Friday, April 08, 2016

56 fighting cocks seized from Albuquerque home

Officers seized 56 roosters, which they say were prepped for cockfighting, from an Albuquerque home this week. The birds were found by officers executing a search warrant at a home near Central NE on Wednesday after a monthslong Animal Welfare Department criminal investigation. Though the birds weren’t severely injured, police say their combs and other appendages were cut for fighting. Officers also seized syringes used to inject the birds and knives that cockfighting trainers attach to roosters’ legs for deadlier fights. According to a search warrant affidavit, a man named Hector Garcia-Salas let officers onto a property in the 200 block of Wisconsin NE, where they saw the roosters clipped for fighting. Romero said cockfighting isn’t an unusual crime in Albuquerque, but the Animal Welfare Department hasn’t investigated many other cases recently. “We haven’t gotten a lot of reports on it, so it’s a pretty tight group,” he said. “It’s happening underneath our noses and we just happened to get a report on this one.”...more0

A tale of two wildlife refuges

By Erik Molvar

The strange and tragic spectacle of the armed seizure of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge this January by Ammon Bundy and his ragtag band of miscreants began with hostilities between refuge officials and a local rancher, jailed for setting illegal fires on public land. But for the fence-cutting and livestock trespass by Dwight and Steve Hammond on National Wildlife Refuge lands, this ill-conceived standoff may never have gotten started, much less escalated to the level of armed conflict.

Livestock trespass at Malheur isn't limited to one arson-happy family of ranchers. "I find trespass cattle on the refuge every year," remarks Dr. Steve Herman, an ecologist on the faculty of Evergreen College. "Once I found cowflop on the headquarters lawn."

Herman travels to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge every year to study the bird life, sometimes bringing students from his bird-banding class on nearby Steens Mountain. Waterfowl from the refuge wetlands can travel a mile or more to nest in the uplands, Herman notes, and this oasis in the midst of the southern Oregon desert boasts waterfowl production to rival the world-renowned prairie potholes region of the northern Great Plains.

"There were great nesting areas in the uplands in the old days," Herman recalls. But about 20 years ago, the National Wildlife Refuge manager opened up the uplands up to livestock grazing. Instead of recognizing the impact of livestock, however, refuge officials blame bird declines on non-native carp in the streams and lakes. "They blame the carp for the decline of waterfowl production, which is now only 10 percent of the original production," notes Herman, referring to the invasion of non-native carp that now stirs up silt in local waterways, affecting the growth of aquatic plants. "But the carp have been an epidemic for decades."

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge bent over backwards to accommodate local ranching interests, allowing large tracts of fertile bottomland to be converted to cropfields producing hay, buckraked into piles each autumn. Local ranchers turn out their cattle on hayfields throughout the refuge for winter-long feeding. Refuge officials have claimed that this heavy winter grazing warms the soil and increases the availability of insects for shorebirds and waterfowl that stop through on their migrations.

Not 30 miles from Malhuer, the Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge was calm and peaceful while down the road the militants brandished assault rifles, misquoted the Constitution and railed against federal land managers for not giving ranchers a fair shake. Unlike Malheur, Hart Mountain has been closed to livestock grazing for decades...

Molvar is the Sagebrush Sea Campaign Director with WildEarth Guardians

So there you have it.  Where there is livestock you have destruction of resources; "arson-happy", trespassing ranchers; guns and violence.  Where livestock are banned, things are "calm and peaceful."  The beer there actually does taste great and is less filling.  This is the kind of bunk your reps and their staffs are hit with every day.

And oh my, that "cowflop" on the lawn.  That alone warrants road blocks and the gunning down of citizens.

Yes, everything has finally been explained. 

Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative tackles predation

Imagine a grizzly bear wandering south from the Yukon into the Alberta Rockies and encountering a mate that made a similarly remarkable journey north from 
Yellowstone National Park in 
Wyoming. This type of encounter is part of the vision of an ambitious wildlife conservation effort in Western Canada and the United States. Called the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y), the purpose is to create a wildlife-friendly corridor through a 3,200 kilometre stretch of land spanning from the Yukon to Yellowstone National Park. It is a collaborative effort to create habitats that allow large wild animals such as grizzly bears and wolves to thrive and move more freely through areas that were in their historical range before European settlement. Increasing human activity, development in natural areas and habitat fragmentation are contributing to the decline in wild mammals. It also limits their ability to adapt to climate change, which is a serious and increasing threat. Animals will have to move to habitats with more favourable conditions or perish if climate change drastically changes current nature reserves. There is little hope that wild animals could successfully reestablish themselves elsewhere if safe connections between natural areas are lacking. This large-scale North American conservation project is important for several reasons...more

Please take the time to read this.  It will explain the battles to come.

Obama Readies Flurry of Regulations

The Obama administration is racing to make final a flurry of regulations affecting broad swaths of the economy, further riling U.S. businesses in an election season that has already been tough on corporate interests. Planned moves—across labor, health, finance and the environment—range from overtime pay for white-collar workers to more obscure matters such as requiring food makers to disclose added sugar on cartons of flavored milk. The expected burst of regulation follows an intense few weeks in which the administration has targeted corporate tax inversions, imposed new rules on brokers and advanced restrictions on company relations with union organizers. The rush reflects President Barack Obama’s aim to use his final months in office to cement a progressive domestic-policy legacy using executive powers despite fierce opposition from a Republican-controlled Congress. Business uncertainty from Washington may not change anytime soon. Presidential front-runners in both parties have shown greater hostility toward business in some ways, with Democrats promising stiffer regulation and Republicans calling for new tariffs or an end to subsidies. In his first seven years, Mr. Obama issued 392 regulations deemed “major,” meaning each carries an expected economic effect exceeding $100 million annually. Forty-seven more sat on the drawing board for this year. The tally issued already tops the totals during the eight-year tenures of George W. Bush, at 358, and Bill Clinton, at 361, according to an analysis by George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center. Raw tallies can be imprecise because they obscure particularly consequential regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency’s clean power plant rules issued last year, for example, would require a 32% cut in power plant carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels. Such a bid to address climate change aims to reshape how energy is produced in America. In February, the Supreme Court granted a temporary order blocking the regulation until courts resolve legal challenges. Although Mr. Obama has until his term ends in January to make regulations final, a deadline looms this spring. Congress can vote to stop any regulation within 60 legislative days of its completion. The president can veto such resolutions. If Republicans win the White House and maintain control of Congress, any rule issued by Mr. Obama within 60 legislative days of the end of his term could be overturned. That is because a Democratic president wouldn’t be there to veto a congressional vote to block the regulation...more (subscription)

Lawmakers Ruin EPA Chief’s Earth Day With Plans For A Subpoena

Republicans lawmakers are looking to put a huge damper on Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy’s plans for 2016’s Earth Day by issuing a subpoena for her to appear at a field hearing in Arizona to answer for the agency-caused mine blowout. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso  , who chairs the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said he’s working with committee members to get McCarthy to attend a field hearing in Phoenix April 22, which is Earth Day. McCarthy may not be able to join Secretary of State John Kerry in signing the United Nations Paris agreement to cut carbon dioxide emissions, set to take place in New York City on Earth Day. It’s not yet clear if McCarthy will attend the field hearing. The subpoena threat comes after EPA refused to send a representative to the field hearing, which will examine EPA’s treatment of Navajo Nation residents in the wake of the Gold King Mine blowout in Colorado that agency workers caused in August...more

