Following the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s announcement to remove endangered species protections for gray wolves in all lower 48 states, world-renown animal behavior expert and conservationist, Dr. Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace, decried the decision citing the important roles that wolves play in their ecosystems and the fact that the move lacks both the support of the scientific community, as well as the public.
Gray wolves occupy only a tiny area compared to their historic home range. Wolves are essential predators in their ecosystems. It is important to understand that where wolves have been restored, the ecosystem comes back into balance. Today’s decision further challenges existing vulnerable populations of wolves with hunting and trapping. Removing these protections fundamentally threatens their survival and the balance of ecosystems across the U.S.
As we approach Election day next Tuesday, November 3rd, American citizens must vote to affirmatively elect leaders who respect nature and protect endangered species, believe in science, who act on climate change, and who will advance sustainable green economies. We have the power to turn things around, but we have a small window of time. Your votes can protect endangered species like gray wolves, their habitats, fight climate change, and safeguard human health and livelihoods.
Gray wolves were extirpated from Colorado in the 1930s, but a pack was recently spotted in the northwest corner of the state. In November, voters in the state will decide on a measure to reintroduce gray wolves. JOHN AND KAREN HOLLINGSWORTH, USFWS
Image from Grand County on June 6, 2020 provided courtesy of Jessica Freeman via Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Image from Grand County on June 6, 2020 provided courtesy of Jessica Freeman via Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
CPW Image – A wolf eats on an elk carcass in northwest Colorado
A trail of wolf tracks observed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers in Northwest Colorado on January 19, 2020. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife
Gray wolves are currently protected under the Endangered Species Act, but the Trump administration has petitioned to delist them. That decision, expected this spring, will impact the management and possible reintroduction of wolves in Colorado. Photo credit: Tracy Brooks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Aspen Journalism
Conservation groups hope to corral lawmakers, land managers, tribes and private landowners in a mission to add 14 million acres to Colorado’s trove of 6 million protected acres.
The state is losing open land more quickly than it is protecting it. Since 2001, about a half-million acres in Colorado has been lost to development. That is reflective of a worldwide trend that has some lawmakers and conservationists galvanized to make the U.S. a global leader in slowing the loss of wildlife and rainforests.
The Global Deal for Nature movement calls for Earth’s residents to protect half the planet’s land, waters and oceans by 2050. Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and New Mexico U.S. Sen. Tom Udall have sponsored legislation — the “Thirty by Thirty Resolution to Save Nature” — to protect 30% of the country’s lands and waters by 2030. California Gov. Gavin Newsom last week made the 30-by-30 goal a formal state policy.
And now a coalition of conservation groups in Colorado has detailed a roadmap for how the state can reach the bold goal and protect more than 14 million acres of land in the next decade. The “Colorado Pathways to 30-by-30” proposal expands the definition of conservation, with state-level reforms to limit the impacts of energy development, executive orders, federal and state land manager policies and private landowner protection all included in the toolbox.
The report says conservation efforts in Colorado would benefit from passage of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy Act, or CORE Act, which would protect more than 400,000 acres in Colorado. The CORE Act wrapped together several land protection bills that had languished for more than a decade and marks one of the most ambitious public lands protection proposals for Colorado in 25 years. (Congresswoman Diana DeGette has proposed a wilderness protection bill 20 years in a row.)
Privately owned property accounts for nearly 60% of all the land in Colorado, ranging from single-family homes in cities to large ranches. A statewide coalition of land trusts called “Keep it Colorado” is developing a plan to guide private land protection — and incentivize conservation easements — over the next decade.
The overarching message in the 30-by-30 plan is that land conservation must dovetail policies to reduce the impacts of climate change.
“I do think this is the vision that shows the human impact on land and the human impact on climate are one in the same,” said Andre Miller, the western lands policy analyst for Western Resource Advocates. “I think for a long time the climate effort focused on rightfully closing down coal power and shifting to a clean energy economy but I think a lot of scientists are realizing that lands and climate are one in the same and you need this wide-reaching approach to addressing the climate crisis.”
Miller sees growing support for large-scale conservation work in Colorado. Sen. Bennet and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse both are champions of the 30-by-30 movement. And this year’s State of the Rockies conservation poll by Colorado College showed 74% of Colorado residents support a national goal of protecting 30% of the land, water and ocean by 2030…
The biggest challenge for the plan is “political will,” Goad said.
The plan needs support in Washington,D.C., and among state and local leaders as well as private landowners. And that has happened before in Colorado, said Goad, pointing to clean energy initiatives that have made renewable energy in Colorado cheaper than coal in the last decade.
The impacts of climate change are driving the need for land conservation, Goad said.
“Look at this summer of wildfires,” she said. “For the first time, many of us in Colorado are checking the air quality index before we go outside every day and that is a real impact from climate change.”
Here’s the release from Stanford University (David Lobell, Rob Jordan):
Like a baseball slugger whose home run totals rise despite missing more curveballs each season, the U.S. Corn Belt’s prodigious output conceals a growing vulnerability. A new Stanford study reveals that while yields have increased overall – likely due to new technologies and management approaches – the staple crop has become significantly more sensitive to drought conditions. The research, published Oct. 26 in Nature Food, uses a novel approach based on wide differences in the moisture-holding capabilities among soils. The analysis could help lay the groundwork for speeding development of approaches to increase agricultural resilience to climate change.
“The good news is that new technologies are really helping to raise yields, in all types of weather conditions,” said study lead author David Lobell, the Gloria and Richard Kushel Director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment. “The bad news is that these technologies, which include some specifically designed to withstand drought, are so helpful in good conditions that the cost of bad conditions are rising. So there’s no sign yet that they will help reduce the cost of climate change.”
Corn production in the U.S. is a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut. Despite concerns about resistant weeds, climate change and many other factors, the industry has set record yields in five of the last seven years. Likely drivers of these bumper crops include changes in planting and harvesting practices, such as adoption of drought-tolerant varieties, and changes in environmental conditions, such as reduced ozone levels and increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations that generally improve the water-use efficiency of crops.
As climate change intensifies, however, the cost to maintain crop yields will likely increase.
Using county soil maps and satellite-based yield estimates, among other data, the researchers examined fields in the Corn Belt, a nine-state region of the Midwest that accounts for about two-thirds of U.S. corn production. By comparing fields along gradients of drought stress each year, they could identify how sensitivity to drought is changing over time.
Even within a single county, they found a wide range of soil moisture retention, with some soils able to hold twice as much water as others. As might be expected, there were generally higher yields for soils that held more water. They found yield sensitivity to soil water storage in the region increased by 55 percent on average between 1999 and 2018, with larger increases in drier states.
The results made clear soil’s ability to hold water was the primary reason for yield loss. In some cases, soil’s ability to hold an increased amount of moisture was three times more effective at increasing yields than an equivalent increase in precipitation.
So, why have yields become more sensitive to drought? A variety of factors, such as increased crop water needs due to increased plant sowing density may be at play. What is clear is that despite robust corn yields, the cost of drought and global demand for corn are rising simultaneously.
To better understand how climate impacts to corn are evolving over time, the researchers call for increased access to field-level yield data that are measured independently of weather data, such as government insurance data that were previously available to the public but no longer are.
“This study shows the power of satellite data, and if needed we can try to track things from space alone. That’s exciting,” Lobell said. “But knowing if farmers are adapting well to climate stress, and which practices are most helpful, are key questions for our nation. In today’s world there’s really no good reason that researchers shouldn’t have access to all the best available data to answer these questions.”
These trends, coupled with a growing volume of battery-powered phones, watches, laptops, wearable devices and other consumer technologies, leave us wondering: What will happen to all these batteries once they wear out?
Despite overwhelming enthusiasm for cheaper, more powerful and energy-dense batteries, manufacturers have paid comparatively little attention to making these essential devices more sustainable. In the U.S. only about 5% of lithium-ion batteries – the technology of choice for electric vehicles and many high-tech products – are actually recycled. As sales of electric vehicles and tech gadgets continue to grow, it is unclear who should handle hazardous battery waste or how to do it.
As engineers who work on designing advanced materials, including batteries, we believe it is important to think about these issues now. Creating pathways for battery manufacturers to build sustainable production-to-recycling manufacturing processes that meet both consumer and environmental standards can reduce the likelihood of a battery waste crisis in the coming decade.
Batteries pose more complex recycling and disposal challenges than metals, plastics and paper products because they contain many chemical components that are both toxic and difficult to separate.
Some types of widely used batteries – notably, lead-acid batteries in gasoline-powered cars – have relatively simple chemistries and designs that make them straightforward to recycle. The common nonrechargeable alkaline or water-based batteries that power devices like flashlights and smoke alarms can be disposed directly in landfills.
However, today’s lithium-ion batteries are highly sophisticated and not designed for recyclability. They contain hazardous chemicals, such as toxic lithium salts and transition metals, that can damage the environment and leach into water sources. Used lithium batteries also contain embedded electrochemical energy – a small amount of charge left over after they can no longer power devices – which can cause fires or explosions, or harm people that handle them.
Moreover, manufacturers have little economic incentive to modify existing protocols to incorporate recycling-friendly designs. Today it costs more to recycle a lithium-ion battery than the recoverable materials inside it are worth.
As a result, responsibility for handling battery waste frequently falls to third-party recyclers – companies that make money from collecting and processing recyclables. Often it is cheaper for them to store batteries than to treat and recycle them.
While it will be challenging to bake recyclability into the existing manufacturing of conventional lithium-ion batteries, it is vital to develop sustainable practices for solid-state batteries, which are a next-generation technology expected to enter the market within this decade.
A solid-state battery replaces the flammable organic liquid electrolyte in lithium-ion batteries with a nonflammable inorganic solid electrolyte. This allows the battery to operate over a much wider temperature range and dramatically reduces the risk of fires or explosions. Our team of nanoengineers is working to incorporate ease of recyclability into next-generation solid-state battery development before these batteries enter the market.
Conceptually, recycling-friendly batteries must be safe to handle and transport, simple to dismantle, cost-effective to manufacture and minimally harmful to the environment. After analyzing the options, we’ve chosen a combination of specific chemistries in next-generation all-solid-state batteries that meets these requirements.
Our design strategy reduces the number of steps required to dismantle the battery, and avoids using combustion or harmful chemicals such as acids or toxic organic solvents. Instead, it employs only safe, low-cost materials such as alcohol and water-based recycling techniques. This approach is scalable and environmentally friendly. It dramatically simplifies conventional battery recycling processes and makes it safe to disassemble and handle the materials.
Compared to recycling lithium-ion batteries, recycling solid-state batteries is intrinsically safer since they’re made entirely of nonflammable components. Moreover, in our proposed design the entire battery can be recycled directly without separating it into individual components. This feature dramatically reduces the complexity and cost of recycling them.
Our design is a proof-of-concept technology developed at the laboratory scale. It is ultimately up to private companies and public institutions, such as national laboratories or state-run waste facilities, to apply these recycling principles on an industrial scale.
Rules for battery recycling
Developing an easy-to-recycle battery is just one step. Many challenges associated with battery recycling stem from the complex logistics of handling them. Creating facilities, regulations and practices for collecting batteries is just as important as developing better recycling technologies. China, South Korea and the European Union are already developing battery recycling systems and mandates.
One useful step would be for governments to require that batteries carry universal tags, similar to the internationally recognized standard labels used for plastics and metals recycling. These could help to educate consumers and waste collectors about how to handle different types of used batteries.
Markings could take the form of an electronic tag printed on battery labels with embedded information, such as chemistry type, age and manufacturer. Making this data readily available would facilitate automated sorting of large volumes of batteries at waste facilities.
It is also vital to improve international enforcement of recycling policies. Most battery waste is not generated where the batteries were originally produced, which makes it hard to hold manufacturers responsible for handling it.
Such an undertaking would require manufacturers and regulatory agencies to work together on newer recycling-friendly designs and better collection infrastructure. By confronting these challenges now, we believe it is possible to avoid or reduce the harmful effects of battery waste in the future.
Click here to access the paper (Joel Schneekloth, Francisco Calderón, David Nielsen & Steven J. Fonte). Here’s the abstract:
Residue removal from maize (Zea mays) fields offers an opportunity to increase farmer profits, but potential tradeoffs for water dynamics and crop performance merit further evaluation. This study, established in 2014, compared the effects of two tillage practices (no-till and conventional) and two residue management practices (harvested vs. kept in place) on maize grain yields, water infiltration, evapotranspiration, and soil physical attributes. On average, maize grain yields under limited irrigation increased with residue retention by 1.1 Mg ha year between 2016 and 2018, but tillage had no significant effect. Total infiltration (over 30 min) was higher with residue retention. Neither tillage nor residue management had a significant impact on evapotranspiration during the vegetative growth stage. However, there was a significant residue by tillage interaction where vegetative evapotranspiration was reduced by no-till and residue retention. Conversely, penetrometer resistance was significantly reduced by both tillage and residue retention. Volumetric water content in the soil profile at planting was higher with residue retention. These results suggest that plots with residue removal would on average require 60 mm year−1 of additional irrigation to attain the same yields as fields with residue retention. In summary, our findings suggest that high rates of crop residue removal under limited irrigation in a semiarid environment can negatively affect water conservation and yields, and that tradeoffs surrounding residue export need to be fully considered in land management and policy decisions.
If you ask most women about how their male relatives, partners and friends respond to being sick, they’ll often tell you with an accompanying eye roll, “He’s such a baby.” “He’s extra whiny.” Or “he exaggerates so much.” But there may be a biological explanation for this behavior.
Dubbed the “man flu,” this phenomenon has been validated in a review of previously published, large epidemiological studies, as well as in studies of influenza in animals. In these studies, males were sick longer, with more severe symptoms and had a weaker response to vaccination. Laboratory tests with animals infected with the influenza virus also underscore that there are sex-based differences in immune response that influence outcomes observed in humans. But are these more severe symptoms and outcomes unique to cold and flu?
As a respiratory toxicologist and researcher investigating sex differences in the respiratory system, I was intrigued to read a recent study on sex-specific responses to COVID-19 that suggest that men are, actually, more vulnerable and suffer more from this disease.
This study examined samples including nasal swabs, saliva, and blood, which were either collected from healthy individuals or COVID-19 patients. These samples were used to better understand what the immune response to the infection looks like and how it differs in people with more severe disease.
Similar to CDC data on infection rates, no sex difference in the concentration of virus or the amount of virus present was observed in either the nasal swab or the saliva. There were also no differences in antibody levels – a signal the body had identified the virus – detected in infected men and women.
Males with SARS-CoV-2 show greater inflammation
However, the authors identified major sex differences during the early immune response that occurs soon after someone is infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The blood samples were analyzed for a variety of cytokines – some of the first signaling molecules that help immune cells respond to pathogens. The levels of these signals rise and fall to provide an adequate response to fight an invading pathogen. But large quantities of these molecules can severely damage the body. This is the case in a cytokine storm.
The authors of the Nature report observed sex differences in the strength of the cytokine response. Men showed higher levels of cytokines that trigger inflammation, like IL-8 and IL-18, than women. Higher quantities of these cytokines are linked to more severe disease. In severe cases of COVID-19, fluid builds up in the lungs, reducing the oxygen available in the body for normal functions. This can lead to tissue damage, shock and potentially the failure of multiple organs.
Females with SARS-CoV-2 are better prepared to eliminate the virus
In addition to sex differences in cytokine levels, the authors also found sex differences in the function of immune cells.
Compared to men, women had a higher number of T cells – essential for eliminating the virus – that were activated, primed and ready to respond to the SARS-CoV-2 infection. Men with lower levels of these activated T-cells were more likely to have severe disease.
Thus, there are several aspects of the human immune response to SARS-CoV-2 that differ between men and women. Understanding these differences can inform how doctors treat patients and can help researchers develop sex-specific therapies.
Increased COVID-19 susceptibility in men is likely biological
These results contradict speculation that male susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection is due to more risky behaviors. Those include downplaying the seriousness of the virus, joining large gatherings and ignoring social distancing guidelines, as well as lower rates of hand-washing and wearing masks. Instead, rates of infection are actually similar between males and females, while males are more at risk of serious COVI9-19 disease, suggesting biological differences in response to infection.
This paper is one of the first of its kind to delve into mechanisms of susceptibility sex differences. With greater innate biological risk for severe disease and death in men, this suggests that males might need to be hypervigilant about social distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing.
Greater adherence to infection prevention protections, especially in men, would not only reduce their risk of infection, but also combat their increased risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19.
Researchers have been able to manipulate large chunks of genetic code for almost 50 years. But it is only within the past decade that they have been able to do it with exquisite precision – adding, deleting and substituting single units of the genetic code just as an editor can manipulate a single letter in a document. This newfound ability is called gene editing, the tool is called CRISPR, and it’s being used worldwide to engineer plants and livestock and treat disease in people.
For these reasons the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry has been awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier, director of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Germany, and Jennifer Doudna, professor at the University of California, Berkeley, for discovering and transforming CRISPR into a gene-editing technology. It’s the first time two women have shared a Nobel prize.
I’m a CRISPR engineer, interested in developing novel CRISPR-based gene-editing tools and delivery methods to improve their precision and function.
While CRISPR scientists like me have been speculating about a Nobel Prize for CRISPR, it was exciting to see Charpentier and Doudna win. This will encourage young, talented engineers and researchers to enter the field of gene editing, which can be leveraged for designing new diagnostics, treatments and cures for a range of diseases.
CRISPR/Cas systems as gene editors
Many variants of CRISPR/Cas systems have been discovered, engineered and applied to edit genes. There are already over 20,000 scientific publications on the topic.
While people and animals have evolved complex immune systems to fight viral attacks, single-cell microorganisms rely on CRISPR to find and destroy a virus’s genetic material to stop it from multiplying.
Charpentier and Doudna figured out how to borrow this innate biological capability from microbes and apply it to genetic engineering of bacteria.
In a landmark paper, published online on June 28, 2012, Charpentier and Doudna showed that the CRISPR gene-editing machinery includes two components: a guide molecule that serves as sort of a GPS to find and bind the target gene site on the DNA of an invading virus, which then teams up with a CRISPR-associated protein (Cas) that serves as a molecular scissor that snips the DNA.
Around the same time, Virginijus Siksnys, a Lithuanian biochemist at the University of Vilnius, made a similar discovery and submitted results for publication that appeared a few months later, in September 2012. Feng Zhang, a biologist at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and colleagues showed that CRISPR can be improved and used for editing mammalian cells. He currently owns one of the first patents on using CRISPR for gene editing, which is being contested by Doudna’s institution, UC Berkeley.
Once the DNA has been cut in the right spot, the cell will try to repair the cut. But the repair mechanism is error prone, and oftentimes the cells fail to fix the cuts perfectly, ultimately disabling the gene. Disrupting a gene is particularly useful for studying its function and find out what happens if you stop a gene from working. This technique is also useful for treating cancer and infections, where turning off a gene can potentially stop cancer cells and pathogens from dividing or kill them outright.
During this cutting-repair process, one can fool the cells by providing a new piece of DNA. The cells will then incorporate this piece of DNA with desirable edits into the genetic code. This enables researchers to correct a genetic mutation that causes a genetic disease, or replace a defective gene with a healthy one.
[The Conversation’s science, health and technology editors pick their favorite stories.Weekly on Wednesdays.]
Why CRISPR deserved a Nobel Prize
While there is still plenty of room for improvement of these technologies, scientists have already begun testing CRISPR in a number of clinical trials for treating cancer and genetic disorders. CRISPR-based diagnostics have been also been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under emergency use authorization for COVID-19 testing.
Despite these concerns, CRISPR has huge potential to transform how scientists can detect, treat and even eradicate diseases as well as improve agricultural products. Society is already seeing the benefits of this Nobel-winning technology.
