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.

Subscribe Now

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.

Give a Gift Subscription

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 Indigenous people who will join the next Congress are split evenly between the parties. And even though the political atmosphere has been considerably polarized under the Trump administration, the prevailing sentiment is that Haaland’s ability to work across the aisle will keep Indian Country policy from becoming a politically divisive issue.

“There’s a reason why people like (Republican U.S. Reps.) Don Young and Tom Cole have publicly spoken out in very positive ways regarding Deb,” said Keith Harper, a member of the Cherokee Nation and an Obama appointee who was the first Indigenous person to represent the U.S. on the United Nations Human Rights Council. “Because they’ve worked with her and know she’s willing to put the party politics aside and get pragmatic about challenges.”

“Because we understand that Native American issues are not a matter of conservative versus liberal, we have accomplished a great deal together,” said Rep. Cole. Out of all representatives in the House, Haaland’s bills have had the most bicameral support, and often bipartisan. And the political allies and partners she’s made in Congress have some predicting that this would translate to consensus building across the government on issues affecting Native people.

“Oftentimes, Interior is looked as the agency that handles Indian affairs,” said Kim Teehee, the Cherokee Nation’s congressional delegate. “We have HUD (Housing and Urban Development) that handles Indian housing, we have the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) that handles broadband, education, the USDA (Department of Agriculture). There is such a cross-cutting nature of Indian Country issues, and I think she has the unique ability as a Cabinet secretary to convene the agencies.”

One non-Native whose name has been floated for the position is retiring Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, who has long been a champion of Indigenous affairs in Congress. His father, Stewart Udall, was secretary of Interior from 1961-1969 under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. A number of progressive Native-led organizations have called on him to remove his name from consideration. When asked what it could mean for an Indigenous person to lead Interior, Udall told High Country News that “Native Americans should be in high positions throughout government in the White House and various agencies – it’s not just about the Interior Department,” adding that the next secretary must prioritize tribal nation’s needs with inclusive consultation, and put in “the hard work to make sure Native voices are front and center throughout the department.”

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

Anna V. Smith is an assistant editor for High Country News. Follow @annavtoriasmith.

This story was originally published at High Country News (hcn.org) on December 14, 2020.

Arecibo telescope’s fall is indicative of global divide around funding science infrastructure — The Conversation


Once featured in movies, TV shows and video games, the Arecibo Observatory was the pride of Puerto Rico.
RICARDO ARDUENGO / Contributor / AFP via Getty Images

Raquel Velho, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

A mere two weeks after the National Science Foundation declared it would close the Arecibo single-dish radio telescope – once the largest in the world – the observatory took a dramatic dying breath and collapsed on Dec. 1, 2020.

The Arecibo Observatory Collapse in Puerto Rico.

While drone footage captured the moment in excruciating detail, in truth, the disintegration of the telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico began far before this cinematic end.

It is tempting to blame the demise of Arecibo on the physical damage it sustained earlier in 2020, when an auxiliary metal cable snapped – perhaps a delayed consequence of Tropical Storm Isaias or the earthquakes that shook Puerto Rico. But Arecibo’s downfall was, in reality, caused by years of financial struggles.

As someone who studies technology and infrastructure development, I see what happened at Arecibo as a classic example of the tension between facility maintenance and scientific progress.

From prominence to ruin

Completed in 1963, Arecibo collected data that led to one Nobel Prize and played a critical role in a second. In 1992, it was the first observatory to spot planets outside Earth’s solar system. In the past decades, it also played a large role in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, including broadcasting the first terrestrial message to outer space.

But for all its achievements, U.S. commitment to Arecibo began to falter in 2006. The National Science Foundation, which supported Arecibo, implemented a 15% budget cut that year across its Division of Astronomical Sciences. Arecibo was among the first facilities on the chopping block, despite its continued productivity.

The previous year, the NSF had announced it was preparing to reallocate funds between existing facilities in order to initiate “new activities.” These initiatives included the funding and development of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile, starting in 2003.

The decision to cut Arecibo’s funding was met with resistance from the scientific community and beyond, including the then-governor of Puerto Rico, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, who wrote to the NSF requesting reconsideration.

But in 2007 Arecibo’s budget was slashed from US$10.5 to $8 million. With a second major cut scheduled for four years later, the closure of the facility seemed imminent. Instead, the NSF tasked a new consortium to take over the management of Arecibo in 2011, changing it from a federally funded institution to one that could seek funds from other sources.

Optimism about this development soon gave way to pessimism. NSF continued to support Arecibo, with NASA pitching in a third of costs. However, the balancing act of a flat NSF budget and the promise of other new observatory projects once again threatened the observatory. In 2015, Robert Kerr, then facilities director of Arecibo, quit – allegedly over funding clashes. In 2018, the University of Central Florida took over management of Arecibo and helped it recover from damages sustained by Hurricane Maria.

But the end was coming. On November 19, 2020, the NSF finally announced the official end of operations at the telescope.

Pride of place

A community of astronomers and locals are actively mourning the ruins of Arecibo. Beyond its scientific success, Arecibo signified more.

#WhatAreciboMeansToMe, a hashtag on Twitter, has collected hundreds of stories from locals and tourists, astronomers and enthusiasts alike. Puerto Rican voices are loud here, many recounting childhood memories of hiking up the trail to the Ángel Ramos Visitors’ Center.

The Arecibo Observatory occupied a space of pride for Puerto Rican scientists and the local community. In many ways, it was a symbol of the island. Through this lens, to watch the Arecibo Observatory be allowed to collapse and become rubble is painful for many, especially when contrasted with defunct observatories in the continental United States, where a number are preserved as historical sites.

In Latin America, infrastructure projects are often tied to ideas about economic development – a potential answer to solve a country’s ills. In this context, to watch a prized facility literally crumble, as the United States retracted its financial involvement, seems like nothing less than abandonment.

It is interesting to note that controversy has often followed the construction of large astronomy facilities. From the Maunakea Observatories being built on land sacred to native Hawaiians to labor disputes in the building of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile, to the seizing of lands and racial tensions surrounding the Square Kilometer Array in the Karoo region of South Africa, a pattern emerges of Northern scientific institutions investing in regions with long colonial histories – and stirring up local concern and discontent.

In the case of Arecibo, these disputes flared at the end rather than at the beginning. But a similar lack of interest in how scientific research facilities fit the place they inhabit is clear. In my view, it is time to begin discussions beyond the scientific importance of research facilities. Planners must address their full life cycles and their impact on local communities.The Conversation

Raquel Velho, Assistant Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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

Wildlife overpass and underpass will make U.S. Highway 160 safer for drivers and animals — @COParksWildlife

A busy highway can be a barrier for wildlife movement. This artist’s rendering shows an elk using the overpass to be built over U.S. 160 near Chimney Rock National Monument. The project will also include an underpass, since studies indicate that various species of wildlife prefer either above ground or underground routes to cross highways. Graphic credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Joe Lewandowski and Lisa Schwantes):

Construction to begin next spring in southwest Colorado

Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Department of Transportation have partnered with the Southern Ute Indian tribe and several other organizations to construct a new wildlife mitigation project in southwest Colorado. The project, slated to begin this coming spring, will construct several features on U.S. Highway 160 between Durango and Pagosa Springs that will promote safer travel for motorists, enhance safer movement of wildlife, and reduce animal-vehicle collisions along this section of highway.

The location of the project will bring a great improvement for that section of highway, explained Scott Wait, senior aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“This is a heavily used corridor by vehicles and an important area in the San Juan Basin for big game,” Wait said. “Deer and elk spend the warm months in the high country to the north; but most big game move to the important winter range areas south of the highway during the winter. So there is a huge number of deer and elk that cross the highway at that location.”

This is an extraordinary collaborative project, CDOT officials said.

“We are extremely grateful for the phenomenal partnerships that have made this project feasible,” said Tony Cady, CDOT Planning and Environmental Manager for southwest Colorado. “These partnerships greatly leverage the individual contributions made by these different entities and will increase the return on our investments.”

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe is a critical partner and provided important biological information to help design the project.

“Hunting is an extremely important component to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and culture and it is considered vital to keep these traditions alive,” said Steve Whiteman, acting director of Natural Resources. “The Tribe has long maintained a positive working relationship with the state of Colorado, and looks forward to the collaboration with CPW and CDOT to bring this important project into reality.”

Organizations and agencies as well as their contributions toward the project include:

  • $8.6 million from CDOT
  • $1.3 million from the Southern Ute Indian Tribe
  • $750,000 from CPW
  • $317,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
  • $100,000 from Mule Deer Foundation (via a private donor)
  • $75,000 from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
  • Cady added, “Not only have several agencies and organizations come forward with valuable funding commitments, some agencies have also contributed with studies, research and development plans to make the project possible.”

    The Colorado Wildlife and Transportation Alliance, a consortium of federal and state agencies, academics, nonprofits, biologists, and engineers, played a significant role in developing the unique financial partnerships to advance the southwest Colorado project. Additionally, along with their financial backing, the Southern Ute Tribe provided support with critical Global Positioning System data which identified seasonal migration patterns and habitat in the area.

    The project site is located on U.S. 160 in Archuleta County, centered at the CO Highway 151 intersection, near Lake Capote and Chimney Rock National Monument. The project will span for approximately two miles on U.S. 160, about 13 miles west of Pagosa Springs and 37 miles east of Durango, between mile points 126-128.

    Work will include:

  • construction of a wildlife underpass structure just west of the U.S. 160 and CO 151 intersection at MP 126.8
  • construction of a wildlife overpass structure just east of the U.S. 160 and CO 151 intersection at MP 127.3
  • installation of an 8-foot-tall exclusion fence along both sides of U.S. 160 throughout the project limits, approximately a two-mile stretch from MP 126 – 128
  • construction of earthen escape ramps and deer guards along the length of fencing
  • installation of a large deer guard on CO 151 at the approach to U.S. 160, similar to a cattle guard but much wider to prevent deer from jumping across and into the highway corridor
  • extension of the existing westbound passing lane on U.S. 160 at the CO 151 intersection
  • extension of the westbound left-turn acceleration lane on U.S. 160 at the CO 151 intersection
  • More than 60% of all crashes in the project area are attributed to wildlife-vehicle collisions. Without treatment, these numbers are expected to grow as wildlife-vehicle crashes continue to show an increasing trend since 2012. The project’s wildlife mitigation features will greatly enhance the safety of this highway corridor for both motorists and wild animals and are expected to reduce those wildlife-vehicle collisions by at least 85%. Graphic credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

    The construction project, awarded to Ralph L. Wadsworth Construction Co. of Utah for $7.95 million, will be completed within one construction season, breaking ground next spring and wrapping up by the fall of 2021. The total cost of the project is approximately $11.3 million, including design and planning.

    CDOT has built more than 60 wildlife mitigation structures crossing above or under highways throughout the state. Additionally, almost 400 miles of high big game fencing has been installed along state and U.S. highways or next to the interstates.

    STAY INFORMED:

  • For more information about wildlife and our highways, visit:
    CPW website at http://www.cpw.state.co.us/
  • CDOT’s Wildlife Program webpage at http://www.codot.gov/programs/environmental/wildlife
  • Meet TIME’s First-Ever Kid of the Year

    From Time Magazine:

    “Observe, brainstorm, research, build and communicate.” That is what the brilliant young scientist and inventor Gitanjali Rao told actor and activist Angelina Jolie about her process, over Zoom, from her home in Colorado, during a break in her virtual schooling. Just 15 years old, Rao has been selected from a field of more than 5,000 nominees as TIME’s first ever Kid of the Year. She spoke about her astonishing work using technology to tackle issues ranging from contaminated drinking water to opioid addiction and cyberbullying, and about her mission to create a global community of young innovators to solve problems the world over. Even over video chat, her brilliant mind and generous spirit shone through, along with her inspiring message to other young people: don’t try to fix every problem, just focus on one that excites you. “If I can do it,” she said, “anybody can do it.”

    Click through for the whole interview.

