1988 Canyon Creek fire remains seared into memory

By KARL PUCKETT, Great Falls Tribune Staff Writer, 08/17/2008 [here]

Two decades after the Canyon Creek fire burned some 250,000 acres in three national forests, the rogue blaze of 1988 continues to smolder in the minds of Montanans.

“You opened a bunch of new wounds,” said Don Converse, a rancher west of Augusta, when asked about it this week. “I’m still burning over this fire.”

The Yellowstone National Park-area fires, which combined to burn 1.4 million acres in Montana and Wyoming, captured the world’s attention in 1988.

But Canyon Creek, a rare catastrophic blow-up, was the single largest fire in Montana in a year marked by big fires and the biggest the state had seen in more than 75 years.

This summer marks the 20th anniversary of the monster, which, carried along by jet stream winds, escaped the confines of the wilderness and burst onto the prairie west of Augusta.

In its wake, it left dead cattle and black pastureland, ranchers with deep scars and firefighters with a new appreciation and understanding of fire.

“Fire can kick your butt,” said Tim Love, the district ranger of the U.S. Forest Service’s Seeley Lake Ranger District, a young resource assistant on the Rocky Mountain Front at the time of the Canyon Creek fire.

Unremarkable start

Today, there are stricter guidelines in place that ensure suppression resources are available before a fire is allowed to burn in the wilderness, said Orville Daniels, the former supervisor of the Lolo National Forest, where the Canyon Creek fire began.

There’s also a better system of predicting fire potential, including a drought index.

Those changes followed the 1988 fires.

“Part of the purpose of the wilderness fire program is to learn,” Daniels said. “And we’re still learning.”

Canyon Creek started like most Western fires do, with a lightning bolt from the sky setting a tree ablaze. But it didn’t end up a footnote like most do.

To a person, those who fought it or fled from its path say the blaze that threatened Augusta and Ovando was a life-changing experience.

“That bugger went wild,” said Ross Friede of Ovando.

At the time, Friede was the manager of the Two Creek Ranch, and he nervously watched as the flames crept closer.

“I still have memories of things I’d seen out there,” said Dale Gorman of Great Falls, the former Supervisor of Lewis and Clark National Forest.

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1 Sep 2008, 12:05am
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Palin By Comparison

by Hugh Hewitt, Townhall.com, August 31, 2008 [here]

Those who listen to my radio show know that I spend my mornings and some evenings practicing and teaching law. For the 20 years since I left Washington, D.C., I have been a land use and natural resources lawyer, guiding landowners –principally home builders but also churches and commercial developers—through the maze of federal, state and local regulatory permitting that blankets the use of land in the U.S. I have had clients throughout the west, and this has meant appearing hundreds of times before city councils, county boards and regional and state commissions and agencies. It has meant thousands of meetings with elected and appointed local government officials.

I provide this as background to a few comments on Sarah Palin’s decade as a city council member and mayor of a small town, Wasilla, Alaska. Don’t underestimate the enormous benefit this provides the governor in the campaign and beyond as she takes up the duties of a vice president. Local government experience means an immersion in the real problems of real people as well as with a myriad of issues from the details of budgets for road maintenance and police and fire forces, to the land use issues I mentioned above, to parks and recreation and school construction issue issues.

And, of course, snow removal, the bane of many mayors’ lives.

It also means appearing at thousands of the events that define small town life, from the Rotary to the start of the local fund-raising 5K, and the hiring and firing of staff that has to make the traffic lights work and oversee the trash collection.

And mostly it means being able to connect with people who look to the local government to get the big things in small towns right.

Sitting on a dais week after week and listening to public comments and presentations from staff is the least glamorous of all elected offices, but very central to the functioning of the republic. Hundreds of thousands of Americans serve in these all-but-voluntary jobs and do so out of a sense of public spiritedness. Of course there are knuckleheads among the local electeds, and I have encountered many of them.

But by a very large measure these mayors, council members and commissioners are genuine public servants –and they get very smart, very fast about the communities they serve and the real successes and failures that define American life, whether in Wasilla, Alaska or Dearborn, Michigan or Sharon, PA.
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Just the Ticket!

by Julie Kay Smithson, Property Rights Researcher [here], August 31, 2008

Fantasy Dateline: America, November 11, 2011 - President Sarah Louise Heath Palin, sworn in one year ago, after the death of President McCain due to a recurrence of skin cancer, has announced her selection of a running mate for the 2012 Presidential campaign: bowhunter rocker Ted Nugent.

