Friday, May 06, 2016

Illegal immigrant numbers skyrocket at Mexican border

Child migration is surging again. The number of families and unaccompanied children apprehended on the southern border has skyrocketed this year, according to new figures from the Obama administration. The numbers, compiled by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), reveal that child migration is on par with 2014 levels, when a wave of kids — thousands of them unaccompanied — arrived at the southern border. The surge of illegal immigration quickly swamped border authorities, immigration courts and health and humanitarian workers, while sparking a political battle on Capitol Hill over the cause and proper response to the crisis. The new figures raise the specter of another increase this summer. That would almost certainly inflame another political showdown in a volatile presidential year in which the issues of race, immigration and border security have been pronounced — particularly due to the hard-line enforcement approach adopted by the presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump...more

American Family Kidnapped By Cartel While Driving Through Mexico

Members of an American family that were driving to a funeral in Mexico spent 19 days being held captive by a Mexican drug cartel before authorities were able to rescue them. During the rescue, authorities killed one of the captors and arrested two others. The victims, a man and two women had left the border city of McAllen, Texas, on April 13 on their way to a funeral in the city Valles in the central state of San Luis Potosi, information released by the Tamaulipas government revealed. The family members had managed to drive past the Tamaulipas capital of Ciudad Victoria and were driving to the port city of Tampico when a group of cartel gunmen kidnapped them from the highway. The Tamaulipas government did not disclose the criminal organization, however, Breitbart Texas consulted with Mexican military sources who confirmed that the Gulf Cartel-Zetas linked faction known as Grupo Bravo was behind the kidnappings...more

How Mexican journalists are reporting in secret on drug cartels

How is it possible to report in a country regarded as one of the most dangerous places for a journalist to operate? Answer: do it secretly; do it online; and do it remotely. According to a Christian Science Monitor article, a Mexican reporter called AJ Espinoza worked out this safe way of working some two years ago. He teamed up with a US-based reporter in order to write stories he thinks fellow Mexicans should read. But they appear in a US-based outlet rather than his local newspaper. In that way, he can safely report on the activities of the drug cartels that plague the Mexico-US border region where he operates. Espinoza is quoted as saying: “No one else needs to know that I’m doing this.” He formed a partnership with Ildefonso Ortiz, a reporter for Breitbart along the Texas-Mexico border, who says that people who don’t live in the region find it “hard to grasp that in cities like Matamoros or Reynosa, organised crime has complete control [over the media]”. Celeste González de Bustamante, an associate professor at Arizona university who studies the effects of violence on journalism, says: “Newsrooms started waiting for the green light to publish. But the green or red light wasn’t coming from the owner of the paper or managers, but from members of organised crime.” Editors “have to answer to two bosses: the publishers and the cartels.”...more

Border postmortem: What dead migrants tell us

...Since 2001, staff in Pima County, Ariz., alone, have studied the remains of more than 2,300 confirmed or suspected border crossers, says Bruce Anderson of the county’s Office of the Medical Examiner. A similar number of remains was recovered in Texas over the same time period, according to Border Patrol statistics. The cause of death for about half can't be determined, and most of the rest died of heat or cold. Many migrants are found with false IDs or none at all, so scientists often rely on DNA to identify aged remains. The man with the deformed arm, for instance, was successfully identified via DNA and his remains returned to his home country. Scientists decline to reveal more details to protect his family’s privacy. Data from the remains also yield surprising findings about those who risk their lives to reach the United States. Migrants found in Texas are distinct from those found in Arizona, says Kate Spradley of Texas State University: Those found in Texas are “more similar to Americans.” Some of the Texas migrants had fancy dental work, such as bridges and high-quality fillings. Those studied by researchers were generally free from severe cases of bone deformities tied to childhood malnutrition. Their remains suggest they’re “fleeing violence,” Spradley says, not “extreme poverty.” That’s in keeping with the origins of Texas migrants, who tend to come from Central America, where several countries suffer from high murder rates. A very different picture emerges of suspected migrants found further west. When Beatrice and his colleague Angela Soler, now of New York City’s Office of Chief Medical Examiner, studied the remains of 200 people found in Pima County, they found rates of bone deformity that were “kind of unbelievable,” Beatrice says. The researchers found the presumed migrants had suffered from childhood malnutrition and other ills at proportions seen in medieval times. “We shouldn’t be seeing this in a modern group of people,” Beatrice says. Unlike the Texas migrants, the Arizona dead whose identities are learned come mostly from Mexico...more

U.S. judge tosses feds' salmon plan back in water, suggests breaching dams

Judge Michael Simon threw out the feds' latest plan for managing the Northwest's greatest river system. The 149-page ruling by Simon is the fifth time courts have rejected federal plans as flawed or inadequate under the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. The struggle over salmon has gone on since 1991, when Snake River sockeye were first classified as endangered. Thirteen other species from the river have followed in the past 25 years. The ruling by Judge Simon follows a disastrous, hot 2015 summer in which adult salmon died in reservoirs, with fewer than 5 percent reaching spawning beds in the Snake River system and even fewer in the Okanogan River. Snake River-bound adult salmon, and young salmon bound for the Pacific Ocean, must survive passage through eight dams and reservoirs. The Okanogan's runs must survive eight dams on the Columbia. Over a period of more than 20 years, wrote Judge Simon, "the federal agencies have ignored the (court) admonishments and continued to focus essentially on the same approach." He was referring to unmet promises of habitat restoration. The government's efforts have "cost billions of dollars" yet they are "failing" and leaving salmon stocks in a "perilous state," the judge added. The extent of river habitat was limited when the Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams were built on the Columbia River without fish ladders, and when the Snake River was dammed in upper Hells Canyon by the Idaho Power Co. But great habitat remains, notably the Salmon River in Idaho, a tributary of the Snake River that is the longest undammed river in the lower 48 states. Ex-Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus has long argued, "Idaho has habitat, needs fish." Andrus was a skeptic when the Army Corps of Engineers built four low dams on the Snake River, turning Lewiston, Idaho, into a barge port. The feds will have to consider dam removal when they go back to the drawing board, Judge Simon ruled. He has given them until March 1, 2018 to come up with another salmon plan, or "biological opinion," as it is formally called. Any new opinion "may well require consideration of breaching, bypassing or removing one or more of the four Lower Snake River Dams," wrote the judge...more

Sally Jewell sees progress in Colorado River talks

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the United States and Mexico are making important progress in talks on a new accord to share water from the Colorado River, which is badly overtapped and approaching critical shortage levels. American and Mexican officials have been negotiating an agreement to replace their current five-year accord that expires in 2017. Jewell said she is optimistic about those talks, and also about recent negotiations between states on sharing cutbacks if the levels of reservoirs continue to drop. “The Colorado River is over-allocated. There (are) more water demands on that river than there are resources,” Jewell said Wednesday during a hike in the newly created Sand to Snow National Monument. “What has been happening in a really powerful way is seven basin states have been getting together outside of politics to say, ‘What are we going to do about this collectively?’ Because we have a problem together that we need to solve.” Representatives of California, Arizona and Nevada said last week they hope to have a deal finalized by the end of the year for all three states to accept cutbacks in order to keep more water in Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, and stave off a more severe shortage...more