    Socialism is a trigger word on social media – but real discussion is going on amid the screaming — The Conversation


    ‘Tug-of-words’ posts debating the merits of socialism versus capitalism are all over social media platforms.
    pxfuel

    Robert Kozinets, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

    The word “socialism” has become a trigger word in U.S. politics, with both positive and negative perceptions of it split along party lines.

    But what does socialism actually mean to Americans? Although surveys can ask individuals for responses to questions, they don’t reveal what people are saying when they talk among themselves.

    As a social media scholar, I study conversations “in the wild” in order to find out what people are actually saying to one another. The method I developed is called netnography and it treats online posts as discourse – a continuing dialogue between real people – rather than as quantifiable data.

    As part of an ongoing study on technology and utopia, I read through more than 14,000 social media comments posted on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and YouTube in 2018 and 2019. They came from 9,155 uniquely named posters.

    What I found was both shocking and heartening.

    Loyalty and fear

    Both support for socialism and attacks on it appear to be on the rise.

    Socialism can mean different things to people. Some see it as a system that institutionalizes fairness and citizen rights, bringing higher levels of social solidarity; others focus on heavy-handed government control of free markets that work more effectively when left alone. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, emphasized the right to quality health care, education, a good job with a living wage, affordable housing and a clean environment in a 2019 speech.

    A 2019 Gallup Poll found that 39% of Americans have a favorable opinion of socialism – up from about 20% in 2010; 57% view it negatively.

    Prominent elected “democratic socialist” officials include six Chicago City Council members, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders.

    These and other advocates point to a version of socialism called the “Nordic model,” seen in countries like Denmark, which provide high-quality social services such as health care and education while fostering a strong economy.

    Critics call socialism anti-American and charge that it undermines free enterprise and leads to disaster, often using the unrealistically extreme example of Venezuela.

    President Trump has portrayed socialists as radical, lazy, America-hating communists. His son, Donald Trump Jr., has posted tweets ridiculing socialism.

    During the 2020 election season, Republican Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell advised that his party could win by being a firewall against socialism. He was on point: Fear of socialism may have been a reason why the Republicans gained seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2020.

    A ‘tug of words’

    Although I wasn’t initially looking for posts on socialism or capitalism, I found plenty of them in my online investigation. Many were what I call a “tug of words” in which people asserted which system was better. People from opposite ends of the political spectrum made pithy observations, posted one-liners or launched strong, emotionally worded broadsides. There was often little dialogue – those who posted were shouting at each other as if using a megaphone.

    A YouTube commenter uses a megaphone-like approach to preach about the perils of socialism.
    Screen shot by Robert Kozinets

    I also found a large number of short, nonconversational, megaphone-like posts on visual social media like Instagram and Pinterest.

    Some commentary on socialism on Pinterest.
    Screen shot by Robert Kozinets

    But some people were more circumspect. While they were often reactive or one-sided, they raised questions. For example, people questioned whether business bailouts, grants, lobbying or special tax treatment showed that capitalism’s “free markets” weren’t actually all that free.

    Making a historical economic argument against socialism and its slippery slope to totalitarianism.
    Robert Kozinets’ data collection

    And some considered what “socialism” actually means to people, linking that meaning to race, nationality and class.

    The meaning of socialism discussed on Twitter.
    Screen shot by Robert Kozinets

    Overcoming primitive ‘isms’

    Amid all the sound and fury of people shouting from their virtual soapboxes, there were also the calmer voices of those engaging in deeper discussions. These people debated socialism, capitalism and free markets in relation to health care, child care, minimum wage and other issues that affected their lives.

    One YouTube discussion explored the notion that we should stop viewing everything “through the primitive lens of the nonsensical ‘isms’ – capitalism, socialism, communism – which have no relevance in a sustainable or socially just and peaceful world.”

    Other discussions united both left and right by asserting that the real problem was corruption in the system, not the system itself. Some used social media to try to overcome the ideological blinders of partisan politics. For example, they argued that raising the minimum wage or improving education might be sensible management strategies that could help the economy and working Americans at the same time.

    This Reddit post explores the benefits of changes that some might label as socialist.
    Screen shot by Robert Kozinets.

    New forum for discussions

    As America’s post-election divisions fester, my work gives me reason for hope. It shows that some Americans – still a small minority, mind you – are thoughtfully using popular social media platforms to have meaningful discussions. What I have provided here is just a small sample of the many thoughtful conversations I encountered.

    My analysis of social media doesn’t deny that many people are angry and polarized over social systems. But it has revealed that a significant number of people recognize that labels like socialism, free markets and capitalism have become emotional triggers, used by some journalists and politicians to manipulate, incite and divide.

    [Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

    To unify and move forward together, we may need to better understand the sites and discussion formats that facilitate this kind of thoughtful discourse. If partisans retreat to echo chamber platforms like Parler and Rumble, will these kinds of intelligent conversations between people with diverse viewpoints cease?

    As Americans confront the financial challenges of a pandemic, automation, precarious employment and globalization, providing forums where we can discuss divergent ideas in an open-minded rather than an ideological way may make a critical difference to the solutions we choose. Many Americans are already using digital platforms to discuss options, rather than being frightened away by – or attacking – the tired old socialist bogeyman.The Conversation

    Robert Kozinets, Jayne and Hans Hufschmid Chair in Strategic Public Relations and Business Communication, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

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

    Cheatgrass in Sagebrush Country: Fueling Severe Wildfires — @Audubon

    North America’s sagebrush steppe ecosystem is home to more than 350 species of plants and animals, many of which live nowhere else. It sustains the water supply, economies, and culture of Western communities. But a deadly invader threatens to send it all up in flames. Learn how cheatgrass and other invasive weeds threaten this ecosystem’s very existence and what we must do to save it: https://rockies.audubon.org/sagebrush/cheatgrass-fire

    @COParksWildlife Update – Moffat County Wolves

    Image of wolf from a game camera, taken Oct 15, 2020, in Moffat County.
    Photo courtesy: Defenders of Wildlife via Colorado Parks and Wildlife

    Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Rebecca Ferrell):

    On November 3, Colorado voters passed Proposition #114 – The Restoration of Gray Wolves, a measure directing the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to develop a plan to reintroduce gray wolves west of the Continental Divide. The passage of Proposition 114 has led to increased interest in wolves in Colorado, specifically, the wolf pack previously confirmed to be present in Moffat County.

    The gray wolf remains under the management control of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service until at least January 4, 2021, when the proposed removal of Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections would take effect. At this time, CPW continues to monitor the area and take sighting reports and game camera images from citizens, sportspersons and others on the ground.

    “The federal delisting discussion has caused some confusion in the state about the status of gray wolves in Colorado,” said Dan Prenzlow, director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “Regardless of the USFWS listing status, gray wolves remain listed as a state endangered species, and killing a wolf in Colorado for any reason other than self-defense remains illegal.”

    While protected under the ESA, killing a wolf in Colorado can result in federal charges, including a $100,000 fine and a year in prison, per offense. As the gray wolf remains a state endangered species, severe penalties will still apply when CPW regains management control in the state.

    Wolves are elusive in nature, making visual confirmation more challenging than some other species. Despite this, game camera images, as well as tracks and fur, have been detected in the field throughout the summer and into November.

    “As recently as last week we have confirmed the presence of wolves in Moffat County via pictures and recorded howling. Staff will continue monitoring the area as part of our overall wildlife management and conservation duties, and we will share information when we have updates or can help clear up any misunderstanding of wolf activity in Colorado,” said Prenzlow.

    The public is urged to contact CPW immediately and fill out a report if they see or hear wolves or find evidence of any wolf activity in Colorado. The Wolf Sighting Form can be found on the CPW website.

    At the November 19, 2020, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission meeting, the commission discussed their next steps in undertaking the planning efforts directed by Proposition 114. To stay updated on wolves in Colorado, visit the wolf management page of our website.

    Musings from the frontiers of mountain tourism — The Mountain Town News

    Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From The Mountain Town News, September 11, 2019, (Allen Best):-

    Our weekend getaway had us in Salida on Saturday night, enjoying Mexican food while watching people frolic in the Arkansas River.

    It’s a different town altogether from the one I first visited in 1978. The river was celebrated then, too, but the economy was based on extraction. There was a limestone quarry near Monarch Pass that was part of the steel-making process in Pueblo. Many of the town’s residents worked 72 miles away at Climax, extracting molybdenum, which also has a key role as a strengthener of steel.

    Then Ronald Reagan was elected president and the mines shut down. I think this was correlation, not causation, but my old friend, the late Ed Quillen, who had moved his family to Salida in its late days as a mining town, liked to point out that those in rural areas who had voted for Reagan tended to have bad outcomes. Kind of like the farmers today who voted for Trump in 2016.

    Working then at the Mountain Mail, Ed was responsible for producing something called the Progress Edition. One year soon after the mining meltdown he focused the issue on Salida’s attributes as a haven for artists. And that is pretty much the story of Salida today. It’s warmer than the ski-anchored resorts, with a river more at the center, now filled with people of a certain age for whom a good hospital also matters.

    Is Salida a role model for those coal towns that need to find a new career? As I’ve pointed out before, I’m not so sure that the coal towns have the same attributes – although Paonia has certainly been prospering as never before since its coal-based economy began snoozing, many of its new residents—well, no surprise here— people of a certain age seek to escape ski towns.

    In the mid 1990s, Ed had also urged me to check out Saguache. The old hotel, he said, was available for $30,000. He predicted it as the next getaway.

    Saguache Hotel. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    In fact, Cathy and I have gotten-away to Saguache, near the top of the San Luis Valley, several times in recent years. It’s higher in elevation than I like, about 7,800 feet, but somehow I seem to breathe easier once I take in those big spaces of the San Luis Valley, rimmed by mountains east and west. And we can afford the price of the motel there.

    Luckily, I can point to some of the mountains as ones I climbed when in my prime or, in wheezing fashion, just beyond: Kit Carson, Challenger, and just below 14,000 feet, Adams, a Sheep and one or two others.

    Saguache has two or three passable restaurants and, at the old Ute theater, had a folk festival going last weekend. As for that old hotel, it looks available and still in need of work.

    Rusted beater. Photo credit: Allen Best

    Across the street was an old Japanese pickup, a four-wheeler, but with a rusted shell, as had occurred with my old Toyota before I abandoned it with 376,000 miles on the odometer. It was a nice portable motel room.

    Rust or not, I wonder what happened that all of our pickups became super-sized. It came during a time when people have become supersized, too. Causation or correlation?

    The story here in Salida and Saguache, I think, is of increments but also anchors and also transportation corridors. Salida is not on an interstate highway, but it is on Highway 50. Saguache is more off the beaten path.

    Too, Salida has the river, a ski area about 20 minutes away. Saguache has … well, the big sky.

    That old hotel may yet get the work it needs to be a viable property. But Ed has been gone now for 7 years, and I suspect I’ll be gone, too, before Saguache becomes a tourist hot spot. That’s OK. It’s nice to know that there are still places with rusted pickups.

    Laughing is good for your mind and your body – here’s what the research shows — The Conversation


    It’s hard to beat a good laugh with a friend.
    Klaus Vedfelt/DigitalVision via Getty Images

    Janet M. Gibson, Grinnell College

    Amusement and pleasant surprises – and the laughter they can trigger – add texture to the fabric of daily life.

    Those giggles and guffaws can seem like just silly throwaways. But laughter, in response to funny events, actually takes a lot of work, because it activates many areas of the brain: areas that control motor, emotional, cognitive and social processing.

    As I found when writing “An Introduction to the Psychology of Humor,” researchers now appreciate laughter’s power to enhance physical and mental well-being.

    Laughter’s physical power

    People begin laughing in infancy, when it helps develop muscles and upper body strength. Laughter is not just breathing. It relies on complex combinations of facial muscles, often involving movement of the eyes, head and shoulders.

    Laughter – doing it or observing it – activates multiple regions of the brain: the motor cortex, which controls muscles; the frontal lobe, which helps you understand context; and the limbic system, which modulates positive emotions. Turning all these circuits on strengthens neural connections and helps a healthy brain coordinate its activity.

