Monday, March 26, 2007

Frontlines

We read with interest the latest on BLM’s plan to “manage” the ecological resources of Ironwood Forest National Monument. This sweet little patch of Sonoran Desert saves the last little bit of cactus ferruginous pygmy owl habitat in Pima County, has the last herd of desert bighorn sheep indigenous to the Tucson Basin, and provides habitat to the Nichols turk’s head cactus, known from only four sites in the world. It’s a pretty special place.

It is also a place where off-roaders from Tucson and Phoenix go to off-road, where miners go to mine, where ranchers stay to stake their claim and run a few cattle each year. It’s a desperate piece of desert, not someplace you’d want to get stuck in July, but it’s a national monument! That’s gotta be worth something, doesn’t it?

Not to the BLM. And not, it appears, to the Border Patrol. It’s true that the usual extractive users are all vying for a piece of Ironwood Forest NM despite its (alleged) extra layer of protection. But the real issue here is that the monument is the first swath of land north of the Tohono O’odham Nation that can be patrolled by US Department of Homeland Security with impunity. Migrants and other folks cross the border, cross the Nation, get into Ironwood Forest NM and get their rides up the road to Phoenix, etc. It’s created a nightmare situation for resource protection- the illegal activity creates illegal roads, law enforcement uses the illegal roads in pursuit, weekend warriors use the illegal roads unwittingly (or uncaringly), and the roads wreck habitat, etc. etc. High levels of human traffic stress the wildlife and change the wilderness characteristics. There have been recent episodes of deadly violence in the monument, as increased border enforcement raises the stakes of the smuggling game. Ironwood Forest, at a remove of more than 75 miles, is still on the front lines of the “border war.”

The BLM doesn’t control to political or trade circumstance that created this nightmare, but they must manage in context of it. If the BLM ignores the border in their management analysis, they are doing a supreme disservice to nearly 128,000 acres and the public, not to mention failing the letter and spirit of National Environmental Policy Act. If the BLM authorizes extractive use, it is doing so in addition to the extreme unauthorized disturbance that is not likely to end anytime soon. That can hardly be considered legal, responsible, sustainable management. It should come as no surprise.


- Lozen

Sunday, March 25, 2007

At Least It's A Dry Heat

Temperatures in the parts of the Southwest have already hit 90 degrees this year, and drought conditions have become practically permanent. (Check out the Drought Monitor!)Yet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that “Air temperatures in the Southwest, particularly from California to Texas, are projected to rise in the summer about 10 degrees by the end of the century, assuming there is a moderate increase in greenhouse gas emissions. A reduction in emissions might keep the temperature rise to 5 degrees.” (Article)

Coupled with a rise in temperatures, rainfall is expected to diminish, further stressing an already arid region. An explanation for this prediction comes from Jacob Sewall of Virginia Tech, whose climate model looks at high pressure zones in the Arctic Ocean formed during winter due to shrinking sea ice. The high pressure zones deflect winter storms to BC and Alaska, bringing those areas six per cent more rain, “while southern British Columbia down to southern California suffered a 30 per cent drop.”

One can quickly list obvious consequences or a hotter, dryer climate: increased fire risk, reduced stream flow/ flooding due to reduced snow pack, and serious alterations in species habitat. When climates shift, species attempt to shift with it, tracking their preferred habitat as best they can. In times of cooling, animals and plants shift south, for instance, or drop down in elevation as the community of species they depend on does likewise. In times of warming temperatures, critters shift to higher latitudes, or up in elevation.

A classic natural example of this phenomenon are the existence of sky-island ecosystems of the Southwest, in which creatures adapted to cooler, wetter conditions of the Pleistocene, have retreated to the mountains as their habitat disappeared below. In time they truly became stranded, each “island” surrounded by a sea of desert. Should their preferred conditions return to the region, their isolated populations may merge or, given enough time and genetic drift, remain as new and separate species.

But if temperatures rise, and rainfall lessens, squirrels, salamanders and spruces all will have to keep climbing. Once relict ecosystems and species reach the top of the mountain, there’s nowhere else to go. The Mt. Graham red squirrel depends upon a spruce-fir forest, already heavily damaged, that exists only within a few hundred feet of the top. Snowlines are already predicted to rise 1000 feet in the next 50 years, and with that shift goes the whole temperature and rainfall gradient. Over the next few decades, Southwesterners may well sit under the misters at cafes each ever-more-sweltering summer and consider seeking refuge in a latitudinal migration to Portland or Seattle. But in their last desperate leap from their parched and baking mountains, the squirrels and other relict sky island species may well slip the surly bonds of earth forever.