Sally Jewell, conservationists celebrate new monuments

For nearly two million acres of newly protected lands, "forever" starts now. California desert-lovers gathered at the Whitewater Preserve on Thursday to celebrate three new national monuments: Sand to Snow, Mojave Trails and Castle Mountains. President Barack Obama designated the monuments earlier this year, after Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s third attempt to protect the lands through legislation stalled in Congress. The monuments span from the desert floor near Palm Springs to the peak of Mt. San Gorgonio, and from historic Route 66 to rare desert grasslands surrounded by the Mojave National Preserve. They're home to a diverse array of plants and animals, some of which exist nowhere else in the world. "It’s so important that we work together to protect special places — not just now, not just for our children and grandchildren, but forever," said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who choked back tears several times during her brief remarks at the Whitewater Preserve on Thursday. "That’s what’s been done here.” Jewell noted that the monuments create an unbroken corridor of protected lands stretching from the Angeles National Forest to the Nevada border. That corridor also includes the San Bernardino National Forest, Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve. Those lands, she said, "serve not only the people of Southern California and the world, frankly, but the critters that depend on these corridors for their lives."...more

Lawsuit Brings Out Environmentalists on Both Sides of Debate Over Cattle Ranching at Point Reyes

The Point Reyes National Seashore is at the center of another bitter legal battle. Two years ago the fight was over an oyster farm. Now it’s over cattle, and the future of the cattle-ranching families who call Point Reyes home. Bill Niman may be the most famous rancher in the Bay Area. His Niman Ranch was founded in the 1970’s on land that’s now part of the Point Reyes National Seashore. (The seashore was founded in 1962, and Niman’s land was later added to the park.)“Actually if you could fly, we’re eight miles from San Francisco,” he says. Cattle have grazed Point Reyes since the 1800s, and many ranching families go back generations. But livestock is now at the center of a heated dispute - with environmentalists speaking out on both sides. “No impacts of ranching have ever been conducted in the national seashore,” says Chance Cutrano, director of special projects and strategic initiatives at Mill Valley-based Resource Renewal Institute. The Institute and two other environmental groups - the Center for Biological Diversity and the Western Watersheds Projects - are suing the National Park Service...more

County, ranchers, BLM try to find solutions to overpopulation of wild horses in Elko County

Commissioners, ranchers and local Bureau of Land Management personnel all expressed frustrations Thursday over the issues involved in managing wild horses. Commissioners spoke with BLM personnel and ranchers about how wild horses affect public lands in Elko County and neighboring counties. Last week the BLM sent letters to 10 permittees regarding 14 allotments, asking the ranchers to reduce grazing because there is an overpopulation of wild horses south of Wells. “We are way over AML, appropriate management level, and we are working proactively to try to potentially round up those horses,” BLM District Manager Jill Silvey told the commission. Commissioners Demar Dahl and Rex Steninger both questioned why the BLM waited until April 26 to send the letters to the permittees instead of sending them in November. Both commissioners said the BLM knew the horses were over the AMLs. “It isn’t that cut and dry,” Silvey said. She said they knew there were too many horses, but it hadn’t been quantified and there are more horses in the area than they expected. Melanie Mitchell, acting field manager for the Wells office, said she has spoken to all the effected permittees and she continues to talk with them...more

First verified North Dakota wolverine since 1870 may have come from Montana

The 30-pound adult male wolverine was shot and killed near Alexander, North Dakota, a town located about 33 miles east of Sidney, Montana, and about 100 miles north west of Dickinson, North Dakota. A ranch hand, Jared Hatter, posted photos to Facebook in late April of the wolverine, saying it was harassing livestock when he shot it. Hatter did not respond to an interview request. North Dakota lists wolverines, the largest member of the weasel family, as furbearers with a closed season. But an overriding state law allows ranchers to kill furbearers considered a direct threat to livestock, said state furbearer biologist Stephanie Tucker. “(Hatter) came out to a calving pasture and the cows had surrounded the wolverine and he felt it was a threat,” she said. North Dakota has no breeding population of wolverines, which in the lower 48 typically occupy remote mountainous regions of the Northern Rockies and Cascades. Because wolverines are known to travel long distances and with populations in Montana and Canada, North Dakota maintains the furbearer status and closed season, Tucker said. Tucker speculated that the wolverine may have come from Montana, and noted a March report from a Hingham-area rancher of a wolverine traveling across a stubble field...more

Record Landowner Demand for CRP met with Extraordinarily Low Acceptance Rate

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that 800,000 acres will be enrolled through three different components of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Of particular note, USDA’s CRP general sign-up completed at the end of February generated more than 1.8 million acres in offers, but was only able to accept 23 percent of the 26,000 landowner applications because of the program’s 24 million acre cap. As a result, Secretary Vilsack commented on the need for a larger CRP cap to meet landowner demand and natural resource benefits. In addition to the general CRP sign-up, Secretary Vilsack also reported 4,600 additional offers were made for 1 million acres in the new CRP Grasslands program. Finally, an additional 330,000 acres were enrolled through continuous CRP sign-ups, which is in addition to last year’s record-setting 860,000 continuous acres enrolled...more

‘Magnificent 7’ revives forgotten story of black cowboys

The roles they play, too — legendary frontiersmen like Jesse James, Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp — are typically ranchers, lawmen or outlaws battling for money or land on behalf of White America. It is little surprise then that the racial makeup of America’s real Wild West — a melting pot of Europeans, Chinese, Mexicans, Native American and blacks — remains one of the country’s best-kept secrets. Filmmaker Antoine Fuqua, who is in post-production for the hotly-anticipated “Magnificent Seven” remake, is one of a few big directors pushing back, having cast long-time collaborator Denzel Washington as his leading man. “I said it needs to be an event and it needs to be something we haven’t seen — and more diverse. I said Denzel should play the lead role,” Fuqua said during a recent visit by AFP to his Los Angeles edit suite. Fuqua’s film is a reimagining of the 1960 western starring Steve McQueen — which in turn was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese-language epic “Seven Samurai.” Released in the United States through Sony in September, the movie follows Quentin Tarantino’s Westerns “Django Unchained” and “The Hateful Eight” among the few Hollywood hits about black cowboys...more

Israeli cowboys live frontier life on Syria's doorstep

With his wide-brimmed hat, Wrangler jeans and ornate belt buckle, Yehiel Alon could easily pass for one of the Montana ranchers he once worked with. But the 53-year-old is an Israeli cowboy on the Golan Heights bordering worn-torn Syria, where frontier life takes on a whole new meaning. “It’s probably the only place on earth where you will see cows alongside tanks,” he says with a smile, a cigarette dangling from his lips. Herding cattle in these parts is no job for greenhorns. Alon has got to keep them from stepping on decades-old land mines, wandering into military bases or being shot in nearby firing ranges. The tranquility of country life contrasts sharply with Middle East tensions all around. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently drew renewed attention to the Golan Heights by vowing to forever hold the land Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 war and from which an Israeli withdrawal was once considered key to regional peace.  That same week, Alon and three other cowboys on horseback rounded up some 650 head of cattle during a major Israeli military drill, in which helicopters hovered above and explosions were heard in the distance. Just over the ridge lay the greatest threat of all — the Syrian civil war, which has occasionally sent errant fire onto the Israeli-occupied side of the Golan. The cowboys dismiss the Syrian fighting as background noise and believe Netanyahu was merely stating the obvious — that they aren’t going anywhere. But the small brotherhood of about 100 cowboys who are responsible for raising the primary source of Israeli beef acknowledge they face a set of unique challenges...more