President Palin is the only President in history to:

1. Bring Trig, her Down Syndrome child, to work with her, citing executive privilege and mother’s rights and stating, “No one can love him like I can love him.”

2. Carry her own firearm, eschewing the tradition of Secret Service, saying, “They just delay me on my daily runs and not a one of them can ride a snow machine worth a darn!”

3. Vacation in Alaska to cheer husband Todd, the First Gentleman, as he competes in and wins the Iron Dog snow machine race for the sixth time.

4. Redecorate the White House with an Alaskan flair, including programmed lighting that mimics the long Alaskan nights and short, long days of summer. “‘The Land of the Midnight Sun’ is preferable to the late-night carousing of the denizens of D.C.,” said she. “Decency has returned to D.C.!” The President addresses energy costs by providing fur robes and bedding to all White House residents and mukluks can be seen around the White House grounds during the winter months.

5. Serve state dinners with steamer clams for appetizers, salad made with smoked salmon, Dungeness Crab Bisque, and moose and caribou offered as twin main courses, served with an ice cream scoop each of twice baked Idaho potatoes and wild rice. Dessert is Alaskan blueberry pie. The vegan menu is nutritious, albeit more simple fare: Baked Idaho potatoes with no cheese or butter, wild rice and fresh blueberries (no whipped cream).

Since becoming President, Palin has been compared to the late U.S. Congresswoman, Helen Chenoweth-Hage, a distinction she is humbled by. “Other than the late John Bricker, former Ohio Governor and U.S. Senator, whose Bricker Amendment we finally got passed on September sixth, the anniversary of his birth [in 1893], I could scarce imagine being compared to anyone I’d like better!” President Palin said, describing the tear trickling down her cheek as a “… badge of joy.”

President Palin remains confident that running mate Nugent’s outdoorsmanly activities and patriotic ‘walking the walk,’ coupled with the similar length of their marriages — both would celebrate their 25th wedding anniversaries in the next term of office — will more than offset their few minor differences. Although fifteen years her senior, Nugent respects Palin as an equal in many fields. Todd Palin and Shemane Nugent are perfect first mates for this team that America cries out for to take the White House and not only finish cleaning it up, but keep it cleaned up.

A plethora of American patriots are considering their options, should they be chosen to help this possible American presidency corruption-free: A St. Louis who’s in Nevada, a boy named Sallee, a woman known by many as the heart and soul of the Klamath Basin, a storm-born miracle named Kimmi, a Tarheel named Henson, a Grau from State College, two South Dakota ranchers who’d bring Tubbs of patriotism (but no prairie dogs!) and a Clarkson who’s a daughter and grandmother, and more. The late Alaska Women In Timber founder, Helen Finney, would have jumped at the chance to serve in Sarah Heath Palin’s Cabinet. A Swedish-born naturalized American in Alaska will likely be standing at the ready, should the call come. Palin’s palette of potential appointees is a diverse cross-section of Americans, but all carry the same genetic markers that make them unshakable patriots.

The Vice Presidential duo of Ted and wife Shemane, on equal footing with the Palin’s on most matters, make Washington, D.C. a family vacation destination: to see American History at its finest being made — for the first time in almost 250 years.

30 Aug 2008, 7:06pm
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‘Pristine’ Amazonian region hosted large, urban civilization, study finds

University of Florida Press Release, Gainesville, Fla., 28-Aug-2008 [here]

They aren’t the lost cities early explorers sought fruitlessly to discover.

But ancient settlements in the Amazon, now almost entirely obscured by tropical forest, were once large and complex enough to be considered “urban” as the term is commonly applied to both medieval European and ancient Greek communities.

So says a paper set to appear Friday in Science co-authored by anthropologists from the University of Florida and Brazil, and a member of the Kuikuro, an indigenous Amazonian people who are the descendants of the settlements’ original inhabitants.

“If we look at your average medieval town or your average Greek polis, most are about the scale of those we find in this part of the Amazon,” said Mike Heckenberger, a UF professor of anthropology and the lead author of the paper. “Only the ones we find are much more complicated in terms of their planning.”

