Friday, September 25, 2015

Editorial - Forest management, wildfires and climate change

Capital Press is out with a powerful editorial on managing federal lands. Saying many politicians blame the huge fire seasons on either climate change or drought, they identify the real problem: poor management.

For those who blame it all on the drought, the editorial writers say:

For the years 2005 to 2014, an average of 6 million acres has burned annually in the U.S., mainly the West. Most of those 10 years predate the four-year drought in California or the droughts in any of the other Western states.

For those who are concerned about climate change, they should support management to minimize the number and size of wildfires. Why? Because wildfires "release massive amounts of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which are linked to climate change." The writers cite a Park Service study showing wildfire accounts for up to 7 percent of California's carbon emissions.

So what is the management problem? This is where they really shine:

The poor management of federal land, which has allowed forests to become overgrown and bulging with fuel for fires, is the primary cause of the increasing number of large wildfires.

The writers also raise the issue of access, and therefore non-use, and specifically identify all the road closures going on across the West:

 Closing these massive areas to access assures that they will never be properly managed for multiple use or thinned to reduce wildfire fuel. They will become de facto wilderness areas — and stockpiles of fuel for wildfires. 

And they make no bones about the solution:

In the wake of this year’s catastrophic fires, even the most hard-headed politicians seem to agree that the forests need to be “better-managed.” We will translate: They need to be logged, either through thinning or through commercial timber sales. And more livestock grazing is needed to reduce the amount of vegetation that piles up as fuel for the next wildfire.

This is a statement of the obvious. The only answer to reducing the size and intensity of wildfires is to reduce the amount of fuel in the forests.

How refreshing.  Every Westerner owes a big "Thank You" to Capital Press.

Greater sage-grouse denied protection; Outlook for iconic bird is bleak

In a double-whammy that will doom the sagebrush steppe and the iconic Greater sage-grouse to a dismal future, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced today the Obama Administration’s decision to rely on incomplete planning efforts to protect the bird, rather than the true safety net of the Endangered Species Act. In addition to the finding of “Not Warranted” for federal protection under the ESA, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service released Records of Decision for land use plans across the west that fall short of what even the government’s own scientists say is necessary to prevent the extinction of the species.

"The Secretary seemed determined to put a happy face on the future of the American West, and so she willfully ignored the hard decisions like limiting energy development, prohibiting transmission lines, and blocking spring cattle grazing,” said Travis Bruner, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. “There is no ‘win’ here for sage-grouse. There is only a slighty slower trajectory towards extinction. If this is, as Jewell claims, ‘the future of conservation in America,’ than the sage-grouse isn’t the only species that’s in trouble.”

The “Not Warranted” determination is based in large part on the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service Resource Management Plans and Amendments that cover roughly half of the remaining sage-grouse habitat. But, unless they have changed significantly from the final proposals, none of these plans draw firm management parameters around livestock grazing, the most ubiquitous threat to the species across its range. All the plans defer changes to grazing to future decision-making, despite having clear scientific recommendations and court orders describing what must be done to protect the bird during critical stages of its life cycle.

“It’s obvious from Interior’s propaganda that they have not accurately identified the threat that livestock pose,” said Greta Anderson, Deputy Director of Western Watersheds Project. “Simply throwing money at the problem through the Sage Grouse Initiative is like putting an expensive bandage on a gaping chest wound. The failure here was to staunch the flow and limit livestock’s destructive impacts by significantly altering grazing management.”

The most endangered resource is trust when it comes to wildlife issues

By Rocky Barker

Duane Coombs exhibited the optimism that every Western rancher and farmer needs to have about the overwhelming challenges they face in the life they love.

Those include drought, fires, floods, disease, poor markets, predators and just bad luck. But most of the ranchers I’ve known have the view that Coombs has: Things are always going to get better next year.

Coombs, who manages the Smith Creek Ranch near Austin, Nev., spoke Tuesday at a news conference in Denver in favor of the massive collaborative conservation plan unveiled this week to protect sage grouse across 173 million acres and 11 states. He told an audience that included four Western governors from both political parties and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that his 11-year-old daughter Desatoya (Desi for short) has helped him to overcome his own distrust of government while working on the ranch to save the bird his family loves.

“In this little girl’s life, government is her partner,” Coombs said.

Named for a mountain range near the ranch, Desi has watched her father put white streamers on his barbed wire — she calls them “chicken flappers” — to keep the grouse from flying into the fences. One of her best friends is U.S. Geological Survey biologist Katelyn Andrle.

If the American West can take Coombs’ approach to restoring the sage grouse and saving the sagebrush steppe ecosystem, then perhaps it remains “Next Year Country.” But it’s a daunting task.

Energy companies are considering lawsuits because they think the 98 federal land plan amendments that include sage grouse conservation measures are too tough. Environmental groups such as Western Watersheds Project, Advocates for the West and the Center for Biodiversity think the plans don’t go far enough to turn the bird from the path to extinction.

At the heart of both sides’ reservations is the incredible distrust that has evolved over the past 40 years of public lands governance. Each side has valid reasons for their views, but taking that leap of faith that created this “all lands” conservation plan requires challenging their own status quo.

Read more here:

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Ranchers slam federal agencies for launching restrictive land-use plans

The Public Lands Council (PLC) and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) are condemning a move by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service to implement their restrictive land-use plans after Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said this week that the greater sage grouse does not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

"The administration came to the logical decision not to list the sage grouse, but went ahead and forced through their land use plans, which are just as concerning as a listing," PLC President Brenda Richards said. "Secretary Jewell's claim that the ESA is effective and flexible is entirely flawed and misleading. Of the 1,500 domestic species listed since 1973, less than 2 percent have ever been deemed recovered. Sage grouse habitat and population are thriving because of the work of the ranchers across the West and the states' efforts, not due to the Environmental Impact Statements, which have yet to even be implemented."

The groups said the species’ rehabilitation has been in large part due to the efforts of the Sage Grouse Initiative, which was a partnership between private landowners and the USDA that maintained working landscapes.

"Wildfire and development are the primary threats to the sage grouse and their habitat, yet this administration is systematically wiping out multiple-use and ranching through regulatory overreach,” said NCBA Federal lands Committee Chairman Robbie LeValley. “It's clear that these plans are more about managing away from productive uses, rather than actually protecting the bird."  Press Release

Obama to overhaul process for offsetting environmental harm

The White House is preparing a presidential memorandum that seeks to streamline how the government offsets damage to public lands, waters and wildlife, according to several sources. The memo aims to consolidate separate mitigation policy reform efforts that are already underway at federal agencies and learn from past mistakes, sources said. It would affect everything from energy production on the federal estate to the construction of government buildings. "It has the potential to create a new, more collaborative relationship between industry and the government that would serve both interests," said an Obama administration official who was not authorized to speak to the press. "Industry would be able to use federal resources in a way that would contribute to sustaining the yield of resources over time and growing them." That proactive mitigation for timber harvesting and other land uses is necessary, the source said, "because the population is growing and changing. So if you're going to continue to provide those goods and services off that resource base, you need to conserve it or grow it." But oil and gas industry groups are skeptical about the effort, which sources suggested could promote closer ties between regulators and drillers, because the changes are being crafted behind closed doors. "It's a great goal, but collaboration doesn't happen by dropping a policy on people that they can't see beforehand," said Kathleen Sgamma, a vice president at the Western Energy Alliance who hadn't heard about the effort until she was contacted by Greenwire. "That's not collaboration."...more

Udall announces legislation in wake of mine-waste spill

The federal government would be required to identify the most dangerous abandoned mines in the West and make plans to clean them up under legislation introduced Tuesday in response to the spill of millions of gallons of toxic wastewater from a Colorado mine. U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, outlined the proposal during a conference call with reporters. He said the main focus would be compensating communities affected by the spill, but another goal is to prevent future environmental disasters.  As for compensation, the legislation outlines allowable damages and establishes a claims office within the EPA. Udall's office says property, business and financial losses would be considered for compensation. There's no appropriation attached to the legislation. Rather, any claims would be paid out of a permanent federal fund that covers court judgments or settlements...more

Many of those abandoned mines in NM are in areas where Udall has supported either legislative or administrative designations that prohibit new roads and mechanized vehicles or mechanical equipment.  How does he propose we clean up those abandoned mines?