--Perezoso

Saturday, March 24, 2007

"Train wreck waiting to happen": Griles pleads guilty

Former Assistant to the Secretary of Interior pleads guilty to lying to congress. This guy was basically an oil and gas industry representative who was in charge of developing our federal government's oil and gas policy for federal lands. To no one's surprise, he created a policy that gives public resources away to his friends for free with very little federal regulation.

New York Times article here.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Wolves = Bison? Wolves = Yellow Buses? Wolves = $1,145/ 4 days + $55/night! Wolves = Fantasy Land?

(I stole that title from the article linked in the next paragraph.)

Your author Zadig not long ago was in a room full of people listening to a reading of works by Ed Abbey, and noted with sorrow that many in the audience--many who sad Zadig thought should know better--were laughing in all the wrong places. For example, laughing when Abbey wrote that all cars should be forever abolished from Grand Canyon National Park. What's so funny about that? thought Zadig. That wasn't a joke, it was a sensible recommendation.

It depressed him badly.

But sometimes one finds a little piece of redemption, every once in awhile somebody pierces through the muck and with a clarity of vision rarely encountered in our ever-so-high capitalist era, sees the various charades and starts naming names. So, your lazy Zadig points you this evening, dear reader, to this article at Skyblu's fine site "A Step Apart," where she muses about the various cheerleaders for Yellowstone's many charms, our beloved wolves among them, and concludes that wilderness too is just one more commodity, as saddled with the baggage of myth as any.

A little something to shore up against these ruins.

--Zadig

Fair-to-middling at best

The Good Neighbor Environmental Board has given it's tenth report on the U.S. Mexico border to the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

The report does a reasonable job of outlining the environmental impacts of undocumented immigration and heavy militarization within the border zone, but it isn't saying anything that enviros haven't been jumping up and down about for years. Nor does the report step away from the pro-infrastructure mentality that this Administration loves: increased "collaboration," increased technology and sensors, increased contracts for private security firms making a small (or not so small) fortune in our southwest deserts.

Sixty-percent of the lands at risk from the border wall are publically-owned: National Parks, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, National Monuments.... the hand-outs for private interests to manage public lands doesn't stop at the gift shop anymore. We're seeing major economic opportunities for improved "collaboration" between the Department of the Interior and the Department of Homeland Security, and the Good Neighbor Environmental Board report just provides a cover. The Bush-Boeing team is lining its own pockets under the guise of protecting the desert southwest, with nary a mention of rectifying the economic disparity that is creating this crisis. With neighbors like these, Mexicans better not need to borrow a cup of sugar.

- Lozen

Internal review blames Forest Service officials for damage caused by Arizona wildfire

We've reported on the Warm Fire, which burned last year near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It was a big fire and a very hot one. (Maps are available here.)

What made it unusual is that the Forest Service originally permitted it to burn, even though it was in a dry period during June, in a place that is already arid. Many have criticized the agency for the decision not to fight the fire aggressively, and the new report (which we have not seen unless it was this one, from last October(.rtf)) apparently confirms those criticisms (Arizona Daily Star). National Park officials have told me that the Park Service was nervous about this fire and wanted to see it fought, but Jill Leonard, the responsible Forest Service official, let it burn.

We defended her on the grounds that the fire was originally doing exactly what the agency predicted, until an unusual wind change occurred that swept the fire in an unpredicted direction. It happens.

Jill Leonard is no longer the District Ranger -- she got "kicked upstairs" to an unknown position in Washington, D.C.

The critics favor a more conservative approach that encourages more logging and fewer fires, usually draped with a faux concern for ecological values. (Mike Dubrasich at SOS Forests.) I've spent much of my adult life standing around in clearcuts and burned areas, and personally, I'll take the effects of wildfire any day.

The only problem is that now the Forest Service wants to log the area (Forest Service notice letter, an .rtf) which gives us the unfortunate compounded effects of both. A lose-lose situation if ever there was one.

--Zadig

A Must-Read on the Green Mythology-of-the-day

Jeffrey St. Clair again, this time with a compact review of Al Gore's environmental history over at Counterpunch.

I hate to say it because I've admired Gore's efforts on global warming, and I believe they are genuine and historic. But everything St. Clair says is true. I was there.