Wolf compensation program growing

Livestock producers may now submit applications under the Mexican Wolf/Livestock Plan to the Mexican Wolf/Livestock Council to receive payments for wolf presence. The deadline for application submissions is June 1, 2016. The plan was developed two years ago by the Council to address wolf-livestock conflicts, which is one of the most significant impediments to Mexican wolf recovery, wolf reintroduction advocates contend. The plan is comprised of three core strategies: payments for wolf presence, funding for conflict avoidance measures, and funding for depredation compensation. “The Mexican Wolf/ Livestock Council’s payments for wolf presence program recognizes the indirect costs to livestock producers from Mexican wolves, including stress-related weight loss in livestock and other management costs,” Benjamin Tuggle, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Southwest Regional Director, said. “While we recognize that the program is not fully funded yet, we and the Council are continuing to seek funding to fully implement this valuable program.” Payments to livestock producers for wolf presence are based on a formula that considers a variety of factors, including whether the applicant’s land or grazing lease overlaps a wolf territory or core area and the number of wolf pups from that pack surviving to December 31, recognizing that survival of wolf pups is not dependent upon the livestock producer. The formula also considers the number of livestock exposed to wolves and the applicant’s participation in proactive conflict avoidance measures. Seed funding for the Coexistence Plan comes from the Federal Livestock Demonstration Program, which in 2015 provided $40,000 for depredation compensation and $60,000 for preventative measures to Arizona Game and Fish Department, and $60,000 for depredation compensation and $34,000 for preventative measures to the New Mexico Department of Agriculture. The grant funds are matched by in-kind contributions through the Mexican Wolf Fund and Defenders of Wildlife providing financial assistance to livestock producers to implement proactive measures to reduce conflicts between Mexican wolves and livestock...more

Oregon standoff defendant Jake Ryan detained until trial

Refuge occupier Jake Ryan will remain in a Portland jail pending trial despite assurances from a Montana sheriff that he would keep an eye on him if returned to that state. U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Papak said Thursday he might have granted pre-trial release had Ryan surrendered last month after learning that a grand jury had returned an indictment against him. Instead, Ryan became a fugitive until his arrest Tuesday in Clark County, Washington. “The fact that you went into hiding — into hiding armed — causes me great concern,” Papak said. Ryan traveled to Oregon in January with four firearms and served as a guard. His attorney, Jesse Merrithew, asked the judge to let Ryan return to Montana pending trial. He stressed that Ryan has no criminal record, and Sheriff Tom Rummel of Sanders County fully supported having Ryan return to Plains, something he wouldn’t want if Ryan were a problem. Merrithew said the sheriff told him that if Ryan ran, “he would track him down himself.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel countered that Rummel is a friend of Ryan’s family, failed to find him during the month he went into hiding and is not entirely cooperative with federal law enforcement. “If he’s released, law enforcement is unlikely to find him again,” Gabriel said...more

Dog Walkers Snarl at National Park Service

Dog owners sued the National Park Service for records on a new rule that will restrict dog walking in the 80,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area in three Bay Area counties. Save Our Recreation and three dog-owner groups sued the National Park Service and Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell on Wednesday in Federal Court, demanding information and an injunction. The Park Service's proposed dog management rule restricts on- and off-leash dog walking to 22 sites in the 80,000-acre park that includes areas of San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties. The groups say the Park Service had been "maneuvering to radically reduce" dog walkers' access to the park for more than a decade before it issued its proposed rule on Feb. 24. After proposing dog restrictions in 2014, the park submitted to a public process engineered to "legitimize" its "pre-determined radical reduction" in access for dog walkers, the plaintiffs say. The comment period for the new rule ends May 25. The dog walkers say the Park Service has not responded to a Freedom of Information Act request filed last year, in a deliberate attempt to stop them from "meaningfully participating" in the rulemaking process. "It is apparent that as part of its long-term 'strategy,' NPS has decided to delay production of and keep from public view certain records because it does not want those records to be used in connection with the public comment process for the Proposed Dog Rule, or in connection with potential future lawsuits challenging the various decisions of NPS to unlawfully restrict and reduce dog walking."...more

Ranch Radio Song Of The Day #1595

Windy Bill by R.W. Hampton is Ranch Radio's selection for today.  Don't know who thought of adding the clarinet, but its a nice touch.  The tune is on his 1994 CD Born To Be A Cowboy and explains why you better follow that California law.  (There's some controversy concerning the origins of this song and some of the terms used.  One author says, "Thorp says he first heard sung by John Collier, Cornudas Mountain, New Mexico, July 1899.  You can read about it here.)

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Climate Change and the ESA: Protecting the Wolverine in the Face of Uncertainty

by Seth Jaffe

Under the Endangered Species Act, a species is “threatened” when it is “likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future.”  As scientists continue to predict that climate change will alter habitat over the coming century, it certainly seems “foreseeable” that more species will become endangered.  That’s what the Fish & Wildlife Service concluded about the wolverine in early 2013.  When FWS backtracked in 2014, Defenders of Wildlife sued.  Earlier this week, Judge Dana Christensen held that FWS’s decision to withdraw its proposed listing of the wolverine was arbitrary and capricious.

The case is important for two reasons.  First, as the FWS acknowledged with more than a hint of trepidation:
The situation [the Service] face[s] with the wolverine – whether a species is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future because of climate change effects – will become a common source of petitioned actions and threaten the Service’s resources to address priority issues.
...Which leads to the next reason why the case is important.  As the FW&S gets deluged with petitions requesting that various species be threatened because it is “foreseeable” that habitat loss resulting from climate change will cause them to become endangered, how must the FWS assess the science supporting a listing petition?  The FWS is supposed to look to the “best scientific and commercial data available”.

With respect to the wolverine petition, those challenging the proposed listing and the FWS when it backtracked both pointed to substantial uncertainties about the two key studies on which the petition and the proposed listing were based.  However, neither the opponents nor the FWS pointed to any better science; all they did was point out alleged flaws and uncertainties in the studies.  To which the Court responded:
Quite simply, the Service cannot demand a greater level of scientific certainty than has been achieved in the field to date – the ‘”best scientific data available’ … standard does not require that the [Service] act only when it can justify its decision with absolute confidence,” and “the ESA accepts agency decisions in the face of uncertainty.”
The Court certainly got this one right.  As we’ve noted previously in this space, at least since Ethyl Corp. v. EPA, the courts have acknowledged that agencies can and sometimes must regulate “with developing evidence, with conflicting evidence, and, sometimes, with little or no evidence at all.”

A Battle Is Brewing Over Obama’s ‘Land Grabs’ In The Western US

by Michael Bastasch

Republican lawmakers and ranchers relying on access to federal lands are gearing up to push back against the Obama administration’s use of a century-old law to lock up millions of acres of public lands from development.

The White House has used the Antiquities Act of 1906 designate more than 260 million acres of federally-controlled lands and waters as 17 national monuments, which makes it harder to drill or ranch on lands that may have traditionally been used for that purpose.

The president used the law to expand federal lands more than any of his predecessors, and Republicans and ranching groups have called the president’s actions “land grabs” aimed at locking up areas from any economic activity.

These unilateral designations may earn praise from environmentalists, but they worry pro-ranching advocates who see communities being destroyed and livelihoods being put at risk by making it harder to access federal lands.

“When these designation come in, it doesn’t just upset what is in play today, it affects those rural communities that have been in place for generations,” Brenda Richards, president of the Public Lands Council, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

...Increasingly, ranchers, farmers and others who rely on access to federal lands for grazing feel their livelihoods are being threatened by Obama’s monument designations. That worry is especially acute for those in the western U.S. where nearly half the land is controlled by the federal government.

...“This is presidential bullying,” Republican Utah Rep. Rob Bishop said of Obama’s recent monument designations. “The intent of the Antiquities Act is not to act as the President’s magic wand to commandeer land.”