The paper also argues that the size and scale of the settlements in the southern Amazon in North Central Brazil means that what many scientists have considered virgin tropical forests are in fact heavily influenced by historic human activity. Not only that, but the settlements – consisting of networks of walled towns and smaller villages, each organized around a central plaza – suggest future solutions for supporting the indigenous population in Brazil’s state of Mato Grosso and other regions of the Amazon, the paper says.

“Some of the practices that these folks hammered may provide alternative forms of understanding how to do low level sustainable development today,” Heckenberger said.

Heckenberger and his colleagues first announced the discovery of the settlements in a 2003 Science paper. The largest date from around 1250 to 1650, when European colonists and the diseases they brought likely killed most of their inhabitants.

The communities are now almost entirely overgrown. But Heckenberger said that members of the Kuikuro, a Xinguano tribe that calls the region home, are adept at identifying telltale landscape features that reveal ancient activity. These include, for example, “dark earth” that indicate past human waste dumps or farming, concentrations of pottery shards and earthworks. Also assisted by satellite imagery and GPS technology, the researchers spent more than a decade uncovering and mapping the obscured communities.

The new paper reports that the settlements consisted of clusters of 150-acre towns and smaller villages organized in spread out “galactic” patterns.

None of the large towns was as large as the largest medieval or Greek towns. But as with those towns, the Amazonian ones were surrounded by large walls – in their case, composed of earthworks still extant today. Among other repeated features, each Amazonian settlement had an identical formal road, always oriented northeast to southwest in keeping with the mid-year summer solstice, connected to a central plaza.

The careful placement of the like-oriented settlements is indicative of the regional planning and political organization that are hallmarks of urban society, Heckenberger said.

“These are not cities, but this is urbanism, built around towns,” he said.

The findings are important because they contradict long-held stereotypes about early Western versus early New World settlements that rest on the idea that “if you find it in Europe, it’s a city. If you find it somewhere else, it has to be something else,” Heckenberger said.

“They have quite remarkable planning and self-organization, more so than many classical examples of what people would call urbanism,” he said.

But the research is also important because it means at least one area of “pristine” Amazon has a history of human activity. That could change not only how scientists assess the flora and fauna, but also how conservationists approach preserving the remains of forest so heavily cleared it is the world’s largest soybean producing area. “This throws a wrench in all the models suggesting we are looking at primordial biodiversity,” Heckenberger said.

Around the communities the scientists found dams and artificial ponds that indicate inhabitants farmed fish near their homes. They also found the remnants of open areas and large compost heaps suggesting widespread near-town cultivation.

29 Aug 2008, 11:18am
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Ancient Amazon Cities Found; Were Vast Urban Network

by John Roach, National Geographic News, August 28, 2008 [here]

Dozens of ancient, densely packed, towns, villages, and hamlets arranged in an organized pattern have been mapped in the Brazilian Amazon, anthropologists announced today.

The finding suggests that vast swathes of “pristine” rain forest may actually have been sophisticated urban landscapes prior to the arrival of European colonists.

“It is very different from what we might expect using certain classic models of urbanism,” noted study co-author Michael Heckenberger, an anthropologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Nevertheless, he said, the repeated patterns within and among settlements across the landscape suggest a highly ordered and planned society on par with any medieval European town.

The finding supports a controversial theory that the Amazon River Basin teemed with large societies that were all but obliterated by disease when European colonists arrived in the 15th and 16th centuries.

The isolated tribes that remain in the Amazon today are the last survivors of these once great societies, according to the theory.

If this theory is correct, the networked structure of the ancient settlements may lend insight to better protect and manage the indigenous populations and forests that remain in the Amazon today, scientists said.

Heckenberger and his colleagues from the U.S. and Brazil—including a member of the Kuikuro, an indigenous Amazonian tribe—report their finding today in the journal Science.

Urban Plan

In 1993, Heckenberger lived with the Kuikuro near the headwaters of the Xingu River. Within two weeks of his stay, he learned about the ancient settlements and began a 15-year effort to study and map them in detail.

So far he has identified at least two major clusters—or polities—of towns, villages, and hamlets. Each cluster contains a central seat of ritualistic power with wide roads radiating out to other communities.

Each settlement is organized around a central plaza and linked to others via precisely placed roads. In their heyday, some of the settlements were home to perhaps thousands of people and were about 150 acres (61 hectares) in size.

A major road aligned with the summer solstice intersects each central plaza.

The larger towns, placed at cardinal points from the central seat of power, were walled much like a medieval town, noted Heckenberger. Smaller villages and hamlets were less well defined.