Eddie Van Halen, whose razzle-dazzle guitar-playing — combining complex harmonics, innovative fingerings and ingenious devices he patented for his instrument — made him the most influential guitarist of his generation and his band, Van Halen, one of the most popular rock acts of all time, died on Tuesday. He was 65.
Mr. Van Halen’s son, Wolfgang, said in a statement that his father had “lost his long and arduous battle with cancer.” The statement did not say where he died.
Mr. Van Halen structured his solos the way Macy’s choreographs its Independence Day fireworks shows: shooting off rockets of sound that seemed to explode in a shower of light and color. His outpouring of riffs, runs and solos was hyperactive and athletic, joyous and wry, making deeper or darker emotions feel irrelevant…
Mr. Van Halen was most widely revered by his peers for perfecting the technique of two-handed tapping on the guitar neck. That approach allowed him to add new textures, and percussive possibilities, to his instrument, while also making its six strings sound as expressive as a piano’s 88 keys or as changeable as a synthesizer. He received patents for three guitar devices he had created. In 2012, Guitar World Magazine ranked him No. 1 on its list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”
“I’m always pushing things past where they’re supposed to be,” Mr. Van Halen told the educational website Zocalo Public Square in 2015. “When ‘Spinal Tap’ was going to 11, I was going to 15,” he said — a reference to that film’s famous joke about a guitarist who dubiously claims that his amplifier can exceed its highest decibel level.
The zest in Mr. Van Halen’s playing paired perfectly with the hedonistic songs and persona of his hard-rocking band, Van Halen, whose original lineup featured his brother Alex on pummeling drums, Michael Anthony on thunderous bass and the singer David Lee Roth, who presented a scene-stealing mix of Lothario, peacock and clown…
Eleven of the band’s studio albums reached the Top Five, and four snagged the top spot on Billboard’s Top 200. Van Halen amassed eight Billboard Top 20 singles, including its cover of Roy Orbison’s “(Oh) Pretty Woman,” which reached No. 12 in 1982, and “Jump,” which seized the No. 1 spot in 1984 and held it for five weeks. In 2007, the band — including both Mr. Roth and Mr. Hagar — was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame…
Edward Lodewijk Van Halen was born on Jan. 26, 1955, in Amsterdam to Jan and Eugenia (Beers) Van Halen. His father, a struggling Dutch classical musician who played clarinet, saxophone and piano, met his Indonesian-born wife while on tour in Indonesia.
In 1962, when Mr. Van Halen was 7, his family relocated to the United States, driven away by prejudice against his mother and unfavorable work opportunities in the Netherlands. They settled in Pasadena, Calif. His mother worked as a maid, his father as a janitor while seeking work as a musician.
In a new country, with a new language to learn, the Van Halen sons, Eddie and his older brother, Alex, turned to music as their lingua franca. Eddie first studied classical piano, which he excelled at despite a serious limitation.
It’s the rare point of bipartisan agreement in Colorado politics where public spending is concerned: Since the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights took effect in 1992, state lawmakers have increasingly turned to fees to fund government operations.
But how you feel about that development, depends on your politics. To the left, it’s an unfortunate side effect of the state’s strict restrictions on taxation. To the right, it’s a sign that TABOR, the state’s landmark constitutional amendment governing public spending, didn’t go far enough to restrain government growth.
This November, that debate goes to voters, as it so often does in Colorado, in the form of a complicated ballot measure that demands an up-or-down vote on the future of the state’s fiscal policy.
Proposition 117, supported by conservative anti-tax groups, would require voter approval for the creation of certain fee-funded state government programs known as “enterprises.” Traditionally, these are public entities, like water utilities, parks or toll roads, that operate like a business because they are funded primarily by user fees rather than taxes.
Existing enterprise programs would be exempt from the new requirements, and the referendum would apply only to new fees that generate $100 million over their first five years, or an average of $20 million annually. And unlike the voter-consent requirements found in TABOR, local governments would be exempt from additional requirements.
Nonetheless, if the proposition passes, it would represent a major expansion of voter control over Colorado fiscal policy that would reshape future budget fights and further limit the ability of state lawmakers to create government programs.
A nonpartisan legislative analysis found that had Proposition 117 been in effect previously, it would have triggered elections on seven of the 16 government-run state enterprises Colorado had in place in 2019, affecting as much as $7.6 billion in annual public spending by universities, state parks and prisons. It also would have required voter approval for a reinsurance program pushed by Gov. Jared Polis that imposed new fees on health insurance plans and hospitals.
Here’s an overview of what you should know about Proposition 117 and enterprise funds.
What are state enterprises, and why do they matter in Colorado?
State and local governments all over the country rely on so-called enterprise funds to pay for essential services. These are effectively government-run businesses that mostly operate with the fees they charge to users. In Colorado, state and local taxes can’t make up any more than 10% of an enterprise fund’s revenue.
Common examples include public water utilities, municipal airports and the entities that operate toll roads. But enterprises take on a special significance in Colorado because of the state’s unique restraints on taxation.
TABOR, added to the state constitution in 1992, does two key things that have contributed to the proliferation of enterprises.
One, TABOR requires voter approval for all new taxes — but not fees, which are legally distinct from taxes in that they can’t be used for general government services. Instead, courts have said they have to fund something that’s reasonably connected to the fee itself. For instance, toll fees can pay for road maintenance, and park fees can pay for parks upkeep, but neither could be used to pay for health care or courts. And because voters have rejected most new statewide taxes in the TABOR era, lawmakers tend to view fees as a more politically feasible way to boost spending on public services. Not all government fees are tied to enterprise funds, but that’s the purpose for many of them.
Two, TABOR prevents general government spending from increasing faster than a revenue cap, which limits the growth of the state budget to the rate of population growth plus inflation. Historically, this limit has not allowed the state to keep up with the growth in expenses such as Medicaid caseloads or schools. So to pay for new initiatives without cutting funding to other areas of the budget or asking for new taxes, lawmakers effectively have to set up programs as an enterprise, which TABOR explicitly exempts from its spending limit.
State lawmakers also have used this mechanism to prevent existing programs from crowding out other services. College tuition and student fees, for instance, were reclassified in 2004 and now make up the state’s largest enterprise, generating $5.1 billion in the 2019 fiscal year. More recently, lawmakers converted a hospital-bed fee that helps reimburse hospitals for uncompensated care to an enterprise fund; it now generates around $1 billion a year.
The case against Proposition 117
Opponents view Proposition 117 as an unnecessary restraint that will make it that much harder for lawmakers to fund public services. And they balk at the notion that lawmakers have turned to fees to circumvent TABOR. The constitutional provision explicitly allows lawmakers to create fee-funded enterprises without the same restraints it imposes on taxes.
Scott Wasserman, president of the Bell Policy Center, a progressive think tank, blames TABOR’s restrictions for the chronic underfunding of K-12 education, higher education and transportation — all in a state where, before the pandemic, the economy had consistently been rated among the nation’s strongest. He fears that placing new restrictions on enterprises will make matters worse.
And, he says, it’s simply not good government to continually put esoteric fiscal policy questions — like the $34 million petroleum storage tank enterprise, which charges fees to fund environmental clean-ups — on the ballot.
“Why do we want to make these very specific, technical, user-based issues politicized fights, where big money can come in and really distort the issue?” Wasserman said during the debate.
“This is why we send people to the state Capitol who are trying to operate government on our behalf,” he added.
State Sen. Dominick Moreno, the vice chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, also urged voters to reject it, saying that Proposition 117 would limit the state’s ability to respond to the ongoing financial crisis created by the coronavirus.
“Our teachers, doctors and nurses can’t afford more cuts and cannot be shut out of this recovery,” Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat, said in a statement. Proposition 117 and the Proposition 116 measure to cut income taxes “would stall our recovery and permanently harm our ability to provide critical state services.”
Notably, unlike TABOR and some of Colorado’s other constitutional fiscal constraints, Proposition 117 is a statutory change, meaning that lawmakers could override it by passing legislation. But there would be political risks in doing so if voters approved it on the ballot.
The case in favor of Proposition 117
To supporters, Proposition 117 is a natural extension of the voter protections provided by TABOR — protections that they argue lawmakers have undermined by leaning so heavily on enterprises.
There’s no doubt that the growth of enterprising has been staggering. Just after TABOR took effect in the 1993-94 fiscal year, enterprise funds generated $742 million, which was just a fraction of the state’s total budget. In 2017-18, according to an analysis by Colorado Legislative Council, they generated nearly $18 billion. But not all of the total comes from fees. In the 2018-19 fiscal year, according to a separate legislative analysis, fee revenue collected by state enterprises only made up around 20% of the state’s roughly $29 billion budget.
Michael Fields, the executive director of Colorado Rising State Action, a conservative advocacy group, said during a recent debate that enterprise funds were “used for good things in the beginning,” such as college tuition, the state lottery and state parks.
“What we’re concerned about is the things that it’s moving towards,” he said in the forum moderated by PBS12 and The Colorado Sun. “If you’re going to create a new program, you need buy-in from the people.”
One enterprise that Fields suggests goes too far and should have received voter approval is the state’s new reinsurance program, which lawmakers decided to fund through health insurance fees after the coronavirus pummeled the state’s coffers. Legislative analysts expect it to generate $94 million in the 2021-22 fiscal year and more than $100 million annually after that.
Colorado is more reliant on government fees than the average state, according to an analysis by Pew Charitable Trusts, ranking 9th nationally in the percent of its budget that comes from service charges. Still, comparing fees and taxes across states is tricky. For one thing, Pew’s analysis excludes insurance funds, like Colorado’s unemployment trust fund, which is among the state’s largest enterprises. For another, Colorado’s “hospital provider fee” is considered a “bed tax” in many states, illustrating the degree to which TABOR has shaped even the words lawmakers use in creating policy.
“The legislature has been going around our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights,” Fields said. “If they label something a fee, they don’t have to go to voters for approval.”
Helen Reddy, the Australian-born singer whose 1972 hit song “I Am Woman” became the feminist anthem of the decade and propelled her to international pop-music stardom, died Tuesday in Los Angeles. She was 78.
The death was confirmed by her children in a message posted on her official fan page on Facebook…
“I Am Woman” reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts at the end of 1972 (a good six months after it was released — individual call-in requests helped build radio play) and earned her the Grammy Award for best female pop vocal performance. She was the first Australian-born artist to win a Grammy and the first to make the Billboard 100 record charts.
Some male observers called the song — beginning with the words “I am woman/ Hear me roar/ In numbers/ Too big to ignore,” sung by a 5-foot-3 soprano — angry, man-hating, dangerous or all three.
“That simply underlined the many things women needed liberating from,” a writer for Variety reflected in 2019. “Nobody called Sinatra a menace when he sang ‘My Way,’ a no less straightforward hymn to self-determination.”
During the 1970s, three of Ms. Reddy’s songs — including “Delta Dawn” and “Angie Baby” — went to No. 1 on the Billboard chart. Three others — “You and Me Against the World,” “Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)” and “Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady” — made the Top 10. More than three decades later, The Chicago Tribune declared her the “queen of ’70s pop.”
Helen Maxine Lamond Reddy was born on Oct. 25, 1941, in Melbourne, Australia, the only child of Max Reddy, a writer, producer and actor; and Stella (Lamond) Reddy, an actress whose stage name was Stella Campbell. Her father was in New Guinea, serving in the Australian Army, when she was born. The Reddys performed on the Australian vaudeville circuit, and Helen began joining them onstage when she was 4…
Survivors include her two children, Traci Wald Donat, a daughter from her first marriage, Jordan Sommers, a son from her second, her half sister, Toni Lamond, an Australian singer-actress, and one grandchild…
In a 2013 interview, Ms. Reddy seemed philosophical. “I am at the age where I can just kick back and say what a wonderful life I’ve had,” she told The Sydney Morning Herald. And she laughed when one very familiar question came up: whether she was nervous the first time she went onstage.
“I don’t remember the first time I went onstage,” she said.
Sand Creek Massacre at heartburn of proposals to rename 14,265-foot peak
Through the lens of the 21st century, Colorado will soon revisit a still-festering wound suffered during its founding in the 19th century. Three proposals have been submitted to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names to give the 14,265-foot mountain west of Denver a new handle to replace the existing name, Evans.
One proposal would rename it Mount Cheyenne Arapaho, a nod to the victims of the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864, when John Evans, the namesake, was both territorial governor and the federal government’s Indian agent for Colorado.
Mount Soule would honor Silas Soule, who commanded a company of the Colorado volunteers that attacked the peaceful encampment near today’s town of Eads, in southeastern Colorado. Soule withheld his soldiers from the attack and later testified against John Chivington, the commanding officer. Soule was assassinated in Denver the following April.
Rosalie, the third recommendation, would restore the name the mountain had prior to 1890. Rosalie Bierstadt was wife of the famous painter, Albert Bierstadt. Mount Bierstadt is connected to Evans, the former Rosalie, by a ridge. Colorado currently has no 14,000-foot peaks named after a woman.
The final authority for such proposals resides with U.S. Board of Geographic Names, but that body will be listening closely to the recommendations of the Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board created recently by Gov. Jared Polis. The board is charged with making recommendations to the governor re changes and new names but also controversies regarding names of geographic features and certain public places.
“Names are important, not only because they signify what something is to us, but they reflect our values and our legacy, of who we are. In this you will play a critical role,” said Polis at the first meeting of the board last Thursday.
The board has 15 members, most of them state and local officials and representatives of historical and research institutions. They bring plenty of credentials, formal and otherwise, to the discussion, but those of the historian Patty Limerick stand out.
Limerick was consulted in the establishment of the Sand Creek National Historic Site in 2007. She also was involved in the renaming of a dormitory on the campus of the University of Colorado-Boulder. It had been named for David Nichols, a volunteer soldier at Sand Creek and an early proponent of what became the university. In 1989 it was renamed the Cheyenne Arapahoe Hall.
The Evans’s replacements are among 16 proposed name changes for mountains, reservoirs, and other features and one proposal to name a currently unnamed peak.
Many have to do with features that reflect attitudes of previous times. For example, there is a trio of Negros on the Western Slope (a creek, a mesa, and a draw) that have proposed new names, while in Chaffee County, Chinaman Gulch is proposed for a renaming as Trout Creek Gulch.
Jennifer Runyon, senior researcher with the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, suggested to Colorado’s new board members that some proposals will be easier than others. For example, a body of water east of Longmont is formally called Calkins Lake on federal maps, but locally it’s always called Union Reservoir.
Chinaman Gulch has some controversy. The local jurisdiction, Chaffee County, has opposed the name change, she said, believing that the name showed no disrespect. Too, the proposed revision, Trout Creek Gulch, would have introduced an inaccuracy, the Chaffee County commissioners said.
This is from the Sept. 22, 2020, issue of Big Pivots, a publication devoted to the energy and other transitions in Colorado. For a free subscription to the e-magazine, enter you name and e-mail address at BigPivots.com
Then there’s Squaw Mountain, the site of the some-time ski area west of Denver. A proposal has been submitted to call it Mount Mistanta, the anglicized name of the Cheyenne wife of William Bent, the trader in southeastern Colorado in the early 18th century.
Many features around the United States named squaw have been changed in recent years to reflect names used by Native Americans. Runyon cited new names from the Klamath, Paiute, Umatilla, and other tribes in their native tongues, as squaw is considered by many to be derogatory. But that belief is not universal, she observed. For example, the Navajo are proud of their squaw bread and their squaw dances, among other respectful uses of the word squaw.
The federal board prefers to “proceed cautiously and conservatively regarding name changes,” Runyon said. “There needs to be a compelling reason for the change.”
The board doesn’t go looking to change names. “We don’t even encourage name changes. We are here to help,” she said.
The federal board does not want to decide what is offensive. “That is quite subjective,” she said, citing the example of the various views of the word squaw.
And in no case does the U.S. Board of Geographic Names want to approve changes without local input. The commissioners of Clear Creek County, where Squaw Mountain is located, have said they didn’t want a change, although there’s evidence that recommendation may be revisited. The local jurisdiction will now be working with the new state board.
No proposal has been submitted to the federal board to rename the Gore Range, although that idea has flared sporadically in public discussions in Summit and Eagle counties in recent years. The range is named for an Irish baronet, George Gore, who led a large hunting expedition to Middle Park in 1864 and to the pass west of Kremmling that bears his name. Gore’s expedition was known for its wanton butchery of wildlife.
However, the new state board can take proposals directly from the public, Runyon said.
The Sand Creek Massacre occurred a decade after Gore’s gluttony, and the butchery astounded many even at the time. A 675-man force under the command of Col. John Chivington, most of them from the new city of Denver, charged into a camp of Cheyenne and Arapaho in the bed of Sand Creek at dawn on Nov. 29, 1864. The natives believed they had been offered protection from attack because of their declared intentions to be at peace. About two-thirds of those killed were women and children, and many of the bodies were mutilated.
In 2014, Northwestern University in Evansville, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, and the University of Denver, both issued reports examining their connection to the massacre, as both universities had been founded by Evans.
“No known evidence indicates that John Evans helped plan the Sand Creek Massacre or had any knowledge of it in advance,” the Northwestern University report concluded. “The extant evidence suggests that he did not consider the Indians at Sand Creek to be a threat and that he would have opposed the attack that took place.”
If lacking blood directly staining his legacy, Evans was among “several individuals who, in serving a flawed and poorly implemented federal Indian policy, helped create a situation that made the Sand Creek massacre possible. In this regard, the most critical of his errors was to his failure to fulfill his responsibility as superintendent of Indian affairs to represent the best interests of Native peoples in Colorado.”
To compound that failure, the panel from Northwestern University said, Evans refused to fess up to the errors of his past, either immediately afterward or decades later. He never did criticize the massacre.
The University of Denver report, issued six months later, differed in that the study group included direct descendants of the Sand Creek massacre. It goes a small step further than the report from Northwestern in finding a “pattern of neglect of (Evans’s) treaty-negotiating duties, his leadership failures, and his reckless decision-making in 1864.”
5280, the magazine, succinctly summarized the legacy of Evans in a 2019 story. “History’s heroes don’t always age well,” it said when reporting the first official renaming proposal to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names.
There’s much to fuss over in all this naming and renaming. For example, Evans has a second mountain named after him, if not quite as high or prominent, in Lake County, near Fremont Pass. And it might be noted that there’s already an Arapaho Peak, west of Boulder.
Sand Creek has become sort of personal to me. My great-grandparents homesteaded on Colorado’s far eastern tier in the late 1880s, two decades after the Cheyenne, Pawnee, Sioux, and the others had been chased off. Today, some of my ability to wander around Colorado, poking my nose into historical artifacts such as Sand Creek, comes from that working of the landscape by my antecedents.
I’ve been to the massacre site at Sand Creek two or three times for the post-dawn November remembrances convened by Cheyenne people from Montana and elsewhere. The participants then travel to Denver, to pay respects to Silas Soule at his grave in Riverside Cemetery along the banks of the South Platte River. (I am guessing there’s no similar ritual at the grave of John Evans, which is in the same cemetery). The next stop is the tribute to Soule in a building at 15th and Arapahoe, the approximate site of his assassination. Then they march on to the State Capitol.
In 2014, in a rumination on Sand Creek on the 150th anniversary, I wrote an essay published in the Boulder Daily Camera that suggested that the highway between Eads and Denver be given an honorary name. We have the 10th Mountain Division Memorial Highway between Minturn and Leadville, the Ronald Reagan Highway for I-25 as it passes through Colorado Springs, and many more.
Why not the Black Kettle Memorial Highway, I proposed then, which would have honored the Cheyenne chief who took many risks in the months before Sand Creek and at Sand Creek itself in an effort to achieve a peace. He was later killed by soldiers under the command of General George Armstrong Custer.