House Republicans recently wrote to the White House demanding information on how the administration goes about choosing which lands the president will unilaterally bring under stricter federal management.

Obama is considering designating millions of more acres of land as national monuments, including 2.5 million acres in southeastern Oregon. The Public Lands Council argues this will be another designation where local communities aren’t consulted, but saddled with negative economic impacts.

Marin officials fight attempt to oust ranchers from National Seashore

Marin County officials are rallying to support ranchers in the fight against a lawsuit they think would end cattle and dairy operations in the Point Reyes National Seashore. Rep. Jared Huffman joined county supervisors in backing continued ranching activity in the national parkland, an enterprise federal officials promised could continue when families who had farmed the land for generations sold their holdings for inclusion in the park decades ago. After meeting in closed session, the board announced the county will join the National Park Service in the legal fight to oppose the lawsuit. Just a year after an oyster farming operation was booted from the seashore amid heated controversy, three environmental groups have taken aim at ranching, saying park officials must update a management plan and conduct an environmental analysis before extending cattle grazing rights. Ranchers fear the lawsuit will doom their leases. Some observers fear an end to ranching in the seashore would erode the farming economy in West Marin, perhaps leading to residential development of vacant farmland parcels. Huffman and the county board sided squarely with the ranching community Tuesday as a crowd gathered at the Civic Center to boost farming as usual on coastal parkland...more 

Time after time we see this.  The enviros say, "ranching can continue", and then when they get the designation they want (Wilderness, National Monument, National Conservation Area, etc.) they use every administrative and judicial tool available to run them off.   Anyone who believes them is a fool and any politician mouthing the same line speaks with a forked tongue.

Debate Reignites Over Mountain Bikes in Wilderness Areas

The age-old debate over whether mountain bikes should be allowed in designated wilderness areas is heating up again as new legislation is expected to surface in Congress over the next month seeking to change the bedrock environmental law. A national mountain-biking group called Sustainable Trails Coalition has drafted a bill — the Human-Powered Wildlands Travel Management Act of 2015 — that would give local land managers, such as U.S. Forest Service supervisors, the ability to decide whether riders can use sections of trail in designated wilderness areas, whether for recreational riding or for trail maintenance and other work using wheeled tools. The debate over bikes in protected wilderness has intensified in the decades since 1984, when the Forest Service explicitly outlawed “mechanized transport” in those areas. The original Wilderness Act of 1964 stated, “there shall be … no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no land of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area.” At the time, mountain biking was unheard of; yet by 1984 the sport was in its infant stages as a growing popular activity, and Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club and other conservation groups convinced the Forest Service to broaden the wilderness prohibition from motorized to mechanized transport, effectively outlawing bikes. Today, the popularity of mountain biking has ballooned — an estimated 40 million people participate in the activity annually, according to a survey by the Outdoor Industry Foundation. At the same time, the amount of designated wilderness has grown to over 109 million acres across the U.S., including over 3.4 million in Montana. Last week, as the bill awaits a sponsor in Congress, a group of 116 conservation organizations from across the U.S., including 13 from Montana, published a letter asking lawmakers to reject any proposed changes that would allow bikes in the wilderness...more

Officials sign pact to tear down Klamath dams

Endangered salmon blocked for nearly a century from hundreds of miles of the Klamath River in Oregon and California are expected to return en masse under unusual agreements signed Wednesday to tear down four hydroelectric dams. U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who signed the agreements with the governors of both states, said the plan would bring about one of the largest river restoration projects in U.S. history. The landmark agreements also protect farmers and ranchers from rising power and water prices as the various interests work to end long-running water wars in the drought-stricken Klamath River basin. The dams now block fish from migrating to their historic spawning grounds and also degrade water quality, spreading fish diseases and algae blooms. Salmon are sacred to some Native American tribes that use them for subsistence and ceremony. The Klamath basin has been the site of tense disputes among tribes, environmentalists, farmers and ranchers for nearly two decades. In 2001, water deliveries to farmers and ranchers were severely curtailed. Adult salmon suffered a major die-off a year later. Salmon harvests have been sharply reduced for the tribes as well as recreational and commercial fishers. The latest deal is spelled out in two agreements signed at the mouth of the Klamath in Northern California in a ceremony attended by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, California Gov. Jerry Brown, high-ranking federal officials, tribal leaders, conservation groups, large-scale water users and dam-owner PacifiCorp. The agreements include promises to keep working on a dormant, 6-year-old settlement process that died when Congress failed to approve it last year. In addition to removing dams, the initial settlement would have restored tribal lands and provided more water for farmers and ranchers. By removing the dams without congressional approval, and providing price assurances to farmers in exchange, the advocates hope to make the larger deal more palatable for Congress...more

Further review on species effects needed for three pesticides

Federal wildlife agencies will have to prepare detailed analyses on how three widely used pesticides affect endangered species, the Environmental Protection Agency has concluded. The agency released draft biological evaluations today on the effects of chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion on threatened and endangered species and designated critical habitat, updating evaluations it released in December. The “effects determinations” indicate that the Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service will have to prepare Endangered Species Act (ESA)-required Biological Opinions on 1,725 species for chlorpyrifos and malathion, and on 1,416 species for diazinon. Those species are “likely to (be) adversely affected” by use of the three chemicals, EPA found. The language comes from the ESA. The agency said the draft biological evaluations “were developed using interim scientific methods developed collaboratively with USFWS and NMFS. The interim scientific methods represent a new paradigm for analyzing pesticides for effects on endangered species and were developed in response to the April 2013 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report, ‘Assessing Risks to Endangered and Threatened Species from Pesticides' “In developing the biological evaluations, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided expertise on crop production and pesticide use and helped EPA use the National Agricultural Statistics Service Cropland Data Layer to help define the footprint of agricultural use patterns.”...more

Notice they used the NASS data...

Bull fetches $350,000 in legendary sale

With a $350,000 sales price Tuesday, the Malta bull known as HA Cowboy Up can fairly be referred to as the Ferrari of the black Angus, though rancher Dave Hinman says the number that originally excited folks is much smaller: 4.25. The most expensive bull anyone can remember first turned heads as he gained 4.25 pounds a day, a staggering amount of weight for any bull, but particularly for one with a medium frame. It’s a big part of what made Cowboy Up the rancher’s version of the Powerball. Buyers from as far away as New England gathered Tuesday at Hinman Angus Ranch to bid on Cowboy Up, a bull that had the Hinman family’s phone ringing for 60 days leading up to the sale. There were literally groups of buyers scrambling to pool their resources to come up with enough money to make a serious offer. In the end, the successful offer was assembled by the owners of N Bar Ranch about 35 miles southeast of Lewistown. Cowboy Up was carefully transported to Origen Beef outside of Billings, where his semen will be collected, frozen and used to create generations of cattle long after Cowboy Up has passed into legend. And legend is the right word for a bull of this caliber, insiders say. The animals only come along maybe once a decade, rarely from the same ranch. “It is that rare,” Hinman said. “We may never get another one in our lifetime. These bulls don’t come along very often.” Hinman and his wife, Yvonne, have been raising seed stock bulls since 1973. They started out on a rented ranch in Willow Creek near Bozeman, their hometown. They raised two daughters and eventually moved their operation to Malta. Daughter Heidi Lulloff and her husband, Billy, are partners in the ranch. Four generations are now tied to the business...more

