10 Feb 2008, 1:02am
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Eminent Domain Proposed To Grab Pfizer N.Y. Plant

Affordable-housing activists in Brooklyn, N.Y., are proposing eminent domain be used to seize a prime piece of New York real estate from Pfizer Inc.

Pfizer is the same company that inspired economic-development plans in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London after the pharmaceutical giant started building its Global Research & Development headquarters there nearly a decade ago.

“Ah, irony,” says Scott Bullock, senior attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice, the group that defended Fort Trumbull resident Susette Kelo as the lead plaintiff in Kelo v. City of New London — the property-rights case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. The city won the case three years ago.

“It shows that once the power goes to government to take properties on behalf of private parties, the tables can easily be turned on you … if you’re out of favor with the powers that be,” Bullock said… [more]

1 Feb 2008, 3:04am
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Corn Riots in Indonesia

Indonesia is a land in turmoil, home to massive volcanoes, tsunamis, and earthquakes. On Monday, January 14, it experienced a brand new type of disturbance, the world’s first food riot caused by another nation pandering to the global warming mob. Indonesians took to the streets, demanding that their government to do something about the price of soybeans, a dietary staple.

All over the world, food prices are on the rise. For most of the late 1990s and up until 2005, the price of beans on the Chicago Board of Trade had remained stable at about $5 a bushel. Since then, they have shot up over 150 percent, to around $13. Corn has doubled, to $5. Wheat prices have tripled.

It all started with the 2005 Energy Policy Act, passed by a Republican congress and signed by a Republican president, mandating that an increasing amount of ethanol be admixed with gasoline. The bill was sold as a road to “energy independence” and as lowering the amount of carbon dioxide we emit, reducing dreaded global warming.

By now, 15 percent of our corn crop is being distilled, diverted from the proper purpose for such distillates (i.e. drinking), combusted, and sent out your car’s tailpipe… [more]

1 Feb 2008, 3:00am
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Senate panel backs Oregon, Idaho deals

WASHINGTON — A Senate committee Wednesday endorsed an Idaho land swap and a plan to create federal wilderness protection for nearly 14,000 acres of national forest land along Oregon’s southern coast.

The Copper Salmon Wilderness, proposed by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., will be included a huge public lands bill to be debated by the Senate. The measure was among 42 separate bills approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Seventeen bills — including the Oregon measure and the Idaho land exchange — will be combined in a measure that includes about 60 individual land bills, Senate aides said Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., plans to bring the bill to the Senate floor soon.

Wyden said he was pleased at the committee’s unanimous vote and noted that Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., is a co-sponsor. The bill would protect 13,700 acres of coastal forest and salmon streams at the headwaters of the Elk River near Port Orford, Ore…

Wyden said later he would seek to bring to the Senate floor separate legislation expanding wilderness area around Mount Hood by about 125,000 acres… [more]

31 Jan 2008, 5:10pm
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Ed Shafer Confirmed as Secretary of Agriculture

US - The United States Department of Agriculture has confirmed that former Governor Edward Shafer will be the new secretary of Agriculture, succeeding Mike Johanns.

Secretary Schafer brings a record as an innovative two-term governor of North Dakota to USDA along with extensive private sector experience as both an entrepreneur and a business executive.

Schafer served as North Dakota’s governor from 1992 to 2000 and made diversifying and expanding North Dakota’s economy, reducing the cost of government and advancing agriculture his top priorities in office.

He worked to normalize trading relations with China and develop that nation as an export market for North Dakota farm products. He also led efforts to upgrade North Dakota’s communications infrastructure and make high-speed voice and data networks available to farmers, ranchers and rural businesses.

To expand the state’s job base, he encouraged the growth of value-added agricultural industries such as pasta and corn sweetener manufacturing.