    By activating the neural pathways of emotions like joy and mirth, laughter can improve your mood and make your physical and emotional response to stress less intense. For example, laughing may help control brain levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, similar to what antidepressants do. By minimizing your brain’s responses to threats, it limits the release of neurotransmitters and hormones like cortisol that can wear down your cardiovascular, metabolic and immune systems over time. Laughter’s kind of like an antidote to stress, which weakens these systems and increases vulnerability to diseases.

    women laughing together at an outdoor meal
    Getting the joke is a good workout for your brain.
    Thomas Barwick/Stone via Getty Images

    Laughter’s cognitive power

    A good sense of humor and the laughter that follows depend on an ample measure of social intelligence and working memory resources.

    Laughter, like humor, typically sparks from recognizing the incongruities or absurdities of a situation. You need to mentally resolve the surprising behavior or event – otherwise you won’t laugh; you might just be confused instead. Inferring the intentions of others and taking their perspective can enhance the intensity of the laughter and amusement you feel.

    To “get” a joke or humorous situation, you need to be able to see the lighter side of things. You must believe that other possibilities besides the literal exist – think about being amused by comic strips with talking animals, like those found in “The Far Side.”

    Laughter’s social power

    Many cognitive and social skills work together to help you monitor when and why laughter occurs during conversations. You don’t even need to hear a laugh to be able to laugh. Deaf signers punctuate their signed sentences with laughter, much like emoticons in written text.

    Laughter creates bonds and increases intimacy with others. Linguist Don Nilsen points out that chuckles and belly laughs seldom happen when alone, supporting their strong social role. Beginning early in life, infants’ laughter is an external sign of pleasure that helps strengthen bonds with caregivers.

    Later, it’s an external sign of sharing an appreciation of the situation. For example, public speakers and comedians try to get a laugh to make audiences feel psychologically closer to them, to create intimacy.

    By practicing a little laughter each day, you can enhance social skills that may not come naturally to you. When you laugh in response to humor, you share your feelings with others and learn from risks that your response will be accepted/shared/enjoyed by others and not be rejected/ignored/disliked.

    In studies, psychologists have found that men with Type A personality characteristics, including competitiveness and time urgency, tend to laugh more, while women with those traits laugh less. Both sexes laugh more with others than when alone.

    white-haired woman laughing on a park bench
    Laughter has value across the whole lifespan.
    Steve Prezant/The Image Bank via Getty Images

    Laughter’s mental power

    Positive psychology researchers study how people can live meaningful lives and thrive. Laughter produces positive emotions that lead to this kind of flourishing. These feelings – like amusement, happiness, mirth and joy – build resiliency and increase creative thinking. They increase subjective well-being and life satisfaction. Researchers find that these positive emotions experienced with humor and laughter correlate with appreciating the meaning of life and help older adults hold a benign view of difficulties they’ve faced over a lifetime.

    Laughter in response to amusement is a healthy coping mechanism. When you laugh, you take yourself or the situation less seriously and may feel empowered to problem-solve. For example, psychologists measured the frequency and intensity of 41 people’s laughter over two weeks, along with their ratings of physical and mental stress. They found that the more laughter experienced, the lower the reported stress. Whether the instances of laughter were strong, medium or weak in intensity didn’t matter.

    Maybe you want to grab some of these benefits for yourself – can you force laughter to work for you?

    A growing number of therapists advocate using humor and laughter to help clients build trust and improve work environments; a review of five different studies found that measures of well-being did increase after laughter interventions. Sometimes called homeplay instead of homework, these interventions take the form of daily humor activities – surrounding yourself with funny people, watching a comedy that makes you laugh or writing down three funny things that happened today.

    [Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

    You can practice laughing even when alone. Intentionally take a perspective that appreciates the funny side of events. Laughing yoga is a technique of using breathing muscles to achieve the positive physical responses of natural laughing with forced laughter (ha ha hee hee ho ho).

    Some tips on how to get started with laughing yoga.

    Researchers today certainly aren’t laughing off its value, but a good deal of the research on laughter’s influence on mental and physical health is based on self-report measures. More psychological experimentation around laughter or the contexts in which it occurs will likely support the importance of laughing throughout your day, and maybe even suggest more ways to intentionally harness its benefits.The Conversation

    Janet M. Gibson, Professor of Cognitive Psychology, Grinnell College

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

    Happy Thanksgiving

    Like anyone that has so far avoided getting COVID-19, I am most thankful for that this year. I could easily stop there.

    However, yesterday the Army Corps of Engineers announced the denial of a permit for the Pebble Mine that was to be constructed in the most important salmon fishery in the world. And, to my surprise the environment and the Clean Water Act won out.

    Map of Bristol Bay. By own work – maps-for-free.com, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3709948

    From the Nature Conservancy (Eric Bontrager):

    The Army Corps of Engineers today formally denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska.

    In August, the Corps found the mine “cannot be permitted” as proposed under the Clean Water Act following a determination that discharges at the mine site would cause unavoidable, adverse impacts and significant degradation of aquatic resources in Bristol Bay.

    Last week, the mine’s developers submitted a new plan for how it would abate the mine’s threat to this globally significant salmon fishery. The developer did not release the plan and the Corps declined to make it available for public comment.

    The following is a statement by Lynn Scarlett, chief external affairs officer for The Nature Conservancy:

    “Today’s decision affirms what the science and local communities have said all along: Pebble is the wrong mine in the wrong place. The decision is a win for this world-class salmon fishery and the Alaska Natives who have thrived in this region for millennia. This is a commendable and necessary determination that will help protect this watershed and the economies it supports. We appreciate the Army Corps for making the right decision to deny the permit for Pebble Mine, and we’re grateful for the many people who have spoken up with their perspectives and expertise for years so that we could reach this moment.

    “Even with this encouraging development, without permanent protection, Bristol Bay’s future is far from certain. Any outcome for the region must align with the health and well-being of Indigenous communities, including a focus on economic opportunity. This can only happen with collaboration, transparency and through decisions informed by science. We will continue supporting Tribal and local governments, Alaska Native corporations, businesses, and other stakeholders in their efforts to chart a sustainable and equitable future for Bristol Bay.”

    An aerial view of Wood-Tikchik State Park in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Photo credit: Ryan Petersen via The Natural Resources Defense Council

    From The Washington Post (Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis):

    In a statement, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Alaska Commander Col. Damon Delarosa said that a plan to deal with waste from the Pebble Mine “does not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines,” and that “the proposed project is contrary to the public interest.”

    While the Trump administration has pressed ahead to weaken environmental protections and expand energy development before the president’s term ends in January, the decision to torpedo the long-disputed mine represents a major win for environmentalists, fishing enthusiasts and tribal rights.

    “Today’s decision speaks volumes about how bad this project is, how uniquely unacceptable it is,” Joel Reynolds, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has fought the mine for years, said in an interview. “We’ve had to kill this project more than once, and we’re going to continue killing for as long as it takes to protect Bristol Bay.”

    Trump officials had allowed the Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of a Canadian firm, to apply for a permit even though the Obama administration had concluded in 2014 that the firm could not seek federal approval because the project could have “significant” and potentially “catastrophic” impacts on the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery. As recently as July, the Corps concluded that the mine would have “no measurable effect” on area fish populations.

    State and federal agencies warned that the project would permanently damage the region, destroying more than 2,800 acres of wetlands, 130 miles of streams and more than 130 acres of open water within Alaska’s Koktuli River watershed. The proposed site lies at the river’s headwaters.

    An unlikely coalition of opponents formed when President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Vice President Pence’s former chief of staff, Nick Ayers — who all have enjoyed fishing or hunting around Bristol Bay — joined with traditional environmental groups and the region’s tribes in opposition to the project.

    Opponents received a major boost in September when the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released recordings of secretly taped Zoom calls in which the project’s top executives boasted of their influence inside the White House and to Alaska lawmakers to win a federal permit. Alaska’s two GOP senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, issued statements saying they opposed the plan and within days Pebble’s chief executive, Tom Collier, resigned.

    Both senators praised the administration’s decision.

    “Today, the Army Corps has made the correct decision, based on an extensive record and the law, that the project cannot and should not be permitted,” Sullivan said. He added that he supports mining in Alaska, but given the project’s potential impact on the state’s fisheries and subsistence hunting, “Pebble had to meet a high bar so that we do not trade one resource for another.”

    […]

    Pebble issued a plan to the Corps this fall outlining how it would compensate for any damage inflicted by the project, which would span more than 13 miles and require the construction of a 270-megawatt power plant, natural-gas pipeline, 82-mile double-lane road, elaborate storage facilities and the dredging of a port at Iliamna Bay…

    Bristol Bay Native Corporation President Jason Metrokin, also its chief executive, said his group and others will keep working “to ensure that wild salmon continue to thrive in Bristol Bay waters, bringing with them the immense cultural, subsistence and economic benefits that we all have enjoyed for so long.”

    […]

    “The credit for this victory belongs not to any politician but to Alaskans and Bristol Bay’s Indigenous peoples, as well as to hunters, anglers and wildlife enthusiasts from all across the country who spoke out in opposition to this dangerous and ill-conceived project,” [Adam Kolton] said in a statement. “We can be thankful that their voices were heard, that science counted and that people prevailed over short-term profiteering.”

    Pebble Mine site. Photo credit: Northern Dynasty Minerals, Ltd.

    From The New York Times (Henry Fountain):

    The fight over the mine’s fate has raged for more than a decade. The plan was scuttled years ago under the Obama administration, only to find new life under President Trump. But opposition, from Alaska Native American communities, environmentalists and the fishing industry never diminished, and recently even the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., a sportsman who had fished in the region, came out against the project.

    On Wednesday, it failed to obtain a critical permit required under the federal Clean Water Act that was considered a must for it to proceed. In a statement, the Army Corps’ Alaska District Commander, Col. Damon Delarosa, said the mine, proposed for a remote tundra region about 200 miles from Anchorage, would be “contrary to the public interest” because “it does not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines.”

    Opponents said the large open-pit operation, which would dig up and process tens of millions of tons of rock a year, would irreversibly harm breeding grounds for salmon that are the basis for a sports-fishing industry and a large commercial fishery in Bristol Bay. Salmon are also a major subsistence food of Alaska Natives who live in small villages across the region…

    Lindsay Layland, deputy director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, which has fought the project for years, said that while the decision means the project may be dead, the threat remains that the gold and copper ore could still be mined in the future. “It doesn’t mean that those minerals aren’t going to be in the ground tomorrow,” she said. “We need to continue to push for long term and permanent protections down the road.”

    […]

    The environmental impact statement was finalized in July by the Corps, which had authority to approve or deny a permit under the federal Clean Water Act. But a few weeks later the Corps said that the company’s plan to compensate for environmental damage from the mine was insufficient, and requested a new plan…

    The new plan, which was not publicly released but was believed to designate land near the mine to be permanently protected, was submitted last week.

    The mining industry and many state officials have supported the project for the revenue and other economic benefits it would bring. But some important Alaskan politicians, notably Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, had been noncommittal, saying the mine should go forward only if it could be shown to be environmentally sound.

    In a statement on Wednesday, Senator Murkowski said the Corps’ decision affirmed “that this is the wrong mine in the wrong place.”

    “This is the right decision, reached the right way,” she added.

    Under the Trump administration, the Environmental Protection Agency reversed an earlier ruling, allowing the environmental review by the Corps to proceed. Under the Clean Water Act, the Corps reviews any dredging and filling activities in waterways, including wetlands like those in the area of the proposed project.

    #Flint attorneys to detail proposed $641-million water crisis settlement in virtual briefing Monday afternoon — MLive.com

    From MLive.com (Ron Fonger):

    Flint River in Flint Michigan.

    A proposed $641-million settlement of water crisis lawsuits was filed in U.S. District Court last week, $20 million of which would come from a city insurance policy — if approved by the Flint City Council.

    If approved by Judge Judith Levy, the settlement would establish a claims process for those harmed by Flint water and ultimately payouts depending on which of 30 categories individuals fall into, the extent of damages and how many claims are filed.

    The council is scheduled to address the settlement in a closed session at 5:30 p.m. Monday, but several members have blocked similar private briefings in the past, saying that the overall settlement that’s been proposed doesn’t provide enough money to those harmed by Flint water or doesn’t divide the settlement fairly.