Spies In The Skies

Each weekday, dozens of U.S. government aircraft take to the skies and slowly circle over American cities. Piloted by agents of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the planes are fitted with high-resolution video cameras, often working with “augmented reality” software that can superimpose onto the video images everything from street and business names to the owners of individual homes. At least a few planes have carried devices that can track the cell phones of people below. Most of the aircraft are small, flying a mile or so above ground, and many use exhaust mufflers to mute their engines — making them hard to detect by the people they’re spying on. The government’s airborne surveillance has received little public scrutiny — until now. BuzzFeed News has assembled an unprecedented picture of the operation’s scale and sweep by analyzing aircraft location data collected by the flight-tracking website Flightradar24 from mid-August to the end of December last year, identifying about 200 federal aircraft. Day after day, dozens of these planes circled above cities across the nation. The FBI and the DHS would not discuss the reasons for individual flights but told BuzzFeed News that their planes are not conducting mass surveillance. The DHS said that its aircraft were involved with securing the nation’s borders, as well as targeting drug smuggling and human trafficking, and may also be used to support investigations by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. The FBI said that its planes are only used to target suspects in specific investigations of serious crimes, pointing to a statement issued in June 2015, after reporters and lawmakers started asking questions about FBI surveillance flights. “It should come as no surprise that the FBI uses planes to follow terrorists, spies, and serious criminals,” said FBI Deputy Director Mark Giuliano, in that statement. “We have an obligation to follow those people who want to hurt our country and its citizens, and we will continue to do so.” But most of these government planes took the weekends off. The BuzzFeed News analysis found that surveillance flight time dropped more than 70% on Saturdays, Sundays, and federal holidays. “The fact that they are mostly not flying on weekends suggests these are relatively run-of-the-mill investigations,” Nathan Freed Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Project on Speech, Privacy, and Technology, told BuzzFeed News. The government’s aerial surveillance programs deserve scrutiny by the Supreme Court, said Adam Bates, a policy analyst with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C. “It’s very difficult to know, because these are very secretive programs, exactly what information they’re collecting and what they’re doing with it,” Bates told BuzzFeed News...more

Ranch Radio Song Of The Day #1594

Michael Martin Murphey - Night Hawk is our selection today.  A great song, beautifully delivered and fits my mood upon learning of Merle Haggard's passing.  May cause some reflections by you also. The tune is on Murphey's 1998 CD Cowboy Songs IV.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

3D-printed eggs could radically change how conservationists monitor endangered species

Captive breeding programs sometimes help endangered populations, but it’s tricky for scientists to mimic the precise conditions of the wild. So ICBP turned to hardware tech company Microduino to devise a solution. Microduino created a 3D-printed egg, designed to be indistinguishable from the vulture’s other eggs, that contains three of their one-square-inch microprocessors. The microprocessors are connected to temperature and humidity sensors lining the egg to let researchers know from a distance how the things functioning, so they don’t have to disturb the vultures. If the nest can be monitored without a disruptive human presence during the hatching cycle – 70 days – the captive breeding program has a better chance of success...more

‘It was a monster’: Hunters kill enormous 800-pound alligator that was feasting on farm cattle

Two Florida hunters said they bagged a nearly 800-pound alligator that had been feasting on their farm cattle. Lee Lightsey, who owns the hunting business Outwest Farms in Okeechobee, spotted the nearly 15-foot alligator over the weekend in a cattle pond while on a gator hunt with his guide, Blake Godwin, according to news reports. "Although this animal is huge, I was not that surprised it existed," Lightsey told BBC News. "We have come across lots over the last 20 years that have been only a little smaller. "But what really drew our attention to this animal was the fact that it seems to have been feasting on the cattle on my farm, because mutilated body parts were found in the water. It was a monster which needed to be removed." Godwin told a Fox affiliate that the giant gator came to the surface about 20 feet in front of them and Lightsey shot it. The alligator was so enormous, Godwin said, the hunters had to use a farm tractor to pull it from the cattle pond...more

Wolverines Win Big In Court After Being Denied Endangered Species Protection

On Monday, imperiled wolverines, also known as “mountain devils,” won big in court. A federal judge ruled that they were improperly denied endangered species protection in light of the threat they face from climate change. Conservationists have raised serious concerns that these snow-dependent animals are up against a real threat of extinction because of climate change. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) previously acknowledged that “climate warming over the next century is likely to significantly reduce wolverine habitat, to the point where persistence of wolverines in the contiguous United States, without intervention, is in doubt.” U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen said that it appeared “immense political pressure” from Western states helped drive the decision to deny them protection, adding in his opinion, “It is the [Court’s] view that if there is one thing required of the Service under the ESA, it is to take action at the earliest possible, defensible point in time to protect against the loss of biodiversity within our reach as a nation. For the wolverine, that time is now.” While the FWS still has a year to reexamine its conclusion and make a new decision, conservationists are celebrating the win in court and are hopeful wolverines will now get the protection they desperately need...more

Griz delisting discussion continues

By all measurements, the Yellowstone grizzly bear has recovered as an endangered species and a state Game and Fish proposed plan to manage the animal if it is delisted from the Endangered Species Act will be ready to be put in place by the end of 2016. “I am reasonably confident we are going to see a delisting rule (this year),” said Brian Nesvik, Wyoming’s chief warden and wildlife division head. Nesvik spoke in Cody on Monday night at an informational hearing reviewing the state’s draft proposal for a time when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acts to delist the grizzly. However, it was also revealed at the Holiday Inn session the plan agreed to by Wyoming, Montana and Idaho authorities does not match the USFWS plan. The federal Service has a scheduled hearing on its own delisting proposal in Cody, also at the Holiday Inn, next Monday. An informational session will run 2-4 p.m., followed by public comment 5-8 p.m. Nesvik said Game and Fish will likely testify, seeking to smooth over the discrepancies. While many in the crowd of 60-plus listeners were interested in whether grizzly hunting will be authorized under state management, this was only generally addressed. Nesvik said such thinking is premature, though hunting can be a management tool applied if bears roam outside the core Yellowstone area, which they have done with increasing frequency...more

Country Icon Merle Haggard Dead At 79

There’s something perverse about watching a man in pain sing some of the most beautiful songs ever written, which is how I spent two nights in November of 2010, chasing Merle Haggard’s bus down Interstate 10 out of Louisiana, into Texas, off toward oblivion. A few months earlier, Haggard had been named a Kennedy Center honoree, and I had been sent to a casino parking lot in Lake Charles to interview the country legend about his life and times. Stepping aboard his tour bus, I immediately realized I was speaking with a wounded man. Haggard was 73. A cancerous chunk of his lung had been removed in 2008 and he was just now recovering from a related infection that burned deep in his chest. When I told him that it seemed insane for a man in his state to be out on the road, he nodded in solemn agreement. He said that touring was a compulsion, an obligation, a trap he didn’t feel that he deserved to get sprung from. Haggard — who died Wednesday on his 79th birthday — sang about things like that all of the time, telling stories of human turbulence with supreme elegance. En route to becoming one of the greatest songwriters in history, he was first a hero of the Bakersfield sound — a bright, sleek, rock-tinted dialect of country music that initially spread across the California oil fields near where the singer grew up. Haggard filled his most indelible songs with heavy regrets, the kind that haunt life’s most tragic transactions. The sting of loneliness burns through the effects of alcohol in “The Bottle Let Me Down.” A loving mother fails to save her no-good son in “Mama Tried.” A prisoner prepares for his execution in “Sing Me Back Home.” Gorgeous American songs about ugly American situations, all of them...more

