Thursday, September 28, 2006

Colorado Air Quality Commission: state's air quality is diminished by increased oil and gas leases on public lands

The story is reported at New West, here .

From the article: "Those western Colorado blue skies are a little hazier thanks to the booming natural gas industry. A recent report by the Colorado Air Quality Commission points to oil and gas development as the main source of air pollution in Garfield and Rio Blanco counties."

I am sure this does not bother Gayle Norton, as she gazes out the windows at her Aspen home.

First principles of conduct for future collaborative wilderness bills

If the Owyhee and CIEDRA wilderness bills fail to pass the senate, as seems increasingly likely, I wonder if the proponents of those bills will take an honest look back at what went wrong or if they will simply blame the opponents for spoiling their efforts.

Most defenders of the so-called collaborative process that led to these bills say that they had no incentive to include the groups that were opposed to the bills from the start. Criticism of their process on the grounds that not everyone was included mystifies them.

But the problem was not the lack of inclusion, it was the outright failure to front up to the concerns the opponents of these bills had. Any opponent of these bills was quickly treated as if he or she was acting in bad faith. Honest attempts to question the virtue of the land giveaways were dismissed or, worse, attacked.

It seemed to me that at the bottom of the problem was a simple case of bad manners.

I would like to propose that in the future, groups that wish to advance wilderness bills and the inevitable trade-offs those bills have, be honest with the entire environmental community about the negotiations that are occurring. We constantly heard that the negotiations were "very delicate" and any revelations of the terms would throw the whole thing down the tubes. I would like to suggest that if the negotiations have to be conducted in secret, they should not take place at all. Negotiations by some environmental interests that will affect lands many of us love and cherish must either be conducted in daylight or not at all.

That's my first principle.

See the Western Watersheds blog for more on the controversial Idaho wilderness bills.

Idaho and Oregon "wilderness bills" dead?

E&E Daily seems to think so. They report that Bingaman and others have raised concerns that will sink the bills. Hopefully more on this soon.

The Oregon wilderness bill took a big hit the other day when the GAO reported that lands had been improperly appraised, favoring private parties. Some have suggested that lands to be taken out of public ownership and given to developers where undervalued by as much as thirty times their actual value.

The Oregonian has more; the GAO report is here (.pdf).

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

White House may have blocked report that suggest global warming contributes to hurricane intensity

Here is the whole story, from the ENS Newswire.

White House May Have Blocked Hurricane Report

WASHINGTON, DC, September 27, 2006 (ENS) - The Bush administration has blocked the release of a report by federal scientists that suggests global warming is contributing to the frequency and intensity of hurricanes, according a report published by the journal "Nature."

The report said scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) created a panel in February to compile a study reflecting the consensus among agency scientists that global warming may be having an effect on hurricanes. The apparent link became a hot topic in the wake of a severe hurricane season in 2005, which included Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Wilma - the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin.

The NOAA report was set for release in May just before the start of the hurricane season, the Nature article said, but was apparently blocked by political appointees who deemed it an internal document and raised concerns it would be perceived as an official policy statement.

According to Nature, the study did not contain policy or position statements, but was a discussion of the views of scientists on the current state of hurricane science.

NOAA officials denied the allegations made in the Nature story.

The claims come in the wake of a new study by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research that found stronger hurricanes are the result of warmer sea temperatures largely caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases.

The research team that produced the study included 19 hurricane and climate scientists from 10 research centers.

They found manmade greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for more than two-thirds of the temperature increases in areas of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans where hurricanes typically form.

The authors said the study should put to rest any argument about the link between increased human greenhouse gas emissions and stronger hurricanes.

Swallows, bats, and space elevators

I don't even know what to think about this.

More on the Owyhee Initiative in Idaho

Though he seems not to be taking a position on the Owyhee wilderness fracas, Ralph Maughn has good links and information about this "wilderness lite" bill on his wildlife blog.

The land exchange document that the Owyhee Initiative Bill (see the post below that links to it) refers to is posted on the Western Watersheds website. You can get the .pdf here.

An excellent discussion of the reasons many people are so opposed to this thing can be found in Janine Blaeloch's testimony to the senate(.pdf). (Blaeloch is the executive director of the Western Lands Project.) Her testimony is required reading for those worried about the future of wilderness bills! The Western Lands Project website is also a valuable resource.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Ivory billed woodpecker spotted in Florida swamp, researchers say.