Of course, I think the Cheyenne and Arapahoe should have the largest say in what becomes of Mt. Evans, if anything. This is sure to be an interesting discussion…
Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist who publishes an e-magazine called Big Pivots. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303.463.8630.
Scientists have been warning for months that the coronavirus could be spread by aerosols – tiny respiratory droplets that people emit when they talk or sneeze and that can linger in the air.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention appeared to acknowledge that risk on Sept. 18. It posted guidance on its website listing aerosols among the ways the virus spreads and saying there was growing evidence the airborne particles can remain suspended and travel beyond 6 feet. But three days later, that guidance was gone. A note in its place said a draft had been posted in error and that the CDC was still working on the update.
That kind of shifting by the government can be confusing. In the following five articles recently published in The Conversation, we turned to scientists to help explain what aerosols are, how airborne particles can transmit the coronavirus and how to protect yourself.
1. What you need to know about aerosols
When you talk or sing, the rush of air breaks up strands of mucus in your airways, sending droplets of it airborne.
While larger droplets quickly fall, tiny, light ones can linger in the air. If you’re infected, those droplets can contain the coronavirus, and early research suggests it can be viable for many minutes to hours.
They also discussed what people can do to protect themselves. “Wearing face coverings to decrease airborne exposure risk is critical,” they wrote, and “reducing the amount of time you spend in poorly ventilated, crowded areas is a good way to reduce airborne exposure risk.”
2. Is staying 6 feet apart enough?
The common advice for social distancing is to stay 6 feet apart. It’s easy to remember, but it doesn’t account for all aerosol risks – particularly indoors.
Because people infected with SARS-CoV-2 can transmit large amounts of the virus, there is no safe distance in a poorly ventilated room, Erath, Ferro, Ahmadi and their Clarkson University colleague Suresh Dhaniyala wrote in a second article. Air currents from a fan or ventilation system can spread respiratory droplets farther than 6 feet. So can speaking loudly or singing, as superspreader events have shown.
“Over time, it won’t matter where you are in the room,” they wrote. “While it’s not a perfect analogy, picturing how cigarette smoke moves through different environments, both indoors and outdoors, can help in visualizing how virus-laden droplets circulate in the air.”
3. Airborne particles and superspreaders
A large number of COVID-19 cases have come from “superspreader” events where someone who is highly infectious spreads the virus to dozens of others.
Researchers in Hong Kong recently estimated that about 20% of the people infected there were responsible for 80% of the local coronavirus transmission. Choir practices, church services, nightclubs and a birthday party are just few of the documented superspreader events.
“The good news is that the right control practices specific to how pathogens are transmitted – hand-washing, masks, quarantine, vaccination, reducing social contacts and so on – can slow the transmission rate and halt a pandemic,” she wrote.
4. What airborne virus means for reopening
The way the virus spreads in the air is also a challenge for reopening businesses and schools.
“The evidence strongly suggests that airborne transmission happens easily and is likely a significant driver of this pandemic. It must be taken seriously as people begin to venture back out into the world,” he wrote.
“Short trips. Masks for everyone. Far fewer passengers than before,” he wrote. “Those are my top recommendations for how America’s school buses should take kids to and from school during the pandemic.”
Editor’s note: This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives.
It’s 1:36 a.m. and I’ve just gotten my daughter back to sleep after she threw up violently. She has no fever, no cough, no shortness of breath, but what if…. I think it’s food poisoning and not COVID-19, but I can’t know for sure. Not knowing is hard. I’ll call the pediatrician in the morning, but for tonight I’m left with racing “what if” thoughts.
Most people hate this all-too-familiar type of uncertainty. I find it fascinating.
As a psychologist, I’m interested in how people think differently when they’re anxious. That means I study what happens when people don’t handle uncertainty well and get lost in that bottomless pit of currently unanswerable questions.
If you’re having trouble handling pandemic uncertainty, psychology research can offer tips on how to deal with these unprecedented times.
The uncertainty-anxiety connection
There’s no script to follow for how to live through a pandemic. That can be hard to deal with because it’s natural to form narratives to help you know how to respond. In a movie theater, you know that when it gets dark, it means the movie is about to start – that movie theater script tells you not to panic and think the theater has lost power or is under attack.
In this moment, we are figuratively in the dark, and many people feel they’re drowning in unanswered questions and the anxiety they provoke.
When will a vaccine be available? When will schools reopen (or close again)? Who will win the election? Should I let my child do sports? Is my job safe, or for those less fortunate, when will I find a new job? How many more times will I see “your connection is unstable” during an important video call?
The list of unanswered questions can feel infinite, with no quick or sure answers likely to come for some time. Sitting with these questions is scary, because not knowing can make you feel that the world is unpredictable and your fate is out of your control.
Given that COVID-19, the economy, racial injustice, climate change and the presidential election all take the need to tolerate uncertainty to a whole new level, it’s not surprising that the percentage of people reporting symptoms of anxiety rose dramatically in the U.S. in 2020.
Stop spiraling and think differently
No individual can fix all the problems American communities are facing right now. And answers to many of those known unknowns and unknown unknowns are elusive for the moment. But you can change the way you respond to uncertainty, which can make managing this difficult time a little easier.
You can reframe the meaning of not knowing to make it less scary.
Imagine three different ways I can think about the uncertainty I feel right now as my sick daughter sleeps down the hall.
First, I can choose to believe in my ability to manage whatever will come, so it is OK to take it a day at a time. I can handle not knowing exactly why my daughter threw up for now because I believe that I will seek appropriate medical care and that I can handle whatever results come my way.
Second, I can remind myself that uncertainty does not guarantee bad things will happen; it just means I don’t know yet. The anxiety I feel from the uncertainty does not actually mean a negative outcome is more likely. The fact that I’m worrying about whether my daughter has COVID-19 does not increase the likelihood of her having it. It just feels that way because of a common tendency, especially among anxious individuals, to think that just having a negative thought makes it more likely to come true. Psychologists call this thought-action-fusion.
Third, I can recognize that I cope with uncertainty in other parts of life all the time. I mean, try to envision exactly what your relationships and work will look like one year from now – there is so much you just don’t know. So I’ve had lots of practice tolerating uncertainty, which tells me I can handle uncertainty even though it’s hard. I’ve done it before; I can do it again.
Thinking differently about your ability to manage uncertainty is a skill that can improve with practice. Cognitive behavior therapy, for example, teaches people to examine their anxious thoughts and consider other ways to interpret situations without always assuming the worst; there are specialized versions of this treatment that focus specifically on changing how well you can deal with uncertainty. Moreover, as part of our research program, my lab at the University of Virginia offers free online interventions to help people shift their anxious thinking.
Of course, a fourth way to respond to my middle-of-the-night uncertainty would be to sink down into that pit of scary, unanswerable “what if” questions, but it’s time to sleep. I’m going with one of the first three options – I trust I can figure this out in the morning and handle whatever it is. It’s OK not to know right now.
Since the 2016 revelation that groundwater in Fountain Valley, which provided drinking water for Security-Widefield and Fountain, was contaminated with toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which include a number of individual chemicals such as PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS and PFHpA, government agencies, residents and community activists have been struggling to come to terms with what is arguably one of the largest ecological contaminations in Colorado’s history.
On Aug. 4, Chris Reh, associate director of the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), led a virtual information session for residents of Security-Widefield and Fountain regarding its ongoing PFAS exposure assessment. The assessment will randomly select participants and test blood, urine and tap water for levels of PFAS chemicals. According to Reh, the assessment will identify how people might be exposed to chemicals, calculate the extent of exposure and determine if there is a threat to health.
ATSDR’s exposure assessment is the first part of a process that will continue in 2021 with the Pease Study, a national multi-site study conducted locally by the Colorado School of Public Health that will look at the human health effects of PFAS exposure through drinking contaminated water. While the sites chosen for this study are near Air Force operations, PFAS exposure extends far beyond Air Force bases. Much of the focus in El Paso County is on Fountain Valley, but the Air Force Academy on the city’s Northside also released PFAS chemicals, and residents of Woodmen Valley report health concerns as well, though they are not included in the ATSDR exposure assessment.
El Paso County is one of eight sites nationwide identified by ATSDR for exposure assessments related to PFAS chemicals. The sites, located in Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Texas, Washington and West Virginia, are co-located with Air Force bases that used aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), a type of chemical used to extinguish fuel fires and that contains PFAS chemicals…
Since 2016, community activists have been working to raise awareness of this environmental threat, and Colorado legislators have recently passed laws to address PFAS contamination. While much of the blame, and legal consequences, for this massive and widespread contamination have been aimed at companies that produce PFAS chemicals, such as DuPont and 3M, the military has known of the potential dangers of these chemicals since at least 1989.
The Air Force Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory published a study titled “Biological Analysis of Three Ponds at Peterson AFB [Air Force Base], Colorado Springs CO” in November 1989 that raised concerns about contamination coming from the installation. “A series of three man-made ponds on the golf course at Peterson AFB, Colorado Springs CO were analyzed to determine their current ecological status and future potential for recreational fishing,” notes the report, which goes on to identify that “Pond 3 cannot be recommended for stocking with fish in its current condition. Low species diversity suggests that this pond is being stressed by an unknown pollutant.” The report identifies a nearby storm drain as a “chronic source of pollutants for this pond.” While the Air Force analyzed a number of factors, such as pH and the levels of phytoplankton and zooplankton, it was quick to identify AFFF as a possible problem, noting that it “was accidentally spilled into pond 3 shortly before the first fish kill. A subsequent restocking resulted in a second fish kill.”
Stephen Brady of the Peterson-Schriever Garrison Public Affairs office commented, “When there is a potential our missions are having, or may have had, an adverse impact on communities, we take appropriate measures to protect it. When PFOS was discovered in the aquifer south of base in 2016, we immediately stopped using the legacy foam during fire response and training. We replaced the legacy foam in our fire response vehicles in November 2016 and in the hangar fire suppression systems in 2018 with a more environmentally responsible foam. Our first responders will only use the new environmentally responsible firefighting foam for emergency life-saving response, and do not discharge it during training. The Air Force takes environmental stewardship seriously, and continuously strives to meet or exceed environmental standards.”
By the early 2000s DuPont and 3M were facing lawsuits from residents near their plants and increased scrutiny from the Environmental Protection Agency, but it wasn’t until 2016 that the EPA formally issued a health advisory regarding PFAS chemicals and set advisory levels of contamination at 70 parts per trillion (ppt)…
While Rosenbaum was organizing FVCWC, the Colorado School of Public Health began to study exposure and health effects from PFAS chemicals. The study was named “PFAS Aware.” In 2018 the PFAS Aware team began sampling water in Fountain Valley. Initial results published in December 2018 showed that “total PFASs in untreated well water ranged from 18 – 2300 ppt” and that “PFASs detected are typical of fire-fighting foam-impacted groundwater.”
On Sept. 18, 2019, the Air Force Academy sent a notice to Woodmen Valley residents, signed by Col. Brian Hartless, the installation commander, warning them that “firefighting foam containing PFOS and PFOA was used for firefighter training at the Academy from the 1970s until 1990, when we began to consolidate all of our training at Peterson Air Force Base. After that time, the equipment used to dispense the foam was periodically tested until approximately 2005.” Hartless did note that “this firefighting foam has never been used to extinguish a petroleum-based aircraft fire at the Academy” and that “the foam now in use at the Academy is a more environmentally friendly formula that we began using in approximately 2017.” Hartless went on to inform residents that the Air Force would begin sampling wells within the Woodmen Valley Fire Protection District.
According to Hartless, Air Force Civil Engineer Center representatives “identified 37 private wells used for drinking water at homes closest in proximity to the southern base boundary for sampling. To date, 35 of the 37 wells have been sampled.”
Bill Beaudin, a Woodmen Valley resident since 1978, questions the Air Force’s testing process. “The north border of our property is the south border of the Academy,” he says. “We live on six acres. For many years until 1995 we all used well water. We were offered to go on city water at that time and most of us took that option. About 38 families chose not to go on city water for whatever reason.”
Longtime residents like Beaudin were concerned about the fact that the Air Force only tested the wells still in use. “The rest of us all drank that water and so did our children for all of those years in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s until we went on city water,” says Beaudin, “and yet the Air Force Academy chose to just do this select group.”
On March 24, the Air Force announced in a news release, “recent well water monitoring tests on the southeast perimeter of the U.S. Air Force Academy show Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) below the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lifetime Health Advisory level of 70 ppt.”
While the Air Force reported PFOS and PFOA levels below the EPA advisory limits, Rosenbaum says that doesn’t tell the whole story. ”There’s 4,700 different types [of PFAS],” she says, “PFHxS is toxic firefighting foam, which may or may not have PFOA, which is Teflon, or PFAS, which is Scotchgard water-repellent. So when the Air Force Academy said ‘we’re below levels of PFOA and PFAS,’ all of us activists who have been doing this for four years were like, ‘duh.’ You don’t have a Teflon pan company. You don’t have a Scotchgard water-proofing company. You have toxic firefighting foam, so here, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility [PEER] did a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act request] to try to get the PFHxS levels, and they are really high.”
On March 12, 12 days before the Air Force’s statement, PEER reported that “The Air Force Academy test data of neighboring drinking water wells found levels of two individual PFAS chemicals, PFHxS and PFHpA, at more than 200 ppt in two locations” and “combined PFAS levels at a single well of 503.9 ppt and 537.8 ppt across two separate tests.”
The consternation over the levels of PFAS chemicals in the water stems from concerns over the health effects of exposure to these chemicals. Heightened levels of PFAS chemicals have been linked to health problems such as increased cholesterol levels, changes in liver enzymes, decreased vaccine response in children and increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer, according to Rachel Rogers, an environmental health scientist with ATSDR.
“A neighbor that was four houses away, her husband died of testicular cancer,” says Beaudin. “A neighbor who has since passed away died from both kidney and bladder cancer. They were longtime neighbors of ours.”
Rosenbaum notes, “The main health issues here are kidney cancers, prostate cancer and a lot of autoimmune diseases.” Autoimmune disease are often difficult to diagnose because symptoms can come from other common conditions…
Lawmakers in Colorado addressed problems with PFAS contamination during the 2019 legislative session. Tony Exum, D-House District 18; Lois Landgraf, R-House District 21; Pete Lee, D-Senate District 11; and Dennis Hisey, R-Senate District 2, sponsored House Bill 1279, which bans the use of AFFFs that use PFAS chemicals for testing or training purposes. In 2020 the same group of legislators sponsored House Bill 1119, which further regulates the use of PFAS chemicals.
On July 10, The city of Colorado Springs and Colorado Springs Utilities, along with the cities of Aurora, Greeley, Fountain and a number of water districts filed a motion to vacate an administrative action hearing by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) in regards to a proposed new policy to address PFAS contamination, referred to as policy 20-1. The motion states, “The Joint Parties recognize the importance of assuring that drinking water supplies are not contaminated by PFAS, and that water supplies contaminated by PFAS are cleaned up. Vacating the administrative action hearing will not preclude the cleanup of PFAS; it will require that regulatory measures imposed by the Water Quality Control Division are properly authorized through a rulemaking hearing.”
Rosenbaum was confused by the motion. “At first the injunction was pretty difficult to understand,” she says. “Here we are Saturday morning and it came across that they wanted all the PFAS discussions taken out of the meeting. This is our fifth contamination to our water district here. We have to do something completely different and drastic and start writing new policy. The state health department wasn’t making a new law, they were adding language to the policy they already had in place.
According to Jennifer Kemp, a public affairs specialist with Colorado Springs Utilities, “The reason for our joining several other Front Range entities on the motion to vacate is because we did not agree with the WQCC’s approach to regulating PFAS. Under Colorado’s State Administrative Procedure Act, a policy is a general statement of interpretation that is not meant to be a binding rule. Therefore, we joined other stakeholders in asserting that the regulation of PFAS is so important that it should have been accomplished with a thorough rulemaking process to establish a statewide PFAS standard.”
On July 14 the WQCC adopted policy 20-1. “What this policy does,” explains Rosenbaum, “is it forces wastewater to test for PFAS. Your drinking water is fine, it’s not contaminated yet, but do you have an industry that’s dumping everything into the wastewater? We have the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, so they’re not dumping in rivers anymore but they’re dumping into wastewater.
Now we’re making that accountable in our state. Now we’re explicitly stating in writing CDPHE [Colorado Department of Health and Environment] will receive extra funding to help that water district do an investigation of the industries that are connected to the wastewater system to see if they have PFAS. If they do, now they have to filter it at their site. If you own a restaurant, you have a grease trap. You can’t just dump in the wastewater. If you have a dental office, it’s explicitly written that they have to filter mercury. We’re not doing anything different, we’re just directly applying it where they’ve gotten away with no rules because they’ve been allowed to self-regulate.”
While ATSDR completes their current study, Rosenbaum is planning her next steps. “We need to set maximum contaminant levels in this state,” she says. “What we can do is stop the industry from adding more [PFAS contamination] in. New Hampshire set it at 18 ppt, where the state health department wanted to set it at 700 ppt for PFHxS, which is stupid. The EPA isn’t monitoring PFHxS, they’re just doing PFOA and PFAS, so we brought in evidence from other states saying PFHxs is actually the more harmful one because it’s more prevalent.”
Valentine’s Day was sweet, spring break was fun, then… boom! COVID-19. Stay-at-home orders, workplace shutdowns, school closures and social distancing requirements changed lives almost overnight. Forty-two percent of the U.S. workforce now works from home full-time. In the six months since the “new normal” began, Americans have gained a fair amount of experience with working, studying and socializing online.
With schools resuming and cooler weather curtailing outdoor activities, videoconferencing will be as front and center as it was in the spring.
If working from home, select a location with a simple background that does not show angles of your personal space that you would like to keep private. Some videoconference platforms even include free virtual background options to choose from, or allow you to upload your own mock office image files.
If you aren’t able to add home classrooms, desks or workstations, be sure to create a designated learning space at a table for children and their school materials to create structure and a routine. Post schedules near the workspace, and limit distractions.
If lighting in your designated workspace is dark, invest in a ring light or other lamp to guarantee that you can be clearly seen.
Environment affects mood. Since many people now spend the majority of their time within the confines of their homes, it’s worthwhile to declutter, reorganize and clean on a regular basis to make home a space of peace and comfort in the midst of chaotic circumstances.
Get to know your videoconferencing software
To lessen the probability of having your meetings compromised by hackers, use passwords and log onto videoconferences only via secure, password-protected internet networks.
Use headphones with noise-canceling microphones for optimal sound. This can help provide clear communication.
Create accounts within videoconference platforms before going into meetings to access more available features and set your personal preferences.
Set alarms five or 10 minutes before scheduled start times to remember when to log into videoconferences. Also keep your schedule written in a planner in case your phone dies or gets misplaced.
People with children participating in virtual learning may feel like they’ve become personal assistants trying to juggle multiple schedules. Showing students how to maintain their own schedules will not only lessen your load but will also teach them valuable planning and accountability skills that will carry them far beyond grade school.
Consider actually resting during scheduled breaks in videoconferences. Go for walks outside for fresh air, eat healthy snacks and drink water. Refrain from forcing children to work on homework during short breaks, and allow their eyes to rest, too. Excessive screen time can be bad for your eyes.
Sitting in front of a computer for long periods of time can cause pain in other parts of the body, so be sure to get up and move around during breaks. Being sedentary is generally bad for your health.
Keeping computers at eye level or using moveable webcams can help alleviate neck pain, and also avoid showing what’s in your nose. Maintaining an upright posture can help prevent back and wrist injuries; and using an external mouse for laptop navigation can help reduce strain on fingers and joints.