    Flint children who were 6 years old and younger at the time they were first exposed to Flint River water would receive 64.5 percent of the proposed settlement.

    Council President Kate Fields has urged other members to be briefed on the city’s portion of the settlement so that they can be informed on the deal before they vote to accept or reject it.

    Attorneys involved in negotiating the settlement say lawsuits will continue against the city and its employees in state and federal courts if the settlement is not approved by the council.

    More than 100 lawsuits are pending related to the water crisis, alleging parties including the city and the state have responsibility for the distribution of water with elevated levels of lead, bacteria and chlorination byproducts in Flint in 2014 and 2015.

    In addition to having had regulatory responsibility for Flint water, the state appointed emergency financial managers to run the city before and during the water crisis.

    The briefing at 2 p.m. Monday is designed to give residents the chance to hear “directly from the city’s attorneys on what this settlement would mean to residents,” Neeley said in a statement issued by the city. “This is about transparency and about making sure that residents have access to accurate information regarding the proposed water lawsuit settlement.”

    Because the settlement documents were filed in federal court on Tuesday, Nov. 17, city officials said they can now openly discuss them.

    Roadless areas greater than 300,000 acres from Bob Marshall’s 1936 Inventory h/t @jonnypeace

    From Wikipedia:

    Robert Marshall (January 2, 1901 – November 11, 1939) was an American forester, writer and wilderness activist who is best remembered as the person who spearheaded the 1935 founding of the Wilderness Society in the United States. Marshall developed a love for the outdoors as a young child. He was an avid hiker and climber who visited the Adirondack Mountains frequently during his youth, ultimately becoming one of the first Adirondack Forty-Sixers. He also traveled to the Brooks Range of the far northern Alaskan wilderness. He wrote numerous articles and books about his travels, including the bestselling 1933 book Arctic Village.

    Bob Marshall.

    A scientist with a PhD in plant physiology, Marshall became independently wealthy after the death of his father in 1929. He had started his outdoor career in 1925 as forester with the U.S. Forest Service. He used his financial independence for expeditions to Alaska and other wilderness areas. Later he held two significant public appointed posts: chief of forestry in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, from 1933 to 1937, and head of recreation management in the Forest Service, from 1937 to 1939, both during the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. During this period, he directed the promulgation of regulations to preserve large areas of roadless land that were under federal management. Many years after his death, some of those areas were permanently protected from development, exploitation, and mechanization with the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964.

    Defining wilderness as a social as well as an environmental ideal, Marshall promoted organization of a national group dedicated to the preservation of primeval land. In 1935, he was one of the principal founders of The Wilderness Society and personally provided most of the Society’s funding in its first years. He also supported socialism and civil liberties throughout his life.

    Marshall died of heart failure at the age of 38 in 1939. Twenty-five years later, partly as a result of his efforts, The Wilderness Society helped gain passage of the Wilderness Act. The Act was passed by Congress in 1964 and legally defined wilderness areas of the United States and protected some nine million acres (36,000 km2) of federal land from development, road building and motorized transportation. Today, Marshall is considered largely responsible for the wilderness preservation movement. Several areas and landmarks, including The Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana and Mount Marshall in the Adirondacks, have been named in his honor.

    No, soaring #COVID19 cases are not due to more testing – they show a surging pandemic — The Conversation #coronavirus


    Access to testing had been improving across the U.S., but as cases increase, more testing is needed.
    AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

    Zoë McLaren, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

    COVID-19 cases are surging upward around the U.S., reaching 100,000 daily cases for the first time on Nov. 4 and 150,000 only eight days later. Some believe this increase in reported is a result of increases in testing, as more than 1.5 million tests are performed every day in the U.S. But the evidence is clear that these high numbers reflect a true increase in the number of COVID-19 infections.

    Hospitalizations, deaths and test-positivity rates are going up. Taken together, this means that serious COVID-19 illness is on the rise and cases are being undercounted.

    Steep increases in hospitalizations and deaths

    Rather than being an artifact of changes in testing policy, the rise in cases reflects ongoing transmission and serious illness.

    Even as COVID-19 treatments have improved and death rates have fallen, record-breaking levels of hospitalizations are already overwhelming ICUs in many parts of the country. Hospitalizations and deaths will continue to climb even if the surge in new cases abates because the majority of cases are diagnosed before serious illness develops. Today’s new infections will add to the death toll for weeks to come.

    These hospitalizations and deaths represent confirmed COVID-19 infections. A COVID-19 diagnosis for hospitalized cases must be justified based on symptoms and test results. COVID-19 is simply the only plausible explanation for ongoing high hospitalization and death rates.

    High and rising test positivity

    High and rising test-positivity rates provide more evidence that COVID-19 is spreading uncontrollably around the country.

    Test positivity is the percentage of all COVID-19 tests for active infection that come back positive. For example, Iowa’s test-positivity rate of 51.7% as of Nov. 17 means that for every 100 COVID-19 tests performed, 51 are positive.

    Test positivity tells public health officials whether a testing program is casting a wide enough net to catch the majority of COVID-19 cases.

    A high test-positivity rate indicates that the people getting tested are mostly those who have symptoms or think they’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19. But people can be infected or contagious even if they aren’t showing symptoms. A low test-positivity rate means that access to testing is wide enough to reach large numbers of people who may not know they have the coronavirus. This greatly increases the chances of diagnosing people without symptoms or known exposure who may nonetheless be infected.

    The World Health Organization recommends a goal of 5% test positivity or less, but test-positivity rates in many parts of the U.S. are well above that. As of Nov. 17, 44 states had test-positivity rates above 5%, meaning their testing programs were not casting a broad enough net and were likely missing many undiagnosed cases.

    Three ambulances lined up in front of a hospital.
    Hospitalizations and deaths are also rising, though they lag behind increases in diagnoses.
    AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

    Things are worse than they seem

    The data on hospitalizations, deaths and test positivity clearly show that the worst of the surge is yet to come. High test-positivity rates mean the current confirmed case numbers are undercounting total cases.

    A test-positivity rate above 25%, as is the case in several states, implies there may be more than 10 times as many cases in the population as have been diagnosed. Many of these undetected cases may be contagious even though they have no symptoms, which further contributes to the spread of the virus. Considering the lag between new cases and hospitalization or death, the current surge does not bode well for the coming winter.

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

    Overstretched testing programs

    The record-breaking surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations around the U.S. represents a true increase in infections and serious illness rather than an increase in testing. In fact, high test-positivity rates show that cases are undercounted because of limited access to testing. Hospitalizations and deaths will continue to rise in the weeks ahead.

    Overstretched testing programs remain a weak link in the U.S. pandemic response. Diagnosing cases – and catching them as early as possible – will help cut off transmission chains of the deadly virus. When people learn they’re infected, they’re more likely to take necessary precautions to avoid exposing family, friends and others to the virus. Contrary to what some ill-informed people may be saying, the U.S. should be expanding access to testing to curb the spread of COVID-19. More testing would actually be a crucial step toward finally getting the virus under control.The Conversation

    Zoë McLaren, Associate Professor of Public Policy, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

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

    Uncommon Raptors of Colorado: Red-Shouldered Hawk — @COParksWildlife

    In this video, Anne Price, president of the Raptor Education Foundation, gives a presentation about the Red-Shouldered Hawk.

    More fires, bigger fires trend likely to continue in #Colorado — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette

    The East Troublesome fire as seen from Cottonwood Pass looking north on the evening of Wednesday, Oct 21, 2020. (Andrew Lussie via InciWeb via The Colorado Sun)

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Evan Wyloge):

    Over the past two decades, fire seasons in Colorado have consistently grown larger and more destructive. The three largest wildfires in tracked history ignited within 10 weeks of one another this year, putting the year’s total wildfire-burned acreage above the past six years combined.

    It’s a trend caused by several factors, experts and researchers say, and it’s likely to continue.

    large fires that characterized this year, said Camille Stevens-Rumann, a Colorado State University professor whose research focuses on fire ecology.

    “If you think about other areas like California, or even other Rocky Mountain states, like Montana or Idaho,” she said, “they’ve had huge fires. We’ve not seen those. We had Hayman in 2002, then bad years in 2010 and 2011, but we haven’t had to face this reality until this year.”

    Hotter, drier seasons, along with some misguided forest management practices, are to blame, she and other experts agree.

    Fires in Colorado are a natural event, they stressed. The lodgepole pine is cited as an example of how the ecology has evolved to coexist with regular fires. The tree’s pine cone opens and releases the seeds when it raises to a certain temperature. And the natural cycle is for the adult lodgepole pines to be burned…

    Higher temperatures — average global temperatures have risen about 1 degree Celsius since the middle of the 20th century — mean the mountain snowpack doesn’t last as long, Hurteau said. The same higher temperatures that shorten the winter then, in the summer, sap moisture from the ecosystem, priming Colorado’s forest vegetation for a fire.

    Two key metrics quantify for researchers how much the higher temperatures cause the more rapid drying of the environment.

    “Vapor pressure deficit and climatic water deficit: How much moisture does the atmosphere want to pull out of the soil, versus how much there is,” Stevens-Rumann said. “As temperatures increase, there’s more demand in those two metrics.”

    The natural process plays out every summer, but with snowpack disappearing earlier in the year and not arriving until later, it happens more intensely and for a longer duration…

    Bark beetle is another factor that stokes Colorado’s wildfires. If a patch of trees becomes infested, after time, the trees die, leaving dead, drying timber that’s primed to ignite because of the drying pattern, the experts said. And while pine needles, twigs, loose foliage or leaves on the forest floor can burn quickly without burning larger trees, standing dead trees burn hotter for longer, further contributing to more intense fires…

    Forest management practices have contributed to the problem as well. The doctrine of extinguishing forest fires as quickly as possible, without regard to the natural cycle of burning and regeneration for forests, has led to more fire-prone wildland…

    He said there are now efforts to bring a better approach to forest management, which lets some of the fuel burn, to better match the natural cycle.

    The hydraulics of the world’s first industrial plant: a unique construction in the Barbegal water mills —

    View of the ruins of the Barbegal mill complex in 2018. Photo credit: Universitaet Mainz

    Here’s the release Universitaet Mainz:

    An elbow-shaped water flume as a special adaptation for the Barbegal mill complex and a symbol of the ingenuity of Roman engineers

    The Barbegal watermills in southern France are a unique complex dating back to the 2nd century AD. The construction with 16 waterwheels is, as far as is known, the first attempt in Europe to build a machine complex on an industrial scale. The complex was created when the Roman Empire was at the height of its power. However, little is known about technological advances, particularly in the field of hydraulics, and the spread of knowledge at the time. A team of scientists led by Professor Cees Passchier from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) has now gained new knowledge about the construction and principle of the water supply to the mills in Barbegal. The research results were published in Scientific Reports.

    A mill complex consisting of a total of 16 water wheels in two parallel rows

    Watermills were one of the first sources of energy that did not depend on the muscle strength of humans or animals. In the Roman Empire they were used to make flour and sawing stone and wood. As one of the first industrial complexes in European history, the Barbegal watermills are an outstanding example of the development at that time. The mill complex consisted of 16 water wheels in a parallel arrangement of eight wheels each, separated by central buildings and fed by an aqueduct. The upper parts of the complex were destroyed and no traces of the wooden structures have been preserved, which is why the type of mill wheels and how they worked remained a mystery for a long time.

    However, carbonate deposits that had formed from the flowing water on the wooden components remained. These were stored in the archaeological museum in Arles and only recently examined in detail. The researchers found an imprint of an unusual, elbow-shaped flume that must have been part of the mill construction. “We combined measurements of the water basins with hydraulic calculations and were able to show that the flume to which this elbow-shaped piece belonged very likely supplied the mill wheels in the lower basins of the complex with water,” said Professor Cees Passchier. “The shape of this flume was unknown from other watermills, either from Roman or more recent times. We were therefore puzzled as to why the flume was designed this way and what it was used for.”