First settlers in Permian Basin found good grassland

...Since there is good grassland, the first settlers in Midland and Odessa were cattlemen and sheepmen looking for grazing land for their flocks and herds. Ranches developed early and were primarily larger parcels of land sometimes spreading over multiple counties. E.V. Graham, a man whose family arrived in Ector County in 1887, told historian J. Evetts Haley that when he came to this region the ranches were scattered across West Texas. “At that time,” Graham said, “there was not a ranch to the Pecos River. On the river were the J.M. Ranch and the T.X. Ranch. The J.M. Ranch was on the Texas side of the Pecos and was owned by the Halff Brothers. They owned both sides at Pontoon Crossing, which is down the river from Horsehead Crossing. The T.X. Ranch was 35 miles up the river and was owned by Dawson, Dawson, Biler, and by Tom and Bill Ward.” A few hearty individuals may have been in scattered locations near where springs of water were nearby. Otherwise there were no people present for miles. Alabama native Bill Arp Oden, who came to Texas in 1880 and was working for Frank Divers in June 1884 driving 1,200 head of cattle to New Mexico, stated that in the spring of 1884, Divers went to Starr County and purchased 1,000 head of longhorn Mexican steers. “We headed up the North Concho by where Sterling City is now located. There, we turned north toward Iatan Tank on the T. & P. Railroad in Howard County. Fifteen or twenty miles south of Iatan, we crossed a little stream of the clearest water I ever saw but very few of the cattle would drink it for it was strongly impregnated with alkali and forty-six head of our herd died as a result,” Oden wrote. “We crossed the T. & P. at Iatan and headed northwest toward the head of the Colorado River. About a day’s drive from Iatan we passed a ranch house which had been recently burned and learned later that it had been used by the Earl of Aylesford, an Englishman who had been hunting there. There was about a wagon load of cartridge hulls which had been exploded by the heat of the fire,” wrote Oden. Oden’s recollections about the early years in this area were published in 1967 by Palo Duro Press in a book entitled Early Days on the Texas-New Mexico Plains. In a footnote in that book added by editor J. Evetts Haley, it was stated that the “Earl of Aylesford, a British sportsman who came to West Texas with ‘a carload of purebred horses and fine dogs’ had, before coming to America, helped outfit an expedition for the Prince of Wales — later Edward VIII — for hunting in India. He followed the railway to Colorado City and moved on to Big Spring, where he bought and made his residence in the old Cosmopolitan Hotel. Noted for his drinking as well as his hunting, he is said to have thrown his last big party on Christmas Day 1885. Two weeks later the thirty-six year old nobleman was dead and his body was shipped to England for burial.”...more

Sing Me Back Home


Sing me back home with a song I used to hear
Make all my memories come alive
Take me away and turn back the years
Sing me back home before I die

Merle Haggard was a real American.  At its best, his music was folk art, Americana poetry, each song capturing a snapshot of his people’s story.  There was nothing phony about Haggard, and his music and songwriting showed what country music can be—honest and authentic, gritty and harsh, soulful and touching.  His work was “roots music” before there was a term for it, music that displayed all the pain and joy, the pride and regret, the sins and the virtues of his people and their hardscrabble, Dust Bowl lives.  The word artist has become a particularly trite clichĂ© used of every pop entertainer who comes along these days, but in Haggard’s case, such a description was appropriate.  Merle Haggard once said that what the public really wanted was the “most rare commodity in the world—honesty,” and that’s what he gave us.  “The Hag” was dubbed the “poet of the common man,” a working-class boy who went wrong and found his way back through his music.  He was 79 when he passed away of pneumonia in Palo Cedro, California.

Before he was born, Merle Haggard’s family left Oklahoma in 1935 after a fire destroyed their barn.  Jim Haggard and his wife, Flossie, took their family west to Oildale, California, following the path of many other Okies, Arkies, and Texans who were forced to migrate during the Great Depression.  Jim found work as a carpenter for the Santa Fe Railroad and, like many others in his situation, converted an old boxcar into a home for his family.  Merle’s sister, Lilian Haggard Rae, remembered the old house fondly as a “wonderful home to live in,” with thick walls that kept the house cool in summer and warm in winter.  In those days, Oildale was a collection of camps and makeshift homes near Bakersfield, the town with which Merle and his music would be strongly associated, just as images of train engines, boxcars, and fugitive lives would be.  Like his sister Lilian, Merle was attached to the old place, an attachment evident in songs...

Jim Haggard played fiddle and guitar at schoolhouse dances and other social events back in Oklahoma, and Merle thankfully inherited his father’s love for music, though he later recalled it was his mother who showed him “a couple of chords” on an old guitar his brother had brought home, the boy teaching himself thereafter.  Merle was close to his father, and Jim Haggard’s death from a brain tumor when Merle was nine nearly wrecked the boy’s life.  Flossie Haggard, a devout member of the Church of Christ, got a job as a bookkeeper to support the family, while a distraught Merle rebelled.  Merle felt the tug of those rail cars rumbling by and hopped on a freight train when he was just 11 years old.  He made it to Fresno before he was picked up by local authorities and sent back home, but from then on the rebel child was often truant.  Petty crime followed.  Merle was in and out of juvenile detention centers, escaping numerous times, only to be thrown back in.  The restless spirit that had stirred in the boy while watching those trains pass by his boxcar home would turn up in his music in songs like “Rambling Fever” and the hobo anthem “I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am.”

Writing bad checks and stealing cars caught up with him in 1957, and he was arrested for burglary.  At 20, Merle Haggard was in San Quentin.  As he told the story later, another prisoner nicknamed “Rabbit” planned an escape attempt but advised Merle, who was playing in a country band in the prison, not to take part, as he had a future with his music.  Rabbit killed a state trooper in the escape attempt and wound up on death row, an incident that surfaced later in “Sing Me Back Home.”

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Wolf pups from St. Louis get new mother, new home in New Mexico

With 9-day-old pups tucked securely in a special backpack, Regina Mossotti hiked into the mountains in New Mexico to say goodbye to the newborns who were about to make history — and possibly a difference in the survival of their critically endangered species. The Mexican wolves, born April 15 at the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, had flown with Mossotti and another helper more than 1,000 miles for their mission. The wolves, named Vida and Lindbergh, represent hope for a species with fewer than 100 individuals left in the wild. The mission: Take the pups from their biological mother and siblings from their home in captivity in Eureka and "cross-foster" them with a surrogate mother in the wild who had given birth around the same time. Cross-fostering can help the Mexican wolves survive by increasing the genetic diversity of the wild population. The nine-day-old Mexican wolf pups were moved from the more genetically diverse captive population and will contribute to the gene diversity of the wild population if they survive to become breeding adults. But for it to work, there was a lot that had to line up. Placing captive born pups into wild dens had never been tried before with Mexican wolves. First, there was the timing. The wild and captive litters need to be born around the same time, and the transfer of pups from captivity to the wild has to occur before the pups are 10 days old, experts say. This makes the transfer easier for the pups, who still have their eyes closed and, much like other newborns, spend most of their time sleeping and eating. Then, there were the logistics. The wild den location needs to be known, a flight needs to be scheduled and weather conditions should be perfect. The Endangered Wolf Center worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the effort. In New Mexico, a female wolf that was tracked with a GPS collar had stopped roaming like wolves do most of the time, and was staying in one location and then disappeared — a good indicator that she had gone done down in the den and the satellite signal was no longer working. This was a clue to the Fish and Wildlife Service that she had given birth...more

