River Runner: Watch the path of a raindrop from anywhere in the United States

Screen shot from the River Runner app.

Click here to view the path of a raindrop from anywhere in the contiguous United States.

Morgan Conservation District Ag Bike Tour May 22, 2021

Photo credit: Morgan Conservation District

Click here to register:

Join us for our very first Ag Bike Tour!

About this event
Participants will meet and check-in at the Morgan Conservation District’s office at 8:30 a.m., with the ride beginning at 9:00 a.m. Tours on the ride include an irrigated corn producer, a dairy farmer, and a local vineyard. The tour will wrap up with lunch at the vineyard. This is a 7-mile ride, with approximately 3 miles back to town. Your registration includes an Ag Bike Tour water bottle and hat. Lunch will be provided by Blue Ribbon BBQ. Cost of tour is $30 and cost of lunch (without tour) is $20. RSVP by May 15th. Please contact us with any questions!

The career of a storyteller: From rare trout to lynx kittens, Joe Lewandowski reflects on 16 years of writing about Colorado Parks and Wildlife — The #PagosaSprings Sun

Colorado Parks and Wildlife fish count Animas River August 2018: Photo credit: Joe Lewandnowski

Here’s Joe Lewandowski’s guest column about his retirement from Colorado Parks & Wildlife that’s running in The Pagosa Springs Sun:

Storytellers, often, are relegated to the outside but always trying to look in, constantly hoping for entry into some unique situation or adventure or thought process that functions to make a story compelling, heart-wrenching or, simply, interesting.

I started my formal storytelling career in Colorado as a reporter at a weekly newspaper in Vail in the late 1970s. After more than 20 years writing for four newspapers and a dozen other publications and websites, I tired of the daily deadline grind. That’s when I saw an advertisement for a “Public Information Officer” (PIO) for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

While the job would be a step away from objective journalism, I knew it would offer a unique vantage point for storytelling. Fortunately, my experience proved worthy and in 2005, I landed the position as the PIO for what was then DOW’s Southwest Region, a location of big mountain ranges, vast expanses of public lands, canyons, rivers and, of course, abundant wildlife. I saw this as a story-rich environment.

The job provided the unique position I’d often thought about — being on the inside. I worked alongside biologists, district wildlife managers (DWMs, once called game wardens), wildlife researchers, hatchery man- agers and later, park rangers and managers. My job entailed asking them questions, explaining their good work to the public and conveying the importance of wildlife and outdoor spaces and recreation to the people of Colorado. For the first time in my writing career, I was working on the same team as my sources. I was focused on positive, one-sided stories — something my journalistic colleagues would likely frown upon.

As I got to know my colleagues, I started hearing about things I’d never known. Sure, I’d always considered myself an environmentalist, but I didn’t know about the importance of the nitty-gritty on-the-ground work being done by dedicated, smart, professional biologists and scientists who care deeply about wildlife. And an extra bonus for me — most of them loved to talk about their work.

In no time, I was going out on the types of adventures I’d dreamed about as a kid. Walking into wild, untrammeled and mysterious locations on the lookout for wildlife.

Consider the subject matter I was given to work with:

Along with three others tracking newborn lynx, I stood on a ridge and looked down onto a hillside thick with trees, fallen logs, boulders and brush. The crew had found the gen- eral location of a female lynx thanks to its telemetry collar. The cat’s move- ments had stopped, indicating that it had made a den and given birth. Our job that day was to find the kit- tens, assess the litter and record the findings.

The lead researcher, Tanya, said, “OK, let’s find the kittens.”

Looking at the forest tangle, I was incredulous. “Where do we look?” I asked.

Tanya laughed and said, “Under every log and bush and outcrop.”

An hour later, she yelled out that she’d found the kittens. Three, each a little fur-ball, not much bigger than a coffee cup. The kittens cried and squirmed; and circling us warily but helplessly prowled the mother, issuing low, mournful growls.

And then I got to write a story about that little adventure.

On other occasions, I rode along with DWMs making the rounds along remote roads during hunting season. When we’d pull up to a camp, hunters would happily walk out to greet us and pepper the wildlife officer with questions about where to find the elk. On another ride-along, I observed as a DWM explained to an Oklahoma couple that the location of the two cow elk they’d killed was far from the area described on their licenses. They each had to pay a $1,500 fine, didn’t get to take the meat home and had to admit their guilt.

In early summer one year, I accompanied a crew of about 10 into the Weminuche Wilderness to find native cutthroat trout in a tumbling, 15-foot wide stream. The crew carried “electrofishing” gear, shocked the water and stunned the fish temporarily. Then the aquatic biologists spawned the fish right on the stream bank, placed the fertilized eggs in a container and took them back to the Durango hatchery. The eggs hatched and from a few dozen fish, thousands of progeny eventually emerged and eventually restocked. I learned that the success of natural reproduction by fish is about 1 percent, but nearly 100 percent at a hatchery. Some purists criticize the human meddling, but without our help, there would be very few, if any, native cutthroat trout. Of course, it was humans who screwed up the trout’s habitat in the first place. So, this work on a backcountry stream showed that humans can also right some wrongs.

While I never doubted that most people value wildlife, I learned through this job that deliberate effort is needed to maintain this resource. Thanks to far-sighted conservationists who stepped up in previous cen- turies to maintain natural systems, latter-day conservationists working for wildlife agencies can dedicate their life’s work to the conservation of wildlife.

One early spring day, I stood on the banks of a small stream that courses from the flanks of the Uncompahgre Plateau toward the Gunnison River. Kevin, an aquatics researcher, explained that this stream often goes dry by mid-summer. Yet three species of native fish — the flannel mouth sucker, the bluehead sucker and the roundtail chub — make a run up this stream every year to spawn. Sometimes called “trash fish” because they usually don’t rise to an angler’s lure, Kevin showed me the beauty and uniqueness of these species. These fish have survived for tens of thousands of years and are only found in the greater Colorado River Basin. They battle torrents of icy run-off, survive in silt-filled water and often spend months in muddy pools. The suckers are built like 2-foot long torpedoes, sturdy and streamlined. And Colorado Parks and Wildlife employs aquatic biologists to make sure these fish survive the continuing onslaught of physical insults humans throw at them.

I wrote about that, too, hoping that readers would gain an under- standing of why we can’t lose these unique creatures. Because if we do, something of ourselves will die along with them.

I’ve crawled into dens with bears — they, fully sedated — while researchers examined cubs and changed GPS collars on the sows. A couple of times, I was enlisted to hold 3-pound cubs underneath my jacket to keep them warm while the researchers finished their work. They whined and growled and squirmed and clawed and I fell in love with them immediately.

Another day, I squeezed into a tight opening of a cave located in a small canyon in western Colorado. Hidden in the back were lion cubs. As I crawled, I listened to Ken, a mountain lion researcher “We have a collar on the mother and we know from the GPS signal that she’s far away hunting and eating. That’s a good thing, because if she showed up while we were taking her cubs she’d turn us into confetti.”

I paused as I considered our vulnerability. But I had every reason to trust Ken, who had worked for three decades studying mountain lions. We pulled three cubs from the cave, placed small radio collars on them (they’d rot and fall off in a couple of months), collected blood for the genetic information it would provide and returned the cubs safely to the cave.

I’ve been along for the capture of pronghorn, turkeys, deer, elk and bighorn sheep. I’ve placed my hands on them and felt the magnificent fur, muscles and bones of these animals that spend all of their living minutes in the wild lands of Colorado.

All my stories, of course, weren’t about adventures. I also wrote about meetings and proposals and other mundane and necessary business to which a public agency must attend.

The great stories, the interesting stories, however, I was always ready and willing to tell. At parties and in grocery stores, people would ask me about some critter they saw or about something I had written. On chairlifts or in random meetings in bars or along trails with strangers, I was often asked what I did for a living in Durango. As soon as I started explaining my job, it was always apparent that people wanted to know more. I was happy to tell them a quick story and proud to say that I worked for an agency that was dedicated to taking care of wildlife and land and water.

Now, however, after 16 years with the agency, 45 years in Colorado and 67 years as a resident of this planet, I am taking my leave from this job. I feel honored and privileged to have been hired to tell my fellow Colora- dans all these stories.

I owe a great debt to all the people in this agency who took the time to explain the intricacies of how a ptarmigan molts, how a bear knows when to go into hibernation, the value of wetlands, how to reestablish native trout and more and more. To those who have read my stuff, I thank you. And rest assured that there are many more stories to come from the next lucky writer who gets this job.

Joe Lewandowski retired as o the PIO for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Southwest Region on April 30.

“Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on Friday criticized a lawsuit filed by 3M Corp. against the state to challenge its strict drinking water standards related to #PFAS chemicals” — The #Detroit News

PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org. [Click the map to go to the website.]

From The Detroit News (Leonard N. Fleming):

The Minnesota-based company recently filed suit in Michigan Court of Claims against the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and its drinking water standards adopted last year. 3M called them “the result of a rushed and invalid regulatory process, scientifically flawed, and reliant on speculative and unquantified purported benefits to justify the costly” rules.

Nessel said the suit is a way for 3M officials to go after the limits for PFAS compounds in drinking water. 3M officials in their suit contend the cleanup efforts will cost millions of dollars in the first year and would continue to climb.

Michigan’s attorney general has sued 3M, along with other PFAS manufacturers, to recover clean up costs, damages to the environment and natural resource damages caused by PFAS contamination. State officials have contended that many of 3M’s products with PFAS ended up contaminating the environment that include land, drinking water and other natural resources.

“3M profited for years from its sale of PFAS products and concealed its evidence of adverse health impacts from state and federal regulators,” Nessel said in a statement. “It is no coincidence that this out-of-state company is resorting to attempts to rewrite our state’s standards put in place to protect Michiganders from PFAS in their drinking water.

@Interior Department Takes Steps to Revoke Final Rule on Migratory Bird Treaty Act Incidental Take

Photo credit: The Department of Interior

Here’s the release from the Department of Interior:

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposed rule to revoke the January 7, 2021, final regulation that limited the scope of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). Significant concerns about the interpretation of the MBTA have been raised by the public, legal challenges in court and from the international treaty partners.

This proposed rule provides the public with notice of the Service’s intent to revoke the January 7 rule’s interpretation of the MBTA and return to implementing the MBTA as prohibiting incidental take and applying enforcement discretion, consistent with judicial precedent.

“The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is a bedrock environmental law that is critical to protecting migratory birds and restoring declining bird populations,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “Today’s actions will serve to better align Interior with its mission and ensure that our decisions are guided by the best-available science.”

“Migratory bird conservation is an integral part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s mission,” said Service Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams. “We have heard from our partners, the public, Tribes, states and numerous other stakeholders from across the country that it is imperative the previous administration’s rollback of the MBTA be reviewed to ensure continued progress toward commonsense standards that protect migratory birds.”

On January 7, the Service published a final rule defining the scope of the MBTA as it applies to conduct resulting in the injury or death of migratory birds protected by the MBTA. This rule made significant changes to the scope of the MBTA to exclude incidental take of migratory birds, with an effective date of February 8.

The Service extended the effective date until March 8 and opened a public comment period. Rather than extending the effective date again, the agency believes the most transparent and efficient path forward is instead to immediately propose to revoke the rule.

The Service requests public comments on issues of fact, law and policy raised by the MBTA rule published on January 7. Public comments must be received or postmarked on or before June 7, 2021. The notice will be available at http://www.regulations.gov, Docket Number: FWS-HQ-MB-2018-0090, and will include details on how to submit your comments.

The agency will not accept email or faxes. If you provided comments in response to the February 9, 2021, notice to extend the effective date, you do not need to resubmit those comments. All comments will be considered.

On March 8, 2021, Interior rescinded the 2017 Solicitor’s Opinion M-37050 on the MBTA that had overturned decades of bipartisan and international consensus. The reasoning and basis behind that M-Opinion were soundly rejected in federal court. The Endangered Species Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, as well as state laws and regulations, are not affected by the Solicitor’s Opinion M-37050 or the January 7 final regulation.

All the documents related to the rulemaking process and further information are available at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s regulations page.

Lights out #Colorado — @Audubon

Click here to take the pledge:

Lights Out Colorado is a voluntary program to help migratory birds.

The National Audubon Society, the International Dark Sky Association, and Denver Audubon are partnering to promote the new program.

Every year in North America, more than 3.5 billion birds move north in the spring and 4 billion birds fly south in the fall. More than 80 percent of them travel at night, navigating with the night sky. However, as they pass over big cities on their way they can become disoriented by bright artificial lights and skyglow, often causing them to collide with buildings or windows.

While lights can throw birds off their migration paths, bird deaths are more directly caused by the amount of energy the birds waste flying around and calling out in confusion. The exhaustion can then leave them vulnerable to other urban threats and deplete their energy needed for surviving migration and producing chicks in subsequent breeding seasons.

Fortunately, the simple action of turning off lights can help birds navigate urban environments and protect them from unnecessary harm. The National Audubon Society, the International Dark-sky Association, and Denver Audubon have partnered to launch Lights Out Colorado, a new program that aims to help Coloradans save millions of birds as they take part in spring and fall migrations.

Lights Out Colorado provides two simple steps communities can make to have a big impact on birds:

  • Shield outdoor lights to prevent light from being emitted upwards.
  • Turn off lights by midnight during bird migration seasons (April-May and August-September).

It is particularly important to take these measures as early in the evening as possible, as migrants begin their nocturnal migrations at dusk, during spring and fall migration periods. In addition to helping birds, these efforts have the additional benefits of reducing energy usage and saving money.

There are several common-sense exceptions to these guidelines. First, lighting activated by motion sensors can stay powered on. Second, businesses open late can keep their lights on until the business closes. Third, lighting needed for safety should stay on. Finally, local governments may choose from a variety of options for public lighting. Only lighting that is not needed should be shut off.

TAKE THE PLEDGE
Show your support for Lights Out Colorado

FURTHER INFORMATION
Frequently Asked Questions about Lights Out Colorado

Learn more. Watch video presentations from local experts.

Discover what governments might choose to do about public lighting.

Explore some options for residential lighting.

Shielded lighting: New fixtures can be installed, like the fixture on the left.
Shielding can be added to old fixtures, like the after-market shield in the middle. Motion detectors with new LED fixtures will save the most money, for example the fixture on the right. Graphic credit: Dark Skies Colorado

Americans go on a gun-buying frenzy — @HighCountryNews

From The High Country News (Jonathan Thompson) [April 16, 2021]:

On March 22, a young man pulled into the parking lot of a King Soopers in Boulder, Colorado, got out of his car and shot an elderly man several times before walking into the store and shooting people indiscriminately with a semi-automatic weapon. By the time his rampage was over, 10 people were dead, including grocery store workers, shoppers and the first police officer who responded to the call. This was just six days after a shooter killed eight people, mostly Asian women, in Atlanta, Georgia. Then, just over a week later, on March 31, another man shot and killed four people, including a 9-year-old-boy, in Orange County, California.

Graphic credit: The High Country News
Graphic credit: The High Country News

The shootings kicked off what has become a gruesome and familiar routine. Calls for tighter controls on firearms rang out from the halls of state capitols to Washington, D.C., followed closely by cries from the National Rifle Association, warning followers that the government is coming for their guns. Americans then embarked on a gun-buying frenzy.

It’s hard to imagine how firearms manufacturers can keep up with such a surge, however. During most of the Trump administration era, sales were relatively flat — even after a gunman killed 58 people at a Las Vegas music festival — because gun-lovers knew that Donald Trump wouldn’t sign any new gun laws. But when COVID-19 hit the United States, guns and ammo began flying off the shelves at unprecedented levels. The busiest week ever for the FBI’s background check system was in March 2020, rivaled only by the weeks following the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting.

A few months later, gun dealers had another hectic week, when Black Lives Matter-related demonstrations reached a crescendo. They were even busier following the election of President Joe Biden, who as a senator had helped pass a ban on assault weapons. In 2020, the FBI conducted 40% more background checks than the previous year. The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates that this translates to some 21 million guns actually sold, with about 8 million going to first-time gun buyers.

It was a boon for Ruger and Smith & Wesson, the nation’s largest firearms manufacturers, both of which reported record sales and profits last year. But the rush to acquire guns correlated with a significant and deadly uptick in gun-related violence.

Graphic credit: The High Country News

19,379; 15,442
Number of people killed in gun-related violence in 2020; and 2019, respectively (not including suicides).

2
Number of hours after the Boulder shooting that Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., sent out a fundraising email to her constituents warning, “Radical liberals in Washington … are trying to violate your due process and criminalize the private transfer of firearms.” Boebert owns a gun-themed restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, called Shooters.

397
Number of murders committed with “blunt objects,” including hammers, in 2019. In the wake of the Boulder shooting, Rep. Boebert told Newsmax: “In America, we see more deaths by hand, fist, feet, even hammers.”

$10.2 million
Amount spent by gun rights groups on lobbying in 2020.

$749,317

Amount gun rights groups have contributed to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, during his political career.

42,997

Number of guns purchased in Colorado in February 2021, a 17% increase from February 2019.

Graphic credit: The High Country News

Last year, there was a pause in mass shootings as narrowly defined — meaning incidents in which a single gunman kills four or more people in a public place. (Drug- or gang-related shootings and most domestic violence shootings are not included.) That’s only a tiny sliver of the bigger picture, however.

Gun violence actually escalated dramatically last year, leaving record numbers of people dead or injured. And if gun sales are any indication, there’s no end in sight: This January was the busiest month ever for the firearms background check system.

Graphic credit: The High Country News

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 jonathan@hcn.org

Study: Trees have unexpected impacts on water use in northern #Colorado — @ColoradoStateU

“Very rarely do we have real data that help us specifically create management decisions and policies that support the world we live in, and the balance we need to achieve,” said CSU Associate Professor Melissa McHale.
Photo: Herb Saperstone/ City of Fort Collins via Colorado State University

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Mary Guiden):

Colorado’s water supply is under threat from climate change and population growth. Limiting outdoor use is an increasingly popular approach to conserving water, yet to implement effective conservation policies, utilities managers need a better understanding of local outdoor water consumption.

That’s what led Colorado State University’s Melissa McHale, an associate professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, to explore what drives outdoor water consumption in an area projected to undergo significant population growth in the years to come.

McHale teamed up with scientists from the U.S. Forest Service and Denver Urban Field Station – a research and practice unit of the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station – and a water conservation specialist from Fort Collins Utilities.

The team’s study, “When Small Is Not Beautiful: The Unexpected Impacts of Trees and Parcel Size on Metered Water-Use in a Semi-Arid City,” was recently published in Remote Sensing.

More trees can help conservation efforts

Among the findings, McHale said trees can provide long-term benefits even if they need to be watered directly when they are first planted.

“Other modeling analyses have highlighted the benefits of tree shade,” she said. “But very rarely do we have real data that help us specifically create management decisions and policies that support the world we live in, and the balance we need to achieve.”

McHale teamed up on the research with scientists from the U.S. Forest Service and Denver Urban Field Station, and a water conservation specialist from Fort Collins Utilities via Colorado State University

The research team found that residential properties with a higher ratio of vegetation cover to lot size tended toward less water consumption. McHale said that discovery was surprising.

“In semi-arid cities, tree cover is directly linked to land surface temperature,” she explained. “It’s a real positive result for us along the Front Range, because mature tree canopy may mean that people use less water outdoors.”

McHale said it would be ideal if people could use less water while also cooling the landscape with tree cover.

“But I’m not sure so far, the way we’re developing the land, if we’re providing opportunities in the best way we can,” she said.

Wealthier households and properties with small lots use more water outside, according to the study. These conditions are prevalent in current development patterns along the Front Range in Colorado.

“We need to make sure we provide enough space, in the right locations, for mature tree canopy to grow in these new developments,” McHale said.

Additional research from other semi-arid cities, like Salt Lake City, has shown that planting non-native trees may be better for reducing water consumption in such areas.

Local policies may hinder conservation efforts

McHale also said that subdivision homeowner associations may be setting and enforcing guidelines that encourage more outdoor water use. Most newer neighborhoods with houses built in close proximity to each other are governed by HOAs, and the research team wants to delve deeper into this question in future research.

Shaunie Rasmussen, research associate in the CSU Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability and a co-author on the study, said with urbanization taking place so quickly, it’s imperative to get trees planted, to make sure they’re mature as people move into new houses along the Front Range.

“It’s important to establish this tree cover and to take advantage of the benefits of trees,” she said. “Based on our research, trees can be a water-saving resource.”

Rasmussen graduated from CSU in July 2020 with a master’s degree in ecosystem sustainability, a recently established program through the Warner College of Natural Resources, and is now based at the Denver Urban Field Station.

McHale said this research project aims to strengthen and expand upon the university’s land-grant mission.

“We’ve been really trying, as a university, to reinvent the way we engage with our communities,” she explained.

Teaming up with the U.S. Forest Service, which has played a central role in pushing the field of urban ecology nationally, was a natural fit. The City of Fort Collins has already made use of the research findings from other collaborative research projects with McHale’s lab, and included those results in planning documents and budget requests for city managers.

“That’s the essence of engaged research,” said McHale. “You learn something different by working together and the outcomes are more impactful. We’re all in this together.”

McHale was recently selected to be a member of Denver’s Sustainability Advisory Council, which was originally created in 2010 by Mayor John Hickenlooper, and continues today under Mayor Michael Hancock.

Urban-rural divide is alive and well — Writers on the Range

From Writers on the Range (Allen Best):

Pushback against a “meatless day” proclaimed by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis last month was predictably vigorous. It was part of the “war on rural Colorado,” said a state senator who runs a cattle-feeding operation. Twenty-six of Colorado’s 64 counties adopted “meat-in” proclamations. Governors from the adjoining states of Wyoming and Nebraska even gleefully designated an “eat-meat” day.

Afterward, Polis’s press aides pointed to the hundreds of do-good proclamations the governor issues each year, and the governor quickly declared his beef brisket the rival of any in Colorado.

But this proclamation differed from those affirming truck drivers, bat awareness and breakfast burritos. It called for broad change. Using the language of a “MeatOut” Day proclamation written by an animal rights group, his statement cited the benefits of a plant-based diet in reducing our carbon footprint, preserving ecosystems and preventing animal cruelty. It also noted the growing alternatives to meat, dairy and eggs.