Identify available resources
Explore resources and benefits offered through your place of employment. Perhaps there is a designated budget for home office equipment like printers, desks, chairs, webcams and headsets. Many companies also offer free mental health therapy sessions, childcare provisions and extended family medical leave through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
If you have suffered personal losses due to COVID-19, taking time to grieve is essential; coping alone can weigh heavily on your mental health. Having the support of friends and colleagues can help you navigate these uncharted waters more successfully, but only if they are made aware of your circumstances.
Life online isn’t easy – be patient with yourself and others
The effects of living virtually online continue to affect everyone in various ways. Some are struggling with guilt from having to send children back to school while COVID-19 is still spreading rapidly – but work schedules or financial situations leave no other choice. Other families are struggling with the demands of keeping children home to learn virtually because their school districts aren’t offering an in-person option due to safety concerns.
People in supervisory roles should try to remember that life is different for everyone right now. It’s unreasonable to expect the same level of productivity without considering employees’ home-life situations.
While virtual learning is extremely inconvenient for parents who have multiple children, demanding careers or financial restraints, it’s important to recognize that most educators are doing the best they can – especially those who are also parents. Most are working to learn how to use new software applications, navigate learning management systems and adopt unfamiliar online strategies and classroom management techniques, often with no technical assistance.
Whatever your reality is right now, just trust your gut and do the best that you can. Take time to appreciate small pleasantries of life, incorporate daily physical activity, take walks to enjoy nature, reconnect with family through game or movie nights and try new cooking recipes. Be especially mindful of your attitude around children, since adults set the tone and highly influence the outlooks of impressionable young minds.
Living online is not the end of the world, but attitude is everything. Continue to do your best, and know that this too shall pass, hopefully sooner than later.
Tourists in Colorado’s high country might want to snap a lot pictures while they can. Researchers predict that climate change will reduce the number of aspens that make fall color in the Rocky Mountains so captivating.
In Colorado, nothing says fall like a drive in the high country to see the bright orange and yellow leaves of the aspen trees shimmering against a crisp, blue sky. People flock to the mountains not only to see the vibrant colors, but they can hear them, too.
“When the wind blows, they kind of rattle or shake. So it’s sort of a multisensory experience,” says Dr. Jelena Vukomanovic, assistant professor in the North Carolina State University Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management.
Vukomanovich and her team of researchers just released a study looking at how the iconic trees in the Colorado landscape will fare in a warming world. Unfortunately for aspens, the future is already here.
Vukomanovich told H2O Radio that scientists are already starting to see declines in aspen trees in recent years because of more drought and warming temperatures but that climatologists aren’t sure that, as the Colorado climate warms, if it will be drier or wetter. Vukomanovich says it’s not clear if the Front Range will “go with the Southwest or the Northwest in terms of changes.” For that reason, she modeled three scenarios: if climate does not change from historical conditions observed from 1980 to 2010; under a 4-degree temperature increase with 15 percent less precipitation; and with a 4-degree decline and 15 percent more precipitation.
NC State News explains that overall, they found that aspen are expected to decline in all three climate scenarios. In the two warmer scenarios, the losses were more than two times greater overall, and aspen loss was even greater in the visible areas from the scenic byways. And, even if current conditions continue, there would be declines in the trees. At elevations between 6500 to 9000 feet where aspen are most abundant, they saw consistent decreases across all three scenarios. At the highest elevations above 9000 feet they saw lower declines, and they think that means the trees will shift to higher elevations as warming occurs.
The associate justice of the Supreme Court, whose career runs parallel to that of Justice Thurgood Marshall, is dead at 87
will remember her most for the umbrella in the rain.
It was 2013, and the Supreme Court was announcing its decision in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, the decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act and in which Chief Justice John Roberts declared the Day of Jubilee, writing:
Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically. Shelby County contends that the preclearance requirement, even without regard to its disparate coverage, is now unconstitutional. Its arguments have a good deal of force. In the covered jurisdictions, “[v]oter turnout and registration rates now approach parity. Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels.”
In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg measured Roberts for a feckless child who understands less about this country and its history than he knows about Sumerian calligraphy. She told him in no uncertain terms what his fanciful decision would mean in the real world.
“Congress approached the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA with great care and seriousness. The same cannot be said of the Court’s opinion today. The Court makes no genuine attempt to engage with the massive legislative record that Congress assembled. … One would expect more from an opinion striking at the heart of the Nation’s signal piece of civil-rights legislation…Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
It was more than a clever metaphor, although clever it was. It was a statement of remarkable prescience, a statement from someone who knew that the dark elements in American history never die, but only sleep until the opportunity to wreak the old vengeances reveals itself again, as it almost always does. Justice Ginsburg fought those forces in the days when nobody even acknowledged their existence. Her career runs parallel to that of Justice Thurgood Marshall—two champions of freedom and equality who won great victories in front of a Court that they eventually were asked to join. It is a very small club. To join you need a will of iron, an unshakable granite commitment to principle, and a good measure of controlled, implacable ferocity. It is the ferocity that is the most important thing.
By all accounts, Justice Ginsburg was a boon companion, the late Antonin Scalia’s opera buddy, and a woman of great personal charisma. (On MSNBC Friday night, Hillary Rodham Clinton reminisced about how Justice Ginsburg essentially talked President Bill Clinton into nominating her to the Court by completely acing her face-to-face interview.) Her former clerks adored her. In an admirable demonstration of self-effacement, she thoroughly embraced her late-in-life persona as The Notorious RBG, even inviting camera crews in to watch her workouts. But, make no mistake, there was in Ruth Bader Ginsburg the soul and the heart of a terrifying opponent for the late rounds. In a remarkable string of victories before the Supreme Court in 1971, she forced the country to admit that, yes, the 14th Amendment’s guarantees covered women, too. This was a fight for a winter soldier and that was what it found in Ruth Bader Ginsburg, just as racial equality had found one in Thurgood Marshall. And she did it through broken ribs and five different fights with cancer.
Here are the 16 pending proposals for name changes:
Mount Evans in Clear Creek County: three requests. Proposed alternatives: Mount Rosalie, Mount Soule, Mount Cheyenne Arapaho
Squaw Mountain in Clear Creek County. Proposed alternative: Mount Mistanta
Redskin Creek in Jefferson and Park Counties. Proposed alternative: Ute Creek
Chinaman Gulch in Chaffee County. Proposed alternative: Trout Creek Gulch
Redskin Mountain in Jefferson County. Proposed alternative: Mount Jerome
Negro Creek in Delta County. Proposed alternative: Hops Creek or Clay Creek
Negro Mesa in Delta County. Proposed alternative: Clay Mesa
Negro Draw in Montezuma County. Proposed alternative: Hops Draw
Benchmark Lake Reservoir in Eagle County. Proposed alternative: Nottingham Lake
V H Pasture Reservoir in San Miguel County. Proposed alternative: Elk Springs Reservoir
Vurl Reservoir in San Miguel County. Proposed alternative: Wapiti Reservoir
Unnamed Peak in Jefferson County. Proposed alternative: Cimarron Peak
Calkins Lake in Weld County. Proposed alternative: Union Reservoir
The Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board was created by Gov. Jared Polis at a time when people across the country have been calling for the removal of symbols of racism. Colorado was one of only two states without such a board.
The virus spreads in several ways. The main route of transmission is through person-to-person contact via aerosols and droplets emitted when an infected person breathes, talks, sings or coughs. The virus can also be transmitted when people touch their faces shortly after touching surfaces that have been contaminated by infected individuals. This is of particular concern in health-care settings, retail spaces where people frequently touch counters and merchandise, and in buses, trains and planes.
As an environmental engineer who studies UV light, I’ve observed that UV can be used to reduce the risk of transmission through both routes. UV lights can be components of mobile machines, whether robotic or human-controlled, that disinfect surfaces. They can also be incorporated in heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems or otherwise positioned within airflows to disinfect indoor air. However, UV portals that are meant to disinfect people as they enter indoor spaces are likely ineffective and potentially hazardous.
What is ultraviolet light?
Electromagnetic radiation, which includes radio waves, visible light and X-rays, is measured in nanometers, or millionths of a millimeter. UV irradiation consists of wavelengths between 100 and 400 nanometers, which lies just beyond the violet portion of the visible light spectrum and are invisible to the human eye. UV is divided into the UV-A, UV-B and UV-C regions, which are 315-400 nanometers, 280-315 nanometers and 200-280 nanometers, respectively.
The ozone layer in the atmosphere filters out UV wavelengths below 300 nanometers, which blocks UV-C from the sun before it reaches Earth’s surface. I think of UV-A as the suntanning range and UV-B as the sun-burning range. High enough doses of UV-B can cause skin lesions and skin cancer.
UV photons between 200 and 300 nanometers are absorbed fairly efficiently by the nucleic acids that make up DNA and RNA, and photons below 240 nanometers are also well absorbed by proteins. These essential biomolecules are damaged by the absorbed energy, rendering the genetic material inside a virus particle or microorganism unable to replicate or cause an infection, inactivating the pathogen.
It typically takes a very low dose of UV light in this germicidal range to inactivate a pathogen. The UV dose is determined by the intensity of the light source and duration of exposure. For a given required dose, higher intensity sources require shorter exposure times, while lower intensity sources require longer exposure times.
Putting UV to work
There is an established market for UV disinfection devices. Hospitals have been using robots that emit UV-C light for years to disinfect patient rooms, operating rooms and other areas where bacterial infection can spread. These robots, which include Tru-D and Xenex, enter empty rooms between patients and roam around remotely emitting high-power UV irradiation to disinfect surfaces. UV light is also used to disinfect medical instruments in special UV exposure boxes.
UV is being used or tested for disinfecting busses, trains and planes. After use, UV robots or human-controlled machines designed to fit in vehicles or planes move through and disinfection surfaces that the light can reach. Businesses are also considering the technology for disinfecting warehouses and retail spaces.
It’s also possible to use UV to disinfect air. Indoor spaces like schools, restaurants and shops that have some air flow can install UV-C lamps overhead and aimed at the ceiling to disinfect the air as it circulates. Similarly, HVAC systems can contain UV light sources to disinfect air as it travels through duct work. Airlines could also use UV technology for disinfecting air in planes, or use UV lights in bathrooms between uses.
Far UV-C – safe for humans?
Imagine if everyone could walk around continuously surrounded by UV-C light. It would kill any aerosolized virus that entered the UV zone around you or that exited your nose or mouth if you were infected and shedding the virus. The light would also disinfect your skin before your hand touched your face. This scenario might be possible technologically some day soon, but the health risks are a significant concern.
As UV wavelength decreases, the ability of the photons to penetrate into the skin decreases. These shorter-wavelength photons get absorbed in the top skin layer, which minimizes DNA damage to the actively dividing skin cells below. At wavelengths below 225 nanometers – the Far UV-C region – UV appears to be safe for skin exposure at doses below the exposure levels defined by the International Committee on non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.
The promise of Far UV-C for safely disinfecting pathogens opens up many possibilities for UV applications. It’s also led to some premature and potentially risky uses.
Some businesses are installing UV portals that irradiate people as they walk through. While this device may not cause much harm or skin damage in the few seconds walking through the portal, the low dose delivered and potential to disinfect clothing would also likely not be effective for stemming any virus transmission.
Most importantly, eye safety and long-term exposure have not been well studied, and these types of devices need to be regulated and validated for effectiveness before being used in public settings. The impact of continuous germicidal irradiation exposure on the overall environmental microbiome also needs to be understood.
As more studies on Far UV-C bear out that exposure to human skin is not dangerous and if studies on eye exposure show no harm, it is possible that validated Far UV-C light systems installed in public places such as retail shops and transportation hubs could support attempts at controlling virus transmission for SARS-CoV-2 and other potential airborne viral pathogens today and into the future.
Mark DeOpsomer of Bozeman, Montana, is a backpacker with lots of miles on his soles. For almost four decades he’s gone to the remotest corners of the Northern Rockies.
On a recent trek 24 miles into the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana, he was relaxing along the banks of a creek, when out of nowhere a pack-rafter floated by. “I’d never seen any rafters before in The Bob but now they’re all over the place,” he said.
A few weeks later, he was driving to a trailhead at the end of a bumpy 50-mile-long dirt road along the Wind River Range of Wyoming. “There’s a game we like to play guessing the number of cars you expect to see in the parking lot,” he said. “Given that this is a strange year, I thought maybe 30. But there were over 200 and the scene was total mayhem.”
License plates on vehicles hailed from two dozen states and makeshift camps (without designated bathrooms) were everywhere.
At Forest Service campgrounds near Jackson, Wyoming, piles of human waste and toilet paper were ubiquitous and so was litter. The smelly messes were spread throughout an area in the middle of public land frequented by bears, including at times the famous Jackson Hole Grizzly 399 and her cubs.
When talking with managers of state and federal public lands these pandemic days, two issues popped up: what to do about large amounts of human feces deposited in wild places and how to handle far too many visitors. Both issues have served as a wake-up call to both land managers and environmentalists about the downsides of recreation.
“It’s like we’ve stared into a future that wasn’t supposed to arrive for a few decades,” said Randy Carpenter, who works with the community-planning organization FutureWest, in Bozeman. “The crush of people and the ecological impacts of rising recreation uses is right here, among us — right now — and it’s transforming the character of wild places.”
A paper published in the scientific journal PLOS One reviewed 274 scientific studies completed between 1981 and 2015 that examined the effects of recreation on a variety of animal species across all geographic areas and recreational activities. Kevin Crooks, a conservation biologist at Colorado State University, said given what we know now, “It might be time to establish limits on public access to protected areas and encourage changes in the behavior of recreationists.”
Though conservation groups continue to point fingers at logging, mining and ranching, they’ve been slow to acknowledge impacts from outdoor recreation.
Last winter, at a U.S. Forest Service meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, biologists noted that backcountry skiing and snowboarding were harming a dwindling, isolated herd of bighorn sheep. Displaying what can only be called a crass attitude, one skier was heard to remark: “Well, the sheep have had these mountains for 10,000 years. Now it’s our turn.”
Justin Farrell, the author of the book Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West, grew up in Wyoming, watched it change as big money moved in, and now teaches at Yale. He told me recently, “It’s too easy for all of us to look the other way — a sort of willful ignorance — to not really see and examine the actual impacts of recreation.”
Some recreationists insist on a quid pro quo: They’ll advocate protecting public land only if they’re allowed to use some of it. It’s happened in Idaho over wilderness and recently in debates over how to safeguard wildlife habitat in the Gallatin Range of southwest Montana.
An outdoor industry eager to get its slice of an $800 billion pie helps fuel the rush to the West’s public lands. Farrell says that outdoor-product manufacturers push hard for increased access to public lands in part because more users boost their bottom lines.
Meanwhile, many state tourism bureaus – like those in Montana, Wyoming and Utah — spend millions of dollars advertising national parks and other places that are already uncomfortably overcrowded.
“Critical discussions about recreation are rare because these activities are layered with a thin veneer of innocence,” Farrell said. This recalls a narrative of heedless use that goes back to the 19th and 20th centuries: Exploit a special place until it’s used up and then move on, leaving waste, damage and displaced wildlife behind.
The problem is there aren’t many true wild places left to exploit.
Todd Wilkinson is a contributor to Writers on the Range, (http://writersontheerange.org), a nonprofit spurring lively conversation about the West. He is the Bozeman-based correspondent for National Geographic and The Guardian and founder of Mountain Journal (http://mountainjournal.org)
The Energy Policy Act of 1992, passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by Republican President George H.W. Bush, set the maximum flow rate for showers at 2.5 gallons per minute. President Trump is proposing to increase the rate, which he calls inadequate to wash his “beautiful hair.”
On Aug. 13, the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to amend the existing standard for showerheads. The documentation prints out at 25 pages of mind-numbing rationalization. Its definition of showerheads exemplifies the byzantine logic behind this policy shift.
For example, the proposed rule provides three images of fixtures with between three and eight heads attached to a single pipe coming out of the wall. So long as none of the individual heads has a flow greater than 2.5 gallons per minute, the measure asserts that each fixture satisfies Congress’s quest for water and energy conservation.
How can the Energy Department allow shower fixtures with as many as eight heads, each emitting 2.5 gallons per minute? For context, Webster’s dictionary defines a showerhead as a “fixture for directing the spray of water in a bathroom shower.”
But the proposed rule interprets “showerhead” to mean “an accessory to a supply fitting for spraying water onto a bather.” With this sleight of hand, a congressional rule limiting showerhead flows can be deftly avoided by installing a hydra-headed fixture with multiple “showerheads,” each flowing at 2.5 gallons per minute.
The agency also released a fourth image of a wall fixture with seven nozzles, which the rule would not subject to the 2.5 gallons per minute maximum. The Energy Department deems these fixtures a “body spray” rather than a showerhead because they are “usually located” below the bather’s head. (Of course, the person showering may be short, or the plumber may install the fixture high on the shower wall.) Body sprays may have six or eight nozzles with no flow limits.
The sad part of this foolishness is that the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program, which identifies water-efficient projects and promotes water conservation, has been spectacularly successful, at virtually no cost to consumers or the regulated community. Showers constitute 17% of residential water use. That’s 40 gallons per day for the average family, or 1.2 trillion gallons annually in the United States.
COVID-19 has helped to make the affordability of water a national issue. Some rural areas, such as the Navajo Nation, where many people need to haul water to their homes and villages, have higher rates of coronavirus infection. People who have lost their jobs find themselves unable to pay their water bills, which in turn compromises the financial stability of water providers.
Allowing showers to use more water would have several unfortunate consequences for cities across the country. It would increase the amount of water cities must treat; raise the chances of raw sewage overflows at water treatment plants – especially in cities such as Washington, D.C. that combine storm and sewer water; and increase the amount of energy used to pump and treat water.
Disrupting low-flow fixture rules would create special hardships for western cities, such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas, that have struggled with water shortages for decades. Both cities remarkably reduced their total water use between the 1980s and 2020, despite rapid population growth, partly by converting residences to low water-use fixtures.
Water is not just another natural resource. Without it our bodies cease to function, our crops dry up, and our economy grinds to a halt. We can’t make any more water, so it makes sense to use the water we have wisely.
Labor Day is a U.S. national holiday held the first Monday every September. Unlike most U.S. holidays, it is a strange celebration without rituals, except for shopping and barbecuing. For most people it simply marks the last weekend of summer and the start of the school year.
The holiday’s founders in the late 1800s envisioned something very different from what the day has become. The founders were looking for two things: a means of unifying union workers and a reduction in work time.
History of Labor Day
The first Labor Day occurred in 1882 in New York City under the direction of that city’s Central Labor Union.
In the 1800s, unions covered only a small fraction of workers and were balkanized and relatively weak. The goal of organizations like the Central Labor Union and more modern-day counterparts like the AFL-CIO was to bring many small unions together to achieve a critical mass and power. The organizers of the first Labor Day were interested in creating an event that brought different types of workers together to meet each other and recognize their common interests.
However, the organizers had a large problem: No government or company recognized the first Monday in September as a day off work. The issue was solved temporarily by declaring a one-day strike in the city. All striking workers were expected to march in a parade and then eat and drink at a giant picnic afterwards.
Labor Day came about because workers felt they were spending too many hours and days on the job.
In the 1830s, manufacturing workers were putting in 70-hour weeks on average. Sixty years later, in 1890, hours of work had dropped, although the average manufacturing worker still toiled in a factory 60 hours a week.
These long working hours caused many union organizers to focus on winning a shorter eight-hour work day. They also focused on getting workers more days off, such as the Labor Day holiday, and reducing the workweek to just six days.
These early organizers clearly won since the most recent data show that the average person working in manufacturing is employed for a bit over 40 hours a week and most people work only five days a week.
As the U.S. economy expanded beyond farming and basic manufacturing in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it became important for businesses to find consumers interested in buying the products and services being produced in ever greater amounts. Shortening the work week was one way of turning the working class into the consuming class.