Between the settlements, which today are almost completely overgrown, was a patchwork of agricultural fields for crops such as manioc along with dams and ponds likely used for fish farms.

“The whole landscape is almost like a latticework, the way it is gridded off,” Heckenberger said. “The individual centers themselves are much less constructed. It is more patterned at the regional level.”

At their height between A.D. 1250 and 1650, the clusters may have housed around 50,000 people, the scientists noted.

According to Heckenberger, the planned structure of these settlements is indicative of the regional planning and political organization that are hallmarks of urban society.

“These are far more planned at the regional level than your average medieval town,” he said, noting that rural landscapes in medieval settlements were randomly oriented.

“Here things are oriented at the same angles and distances across the entire landscape.”

“Garden Cities”

The research “raises huge and important questions,” Susan Hecht, an Amazon specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles, was quoted saying in a related Science news piece written by Charles Mann.

Mann is the author of the 2005 book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, which describes theories of urban planning in the Amazon.

For one, Hecht was quoted as saying, the research adds further weight to the idea that the Amazon Basin once supported large and complex societies.

Other scientists, notably archaeologist Betty Meggers at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., have argued that Amazonian soils were too poor to support large human populations for extended periods.

Hecht said the research also challenges the idea that urbanism means a central, dominant, and powerful city. Smaller, but highly connected settlements may also have been common.

According to study co-author Heckenberger, the clusters of towns in the pre-Columbian Amazon were similar to the system envisioned by British planner Ebenezer Howard in his 1902 book, Garden Cities of Tomorrow.

Howard argued for a system of tightly linked smaller cities instead of large megacities that are an eyesore on the natural world.

“If [he] knew about Xingu, it would have been a chapter in his book,” Heckenberger said.

And now that the Amazonian “garden cities” have been found, Heckenberger added, scientists and planners ought to study them closely for alternatives to the modern system that is destroying vast reaches of the Amazon and displacing the last of the region’s indigenous tribes.

“We know that we have to come up with alternatives,” he said, “so here is a place we may want to look.”

Notes: Ancient civilizations in the previously thought to be “pristine” Amazon were discussed in our post about Bill Denevan [here]. Quoted in the article is Susanna Hecht, a Berkeley Ph.D. (Geography). Paul Zinke (my forest soils prof) was on her committee. We will attempt to get a copy of the Charles C. Mann article published today in Science Magazine. Thanks to Al Stangenberger, UCB College of Natural Resources, for the news tip.

28 Aug 2008, 9:30pm
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Investigators find no wrongdoing in Giant Sequoia tree cutting

By MICHAEL DOYLE, McClatchy-Tribune, Aug, 20, 2008 [here]

WASHINGTON - Federal investigators have concluded the Forest Service acted properly in felling hazardous trees in the Giant Sequoia National Monument, bringing to a quiet end a probe loudly sought by congressional Democrats.

Capping a politically sensitive, nine-month investigation, the Agriculture Department’s Office of Inspector General dismissed complaints about logging that took place near the monument’s Trail of 100 Giants. Environmentalists and their Capitol Hill allies had suggested the tree removals violated multiple federal policies.

“Our review did not substantiate the six allegations presented and related concerns,” the investigators stated, adding that the Forest Service acted “to improve public safety.”

The investigators twice traveled to the 327,769-acre Giant Sequoia National Monument, a center of controversy and litigation ever since President Clinton established it in 2000. They found that none of the felled trees were beloved giant sequoias. They also determined the Forest Service followed public notice and environmental review requirements.

“The Forest Service generally complied with all applicable laws, regulations, policies and agreements that were in effect,” the investigators stated.

Some of the Forest Service rules themselves, though, remain a work in progress and subject to some future revision.

The new report was requested by three House members who serve on the powerful subcommittee that funds the Agriculture Department. The House members, in turn, were responding to complaints initially raised by advocates with Save America’s Forests and Sequoia Forestkeeper.

The environmentalists contended the Forest Service unnecessarily cut more than 200 protected trees in 2004, thereby benefiting a local sawmill. The specific complaint echoed more general attacks on the Bush administration’s environmental policies.

“If the Bush administration did authorize the chopping down of protected ancient trees in a national forest, then one has to wonder how much longer it will be until the White House starts auctioning off marble slabs from the Lincoln Memorial,” Rep. Maurice Hinchey. D-N.Y., declared in a news release last October.