    Carbonate deposits from the side wall of the elbow-shaped water flume, which have formed on the inside of the wooden flume. The vertical patterns are imprints of saw marks on the wood. Photo credit: Universitaet Mainz

    An elbow-shaped flume as a unique adaptation for the Barbegal mills

    At first glance, the team found such a flume unnecessary and even disadvantageous, because it shortens the height from which the water falls onto the mill wheel. “However, our calculations show that the oddly shaped flume is a unique adaptation for the Barbegal mills,” explained Passchier. The distribution of the carbonate deposits in the elbow-shaped flume shows that it was inclined slightly backwards against the direction of the current. This created a maximum flow rate in the first, steep leg of the flume, and at the same time the water jet to the mill wheel obtained the correct angle and speed. In the complicated mill system, with small water basins, this unique solution was more efficient than using a traditional, straight water channel. “That shows us the ingenuity of the Roman engineers who built the complex,” emphasized Passchier.

    “Another discovery was that the wood of the flume was probably cut with a mechanical, water-powered saw, which is possibly the first documented mechanical wood saw – again evidence of industrial activity in ancient times.” The research was carried out by a multidisciplinary team of experts in geology, geochemistry, hydraulics, dendrochronology, and archaeology.

    Sketch of the Barbegal mill complex with the lower three water basins with mill wheels and water flumes: The lower basins most probably had elbow-shaped flumes. Credit: Cees Passchier

    The carbonate deposits that formed on the ancient hydraulic structures are an important tool for the researchers for archaeological reconstructions. In an earlier project, the team led by Professor Cees Passchier was able to show that the flour from the Barbegal mills was probably used to make ship biscuits. “The carbonate deposits give us extremely exciting insights into the skills of Roman technicians at a time that can be seen as the direct predecessor of our civilization,” added Passchier, Professor of Tectonic Physics and Structural Geology at the JGU Institute of Geosciences from 1993 to 2019, now Senior Research Professor in Geoarchaeology.

    TomTalks Episode 16: Veterans to Farmers — One World One Water Center

    This TomTalks was a huge labor of love! Josie Hart, from the Denver Botanic Gardens, joined us on site at DBG’s Chatfield Farm to discuss their Veterans to Farmers program and the incredible healing nature of farming. We did have some issues with wind and apologize for the sound issues. We hope you enjoy learning about this great program that aims to honor, support, and educate veterans.

    #Denver aims to raise awareness of steadily worsening #airquality on Front Range — The #Colorado Sun

    Photo credit: NOAA

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    Denver is expanding its air quality monitoring and education program to combat high rates of asthma in lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color, focusing on school-age children.

    The city’s Department of Public Health and Environment is on schedule with a multiyear grant to install air monitors at 40 public schools and tie them together with a consumer-friendly “dashboard” that families can use to assess danger and alter their activity. Denver will replicate the dashboard and the accompanying clean-air curriculum for the Tri-County Health Department, serving Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, after Tri-County received a state grant.

    Urgency for attacking inequitable asthma rates increased through a summer and fall of lung-straining wildfires, and a viral pandemic that has underscored threats to respiratory health, Denver officials said. Metro Denver has this year recorded the highest number of particulate warning days — the form of pollution exacerbated by wildfire smoke — in at least 10 years. Respiratory physicians report a spike in asthma and other complaints among regular patients…

    The state’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap released this fall, the official guidance for setting new policies, addressed inequities directly: “In communities that face disparate impacts from pollution—often including the confluence of industrial facilities, highways, and other sources of air pollution—there is greater frequency of more intense exposure to pollution, and a correlation to higher frequency of upper respiratory and other dangerous health impacts,” the report states…

    Denver now has real-time air quality “dashboards” available online for 19 schools, on its way to 40, though installation of monitors and smoothing out the technology at the remaining schools on the list were paused by the pandemic.

    The Denver health department developed science and health curricula to go along with the dashboards, with the aim that local teachers would help spread word to families about the available air quality information by talking about it in classes. With many elementary students away from classrooms for months because of the pandemic, the health department pivoted to creating instructional videos and worksheets accessible from home, Ogletree said.

    Other health departments and school districts can install their own low-cost air quality monitors and replicate the online dashboards and curriculum, he added, with Tri-County Health being the first to work with Denver. Denver trademarked the “Love My Air” program name, and offers free licensing agreements and toolkits for those who want to use it.

    The next step, Ogletree said, is working with app developers to turn the Love My Air program into a smartphone tool showing real-time sensors, and also using GPS to automatically detect and display data from the closest monitor. Schools could use the app to push out campaigns like anti-idling at dropoffs and pickups, a common environmental pollution cause at many schools.

    Poor US pandemic response will reverberate in health care politics for years, health scholars warn — The Conversation #coronavirus #COVID19


    A COVID-19 test in Utah. The country’s pandemic response has been politicized, making comprehensive changes to public health more difficult.
    AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

    Simon F. Haeder, Penn State and Sarah E. Gollust, University of Minnesota

    Much has been written about the U.S. coronavirus response. Media accounts frequently turn to experts for their insights – commonly, epidemiologists or physicians. Countless surveys have also queried Americans and individuals from around the world about how the pandemic has affected them and their attitudes and opinions.

    Yet little is known about the views of a group of people particularly well qualified to render judgment on the U.S.‘s response and offer policy solutions: academic health policy and politics researchers. These researchers, like the two of us, come from a diverse set of disciplines, including public health and public policy. Their research focuses on the intricate linkages between politics, the U.S. health system and health policy. They are trained to combine applied and academic knowledge, take broader views and be fluent across multiple disciplines.

    To explore this scholarly community’s opinions and perceptions, we surveyed hundreds of U.S.-based researchers, first in April 2020 and then again in September. Specifically, we asked them about the U.S. COVID-19 response, the upcoming elections and the long-term implications of the pandemic and response for the future of U.S. health policy and the broader political system.

    Overall, the results of our survey – with 400 responses, which have been published in full in our recent academic article – paint a picture of a damaged reputation to government institutions. Surveyed scholars also believe the poor government response will shift the politics of health care. At the same time, our findings don’t show strong belief in major policy changes on health.

    Parceling out the blame

    We first asked respondents how much responsibility various actors bear for the lack of preparedness in the U.S. Here scholars overwhelming assign blame to one source: 93% of respondents blamed President Trump for the overall lack of preparedness “a lot” or “a great deal.” Moreover, 94% in April and 98% in September saw political motivations as the main drivers of the president’s actions.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, as well as Congress, also deserve a significant amount of blame, survey respondents said. At the other end of the spectrum, scholars were relatively content with the response by local and state governments as well as that of the World Health Organization.

    coronavirus testing site in Los Angeles with cars.
    Insufficient testing was one of the first major problems the U.S. confronted in the pandemic.
    AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

    Notably, perceptions grew significantly more negative for all entities between April and September. This likely reflects frustrations with the continued inability to rein in the spread of the virus.

    Effects on the political system and health policy

    Respondents also offered a particularly grim view of the long-term implications of the failed coronavirus response for the United States.

    Survey after survey has shown that partisanship influences individuals’ perceptions of the coronavirus pandemic. Early research indicates that right-leaning media and presidential communication may have significantly contributed to these discrepancies and increased polarization.

    And according to scholars in our study, these stirred-up partisan differences may lead to increases in distrust in government, a lack of faith in political institutions and even further growth in political polarization in the long term.

    Overall, scholars were generally skeptical about any major progressive changes like the adoption of universal health care, paid sick leave, or basic income in the aftermath of the pandemic. At the same time, they also do not expect popular conservative changes like the privatization of Medicare or block grant Medicaid, which restricts expenditures from the federal government to states to a set lump sum.

    Once more, hyperpartisanship, combined with the cumbersome political process, is seen as the major culprit here.

    There is one major exception: adoption of a federal public option, a government-run health plan to compete with private insurers. Here, more than 60% of scholars initially thought that adoption would be somewhat or very likely in the next five years; however, this number dropped to 50% by September. This expectation appears to be driven by the expectation of a Biden presidency.

    Two-thirds of respondents expected public health, health infrastructure, and pandemic preparedness to take on more prominent roles going forward. Just under half expected a larger focus on inequalities and inequities. Yet, with major reforms unlikely, scholars are generally skeptical about much progress on the issues.

    Looking Ahead

    There is ample evidence that the U.S. has fared significantly worse than its peers in handling the coronavirus pandemic.

    To health policy and politics scholars, this came as no surprise. In the U.S., the pandemic collided with a political system rife with distrust and polarization. Both pathologies are mirrored among the American public. Large parts of the population are wary of the role scientists play in policy. Many subscribe to conspiracy theories.

    This combination, together with poor leadership, has put coordinated and sustained policy response out of reach.

    [Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

    To make things worse, the coronavirus has also highlighted the ubiquitous inequities in American society. It has also laid bare the inadequacies of the safety net or other social protections like paid sick leave.

    In our view, no matter the outcome of the elections, the impacts of the failed coronavirus response will likely reverberate through the U.S. political system for decades. Much rebuilding will need to be done.The Conversation

    Simon F. Haeder, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Penn State and Sarah E. Gollust, Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management, University of Minnesota

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

    “Worse than anything you could have imagined”: How the #EastTroublesomeFire became so destructive — The #Colorado Sun

    Here’s an in-depth report about the East Troublesome fire from Jesse Paul that’s running in the The Colorado Sun. Click through and read the whole article, it is a terrific bit of writing. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Colorado Sun interviewed about a dozen firefighters, first responders and evacuees to piece together a timeline of the East Troublesome fire’s terrifying 100,000-acre run on Oct. 21

    Grand Lake Fire Marshal Dan Mayer was horrified.

    In a matter of minutes, the East Troublesome fire had transformed his community into an unrecognizable hellscape. Homes were burning all around him. Hundreds of spot fires threatened more structures. Embers and smoke were blowing by in what seemed like hurricane-force winds.

    The fire was so intense that Mayer was forced to flee along with scores of civilians and other first responders as the inferno — perhaps the fastest-moving in Colorado history — made its initial pass through the high-altitude vacation community of Grand Lake. ..

    The Colorado Sun interviewed about a dozen firefighters, first responders and evacuees to piece together a timeline of the East Troublesome fire’s terrifying run on Oct. 21, the day it became one of the most destructive wildfires in Colorado history, burning more than 100,000 acres in a matter of hours and consuming more than 300 homes…

    The accounts provided to The Sun reveal just how dire the situation became within a short span, and just how narrowly many people and homes escaped death and destruction. Within two hours, the East Troublesome blaze had turned from a docile foe into an unstoppable force, prompting evacuations over an area so large that authorities thought it would take hours to get everyone out. They had about 90 minutes.

    A mix of paid and volunteer firefighters from a few small Grand County departments were on their own to try to save their community. Some of their own homes were destroyed in the flames.

    Todd Holzwarth, chief of the East Grand Fire Protection District in Winter Park, Fraser and Tabernash, said firefighters took a major risk. “I told my guys, ‘You have engaged a fire that, under most circumstances, what everybody does is back off, get into safe areas and get their cameras out,’” Holzwarth said.

    It’s not totally clear what happened, but firefighters now believe the smoke column that was building over the fire all day suddenly collapsed, sending a rush of air downwards and shooting flames out in every direction toward fuels that were tinder-dry after a summer of climate-change-driven drought.

    Baumgarten said the firestorm reminded him of a weather event in Grand County a few years ago that sent damaging microbursts from Kremmling to Grand Lake…

    East Troublesome Fire October 21, 2020 via Wildfire Today.

    The first fire engines arrived in the Trail Creek Estates neighborhood between 5:30 and 6 p.m. Crews quickly realized there was little they could do. The fire was moving too fast and was too intense for them to actually battle it.

    “By the time our engines got to the area, they couldn’t get in,” White said, calling the fire behavior “pretty chaotic.”

    Sagebrush in the subdivision was burning so intensely that the shrubs put off 10-to-15-foot flames. The fire was also racing through the crowns of lodgepole pine.

    “In some areas the fire seemed to be at ground level,” White said. “In other areas it was in the canopy and throwing off a lot of heat.”

