Thursday, November 30, 2006

Please don't drink the kool-aid: Governor Risch's plan is a disaster

Idaho Governor Risch has said that he will accept the language of the Clinton roadless rule to "protect" about 8.8 of the 9.3 million acres of Idaho roadless forests, and many conservationists today signalled they may be willing to accept the deal.

But Risch also said this to the Idaho Statesman: "I don't think people read the Clinton rule at the time," Risch said. "It permits road building for stewardship purposes in all roadless areas."

That isn't quite right. The rule fairly explicitly does not permit any road building in roadless areas, including temporary roads. (The text of the rule is available here. Scroll to the end for the actual regulations, at 36 CFR 294, which are short and sweet.)

But the rule manifestly does permit logging "to maintain or restore the characteristics of ecosystem composition and structure, such as to reduce the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire effects." Anyone who has followed Forest Service logging plans for the last fifteen years knows that they all get justified as wildfire reduction projects.

And "roads" per se are not needed for such logging -- even "temporary ones." Only skid trails.

When the Supreme Court elected Bush as our president, Clinton's roadless rule became a kind of holy grail, and its return has been fought for ever since. People forgot that the rule was not necessarily all that protective. But now Risch is reminding us, and, in a sense, calling our bluff. It's ingenious, and I have to admire the man for it.

Of course, he also wants 500,000 acres of forested roadless landscape to turn over to industrial forestry. Again, those who are familiar with the lands in question are sweating bullets. Cove/Mallard, two adjacent roadless areas that were bitterly fought over by environmentalists (the enviros won, incidentally) who did everything from litigation to tree-sitting to, it is alleged by some, sabotage, will again be opened up for logging. Along with many others. Many environmental lawyers have heard of and used a lawsuit called Neighbors of Cuddy Mountain v. USFS -- well, Cuddy Mountain is a roadless area that will get logged under Risch's plan. It's full of giant, old-growth forests. Very few such places remain in Idaho -- I'd guess about 500,000 acres or so.

Before Idaho conservationists get so excited about Risch's apparent "compromise," they need to take a hard look at what they've been asking for, what the landscape deserves, what Risch is offering, and what is going to be given away. We have been asking for total protection of all roadless areas, not just the ones that don't have trees on them. Clinton's roadless rule was already a compromise that was hard enough to swallow after so much of our forested landscape got chopped down and sent to market. Risch's plan stinks and should be rejected at once.

Idaho Statesman story with Risch's language here.
Risch's plan, as it currently stands, here.
Original Idaho Conservation League statement here.
Clinton roadless rule here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Idaho Conservation League voices support for Idaho Gov. Risch's roadless petition

It's hard to say what the folks at the Idaho Conservation League are thinking. They apparently told the local TV station that they can "potentially support" (TV news anchor's words) the plan. The representative quoted only said it was a "much improved proposal," though that doesn't make a lot of sense since the proposal doesn't seem to have changed since it was first released to the public over two months ago.

On the other hand, the Idaho Conservation League website contains this press release, which does not indicate that they approve of the governor's proposal.

Reading between the lines, it looks as if ICL has decided the vaguely worded protections offered the 8.7 acres of roadless lands are good enough to let them look the other way on the 500,000 acres of roadless lands that will be more or less turned over to industrial logging.

One problem though is that the "protection" offered those 8.7 million acres seems pretty weak at least in the 5.5 million acre backcountry designation (permanent roads will be permitted "based on long-term ecological need," for example . . ..) and another problem is that this fight was never really about the full 9.1 million acres. Virtually all of those acres are roadless for a reason: they are too high, too dry, and too cold to grow much of anything that anybody would ever want.

If you have ever been up in the Lemhis or the Lost River Range, you can see why that country never saw much logging, and hence never got roaded.

From where I sit, the Governor's plan looks like a disaster. The 500,000 acres that will be given up are some of the last, best, forested country in the state, including the infamous Cove and Mallard roadless areas that were so bitterly contested by Earth First! back in the early 1990's.

The governor's plan is available here.