EPA: Anti-farmer billboards violate agency rules

Two billboards in Washington that accuse farmers of polluting water violated a federal rule by failing to note that the Environmental Protection Agency funds the group that put up the signs, an EPA official said Thursday. A coalition of environmental groups and the Swinomish Indian tribe put up the billboards in Olympia and Bellingham to promote What’s Upstream, a media campaign crafted by a public relations firm to link agriculture with water pollution. The groups used an EPA grant to fund the billboards, but didn’t credit the agency’s financial support, a standard requirement for recipients of EPA funds. EPA regional policy adviser Bill Dunbar said Thursday the agency checked the billboards after an inquiry from the Capital Press. “It looks like a violation,” he said. The EPA notified the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission that the billboards are out of compliance, Dunbar said. The commission, an intermediary between EPA and the tribe, was expected to contact the Swinomish, Dunbar said. The tribe has teamed with Puget Soundkeeper, the Western Environmental Law Center, and the Center for Environmental Law and Policy for the What’s Upstream project, which includes social media, and online and radio advertising, and a letter-writing campaign to state legislators. The tribe has received EPA grants totaling nearly $570,000, primarily for the services of Seattle PR firm Strategies 360. Farm groups protest that the campaign smears farmers, ignores current regulations and misuses public funds...more

Counties Turn To Little-Known Policy To Boost Say In Federal Land Management

Counties across Oregon are turning toward a little-known federal policy as a means to have more say in how federal lands in their backyards are managed. These counties are using “coordination,” an obscure provision in two federal environmental policy laws that require agencies to coordinate with local governments in land use planning. Baker County Chair Bill Harvey describes coordination as putting local and federal governments on “equal footing.” "When you come to a planning table, you both have the same authority level,” Harvey said, noting that the eventual plan should align county and federal priorities. “You come up with a plan, and the plan is supposed to be consistent between the two ideas.” Harvey spearheaded an effort to revise Baker County’s existing natural resource plan and invoke the process of coordination last fall. The revised plan emphasizes logging, grazing and mining as resource priorities. Baker, like many eastern Oregon counties, is made up of more than 50 percent federal lands. Now some citizen groups are turning toward coordination to establish what they see as a local right to govern federal lands. At times, their message echoes the sentiments of the armed occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, who expressed frustration with federal government overreach and wanted to see local control of federal lands. Some are fed up with forest fire management, and want to see increased timber harvest. Others are frustrated with the way federal agencies manage wild horses, or potential road closures on public lands...more

Utah Supreme Court weighs dispute over roads in federal lands

Against the background of increasing tensions over public lands, the Utah Supreme Court is weighing the state’s push to claim the right to use about 12,000 rural roads that run over federal land. Utah is suing the federal government to guarantee access to the roads that run though large swathes of the state. Environmental groups are pushing back, saying the state is trying to claim every faint track in the desert as a local right of way. The case that came before the Utah Supreme Court on Monday deals with a series of nearly two dozen lawsuits filed by the state before the public lands debate began making national headlines. The legal arguments are rooted in a Civil War-era law known as R.S. 2477 that allows states or localities to claim ownership over historic routes crossing public lands. Congress repealed such right of ways in 1976, but it recognized those roads that were established on lands before national forests were formed or the land was placed into a federal reserve. State attorneys say they’re pressing the issue to make sure that the federal government doesn’t close the roads to locals. Attorneys for Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance argued before the Utah Supreme Court that the state’s move to stake their claim came decades too late. They say the lawsuits should have been filed within seven years after the repeal in 1976. State lawyers contend they filed in plenty of time about five years ago because the legal deadline is actually a 12-year window triggered by an event worth suing over. It isn’t clear when the Utah Supreme Court will rule in the case. If the justices side with the environmentalists and the federal government, Bloch said it could put an end the state’s effort to lay claim to the right of way. Rampton disagreed with that assessment, saying there would still be questions to work out. If the high court rules in the state’s favor, the lawsuits filed by the state would continue to play out in federal court...more

Lawyer asks for Cliven Bundy’s release, calls him ‘political prisoner’

Calling him a “political prisoner” like Nelson Mandela, a lawyer for Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy filed court papers Tuesday seeking his release from federal custody. Attorney Joel Hansen said the government has failed to show Bundy is a violent man and is keeping him behind bars because of his free speech view on the government’s “alleged ownership of 90 percent of Nevada land.” “The government seems to be afraid that it might lose in a jury trial, so it wants to keep him in prison, in solitary confinement, as long as it can because he, like Nelson Mandela, is a political prisoner,” Hansen wrote. “There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution allowing the federal government to hold political prisoners without a trial. Nothing.” The late Mandela spent more than two dozen years in prison in South Africa over his political crusade against apartheid before ultimately becoming president of that nation. “Does Mr. Bundy have the right to raise a constitutional question about the legality of the high-handed tactics of the BLM?” Hansen asked in his court papers. “Of course he does — and particularly by making statements about the actions of the BLM and by the exercise of people’s First Amendment right to peacefully assemble and the people’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.” Hansen likened the armed Bunkerville standoff with law enforcement on April 12, 2014, to the Revolutionary War battles at Bunker Hill, Concord and Lexington between American patriots and the British. He also argued that no one from Bundy’s side ever fired a weapon or assaulted a federal officer and that the only acts of violence in Bunkerville were committed by federal agents. “The government has seemingly put together a strong case against Mr. Bundy, but when it is seen for what it really is, it is a collection of unsupported allegations, inconceivable innuendos, bald assertions and unproven allegations,” Hansen wrote...more

Oregon standoff sheds light on conservative sheriffs group

The actions of two rural Oregon sheriffs during an armed standoff at a national wildlife refuge were striking: One worked with federal officials to end the siege while the other questioned the FBI’s authority and offered words of support for the occupiers. Sheriff Dave Ward of Harney County, where the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is located, cooperated with federal and state police, urging standoff leader Ammon Bundy and his followers to stand down and respect the law. Bundy is the son of Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy. Meanwhile in Grant County, immediately to the north, Sheriff Glenn Palmer called the occupiers “patriots.” When Bundy and others were arrested during a Jan. 26 traffic stop, they were on their way to his county. An Arizona rancher who police fatally shot when they say he reached for a gun shouted he was on his way to meet Palmer. Palmer is a member of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, a group that bills itself as “the last line of defense” against a federal government they contend overreaches on gun control and other issues. They see sheriffs as the ultimate law enforcement authority in their dispute with the federal government over control of federal lands. The group’s founder said they are recruiting people to run against sheriff’s that don’t support their cause and that the group’s website includes lists of county sheriffs and whether they need to be “recalled or replaced.” Critics say the group’s views are far outside the mainstream. Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which for decades has advocated against groups it considers extremist, called the Constitutional Sheriffs “a remarkably radical organization, considering who their members are.” Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff and Constitutional Sheriffs founder, said he didn’t support the occupation of the wildlife refuge, “but I understand the complete frustration people have in this country towards this government.” Mack said the group will work to defeat Ward in the November election. Mack’s group, founded in 2011, claims more than 400 of the nation’s more than 3,000 county sheriffs support its positions, which hold that elected county sheriffs should oppose federal agents whose conduct appears to violate the U.S. Constitution. The Constitutional Sheriffs is unequivocal about gun rights. It supports the right of criminals and the mentally ill to carry firearms and opposes gun registration or background checks...more

There are consequences to practicing civil disobedience


...In the 1840s transcendentalist philosopher and writer Henry David Thoreau tried living such a nearly monastic life — as recounted in the book “Walden.” And he followed his conscience in refusing to pay the government agent’s poll tax, resulting in a night in jail — as recounted in the essay “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.”

“Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?” Thoreau asks in that essay. “Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them? …

“As for adopting the ways which the State has provided for remedying the evil, I know not of such ways. They take too much time, and a man’s life will be gone. I have other affairs to attend to. I came into this world, not chiefly to make this a good place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad.”