The common misconception is that since Labor Day is a national holiday, everyone gets the day off. Nothing could be further from the truth.
While the first Labor Day was created by striking, the idea of a special holiday for workers was easy for politicians to support. It was easy because proclaiming a holiday, like Mother’s Day, costs legislators nothing and benefits them by currying favor with voters. In 1887, Oregon, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey all declared a special legal holiday in September to celebrate workers.
Within 12 years, half the states in the country recognized Labor Day as a holiday. It became a national holiday in June 1894 when President Grover Cleveland signed the Labor Day bill into law. While most people interpreted this as recognizing the day as a national vacation, Congress’ proclamation covers only federal employees. It is up to each state to declare its own legal holidays.
Moreover, proclaiming any day an official holiday means little, as an official holiday does not require private employers and even some government agencies to give their workers the day off. Many stores are open on Labor Day. Essential government services in protection and transportation continue to function, and even less essential programs like national parks are open. Because not everyone is given time off on Labor Day, union workers as recently as the 1930s were being urged to stage one-day strikes if their employer refused to give them the day off.
In the president’s annual Labor Day declaration last year, Obama encouraged Americans “to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities that honor the contributions and resilience of working Americans.”
The proclamation, however, does not officially declare that anyone gets time off.
Controversy: Militants and founders
Today most people in the U.S. think of Labor Day as a noncontroversial holiday.
The first controversy that people fought over was how militant workers should act on a day designed to honor workers. Communist, Marxist and socialist members of the trade union movement supported May 1 as an international day of demonstrations, street protests and even violence, which continues even today.
More moderate trade union members, however, advocated for a September Labor Day of parades and picnics. In the U.S., picnics, instead of street protests, won the day.
There is also dispute over who suggested the idea. The earliest history from the mid-1930s credits Peter J. McGuire, who founded the New York City Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, in 1881 with suggesting a date that would fall “nearly midway between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving” that “would publicly show the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.”
Later scholarship from the early 1970s makes an excellent case that Matthew Maguire, a representative from the Machinists Union, actually was the founder of Labor Day. However, because Matthew Maguire was seen as too radical, the more moderate Peter McGuire was given the credit.
Who actually came up with the idea will likely never be known, but you can vote online here to express your view.
Have we lost the spirit of Labor Day?
Today Labor Day is no longer about trade unionists marching down the street with banners and their tools of trade. Instead, it is a confused holiday with no associated rituals.
The original holiday was meant to handle a problem of long working hours and no time off. Although the battle over these issues would seem to have been won long ago, this issue is starting to come back with a vengeance, not for manufacturing workers but for highly skilled white-collar workers, many of whom are constantly connected to work.
If you work all the time and never really take a vacation, start a new ritual that honors the original spirit of Labor Day. Give yourself the day off. Don’t go in to work. Shut off your phone, computer and other electronic devices connecting you to your daily grind. Then go to a barbecue, like the original participants did over a century ago, and celebrate having at least one day off from work during the year!
Snow during September along Colorado’s northern Front Range hasn’t been that unusual if you go back a century or more, nor is it unusual to have wide temperature swings.
But the temperature swing of coming days is predicted to be notable for its extremes. And the snow will be on the early side, too.
In the Denver area, the high temperature over the Labor Day Weekend is forecast to be 98°. By Tuesday, it will be snowing and with a low of 30° or maybe less.
Bye-bye bean harvest.
Matt Kelsch, a hydrometeorologist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, says September snow is not that uncommon in the Denver-Boulder area.
“If you look at records for the 20th century about once every four years there’s measurable snow in September, sometimes a big one. It’s not that unusual,” he says. In the last 20 years, though, that has happened only once.
Even in the 20th century, though, September snows were likely to be later in the month. Snow on Sept. 8 shows up only once in the record.
Temperature extremes have also occurred before. “In 1993, we had a high of 90 on the afternoon 12th and the morning of the 13th we had an inch of snow and 33° at 7 a.m.,” he said.
If next week’s predicted temperature plunge will not be faster, it will be more extreme: from the high 90s to freezing along the Front Range.
The swings west of the Continental Divide may be less, because the air cold mass will be moving down across the Great Plains. That being said, the Weather Channel predicts a high of 93° F in the next few days at Craig followed by a low of 19°. Granby will see a high of 82° over the weekend followed by a low of 17° on Tuesday. At Vail, the swing is from 80° to 24°.
“There’s a very real chance that we set or tie record highs on Sunday or Monday and then set or tie a record low on Wednesday. Hang on for the ride!” says the National Weather Service office at Grand Junction on its website.
Southeastern Colorado expects to be a on a roller coaster, too. Lamar is predicted to hit 105° on Sunday and 33° on Tuesday.
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Is this greater extreme a reflection of the warming and changing climate?
Yes and no, Kelsch says. He reminds his interlocutor of the distinction between weather and climate, the latter being the long-term weather patterns. Or, as is often said, climate is what you expect and weather is what you get.
In the long term and big picture, more record highs have been accumulating than record lows. “This is a good example of how we’re seeing more of the extremes, sometimes in proximity to each other.”
What clearly stands out in an inspection of the records for the last 30 years in Boulder, where Kelsch maintains a weather observation station, is a shifted pattern in precipitation. July and August have become drier, but February, March and April have become wetter.
This year fit in with that pattern. It also fits in with trends around the world. Climate change theory forecasts longer, more intense droughts but, in places, greater spurts of precipitation.
This shift along the foot of the Front Range sets up a greater risk of wildfire. The increased late winter—and spring precipitation results in growth of more grasses, which in turn is followed by higher, drier summer.
The hot temperatures this weekend will heighten the fire risk. “The only good news is that if a fire does start, it won’t have long to live,” Kelsch observes.
From Tevas to SmartWool, air conditioners to furnaces, it’s going to be a big pivot.
So, it’s not surprising to us, researchers who study diseases that can be prevented by vaccines, that with schools and colleges reopening, the virus is spreading.
These are places designed around the idea of bringing lots of people to one place. Many of them bring people together from all over the world. They are perfect places for disease to spread.
How we got here
Back in March, colleges and universities closed down like everything else except essential businesses. They sent students home. There was a rough transition to online instruction. Students weren’t happy, faculty weren’t happy. And so, they started to come up with plans on how to reopen for in-person instruction for the fall semester.
Many places installed plexi-glass barriers in classrooms, considered mask mandates and worked out physical distancing in lecture halls. Most people realized that professors who taught large classes should plan for remote learning.
University administrators and public health experts started making these plans in the spring. Back then, we scientists and public health researchers all operated under the assumption that community spread would be under some sort of control by fall. We all thought that the country would increase testing capacity, and we have. Then, once new cases dropped to a low level, we could institute contact tracing, the way other countries had.
It seems that for many of these institutions, the priority was on financial concerns, which involved a return to a normal fall semester to the greatest extent possible. They then developed plans that they thought would make this possible. Faculty at manyinstitutions and at least one ethics committee have argued that the priority should have been the safety of students, faculty and the surrounding communities.
While schools across the country have different priorities, enrollments, campus size, and student demographics, many schools share one thing in common: making no real contingency plans around reopening amid COVID-19, other than going remote if governors mandated it.
The schools that did spend the summer figuring out how to deliver high quality education remotely, or how to safely provide housing and access to services for the most vulnerable students, are less likely to have their fall semester disrupted. However, the College Crisis Initiative’s data dashboard found that only 7% of 1,442 four-year schools surveyed were planning on a fully online fall semester.
The challenge ahead
And so, the inevitable has come to pass. Now, many college campuses will struggle to control their outbreaks, because there are a lot of unique challenges inherent to COVID-19 in this population.
Colleges are not nursing homes or prisons. Some are trying to limit contact with the broader community.
But in general, students are not kept under lock and key. They have visitors from other schools. They go back and forth to their parents’ homes. And, yes, they go to parties. To us, blaming students for wanting a normal-ish college experience when the schools themselves have set the tone for trying hard to return to normal isn’t fair.
It’s also true that not all of the contact students have is as irresponsible as some have suggested. Many students hold jobs in the communities that surround the school. And most of these jobs aren’t typically the work-from-home type of job. In our undergraduate careers we both worked at jobs that had high contact rates with the community. And often, when your job is waiting tables at a local pizza place or manning a library desk, most of your colleagues are students as well. All of these factors will make contact tracing very hard.
Public health experts also expect a relatively high proportion of college-aged students to be either completely asymptomatic or to only have very mild symptoms. Without universal testing, these students won’t know they’re sick. They may not isolate if they have mild symptoms. But they will still be able to spread the virus to others. Symptom and temperature screenings may not recognize these individuals as those who need to stay away from campus buildings.
Let’s look at our university as an example. The University of Michigan has an undergraduate population of 30,000 students. Let’s assume that two-thirds of them came back to campus. That means 40,000 tests per week just for University of Michigan undergraduate students. Right now the entire state of Michigan is doing a little more than 200,000 diagnostic tests per week. Someschools have developed their own tests to handle this huge increase in capacity. But many university labs are involved in testing for large health systems and the rest of the state too. In these places it becomes very difficult for 1 in 5 tests available in an entire state to be dedicated to the students at a single university.
A scale-up of rapid, at-home antigen tests could be one approach to make testing on this scale feasible. These types of tests have the advantage of detecting highly infectious individuals – making them a good screening tool – but many are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration because they aren’t as sensitive as the standard PCR-based diagnostic test.
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If transmission on campus continues to happen mostly outside of the classroom, simply going remote will not solve the problem. Keeping students on campus will be risky. Many students will be attempting to navigate social distancing guidelines without a traditional social support network.
As much as possible, we believe students need to be able to safely return to their homes. But this can’t be done haphazardly. Bringing them to campus was a predictable risk – so is sending them home. As colleges inevitably move back to online instruction, plans must be put in place to minimize the risk of seeding epidemics. Dismissing all students, some of whom are infectious, back to their home communities risks spreading the virus further across the country, a bad outcome for all.
The unique epidemiology of COVID-19 in young adults, along with the contact patterns on college campuses and the inability to effectively screen through symptom reports or diagnostic testing, have left college campuses with few options for safely operating with in-person classes. We know that few wanted an all-remote fall semester, but it’s becoming clear that was probably our best bet.
The credit-card-sized test is an antigen test that detects a specific viral protein from SARS-CoV-2. It costs US$5 and doesn’t require a lab or a machine for processing.
Performing the test is simple. A health care worker or technician would use a swab to collect a sample from less than 1 inch inside the nostril. They would then combine the sample with a few drops of chemicals inside the test card. Within 15 minutes, the test strip would show a positive or negative result. The test is also paired with an app that produces a digital code that can be scanned to show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test.
What does the Emergency Use Authorization allow for?
The emergency use authorization provides preliminary authorization for doctors to prescribe the antigen test while the full FDA approval process is ongoing. The authorization could be revoked if the test is not as accurate or reliable as expected.
However, the true accuracy could be lower because the performance testing group was only 102 people and the accuracy hasn’t been validated by the FDA as part of the full approval process. There will inevitably be some false negatives and false positives with the BinaxNOW test since accuracy isn’t 100%, but the FDA will monitor the data to make sure the test meets the reported accuracy.
Can this test be used for widespread screening?
The BinaxNOW test is cheap, rapid, able to be mass-produced and easy to use outside a lab. This makes it a promising candidate for widespread screening. However, the test is currently only authorized for people with COVID-19 symptoms.
This is an obstacle because an estimated 40% of all COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic and these people likely don’t know that they’re contagious. To maximize the effectiveness of any COVID-19 screening program, it is important to test people whether they have symptoms or not.
The massive expansion of testing access made possible by the BinaxNOW test will almost surely outweigh the downsides of a small number of inaccurate results. Abbott plans to manufacture 50 million tests per month starting in October. This will quickly exceed the 76 million COVID-19 tests the U.S. has performed over the last six months.
Widespread, frequent testing is effective at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. The new testing capacity made possible by the authorization of this rapid antigen test represents a major advance in bringing the pandemic under control.
Nearly a year before the novel coronavirus emerged, Dr. Leonardo Trasande published “Sicker, Fatter, Poorer,” a book about connections between environmental pollutants and many of the most common chronic illnesses. The book describes decades of scientific research showing how endocrine-disrupting chemicals, present in our daily lives and now found in nearly all people, interfere with natural hormones in our bodies. The title sums up the consequences: Chemicals in the environment are making people sicker, fatter and poorer.
As we learn more about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, research is revealing ugly realities about social and environmental effects on health – including how the same chronic illnesses associated with exposure to endocrine-disrupting compounds also increase your risk of developing severe COVID-19.
In the U.S. and abroad, the chronic disease epidemic that was already underway at the start of 2020 meant the population entered into the coronavirus pandemic in a state of reduced health. Evidence is now emerging for the role that environmental quality plays in people’s susceptibility to COVID-19 and their risk of dying from it.
Why endocrine disruptors are a problem
Endocrine-disrupting compounds, or EDCs, are a broad group of chemicals that can interfere with natural hormones in people’s bodies in ways that harm human health. They include perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS, flame retardants, plasticizers, pesticides, antimicrobial products and fragrances, among others.
These chemicals are pervasive in modern life. They are found in a wide range of consumer goods, food packaging, personal care products, cosmetics, industrial processes and agricultural settings. EDCs then make their way into our air, water, soil and food.
Research has shown that people who are exposed to EDCs are more likely than others to develop metabolic disorders, such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol, and they tend to have poorer cardiovascular health.
EDCs affect human health by mimicking our natural hormones.
Hormones are chemical signals that our cells use to communicate with one another. You might be familiar with reproductive hormones – testosterone and estrogen – which help distinguish male and female physiology and reproduction. Yet, hormones are responsible for maintaining virtually all essential bodily functions, including metabolism and healthy blood pressure, blood sugar and inflammation.
The chemical shape or structure of EDCs resembles hormones in ways that cause the body to misinterpret an EDC for a natural signal from a hormone.
Because the human body is very sensitive to hormones, only small amounts of hormones are required to convey their intended signal. Therefore, very small exposures to EDCs can have dramatic, adverse affects on people’s health.
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Environmental quality and COVID-19
Researchers are only just beginning to paint a picture about how environmental quality contributes to COVID-19 susceptibility, and there is much we still don’t know. However, scientists suspect that EDCscan play a role based on clear scientific evidence that EDCs increase people’s risk of developing chronic disease that put people at greater risk from COVID-19.
Public health organizations such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Heath Organization officially recognize underlying health conditions – including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, immunosuppression, chronic respiratory disease and cancer – as risk factors for critical illness and mortality from COVID-19.
Scientific evidence shows that EDC exposure increases people’s risk of developing all of these conditions. Scientists are thinking about these connections, and research efforts are underway to answer more questions about how EDCs may be influencing the pandemic.
Recent evidence also shows that COVID-19 infection can lead to lingering health conditions, including heart damage. Environmental conditions such as heat waves are particularly dangerous for individuals with heart disease or heart damage. In places like California that are currently experiencing wildfires and heat waves, we can clearly see how multiple environmental conditions can combine to further increase risk of deaths associated with COVID-19.
In the U.S., regulations such as the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act have improved environmental quality and human health since the 1970s. However, the Trump administration has been trying to weaken them.
In the past three and a half years, about 35 environmental rules and regulations pertaining to air quality or toxic substances like EDCs were either rolled back or are in the process of being removed, despite unambiguous evidence showing how poor environmental quality harms human health. Allowing more pollution threatens to exacerbate the trend toward a sicker, fatter and poorer America at a time when people’s overall health is necessary for our collective resilience to COVID-19 and future global health challenges.
Ecuador’s Los Cedros Reserve, one of Earth’s most biodiverse habitats, could be wiped out by mining. A court case could save it — and set a precedent for the planet.
Should nature have rights? That question is being put to the test right now in Ecuador.
In 2008 the South American country made history when its new constitution declared that nature had “the right to integral respect for its existence and for the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes.” It was an unprecedented commitment, the first of its kind, to preserving biodiversity for future generations of Ecuadorians.
The constitutional change did not automatically protect nature, but it gave citizens what the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature describes as “the legal authority to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems. The ecosystem itself can be named as the defendant.”
The country could soon make history again when its Constitutional Court hears a case that seeks to apply these rights of nature to a protected forest, known as Bosque Protector Reserva Los Cedros, against large-scale copper and gold mining.
The threat stems from a 2017 change in government policy that allowed mining concessions on 6 million acres of lands, including at least 68% of Los Cedros — part of a hasty attempt to boost the mining sector and compensate for declining oil revenues. Experts say that policy appears to be unconstitutional, which has led to the present showdown.
“Mining in protected forests is a violation of Articles 57, 71 and 398 of the constitution: the collective rights of Indigenous peoples, the Rights of Nature, and the right of communities to prior consultation before environmental changes, respectively,” says ecologist Bitty Roy of the University of Oregon, who has conducted research at Los Cedros since 2008.
A Vital Reserve
Los Cedros is a remote, pristine, 17,000-acre cloud forest in northwest Ecuador and one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.
Conservation biologist Mika Peck, of the University of Sussex, describes Los Cedros as “a biodiversity hotspot within a hotspot — and of global importance in terms of conserving our natural history.”
He adds, “the reserve and all it maintains is priceless.”
The reserve has been protected since 1988 due primarily to the work of manager Josef DeCoux and Australia’s Rainforest Information Center.
DeCoux tells me he was one of the “hippies” who moved from the United States to Ecuador in the 1980s to help “save the rainforest.”
He chose well. Not only does Los Cedros protect at least 250 species from extinction, it safeguards four watersheds. That means the court case is not just about preserving a biodiversity jewel; it’s about guaranteeing a livable environment to local people as well as protecting the forest’s own right to remain undisturbed.
A recent letter from 23 international scientists, including Roy and Peck, argued that “the value of this intact watershed is far greater than that of any possible mineral wealth that lies beneath it.”
The remoteness of the reserve was one of the things that pulled me to it a few years ago.
Inaccessible by road, the final ascent up to Los Cedros is a nerve-wracking, two-hour mule ride on a muddy track with sheer drop-offs and awe-inspiring views. Once there you’re immersed in a biological paradise. You can walk among the shaggy, epiphyte-laden trees dripping from the frequent rain showers brought by the low-creeping clouds; listen to the cacophony of some of the 358 bird species that greet the dawn; seek out the six species of cats, including pumas and endangered jaguars; get to know some of the 970 species of moths; or look for 186 species of orchids, one-third of which are endangered. They include several species of Dracula orchids, named for their blood-red petals and haunting faces.
Each day I explored the reserve’s trails — kept short to minimize disturbance to the ecosystem — its uniqueness became more evident. Nearly two dozen species of frogs, almost all endangered — including a species of rainfrog able to change its skin texture and a glass frog known for its transparent abdomen — occupy streams so clean you can drink directly from them. During my visit DeCoux told me he was particularly proud of that pristine resource.
The reserve is also home to the endangered spectacled Andean bear and three species of monkeys, also endangered.
On a morning hike with one of the guides employed by the reserve, I saw a troop of one of those species, the critically endangered brown-headed spider monkey, one of the rarest primates in the world, with a population of about 250 individuals. As most of the troop moved on, one monkey hung back to grab and eat some fruit. Although we watched from 30 yards away, it soon started hooting at us and shaking a branch to scare us off.
A clear message that we’d encroached on its personal space.
The Mining Threat Looms
Yet in an encroachment of national and potentially devastating proportions, in 2017 the government put more than two-thirds of Los Cedros under a mining concession to the Canadian mining company Cornerstone Capital Resources, in conjunction with ENAMI, the state’s mining company.
More than seven million acres across Ecuador are now under concessions. Additional concessions cover major portions of Indigenous territory, which threatens not only the people’s livelihoods but their lives. The permits, the majority of which are in the highly biodiverse Andean cloud forests, were issued without consulting the affected communities.