As governor, Schafer managed a state workforce of 12,000 people, oversaw a budget of $4.6 billion, and led the state’s response to emergencies such as the severe floods that hit the Grand Forks area in 1997… [more]

29 Jan 2008, 2:17pm
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Three sue over land-use decision

Suit says county’s setting aside of Measure 37 waivers violates property rights

By Damian Mann, Mail Tribune, January 29, 2008

In what could be the beginning of a legal firestorm, three property owners sued Jackson County last week for more than $20 million, alleging their constitutional property rights under Measure 37 have been trampled.

At the same time a coalition of almost 100 local landowners and attorneys is forming to challenge the county’s decision to no longer honor waivers that were approved under the controversial property rights law.

Medford resident David Smith, a member of the newly formed Citizens for Constitutional Fairness, said the dollar amount that property owners say they’ve lost after the passage of Measure 49 — the fix for Measure 37 — could be significant.

“I think it’s going to be $1 billion,” Smith said. “It’s basically going to bankrupt the county if they don’t do anything.”

In addition to the three property owners who have already filed suits in Jackson County Circuit Court, Smith said that at a meeting held last week to discuss options for Measure 37 claimants, he talked to 80 landowners who are considering legal action. Though a class action suit is being considered, Smith said his group is still trying to determine if that’s the best course of action.

“We may have 100 lawsuits pretty soon,” he said… [more]

23 Jan 2008, 1:53pm
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No easy solution exists to save dying trees

Durango Herald snipes Denver Post

A week ago, The Denver Post published an editorial entitled, “Beetle kill must be state priority.” That is absolutely true. The bold summary paragraph is also true: “It is troubling to picture Colorado’s mountains as dead zones. State leaders and lawmakers must take the problem seriously.”

But Southwest Colorado readers have to ask, “Where have you been?” Where was The Denver Post when piñon trees in this part of the state were dying by the hundreds of thousands? When the green mountain sides began to turn to rust because of the death of tall trees? When aspen communities began to die?

The state government was where it has always been: in Denver, not too far from the Post. It is tempting to blame the deterioration of forests in the San Juans on the fact that this corner of the state is out of sight of the state capital and equally out of mind. That is not quite true, however. We have good representation in Denver. Certainly we do not have either the visibility or the lobbying power of the Front Range and ski-resort communities.

Unfortunately, those communities will not find easy answers to the problem, either… [more]

22 Jan 2008, 5:12pm
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The lowdown on topsoil: It’s disappearing

Disappearing dirt rivals global warming as an environmental threat

The planet is getting skinned.

While many worry about the potential consequences of atmospheric warming, a few experts are trying to call attention to another global crisis quietly taking place under our feet.

Call it the thin brown line. Dirt. On average, the planet is covered with little more than 3 feet of topsoil — the shallow skin of nutrient-rich matter that sustains most of our food and appears to play a critical role in supporting life on Earth.

“We’re losing more and more of it every day,” said David Montgomery, a geologist at the University of Washington. “The estimate is that we are now losing about 1 percent of our topsoil every year to erosion, most of this caused by agriculture.”…

Montgomery has written a popular book, “Dirt,” to call public attention to what he believes is a neglected environmental catastrophe. A geomorphologist who studies how landscapes form, Montgomery describes modern agricultural practices as “soil mining” to emphasize that we are rapidly outstripping the Earth’s natural rate of restoring topsoil.

“Globally, it’s clear we are eroding soils at a rate much faster than they can form,” said John Reganold, a soils scientist at Washington State University. “It’s hard to get people to pay much attention to this because, frankly, most of us take soil for granted.”

The National Academy of Sciences has determined that cropland in the U.S. is being eroded at least 10 times faster than the time it takes for lost soil to be replaced.

The United Nations has warned of worldwide soil degradation — especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where soil loss has contributed to the rapidly increasing number of malnourished people…

As such, true living topsoil cannot be made overnight, Montgomery emphasized. Topsoil grows back at a rate of an inch or two over hundreds of years. Very slowly.

“Globally, it’s pretty clear we’re running out of dirt,” Montgomery said… [more]

8 Jan 2008, 6:12pm
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Biomass would help decrease fire danger, and heat high school, too

The idea of turning thousands of tons of forest waste into heat for South Tahoe High School is a step closer to reality thanks to a $243,500 grant from the U.S. Forest Service.