NM horse slaughterhouse suit allowed to stand

A judge on Tuesday refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed in 2013 by the Attorney General’s Office against a Roswell company that wanted to open a horse slaughterhouse, rejecting an argument that the lawsuit is no longer relevant. State District Judge Francis Mathew also expanded a previously issued preliminary injunction to prevent a second, successor company from opening a slaughterhouse at the site. “This is, for lack of a better term, beating a dead horse,” company attorney A. Blair Dunn told the court. His clients “could not operate if they wanted to,” he said. He accused the Attorney General’s Office of “an endless stream of harassment” against Valley Meat, saying the AG is pursuing a legislative goal – outlawing horse slaughter – through court action.  The judge didn’t go as far as the AG’s Office wanted him to. The AG also had asked that the companies be barred from pursuing regulatory approval from federal and state agencies for horse slaughter or wastewater discharge, but Mathew didn’t do that...more

Ranch Radio Song Of The Day #1498

We'll close out the week with Texas Ruby & Curly Fox performing Blue Love.  The tune was recorded in Chicago on February 15, 1945 and released as Columbia 37075.  For those who may not know, Curly Fox was touring as a fiddle player when only 13 and made his first recordings in 1929 with the Roane County Ramblers.  He teamed up with singer Ruby Owens in 1937.  She was a sister to Tex Owens, the writer of Cattle Call.  They married two years later and were popular performers till 1963 when Ruby was killed in a fire.  Curly never recorded again.  The Westerner

Thursday, September 24, 2015

PRCA fires back at new Elite Rodeo Athletes tour, vows to terminate memberships

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association is firing back at cowboys and cowgirls who want to compete on other tours, namely the new Elite Rodeo Athletes tour set to start in March of next year.
The PRCA released a statement on Tuesday announcing new bylaws for the 2016 season. Within the new rules is a measure to make sure cowboys and cowgirls "are not pursuing interests in Conflicting Rodeo Associations while receiving the benefits of PRCA membership." Several current and former PRCA world champions announced earlier this year that they would collectively form the ERA to ensure less travel while hoping to earn more money.  Last week, the ERA announced its cowboys and cowgirls would cut back on PRCA rodeos to focus more attention on the new tour World champions Clay Tryan, Kaycee Feild, Bobby Mote and Trevor Brazile are among members of the ERA. The PRCA responeded Tuesday by announcing that "any person applying for PRCA membership who is an officer, board member, employee or has an ownership or financial interest of any form in a Conflicting Rodeo Association shall not be issued a membership, permit or renewal of membership with the PRCA." The news could deal a major blow to some of the PRCA's top rodeos, such as Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Denver, along with the lucrative Cowboy Christmas stretch, in which the world's top cowboys and cowgirls regularly compete...more

From the PRCA website, here are the new bylaws:

I. Competing Rodeo Events Bylaws B15.1.1.1-.2
B15.1.1.1        Definition of Competing Rodeo Events. Competing Rodeo Events are events not sanctioned by the PRCA in which contestants compete in two or more of the following events: bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, and team roping. 
B15.1.1.2        Rodeo Committees. In light of the PRCA's long-standing and ongoing efforts to create popular and successful PRCA-sanctioned professional rodeo competitions and promote rodeo sports in general, including but not limited to creating the National Finals Rodeo event and qualifying points system, soliciting corporate sponsors and television contracts, establishing rodeo rules and regulations, and developing youth and new contestant growth programs—and in order to protect the quality of all PRCA-sanctioned events—any rodeo committee and/or contracting party involved in producing a PRCA-sanctioned event agrees not to schedule, produce, promote or participate in a Competing Rodeo Event seventy-two hours before, during or seventy-two hours after a PRCA-sanctioned event.  The PRCA shall have the right to approve specific events that are in conflict with this Bylaw should the PRCA deem any such event to be in the interest of its members and the promotion of professional rodeo sports in general. 
II. Conflicting Rodeo Association Interests Bylaws B.
B1.2.1.1          Definition of Conflicting Rodeo Association.  Conflicting Rodeo Associations are companies, partnerships, associations or other entities whose direct or indirect purpose is to produce, promote, and/or sanction professional rodeo contests in which contestants compete in two or more of the following events: bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, and team roping. 
B1.2.1.2          Prohibition on Conflicting Rodeo Association Interests.  In order to ensure that PRCA members—whose popularity and success are the result of participation in PRCA-sanctioned rodeos and related PRCA promotional efforts and activities (and the associated costly investments the PRCA has made in promoting PRCA events and rodeo sports in general)—are not pursuing interests in Conflicting Rodeo Associations while receiving the benefits of PRCA membership and are putting forth their best efforts on behalf of the PRCA, any person applying for PRCA membership who is an officer, board member, employee or has an ownership or financial interest of any form in a Conflicting Rodeo Association shall not be issued a membership, permit or renewal of membership with the PRCA.

FWS chief touts 'unanimous' agency support for grouse decision

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter

 The Fish and Wildlife Service's decision this week not to list the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act was supported unanimously within its ranks and was not influenced by political pressure, Director Dan Ashe said.

Ashe said there was no disagreement among his top deputies -- all of them career FWS employees -- that new regulations implemented by federal lands agencies and Western states had adequately addressed the bird's top threats, including energy development, wildfire and invasive species.
Those assertions could carry weight if the service's decision is challenged in federal court.
Ashe on Monday signed a 341-page document explaining the agency's reasoning for not listing the bird in what many agree was the biggest decision in ESA history.

...He noted that 10 project field office supervisors, three assistant regional directors, three regional directors, an assistant director and two deputy directors had all reached the same conclusion about the sage grouse.

...In an interview yesterday, Ashe added that the decision was made wholly within FWS, with no influence from Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

...If the decision is challenged in court, the agency will likely have to explain why it no longer believes, as it did in 2010, that the bird warrants ESA protection due to the loss of its sage-steppe habitat and an absence of regulations that could slow or halt further losses.

FWS's reasoning: New land-use restrictions developed by BLM, the Forest Service, and Wyoming, Montana and Oregon have reduced threats on roughly 90 percent of sage grouse breeding habitat across the species's range.

To say the Secretary didn't interfere is one thing, but that political issues weren't considered is quite another. The reaction of the majority in Congress and the potential impact on the future of the ESA had to be considered. Besides, you know some of the DC Deep Thinkers were saying, "Hey, why anger the Congress, threaten our budget and the Act, when more than likely the courts will throw out the plans for not being restrictive enough anyway?"

Sage Grouse Decision Presents New Frustrations In Idaho; Enviros say livestock grazing a significant threat

The Obama administration’s decision Tuesday not to list the greater sage grouse as an endangered species rippled across the West. Many came out in favor of the decision, saying it represents a big victory for wildlife conservation. But in Idaho, the reaction to the news was far-ranging... and the issue likely isn’t over. Some conservation groups including the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club also applauded the news. Recreation groups and energy industry leaders did too. But as wide-reaching as the collaboration has been, not everyone is pleased. “We’re disappointed," Ken Cole says. "We think that the plans are not adequate for protecting sage grouse.” Cole is the Idaho director of the Western Watersheds Project. The environmental group sued the Fish and Wildlife Service, settling in 2010 which forced a decision this month. Cole thinks in the end, the decision not to list the bird was more about politics than science. For instance, he says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t take the threats from ranching seriously enough. Cattle grazing is identified only as a secondary threat to the sage grouse. “Industry doesn’t want them to be protected," Cole says. "They don’t want the consultations that the Fish and Wildlife Service would have to do for all of the projects. But that’s what’s needed.” Dustin Miller has been in charge of that effort in Governor Butch Otter’s office. Miller says during the early stages of the collaboration, Idaho and federal officials worked well together on finding the best ways to protect sage grouse, while not harming the state’s ranching and energy sectors. But earlier this year, that changed. The Interior Department approved a management plan that restricted cattle grazing more than a previous draft, and put more regulations on energy and mining development. Miller says that was frustrating because the state felt like it had been asked to focus on wildfire and invasive species instead. Yesterday, Miller wouldn’t deny that the state could end up suing over the restrictions...more