    The East Troublesome fire as it tore through the Trail Creek Estates subdivision on Oct. 21, 2020. (Brian White, Grand Fire Protection District)

    The operation quickly moved from structure protection to evacuation. Crew gave up on using their fire engines to battle the flames and instead started using them to get people out of the fire’s path.

    Dr. Jane Goodall Decries Delisting of Grey Wolves from ESA

    Following the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s announcement to remove endangered species protections for gray wolves in all lower 48 states, world-renown animal behavior expert and conservationist, Dr. Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace, decried the decision citing the important roles that wolves play in their ecosystems and the fact that the move lacks both the support of the scientific community, as well as the public.

    Gray wolves occupy only a tiny area compared to their historic home range. Wolves are essential predators in their ecosystems. It is important to understand that where wolves have been restored, the ecosystem comes back into balance. Today’s decision further challenges existing vulnerable populations of wolves with hunting and trapping. Removing these protections fundamentally threatens their survival and the balance of ecosystems across the U.S.

    As we approach Election day next Tuesday, November 3rd, American citizens must vote to affirmatively elect leaders who respect nature and protect endangered species, believe in science, who act on climate change, and who will advance sustainable green economies. We have the power to turn things around, but we have a small window of time. Your votes can protect endangered species like gray wolves, their habitats, fight climate change, and safeguard human health and livelihoods.

    #Wildlife #StopExtinction #Vote

    Learn more at: http://www.janegoodall.org/graywolves

    A bold plan to protect 30% of Colorado lands and waters by 2030 — The #Colorado Sun

    From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

    Conservation groups hope to corral lawmakers, land managers, tribes and private landowners in a mission to add 14 million acres to Colorado’s trove of 6 million protected acres.

    The state is losing open land more quickly than it is protecting it. Since 2001, about a half-million acres in Colorado has been lost to development. That is reflective of a worldwide trend that has some lawmakers and conservationists galvanized to make the U.S. a global leader in slowing the loss of wildlife and rainforests.

    The Global Deal for Nature movement calls for Earth’s residents to protect half the planet’s land, waters and oceans by 2050. Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and New Mexico U.S. Sen. Tom Udall have sponsored legislation — the “Thirty by Thirty Resolution to Save Nature” — to protect 30% of the country’s lands and waters by 2030. California Gov. Gavin Newsom last week made the 30-by-30 goal a formal state policy.

    And now a coalition of conservation groups in Colorado has detailed a roadmap for how the state can reach the bold goal and protect more than 14 million acres of land in the next decade. The “Colorado Pathways to 30-by-30” proposal expands the definition of conservation, with state-level reforms to limit the impacts of energy development, executive orders, federal and state land manager policies and private landowner protection all included in the toolbox.

    A bear walks through an aspen grove in Snowmass Village this past fall (2019). Bears are among dozens of animal species who use aspen communities. Photo credit: Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Journalism

    The report says conservation efforts in Colorado would benefit from passage of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy Act, or CORE Act, which would protect more than 400,000 acres in Colorado. The CORE Act wrapped together several land protection bills that had languished for more than a decade and marks one of the most ambitious public lands protection proposals for Colorado in 25 years. (Congresswoman Diana DeGette has proposed a wilderness protection bill 20 years in a row.)

    […]

    Privately owned property accounts for nearly 60% of all the land in Colorado, ranging from single-family homes in cities to large ranches. A statewide coalition of land trusts called “Keep it Colorado” is developing a plan to guide private land protection — and incentivize conservation easements — over the next decade.

    Banded Peak Ranch. Photo credit: Christine Quinlan via the Colorado State Forest Service

    The overarching message in the 30-by-30 plan is that land conservation must dovetail policies to reduce the impacts of climate change.

    “I do think this is the vision that shows the human impact on land and the human impact on climate are one in the same,” said Andre Miller, the western lands policy analyst for Western Resource Advocates. “I think for a long time the climate effort focused on rightfully closing down coal power and shifting to a clean energy economy but I think a lot of scientists are realizing that lands and climate are one in the same and you need this wide-reaching approach to addressing the climate crisis.”

    Miller sees growing support for large-scale conservation work in Colorado. Sen. Bennet and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse both are champions of the 30-by-30 movement. And this year’s State of the Rockies conservation poll by Colorado College showed 74% of Colorado residents support a national goal of protecting 30% of the land, water and ocean by 2030…

    The biggest challenge for the plan is “political will,” Goad said.

    The plan needs support in Washington,D.C., and among state and local leaders as well as private landowners. And that has happened before in Colorado, said Goad, pointing to clean energy initiatives that have made renewable energy in Colorado cheaper than coal in the last decade.

    The impacts of climate change are driving the need for land conservation, Goad said.

    “Look at this summer of wildfires,” she said. “For the first time, many of us in Colorado are checking the air quality index before we go outside every day and that is a real impact from climate change.”

    Stanford University researchers reveal U.S. corn crop’s growing sensitivity to #drought: “The results made clear soil’s ability to hold water was the primary reason for yield loss”

    Corn field in Colorado. Photo credit Wikimedia.

    Here’s the release from Stanford University (David Lobell, Rob Jordan):

    Like a baseball slugger whose home run totals rise despite missing more curveballs each season, the U.S. Corn Belt’s prodigious output conceals a growing vulnerability. A new Stanford study reveals that while yields have increased overall – likely due to new technologies and management approaches – the staple crop has become significantly more sensitive to drought conditions. The research, published Oct. 26 in Nature Food, uses a novel approach based on wide differences in the moisture-holding capabilities among soils. The analysis could help lay the groundwork for speeding development of approaches to increase agricultural resilience to climate change.

    “The good news is that new technologies are really helping to raise yields, in all types of weather conditions,” said study lead author David Lobell, the Gloria and Richard Kushel Director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment. “The bad news is that these technologies, which include some specifically designed to withstand drought, are so helpful in good conditions that the cost of bad conditions are rising. So there’s no sign yet that they will help reduce the cost of climate change.”

    Corn production in the U.S. is a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut. Despite concerns about resistant weeds, climate change and many other factors, the industry has set record yields in five of the last seven years. Likely drivers of these bumper crops include changes in planting and harvesting practices, such as adoption of drought-tolerant varieties, and changes in environmental conditions, such as reduced ozone levels and increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations that generally improve the water-use efficiency of crops.

    As climate change intensifies, however, the cost to maintain crop yields will likely increase.

    Using county soil maps and satellite-based yield estimates, among other data, the researchers examined fields in the Corn Belt, a nine-state region of the Midwest that accounts for about two-thirds of U.S. corn production. By comparing fields along gradients of drought stress each year, they could identify how sensitivity to drought is changing over time.

    Even within a single county, they found a wide range of soil moisture retention, with some soils able to hold twice as much water as others. As might be expected, there were generally higher yields for soils that held more water. They found yield sensitivity to soil water storage in the region increased by 55 percent on average between 1999 and 2018, with larger increases in drier states.

    The results made clear soil’s ability to hold water was the primary reason for yield loss. In some cases, soil’s ability to hold an increased amount of moisture was three times more effective at increasing yields than an equivalent increase in precipitation.

    So, why have yields become more sensitive to drought? A variety of factors, such as increased crop water needs due to increased plant sowing density may be at play. What is clear is that despite robust corn yields, the cost of drought and global demand for corn are rising simultaneously.

    To better understand how climate impacts to corn are evolving over time, the researchers call for increased access to field-level yield data that are measured independently of weather data, such as government insurance data that were previously available to the public but no longer are.

    “This study shows the power of satellite data, and if needed we can try to track things from space alone. That’s exciting,” Lobell said. “But knowing if farmers are adapting well to climate stress, and which practices are most helpful, are key questions for our nation. In today’s world there’s really no good reason that researchers shouldn’t have access to all the best available data to answer these questions.”

    Designing batteries for easier recycling could avert a looming e-waste crisis — The Conversation


    What happens to millions of these?
    Kristoferb/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

    Zheng Chen, University of California San Diego and Darren H. S. Tan, University of California San Diego

    As concern mounts over the impacts of climate change, many experts are calling for greater use of electricity as a substitute for fossil fuels. Powered by advancements in battery technology, the number of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles on U.S. roads is increasing. And utilities are generating a growing share of their power from renewable fuels, supported by large-scale battery storage systems.

    These trends, coupled with a growing volume of battery-powered phones, watches, laptops, wearable devices and other consumer technologies, leave us wondering: What will happen to all these batteries once they wear out?

    Despite overwhelming enthusiasm for cheaper, more powerful and energy-dense batteries, manufacturers have paid comparatively little attention to making these essential devices more sustainable. In the U.S. only about 5% of lithium-ion batteries – the technology of choice for electric vehicles and many high-tech products – are actually recycled. As sales of electric vehicles and tech gadgets continue to grow, it is unclear who should handle hazardous battery waste or how to do it.

    As engineers who work on designing advanced materials, including batteries, we believe it is important to think about these issues now. Creating pathways for battery manufacturers to build sustainable production-to-recycling manufacturing processes that meet both consumer and environmental standards can reduce the likelihood of a battery waste crisis in the coming decade.

    Spent batteries from electric vehicles can still power devices like streetlights, but there is not currently any requirement to reuse them. Recycling them is expensive and technically complex.

    Hazardous contents

    Batteries pose more complex recycling and disposal challenges than metals, plastics and paper products because they contain many chemical components that are both toxic and difficult to separate.

    Some types of widely used batteries – notably, lead-acid batteries in gasoline-powered cars – have relatively simple chemistries and designs that make them straightforward to recycle. The common nonrechargeable alkaline or water-based batteries that power devices like flashlights and smoke alarms can be disposed directly in landfills.

    However, today’s lithium-ion batteries are highly sophisticated and not designed for recyclability. They contain hazardous chemicals, such as toxic lithium salts and transition metals, that can damage the environment and leach into water sources. Used lithium batteries also contain embedded electrochemical energy – a small amount of charge left over after they can no longer power devices – which can cause fires or explosions, or harm people that handle them.

    Moreover, manufacturers have little economic incentive to modify existing protocols to incorporate recycling-friendly designs. Today it costs more to recycle a lithium-ion battery than the recoverable materials inside it are worth.

    As a result, responsibility for handling battery waste frequently falls to third-party recyclers – companies that make money from collecting and processing recyclables. Often it is cheaper for them to store batteries than to treat and recycle them.

    Recycling technologies that can break down batteries, such as pyrometallurgy, or burning, and hydrometallurgy, or acid leaching, are becoming more efficient and economical. But the lack of proper battery recycling infrastructure creates roadblocks along the entire supply chain.

    For example, transporting used batteries over long distances to recycling centers would typically be done by truck. Lithium batteries must be packaged and shipped according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Class 9 hazardous material regulations. Using a model developed by Argonne National Laboratory, we estimate that this requirement increases transport costs to more than 50 times that of regular cargo.

    Safer and simpler

    While it will be challenging to bake recyclability into the existing manufacturing of conventional lithium-ion batteries, it is vital to develop sustainable practices for solid-state batteries, which are a next-generation technology expected to enter the market within this decade.

    A solid-state battery replaces the flammable organic liquid electrolyte in lithium-ion batteries with a nonflammable inorganic solid electrolyte. This allows the battery to operate over a much wider temperature range and dramatically reduces the risk of fires or explosions. Our team of nanoengineers is working to incorporate ease of recyclability into next-generation solid-state battery development before these batteries enter the market.

    Conceptually, recycling-friendly batteries must be safe to handle and transport, simple to dismantle, cost-effective to manufacture and minimally harmful to the environment. After analyzing the options, we’ve chosen a combination of specific chemistries in next-generation all-solid-state batteries that meets these requirements.

    Our design strategy reduces the number of steps required to dismantle the battery, and avoids using combustion or harmful chemicals such as acids or toxic organic solvents. Instead, it employs only safe, low-cost materials such as alcohol and water-based recycling techniques. This approach is scalable and environmentally friendly. It dramatically simplifies conventional battery recycling processes and makes it safe to disassemble and handle the materials.