Thoreau’s commentaries are taught in public schools as enlightened examples of the value of individual conscience over the inexorable power of government.

When father and son Oregon ranchers were ordered to serve mandatory five-year prison sentences under an anti-terrorism law for the crime of letting fires set on their own private property accidentally spread and burn 140 acres of public land, it was clearly a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment — but they went quietly back to prison.

Sympathizers, however, occupied vacant buildings on a wildlife refuge for 41 days to call attention to the ranchers’ plight and are now also in jail for doing so. Ironically, because of the occupation, the feds had to call off a planned 4,000-acre controlled burn.

So far 19 people — several already charged in the Oregon occupation — have been indicted on various charges growing out of the standoff in Bunkerville when federal agents tried to confiscate Bundy ranch cattle two years ago. The press invariably mentions that Cliven Bundy owes $1 million in grazing fees, but never mentions that, if he had complied with the restrictions that came with such permits, he would have gone out of business 20 years ago.

The ranchers have been labeled scofflaws and welfare cowboys.

Those who practice civil disobedience — especially while heavily armed — do and should pay the consequences for endangering public safety, but real grievances should also be addressed and not eclipsed by the utter foolishness of a brash few.

BLM OKs Industrial Solar Project That Would Block Bighorn Sheep Movement in Mojave

The Bureau of Land Management today issued a decision allowing the Soda Mountain Solar project to move forward on developing more than 2,813 acres of public land directly adjacent to the Mojave National Preserve that would cut off a vital route for desert bighorn sheep and damage other desert resources. This massive, industrial solar array would block the last, best linkage for desert bighorn sheep between the Mojave National Preserve and the Soda Mountain Wilderness Study Area — a key pinch-point for keeping the sheep populations in the preserve connected to populations in the Soda Mountains and ranges beyond. The Center for Biological Diversity, National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife oppose the decision because the project will affect biological, cultural and water resources on the site and in the adjacent Mojave National Preserve. It also runs counter to the principles adopted in the desert-wide planning under the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan because it fragments important habitat and increases sprawl. “We need to get off fossil fuels and transition to renewable-energy generation, but it has to be done right,” said Ileene Anderson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “There are other ways to implement this amount of renewable energy without hurting our precious wildlife and irreplaceable parks.” release

Barrasso presses Jewell on venting and flaring rule

In a letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, U.S. Senator John Barrasso today called on Jewell to follow through on expediting permits for natural gas-gathering lines on federal land. Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Public Lands, Forests, and Mining Subcommittee, said that if a Bureau of Land Management’s proposal on oil and gas industry venting and flaring “fails to expedite permitting’ it would “do little to reduce flaring and punish operators for circumstances largely outside of their control,” Barrasso wrote. “(I) ask that you ensure that any final rule include a means by which BLM can readily account for and promptly address delays in permitting gas-gathering lines on federal land,” the letter stated. The rule — entitled Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation — was published in the Federal Register on February 8. “I understand that the proposed rule is intended to help reduce unnecessary venting and flaring of natural gas at oil wells on federal and Indian land,” Barrasso wrote. “While I support efforts to reduce unnecessary venting and flaring of natural gas, I’m concerned that the rule fails to address a principal reason for flaring: protracted delays in the permitting of natural gas gathering lines and related infrastructure.” The proposed rule would set limits on flaring, assess royalties on gas flared above those limits, and require operators to submit a plan to minimize waste...more

Forecasters say La Nina may bring hot and dry summer

...We've already had some violent outbreaks of assorted weather varieties early this season, from tornadoes in the South and floods, hail and fire storms across the Southwest, and now there is one more weather concern to consider as forecasters ramp up speculation over whether a La Nińa will form as the current El Nińo begins to fade once summer arrives.  La Nińa systems usually means hot and dry days with little or no rain, a condition that producers know well after the multiyear drought at the beginning of the decade. National Weather Service (NWS) climate specialists are keeping an eye on possible changes over the Pacific Ocean where cooling is expected to develop by summer, a certain sign that a La Nińa weather pattern may be forming and could result in extreme heat and an abnormally dry outlook for the peak of the summer season.  NWS forecasters say it is not unusual for a La Nińa event to follow on the heels of an El Nińo system. The following table illustrates the relationship between the two opposing events:
El Nińo          La Nińa
1982-83       1984-85
1987-88       1988-89
1994-95       1995-96
1997-98       1998-99
2006-07      2007-08
2009-10      2010-11
(Source: U.S. National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center)
If the same holds true for this year, above-normal-temperatures and lower-than-normal rains could prove to dry out much of North America by July, causing stress on the farm and ranch after two years of respite from drought...more

Rare triplets born on Montana ranch

They arrived too late for an April Fool’s Day hoax, but just in time to herald the arrival of spring. Rare triplet calves were born April 2 on the Badger Ranch east of Cascade. Owned by ranch manager Iain McGregor, the trio of Black Angus heifers are all healthy and up on their feet. Cow 3202 seems a bit perplexed by the number of calves demanding her attention, but allows all three to nurse without objection. “I’m just getting to the point now where I’m comfortable that they’re all going to make it,” McGregor said. “I figured I would come in here one of these days and she would have laid on one or stepped on one — keeping track of one calf and then accidentally taking out another. But at this point they’re strong enough and active enough that they’ll stay out of her way. “And to have all three of them as heifers makes it even more unique,” he added. “It’s amazing.” While the birth of twin calves is fairly common, occurring in beef breeds roughly once in every 90 live births, triplets are far rarer — occurring just once in every 105,000 deliveries. Add in that all three calves were of the same gender and all three were born alive and the odds are even lower; about one in 700,000. “I have never heard of triplets that have survived in Montana in the 20-some years that I’ve been here,” said Dr. Bill Layton, administrator of the Department of Livestock’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory...more

Hitched Horsehair Bridles Have a History Behind Bars

The flowing mane and tail of the horse have been used for many purposes, both utilitarian and aesthetic, ever since humans paired up with equines. The strong, waterproof, dye-able strands of hair became a component in the creation of ropes, girths, and war bridles for horses. Horsehair was also used for fishing line, stuffing for mattresses and furniture, and decorative additions to clothing. It is still used on bows to draw notes from stringed instruments. Yet the hitching of horsehair in the construction of bridles is a unique American folk art. In no other culture has horsehair been used in quite this manner. In making bridles, the long hairs of the horse’s tail were the most useful, and when dyed brilliant colors, they could be braided or hitched into beautiful pieces: belts, hatbands, watch fobs, canes, quirts, and bridles with reins...We now know that many of the hitched horsehair bridles extant today were created by the inmates of the West’s territorial and state penitentiaries. Since it was believed that inmates who were busy and productive had fewer problems and caused less trouble, some wardens promoted hobby programs. The prison warden usually determined the types of activities available for inmates, depending on security levels and what raw materials and tools could be used. The craft of hitching horsehair into colorful bridles flourished in the prisons of 12 western states from about 1885 through the 1920s. (One wonders if the term “doing a hitch” was related to this inmate activity.) Horses were always kept on the prison farms, so most of the required materials were inexpensive and readily available. Hitched and braided horsehair pieces were created by hand without the benefit of any special tools and could be made in the confines of a small cell. The inmates had the time to devote to this folk art, which required focus and attention to detail for long periods. By producing pieces that would sell “on the outside” for a good price, inmates could earn money for tobacco or to save for their release. One hundred years ago, these bridles would sell for $20 to $50 each. The prisoner might get two-thirds of that, while the remainder would go to the prison for supplies. Besides the monetary return, inmates gained a sense of pride in producing useful, artistically satisfying objects valued by others...more