In the 1880s, when my great-grandparents homesteaded in eastern Colorado, they grazed cattle on the short-grass prairie. Ranchers still do. Once off the range, though, our beef production is best understood as an industrial process. The foundation is grain.

In his book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, Bill Gates explains the modern pyramid of protein: A chicken eats two calories’ worth of grain to give us one calorie of poultry. For cattle, it’s six calories of feed to produce one calorie of beef. I’ve stood in rows of corn tassels 12 feet high at maturity, the growth boosted by luxuriant applications of fertilizer. I’ve pinched my nose while driving past feedlots large enough for 80,000 or more head. I’ve heard the bellow of cows minutes away from the knife at slaughterhouses.

Denver no longer has slaughterhouses but still prides itself on its livestock heritage. The annual Western Stock Show puts cowboy hats in high-end restaurants and strip joints alike. Cattle represent 50% of Colorado’s $7 billion agriculture economy, and livestock altogether 70%. After Polis’s proclamation, livestock producers debated boycotting Denver’s Stock Show for other venues — perhaps Oklahoma.

Even a legislator from one of metro Denver’s poorer neighborhoods objected to Polis’s proclamation, pointing out that nutritious vegetarian options aren’t available to many of her constituents.

But it’s not just low-income areas that lack meal choices. Fast-food franchises in big cities and small towns all cater to the lowest-common denominator, their high-volume enterprises predicated on cheap meat, especially beef. The consequences are that we now have bulbous bellies and too many heart attacks. We struggle to live with restraint.

The meaty issue here is not about meat vs. no-meat. Rather, it’s about scale and processes. What have we sacrificed in pursuit of volume?

Credit the ranchers who graze cattle holistically in an attempt to replicate the once-vast herds of bison. But also note that grass-fed beef needs buyers. Most holistically raised cows get further fattened on grain. That’s where the market is.

There’s also the looming issue of cows contributing to climate change, as highly polluting methane comes out of both ends of cattle. Gates, always the technologist, insists that innovation can reduce the carbon output of agriculture by reducing our yen for real beef. He put his money where my mouth is by investing in a vegetarian product called the Impossible Burger. Last week I had one. It fooled me. I thought it was beef.

Meanwhile, the urban-rural divide remains starkly real and evident in voting and development patterns. While cities struggle to contain their growth, many small towns struggle to hang on. Ironically, the economies of most of these at-risk rural towns are premised on industrial-scale agriculture.

Rural Colorado never has liked Polis, a savvy businessman from the exurbs of Boulder who favors market solutions. He had barely warmed his gubernatorial seat when handmade signs began showing up on rural country roads asking “Why does Polis hate…” You fill in the blank.

This meatless proclamation was tone-deaf. It could have narrowly affirmed meatless alternatives rather than decried meat. Denial and anger will not prevail, though. I’m reminded of when coal producers, 10 and 15 years ago, were fighting the future of renewables instead of figuring out their place in the world to come.

Though most of us may continue to eat beef, some of us have already begun to shift away. Polis was perhaps the unwitting messenger of that truth — that cows in the West are no longer sacred.

Allen Best contributes to Writers on the Range, http://writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He writes about energy and water in http://BigPivots.com, his e-magazine.

#Denver investment fund raising $5M for water tech startups — @WaterEdCO

Denver photo via Allen Best

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Can technology save the Colorado River? A growing number of entrepreneurs and investors think so. To that end, the Denver-based Colorado River Basin Fund is raising $5 million to help promising new water technology companies bring their wares to market.

“We want to nurture startups that need access to money,” said Will Sarni, a general partner in the fund. “That’s where we think we can be part of the solution.”

Worldwide dozens of investment funds target water, through stocks in publicly traded utilities and direct investments in existing technology and infrastructure companies, among others. Just like some mutual funds focus on gold stocks or energy stocks, there are funds that focus on water stocks, such as the Invesco S&P Global Water Index.

But Sarni says that the newly formed Colorado River Basin Fund is the first private investment initiative focused on one place, the Colorado River.

The launch of the new investment fund comes as concern over the Colorado River intensifies. The river is mired in a 20-year drought which has caused its flows to decline by more than 16 percent since 2000, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Those declines are expected to continue as the climate warms and mountain snow packs shrink.

Lon Johnson, a general partner in the new fund, said it is focused not on profiteering off the sale of water rights, but in finding technical solutions to keep the seven-state Colorado River system viable.

“Often when you think about investment into the West, your mind would go to the exploitive side. How do we profit off this crisis? That is not what this is about,” Johnson said. “What we’re seeking to do is identify the technologies that address scarcity and water quality within the basin. And then help them commercialize and scale.”

Researchers and entrepreneurs are pursuing dozens of technologies that could help the river become more sustainable even as population demands grow and climate change threatens to further reduce flows.

Sarni said the Colorado River Basin Fund will focus largely on satellite and digital technologies that will help farmers use their water more efficiently and help smart homes do the same.

Sarni and Johnson join a growing group of investors and accelerators hoping to speed the creation of new solutions by backing promising startups. Among these is an international initiative called Imagine H20, which has raised more than $500 million to date, according to its website, to help fund new technologies tackling worldwide scarcity and water quality issues.

Closer to home, Denver’s TechStars has partnered with The Nature Conservancy to create a business accelerator for startups focused on sustainability, water and climate change. The Denver Metro Small Business Development Center’s Trout Tank program has a similar mission.

And several young water technology companies are already in the market, including Boss DeFrost, a Denver-based company whose device allows restaurants to dramatically slash the amount of water they use to thaw meat and other foods.

In Montrose there is the Delta Brick and Climate Company, which is dredging reservoirs and using the clay to make bricks. The brick ovens eventually will be fired with methane captured from leaking coal mines. The strategy frees up space in reservoirs, allowing them to store more water. And by removing methane from the atmosphere, the company plans to generate carbon credits that can be sold, generating revenue in addition to that generated from the sale of bricks. Chris Caskey is founder of the three-year-old startup and has won small government grants to fund operations thus far.

He said he’s been frustrated by the traditional investment community, which often requires entrepreneurs to come up with hundreds of thousands of dollars in seed capital before it will formally invest, and which can impose aggressive timelines on products to allow investors to cash out quickly.

But Johnson said he and Sarni have years of experience working in the water sector and that they are aware of the challenges.

“We believe traditional ‘tech’ investors aren’t always a natural fit for water entrepreneurs because those investors may have unrealistic expectations for growth and scale, and then ultimately on the investment return,” Johnson said. “The water sector is fragmented, and growth takes time and skill…our investment strategies and how we intend to work with companies after we invest will reflect this.”

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

Baby, it’s dry outside: How the #drought is affecting #Utah — The Deseret News #snowpack #runoff

Utah Drought Monitor March 30, 2021.

From The Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

…Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has declared a state of emergency due to the massive encroachment of drought impacting all the state’s more than 54 million acres.

The U.S. Drought Monitor puts 90% of Utah in the category of “extreme drought” and says that more than 2.7 million people in the state are impacted. Southern Utah recently elevated its drought to exceptional — an even worse category…

Most of the state is sitting at between 75% and 80% of average snowpack for this water year, which officially ended Thursday.

On its face, that doesn’t sound necessarily that scary.

But Jordan Clayton, supervisor of the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Utah Snow Survey, said it is more complicated than that…

The summer of 2020 was the driest ever logged in Utah and Nevada since record keeping began 126 years ago…

Those dry soils will absorb much of what is already predicted to be a poor performing runoff at anywhere between 25% and 75% of average…

Heather Patno, a hydraulic engineer with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said the drought is impacting states across the Upper Colorado River Basin…

Lake Powell is seen in a November 2019 aerial photo from the nonprofit EcoFlight. Keeping enough water in the reservoir to support downstream users in Arizona, Nevada and California is complicated by climate change, as well as projections that the upper basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico will use as much as 40% more water than current demand. A recent white paper from a lineup of river experts calls those use projections into question.
CREDIT: ECOFLIGHT via Aspen Journalism

While the upper basin will be able to meet its downstream water delivery obligations to lower basin states like Nevada and California, Lake Powell will be sitting at critical elevation levels…

The good news, she stressed, is that there has been a smattering of water years over the last two decades in which Lake Powell rose by 50 feet or more.

In 2019, for example, basin-wide snowpack was at 145% of average, she said, and other generous water years helped boost Powell levels…

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in March warned that nearly half the country is experiencing moderate to exceptional drought conditions in what could be the most significant spring drought since 2013 impacting an estimated 74 million people.

In fact, its seasonal drought outlook into June 30 of this year projects that most of California and all of Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico will have drought that persists…

Utah’s ranchers and farmers are already taking steps to brace for a financially debilitating season in the agriculture industry.

Farmers who normally plant corn, which demands a lot of water, switched to spring grain that can be harvested in 60 to 90 days.

Other farmers have cut back their farming acreage by 30% or even half.

The problem is that corn yields greater revenue per acre and many fields will go fallow…

With snowpack below average across the state — southwest Utah is sitting barely north of 50% — that becomes a problem for Utah when 95% of its water comes from snow, Clayton said.

Outdoor recreation leaders ask Congress to loosen rules restricting Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars — The #Colorado Sun #LWCF

The 77-acre Sweetwater Lake and more than 400 acres surrounding it could be open to the public if a conservation plan shifts the property into the White River National Forest. (Provided by The Conservation Fund via The Colorado Sun)

From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

The directors of 13 state recreation offices are asking the federal government to adjust requirements that states and local communities must provide matching funds to secure Land and Water Conservation Fund money

The diverse Confluence of States — which champions outdoor recreation as a driver for economic growth and conservation, as well as public health — is asking federal lawmakers to help unlock the gates guarding the $900 million-a-year Land and Water Conservation Fund…

The outdoor recreation state directors are asking for relief from federal rules requiring the dollar-for-dollar match. When the economy is strong, that matching amplifies the impact of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. When communities are crawling out of a pandemic, federal support could be left untapped.

The Confluence of States this week sent letters to the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Colorado’s U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, who is chair of the House Natural Resources Committee and Interior Sec. Deb Haaland. The group says waivers, loans that can be converted to grants or a reduction of the one-to-one match could help support hundreds of projects and jobs across the country…

[Nathan] Fey and his fellow outdoor recreation office directors have been working with federal and state land managers to identify the bottlenecks that are hindering the flow of support from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which this year is set to be fully funded for only the second time since its inception in 1964…

The Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office is compiling a list of shovel-ready projects across the state that could connect communities with trails and improve recreational infrastructure in rural communities, like a new river park on the Yampa River in Craig.

The projects are not just about supporting outdoor recreation and tourism economies, Fey said. Improvements to recreational access and trails can help Colorado’s rural communities appeal to businesses looking to relocate from urban settings…

While the now 13 members of the Confluence of States have worked to support a recreation economy in their own states — Colorado, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming — the letter urging a relaxation of the match requirement for LWCF support is the first time the group has taken collective action…

But the money has been slow to arrive. Earlier this month, the Forest Service released its 2021 land acquisitions project list, with nearly $124 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund for 35 parcels. The list included Garfield County’s Sweetwater Lake, a 488-acre property adjacent to the Flat Tops Wilderness that has long been eyed for development.

The Conservation Fund acquired the property last July for $7.1 million and plans to transfer the parcel to the Whtie River National Forest. The project ranked No. 8 on the Forest Service’s priority list with a request for $8.5 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Late last week the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region announced $1.3 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to help support the purchases of “critical inholding areas, recreational access projects and core acquisition projects” that include Sweetwater Lake.

The Sweetwater Lake project is on track “and moving along well,” said Justin Springs with The Conservation Fund.

Sweetwater Lake, Garfield County, Colorado. Photo credit: Todd Winslow Pierce with permission

Appreciation Week Recognizes Essential Services of Arizona Water Professionals — #Arizona #Water News

PRESS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                         March 30, 2021 Appreciation Week Recognizes Essential Services of Arizona Water Professionals PHOENIX – Every variety of event from music festivals to awards ceremonies has gone “virtual” in the era of the COVID-19 virus. The now-annual event to honor Arizona’s water professionals is following suit.  The “Virtual Kick-Off” […]

Appreciation Week Recognizes Essential Services of Arizona Water Professionals — Arizona Water News

On day one, @DebHaalandNM addresses Indigenous media — @HighCountryNews

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland is sworn into office by Vice President Kamala Harris. Haaland’s family surrounds her, and her daughter Somah Haaland holds a Bible. Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images via The High Country News

From The High Country News [March 18, 2021] (Graham Lee Brewer):

On her first official day in office, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland met briefly with a group of 10 Indigenous journalists from national, local and tribal publications, including High Country News. The press conference, which was organized by the Interior Department and the Native American Journalists Association, appears to be a sign of the kind of increased access Haaland is willing to offer tribal media. As Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, has noted many times, both in her capacity as a member of Congress and a Cabinet nominee, she intends to make tribal concerns and regular consultation a significant part of her agenda. Here are some highlights from the half-hour session:

• Haaland spoke directly about her desire to involve tribes in federal decision-making in a new and unprecedented way. Tribal governments have long felt overlooked when it comes to consultation on federal contracts and land-management decisions, and their opinions have often been outright dismissed. Haaland said that she is determined to end that cycle. “So often everyone thinks that the BIA is the only location where Indian issues should be addressed, and we know that’s not true. Indian issues need to be addressed across the entire government.” She added that it’s important to consult with tribes early in any process, before decisions are made, and to give them proper access — no longer restricting public comments to online forums, for example, particularly when the tribal community in question might have limited broadband access. “I want the era when tribes were on the back burner to be over.”

• Tribal consultation also came up concerning the Biden administration’s commitment to protecting 30% of the country’s lands and water by the year 2030. Haaland touched on the necessity to revisit the boundaries of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments, as well as of New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon National Historical Park, an area that is part of some important ancestral homelands, including her own. Haaland said that management decisions have to be made between all the parties involved, including the public and tribes. “I know that a lot of people rely on pristine environment for the outdoor economy industry that is all over this country, so I think taking a balanced approach is absolutely something that we would like to do.”

• Assistant Secretary to the Interior Brian Newland, a citizen of the Bay Mills Indian Community (Ojibwe), also participated in the press briefing, and he indicated that the tribal recognition process — through which tribes seek federal recognition and access to federal funding and cultural protections — could evolve under Haaland’s tenure as well. “The department is consulting right now on a remand from two federal courts to look at whether tribes can petition again after they’ve been denied federal recognition from the department. We’ve gotten some feedback from the tribal consultation process and is something we are actively working on.” He added that the Biden administration is making it a priority to examine how lands are moved into federal trust, which is the process by which tribes turn private land into tribal-held land within their jurisdiction.

• Haaland shared an interesting anecdote from her early discussion with U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican and citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, regarding the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to restore the reservation of the Muskogee (Creek) Nation. The decision has rippled across eastern Oklahoma and will likely lead to the restoration of four other reservations. Haaland said that, after the decision, she called Cole to ask for his advice; an Oklahoma court decision this month reaffirmed the Chickasaw Nation’s reservation boundaries. “He said, ‘Let the tribes talk it out, let the tribes come to their own decision, they should not have any interference from Congress at this point. They need to be able to make their own decision.’ So, I want to respect tribes in every possible way.” Oklahoma’s attorney general, members of its congressional delegation, and some tribes, including the Chickasaw Nation, believe that Congress should play a role in resolving the lingering issues created when the state of Oklahoma, for over a century, illegally assumed criminal jurisdiction over the land in question.

• Haaland also made what appeared to be her first public comments about the citizenship of Freedmen, the descendants of those formerly held in the bondage of slavery by tribes; she has been criticized for co-sponsoring the reauthorization of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act in 2019, which excluded Freedmen descendants from housing assistance. Haaland acknowledged the complicated nature of the issue, noting that even some of her immediate family members cannot enroll in her tribe due to the Pueblo of Laguna’s citizenship requirements. Haaland said the housing bill must be reauthorized constantly to assist tribes. “Largely, for me, it is seen as a positive thing, helping tribes to navigate those issues so that they can provide.” She said she’s open to speaking with tribal governments that want to discuss the issue and is eager to “respect the tribes’ sovereignty and authority to determine membership.”

• In her opening remarks, Haaland spoke of the devastating effects COVID-19 has had on Indigenous communities, noting that more than 80% of the Interior employees who died from the disease had worked in offices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. A spokesperson for Interior later confirmed that 26 of the agency’s employees had died from the virus, and that 22 of them had been working in Indian Affairs.

Graham Lee Brewer is an associate editor at High Country News and a member of the Cherokee Nation. Email him at grahamb@hcn.org.

North American Indian regional losses 1850 thru 1890.

How this small #Colorado mountain town got an electric school bus — The Mountain Town News

West Grand School District electric school bus. Photo credit: The Mountain Town News/Allen Best

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Kremmling has state’s second

In an odd way, Boulder and Kremmling have a common bond. The school districts headquartered in the two places are the first in Colorado to have electric school buses.

First was the electric bus for the Boulder Valley School District, which rolled out in early March. The bus for the West Grand School District arrived in Kremmling on Wednesday afternoon and will be placed in service in early April.

Many more will be following across Colorado, as state aid has been approved for 14 buses. The grant program taps Colorado’s $67.5 million share of the Volkswagen settlement.

As for these first two districts, they’re very different. Boulder Valley has 30,000, West Grand 408 students drawn from Kremmling and outlying routes up the various valleys: the Muddy, Troublesome, Williams Fork, and Blue, as well as along the Colorado River to Parshall.

Darrin M. Peppard, the superintendent of schools at West Grand, credits activism by both Mountain Parks Electric, the local electrical cooperative, and the Boulder school district.

“We were notified by Mountain Parks Electric about the Volkswagen settlement funds grant. We weren’t entirely sure—an electric bus, our high altitude, the cold temperature. How is that really going to function?”

What sold West Grand was a trip to Boulder. The school district there had arranged to have an electric bus hauled from a school district in North Dakota. “It was a cold, cold, snowy day in Boulder—which was perfect,” says Peppard. “They fired up the bus, and the cabin temperature warmed much more rapidly than a diesel bus would in December.”

Making the electric bus even more attractive was the cost: nothing. West Grand got a grant for $301,000 from the state program. Mountain Parks Electric contributed $70,000 and Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the wholesale supplier for Mountain Parks, added $50,000. This includes the cost of the bus but also the electrical infrastructure at the bus barn for charging.

This is from the newsletter Big Pivots. For free subscriptions, sign up at http://BigPivots.com

Chris Michalowski, the power use advisor at Mountain Parks, says the co-op’s capital funds—unclaimed credits of members who died or have left—were tapped to fund the bus. But the bus fits in with a broader goal of Mountain Parks to encourage transportation electrification.

“This is a great way to do that. It’s highly visible, easily recognizable, on the road twice a day,” he says. And that influence of the electric bus will encourage the parents of the bus riders to buy electric.

West Grand has changed little since the 1970s when this writer lived there. It is ranch country, but the largest employer is the molybdenum mill near the head of the Williams Fork Valley.

This new 78-passenger electric bus will have a route that runs 20 to 25 miles twice a day “up” the Blue River Valley, not quite to Green Mountain Reservoir.

The buses officially have a range of 120 miles. That said, when it was driven to Kremmling on Wednesday it was charged in Golden and again in Frisco.

Community reaction has been one of intrigue, Peppard says. “Is it going to work? Is it going to be OK? People are eagerly anticipating answers to those questions, and we are confident that it will be great.”

He expects the first surprise to be when people board the bus. “It’s extremely quiet.”

In Boulder County, the school district will study operation of its electric bus with an eye on cost savings. The district has 255 buses

ALT Fuels Colorado has been delivering grants for several years for electric and other vehicles that replace diesel vehicles 2009 or older. To be eligible, there must be a one-to-one trade-out.

The Vail Valley Foundation also was given $209,000 for an electric shuttle bus at the same time. Other school districts were given money for propane-burning buses.

Arriving as governor in January 2019, Jared Polis shifted funding, steering all Colorado’s $67.5 million share of the Volkswagen settlement into electric and renewable natural gas.

For example, both Waste Management and Western Disposal Services got grants for garbage trucks that will burn renewable natural gas, the latter from a sewage treatment plant in Boulder.

Grants have also been approved for electric buses: Steamboat Springs, Denver, Aspen (Country Day), and Durango. Aurora Public Schools have gotten funding for 7.

The city of Fort Collins has also received funding for an electric bus.

Matt Goble, program coordinator for ALT Fuels Colorado, says there’s a significant lag time between when a bus is ordered and when it is delivered. “Right now, there is a 6 to 8 month best-scenario,” he says.

Durango’s award may be unique in that the school district is partnering with La Plata Electric to do bus-to-grid charging. (A story coming in another issue of Big Pivots).

See full list of ALT Fuels Colorado award recipients here.

Happy Pi Day

A Pi Day pie from Reilly’s Bakery in Biddeford at Biddeford High School in Biddeford, ME on Friday, March 13, 2015. (Photo by Whitney Hayward/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

#Colorado Establishes Water Equity Task Force — @ColoradoDNR

The difference between the terms equality equity and liberation illustrated. Credit: Shrehan Lynch https://www.researchgate.net/publication/340777978_The_A-Z_of_Social_Justice_Physical_Education_Part_1

Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Chris Arend and Sara Leonard):

Colorado Establishes Water Equity Task Force
Task Force will help state better understand existing equity, diversity and inclusivity challenges involving Colorado water issues and inform the Colorado Water Plan

Colorado Governor Jared Polis and Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources announced today the establishment of a Water Equity Task Force to better understand existing equity, diversity and inclusivity (EDI) challenges in Colorado water issues and inform the Colorado Water Plan.

“In Colorado, water is the lifeblood of our state and critical for our economy, agriculture, wildlife and environment. This Task Force is another important piece in creating a Colorado for all and will inform our Colorado Water Plan by ensuring that future efforts in planning for Colorado’s water future are increasingly inclusive,” said Governor Polis. “I want to thank Director Gibbs and the Water Conservation Board for their leadership on these efforts and look forward to the work ahead.”

The 2005 Water for the 21st Century Act (HB 05-1177) ushered in a new area of regionally inclusive and collaborative water planning. That spirit was further codified in the 2015 Colorado Water Plan, which ensured that all water uses in Colorado are interconnected and of equal value. At the same time, Colorado has a broad and diverse populace who are not always represented in local stakeholder groups and who need to be engaged in the forthcoming Colorado Water Plan update (set for completion in 2022).

