Tuesday, December 31, 2013

USDA: $6.2 Billion Improperly Spent in 2013–$2 Billion on Food Stamp Overpayments

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) improperly spent $6.2 billion in taxpayer funds in 2013 including $2.6 billion erroneously spent on Food Stamp benefits, according to its latest agency financial report. USDA’s improper payments amount to the same amount that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) cut from military pensions in Congress's recently-passed budget legislation. There were more improper payments made under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, than under any other USDA program, according to the USDA FY 2013 Agency Financial report released at the end of last month. The total $6.2 billion in USDA improper payments this year marked an estimated 10 percent increase from the $5.5 billion in 2012. However, the SNAP program payment error decreased from $2.7 billion in 2012 to $2.6 billion this year. The top-three USDA agencies with the highest amount of improper payments in 2013 were SNAP ($2.6 billion), the National School Lunch Program ($1.8 billion), School Breakfast Program ($831 million), Federal Crop Insurance Corporation Program Fund ($566 million), and Women, Infants, and Children food program ($198 million)...more

The Complete List of Everything Banned by Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg leaves office tomorrow after 12 years as New York City's mayor. No mayor in recent memory has added so much to a city. Or taken so much away. To remember him properly, here's a list of everything Bloomberg banned during his time in office.

Go here for the compete list.

Taken - The Use and Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture

Under civil forfeiture, Americans who haven’t been charged with wrongdoing can be stripped of their cash, cars, and even homes. Is that all we’re losing?