A year ago DeCoux’s legal team succeeded in getting a provincial court to revoke Cornerstone’s mining permit because of the lack of consultation. But that hasn’t stopped the company from continuing to operate, according to Elisa Levy of the mining oversight collective OMASNE (Observatorio Minero, Ambiental y Social del Norte del Ecuador).
“They have built roads to the edge of the reserve,” she says, “and broken new trails in Los Cedros” — actions that compromise the integrity of the presently intact ecosystem.
ENAMI appealed the provincial court’s decision, and in May the Constitutional Court decided to hear the case under rights of nature, probably by the end of the year.
The latest development was “very good news indeed,” DeCoux wrote in a blog post. Without rights people perceive forests, rivers and oceans as objects to be used; but with rights they become subjects to be valued on their own terms.
The case matters not just for Los Cedros — it could set precedent for the entire country.
Two of the Constitutional Court judges, Ramiro Avila and Daniela Salazar Marin, issued a written statement on May 18 that acknowledges the biodiversity of Los Cedros and explicitly mentions that it is the home of the critically endangered brown-headed spider monkey and the endangered spectacled Andean bear. They further argue that the case will allow the court to rule on the “content” of the rights of nature, and to “develop parameters to set the limits of protected forests and the scope of responsibility for the state to monitor and follow up on mining concessions.” (Translated from Spanish.)
The Call to Protect
Habitat loss, now exacerbated by climate change, is the leading cause of extinction around the world. With the high number of endemic species in Los Cedros, and their small range, allowing mining exploration to continue will undoubtedly result in extinctions. In a research paper published in 2018 in the journal Tropical Conservation Science, Roy and others argue that permanently protecting Los Cedros, the last uncut forest in western Ecuador, is necessary to ensure lower-altitude flora and fauna can migrate freely to the higher altitudes found to the north, where Los Cedros borders the enormous 450,000-acre Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve.
Peck echoes that conclusion. “The move to rule in favor of Bosques Protectores such as Los Cedros is vital to ensure protection of vital natural habitats, and the species they maintain, in a world that is going to undergo major climatic shifts,” he says. “Natural habitat is key to maintaining ecosystem services that buffer these changes and allow species to migrate and survive.”
Those species remain ever-present in my mind.
The sound I most remember from Los Cedros is the eerie call of the pastures frog: a high, slow electronic bleating that reverberated back and forth over the ridge — as if to warn that all this could be lost. Reserves like Los Cedros make up one-third of the protected lands in Ecuador, so a ruling in favor of rights of nature here would be a bold move that would protect other forests from mining and ultimately allow the establishment of new conservation corridors.
If ever there was a time for bold moves that will surely make history, it is now.
Peck calls a ruling in favor of the Bosques Protectores “the only rational response in the face of climate change and biodiversity loss.”
Levy is encouraged that the case will be heard under rights of nature, but remains cautious. “We don’t want to be too optimistic,” she says. “We know what’s at stake.”
For more on Los Cedros and the threat of mining in Ecuador, watch this video from the Rainforest Action Group:
Here’s the release from Colorado Parks & Wildlife (Joe Lewnandnowski):
A bear injured in a fire west of Durango in June has healed and was released back to the wild on Monday (Aug. 24) by officers with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The bear was taken to a remote location not far from where it was found. The bear hesitated for about a minute while it sniffed its new surroundings. Then it jumped from the container in the back of a CPW pick-up truck and dashed into the thick cover of the aspen forest.
“Now he’s got food, he’s got water, he’s got everything he needs,” said Wildlife Officer Steve McClung, “And I hope I never see him again.”
On June 16, firefighters at the East Canyon fire reported to the CPW Durango office that they saw a bear that appeared to be injured. Wildlife officers responded and when found the bear in a boggy area. It did not move when approached which indicated it was in a lot of pain. The bear, a male, was tranquilized and taken to CPW’s Frisco Creek wildlife rehabilitation facility in Del Norte.
The two-year-old bear weighed just 43 pounds and its feet were badly burned. At Frisco Creek, CPW’s wildlife technician cleaned the bear’s paws, applied salves to treat the burns and wrapped its feet. The bear was kept in a pen with concrete floors to assure the wounds would stay clean. Fortunately, the bear did not tear off the bandages as a bear rescued from a fire two years ago had done.
“He was a good patient,” said Michael Sirochman, veterinary technician and manager of the Frisco Creek facility.
The bear’s bandages were changed 16 times from mid-June to mid-July. When the paws were healed it was placed in a regular pen that provides trees to climb on and places to hide. Sirochman said the bear now weighs 110 pounds and its paws are toughened up.
“He’s now about the weight he should be for a two-year-old bear and is in good shape for going into the fall,” Sirochman said.
As a two-year old, the bear has well developed instincts to survive in the wild. No tracking devices have been placed on the bear and it is now on its own.
Unfortunately for us all, the pain only begins there. Other important health policy news that would ordinarily make headlines is buried under the crushing weight of the coronavirus. Many have not had time to notice or understand the Trump administration’s efforts to wreck health care coverage.
We are both professors at Boston University School of Public Health who study health insurance, one using economics and statistics and the other focusing on law and policy. We have researched the big picture of COVID-19’s impact on the safety net and the details of how our federalist system, with states having considerable control over policy, has made a coordinated response to the pandemic more difficult.
Here, we highlight two major actions by the Trump administration that should be receiving more attention – attempting to cap federal Medicaid funding, and arguing to the Supreme Court that the entire Affordable Care Act should be struck down.
Limits on Medicaid funding
Complicated language and political posturing make it hard to understand health care in the best of times. This is particularly true for proposals to change the funding for Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income Americans that also covers many disabled and elderly people.
Medicaid has historically been funded like this: States pay a percentage of Medicaid costs, and the federal government covers the rest. The federal match ranges from 50% to as much as 83% of every dollar. It doesn’t matter whether a state has one thousand or one million Medicaid enrollees, that same cost sharing applies. Uncapped federal funding gives Medicaid flexibility to meet that need.
Block grants are pre-set amounts of money that the federal government offers to states, which then have control over the money within broad guidelines. While that may sound harmless and even appealing to some, block granting reduces the amount of federal money available and shifts the risk of economic, health, and other emergencies to states. Medicaid block grants would set limits on how much money the federal government spends, either in total or per person.
Medicaid has never been capped this way in its 55-year history, but block granting for Medicaid has long been an unfulfilled dream for conservatives, with Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, and Paul Ryan trying but failing to make block grants a reality.
The Trump administration decided to try a different road. In January 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a letter to state Medicaid directors describing a new Healthy Adult Opportunity policy that would fundamentally change the way Medicaid has always worked by implementing block grants.
Instead of the current partnership, in which the pie (Medicaid spending) can expand but the pieces (federal and state share of costs) stay the same size relatively, this new block grant policy would provide states either a set dollar amount for each enrollee (a per capita cap) or for their entire program (a fixed annual grant). Either way, the state would be responsible for any extra costs. To be clear, we and others believe this policy is illegal without a change in federal law.
So why would states pursue this? Political ideology and less federal oversight are big factors.
Giving states greater control over health policy could encourage states to find savings in their Medicaid programs. But unexpected spending on Medicaid, such as spikes in enrollment from natural disasters, could lead states to cut benefits, payments to providers, or other necessary services. This could make good quality care harder to get. It could also lead states to shift funding away from other essential services, like education, to meet medical needs.
We believe this is an especially bad time to pick this fight, while the nation tries to prevent spikes in COVID-19 and state budgets are in decline. Limiting the amount of money states have for Medicaid could not only limit health care access for the 65 million Americans already enrolled in Medicaid, but also potentially millions more who may need it as a result of the pandemic.
Killing the ACA
The ACA has faced near constant legal and political challenges since it became law a decade ago. Even enthusiastic supporters admit that it is far from perfect. But, some 20 million people gained insurance through the law.
The first challenge came when some states claimed that the law’s individual mandate, a requirement to have health insurance or pay a penalty, was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the mandate is constitutional, and the law was implemented.
In 2017, the Republicans controlling Congress tried but failed to repeal the ACA. Congress was only able to reduce the tax penalty to zero for the individual mandate, meaning the law still requires having health insurance coverage but the penalty is now $0.
Now, states argue once again that the mandate is unconstitutional because the penalty fails to “produce at least some revenue.” This new case is scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court on Nov. 10. Texas v. California is the third major legal challenge to the ACA, but the first time that the federal government will not defend the law in court.
Texas leads 17 other states, with full support from the Trump administration, in arguing that the ACA cannot exist without the individual mandate penalty because the law is not “severable” – meaning that if one part of a law fails, then the entire law falls.
Of course, Congress did exactly that, severing the penalty from the rest of the ACA when it enacted the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.
And, the Supreme Court already decided that the ACA is severable when it made Medicaid expansion optional in 2012. This case has been called “balderdash” by legal scholars, yet the court could issue a decision in a few months that eliminates the ACA.
If the ACA is struck down, that means the loss of coverage for preexisting conditions, the return of annual or lifetime caps, or policies being revoked for cancer patients. Those who don’t earn much money still deserve good health care. Nearly everyone will feel it if the Trump administration and Texas are successful, regardless of whether your health insurance is through your work, HealthCare.gov, Medicaid or Medicare.
Staying healthy is first priority during this pandemic, but understanding that health insurance could be on the brink of evaporating for millions is a close second.
Learn about bird migration in this virtual youth education program.
Thursday, September 10, 2020
4:00pm – 5:30pm Mountain Online Event
We’re excited to continue our youth virtual learning opportunities this fall with Audubon Afterschool! Kids between the ages 7–11 years-old are welcome to join our Community Naturalists to learn about nature in monthly sessions. Each hands-on, interactive program will include an activity kit mailed right to your home.
Migration occurs every year for many species of birds. Learn about the incredible physical traits birds have that help them survive their epic journeys and prepare yourself for an obstacle course wrought with migration perils! Registration closes September 4.
Three new books challenge the way we imagine the U.S.-Mexico border.
In 2018, I met a 29-year-old man I’ll call Alex (to protect his identity) at a soup kitchen for migrants in Nogales, Sonora, just across the U.S.-Mexico border from Nogales, Arizona. Most of the migrants were families with young children who came from Central America and the state of Guerrero, Mexico, fleeing poverty and violence fueled by a legacy of U.S.-backed military coups and corporate plundering. They had come to seek asylum in America.
Alex was different. His parents brought him to the U.S. from Honduras when he was 7, and he grew up in New York City undocumented. At 21, he got into a fight, and the police were called. Immigration and Customs Enforcement eventually deported Alex, separating him from his infant son. He spent the next eight years in Honduras. Now, knowing he had no chance of asylum and no legal way to return to the U.S., Alex planned to cross the border illegally. “I’m trying get back to my son,” he told me.
A month later, Alex called me. He was staying with a friend in Tennessee, after spending 12 days crossing a deadly stretch of the desert from outside Nogales, Sonora all the way to Phoenix, Arizona, walking more than 150 miles, mostly alone. He survived, he thought, because of his military training; Alex had served briefly in the U.S. military reserves.
Without knowing his story, it would be easy to categorize Alex as either a victim or a criminal. But he was neither. He was a boxing aficionado, a construction worker and above all, a father who desperately wanted to be reunited with his son. But like so many, he was caught in the web of U.S. immigration policies.
Three new nonfiction books examine the failures of those policies, from the flawed, outdated science that shaped them, to the current wall-building fiasco, and, finally, to what it might take to create a more effective, and just, immigration framework.
IN 1994, the Clinton administration implemented a new border enforcement strategy called “prevention through deterrence,” designed to force migrants away from Borderlands cities and toward far more remote and dangerous routes, like the one Alex took. Such policies have not stopped migration, but they have made it far more deadly.
In The Next Great Migration, Sonia Shah questions this strategy, challenging the view that migration is a “crisis.” As Shah reveals, the science tells a different story: Migration is central to human biology and history.
Draconian immigration policies, Shah argues, are a response to flawed public opinion, not a reflection of the facts. The perception of migrants as a global threat has become lodged in the public mind. Studies show that many Americans vastly overestimate the number of undocumented immigrants and are convinced they worsen crime. In fact, high rates of immigration (both legal and unauthorized) are associated with lower rates of both violent and property crimes.
“We’ve constructed a story about our past, our bodies, and the natural world in which migration is the anomaly,” Shah writes. But that story is an illusion. Shah explores how three centuries of outdated scientific ideas about the role of migrants, both in the natural world and in human societies, have shaped anti-immigrant viewpoints that persist today.
Shah begins with the 18th century Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, charting the path from his failed quest for proof that different races were biologically distinct species, to contemporary white nationalist and anti-immigration crusader John Tanton, a retired Michigan ophthalmologist who warned about a coming “Latin onslaught” in a series of memos revealed in 1988.
Shah skillfully weaves the connections between science, policy and public opinion, demonstrating how, for instance, biologist Paul Ehrlich’s ideas about catastrophic population growth inspired environmentalist support for immigration restriction — though even Ehrlich later admitted that his 1968 book The Population Bomb had not been rooted in science at all. Rather, it was a “propaganda piece,” he said, aimed at mobilizing interest in environmental protection.
Shah takes readers to nearly every corner of the world: from human migration hotspots like the Darién Gap, at the Colombia-Panama border, to the San Miguel Mountains in Southern California, one of the last habitats for the endangered checkerspot butterfly, whose survival hinges on its ability to migrate. Though her scientific history is expansive and rigorous, at times she sidesteps research that undermines her argument, overlooking, for example, the damage invasive species can inflict on ecosystems.
Still, Shah helps illuminate why Alex and so many others are choosing to migrate. “The idea that there should be a single explanation for migration is rooted in a sedentarist notion,” Shah writes, referencing the geographer Richard Black. Both human and non-human species respond to devastating environmental changes by moving. When people are threatened by war, rising seas or persistent poverty, fleeing is a matter of survival. Likewise, for someone like Alex, a father facing a future without his son, the decision was only natural.
IF SHAH SHOWS how outdated beliefs explain current attitudes towards migration, journalist and author D.W. Gibson reveals how those attitudes are playing out at the U.S.-Mexico border today. After the Department of Homeland Security advertised for border wall prototypes in 2017, Gibson began visiting the construction site south of San Diego, where they were erected.
His book, 14 miles: Building the Border Wall, starts there, chronicling the locals whose lives are affected by the building of the wall. Among others, we meet a member of the Kumeyaay Tribe, whose traditional territory stretches from Southern California to northern Baja California, Border Patrol agents, a Haitian asylum seeker, a former human smuggler, and activists who leave jugs of water in the desert for migrants.
Unfortunately, few of the characters are fully developed, and at times, the interviews and extensive dialogue feel excessive. Gibson divulges little personal information, portraying himself as an out-of-place reporter who swigs bad coffee at a Denny’s restaurant and speaks mediocre Spanish. His strength lies in the way his interviews reveal the absurdities and contradictions of the border and the wall-building endeavor — its crass capitalism and phony politicking.
The most revealing character is the real estate baron and U.S. presidential hopeful Roque De La Fuente, one of several scammy businessmen clamoring to profit from the future wall. De La Fuente owns 2,000 acres of desert abutting the proposed wall expansion, and publicly hopes to sell his land to the federal government. Privately, however, he acknowledges that the wall “is a crazy stupid idea. We need more crossings.” Indirectly, De La Fuente supports Shah’s argument that human societies thrive on connection. What’s unnatural is trying to cut those connections off.
For Gibson, the border is less the frontier than its mirror, reflecting the vision of America people want to see. Such visions leave little room for “hyphenated Americans” — as a San Diego property owner refers to any people whose identities complicate his monolithic idea of America.
POETRY CAN “extend the document,” Susan Briante writes in Defacing the Monument, a book of documentary poetry. For Briante, the border’s failures emerge not only in cruel and inhumane policies like Operation Streamline, but also in how we tell the stories and record the history of those on the margins of our society.
Documentary poetry often resembles a scrapbook, mixing primary source material — photos, court records, letters and maps — with the poet’s own words, conveying her interpretation of the historical record and, crucially, what the documents leave out. “A frame of words can determine what one sees,” Briante writes.
Briante calls documentary poetry the “anti-journalism,” but I see it more as a meditation on the difficult moral and ethical questions facing anyone — whether journalist or poet — writing about the pain of others. “How can we amplify voices without turning other people’s stories into commodities, without re-affirming the faulty myth of ‘giving voice?’ ” Briante wonders.
Perhaps this is why those other voices are mostly absent from Defacing the Monument. But Briante is not writing here as a journalist; she is less concerned about the migrants’ stories than the way those stories are obscured or erased. Like Shah and Gibson, Briante asks us to reimagine the way we see the border and the lives it encompasses — to interrogate the false sense of normalcy that pervades our current immigration regime, and to “reframe and recontextualize every exception and every unexceptional atrocity.”
Briante doesn’t offer concrete suggestions for how to fix our inhumane immigration system. Instead, she urges another kind of transformation. Instead of new walls, Briante suggests, the U.S. needs new narratives, and a more expansive idea of what its borders are for. That requires a more expansive idea of America itself, rooted in connection rather than fear.
“The future unfurls like the sky above the cities of Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, a sky redacted by the bars of a wall. What will we write or imagine between those bars? What will we make from them?” Briante asks.
When Alex called me to say he had survived the crossing, he spoke of his journey — about the blisters on his feet, the hallucinations from the heat. He saw a puma, he said, and the remains of a human body. But he kept walking. He focused on his son, he said, “the only thing I think about.”
Sarah Tory is a correspondent for High Country News. She writes from Carbondale, Colorado. Follow @tory_sarah.
I am an infectious disease doctor and a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. As governments and workplaces began to recommend or mandate mask wearing, my colleagues and I noticed an interesting trend. In places where most people wore masks, those who did get infected seemed dramatically less likely to get severely ill compared to places with less mask-wearing.
No mask is perfect, and wearing one might not prevent you from getting infected. But it might be the difference between a case of COVID-19 that sends you to the hospital and a case so mild you don’t even realize you’re infected.
Exposure dose determines severity of disease
When you breathe in a respiratory virus, it immediately begins hijacking any cells it lands near to turn them into virus production machines. The immune system tries to stop this process to halt the spread of the virus.
The amount of virus that you’re exposed to – called the viral inoculum, or dose – has a lot to do with how sick you get. If the exposure dose is very high, the immune response can become overwhelmed. Between the virus taking over huge numbers of cells and the immune system’s drastic efforts to contain the infection, a lot of damage is done to the body and a person can become very sick.
On the other hand, if the initial dose of the virus is small, the immune system is able to contain the virus with less drastic measures. If this happens, the person experiences fewer symptoms, if any.
This concept of viral dose being related to disease severity has been around for almost a century. Many animal studies have shown that the higher the dose of a virus you give an animal, the more sick it becomes. In 2015, researchers tested this concept in human volunteers using a nonlethal flu virus and found the same result. The higher the flu virus dose given to the volunteers, the sicker they became.
The final piece of experimental evidence showing that masks reduce viral dose comes from another hamster experiment. Hamsters were divided into an unmasked group and a masked group by placing surgical mask material over the pipes that brought air into the cages of the masked group. Hamsters infected with the coronavirus were placed in cages next to the masked and unmasked hamsters, and air was pumped from the infected cages into the cages with uninfected hamsters.
As expected, the masked hamsters were less likely to get infected with COVID-19. But when some of the masked hamsters did get infected, they had more mild disease than the unmasked hamsters.
However, in places where everyone wears masks, the rate of asymptomatic infection seems to be much higher. In an outbreak on an Australian cruise ship called the Greg Mortimer in late March, the passengers were all given surgical masks and the staff were given N95 masks after the first case of COVID-19 was identified. Mask usage was apparently very high, and even though 128 of the 217 passengers and staff eventually tested positive for the coronavirus, 81% of the infected people remained asymptomatic.