“2020 has highlighted the need to fundamentally address deeper societal issues – including equity in water policy decisions,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department Natural Resources. “This Task Force will build on the Governor’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Executive Order and efforts to build a climate equity structure; it is time to similarly create a water equity framework that can inform the Water Plan update.”

The Water Equity Task Force, managed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, will bring together a group of 20 diverse stakeholders to meet over the next year to draft a set of concepts for consideration in the Colorado Water Plan update by the end of March 2022. The group will plan and develop a public workshop tentatively set for late 2021 to incorporate additional partners and voices to this effort. Details will be posted on the engagecwcb.org webpage.

“The Colorado Water Plan update will build on lessons learned, be more accessible, and will identify bold actions. I strongly support including equity considerations into our water planning to ensure that our efforts become more inclusive, welcoming, and communicative on a range of issues,” added Rebecca Mitchell, Colorado Water Conservation Board Director.

Members of the appointed Task Force include:

The 20-person Water Equity Task Force geographically represents the the legislatively defined nine basin regions across Colorado (representing each of the eight major river basins as well as the Denver metro area).

The membership includes nine water-experienced stakeholders with insights into Colorado’s current water planning efforts and basin roundtable structure, two members representing Colorado’s federally recognized Native American Tribes, the Southern Ute and the Ute Mountain Ute tribes, and nine members representing community leaders not traditionally engaged in water issues.

How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled — National Public Radio

Top 10 sources of plastic pollution in our oceans.

From National Public Radio (Laura Sullivan):

Laura Leebrick, a manager at Rogue Disposal & Recycling in southern Oregon, is standing on the end of its landfill watching an avalanche of plastic trash pour out of a semitrailer: containers, bags, packaging, strawberry containers, yogurt cups.

None of this plastic will be turned into new plastic things. All of it is buried.

“To me that felt like it was a betrayal of the public trust,” she said. “I had been lying to people … unwittingly.”

Rogue, like most recycling companies, had been sending plastic trash to China, but when China shut its doors two years ago, Leebrick scoured the U.S. for buyers. She could find only someone who wanted white milk jugs. She sends the soda bottles to the state.

But when Leebrick tried to tell people the truth about burying all the other plastic, she says people didn’t want to hear it.

“I remember the first meeting where I actually told a city council that it was costing more to recycle than it was to dispose of the same material as garbage,” she says, “and it was like heresy had been spoken in the room: You’re lying. This is gold. We take the time to clean it, take the labels off, separate it and put it here. It’s gold. This is valuable.”

But it’s not valuable, and it never has been. And what’s more, the makers of plastic — the nation’s largest oil and gas companies — have known this all along, even as they spent millions of dollars telling the American public the opposite.

NPR and PBS Frontline spent months digging into internal industry documents and interviewing top former officials. We found that the industry sold the public on an idea it knew wouldn’t work — that the majority of plastic could be, and would be, recycled — all while making billions of dollars selling the world new plastic.

The industry’s awareness that recycling wouldn’t keep plastic out of landfills and the environment dates to the program’s earliest days, we found. “There is serious doubt that [recycling plastic] can ever be made viable on an economic basis,” one industry insider wrote in a 1974 speech.

Yet the industry spent millions telling people to recycle, because, as one former top industry insider told NPR, selling recycling sold plastic, even if it wasn’t true…

Here’s the basic problem: All used plastic can be turned into new things, but picking it up, sorting it out and melting it down is expensive. Plastic also degrades each time it is reused, meaning it can’t be reused more than once or twice.

On the other hand, new plastic is cheap. It’s made from oil and gas, and it’s almost always less expensive and of better quality to just start fresh.

All of these problems have existed for decades, no matter what new recycling technology or expensive machinery has been developed. In all that time, less than 10 percent of plastic has ever been recycled. But the public has known little about these difficulties.

It could be because that’s not what they were told.

Starting in the 1990s, the public saw an increasing number of commercials and messaging about recycling plastic…

These commercials carried a distinct message: Plastic is special, and the consumer should recycle it…

It may have sounded like an environmentalist’s message, but the ads were paid for by the plastics industry, made up of companies like Exxon, Chevron, Dow, DuPont and their lobbying and trade organizations in Washington.

Industry companies spent tens of millions of dollars on these ads and ran them for years, promoting the benefits of a product that, for the most part, was buried, was burned or, in some cases, wound up in the ocean.

Documents show industry officials knew this reality about recycling plastic as far back as the 1970s.

Many of the industry’s old documents are housed in libraries, such as the one on the grounds of the first DuPont family home in Delaware. Others are with universities, where former industry leaders sent their records.

At Syracuse University, there are boxes of files from a former industry consultant. And inside one of them is a report written in April 1973 by scientists tasked with forecasting possible issues for top industry executives.

Recycling plastic, it told the executives, was unlikely to happen on a broad scale…

And there are more documents, echoing decades of this knowledge, including one analysis from a top official at the industry’s most powerful trade group. “The costs of separating plastics … are high,” he tells colleagues, before noting that the cost of using oil to make plastic is so low that recycling plastic waste “can’t yet be justified economically.”

Larry Thomas, the former president of the Society of the Plastics Industry, worked side by side with top oil and plastics executives.

He’s retired now, on the coast of Florida where he likes to bike, and feels conflicted about the time he worked with the plastics industry…

Thomas took over back in the late 1980s, and back then, plastic was in a crisis. There was too much plastic trash. The public was getting upset…

So began the plastics industry’s $50 million-a-year ad campaign promoting the benefits of plastic.

“Presenting the possibilities of plastic!” one iconic ad blared, showing kids in bike helmets and plastic bags floating in the air.

“This advertising was motivated first and foremost by legislation and other initiatives that were being introduced in state legislatures and sometimes in Congress,” Freeman says, “to ban or curb the use of plastics because of its performance in the waste stream.”

At the same time, the industry launched a number of feel-good projects, telling the public to recycle plastic. It funded sorting machines, recycling centers, nonprofits, even expensive benches outside grocery stores made out of plastic bags.

Few of these projects actually turned much plastic into new things.

NPR tracked down almost a dozen projects the industry publicized starting in 1989. All of them shuttered or failed by the mid-1990s. Mobil’s Massachusetts recycling facility lasted three years, for example. Amoco’s project to recycle plastic in New York schools lasted two. Dow and Huntsman’s highly publicized plan to recycle plastic in national parks made it to seven out of 419 parks before the companies cut funding.

None of them was able to get past the economics: Making new plastic out of oil is cheaper and easier than making it out of plastic trash.

Both Freeman and Thomas, the head of the lobbying group, say the executives all knew that…

The industry created a special group called the Council for Solid Waste Solutions and brought a man from DuPont, Ron Liesemer, over to run it.

Liesemer’s job was to at least try to make recycling work — because there was some hope, he said, however unlikely, that maybe if they could get recycling started, somehow the economics of it all would work itself out.

“I had no staff, but I had money,” Liesemer says. “Millions of dollars.”

Liesemer took those millions out to Minnesota and other places to start local plastic recycling programs.

But then he ran into the same problem all the industry documents found. Recycling plastic wasn’t making economic sense: There were too many different kinds of plastic, hundreds of them, and they can’t be melted down together. They have to be sorted out…

Industry documents from this time show that just a couple of years earlier, starting in 1989, oil and plastics executives began a quiet campaign to lobby almost 40 states to mandate that the symbol appear on all plastic — even if there was no way to economically recycle it. Some environmentalists also supported the symbol, thinking it would help separate plastic.

Smith said what it did was make all plastic look recyclable.

“The consumers were confused,” Smith says. “It totally undermined our credibility, undermined what we knew was the truth in our community, not the truth from a lobbying group out of D.C.”

But the lobbying group in D.C. knew the truth in Smith’s community too. A report given to top officials at the Society of the Plastics Industry in 1993 told them about the problems.

“The code is being misused,” it says bluntly. “Companies are using it as a ‘green’ marketing tool.”

The code is creating “unrealistic expectations” about how much plastic can actually be recycled, it told them.

Smith and his colleagues launched a national protest, started a working group and fought the industry for years to get the symbol removed or changed. They lost…

In response, industry officials told NPR that the code was only ever meant to help recycling facilities sort plastic and was not intended to create any confusion.

Without question, plastic has been critical to the country’s success. It’s cheap and durable, and it’s a chemical marvel.

It’s also hugely profitable. The oil industry makes more than $400 billion a year making plastic, and as demand for oil for cars and trucks declines, the industry is telling shareholders that future profits will increasingly come from plastic.

And if there was a sign of this future, it’s a brand-new chemical plant that rises from the flat skyline outside Sweeny, Texas. It’s so new that it’s still shiny, and inside the facility, the concrete is free from stains…

Larry Thomas, Lew Freeman and Ron Liesemer, former industry executives, helped oil companies out of the first plastic crisis by getting people to believe something the industry knew then wasn’t true: That most plastic could be and would be recycled.

Russell says this time will be different.

“It didn’t get recycled because the system wasn’t up to par,” he says. “We hadn’t invested in the ability to sort it and there hadn’t been market signals that companies were willing to buy it, and both of those things exist today.”

But plastic today is harder to sort than ever: There are more kinds of plastic, it’s cheaper to make plastic out of oil than plastic trash and there is exponentially more of it than 30 years ago.

And during those 30 years, oil and plastic companies made billions of dollars in profit as the public consumed ever more quantities of plastic.

Russell doesn’t dispute that.

“And during that time, our members have invested in developing the technologies that have brought us where we are today,” he says. “We are going to be able to make all of our new plastic out of existing municipal solid waste in plastic.”

[…]

Analysts now expect plastic production to triple by 2050.

New Technology Helps Ranchers Maximize Grass Production — NRCS

Photo credit: NRCS

Here’s the release from the NRCS (Brianna Randall):

One out of every three acres in the U.S. is rangeland. Two-thirds of these are privately owned, mainly by ranchers who graze their livestock in the open country of the American West.

Our rangelands produce premium beef, wool, and dairy. But it’s the plants that feed these livestock that are the foundation for profitable agriculture in the West.

But ranchers haven’t had a good way to measure how their grass is faring — until now.

The Rangeland Analysis Platform (RAP), developed in partnership with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the University of Montana, allows producers to track changes in the amount and types of plants growing on their property.

RAP is a free online resource that provides data on vegetation trends across the West from the mid-1980s to the present; and it calculates how productive those plants are. A combination of long-term datasets shows landowners how their lands have changed over time, which translates directly into their operation’s profitability.

“We can finally quantify outcomes of rangeland conservation in terms of dollars and cents,” says Tim Griffiths, western coordinator for NRCS’s Working Lands for Wildlife.

Graphic credit: NRCS

Closing the gap to boost grass growth

Farmers in the central and eastern U.S. have been using technology to track changes in crop production for decades. As soon as they see that their plant productivity is declining — and revenues following suit — they can take steps to address the limitations and boost productivity again.

RAP provides the same power to ranchers.

Graphic credit: NRCS

RAP can show ranchers the gap between their potential production and the actual production they realize in terms of pounds-per-acre of grass. It helps landowners understand how much they can potentially gain by changing management practices to boost available forage and close the gap.

Landowners can see how their plant production has changed in a single month or over the span of several years. The technology can be used to visualize plant productivity in an area as small as a baseball diamond or as large as several states.

“Basically, RAP can prevent lost revenues by showing producers where their land is less effective at growing grass. It helps ranchers put the right practices in the right places,” says Brady Allred, a University of Montana researcher who helped develop RAP.

Preventing trees from robbing ranchers

Photo credit: NRCS

One of the main threats to production and profitability on western rangelands is the expansion of trees onto grasslands. From eastern redcedar destroying tallgrass prairie to juniper marching across sagebrush grazing lands, woody species are costing producers millions of dollars in lost forage.

For example, the now-forested property in Nebraska pictured here produced zero pounds/acre of grass in 2014. But in 1985, RAP reveals that same property produced 2,200 pounds/acre of grass — before eastern redcedar consumed the once-fertile prairie.

“Last year, we quantified that western rangelands missed out on tens of billions of pounds of forage due to trees taking over prairies and shrub lands since 1990,” says Dirac Twidwell, rangeland ecologist at the University of Nebraska and science advisor for NRCS Working Lands for Wildlife.

This yield gap, says Twidwell is “costing producers hundreds of millions in lost revenue each year.”

Take the Flint Hills of Kansas, America’s most productive grasslands and the fourth-largest intact prairie left in the world. In 2019, RAP shows that this region produced 21.3 billion pounds of forage.

But RAP also shows that ranchers in the Flint Hills lost another billion pounds of forage in 2019 due to encroaching trees. That adds up to nearly 800,000 round-bales of hay lost last year.

Put in terms of dollars, those unwanted trees cost Kansas producers $8.3 million in lost revenue in a single year.

Graphic credit: NRCS

Stemming the tide of trees with technology

Using RAP’s satellite imagery, ranchers across Nebraska are burning seeds and saplings before they become trees; and in Kansas, ranchers are using RAP to cut trees across ownership boundaries to restore prime grass grazing lands.

New technology like RAP helps us “help the land” in order to sustain wildlife, provide food and fiber, and support agricultural families long into the future.

Bison rising in #Colorado: From the prairie, heirloom species are slowly returning to native lands — The Tri-Lakes Tribune

The Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd, a genetically pure, Brucella abortus-free bison herd is released in the City of Fort Collins Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Larimer County Red Mountain Open Space, November 1, 2015, National Bison Day.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Seth Boster) via The Tri-Lakes Tribune:

Sometimes when Jennifer Barfield is having a bad day, she’ll drive north of her Colorado State University lab.

“I’ll end up in a pasture,” she said — a pasture of bison that she helped bring here to this rolling, open canvas near the Wyoming border.

Barfield, an assistant professor specializing in conservation biology and reproductive physiology, will stand at a distance and watch some of the 100 or so woolly members of this one-of-a-kind group in Colorado. Occasionally the bison come close, so close she can listen to them breathe and chew grass.

“It’s no secret I’m pretty attached to the animals we have in our herd,” Barfield said. “So sometimes when challenges arise or things are difficult … it helps me just to go out and spend some time with them. They’re very calm and peaceful and reassuring.

“And, yeah, I really feel like I draw a lot of my motivation and strength from reminding myself of what we’ve done, and that it’s a good thing, and being out there with the animals just really confirms that for me.”

Jennifer Barfield, assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, says the growth of the herd has allowed them to share bison with tribal and conservation groups. Photos by William A. Cotton

A multigovernment collaboration based in Fort Collins calls this a conservation herd, genetic flag-bearers of the original, once-proud bison that roamed the plains in the millions before being hunted to near extinction during white man’s westward expansion. Descendants of those indigenous bison have been largely confined to Yellowstone National Park. They reportedly occupy less than 1% of their historic range.

But with assisted reproductive technologies steered by Barfield, a growing number of bison with those heirloom genes have set hoof again in Colorado and beyond — pure relatives, without cattle inbreeding.

The extermination of the American Bison 1870-1889 via http://http://all-that-is-interesting.com/

Five years ago, on the contiguous lands of Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Red Mountain Open Space, the conservation herd began with a male calf and nine adult females, some of which were the result of artificial pregnancies. Sperm and eggs from Yellowstone bison were cleaned by Barfield and her team preceding embryo transfer. This was to ensure the removal of the pathogen causing brucellosis, the disease notoriously plaguing that herd…

The sperm and egg cleaning treatment was built upon decades of technological advancements at Colorado State. Assisted reproduction development was mostly for the sake of livestock; techniques are routine in the beef and dairy industries, similar to the in vitro fertilization process people know.

It just so happened that land managers of Soapstone and Red Mountain had been looking for native herbivores. Grazing, managers knew, was important to soil and vegetation and overall ecological balance — balance that prevailed before these lands were bison kill sites in the 1800s, their bones left behind.

But there was an even greater mission hatched here five years ago, said Meegan Flenniken, with Larimer County’s Natural Resources Department.

“Our ultimate goal was really to create a herd that could act as a seed herd, to help establish bison with these heritage genetics elsewhere,” she said…

The lineage late last year expanded to a nature preserve in southeastern Colorado, where 10 bison of the conservation herd were transplanted. In the coming months, a bigger group is due for protected prairie in Montana.

Facebook’s news blockade in Australia shows how tech giants are swallowing the web — The Conversation


Facebook’s decision to shut off sharing of Australian news made headlines across the nation.
AP Photo/Rick Rycroft

Jennifer Grygiel, Syracuse University

When Facebook disabled Australians’ access to news articles on its platform, and blocked sharing of articles from Australian news organizations, the company moved a step closer to killing the World Wide Web – the hyperlink-based system of freely connecting online sites created in 1989 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

Though the social media giant has said it will return to the negotiating table and restore news for now, the company has shown its hand – and how it is continuing to reshape the web.

As a social media scholar, I see clearly that the internet in 2021 is not the same open public sphere that Berners-Lee envisioned. Rather, it is a constellation of powerful corporate platforms that have come to dominate how people use the internet, what information they get and who is able to profit from it.

Tim Berners-Lee
Tim Berners Lee, the man who in 1989 invented the hyperlink-interconnected World Wide Web.
Paul Clarke via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Paying for news

The Australian government’s legislative efforts aim to support the news industry by helping to broker a deal whereby Facebook would pay Australian news organizations for content posted on its platform by users. Right now, Facebook isn’t required to pay for news in any way, and the company objected to this new potential cost of business.

Berners-Lee warned the Australian government the proposed law could undermine free linking, which he called a “fundamental principle of the web.” Facebook’s own statement of self-defense focused on Berners-Lee’s argument, saying Facebook provides value to news organizations by linking to them. But their statements show that neither has acknowledged that Facebook has, for many people, effectively become the web.

Back in the 1980s, Berners-Lee envisioned the web as a network of community-minded academic researchers sharing their knowledge quickly and conveniently across the world. The main mechanism for this was the hyperlink – text that, when clicked on, led readers to something they were interested in, or to supporting material on the actual source’s website. This meant information was freely exchanged, with attribution. The priority was helping users find the material they wanted, wherever it was online.

Berners-Lee’s design serves the reader, but not everyone was as public-spirited: Companies like Facebook have been moving away from this principle since the web’s founding. These corporate platforms are designed to capture and dominate users’ attention – and turn it into money.

A Facebook news post
A Facebook post often includes key news content – not just a link.
The Conversation screenshot of the Guardian’s Facebook page, CC BY-ND

Keeping users on the site

When a user posts a link on Facebook, it’s not just a hyperlink as Berners-Lee envisioned. It’s much more advanced, displaying information from the linked page, including, for news stories, a headline, a main image and sometimes a summary of the news users might see if they clicked the link. In this way, users can get a lot of the information without ever leaving Facebook, hurting news organizations’ revenues.

On Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, users’ options are even more restricted. People can post photos and text, but cannot directly share links to other websites. The only active links in a post are internal, for tagging others on Instagram and hashtags.

In my view, both cases show that Facebook doesn’t really want an interconnected web: It wants to keep its users on its own platforms. Facebook displays valuable information, but if people don’t click through, or there is nothing to effectively click on, then those who actually created the content will continue to have a hard time making money off their work.

An Australian media company's Facebook page had no articles on Feb. 18.
The Facebook page for the Australian Broadcasting Corp. had no articles visible to users on Feb. 18.
AP Photo/Rick Rycroft

Possible ways forward

The situation in Australia is a significant opportunity to examine how much power Facebook has over the ways people can seek information online.

News media may decide to bid farewell to Facebook, which provides about one-fifth of traffic to media sites in Australia, and not necessarily much revenue in other parts of the world. They might seek other options for digital distribution of their content. But in the near term they may need financial help from somewhere if they have become too dependent on Facebook.

Or news organizations could negotiate with Facebook directly in deals and avoid restrictive laws, as the proposed legislation is not even final yet.

News publishers could also ask regulators to help them gain more control over how news content is presented on platforms to increase link referral traffic, which is key to generating revenue. A return to simpler hyperlinks – and adding them to Instagram – could help more users click through on news stories while preserving the principles of the web. Just because advanced technology exists doesn’t mean it’s helpful in all situations or good. But then again, a basic old-timey solution may not work for those trapped in the “attention economy.

Editor’s note: The Conversation U.S. is an independent media nonprofit, one of eight news organizations around the world that share a common mission, brand and publishing platform. The Conversation Australia has publicly lobbied in support of the Australian government’s proposal.The Conversation

Jennifer Grygiel, Assistant Professor of Communications (Social Media) & Magazine, News and Digital Journalism, Syracuse University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

In Canadian first, Quebec whitewater river declared legal ‘person’ with its own rights — CTV News #Montreal #rightsofnature

Magpie river. Credit Boreal-River via The Conservation Alliance

From CTV News Montreal (Selena Ross):

A famous whitewater river in northern Quebec is the first place in Canada to be declared a person, legally speaking, under a new environmental strategy that’s taken off in some other countries.

The Magpie River in Quebec’s Cote-Nord was given legal personhood through twin resolutions by the local Innu council and by the local municipality of Minganie.

That united front, along with the river’s fame, makes it a “perfect test case” in Canada for the idea, according to a Montreal organization specializing in this legal tactic.

As a legal person, the river has nine distinct rights and the possibility of having legal guardians, said the groups in a joint press release…

The idea of treating parts of nature—places or animals—as persons under the law has become increasingly popular in some places, particularly in New Zealand, where Maori groups and that country’s federal government have together created the new status.

In one example, in 2017, New Zealand’s parliament passed legislation declaring the Whanganui River a legal person in the first-ever such case in the world.

It recognized the river, which is almost exactly the same length as the Magpie, as an indivisible, living being and conferred upon it the same rights and responsibilities as a human being.

The act also ended a long-running claims process between the government and Maori.

“It’s a shift of paradigm,” Yenny Vega Cardenas, one of the project’s leaders, told CTV News.

Cardenas is the president of the International Observatory on the Rights of Nature (IORN), which is based in Montreal and drafted the legal resolutions along with the rest of the group.

The idea isn’t just granting rights or protecting the river for future generations, she said, but “recognizing that… we are not the masters of the universe, over nature,” but that the relationship between humans and their environment is far more complicated and intertwined, she said.

The other countries where the strategy has been most used, other than New Zealand, are Ecuador and the U.S., she said.

