest,” the release states. “In the U.S., they are found in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, but have disappeared from many of their former sites.” According to a 2007 study prepared for the Forest Service by ecological consultant Gerald Selby, the Great Basin silverspot butterfly (Speyeria nokomis nokomis) has a “fairly restricted distribution” in the Four Corners region, including Northern New Mexico. The study discusses the butterfly’s “vulnerable” status and “very localized distribution in wet places associated with generally arid range.” “The primary threat to Great Basin silverspot butterflies is habitat loss,” the study states, saying hydrological modifications such as water diversion projects and draining wetlands, housing developments and mineral extraction have contributed to “habitat loss and fragmentation” in the Southwest, where the wetlands the butterflies require are already fragmented and scarce and butterfly colonies are “small and isolated.” According to the study, excessive livestock grazing threatens the butterflies, though moderate grazing may actually benefit them “by giving a competitive advantage to their larval foodplants” (bog violet). The study suggests identifying and protecting critical habitat areas, as well as working to eliminate invasive species and conducting other management activities...more

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Bigger, faster, earlier fires expected

One silver lining comes from the feeble clouds that still haven’t dropped any serious rain over New Mexico this year, according to a national forest fire outlook released Wednesday. The lack of moisture hasn’t propagated any “fine fuels” — grasses and plants that propel fires between trees and other flammable objects — since at least the 2012 fire season, according to the May wildland fire potential outlook created by the National Interagency Fire Center. Apart from the lack of fine fuel growth, the researchers said, the fuel that already exists is dead or dying due to lack of moisture. That means faster, bigger, earlier fires this season in the West. Other conditions in New Mexico are coalescing into a season of above-normal fire potential, at least through June. The monsoons are, at least in theory, going to bring some relief in July, but predicting the monsoon this year is proving difficult. Also, the forecasters said, weather fronts projected to pass north of New Mexico this season could whisk precipitation out of northern New Mexico and Arizona, potentially extending the fire season through August...more

Varroa mites, other factors linked to colony collapse

A new report analyzing honeybee losses outlines a host of factors behind the problem, but singles out the parasitic Varroa mite as the major culprit. According to a USDA report released May 2, mites have developed widespread resistance to the chemicals beekeepers use to control them within hives, and several new viruses have been found in U.S. bees. "Consensus is building that a complex set of stressors contribute to pollinator declines, and researchers are increasingly studying multiple factors of colony losses," the report says. Since 2006, 10 million beehives have been lost, with a replacement cost to beekeepers of $2 billion, according to the report. The Varroa mite, first found in the U.S. in 1987, is the major cause of increasing incidences of some bee viruses, according to USDA. The report, which will be used to update a federal action plan outlining bee-related priorities for policymakers to follow for the next five to 10 years, calls for breeding bees with increased genetic diversity to protect them against diseases...more

What is Mexico's national sport?

New Mexico Facing Worst Drought In The Nation

New Mexico is currently experiencing the worst drought in the country according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. In just the past week the percentage of New Mexico under extreme drought shot up from 4 percent to 25 percent. The U.S. Drought Monitor map shows the state blanketed in red. This is the third consecutive year of historic drought nationwide. In the southwest New Mexico and Texas have been hit the hardest. Average rainfall in New Mexico is down by more than half. For cattle ranchers that means high feed costs and reducing their herd size. Farmers across the region are switching to crops that require less water like cotton. Also the danger of wildfire will only intensify as high winds and hot temperatures combine in the coming weeks. link

The first zero-release April in Elephant Butte history

It seems I will never run out of ways of saying the current drought is historic. Here’s one more measure: this is the first year in the history of the US Bureau of Reclamation’s Rio Grande Project, nearly a century, that no water was released from Elephant Butte Reservoir during the month of April. Drought is a complicated thing, involving more than simply a year of less rain and snow. Depending on where you are and the role of water in your life, the severity of drought accumulates over multiple years. Warmer temperatures, which we’ve had in recent years, can add to the problem. And water demand is a crucial element. A drought that once would have been modest will have severe effects if you’ve come to depend on more water than in the past. And according to USGS gauge records, this is the first time since Elephant Butte operations began in 1916 that no water was released from the Butte in April...more

With upward housing mkt, 14 lumber mills reopen

The Plum Creek Timber mill in Evergreen is far removed from the housing recovery making headlines nationwide — but its fortunes are not. After a four-year shutdown, the Montana mill reopened in March thanks to rising lumber prices and a surge in home building. The mill, which makes studs used to frame houses, now employs 30, half of its former workforce. It carries a $1.5 million annual payroll that’ll roll through the local economy. “It’s a big deal to see this mill reopen,” says Tom Ray, Plum Creek vice president. The recovery of the housing market is benefiting many industries. But few are as directly tied to home building as wood products and timber. With single-family housing starts up 23 percent last year — and forecast to rise 26 percent this year — demand for lumber is soaring, and so are prices. That’s fueled a reopening of some sawmills and shift expansions in others. Logging employment rose 3.5 percent last year, the first increase in 12 years, government data shows. Housing is now growing faster than the overall economy. That’s helping companies from home improvement retailers such as Home Depot to truck makers and furniture sellers. But a full 70 percent of U.S. lumber demand is driven by housing, including new construction and remodeling. At the height of the housing boom in 2005, consumption of U.S. lumber hit almost 65 billion board feet. It fell to about half that at the bottom of the market in 2010. Last year, it climbed back to 37.5 billion and will likely pass 40 billion this year, FEA estimates...more

That's all good news, but...since 2008 146 lumber mills have closed, and of those 14 that have reopened, 5 are in the U.S., with the rest being in Canada.  