Rancher: Sage Grouse Cooperation Broke Distrust

A Nevada rancher says a more trustful relationship between Western states and Washington helped avoid federal protections for the greater sage grouse that many argued would threaten industry. At Tuesday's announcement of the decision outside Denver, Duane Coombs says he inherited his father's distrust of the U.S. government but that cooperation between private landowners and federal officials to protect the bird has changed his mind. He says his 11-year-old daughter grew up helping him tie markers on ranch fences to keep sage grouse from flying into them and getting killed...more

OPEC to the Rescue for Mating Dance of Prairie Chicken

The greater sage grouse may have found an unlikely ally: OPEC. The fowl at the center of one of the nation’s biggest conservation battles had already received good news before the Interior Department declined to classify it as endangered. With Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members pumping oil with no respite despite crude prices below $50 a barrel, drillers in the U.S. have idled more than half their rigs over the past year in western states where the grouse lives, like Colorado and Wyoming.  “The big concern was the geography of the habitat was so wide and vast, it could have infringed on the growth potential of the industry,” said Peter Pulikkan, an energy analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. “That issue has fallen off the radar with the price collapse. Drillers have got bigger issues to deal with than a boisterous bird.”...more

Mr. Pulikkan, I seriously doubt the issue has "fallen off the radar" with industry.  The drillers are responding to market signals just like they have for years.  The problem would be when the market comes back and they would be subject to the strict requirements of the ESA. 

The enviros will file lawsuits over this decision.  Let's see if the industry intervenes.

Feds to Lease Ocean Floor Off N.J. Coast for Windmills

The federal government plans to lease nearly 344,000 acres of the ocean floor off the coast of New Jersey to companies interested in building offshore windmills to generate electricity. The Interior Department and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management say that if fully developed, the leases could result in enough wind-generated electricity to power 1.2 million homes. The leases are to be sold Nov. 9. In July, construction started on Deepwater Wind’s $225 million, 30-megawatt offshore wind project off Block Island in Rhode Island that will provide electricity to Block Island and Rhode Island mainland consumers. So far, 13 companies have been qualified to bid on the New Jersey leases. On three occasions, New Jersey regulators have rejected a proposal from one of those companies—Fishermen’s Energy—to build windmills off the coast of Atlantic City, saying the applicant hadn’t demonstrated financial integrity, among other concerns. The company is appealing the rejection to the state Supreme Court...more

Navajo cattle, sheep undergo testing for heavy metal exposure

Equipped with needles and collection tubes, staff from the Navajo Veterinary and Livestock Program waited on Wednesday to collect blood samples from livestock to test whether the animals were exposed to heavy metals as a result of the Gold King Mine spill. This week, the tribal program is providing free blood testing and examinations at the rodeo grounds in Shiprock for cattle and sheep at least 2 years old. The service continues from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today. The service is open to Navajo ranchers and farmers who have livestock within three miles of the San Juan River and are concerned their animals consumed river water during the Gold King Mine spill. The Aug. 5 spill released more than 3 million gallons of toxic metals into the Animas and San Juan rivers. Navajo Tribal Veterinarian Scott Bender said there have been no reports of livestock becoming sick from river water...more

A controversial wild horse gather removes 167 animals; advocates say ranchers and cattle are over-running the area

A controversial horse roundup conducted by the Bureau of Land Management ended Wednesday after 167 horses were removed from the West Douglas Herd Area. The BLM used helicopters and bait traps to capture the animals. Two horses died during the roundup. A stallion fell while being loaded onto a trailer and another horse stepped on his neck. Also, a young foal broke its leg while trying to run away. He was eventually captured and then euthanized. BLM spokesperson Chris Joyner said the BLM must manage wild horse herds so they don't go through "boom and bust" cycles. In that cycle, the population grows, the environment can't supply enough food or water for that large of a number, causing large numbers of animals to die off. Joyner said the BLM really only has two options to control the populations, either through roundups or fertility management drugs. He said the bureau is under fire for using both methods. Still, he said the BLM is dedicated to keeping the population healthy. Poyner said all 165 horses will be taken to a Cañon City prison. Inmates will train the horses so they can be adopted. Some animals will be kept in long-term holding facilities. Some of the animals may also be auctioned off. The Cloud Foundation, a group trying to preserve the U.S.'s wild horse population, filed a lawsuit to try to stop the roundup scheduled for the West Douglas Herd Area. They lost the lawsuit and shortly after, the round up started. Jaime Wade is part the foundation. She said the use of a helicopter to scare horses into corrals was cruel and unnecessary. Instead, the Cloud Foundation advocates feeding herds fertility management drugs. She said the area can sustain this herd, and instead, it's cattle and ranchers that are the ones over-running the area...more

Bundy case continued

The hearing in the case involving Ryan Bundy was rescheduled for a date yet to be determined, according to the the Iron County Justice Court. Bundy’s attorney, Matt Munson of Cedar City, appeared on Bundy’s behalf on Tuesday and the judge granted a continuance for a later date, according to court records. Munson said he could not comment on his client’s case while the case is pending. Ryan Bundy was scheduled to appear for a nuisance charge stemming from 2013. Bundy, son of Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy, said he has property in Cedar City where he keeps a dump truck. Cliven Bundy became a “political celebrity” because of his April 2014 feud and standoff with the Bureau of Land Management. Ryan Bundy said he is being charged by Iron County with a class B misdemeanor for responsibility for a nuisance because the truck is not registered...more

Experience the arts and culture of the Northern Plains

The 32nd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Jan 25-30, 2016, will spotlight the flowing grasslands, vast open spaces and indigo skies of the Northern Plains. From the Rocky Mountains to the Dakotas, from the sandhills of Nebraska to the grasslands of Saskatchewan, this expansive land of prairie and woodlands is one of the top cattle producing regions in the world. It is famous for short summers and punishing winters, but also for hardy people, excellent cattle and fine bucking horses and bronc riders. The Western Folklife Center, producer of the Gathering, will present nearly 50 performers at the event, including 16 ranchers, poets, musicians and artists from the Northern Plains of the U.S. and Canada, who will share and celebrate this land of enveloping horizons and expansive hearts. “The Northern Plains are a “hot spot” for cowboy poetry,” said Yvonne Hollenbeck, a rancher and poet living near Winner, South Dakota, and a regular performer at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. “From the many drovers who penned rhymes about their cowboying days with thousands of head of cattle grazing on the lush green pastures, to the beloved early 20th century poet Badger Clark, to modern-day poets such as Wally McRae and Elizabeth Ebert.” The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is an international arts and cultural festival that celebrates what it means to be connected to earth, land and big sky country of the American West. Montana cowboy poet Wally McRae called it “Cowpoke Woodstock,” the coming together of folks united in their passion for all things Western. At the 32nd Gathering, poets, musicians and musical groups from the U.S. and Canada will perform on seven stages at four different venues. The line-up includes Ian Tyson, Don Edwards, Michael Martin Murphey, Waddie Mitchell, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Dave Stamey, Stephanie Davis, Wally McRae, Paul Zarzyski, Elizabeth Ebert, Hot Club of Cowtown, Wylie Gustafson and many more. Visit for a full list of artists, bios and audio samples...more

Ranch Radio Song Of The Day #1497

Here's some Chinese medicine for Bobby Jones, with the Tommy Jackson fiddle instrumental Chinese Breakdown.  The tune is one of 26 tunes he recorded for the Dot label between 1953-1955 and reissued by the British Archives of Country Music on the CD Tommy Jackson:  Legendary Session Fiddler.  The Westerner

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Sage Grouse: Saved or Sold Out?

by Taylor Hill

Did the Obama administration just sell out the greater sage grouse, an iconic symbol of the American West, to the oil industry—or pave the way to save species without costly and lengthy legal fights?
The United States Interior Department announced on Tuesday that it would not list the sage grouse as an endangered species. Instead, the government will protect the imperiled bird through a complex land management plan involving 11 states. Ranchers and the oil and gas industries had opposed an endangered species listing for the sage grouse, fearing it would scuttle development across the West.