--Zadig

Opposition to Mt. St. Helens Copper Mine Growing

It is refreshing to see that communities and environmental organizations are already working to stop this awful copper mine we've reported on several times now. (See March 14 post, below.) Forbes.com reports that "the communities of Kelso and Castle Rock have passed resolutions opposing the lease because of potential harmful effects on Green River water quality, fisheries, recreation and tourism." The same article quotes Ryan Hunter of the Gifford Pinchot Task Force, a rugged, savvy little group from Washington State that we at DL have always liked, opposing the mine.

--Zadig

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Driving Forests to Death

"We must continue investing in new methods of producing ethanol, using everything from wood chips to grasses to agricultural waste." –President Bush

Perhaps the most pernicious “solution” to global warming is the push to convert much of our dependence on fossil fuels to a dependence upon biofuels. Biofuels, of course, are derived from contemporary living plants, mostly farmed—or wild. Fossil fuels are derived from plants that have been dead since the Carboniferous Period. The difference in terms of global warming is that burning fossil fuels releases carbon stored underground and forgotten for 300 million years, adding to the net CO2 currently in the atmosphere. Biofuels are supposed to be “carbon neutral,” as they release through combustion no more carbon than they absorbed during their lifetime.

While biofuels have been most commonly derived from food crops (biodiesel from vegetable oils, and ethanol from sugar beets, sugarcane or, increasingly, corn), there is an increased push to produce “cellulosic ethanol,” or alcohol from plants whose energy is locked up in more difficult-to-convert cellulose, i.e., trees. While the timber and paper industries, power companies and others use wood waste for energy, it is generally burned directly in cogeneration facilities for on-site energy generation. To make ethanol from wood chips you have to break down cellulose into the sugar glucose, and then you can let microorganisms ferment it. This is neither easy nor proven technology.

Nevertheless, responding to the president’s call are the good people at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and Western Biomass Energy, who are constructing the first cellulosic ethanol plant in the US in Upton, South Dakota, soon to followed by another such plant in Soperton, Georgia, where is it is being hailed as "another huge page in the evolution of the pine tree." (Link). The South Dakota plant will initially produce a million gallons of fuel a year, with a potential of 20 million. Where will the cellulose feedstock for this plant come from? Plant crews would remove slash and residue after logging operations in the Black Hills and surrounding national, state and private forests, making “foresters happy with the prospect of a clean forest,” with a reduced fire hazard (i.e., nothing to burn).See article here.

In addition to the desire to profit from the inevitable switch from dwindling fossil fuels to alternative energy sources, timber companies and forest managers are also able to repackage the old chestnut that logging can save the planet from global warming, as exemplified here by Patrick Moore, former Greenpeacer turned eco-quisling: “Although old trees contain large amounts of carbon, their rate of absorption has slowed to a near halt. A young tree, although it contains little fixed carbon, pulls CO2 from the atmosphere at a much faster rate. While it is true that cutting down an old tree results in a net release of carbon, new trees growing in their place can more than make up the difference.” (See article here).

Predictable PR for the trees-to-fuel initiative can then run on several complimentary lines:
• Domestic forest resources reduces our dependence on expensive and dwindling fossil fuel imports.
• Conversion of wood products to ethanol is a carbon neutral alternative to fossil fuel contributions to climate change.
• Removal of over-mature forests and their replacement with young, vigorous stands of carbon-sucking reprod will draw down more CO2 from the atmosphere, further reducing global warming.
• Stripped of “waste” biomass, forests will be void of ladder fuels, slash, sticks, trees, plump animals and other flammable objects, thus making them fireproof.

American culture values the automobile over pretty much anything else, and it may be no exaggeration to suggest that the US is capable of converting every available acre of land possible into some kind of fuel source before the whole sick ballgame is over for good. Call it what you will: Woodchips For Winnebagos, Forests For Fords, Trees For Humvees (your more clever slogans?), it’s a bad idea whose time has come.

--Perezoso





Thursday, March 15, 2007

Kempthorne and Bomar touring the country, hawking the Parks

Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne and National Park Service Director Mary Bomar are traveling the country to attend "listening sessions" about how to run and, more importantly, fund the National Parks. These government "listening sessions" are always a little eerie, but this one perhaps more than most as it seems they plan to take comment via computer terminals set up at the hearings. More on that over at Park Remark.