Electric-Car Maker Coda Files for Bankruptcy

Coda Holdings Inc., parent of the electric-car maker backed by billionaire Philip Falcone, filed for bankruptcy and will seek to sell its assets to a group led by a Fortress Investment Group LLC (FIG) unit for $25 million. The Los Angeles-based company, whose Coda Automotive unit also sought court protection, listed assets of as much as $50 million and debt of as much as $100 million today in the Chapter 11 filing in Wilmington, Delaware. The company said it intends to sell its assets within 45 days. Coda’s bankruptcy is at least the third by an electric vehicle-related company in just over a year. A123 Systems Inc. (AONEQ), a battery supplier to Fisker Automotive Inc., another California-based maker of electric cars, filed for bankruptcy in October. Ener1 Inc., also a maker of batteries for electric cars, entered bankruptcy in January 2012. While A123 and an Ener1 unit received U.S. government funds, Coda didn’t. The company applied for a $334 million loan in May 2010 and withdrew the request in April 2012...more

Magpul begins making ammunition magazines outside Colorado

Magpul Industries, the Erie-based ammunition magazine maker that pledged to leave Colorado after gun-control legislation was signed into law in March, is for the first time manufacturing its weapons accessories out of the state. The company revealed the news in a Facebook reply late Monday night to a customer who expressed frustration with the lack of information about where Magpul planned to move its operations. On Tuesday morning, the company provided a little more detail about what it was doing in a second reply to Wooldridge's query. It specifically referenced the manufacture of its sights and PMAG ammunition magazines, which, according to its website, can hold 10 to 30 rounds. "We have started making PMAGs outside CO for the first time ever," the posting reads. "The sights are made outside CO. We are actively moving forward with moving other items out." At the front door, Magpul has placed copies of a note reading: "We apologize but we are unable to sell product at this location." The note provides a web address where customers can order items. Magpul said on its Facebook page that it would reveal more about its operations, which could include information about a new headquarters location, after the National Rifle Association's annual meeting and exhibition in Houston this weekend. Magpul made headlines earlier this year when it said it would pull out of Colorado if a bill banning the sale of magazines with 15 rounds or more in the state became law. Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill, along with two other gun-control measures, into law March 20...more

The Jackie Robinson of bull riding

Today, in theaters all around the country, moviegoers will see the just released "42" ― the much-talked about and equally important biopic of the late Jackie Robinson. Robinson broke baseball's color barrier on April 15, 1947, when he made his Major League Baseball debut as a first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Hand-chosen by Branch Rickey, Robinson was the right man, at the right time. But there have been many men and women who played equally important roles in an effort to secure equal rights and equal treatment for all people regardless of their nationality and gender. Many of their stories are lesser known, but in no way are they less important. One such person is Myrtis Dightman, who is widely regarded as "the Jackie Robinson of bull riding." Dightman, who will turn 78 on May 7, grew up in Crockett, Texas, where he still lives today, and in 1966 he became the first black rodeo cowboy to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo as one of the Top 15 professional bull riders in the world. Dightman was not the first the black cowboy to compete, but he was the first to seriously contend for a world title. Despite the obstacles he qualified for the NFR seven times and finished third in the world standings in 1967 and again in 1968. His most notable career win came late in his career when, in 1972, he won the bull riding event at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo...more

Where’s the beef? Bloomberg launches vegetarian-only school lunch

Blocked by the courts from banning big sodas in the Big Apple, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration has zeroed in on another target in a quest for healthier lifestyles: Meat. Public School 244 in the Flushing section of New York’s Queens borough has gone vegan — the first public school in the nation to serve only vegetarian meals for breakfast and lunch. School heads — led by Chancellor Dennis Walcott, a self-claimed fitness guru — tout the healthier eating as pro-kid. Healthy kids make happy students, administrators said in the Daily News report. “I don’t eat fried foods. I don’t drink soda. I try not to have sweets too often,” Mr. Walcott said in the report. “And that’s what we want for our students … to make sure they eat healthy both at home and school.” The school’s switch to vegan comes amid a years-long drive from Mayor Bloomberg to improve health choices of city residents...more

I'm against waste, and Bloomberg is just a big ol' waste of skin.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

NM Rangeland still waiting for rain

Lane Grau of Grady has sold about 30 percent of his cattle over the last couple years because his land could not support grazing. Grau estimates that a third of his rangeland is dead turf due to the drought. According to the USDA Weekly Crop & Weather Report, Curry County is experiencing extreme drought, and a large portion of Roosevelt County is experiencing exceptional drought. Exceptional drought is the most severe condition on the U.S. Drought Monitor. The drought has not been kind to ranchers, whose cattle rely on rangeland grasses for sustenance. On April 15 the Crop & Weather Report made a note specifically to Curry County that read, "Rangelands needing rainfall soon to get growing season started on native grasses." The rainfall has not come. Grau isn't the only rancher who's had to sell a portion of his cattle. The most recent USDA report published on April 22 made another note specifically for Curry County that reads, "Cow-calf ranchers trying to hold a remnant of their herds, but many are selling a load or two a week, reducing grazing pressure of extremely dry and short pasture." "I have never seen it this bad," said the 51-year-old Grau. His rangeland is marked by large patches of gray stubble — dead turf. Most of his property is filled with yellow grasses, but even the yellow grass isn't plentiful. Green grass is scarce and mixed in with the yellow grasses. "Some of the grass has greened up from the snow," Grau said, "but it's withering now." Grau also farms organic winter wheat, but drought took its toll on the crop. He said his winter wheat is only 4-5 inches tall when it should be between 8-12 inches tall. It isn't thick and vibrant like should be either, Grau said. Because he can't sell his crops, Grau moved 24 head of cattle onto the winter wheat field for grazing last week. He said the crop will feed the cows for two to three weeks. Keith Duncan, a brush management and rangeland conditions specialist at the Artesia Science Center, said rangelands in the Curry-Roosevelt region need to receive about one and half times the normal rainfall amount for a couple of years to return to normal health...more

Drought devastates winter wheat crop

Grady farmer Steve Bailey said he hasn't harvested a winter wheat crop since 2010, and he won't be harvesting it this June either. According to a USDA Crop and Weather Report published Monday, Clovis has had 1.35 inches of precipitation in 2013. Normal accumulation during the same period is 2.85 inches. Combined that with back-to-back of half the normal precipitation in 2011 and 2012, and the lack of moisture has been devastating to Curry County's top cash crop — especially for dryland farmers. According to the USDA Crop Production Summary, 2010 was the last good year for growing winter wheat. Of the 470,000 acres of winter wheat planted the previous fall, 290,000 were harvested in 2010. The report shows a significant drop in the amount of winter wheat harvested in 2011 with 435,000 acres planted, and 95,000 acres harvested. In 2012, 450,000 acres were planted with 90,000 acres being harvested. Bailey said on an average year he'll get between 15 and 20 bushels per acre. He will be lucky to get 4.5 bushels per acre this year...more