Story is here. If you have prayers, send one up now for the Lord God Bird!

Source documents on the roadless rule and a few words about the Owyhee Initiative in Idaho

Now that the Clinton roadless rule from 2001 is back in place--at least for awhile--some people might like to read it again.

The federal register rule from January 12, 2001 is here (.pdf). Scroll to the end for the actual meat of the rule. It is properly cited as 66 Fed. Reg. 3244 (Jan. 12, 2001).

The extremely controversial Owyhee Initiative bill from Idaho that is getting more attention is S 3794, and is here (.pdf)

My own view of the Owyhee Initiative is that it takes approximately 700,000 acres of roadless country that is currently protected from water developments and road-building (because it is in Wilderness Study Area Status), and transforms that 700,000 acres into some 520,000 acres that is protected from water developments and road-building (by making it wilderness). The remaining 180,000 acres will now be grazed more (because there will be water developments constructed there) and will be roaded for salt licks, pipelines, and so forth.

Off-road vehicles, currently permitted on all 700,000 acres, will now be permitted only on 180,000 acres. (Of course, much of this country is totally inaccessible now.)

That's the basic trade, except that ranchers also get some vaguely-understood (by anyone, it seems) but no doubt sweetheart land exchange deals.

I see way more cows and a slight decrease in ORVs. I don't know about you, but I'll take an ORV track over consistent, widespread, chronic livestock impacts any day.

I dislike ORVs as much as the next person, but an honest appraisal of their impacts versus what livestock do leaves no question as to which is worse.

Probably the worst thing about this bill is the lack of honesty on the part of the proponents, who seem to believe that they are creating protected areas out of whole cloth, when in fact they are removing protection from grazing and roads from nearly 200,000 acres of incredibly valuable wildlife habitat. Reading their cheerleading editorials for the bill, I feel practically swift-boated.

I agree that wilderness legislation is always a trade-off, but nobody is served by dishonesty about those trade-offs. We need to front up to what we are losing and face forthrightly whether it is worth the deal, because sometimes it won't be. I don't see any of the proponents in this legislation being willing even to admit that some lands are losing their protective status.

Disagreement in our ranks will always serve us, but dishonesty never will.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Western Watersheds Project wins an important legal victory

Western Watersheds Project just obtained a nationwide injunction on the "Fundamentals of Rangeland Health" rulemaking, which would have overhauled the already poor ability of the public to affect livestock grazing decisions on public lands. This is a tremendously important victory for millions of acres of public lands. The order in Western Watersheds Project v. Kraayenbrink is here.

As a hydrologist I know always says, "in much of the West, unless public lands grazing is significantly curbed, our very imperiled aquatic systems cannot be protected & restored."

This news comes just as we hear of another important grazing victory in Oregon Natural Desert Association v. US. Forest Service. This one concerning whether the public can challenge annual operating instructions given to ranchers who graze on Forest Service lands. An important day for those of us who care about the millions of acres of ecologically important but less-glamorous grazing lands.

Today's legal filings on Biscuit salvage

All are .pdfs.

1. Plaintiff's emergency motion to stop logging Biscuit.

2. Federal response to emergency motion.

3. Declaration by Silver Creek Timber Company on status of logging.

Fate of Oregon roadless salvage sale to be dertermined today

The judge has called a conference today at 1:30 to determine whether further actions in the controversial Biscuit timber sale roadless units should be permitted to continue. The Forest Service has submitted declarations stating the amount of logging remaining to be done in the area.

This is the sale that famously logged (illegally) the Babyfoot Botanical Area earlier in the year.

Let's hope the judge puts a halt to logging what is left of these precious, ecologically rich areas near the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area!

(The Kalmiopsis wilderness sits in the heart of the Siskiyou Mountain Range in southwestern Oregon, and because of unique weather and odd geography, it contains many species and mixes of species found nowhere else. See David Rains Wallace's excellent work, The Klamath Knot for a marvelous introduction to this area.)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Wyoming petitions to reinstate ruling revoking Clinton roadless rule; Silver Creek timber company appeals N. District of California opinion

Some source documents, all pdfs:

1. Wyoming's Motion to reinstate judgment.

2. Wyoming's Memorandum in support of their motion.

3. Silver Creek timber company's Notice of Appeal.

4. The Forest Service Chief's Office's one-page memo on the effects of the rule. Note this memo does not say that the Forest Service should halt on-going actions in roadless areas, only that no further actions in roadless areas should be approved. That is an unusual interpretation of the judge's opinion (available below).