by Sarah Stillman

On a bright Thursday afternoon in 2007, Jennifer Boatright, a waitress at a Houston bar-and-grill, drove with her two young sons and her boyfriend, Ron Henderson, on U.S. 59 toward Linden, Henderson’s home town, near the Texas-Louisiana border. They made the trip every April, at the first signs of spring, to walk the local wildflower trails and spend time with Henderson’s father. This year, they’d decided to buy a used car in Linden, which had plenty for sale, and so they bundled their cash savings in their car’s center console.   Just after dusk, they passed a sign that read “Welcome to Tenaha: A little town with BIG Potential!”
    They pulled into a mini-mart for snacks. When they returned to the highway ten minutes later, Boatright, a honey-blond “Texas redneck from Lubbock,” by her own reckoning, and Henderson, who is Latino, noticed something strange. The same police car that their eleven-year-old had admired in the mini-mart parking lot was trailing them. Near the city limits, a tall, bull-shouldered officer named Barry Washington pulled them over.
    He asked if Henderson knew that he’d been driving in the left lane for more than half a mile without passing.
    No, Henderson replied. He said he’d moved into the left lane so that the police car could make its way onto the highway.
    Were there any drugs in the car? When Henderson and Boatright said no, the officer asked if he and his partner could search the car.
    The officers found the couple’s cash and a marbled-glass pipe that Boatright said was a gift for her sister-in-law, and escorted them across town to the police station. In a corner there, two tables were heaped with jewelry, DVD players, cell phones, and the like. According to the police report, Boatright and Henderson fit the profile of drug couriers: they were driving from Houston, “a known point for distribution of illegal narcotics,” to Linden, “a known place to receive illegal narcotics.” The report describes their children as possible decoys, meant to distract police as the couple breezed down the road, smoking marijuana. (None was found in the car, although Washington claimed to have smelled it.)
    The county’s district attorney, a fifty-seven-year-old woman with feathered Charlie’s Angels hair named Lynda K. Russell, arrived an hour later. Russell, who moonlighted locally as a country singer, told Henderson and Boatright that they had two options. They could face felony charges for “money laundering” and “child endangerment,” in which case they would go to jail and their children would be handed over to foster care. Or they could sign over their cash to the city of Tenaha, and get back on the road. “No criminal charges shall be filed,” a waiver she drafted read, “and our children shall not be turned over to CPS,” or Child Protective Services.
    “Where are we?” Boatright remembers thinking. “Is this some kind of foreign country, where they’re selling people’s kids off?” Holding her sixteen-month-old on her hip, she broke down in tears.
    Later, she learned that cash-for-freedom deals had become a point of pride for Tenaha, and that versions of the tactic were used across the country. “Be safe and keep up the good work,” the city marshal wrote to Washington, following a raft of complaints from out-of-town drivers who claimed that they had been stopped in Tenaha and stripped of cash, valuables, and, in at least one case, an infant child, without clear evidence of contraband.
    Outraged by their experience in Tenaha, Jennifer Boatright and Ron Henderson helped to launch a class-action lawsuit challenging the abuse of a legal doctrine known as civil-asset forfeiture. “Have you looked it up?” Boatright asked me when I met her this spring at Houston’s H&H Saloon, where she runs Steak Night every Monday. She was standing at a mattress-size grill outside. “It’ll blow your mind.”
    The basic principle behind asset forfeiture is appealing. It enables authorities to confiscate cash or property obtained through illicit means, and, in many states, funnel the proceeds directly into the fight against crime. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, cops drive a Cadillac Escalade stencilled with the words “This Used To Be a Drug Dealer’s Car, Now It’s Ours!” In Monroe, North Carolina, police recently proposed using forty-four thousand dollars in confiscated drug money to buy a surveillance drone, which might be deployed to catch fleeing suspects, conduct rescue missions, and, perhaps, seize more drug money. Hundreds of state and federal laws authorize forfeiture for cockfighting, drag racing, basement gambling, endangered-fish poaching, securities fraud, and countless other misdeeds.
    In general, you needn’t be found guilty to have your assets claimed by law enforcement; in some states, suspicion on a par with “probable cause” is sufficient. Nor must you be charged with a crime, or even be accused of one. Unlike criminal forfeiture, which requires that a person be convicted of an offense before his or her property is confiscated, civil forfeiture amounts to a lawsuit filed directly against a possession, regardless of its owner’s guilt or innocence. 
    One result is the rise of improbable case names such as United States v. One Pearl Necklace and United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins. (Jennifer Boatright and Ron Henderson’s forfeiture was slugged State of Texas v. $6,037.) “The protections our Constitution usually affords are out the window,” Louis Rulli, a clinical law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a leading forfeiture expert, observes. A piece of property does not share the rights of a person. There’s no right to an attorney and, in most states, no presumption of innocence. Owners who wish to contest often find that the cost of hiring a lawyer far exceeds the value of their seized goods. Washington, D.C., charges up to twenty-five hundred dollars simply for the right to challenge a police seizure in court, which can take months or even years to resolve.
    The tangled nature of the process became clear when I spoke to Nelly Moreira, a stout, curly-haired custodian who lives in Northwest D.C. Moreira relied on her 2005 Honda Accord to drive from her early-morning job, cleaning Trinity Washington University, to her evening job, cleaning the U.S. Treasury Department. In March, 2012, her son was driving her car when he was pulled over for a minor traffic violation, and, after a pat down, was found to have a handgun. He was arrested, and her car was seized.     
    Moreira, who grew up in El Salvador, explained in Spanish that she received a letter in the mail two months later asking her to pay a bond of one thousand and twenty dollars—which she took to be the fee to get her car back. Desperate, she borrowed cash from friends and family to cover the bond, which is known in D.C. law as a “penal sum.” If she hadn’t, the car would have been auctioned off, or put to use by the police. But all that the money bought her was the right to a complex and slow-moving civil-forfeiture court case.
    She was left struggling to make her car payments each month as her Honda sat in a city lot, unused and unsheltered from the elements. The bond, the loans, and the public-transportation costs added up. “There were days I didn’t have a good meal,” she told me in February, sitting beneath her daughter’s quinceaƱera portrait in her narrow fuchsia-painted row house.
    The Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia won the release of Moreira’s car last summer, and in May filed a lawsuit against the city on behalf of approximately three hundred and seventy-five car owners like Moreira. Describing the policy as “devastating for hundreds of families who depend on their cars for many of the urgent and important tasks of daily life,” it called for higher standards of proof and the end of penal-sum fees. At a public hearing on July 11th, D.C.’s attorney general, Irvin Nathan, acknowledged “very real problems” relating to due-process rights. But he warned that millions of dollars raised by forfeiture “could very easily be lost” and “an unreasonable burden” placed on his office if the reforms supported by the Public Defender Service were enacted. He proposed more modest changes that would leave the current burden of proof untouched.
    “We all know the way things are right now—budgets are tight,” Steve Westbrook, the executive director of the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas, says. “It’s definitely a valuable asset to law enforcement, for purchasing equipment and getting things you normally wouldn’t be able to get to fight crime.” Many officers contend that their departments would collapse if the practice were too heavily regulated, and that a valuable public-safety measure would be lost.
    But a system that proved successful at wringing profits from drug cartels and white-collar fraudsters has also given rise to corruption and violations of civil liberties. Over the past year, I spoke with more than a hundred police officers, defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges, and forfeiture plaintiffs from across the country. Many expressed concern that state laws designed to go after high-flying crime lords are routinely targeting the workaday homes, cars, cash savings, and other belongings of innocent people who are never charged with a crime.
    When Jennifer Boatright and Ron Henderson complained to the county in the hope of retrieving their savings, they got another surprise. Lynda Russell, the district attorney, told them she had warned “repeatedly” that they did not have to sign the waiver, but, if they continued to contest it, they could be indicted on felony charges. “I will contact you and give you an opportunity to turn yourself in without having an officer come to your door,” she wrote in a letter mentioning the prospect of a grand jury. Once again, their custody of the kids was threatened. Boatright and Henderson decided to fight anyway.
    When out-of-town drivers who felt victimized by a Tenaha forfeiture called local lawyers for help, their business wasn’t always welcomed. “That’d be like kicking a basket of rattlesnakes,” one defense lawyer warned a forfeiture target. Often they were referred to a defense attorney named David Guillory, in nearby Nacogdoches. Guillory is a broad-faced man with blue eyes and the gregarious, cheerful disposition of a Scoutmaster. (He is, in fact, an assistant Scoutmaster of local Troop 100, and keeps the “Handbook of Knots” by his desk, near heaps of legal briefs.) He moved to Nacogdoches seventeen years ago and set up shop as a small-town civil-rights lawyer. He specialized in cases around the state that made neither friends nor profits: mostly, suing policemen for misconduct.
    By the time Boatright and Henderson spoke with Guillory, he was already acquainted with what he refers to as “the Tenaha operation.” Several months earlier, he’d received a call from a plump-cheeked twenty-seven-year-old man named James Morrow, who worked at a Tyson plant in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, slicing chicken strips for prepared foods. “He told me a pretty startling story,” Guillory recalls. In August, 2007, Tenaha police pulled Morrow over for “driving too close to the white line,” and took thirty-nine hundred dollars from him. Morrow told Guillory that he was on his way to get dental work done at a Houston mall. (The arresting officers said that his “stories of travel” were inconsistent, as was his account of how much money he had; they also said they detected the “odor of burned marijuana,” although no contraband was found in the car.) Morrow, who is black, was taken to jail, where he pleaded with authorities to call his bank to see proof of his recent cash withdrawal. They declined.
    “They impounded my car, and they impounded me, too,” Morrow told me, recalling the night he spent in jail. When he finally agreed to sign away his property, he was released on the side of the road with no money, no vehicle, and no phone. “I had to go to Wal-Mart and borrow someone’s phone to call my mama,” he recounted. “She had to take out a rental car to come pick me up.” For weeks, Morrow said he felt “crippled,” unsure of what to do. He says that a Tenaha officer told him, “Don’t even bother getting a lawyer. The money always stays here.” But finally he decided “to shine a big ol’ light on them.”
    After Morrow was steered to Guillory, he took a day off from his job and arrived at Nacogdoches with stacks of old bank files to prove where his money came from. “He knew how hard he’d worked for that money,” Guillory told me, “and every dime was taken from him.” Guillory decided to find out if what had happened to Morrow was more than a fluke. He was taken aback by the scale of what he uncovered. It was a baroque small-town scandal, but it was also a story with national reach. He wondered how many people across the country felt “crippled,” as Morrow did, by statutes so little known yet so widely used.
    In West Philadelphia last August, an elderly couple named Mary and Leon Adams were finishing breakfast when several vans filled with heavily armed police pulled up to their red brick home. An officer announced, “We’ll give you ten minutes to get your things and vacate the property.” The men surrounding their home had been authorized to enter, seize, and seal the premises, without any prior notice.
    “I was almost numb,” Mary Adams, a sixty-eight-year-old grandmother with warm brown eyes and wavy russet hair, recalled. When I visited her this spring, she sat beside her seventy-year-old husband, who was being treated for pancreatic cancer, and was slumped with exhaustion. A little earlier, he had struggled to put on his embroidered blue-and-yellow guayabera shirt; his wife, looking fit for church in a green jacket, tank top, and slacks, watched him attentively as he shuffled over on a carved-wood cane to greet me. Leon explained his attachment to their home in numerical terms. “1966,” he said. “It’s been our home since 1966.”   
Mary had been working as a truck-stop cook in segregated South Carolina when she met and married Leon—a man from “way out in the woods, just a fireplace and a lamp”—and followed him north. Leon had been hired as a cook at the Valley Forge Music Fair, outside Philadelphia, where James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and the Kingston Trio would one day perform. After renting a room in the city, the Adamses found a sweet little two-story house within their budget, five miles from Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell. It had a narrow covered porch that reminded Mary Adams of the country.
    The home served the Adams family well over the next half century, as Leon took a job as a steel-plant worker, and later as an elementary-school janitor, and Mary worked as a saleswoman at Woolworth and, eventually, as a patients’ care assistant at Bryn Mawr hospital. (“I treated every patient as a V.I.P., whether you were in a coma or not!”) More recently, the home has helped the couple ease into their retirement. “I love digging in the dirt,” she said, referring to their modest, marigold-lined front yard, and “sitting on the porch, talking to neighbors.”
    Their home also proved a comfortable place to raise their only son, Leon, Jr.—so comfortable, in fact, that the young man never quite flew the nest. At thirty-one, slender and goateed, Leon, Jr., occupied a small bedroom on the second floor. When his father, who had already suffered a stroke, fell ill with cancer, he was around to help out. But, according to a report by the Philadelphia Police Department, the younger Leon had a sideline: on the afternoon of July 10, 2012, he allegedly sold twenty dollars’ worth of marijuana to a confidential informant, on the porch of his parents’ home. When the informant requested two more deals the next week, the report said, he made the same arrangements. Both were for twenty dollars, purchased with marked bills provided by police.
    Around 5 p.m. on July 19th, Leon, Sr., was in his bedroom recovering from surgery when he was startled by a loud noise. “I thought the house was blowing up,” he recalls. The police “had some sort of big, long club and four guys hit the door with it, and knocked the whole door right down.” swat-team officers in riot gear were raiding his home. One of the officers placed Leon, Jr., in handcuffs and said, “Apologize to your father for what you’ve done.” Leon, Jr., was taken off to jail, where he remains, awaiting trial.
    The police returned about a month after the raid. Owing to the allegations against Leon, Jr., the state was now seeking to take the Adamses’ home and to sell it at a biannual city auction, with the proceeds split between the district attorney’s office and the police department. All of this could occur even if Leon, Jr., was acquitted in criminal court; in fact, the process could be completed even before he stood trial.
    Mary Adams was at a loss. She and her husband were accused of no crime. Instead, the civil case was titled Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. The Real Property and Improvements Known as [their address]. For years, Mary had volunteered for the Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee, and as a block captain she always thought that civil forfeiture was reserved for crack houses and abandoned eyesores. Now her own carefully maintained residence was the target.
    The Adamses had a lucky break on the morning of their eviction notice: when an officer observed Leon’s frail condition, he told them that they could stay in the house while the forfeiture proceedings advanced. This gave them some time to figure out how to fight. “We had no money,” Mary told me, so they couldn’t hire a lawyer. But they learned of a free “Civil Practice” clinic at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, run by Louis Rulli, where students help indigent homeowners challenge civil-forfeiture claims.
    “It was an area of the law that was under the radar and very prone to abuse,” Rulli told me when we met at his clinic, in a wing of the law school with a separate entrance and an air of potted-plant competence reminiscent of a doctor’s office. Beside him sat Susanna Greenberg, a colleague, and Julia Simon-Mishel, who had worked on the Adamses’ case as a law student. Rulli noted that the system is designed to defeat anyone who isn’t an expert in navigating its intricacies. “These are affirmative defenses—you lose them if you don’t raise them,” he said. “Even lawyers don’t know about these defenses unless they’ve worked on forfeiture specifically.”...