Coburn: Interior Dept. should stop counting sheep and keep parks open

Senator Coburn
Interior Department officials dealing with sequestration could keep national parks open if they’d stop counting sheep and buying hybrid autos, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., told Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in a letter Tuesday. A video on the department’s YouTube channel last month warned that sequestration would shorten park hours, close hiking trails and campgrounds and reduce the season of some parks. The U.S. Geological Survey also warned it would be forced to shut down hundreds of flood warning gauges across the country. Meanwhile, Interior plans to keep spending on low-priority programs that could be cut to spare parks from sequestration, Coburn said. One program he singled out uses military drones to study pygmy rabbits in Idaho, observe elk in Washington and count sheep in Nevada. “While these studies may provide some interesting information about rabbits, sheep and other animals, cancelling or delaying them is not life threatening. Yet shutting down vital flood gauges, by the agency’s own admission, could be,” Coburn wrote. Conferences cost the department $7.8 million last year, another expense it could slash to keep parks open. But instead of sending employees to fewer conferences, department officials have developed ways to justify their expenses, Coburn said. Conferences aren’t the only travel expense Interior racks up each year. In fiscal 2009, the department spent $206 million on travel, including $63 million on airfare alone, according to Coburn. The Department of Interior’s Inspector General in 2011 reported the department could save up to $22 million in travel costs each year by using video teleconferencing equipment more often...more

Forest Service to require registration prior to entering wilderness area

Part of the Weminuche Wilderness Area is in Mineral County and the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) learned last Tuesday afternoon that visitor registration will be required there in 2014. Staff members from the United States Forest Service (USFS) told the commissioners that the change was due to ongoing research regarding usage of the area, which lies partially in the Rio Grande and San Juan national forests. The largest wilderness in Colorado, the Weminuche wilderness contains a significant portion of the extremely rugged San Juan Mountains. The area is known for exceptional scenic beauty and its landscapes are commonly found on postcards and calendars. In 2014, everyone going into the wilderness will have to register, USFS officials said, but at this point, the service is sharing information and asking for ideas. As time passes, that information will be in the offices and online. According to a press release dated April 1, the San Juan and Rio Grande National Forests will be implementing a mandatory permit for recreationists in the Weminuche Wilderness Area in 2014. Registration will consist of a short two-part form available online, at agency offices and major trailheads. The national forest managers cite environmental impacts such as “denuded vegetation, overcrowding and improper disposal of human waste” as factors in their decision. The national forest indicates that the information collected from the permits will be used by forest management to indicate areas of high use and to reduce the environmental impacts before the impacts reach a ‘tipping point.’...more

The next thing you know we'll have Smokey Bear types asking "papers please".  After all, the gov't forests would be a great place for terrorists to hide.  They could just hang out, grow a little marijuana and wait for the order from Habib.  That is, they could till they got burned to a crisp or attacked by hordes of bark beetles.

I don't understand this "improper disposal of human waste" stuff.  The Weminuche wilderness contains half a million acres.  Does that mean these backpackin', let's eat roots and shoots and hug your heifer types can't find a place to bury their crap?  Or does the Forest Service expect you to "dispose" of it off gov't property?

Personally, I think the Forest Service should clean it up.  We take crap off them all the time, so let them handle a little of ours.

And I'd wipe my ass with their registration papers.

Murkowski ‘irritated’ with U.S. Forest Service

...Murkowski is unhappy with the U.S. Forest Service, and doesn’t mince words when talking about it. “We’ve got the chief of the Forest Service who comes before the committee, he said what we need to do in these communities that were once timber dependent is we need to diversify,” she said. “Tourism is what it’s all about. And then, the Forest Service turns around and cuts the number of permits that the air taxi operators are able to offer tours – cut them from 25 percent from year prior?” The state’s senior senator in Washington, D.C., also is worried about obtaining Forest Service permits for regional projects, including hydroelectric dams and mines. She said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell needs to visit Southeast Alaska to understand why certain options, such as using helicopters for dam construction, aren’t practical. “I don’t think he has any concept of how you do this in a place like the Tongass,” she said. “You don’t call it Misty Fiords for nothing."...more

Don't mess with the Forest Service

by Char Miller

Earl Butz, Richard Nixon’s controversial secretary of Agriculture, was a profane man known for his hair-trigger temper and rough handling of subordinates. So when the chief of the Forest Service stood him up for a meeting, Butz unloaded in response: “There are four branches of government,” he reportedly snarled, “the executive, legislative, judicial and the Gawd-damn U.S. Forest Service.”

 Although current Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack might have worded it differently, he probably appreciates the sentiment now: He recently discovered how ornery the powerful Forest Service can be.

 At issue was one of Vilsack’s pet projects -- an attempt to reshape the image of the entire $132 billion Agriculture Department, which oversees everything from plant and animal inspections, ensuring food safety, and ending hunger to the health and productivity of national forests. Dubbed “One Brand,” this graphic facelift has engaged Agriculture Department officials overseeing the agency’s 20 departments for the past three years. One Brand’s goal has been to strip each organization of its historic symbols and insignias, replacing them with a generic logo symbolizing the mother ship – the Agriculture Department. All that would remain visually would be the individual agencies’ initials set in much smaller type centered beneath the Agriculture Department’s dominant initials.

The directive, however, unleashed a firestorm of protest. But the outrage did not come from within the affected agencies, for few staffers knew anything about the impending airbrushing. Instead, it was Forest Service retirees who learned -- to their considerable dismay -- that longtime agency logos were being phased out and replaced with “a standardized signature model to be adopted by all USDA agencies." That meant that the Forest Service’s distinctive Pine Tree shield –– worn by men and women for well for over a century –– would cease to exist.

US doubles oil reserve estimates at Bakken, Three Forks shale

An oil-rich region of the north-central United States holds more than twice the recoverable crude supplies estimated just five years ago, according to a government study that highlights the nation's march toward energy self-sufficiency. The Bakken Formation and Three Forks Formation, which spans parts of Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota together hold an estimated 7.4 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil, the U.S. Geological Survey study said, although energy experts said those estimates likely understate the region's full potential. That total is more than double the previous estimate, from 2008, and officials said it is a building block towards energy independence. "These world-class formations contain even more energy resource potential than previously understood, which is important information as we continue to reduce our nation's dependence on foreign sources of oil," Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in prepared remarks. Besides the crude reserves, the two formations hold a mean estimate of 6.7 trillion cubic feet of as-yet undiscovered natural gas and 530 million barrels of natural gas liquids that are within reach. In both cases those represent a nearly three-fold increase from the previous tally...more