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Roadless ruling, one day later

I apologize that I cannot at the moment link to my sources, but the news is that:

1. The roadless portions of the Biscuit salvage sale in Oregon are either still being logged or, at the least, yarded;
2. Wyoming will move to reinstate the injunction on the Clinton roadless rule immediately, possibly on Friday;
3. A logging company (presumably an intervenor) has already appealed the N. District of California decision that was issued yesterday.

This is a very unstable situation and it is very difficult to predict how it will turn out. A Supreme Court loss on these issues of executive power could prove to be very bad for those who believe in a separation of powers and cautious approaches to important federal issues. The universe of possibilities for where this might end up in four years is very large and unpredictable.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Idaho submits roadless petition calling for elimination of roadless protection on 7 million of Idaho's 9.3 million acres of roadless forest lands

The depressing story is here. The website with the Idaho roadless petition and its associated maps is here.

This plan is basically a gigantic, disgusting gift to the off-road industry and the few remaining timber mills in Idaho at the expense of some of the most precious, beautiful, and ecologically intact country in North America. Hopefully Idaho's plans will all be rendered moot by today's court ruling. (See below).

Clinton administration's roadless rule reinstated -- for now

Of course the big news today is that a district judge in California has struck down the Bush administration's roadless rule, which means the old Clinton-era rule is back in place.

This has been an amazingly complex, tangled process that is likely to end up in the Supreme Court, as the whole thing calls forth important questions of federal executive power.

Probably the Center for Biological Diversity's press release is as good a place as any to begin; the decision itself is here (pdf).

Briefly: The Clinton administration implemented a rule granting broad protection to roadless areas on federal lands outside the Tongass National Forest, and a successful challenge to that rule in an Idaho district court was overturned by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, a subsequent challenge to the rule in a Wyoming district court later threw the status of the rule into disarray again. An appeal of that decision was scheduled to be heard in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals when the Bush administration implemented the new rule, which revoked protection for roadless areas and granted the states some dubious authority to decide the fate of roadless areas. Now, the entire Bush roadless apparatus has been revoked, and the Clinton rule put back in place.

None of it seems to have fazed Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey, who has reportedly stated the court decision does not "justify a change in course."

The decision will almost certainly be appealed, and if affirmed, will almost certainly go to the Supreme Court if an administration hostile to roadless areas is elected in 2008.

Monday, September 18, 2006

More fair and balanced reporting from the Missoulian

Read this piece of reporting from the Sunday edition of Missoula, Montana's daily Missoulian and see if you can detect a bias, one way or the other, concerning the virtues of salvage logging on Montana's public lands.

The same author, Perry Backus, has a similar story that ran the same day about logging in the Southwest, here. Backus is the paper's environmental reporter, according to the Missoulian's website.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

And now for some good news: The Forest Service reports receiving 75,000 comments on predator control rule in wilderness areas

Last June the Forest Service announced new plans to shoot predators from helicopters and plant sodium-cyanide traps in wilderness areas across America.

The Arizona Republic editorialized against the rule on Friday and says the Forest Service received 75,0000 comments on the rule. Something tells me the vast bulk of those comments were not in favor of the agency's plans.

Forest Service likely to appeal recent Arizona ruling on user fees

So says the Tucson Citizen, here. A Forest Service official apoligized for claiming federal recreation fees had declined by 50 to 75 percent in the last decade when they had, in fact, increased by over 20 percent.

NOAA: 2006 has hottest Jan-August period in recorded history

We're still on track for the warmest year ever. The story is on the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration's website, here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

And now for some good news: Judge rules against Forest Service user fees

An Arizona woman fed up with the fees she was charged to visit her National Forests challenged two thirty-dollar tickets she received for parking her car while hiking in the Coronado National Forest. She said the Forest Service could not legally charge her to use the so-called "public" lands.