The U.S. is also the one place where a high-profile effort recently failed: the town of Toledo passed a resolution declaring Lake Erie a person, in order to help them create stronger protections for the lake after toxic algae made the water undrinkable for a period in 2014.

A federal court struck down that resolution last year, saying it was too broad.

The river, almost 300 kilometres long, is famous for a series of rapids that have made it an international destination for whitewater enthusiasts—National Geographic ranked it among the world’s top 10 whitewater rivers.

But that same energy has also put it on the radar of Hydro-Quebec, the province’s state-owned energy corporation that has harnessed huge swaths of northern Quebec and its powerful rivers for hydroelectricity.

There is already one generating station on the Magpie, opened in 2007 by Hydro-Quebec and then sold in 2013 to smaller renewable energy company Innergex, which now owns it in partnership with the Minganie municipality.

However, Hydro-Quebec has shown interest in the river since then, including the river in its strategic plan about a decade ago and sparking a long battle over the idea of new dams on the river. Hydro-Quebec plans abandoned those plans in 2017, saying it didn’t need the extra energy.

In their press release, the groups involved said that their recent move is new way of trying to secure long-term protection for the river, given its appeal for energy producers.

The need to protect the river “has received regional consensus,” the groups wrote, “but the plan to declare the river a protected area has been thwarted for years by state-owned Hydro-Québec, due to the waterway’s hydroelectric potential.”

Hydro-Quebec told CTV that they have indeed “identified it as a river with potential,” and they would like to keep options open to be able to use it for hydropower, but there’s no simmering conflict over it right now.

“We understand that these people made a clear statement about their intention to protect this river,” said Hydro-Quebec spokesman Francis Labbé…

The leader of another Quebec environmental group said the personhood move comes after foot-dragging by the province.

It’s “a way for us to take matters into our own hands and stop waiting for the Quebec government to protect this unique river,” said Alain Branchaud, director of the Quebec chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

The West badly needs a restoration economy — Writers on the Range

Swim class on the San Juan River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Writers on the Range (Jonathan Thompson):

Farmington, a city of 45,000 in the northwestern corner of New Mexico, has run on a fossil fuel economy for a century. It is one of the only places on the planet where a 26-kiloton nuclear device was detonated underground to free up natural gas from the rock.

The city’s baseball team was called the Frackers, and a home run hit out of their practice park was likely to land next to a pack of gas wells. The community’s economy and identity are so tied up with fossil fuels that the place should probably try a new name like Carbonton, Methanedale or Drillsville.

Over the last decade, however, the oil and gas rollercoaster here has shuddered nearly to a halt, and one of two giant coal-fired power plants is about to shut down. The carbon corporations that have been exploiting the local labor and landscape for decades are fleeing, taking thousands of jobs with them. Left behind are gaping coal-mine wounds, rotting infrastructure and well-pad scars oozing methane.

The pattern of abandonment is mirrored in communities from Wyoming to Utah to Western Colorado to the Navajo Nation. Community leaders scramble to find solutions. Some cling to what they know, throwing their weight behind schemes to keep coal viable, such as carbon capture, while others bank on outdoor recreation, tourism and cottage industries.

Yet one solution to the woes rarely comes up in these conversations: Restoration as economic development.

Why not put unemployed miners and drillers back to work reclaiming closed coal mines and plugging up idled or low-producing oil and gas wells?

The EPA estimates that there are some 2 million unplugged abandoned wells nationwide, many of them leaking methane, the greenhouse gas with 86 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide, along with health-harming volatile organic compounds and even deadly hydrogen sulfide.

Hundreds of thousands of additional wells are still active, yet have been idled or are marginal producers, and they will also need plugging and reclaiming.

Oilfield service companies and their employees have the skills and equipment needed and could go back to work immediately. A 2020 report from the Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy found that a nationwide well-plugging program could employ more than 100,000 high-wage workers.

Massive coal mines are also shutting down and will need to be reclaimed. Northern Arizona’s Kayenta Mine, owned by coal-giant Peabody, shut down in late 2019, along with the Navajo Generating Station, resulting in the loss of nearly 300 jobs. The Western Organization of Resource Councils estimated that proper reclamation of the mine could keep most of those miners employed for an additional two to three years.

Peabody, however, still has not begun to meet its reclamation obligations. This is a failure not only on Peabody’s part but also of the federal mining regulators who should be holding the company’s feet to the fire.

Who will pay for all of this? Mining and drilling companies are required to put up financial bonds in order to get development permits, and they’re forfeited if the companies fail to properly reclaim the well or mine. Unfortunately, these bonds are almost always inadequate.

A Government Accountability Office report found that the Bureau of Land Management held about $2,000 in bonds, on average, for each well on federal land. Yet the cost to plug and reclaim each well ranges from $20,000 to $145,000. An example: In New Mexico, a company can put up as little as $2,500 per well that costs at least $35,000 to plug.

Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet tried to remedy this last year by crafting a bill that would increase bonds and create a fund for plugging abandoned wells. Republicans kept the bill from progressing, but with an administration that touted reclamation of mines and abandoned wells in a climate-related executive order, and a new Senate in place, the bill stands a good chance of going forward.

Economic development focusing on restoring the land once miners leave is a natural fit for beleaguered towns suffering the latest bust. Plus, by patching up the torn landscape these communities will help clear the path for other types of economic development, such as tourism or recreation.

“Restoration work is not fixing beautiful machinery … It is accepting an abandoned responsibility,” wrote Barry Lopez, the renowned nature writer who died recently. “It is a humble and often joyful mending of biological ties, with a hope clearly recognized that working from this foundation we might, too, begin to mend human society.”

Aerial Survey: Though Declining, Spruce Beetle Remains Most Damaging Forest Pest — @CSFS_Outreach

The spruce beetle remains the most damaging forest pest in the state for the ninth consecutive year, based on a 2020 aerial detection survey. Photo credit: Dan West/Colorado State Forest Service

Here’s the release from the Colorado State Forest Service:

Forest managers are working together to address continued outbreaks of insects and disease in Colorado’s forests, including the spruce beetle, which remains the most damaging forest pest in the state for the ninth consecutive year, based on a 2020 aerial detection survey led by the USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region, and Colorado State Forest Service.

Every year, the agencies aerially monitor forest health conditions on millions of forested acres across the state. Today, the agencies released the results of last year’s aerial survey and survey map.

Due to pandemic safety protocols in 2020, trained aerial observers with the USFS and CSFS only flew over priority areas where there was a likelihood of forest pests causing widespread tree mortality.

In total, they monitored 16.3 million acres from the air, compared to 30.2 million acres in 2019.

Because of the reduced acreage observed, total numbers of affected acres are not included in the findings or in the forthcoming 2020 Report on the Health of Colorado’s Forests since comparisons between 2020 and other years are not possible.

Impacts from Native Bark Beetles

Despite the modified flights, observers were able to detect and track pests infesting areas of forests that were previously unaffected, including the spruce beetle and Douglas-fir beetle. While the intensity of these two native bark beetles decreased in 2020, they continue to infest and kill previously unaffected stands.

The Spruce beetle affects high-elevation Engelmann spruce. Primary areas impacted by this insect include newly infested forests in eastern Gunnison and western Chaffee counties. Both counties are experiencing severe, intense infestations. Spruce beetle populations also increased in Hinsdale, San Juan and La Plata counties. Beetle outbreaks in Huerfano and Custer counties continue to expand as well, though not as rapidly. In Grand County, the intensity of infestations has declined from past years as the beetle continuously depletes large-diameter spruce trees. Since 2000, the spruce beetle has affected at least 1.88 million forested acres in Colorado.

The Douglas-fir beetle continued to invade Douglas-fir trees in central and southern Colorado, particularly in Gunnison, Saguache, Hinsdale and Mineral counties, where infestations are severe.

Spurred by Drought Conditions

Weather continues to play an important role in creating conditions that exacerbate the activity of spruce and Douglas-fir beetles, as well as other forest pests, in Colorado. The amount of precipitation and daily temperature patterns affect how well trees can ward off pests to remain healthy and resilient. In 2020, winter and spring had average precipitation amounts. Thereafter, severe and extreme drought conditions across most of the state occurred through the summer and fall, further weakening trees and intensifying infestations of bark beetles and other forest pests.

“Unfortunately, our dry conditions are optimal for insect epidemics and tree diseases in many parts of the Rocky Mountains,” said Tammy Angel, Acting Regional Forester for the USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region. “Where possible, managing forests for age and species diversity can increase resiliency while ensuring diverse wildlife habitat, cleaner air and water, timber and grazing resources, and greener, safer landscapes for recreation.”
Spurred by drought conditions, the roundheaded pine beetle and associated native bark beetles continue to affect ponderosa pine forests in Dolores and La Plata counties in southwest Colorado. The intensity of this activity remains high in localized areas of the San Juan National Forest. Further to the south, pockets of affected areas within La Plata County are expanding.

The aerial survey also revealed that western spruce budworm continues to be Colorado’s most damaging and widespread forest defoliator. Budworm infested forests in south-central Colorado continue to experience intense disturbance. Over several years, defoliation from this insect may weaken a tree to the point where bark beetles can easily overcome the tree and kill it.

“Colorado’s forests are vital to the economic and ecological health of our state,” said Mike Lester, state forester and director of the Colorado State Forest Service. “Our partnership with the USDA Forest Service on the aerial survey offers another great example of how we can effectively address forest health issues that span property boundaries by working together, like bark beetle outbreaks. With information from the survey, we better understand the health of our forests and can focus our efforts where they’ll make the biggest impact.”
The aerial survey exemplifies the agencies’ continued support for shared stewardship and the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2019, which establishes a framework for federal and state agencies to work collaboratively to accomplish mutual goals and respond to ecological, natural resource, and recreational challenges and concerns for the 24.4 million acres of forestlands in Colorado.

More results from the 2020 aerial survey include a map of insect and disease activity in Colorado and a story map at http://bit.ly/COForestHealth2020.

To view 2020 Forest Insect and Disease Conditions in the Rocky Mountain Region, visit https://usfs.maps.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=10c87fc97cef46f59a4f256b75f978ab

For more information on the insects and diseases of Colorado’s forests, and support for landowners seeking to achieve healthier forests, contact your local CSFS field office or visit http://csfs.colostate.edu.

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

The Roaring Fork Valley experienced a spread of Douglas fir, spruce and western balsam bark beetles last year but the infestations remained light compared to many other parts of the state, according to the latest assessment…

“I can share (that the) spruce beetle has moved into the Aspen area, particularly in the northern reaches of the Elk Mountains,” Dan West, forest entomologist with the state forest service, wrote in an email…

The aerial survey indicated the White River National Forest had about 160 acres of new spruce beetle activity that was detectable from the air. The infestation is likely more widespread, he said, because what can be seen from the air is usually less than what’s occurring on the ground.

The survey also determined that the Douglas-fir beetle infestation has intensified because of the Lake Christine Fire of July 2018 on Basalt Mountain.

Map via the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District.

“Moderately scorched trees are havens for bark beetles, and the trees along the burn perimeter were likely brood trees for these beetles,” West said.

Forest health assessments are vital because Colorado’s forests have come under pressure from climate change. Warmer temperatures and unpredictable precipitation levels are stressing trees, said Adam McCurdy, forest and climate director at Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.

He said Douglas-fir beetles have been a slow but growing problem primarily downvalley from Aspen, with spot infestations in Castle Creek Valley, the ridges north and east of Snowmass Canyon and the Fryingpan Valley…

McCurdy said Douglas fir trees have proven in the past to be resilient because they are hardier in a warmer climate. Recent droughts and warm temperatures have stressed them.

West agreed that drought in the Roaring Fork Valley and throughout Colorado has made Douglas firs more vulnerable to beetles. Last year’s weather pattern added to the problem.

McCurdy pointed out that intense Douglas-fir beetle infestations are on the doorstep of Pitkin County, in eastern Gunnison County.

In addition to Douglas-fir infestations, the aerial survey map shows small outbreaks of western balsam bark beetles in higher elevations of the Independence Pass corridor as well as Castle and Maroon creek valleys. Sub-alpine fir trees are vulnerable to the western balsam bark beetles. There are also a few small pockets of spruce beetle infestations in the Roaring Fork watershed.

White River National Forest officials were concerned about a potential spruce beetle outbreak after a landmark avalanche cycle in March 2019. The slides wiped out untold acres of mature spruce and other trees in areas such as Conundrum Creek Valley and Lincoln Creek Valley.

West said there is limited potential for the debris piles to host an infestation…

The Colorado State Forest Service also identified disease in Colorado’s signature aspen trees as another emerging problem in 2020, largely because of drought.

McCurdy said there is ample evidence of aspen stands experiencing problems in the Aspen area: the Cemetery Lane side of Sunnyside Trail, upper Buttermilk and the west side of Castle Creek Valley downvalley from Toklat Lodge among them.

The White River National Forest announced Thursday a major proposal for a decades-long aspen management plan. The 2.3-million-acre forest contains an estimated 600,000 acres of aspen trees. About 375,000 acres are targeted for timber harvesting and prescribed fire to maintain and expand aspen stands.

International Day of Women and Girls in Science — Denver @Botanic Gardens

From Denver Botanic Gardens (Jennifer Ramp Neale):

Denver Botanic Gardens is more than just a place for peace, respite and beauty; it is a scientific institution. Between our Horticulture and Research & Conservation departments, we are home to more than two dozen women scientists. As we celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science today, we want to acknowledge the passion, leadership and dedication of our scientists.

I asked my colleagues how they see themselves as women in science, what role they think they may play in training the next generation of scientists and where they received their own training. Our backgrounds and expertise are as varied as the plants in our gardens. There is not one way to describe a scientist. Some of us have been in our career for decades whereas others are still in training. Most of us followed a fairly traditional educational path involving an undergraduate degree followed by graduate school, but some of us arrived at the Gardens after careers in other industries or after discovering a love of plants through life experiences.

One thing we all have in common is a love of observation and asking questions. Inquiry and creativity are, after all, at the heart of all scientific endeavors. We wouldn’t have the knowledge to identify a plant on a hike or grow plants in the Gardens without constant inquiry and seeking out knowledge. Science is the process of trial and error and learning and growing from those experiences.

One thing that many of our scientists commented on is the support networks they have found within their fields and the intense desire to give back to future generations by serving as mentors and supporters of young women and girls with an interest in science.

We are lucky to work in an environment where we are supported and respected. Very few of us feel like we are in the minority as women scientists, but we know this is not the case for all women pursuing scientific careers. We take great pride in our role as mentors, teachers and champions of the next generation of women scientists. We can all name a mentor along the way who supported us and showed us that we could be a scientist. It is now our job to continue to provide opportunities for those interested in science, to show them all the different ways someone can be a scientist, and to continue to share our passion and love for plants, fungi and nature with those we are lucky enough to meet along their journey.

Photos via Denver Botanic Gardens.

Jim Broderick received Aspinall Award from the #Colorado Water Congress

Jim Broderick. Photo credit: The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):

Jim Broderick honored by Colorado Water Congress with Wayne N. Aspinall Award

Jim Broderick, a Pueblo native who has spearheaded regional and state water projects for nearly two decades, was given the top honor at the 2021 Colorado Water Congress convention.
Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, was presented the 2021 Wayne N. Aspinall “Water Leader of the Year” award at the CWC virtual water conference Tuesday.

“What a great honor,” Broderick said, after being surprised by the award. “Let me thank the past winners for this award. I’d also like to thank the Southeastern Board of Directors for giving me the opportunity to do the work I love to do. I have been privileged to have people on staff who have helped me… Most of all, I thank my wife (Cindy) and daughter (Amy).”

“I couldn’t be more honored to present this award,” said Christine Arbogast, a water consultant who received the Aspinall Award in 2020. She grew up in Pueblo at the same time as Broderick, and works for the Southeastern District.

Southeastern Board President Bill Long praised Broderick for advancing the Excess Capacity Master Contract for storage in Pueblo Reservoir, hydroelectric power at Pueblo Dam, and the Arkansas Valley Conduit, as well as other District improvements.

Eric Wilkinson, retired executive director of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and an Aspinall Award recipient himself, praised Broderick for his service to Water Congress.

Also on hand for the presentation were Southeastern Board Members Alan Hamel (a 2012 Aspinall recipient), Kevin Karney and Seth Clayton, who were gathered for a presentation on AVC immediately following the Aspinall presentation.

Broderick said he had no idea he was there for anything other than the AVC presentation.

Although about 250 people were in the virtual meeting at the time, only a few were in the Zoom meeting room with Broderick. Normally, there would be a larger crowd, but because of COVID-19 restrictions, only a few presenters were on-screen during the presentation.

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Broderick was named executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District on November 1, 2002. The Southeastern District is the state authority for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which was created by an Act of Congress in 1962. Its primary purpose is to deliver a supplemental supply of water to the Arkansas River basin from the upper reaches of the Colorado River.

At the helm of the Southeastern District, Broderick completed the Excess Capacity Master Contract for storage in Pueblo Reservoir. The contract enables stakeholders to store non-Project water in Pueblo Reservoir for 40 years when space is available. The Master Contract covers environmental compliance issues which otherwise would require annual analysis, and firms up storage options for participants.

Broderick oversaw the construction of a 7.5-megawatt hydroelectric power plant at Pueblo Dam under a Lease of Power Privilege with the Bureau of Reclamation. The facility opened in 2019 and the Southeastern Board voted to name the James W. Broderick Hydropower Plant in his honor. The plant provides a source of clean energy, which is being purchased by the city of Fountain and Fort Carson (through Colorado Springs Utilities).

Broderick revived the Arkansas Valley Conduit project, meeting with stakeholders for a decade, shepherding the AVC through the NEPA process, working with Reclamation to develop AVC, and tirelessly urging Congress to fund the AVC. Those efforts paid off in 2020 with the first federal appropriation for construction of the AVC, which will begin by early 2022. The AVC will be a 130-mile long pipeline that will provide fresh drinking water to 40 communities with 50,000 people east of Pueblo.

Broderick in 2020 completed a two-year term as President of the Colorado River Water Users Association, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that provides a forum to exchange ideas and perspectives on the Colorado River. Its members include Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and the Ten Tribes Partnership. The group also works closely with Mexico. During his tenure at the helm, the seven states reached a Drought Contingency Plans agreement that describes how states will operate if there is a shortfall of water on the Colorado River basin.

Broderick is past president of the Colorado Water Congress and Arkansas Basin Roundtable. He is also a member of the National Water Resources Association and Family Farm Alliance.

He also served as a director for the Arizona Water and Pollution Control Association from 1996-1999, resided as president on the board from 2001-2002, chaired the Arizona Section of AWWA from 2001-2002., and was President of the Arizona section of WEF from 2001-2002.

Prior to joining the Southeastern District, Broderick was the Business Administrator for Tucson Water which served 700,000 customers at the time in Tucson, Arizona. In that position, he oversaw Financial Services, Operations & Maintenance Budgets, Capital Budgets, Rate and Revenues analysis, Asset Management, Information Technology Systems, Customer Service and Billing, Enterprise Call Center, Meter Reading, Demand-side Energy Efficiency Planning and reengineering for a multi-site operations.

The 11th Annual Survey of Voters in the Rocky Mountain West — State of the Rockies Project

Here’s the release from the State of the Rockies Project at Colorado College (Katrina Miller-Stevens and Jacob Hay):

New Poll Shows Surge in Concern about Nature and Continued Bipartisan Support for Conservation Among Western Voters

11th annual Conservation in the West Poll​ ​reveals policy opportunities for new administration and Congress on public land conservation

Colorado College’s 11th annual State of the Rockies Project Conservation in the West Poll​ released today showed a marked increase in levels of support for conservation, with voters in the Mountain West calling for bold action to protect nature as a new administration and Congress consider their public lands agendas.

The poll, which surveyed the views of voters in eight Mountain West states (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming), found ​61 percent​ of voters are concerned about the future of nature, meaning land, water, air, and wildlife. ​Despite trying economic conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the level of concern for things like loss of habitat for fish and wildlife, inadequate water supplies, pollution in the air and water, the loss of pollinators, uncontrollable wildfires, and climate change outpaced the overall level of concern about unemployment.

“We are seeing strong voter concern for nature, which is translating into calls for bold action on public lands in the West,” said Katrina Miller-Stevens​, Director of the State of the Rockies Project and an Assistant Professor at Colorado College​.

“If federal and state policy leaders are looking for direction on public lands, the view from the West is clear.”

Westerners’ heightened concerns about their natural landscapes are matched with strong consensus behind proposals to conserve and protect the country’s outdoors.

77 percent​ support setting a national goal of conserving 30 percent of land and waters in America by the year 2030, which was recently announced in an Executive Order by the new Biden administration.

72 percent​ support making public lands a net-zero source of carbon pollution, meaning that the positive impacts of forests and lands to create clean air are greater than the carbon pollution caused by oil and gas development or mining.

66 percent ​support gradually transitioning to 100 percent of our energy being produced from clean, renewable sources like solar, wind, and hydropower over the next ten to fifteen years.

77 percent​ support restoring national monument protections to lands in the West which contain archaeological and Native American sites, but also have oil, gas, and mineral deposits.

Greater Sandhill Cranes in flight over the San Luis Valley. The annual Monte Vista Crane Festival takes place during March each year. Photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

84 percent​ support creating new national parks, national monuments, national wildlife refuges, and tribal protected areas to protect historic sites or outdoor recreation areas, in part because ​77 percent​ of voters believe those types of protected public lands help the economy in their state.

91 percent​ of voters in the West agree that despite state budget problems, we should still find money to protect their state’s land, water, and wildlife.

Conservation intersects with equity concerns

The poll broke new ground this year in examining the intersection of race with views on conservation priorities. Results were separated by responses from Black, Latino, and Native American voters, along with combined communities of color findings. The poll included an oversample of Black and Native American voters in the region in order to speak more confidently about the view of those communities.
The poll found notably higher percentages of Black voters, Latino voters, and Native American voters to be concerned about climate change, pollution of rivers, lakes, and streams, and the impact of oil and gas drilling on our land, air, and water. The poll also found higher levels of support within communities of color for bold conservation policies like the 30 percent conservation by 2030 effort, transitioning to one hundred percent renewable energy, and making public lands a net-zero source of carbon pollution.