Judge Laporte reverses earlier position and grants injunction on all roadless projects!

Amazing news tonight -- Judge LaPorte has reversed her earlier inclinations and GRANTED conservation groups' request to halt all projects in roadless areas, including those that were authorized prior to her earlier decision but after the Bush administration reversed Clinton's roadless rule. This is excellent news because it puts a stop to a great number of roadless oil and gas projects, as well as others.

Her order is here (.pdf).

Who do you trust, me or your lying eyes?

A depressing decision today from the Ninth Circuit (click on "WildWest v. Bull). On page 11 they essentially declare that it doesn't matter what a forest stand looks like, if the Forest Service doesn't say it is old growth, then it is not old growth.

Deference to the agency makes a certain amount of sense, but not blind deference, particularly given the Forest Service's track record and clear bias (also noted in the decision, which mentions the decision by the agency to lock out -- literally lock out -- environmental representatives from public meetings).

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Good grief: Off road vehicle interests want to use winches to haul vehicles up rocky Death Valley streambed

And they want to use a Civil-War era mining law to enable them to do it.

I'm just going to give you the first few paragraphs of the L.A. Times article and let you judge for yourself:

"Five years after it was temporarily closed to off-road enthusiasts who winched their vehicles up its limestone waterfalls, a coveted canyon on Death Valley National Park's western edge has been reclaimed by nature's hand.

Thick willow groves have erased nearly all traces of the washed-out road that once pointed extreme sportsmen to the ruins of a onetime silver boom town. Bighorn sheep appear with greater frequency, conservationists note, and the endangered Inyo California towhee has returned.

But the battle for Surprise Canyon, home of the longest year-round stream in the Panamint Range, has revved up a notch: More than 100 four-wheel-drive aficionados determined to see their prized run reopened have filed a lawsuit in federal court that is being closely watched throughout the West.

The claim relies on a Civil War-era mining law that allowed counties and states to lay routes over federal land. Although the statute, known as RS 2477, was repealed three decades ago, routes established before then were allowed under a grandfather clause. A gravel toll road in Surprise Canyon that fell into public hands before succumbing to flooding is such a route, the lawsuit contends."

On today's penguin news:“The horrible reality of our war on the environment is so dark that most people don't want to contemplate it.”

So says the co-writer of "Happy Feet," discussing the Center for Biological Diversity's petition to list twelve species of penguins, including the beloved Emperor penguins, under the federal Endangered Species Act, citing effects from global warming.

From the Center's press release: “These penguin species will march right into extinction unless greenhouse gas pollution is controlled,” said Kassie Siegel, Director of the Center’s Climate, Air, and Energy Program. “It is not too late to save them, but we must seize the available solutions to global warming immediately."

Idaho Governor Risch submits roadless petition, calls for road-building and logging in 82 percent of Idaho's remaining unroaded lands

According to the AP article, Governor Risch's plan was "praised by the timber industry." It probably comes as no surprise that environmentalists were deeply disappointed. A Trout Unlimited spokesman told the paper that "what's important to most hunters and anglers in Idaho is we can boast the most unspoiled, untrashed backcountry in the West, outside of Alaska. Under Gov. Risch's plan, we can't make that claim any more."

An industry spokesperson declared that the plan is good for forests because it permits the Forest Service to conduct what she called "restoration forestry."

This story from the October 29 Spokesman Review highlights the laughable process used by Risch to obtain public information on the state's roadless lands, which was transparently weighted to favor rural interests.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

"We are not in the business of compromise" proclaims Wilderness Society spokesman, defending decision to work with Idaho GOP on wilderness bill.

There is something about Idaho that makes people willing to do anything in order to get the slightest measure of "protection" for public lands. Sometimes I wonder if the political atmosphere there is so poisonous and awful that it drives people crazy.

Now the Wilderness Society and the Idaho Conservation League are finding themselves lone defenders of two deeply flawed wilderness bills that establish protection for areas that don't really need it (but whose scenic beauty certainly justifies it) in exchange for permanent land giveaways and ORV routes through roadless areas that currently have, and deeply need, at least some interim protection.