..But Erik Molvar, a campaign director for conservation group WildEarth Guardians, said the land management plan is really a victory for the oil, gas, and livestock industries, which can keep drilling, exploring, grazing, and developing on the bird’s dwindling habitat.

“Working on a comprehensive plan between multiple states is absolutely the right idea, but the level of protections they are applying in some of the grouse’s priority habitat area is too weak to maintain sage grouse there,” Molvar said.

...Oil and gas development, farming and ranching, and wind farms have whittled away at suitable habitat across the birds’ 165-million-acre range. By 2013, the sage grouse population, which once numbered in the millions, had been reduced by more than 90 percent. Only 50,000 male grouse remained to perform the bird’s patented chest-billowing, tail-wagging mating dance.

Scientific studies conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey found the birds needed a buffer of about 3.1 miles around their mating grounds, called leks. The Interior Department’s land management plan requires such a buffer in 10 of the states but not Wyoming. The state is home to 40 percent of the remaining population of greater sage grouse, yet the buffer required is only 0.6 miles.

“The science shows that having oil and gas drilling that close will negatively impact the breeding and nesting habits of these birds,” Molvar said. “Why ignore the science in just Wyoming?”
Molvar wouldn’t say whether WildEarth Guardians was planning a legal challenge to the decision not to list the sage grouse. “The land management plan is getting heavy scrutiny from our legal team,” he said.

“The same thing could certainly happen in the future to any species that is politically controversial or inconvenient to list,” said WildEarth endangered species advocate Taylor Jones.

And the crowin' is still goin'

My predictions and comments yesterday included collaboration crowing and the word is everywhere.  In fact, Secretary Jewell's remarks embodied everything I mentioned, i.e., collaboration crowin' and protection of the ESA:

“This is truly a historic effort – one that represents extraordinary collaboration across the American West,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “It demonstrates that the Endangered Species Act is an effective and flexible tool and a critical catalyst for conservation – ensuring that future generations can enjoy the diversity of wildlife that we do today. The epic conservation effort will benefit westerners and hundreds of species that call this iconic landscape home, while giving states, businesses and communities the certainty they need to plan for sustainable economic development.”

After grouse protections rejected, land-use plans become focus in fight over Western bird

Before the applause faded from the U.S. government's announcement that there would be no endangered species protections for the greater sage grouse, the criticism began over wide-reaching federal conservation plans meant to protect the bird's habitat across 11 Western states. The land-use plans were released Tuesday after Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said additional federal protections weren't needed for the ground-dwelling bird that's seen its habitat shrink due to oil and gas drilling, grazing and other human activity. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management plans outline measures to help sage grouse across 67 million acres of public lands throughout the West, including 12 million acres of prime habitat where strict limits on oil and gas limits will be enforced. Federal lands make up more than half the bird's habitat. Many of the same state officials who cheered Jewell's announcement have previously said the new BLM conservation plans were overly restrictive, particularly with oil and gas drilling. Their next step is to try to bring those federal conservation plans in line with their own. "This doesn't end the discussion of where we're going to be," Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said after Jewell's announcement...more

Ranchers cheer sage grouse decision

Oregon ranchers reacted with jubilation Tuesday to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s decision not to list the sage grouse under the federal Endangered Species Act. “It would have been the equal of the spotted owl and what it did to the logging industry,” said Bill Wilber, who ranches near Burns and is chairman of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association’s wildlife committee. Even with the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision not to list the sage grouse, Wilber, of the cattlemen’s group, said ranchers cannot take “the foot off the pedal” when it comes to efforts to conserve the bird’s habitat . “We can’t let up,” he said...more

Chairman Bishop has a 'slightly' different take on the issue

Rob Bishop,  Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources  released the following statement:

“Do not be fooled. The announcement not to list the sage grouse is a cynical ploy.  With the stroke of a pen, the Obama Administration’s oppressive land management plan is the same as a listing. Now, successful conservation done at the state level will be in vain. The new command and control federal plan will not help the bird, but it will control the West, which is the real goal of the Obama Administration. Some Western governors see this for what it is and I will work with them to ensure the rational plans created at the grassroots level that solve the problem will be the way forward to protect this bird."

Ranch Radio Song Of The Day # 1496

Today we feature Ernest Tubb & Red Foley performing You're A Real Good Friend.  The duo recorded the Cy Coben & Charles Grean tune in 1953 for the Decca record label.  The Westerner

Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra dies at 90

The Hall of Fame catcher renowned as much for his dizzying malapropisms as his unmatched 10 World Series championships with the New York Yankees, died Tuesday. He was 90. Berra, who filled baseball's record book as well as ''Bartlett's Familiar Quotations,'' died of natural causes at his home in New Jersey, according to Dave Kaplan, the director of the Yogi Berra Museum. Berra played in more World Series games than any other major leaguer, and was a three-time American League Most Valuable Player. For many, though, he was even better known for all those amusing ''Yogi-isms.'' Short, squat and with a homely mug, Berra was a Yankees great who helped the team reach 14 World Series during his 18 seasons in the Bronx. Berra served on a gunboat supporting the D-Day invasion in 1944 and played for the Yankees from 1946-63. His teammates included fellow Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. He was a fan favorite, especially with children, and the cartoon character Yogi Bear was named after him. In 1956, Berra caught the only perfect game in World Series history and after the last out leaped into pitcher Don Larsen's arms. The famous moment is still often replayed on baseball broadcasts. Berra, who played in 15 straight All-Star Games, never earned more than $65,000 a season. He died on the same date, Sept. 22, as his big league debut 69 years earlier.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Can a Little Bird Defeat Big Oil? Today, the Government Decides

...For months the federal government has anxiously debated whether to invoke the Endangered Species Act, or ESA, to protect the greater sage grouse. On September 22, it will make its initial determination: it will decide whether to remove the greater sage grouse from consideration as an endangered species or to move forward with a listing. The stakes couldn’t be higher. The species is an icon of the American West and an indicator of the region’s ecological wellbeing. It also resides on some of this country’s prime fossil fuel real estate. Should it be listed, more than 160 million acres of grouse habitat could be subject to regulation under the ESA. Large swaths of federal land could close to oil and gas extraction. The bird could prevent new development, from metal mines to wind farms, in Montana, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and more. It would fundamentally change the way the federal government manages a vast portion of our resource-rich public lands. It could undermine, even break, the fossil fuel industry’s dominance of the West. Oil and gas interests, led by a powerful consortium called the Western Energy Alliance, have done everything in their power to prevent such an outcome. The industry has drummed up vitriolic opposition to grouse protections, particularly in Congress, where oil money runs deep. It has tried to sow scientific controversy and it has filed protests against federal conservation plans meant to bolster the species. It has launched scare-tactic PR campaigns to alter public opinion. The industry and its allies have even taken aim at the Endangered Species Act itself, trying to block the law from working properly and erode its widespread support among the American people. Make no mistake: Big Oil is afraid of a little bird...more

The take on this from a lefty mag...