There is no doubt that universal mask wearing slows the spread of the coronavirus. My colleagues and I believe that evidence from laboratory experiments, case studies like the cruise ship and food processing plant outbreaks and long-known biological principles make a strong case that masks protect the wearer too.
The goal of any tool to fight this pandemic is to slow the spread of the virus and save lives. Universal masking will do both.
New emails detail drained ponds, salvaged fish and a tense relationship with the Department of Homeland Security.
During the fall of 2019, the Department of Homeland Security began pumping large amounts of water from a southern Arizona aquifer to mix concrete for the Trump administration’s border wall. The aquifer is an essential water source for the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, so when the pumping escalated, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials watched helplessly as the water levels at several ponds — the main habitat for the endangered fish at this Sonoran Desert refuge — dropped “precipitously.”
In what Bill Radke, who has managed the refuge for two decades, called “life support” actions, staff was forced to shut off water to three of the ponds to minimize broader damage. As a result, biologists had to salvage endangered fish from the emptying ponds. It was “like cutting off individual fingers in an attempt to save the hand,” Radke wrote in an email to staff.
Since its creation in 1982 the 2,300-acre refuge’s sole mission has been to protect the rare species of the Río Yaqui, including endangered fishes like the Yaqui chub and Yaqui topminnow, and other species, such as the tiny San Bernardino springsnail and the endangered Huachuca water umbel, a plant that resembles clumps of tubular grass. Through a series of artesian wells connected to an aquifer, the refuge has kept ponds filled in this fragile valley for nearly 40 years.
Under normal circumstances, a significant construction project like a border wall would be required to go through an extensive environmental review process as dictated by the National Environmental Policy Act. The Department of Homeland Security says it operates under the spirit of NEPA and solicits public comment. But with environmental laws — including NEPA, the Endangered Species Act and the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act — waived for the border wall, the refuge lacks any legal protection, either for itself or the endangered species in its care. So wildlife officials have tried to work with the department, sending hydrological studies and providing recommendations about how to reduce water use near the refuge — information that the Department Homeland Security has repeatedly claimed it takes into consideration.
But as emails recently obtained by High Country News through a Freedom of Information Act Request show, Homeland Security consistently ignored the expertise of Radke and his team. The emails, which were sent from August 2019 to January 2020, chronicle months of upheaval at the refuge and dysfunctional communication between Fish and Wildlife and Homeland Security. During crucial moments, Homeland Security kept wildlife agency staff in the dark as land managers and hydrologists worked to anticipate damages.
“What we are seeing in these FOIA documents confirms a pattern with CBP and DHS that goes back 15 years,” said Randy Serraglio, Southwest conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity.
Matthew Dyman, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman, stated that “DHS and CBP have and continue to coordinate weekly, and more frequently on an as needed basis, to answer questions concerning new border wall construction projects and to address environmental concerns from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.” Nevertheless, documents confirm that border wall construction caused groundwater levels to plummet and harmed endangered fish at the refuge.
IN OCTOBER 2019, RADKE wrote to Fish and Wildlife staff that “the threat of groundwater depletion” at the San Bernardino Refuge had gone from “concerning” to a “dire emergency.” Subsequent emails detail the refuge’s difficulty in obtaining water usage estimates from DHS contractors for an accurate risk assessment. Fish and Wildlife officials sent the department a hydrology analysis to raise an alarm and requested a five-mile buffer around the refuge for well drilling.
According to the emails, though, the Department of Homeland Security did little in response. “I was disappointed today to see first hand that DHS and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not abide by the (most recent) October 16, 2019, Fish and Wildlife Service request to minimize water withdrawal from the aquifer that supports all wetlands on San Bernardino NWR,” Radke wrote. “Instead contractors made plans to drill even closer to the refuge, drilling their second new well 480 feet east of (the refuge).”
CBP spokesman Dyman maintains that construction contractors honored the buffer request. But emails show otherwise: At least one well was drilled less than 500 feet from the refuge boundary; it was abandoned only after it didn’t produce water. And Fish and Wildlife soon learned that even more well locations were being considered near the refuge, according to emails. Homeland Security also continued to pump large volumes of water from a private landowner whose well is just 1.5 miles from the refuge.
Around the same time, pond levels in the refuge dropped. In a series of emails in late November, Radke grew increasingly frustrated. On Nov. 22, he wrote to agency employees, “Our refuge water monitoring is already showing harm to our aquifer during months when the refuge has always demonstrated an increase in groundwater levels. We have ponds dropping precipitously (as much as a foot already) that have never gone low during the winter months — not ever.” Fish and Wildlife had warned Homeland Security that this would happen, but no apparent action was ever taken. “I do not know what reaction to expect from DHS or (the Army Corps of Engineers) to our continuing requests for them to minimize or mitigate impacts to the refuge,” Radke wrote, “but so far our requests have been consistently met with indifference.”
ON DEC. 12, RADKE CALLEDthe water withdrawals for the border wall “the current greatest threat to endangered species in the southwest region.” By that point, refuge staff had begun to track the impact themselves; there was little else they could do. The monitoring became “an overwhelming priority that diminishes our ability to adequately meet other important objectives, obligations and due dates,” Radke wrote.
By January, the impact on the ponds was obvious. According to a Fish and Wildlife memo, swings in water pressure and depth were clearly documented. The report noted that these changes “began to occur as water was used off refuge for border wall construction.” Earlier emails speculated that the situation would only grow more dire at the refuge during the sweltering summer months, when evaporation both from the ponds and the water being pumped would use even more of the precious desert resource.
In an email, Dyman told High Country News that Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “are working closely with the construction contractor on estimated water usage requirements for barrier construction in Arizona as well as working with San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge to mitigate the impacts of groundwater use for the project.” Beth Ullenberg, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, confirmed that the refuge is working with Homeland Security. The agency “has identified that larger capacity pumps are now needed in order to maintain pond levels and appropriate pond outflows,” Ullenberg wrote. She said the contractor is purchasing and will install the new pumps at the refuge.
Those pumps came too late for at least three ponds and according to a document obtained by Defenders of Wildlife, as recently as May water pumping near the refuge was still having a direct and detrimental impact to the refuge. Environmental groups say a pattern of secrecy, lack of communication and failure to coordinate with land managers at the border continue to endanger other biodiverse regions, such as Quitobaquito Springs in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, where they intersect with border wall construction.
“(The Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Patrol) have consistently ignored the input of land managers and landowners and other stakeholders along the border with regard to these construction projects,” Serraglio said, “and it has resulted in serious damage time and time again.”
Jessica Kutz is an assistant editor for High Country News. Email her at email@example.com.
A bald eagle took down a government drone in Michigan, state officials said Thursday.
The bird of prey attacked the Phantom 4 Pro Advanced quadcopter drone about 162 feet in the sky on July 21, “tearing off a propeller and sending the aircraft to the bottom of Lake Michigan,” according to the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.
“The attack could have been a territorial squabble with the electronic foe, or just a hungry eagle,” the department said.
An environmental quality analyst and drone pilot, Hunter King, was mapping shoreline erosion on Lake Michigan with the device, which was flying at 22 mph, when it began twirling out of control and he spotted an eagle flying away, it said.
A bird-watching couple nearby said it saw the eagle strike something and appear to fly away uninjured, department officials said.
A search for the drone days later was unsuccessful. The device was 150 feet offshore, in about 4 feet of Lake Michigan water, the department said.
FromColorado Politics (Joey Bunch) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:
Sun and wind on the wide-open spaces of Colorado could fill a gaping hole in the region’s economy with new opportunities. Late last month, my friends over at The Western Way released a report detailing $9.4 billion in investments in renewable energy on the plains already. The analysis provides kindling for a hot conversation on what more could be done to help the region and its people to prosper from the next big thing.
Political winds of change are powering greener energy to the point that conservative organizations and rural farm interests are certainly paying attention, if not getting on board.
Gov. Jared Polis and the Democrats who control the state House and Senate have the state on course for getting 100% of its energy from renewable resources in just two decades. Those who plan for that will be in the best position to capitalize on the coming opportunities.
The eastern plains, economically wobbly on its feet for years now, doesn’t plan to be left behind any longer. Folks out there, battered by a fading population, years of drought and fewer reasons to hope for better days, are ready to try something new, something with dollars attached to it.
Renewable energy is not the whole answer for what troubles this region, but it’s one answer, said Greg Brophy, the family farmer from Wray, a former state senator and The Western Way’s Colorado director. The Western Way is a conservative group concerned about the best possible outcomes for business and conservation in a changing political and economic landscape…
It also makes a bigger political statement that bears listening to.
“It’s a market-based solution to concerns people have with the environment,” Brophy said. “Whether you share those concerns or not, a lot of people are concerned, and rather than doing some silly Green New Deal, we actually can have a market-based solution that can provide lower-cost electricity.”
Brophy was an early Trump supporter, candidate for governor and chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Ken Buck. He’s dismayed at the president for mocking wind energy. He thinks some healing of our broken nation could take place if people looked more for win-wins…
Renewable energy checks all the boxes. It helps farmers, it helps the planet, and it gives Republicans and Democrats in Denver and D.C. one less thing to argue about.
FromThe High Country News (Andrew Curley) [August 11, 2020]:
Colonial laws and federal neglect created a worse-case scenario during a global pandemic.
The Navajo Nation is at the center of the worst global pandemic in recent memory. Although the total number of COVID-19 cases is small compared to national hotspots, the rate of infection is among the nation’s highest.
Today, national media is focused on Navajo water insecurity — a clear threat to Diné people during the pandemic. About 30% to 40% of reservation residents do not have regular running water. But behind this statistic lies a history of racism and underdevelopment. Even as white communities benefited from decades of expensive water infrastructure, Diné communities were denied the rights and resources necessary to access the same water.
Water settlements between tribes and states are a source of much of this continued underdevelopment. For Indigenous people, these settlements also represent colonial dispossession, because they often suspend allocation of water rights and funding for water infrastructure until tribal leaders give in to the state’s demands. In 2005, for example, then-Arizona Republican Sen. [Jon Kyl] denied the Navajo Nation 6,411 acre-feet of water until it resolved its claims to the Colorado River with the state of Arizona.
While the U.S. was violently annexing the Western United States and vigilante militias murdered and displaced Diné and Apache people, settlers moved into Indigenous lands and dammed and diverted rivers. The settlers created a system that enabled them to monopolize the region’s limited water supply. A new legal and political concept became part of Western water law — a concept that favored the expansion of mining companies, farms and a booming livestock industry over the Indigenous communities already using the water.
The Colorado Compact of 1922 brought the entire Colorado River and its tributaries into this water regime. It divided the river into 15 million quantifiable units…that enabled the U.S. and Western states to more easily divert and distribute water, subject to the laws of the states involved. At the same time, under Winters’ (1908), Indigenous water claims were limited to the date when reservations were established, ignoring centuries of tribal use and governance.
During the New Deal, rural electrification bypassed reservations while the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation competed to dam and divert rivers in the Western U.S. Dams flooded Indigenous lands, killing ecosystems while providing power to settler communities. Water security was soon taken for granted in Western cities, while Indigenous nations found their water supply becoming increasingly precarious.
In the 1960s, cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas expanded. The federal government favored development policies that opened reservations for mining and energy. Coal was extracted from the Navajo Nation, converted into energy, and used to power huge generators near the Parker Dam along the Colorado River. Today, these generators move Colorado River water over the Buckskin Mountains and toward Phoenix and Tucson. It is an unnatural process only made possible by Diné coal. The water provided critical infrastructure for Arizona and allowed Phoenix to grow from a small Western town to a sprawling metropolis.
Starting in the 1970s, state officials proposed settling Indigenous water claims, seeking to resolve lawsuits between tribes and states in favor of limited water rights for tribes. Today, these settlements often contain money for smaller water infrastructure projects.
But these agreements come at a cost. State officials use them as bargaining chips during negotiations, creating an adversarial relationship between tribes and states. In two recent instances, Sen. Kyl deprived the Navajo Nation of federal funding for water infrastructure in order to pressure Navajo officials to settle water claims with the state.
In the San Juan River settlement of 2005, Kyl denied Diné communities in the Window Rock area water from the Gallup Supply Project until the Navajo Nation settled all of its existing water claims with Arizona. And in 2010, in yet another proposed settlement, Kyl refused to bring forward legislation that would free the 6,411 acre-feet of water from the San Juan River settlement and also included $800 million in proposed water infrastructure for the western portion of the Navajo reservation. Kyl claimed the infrastructure was too expensive. But today, these are the very communities that are suffering from high COVID-19 infection rates.
There are many factors that create a crisis like this. Water settlements are not the only one, but they are a critical reason why the Navajo Nation lacks water infrastructure today. When we see statistics stating that 30% to 40% of Diné communities lack running water during a global pandemic, they are not statistics without history. The entire situation is an artifact of colonialism. It is the result of decades of indifference, neglect and deliberate underdevelopment.
Today, however, there is hope: The Navajo Nation Council has allocated $651,000 of CARES act funding for water projects within the Navajo Nation. But a lasting solution will require greater investment in physical infrastructure on the reservation. The Navajo people should not have to wait for water-rights litigation or legal settlements before they get the water, infrastructure and power settler communities take for granted. That is why Congress should fund the Western Navajo Pipeline. This project, which has been on the shelf for at least 10 years, was part of a 2010 water settlement that Sen. Kyl rejected. Had it been funded in 2010, it might have reduced the impacts of COVID in the Navajo Nation. The communities the pipeline would have served are among those that have been hit hardest by the pandemic. A tremendous amount of pain and hardship could have been avoided if the state had simply funded the pipeline a decade ago.
Andrew Curley is a member of the Navajo Nation and assistant professor in the School of Geography, Development, & Environment at the University of Arizona. Email High Country News at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here’s the release from the Department of Agriculture:
WASHINGTON, Aug. 7, 2020 — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) today announced changes for emergency haying and grazing of acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). This includes changes outlined in the 2018 Farm Bill that streamlines the authorization process for farmers and ranchers.
“FSA authorizes emergency haying and grazing of Conservation Reserve Program acres under certain conditions to provide emergency relief to livestock producers in times of severe drought or similar natural disasters,” said FSA Administrator Richard Fordyce. “These program changes will simplify the authorization process with an automatic trigger by severe drought designation, allowing livestock producers to quickly access much-needed forage.”
Previously emergency haying and grazing requests originated with FSA at the county level and required state and national level approval. Now approval will be based on drought severity as determined by the U.S. Drought Monitor.
To date, 500 counties nationwide have triggered eligibility for emergency haying and grazing on CRP acres. A list by state and map of eligible counties are updated weekly and available on FSA’s website.
Producers located in a county that is designated as severe drought (D2) or greater on or after the last day of the primary nesting season are eligible for emergency haying and grazing on all eligible acres. Additionally, producers located in counties that were in a severe drought (D2) status any single week during the last eight weeks of the primary nesting season may also be eligible for emergency haying and grazing unless the FSA County Committee determines that forage conditions no longer warrant emergency haying and grazing.
Counties that trigger for Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) payments based on the U.S. Drought Monitor may hay only certain practices on less than 50% of eligible contract acres. Producers should contact their local FSA county office for eligible CRP practices.
Counties that don’t meet the drought monitor qualifications but have a 40% loss of forage production may also be eligible for emergency haying and grazing outside of the primary nesting season.
CRP Emergency Haying and Grazing Provisions
Before haying or grazing eligible acres, producers must submit a request for CRP emergency haying or grazing to FSA and obtain a modified conservation plan from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
Emergency grazing is authorized for up to 90 days and emergency haying is authorized for up to 60 days. Program participants must stop haying and grazing 30 days before the first freeze date in the fall based on the dates established for LFP.
Under the emergency grazing provisions, producers can use the CRP acreage for their own livestock or may grant another livestock producer use of the CRP acreage. The eligible CRP acreage is limited to acres located within the approved county.
For emergency haying, producers are limited to one cutting and are permitted to sell the hay. Participants must remove all hay from CRP acreage within 15 days after baling and remove all livestock from CRP acreage no later than 1 day after the end of the emergency grazing period. There will be no CRP annual rental payment reduction for emergency haying and grazing authorizations.
For more information on CRP emergency haying and grazing visit fsa.usda.gov/crp or contact your FSA county office. To locate your FSA office, visit farmers.gov/service-locator. For more disaster recovery assistance programs, visit http://farmers.gov/recover.
All USDA Service Centers are open for business, including some that are open to visitors to conduct business in person by appointment only. All Service Center visitors wishing to conduct business with the FSA, Natural Resources Conservation Service or any other Service Center agency should call ahead and schedule an appointment. Service Centers that are open for appointments will pre-screen visitors based on health concerns or recent travel, and visitors must adhere to social distancing guidelines. Visitors may also be required to wear a face covering during their appointment. Field work will continue with appropriate social distancing. Our program delivery staff will be in the office, and they will be working with our producers in office, by phone and using online tools. More information can be found at http://farmers.gov/coronavirus.
Simply put, the more fresh, outside air inside a building, the better. Bringing in this air dilutes any contaminant in a building, whether a virus or a something else, and reduces the exposure of anyone inside. Environmental engineers like me quantify how much outside air is getting into a building using a measure called the air exchange rate. This number quantifies the number of times the air inside a building gets replaced with air from outside in an hour.
While the exact rate depends on the number of people and size of the room, most experts consider roughly six air changes an hour to be good for a 10-foot-by-10-foot room with three to four people in it. In a pandemic this should be higher, with one study from 2016 suggesting that an exchange rate of nine times per hour reduced the spread of SARS, MERS and H1N1 in a Hong Kong hospital.
Many buildings in the U.S., especially schools, do not meet recommended ventilation rates. Thankfully, it can be pretty easy to get more outside air into a building. Keeping windows and doors open is a good start. Putting a box fan in a window blowing out can greatly increase air exchange too. In buildings that don’t have operable windows, you can change the mechanical ventilation system to increase how much air it is pumping. But in any room, the more people inside, the faster the air should be replaced.
Using CO2 to measure air circulation
So how do you know if the room you’re in has enough air exchange? It’s actually a pretty hard number to calculate. But there’s an easy-to-measure proxy that can help. Every time you exhale, you release CO2 into the air. Since the coronavirus is most often spread by breathing, coughing or talking, you can use CO2 levels to see if the room is filling up with potentially infectious exhalations. The CO2 level lets you estimate if enough fresh outside air is getting in.
Outdoors, CO2 levels are just above 400 parts per million (ppm). A well ventilated room will have around 800 ppm of CO2. Any higher than that and it is a sign the room might need more ventilation.
Last year, researchers in Taiwan reported on the effect of ventilation on a tuberculosis outbreak at Taipei University. Many of the rooms in the school were underventilated and had CO2 levels above 3,000 ppm. When engineers improved air circulation and got CO2 levels under 600 ppm, the outbreak completely stopped. According to the research, the increase in ventilation was responsible for 97% of the decrease in transmission.
Since the coronavirus is spread through the air, higher CO2 levels in a room likely mean there is a higher chance of transmission if an infected person is inside. Based on the study above, I recommend trying to keep the CO2 levels below 600 ppm. You can buy good CO2 meters for around $100 online; just make sure that they are accurate to within 50 ppm.
If you are in a room that can’t get enough outside air for dilution, consider an air cleaner, also commonly called air purifiers. These machines remove particles from the air, usually using a filter made of tightly woven fibers. They can capture particles containing bacteria and viruses and can help reduce disease transmission.
The last thing to consider is the validity of the claims made by the company producing the air cleaner.
The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers certifies air cleaners, so the AHAM verified seal is a good place to start. Additionally, the California Air Resources Board has a list of air cleaners that are certified as safe and effective, though not all of them use HEPA filters.