The seven-page Office of Inspector General report was submitted to Hinchey and other House members Aug. 7 but made public without fanfare on the inspector general’s Web site this week. Spokesmen for Hinchey and Rep. Jim Moran, a Virginia Democrat who also requested the investigation, could not be reached to comment Wednesday.

The Forest Service actions in question began in 2004, when the agency targeted some 130 dead or dying trees for removal. A Forest Service specialist subsequently concluded an additional 74 trees should be removed because they, too, were potentially hazardous.

The Forest Service determined, and investigators agreed, that the tree removals in the national monument could proceed without a formal environmental review in order to protect public safety.

Investigators further determined that some current Forest Service rules - for instance, requiring complete descriptions of trees slated for removal - weren’t in place at the time of the Giant Sequoia logging. That meant the 2004 logging didn’t violate the rules in place at the time.

The investigators did note the former Forest Service chief testified inaccurately when he told Congress an environmental study was completed prior to the logging. The investigators did not criticize this inaccuracy, having concluded the agency’s overall actions were proper.

“We are pleased with the results,” Forest Service spokesman John Heil said Wednesday. “It shows we are doing the right thing.”

The completed audit, though, does not resolve all of the questions concerning Giant Sequoia National Monument management. Pressed by one lawsuit, the Forest Service is now preparing a new management plan for the monument.

In October, moreover, the Supreme Court will weigh in on a case shaping future related logging decisions. The Earth Island Institute, Sequoia Forestkeeper and other environmental groups successfully challenged a 238-acre salvage logging project proposed for the neighboring Sequoia National Forest, which the Forest Service contended was exempt from standard environmental review. The high court’s eventual decision could affect when logging decisions can be challenged.

22 Aug 2008, 9:25pm
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Wagner to lead Pacific Northwest Region of the U.S. Forest Service

News Release, USDA Forest Service Press Office Release No. 0812, August 22, 2008

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Forest Service Chief Abigail R. Kimbell announced the appointment of Mary Wagner as Regional Forester of the Pacific Northwest Region of the Forest Service.

Wagner will oversee 17 national forests and one national grassland within the states of Oregon and Washington.

She is currently the Deputy Regional Forester for the Intermountain Region with oversight for Utah, Nevada, southern Idaho and eastern Wyoming.

Wagner succeeds Linda Goodman, who recently retired.

“Mary brings a breadth of leadership experience in natural resource management and state and private forestry,” said Chief Kimbell. “She set a precedent as the first National Director of Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers in Washington, DC. Mary will be an excellent Regional Forester and an outstanding addition to the national leadership of the Forest Service.”

Mary served as the Forest Supervisor on the Dixie National Forest in Cedar City, Utah.

Her other previous leadership positions include Deputy Forest Supervisor and District Ranger on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in Nevada, and District Ranger on the Ashley National Forest in Utah.

Wagner began her career with the Forest Service in 1983 as a Forester on the Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho.

Wagner holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Forest Management and a Master of Science degree in Public Administration from the University of Utah.

She will begin her new assignment in October 2008.

Related, researched information:

IUCN/The World Conservation Union: IUCN / WCPA Membership Directory, January 2008

IUCN - International Union for the Conservation of Nature aka The World Conservation Union

WCPA - The World Commission on Protected Areas

Mary Wagner is listed on Page 22 as a WCPA North American Region Member and on Page 217 as a WCPA member.

This carefully researched information provided by Julie Kay Smithson of Property Rights Research. Please visit PRR [here] to learn about and protect your property rights!

17 Aug 2008, 8:41pm
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Grand Canyon floods breach dam, force evacuations

By AMANDA LEE MYERS – 08/17/2008 [here]

PHOENIX (AP) — Days of heavy rains around the Grand Canyon caused an earthen dam to fail Sunday and created flooding that forced helicopters to pluck hundreds of residents and campers and deliver them to safety. No injuries were immediately reported.

The failure of the Redlands Dam caused some flooding in Supai, a village on a canyon floor where about 400 members of the Havasupai tribe live, said Grand Canyon National Park spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge. The current floods and potential for more required the evacuations, she said.

No structures were damaged after the dam failed about 45 miles upstream from Supai, but some hiking trails and footbridges were washed out, she said. Trees were uprooted, the National Weather Service said.