The case was worrisome enough to the Forest Service that both Mark Rey, former timber industry lobbyist who is now in charge of the Forest Service, and Lynn Scarlett, (Wikipedia) former president of the libertarian think tank Reason Foundation and now Assistant Secretary of the Interior, both traveled to Tucson to testify in the trial.

The woman won her case yesterday. Not only does she not have to pay her parking tickets, her case has put the entire libertarian edifice of the pay-to-play system on public lands at risk.

There have been compelling arguments made that the most significant threat to public lands is not a thing like logging or grazing or global warming, but an idea like the one that says "public" lands should be managed by private corporations that are permitted to charge you to access them. This idea has been creeping into existence for several decades and seemed to be picking up steam. (Consider CLM Services Corporation, which manages "public" lands campgrounds around the west for profit). Hopefully, yesterday's ruling will be more than just a stumbling block for those like Scarlett and CLM Services Corp. who believe that public lands should be managed as for-profit enterprises by private corporations.

The judge's order and more on the subject is on the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition website. Another good resource is the fine organization, Wild Wilderness.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

"Much worse than previously estimated": MIT scientists find global warming increases hurricane intensity

I remember watching the Katrina coverage and hearing the wonks repeatedly tell us that the increased hurricanes had nothing to do with global warming, even if it did exist. Then after a while some meteorologist would show up and explain that hurricanes derive their power from warm water. And I remember thinking: "so what is it about two and two exactly that doesn't make four?"

We can rest easy: two and two make four after all. MIT just proved it. The story is here.

Monday, September 11, 2006

This just in: Forest Service Ranger criticized for controversial wildland fire decision resigns

Jill Leonard, District Ranger of the North Kaibab Ranger District in northern Arizona, has reportedly resigned her post. It was Leonard who made the decision to permit the Warm Fire, discussed here last week, burn as a wildland fire--that is, she did not aggressively suppress the fire. The fire eventually reached dry, heavy fuels in mixed-conifer forests and took off, burning with high severity along the scenic road to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Leonard has been taking a lot of criticism for her decision to let the fire burn, and I think it is unwarranted. She took a risk and she lost, but the Warm Fire was badly needed in that area, and the overall results are likely to be positive. That she faces the end of her career over working hard to return fire to these forests that so badly need it is a depressing commentary on the state of the Forest Service today.

NASA: Methane gas release much worse than previously estimated

From the NASA Earth Observatory site, this story, taken from the journal Nature, about positive feedback loops and methane. You know the routine: tundra thaws and releases gases that further the warming, the warming furthers the thawing, the thawing furthers the warming, and so on down the rabbit hole. As usual, the NASA site has a good distillation of the article.

It seems every time I read a global warming article anymore it contains the phrase "worse than previously estimated." According to authors of this study, modelled estimates of methane release need to be increased by between ten and sixty percent.

I shudder to consider what this means for the world's biological diversity, much of it contained in parks or within other political boundaries that will not permit natural systems to migrate poleward or up.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Carbon Dioxide: The calling card of a dead planet

The Washington Post has a wonderful article on Dr. James Lovelock, author of a new book on global warming. His view of the future is not optimistic: he is calling for a "Moses" to lead us into the Arctic. Uh oh.

And now for some good news: Wolves returning to Oregon?

Some say so. A story in the Portland Oregonian suggests wolves have crossed the Snake River into eastern Oregon from Idaho. It isn't very farfetched that wolves would travel from the central Idaho wilderness complexes (Frank Church-River of No Return, Selway-Bitterroot, and Sawtooth Wildernesses) across Hwy 95 and into Hells Canyon via the heavily roaded but remote country on the Payette and Nez Perce National Forests. They could easily swim the river. Let's hope it's true: wolves belong in the wild places of eastern Oregon just as surely as they belong in Yellowstone and Idaho.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Is this a great country or what?: Bush administration declares it need not follow whistleblower protection statutes

The Bush administration says it may legally retaliate against whistleblowers in the EPA, because federal laws that offer protection to whistleblowers do not apply to the President and his administration.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Wildland fire on the Grand Canyon's north rim

In June a fire ignited on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in the Kaibab National Forest. Called the "Warm Fire" it burned slowly and forest managers determined not to suppress it, as fire is a natural part of the ponderosa pine forest found there. Unfortunately, an unexpected weather front came in and sent the fire heading south toward the National Park, and into mixed conifer forests that burned very hot (photo) and very fast, right along the scenic road that leads to the National Park.