A Ruidoso favorite in Saturday's Kentucky Derby

Suddenbreakingnews wins last November at the Clever Trevor Stakes
Odessa rancher Sonny Henderson doesn’t mind the 20-to-1 odds on his Suddenbreakingnews in the Kentucky Derby Saturday. He already hit his long shot when he bought the bay in the first place. Henderson, a lifelong horseman who has owned homes in Ruidoso and is still a seasonal regular at Ruidoso Downs racetrack, paid a modest $72,000 for the thoroughbred with the small star on his forehead at the Keeneland Sale in 2014. “He was the sorriest-looking colt of all of them,” Henderson recently told his hometown paper, the Odessa American. “Wasn’t much to look at.” But when Henderson did some post-purchase research on the horse’s bloodline beyond the respectable ancestry he was aware of when he made the purchase, he was thrilled to find a distinguished racing pedigree that included the likes of Secretariat and War Admiral. That heritage has since shown itself on the track. In a phone interview Thursday from Churchill Downs, Henderson said Suddenbreakingnews has finished either first or second in all but one of his races. His owner will be betting on him Saturday and won’t be surprised if he cashes in some tickets. “It’s a good bet,” Henderson said. “He’s in wonderful shape.” Henderson is owner of Henderson LTM Ranches and has been racing horses for half a century in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arkansas...more

National Park Service centennial shares limelight with scandals

...Jarvis decided to turn the speech into a book to sell during 2016, the national parks’ centennial, believing his positive message could help the parks better resonate with increasingly diverse future generations. But that’s where his trouble started. He assumed the book wouldn’t be approved through official channels in time, so he quietly found his own publisher, a Park Service concessioner. His boss, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, learned about the unauthorized book only when he sent her a copy of Guidebook to American Values and our National Parks.

That kicked off an investigation by Interior’s Office of Inspector General, or OIG. In February, Jarvis was reprimanded for unacceptable behavior and ethics violations relating to the publication. The incident has resurrected earlier criticism of Jarvis’ leadership of the agency he has headed for nearly seven years.

Another, unrelated OIG investigation, released in January, revealed a long-term pattern of sexual harassment and misconduct at the Grand Canyon, the very park where Jarvis wrote the original speech that inspired his book. The scandals have tarnished both the message that Jarvis wants to highlight for the parks’ 100th birthday and the conclusion to his own 40-year career at the agency. (Jarvis plans to retire at the end of the Obama administration.)

“These incidents have cast the agency in a negative light at a time when we should be celebrating what Wallace Stegner told us was the best idea we ever had,” says Mark Squillace, a professor at University of Colorado Law School, who twice worked in the Interior Department’s solicitor’s office.

EDITORIAL: Dead horses: Feds’ King Cove hypocrisy

...The rule released May 4 allows for the killing of bald and golden eagles by wind farms and nearly quadruples the annual limit for killing bald eagles first proposed in 2009; it also acknowledges that human-caused mortality of golden eagles may be unsustainable because studies since 2009 indicate the population may be in decline.
The new rule out for public comment would allow the killing of 4,200 bald eagles nationwide by wind farms compared to the limit of about 1,100 proposed in 2009.

The limit on golden eagle kills remains zero, but the Fish and Wildlife Service knows that windmills will still be causing mortality and therefore it has come up with “compensatory mitigation” workarounds so that companies may pay some sort of fee to a conservation bank to make up for killing golden eagles.

This is the same Fish and Wildlife Service that denied approval — and was upheld by Jewell — for 11 miles of one-lane road to complete a connection between King Cove and Cold Bay through the Izembek Wildlife Refuge based on hypothetical impacts on Trumpeter swans and Pacific black brant geese whose populations have no conservation concern.

FWS estimates there are about 143,000 bald eagles in the U.S., with half of those in Alaska, and it believes as much as 5 percent or more of local area populations can be killed annually without impacting the species as a whole.

Of the Pacific black brant geese, about 160,000 gather in Alaska annually and thanks to warmer temperatures as many as 50,000 stayed through winter in 2014 to continue feasting on abundant eelgrass in the refuge lagoons.

Of the Trumpeter swans, 13,000 of the 16,000 or so in the U.S. reside in Alaska with Lower 48 populations raised mostly by eggs transplanted from here.

Examples of the federal government’s arrogant abuse of discretion can be found on a daily basis, but few could be more egregious than Jewell’s heartless disregard for 1,000 mainly Alaska Natives living in King Cove while giving special treatment to a favored “green” industry such as wind power to kill thousands of eagles every year even when her own data show one of those species may be in decline.

The proposed road would do no such harm, as Alaskans have a long history of building infrastructure in sensitive areas. And in any case, putting a few birds at risk cannot begin to outweigh the risks to residents with medical emergencies and the members of the U.S. Coast Guard who are called upon to rescue them.

The press release from the FWS regarding the new eagle kill rule — which it describes in Orwellian fashion as “eagle management” — commits sins of omission by not including the number of eagles it will allow the wind industry to kill every year. You have to read into the 162-page proposed rule to find that information.

Even more galling, though, is FWS Director Dan Ashe’s comment in the release that, “Eagles hold a revered place in our nation’s history and culture, particularly that of Native Americans.”

Frankly, it is disgusting that Jewell, Ashe, et al, can pretend to be concerned about Native Americans’ feelings when it comes to eagles while coldly disregarding their feelings about access to emergency medical care.

No more proof is needed that the federal government’s care for its trust responsibilities to Alaska Natives goes no further than the extent to which it aligns with its own agenda.

Protective order in Bundy ranch case challenged by AP, Nevada newspapers

The Associated Press has filed court documents in hopes of keeping federal prosecutors from withholding material from the press regarding the 2014 land rights standoff at Cliven Bundy’s Bunkerville, Nevada, ranch. Paperwork filed Tuesday in Nevada District Court adds the news wire-service to a legal fight against the government launched previously by the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Battle Born Media, a group that publishes a dozen newspapers between Nevada and California. Together, the three companies hope to convince a judge to allow evidence concerning the 2014 Bundy ranch standoff be made available to the media. “The AP joining in the motion to intervene reflects the broad nature of the media interest in this case and in transparency,” attorney Maggie McLetchietold the Review-Journal. Nineteen defendants, including Mr. Bundy, are slated to stand trial in February 2017 to face charges stemming from the weekslong standoff sparked by a dispute between Mr. Bundy and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. As both sides prepare their cases, however, the government’s attorneys last week said defense lawyers should be prohibited from showing the press and public any evidence uncovered during the discovery process in order to protect its witnesses before trial...more

Lawyers for national wildlife refuge occupiers worry jury won’t be impartial

Lawyers for those who occupied a national wildlife refuge in Oregon earlier this year are concerned a jury composed of people from liberal Portland won’t be impartial. Andrew Kohlmetz, who represents defendant Jason Patrick, suggested a change of venue for the September trial, and asked a federal judge Wednesday to approve funding for an analysis of the media attention the case received and, possibly, a survey of community attitudes. The two requests would total nearly $130,000. Kohlmetz said the “almost constant” media coverage of the 41-day protest was far different from a typical case, when the alleged crime happens out of the public eye. “For 41 days — and even before — there was live-streamed media coverage that I expect the government sees as amounting to an immediate and ongoing confession,” he said. U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown seemed inclined to reject the funding unless the need was apparent after a thorough jury selection process. She seemed more agreeable to a request from lawyers and defendant Ryan Bundy, who’s representing himself, that the jury includes people from throughout Oregon. Brown, however, said it’s “totally speculative” to suggest a jury from the Portland district would be too liberal. The district includes Oregon’s entire northwest quadrant, and is a “far more conservative crowd” than the city of Portland...more