 How did we get to this point in the law?  The article explains:

    Whether this should be the law—whether, in the absence of a judicial finding of guilt, the state should be able to take possession of your property—has been debated since before American independence. In the Colonial period, the English Crown issued “writs of assistance” that permitted customs officials to enter homes or vessels and seize whatever they deemed contraband. As the legal scholars Eric Blumenson and Eva Nilsen have noted, these writs were “among the key grievances that triggered the American Revolution.”  
    The new nation’s Bill of Rights would expressly forbid “unreasonable searches and seizures” and promise that no one would be deprived of “life, liberty, or property, without due process.” Nonetheless, Congress soon authorized the use of civil-forfeiture actions against pirates and smugglers. It was easier to prosecute a vessel and seize its cargo than to try to prosecute its owner, who might be an ocean away. In the ensuing decades, the practice fell into disuse and, aside from a few brief revivals, remained mostly dormant for the next two centuries.
     Forfeiture in its modern form began with federal statutes enacted in the nineteen-seventies and aimed not at waitresses and janitors but at organized-crime bosses and drug lords. Law-enforcement officers were empowered to seize money and goods tied to the production of illegal drugs. Later amendments allowed the seizure of anything thought to have been purchased with tainted funds, whether or not it was connected to the commission  of a crime. Even then, forfeiture remained an infrequent resort until 1984, when Congress passed the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. It established a special fund that turned over proceeds from forfeitures to the law-enforcement agencies responsible for them. Local police who provided federal assistance were rewarded with a large percentage of the proceeds, through a program called Equitable Sharing. Soon states were crafting their own forfeiture laws.
    Revenue gains were staggering. At the Justice Department, proceeds from forfeiture soared from twenty-seven million dollars in 1985 to five hundred and fifty-six million in 1993. (Last year, the department took in nearly $4.2 billion in forfeitures, a record.)