But what makes me the most nervous is all this talk at the hearings of big money -- billions of dollars -- coming from "partnerships" and "philanthropy." Is anybody else just a wee bit suspicious that the free marketeers of the GW Bush administration are setting the Park Service up for the same kind of management that now runs the Postal Service? Which is to say, private and for-profit? Do they really think corporate America is going to fork over that kind of money for no return?

I guess we'll see.

--Zadig

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Update on plans for copper mine on edge of Mt. St. Helens National Monument

We reported last month about plans to put a copper mine on the edge of the Mt. St. Helens National Monument, on land that was purchased for preservation purposes by the Trust for Public Lands. The Trust (foolishly) donated the land to the Forest Service, which is now planning to mine it.

So now it will look like this.

The BLM has authority over the subsurface rights, and in a rare display of honesty has apparently told the Seattle Times that even though the public comment period is just beginning, they intend to permit the mine to proceed.

It's nice to be told up-front that the time you put into your comments is entirely wasted, and the decision really has already been made before the public even gets a chance to weigh in. I can actually stomach that a little better than I can the sanctimonious lies about the importance of public comment on these things.

I've scoured the website for the Trust for Public Lands (motto: "conserving land for people to enjoy as parks, community gardens, historic sites, rural lands, and other natural places, and ensuring livable communities for generations to come") but can find nary a mention of this copper mine on the land they purchased.

--Zadig

Pombo keeps doing the same job

but with a different title.

The Tracy Press is reporting that former U.S. Representative Richard Pombo has taken a job with the industry PR firm Pac/West.

This is a completely unsurprising end to a long, sad story, too long to recount here in full. Suffice it to say that Pac/West is the same industry PR firm that fed Pombo the industry lines to recite in his attacks on federal environmental laws, and managed a phony grassroots organization (Save Our Species Alliance) to prop up Pombo's attacks on the Endangered Species Act.

Pombo's entire time in Congress was spent working only for oil, gas, timber, and land development, so this isn't much of a change for Pombo. And he'll be in good company, Pombo's former chief of staff, Steve Ding, has been at Pac/West since February.

--Jesrad

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Mining industry terribly worried about its future

Those poor miners. They got together for a great big pity-party and had this to say. (Mineweb, an industry site.)

About the only thing they could find that makes life even worth living anymore for the beleaguered and trod-upon "landmen," as they call themselves, is the fact that the Supreme Court keeps limiting the definition of "wetland." But even there, they protest that the executive branch, which has been so unfair to them these past six years, (USFS press release about new rule to "expedite" oil and gas permits") is too slow to implement these wise and thoughtful decisions.

It's tough, being in the oil, gas, and hardrock industry during the George W. Bush administration. (NY Times article on BLM decision to reactivate decades old leases in areas allegedly set aside for environmental protection.) Barriers at every turn for the embattled "landmen."

For a hilarious yet awful summation of the state of affairs in oil and gas exploration, take a look at this article about oil and gas exploration in Louisiana, where the effects of the canals, built for the industry, destroy the wetlands, making further permits easier to get.

It works like this. (Husker Du re: feeding rats to cats and cats to rats and getting cat skins for nothing.)

--Zadig

Bush Admin continues to battle global warming their way

This story has been running in a number of papers (NYT, WashPost, SF Chron) for a few days now, but just in case you missed it...

Someone in the Department of Interior leaked a directive from the Bush Admin requiring all climate experts and polar bear biologists to identify a designated speaker (minder) and promise to uphold the Bush position on climate change before being allowed to travel abroad to any conference or meeting where these issues might be discussed. From the policy...

"Please be advised that all foreign travel requests and any future travel requests involving or potentially involving climate change, sea ice, and/or polar bears will also require a memorandum from the Regional Director to the Director indicating who'll be the official spokesman on the trip and the one responding to questions on these issues, particularly polar bears, including a statement of assurance that these individuals understand the Administration's position on these issues."


The directive includes a couple of example memos with the employee promising to play nice and defer all questions to the minder. From one of the memos...


"[The employee] understands the administration's position on climate change, polar bears, and sea ice and will not be speaking on or responding to these issues..."

Jesrad

Monday, March 12, 2007

Sorry for the long absence, but here's some good news:

Plaintiffs win in Arizona Snowbowl suit! This was the litigation surrounding an Arizona ski area's attempts to expand operations using snow made from treated sewage. As if that isn't enough, they wanted to expand onto lands held sacred by both the Navajo and Hopi people. Navajo Nation v. United States Forest Service opinion is here (.pdf).