Furthermore, the poll showed a desire by strong majorities of Western voters for equitable access to public lands and to ensure local communities are heard. ​73​ ​percent​ of voters in the West support directing funding to ensure adequate access to parks and natural areas for lower-income people and communities of color that have disproportionately lacked them. ​83 percent​ of voters in the West support ensuring that Native American tribes have greater input into decisions made about areas within national public lands that contain sites sacred to or culturally important to their tribe.

Concerns over climate and fires are growing and viewed as interconnected

More voters than in the past expressed deep concern over both climate and wildfires. ​51 percent​ of voters in the West say climate change is an extremely or very serious problem in their state, compared to ​27 percent​ when the survey began in 2011 and ​47 percent​ as recently as 2020. Similarly, ​60 percent​ of voters in the West say uncontrollable wildfires that threaten homes and property are an extremely or very serious problem in their state, which is up from ​32 percent​ in 2016 and ​47 percent ​in 2020. ​71 percent​ of voters in the West say wildfires are more of a problem than ten years ago, with ​42 percent​ saying the reason is changes in the climate and ​40 percent​ citing drought.

Sights on a cleaner and safer energy future on public lands

With oil and gas drilling taking place on half of America’s public lands, Western voters are well aware of the harmful impacts and want ​to ensure their public lands are protected and safe. ​91 percent​ of voters support requiring oil and gas companies to use updated equipment and technology to prevent leaks of methane gas and other pollution into the air and ​93 percent support requiring oil and gas companies to pay for all of the clean-up and land restoration costs after drilling is finished.

Asked about what policy makers should place more emphasis on in upcoming decisions around public lands, ​69 percent​ of Western voters pointed to conservation efforts and recreation usage, compared to ​27 percent​ who preferred energy production.
Nearly three-fourths of Western voters want to significantly curb oil and gas development on public lands. ​59 percent ​percent think that oil and gas development should be strictly limited on public lands and another ​14 percent​ say it should be stopped completely. That is compared to 25 percent​ of voters in the West who would like to expand oil and gas development on public lands.

Growing support for water and wildlife protections

The level of concern among Westerners around water and wildlife issues is growing. ​52 percent of voters in the West say loss of habitat for fish and wildlife is an extremely or very serious problem in their state, which represents a sharp increase compared to ​38 percent​ in 2011 and 44 percent​ in 2020. ​63 percent​ of voters in the West believe the loss of pollinators is an extremely or very serious problem. ​54 percent​ of voters in the West also say pollution of rivers, lakes, and streams is an extremely or very serious problem in their state, up from ​42 percent​ in 2011 and ​54 percent​ in 2020.

Those concerns translate into strong support among Western voters for water and wildlife protections:

● 81 percent​ support designating portions of existing public lands where wildlife migrate each year as areas which should not be open to oil and gas drilling.

85 percent ​support restoring Clean Water Act protections for smaller streams and seasonal wetlands.

● 73 percent​ support restoring protections for threatened species under the Endangered Species Act that were removed.

● 67 percent​ support restoring limits on drilling or industrial activities that could negatively impact threatened wildlife on national public lands, such as sage-grouse.

● 94 percent​ support dedicating funding to modernizing older water infrastructure and restoring natural areas that help communities protect sources of drinking water and withstand impacts of drought.

This is the eleventh consecutive year Colorado College has gauged the public’s sentiment on public lands and conservation issues. The 2021 Colorado College ​Conservation in the West Poll is a bipartisan survey conducted by Republican pollster Lori Weigel of New Bridge Strategy and Democratic pollster Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates.

The poll surveyed at least 400 registered voters in each of eight Western states (AZ, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, UT, & WY) for a total 3,842-voter sample, which included an over-sample of Black and Native American voters. The survey was conducted between January 2-13, 2021 and the effective margin of error is ​+​2.2% at the 95% confidence interval for the total sample; and at most ​+​4.8% for each state. The full survey and individual state surveys are available on the State of the Rockies website​.

Congratulations Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden

Kamala Harris and Joe Biden November, 2020. Photo credit: JoeBiden.com

From The New York Times (Megan Specia, Michael Crowley and Katie Glueck):

On Wednesday, 232 years after John Adams became the nation’s first vice president, Kamala Harris became the first woman — and the first woman of color — sworn into the office. The history-making moment is a milestone for Americans who have fought tirelessly for generations to see faces that resemble their own in the government’s executive branch.

But Ms. Harris’s role in the new administration will be much more than a symbolic one.

With the Senate now split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, Ms. Harris may find herself casting the decisive vote in many crucial moments, as the vice president wields tiebreaking power. Ambitious legislation on the coronavirus, the economy, climate change and other policy matters will be high on President Biden’s agenda, and her vote may prove critical. One of her first official acts in her new role will be to swear in three new Democratic senators.

Many expect Mr. Biden will also rely on her prosecutorial chops and her personal energy as a crucial member of the administration. And given speculation that Mr. Biden, who is 78, may not seek a second term, Ms. Harris is sure to face intense scrutiny over her own political future.

But for many, it’s the voice she will offer to women and people of color that was being reflected on as she took office.

“That’s so important, to have a Black woman, a South Asian woman’s perspective, on the big issues that this administration has to tackle,” said Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of California and a longtime ally of Ms. Harris’s. “She’ll bring a justice lens, a racial justice lens, racial equity, to everything and every policy and every decision that’s going to be made.”

Across the country, women are wearing pearls on Wednesday to mark the occasion, a nod to the signature pearls that Ms. Harris has worn throughout major milestones in her life, and is likely to wear again when she is sworn in for her history-making turn as the first female vice president. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who as the first woman of color to serve on the Supreme Court has broken barriers of her own, administered the oath.

Hillary Clinton, the only woman ever to receive a major party’s presidential nomination, highlighted the barrier-breaking nature of Ms. Harris’s achievement in a tweet on Wednesday.

“It delights me to think that what feels historical and amazing to us today — a woman sworn in to the vice presidency — will seem normal, obvious, “of course” to Kamala’s grand-nieces as they grow up,” she wrote, posting a photo of Ms. Harris with the two little girls. “And they will be right.”

With the inauguration of Ms. Harris as vice president, her husband, Douglas Emhoff, 56, had two firsts of his own: the first “second gentleman” and the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president. The details of what Mr. Emhoff, an entertainment lawyer, might do with the platform are unclear, but he has discussed focusing on “access to justice.”

White supremacists who stormed US Capitol are only the most visible product of #racism — The Conversation


Known white supremacists have been identified among the Trump supporters at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Probal Rashid/LightRocket via Getty Images

Ursula Moffitt, Northwestern University

Among the Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 were members of right-wing groups, including the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.

The increasing violence and visibility of these groups have turned them into symbols of white supremacy and racism. They were involved in the deadly Unite the Right march in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 and street clashes with racial justice protesters in Portland, Oregon, last year. At a Trump rally in Washington, D.C., in December, Black Lives Matter banners were torn from two historically Black churches and destroyed. The Proud Boys’ leader has been criminally charged in those acts.

Many Proud Boys reject the label “white supremacist”, arguing their aim is to “save America” and to defend “Western values.”

White supremacy was itself a longstanding Western value. And white people don’t have to be white supremacists to benefit from the ways it still shapes American society.

White supremacy, then and now

As an ideology, white supremacy is the belief that white people are inherently superior to people of color. It relies on the notion that distinct races of people exist, and ranks those categorized as “white” at the top of the racial hierarchy.

For hundreds of years, American leaders overtly embraced white supremacy. It was used to rationalize the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans and their descendants from the Colonial period to the 19th century. In an 1858 debate, President Abraham Lincoln said, “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.”

Known for abolishing slavery, Lincoln’s position may come as a surprise. But many U.S. abolitionists wanted white people to maintain power in government and everyday life, including after Black people were freed from bondage.

After abolition in 1865, white supremacy continued in official and unofficial ways. It drove the legal racial segregation of Jim Crow and the banking practice of redlining, which robbed Black families of the loans necessary to buy homes in certain neighborhoods. White supremacy also underlay the forced assimilation and killing of Native Americans.

Black-and-white image of Native students in Victorian dresses holding violins
Boarding schools for Native American youths, like Montana’s Fort Shaw, cut students off from their culture and taught them that white values, practices and dress were American culture.
Montana Historical Society Photo Archives, CC BY

Outright racist policies were banned after the civil rights era of the 1960s. But systemic racism remained. Today’s well-documented inequalities between Black and white Americans in savings, longevity, home ownership and health are directly related to the white supremacist hierarchy created centuries ago.

Hidden white supremacy

White people need not endorse white supremacy to benefit from this hierarchy. As psychologist Beverly Tatum has explained, the privileges afforded to whiteness are so much a part of the structure of U.S. society that many white people don’t even notice them.

Woman wearing a mask holds a sign likening COVID-19 to racism – 'assume you have it'
Decrying the insidiousness of white supremacy at a protest march.
Stephen Zenner/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

For example, a white man is unlikely to be stopped and frisked by police. A white high school student probably won’t be asked if she’s in the right room on the first day of an honors class. And it likely won’t occur to either to reflect on these privileges.

A white person is similarly unlikely to wonder why no one ever asks “but where are you really from?” after introducing themselves. And a white child likely won’t notice that nearly everyone in their textbooks looks like them.

All of these affronts, both minor and major, are experiences many people of color face throughout their lives.

Not noticing one’s racial privilege does not make a white person a white supremacist. That racial privilege affects countless aspects of daily life does, however, mean that U.S. society is still shaped by white supremacy.

All people have a racial identity

Research shows that white people must recognize and understand how they benefit from white supremacy to combat it. Doing so necessitates an awareness of one’s own racial identity – which is something I study as a developmental psychologist.

In general, white people easily identify as white on official forms or in research settings. But when asked about their racial identity – that is, the way they understand themselves in terms of race and their experiences as a member of their racial group – they often have trouble answering.

For example, in ongoing interview-based research with white teenagers, my colleagues and I ask questions like, “How important is being white?” and “What does it mean to be white?” The teens generally claim their race “doesn’t really matter.”

This response reflects a tendency to think of whiteness as normal and invisible, and race as something “other” people have.

Yet many of these same white teenagers also told us stories of witnessing racism in their schools and within their friend groups. They can see and name obvious racism, but most do not recognize their own white privilege as a part of the same system.

For that reason, although racism is often seen only as prejudiced beliefs and behaviors – as embodied by the Proud Boys and other such groups – it is better defined as a system of advantage based on race. Most teenagers in our study do not endorse racism, but they are all growing up in, and benefiting from, a society shaped by it.

If and how white people acknowledge that fact informs their own identities – and affects the society they forge. Research shows people who recognize the history of racism are more likely to identify racism today, in both overt forms like the violence at the Capitol and in more covert daily forms.

Extremists like the Proud Boys are putting American white supremacy in the headlines today, just as the Ku Klux Klan did 50 years ago. But they are merely its most visible product.The Conversation

Ursula Moffitt, Postdoctoral Fellow in Psychology, Northwestern University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Meet the gun-toting ‘Tenacious Unicorns’ in rural #Colorado — @HighCountryNews

Photos by Allen Tian, The Colorado Independent, and courtesy of Dark Skies Inc of the Wet Mountain Valley.

From The High Country News (Eric Siegel) [January 14, 2021, be sure to click through for the photos]:

A year ago, transgender rancher Penny Logue found the dome. Fed up with a hostile landlord in the city and fearful for their safety amid record-high deaths in the transgender community nationwide, Logue and her business partner, Bonnie Nelson, sought refuge in the rural, open rangelands.

The geodesic dome perched on sprawling acreage in the remote Wet Mountain Valley on the eastern flank of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, near the rural ranching hamlet of Westcliffe, Colorado. They were intrigued. “Domes are funky and cool and a bit against the status quo — and they help the planet,” Logue told me. So they bought it.

“They are weird but useful,” she said, “which is the essence of queer.”

If the dome caught their attention, the dramatic Wet Mountain Valley convinced them to stay. “We fell in love,” said Logue. “You emerge out of the mountains into the valley and the Sangre de Cristo range just breaks in front of you.” She and Nelson were unexpectedly taken with Westcliffe too — its quaint storefronts and theater, the wide sidewalks, signs for “Shakespeare in the Park.”

They bought the dome, and by March, with the pandemic raging and a divisive presidential election roiling, relocated to the valley and created the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch, a community of gun-loving, transgender, anti-fascist alpaca ranchers. While they already knew the financial, physical, and emotional challenges of operating a successful ranch, they had no idea that the Wet Mountain Valley had become a cauldron of right-wing conservatism — home to militias, vigilantes, Three Percenters — anathema to the ranch’s gender-inclusive, anti-racist, ecological politics.

Penny Logue reclines on a pile of hay as she coaxes the friendliest members of the ranch’s alpaca herd closer to her. Photo credit: Luna Anna Archey/High Country News

But rather than retreat, the unique LGBTQ+ community, around a dozen strong, asserted its right to exist. They armed up and began speaking out, quickly developing a local reputation that galvanized other local rural progressives. In the process, they’ve showed how queer communities can flourish. “We belong here,” Logue told me this past November. “Queers are reclaiming country spaces.”

CUSTER COUNTY, COLORADO, where the newly formed Tenacious Unicorn Ranch is located, is named after George Armstrong Custer. It was founded in March 1877 — nine months after Custer’s defeat at The Battle of Little Bighorn — and its overwhelmingly white, rural and conservative population hovers at around 5,000. While Colorado as a whole has shifted left in recent years, Custer County has tacked right: In every presidential election since 2008, when John McCain carried the county by 63%, the percentage of Republican votes has steadily increased; Trump won with nearly 70% in 2020.

But the county defies easy categorization. Locals describe Westcliffe, the county seat, as politically “purple.” The town is a mecca of sorts, a gateway to thousands of acres of protected wilderness, and its pristine dark skies attract photographers and stargazers from around the world. (It is a certified International Dark Sky Community, one of only a handful worldwide.) A number of countercultural communities have found a foothold there over the years—from Mission: Wolf, an off-the-grid wolf sanctuary founded in the 1980s, to the Mountain Publishing Company, the conservative media organization that publishes the weekly Sangre de Cristo Sentinel (“The Voice of Conservative Colorado!”). The Sentinel’s articles and columns — one called “Patriot Alert!” — editorialize on gun culture, patriotism and the history of “the Old West.”

When I visited the ranch around Thanksgiving, the late-afternoon light was reverberant, volleying off the Wet Mountains and Sangre de Cristos, casting a luminous glow across the landscape. J, a Texan who moved to the ranch in June — after losing her job and housing in the pandemic — waved to me from a long stairwell outside the dome’s entrance. Dressed in all-black denim, she was masked and distanced in a black cowboy hat and stylish black boots, armed with her favorite firearm, a Ruger-57. Ten enthusiastic dogs — five Great Pyrenees and Australian shepherd puppies, all named after Star Trek characters (Worf, Seven of Nine, Geordi, Lore and Data) — howled, tails wagging like windshield wipers. Nearly a hundred hissing alpaca trundled across the pasture.

The ranch exists at a philosophical intersection that is immediately evident inside the dome, where a wall displays prized firearms — Bonnie’s sniper, a Springfield AR-15, two 12-gauge shotguns and a 22-rifle — and flags for The Iron Front, the anti-Nazi symbol used by 1930s paramilitary groups, which now symbolizes anti-fascism and intersectional Pride. Pride flags with colorful stripes — pink, rose, yellow, green, pewter, black, white — bedeck the wall, celebrating asexuality, agender identity, lesbianism and nonbinary gender identities.

Since Logue founded the ranch in 2018, its frontier libertarian ethos has attracted social justice activists and gun-rights advocates, all seeking sanctuary. “We’re a haven. We offer work, we offer shelter, we offer peace,” says Logue, gesturing toward the expansive open space surrounding us. “There are a lot of people who visit for upwards of a week and just enjoy their time away from society,” Nelson added.

“And cry,” Logue said. “When that ranch gate shuts behind you, the cis world stays out there.”

On that November afternoon at the barn, Justine — a 21-year-old who moved to the ranch in July — filled water basins for the alpaca and sheep and fed the ducks and chickens. “I started the watering because it was needed, but then I realized I was doing it because it got me out of bed,” she said. “As long as the alpaca are healthy and fed, we can keep growing and help more people.”

Logue and her cohort seek to challenge the patriotic myths — about Manifest Destiny, liberty and freedom — that their Wet Mountain Valley neighbors double-down on in The Sentinel. “The American frontier or ‘the American West’ wasn’t conquered with rugged individualism,” she said. “It was conquered by communities sticking together. … Nobody did that by themselves.” Their social mission — akin to that of mutual-aid networks and similar to anti-fascist groups like The Redneck Revolt as well as leftist pro-gun groups like the John Brown Gun Club or the Socialist Rifle Association — stems from their political commitments. “It isn’t through harsh words and violence that you defeat fascism,” Logue told me. “It’s through building community, but only if you can stay alive long enough to do it. That means you have to be armed — because fascists are armed, always.”

This is something they’ve learned firsthand. “There are militias in the Wet Mountain Valley,” Logue said. “They’ve showed up armed and threatening.” That spurred the ranchers to arm up. “Moving here demanded gun ownership,” she continued. The ranchers watched from their front porch with a high-powered scope and sniper rifle — the Springfield AR-15 on the living room wall — staking out visitors loitering at the end of their driveway. The visits ceased. It’s rumored locally that militias unofficially “patrol” their surroundings to establish dominance. “In order to be treated as a human, you have to show you can defend yourself more than they can hurt you,” Logue said. “Then you can reach equality.”

But achieving that has been elusive. This past summer, with COVID-19 cases rising, residents disagreed about local officials’ handling of the pandemic. The town’s political conflicts erupted on July Fourth, when armed demonstrators — led by The Custer Citizens for Liberty, a right-wing patriot group that The Sentinel frequently endorsed — paraded through downtown Westcliffe, protesting the Custer County Board of Health’s decision to cancel the annual Independence Day Parade. The ranchers had planned to avoid the protest downtown but got caught in the crowds during morning errands. “We saw them flying the Three Percenter flags front and center and everybody was armed. It was a fascist parade,” Logue told me. “So, we came back and started antifa accounts on Instagram. We called them out on being Nazis by tweeting about them, then on Facebook.”

What happened next surprised them. “There was a real upsurge from the leftist community in the Valley,” said Logue. The outcry created an unexpected opening, as they unknowingly tapped into long-simmering sentiments. Meanwhile, they found another niche: Many residents began employing them in local handiwork and physical labor. The ranchers also provide recycling services at the county landfill. That has exponentially increased their visibility: “It’s really hard for people to paint you as ‘weird’ or whatever, if you’re just helping people,” Logue said.

If the political headwinds they faced seem daunting, they’ve also made them adapt. “We’re queer. We get second-guessed all the time,” Logue said. “We’re always having to innovate and think ahead.” When they couldn’t get certain Department of Agriculture livestock loans, for example — alpacas are technically classified as pets — they acquired a few sheep. “There’s something inherently queer about how many alpaca we have. People don’t know what to do with us,” said Kathryn, one of Logue’s partners, who goes by her first name only. “Sure, we’ll bring out some sheep, I guess that makes us ‘normal’ or whatever, but that’s the closest we’ll get to assimilation.”

This underscores a larger point: Exceeding established categories, and reinventing something better in their wake, is a hallmark of “Camp culture” — what critic Susan Sontag famously described in her 1964 essay “Notes on ‘Camp’” as the “love of the exaggerated, the ‘off’ … the spirit of extravagance.” The perceived surplus or frivolity is the point. Hence the large number of alpaca (nearly 200, as of January): It’s a sensibility, a vision — a distinctly ecological one. “We deliberately chose alpaca because their poop is particularly good for establishing deep soil,” Logue said. “We do natural farming and ranching, so we don’t rob the land of its inherent goodness. We make it better.” The Tenacious Unicorns and their brand of Camp culture are leading the way, seeding a blueprint, reinventing what rural America can be.

“What we lose by thinking of rural America as a white stronghold. …” Logue drifted off. “You know, there’s plenty of space in those communities for queer voices.”

Eric Siegel is an editorial intern for High Country News. Email him at eric.siegel@hcn.org.

Article: Insect decline in the Anthropocene — Death by a thousand cuts — PNAS

Click here to read the article from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (David L. Wagner, Eliza M. Grames, Matthew L. Forister, May R. Berenbaum, and David Stopak):

Nature is under siege. In the last 10,000 y the human population has grown from 1 million to 7.8 billion. Much of Earth’s arable lands are already in agriculture, millions of acres of tropical forest are cleared each year, atmospheric CO2 levels are at their highest concentrations in more than 3 million y, and climates are erratically and steadily changing from pole to pole, triggering unprecedented droughts, fires, and floods across continents. Indeed, most biologists agree that the world has entered its sixth mass extinction event, the first since the end of the Cretaceous Period 66 million y ago, when more than 80% of all species, including the nonavian dinosaurs, perished.

Ongoing losses have been clearly demonstrated for better-studied groups of organisms. Terrestrial vertebrate population sizes and ranges have contracted by one-third, and many mammals have experienced range declines of at least 80% over the last century. A 2019 assessment suggests that half of all amphibians are imperiled (2.5% of which have recently gone extinct) (6). Bird numbers across North America have fallen by 2.9 billion since 1970. Prospects for the world’s coral reefs, beyond the middle of this century, could scarcely be more dire. A 2020 United Nations report estimated that more than a million species are in danger of extinction over the next few decades…

Although a flurry of reports has drawn attention to declines in insect abundance, biomass, species richness, and range sizes, whether the rates of declines for insects are on par with or exceed those for other groups remains unknown. There are still too little data to know how the steep insect declines reported for western Europe and California’s Central Valley—areas of high human density and activity—compare to population trends in sparsely populated regions and wildlands. Long-term species-level demographic data are meager from the tropics, where considerably more than half of the world’s insect species occur. To consider the state of knowledge about the global status of insects, the Entomological Society of America hosted a symposium at their Annual Meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, in November 2019. The Society was motivated to do so by the many inquiries about the validity of claims of rapid insect decline that had been received in the months preceding the annual meeting and by the many discussions taking place among members. The entomological community was in need of a thorough review and the annual meeting provided a timely opportunity for sharing information.