The grant would pay for half the cost of a biomass boiler at the school, which can convert chipped forest material into heat and energy. If implemented for the 2007-08 school year, the biomass boiler would be the first for a California public school - and proponents of the idea say it would help reduce the threat of a catastrophic wildfire in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

“No one has done a project like this in California,” said Steve Morales, district facilities manager for Lake Tahoe Unified School District.

With an annual 25,000 tons of forest waste in the basin, including debris such as branches and pine needles, the fuel is there to propel a wildfire. Politicians including Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Harry Reid, D-Nev., have pushed for the reduction of forest fuels with environmental agencies signing on.

“There is a lot of interest in this and the facts are Tahoe is going to save a bunch of money putting this in,” said Bruce Goines, U.S. Forest Service biomass utilization coordinator for the Pacific Southwest region.

Morales said a biomass facility could consume as much as 2,200 tons of chipped material from forest waste each year. Although it represents only 9 percent of total annual forest waste, many say it’s better than nothing in protecting a pristine lake and communities with few evacuation routes out of the basin.

Hurdles remain. Permits from El Dorado County Air Quality Management Board and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency must be obtained, followed by a bidding process. Lastly, a supplier has to be found to deliver the forest waste in bulk. And that’s what worries Rex Norman of the U.S. Forest Service.

“The technology of biomass is doing great, but it’s the supply chain, the system, that has to be built,” said Norman, a spokesman for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

“We’ve got the fuel. We’ve got the technology. It’s what’s in between that’s the problem,” Norman said. “It’s the access to the material and a reliable supply chain.” … [more]

Important Note: this news report is from May, 2006.

4 Jan 2008, 2:41pm
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Hunter-gatherers: Noble or savage?

The era of the hunter-gatherer was not the social and environmental Eden that some suggest

HUMAN beings have spent most of their time on the planet as hunter-gatherers. From at least 85,000 years ago to the birth of agriculture around 73,000 years later, they combined hunted meat with gathered veg. Some people, such as those on North Sentinel Island in the Andaman Sea, still do. The Sentinelese are the only hunter-gatherers who still resist contact with the outside world. Fine-looking specimens—strong, slim, fit, black and stark naked except for a small plant-fibre belt round the waist—they are the very model of the noble savage. Genetics suggests that indigenous Andaman islanders have been isolated since the very first expansion out of Africa more than 60,000 years ago.

About 12,000 years ago people embarked on an experiment called agriculture and some say that they, and their planet, have never recovered. Farming brought a population explosion, protein and vitamin deficiency, new diseases and deforestation. Human height actually shrank by nearly six inches after the first adoption of crops in the Near East. So was agriculture “the worst mistake in the history of the human race”, as Jared Diamond, evolutionary biologist and professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, once called it?

Take a snapshot of the old world 15,000 years ago. Except for bits of Siberia, it was full of a new and clever kind of people who had originated in Africa and had colonised first their own continent, then Asia, Australia and Europe, and were on the brink of populating the Americas. They had spear throwers, boats, needles, adzes, nets. They painted pictures, decorated their bodies and believed in spirits. They traded foods, shells, raw materials and ideas. They sang songs, told stories and prepared herbal medicines.

They were “hunter-gatherers”. On the whole the men hunted and the women gathered: a sexual division of labour is still universal among non-farming people and was probably not shared by their Homo erectus predecessors. This enabled them to eat both meat and veg, a clever trick because it combines quality with reliability.

Why change? In the late 1970s Mark Cohen, an archaeologist, first suggested that agriculture was born of desperation, rather than inspiration. Evidence from the Fertile Crescent seems to support him. Rising human population density, combined perhaps with a cooling, drying climate, left the Natufian hunter-gatherers of the region short of acorns, gazelles and wild grass seeds. Somebody started trying to preserve and enhance a field of chickpeas or wheat-grass and soon planting, weeding, reaping and threshing were born… [more]

27 Dec 2007, 12:44pm
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Forest plans different approach to salvage logging

Supervisors from Plumas County and the Plumas National Forest have reached an understanding when it comes to recovering damaged timber from September’s Moonlight Fire.