Homeland Security under investigation for massive ammo buys

The Department of Homeland Security is under investigation for purchasing large stockpiles of ammunition, days before legislation was introduced that would restrict the amount a government agency can legally buy. The Government Accountability Office is now conducting the investigation into the alleged DHS purchases, which is “just getting underway,” GAO spokesman Chuck Young told US News & World Report. DHS officials have repeatedly denied stockpiling ammunition, but AP reports claim that the agency plans to buy more than 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition over the next four or five years, and has already bought 360,000 rounds of hollow point bullets and 1.5 billion rounds in 2012. DHS claims that it is buying ammo in bulk to save money, but experts have pointed out that hollow point bullets cost nearly twice as much as full metal jacket rounds. They also explode on impact for maximum damage, which has caused some Americans to wonder what purpose they would serve the DHS domestically. Purchasing 1.6 billion rounds of ammo would also give DHS the means to fight the equivalent of a 24-year Iraq War. Members of Congress say the DHS has repeatedly refused to tell them the purpose of procuring such large amounts of ammo. The new legislation, which was introduced in both the Senate and the House on Friday, would prevent government agencies from buying any more ammunition if its stockpiles are already larger than what they were in previous presidential administrations. Proponents of the bill suspect that government agencies may be making large ammunition purchases to keep the supplies out of the hands of Americans at a time when the administration has been trying to reduce gun violence...more

Texas judge blocks FBI's webcam-controlling malware

Pursuing criminal hacking groups is high on the FBI’s list of priorities—but the bureau is adopting some hacking techniques of its own. And a Texas judge isn’t happy about it. On Monday, a judge denied an FBI request to install a spy Trojan on a computer in an unknown location in order to track down a suspected fraudster. The order rejecting the request revealed that the FBI wanted to use the surveillance tool to covertly infiltrate the computer and take photographs of its user through his or her webcam. The plan also included recording Internet activity, user location, email contents, chat messaging logs, photographs, documents, and passwords. As the Wall Street Journal reported, Houston magistrate Judge Stephen Smith said that he could not approve the “extremely intrusive” tactic because the FBI did not know the location or identity of the suspect and could not guarantee the spy software would not end up targeting innocents. Smith wrote in a 13-page memorandum:

 What if the Target Computer is located in a public library, an Internet café, or a workplace accessible to others? What if the computer is used by family or friends uninvolved in the illegal scheme? What if the counterfeit email address is used for legitimate reasons by others unconnected to the criminal conspiracy? What if the email address is accessed by more than one computer, or by a cell phone and other digital devices? There may well be sufficient answers to these questions, but the Government’s application does not supply them. 

 Perhaps what is most interesting is the level of detail the memorandum discloses about the surveillance technology at the FBI’s disposal. Back in 2007, the bureau was revealed to be using a spyware that could infect computers and gather IP addresses, the last visited website address, and a range of other metadata. But the spy Trojan disclosed in the Houston documents is far more advanced, capable of copying content and turning a person’s webcam effectively into a surveillance camera. According to Smith:

 [T]he Government’s data extraction software will activate the Target Computer’s built-in-camera and snap photographs sufficient to identify the persons using the computer. The Government couches its description of this technique in terms of “photo monitoring,” as opposed to video surveillance, but this is a distinction without a difference. In between snapping photographs, the Government will have real time access to the camera’s video feed.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Drought worsens for chile farmers

Rio Grande at Hatch (John Fleck photo)
Drought conditions have gone “from bad to worse to worst,” southern New Mexico’s chile farmers were told Monday as they braced for what looks like the worst irrigation season on record in southern New Mexico. “We’re really hurting,” said Jerry Franzoy, a member of the Elephant Butte Irrigation District’s board of directors and a third-generation chile farmer in the state’s famed Hatch Valley. Valley farmers grow a range of crops, including onions, corn and wheat. But the valley’s fame comes from its chile. Some 35 area farmers gathered Monday morning at the Hatch Community Center for the annual irrigation district growers meeting. The key message: In the third consecutive year of extreme drought, deliveries of Rio Grande water for their crops will be the lowest in nearly a century of irrigation district operations. “This is a pretty dismal prospect,” said Phil King, hydrologist for the irrigation district. Spring runoff into Elephant Butte Reservoir, the source of the farmers’ water, could be as low as 5 percent of average, King said. The resulting available water supply is the lowest since Elephant Butte operations began in 1916, according to King. “This is new territory for all of us,” he told the farmers. The Hatch farmers are not alone. Ninety-seven percent of New Mexico was classified as being in “severe drought” or worse in the most recent weekly federal Drought Monitor. Communities in northeast New Mexico have been running short of water, while on the Pecos River a legal battle has broken out between two groups of farmers over who is entitled to scarce water. Across New Mexico, the past three years have been the warmest in more than a century of record-keeping and the driest since the 1950s...more

Colorado billboard displaying gun rights message and Native Americans stirring controversy

Two billboards with a Second Amendment message and an image of Native Americans is causing a bit of uproar and controversy in Colorado and generating buzz across the Internet. The billboards show three Native American Indians dressed in traditional Native American apparel with the words, “Turn in your arms. The government will take care of you.” The billboards are displayed at two different locations in Greeley, about 60 miles north of Denver.  The billboards are managed by Lamar Advertising in Denver. An account executive with the company, Matt Wells, told The Greeley Tribune that the billboard space was purchased by a group of local residents who wanted to remain anonymous. He did not share the amount for which it was purchased either.  Some residents are livid about the billboards, although Wells states that they have not received any complaints.   Irene Vernon, a Colorado State University professor and chairwoman of the ethnic studies department, as well as a Native American, expresses that the billboard doesn’t accurately portray the sufferings that the Native American people endured. According to The Denver Post, she said that it wasn’t as if the Native Americans just gave up their guns and were moved to reservations. Well, not exactly.  In addition, not all Native Americans find the message disturbing. In fact, some find that the message is spot on. From The Denver Post forum: “I am a Navajo Indian and I am not offended by the billboard. The billboard merely points out broken promises by the U.S. government. The U.S. broke all treaties with the Native people. All Americans need to wake up — the government will take care all of us, just like they took care Native people. It all started by taking away a people’s ability to defend themselves.”...more

WWW opened to all 20 years ago today; world's first website restored

It was 20 years ago today that the World Wide Web was opened to all, setting off one of the biggest transformations in technology and altering the way we communicate. To celebrate the occasion, the creator has brought the world's first website back to life. Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist, launched the world's first website in the early 1990s. The site only included text and instructions on how to use the World Wide Web, an Internet network that was designed for universities to share research. On April 30, 1993, the website was updated with a statement announcing that the source code for the World Wide Web would be available for everyone, turning "www" into a ubiquitous line for accessing the Internet...more

Landscape Conservation Cooperatives

John Stewart recently wrote:

Along with "blueways", another Dept of Interior program is flying under the radar. Check
 Turns out, I am the on the Steering Committee for the Desert Landscape Conservation Cooperative. Interestingly, I am the only link on any LCC for recreation. And, there is limited local government participation in any of the LCCs.
 However, there is a heavy influence from the enviro NGO organizations.
 While there is not an overt nexus between the LCCs and water rights, the LCCs are focused on water issues and critical habitat throughout their influence regions. ------------------

John Stewart Managing Editor,
MUIRNet - Multiple Use Information Resource Network BLOG -
Follow me on; username: muirnet
Board of Directors - BlueRibbon Coalition -

I had not heard of LCCs so I went to the DOI website and found the following:

Secretarial Order No. 3289 establishes Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs), a network of public-private partnerships that provide shared science to ensure the sustainability of America's land, water, wildlife and cultural resources.