In a truly bizarre reversal of the truth, Wilderness Society's spokesman Craig Gehrke told the Salt Lake Tribune that "we are not in the business of wadding bad staff with good stuff to get it passed." Huh? Is he saying that the increased livestock grazing, increased ORV routes, increased invasive weeds, and increased water developments that will inevitably result from his Boulder-White Cloud and Owyhee wilderness bills are good things?

The article is here.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

"Well site of the week" photo exhibit

If you've ever wondered what the all the fuss is about over oil and gas drilling on public lands, check out this site that I found from Alan Gregory's blog. Be sure to click on "past well sites" to see previously featured photographs.

When you read the Forest Service and BLM accounts of these things, you get the feeling that they are totally benign. In fact, both agencies want the power to authorize more wells without undergoing public notice and comment. New Mexico's Jicarilla Ranger District is scheduled to have some 700 new wells drilled in the next few years, adding to the already present 800 wells. This will be one well for every 100 acres of land on the entire Jicarilla Ranger District in the Carson National Forest.

You can thank Dick Cheney and the oil industry representatives he has installed to run our government.

Groups sue over California housing development's global warming impacts

Finally, global warming is emerging as a byproduct of new developments that must be considered. I recall asking the Forest Service ten years ago to analyze the effects of global warming in their long-term forest planning documents, and being ignored and rebuffed. Article on a lawsuit filed to force a California county to consider global warming impacts from a proposed large housing development here.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Canada -- Canada! -- abandons Kyoto protocol

From the article: "Instead of honoring its commitment under the Kyoto Protocol, the Harper government is proposing to allow industrial emissions to continue to grow until 2050."

This new Harper fellow sure is a bummer for those of us Americans who always believed Canada was immune from our own irrational impulses to elect leaders who believe corporate representatives should run the country.

Conservation groups seek to stop aerial gunning of wolves

Over 150 wolves were killed last year to boost moose populations in Alaska. From the Anchorage Daily News article:

"Under the program, private individuals can apply for permits to shoot wolves with the help of aircraft. Permitted gunners in planes can chase wolves from the air, then land and shoot. In some areas, they can kill wolves while airborne."

Is it even news anymore? NOAA reports Arctic sea ice decline

NEW DATA SHOW DOWNWARD TREND IN ARCTIC SEA ICE, proclaims the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

According to the NOAA press release announcing the new data set and the much more interesting website available that displays the data: "The new data sets show shrinkage in the Arctic Ocean summer ice cover of more than eight percent per decade and gives us concrete information with which to develop improved seasonal and long-term forecasts in the future," said Pablo Clemente-Colón, the ice center's chief scientist.

The new data set confirms that the overall trend in summer, winter and multi-year total ice extent is down. Both winter (maximum) and summer (minimum) sea ice extents are decreasing, although summer shrinkage is more pronounced. The percentage of multi-year ice in the winter is also decreasing significantly."

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Jaguars in the U.S. face plenty of problems

. . . But they are coming here anyway. At least until that border wall is constructed. A fine article on the "ghost cat" in New Mexico and the Fish and Wildlife Service's horrible decision not to designate critical habitat for the jaguar is in Audubon, and can be read here.

Forest Service to close camping and recreation areas

The Forest Service has a $346 million backlog of maintenance at campgrounds and recreation areas, and cannot find the cash in its $4.1 billion annual budget to commence repairs, so plans to close them. But, it hints, perhaps others could step in to run them?

I have become paranoid enough about this agency to see this as a back-door effort to increase private concessions on public lands.

The AP article is here.

Another Mexican wolf gets a death sentence

The USDA Wildlife Services, a federal predator-control agency, announced that it would kill (probably by aerial gunning) a wolf that has preyed on livestock. The wolf discovered a taste for beef after feeding off a dead cow, whose carcass had not been removed by the rancher.

The Mexican wolf population has declined by 20 percent per year since 2004. According to Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, "the reason for the decline is the same as the reason for the original loss of the Mexican wolf from the wild: federal predator control."