The Kaibab National Forest is taking a lot of criticism (long winded rant here) for their decision not to suppress the fire at the outset. A local lodge is helping to sponsor a letter-writing campaign that all but calls for the forest officials' heads.

In truth the fire probably did the forest some good. In the mixed conifer it burned very hot, and very little is left alive; but on the other hand, that's how mixed conifer burns. In the ponderosa pine, you can see why the Forest Service officials made the decisions they did -- the forest looks very good. In any event, it only takes a stroll across the Forest Service boundary into the National Park to see with your own eyes what the real problems are on the National Forest side: cows, weeds, roads, and clearcuts, all absent from the National Park.

It is sad that the one time the Forest Service decides to let well enough alone on the North Kaibab, things go wrong and they get criticism heaped upon them. Because the stark lesson that the Park boundary tells us is that a lot more letting alone is what is needed to repair the once magnificent forests of the North Rim country.

The Forest Service is now working to make the whole fiasco as bad as possible for itself: they are preparing a salvage sale to log the burned forests.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

No duh: Ammunition found to be source of lead poisoning in California condors

The state of California has done everything possible to refuse to believe that lead bullets are the source of lead poisoning in condors, and has rejected conservationists calls for restrictions on lead ammunition. But now it is getting more and more difficult to deny that lead ammunition is dooming the remaining California condors. A new study finally proves the link that everybody always knew was there: it's the bullets, not some mysterious other source, that is poisoning these magnificent animals.

And now for some good news: River otters returning to the Gila River in New Mexico after a 50-year absence

The story is here.

"No known natural parallel": British scientists find carbon dioxide rise highest in 800,000 years

From the UK Independent; the story is available here.

Ice Bubbles Reveal Biggest Rise in CO2 for 800,000 Years
by Steve Connor, UK Independent

The rapid rise in greenhouse gases over the past century
is unprecedented in at least 800,000 years, according to
a study of the oldest Antarctic ice core which highlights
the reality of climate change.

Air bubbles trapped in ice for hundreds of thousands of
years have revealed that humans are changing the compos-
ition of the atmosphere in a manner that has no known
natural parallel.

Scientists at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in
Cambridge have found there have been eight cycles of
atmospheric change in the past 800,000 years when carbon
dioxide and methane have risen to peak levels.

Each time, the world also experienced the relatively high
temperatures associated with warm, inter-glacial periods,
which were almost certainly linked with levels of carbon
dioxide and possibly methane in the atmosphere.

However, existing levels of carbon dioxide and methane are
far higher than anything seen during these earlier warm
periods, said Eric Wolff of the BAS.

"Ice cores reveal the Earth's natural climate rhythm over
the last 800,000 years. When carbon dioxide changed there
was always an accompanying climate change," Dr Wolff said.
"Over the past 200 years, human activity has increased
carbon dioxide to well outside the natural range and we
have no analogue for what will happen next.

"We have a no-analogue situation. We don't have anything
in the past that we can measure directly," he added.

The ice core was drilled from a thick area of ice on Antarc-
tica known as Dome C. The core is nearly 3.2km long and
reaches to a depth where air bubbles became trapped in ice
that formed 800,000 years ago.

"It's from those air bubbles that we know for sure that
carbon dioxide has increased by about 35 per cent in the
past 200 years. Before that 200 years, which is when man's
been influencing the atmosphere, it was pretty steady to
within 5 per cent," Dr Wolff said.

The core shows that carbon dioxide was always between 180
parts per million (ppm) and 300 ppm during the 800,000 years.
However, now it is 380 ppm. Methane was never higher than 750
parts per billion (ppb) in this timescale, but now it stands
at 1,780 ppb.

But the rate of change is even more dramatic, with increases
in carbon dioxide never exceeding 30 ppm in 1,000 years --
and yet now carbon dioxide has risen by 30 ppm in the last 17

"The rate of change is probably the most scary thing because
it means that the Earth systems can't cope with it," Dr Wolff
told the British Association meeting at the University of East
Anglia in Norwich.

"On such a crowded planet, we have little capacity to adapt
to changes that are much faster than anything in human