Officials plan major sage grouse announcement for Tuesday

State and U.S. officials are planning a major announcement regarding sage grouse Tuesday, days before federal regulators must decide whether to list the iconic Western bird as endangered. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell will be joined by a host of Western governors, including Wyoming’s Matt Mead, at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge near Denver to make the announcement, according to a Department of the Interior news release. The department did not offer details about the announcement or mention the pending decision on whether to list the bird under the Endangered Species Act. A court order requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide by Sept. 30 whether to list the greater sage grouse. The listing could have major implications for Wyoming, potentially adding restrictions to energy development, ranching and housing construction. Some in Wyoming expect the announcement will be an approval of Rangeland Management Plans, released for public comment in May, which include detailed protections for sage grouse habitats on public lands across the West. For some, the federal management plans offer a best-bet solution to immediately address the bird's declining numbers and habitat. Bob Budd, chairman of Wyoming’s Sage-Grouse Implementation Team, said that at least in Wyoming, state management is proving effective and a listing is not necessary. “We have literally stopped the bleeding regarding habitat loss,” Budd said. The management plans, though not perfect, are manageable, Budd said. A listing is not, he added...more

FWS poised to keep sage grouse off endangered species list

The Obama administration is expected to announce Tuesday that the sage grouse won't be listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a decision that would vindicate the extensive conservation efforts taking place across the West. Western governors, wildlife conservation groups, and energy companies alike have been anxiously awaiting a “not warranted” listing verdict on the bird for more than a decade, and have already begun to celebrate the voluntary conservation efforts they say made such an outcome possible.  A no-listing decision would prove that farmer and rancher investments in conservation “are making a difference” and can “provide the catalyst for a different kind of politics” that doesn't assume ESA listings are always necessary, said Eric Holst, the associate vice president for working lands at the Environmental Defense Fund...more

Expect a lot of this Crowing on Collaboration Crap.  Why?  Because a listing would result in a) an immediate legislative delisting via the budget process, and b) a huge boost to efforts to permanently amend the ESA.  The enviros want neither, so expect the CCC show today.

If the Dems controlled both Houses of Congress, the decision may have been different.  And I fully expect one of the more radical groups to challenge the RMPs and possible the listing decision itself in court.

Still, one must congratulate those who have worked so hard on this issue.  The results have been impressive.

Sacred Lands vs. King Coal

Under the breaking waves of Lummi Bay in northwest Washington, salmon, clams, geoducks and oysters are washed in rhythmic cascades from the Pacific Ocean. Just north of here is Cherry Point, home for three intimately related threatened and endangered species: herring, Chinook salmon, and orcas. It is also the home of the Lummi Nation, who call themselves the Lhaq’temish (LOCK-tuh-mish), or the People of the Sea. The Lummi have gone to incredible lengths to protect the health of this marine life, and to uphold the fishing traditions that make their livelihood inseparable from the life of the sea — continuing a bond that has connected them to the salmon for more than 175 generations. The Lummi Nation is currently fighting the largest proposed coal export terminal on the continent. If completed, the Gateway Pacific Terminal would move up to 54 million tons of coal from Cherry Point to Asian markets every year. The transport company BNSF Railway plans to enable the terminal by adding adjacent rail infrastructure, installing a second track along the six-mile Custer Spur to make room for coal trains. The project is one of many coal export facilities proposed across the US by the coal extraction and transportation industry. In the face of falling domestic demand for the highly polluting fossil fuel, the industry is pinning its survival on exporting coal to power hungry Asia, especially China. The Gateway proposal has sparked massive opposition from the Lummi, who say it will interfere with their fishing fleet, harm marine life, and trample on an ancient village site that has been occupied by the Lummi for 3,500 years...more

Environmentalists challenge Peabody, Arch mines in Colo., NM and Wyo.

Boosted by a recent victory in Colorado, an environmental group is expanding its legal campaign to try stop coal mining because of climate change by challenging permits for some of the largest mines in the West. This time, New Mexico-based WildEarth Guardians is asking that a federal judge block mining at the Antelope Mine and Black Thunder mines in Wyoming's Powder River Basin, the El Segundo Mine in New Mexico and the Bowie No. 2 Mine in Colorado. But it's taking the argument further. Rather than just saying that federal regulators should take the climate change impacts of individual mines into account before approving permits, the group claims that they should be looking at the cumulative effect of mining as a whole and whether the nation should allow any more...more

Federal advisory council recommends cancellation of Badger-Two Medicine leases

In a pair of letters addressed to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation today urged the cancellation of Solenex LLC’s mineral lease in the Badger-Two Medicine. The recommendation comes nearly three weeks after the ACHP held a public hearing in Choteau to gather comment on the Baton Rouge company’s proposal to drill an exploratory well in an area considered sacred by the Blackfeet Tribe, and further advocates for the termination of all other remaining leases. “If implemented, the Solenex exploratory well along with the reasonably foreseeable full field development would be so damaging to the [Traditional Cultural District] that the Blackfeet Tribe’s ability to practice their religious and cultural traditions in this area as a living part of their community life and development would be lost,” the council wrote in its Sept. 21 comments. “The cumulative effects of full field development, even with the mitigation measures proposed by Solenex, would result in serious and irreparable degradation of the historic values of the TCD that sustain the tribe.”...more

Governor kicks off Nevada drought summit

Gov. Brian Sandoval openeda three-day water summit Monday with his own observations of a drought-stricken landscape of depleted reservoirs, rivers reduced to trickles and mountaintops no longer capped with snow. From Lake Mead to Lake Tahoe, water levels have dropped, leaving boat ramps high and dry; farmers and ranchers have left fields fallow. Last winter, snow-skiing shops closed in mid-winter because of the lack of snow. "The subject of drought could not be more serious," Sandoval told more than 200 participants gathered in the state Assembly chambers. "This is not a problem we can leave for future generations. It's going to come back." Sandoval said he was "horrified" by how little water was in Rye Patch Reservoir on a recent trip to eastern Nevada, and the white "bathtub" ring around Lake Mead — the primary water source for the Las Vegas Valley — is a constant reminder of how dry it is in the Silver State. The drought summit brings together water experts, ranchers, farmers, tourism representatives, casino and mining executives, and municipal water managers to talk about water challenges. The gathering follows three previous workshops held around the state. The summit also precedes a final, Sept. 28 meeting of the Drought Forum, a panel appointed in April by the governor to discuss and recommend changes in water practices...more

Ryan Bundy heads to Cedar City court Wednesday

Ryan Bundy is scheduled to appear in Iron County Justice Court at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Cedar City for a nuisance charge stemming from 2013. Bundy, son of Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy, said he has property in Cedar City, and he keeps a dump truck on that property. He said he is being charged by Iron County with a class B misdemeanor for responsibility for a nuisance because the truck is not registered. “This is a violation of private property rights,” Bundy said. “They’re calling it an issue of zoning. Zoning is communism.” Bundy argues the unregistered vehicle is not hurting anyone and that the community shouldn’t be able to dictate what happens on his property. “I’m not their serf, and I’m not their slave,” Bundy said. “They are not the master of my property.” Bundy said he attempted to appease the county and the community by moving his truck out of sight. However, he said, if that isn’t good enough for the county to drop the charge, he doesn’t intend to do any more to “kiss their tail.”...more

Grizzly attacks on cattle a growing problem

Both cow carcasses had been reduced to bone piles by the time Brian Mays returned Sept. 5 to the kill site, hidden among thick brush within a boggy, 300-acre private pasture he leases about 2 miles southwest of Henry’s Lake, near Yellowstone National Park. “So this is where 1537 met her demise,” Mays said, studying an ear tag among the remains. Mays has no doubt as to who — or what — the culprits were. He estimates grizzly bears have killed at least 14 of his cows during the past four years, including four this season. He’s been frustrated, however, that wildlife managers haven’t proactively helped to keep his herd safe from the federally protected predators — or set traps to remove bears immediately following confirmed livestock kills. He considers the conflicts on his ranch evidence that grizzly bears have met their Endangered Species Act recovery goals, and it’s past time to take the Greater Yellowstone area population off the list of protected species. “We need to have methods to protect our livestock,” said Mays, who also raises forage in Howe, Idaho, and trucks cattle and agricultural commodities. “This is my livelihood.” Mays discovered four missing bred heifers on Aug. 28. That same day, he found two fresh carcasses, which Idaho Wildlife Services staff quickly confirmed as grizzly kills. Mays initially sought the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s help with grizzlies when they surfaced in his pasture in early June. Policy, however, prevented wildlife managers from acting prior to a confirmed attack...more