Worse than previously anticipated: global warming pegged as cause of at least 70 extinctions so far

According to this study (.pdf) from the Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics, global warming is not something we need to fear in the future. We need to fear it now.

"I feel as though we are staring crisis in the face," Futuyma [an author of the study] said. "It's not just down the road somewhere. It is just hurtling toward us. Anyone who is 10 years old right now is going to be facing a very different and frightening world by the time that they are 50 or 60." From the AP story on the study.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The NRA and hunters

The NRA is making enemies everywhere, it seems, even among those who typically make up its core support. An insightful editorial on the NRA's recent missteps among hunters from the Rocky Mountain News is here.

Desert Bald Eagles petitioned for protection

We all know the cheery story of the bald eagle's recovery, but there is a small population of bald eagles in the southwest that behave very differently from bald eagles elsewhere. They nest in cliffs, for example, and they breed at odd times. Their numbers are very small and the population is isolated.

The Center for Biological Diversity has petitioned to preserve Endangered Species Act protection for this population while the remaining bald eagles are removed from the Endangered Species List.

A great article on the desert bald eagles and the Center's efforts to protect them is here.

Rahall singles out NEPA, FOIA, and oil and gas drilling

Talk about cutting to the heart of things. Rahall isn't having any trouble figuring out where to focus his efforts first. From E&E Daily:

Rahall pledges to protect NEPA, end 'royalty relief'

Thursday, November 9, 2006


E&E News Daily


Dan Berman, E&E Daily senior reporter


The likely successor to Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) to lead the House Resources Committee yesterday pledged to protect environmental laws and curb royalty payments for offshore oil and gas drilling.

If selected as the next committee chairman, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) said he would focus on protecting "right-to-know" laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act that have been under attack by Republicans in recent years, as well as act on controversial outer continental shelf (OCS) oil and gas royalty relief payments from the Interior Department.

"As Resources chairman, I will maintain NEPA, end royalty holidays in the OCS and giveaways under the Mining Law of 1872, prioritize the reclamation of abandoned coal mines and miners, advance Native American health care, and tackle territorial issues such as political self determination," said Rahall in a statement delivered to E&E Daily yesterday.

Whew.

I'm still reeling from it.

Richard Pombo's press conference upon getting his head delivered to him on a platter is here.

And Comrade Burns, best known for his socialist, state-funded approach to livestock grazing, is also no longer mucking about with Montana.

Barbara Boxer will head Environment and Public Works committee in the senate; Nick Rahall will likely chair the (formerly Natural) Resources committee in the house.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Finally some good news: first condor in Los Angeles

This story has it all: endangered species, artistic children, kindergarten teachers, and biological mysteries. The story is here but you have to register. However, registration is free and it's the L.A. Times, which is a pretty good paper as far as they go these days.

And it's a great story. Here are the first few paragraphs:

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Like any good bird-lover, Gabriel Gottfried knew what to do when he spied the huge creature perched on a tree branch outside his Topanga Canyon home.

He grabbed his camera to document what experts say may be the first California condor to fly the canyon's skies in more than 100 years.

His action photo of the elusive bird taking wing was remarkable enough.

But perhaps not as remarkable as the fact that Gabriel is 5 years old.

"I'm five-and-a-half!" corrects the pint-sized photographer whose sharp eye and quick shutter finger are being saluted by conservationists throughout the rustic residential canyon between Woodland Hills and Malibu.

Wildlife experts who are hailing Gabriel's photo say it's conceivable that a condor was taking temporary refuge from the Day fire, the huge wildfire that ravaged parts of the Los Padres National Forest in September and October.

The forest's Sespe Condor Sanctuary and adjoining Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge is where captive-bred condors have been released in an attempt to reintroduce them to the wilds. Topanga Canyon — which at one point was peppered by ash from the Day fire — is within easy soaring range of the condor preserves.

Federal wildlife officials say the condors dispersed when the Day fire approached their sanctuary areas. All have since returned, Denise Stockton, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Wednesday.