Defense lawyers signal push for change of venue, wider jury pool in federal conspiracy case

Before the judge arrived to discuss motions in their federal conspiracy case, more than a dozen Oregon standoff defendants began reciting the Lord's Prayer, some bowing their heads, as they sat beside their lawyers in a federal courtroom Wednesday. The gathering before the official proceedings began had the feeling of an informal revival. "What ya doing?'' one defendant yelled out in greeting as the court patched through co-defendant Shawna Cox of Utah on a speaker phone. "All we're doing here is a big government magic show.'' Defendant Jon Ritzheimer announced it was Holocaust Remembrance Day and asked people to do their part "to make sure our country doesn't go down the same path.'' Once U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown took the bench, the two-hour status hearing went on in an orderly fashion. Defense lawyers signaled they may seek a change of venue for the scheduled Sept. 7 trial stemming from the 41-day armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge outside Burns...more

In the Aftermath of LaVoy Finicum's Death, Growing Number of Rallies Push Martyrdom Narrative

If you are interested in what the Southern Poverty Law Center has to say, you can view their press release here.

Group wants Glacier Park helicopter tours permanently grounded

Click on a website Mary T. McClelland created a few days ago, and you’ll see waves lapping at the shore of Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park. But what you’ll hear is the noise of a helicopter passing overhead. “It makes you want to turn it off, doesn’t it?” McClelland says. “That’s sort of the point, because when you’re there, you can’t turn it off.” McClelland this week released an open letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell on behalf of Friends for a Quiet! Glacier Coalition, which calls for an end to scenic helicopter tours over the park by 2017. The website,, is gathering signatures for a petition directed to Jewell, National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis and Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, which asks for just that.“Glacier’s solitude has been shattered by hundreds of helicopter overflights,” McClelland’s letter says, “and the incessant noise pollution endured by wildlife and visitors is destroying what Glacier stands for — the pinnacle of natural beauty and tranquility.”...more

UNM will no longer host Gathering of Nations

The University of New Mexico will no longer host Gathering of Nations. The Pit has been the home to Gathering of Nations for a long time. However, the school announced on Wednesday that UNM has decided not to be the host anymore. Authorities say the decision is financial and operational. The Director of Media Relations says, “The University is facing tough budgetary constraints, hosting the PowWow had become prohibitively costly to our athletic department, as well as risk services, police and security, and other university operations.”...more

 Can't help but wonder if this didn't also enter into the decision.

Utah sheep ranchers invent new product out of leftover wool

CROYDON, Utah - Two brothers from Croydon may have just invented a product that could keep sheep farmers employed for years to come. "It's a game changer. It could save the sheep industry here in Utah," said sheep farmer Logan Wilde. Wilde and his brother Albert are sixth-generation sheep ranchers in the town northeast of Salt Lake City. In the past few months, Logan Wilde said his brother approached him with an idea to make some money on the side. "I was like, 'Oh man, here we go again,'" Logan Wilde said with a laugh. Now, that idea is grabbing some attention from people across the country. "They're like ‘wow,’" Albert Wilde said of his invention. "Who would have thought you could take waste wool and do something with it?" The Wilde brothers say only 75 percent of a sheep's wool is good enough to be used for clothing, the other 25 percent usually gets thrown away. But Albert Wilde thought of a way to take that trash and turn a profit. "This is something no one has ever heard of before," Albert Wilde said. "We take that wool, and we make it into small pellets and then use that in gardening to put into plants." Albert Wilde explains that the wool can hold 10 times its weight in water, which is helpful for plants for nourishment. The brothers say the product has only been available for a month, but already they've sold over 500 units and have had inquiries from all over the world...more

“He didn’t come in here by his-self,” Rancher warns of roaming rattlesnake

OKARCHE, Okla. - A cowboy is issuing a warning out of Okarche after spotting a rattlesnake rarely seen in these parts. The prairie rattlesnake has made a name for itself out west in the panhandles. But, Charlie Williamson, who's long roamed the Oklahoma ranges, believes the species could be on the move. "Well, I was going to feed the cattle. I seen this snake, thought it was a bull snake," Williamson said. "And, then, finally, I thought, that's got to be a prairie rattler." Problem is, prairie rattlesnakes are largely located out west, preferring the open air in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles. "Some snakes and animals found that area to be preferable," said Micah Holmes with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Although central Oklahoma isn't their normal slithering grounds, Holmes said a lone prairie rattler group out east isn't uncommon. "So, they'll move several hundred yards or miles," he said. "But, they don't migrate like birds or other things like that." "Just be aware that they're here now," Williamson said. "He didn't come in here by his-self." Charlie ultimately killed the reptile and is urging fellow ranchers to keep an eye out. The prairie rattlesnake is known to have the most toxic venom of all Oklahoma snakes, according to the Department of Wildlife Conservation...more

America’s Lost History of Border Violence

...Property—in the form of land—was the underlying cause of the Texas border violence that took place in the second decade of the 20th century. At the turn of the 20th century, an epic, often illegal, transfer of land began, moving ownership from Tejanos living in the border counties of Texas to newly arrived Anglo farmers and ranchers. (Because the people living through this history did not use the term “Mexican-American” to describe themselves, I’m following the lead of the Refusing to Forget historians, and using the terms “Texas-Mexicans” or “Tejanos” to describe Texas residents of Mexican descent.) The advent of the railroad, which reached the border city of Brownsville in 1904, made Anglo expansion onto historically Mexican land possible, seriously shifting the balance of power in the land along the Rio Grande. This area had fallen within the borders of the United States since the middle of the 19th century, when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War and made the river the new boundary between the two countries. But it had remained culturally Mexican, with many Mexican residents staying on the ranches where they had been living—which were now, legally, located in Texas. Between the signing of the treaty and the advent of the railroad, the area was predominately Mexican, with a small number of Anglo settlers mixing into the culture, intermarrying with Tejano neighbors and learning to speak Spanish. As historian John Moran Gonzalez put it to me: “You paid your taxes in dollars, but you paid for your groceries in pesos. English was the language of government but everybody spoke Spanish.” The Border Patrol wasn’t founded until 1924; in the meantime, people went back and forth across the river easily. After the railroad arrived, irrigation companies soon followed suit, and the Rio Grande Valley’s naturally fertile lands began to look more and more appealing to Anglo immigrants. The price of land went up, and so did taxes; Mexican ranchers found it hard to pay. “Sheriffs sold three times as many parcels for tax delinquency in the decade from 1904 to 1914 as they had from 1893 to 1903,” writes Benjamin Heber Johnson in his book Revolution in Texas: How a Forgotten Rebellion And Its Bloody Suppression Turned Mexicans Into Americans...more

On Mavericking

...Wayne Goodman, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) ranger Matt accompanies, is a wonderful character and a keen guide to the strange economy of the Texas cow. In the Old West, Wolfe writes, “virtually everyone stole cattle,” and the ambitious cowboy often doubled as rustler out of necessity. But the modern-day cow thief Wolfe and Goodman talk to at the end of the article doesn’t seem to fit on the classic cowboy-rustler continuum of the American frontier. Most rustlers nowadays are small time criminals looking to fund a drug score, or simply trying to pay the bills. Ranchers harbor unparalleled hatred toward these thieves—which seems a prerequisite of the profession—and as Wolfe notes, this stigma has some deep origins; we’re talking Biblical. Thus, on the surface it’s a battle of good vs. evil, with Goodman, a pinch of Long Cut Skoal bulbous in his lower lip, righting wrongs in a hardboiled Texas ranger fashion. But Wolfe’s account of the frontier politics at work in the struggle between ranchers and rustlers indicated there was much more to the historical narrative than he was able to include. I wondered if Wolfe, too, thought of ranchers and rustlers as sharing a common ancestor: the archetypical American cowboy of the Old West. Last month, I caught up with the author over email to go deeper into cattle rustling...more

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Undamming this major U.S. river is opening a world of possibility for native cultures and wildlife

“The run of salmon in the Klamath River this year is the heaviest it has ever known. There are millions of fish below the falls near Keno, and it is said that a man with a gaff could easily land a hundred of the salmon in an hour, in fact they could be caught as fast as a man could pull them in.
—Klamath Falls Evening Herald front page on Sept. 24, 1908.