Protecting the nation’s natural and cultural resources and landscapes is essential to sustaining our quality of life and economy. Native fish and wildlife species depend on healthy rivers, streams, wetlands, forests, grasslands and coastal areas in order to thrive. Managing these natural and cultural resources and landscapes, however, has become increasingly complex. Land use changes and impacts such as drought, wildfire, habitat fragmentation, contaminants, pollution, invasive species, disease and a rapidly changing climate can threaten human populations as well as native species and their habitats.

 Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) recognize that these challenges transcend political and jurisdictional boundaries and require a more networked approach to conservation—holistic, collaborative, adaptive and grounded in science to ensure the sustainability of America's land, water, wildlife and cultural resources.

 As a collaborative, LCCs seek to identify best practices, connect efforts, identify gaps, and avoid duplication through improved conservation planning and design. Partner agencies and organizations coordinate with each other while working within their existing authorities and jurisdictions. The 22 LCCs collectively form a national network of land, water, wildlife, and cultural resource managers, scientists, and interested public and private organizations—within the U.S. and across our international borders—that share a common need for scientific information and interest in conservation.

  • Download Secretarial Order 3289

    Congressman hits Forest Service on water rights

    U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton and two witnesses at a water-rights hearing Thursday bashed the U.S. Forest Service for what they characterized as the agency’s attempts to take away private water rights. Tipton questioned Geraldine Link, director of public policy for the National Ski Areas Association, and Randy Parker, Utah Farm Bureau Federation’s chief executive officer, about ski-area water rights in a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power hearing. The hearing, “Federal Impediments to Water Rights, Job Creation and Recreation: A Local Perspective,” did not include any witnesses from the U.S. Forest Service. The Forest Service is again trying to tie water rights to the land despite a previous loss in court. Last December, a judge ruled that the agency did not properly seek public input in issuing a directive in 2011. The directive would have forbidden ski areas from selling their water rights to anyone other than the next operator of the ski area. “The (U.S. Forest Service) justifies this policy as necessary in order to ensure that these water rights are not improperly sold off and used for other purposes, and to ensure that water is available for snowmaking and grazing,” Tipton’s office said in a news release. “Have ski-area operators been selling water downstream for more profitable uses?” Tipton asked the witnesses. No, Link said, calling the situation a “made-up problem.” Gary Derck, Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort’s CEO, submitted written testimony for the hearing. “We believe the (U.S. Forest Service) is using their federal position to try to usurp state water law and take private water rights/supplies,” Derck wrote. “In the case of (Durango Mountain Resort), the agency’s actions have placed our resort/community in extreme jeopardy and are sequentially eliminating the critical water resources necessary to operate our resort.” In Colorado, state law says water rights are a property right. Owners can use or sell the rights as they please, provided a water court approves of the water’s uses...more

    New Interior Chief Savors a Steep Learning Curve

    Sally Jewell bounded up a granite boulder near the peak of Old Rag Mountain and turned back to her hiking companion, who was staring up at the smooth rock that offered no obvious hand- or footholds. “Trust your feet,” she said. That mountaineer’s mantra has carried Ms. Jewell through a lifetime of challenging ascents and a varied career as petroleum engineer, banker and retail executive. On April 12, she was sworn in as the 51st secretary of the interior. Ms. Jewell, 57, who has climbed Mount Rainier seven times along with some of the world’s highest peaks, said that she is happiest on the steepest part of the learning curve. A woman of untamed energy, competitiveness and confidence in the boardroom and on a mountain trail, she is undertaking perhaps the greatest challenge of her life as she assumes command of a huge bureaucracy in a city that festers barely above sea level. Like many successful corporate titans who have come to Washington before her, she will learn that running a business or a university board is not necessarily adequate training for a top government post. She noted during a five-hour round-trip hike of Old Rag, for example, that no rational business executive would cut an operating budget across the board, as the federal budget process known as the sequester requires. And she said that no matter how determined she is to spend her time promoting outdoor recreation or increasing renewable energy production, events can rudely intrude. Ms. Jewell underwent weeks of grueling briefings for what turned out to be a relatively mild Senate confirmation hearing. The toughest questions from Republicans concerned her role on the board of the National Parks Conservation Association, a mainly volunteer group that advocates for parks and park employees and that has sometimes sued the federal government. Before taking office, she spent scores of hours with senior political and career employees in a small conference room at the department headquarters in Foggy Bottom, learning the physics of oil spill containment gear, the habitat of the Gunnison sage-grouse and the politics of an obscure road-building project through the Izembek Wilderness of Alaska. She likened the experience to drinking from a fire hose...more

    Ariz. measure would preserve BLM acres

    The Pierpoints have joined a wide-ranging coalition of political groups, including Luke Air Force Base advocates, environmentalists and developers, to support a bill that would preserve more than 950,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management property, mostly in western Maricopa County. The Arizona Sonoran Desert Heritage Act of 2013 was introduced by Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Tucson on Friday, said Adam Sarvana, a spokesman for Grijalva's office. Military supporters say the bill would protect open space beneath critical military flight corridors between Luke and the Barry M. Goldwater Range. Environmentalists want the natural resources to be protected. And developers who support the proposal see economic benefit in preserving the past and wild areas as metro Phoenix grows. Among the supporters are Fighter Country Partnership, a non-profit that supports Luke Air Force Base; the Sierra Club; and developers DMB Associates and John F. Long Properties. The proposed law is also backed by West Valley mayors. The bill would add three levels of protection to the land: National Conservation Areas, Special Management Areas and Wilderness. The bill creates about 682,400 acres of National Conservation Areas, areas that have scientific, cultural, ecological, historical and recreational value. The bill would permit vehicles on designated roads and trails in conservation areas, but no additional roads could be built unless they're necessary for public safety or protecting resources. In some areas, such as Red Rock Canyon, off-roaders have improved trails. It would add about 144,000 acres in two federal Special Management Areas. This type of public land is managed to protect scenic or recreation areas and wildlife. The Sentinel Plain Special Management Area would ensure wildlife can roam between the Goldwater Range and Gila Bend National Conservation Area. The Rainbow Valley Special Management Area would allow wildlife to move between the Sierra Estrellas and the Sonoran Desert National Monument. The bill would also add 291,000 acres of new Wilderness, the highest level of federal protection. Wilderness ensures long-term protection of natural landscapes, and it protects wildlife habitat. Wilderness areas are managed to retain their primitive and wild characteristics, so vehicles are prohibited...more