Federal Judge Allows Idaho Wolf Derby to Proceed

A federal judge Friday allowed a wolf and coyote-shooting derby to proceed on public land in Idaho this weekend, ruling its organizers aren’t required to get a special permit from the U.S. Forest Service. U.S. District Magistrate Judge Candy Wagahoff Dale issued the ruling in Boise hours after a morning hearing. WildEarth Guardians and other environmental groups had sought to stop the derby, arguing the Forest Service was ignoring its own rules that require permits for competitive events. The agency, meanwhile, countered no permit was needed, concluding while hunting would take place in the forest on Saturday and Sunday, the competitive portion of the event — where judges determine the $1,000 prize winner for the biggest wolf killed — would take place on private land. Dale decided derby promoters were encouraging use of the forest for a lawful activity. “The derby hunt is not like a foot race or ski race, where organizers would require the use of a loop or track for all participants to race upon,” she wrote, of events that might require such permits. “Rather, hunters will be dispersed throughout the forest, hunting at their own pace and in their own preferred territory, and not in a prescribed location within a designated perimeter.” Steve Alder, an organizer of Idaho’s derby, said dozens of people had already arrived in Salmon to participate. He was elated following the decision. In Friday’s telephone hearing, WildEarth Guardians’ attorney told Dale that a wolf derby taking place on Forest Service land that surrounds Salmon should be required to get the same kind of special permit as any other competitive gathering, including running races or snowmobile events. “People are trying to kill as many animals as they can in two days in order to win the prize,” Sarah McMillan told the judge. Meanwhile, attorneys for the U.S. Forest Service countered that no permit was needed. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Hurwit also said hunters could be in the woods and fields near Salmon this weekend shooting wolves and coyotes — regardless of whether their excursions were associated with a contest. “There’s nothing to stop people who intended to participate in the derby, from going forward and taking the same action, killing coyotes and wolves, and just not participating in the derby,” Hurwit told Dale. “The derby doesn’t change hunting, hunting will happen throughout the season regardless of this lawsuit...more 

Well shucks, the AP reports 230 hunters entered the derby and shot 21 coyotes...but no wolves.  The article also says: 

Steve Alder of Idaho for Wildlife, the derby's promoter, said the low tally helps prove sport hunting isn't a very effective tool in managing Idaho's wolves. "This is why the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has implemented trapping and other control methods to better manage wolves," Alder said in a statement. "I can assure you that in the last two days while this derby was taking place, more wolves and wolf pups died in Idaho's back country due to starvation and or cannibalism from other wolves."

 Still, you gotta be happy we can still have wolf derbies and possum drops.  The next event is in Dillon, Montana where they are having a coyote derby on Jan. 11.  The Montana event is picayune compared to the Idaho derby.  Not only are wolves not included, but according to their game dept. Montana has a rule which limits the prize money awarded to $50.  The promoters in Idaho had prizes of $1,000 for the most coyotes taken and $1,000 for the largest wolf harvested.  Montana's hunters will probably be heading to Idaho next year.

And no, sports fans, it wasn't this kind of derby:

It was this kind of derby:

Northern California counties revive an old idea for a breakaway state

Tired of city-centric government control, rural Northern California counties consider separation — just as their forebears did.

YREKA, Calif. — Farmers, ranchers and onetime loggers were among those who packed a church community room here in August to listen to a former state lawmaker convey his vision of a cleaved — and more governable — California.

The theme was familiar, the resonance deep for those convinced that relentless regulation is strangling the economy of this northern border county. But this time, a tall man sporting a baseball cap stood up with a challenge.

"Are we just going to go have an ice cream and complain?" said Mark Baird, a pilot of 747 cargo planes who with his wife runs a cattle ranch and the local radio station. "Or are we going to do something about it?"

Within two weeks, Baird had crafted a declaration in support of the breakaway State of Jefferson and placed it on the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors agenda. It was approved a week later on a 4-1 vote.
And with that, a movement that has waxed and waned for 150 years was born again.

Neighboring Modoc County's supervisors soon clamored for a similar declaration, and also voted "yea"; the Tehama County board agreed to put the matter to voters; and organizing committees sprang up in seven other counties.

The State of Jefferson flag — which dates to a 1941 effort — is now flown from the Nevada border west to the Pacific Ocean and as far south as Yuba City. (It features a gold pan with two X's, for the double-crossing purportedly dealt to residents of Northern California and southern Oregon by their respective seats of state government.)

Baird rattles off the movement's rationale: An independent state would deliver local control to a region whose residents have long chafed under Sacramento's rules, feel alienated from urban culture and believe in greater push-back against an overreaching federal government.

All we want is the right to determine our own future, said Mark Baird, who favors splitting away.
PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Most notably, supporters say, it would provide stronger representation to a swath of counties so sparsely populated that their collective voice is now lost in the breathtaking landscape of mountains, rivers and alfalfa-dotted valleys.

"All we want is the right to determine our own future," Baird said. "This is for our children, and their children."

John Lisle, right, owner of the Palace Barber Shop, cuts 14-year-old Isaiah Solus' hair in Yreka, Calif. "I think we should do it," said Isaiah about breaking away from California government.
PHOTOGRAPH BY: Francine Orr /

Majority votes are required in the state Legislature and U.S. Congress for separation to occur. The last state to do so was West Virginia — in 1863 — and dozens of regions across the U.S. have since seen their efforts fizzle, most recently last month when just five of 11 Colorado counties voted to form an independent state.
But in the northern rural counties of California, the idea has widespread backing from frustrated residents craving economic opportunity and control.

"We are staking our futures on our ability to live and thrive in this area," said Kayla Nicole Brown of Redding, a 23-year-old student of early American history who has become a leader in Shasta County's movement for the sake of her 10-month-old son, Hunter. "And if we can't, we have to leave."