As much as 8 inches of rain since Friday caused trouble even before the dam burst. A private boating party of 16 people was stranded on a ledge at the confluence of Havasu Creek and the Colorado River on Saturday night after flood waters carried their rafts away, Oltrogge said.

The boaters were found uninjured and were being rescued from the canyon, whose floor is unreachable in many places except by helicopter.

Rescuers were trying to find visitors staying at the Supai Campground and escort them to safety, Oltrogge said.

Evacuees were being flown to a parking area 8 miles from Supai and bused to a Red Cross shelter in Peach Springs, about 60 miles southwest of Supai, the spokeswoman said.

A flash flood warning was in effect for the area until the early evening. The area got 3 to 6 inches of ran Friday and Saturday and got about 2 more on Sunday, said Daryl Onton, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Flagstaff.

“That’s all it took — just a few days of very heavy thunderstorms,” he said.

Supai is on Havasu and Cataract creeks about 30 miles northwest of Grand Canyon Village, a popular tourist area on the south rim. Havasu Creek feeds the Colorado, which runs the length of the canyon.

The flooding came on a weekend during the busy summer tourist season, when thousands of visitors a day flock to the canyon for spectacular views, hikes or to raft its whitewater.

The helicopters lifting residents out were from the National Park Service, the National Guard and the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Oltrogge said.

In 2001, flooding near Supai swept a 2-year-old boy and his parents to their deaths while they were hiking.

The Grand Canyon has been the traditional home of the Havasupai for centuries.

15 Aug 2008, 6:40pm
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Forest budgets pilfered for California flames

U.S. Forest Service initiates fire-borrowing practices

By GREG STAHL, Idaho Mountain Express, 08/15/2008 [here]

Idaho has had a relatively calm fire season, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been smothered in smoke blown in from California since early July. Nor does it mean Idaho’s federal agency budgets aren’t going to be impacted by the ever-rising costs associated with combating the California flames.

Congress budgeted $1.2 billion for the Forest Service to combat fires this year. Current estimates have that figure climbing as high as $1.6 billion. The entire agency will tighten its belt to make up the difference, and in the Wood River Valley that means some projects will not be completed as planned.

“We were notified about two weeks ago, around Aug. 4, that fire transfer was imminent,” said the Sawtooth National Forest’s Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson.

Last week the U.S. Forest Service issued an agency-wide order to compile unallocated funds to be sent to help combat the California fires. The money is to be sent to California in four, $100 million installments.

“We’re doing fire borrowing,” said Sawtooth National Forest spokeswoman Alicia Bennett. “It’s the first time we’ve done this since 1995.”

Bennett said the Intermountain Region of the Forest Service has been asked to kick in $16 million. It is as yet unclear how much of that $16 million will be culled from local forest budgets in Central Idaho.

“Each region is given the amount of money they have to come up with,” Bennett said. “Then the region tells each of the forests what their share of the regional amount is. Right now we really don’t know what the forest share is.”

The Forest Service has struggled for years to pay for fighting fires that last year alone scorched nearly 10 million acres. As fire seasons grow longer and fires burn with more intensity in forests stressed by global warming the agency’s funding woes mount.

The problems this year are despite rising Forest Service fire fighting budgets. In 1998 10 percent of the agency’s budget was allocated to fight fires. This year that amount had climbed to 45 percent, and still that was not enough.

“It’s coming out of everybody’s budget,” Bennett said.

Non-emergency contracts are being pulled. Meetings, including conferences and educational seminars for employees, are being scrapped. No hiring will occur.

“At this point the option the agency has in terms of protective fire costs, we have to look at how we’re going to cover that shortfall and that’s to use the transfer authority and shift money from other programs to cover the estimated fire suppression cost,” Nelson said.

Last year, too, the agency exceeded its fire budget, Nelson said, but Congress allocated emergency spending before it adjourned for its August recess.

Now, forest managers are looking at pinching pennies, and for Nelson that means looking at money that was allocated to help rehabilitate portions of the Ketchum Ranger District that burned last year in the Castle Rock Fire.

“We’re going to be looking at whatever dollars we have not obligated or spent to date,” Nelson said. “Se we’ve got several projects we planned on accomplishing in August and September. Those will be put on hold or deferred until fiscal year 2009, which starts Oct. 1.”

For now, fire suppression costs in California continue to mount at $13 million per day. What’s more, the fire season in certain portions of the Rocky Mountains, like Idaho, has only just begun.

“It’s a rapidly evolving situation,” Nelson said. “As the chief said, ‘pray for rain.’”