    Who is Grijalva trying to fool?  He knows no legislation with 291,000 acres of new Wilderness in southern Arizona will pass during this session of Congress.  If he was really trying to provide a buffer or protection for Luke AFB he would have introduced a separate bill to accomplish that, as Senator Heinrich has done in NM.

    Coalition: States need mineral royalties

    Wyoming House Speaker Tom Lubnau has signed his name to a letter from a coalition representing lawmakers in 11 states that opposes the federal government’s withholding of some mineral royalties to energy-producing states as a result of federal budget cuts. “The Interior Department’s actions show a continued disregard of state’s rights and are designed only to maximize the negative impact on the American public by placing additional financial burdens on states,” the April 17 letter states. “The federal government is once again abdicating their responsibility and expecting states to bail them out.” The letter, which went to two congressional committees and an office in the Department of Interior, is from the Energy Producing States Coalition, of which Lubnau is immediate past chairman. “The solution is political,” Lubnau said. “And so as many political allies as we can gain, the more effective our political approach can be.” In addition to Wyoming, members of the coalition are from Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. Members are like-minded legislators and it’s the legislators who are members, not the states they represent, said Roger Barrus, the coalition’s chairman and a member of the Utah House of Representatives...more

    Feds release wolf pairs in NM, Arizona

    The wild population of endangered Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest is getting a boost. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Arizona Game and Fish Department have partnered to release a pair of wolves in the Apache National Forest. The male and female wolves were transported this week from a wildlife refuge in New Mexico to a holding pen in the Alpine Ranger District. Another pair of wolves is being released in southwestern New Mexico. Federal officials say the wolves were packed on the backs of specially trained mules into the Gila Wilderness on Saturday so they could be placed into a temporary holding pen. The wolves will be able to chew through the pen to leave the site. There are at least 75 Mexican gray wolves in the wild in the two states. AP

    Mexican gray wolf would stay protected

    The Mexican gray wolf would be listed as an endangered subspecies and would continue receiving federal protection even as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would lift such protections for gray wolves in the rest of the country, according to published reports about the draft rules. If adopted, the draft rules would represent a policy reversal for the Mexican gray wolf and would provide additional pressure on Fish and Wildlife to complete a fresh recovery plan for the lobo. Fish and Wildlife announced in October it would not provide the Mexican gray wolf with a separate listing as a subspecies. The agency said a separate listing was unnecessary because the lobo was already protected as an endangered species and that a new recovery plan was already being developed. Environmentalists say the draft rules, first reported by the Los Angeles Times and confirmed by The Associated Press, represent a setback for wolves in the rest of the country because management of wolf populations would be left up to the states. Wolves that spread into eastern Washington, Oregon or Colorado, for instance, would not be protected as endangered species under the proposed rule. Craig Miller, Southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife, welcomed the proposal to relist Mexican gray wolves as an endangered subspecies because they “need all the protection they can get,” but said stripping federal protections for other gray wolves could increase the danger to lobos that disperse from the Southwest. That’s because it will be difficult to tell the difference between Mexican gray wolves and other, unprotected gray wolves. “The Service’s actions make protection of Mexican gray wolves much more difficult should they expand into Utah or Colorado and make it unlikely that any wolves will be able to naturally re-establish a presence in the Southern Rockies, a region with excellent suitable habitat where wolves were once found,” Miller said...more

    Feds Confirm Employee Killed Mexican Gray Wolf

    Officials have confirmed that an animal killed in January in southwestern New Mexico by a federal employee was a female Mexican gray wolf. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made the announcement Wednesday, saying genetic tests confirmed it was a small, uncollared wolf. In January, an employee with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services shot what officials described only as a "canine." The employee reported the shooting because the animal looked like a Mexican wolf after closer inspection. Federal officials have been tightlipped about the case. They have not said what prompted the employee to shoot the animal. The case has been submitted to the U.S. Attorney's Office for review. The Fish and Wildlife Service says tests are still under way to help determine the wolf's pack association. AP

    Uncertainties remain as FAA integrates drones into American skies

    Thousands of unmanned aircraft systems – commonly known as drones – could be buzzing around in U.S. airspace by 2015 because of a law passed last year, aiding in police investigations, scientific research and border control, but also raising safety and privacy concerns among some lawmakers and advocacy groups. Already, drones are in use to count sea lions in Alaska, to conduct weather and environmental research and to monitor drug trafficking across our borders. In fact, 327 drones already have been licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly over U.S. soil. But the FAA expects that number to increase to 30,000 by 2020, fueling what could become a $90 billion industry. The 2012 law, called the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, contains a seven-page provision – known as the Drone Act – requiring the FAA to fully integrate unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System by September 2015. Additionally, the Drone Act allows law enforcement agencies, including local police forces, to buy and use unmanned aircraft for evidence gathering and surveillance. Leonard Montgomery, a police captain in North Little Rock, Ark., said his department hopes to use its drones for surveillance of high-crime neighborhoods during drug investigations and other police work. Mario Mairena, spokesman for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, which lobbies on behalf of the drone industry, said drones can provide assistance to first responders in search and rescue missions and during or after natural or manmade disasters, and they also can aid in scientific research. Unmanned aircraft can be equipped with infrared cameras, allowing responders to identify the heat signature of a body underneath a bank of snow on a mountain or under a pile of rubble in a disaster area. Researchers are also using drones. For example, the University of Alaska-Fairbanks uses them to monitor sea lions, because the animals retreat under water when approached by larger and louder manned craft. Mairena also outlined potential commercial uses for unmanned aircraft. Farmers, he said, want to use unmanned aircraft for crop dusting and disease detection, while oil and gas companies want to use drones to inspect rigs and pipelines. Hollywood, too, wants to get its hands on unmanned aircraft to capture innovative camera shots and save money on manned aircraft costs. Unmanned aircraft already are finding homes in local police departments and other law enforcement agencies. The specific provision in the Drone Act authorizing law enforcement and other government-funded entities to use drones now, while the FAA creates final regulations for commercial use, mandates aircraft must weigh 25 pounds or less, cannot be operated higher than 400 feet above the ground or near airports and must remain within naked eyesight of the operator. Right now, law enforcement can use drones to survey anything that is visible to the human eye without a warrant, said Amie Stepanovich, counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center...more