Video - Wyoming rancher reflects on grizzly attack

Cutting-edge technology could transform industry

Two Texas Panhandle natives are at the heart of an effort to use cutting-edge technology to transform beef production, an industry with deep roots there. The program entails cloning cattle that produce carcasses on the high end of superior. “We’ve been trying to get to this point ever since somebody started raising cattle,” said Jason Abraham, a rancher and cloning expert with roots in the Canadian area. Through the years, selective breeding has mostly moved the quality of cattle and the meat they produce ever upward, but very slowly. Then came artificial insemination using semen harvested from superior bulls and embryo transplanting from top females fertilized by semen from equally special bulls. Those embryos go into less expensive females to incubate, producing multiple desirable calves instead of one at a time. Artificial insemination and embryo transplants played a role in the birth of 13 calves at West Texas A&M University in March, but there was a key difference. The calves came from mothers and a father that were cloned by WT, Abraham, Timbercreek veterinarian Gregg Veneklasen and genetics company ViaGen. The cloned parents were made from tissue taken from carcasses that met the top beef grade of Prime Yield Grade 1. That grading system measures the fat marbling, thin ribbons of fat in muscle tissues, without excess outside fat and the size of the ribeye from a carcass. “We want taste fat without waste fat,” said Ty Lawrence, professor of animal science and director of the Beef Carcass Research Center at WT. The plan now is to raise the calves without special treatment and slaughter some next spring to test the team’s hypothesis that making the top grade is a genetic trait that can be passed on...more

Help select the best photo that celebrates America’s hard-working cattle producers

Congratulations to our 15 finalists, who are now eligible to win a $300 voucher for a custom Greeley Hat Works hat, including: Coleman Lang, Donald Graham, Ryan Cone, Lindsay Miller, Max Carlisle, Connie Thompson, Lacey Sabatka, Tierra Kessler, Marlyse Cunningham, Sandra Richelderfer, Don Benedict, Connie Mitchell, Tanna White, and JaNeil Anderson.

To vote for your favorite photograph, simply click on your favorite image below. You can vote daily from now until voting closes at noon on September 25. Once voting is over, we will tally up the votes and announce our winners on September 28. Plus, we will be selecting three voters who will take home a western photography coffee table book, courtesy of BEEF.

To view the complete collection of photos, click here.

The Changing Landscape of the American West

In the late fall of 2009, the photographer Lucas Foglia set out on a rural road in Wyoming and got caught up in the vastness of the land.

For Mr. Foglia, raised on a small farm on Long Island, the landscape he encountered was “bigger and harsher” than any he had ever seen. To his right hung a blue sky over acres of snow-covered sagebrush, but straight in front of his car was a storm cloud. Blinded by the snowstorm’s “white wall of cloud,” he skidded off the road.

After about 20 minutes of silence (amplified by the lack of cars and cellphone reception), a pickup truck pulled over. The driver stepped out, grabbed a rope from the back and towed Mr. Foglia’s car back to the road.

Mr. Foglia had an immediate realization.

In the American West, the communities were a “tight net and people took care of each other, because they had to in a place like that,” he said. 

Those close networks of individuals, and the lands they lived on, would be the subject of his work for the next four years. The photographs of Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, most of which he took as a graduate student at Yale, eventually became the “Frontcountry” collection, released as a book last year by Nazraeli Press.

Throughout interactions with ranchers, farmers, mining employees and other local residents, he learned that two stories occurred in these areas — and few dealt with his original expectation of “nomadic cowboys on horseback.”

One concerned the wild landscape itself, with its ranchers and farmers. The other was that of the mining and energy development boom, its workers and how that economic force was transforming the landscape.

“People in the towns I visited knew that what was happening there was unbelievable,” he said. 


Ranch Radio Song Of The Day #1495

Today we have a classic by Webb Pierce - It's Been So Long.  The tune was recorded in Nashville on March 25, 1953.  Some notables in the studio that day were Chet Atkins eg, Tommy Jackson f, and Owen Bradley piano.  The Westerner

Monday, September 21, 2015

Enviros upset following release of range management plan for Idaho, northern Nevada

A new federal land management plan for southwest Idaho and northern Nevada created after the settlement of a lawsuit aimed at reducing cattle grazing has been released — and it allows an increase. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management last week approved its Resource Management Plan for the Jarbidge Field Office. The settlement agreement with conservationists was reached in 2005. "This demonstrates that the BLM cannot be trusted to put the priority of wildlife and multiple use over cowboys," said Todd Tucci, an attorney for Advocates for the West representing Western Watersheds Project. "Cowboys are running the show." The conservation group will consider another lawsuit, Tucci said. "We can't let an increase in cattle go unchallenged," he said. The previous plan allowed up to 260,000 animal unit months, which increased to 326,000 under the new plan. In the 76-page plan, the BLM cited the 2005 federal lawsuit settlement agreement with Western Watersheds Project as one of the reasons for creating the new plan for the 1.4 million acres of public lands in the Jarbidge Field Office. Heidi Whitlach, project manager for the Rangeland Management Plan, said the wildfires in the area and other parts of the state often pulled workers off the project and accounted for the length of time needed to complete the plan. Rehabilitation efforts in the burned areas, she said, resulted in the planting of grasses to prevent non-desirable invasive species, particularly cheatgrass, from returning. She said the initial years of the new Range Management Plan call for increased grazing and more cattle because of the additional forage with the planted grasses. Over the years, she said, the number of animal unit months will be reduced to 279,000 as more native plants and shrubs return...more

"We can't let an increase in cattle go unchallenged," he said. 

That's been the case across the west for years. Reductions go unchallenged all the time, but every proposed increase is challenged, and it's had an impact on the agencies. 

In NM we had a situation in the Las Cruces District of the BLM where a new owner took over an allotment in a WSA. The allotment had been hit pretty hard but the new owner installed some range improvements and implemented some grazing strategies that brought the allotment back. Based on the improvement in the overall condition of the allotment, the rancher filed for a temporary increase in numbers. The NM BLM state office said no. The rancher appealed and it went to an IBLA judge for a hearing and the rancher won. Why? Because during the course of the hearing an employee of the NM Dept. of Ag found a memo from the Las Cruces BLM office to the State office recommending and justifying the increase. The memo had mysteriously disappeared from the Allotment File, but was found in the Wilderness file. What quickly became clear to the IBLA and everyone else was the State Office had made a decision based on politics, no increases in WSAs, rather than on the data collected on site. 

The article above says cattle numbers should go up or down based on the forage available. But no matter what the science says the enviros are insisting on no increase. No sir, can't let that happen on 1.4 million acres.

3 New Wilderness Areas Spark Toll Talk, Mountain Biker Dejection, Grazing Buyouts

With President Barack Obama’s signature last month, 296,000 acres in Custer and northern Blaine counties received federal wilderness protection. One of the largest roadless areas in the country, the protected acres cover breathtaking mountains and alpine lakes, and fish and wildlife habitat including the world’s highest-elevation salmon runs. But what does the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act mean for people who live in this remote area of Idaho? The city of Stanley is getting land to help address its perennial shortage of housing for seasonal workers. Custer County commissioners, meanwhile, want to erect a toll gate on one of the main wilderness access roads in hopes of making out-of-towners share the maintenance costs. And while the bill had wide support, mountain bikers feel left out because the 1964 Wilderness Act’s prohibition on mechanized vehicles means they are shut out of some formerly popular trails. Livestock grazing is still allowed in areas where it was practiced before, but the act contains provisions whereby conservation groups can pay permit holders to retire their allotments voluntarily and permanently, which Mazzotta said would help to protect the Salmon River watershed and fish. Four grazing allotments are partially within the new wilderness areas; ranchers who are nearby, but not in the wilderness, can also take the buyouts...more

Wolf’s Return to California Stirs Debate

The return of wolves to their former haunts across the West has reached California, where a pack of wolves was spotted for the first time in decades last month, pitting conservationists against ranchers who worry the predators will prey on livestock. Still images of seven gray wolves—two adults and five frolicking pups—were captured in August on a trail camera in Siskiyou County near the Oregon border. The discovery of the pack took place four years after a single radio-collared wolf was detected crossing into California, for the first known time since the animal last existed in the Golden State in 1924. The arrival came as California wildlife officials were still trying to complete a wolf-management plan. Now, state officials are racing to get guidelines in place before conflicts arise, as they have in other Western states, with ranchers trying to defend their herds from predatory attacks, and with hunters who fear the animals will kill too many elk and deer. Since the gray wolf in California is listed as endangered under both federal and state law, ranchers can’t kill or harass them, unless permitted by regulation. “There’s nervousness and fear, because agriculture is the bread and butter of our economy,” said Supervisor Ray Haupt of Siskiyou County, a sparsely populated area of about 45,000 residents that includes the Mount Shasta volcano. But environmentalists say the wolf’s return is a cause for celebration, serving as another milestone in what they call one of the more successful wildlife recovery programs in the West...more