The Forest Supervisor Alice Carlton was before the Plumas County Board of Supervisors Dec. 18 to update them on salvage and restoration on the Moonlight and Antelope fires, Secure Rural Schools legislation and the off-highway vehicle route-designation status.

While county supervisors were interested in all three issues, it was the timber salvage information they were particularly keen to discuss.

Although forest representatives are still crafting their approach to get approval to log the majority of timber involved in this year’s two major wildfires, approval has been gained for four roadside timber sales for hazard trees through a streamlined approach.

These initial projects are the simplest to get through the federal approval process. By following the National Environmental Protection Act process, the sales are planned requiring less documentation and with fewer regulations to follow than traditional sales… [more]

23 Dec 2007, 12:36am
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Task force tackles county payments

SALEM — A new task force brought together county officials from across the state to share some end-of-the-year gloom over their financial woes.

The Task Force on Federal Forest Payments and County Services convened for the first time as it embarks on a yearlong pursuit of a strategy to deal with the inevitable end of federal payments.

Local and state leaders quickly reached a consensus: The job is difficult and the prospects are grim in their quest to secure another congressional extension of federal payments to Oregon counties with a legacy of timber production.

The task force’s first meeting since its formation brought state and county government officials together during a dark time: Congress last week killed a provision that would have extended for four years the so-called timber payments to counties, including Lane County and other rural Northwest counties. Congress probably won’t revisit the issue until February or March, and task force members were pessimistic about whether they could win more than a one-year extension… [more]

15 Dec 2007, 11:29pm
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Timber payments deal dies in Senate

A deal that would have given Oregon timber counties hundreds of millions of federal dollars fell through Thursday, leaving officials here and in Washington scrambling to find another way to pay for everything from libraries to county lockups.

“We thought we were looking good, and suddenly things look terrible for us,” said Dave Toler, a Josephine County commissioner in southern Oregon. “This is a real roller-coaster ride.”

Last week, the U.S. House approved a four-year, $1.6 billion extension of the federal payment program as part of an overall energy bill. Oregon counties heaved a huge sigh of relief.

But Thursday, the Senate stripped out the county payments as part of a compromise to get more Republican votes for the energy bill…

“We had pinned our hopes on the energy bill,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. “So this is — well, we’re in Hail Mary pass time.”

The money from what is formally called the Secure Rural School and Community Self Determination Act is spread among 700 rural counties in 39 states. But more than half of it goes to Oregon. The payments are critical to the operation of a number of counties whose revenues dried up when logging in public forests was sharply curtailed in the 1990s…

No one was sure Thursday what would happen next. A one-year extension of the payments expires in June. Meanwhile, counties must continue drawing up budgets, negotiating union contracts and taking care of other fiscal business for the coming year.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski has appointed a task force to study the timber payment issue and look for long-term solutions. But the panel has yet to have its first meeting.

“We have to roll up our sleeves and look at what’s next,” said Kulongoski spokeswoman Patty Wentz. She said there are no proposals to bring up the issue when the Legislature meets for a short session in February… [more]

14 Dec 2007, 4:46pm
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Challenge of logging project rejected

By Nick Gevock, of The Montana Standard - 12/14/2007

A logging project in the upper West Madison River drainage will continue following a federal judge’s rejection of environmental groups’ request that it be halted.

Missoula Federal District Judge Donald Molloy this week threw out a request for an injunction to halt the Cow Fly timber sale on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest in Madison County. Molloy said in court records that the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council, the groups challenging the project, had little chance of winning their case and therefore the project could proceed.

“Plaintiffs have not demonstrated a likelihood that they will succeed on the merits of their (National Environmental Policy Act) claim,” he said.

The injunction means the 242-acre project, which is well under way, will likely be completed. Mark Petroni, Madison District ranger for the forest, has said it was expected to be completed by the end of the year.