Death by a thousand cuts: Global threats to insect diversity. Stressors from 10 o’clock to 3 o’clock anchor to climate change. Featured insects: Regal fritillary (Speyeria idalia) (Center), rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) (Center Right), and Puritan tiger beetle (Cicindela puritana) (Bottom). Each is an imperiled insect that represents a larger lineage that includes many International Union for Conservation of Nature “red list” species (i.e., globally extinct, endangered, and threatened species). Illustration: Virginia R. Wagner (artist).

Wise Use Echoes: The rhetoric and ideology of today’s right-wing extremism mirrors that of a lesser-known anti-public lands movement of the 1990s — The Land Desk

Photo credit: The Land Desk

From The Land Desk (Jonathan Thompson):

Like millions of people from around the globe, I watched the images of coup-pawns invading the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 with shock, rage, and sadness. But, like many others, I wasn’t surprised. After all, almost exactly five years earlier we had been transfixed and alarmed by another violent attack on an American institution, the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by Sagebrush Insurgents. The Center for Western Priorities, an environmental group, aptly called Malheur a “dress rehearsal for what we saw at the Capitol.”

Malheur, meanwhile, was the culmination of what my colleagues and I at High Country News coined the Sagebrush Insurgency, a more violent remake of the seventies-era Sagebrush Rebellion, a movement focused on transferring public lands to state and private hands, that rose up largely in reaction to tightening environmental regulations on public lands.

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So it makes sense that observers are now tracing the roots of the Capitol attack to Malheur and then back to the Sagebrush Rebellion. But to find the true antecedent to the recent insurgency, which was initially sparked by the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, one needn’t go back so far. In the late 1980s, another anti-environmental regulation movement known as Wise Use arose from the Sagebrush Rebellion’s ashes. Wise Use would turn out to be more radical, insidious, and ultimately more influential than its more glamorously named predecessor. And today’s right-wing extremist movements reverberate with echoes from Wise Use and its concurrent cousins the Patriot and Militia movements.

In the late 1980s, as President Ronald Reagan finished his second term and the Cold War neared its end, a right-wing, nationalist furor fulminated in the Heartland. Billboards sprouted along rural roadsides warning of black United Nations helicopters imposing a New World Order on the nation. And in Reno, Nevada, timber lobbyist and co-founder of the Center for Defense of Free Enterprise, Ron Arnold, held the inaugural Wise Use conference featuring sponsors such as Exxon, the National Rifle Association, Boise Cascade Corporation, the Mountain States Legal Foundation, and several cattlemen’s and motorized-recreation organizations.

While the Sagebrush Rebellion had been a direct reaction to the tightening of regulations on public lands and the relatively green ethos of President Jimmy Carter, Wise Use had no clear catalyst. Reagan, after all, had opened up the lands to exploitation once again, and his vice-president, not exactly a liberal, took over from him. Instead, it appears that the movement was sparked by a myriad of causes, one of which was Reaganism, although they would never admit to it. Reagan’s mission was to dismantle the framework created by the New Deal, a framework that protected workers’ rights, staved off extreme wealth-inequality with progressive taxation, and built up a strong middle-class. Reagan took the shame out of unbridled greed and let corporations run rampant with the promise that all that wealth would trickle down to the working classes. It did not, and the very farmers, miners, ranchers, and roughnecks who had sought salvation in Reagan’s laissez faire public lands policies instead were dealt damnation from his free-marketeer ways.

During Reagan’s two terms: Carter-era subsidies for oil shale production ended, triggering a deep recession in the Interior West. The oil boom spurred by energy crises busted, ending—for the time being—Denver’s Dynasty period. Metal mining went global, depressing prices in the U.S. and forcing the closure of numerous Western mines. The uranium mining industry in the West was diminished by Three Mile Island’s then Chernobyl’s impact on the nuclear power industry, followed by the end of the arms race. And the Farm Crisis ravaged agricultural communities everywhere. The middle class was hollowed out while a guy named Donald Trump became a celebrity simply by flaunting his wealth. Reagan’s policies aren’t responsible for all of this, but they did weaken the safety nets that should have caught these people when they were in trouble. Instead, the nets failed, and widespread economic malaise among the working class oozed across the land, spurring resentment that the Wise Use, Patriot, and Militia leaders seized upon to fuel their cause.

Colorado Governor Richard Lamm once called the Sagebrush Rebellion a “murky fusion of idealism and greed” and a “movement of confusion and hysteria.” Wise Use had the fusion of idealism and greed part down, but it was anything but confused, and was more focused, more radical, more sinister, and ultimately more influential than its predecessor. Like Sagebrush Rebels, Wise Users were looking to get out from the yoke of environmental regulations on public lands. But the adherents of the latter campaign also saw themselves as soldiers in a culture war, and their credo carried more than a whiff of evangelical Christianity. The federal government and environmentalists weren’t just a threat to their profits and occupations, but to their “heritage” and “civilization.” Arnold summed up his crusade’s Western civilization-centric ideology in a 1993 speech:

I see environmentalism as the destroyer of the economy, as the destroyer of material well being—as the destroyer of industrial civilization—as the destroyer of individual liberties and civil rights. For those reasons, I fight against environmentalism as a matter of principle, as a matter of ethics, as a matter of survival. The same reasons for which I see environmentalists fighting against industrial civilization.

Wise Use put a nifty little twist on the land-transfer ethos of the Sagebrush Rebels: Instead of focusing on transferring public lands into private hands, they would extend private property rights—for livestock operators, corporations, and counties—to the public lands. It was a brilliant idea, really, because it essentially privatized public land without the need for politically untenable land transfers. One of the leading practitioners of this notion was Karen Budd-Falen, a Wyoming-based attorney and alumna of both the Mountain States Legal Foundation and James Watt’s Interior Department, who argued that public land grazing leases bestowed private property rights on the lessee.

Budd-Falen was instrumental in crafting a slew of ordinances and a land-use plan for Catron County, New Mexico, declaring county authority over federally managed lands and, specifically, grazing allotments. The ordinances were “… about the legal authority of county governments and the legal rights of local citizens as regards the use of federal and state lands.” They were intended to preserve the “customs and culture” of the rural West—by which they apparently meant only the predominantly white, conservative, Euro-American settler-colonial culture and customs, with a big dose of corporate influence thrown into the mix. And the Catron County commissioners were ready to turn to violence and even civil war to stop, in the words of the ordinance, “federal and state agents {who} threaten the life, liberty, and happiness of the people of Catron County … and present danger to the land and livelihood of every man, woman, and child.” The Utah-based National Federal Lands Conference, launched in the late 1980s by Sagebrush Rebel and military-surplus-peddler Bert Smith, boiler-plated the ordinances and tried to sell them to other counties around the rural West.

Rising up alongside Wise Use was the Patriot/Militia movement. Whereas Wise Use was worried about the BLM coming after “their” lands, the Patriots were more concerned about the IRS or the ATF or the United Nations coming for their money and their guns (in black helicopters, of course). While the details of their crusades may have differed, the two movements shared followers, philosophies, and ideological roots.

One of those shared beliefs was the creed of county supremacy over the states and feds and that the county sheriff is the ultimate law enforcement authority. A prominent teacher of this philosophy was W. Cleon Skousen, an extreme right-wing author, Mormon theologian, and founder of the National Center for Constitutional Studies, née the Freeman Institute, known for its best-selling pocket-size versions of the U.S. Constitution. Skousen’s influence—indeed, his exact words—can be found in the Catron County ordinances, and Skousen and Bert Smith were contemporaries and collaborators. Skousen was also friends and ideological twins with Ezra Taft Benson, the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who played a leading role in steering the Church from its collectivist roots onto a right-wing course.

Skousen, a former FBI agent and Salt Lake City police chief, gave talks to Rotary Clubs and other groups and taught classes to police officers. One of his students was a man named Richard Mack. Mack grew up in southern Arizona in a conservative Mormon family, graduated from Brigham Young University, then joined the Provo, Utah, police force in the 1980s. While he was a police officer, Mack attended one of Skousen’s classes in which he melded constitutional law with Mormon doctrine. Mack became a Skousen-convert and soon went back to Arizona to practice his new creed and where he was elected sheriff of Graham County in 1988 and was re-elected in 1992.

The 1992 standoff at Ruby Ridge in Idaho, followed by Bill Clinton’s election to the presidency and his appointments of Janet Reno as Attorney General and Bruce Babbitt as Interior Secretary, was akin to throwing gasoline on the Patriot-Wise Use fire. The reactionary conflagration was further inflamed by the 1993 Waco fiasco and the passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, requiring people purchasing firearms to get background checks. Among other things, the Act charged local law enforcement with conducting the checks until a federal system was set up. That provided an opening into which then-sheriff Mack could step and propel himself into the glow of the inferno that was whipping across America.

When the Brady Bill was passed, Mack, with backing from the National Rifle Association, joined up with other county sheriffs to sue the federal government over the background-check provision, and ultimately won a 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court. Mack’s willingness to stand up to the federal government made him an instant folk hero among the anti-government factions (though he lost re-election in 1996) and he was soon headlining Patriot gatherings, railing at Clinton and his attorney general, Janet Reno, and he co-wrote a book with Randy Weaver, the man at the center of the Ruby Ridge shootout.

Meanwhile, prominent Wise Use leaders took pains to distance themselves from the Patriot movement’s more violent elements, while at the same time espousing identical ideologies. The National Federal Lands Conference’s Federal Land Update, edited for a time by Wayne Hage, the rancher who became famous for doing battle with the federal government, regularly ran rants against the New World Order and gun control legislation. In 1994 the Update ran a long article touting the “need for the Militia in America.” That same year, Helen Chenoweth—a staunch Republican, Sagebrush Rebel (she held “endangered salmon bakes” to piss off the greens), and an early Wise User—was elected to represent Idaho in Congress. Chenoweth, who would go on to marry Hage, claimed that U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers were utilizing black helicopters to enforce the Endangered Species Act and that white, Anglo-Saxon males were the real endangered species. Even after a militia-follower named Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 167 people, Chenoweth told a newspaper reporter that she would not condemn militias and that “public policies may be pushing people too far,” and therefore were partially responsible for the bloodshed.

After George W. Bush was elected president he assembled an Interior Department staff that resembled the attendance roster for a petroleum association or Wise Use conference. It was led by Gale Norton, a disciple of James Watt’s and alumna of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, the litigating arm of the Sagebrush Rebels and then the Wise Users. Also on staff were J. Steven Griles, a lobbyist for energy companies; Rejane Burton, the former vice-president of an oil and gas exploration company; and David Bernhardt, a lobbyist for the extractive industry.

Naturally, that played out on the public lands. During Norton’s years in Interior, the BLM issued drilling permits at a record pace. Norton favored drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, voided critical habitat on millions of acres, increased the number of snowmobiles in Yellowstone, and so on. Meanwhile, the Interior Department and its assorted agencies fell into a veritable orgy of ethical lapses, federal coffers were deprived of oil and gas royalties, fragile species denied protection, and industry was given yet more power to wreck public land in the name of greed.

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With so many Wise Users in the government, the reactionary movement had nothing to push back against, and therefore lost a lot of steam. The same went for the Patriot movement. Mack’s pulpit dissolved as well and he became a used car salesman. But the movements were not dead, they were simply dormant, awaiting a new force against which to react and awaken them from their slumber. And that force arrived in the form of the 2008 election of President Barack Obama.

“What if the elitists in power also used their paid political hacks to manipulate the voting process? We do know that ANY electronic voting machine can be rigged to make sure that only the elitist chosen candidates will win. That’s when it’s time for an alert and vigilant militia to be on guard. Don’t those in power, the elitists, realize that if they continue in their ways there could be some dire consequences?”

That may sound like a rant from some Proud Boy’s Parler post, or—if it had more grammatical errors—President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, in the days leading up to the 2020 election. In fact, these words were published in a 1994 article in the Federal Land Update, the Wise Use movement’s rag. The stolen-election trope that Trump and his followers have been spewing for months is just one of many current-day echoes of the Wise Use era. They are reverberating everywhere, whether it’s among the Tea Party or the Oath Keepers or the III-percenters or the Sagebrush Insurgency. Some examples:

W. Cleon Skousen: Skousen died in 2006, but his legacy lives on. Following Obama’s election, right-wing commentator Glenn Beck began touting Skousen’s 1981 tome, The Five Thousand Year Leap. A re-issued version sold hundreds of thousands of copies and came to be known as the Tea Party’s “bible.” Meanwhile, the Bundys are often seen carrying the pocket-sized constitutions published by Skousen’s NCCS in, well, their pockets. At the 2014 ATV-protest down Recapture Canyon in southeast Utah, led by Neo-Sagebrush Rebel and Wise User Phil Lyman, Ryan Bundy himself handed me one of these booklets, peppered with Scripture. Also at the event were a number of self-proclaimed militia-men.

“Sheriff” Richard Mack: Skousen-acolyte Mack was so distraught by Obama’s election that he wrote a book. The County Sheriff: America’s Last Hope, published in 2009, argues that the sheriff is the ultimate law enforcement authority and thus the “last line of defense” shielding individual liberties from out-of-control federal bureaucrats. Mack then launched the Constitutional Sheriffs and Police Officers Association. The organization’s 2012 conference attendance roster included Bert Smith, the Wise Use leader. Smith, who became wealthy from his giant military surplus business in Ogden, Utah, had provided seed money for the CSPOA and for the American Lands Council, created that year by Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory to push for transferring public lands to the states, counties, and private entities. Also speaking was Tom DeWeese, president of the American Policy Center, known for spreading fears that the United Nations, under Agenda 21, is taking over the world via bike paths and public transit, and Joe Arpaio, the notorious sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, whom Mack praised for launching an investigation into the validity of Obama’s birth certificate. Ivory gave a rousing speech at the September gathering about the “revolution of ideologies” in which he and the sheriffs were engaged. Mack would go on to lend support to Cliven Bundy during the Bunkerville standoff in 2014 and was a part of the 2016 protest against the prosecution of Wise Use rancher Dwight Hammond, a protest that would culminate in the Malheur takeover.

Bert Smith: Until his death in 2016, Smith remained active in the new iterations of the Sagebrush Rebellion/Wise Use. After the Bunkerville fiasco, Smith penned a piece on the Bundy Ranch blog in which he called Cliven Bundy a “hero of the range livestock operator on public land,” who had “a sacred God-given right of unalienable rights, private property rights” to graze his cows on the American public’s land.

Karen Budd-Falen: Falen emerged from Wise Use as a leading private property rights attorney, often fighting against the federal government, and gained new prominence in the latest Sagebrush Insurgency. She once represented Cliven Bundy. In 2011, she told a gathering of county sheriffs in Northern California that “the foundation for every single right in this country, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote, our freedom to petition, is all based on the right of ownership of private property.” Trump appointed her to be deputy Interior solicitor for wildlife and parks, an obscure but powerful position, in 2018.

William Perry Pendley: Pendley worked under Sagebrush Rebel James Watt in Reagan’s Interior Department then became president of Mountain States Legal Foundation—the legal arm of Wise Use—just as the Wise Use movement was getting going. He stayed with the organization until just months before he went to work for the Trump administration. In 2019 he was named acting director of the BLM; in 2020 a judge found that he had been serving unlawfully.

Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage: Chenoweth-Hage died in 2006, but her firebrand, gun-loving, lib-hating, militia-sympathizing, conspiracy-theory-flinging spirit lives on in the likes of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Rep. Lauren Boebert, who was recently elected to represent Colorado’s third congressional district. Boebert, who tweeted incendiary messages as the Capitol was being invaded, seems to be emerging as the leader of what I call the #ObnoxiousCaucus, which also includes Westerners such as Republican Rep. Paul Gosar, from Arizona.

Fake Victimhood: Both Wise Use and the current right-wing movements have portrayed themselves and their culture, customs, and heritage, as the victims of persecution and even genocide by the “elitists,” the environmentalists, cancel culture, liberals, the deep state, black helicopters, Hugo Chavez, and rigged voting machines. By falsely portraying themselves as the little guys getting beaten up by bullies—despite the fact that they are almost invariably members of the dominant power structure and backed by corporations and wealthy benefactors—they can justify responding with violence.

Now the question is whether these echoes will be amplified in reaction to a Biden-Harris administration, or whether widespread anger and alarm in response to the Capitol invasion will silence them. Will a Biden administration rollback of Trump’s environmental rollbacks and restoration of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments spark a new backlash? Or will the reactionaries finally learn that these protections aren’t an existential threat to their “way of life?”

It’s worth noting that Western politicians who have adhered to the Wise Use/Sagebrush Rebel philosophies in the past are now emerging as some of the few Republicans willing to stand up to Trump, including: Sen. Mitt Romney, of Utah, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, and Rep. Liz Cheney, of Wyoming.

It’s not a lot, and it may be too little too late, but it does provide a small glimmer of hope.

Say hello to The Land Desk newsletter from Jonathan Thompson @jonnypeace

From RiverOfLostSouls.com (Jonathan Thompson):

With the dawning of a new year comes a new source of news, insight, and commentary: the Land Desk. It is a newsletter about Place. Namely that place where humanity and the landscape intersect. The geographical center of my coverage will be the Four Corners Country and Colorado Plateau, land of the Ute, Diné, Pueblo, Apache, and San Juan Southern Paiute people. From there, coverage will spread outward into the remainder of the “public-land states” of the Interior West, with excursions to Wyoming to look at the coal and wind-power industries and Nevada to check out water use in Las Vegas and so on.

This is the time and the place for a truth-telling, myth-busting, fair yet sometimes furious journalism like The Land Desk will provide. This is where climate change is coming home to roost in the form of chronic drought, desertification, and raging wildfires. This is where often-toxic politics are playing out on the nation’s public lands. This is the sacrifice zone of the nation’s corporate extractive industries, yet it is also the playground and wilderness-refuge for the rest of the nation and the world. This is the headwaters for so many rivers of the West. And this is where Indigenous peoples’ fight for land-justice is the most potent, whether it be at Bears Ears or Chaco Canyon or Oak Flat.

The Land Desk will provide a voice for this region and a steady current of information, thought, and commentary about a wide range of topics, from climate change to energy to economics to public lands. Most importantly, the information will be contextualized so that we—my readers (and collaborators) and I—can better understand what it all means. Perhaps we can also help chart a better and more sustainable course for the region to follow into the future, to try to realize Wallace Stegner’s characterization of this place as the “native home of hope.”

https://landdesk.substack.com

I’ve essentially been doing the work of the Land Desk for more than two decades. I got my start back in 1996 as the sole reporter and photographer for the weekly Silverton Standard & the Miner. I went from there to High Country News fifteen years ago, and that wonderful publication has nurtured and housed most of my journalism ever since. But after I went freelance four years ago, my role at HCN was gradually diminished. While I have branched out in the years since, writing three books as well as articles for Sierra, The Gulch, Telluride Magazine, Writers on the Range, and so forth, I’ve increasingly run up against what I call the freelancer bottleneck, which is what happens when you produce more content more quickly than you can sell it. That extra content ends up homeless, or swirling around in my brain, or residing in semi-obscurity on my personal website.

I’m not messing around. The Land Desk is by no means a repository for the stories no one wants. It is intended to be the home for the best of my journalism and a place where you can find an unvarnished, unique, deep perspective on some of the most interesting landscapes and communities in the world. My hope is that it will give me the opportunity to write the stories that I’ve long wanted to write and that the region needs. If my hopes are realized, the Land Desk will one day expand and welcome other Western journalists to contribute.

That’s where you come in. In order for this venture to do more than just get off the ground, it needs to pay for itself. In order to do that, it needs paying subscribers (i.e., you). In other words, I’m asking for your support.

For the low price of $6/month ($60/year), subscribers will receive a minimum of three dispatches each week, including:

  • 1 Land Bulletin (news, analysis, commentary, essay, long-form narrative, or investigative piece);
  • 1 Data Dump (anything from a set of numbers with context to full-on data-visual stories); and,
  • 1 News Roundup, which will highlight a sample of the great journalism happening around the West;
  • Reaction to and contextualization of breaking news, as needed.
  • Additionally, I’ll be throwing in all sorts of things, from on-the-ground reporter notebooks to teasers from upcoming books to the occasional fiction piece to throwbacks from my journalistic archives.

Can’t afford even that? No worries. Just sign up for a free subscription and get occasional dispatches, or contact me and we can work something out. Or maybe you’ve got some extra change jangling around in your pocket and are really hungry for this sort of journalism? Then become a Founding Member and, in addition to feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, you’ll receive some extra swag.

I just launched the Land Desk earlier this week and already subscribers are getting content! Today I published a Data Dump on a southwestern indicator river setting an alarming record. Also this week, look for a detailed analysis tracing the roots of the recent invasion of the Capitol to the Wise Use movement of the early 1990s. In the not-so distant future I’ll be publishing “Carbon Capture Convolution,” about the attempt to keep a doomed coal-fired power plant running by banking on questionable technology and sketchy federal tax credits. Plus the Land Desk will have updated national park visitor statistics, a look back on how the pandemic affected Western economies, and forward-looking pieces on what a Biden administration will mean for public lands.

Please subscribe to The Land Desk. Click here to read some of Thompson’s work that has shown up on Coyote Gulch over the years.

Federal leaders have two options if they want to rein in the President — The Conversation


President Donald Trump gestures during a Jan. 6 speech in Washington, D.C.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Kirsten Carlson, Wayne State University

As the world reacts to the Jan. 6 armed attack on the U.S. Capitol encouraged by President Donald Trump, many Americans are wondering what happens next. Members of Congress, high-level officials and even major corporations and business groups have called for Trump’s removal from office.

Prominent elected and appointed officials appear to have already sidelined Trump informally. Vice President Mike Pence was reportedly the highest-level official to review the decision to call out the D.C. National Guard to respond to the assault on the Capitol.

Informal actions like this may continue, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reported request that Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, restrict Trump’s ability to use the nuclear codes. But political leaders are considering more formal options as well. They have two ways to handle it: impeachment and the 25th Amendment.

A scene of the Senate voting in Trump's impeachment trial in 2020
Donald Trump has already been impeached once, but was not convicted.
Senate Television via AP

Impeachment

Article II of the U.S. Constitution authorizes Congress to impeach and remove the president – and other federal officials – from office for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The founders included this provision as a tool to punish a president for misconduct and abuses of power. It’s one of the many ways that Congress keeps the executive branch in check.