If you are in control of your indoor environment, make sure you are getting enough fresh air from outside circulating into the building. A CO2 monitor can help give you a clue if there is enough ventilation, and if CO2 levels start going up, open some windows and take a break outside. If you can’t get enough fresh air into a room, an air cleaner might be a good idea. If you do get an air cleaner, be aware that they don’t remove CO2, so even though the air might be safer, CO2 levels could still be high in the room.
If you walk into a building and it feels hot, stuffy and crowded, chances are that there is not enough ventilation. Turn around and leave.
By paying attention to air circulation and filtration, improving them where you can and staying away from places where you can’t, you can add another powerful tool to your anti-coronavirus toolkit.
Joe Biden’s promise to name a woman running mate has prompted familiar debates about gender and power.
Are these potential vice presidents supposed to be presidential lackeys or understudies to the leader of the free world? Should they actively seek the position, or be reluctant nominees bound by duty?
After Senator Kamala Harris’s name emerged as a short-list favorite, CNBC reported that some Biden allies and donors “initiated a campaign against Harris,” arguing that she was “too ambitious” and would be “solely focused on eventually becoming president.”
Claiming that people who want to be president make bad vice presidents might seem ill-conceived if your audience is Vice President Joe Biden. And pundits and journalists quickly pointed out that the argument was racist and sexist – like, really, reallysexist.
So why were Democratic party insiders spouting it?
But in our chapter on fictional women presidents on screen, we found something particularly relevant to the coverage of the Democratic Party “veepstakes.” Women who are politically ambitious are presented as less trustworthy than those who don’t actively seek the presidency.
It may seem like a small point, but when showrunners want to create a “likeable” woman president, they go out of their way to demonstrate that pursuing the presidency isn’t her life’s goal.
The women presidents in “Commander in Chief” and “Battlestar Galactica” didn’t campaign for the office. They ascended to the presidency as a result of tragedy. In the former, the president dies of a brain aneurism; in the latter, a nuclear attack takes out the first 42 people in the presidential line of succession, leaving the secretary of education to fill the role. (To be fair, this did seem like a woman’s likeliest path to presidential power in 2004.) Each character is portrayed as an ethical and effective leader – not perfect, but plausibly presidential.
Conversely, series like “24” and “Homeland” feature women candidates who aggressively seek the presidency. In both cases, the women start out as principled politicians, but their true nature is revealed as weak and duplicitous. Their presidential tenures end up being ruinous for the nation, and order is restored by a white male – “24’s” Jack Bauer and the male vice president in “Homeland.” HBO’s “Veep” takes the premise of a craven woman politician to an absurd extreme, with actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus winning six consecutive Emmy Awards for her burlesque send-up of the familiar female trope.
Interestingly, both “24” and “Homeland” have important connections to real-world presidential politics. Both series portray the first woman U.S. president as a veteran politician and middle-aged white woman. They bear strong resemblances to the only woman who has been a major-party presidential nominee: Hillary Clinton. Appearing in 2008 and 2017, respectively, the storylines were clearly planned to coincide with what could have been Clinton’s first term as U.S. president.
Yet “24’s” and “Homeland’s” depictions of fictional women presidents align with communication scholar Shawn J. Parry-Giles’ findings that the media framed Clinton as inauthentic, Machiavellian and, ultimately, dangerous.
That brings us back to our current veepstakes.
Criticisms of women vice presidential prospects echo cultural scripts that insist women who want to be president shouldn’t be trusted. Understanding the resistance to Harris – and Elizabeth Warren, Stacey Abrams and others who announce their eagerness to serve – requires recognizing the diverse forms that backlash against women’s political ambitions can take, which span from calling a congresswoman a “f—— b—-” on the steps of the U.S. capitol to portraying women presidents as Machiavellian on television dramas.
Did pop culture cause those Biden funders to try to undermine Harris?
No. But the stories we tell ourselves on screen have taught us that women who actually want to be president can’t be trusted. That might be why people like Ambassador Susan Rice, who’s never run for office, and Congresswoman Karen Bass, who said she doesn’t want to run for president, landed on Biden’s short list to favorable coverage.
“At every step in her political career,” The New York Times wrote of Bass, “the California congresswoman had to be coaxed to run for a higher office. Now she’s a top contender to be Joe Biden’s running mate.”
Men who run for president typically have to demonstrate the requisite desire – the so-called “fire in the belly.”
Bizarrely, women are supposed to act like they don’t even want it.
The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the deepest and longest period of malaise in a dozen years. Our colleagues at the University of Vermont have concluded this by analyzing posts on Twitter. The Vermont Complex Systems Center studies 50 million tweets a day, scoring the “happiness” of people’s words to monitor the national mood. That mood today is at its lowest point since 2008 when they started this project.
They call the tweet analysis the Hedonometer. It relies on surveys of thousands of people who rate words indicating happiness. “Laughter” gets an 8.50 while “jail” gets a 1.76. They use these scores to measure the mood of Twitter traffic.
Tweets from parks contained fewer negative words such as “no,” “not” and “can’t,” and fewer first-person pronouns like “I” and “me.” It seems that nature makes people more positive and less self-obsessed.
Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. Research has also shown that transmission rates for COVID-19 are much lower outdoors than inside. As scholars who study conservation and how nature contributes to human well-being, we see opening up parks and creating new ones as a straightforward remedy for Americans’ current blues.
Park visits are up during the pandemic
According to the Hedonometer, sentiments expressed online started trending lower in mid-March as the impacts of the pandemic became clear. As lockdowns continued, they registered the lowest sentiment scores on record. Then in late May, effects from George Floyd’s death in police custody and the following protests and police response once again could be seen on Twitter. May 31, 2020 was the saddest day of the project.
Recent surveys of park visitors around the University of Vermont have shown people using green spaces more since COVID-19 lockdowns began. Many people reported that parks were highly important to their well-being during the pandemic.
The powerful effects of nature are strongest in large parks with more trees, but smaller neighborhood parks also provide a significant boost. Their impact on happiness is real, measurable and lasting.
Twitter records show that parks increase happiness to a level similar to the bounce at Christmas, which typically is the happiest day of the year. Schwartz has since expanded his Twitter study to the 25 largest cities in the U.S. and found this bounce everywhere.
Parks and public spaces won’t cure COVID-19 or stop police brutality, but they are far more than playgrounds. There is growing evidence that parks contribute to mental and physical health in a range of communities.
It isn’t easy to create new parks on the scale of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park or the Washington Mall, but smaller projects can expand outdoor space. Options include greening vacant lots, closing streets and investing in existing parks to make them safer, greener and shadier and support wildlife.
These initiatives don’t have to be capital-intensive. In the University of Pennsylvania study, for example, renovating a vacant lot by removing trash, planting grass and trees and installing a low fence cost only about US$1,600.
Cities can also create parklike spaces by closing streets to cars. Many cities worldwide are currently retooling their transportation systems for the post-COVID-19 world in order to reallocate public space, widen sidewalks and make more space for nature.
Urban designers, artists, ecologists and other citizens can play a direct role, too, creating pop-up parks and green spaces. Some advocates transform parking spaces into mini-parks with grass, potted trees and seating for just the time on the meter, to make a larger point about turning so much public space over to cars.
Or cities can invest a little more. Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Arlington, Virginia, have won national recognition for their ambitious investments in public park systems. These areas could serve as models for neighborhoods that lack access to parks.
A New Park Deal?
The United States has historically driven economic recovery with major infrastructure investments, like the New Deal in the 1930s and the 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. Such investments could easily include nature-positive spaces.
Largest behind-the-meter solar project in U.S. provides cost edge for steel mill expansion
What might be called the world’s first solar-powered steel mill will be moving forward.
EVRAZ North America plans construction of a long-rail mill at its Rocky Mountain Steel operation in Pueblo, Colo. This decision allows execution of an agreement reached in September 2019 for a 240-megawatt solar facility located on 1,500 acres of land at the steel mill.
It will be the largest on-site solar facility in the United States dedicated to a single customer. Another way of saying it is that it will be the largest behind-the-meter solar project in the nation.
The solar production from the project, called Bighorn Solar, will offset about 90% of the annual electricity demand from the mill.
Lightsource BP will finance, build, own and operate the project and sell all the electricity generated by the 700,000 solar panels to Xcel Energy under a 20-year power-purchase agreement. Lightsource says it is investing $250 million in the solar project.
Kevin B. Smith, chief executive of the Americas for Lightsource BP, said he expects construction to start in October. Commercial operations will begin by the end of 2021. He rates the solar resource at Pueblo as 8 on a scale of 10.
Several states had been vying for the long-rail mill, which will be able to produce rails up to 100 meters long, or about as long as a football field with its end zones, for use in heavy-haul and high-speed railways. The mill uses recycled steel from old cars and other sources. The new mill is to have a production capacity of 670,000 short tons, according to a 2019 release.
The Pueblo Chieftain and other Pueblo media reported the decision to go forward on Thursday evening, citing a report from the Pueblo Economic Development Corp.
The price of the solar energy was crucial to the decision for the siting in Pueblo, says Lightsource BP’s Smith.
“The long-rail mill is a go on the basis of the EVRAZ-Xcel Energy long term electricity agreement for cost-effective electricity,” Smith said in an email interview. “Xcel was able to provide that cost-effective pricing on the basis of the Lightsource BP solar project on the EVRAZ site, which provides cost effective energy to Xcel under a 20-year contract.”
That was also the message from Skip Herald, chief executive of EVRAZ North America in a 2019 release. “This long-term agreement is key to our investment in Colorado’s new sustainable economy,” he said.
Pueblo sweetened the pot, giving EVRAZ an incentive package reported to be worth $100 million, a portion of it to be used for environmental clean up of the site. In turn, EVRAZ needed to commit to keeping 1,000 employees, KOAA News reported in 2019. The new mill was expected to produce 1,000 new jobs that will pay between $60,000 and $65,000.
The solar farm will also help Xcel achieve 55% renewable penetration in its Colorado electrical supply by 2026. By then, two of the three coal-fired Comanche units that serve as a backdrop for the steel mill will have been retired. The new solar farm will surpass in size and production the nearby 156-megawatt Comanche solar project, which currently is the largest solar production facility east of the Rocky Mountains.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis issued a statement Thursday evening saying that he’s “thrilled that the steel mill’s new expansion has passed this important milestone. Pueblo workers have been making the world’s best steel for nearly 140 years, and with this addition, Pueblo’s next generation of steelworkers can count on good-paying jobs well into the future.”
The new steel mill was still tentative in September 2019 when Polis and various other dignitaries gathered on an asphalt parking lot on the perimeters of the steel mill to announce the solar deal.
With the early-autumn sun beating down, Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar spoke, saying that people had come to Pueblo from all over the world to make the stele that created the American West. For nearly 100 yeas, he said, the mill was the largest employer in the state of Colorado. His family, he said, was part of that story, his grandfather arrived from Slovenia in 1910 and worked at the steel mill for 50 years, while his father worked there for 30 years. (See video here).
Alice Jackson, chief executive of Public Service Co. of Colorado, the Xcel subsidiary, pointed to three years of negotiations that weren’t always easy but lauded the result as “perfective marriage of a variety of parties coming together” to show the world how to use renewable energy.
U.S. Senator Cory Gardner emphasized the combination of recyclable—the mill uses 1.2 million tons of material a year, he said—and renewable energy.
During his turn at the lectern, Polis, who had announced his candidacy for governor the prior year at a coffee shop in downtown Pueblo called Solar Roasters, emphasized the competitive edge that renewable energy provides.
“For those who wonder what a renewable energy future will look like, this is a great example of what that future will look like: low-cost energy for a manufacturing company that will stay in Pueblo and grow jobs for Pueblo residents,” he said.
Polis also pointed to symbolism on the Pueblo skyline, the smoke stacks of the Comanche power plants in the background. The steel mill—which once burned prodigious amounts of coal, with smudges of that past still evident—was the impetus for construction of the Comanche power station in the early 1970s. Now, as two of those three coal-burning units will be retired within a few years, another shift is underway.
“By working together to make change work for us, rather than against us, we can lead boldly in the future, create good jobs, create low-cost energy and cleaner air and do our part on climate,” he said.
Herald, the chief executive of EVRAZ, said his company will be making the “greenest steel products in the world.” It is a change, he said, that amazes him. “Just imagine recycled scrap metal being melted into new steel just a few hundred yards from where we stand in the electric arc furnace powered by the sun,” he said.
It is, he added, “one of the most amazing feats I’ve seen in my 40 years” in the steel industry.
This is from Big Pivots. Go HERE to be put on the mailing list.
Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist who publishes an e-magazine called Big Pivots. Reach him at email@example.com or 303.463.8630.
Communities in North America—both coastal and inland— must better manage water in the face of drought, flooding, sea level rise, and urbanization. In this session of our Connecting for Conservation webinar series, we will discuss stormwater management in cities and new ways of harnessing natural solutions and community building to promote resilience.
Here’s the release from the Western Governor’s Association:
As the population of the West concentrates in metropolitan areas, rural communities face increasing challenges to provide the services, infrastructure and opportunities needed to thrive. At the same time, opportunity abounds for rural areas to respond to global economic trends and technological innovation.
How do we re-energize rural communities and help them tap into an increasingly technological world? That was the question WGA Chair and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum sought to answer when he launched the Reimagining the Rural West Initiative in July 2019. The Initiative has since examined challenges and highlighted opportunities in rural economic development, infrastructure and quality of life organized around three major pillars:
Opportunity: Creating an environment in which everyone has the chance to prosper, whether as a first-time entrepreneur, seasoned business owner, recent graduate starting a career or a midcareer worker looking to learn new skills.
Connectivity: Ensuring that rural communities are connected by high-speed internet and safe efficient transportation networks, so that people in the rural West can plug into the global economy and take advantage of cutting-edge technology.
Community: Supporting community-led efforts to solve local challenges and building smart, healthy, vibrant communities.
The Initiative sought answers through several avenues, including regional workshops that attracted leading experts on rural development. WGA also developed a series of webinars to further explore ideas that arose from the workshops. And when the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic became clear, WGA launched a dedicated webinar series to explore what it meant for the communities at the heart of the Initiative’s work.
The Special Report on the Initiative shares more than a dozen policy recommendations to support vibrant rural communities in the West. Highlights include:
Change the way we do economic development to focus on attracting workforce and building community assets that improve quality of life.
Develop policy and financial solutions that can bring broadband access to all rural communities, enabling them to take advantage of remote work opportunities, distance learning and telehealth, among other things.
Strengthen local leadership with the capacity to develop a shared vision for the future along with their community, and then leverage local resources to achieve it.
The report also includes additional details about the workshops, webinars, participants, and podcast series dedicated to the Initiative.
FromThe High Country News (Jonathan Thompson) [July 23, 2020]:
By February, the spread of COVID-19 was already eroding the global economy. First, global travel restrictions depressed the oil market. Then, as the virus reached pandemic proportions, it began hurting even the healthiest industries, throwing the global economy into the deepest rut since the Great Depression.
The recession has been hard on clean energy, which was thriving at the end of last year despite unhelpful, even hostile, policies from the Trump administration. Between 2009 and 2019, solar and wind generation on the U.S. electrical grid shot up by 400%, even as overall electricity consumption remained fairly flat. Renewable facility construction outpaced all other electricity sources, but the disease’s effects have since rippled through the sector, wiping out much of its previous growth.
Global supply chains for everything from solar panels to electric car components were the earliest victims, as governments shut down factories, first in China, then worldwide, to prevent transmission of the disease. Restrictions on construction further delayed utility-scalesolar and wind installations and hampered rooftop solar installations and energy efficiency projects. The setbacks are especially hard on the wind industry, because new wind farms must be up and running by the end of the year to take advantage of federal tax credits. Meanwhile, the general economic slowdown is diminishing financing for new renewable energy projects.
Clean energy, which has shed more than 600,000 jobs since the pandemic’s onset, is only one of the many economic sectors that are hurting. In just three months, COVID-19 wiped out more than twice as many jobs as were lost during the entire Great Recession of 2008. The impacts have reverberated throughout the Western U.S., from coal mines to tourist towns, and from casinos to dairy farms. Some industries, including clean energy, bounced back slightly in June, as stay-at-home orders were dropped and businesses, factories and supply chains opened back up. But a full recovery — if it happens — will largely depend on government stimulus programs and could take years.
In just three months, COVID-19 wiped out more than twice as many jobs as were lost during the entire Great Recession of 2008.
Infographic design by Luna Anna Archey; Graphics by Minus Plus; Sources: Solar Energy Industries Association, BW Research Partnership, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Energy Information Administration, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker, Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, New Mexico Workforce Connection, Utah Department of Workforce Services.
Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are asked almost daily about children and COVID-19: Do they get COVID-19? Should they attend day care or school, play sports, see friends and attend summer camps? What are the risks to themselves and to others?
But current research shows that children are physiologically just as likely to become infected with SARS-CoV-2 as adults. This discrepancy between case numbers and biological susceptibility may be due to the fact that children generally generally have minimal to mild symptoms when infected with the coronavirus and are therefore less likely to get tested. It also may be that children in general have had less exposure to the virus compared to adults. Kids aren’t going to work, they are probably going out to stores less than adults, and in the states that had relaxed quarantine measures, they aren’t going out to bars or gyms.
Even though children are less likely to get sick from the coronavirus, they are definitely not immune. Data shows that children less than one year old and those with underlying conditions are the most likely to be hospitalized. These kids usually experience the respiratory distress commonly associated of COVID-19 and often need oxygen and intensive care support. As of July 11, 36 kids 14 or younger had died from the virus.
In addition to the typical COVID-19 cases, recently there have been some frightening reports of children’s immune systems going haywire after they are exposed to SARS-CoV-2.
Notable are reports of Kawasaki disease. Normally, Kawasaki disease affects toddlers and preschool children, causing prolonged high fever, rash, eye redness, mouth swelling and swelling of arteries in the heart. The vast majority of children that get Kawasaki disease survive when given treatments that bring down the swelling, but sadly, a few children have died from it, after exposure to the coronavirus led to the disease. Physicians don’t know what causes Kawasaki disease normally or why a coronavirus infection could trigger it.
Small children may have weaker coughs and therefore would release fewer infectious virus particles into their environment. A recent study from South Korea found that while young children seem less able to spread the disease compared to adults, children 10 to 19 years old spread the virus at least as well as the adults do. The lack of evidence that children are major sources of transmission may simply be because the pathway of infection was interrupted due to the nationwide school closures in the spring. As children resume more of their normal daily activities – like school, sports and day care – we just might find the answer to how easily children spread this dangerous virus.
So what now?
The evidence clearly shows that all people, regardless of age, can get infected by SARS-CoV-2. While research shows that kids are more resistant to severe illness from the coronavirus, they are still at risk and can spread the virus even if they themselves are not sick.
Johnston County, North Carolina, saw just that when it lured Novo Nordisk to the area. The multinational pharmaceutical company revitalized the local economy by creating jobs and injecting new spending into the community. And in 2018, Alabama and its local governments offered more than US$800 million in incentives for the construction of a Toyota-Mazda plant outside of Huntsville. The plant is expected to bring $1.5 billion in new construction and 4,000 jobs to the region.
It’s only when incentives are strictly tied to job creation or job training that we found positive economic impacts. That means that locales that want to attract businesses with financial incentives would do well to focus on two things: job creation tax credits and job training grants.
Amazon, a prime example
Local governments that decide to help finance private businesses shouldn’t forget to keep an eye on their own fiscal health.
As Amazon searched for its HQ2 headquarters, local governments in Maryland put together incentive packages valued in the billions but with no clear plan to capture economic growth. The governments planned to receive income taxes on high employee wages, which would help defray the costs of the incentives. But the economic benefits from income taxes could take 15 to 20 years to materialize.