Scissors and a comb rest in a holster next to an old-fashioned cash register in John Lisle's Palace Barber Shop

Editorial - Jewell delivers lump of coal to King Cove

By Andrew Jensen, Managing editor

     The Dec. 23 announcement from Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to uphold the denial of a road between King Cove and Cold Bay couldn’t be less surprising.
     The road, as you probably know, would pass through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and provide King Cove residents with emergency land access to the all-weather airport at Cold Bay.
     Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar refused to reverse the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denial of the road before he left office, but made a concession on the way out the door to allow a review of the decision by his successor, who in turn received the votes of both Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich on April 10.
     Murkowski, you see, had threatened to use “every tool in the toolbox” to hold up Jewell’s nomination over Salazar’s decision to reject the road to Cold Bay. But she was placated with the promise of a review, and Jewell’s commitment to visit King Cove as part of that review.
     This is our Year in Review issue, so here’s what I wrote back in February:
     “We understand Murkowski, as one of the most collegial members of the Senate, will generally defer to Obama on nominations. We also understand Begich needs to stay in his party’s good graces even as he prepares for his 2014 re-election campaign here at home.
     “But when you consider the ridiculous and life-threatening decision made by outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s department to deny the road from King Cove to Cold Bay, it’s hard to see where all this congeniality and deference has gotten Alaska.
     “Murkowski may not want to sacrifice some of her moderate credentials by opposing Jewell, and Begich surely doesn’t want to risk a backlash from his party leadership. And yes, I’m sure Jewell will say all kinds of nice things about having an open mind about Alaska, blah, blah, blah.
    “Such considerations are moot at this point, and we’ve heard all that claptrap before. It’s time to play hardball. Supporting Jewell or letting her nomination advance is bad for Alaska and our senators should be united in opposing her.”
     It didn’t take Jewell long to live down to the expectations of her tenure. Barely a month after being confirmed she rejected out of hand a request by the State of Alaska to conduct new seismic exploration of ANWR despite a clear legal requirement to allow it.
     Responding to the Interior Department’s hollow reasoning for denying the Alaska exploration plan, I wrote in a July editorial that it was but foreshadowing for what she would do on the King Cove road:
     “But hey, at least our senators extracted a promise that Jewell would visit King Cove before giving her their confirmation vote. I’m sure that will make a huge difference before she goes back to D.C. and tells Alaskans to stick it again.”
     Sure enough, Jewell told the Aleuts of the Alaska Peninsula and our Senate delegation that voted for her to stick it.
     Murkowski on Dec. 23 called Jewell’s decision “heartless,” “a slap in the face,” and “offensive.” She also said she was “angered” and “disappointed.”
     Begich weighed in as well, calling it “the same sad story — a federal agency that doesn’t listen to Alaskans.”
     He at least acknowledged the predictability of Jewell’s action, calling it “disappointing but unfortunately not surprising.”
     No, it isn’t surprising, and that’s why the concession on King Cove should have been secured before Jewell got a vote, and through the use of a “hold,” either Murkowski or Begich could have stopped her nomination until common sense prevailed over the radical environmentalists who don’t care a whit about Alaska Natives unless it fits their agenda.
     On Pebble, they lean on Alaska Natives and the subsistence lifestyle to make their case against it.  But when it comes to building a road through a reserve the residents know a lot more about than Lower 48 greenies, or fishing a pollock allocation in the Aleutians or drilling on the North Slope, these groups will make a defendant out of Alaska Natives just as quickly as they’ll go after Shell or ConocoPhillips.
     Trading a confirmation vote for an empty visit wasn’t nearly enough given the leverage our delegation could have brought to bear.
     Here’s a safe prediction for 2014: Jewell will never, ever make a decision regarding Alaska that goes against the wishes of the Democrats’ extremist environmental base.
     So good luck, Shell, with those Arctic drilling plans in 2014.
     This should serve as yet another lesson that the Obama administration cannot be trusted, and a reminder that the Senate role on executive nominations is to advise and consent, not to assent and concede.


Editorial - Secretary Jewell makes wrong call on Izembek road

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell made a bad decision last week in rejecting a land swap and a one-lane gravel road to connect the people of King Cove to the all-weather airport at Cold Bay.

The better decision would have been to approve the land swap, adding tens of thousands of acres to the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, in exchange for a narrow corridor across the refuge for the King Cove-Cold Bay link. That link remains the safest and surest route to get patients from King Cove to advanced care in Anchorage and beyond for emergencies and routine medical care.

The proposal had strict safeguards for the refuge, which are world-class grounds for migratory birds and wildlife like brown bears and caribou. The road was to be restricted to medical use, bounded by barriers to discourage off-road rambling, and with a specific prohibition against commercial use.

In short, this road was to be a lifeline through the refuge, not the desecration of a sanctuary. Careful construction and smart management could have forged a link that kept traffic light and wildlife thriving.

The road would have crossed precious ground. Hence the land swap and restrictions.
The road also would have saved lives.

Costly? Yes, but the state has expressed a willingness to pay. That's an expression the state should continue to press, because then we're asking Uncle Sam for no greenbacks, just a green light.

Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2013/12/28/3248399/our-view-secretary-makes-wrong.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2013/12/28/3248399/our-view-secretary-makes-wrong.html#storylink=cpy

APS closes 3 units at Four Corners power plant

Three coal-fired generators that opened in the 1960s near Farmington, N.M., closed Monday as part of a $182 million plan for Arizona Public Service Co. to meet environmental regulations, the utility reported. APS Vice President of Fossil Generation David Hansen traveled to the Four Corners Power Plant on Monday for a ceremony with the 434 plant workers to mark the closure. APS also purchased a larger stake in two units that will remain open at the plant, a move that could cost APS customers almost $3 a month. The transaction is part of APS’ proposal to meet Environmental Protection Agency requirements for pollution from the plant’s five generators. Rather than pay to upgrade the three oldest units, APS closed them and paid $182 million for a larger stake in Units 4 and 5, which don’t need as much investment to meet EPA standards. APS has not been replacing workers at the plant as they quit or retired since 2010 when the plan was first proposed, avoiding layoffs from the closure, Hansen said. No layoffs are planned because the 120 remaining workers from the first three units will be needed during the next three years to decommission the plant, he said. After that, they should all be absorbed into the larger workforce of the bigger two units that remain open. “It was bittersweet for sure,” Hansen said of watching the three units power down for the last time. “It was a little emotional for some who dedicated their entire careers to the safe, reliable operations of Units 1, 2 and 3. They realize making that sacrifice allows the benefits of operating Units 4 and 5 to continue into the future.” Keeping part of the plant open was important in reaching a resolution to the environmental concerns. The plant and a nearby coal mine generate about $225 million a year in economic benefits to the Navajo Nation and New Mexico economies, according to APS. Unemployment on the reservation is about 50 percent, so the more than 800 jobs at the plant and mine are critical. More than 80 percent of the positions are held by Native Americans. The operations are responsible for about 30 percent of the Navajo Nation’s general fund...more