    Diagram showing steps to recycle an all-solid-state battery.
    A proposed procedure for recycling solid-state battery packs directly and harvesting their materials for reuse.
    Tan et al., 2020, CC BY

    Compared to recycling lithium-ion batteries, recycling solid-state batteries is intrinsically safer since they’re made entirely of nonflammable components. Moreover, in our proposed design the entire battery can be recycled directly without separating it into individual components. This feature dramatically reduces the complexity and cost of recycling them.

    [Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

    Our design is a proof-of-concept technology developed at the laboratory scale. It is ultimately up to private companies and public institutions, such as national laboratories or state-run waste facilities, to apply these recycling principles on an industrial scale.

    Rules for battery recycling

    Developing an easy-to-recycle battery is just one step. Many challenges associated with battery recycling stem from the complex logistics of handling them. Creating facilities, regulations and practices for collecting batteries is just as important as developing better recycling technologies. China, South Korea and the European Union are already developing battery recycling systems and mandates.

    One useful step would be for governments to require that batteries carry universal tags, similar to the internationally recognized standard labels used for plastics and metals recycling. These could help to educate consumers and waste collectors about how to handle different types of used batteries.

    Markings could take the form of an electronic tag printed on battery labels with embedded information, such as chemistry type, age and manufacturer. Making this data readily available would facilitate automated sorting of large volumes of batteries at waste facilities.

    It is also vital to improve international enforcement of recycling policies. Most battery waste is not generated where the batteries were originally produced, which makes it hard to hold manufacturers responsible for handling it.

    Such an undertaking would require manufacturers and regulatory agencies to work together on newer recycling-friendly designs and better collection infrastructure. By confronting these challenges now, we believe it is possible to avoid or reduce the harmful effects of battery waste in the future.The Conversation

    Zheng Chen, Assistant Professor of Engineering, University of California San Diego and Darren H. S. Tan, PhD Candidate in Chemical Engineering, University of California San Diego

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

    Paper: Tillage and residue management effects on irrigated maize performance and water cycling in a semiarid cropping system of Eastern #Colorado

    Click here to access the paper (Joel Schneekloth, Francisco Calderón, David Nielsen & Steven J. Fonte). Here’s the abstract:

    Residue removal from maize (Zea mays) fields offers an opportunity to increase farmer profits, but potential tradeoffs for water dynamics and crop performance merit further evaluation. This study, established in 2014, compared the effects of two tillage practices (no-till and conventional) and two residue management practices (harvested vs. kept in place) on maize grain yields, water infiltration, evapotranspiration, and soil physical attributes. On average, maize grain yields under limited irrigation increased with residue retention by 1.1 Mg ha year between 2016 and 2018, but tillage had no significant effect. Total infiltration (over 30 min) was higher with residue retention. Neither tillage nor residue management had a significant impact on evapotranspiration during the vegetative growth stage. However, there was a significant residue by tillage interaction where vegetative evapotranspiration was reduced by no-till and residue retention. Conversely, penetrometer resistance was significantly reduced by both tillage and residue retention. Volumetric water content in the soil profile at planting was higher with residue retention. These results suggest that plots with residue removal would on average require 60 mm year−1 of additional irrigation to attain the same yields as fields with residue retention. In summary, our findings suggest that high rates of crop residue removal under limited irrigation in a semiarid environment can negatively affect water conservation and yields, and that tradeoffs surrounding residue export need to be fully considered in land management and policy decisions.

    Crop residue. Photo credit: Joel Schneekloth

    Why males may have a worse response to #COVID19 — The Conversation #coronavirus


    Is COVID-19 hitting men harder than women?
    UpperCut Images/Getty Images

    Meghan E. Rebuli, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    If you ask most women about how their male relatives, partners and friends respond to being sick, they’ll often tell you with an accompanying eye roll, “He’s such a baby.” “He’s extra whiny.” Or “he exaggerates so much.” But there may be a biological explanation for this behavior.

    Dubbed the “man flu,” this phenomenon has been validated in a review of previously published, large epidemiological studies, as well as in studies of influenza in animals. In these studies, males were sick longer, with more severe symptoms and had a weaker response to vaccination. Laboratory tests with animals infected with the influenza virus also underscore that there are sex-based differences in immune response that influence outcomes observed in humans. But are these more severe symptoms and outcomes unique to cold and flu?

    As a respiratory toxicologist and researcher investigating sex differences in the respiratory system, I was intrigued to read a recent study on sex-specific responses to COVID-19 that suggest that men are, actually, more vulnerable and suffer more from this disease.

    Sex differences in COVID-19

    These findings may apply to other respiratory viruses like SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. For example, reports of SARS-CoV-2 infection rates are similar between males and females, but male sex is a significant risk factor for more serious COVID-19 disease and death. In fact, one study revealed that men are 2.4 times more likely to die from COVID-19. I find it interesting that higher death rates in men also occurred in other coronavirus diseases like severe acute respiratory syndrome, caused by SARS-CoV, and Middle East respiratory syndrome.

    Based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of Oct. 5, 2020, the risk of death from COVID-19 in men 30-49 years old was also found to be more than twice that of females.

    In other age groups, the risk of COVID-19-related death in males was also higher than the same female age cohort. But it was not as high as in the 30- to 49-year-old age group.

    This contrasts with almost equal rates of SARS-CoV-2 infection in those same age groups, leading scientists to wonder why might males be more susceptible.

    Study identifies why men may be more susceptible to COVID-19

    The recent report published in Nature explores how males and females respond differently to COVID-19.

    The risk of death from COVID-19 in men of some age groups may be twice that of their female peers.
    xavierarnau

    This study examined samples including nasal swabs, saliva, and blood, which were either collected from healthy individuals or COVID-19 patients. These samples were used to better understand what the immune response to the infection looks like and how it differs in people with more severe disease.

    Similar to CDC data on infection rates, no sex difference in the concentration of virus or the amount of virus present was observed in either the nasal swab or the saliva. There were also no differences in antibody levels – a signal the body had identified the virus – detected in infected men and women.

    Males with SARS-CoV-2 show greater inflammation

    However, the authors identified major sex differences during the early immune response that occurs soon after someone is infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

    The blood samples were analyzed for a variety of cytokines – some of the first signaling molecules that help immune cells respond to pathogens. The levels of these signals rise and fall to provide an adequate response to fight an invading pathogen. But large quantities of these molecules can severely damage the body. This is the case in a cytokine storm.

    The authors of the Nature report observed sex differences in the strength of the cytokine response. Men showed higher levels of cytokines that trigger inflammation, like IL-8 and IL-18, than women. Higher quantities of these cytokines are linked to more severe disease. In severe cases of COVID-19, fluid builds up in the lungs, reducing the oxygen available in the body for normal functions. This can lead to tissue damage, shock and potentially the failure of multiple organs.

    Females with SARS-CoV-2 are better prepared to eliminate the virus

    In addition to sex differences in cytokine levels, the authors also found sex differences in the function of immune cells.

    Compared to men, women had a higher number of T cells – essential for eliminating the virus – that were activated, primed and ready to respond to the SARS-CoV-2 infection. Men with lower levels of these activated T-cells were more likely to have severe disease.

    Thus, there are several aspects of the human immune response to SARS-CoV-2 that differ between men and women. Understanding these differences can inform how doctors treat patients and can help researchers develop sex-specific therapies.

    Increased COVID-19 susceptibility in men is likely biological

    These results contradict speculation that male susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection is due to more risky behaviors. Those include downplaying the seriousness of the virus, joining large gatherings and ignoring social distancing guidelines, as well as lower rates of hand-washing and wearing masks. Instead, rates of infection are actually similar between males and females, while males are more at risk of serious COVI9-19 disease, suggesting biological differences in response to infection.

    This paper is one of the first of its kind to delve into mechanisms of susceptibility sex differences. With greater innate biological risk for severe disease and death in men, this suggests that males might need to be hypervigilant about social distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing.

    Greater adherence to infection prevention protections, especially in men, would not only reduce their risk of infection, but also combat their increased risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19.

    The take-home message of this new paper is that researchers need to consider strategies to ensure treatments and vaccines are equally effective for both women and men, especially when one is more susceptible than another.The Conversation

    Meghan E. Rebuli, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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

    #NobelPrize for chemistry honors exquisitely precise gene-editing technique, #CRISPR – a gene engineer explains how it works


    American biochemist Jennifer A. Doudna, left, and French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier were awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for chemistry.
    Alexander Heinl/picture alliance via Getty Images

    Piyush K. Jain, University of Florida

    Researchers have been able to manipulate large chunks of genetic code for almost 50 years. But it is only within the past decade that they have been able to do it with exquisite precision – adding, deleting and substituting single units of the genetic code just as an editor can manipulate a single letter in a document. This newfound ability is called gene editing, the tool is called CRISPR, and it’s being used worldwide to engineer plants and livestock and treat disease in people.

    For these reasons the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry has been awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier, director of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Germany, and Jennifer Doudna, professor at the University of California, Berkeley, for discovering and transforming CRISPR into a gene-editing technology. It’s the first time two women have shared a Nobel prize.

    I’m a CRISPR engineer, interested in developing novel CRISPR-based gene-editing tools and delivery methods to improve their precision and function.

    In the past, my colleagues and I have created a version of CRISPR that can be controlled using light, which allows precise control of where and when gene editing is performed in cells, and can be potentially used in animals and humans. We’ve also created a targeted system that can package and deliver the editing components to desirable cell types – it’s like GPS for cells. Most recently, we engineered a tool that improved the speed and precision of CRISPR so it could be used in rapid diagnostic kits for COVID-19, HIV, HCV and prostate cancer.

    While CRISPR scientists like me have been speculating about a Nobel Prize for CRISPR, it was exciting to see Charpentier and Doudna win. This will encourage young, talented engineers and researchers to enter the field of gene editing, which can be leveraged for designing new diagnostics, treatments and cures for a range of diseases.

    Gene-editing technology enables researchers to edit the DNA of organisms and reprogram them.
    Johan Jarnestad/The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, CC BY-NC

    CRISPR/Cas systems as gene editors

    Many variants of CRISPR/Cas systems have been discovered, engineered and applied to edit genes. There are already over 20,000 scientific publications on the topic.

    CRISPR dates back to 1987, when a Japanese molecular biologist, Yoshizumi Ishino, and colleagues discovered a CRISPR DNA sequence in E. coli. The CRISPR sequence was later characterized by a Spanish scientist, Francisco Mojica, and colleagues, who named it CRISPR, which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.

    While people and animals have evolved complex immune systems to fight viral attacks, single-cell microorganisms rely on CRISPR to find and destroy a virus’s genetic material to stop it from multiplying.

    Charpentier and Doudna figured out how to borrow this innate biological capability from microbes and apply it to genetic engineering of bacteria.

    In a landmark paper, published online on June 28, 2012, Charpentier and Doudna showed that the CRISPR gene-editing machinery includes two components: a guide molecule that serves as sort of a GPS to find and bind the target gene site on the DNA of an invading virus, which then teams up with a CRISPR-associated protein (Cas) that serves as a molecular scissor that snips the DNA.

    Jennifer Doudna explains what CRISPR is and how it is used.

    Around the same time, Virginijus Siksnys, a Lithuanian biochemist at the University of Vilnius, made a similar discovery and submitted results for publication that appeared a few months later, in September 2012. Feng Zhang, a biologist at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and colleagues showed that CRISPR can be improved and used for editing mammalian cells. He currently owns one of the first patents on using CRISPR for gene editing, which is being contested by Doudna’s institution, UC Berkeley.

    Once the DNA has been cut in the right spot, the cell will try to repair the cut. But the repair mechanism is error prone, and oftentimes the cells fail to fix the cuts perfectly, ultimately disabling the gene. Disrupting a gene is particularly useful for studying its function and find out what happens if you stop a gene from working. This technique is also useful for treating cancer and infections, where turning off a gene can potentially stop cancer cells and pathogens from dividing or kill them outright.

    During this cutting-repair process, one can fool the cells by providing a new piece of DNA. The cells will then incorporate this piece of DNA with desirable edits into the genetic code. This enables researchers to correct a genetic mutation that causes a genetic disease, or replace a defective gene with a healthy one.