Stockton and others have studied Gabriel's photo in hopes of identifying the bird. But the silhouetted image is too dark to show identifying features or the numbers attached to all condors in the breeding program, she said.

"It's amazing," Stockton said of the child's handiwork.

The photograph depicts the giant bird — its head hunkered down and its powerful wings flexing — as it launches itself from a pine tree across the street from Gabriel's house.

Gabriel photographed the prehistoric-looking creature about a month ago after coming home from kindergarten.

When his nanny, Mayra Flores, commented on the big bird in the tree, Gabriel dashed to a hallway shelf where he keeps the digital point-and-shoot camera that his mother had given him. Just as he aimed it through his bedroom window, the bird took off.

"I'd never seen that kind of bird before," says Gabriel, wearing a shirt bearing the colorful image of a parrot-like toucan, as he points out the window toward the tree.

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Center for Biological Diversity: Bush administration stalling on releasing climate reports

“As the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases and a non-party to the Kyoto Protocol, you would think that the U.S. could at least meet its modest commitment to issue a timely Climate Action Report,” stated Julie Teel, a staff attorney in the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate, Air and Energy Program.

Or you might think that if you thought the people in charge of our government (awesome, highly recommended article on truthout.com) cared about the health of the planet as much as they care about pleasing their corporate sponsors. When you have a government that is literally run by industry representatives, it's harder to expect a committment to things like democratic principles or the well-being of the sovereign's subjects.

Center for Biological Diversity's press release is here.

Science: "This century is the last century of wild seafood."

The journal Science reports that the oceans have about another fifty years left before the current North sea cod fishery is the norm. Probably what is most depressing about this is the grinding inevitability of it all.

From the BBC article: "There will be virtually nothing left to fish from the seas by the middle of the century if current trends continue, according to a major scientific study.

Stocks have collapsed in nearly one-third of sea fisheries, and the rate of decline is accelerating."

Federal investigations to begin concerning Bush administration's silencing of its own climate researchers

From the Associated Press article: "Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said he was informed that the inspectors general for the Commerce Department and NASA had begun 'coordinated, sweeping investigations of the Bush administration's censorship and suppression' of federal research into global warming."

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Freedom of Information Act request reveals what everybody knows: top officials are reversing agency staff decisions for political reasons

The Denver Post has an article regarding documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act that show how Julie MacDonald, a Bush-appointed official with the Department of Interior who is universally reviled by environmentalists and who has little biological training, reversed her staff on recommendations to protect endangered species.

More complete information is available from the press release issued by a coalition of environmental groups.

Coral reefs: twenty percent are gone, over fifty percent likely to die in 25 years

But international experts say there are some things we can do to help them survive increased temperatures. The theory is that if we reduce other stresses, they may be able to endure warmer oceans. The study is available here.

Future of the National Forest Management Act now in judge's hands

Hearings were held yesterday in California in litigation over the Bush administration's dramatic overhaul of the National Forest Management Act, or "NFMA" regulations. This visionary law was the result of public displeasure with massive clearcutting and industry giveaways in Montana and elsewhere in the 1970's. It requires the Forest Service to be guided by long-term management plans that set "standards" for resource damage. That is, the Forest Service must establish reasonable limits to how much damage it can do to wildlife habitat, soil, and water quality.

Unfortunately, a Supreme Court case, Ohio Forestry v. Sierra Club, severely -- some say fatally -- curtailed the application of the law, and the Bush administration has been quick to jump at its opportunities to revise forest plans accordingly.

New forest plans don't even contain standards at all, but are composed entirely of wishy-washy "objectives" and "desired conditions" that carry no legal teeth.

Hopefully, the current litigation will at least force the agency to include some standards for the maintenance of wildlife habitat and other forest resources.

The Stern Report on economic consequences of global warming

You probably read the newspaper articles about the recently released predicted economic consequences of doing nothing about global warming. The full report, called the Stern Report, is available here.

People who rail about the potential for the Kyoto protocol to bankrupt our nation need to start considering the potential economic effects that dead oceans, dead crops, unstable water supplies, and massive human migration might entail.