HT:  Marvin Frisbey

Ranch Radio Song Of The Day #1593

We'll stick with Western Music from the modern era this week and here is Red Steagall with Quarter Circle Y.  The tune was first released in 1999 and can be found on his Love Of The West CD.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Environmentalists Fighting Silver Mine in Montana Wilderness

U.S. Forest Service approval of a 30-year-long mining project puts threatened populations of bull trout, grizzly bears and water resources at even greater risk, and could despoil a wilderness area for a century, environmentalists say in court. Save Our Cabinets, Earthworks and the Clark Fork Coalition sued the Forest Service in Federal Court on Friday. They claim its approval of a 20-year, 20,000 tons-per day copper and silver mine would defile Montana's Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area in northwest Montana. Montanore Minerals Corp. wants to mine just below and next to the wilderness area. The Forest Service authorized a five-year evaluation and construction phase, followed by an anticipated 20-year operations phase, and an additional 10 years or more for "closure" and "post-closure" operations. Some of the operations will be inside the wilderness area, the environmentalists say. "Project operations within and outside the Wilderness Area contain some of the last remaining undeveloped habitat for imperiled populations of bull trout and grizzly bears in the region, designated as threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Act," according to the 100-page complaint...more

Actress can pay fine or appear in court says Forest Service

Authorities say actress Vanessa Hudgens can pay a fine and restitution or appear in court for allegedly carving a heart into red rock in Sedona two months ago. Hudgens posted a photo of the carving, bearing the names Vanessa and Austin, on her Instagram around Valentine's Day. It was brought to the attention of the Coconino National Forest, which manages land around Sedona renowned for the towering red rocks. Damaging a natural feature on U.S. Forest Service land is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a maximum $5,000 fine. Forest Service officials said Tuesday that they contacted Hudgens, who "was cooperative in providing the specific location" of the carving. They referred the investigation results to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Flagstaff, which set a potential hearing date and contacted Hudgens...more

Wildfire Expert Alleges Arizona Forestry Division Covering Up Yarnell Hill Tragedy

A long-anticipated field presentation scheduled today by the Arizona Forestry Division for the families of 19 incinerated Granite Mountain Hotshots – during which relatives are to be taken to the site where their loved ones perished — has been sharply criticized for failing to accurately portray what happened. During the site visit, participants are to be taken to different locations on the fire site, and wildfire experts are to provide presentations of what they say is the best-available information about the events that led up to the deaths of the Granite Mountain Hotshots on June 30, 2013, at Yarnell Hill. A "facilitator guide" book also has been prepared that provides detailed information about key events on on the day of the fire and those that preceded it. The tour and presentation are touted by the state as a way to provide the families facts about the fire and offer an opportunity for a healing experience. But one of the nation's leading wildfire fatality experts, who has participated in such events in the past, sharply criticizes the information to be presented as constituting an inaccurate and misleading portrayal of the events. "I think the staff ride is an insult to all of [the Hotshots'] loved ones because it [doesn't tell] the truth," says Ted Putnam, a retired wildfire fatality investigator and Chino Valley resident who has conducted an unofficial investigation into the Yarnell Hill Fire. "The biggest tribute we should do for these firefighters is to tell the truth." Putnam was provided a copy of the facilitator guide to be used during the staff ride by New Times, which obtained it from the state Forestry Division through an Arizona Public Records Law request. Putnam contends he has direct information from multiple firefighter sources who were at the fire in conjunction with evidence contained in investigation reports that leave no doubt that the state Forestry Division ordered the Granite Mountain Hotshots to come off the mountain and go to Yarnell...more

Counties worry about reduced voice under BLM’s new planning rule

Some county governments in Colorado and other western states fear that a proposed revision in Bureau of Land Management planning rules could reduce the role of local governments and states in the agency’s planning process. The proposal would “marginalize” requirements that the BLM coordinate with local and state governments in land planning and management and that BLM plans in general be as consistent as possible with state and local plans, according to a letter to the agency approved by Garfield County commissioners Monday. The letter also is being sent on behalf of entities including Kane County, Utah, and Chaves County, New Mexico. The result of the proposed changes would be that local governments would be in the same position as the general public, the letter says. “Thus, a person residing hundreds or even thousands of miles from the planning area would have essentially the same rights as local governments, whose citizens and economies depend on the use of public lands,” the letter says. Garfield Commissioner Mike Samson, the county’s representative for Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, said he’s expecting that entity to also express the same concerns to the BLM. The BLM proposal is part of what it calls its Planning 2.0 initiative, intended to modernize its planning process. Garfield Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said Monday that the new rule would take a lot of decisionmaking away from local BLM individuals and move it “up the ladder” under landscape-level planning...more

Refuge Occupation Trial May Seem Simple, But Complications Abound

A quick Internet search easily turns up evidence of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupiers doing things that could pose a problem for them in federal court.

In one video clip, for example, David Fry filmed himself getting into a refuge pickup truck.

“It’s a U.S. government vehicle, and I think I’m going to take it on a little joy ride,” he says in the clip. “Now you got another charge on me, FBI: I am driving your vehicle!”

The defendants are facing a mountain of evidence, much of it available on social media. But the case is anything but an easy or simple win for prosecutors, experts say.

“The legal challenges aren’t very great in this case because I think it is very clear that the defendants broke the law,” said Jenny Durkan, who served as the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington from 2009 until 2014.

While it may not be difficult to point to laws that may have been broken, Durkan said prosecutors are still tasked with proving their case for each defendant beyond a reasonable doubt.

“The greater challenge is to avoid this becoming a circus atmosphere and yet another soapbox for the defendants to espouse their political beliefs,” she said.

It’s a complex case for a variety of reasons, including the sheer number of defendants, Durkan said. At last count there were 26.

“The whole thing is a storytelling,” she said. “[Prosecutors] want the jury to understand that this is not a case about lawful political speech. This is a case about people who violated the law.”

While it’s on the judge to keep the case on track and manageable for a jury, Durkan said prosecutors will almost certainly need to break the myriad counts into multiple trials with fewer defendants.

“The prosecutors are going to want to keep this as focused as possible on the legal proof,” Durkan said. “And the defendants are going to want to keep it as focused as possible on their political values.”

In other words, defense attorneys could argue that Ammon Bundy and his co-defendants were engaged in legally protected free speech.

“Our purpose, as we have shown, is to restore and defend the Constitution that each person in this country could be protected by it and that prosperity can continue,” Bundy said at a press conference on January 4th, near the start of the occupation.

Utah ranchers vow to stand up to government despite Oregon arrests

On 23 January, a group of Utah ranchers gathered in Cedar City and made a pledge: they signed notices of “withdrawal of consent” to be governed – a statement rejecting the authority of the federal agencies that regulate grazing and charge fees to have livestock use public lands. The ranchers were following in the footsteps of Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum, who at the time was a leader of a land-use protest at an Oregon wildlife refuge and who had publicly refused to pay for grazing rights. Then on 26 January, state troopers in Oregon shot and killed Finicum during an attempted arrest, and two weeks after that, federal authorities detained and charged Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who led an armed standoff at his property in 2014.  The aggressive prosecution of the unofficial leaders of the land-use rights movement in the west appeared to be the government’s way of sending a clear message that authorities would not tolerate these types of protests. But in remote desert ranges of Utah, ranchers say they remain committed to finding a way to stand up to what they see as federal overreach and mistreatment – even if the most vocal activists leading the charge are now dead or behind bars. There are a number of factors that make Utah a key battleground in the brewing fight, with some questioning whether tensions could boil over and erupt in the form of another high-profile standoff and national controversy. Some in rural parts of central and southern Utah tell stories of extreme overreach by the government, alleging that the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and environmental advocacy groups have used endangered species regulations and conservation initiatives to prevent families from sustaining ranches passed down through generations.  Utah ranchers who support the Finicums and the Bundys say they want to avoid the dramatic conflicts that emerged in Oregon and Nevada, which resulted in mass arrests of anti-government activists. But they also say they feel like they are running out of options in the face of grazing restrictions that they claim have been so harmful they’ve considered altogether disavowing their government contracts. Gleave and other ranchers who had declared their intent to reject federal grazing agreements decided not to follow through with that threat. But they say they are anxious to see some kind of major legislative shift that would remove the BLM from Utah’s public lands – a long shot even in the conservative Beehive State, where many lawmakers and state officials are sympathetic to the ranchers and deeply critical of the federal government...more

A new threat to the American cowboy?

