Friday, April 27, 2007

More on the virtual fence

The Department of Homeland Security and Boeing are already slapping each others' backs for a job well done down on Arizona's southern border. The "virtual wall" hasn't yet been built, but it's already being hailed as a success story for halting illegal entrants in Arizona's deserts, within the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge and the Coronado National Forest.

Locals aren't so sure they'll like all this surveillance. But nobody asked the jaguar, or the other wild inhabitants of the Tumacacori Highlands region. This area is the subject of a capital-W Wilderness proposal, one that necessarily subtracts the border infrastructure being built in the project area. Of course, then there are the other locals, those who don't want any government involvement at all; those who want their "true freedoms" protected.

We're not intending to get in the middle of the Wilderness debate on these pages so soon after yesterday's fiasco, we're merely pointing to the divergent opinions that contextualize the public lands' debate down in southern Arizona: Wilderness, black helicopters, top predators, and big corporate money.

And just in case you miss it in the full text article, note this curious admission from the Border Patrol:
"We will be able to identify, detect and classify more than 95 percent of illegal entries with the virtual wall," Aguilar said.
Tomato picker, dishwasher, bus driver, nanny, roofer, student, tile setter, teacher's aide, taxpayer.... It remains to be seen which ones they let pass on through.

- Lozen

What exactly is going on at the Missoulian?

We've reported before on bizarrely slanted articles, usually written by Perry Backus, in the Missoula, Montana Daily Missoulian.

Before Backus had the environmental beat, Sherry Devlin had it. Devlin's reporting was straightforward and mind-numbingly unimaginative. She never got deeper in an issue than a U.S.D.A. Forest Service press release would let her. But she could generally be counted on to stick a sentence in at the end from a local mainstream enviro.

Perry Backus's writing isn't like that. Backus is much more clever at presenting what has the vague look about it of balanced reporting, but leaves any normal reader pretty clearly convinced that the timber industry has nothing but our best interests in mind and anyone who says otherwise is a childish fool.

Now Matthew Koehler of WildWest is finally getting his licks in. He patiently lists the charges against the Missoulian in this article in Counterpunch.

He also makes the point in the slightly less edited version of the Counterpunch article that a great deal of major forest policy has come out of Missoula, something I knew but never really thought about in conjunction with how incalculably awful the Missoulian's reporting on public lands issues is.


Department of Interior establishes Sand Creek Massacre Site

From today's Federal Register:

The Secretary of the Interior hereby announces that sufficient lands have been acquired to establish the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in Kiowa County, Colorado. Public Law 106-465 called for the Secretary of the Interior to establish the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site once the Secretary had determined that sufficient lands had been acquired by the federal government to provide for the preservation, memorialization, commemoration, and interpretation of the Sand Creek Massacre. The Act authorized the National Park Service to acquire up to 12,500 acres from willing sellers for this purpose. Between 2002 and 2004 the United States acquired 920 acres within the authorized boundaries. On September 9, 2006, pursuant to Public Law 109-45, the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site Trust Act of 2005, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma conveyed to the United States title to 1465 acres within the authorized boundaries to be held in trust for the purposes of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site. With this conveyance, the United States has acquired a sufficient amount of the nationally significant resources that are integral to the preservation, commemoration and interpretation of the Sand Creek Massacre.

I don't know the details and I'm suspicious of anything Interior is behind -- particularly with regard to the tribes! -- but it is nice to know whitey is finally beginning to own up to some of his history here at least.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Correction: The Wilderness Society does support the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act

Chris Mehl of The Wilderness Society has protested yesterday's post about the Northern Rockies Protection Act, or NREPA. He says his statement to the press was not intended to convey the message that TWS does not support NREPA, and that our title yesterday was misleading because it suggested that TWS and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition had formally "joined" with Western legislators and the Blue Ribbon Coalition to oppose the bill, which is untrue.

He also said: "Of course we support the bill."

All of us at Demarcated Landscapes express our regrets.

(But we want to add: it would be nice if TWS would have just said that in the first place. The first place being, when they spoke to a reporter who wrote a story about the lack of support among environmental organizations for NREPA, to which Mr. Mehl supplied a quote critical of the bill. An email exchange we have obtained from a list-serve, read chronologically, seems to show TWS only coming kicking and screaming to an acknowledgment of support for the bill, though a later statement by Mr. Mehl says it should have been obvious all along.)

Anyway, welcome aboard TWS! The NREPA may seem pie-in-the-sky right now, but so did the Wilderness Act itself, and so did the efforts to keep dams out of the Grand Canyon, and the ultimate preservation of countless National Parks, and more recently the Roadless Rule.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Greater Yellowstone Coalition and Wilderness Society join Blue Ribbon Coalition and Western Senators to oppose Northern Rockies Wilderness Bill.

Note: this story has been corrected in the post directly above.

The Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act was introduced again this year, but without the blessing of two major, um, wilderness protection groups, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and The Wilderness Society. Or so it appears from this article.

Chris Mehl of the Wilderness Society says he doesn't like the bill because wilderness bills that involve areas in Wyoming need to involve Wyoming communities. I have no idea why he thinks Wyoming people are forbidden from engaging in this debate, or to what degree he thinks wilderness bills should be dictated by state (county?) interests, and not national interests. Would the same go for National Parks?

Meanwhile, Craig Kenworthy of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition is also opposed to the bill, apparently because it would "lock out" (those are the words typically used) public lands users by prohibiting mountain biking and nordic ski-grooming in areas that he does not feel have ecological values that are disturbed by such activities.

This wilderness bill has been criticized every year it has been introduced, but usually the criticism is that it is a waste of time to propose something so sweeping (NREPA aims to designate every roadless area in the region under the Wilderness Act) because it is such a pie-in-the-sky plan. As far as I know, this is the first time that major environmental organizations have publicly criticized not just the tactics of NREPA ("Wyoming people need to be involved") but also the substance of the Act ("it locks people out").

I have to wonder why TWS would ever publicly oppose a wilderness bill that aims to close roads and protect roadless areas, and why GYC would publicly support mechanized activities over wilderness qualities around Yellowstone. But they do.


Renzi land deal entangled in U.S. attorney firings

MSNBC is saying today that AZ Rep. Renzi has stepped down from his committee posts in the House (one of which is on the Natural Resources Committee, which oversees public lands). AND a bunch of blogs and news stories speculate that there is a link between the Renzi land deal (see previous posting), an investigation thereof, and the firing of a U.S. Attorney in Arizona.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Public land profiteers galore

The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday on a convoluted set of land deals for which Arizona Rep. Rick Renzi is under investigation. The FBI has been investigating Renzi's campaign funding, which is all tangled up in his land dealings.

Renzi is the current sponsor of a bill that would trade 3,000 acres of public land to Resolution Copper--land that is currently protected under a 50-year-old Executive Order issued by President Eisenhower. Not to mention, uh, part of the Tonto National Forest.

Renzi tried to use sponsorship of the land swap bill to force Resolution Copper to buy a piece of land he owned and wanted to unload. That didn't work, so Renzi's partner in the land started doing business with former Interior Secretary/former Arizona Governor/land-dealer extraordinaire Bruce Babbitt to make the parcel part of a separate congressional swap Babbitt was working on. Then Renzi promised to grease the skids for Babbitt's swap!

The Phoenix New Times reported last year on the Babbitt deal and Renzi's questionable shuffling of funds to his congressional campaign. It's all quite convoluted--but that's how these guys manage to use our public land to pad their own pockets.


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Intruder! Intruder!

Well, folks, if you were planning on a fine backcountry experience in Arizona's borderlands, you better bring your earplugs. Boeing is going ahead with the massive "Project 28," a systematic way to ruin the lands of Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, Coronado National Forest, and the Tohono O'odham Nation. We don't claim to know that the O'odham think of the project, but apparently, Boeing doesn't care what Americans think of six of these towers going on public lands: They gave the public all of four days to comment, starting on a Saturday, with the only copies of the plan available for viewing in remote outposts in small Arizona towns. We may not live within earshot of the towers, but the sounds of this project are making our ears burn just the same.

This is all part of the creepy SBInet that funnels money ($20 Million for the first phase)to Boeing to keep the war economy rolling along, rolling right through Pima pineapple cactus habitat, jaguar corridors, and cultural sites. Not to mention any other impacts what 30 foot towers, trailers, 24 hour propane generators, 1500 square foot fenced areas, and 100db to 130db sirens going off if an intruder gets in might have in these remote areas. I suppose we're supposed to be happy for anything short of a double-layered fence with stadium lighting or a 96 mile barbed-wire barricade.

The deal is this: if anyone complains too much about the ecological impacts, they will exempt the project under Real ID. If we don't, we're complicit in more environmental devastation. Either way, we're beating our heads against the wall. So to speak.

- Lozen

Friday, April 20, 2007

Bingaman and Salazar introduce bill to protect the National Landscape Conservation System

Everyone is very excited about Senators Bingaman (D-NM) & Salazar (D-CO) introducing a bill to protect -- theoretically -- the National Landscape Conservation System.

So am I, but I cannot find the actual text of the bill anywhere -- it isn't yet on Thomas and none of the laudatory web pages like this one from the Wilderness Society carry a link to it.

There are always so many details in these things for the devil to hide in, and some of the members and organizers of the Conservation System Alliance are a little squirrelly. It's hard for some people to understand that drawing a line around a place and giving it a new name doesn't always improve the management of the area -- and sometimes makes things a whole lot worse, as in the case of the Owyhee Initiative.

But I'm eager to see the bill, because it just might be everything it's cracked up to be. If anyone has a link, please send it along.