B.C. to increase wolf cull, says it's the best plan to save endangered caribou

British Columbia is aiming to increase the number of wolves it kills this winter in the second year of a plan to save endangered caribou, prompting criticism from celebrities and renewed debate over the controversial strategy. The wolf cull is the best shot to protect threatened caribou from extinction, say caribou experts and government officials, who admit it will take years to determine if the science behind killing wolves works. "It's like trying to dial a radio station in with boxing gloves on," said Tom Ethier, an assistant deputy minister at B.C.'s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, which oversees the cull. "We're really trying to figure out: does this work?" The government planned to kill about 200 wolves last winter, but a low snowpack and bad weather made the hunt difficult, he said. Sharpshooters in helicopters killed 84 wolves in B.C.'s northeast and southeast regions, Ethier said. Wolves are preying on the herds, reducing some caribou in those areas to the point of near extinction, he said. "We did not meet our goal, so this year there could be more wolves removed," Ethier said. The South Selkirk caribou herd had just 18 animals in March 2014, down from 46 in 2009, the government stated. There are about 950 caribou in seven herds in the northeast, with wolves responsible for 40 per cent of deaths in four of those herds...more

How the Valley fire exploded into one of the worst in California history

Joni Prather was tending store at the Yogi Bear campground outside this tiny mountain town when she saw the puff of smoke. "Grass fire," she thought. The smoke was rising about a half mile upwind, created by a small fire that had somehow ignited — the cause is still under investigation — burned through the corner of a utility shed, and crept across the brown lawn in front of a large house. Prather watched the smoke rise over the trees as, half a mile away, the flames climbed alongside a steep driveway to a neighbor's vacation house. When the smoke turned black, she told herself: "It got a structure." She was right. Consuming that house appears to be what gave the Valley fire the critical mass of heat and energy it needed to become a lethal monster. Black scorch marks high up the Ponderosa pines show the reach of the flames. Intense heat from the burning house flash-dried the leaves of a nearby oak tree. Here in the Mayacamas Mountains that hover above Clear Lake, 100 miles north of San Francisco, California's drought has been going on for seven years. Pine beetles have attacked the stressed gray pines, leaving dead timber standing. A century of fire suppression has built up thick undergrowth. When a freakish jet of wind howled up Putah Creek on Sept. 12, it whipped the Valley fire into a conflagration that rocketed it into the ranks of the worst in California history. The wind sent embers as far as a mile to kindle new fires that spawned new embers. Winds rushed through the valley at speeds of some 60 mph. Within minutes of the fire's start, a helicopter, always standing at the ready during fire season, dropped off a Cal Fire captain and his three crew members to corral the spreading blaze by hand, and took off to fetch water from a nearby lake. The four firefighters immediately ran into trouble. Scorch marks show the fire was high in the tops of trees when it climbed the now-black knob where they had tried to make a stand. They deployed their fire shelters and radioed for help, said Jim Comisky, a retired California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection battalion chief who lives nearby. Comisky said Jim Wright, a Cal Fire division chief who also lives nearby, heard the distress call and drove into the fire to get the men, pushing them into his pickup. Within 10 minutes, two helicopters were dropping water, and in 15 more, DC-10 air tankers were painting the valley and the overlook to the east, on which stood an old-style family camp resort, Hoberg's, with pink fire retardant. It wasn't enough...more

Resilient Forest Act Hovering In Senate As Western States Scorched

At least 8.8 million acres of forest have burned this year, and U.S. Forest Service emergency fire spending is at $700 million and counting. President Barack Obama called on Congress recently to address the Forest Service’s exhaustive “fire borrowing,” the transfer of funds from operating budget to emergency fire spending. In August, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the Forest Service was now spending more than half of its budget on fire suppression for the first time in its 110-year history. The Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015, authored by U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, and passed by the House this summer, is expected to be discussed by the Senate Agriculture Committee in the coming days to address the Forest Service’s rising costs for fighting wildfires. While climate change is viewed as a culprit for the wildfires raging in the west and northwestern states, Westerman also points to a lack of forest management as having created larger wildfires. With no logging allowed in many places, excessive undergrowth has created more devastating “crown fires” that rise to the top of the trees and spread more easily by embers in the wind. “Scientific thinning prevents forest fires,” Westerman said on the House floor Thursday. “We must change the way wildfire response is paid for, but we must also focus on prevention. At a time when the western United States is seeing catastrophic wildfires, it is clear that failed policies and bureaucrats in Washington are the problem.”...more

Expanded Powder River Training Range a reality

America will be safer, and so will the future of Ellsworth Air Force Base now that low-flying B-1 bombers took to the air Friday in the first military flying operations at the enormous bomber training area known as the Powder River Training Complex, U.S. Sen. John Thune said Friday. The expansion of the Powder River Training Complex over the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming that was expanded this spring after years of consideration roughly quadruples the training airspace to span nearly 35,000 square miles, making it the largest over the continental U.S. Flight operations began after the Federal Aviation Administration finished mapping work on the expanded airspace, a spokeswoman for the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base said in an email. But the training range expansion, which boosted the airspace to the size of Maine or Indiana, still bothers ranchers who fear for their cattle as well as their own safety, a livestock industry representative said Friday afternoon. Opponents of the airspace expansion have argued that the bombers would disrupt rural communities and scare livestock as they roar overhead on maneuvers, dropping flares and chaff, or fiber clusters intended to disturb radar waves. Native American groups also said the flights could disrupt cultural sites in the area. South Dakota Stockgrowers Association Executive Director Silvia Christen said her group’s 1,000-plus independent livestock producers fully supported the U.S. military, but still had concerns about the expansion. “This isn’t about patriotism, it’s about safety,” Christen said from the association’s Rapid City office. “Our two main concerns have always been things falling from the sky and large, fast-flying military aircraft sharing airspace with ranchers, many of whom use small private aircraft to check their herds and water supplies.” During training exercises, chaff is dropped to scramble radar signals and studies have shown the fine metal particles left behind can be ingested by animals, causing harm, she said. Secondly, flares used in training exercises sometimes fail to extinguish before hitting the ground, causing concern over potential prairie fires, Christen added...more

After Denali name change, attention turns to South Dakota's Harney Peak

...The Obama administration’s decision last month to rename Mount McKinley to Denali gave hope to Lakota Indians and their allies who are fighting to get the federal government to change a name they find offensive and inaccurate. It’s the latest controversy to come before the Board on Geographic Names, an obscure federal committee whose job it is to sort out naming disputes. Many of them are routine: Last week it voted to rename Mud Lake in Oakland County, Mich., to Lake Hope, in part because there are 216 other places named Mud Lake in Michigan. But the board is also called upon to settle the most contentious battles at the intersection of language, geography and culture. “There is no better argument for the importance of geographic names than the controversies that arise when someone, or some organization, or some government agency proposes changing them,” says Mark Monmonier, a distinguished professor of geography at Syracuse University and the author of From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow: How Maps Name, Claim and Inflame. He spoke Friday at a Library of Congress Symposium celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Board on Geographic Names. There are, for example, 866 features in the United States that still carry the name “Squaw,” which many Native Americans find to be a pejorative word for an Indian woman, even after the board has renamed 246 of them. There are 617 places that have the word “Negro” many of which were last renamed following a 1963order from the secretary of the Interior ordering a ban on place names with a similar, even more offensive, moniker. There have been proposals from Native American groups to restore the original native names of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, Mount Rainier in Washington and even the iconic volcano Mount St. Helens. And then there’s the case of Harney Peak, named for a particularly brutal Army general who Lakota tribes blame for killing 86 people including women and children under Chief Little Thunder’s flag of truce in the Battle of Ash Hollow in 1855. Like Mount McKinley’s namesake, Gen. William Harney probably never visited Harney Peak, which sits in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was named for him by a military surveyor before the Civil War...more

Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton selling land, horses in Parker County

SODA SPRINGS — Water brought settlers to this part of Parker County in the 1850s, and it’s water that lured one of the world’s wealthiest women in 1998, when she hired local rancher Mac Coalson to help her string together nearly 6,000 acres of horse-friendly ranch land.