    Push in Congress to protect privacy amid growth in drone use

    Some privacy advocates fear that the government could use drones for unlawful surveillance on U.S. soil. The FAA has not looked much into privacy issues – the agency has said it is ill-equipped to do so – and no current laws require federal agencies to consider privacy while regulating drones. A few members of Congress want to fill the void. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, introduced the Preserving American Privacy Act in February. The bill would ban the government and law enforcement agencies from using drones to conduct surveillance on individuals or their property without obtaining a warrant, and evidence gathered without a court order would be impermissible at trials. There are exceptions for emergencies, when consent is given and when the drone is within 25 miles of the U.S. border, where many are already stationed. Another key provision explicitly bans outfitting domestic drones with firearms or other lethal weapons. There is also a built-in mechanism for Justice Department oversight. “Legitimate uses by government and private citizens do occur, but a nosy neighbor or a Big Brother government does not have the right to look into a window without legitimate cause or, in the case of the government, probable cause,” Poe said on the House floor. Privacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Privacy Information Center have supported these efforts, which they say are overdue. But there is strong opposition from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the drone lobby, which claims the bills are introduced under the guise of privacy and are designed instead to debilitate their market. It spent $60,000 lobbying against the Poe bill in 2012. As U.S. involvement in overseas wars wind down, defense and aerospace corporations are shifting focus to domestic markets. Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, whose influence with Congress is established because of their role as defense contractors, are among the companies that comprise the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. The association represents the industry at congressional hearings, holds conferences and promotes commercial and government uses of drones – a term the industry never uses. The trade group works closely with the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, formed in 2009 by Reps. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., and Henry Cuellar, D-Texas. A few dozen House members have since joined, and their stated mission is to support the industry and “rapidly develop and deploy” more systems in the United States...more

    Industry looks to use drones for commercial purposes

    The next time you feel the urge for fresh Mexican food, just look up. A taco-toting drone may be circling in the sky. Researchers at the Darwin Aerospace laboratory in San Francisco have designed the Burrito Bomber, the world’s first airborne Mexican food delivery system, which would allow customers to have food parachuted right to their doorstep. As fun as they may be to think about, such ideas aren’t likely to be realized anytime soon. The Federal Aviation Administration likely won’t decide until 2015 on the regulations to integrate burrito-bearing drones into urban airspace. But the potential of a booming domestic drone industry for commercial purposes has entrepreneurs seeing dollar signs. A far stretch from the military strikes that most people typically associate with drones, developers have begun hatching a litany of ideas for unmanned aerial systems in the commercial sphere, controlled by civilians in American skies. From conservation efforts and crop monitoring to Hollywood film-making and, of course, food delivery, experts anticipate the value of the commercial drone industry, already worth almost $14 billion per year, to skyrocket to more than $82 billion by 2025, according to Mario Mairena, government relations manager for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, which lobbies on behalf of the drone industry. “And that’s a conservative estimate,” Mairena said. “We’re excited about where the industry is at right now.” Although opponents decry the Big Brother-like intrusion of thousands of remote cameras roaming the sky, Mairena said the industry could create as many as 70,000 jobs in the first three years after the Federal Aviation Administration releases guidelines to integrate unmanned systems into national airspace, scheduled for 2015. A recent Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International report claims that for every year commercial drone integration into the national airspace is delayed, more than $10 billion in economic potential is lost. Chris Anderson, co-founder of drone manufacturer 3D Robotics, said he expects the commercial drone market to boom once it gets clearance to enter the skies. “Maybe the most exciting thing is that we don’t yet know all the ways this technology is going to mature,” he said. One of the most promising areas for growth in unmanned systems could be in agriculture, according to Anderson. “It’s really reshaping the way we think about farming, among other things,” Anderson said. Using camera-equipped drones to monitor crops could save money, he said, with $300 UAVs to check for disease and irrigation levels replacing $1,000-per-hour manned aircraft flyovers. “It makes American farmers that much more competitive,” he said...more

    Since Chris Anderson and his company are so fond of drones in ag, I'm sure they won't mind when OSHA, EPA and the IRS use drones to inspect and monitor their manufacturing facility.

    Immigration plan would add drones, already under scrutiny, to border security

    The bipartisan immigration proposal filed this month in the Senate would create a 24/7 surveillance system at U.S. borders that would rely significantly on increased use of drones. Under the bill, no immigrant with provisional legal status could apply for a green card if the Department of Homeland Security hasn’t effectively secured the border – a benchmark that border hawks want tied to citizenship. And to do that, the bill recommends increasing the use of unmanned aircraft, remotely controlled by crews miles away and tasked with what U.S. Customs and Border Protection has characterized as scouting out “potential terrorist and illegal cross-border missions.” Currently, the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection – an arm of the Department of Homeland Security that includes the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division and the U.S. Border Patrol – operates 10 unarmed drones. The primary role of drones, agency officials say, is to monitor areas where on-the-ground sensors detect the movement of large animals – or people. In these situations, deploying a helicopter or light aircraft could be a waste of manpower if the movement turned out to be from non-threats like cattle. But the inclusion of drones as a part of immigration reform has drawn harsh criticism – especially because of the program’s high costs and questionable effectiveness at the border. Some say the call for more unmanned aerial vehicles in the immigration proposal amounts to nothing more than political posturing – to look tough on border security while offsetting conservative criticism over offering a path to citizenship to the 11 million living in the United States illegally. “There’s been no evidence that (drones) have protected the homeland,” said Tom Barry, director of the TransBorder Project at the Center for International Policy, a liberal Washington think tank. “It’s just a political measure to show border security credentials of the immigration reform.” For drone use and maintenance operations between 2006 and 2011, Customs and Border Protection spent $55.3 million, according to a May report by the U.S. Homeland Security Department’s inspector general. The Homeland Security Department’s inspector general has recommended that the agency stop buying drones, saying the unmanned aircrafts are costly to maintain and have flown only a fraction of their expected flight times, from bases in Arizona, Texas, Florida and North Dakota. “CBP has not adequately planned to fund unmanned aircraft-related equipment,” such as ground-control stations, ground-support equipment, cameras and navigation systems, the inspector general report said. “As a result of CBP’s insufficient funding approach, future UAS (unmanned aerial systems) missions may have to be curtailed.” Customs and Border Protection’s drone system was responsible for 143 out of 365,000 apprehensions last year on the border, less than .04 percent of those attempting to enter America illegally, an agency report for fiscal 2012 found. The drones seized 66,000 pounds of drugs – less than 3 percent of all drugs identified by border agents...more