Impeachment proceedings begin in the House of Representatives. A member of the House files a resolution for impeachment. The resolution goes to the House Judiciary Committee, which usually holds a hearing to evaluate the resolution. If the House Judiciary Committee thinks impeachment is proper, its members draft and vote on articles of impeachment. Once the House Judiciary Committee approves articles of impeachment, they go to the full House for a vote.

If the House of Representatives impeaches a president or another official, the action then moves to the Senate. Under the Constitution’s Article I, the Senate has the responsibility for determining whether to remove the person from office. Normally, the Senate holds a trial, but it controls its procedures and can limit the process if it wants.

Ultimately, the Senate votes on whether to remove the president – which requires a two-thirds majority, or 67 senators. To date, the Senate has never voted to remove a president from office, although it almost did in 1868, when President Andrew Johnson escaped removal from office by one vote.

The Senate also has the power to disqualify a public official from holding public office in the future. If the person is convicted and removed from office, only then can senators vote on whether to permanently disqualify that person from ever again holding federal office. Members of Congress proposing the impeachment of Trump have promised to include a provision to do so. A simple majority vote is all that’s required then.

The 25th Amendment
The 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
National Archives via AP

25th Amendment

The Constitution’s 25th Amendment provides a second way for high-level officials to remove a president from office. It was ratified in 1967 in the wake of the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy – who was succeeded by Lyndon Johnson, who had already had one heart attack – as well as delayed disclosure of health problems experienced by Kennedy’s predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower.

The 25th Amendment provides detailed procedures on what happens if a president resigns, dies in office, has a temporary disability or is no longer fit for office.

It has never been invoked against a president’s will, and has been used only to temporarily transfer power, such as when a president is undergoing a medical procedure requiring anesthesia.

Section 4 of the 25th Amendment authorizes high-level officials – either the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet or another body designated by Congress – to remove a president from office without his consent when he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Congress has yet to designate an alternative body, and scholars disagree over the role, if any, of acting Cabinet officials.

The high-level officials simply send a written declaration to the president pro tempore of the Senate – the longest-serving senator from the majority party – and the speaker of the House of Representatives, stating that the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. The vice president immediately assumes the powers and duties of the president.

The president, however, can fight back. He or she can seek to resume their powers by informing congressional leadership in writing that they are fit for office and no disability exists. But the president doesn’t get the presidency back just by saying this.

The high-level officials originally questioning the president’s fitness then have four days to decide whether they disagree with the president. If they notify congressional leadership that they disagree, the vice president retains control and Congress has 48 hours to convene to discuss the issue. Congress has 21 days to debate and vote on whether the president is unfit or unable to resume his powers.

The vice president remains the acting president until Congress votes or the 21-day period lapses. A two-thirds majority vote by members of both houses of Congress is required to remove the president from office. If that vote fails or does not happen within the 21-day period, the president resumes his powers immediately.

It is possible that Trump will remain in office through the end of his term on Jan. 20. But once he leaves office, he will no longer have the presidential immunity that has at least partially shielded him from many criminal and civil inquiries about his time in office and before.

Editor’s note: This article was updated on Jan. 9, 2021, to include additional informal measures taken to limit Trump’s power.

[Get our most insightful politics and election stories. Sign up for The Conversation’s Politics Weekly.]The Conversation

Kirsten Carlson, Associate Professor of Law and Adjunct Associate Professor of Political Science, Wayne State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Midnight Rush: 6 Ways @RealDonaldTrump Trashed the Environment During the Holidays — The Revelator @Revelator_News

From The Revelator (Tara Lohan):

Protections for endangered species, disaster assistance and conservation were all targets of the most recent round of attacks on the environment.

This holiday season just about everything was different. Vacations were postponed. Parties and family get-togethers were canceled or moved online as folks hunkered down at the request of public-health officials. But one thing `continued as usual: President Trump’s attacks on the environment.

In the weeks following the Nov. 3 election, Trump’s team continued its unprecedented onslaught on environmental regulations, with nearly a dozen new rollbacks or threats to public health, wildlife, clean air, public lands and the climate.

As the New Year approached, the assaults didn’t let up. Here are some of the most recent:

1. Cutting Disaster Funding

Despite a record-tying 16 weather and climate disasters topping $1 billion each this year in the United States, the Federal Emergency Management Agency proposed a plan to curtail federal disaster aid.

It would affect wealthier states the most, requiring that they have higher levels of damage than less wealthy states to get federal assistance.

The proposal, announced on Dec. 14, “would be one of the most significant revisions of federal disaster policy in nearly a half-century and comes as states grapple with massive fiscal shortfalls due to the pandemic,” E&E News reported.

The new rule is now open for public comments until Feb. 12 and would fall under the incoming Biden administration to move it forward — if it wishes.

2. Efficiency Rollbacks

The Department of Energy took two steps back on Dec. 15., finalizing new rules that ease efficiency requirements for some fixtures and appliances.

The move comes a year after Trump complained that showerheads don’t have enough flow for him to wash his hair and toilets need to be flushed 10 or 15 times, which earned him a hearty amount of ridicule on social media.

But his new rules are no laughing matter when it comes to conservation and efficiency.

One of the rules would roll back a water-efficiency requirement for showerheads put in place by Congress in 1992 during the George H.W. Bush administration. The other would allow for some new washers and dryers to use more water and energy.

Both would amount to more needlessly wasted energy, water and money.

3. No Help for Monarchs

Monarch butterflies on both the east and west coasts are in perilous decline, with populations falling 80% or more. So it made sense that on Dec. 15 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled that the butterflies were in need of protection under the Endangered Species Act. But the agency unfortunately decided those protections wouldn’t be immediately forthcoming.

Monarchs were essentially told to get in line behind other species awaiting protection — and there are a lot of those these days. “The Trump administration has listed only 25 species — fewer than any since the [Endangered Species] act took effect in 1973,” the AP reported. “The Obama administration added 360.”

The current plan proposes delaying action to list monarchs until 2024, which would then be followed by another year of public comment and development of the final rule: time the species may not have.

4. Pardons

In late December Trump issued dozens of pardons and commutations in what The Guardian called “another audacious application of presidential power to reward loyalists.” The list included predictable names of political allies like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, but among them was a pardon for Utah state Rep. Phil Lyman.

Lyman has railed against the federal management of public lands and in 2015, when he was serving as a San Juan County commissioner, he led 50 all-terrain vehicles on a ride through Utah’s Recapture Canyon. The area had been closed to motorized vehicle traffic to protect archeological sites. The illegal stunt earned him 5 days in jail and a $96,000 fine.

5. Airplane Emissions

On Dec. 28 the EPA finalized the first rule regulating greenhouse gas emissions from commercial airplanes. But hold your applause: The historic step isn’t likely to amount to much.

The agency said that all the planes likely to be affected by the rule would be compliant by the date required, and therefore, EPA doesn’t think there’ll be any emission reductions associated with the greenhouse gas regulations or that they’ll help spur technical improvements that wouldn’t already have happened.

This “do-nothing rule,” as environmental groups have dubbed it, may be hard for the Biden administration to quickly undo as the EPA has decided to forgo the usual 30-day waiting period between the publication of the final rule and its implementation.

“The agency has used the procedural tactic — which is legally allowed with ‘good cause’ — in recent weeks in an apparent effort to obstruct the incoming Biden administration,” E&E News reported.

6. Endangered Species Act

The outgoing Trump administration took two more swings at the Endangered Species Act, which it has worked to undo in the last four years.

On Dec. 15 the administration finalized a rule that narrowed the definition of habitat to only areas that currently support a species. This would eliminate the government’s ability to protect areas that could help support species in the future and areas previously occupied by the species. The move limits the tools available to protect endangered species, many of which have seen their historic range greatly diminished by development, agriculture and now climate change.

Two days later the Fish and Wildlife Service undermined the law again with a rule that lets money trump science. The change would allow the agency to omit areas from critical habitat designation if a review of the economic costs to industry outweigh the ecological benefits.

Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.

Tribal leaders ratify #water compact — The #Montana Free Press

Territories of the Salish (Flathead), Salish-Tunaxe, Kutenai-Tunaxe, Pend d’Oreille and Semteuse in early time (1700?). By Naawada2016 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64845072

From The Montana Free Press (Chris Aadland):

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council unanimously ratified its water compact with the state [December 29, 2020], clearing the path for rehabilitation of the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project and return of the National Bison Range to tribal control.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes ratified their water compact with the state on Tuesday, ending a decades-long process to settle water right claims affecting a huge swath of Montana’s irrigated land.

The U.S. Congress ratified the compact — passed by the Montana Legislature in 2015 — last week as part of a massive appropriations bill. President Donald Trump signed the bill on Sunday, leaving ratification by the tribes as the final hurdle to finalizing the agreement.

The CSKT Tribal Council unanimously voted to ratify the agreement on Tuesday during a meeting held via Zoom.

With the tribes’ ratification, the federal government will create a $1.9 billion trust fund for repairing the deteriorating Flathead Indian Irrigation Project. Additionally, the tribes will regain control of the National Bison Range.

In exchange, the tribes agreed to relinquish claims to the vast majority of their off-reservation water rights claims, which could have limited irrigation in 51 of the state’s 85 adjudication basins. The CSKT had filed thousands of claims based on the tribes’ 1855 Hellgate Treaty with the federal government, by which the tribe retained the right to hunt and fish in traditional locations both on and off the present-day Flathead Reservation in exchange for ceding more than 20 million acres of land.

A tribal spokesman didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment Tuesday afternoon. But after Congress approved the compact last week, CSKT Tribal Council Chairwoman Shelly Fyant said during a press conference that the agreement would have a “profound and positive impact on the future of the Flathead Reservation for the next century.”

[…]

The compact had languished since Montana U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, introduced legislation to ratify it in 2016. Montana’s other U.S. senator, Republican Steve Daines, introduced a bill late last year, co-sponsored by Tester, to finalize the compact.

Groups including the Montana Stockgrowers Association, Montana Agricultural Business Association and Association of Gallatin Agricultural Irrigators have said finalizing the compact would offer certainty for irrigators, protect the state’s water and help avoid years of costly litigation…

On Tuesday, another tribal attorney, Rhonda Swaney, encouraged the Tribal Council itself to ratify the compact in order to prevent any attempts by “outside entities” to further challenge the agreement, pointing to the Republican legislators’ letter to Daines as an example.

Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Students and faculty urge deeper look at land-grant legacy — @HighCountryNews

A banner hangs on a statue of Cornell University’s founder, Ezra Cornell, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day this year. Photo credit: Della Keahna Uran via The High Country News

From The High Country News [December 22, 2020] (Jessica Grant):

University officials face pressure to address their history as the recipients of dispossessed Indigenous land.

When High Country News published “Land-Grab universities” last April, the two-year-long investigation shed new light on a dark open secret: One of the largest transfers of land and capital in the country’s history had masqueraded as a donation for university endowments.

HCN identified nearly 11 million acres of land, expropriated from approximately 250 tribes, bands and communities through more than 160 violence-backed treaties and land cessions. Now, in the wake of the investigation, land-grant universities across the country are re-evaluating the capital they built from these stolen Indigenous lands.

More than 150 years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act — the legislation that transferred the lands — new discussions about the universities’ moral and ethical responsibilities have forced Americans to re-examine the law’s legacy. Land-grant institutions have long prided themselves on their accomplishments as beneficiaries: They used the proceeds generated by the land to broaden access to higher education, thereby contributing to economic development across the nation. But many of those institutions paid next to nothing for the public lands they received and sold.

By far the largest beneficiary was Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, which acquired almost 1 million acres from Ojibwe, Miwok, Yokuts, Dakota and other Indigenous nations through 63 treaties or seizures. The land came from 15 states, and by 1935, when the last parcel was sold, Cornell University had generated nearly $6 million for its endowment, the largest of any land-grant institution. Adjusted for inflation, it raised over $92 million.

Now, as the country reconsiders long-standing issues of racial equity and justice — focusing on everything from local political races to national legislation — students and faculty alike are pressuring administrators to address the investigation’s findings.

On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Oct. 12, 2020, members of Native American and Indigenous Students at Cornell (NAISAC) put forward a list of 10 demands in the form of a petition. The demands include turning the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program into a university department; recruiting new Indigenous faculty and students, specifically Indigenous students affected and/or displaced by the Morrill Act; waiving tuition for those students; acknowledging the land of the Gayogo̱hó:nǫ’, or Cayuga Nation, before every Ithaca-based event; and reinstating an ad-hoc committee on Native American Affairs to oversee the approval of these demands.

“If the president’s office was responsible, then they would meet each of these demands to the extent that we’ve laid them out in our petition,” said Colin Benedict (Mohawk), the external relations chair for NAISAC. “Each of these demands in my mind is completely 100% justified and should already have been implemented by the university decades ago.”

As of Dec. 1, the petition had more than 900 signatures from students, staff, alumni and community members. The president’s office has yet to respond publicly, but in an email exchange, it stated, “The Office of the President is in receipt of the NAISAC petition, and the President is looking forward to working with the Native American and Indigenous community at Cornell on these issues.”

A faculty committee, headed by American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program Director Kurt Jordan, launched the Cornell University and Indigenous Dispossession Project. The project will research Cornell’s Morrill Act land history, identify the Indigenous communities affected, and foster discussion of possible remedies.

“We’ve had a number of statements that have been made by the administration in light of the George Floyd murder, Black Lives Matter, and all of the other things that have been happening this year about the need for Cornell to really address its legacy, its historical roots, its complicity in … to some degree, with white supremacy,” Jordan said. “Benefiting from stolen Indigenous land has to be part of that.”

History professor Jon Parmenter recently discovered that Cornell is in possession of over 420,000 acres of mineral rights in the Central and Southwestern U.S., a portion of which was retained through Morrill Act lands. In its petition, NAISAC urged the university to release a statement acknowledging the amount of land acquired, the interest accrued and mineral rights funds received, and pledging to refrain from mineral and resource extraction on those lands.

OVER 2,500 MILES WEST OF CORNELL, faculty and students at the University of California, Berkeley have also made strides. Established in 1868, the university received almost 150,000 acres from the Morrill Act. The land raised $730,000 for the university’s early endowment, and, adjusted for inflation, has generated over $13 million. The university paid nothing in return.

The presence and history of Indigenous people has been largely erased from the UC system, said Phenocia Bauerle (Apsáalooke), director of Native American Student Development at the University of California, Berkeley. Two years ago, Bauerle and the Native American Student Development center created a land acknowledgment to honor the Ohlone tribal lands that the university sits upon. However, the university has yet to adopt an official acknowledgment.

According to a California audit, UC Berkeley is the worst offender among the schools when it comes to complying with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which grants Indigenous nations the right to regain ancestral remains and objects from museums. UC Berkeley has only repatriated 20% of its 500,000-artifact collection. In comparison, the University of California Los Angeles has repatriated 96% of its collection.

“A lot of it comes down to, well, they see these issues as historical and not of the present because they see Natives as historical and not of the present,” Bauerle said. Since the dispossession occurred in the past, contemporary people don’t see themselves as responsible, and they feel no pressure to address the issue today. However, “ ‘Land-Grab’ gave us several concrete (points),” Bauerle said. “This dispossession of Native land that this whole country benefits from — here’s a specific way that we can show you that Berkeley actually played a part in it. These are the receipts. This is how much money you got.”

Bauerle partnered with Rosalie Z. Fanshel, a doctoral student in environmental science, policy and management and the program manager for the Berkeley Food Institute, to organize a conference on the Morrill Act and Indigenous land dispossession.

“The UC Land Grab: A Legacy of Profit from Indigenous Land” was held in two parts in September and October. The conference dug deep into the history of California’s genocide and the founding of the University of California. Participants called for action, including shared land stewardship, research opportunities and tuition options for Indigenous students.

More than 500 people attended both days of the conference. David Ackerly, dean of the Rausser College of Natural Resources in Berkeley, was among them. “I felt like I was learning so much that I had not been aware of,” he said. “This is part of our story, I want to be part of this. I want to learn. I want to figure out where we’re heading.”

Other attendees included staff from the office of UC President Michael V. Drake, the office of the chancellor at UC Berkeley and the governor’s office, as well as deans and administrators from various UC campuses and units.

One of the panelists, Brittani Orona, a doctoral candidate in Native American studies and human rights at UC Davis and a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe, was surprised by how many people within the university system had no knowledge of the history of land-grant institutions. “I think with Native people and Native students, you know that our land, our places have been taken away from us, from many different institutions and at many different points of time,” Orona said.

At the conference, Orona spoke about the history of genocide in California. “Scholars of California Indian genocide will say it ended in 1873, but I argue it is a continuous process,” Orona said. “Many Native and Indigenous people in the state and across the world have been made promises since colonization, and they’ve been broken. It’s hard not to remember that legacy; I live in that legacy.”

Orona, who will complete her Ph.D. in the coming year, hopes that future Native and Indigenous students have a different experience than she did. “What does that mean, when you’re having California Native students pay out of pocket on land that has been dispossessed from them? I appreciate the discussions that are going on, but I’ll believe it when I see it — and when it moves beyond acknowledgment towards actual actionable items that make life easier for Native and Indigenous students and peoples.”

Orona, who will complete her Ph.D. in the coming year, hopes that future Native and Indigenous students have a different experience than she did. “What does that mean, when you’re having California Native students pay out of pocket on land that has been dispossessed from them? I appreciate the discussions that are going on, but I’ll believe it when I see it — and when it moves beyond acknowledgment towards actual actionable items that make life easier for Native and Indigenous students and peoples.”

As of Dec. 4, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ has yet to respond about the conference publicly. In an email, however, she wrote, “To achieve this inclusive campus culture, we must acknowledge how our history, including the Morrill Land Grant Act, impacts Indigenous people. Now more than ever, we, as a university, must take immediate action to acknowledge past wrongs, build trusting and respectful relationships, and accelerate change and justice for our Native Nations and Tribal communities.”

Jessica Douglas is a fellow at High Country News. Email her at jessica.douglas@hcn.org.

This story was originally published at High Country News (hcn.org) on December 22, 2020.”

Colorado looks to logging to help rebalance forests in an era of climate-triggered megafires — The #Loveland Reporter-Herald

Photo credit: Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, http://dnrc.mt.gov/divisions/forestry/forestry-assistance/pest-management

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley) via The Loveland Reporter-Herald:

Clearing swaths of trees creates fire breaks and helps take energy out of wildfires, state forest official says

“The consequences of inaction”

Colorado’s population growth and development boom, particularly the construction of mountain homes by people compelled to escape cities, complicates the forest imbalance. Houses in woods force progressively more aggressive fire-snuffing, which allows more increased thickening of trees.

A recent state report estimated a $4.2 billion backlog in forest-thinning needed to selectively clear trees and create safety buffers around the most at-risk forest homes. That’s tree removal that state agencies and property owners generally must pay for — in contrast to this industrial logging that brings in revenue when market conditions are right.

Last week, state foresters supervising the cutting of a 100-acre patch on Owl Mountain, within a 376-acre parcel controlled mostly by the federal Bureau of Land Management, pointed to the economics — revenue of about $200,000 to state and federal agencies from loggers. And even if logging wasn’t profitable, every dollar spent removing trees from fire-prone forests would save an estimated $7 in avoided firefighting costs, Steamboat Springs-based forester Carolina Manriquez said.

“Now we have 200,000-acre fires rolling through. What is 100 acres? Nothing at the landscape scale,” Manriquez said. “We need to do more of this. I mean, we’re spending millions to suppress fires.”

Colorado forests that increasingly burn, along with millions of acres where beetle-kill leaves trees unusable, might have helped sustain logging companies, said C.J. Pittington, a Walden-based logger running a 40-ton red feller-buncher last week clearing a 140-acre chunk of state land. He can mow through about 5 acres of lodgepole forest in a day and has built up a business his father began in 1973, currently employing a dozen workers, and expressed hope the big fires will lead to greater social acceptance of large-scale logging.

Logging in forests near sprawling mountain municipalities also will help protect people, Pittington said, referring to the East Troublesome fire’s destruction of 300 homes and other buildings…

Future expansion of logging in northwestern Colorado will depend on industrial capacity, said John Twitchell, the supervisory state forester overseeing the work, who also serves on the state’s forest advisory commission.

“Our logging industry has been small. We haven’t had a lot of users of the wood. Our capacity to use wood will dictate how much work we can do on our landscapes,” Twitchell said.

“We want to re-generate a new, healthy forest. As long as this dead timber is here, inevitably, it is going to fall… and in time it will burn,” he said. “We’ve seen the consequences of inaction. … If we can have more cuts like this, we can accomplish a lot of goals at once.”

“A storm of threats”

But forest ecologists raised concerns about the logging. Industrial clear-cuts of 40 acres or more widely have been seen as harmful. Lodgepole forests like those in northwestern Colorado play key roles in nature — stabilizing mountainsides that otherwise erode into streams and eventually municipal reservoirs, helping form soil, giving habitat for raptors and other wild animals.

“If it is just willy-nilly punching holes in forests, it may not do any good at all and may make things worse,” said Greg Aplet, a Denver-based senior scientist for the Wilderness Society.

Forest tree-cutting must be done based on large landscape-scale master plans, connected to broad restoration around the East Troublesome and Cameron Peak burn scars, he said. The risk is that Colorado forest officials, once beetle-killed lodgepole pines are removed from state land, will try to expand cutting on private and federal land by “using social concern about fires to grab the social license to conduct more logging without the kind of review and careful ecological analysis that normally would attend large-scale logging,” Aplet said.

“The Wilderness Society isn’t opposed to logging. We’re not opposed to ‘forest management.’ What we are opposed to is bogus science, poorly-planned projects and squandering money that could be spent on treatments that actually improve forest health,” he said. “There is reason to keep sawmills alive — so that we have a destination for the logs that come out of well-planned forest restoration projects.”

University of Colorado Denver forest ecologist Diana Tomback said much depends on how much forest thinning is done and where. When westerners began snuffing wildfires a century ago, this obligated some form of logging to replace disturbed natural processes, Tomback said. But large clear-cuts cause erosion and even standing majority-dead forests can be preferable ecologically, she said.

“A storm of threats” — climate warming, megafires, insect outbreaks and drought — “is converging now to greatly diminish our nation’s once-magnificent forests,” Tomback said, suggesting Gov. Jared Polis should convene a forest science brain trust to develop a strategy.