As of August 5, 900,000 acres of Forest Service land had burned, up 100,000 acres from the same time a year ago.

13 Aug 2008, 11:57am
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Judge rules against ban on forest roads

The federal judge decided in favor of Wyoming, again, which requested an order against a Clinton-era rule.

BY FELICITY BARRINGER - NYT News Service, 08/13/08 [here]

A Clinton administration rule that banned the building of new roads on undeveloped tracts of federal forests was invalidated once again Tuesday by a federal judge in Wyoming.

Judge Clarence A. Brimmer of U.S. District Court upheld a request by the state of Wyoming to issue a permanent injunction against the mandate, saying it violated two national environmental laws and left forest managers unable to do their jobs properly.

Brimmer essentially reissued a decision he made in 2003 that was made moot by a decision in 2006 by a California judge.

The ruling removes a ban on roadbuilding for 9.3 million acres of Idaho’s 20 million acres of national forest.

The U.S. Forest Service is working on a draft plan for managing Idaho’s roadless lands, started by former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, written by former Gov. Jim Risch and backed by Gov. Butch Otter. It is expected to be completed this fall.

If Brimmer’s decision holds, Idaho could have the only roadless protection plan in the country, said Jonathan Oppenheimer, a forest specialist for the Idaho Conservation League.

Environmentalists already said they planned to sue.

After being promulgated at the end of the Clinton administration, the roadless rule was thrown out by Brimmer in 2003. While an appeal was pending, the rule was supplanted, after long debate, by a Bush administration alternative.

That alternative was then thrown out in October 2006 by a federal magistrate judge in San Francisco, who argued that it had been created without the reviews required under national environmental laws. The Clinton rule was reinstated.

Brimmer’s latest opinion bristled with anger at the original mandate and at Clinton and at the magistrate judge in San Francisco, Elizabeth D. LaPorte.

Referring to the original Clinton-era decision, he wrote, “This court is of the opinion that the Forest Service violated the public interest when it flagrantly and cavalierly railroaded this country’s present environmental laws in an attempt to build an outgoing president’s enduring fame.”

An appeal of LaPorte’s decision is pending in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

[Hopefully Judge Brimmer's decision will be posted on the web [here] by next week.]

13 Aug 2008, 12:07am
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Suit filed over 2006 fatal helicopter crash

Idaho Statesman, 08/12/08 [here]

The parents of Gary Lewis and Monica Lee Zajanc on Monday filed a wrongful death suit against Evergreen Helicopters in federal court, saying their pilot failed to comply with Forest Service helicopter pilot safety requirements.

Lewis, of Cascade, and Zajanc, of Boise, were firefighters with the U.S. Forest Service when they died in a helicopter crash Aug. 13, 2006, near Yellow Pine.

Also killed were Lillian Patten, of Olympia, Wash., a fire lookout, and the helicopter’s pilot, Quin Stone, of Emmett.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation determined the helicopter collided with a 90-foot-tall dead tree. The NTSB concluded the pilot’s intentional low altitude flight and failure to maintain adequate altitude to clear the trees were the crash’s probable cause.

The suit, filed by Larry Zajanc, Nolene Hollifield and Gary and Kay Lewis, contends McMinnville, Ore.-based Evergreen, which was under contract with the Forest Service, is responsible for the deaths.

The Forest Service requires all helicopter flights be conducted at least 500 feet above ground level unless the mission required flight at a lower altitude.

[For more information regarding this incident, see here and here]

6 Aug 2008, 4:39pm
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Eight firefighters, one crew member believed dead in Trinity County helicopter crash

from the Redding Record Searchlight, Aug 6, 2008 [here]

Eight firefighters and one helicopter crew member are missing and believed dead in Tuesday’s helicopter crash on the north end of the Buckhorn Fire in Trinity County, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said today. (The Buckhorn Fire is one of the Iron Complex Fires [here] — Ed)

Some fatalities were confirmed earlier this morning by the U.S. Forest Service, which earlier had announced that nine people were missing after the crash.

Identities of the nine who are believed dead have not been released.

The helicopter pilot and three fire fighters were injured in the crash, which was reported at about 7:45 p.m. Tuesday near Junction City. … [more]

6 Aug 2008, 2:16pm
Latest Climate News
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UW study examines decline of snowpack

Ed note: the headline is exactly opposite from the story and the truth. WA snowpack has NOT declined and this year set records for depth and snow-water-equivalence. Further, there has been no global warming for 10 years, despite dire predictions from the IPCC and Al Gore. The darn facts keep getting in the way of the political stampede.