They can cope with the harsh climate and tough job but America's cowboys say there is a new threat that could end their way of life. Ranchers in Oregon are worried that plans to create a conservation area will stop them using the land to graze their cattle. 

If you've never heard of the Owyhee Canyonlands of eastern Oregon, think high desert - deep canyons, sandstone columns, and mountains that seem to dissolve into the sky. It's a place where the deer and the antelope play. And elk, and bighorn sheep, and mustangs even. Many creatures here are home on the range.

To complete this iconic American scene, dot the giant landscape with cowboys on horseback. They are there, if you look closely. I have to go halfway up a mountain to find one, a middle-aged man called Nick.

He points to his peeling face, then to the sky. "Cancer," he says. "That sun's close. We run cattle up to 8,500ft (2,600m). I've seen it freeze here and crack the trunk of a tree - in June!"

As a Canadian raised in deep cold, I am impressed. "Extreme climate," I commiserate.

He agrees. "Look around. Nobody lives here because of it."

Indeed. Settlers coming west in the 19th Century hit the Owyhee and turned right - hoping for, and finding, an easier route to the Pacific. A few flinty families like Nick's stayed through the generations and made ranching the Owyhee's main industry. But the coming of the tractor reduced the need for horses and people. The decline is told in a glance at the shuttered shops of the Owyhee's main town, Jordan Valley.

Today, it is this splendid isolation that environmentalists hope to lock into law. Campaigners call the Owyhee "the best conservation opportunity in the lower 48" - which is to say the entire country minus Alaska and Hawaii.

The charge is being led by Oregon's outdoor industry - the guides and outfitters who enable a growing number of city folk to hunt, fish, hike, climb or just camp under the stars in America's vast wilds.

The company at the forefront of the Owyhee campaign is called Keen Footware. It makes hiking boots that it says will take you from the city to the trail and back again. Its headquarters are in a converted warehouse in the hippest district of America's capital of eco-cool, Portland. The smell of freshly-brewed coffee lingers on every floor. A big TV sits in the basement for staff who need to chill out.

And just outside the president's office sits a whole team dedicated to preserving the wilderness. The woman in charge of it, Linda Balfour, is articulate on the need for solitude in modern life and for preserving special places for future generations.

"It's about protecting the places where we play," she says.

Greens Demand Info on Sage Grouse Habitat

Environmentalists sued the Bureau of Land Management for information about the effect cattle grazing in Idaho and Nevada have on the greater sage grouse. Western Watersheds Project claims the BLM and Department of the Interior are way past their deadlines to respond to freedom of information requests about two livestock grazing allotments. The FOIA requests concern the Garat grazing allotment in the Owyhee Canyonlands of southwest Idaho and the Argenta allotment in northern Nevada. Both allotments provide habitat for important populations of sage grouse. "Western Watersheds Project ... requested the documents to further its objective of informing the public about ways in which BLM-authorized livestock grazing affects wildlife resources on BLM public lands, in particular the greater sage-grouse," the group says in its March 29 complaint. Western Watersheds senior staff attorney Kristin Reuther said grazing has a tremendous effect on sage grouse. "There are a lot of effects; I don't know where to start, but for example, when cows eat grass, they eat the tall grass that sage grouse use to hide," she told Courthouse News on Friday. Reuther said that when cattle trample the soil they spread cheatgrass, an invasive species that chokes native sagebrush ecosystems that are critical sage grouse habitat. Cheatgrass also provides fuel for wildfires, which destroys protective cover.  Grazing's effect on habitat loss and spread of cheatgrass was described in a 2013 article in the Journal of Applied Ecology. Western Watersheds says grazing allotments can include fencing and other barriers that affect sage grouse, and the Bureau is stonewalling its request for information...more

Statement on removal of 4 Klamath dams anticipated

A major announcement about moving forward with the largest river restoration project in U.S. history is expected Wednesday. A news release said the announcement is related to four hydroelectric dams, environmental restoration and water reliability along the 263-mile Klamath River. The announcement will be made in Klamath, Calif., at the Yurok Tribe Reservation. According to the release, the announcement will be made by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Interior Deputy Secretary Michael Connor, and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and California Gov. Edmund Brown Jr. Federal, state and Native American leaders, non-governmental organizations and water users will also join in the announcement, the release said. Earlier this year, the states of Oregon and California, PacifiCorp and the federal government announced an agreement-in-principle to move forward with amending the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA). The KHSA outlines provisions for removing the Oregon J.C. Boyle Dam, and three California dams, Copco 1 and 2 and Iron Gate Dam. The dams make up four of five that control water along the 263-mile-long Klamath River. They are owned by PacifiCorp, a private utility company that supplies power to much of the West...more

State Beef Checkoffs Creating Rift In Cattle Country

Americans are buying less beef. That’s why some ranchers want to pay for more ads to boost sales. But that has ignited a food fight in cattle country. Harvest Public Media’s Kristofor Husted walks us through the issues. Charles Bassett wants you to buy hamburgers made from his Missouri cows. That’s why the Missouri rancher wants to pay an extra dollar into an industry-created fund every time he sells one of his cattle. “Me, myself, as an individual producer, as hard as I work and do the best job I can do, I don’t have time to leave my operation and promote my product,” Basset said. “I just don’t have (the time).” Bassett, like all U.S. beef producers, already pays for a federal checkoff, which is responsible for the famous beef commercial with the slogan “Beef: It’s what’s for dinner.” The federal Beef Checkoff program is controversial, however. Some ranchers say the funds aren’t transparent enough and some feel their money isn’t always directed to the right place. State organizations that would add to the beef industry’s bureaucracy have taken the checkoff debate out of Washington D.C. and brought it closer to home. The federal checkoff funds, Bassett said, just don’t go far enough anymore to promote his beef, but adding a state checkoff would help. In all, fourteen states, including Illinois, already have their own state checkoff on the books. Ranchers in Missouri, Iowa and Oklahoma are eying the option, too. North Dakota added a state beef checkoff in 2015. “There are concerns often by state level groups that the national organization may not being doing what would benefit that state the most,” said Gary Williams, a professor of agricultural economics at Texas A&M University. “Then they’ll add a state checkoff.” Williams said decades of research suggests checkoff programs can be slightly effective, but there are so many other variables that affect demand. “Foreign demand, oil problems, and wars and weather, all these other things have a whole lot more effect on demand than promotion does,” he said. “It’s a statistically significant impact but it’s relatively small.” Ranchers in California decided against adding a state checkoff in 2012. Now, some beef producers are lining up against adding required contributions. Roger Allison, a rancher in Howard County, Missouri, falls in line with the opposition. He said the federal checkoff hasn’t really helped him, so why would the state’s version?...more