“This convergence… is new, and we are learning. And the answers may not all be there,” he said. “But we need a methodical approach. We have to sit down and talk about a new forest management paradigm. We don’t want to do things ad hoc.”

Federal forest managers at U.S. Forest Service headquarters weren’t available for comment. A newly-appointed regional director has declined for a month to discuss the overall health of Colorado forests in the face of climate warming, insect infestations and wildfires.

Lester was looking to make that connection. Most of the acres burned this year were in federally-managed forests, he said, urging better “shared stewardship.”

Polis recently proposed spending $6 million for grants to improve forest health, but the scale of work to save dying forests requires far more, Lester said.

“What do we need from the feds? Certainly we need financial resources. And we need to sit down and coordinate what we are going to do. How are we going to get this done?”

Secular ‘values voters’ are becoming an electoral force in the US – just look closely at 2020’s results


Being counted – secular voters are a growing force.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Phil Zuckerman, Pitzer College

The voting patterns of religious groups in the U.S. have been scrutinized since the presidential election for evidence of shifting allegiances among the faithful. Many have wondered if a boost in Catholic support was behind Biden’s win or if a dip in support among evangelicals helped doom Trump.

But much less attention has been paid to one of the largest growing demographics among the U.S. electorate, one that has increased from around 5% of Americans to over 23% in the last 50 years: “Nones” – that is, the nonreligious.

I am a scholar of secularism in the U.S., and my focus is on the social and cultural presence of secular people – nonreligious people such as atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers and those who simply don’t identify with any religion. They are an increasingly significant presence in American society, one which inevitably spills into the political arena.

In this last election, the emerging influence of secular voters was felt not only at the presidential level, but also on many down-ballot issues.

The new ‘values voters’

For years, both scholars and pundits have referred to the political impact of “values voters” in America. What that designation generally refers to are religious men and women whose scripturally based values coagulate around issues such as opposing marriage equality and women’s reproductive autonomy.

But dubbing such religious voters as “values voters” is a real semantic bamboozle. While it is true that many religious Americans maintain certain values that motivate their voting behavior, it is also very much the case that secular Americans also maintain their own strongly held values. My research suggests they vote on these values with just as much motivation as the religious.

Sex education

This played out in November in a number of ballot initiatives that have flown under the national media radar.

Voters in Washington state, for example, passed Referendum 90, which requires that students receive sex education in all public schools. This was the first time that such a measure was ever on a state ballot, and it passed with ease – thanks, in part, to the significant number of nonreligious voters in the Pacific Northwest.

The fact is, Washington is one of the least religious states in the union. Well over a third of all Washingtonians do not affiliate with any religion, more than a third never pray and almost 40% never attend religious services.

The referendum’s passing was helped by the fact that nonreligious adults tend to value comprehensive sex education. Numerous studies have found that secular Americans are significantly more likely to support comprehensive sex education in school. In his research, sociologist Mark Regnerus found that secular parents were generally much more comfortable – and more likely – to have open and frank conversations with their children about safe sex than religious parents.

Drugs policy

Meanwhile, voters in Oregon – another Pacific Northwestern state that contains one of the most secular populations in the country – passed Measure 110, the first ever statewide law to decriminalize the possession and personal use of drugs.

This aligns with research showing that nonreligious Americans are much more likely to support the decriminalization of drugs than their religious peers. For instance, a 2016 study from Christian polling firm Barna found that 66% of evangelicals believe that all drugs should be illegal as did 43% of other Christians, but only 17% of Americans with no religious faith held such a view.

Science at the ballot box

Secular people are generally more trusting of scientific empiricism, and various studies have shown that the nonreligious are more likely to accept the evidence behind human-generated climate change. This translates to support for politicians and policies that take climate change seriously.

It may also have factored in to the success of a November ballot measure in Denver, Colorado, to fund programs that eliminate greenhouse gases, fight air pollution and actively adapt to climate change. The ballot passed with over 62% of the vote – and it is of note that Denver is one of the most secular cities in the nation.

Meanwhile voters in California – another area of relative secularity – passed Proposition 14 supporting the funding of stem cell research, the state being one of only a handful that has a publicly funded program. Pew studies have repeatedly found that secular Americans are far more likely than religious Americans to support stem cell research.

Values versus values

On issues that the religious right has held some sway in recent years, there is evidence of a counterbalance among secular “value voters.”

For example, while the religious have been more likely to oppose same-sex marriage, secular Americans are more likely to support it, and by significant margins. A recent Pew study found that 79% of secular Americans are supportive, compared to 66% of white mainline Protestants, 61% of Catholics, 44% of Black Protestants and 29% of white evangelicals.

There are many additional values that are prominent among secular Americans. For example, the U.S. Secular Survey of 2020 – the largest survey of nonreligious Americans ever conducted, with nearly 34,000 participants – found strong support for safeguarding the separation of church and state.

Other studies have found that secular Americans strongly support women’s reproductive rights, women working in the paid labor force, the DACA program, death with dignity and opposition to the death penalty.

[Expertise in your inbox. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter and get expert takes on today’s news, every day.]

Secular surge

According to Eastern Illinois University professor Ryan Burge’s data analysis, around 80% of atheists and agnostics and 70% of those who described their religion as “nothing in particular” voted for Biden.

This may have been decisive. As Professor Burge argues, “it’s completely fair to say that these shifts generated a two percentage-point swing for Biden nationwide. There were five states where the gap between the candidates was less than two percentage points (Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina). Four of those five went for the Biden – and the nones were between 28% and 37% of the population in those key states.”

As this past election has shown, secular values are not only alive and well, but they are more pronounced than ever. It is also noteworthy that more openly nonreligious candidates were elected to public office than ever before. According to an analysis by the atheist author and activist Hemant Mehta, not only did every member of the secular Congressional Freethought Caucus win reelection, but 10 state senators who are openly secular – that is, they have made it publicly known that they are nonreligious – were voted into office, up from seven two years ago. There is now an all-time high of 45 openly secular state representatives nationwide, according to Mehta’s analysis. Every one of them is a Democrat.

Religious voters will certainly continue to vote their values – and for politicians that express similar views. But so, I argue, will secular voters.The Conversation

Phil Zuckerman, Professor of Sociology and Secular Studies, Pitzer College

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Have a happy holiday

R.I.P. Leslie West: “She taught me everything”

Leslie West live at the Florida Theatre in 2008. By Leslie_west.jpg: Wilson Bilkovichderivative work: Nymf (talk) – Leslie_west.jpg, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9699842

From The New York Times (Jim Farber):

Leslie West, whose meaty guitar riffs and snarling lead lines powered the hit band Mountain through “Mississippi Queen” and other rock anthems of the 1970s, died on Wednesday in Palm Coast, Fla. He was 75.

The cause was cardiac arrest, said a spokesman, Steve Karas.

Mr. West had battled various health problems over the years. In the early 2000s he had bladder cancer. In 2011 he had his lower right leg amputated because of complications of diabetes.

Mr. West, who struggled with his weight for most of his life, used his ample size to his advantage onstage. In an era ruled by rail-thin rock stars, his physique stood out. His guitar tone matched it in girth: It was uncommonly thick, with a vibrato that could shake with earthquake force.

“I didn’t play fast — I only used the first and the third finger on the fingering hand,” Mr. West told the website Best Classic Bands in 2011. “So I worked on my tone all the time. I wanted to have the greatest, biggest tone, and I wanted vibrato like somebody who plays violin in a hundred-piece orchestra.”

His singing style mirrored his guitar playing, marked by barking declarations that at their most stentorian could pin a listener to the wall. The weight of Mr. West’s sound has been cited as an early example of heavy metal, though Mountain offered a striking contrast to its more forceful songs with other numbers that displayed the prettier vocals and more elegant melodies of the band’s bassist, co-lead singer and producer, Felix Pappalardi…

Leslie West was born Leslie Weinstein on Oct. 22, 1945, in New York City to Bill and Rita Weinstein. His mother was a hair model, his father the vice president of a rug shampoo company. He grew up in the suburbs.

When Leslie was 8, his mother bought him his first instrument, a ukulele, but he became entranced with the guitar after seeing Elvis Presley play one on television. He bought his first guitar with the money given to him for his bar mitzvah…

His professional career began in a band he formed in the mid-1960s with his brother Larry, who played bass. The band, the Vagrants, was a blue-eyed soul group inspired by a hit act from Long Island, the Rascals. The two bands played the same local clubs, as did Billy Joel’s early group, the Hassles…

One of Mountain’s first gigs was at the Woodstock festival, a booking the band received because it shared an agent with Jimi Hendrix. The band’s debut album was released the next spring, with Steve Knight, who came aboard for the Woodstock performance, on keyboards, and Mr. Laing on drums.

The addition of Mr. Knight’s surging organ added warmth to the band’s sound and differentiated Mountain from Cream’s power-trio format. The album’s lead track, “Mississippi Queen,” had what became one of the most famous cowbell intros in rock, though it was originally used by Mr. Pappalardi simply as a way to count the band into the song. The song reached No. 21 on the Billboard singles chart and became an FM radio staple.

Colorado Public Utilities Commission Approves Plan to Advance Vehicle Electrification in #Colorado #ActOnClimate

Coyote Gulch’s Leaf connected in the parking garage in Winter Park, August 21, 2017.

Here’s the release from the PUC via Governor Polis’ office:

Today, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission voted to approve Xcel Energy’s roughly $110 million investment in new electric vehicle infrastructure and programs. The Commission provided an emphasis on support for programs that benefit lower-income households and communities impacted by transportation pollution, including a rebate for customers who qualify based on income to purchase electric vehicles, to ensure that the benefits of electrification are broadly shared.

“Xcel filed a plan to accelerate Colorado’s transition to vehicle electrification,” said Will Toor, Director of the Colorado Energy Office. “With today’s decision, the PUC tapped the accelerator. The decision clearly keeps Colorado moving forward toward vehicle electrification by providing important investment in EV infrastructure.”

Earlier this year, the state released the Colorado Electric Vehicle Plan 2020 that calls for putting 940,000 electric vehicles on the roads by 2030 in order to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and improve air quality. This target is part of Colorado’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap. The Plan approved by the PUC provides support to make significant strides toward meeting the state’s vehicle electrification goals.

Infrastructure is a key barrier to widespread EV adoption. Xcel Energy’s Transportation Electrification Plan includes support for expanding access to public charging, charging at home, and at multi-family homes. The plan also advances support for fleet investments in vehicle electrification. To help customers understand the transition, Xcel will offer education and outreach programs. The plan approved today largely adopts Xcel’s plan and will result in a significant investment in the charging infrastructure needed to meet the state’s EV goals.

The Colorado Energy Office advocated for point of sale rebates to reduce the upfront cost and make it easier for Coloradans to purchase. As part of its decision, the Commission concluded that state law permits a utility transportation electrification plan to include rebates for customers to purchase new or used electric vehicles. The Commission approved a $5 million pilot program to provide rebates to income-qualified customers that will enable lower-income customers to enter the EV market.

With support from CEO and other intervenors, the PUC adopted provisions that require Xcel to identify communities most heavily impacted by transportation pollution, to work with those communities, and to target vehicle electrification investments in those areas.

“Transportation is the leading source of greenhouse gas pollution in Colorado, “ said Keith Hay, Director of Policy at the Colorado Energy Office. “The PUC’s decision is a downpayment on transition to cleaner air and lower emissions. We are especially encouraged that the PUC adopted recommendations focusing on equity in the transition to transportation electrification.”

Electrifying transportation will reduce greenhouse gas pollution, lead to cleaner air, save drivers money, and provide benefits to Xcel’s customers:
The Colorado Electric Vehicle Plan 2020 concluded that meeting the goal of 940,000 EVs by 2030 could help Colorado reduce annual ozone-forming pollutants by an estimated 800 tons of NOx, 800 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOC), and up to 3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions. An analysis performed by M. J. Bradley & Associates found that under a high EV growth scenario, economic benefits would total $1.3 billion per year by 2050, with 80% of the benefits accruing to EV drivers and the rest to utility customers.

The M. J. Bradley & Associates also found that meeting state EV goals would put downward pressure on future rates, delaying or reducing future rate increases, thereby reducing customer bills by roughly $3 per month in 2030 and rising to potentially $42 per month in 2050. A second study by the International Council for Clean Transportation found that by 2030, the lifetime cost savings of an EV over an internal combustion engine will be more than $3,000.

Xcel Energy customers who are EV owners will see additional annual cost savings from reduced fuel and maintenance costs of approximately $260–$276.

In Trump election fraud cases, federal judges upheld the rule of law – but that’s not enough to fix US politics — The Conversation


Rudy Giuliani, lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks on Nov. 19 at a news conference about lawsuits related to the presidential election.
Sarah Silbiger for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Charles Gardner Geyh, Indiana University

A healthy constitutional culture, in which the people and their leaders respect the authority of their Constitution, requires a baseline of trust in the government – a baseline that, in the United States, has eroded from 77% in the early 1960s to 17% today.

This collapse of public confidence paved the way for a populist form of leadership that redirected public faith away from the institutions of government toward a more autocratic leader – Donald Trump – whom voters trusted to consolidate power, neutralize opposition and “drain the swamp” of the experts and bureaucrats he deemed responsible for the government’s malaise.

In the past four years, President Trump has consolidated power to such an extent that the Republican Party has literally declined to adopt a party platform and effectively embraced the president as its alter ego.

After losing the 2020 election by a comfortable margin,
Trump counted on the populist power he had accumulated to force the hands of Republican officials across the country to invalidate the election, despite no creditable evidence of widespread fraud.

The gambit almost worked. Trump’s influence – made muscular by an energetic base poised to punish disobedient elected officials – quieted intraparty criticism, moved a legal team to launch a battery of meritless lawsuits and inspired 18 state attorneys general to request that the Supreme Court overturn a presidential election.

But that strategy ultimately failed, because Trump’s populist control did not extend to the federal courts.

A protestor outside Giuliani's apartment building with a sign that says 'How many lawyers does it take to screw a democracy'
Lawyers who helped with Trump campaign lawsuits faced protests, like this one outside Rudy Giuliani’s apartment building in New York.
Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

Cases need facts

The legal assault on the election was spearheaded by attorneys who were willing to file suits based on unsupported suspicions and beliefs to perpetuate the president’s populist regime by any means necessary. These groundless suspicions and beliefs – bellowed loudly and often by the president and his entourage – may have gotten traction in politics, but they got none in courts of law. The judiciary’s firewall withstood the populist bomb that President Trump detonated.

Apart from the fact that neither the president nor his enthusiasts could threaten the tenure of unelected federal judges who are appointed for life, judges are a different kind of public official, and the lies, bullying and bombast that work well in populist politics fall flat in courts of law.

When judges hear cases, they follow a uniform system of procedural rules that enable them to evaluate the claims that the parties make and amass a body of information on which they rely to determine facts and ascertain truth. It’s a system that has served the judiciary well for generations, and served it well in the postelection cases that the courts decided in recent weeks.

Judges are lawyers who have been steeped in the rule of law for decades. It begins with three years of law school, where they “learn to think like lawyers” and are graded on their command of substantive and procedural law. Upon graduation, they must demonstrate their proficiency in law by passing a bar exam, and then practice law for years and typically decades before ascending the bench.

‘Trump judges’ aren’t Trump judges

Trump has been criticized for appointing an unprecedented 10 judges whose credentials and experience the American Bar Association deemed so deficient as to warrant an “unqualified” rating. But the vast majority of his 227 appointees possess the traditional qualifications needed to perpetuate the federal judiciary’s entrenched commitment to the rule of law.

Some of the judges who dismissed the Trump election cases were appointed by the president. That may have shocked Trump and his followers, but is unlikely to have surprised Chief Justice John Roberts. In 2018, Roberts called out Trump for attacking “Obama judges.”

“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said in a statement. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

Some criticized Roberts as naïve or duplicitous. After all, the data show that federal judges are influenced by their ideological preferences. Voters know this and choose a president who will appoint ideologically compatible judges.

These critics, however, miss the mark. Yes, judges are subject to ideological influences in close cases, when the law is subject to conflicting interpretations, and judges tend to favor interpretations that align with their common sense and policy perspective.

But this does not refute Roberts’ point: Federal judges are trained to take law seriously and do their best to uphold the law as they understand it to be written. So when confronted with postelection fraud cases that were not close – that lacked factual allegations essential to proceeding with the case – judges ruled against the president.

As one judge said to Trump campaign lawyers, “Come on now!

Chief Justice John Roberts and President Trump shake hands at the Feb. 4, 2020 State of the Union address.
Chief Justice John Roberts, right, once chastised President Trump for saying that judges make rulings based on their politics. Here, the two shake hands at this year’s State of the Union address Feb. 4.
Leah Millis-Pool/Getty Images

Facts and truth

Thanks to those judges, the rule of law held firm against a populist assault.

Celebrating the triumph of the rule of law in the courts, however, obscures the reality that innumerable voters, public officials and lawyers who were ostensibly committed to that rule of law stood ready – for the first time in U.S. history – to overturn a presidential election.

In the past, the majority of Americans drew their conclusions from a common body of information received from the same evening news and morning newspapers.

With the explosion of the information age and the decline of traditional media, that common body of information has disappeared, as the marketplace of ideas has been flooded with limitless information, the truth or falsity of which is increasingly difficult to assess. The consequences are voiced by a nihilistic spy in the latest “Call of Duty” video game: “There is no truth – only who you choose to believe.” And this, it would seem, has become the mantra for many public officials and their constituents.

Americans encountered a similar problem once before, during industrialization, when the nation was deluged with a flood of false and misleading information about new drugs, foods and consumer products – a problem that the administrative state ultimately emerged to regulate.

The trouble is that the government can’t regulate the marketplace of ideas the way it does the marketplace of goods and services – the First Amendment won’t allow it. In most cases, the government cannot prohibit you, media outlets or politicians from telling lies.

So the challenge is to reestablish a way to evaluate the reliability of information upon which we must depend for finding facts and ascertaining truth. Because if that can’t be done, the nation’s ability to elect its leaders and govern itself in an orderly and principled way will be lost.

The Constitution is fragile. It works because we the people will it to work, and that will is being tested, perhaps as never before. The judiciary passed its latest test. The American people will be tested again in the years to come – and the future of the democracy hangs in the balance.The Conversation

Charles Gardner Geyh, John F. Kimberling Professor of Law, Maurer School of Law, Indiana University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Tribal leaders respond to the idea of an Indigenous Interior secretary — @HighCountryNews

From The High Country News [December 14, 2020] (Graham Lee Brewer and Anna V. Smith):

Representation is important, and so are policy decisions impacting tribes on the ground.

President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to make his administration the most diverse in history, a promise that so far he has fulfilled with several key appointments. For weeks now, momentum has been building behind a push for the Department of the Interior to be run by an Indigenous person for the first time in history. Dozens of tribal leaders have called upon Biden to appoint U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M, an enrolled tribal member of the Laguna Pueblo.

Beyond the obvious symbolic importance of having an Indigenous person lead Interior, a department with a long history of defying the best interests of tribal nations, the possibilities such a position would bring for tribal administrations and citizens alike are endless. Native leaders and advocates are hoping that a Haaland appointment would result in improved tribal consultation on everything from land protections to how agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, interact with tribal communities. As the country awaits Biden’s decision, Native communities are bracing for what could prove a seismic change in the way the federal government treats the interests of Indian Country.

Dozens of tribal leaders have called upon Biden to appoint U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M, an enrolled tribal member of the Laguna Pueblo. Photo credit: Bridget Badore via High Country News

“It will be a moment to exhale for tribal leaders,” said Judith Le Blanc, a citizen of the Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma and director of the Native Organizers Alliance, a national Native training and organizing network. An Indigenous person leading Interior, she said, would mean having someone who understands the legal and inherent rights of Indigenous peoples to govern their own lands.

“We’re the only peoples in this country who have a collectively owned land base that has been self-governed since the beginning of time,” Le Blanc said. “To have someone who understands that historic fact and therefore the rights and responsibilities to consult and to discuss before a decision is made that will affect treaty lands will be amazing. It creates opportunities and possibilities that tribal leaders will have to step into.”

The possibility of an Indigenous person leading Interior comes after an election in which Indigenous voters supported the Biden/Harris ticket in critical states like Arizona, Nevada and Wisconsin. As IllumiNatives — a nonprofit working to increase Native visibility — put it in a social media post, “Joe, Native people showed up for you. Now, show up for them.” If Haaland — or someone like Michael Connor, a member of Taos Pueblo and former deputy Interior director, whose name has also been floated as a possible nominee — were to run the department, it would have a significant impact on Indian Country policy for the next several years not only for department policies and representation, but also for on-the-ground realities.

Under the Trump administration, environmental laws were significantly weakened, protections of places like the Tongass National Forest were rolled back and large-scale, high-impact projects like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines were expedited. Many of those policies included a rushed — or, in the case of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, nonexistent — tribal consultation process. While all bureaucracies have flaws, both Haaland and Connor understand that including tribal nations in a government-to-government consultation process is non-negotiable. They could also reverse some of the Trump administration’s controversial decisions. Whoever is chosen, the stakes are high.

The Yurok Tribe was one of a host of tribes to sign a letter to President-elect Joe Biden, urging him to choose Haaland. The tribe has had a protracted battle with the federal government over keeping enough water in the Klamath River to support their lifeways and the river’s salmon population. In 2001, a government decision caused the largest fish kill in Yurok and U.S. history. Vice Chairman Frankie Myers says the representation and experience that would come with Haaland as an Indigenous person and lawmaker would be a welcome change: “Ensuring that Indigenous voices are at the highest level of government, specifically when it comes to resources, is critical for us moving this country in a better, more positive way.”

Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, agrees. In November, the Trump administration announced that it would auction off oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge just two weeks before Biden takes office. The refuge, which lies within the ancestral lands of the Gwich’in, supports the sensitive populations of Porcupine caribou, polar bears and walruses. The Gwich’in Steering Committee has filed numerous lawsuits to stop the sale. “This current administration has done nothing but disrespect and violate the rights of our people,” Demientieff wrote in a statement to High Country News. As for an Indigenous leader of Interior, “I can’t believe it has taken this long. We have never been included in decisions that will affect our future.”

While Native voters tend to lean left, Indian Country issues on the Hill have typically found support with both Republicans and Democrats. The six Indigen