    Monday, April 29, 2013

    Rancher takes precautions after wolves kill nearly 20 of his sheep

    Rancher Bill Hoppe nails wire to his wooden fence. He wants to move his sheep closer to the house so he can keep an eye on them at night. He hopes the wire will keep wolves out, to avoid a what he awoke to Tuesday morning. "First thing I saw was a ewe standing there, bleeding from her neck. I could see a bunch of sheep were missing, so I walked to the riverbank and all I could see were dead sheep," recalls Hoppe. Hoppe says the final count is five ewes and 14 lambs -- his grandchildren's lambs. He says that's the worst part. "The grandkids, those were their sheep, their lambs. They had a lot of them named, could catch them," explains Hoppe. Hoppe tells me he's stayed up the past two nights, keeping watch, waiting for the wolves to return. Hoppe says he now has a permit to shoot the two wolves on sight if they return to his property and he tells NBC Montana he plans to shoot any wolves that come onto his land and threaten his livestock. Hoppe's a fifth-generation Montanan and has lived in the Paradise Valley his whole life. He says he's never had a problem with wolves attacking his livestock until now. Hoppe says times have changed in the last 25 years and blames mismanagement and special interest groups that get in the way of controlling the population...more  

    And so what do the enviros say?  

    "Anyone in the sheep business knows it's not a good place to raise sheep," says Alliance for the Wild Rockies' Steve Kelly. Kelly argues there are better ways and better places to manage his livestock.

    The Hoppe family has been around for five generations, but this guy comes hippity skipping in with the the audacity to tell him how to run his business and doesn't give a twit about the grandkid's sheep.  Somebody needs to tell Kelly the Paradise Valley is "not a good place to raise" little enviros.  There are "better places", although I can't think of one right now. 

    Is this what Kelly would tell the people of Boston?  Just clear out and let the radical Chechens have the run of the place? 

    The Two Faces of Sally Jewell

    U.S. Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell went green with one of her first formal moves in the White House last week when she announced her department would be the first in line for new hybrid vehicles for its fleet. The former chief executive at outdoor retailer Recreational Equipment Inc. said doing so made good business sense in a way that also advanced a federal low-carbon footprint. When President Obama introduced her to the nation in February, he said she knew there was no contradiction between economic and environmental action. Her move on hybrids adds to that sentiment. The next day, however, she announced plans for a lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico, showing she has both faces needed for Obama's "all-of-the-above" energy policy. Jewell last week said the Interior Department would partner with the General Services Administration's vehicle initiative by replacing as many as 300 gasoline- and alternative-fueled vehicles with hybrids.  That represents about 30 percent of the department's fleet and is "simply a good business decision that will benefit not only our bottom line, but reduce our carbon emissions as well," she said...more

    Editorial: Huffman wants to make sure Pt. Reyes promises to ranchers are kept

    REP. JARED HUFFMAN is absolutely right to make sure that a promise made to ranchers in the Point Reyes National Seashore doesn't fall through the political cracks. In November, when Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar announced the end of the oyster farm's longstanding park lease, he also promised to provide the patchwork of ranches in the park greater long-term security. Salazar is retiring and his successors don't have to keep his promise. Huffman needs to use his office to make sure that Salazar's promise becomes policy, a legal commitment rather than a political pledge. The ranches deserve that security. Many are worried that if the Lunny family's popular oyster operation is forced to close, the ranches will be next. There have been environmental activists who have said that's their plan. Huffman knows the importance of the park's ranches to the economic viability of Marin agricultural industry. Those ranches make up about one-fourth of Marin's agricultural production. Huffman, who has carefully steered clear of the oyster controversy, is stepping up to the plate for the ranchers. He says they should be assured that their longstanding leases are strengthened to "maintain a viable agricultural community in West Marin in perpetuity." When the park was created, the National Park Service bought the historic ranches with the promise to lease the land and agricultural rights back to the ranchers. It has done that, but ranchers say they need longer-term leases and fewer restrictions. Longer leases are critical to ranchers' plans to invest. That's what Huffman hopes to secure. In November, Salazar stressed the fate of the oyster farm and the park's ranches are "separate issues." He directed the park service to extend agricultural permits for 10 years to 20 years, providing ranchers with greater certainty. While we'd like to see Huffman exercise his leadership in settling the seething political and legal battle over the oyster farm, his joining of debate over the park's ranches is welcome...more

    The oyster farm was within a wilderness area inside the Point Reyes National Seashore. Are the ranches also inside the wilderness area? If so, that 20 year lease becomes very interesting.

    Cattle producers appalled that EPA releases personal information on farmers, ranchers

    Kansas Cattlemen’s Association recently learned the Environmental Protection Agency released farmers and ranchers personal information to a number of environmental activist groups. This sensitive information, the EPA acknowledged, could have been withheld and kept private. Yet, approximately 80,000 producers’ personal information has been released to Earth Justice, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pew Charitable Trust. According to its website, “NRDC is the nation’s most effective environmental action group, combining the grassroots power of 1.3 million members and online activists with the courtroom clout and expertise of more than 350 lawyers, scientists and other professionals. The New York Times calls us “One of the nation’s most powerful environmental groups.” Earth Justice was founded in 1971 as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. After Congressional backlash, the EPA rescinded its compliance with the activists and asked each group to return the information. “These have been considered extremists groups. The information included people’s home addresses, and even if the EPA asked for the information back, it is already out there. What is troublesome is that the EPA was not required to give out all of this personal information, and they chose to do so, putting the safety of farmers and ranchers and their families at risk,” said KCA Executive Director Brandy Carter. “This information wasn’t on just big business; it was a number of family operations from 29 different states. The EPA has a history of overreaching its authority, and this is another example of inappropriate behavior from an administrative department that needs to be reined it.”...more