2013 oil boom is biggest ever, data show

The United States’ average daily oil production is on track to surge by 1 million barrels per day this year, the biggest one-year jump in the nation’s history, according to federal data. The country has pumped an average of 7.5 million barrels of crude per day in 2013, up from 6.5 million barrels per day in 2012. That breaks last year’s record, when oil production jumped by 837,000 barrels per day between 2011 and 2012. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that oil production will jump by another 1 million barrels per day in 2014, largely buoyed by drilling activity in Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale and Permian Basin regions, as well as North Dakota’s Bakken Shale.  The Gulf of Mexico also is seeing a boost, with oil production expected to grow to 1.4 million barrels per day in 2014, up by 100,000 barrels. The data is evidence of the astonishingly rapid turnaround in the nation’s energy story. Oil production declined in 29 of the 40 years between 1971 and 2011. In total, oil production fell by about 40 percent during that time, from 9.5 million barrels per day in 1971 to 5.6 million barrels per day in 2011. While the U.S. oil boom has sparked conversation of energy independence, Americans consume about 18 million barrels of liquid fuels per day, far more than is produced domestically. Still, the production surge has caused oil imports to drop considerably. The nation shipped in an average of 7.9 million barrels per day of crude in September, the most recent period for which import data is available. That’s a significant drop from the peak in 2005, when the nation imported an average of 10.1 million barrels per day.

Fuel Fix

Is Methane Hydrate the Energy Source of the Future?

Shale has the spotlight for now. But there's another, lesser-known substance with the potential to yield even greater quantities of natural gas: methane hydrate. Hydrates consist of a lattice-like structure of frozen water molecules and methane. On the surface, they look like an ordinary block of ice. But when you hold a match to them, they burn—a visual cue signaling methane release. "A lot of geoscientists are fascinated by hydrates because of how odd it is that you can take methane gas and add water and have it result in something with such a concentrated store of energy," said Peter Flemings, a member of the Energy Department's methane hydrate advisory committee and professor at the department of geological sciences at the University of Texas (Austin). Hydrates form when methane and water combine under cold temperatures in a relatively high-pressure environment and are commonly found in arctic regions or in shallow sediments below relatively deep water along the outer continental shelf. The Energy Information Administration estimates that hydrates contain more carbon than every fossil fuel available on Earth combined. EIA also reports that these ice-like structures could hold anywhere from 10,000 trillion to more than 100,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. By way of comparison, the administration, which acts as the independent statistical arm of the Energy Department, said in 2013 that there are just over 7,000 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable shale gas deposits throughout the world...more

Ranch Radio Song Of The Day #1175

Bill Boyd & His Cowboy Ramblers perform Get Aboard That South Bound Train. The tune was recorded in San Antonio on August 12, 1935 and released as Bluebird B-6085. For those not familiar with Boyd here's a short bio:

Artist Biography by Johnny Loftus

For true fans of Western swing music, Bill Boyd rates with his contemporary, Bob Wills, even though the two utilized very different styles; whereas Wills & His Playboys often used horns and recorded songs from a variety of genres, Boyd remained true to his western roots, using only a string band, the Cowboy Ramblers.

Born on a ranch near Ladonia, TX, Boyd grew up as a working cowboy, learning the traditional songs from the impromptu campfire jam sessions of the ranch hands. Both he and his younger brother frequently sang with the cowboys, as did their parents. The boys got to be pretty good, and in 1926, made their debut on KFPM in Greenville. The family moved to Dallas in 1929, where Boyd played in a band that included fiddler Art Davis. By this time, Boyd knew he wanted a career in music, first joining a band on WFAA and then the first incarnation of the Cowboy Ramblers in 1932 on WRR. Included in Boyd's new band was his brother, Jim, on bass; Davis on fiddle; and Walter Kirkes on tenor banjo. When not actually performing, Boyd was out recruiting new sponsors and in this way managed to survive the Depression.

In 1934, he and the band moved to San Antonio to record for Bluebird, cutting hits including the standard "Under the Double Eagle" and "Going Back to My Texas Home." In the late '30s, their membership increased to ten; among their better-known members were fiddler Carroll Hubard, piano player Knocky Parker, and steel guitar player Wilson "Lefty" Perkins. During their long association with RCA, Boyd & the Ramblers recorded over 229 singles; in the early '40s, they appeared in six el cheapo Hollywood cowboy films, including Raiders of the West and Prairie Pals. Boyd's jaunt through Hollywood was interesting, as it overlapped with the career of cowboy actor William Boyd, famous for his portrayal of Hopalong Cassidy.

Boyd effectively retired from the music business in the early '50s, and began a second career as a radio DJ at Dallas' WRR. Upon his posthumous induction into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame, a bill was introduced into the Texas legislature to honor Boyd and his contributions to the state's cultural identity.


Monday, December 30, 2013

Ranching in a Fish Bowl

Jared Brackett raises black angus cattle in a very remote area known as the Antelope Springs Allotment, southwest of Twin Falls. He grazes 600 cow-calf pairs on 50,000 acres of federal, state and private land in the allotment. You might say that Brackett ranches in a fish bowl because he manages his cattle alongside premium habitat for sage grouse, a candidate species for listing under Endangered Species Act. The Bureau of Land Management is under court order to manage the area with tight controls to protect sage grouse habitat. But Brackett, the incoming president of the Idaho Cattle Association, doesn’t worry too much about that because Antelope Springs has plenty of feed and habitat for cattle and wildlife, he said. “This is as good as it gets,” Brackett said. “We’re quite proud of it. Unless you have something to hide, there’s nothing to be scared of. Because in the end, the resource will show what’s there.” BLM officials say that Brackett takes excellent care of the Antelope Springs Allotment by following tightly controlled management guidelines, which allow for a maximum of 30 percent utilization of native grasslands in the allotment. “On average, his grazing utilization is 20 percent or less,” says Ken Crane, supervisory range conservationist for the BLM in Twin Falls. “He’s well within what he’s required to meet, so we’re pretty comfortable.” Brian Kelly, Idaho State Supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, complimented Brackett on his range stewardship. “The sustained efforts of Jared Brackett exemplify the land ethic, leadership and commitments necessary to ensure the long-term health of rangelands in the West,” Kelly said. Over the years, the Forest Service, BLM and Natural Resources Conservation Service have partnered with ranchers to develop 50 miles of water pipelines in the Antelope Springs Allotment. The pipelines deliver water to many cattle troughs scattered throughout the allotment. “It’s that group effort that makes it work,” Brackett said of the partnerships with the federal agencies. The entire allotment is divided into 13 different pastures for year-round grazing — winter, spring, summer and fall. Fencing and agency regulations control where the cattle can graze during each season. The water developments give Brackett and the BLM lots of flexibility. If they don’t want cattle to graze in a particular area, they turn the water source off, and push the livestock to another area with water and salt blocks...more