For nearly nine miles, the Brazos River runs through Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton’s two remaining Texas ranches, which she and Coalson began putting together as Walton moved from Arkansas 17 years ago. She came to continue her quest to build some of America’s top-producing cutting horse bloodlines, and since then her breeding operation has produced enough trophies, titles and lifetime earnings on the cutting horse circuit to make even the richest person in Texas proud.

Now, Walton has tapped Coalson to dismantle the property he helped assemble, and she’ll sell her herd of about 100 horses in a two-day auction at the Rocking W Ranch beginning Monday.

The horses for sale Monday and Tuesday aren’t ordinary cow horses. They’re the end result of a 25-year program that Walton began in Arkansas and brought to fruition in Texas. Thousands of spectators are expected Monday for the horses’ workout.

Jeremy Barwick, whose Western Bloodstock Ltd. is handling the sale, said the horses should bring at least $2.5 million and perhaps much more, given their bloodlines...

When Walton moved to Texas in 1998, she did it quietly. And her profile here has been much lower than that of other, far less wealthy billionaires, from Mark Cuban to T. Boone Pickens. That year, her $11 billion net worth tied her for sixth place among America’s top billionaires, in a tie with her widowed mother, Helen Walton, and three brothers.

The first public word of her trading Arkansas for Texas came in a report in The Dallas Morning News on Oct. 7, 1998, citing real estate records showing she had bought a ranch near Weatherford. The headline: “Walton’s Daughter May Live in Texas.”

Seventeen years later, Walton’s nearly $40 billion net worth makes her the world’s third-richest woman. She’s also the richest person in Texas.

Trinity downwinders decry secrecy in new federal study of atomic test’s health impacts

Seventy years after the top-secret explosion of the world’s first nuclear device in the Southern New Mexico desert, advocates for New Mexicans who say radioactive fallout from the Trinity Site test made them ill are growing increasingly wary of what they say is a new round of government secrecy, even as they are finally getting attention from the government after years of having their complaints ignored. This new uneasiness was apparent as they met in Santa Fe last week with National Cancer Institute researchers who are making the first attempt to document possible doses of radiation received by individuals across the state and assess the health risks. For privacy and scientific-research reasons, the researchers said, they could not reveal the protocols they are following as they conduct a survey of lifestyles that might have led to internal exposures to radiation from the nuclear cloud that deposited fallout across a wide area in July 1945. That explanation failed to satisfy some who have complained that the U.S. government told them nothing about the potential dangers before or after Los Alamos scientists set off the atomic bomb. “When something is done in such secrecy … when they say ‘we can’t share that, we can’t share this,’ it just makes me very suspicious,” said Tina Cordova , leader of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, which is working to get Congress to acknowledge Southern New Mexicans’ claims of decades of suffering from what they believe were radiation-induced cancers, thyroid disease and other afflictions. “It’s just reminiscent of the secrecy that was in place around the development of the Trinity bomb and the testing, and even what goes on in Los Alamos today,” she said. “I can’t help but think that in some regard, we’ve become victims again.” National Cancer Institute researchers briefed members of Cordova’s group and other activists, as well as representatives from New Mexico Indian tribes and the state’s congressional delegation, on the institute’s work toward determining possible statewide health effects from the Trinity test...more

Ranch Radio Song Of The Day #1494

So how would a fiddler from Cape Breton handle a Bob Wills swing tune?  Well it's Swingin' Monday and I think you will agree Natalie MacMaster handles it damn well as she performs The Beaumont Rag.  The tune is on her 1997 CD No Boundaries.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Real Florida Cowboy

MANATEE COUNTY — The cowboy is an iconic symbol often associated with America and the Wild West. Identified by their wide-brimmed hats, boots, spurs, bandanas and holsters, the rugged frontiersmen of the 1800s spent their days tirelessly driving cattle over rough, dry terrain. Those that know my column also know that cattle-driving is a big part of Florida culture as well, and during the days of the open range the Florida terrain was just as rugged as the Wild West, if not more so. What many might not know is that the very first cow hunters were far from the iconic image of the American Cowboy, as those original cow hunters were actually native and black Americans. The Seminole Nation—the collective name given to the combination of various groups of native Americans and black people who settled in Florida in the early 18th century—was first associated with Alachua County (of which Manatee County was part of). A colony became the first cow hunters, domesticating herds of cattle and riding Spanish ponies. Many slaves and free blacks joined the Seminoles and found work in the cattle business. Those Florida cow hunters frontiersmen rounded up pineywoods cattle, which were originally brought over by the Spaniards during the 1500s, and sold them for profit. In order to drive the wild animals in the right direction, cow hunters would crack a whip, which is where the term ‘Florida crackers’ originated. When Florida became an American territory in 1821, most of its inhabitants fled for other Spanish colonies. However, 5,000 Seminoles (including 500 of African descent) stayed on. So did many free black cowboys, even though the American system imposed severe restrictions on them. During the Civil War, vast herds of cattle were driven north by black and white cow hunters to supply the Confederate Army. Many runaway slaves joined the Union Army and often served as drovers to supply the troops with beef. After the war, many of Florida's black cowboys migrated to work the large cattle ranches out west...more

Cowgirl Sass and Savvy

by Julie Carter
In my book, fall is about the most perfect of the year’s four seasons. It is the time when all things that make cowboys, rednecks and assorted combinations thereof the very happiest.

At the ranch, it's payday time. Cattle buyers resurrect from out of nowhere and all eyes, ears and cell phones are on the markets. Whether the crop is yearlings or fresh-weaned calves, every year is a new episode of "let's make a deal." 

The blooms on everything green, nurtured by summer rains and sunshine, are at their peak of beauty. Flowers abound both in the yards and thanks to the rains this year, also in the fields and on the hillsides. 

While your cowboy might not be big on posies, I guarantee you he's happy with the tall grass and practically gleeful over the fat cattle lying in that grass, bellies full and hides licked slick.

The camouflage corps have their binoculars focused and their weapons of choice tuned while they dream dreams of the perfect hunting season(s). Let a hint of crisp slip into the morning air and hunters everywhere trade in their hammocks and barbeque tools for game calls and camping gear.

Cattle trucks start rolling down the highways between the ranches and the wheat fields or feedlots. Every small-town café has a parking lot periodically filled with flatbed pickups pulling stock trailers along with other pickups loaded with 4-wheelers, coolers and all the trappings of a Cabela's made-to-order hunting camp.

Here in the Southwest, throw in the smell of roasting green chiles to complete the fall ambiance and life is just about as perfect as you can get it.

If that isn't enough to paint a picture of the best of the year, add to the mix some pre-season football that seamlessly morphs into a regular season of high school, college and professional games. Whether football is your "thing" or not, the onslaught of sports-mania permeates the air, unsurpassed by anything including politics. 

Neighbors helping neighbors to get all the fall cattle work done is a jewel in the crown of ranching. Calendars are full of marks on dates for the ranch up the road, the ranch down the road and another one an hour or so away. 

Those days will be dedicated to the time-honored custom of "neighboring" -- where the work and the fun, and there is always some of that, is shared with folks that know you'll be there when they need an extra man, horse and help.

Now is the time for all good men ... and horses, dogs, kids and ranch wives ... to rise to the call of long hours, dusty corrals, sunrises that bless the "waiting on daylight" mornings, rattling trailers, ready ropes, the smell of sage and cedar, hot coffee poured from a campfire pot and the camaraderie of cowboys working a vocation they wouldn't trade for anything.

The life is not all that glamorous or romantic, but it does have an intangible something that anchors men's souls to the land. 

Whether they own it or hire on to be part of it, it transforms an occupation into a belonging and an existence into a passion for living.

Julie, steeped in fall nostalgia, can be reached for comment at