But despite that, Michael Garrity of the Alliance said they plan to appeal the injunction request to the Ninth U.S Circuit Court of Appeals. That’s because the lawsuit, which is still pending, raises questions about the Forest Service following its own rules and federal law that would set a precedent for future cases.

“There are bigger issues,” he said. “We accused them of violating the forest plan, so the issue isn’t moot if it’s all cut.” The project called for logging dead and dying Douglas fir up Meridian Creek, a tributary of the West Madison River. The Forest Service required R and R Connor, from Connor, to use helicopters to remove the logs, and less than half a mile of temporary road to be built.

The size of the project at less than 250 acres allowed the Forest Service to use a “categorical exclusion” from a thorough environmental analysis of its effects… [more]

10 Dec 2007, 10:38pm
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Post-49: Life in land-use limbo

Those with Measure 37 claims hope they’ll be able to move projects forward, even on Iowa Hill

by the Forest Grove News-Times [here]

On Thursday, Measure 49 will become the land-use law of the land, thanks to Oregon voters who passed the legislative referral by a two-to-one margin a month ago.

The new law brings a long list of new provisions for landowners who successfully made a claim under Measure 37, the 2002 land-use overhaul which Measure 49 replaces. In general, it allows requests for three or fewer homes to go forward, while larger claims will not be allowed…

We asked three claimants about how they’re approaching the new law. Here are their responses…

Andrew Miller, CEO of Stimson Lumber Co.

Situation: Stimson Lumber, which has its mill just west of Gaston, filed Measure 37 claims on more than 57,000 acres of forest land it owns in Oregon, most of it in Washington County. Miller, however, has said from the start that the only claim the company was pursing was a proposal to put 40 houses on a 1,100-acre parcel on Iowa Hill, just south of Cornelius, where the company says nearby development makes it hard to keep in timber production.

Your Iowa Hill claim clearly won’t pass the new M49 tests. Does that mean the project is dead?

Stimson will move ahead with development on Iowa Hill. Our Iowa Hill project was moving forward for business reasons prior to Measure 37. The exact nature of the development may be modified somewhat, and the timeline extended, from that contemplated under our [Measure] 37 claim, but Stimson has a number of avenues for development.

How is that possible after Measure 49?

Oregon’s land-use system is an insider’s game. Large land owners, with financial resources, patience, and expert advice can accomplish a great deal of development, whether it be in rural areas, or urban areas, whereas small land owners without resources and time are frozen out. Some of the loudest supporters of our land-use system are major land owners. The land-use system keeps competitors out of the market, and supports land values. People are fools if they think [Measure] 49 will prevent the type of rural development that is already occurring throughout the Willamette Valley.

Until a few months ago, Stimson was best known as a quietly successful wood products company that gives Portland its Christmas tree each year. Will your high-profile role in this campaign change the way Stimson is viewed?

I do not really care how Stimson is viewed. We do the things we do because we believe they are right – right for our employees, the communities in which we operate the land, and our shareholders. I do not feel compelled to justify any of our actions because we do not engage in them in order to win public praise or support. We are cards-on-the-table kind of people, and accept that some may not like us, or what we do. That is just life. We do not, however, pull punches or deceive people for gain.

9 Dec 2007, 1:27pm
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Forest Service aims to preserve open space

WASHINGTON — As homes and shopping malls proliferate, the United States loses about 6,000 acres of open space every day — four acres per minute.

Now the Forest Service is developing a national strategy to protect and conserve open space. The plan, announced Thursday, will use partnerships with private landowners and state and local governments to identify areas most in need of protection, said Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell.

The Forest Service also will work with Congress to create tax breaks and other incentives to promote conservation and reduce development in ecologically sensitive areas, she said. The conservation plan takes effect immediately and does not require congressional approval.

The agency’s vision stretches far beyond the 193 million acres of national forests, Kimbell said, noting that more than half of the nation’s 800 million acres of forest land is privately owned… [more]

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