ND Stockmen's Association seeking increase in $1 beef checkoff

The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association plans to ask the 2015 Legislature to double the $1-per-head checkoff that ranchers pay when they sell cattle. The national beef checkoff, which is used to fund beef research, education and promotion, hasn’t changed for nearly three decades, prompting seven states to increase it at the state level in recent years. Chairmen of the House and Senate agriculture committees say that for North Dakota to become the eighth, the Stockmen’s will need to show that an increase is necessary. Lawmakers “have always been a little reluctant to increase fees unless justified,” said Rep. Dennis Johnson, R-Devils Lake, a grain farmer and former rancher. “Whenever we talk about checkoff increases, there’s always going to be a good hearing as to why it’s needed. If they can justify it - if their members want it - they’ll probably get the support.” Sen. Joe Miller, R-Park River, also a farmer, didn’t speculate about possible support among lawmakers but said Stockmen’s leaders will need to “properly lay out their reasoning,” and that the proposal will be “thoroughly examined and properly scrutinized.” Congress authorized the national beef checkoff program at the dollar-per-head level in 1985. The North Dakota Beef Commission is required to forward half of the money collected from ranchers in the state to a national beef board. The other half can be used in-state or for national efforts. The amount spent in-state varies from year to year, according to Stockmen’s Executive Vice President Julie Ellingson. “Because of lower cattle numbers in the country and the inflation factor, the estimate is that the $1 checkoff has only 47 cents of the buying power it had in 1985,” Ellingson said. “We have less dollars in the pool to make those investments” in bolstering beef production and consumption. Under the Stockmen’s proposal, half of the $2 checkoff for every animal sold would go to the national board and the other half would stay with the state Beef Commission. Ranchers would have the option of asking for the second dollar to be refunded - effectively making participation in the checkoff increase voluntary...more

Facts about proposed monument in Dona Ana County

by Jim Harbison

The environmentalists are ecstatic that Senators Udall and Heinrich have introduced SB 1805, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument Act. Their bill will put more than 498,000 acres of public land under the more stringent control of the federal government.

Our TVs and airwaves have been inundated with ads touting the many virtues of this act and how it will suddenly make Las Cruces a tourist Mecca. These ads are well done and have convinced the public that restricting 25 percent of the county land is necessary. Who paid for these high-priced ads still remains a mystery since the sponsoring organizations don't appear to have the financial resources to fund them.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the proponents of this national monument have omitted some of the relevant facts about its impacts. They claim that 88 new jobs will be created even though they cannot define them; add $7.4 million in new economic activity; add $562,000 in new state and local tax revenue; and increase tourism by 40 percent. I will not dispute these fairy-tale claims even if I doubt their validity.

While they all sound fantastic, unfortunately the proponents have not been totally honest with the public and provided them an accurate picture of what the monument will do to Dona Ana County and our local economy. They failed to tell you what this monument will cost the county in terms of jobs, economic activity, and tax revenue.

There are currently in excess of 4,000 jobs in the natural resources, mining, and agricultural sectors in the county. Over 82 percent of the county land is for cattle grazing and we are ranked No. 5 in the state for cattle inventory and No. 3 for market value of livestock, poultry and their products. Livestock represents 57 percent of the agricultural products sold in the county.

This monument will directly impact 41 BLM grazing allotments valued at $19.46 million and over 14,000 cows and calves valued at more than $12 million. The destruction of the majority of the county's beef cattle industry alone will result in a potential loss of over $31 million in economic value, cost hundreds of ranching related jobs, and adversely impact the local economy and tax base.

Proponents of the monument claim grazing rights will be maintained. My comment to that is "If you like your grazing permit, you can keep it. Period". This represents another government promise that has routinely been broken.

Dunn seeks Public Lands commissioner office

Rancher Aubrey Dunn is taking another run at public office in New Mexico. The Republican announced his candidacy earlier this week for New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands. Dunn lost his bid to become a state senator in 2012, to Democrat Phil Griego. "I am running for our children and grandchildren," he said in his announcement. "I am running for jobs for New Mexicans. This state deserves a land commissioner who understands that maximizing the responsible use of our natural resources is how we put money into our permanent fund for education and create opportunity for industries to add jobs." He contended incumbent Ray Powell, a Democrat who served two, four-year terms previously and was elected again in 2010, "will not do that with his hard-core environmental special interest loyalties." As a New Mexico rancher, Dunn said he feels he has the right talent mix to both maximize New Mexico's resources and to protect trust lands for future generations. Dunn was raised on a small apple farm in the community of High Rolls near Cloudcroft. He attended Colorado State University, graduating with a degree in Animal Science. He worked 25 years in the financial industry, including as chief executive officer and president of First Federal Bank in Roswell, and he ranches between Capitan and Roswell, "about 45 miles from the closest town or McDonalds," he said...more

ND ag official: Drones have 'unlimited potential' in farming, ranching

North Dakota has long been known to those living on the more populated U.S. coasts as being in the middle of “flyover country,” but the state could soon give a brand-new meaning to the term. Speaking for the first time publicly on the topic, North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said the use of unmanned aerial vehicles could eventually change the way growers approach the business of farming – and he said the shift could come sooner rather than later. “In the last five years, ever since I’ve stepped into office, I’ve been contacted by and worked with four different companies about UAVs and their potential,” said Goehring during an interview earlier this month. “The use of UAVs is being discussed on many different scales. There is unlimited potential.” Though drones are already being used by some farmers, mostly to monitor their acreage, Goehring said UAVs could be on the verge of being used on a wider scale for advanced disease detection, pest mitigation, crop mapping and to develop complex algorithms, all in an effort to maximize yields and improve productivity...more

Woman defies animal rights militants after online abuse

An Italian woman who declared in an internet posting that she owed her life to medicines developed from testing on laboratory mice has gone on national television to answer abuse from animal rights militants. Caterina Simonsen, 25, received insults and abuse, which politicians rushed to condemn, after posting a defense of animal testing on Facebook. "Without it, I would have died when I was nine," wrote Simonsen, whose story has dominated Italian newspapers and television reports. One anti-vivisection activist responded on Facebook."You could die tomorrow. I wouldn't sacrifice my goldfish for you." Another commented: "If you had died as a child, no-one would have given a damn." Shocked by the tone of the messages, Simonsen, who has a respiratory illness requiring her to be attached to oxygen tubes, made a video that was played repeatedly on national media on Sunday...more

Ranch Radio Song Of The Day #1174

Bob Wills, Tommy Duncan & The Texas Playboys with their 1940 recording of Time Changes Everything.  Tommy Duncan wrote the song. 