Ely, Nevada to get a coal-fired power plant

A draft environmental impact statement supporting construction of a coal-fired power plant on BLM land near Ely, NV is available for public review.

Somewhere I read that for one week's cost of the Iraq war, every home in Tucson could be solar powered. Instead we taxpayers this month forked over our earnings to pay Cheney & Co. to build power plants and bomb foreign nations. It can get a little depressing if you think about it.

Don't worry though. We are winning the war and this will be a cleaner power plant than some of those other ones you might have heard of. They promise.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Las Vegas prepares to invade, colonize

The voracious Southern Nevada Water Authority has received permission from the Nevada State Engineer to export water from White Pine County,in the northern part of the state. The water will flow through hundreds of miles of yet-to-be-built pipelines that will traverse White Pine and Lincoln counties and bring critically-needed swimming-pool, casino-fountain, and golf course-irrigation water to Las Vegas.

The water pipelines will run some 450 miles along public land on a free right-of-way secured in legislation by Nevada Senator Harry Reid in 2004.

Some White Pine residents are unhappy about the incipient sucking dry of their county. Reid tried to buy off local politicians last year with yet another bill that put 45,000 acres of public land up for sale--that's red meat to many in the rural West.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Misuse of rural funds puts public land at risk

On Friday, the Washington Post published an article on questionable distribution of funds under a Department of Agriculture program. The USDA Rural Development program, which gives billions of dollars in grants and low-interest loans ostensibly to aid rural areas, is funded through the Farm Bill. A descendant in spirit of FDR's Depression-era rural aid programs, the Rural Development program is supposed to give a leg up to economically challenged areas with low population density and low tax revenues. But the Post reports that much of the funding--indeed, the majority--goes toward porky projects in stable, even lavishly wealthy communities.

How does this threaten public land, you may ask? Well, out here in the West, rural county commissioners have been whining since time began about the burden that public lands place on their economies (because the federal government does not pay property taxes). Payment in Lieu of Taxes, a program designed to cover that lack, is vulnerable to Congress' political whim. The Bush Administration and western politicians of both parties have proposed, even passed, sell-offs and giveaways of public land to subsidize county economies. One Idaho congressman is proposing to give more than 5,000 acres of federal land to a county so it can sell it off for second home development and collect taxes on the newly-privatized land.

A few of those billions in Rural Development that are going to art galleries and historic home renovation on Cape Cod sure would come in handy in real rural areas--and could perhaps counter this push to sell off the commons. Don't get us wrong, we love art and history--but we love public land, too, and once it's gone it's gone.


Sunday, April 08, 2007

Bush on the border

George Bush will visit Yuma, Arizona on Monday for a photo opportunity and political theater, and, ostensibly, to promote the latest in "immigration reform." He'll talk about the need to fund the "Secure Fence" and be tough on preventing terrorists. Sounds a lot like last year's visit, when he hopped in a dune buggy and drove over fragile habitats.

More than 85 percent of the lands directly on the international border are federally owned, and 62 percent of all land within 100 miles of the border is as well. In other words, the border is not simply an immigration/racism/economic issue- it's a huge public lands issue in some of the most fragile environments we've got here in the U.S. Read the Defenders Of Wildlife's excellent report on the impacts.

Arizona State Rep. Doug Clark, who, being from "Anthem" and with a degree in "biblical literature," has some questionable perspective, said this about the migrants crossing Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge:

"Clark said he's surprised that environmental groups aren't more vocal about the kind of degradation he saw on the tour.

"If we were legal citizens doing what those illegals are doing, there'd be an outcry," Clark said."

Um, and there is. And every time the environmental groups try to stop real degradation (mining, grazing, off-road abuses, logging) conservatives like Clark accuse us of trying to ruin the economy. Look, you can't have it both ways: you either let the low-wage worker on whom your cheap berries depend come in legally or you get water jugs, gasp, on the public lands. Those water jugs are unsightly, bad for wildlife, and won't degrade for a good long time, but they are less offensive than Anthem, we assure you.

Some environmental groups have stopped turning a blind eye to the issue and we commend the Rincon Group of the Sierra Club for taking a much more radical stand than the national charter. From the Arizona Republic:

"I think National Guard and further militarizing of the border is not the answer," said Sean Sullivan, a member of the executive committee of the Sierra Club's Rincon Group in southern Arizona.

Sullivan recently took members of the Sierra Club's national board on a border tour. The Rincon Group is trying to get the national board more engaged in the immigration issue, citing the environmental dimensions of the problem.

To Sullivan, the answer lies in policy positions that aim to boost economic development in Mexico, so people are not tempted to cross into the U.S. in search of better-paying jobs.

Widespread trash is a byproduct of illegal immigration, Sullivan said, but not the core issue.

A solid wall, such as is being built along stretches of the border, is not so easily disposed of and has severe consequences for wildlife, he added.

Conservation groups across the country would be wise to add their voices to the chorus.

- Lozen