Flowing over 250 miles to from the high desert of southern Oregon through the Cascades Mountains before emptying out into the Pacific Ocean in northern California, the Klamath River and its Coho and Chinook salmon and steelhead runs were vital to Native American tribes for thousands of years before settlers arrived. But within decades of their arrival there would be half a dozen dams constructed on the river, effectively blocking salmon and steelhead migrations on what was once the third-highest salmon producing river on the West Coast. The river that was fabled for its millions of salmon each season saw significant decreases following dam construction. But now after nearly a century, an agreement has finally been reached to remove four dams on the Klamath River by 2020 as the first step towards restoring the salmon and steelhead migrations in the Klamath basin. The deal to carry out one of the largest dam removal projects in U.S. history was reached after years of effort by diverse stakeholders including the local Native American tribes, county, state and federal agencies, irrigators, farmers, and conservation and fishing groups...While the Klamath Tribes, as well as other local tribes including the Yurok and Karuk, have signed and welcomed the agreement—which followed years of grassroots efforts by the tribes and environmental activists—they warned that a comprehensive water deal to assist with salmon restoration was still missing. “Without a full package on restoration it’s still a very difficult road to restore the salmon,” Gentry said. Salmon need specific water quality and temperatures to thrive, and irrigators also need to be able to use water from the river for their livelihoods So during dry years, there are often opposing claims to water—making it an issue that must be addressed. This type of overlapping and oftentimes conflicting water allocation is a major problem with regional water treaties across the country...There are over 1,200 family farms and ranches in the Klamath Reclamation Project area. That was a 1905 project to create irrigable land on both sides of the California-Oregon border, according to the Klamath Water Users Association—a non-profit representing those farmers and ranchers...more

The Complicated Quest to Save the Grizzly

Last week, inside his office on the University of Montana campus, Chris Servheen wrapped up his 35-year career as the federal government’s first and only grizzly bear recovery coordinator. The occasion on April 29 passed without fanfare as the 65-year-old worked quietly and alone, the final minutes winding down on a career as turbulent as it was influential. As the foremost person tasked with saving a species as iconic as the grizzly bear, which teetered on the brink of extinction only 50 years ago, Servheen has been at the center of controversy and scrutiny for much of the last four decades. When he started in 1981, he tried saving the species with the help of state, federal and tribal agencies while also trying to reshape society’s views of grizzlies and how Americans live and recreate in bear country. As a result, he has been both reviled and revered. For someone who has stared down countless grizzlies in the wild, he has endured far graver death threats in person and over the phone from enraged environmentalists and ranchers...On March 3, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published his final work: the proposed delisting rule that seeks to remove protections under the Endangered Species Act for the grizzly bear population in the Yellowstone region. The proposed delisting would remove ESA protections for the population — estimated at 717 grizzlies in 2015 — but maintain research and monitoring. It would turn over management of the species to the states and allow for a hunting season, a controversial aspect that tribes, including the Confederated Salish and Kootenai, oppose. Servheen’s proposal sets the threshold for the grizzly population at 674; any dip below 600 would halt any “discretionary mortalities,” such as hunting. Critics and federal judges have centered on climate change as a serious threat to bears and other species. Servheen counters this claim, saying grizzlies are resilient enough to handle the changing climate. “The issue of climate change is real,” he said, adding, “The reason grizzly bears are going to disappear is because we kill them all or we take all their habitat away. Not because of climate change. To the bitter end, Servheen held his ground, confident in his life’s work. “The goal of the Endangered Species Act is to get animals off of it. The ESA works. We need to show that it works,” he said. “The future of the other grizzly bears and the future of many other species that need help under the ESA is dependent on delisting when we’ve reached our goals and we have good management in place.”He continued, “We have hundreds of more bears today than I ever thought we’d have. We have bears in places where they haven’t lived in more than 100 years. We have bears living in places I never would’ve guessed they’d be living. I didn’t think back then that we would have the success we have today.” ...more

'We made a mistake': Earls reverses decision on Canadian beef

Earls, the restaurant chain that announced last week that its move to Certified Humane meat meant it would no longer source beef from Canadian farmers, has reversed its position, calling the original decision “a mistake.” On Wednesday, the Vancouver-based company said it will continue to buy beef from Alberta farmers after all. “We made a mistake when we moved away from Canadian beef,” said Earls Restaurants president Mo Jessa in a statement. “We want to make this right. We want Canadian beef back on our menus so we are going to work with local ranchers to build our supply of Alberta beef that meets our criteria.” It’s not yet clear what the latest announcement means for the restaurant’s pledge to move toward Certified Humane meat. The company had previously said there were not enough Canadian farmers producing meat using the U.S.-based certification program. According to an Earls spokeswoman last week, the company tried to work with Alberta farmers until just a few weeks ago, but after it tried to supply just seven of its 66 locations with Alberta Certified Humane beef, the company ran out of beef and had to use supplies that did not meet the new standard...more

How the government got BP to pay the biggest environmental penalty in history

The first order of business when John Cruden took over as the Justice Department's top environmental lawyer was holding BP financially accountable for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill that fouled the Gulf of Mexico with millions of barrels of oil. The best way to do that, Cruden believed, was to settle the costly and contentious legal fight between his department and the oil giant. But the former Green Beret was worried about entering negotiations with a weak hand, particularly after BP had rebuffed a sizable 2013 deal. So when a court-appointed mediator suggested reaching out to BP to reopen talks, Cruden surprised the respected magistrate judge by demurring. “They can come to me," he said, smiling confidently. It was a risky, audacious move -- and it worked. What followed was the largest environmental settlement in the Justice Department’s history. With the $20.8-billion deal formally approved last month by a federal judge in New Orleans, Cruden, other Justice Department officials and independent mediators are discussing for the first time how they nailed down an agreement that could become the model for future environmental disasters. The settlement is also a professional capstone of sorts for Cruden, a career Justice Department environmental attorney who had overseen some of the division’s biggest cases, including the Exxon Valdez oil spill, toxic dumping at Love Canal, N.Y., and a $1-billion interim settlement with BP to fund restoration projects in the Gulf. Cruden had retired from the department in 2011, but was coaxed by the White House to return, and in January 2015, he took over as the assistant attorney general of the environment and natural resources division. Fortunately for Cruden, he returned just as the BP civil lawsuit was about to enter the penalty phase, after which U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier would decide how big a fine to levy on the company...more