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Report: NSA intercepts computer deliveries

A German magazine lifted the lid on the operations of the National Security Agency's hacking unit Sunday, reporting that American spies intercept computer deliveries, exploit hardware vulnerabilities, and even hijack Microsoft's internal reporting system to spy on their targets. Der Spiegel's revelations relate to a division of the NSA known as Tailored Access Operations, or TAO, which is painted as an elite team of hackers specializing in stealing data from the toughest of targets. Citing internal NSA documents, the magazine said Sunday that TAO's mission was "Getting the ungettable," and quoted an unnamed intelligence official as saying that TAO had gathered "some of the most significant intelligence our country has ever seen." Der Spiegel said TAO had a catalog of high-tech gadgets for particularly hard-to-crack cases, including computer monitor cables specially modified to record what is being typed across the screen, USB sticks secretly fitted with radio transmitters to broadcast stolen data over the airwaves, and fake base stations intended to intercept mobile phone signals on the go. The NSA doesn't just rely on James Bond-style spy gear, the magazine said. Some of the attacks described by Der Spiegel exploit weaknesses in the architecture of the Internet to deliver malicious software to specific computers. Others take advantage of weaknesses in hardware or software distributed by some of the world's leading information technology companies, including Cisco Systems, Inc. and China's Huawei Technologies Ltd., the magazine reported...more

'Military-Style' Raid on California Power Station Spooks U.S.

When U.S. officials warn about "attacks" on electric power facilities these days, the first thing that comes to mind is probably a computer hacker trying to shut the lights off in a city with malware. But a more traditional attack on a power station in California has U.S. officials puzzled and worried about the physical security of the the electrical grid--from attackers who come in with guns blazing. Around 1:00 AM on April 16, at least one individual (possibly two) entered two different manholes at the PG&E Metcalf power substation, southeast of San Jose, and cut fiber cables in the area around the substation. That knocked out some local 911 services, landline service to the substation, and cell phone service in the area, a senior U.S. intelligence official told Foreign Policy. The intruder(s) then fired more than 100 rounds from what two officials described as a high-powered rifle at several transformers in the facility. Ten transformers were damaged in one area of the facility, and three transformer banks -- or groups of transformers -- were hit in another, according to a PG&E spokesman. Cooling oil then leaked from a transformer bank, causing the transformers to overheat and shut down...more

Dallas Cowboys Halftime Show Features Execution Of Texas Prisoner

Marking the Cowboys’ season opener against the Giants in traditional fashion, Dallas fans were reportedly treated to a thrilling halftime show Sunday night that featured the execution of a Texas state prisoner. “That was the best halftime show I’ve seen in years—there was this awesome light show with Toby Keith’s ‘American Ride’ playing over the sound system while a priest administered the last rites,” said 46-year-old Cowboys fan Alan Kierstead, adding that he especially enjoyed when Cowboys cheerleaders formed the shape of a skull around the stage and performed an elaborate dance routine before the convicted felon was injected with a lethal dose of pentobarbital. “My favorite part was when he finally went limp and all those fireworks shot up from the top of the stadium. I just wish I were one of those lucky people on the field who got to watch it close-up.” Delighted fans also told reporters that the halftime execution was far better than any other such event at Texas Stadium, noting that the view of the inmate’s last breath was much better on the venue’s state-of-the-art 72-foot-tall LED jumbotron. (satire) Source

Connecticut Gun Owners Rush To Register Firearms Before New Laws Go Into Effect

Connecticut gun owners are rushing to register certain firearms and ammunition that will be considered illegal contraband in the new year. People have been lining up early in the morning at the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection's headquarters in Middletown in recent days to turn in applications for assault weapons certificates and high-capacity magazine declaration forms so they can legally keep the items. Under a wide-ranging gun control law, passed earlier this year in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in Newtown, gun owners have until Tuesday to submit the paperwork. Michael Lawlor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's undersecretary for criminal justice, predicted a flood of registrations over the final days of 2013. "It sounds like a lot of these folks were holding off on doing it in anticipation of a potential decision or something," Lawlor said, referring to pending legal challenges to the state law, which expanded the definition of assault weapons in Connecticut to include more banned weapons. The law also bans the sale or purchase of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Like the newly defined assault weapons, existing magazines can be kept so long as they're registered with the state. "One thing is clear," Lawlor said. "If you haven't registered it, on the following day, it is completely illegal contraband" starting on Jan. 1...more

State eyes BLM land set for sale

State Land Commissioner Ray Powell thinks some federal land identified for sale could be a valuable addition to New Mexico’s trust lands, which help generate revenue for public schools and other institutions. The Bureau of Land Management is looking to sell thousands of acres that no longer meet the agency’s mission or are landlocked. Powell hopes to acquire some of the land, especially parcels along the interstates around Las Cruces and in the oil- and gas-rich Permian Basin of southeastern New Mexico. “We’re interested in high-value property that could be used for commercial purposes and would earn money for our beneficiaries,” Powell said. Sen. Michael S. Sanchez, D-Belen, is sponsoring legislation, Senate Bill 1, to give the State Land Office $250,000 over the next two years to study the feasibility of BLM land acquisitions. The bill will be considered in the Legislature’s 30-day session, which focuses on budgetary matters and begins Jan. 21. Donna Hummel, public information officer with the BLM-New Mexico office, said federal laws may limit which parcels the State Land Office can acquire. “We’re a little unsure whether we can do what Ray is proposing,” Hummel said. “That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth exploring.” Powell said State Land Office staff have spent the last two years gathering information from the five BLM districts in the state and putting together a map of the land parcels the federal agency is planning to sell...more