    The beauty of CRISPR lies in its simplicity. CRISPR can be easily customized to target any gene of interest, whether it is in plants, animals or people. CRISPR applications range from tools for understanding biology, as diagnostics and as new kinds of therapeutics to applications in producing better crops, biofuels and transplantable organs.

    [The Conversation’s science, health and technology editors pick their favorite stories. Weekly on Wednesdays.]

    Why CRISPR deserved a Nobel Prize

    While there is still plenty of room for improvement of these technologies, scientists have already begun testing CRISPR in a number of clinical trials for treating cancer and genetic disorders. CRISPR-based diagnostics have been also been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under emergency use authorization for COVID-19 testing.

    CRISPR does come with a lot of ethical concerns that warrant caution. For example, in 2018, a Chinese scientist prematurely and unethically used CRISPR for editing human embryos and created CRISPR-edited babies that could pass these genetic alterations to their offspring for generations to come. Some have used the technology for other CRISPR-related DIY biohacks that raise more concerns over regulating the gene-editing technology.

    Despite these concerns, CRISPR has huge potential to transform how scientists can detect, treat and even eradicate diseases as well as improve agricultural products. Society is already seeing the benefits of this Nobel-winning technology.The Conversation

    Piyush K. Jain, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering, Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, UF Health Cancer Center, University of Florida

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

    R.I.P. Eddie Van Halen: “Change, nothing stays the same. Unchained, yeah you hit the ground running”

    Eddie Van Halen performing in the late 1970s with his Frankenstrat. By Carl Lender – Flickr: Eddie Van Halen, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24577973

    From The New York Times (Jim Farber):

    Eddie Van Halen, whose razzle-dazzle guitar-playing — combining complex harmonics, innovative fingerings and ingenious devices he patented for his instrument — made him the most influential guitarist of his generation and his band, Van Halen, one of the most popular rock acts of all time, died on Tuesday. He was 65.

    Mr. Van Halen’s son, Wolfgang, said in a statement that his father had “lost his long and arduous battle with cancer.” The statement did not say where he died.

    Mr. Van Halen structured his solos the way Macy’s choreographs its Independence Day fireworks shows: shooting off rockets of sound that seemed to explode in a shower of light and color. His outpouring of riffs, runs and solos was hyperactive and athletic, joyous and wry, making deeper or darker emotions feel irrelevant…

    Eddie Van Halen’s 12 Essential Songs

    Mr. Van Halen was most widely revered by his peers for perfecting the technique of two-handed tapping on the guitar neck. That approach allowed him to add new textures, and percussive possibilities, to his instrument, while also making its six strings sound as expressive as a piano’s 88 keys or as changeable as a synthesizer. He received patents for three guitar devices he had created. In 2012, Guitar World Magazine ranked him No. 1 on its list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”

    “I’m always pushing things past where they’re supposed to be,” Mr. Van Halen told the educational website Zocalo Public Square in 2015. “When ‘Spinal Tap’ was going to 11, I was going to 15,” he said — a reference to that film’s famous joke about a guitarist who dubiously claims that his amplifier can exceed its highest decibel level.

    The zest in Mr. Van Halen’s playing paired perfectly with the hedonistic songs and persona of his hard-rocking band, Van Halen, whose original lineup featured his brother Alex on pummeling drums, Michael Anthony on thunderous bass and the singer David Lee Roth, who presented a scene-stealing mix of Lothario, peacock and clown…

    Eleven of the band’s studio albums reached the Top Five, and four snagged the top spot on Billboard’s Top 200. Van Halen amassed eight Billboard Top 20 singles, including its cover of Roy Orbison’s “(Oh) Pretty Woman,” which reached No. 12 in 1982, and “Jump,” which seized the No. 1 spot in 1984 and held it for five weeks. In 2007, the band — including both Mr. Roth and Mr. Hagar — was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame…

    Edward Lodewijk Van Halen was born on Jan. 26, 1955, in Amsterdam to Jan and Eugenia (Beers) Van Halen. His father, a struggling Dutch classical musician who played clarinet, saxophone and piano, met his Indonesian-born wife while on tour in Indonesia.

    In 1962, when Mr. Van Halen was 7, his family relocated to the United States, driven away by prejudice against his mother and unfavorable work opportunities in the Netherlands. They settled in Pasadena, Calif. His mother worked as a maid, his father as a janitor while seeking work as a musician.

    In a new country, with a new language to learn, the Van Halen sons, Eddie and his older brother, Alex, turned to music as their lingua franca. Eddie first studied classical piano, which he excelled at despite a serious limitation.

    Proposition 117 explained — The #Colorado Sun #VOTE

    From The Colorado Sun (Brian Eason):

    It’s the rare point of bipartisan agreement in Colorado politics where public spending is concerned: Since the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights took effect in 1992, state lawmakers have increasingly turned to fees to fund government operations.

    But how you feel about that development, depends on your politics. To the left, it’s an unfortunate side effect of the state’s strict restrictions on taxation. To the right, it’s a sign that TABOR, the state’s landmark constitutional amendment governing public spending, didn’t go far enough to restrain government growth.

    This November, that debate goes to voters, as it so often does in Colorado, in the form of a complicated ballot measure that demands an up-or-down vote on the future of the state’s fiscal policy.

    Proposition 117, supported by conservative anti-tax groups, would require voter approval for the creation of certain fee-funded state government programs known as “enterprises.” Traditionally, these are public entities, like water utilities, parks or toll roads, that operate like a business because they are funded primarily by user fees rather than taxes.

    Existing enterprise programs would be exempt from the new requirements, and the referendum would apply only to new fees that generate $100 million over their first five years, or an average of $20 million annually. And unlike the voter-consent requirements found in TABOR, local governments would be exempt from additional requirements.

    Nonetheless, if the proposition passes, it would represent a major expansion of voter control over Colorado fiscal policy that would reshape future budget fights and further limit the ability of state lawmakers to create government programs.

    A nonpartisan legislative analysis found that had Proposition 117 been in effect previously, it would have triggered elections on seven of the 16 government-run state enterprises Colorado had in place in 2019, affecting as much as $7.6 billion in annual public spending by universities, state parks and prisons. It also would have required voter approval for a reinsurance program pushed by Gov. Jared Polis that imposed new fees on health insurance plans and hospitals.

    Here’s an overview of what you should know about Proposition 117 and enterprise funds.

    What are state enterprises, and why do they matter in Colorado?

    State and local governments all over the country rely on so-called enterprise funds to pay for essential services. These are effectively government-run businesses that mostly operate with the fees they charge to users. In Colorado, state and local taxes can’t make up any more than 10% of an enterprise fund’s revenue.

    Common examples include public water utilities, municipal airports and the entities that operate toll roads. But enterprises take on a special significance in Colorado because of the state’s unique restraints on taxation.

    TABOR, added to the state constitution in 1992, does two key things that have contributed to the proliferation of enterprises.

    One, TABOR requires voter approval for all new taxes — but not fees, which are legally distinct from taxes in that they can’t be used for general government services. Instead, courts have said they have to fund something that’s reasonably connected to the fee itself. For instance, toll fees can pay for road maintenance, and park fees can pay for parks upkeep, but neither could be used to pay for health care or courts. And because voters have rejected most new statewide taxes in the TABOR era, lawmakers tend to view fees as a more politically feasible way to boost spending on public services. Not all government fees are tied to enterprise funds, but that’s the purpose for many of them.

    Two, TABOR prevents general government spending from increasing faster than a revenue cap, which limits the growth of the state budget to the rate of population growth plus inflation. Historically, this limit has not allowed the state to keep up with the growth in expenses such as Medicaid caseloads or schools. So to pay for new initiatives without cutting funding to other areas of the budget or asking for new taxes, lawmakers effectively have to set up programs as an enterprise, which TABOR explicitly exempts from its spending limit.

    A legislative analysis published in the Blue Book ballot information guide shows examples of recent enterprise fees in Colorado that would need voter approval if Proposition 117 wins approval in November 2020. (Screenshot)

    State lawmakers also have used this mechanism to prevent existing programs from crowding out other services. College tuition and student fees, for instance, were reclassified in 2004 and now make up the state’s largest enterprise, generating $5.1 billion in the 2019 fiscal year. More recently, lawmakers converted a hospital-bed fee that helps reimburse hospitals for uncompensated care to an enterprise fund; it now generates around $1 billion a year.

    The case against Proposition 117

    Opponents view Proposition 117 as an unnecessary restraint that will make it that much harder for lawmakers to fund public services. And they balk at the notion that lawmakers have turned to fees to circumvent TABOR. The constitutional provision explicitly allows lawmakers to create fee-funded enterprises without the same restraints it imposes on taxes.

    Scott Wasserman, president of the Bell Policy Center, a progressive think tank, blames TABOR’s restrictions for the chronic underfunding of K-12 education, higher education and transportation — all in a state where, before the pandemic, the economy had consistently been rated among the nation’s strongest. He fears that placing new restrictions on enterprises will make matters worse.

    And, he says, it’s simply not good government to continually put esoteric fiscal policy questions — like the $34 million petroleum storage tank enterprise, which charges fees to fund environmental clean-ups — on the ballot.

    “Why do we want to make these very specific, technical, user-based issues politicized fights, where big money can come in and really distort the issue?” Wasserman said during the debate.

    “This is why we send people to the state Capitol who are trying to operate government on our behalf,” he added.

    State Sen. Dominick Moreno, the vice chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, also urged voters to reject it, saying that Proposition 117 would limit the state’s ability to respond to the ongoing financial crisis created by the coronavirus.

    “Our teachers, doctors and nurses can’t afford more cuts and cannot be shut out of this recovery,” Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat, said in a statement. Proposition 117 and the Proposition 116 measure to cut income taxes “would stall our recovery and permanently harm our ability to provide critical state services.”

    Notably, unlike TABOR and some of Colorado’s other constitutional fiscal constraints, Proposition 117 is a statutory change, meaning that lawmakers could override it by passing legislation. But there would be political risks in doing so if voters approved it on the ballot.

    The case in favor of Proposition 117

    To supporters, Proposition 117 is a natural extension of the voter protections provided by TABOR — protections that they argue lawmakers have undermined by leaning so heavily on enterprises.

    There’s no doubt that the growth of enterprising has been staggering. Just after TABOR took effect in the 1993-94 fiscal year, enterprise funds generated $742 million, which was just a fraction of the state’s total budget. In 2017-18, according to an analysis by Colorado Legislative Council, they generated nearly $18 billion. But not all of the total comes from fees. In the 2018-19 fiscal year, according to a separate legislative analysis, fee revenue collected by state enterprises only made up around 20% of the state’s roughly $29 billion budget.

    A graphic from a December 2018 state report from the Joint Budget CommitteeColorado Legislative Council shows how state revenue has shifted to sources outside TABOR in recent years. (Screenshot)

    Michael Fields, the executive director of Colorado Rising State Action, a conservative advocacy group, said during a recent debate that enterprise funds were “used for good things in the beginning,” such as college tuition, the state lottery and state parks.

    “What we’re concerned about is the things that it’s moving towards,” he said in the forum moderated by PBS12 and The Colorado Sun. “If you’re going to create a new program, you need buy-in from the people.”

    One enterprise that Fields suggests goes too far and should have received voter approval is the state’s new reinsurance program, which lawmakers decided to fund through health insurance fees after the coronavirus pummeled the state’s coffers. Legislative analysts expect it to generate $94 million in the 2021-22 fiscal year and more than $100 million annually after that.

    Colorado is more reliant on government fees than the average state, according to an analysis by Pew Charitable Trusts, ranking 9th nationally in the percent of its budget that comes from service charges. Still, comparing fees and taxes across states is tricky. For one thing, Pew’s analysis excludes insurance funds, like Colorado’s unemployment trust fund, which is among the state’s largest enterprises. For another, Colorado’s “hospital provider fee” is considered a “bed tax” in many states, illustrating the degree to which TABOR has shaped even the words lawmakers use in creating policy.

    “The legislature has been going around our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights,” Fields said. “If they label something a fee, they don’t have to go to voters for approval.”