GOP senators call for criminal probe of EPA mine waste spill

Two Republicans on the Indian Affairs Committee are asking the Justice Department to investigate potential criminal activities by environmental regulators before a mine waste spill in Colorado last year. In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Tuesday, Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the chairman of the committee, and John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees may have broken the law by moving forward with clean-up work at the Gold King Mine last August before spilling 3 million gallons of waste into the nearby Animas River. “We ask that you review the circumstances surrounding the Gold King Mine spill to determine specifically whether evidence warrants the prosecution of any EPA manager, employee or contractor for the criminal violation of federal environmental law, criminal negligence, obstruction or any other crime,” the pair wrote. “With the conduct of EPA employees and contractors having been stipulated as causing the Gold King Mine spill, DOJ’s involvement is necessary to affirm that the government is willing to hold itself to the same level of accountability as it holds private companies whose negligence results in serious environmental damage.”...more

U.S. Lawmakers Seek End to Arctic Drilling

A group of 68 lawmakers are trying to maintain the momentum of protest against Arctic oil drilling by calling on U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to exclude two sectors of the Alaskan Arctic Ocean from future oil and gas lease sales. The areas in question are the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, which have been approved for drilling by the Obama administration. The Chukchi Sea is believed to hold 15 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 78 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas, while the Beaufort Sea could hold 8 billion barrels of oil and nearly 28 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The signatories of a letter sent to Secretary Jewell—led by California Democrat Rep. Jared Huffman--argue that by banning drilling in Chukchi and Beaufort, the U.S. would be positively contributing to the climate change goals of the Paris...more

Jewell announces $107M for Blackfeet land buy-back

Twenty years after Blackfeet social activist Elouise Cobell filed a historic lawsuit demanding the federal government account for generations of exploitation and mismanagement of tribal land across the United States, Cobell’s own people stand ready to receive their compensation. On Tuesday, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell arrived at the Blackfeet Reservation to sign a compact allocating $107 million to buy back land allotted to tribal members 130 years ago, and then transfer control of these “trust lands” over to the Blackfeet tribal government. It is only a fraction of the $1.9 billion approved by Congress and signed into law as result of the Cobell lawsuit.“I think history will say we hit a vital turning point before we drove off a cliff,” Jewell said of the significance of the day’s events. “We hope that this says, let’s bury the sins of the past, of which there were many by the federal government not upholding its trust and treaty obligations to our nation’s first people...more

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Has big conservation gone astray?

  • In Part 1 of Conservation, Divided, veteran Mongabay reporter Jeremy Hance explores how the world’s biggest conservation groups have embraced a human-centric approach known as “new conservation” that has split the field over how best to save life on Earth.
  • Neither side of the debate disagrees that conservation today is failing to adequately halt mass extinction. But how to proceed is where talks break down, especially when it comes to the importance of protected areas and the efficacy of the biggest, most recognizable groups.
  • Conservation, Divided is an in-depth four-part series investigating how the field of conservation has changed over the last 30 years — and the challenges it faces moving into an uncertain future. Hance completed the series over the course of eight months. Stories will run weekly through May 17.

Bashing the big

 ...One of the things you discover as an environmental journalist is just how quickly scientists and conservationists are happy to bash — off the record, of course — big conservation groups. These include four of the world’s largest wildlife and wild-lands-focused groups with a global footprint: WWF, Conservation International (CI), the Nature Conservancy (TNC), and at times, though to a much lesser extent, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Together these four groups employ over ten thousand people in nearly a hundred countries and have a collective annual income of around $2 billion. In many parts of the world, if not most, one of these four groups is likely to be seen as the public face of conservation efforts.

Over the years former employees have regularly dished the dirt to me about missed opportunities, misplaced values, and projects that seemed to fail as often as they succeeded, while current employees often sounded like public relations officials speaking in staccato. Outside conservationists often complained that the big NGOs took credit for their hard work and bungled local relationships. The same concerns would come up repeatedly: an obsession with the organization’s brand at the expense of success, a corporate-mimicked hierarchy, cushy relationships with some of the world’s biggest environmentally destructive corporations, radio silence on so many environmental issues, and an inability to respond to crises that are appearing with ever-more regularity...

The rise of “new conservation”

The biggest shift in conservation in recent times is the rise of something called “new conservation.” This change is the origin of some — but by no means all — of the criticism flung at big conservation today.
Since the beginnings of the modern conservation movement — often linked to the rise of national parks in the nineteenth century — conservation has been largely about setting aside tracts of land or water and developing ways to protect endangered species. While early conservation efforts were in part propelled by economic and human-oriented values (such as hunting and recreation), they also placed a major emphasis on saving nature for its intrinsic and spiritual worth.

...Inspired by Muir and others, many environmentalists argued that whatever nature might be worth economically to humankind now or in the future, it possesses a deeper importance that can’t and shouldn’t be measured in dollar signs. We should protect nature not because it serves myriad human needs (even though it does), but because we have a moral duty to do so.

Yet in recent decades the pendulum has swung back toward viewing nature through a largely utilitarian lens. This is perhaps not surprising given the rise of global environmental threats like climate change, ocean acidification, overpopulation, pollution, and mass extinction — and the growing realization that these threats could actually unhinge the workings of human civilization and plunge millions, maybe billions, into misery.

But this shift also followed the rise of neoliberalism in the 1970s and 80s, a movement that espoused de-regulation, distrust in governments, and deepening trust (some might even say religious-like fanaticism) in free markets and private enterprise. Conservationists were not immune to such beliefs. Following this period, environmentalists took a page from economists in attempting to meticulously measure everything in nature for its economic worth today and even make guesses about tomorrow. How much is pollination worth? Carbon sequestration? Water filtration?

A wonderful vision took form: if we could only incorporate the dollar value of nature into our current economic system — and convince policy makers and business people to understand that unrecognized economic value — we could save the world. This economic-centric approach has come to be called “new conservation.”

New conservationists argue that past conservation efforts never fully comprehended or addressed the real causes of biodiversity loss.

Tom Dillon, Senior Vice President of Forests and Freshwater for World Wildlife Fund-US (part of WWF), told me that the “core” of new conservation is transforming the drivers of destruction to be more environmentally friendly.

So, the new philosophy largely turned to focus on lands and waters outside protected areas with attempts to green big industries like agriculture, logging, fisheries, and mining.

“Expanding agriculture is responsible for most of the world’s deforestation. Polluted runoff and fragmented ecosystems from poorly planned infrastructure, such as roads and dams, is a major threat to the world’s rivers. Understanding the magnitude of these threats has helped us in creating innovative approaches to addressing them,” Dillon said. “And that is the only way we will be able to protect the world’s wildlife.”

Oral argument in sea otter case; USFWS uses "Scofflaw defense"

This Friday, May 6th, the Ninth Circuit will consider whether federal bureaucrats can escape judicial review of their illegal acts by pointing to their prior violations of the law. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service argues that PLF’s challenge to an illegal rule regarding the sea otter should not be heard because this isn’t the first time that the Service has exceeded its authority under the statute. Let’s call this absurd argument the “Scofflaw defense.” But first, some background: In the early 80s, the Service decided that, to recover the California sea otter (a threatened species), it needed to establish a new population of otters in Southern California. Since the law at the time forbade that, the Service had to go to Congress for permission. The plan proved to be very controversial because (1) sea otters are voracious predators that could decimate nearby fisheries and (2) the new population threatened to stop recreation, fishing, and other productive activities in surrounding waters due to application of the Endangered Species Act’s take prohibition. Congress ultimately enacted a compromise that permitted the Service to establish the population but required it to also implement protections for the surrounding fishery and those who work and play in it. In 2012, the Service violated this compromise. Despite having established the Southern California population more than 20 years earlier, the Service issued a rule unilaterally terminating all of the statutorily-mandated protections for the surrounding fishery. Under the Administrative Procedure Act, any agency action can be challenged as exceeding an agency’s authority, so long as the case is filed within 6 years. PLF challenged the rule, on behalf of several fishermen groups, within 8 months. So there shouldn’t be a problem, right? The Service moved to dismiss the case anyway. It asserted that the challenge could only have been brought in the 80s, when the Service issued a regulation suggesting that it might, possibly, someday terminate these protections. Because this regulation exceeded the Service’s statutory authority in a similar way as the 2012 rule, the Service argues the regulation shields all similarly-illegal subsequent actions from judicial review. (Talk about chutzpah!) The scofflaw defense sounds like madness but, unfortunately, the district court accepted it. We’ve appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit. As we explained in our opening and reply briefs, the scofflaw defense is contrary to the APA and basic common sense. You can find the other briefs in the case here. The oral argument will be in Pasadena on Friday morning. Details are available here.  Press Release

California woman, 24, dies after becoming infected with a brain-eating amoeba following a swim in the Colorado River

A California woman lost her life after what appeared to be a harmless weekend enjoying her birthday at a fresh-water river. Kelsey McClain, 24, passed away after a brain-eating amoeba left her brain dead after entering her nose while she was swimming in the Colorado River. McClain was staying at Fisher's Landing, a resort along the Colorado River just hours away from her home in El Cajon, California. She spent most of her 24th birthday enjoying activities in the fresh water and felt fine when she came home. But days later she had a pounding headache and couldn't turn her head without excruciating pain. Doctors were baffled by her symptoms and at first thought she had bacterial meningitis. 'It was apparent to everyone this was progressing,' McClain's mother Jennifer told ABC 15. After rounds of treatments and antibiotics, McClain had a grand mal seizure. When nurses checked her eyes, they were fully dilated and she was pronounced brain dead.  Her organs were to be donated until her spinal fluid was checked by a lab at UC San Diego and Naegleria fowleri, the brain-eating amoeba, was discovered. Her organs now cannot be donated. There have been 133 recorded cases in 50 years and only three people survived, ABC 15 reported. A partner at Fisher's Landing said she had never end heard of the amoeba until McClain fell ill...more

Tribes come together to promote Bears Ears National Monument

The Ute Mountain Ute tribe expressed enthusiasm for the proposed Bears Ears National Monument at a community meeting Thursday attended by 50 Ute and Navajo tribal members. Ute Mountain has joined the Bears Ears Inter-tribal Coalition along with the Uintah-Ouray Utes, Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni tribes to lobby for the federal action. They are asking President Obama to declare the national monument on 1.9 million acres in southeast Utah to protect traditional Native American lands and ancient cultural sites. Under the proposal, it would be the first national monument to be co-managed by the BLM and native tribes with current and ancestral ties to the land. “It’s time that our concerns were heard,” said Navajo Albert Holiday. “We’ve been on the land for 500 years.” The meeting was one of a series organized by Utah Dine Bikeyah, a non-profit group who first proposed the monument and is working to educate the public...more 

What is the proper response when a coalition of nations lobbies to create harm to a state? The Utah Congressional Delegation should be carefully reviewing all federal statutes and programs impacting these nations.  Governor Hebert should be doing the same for state programs.  And both should be seeing if any federal or state funds are finding their way to this nonprofit.  That would be a start to a self-defense program by the state.


It would appear Utah state rep. Mike Noel is already doing something and former BLMer Ann Morgan in An Indigenous Vision: The Bears Ears National Monument is not too happy about it:

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech for individuals and organizations to associate and speak in any way they wish without fear of government retaliation. But you wouldn’t know that by listening to Mike Noel, a Republican representative from Kanab, Utah. Mr. Noel fears a conspiracy of sorts where conniving environmentalists are manipulating Native American tribal leaders into supporting a new national monument in Utah. He recently convinced colleagues on the Utah Constitutional Defense Council to ask the Utah Attorney General to investigate the coalition of groups advocating for the proposed Bears Ears National Monument in Utah...

I'm not familiar with the specifics of the Constitutional Defense Council's request to the state's AG.  However, just because I don't believe the coalition's speech should be abridged, doesn't mean that I or anyone should be forced to subsidize that speech.

Heinrich seeks to boost border security across NM’s Bootheel

Remote, rugged terrain. That is the phrase used over and over to describe New Mexico’s Bootheel by the people who live there, the agents who guard the border and the politicians who say they are trying to figure out how to fill gaps in resources to get that job done. Making those words understood in Washington, D.C., has been no easy task. “We need more focus in Washington, D.C., on these remote areas,” Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, told me Monday. Heinrich spent the weekend touring the Bootheel with the Border Patrol and visiting with ranchers. Last month, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Heinrich sent a letter to U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske detailing the resources they believe are needed. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., has met with ranchers and has been talking with CBP about their concerns. What it takes to secure a region like Hidalgo County is not what it takes in San Diego, El Paso or the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. There are 86 miles of border and nearly 4,000 square miles of terrain sliced north-south by three separate mountain chains and precious few roads. Apprehensions by Border Patrol in New Mexico rose to 11,216 in fiscal 2015 from 6,910 in fiscal 2011 – a 62 percent increase over five years.  The Lordsburg station is staffed with about 230 agents – about 50 fewer than the more than 280 agents budgeted for last year...more

Praise to Heinrich for not just sending a letter, but actually visiting the area.  In the final analysis, though, Judy Keeler explains her frustrations with previous meetings and the lack of follow through.  Maybe things will be different with Heinrich.  We'll be watching.

Judy Keeler runs two ranches on the border in Hidalgo County. She met with Heinrich this weekend and Pearce in March. She has been vocal about border security issues for years.
When I reached her on the phone Monday, she sounded tired. I asked her if she had – no better word for it – “politician fatigue.”
“I’m meeting’d out,” she said.
“We don’t have any problems with what they are proposing,” she said about the horses and incentives and National Guard. “Those things are important. But personally, I’ve been to so many meetings where promises are made to secure the border and it just doesn’t happen. We’re fatigued of all the promises, and they don’t deliver, and I think I’m not the only one that feels fatigued.”
“There are not enough people to really matter down here,” she said. “The message is the border is secure, and everyone who lives on the border knows it’s not true.”

5 Myths about the Land and Water Conservation Fund

The majority of LWCF funding goes to local outdoor recreation projects.

The stateside grants program makes up a small and shrinking share of LWCF funding.
The majority of LWCF funds are used to expand the federal estate.
The LWCF directs $900 million per year into a fund for land and water conservation.

There is no dedicated LWCF fund.
It is a political and accounting fiction.
The LWCF costs taxpayers nothing. 

When funds are allocated through the LWCF, less funding is available for other federal priorities.
The LWCF is critical to protect public lands for future generations.

Congress has used the LWCF to expand the federal estate without adequately funding the maintenance and conservation of existing public lands.
Permanent reauthorization will advance the original goals of the LWCF.

The LWCF must be reformed to advance its original purpose.
Without reform, the LWCF should be terminated.

Download a PDF of the report.