By Warren Cornwall, Seattle Times, August 6, 2008 [here]

Despite previous studies suggesting a warmer climate is already taking a bite out of Washington’s snowpack, there’s no clear evidence that human-induced climate change has caused a drop in 20th century snow levels, according to a controversial new study by University of Washington scientists.

Maybe the snow in the Cascade Mountains isn’t in such immediate peril from global warming after all.

Despite previous studies suggesting a warmer climate is already taking a bite out of Washington’s snowpack, there’s no clear evidence that human-induced climate change has caused a drop in 20th century snow levels, according to a new study by University of Washington scientists.

In fact, the newest study also predicts the Cascade snows — vital to water supplies, crop irrigation and salmon — could enjoy a delay in the effects of global warming.

But the findings have already become part of a scientific debate with an unusually political tone. It’s an ongoing disagreement that has UW researchers taking sides against each other and has attracted the attention of political groups.

And a leading scientist on the other side of the debate said the latest analysis speculates about the future and offers little new about the past.

“They’re trying to forecast the next 20 years or so, and I don’t think they can do it,” said Alan Hamlet, a UW hydrologist who has written papers about historic Cascade Mountain snowpacks.

Past studies have frequently focused on steep declines in Cascade snowpack in the second half of the 20th century, with drops measuring 30 percent or more.

But Cliff Mass, a well-known UW meteorologist, said the new study, which he co-authored, shows it all depends on which years are examined. He and his co-authors argue snow levels were unusually high in the 1950s, creating a distorted picture of historic patterns.

Measurement of mountain snow levels were spotty before the 1950s, making it harder to get a complete picture. But Mass and his colleagues tried to estimate snowpack for earlier years based on measurement that did exist: the amount of water that flowed down streams as snow melted.

Using that method, they found a smaller drop in snowpack between the 1930s and today — 23 percent. That still may sound like a big drop, but the scientists argue that it could be statistically insignificant, so it’s hard to say whether it’s meaningful. They also say that many of the changes appear to be attributable to shifting weather patterns driven by the Pacific Ocean.

“We can’t see the global-warming signature in terms of a decline in snowpack,” said Mark Stoelinga, the study’s lead author, and a professor in the UW’s Atmospheric Sciences Department. … [more]

6 Aug 2008, 1:59pm
Latest Wildlife News
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Cattle ranchers still falling prey to Mexican wolf program

Guest opinion by LAURA SCHNEBERGER, Tucson Citizen, 08.06.2008 [here]

It is long past time to dispense with the party line that constantly dribbles from the Mexican wolf public relations machine.

But since the agency’s own public relations person will not do it, producers must. And 12 years in the program has to count for something as ranchers have been involved longer than any wolf program employees. That qualifies us to answer some questions:

- Are Mexican wolves removed from the wild genetically indispensable and leading to a second extinction in the wild?

No, they are all surplus animals well represented in the captive breeding program. The genetically indispensable animals are housed, bred, fed and well-protected.
Those wolves produce pups to replace any wolf removed from the wild. As long as populations of captive animals exist, wolves won’t be extinct in the wild and the captive population is larger than it has ever been.

Despite claims made in recent media reports, mere suspicions have never been and will never be the cause of removal of a Mexican wolf from the land. There must be three confirmed wolf kills of livestock. Then, and only then, will one wolf in a pack possibly be subjected to removal.

Even with numerous bite sizes on a bovine or equine victim, often only one wolf is assigned the strike, (now called, livestock depredation incident) even when the entire pack is confirmed to have been involved in the attack on the dead animal.

- Is that fair, is it truthful? Does the public know about this manipulation of policy designed to raise the bar to slow wolf removals?

No they don’t know. The PR machine doesn’t tell them. Agency personnel are allowed to manage on a case-by-case, wolf-by-wolf, basis.

- Does manipulation of policy cause more livestock deaths? Yes.

- Has it required more wolf removals? Yes.

- Does it cause damage to human victims who see livestock, working dogs horses and pets killed? Yes.

- Has it caused ranches to go bankrupt? Yes.

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3 Aug 2008, 11:34am
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Wolf Warp

By MIKE SATREN, Coeur d’Alene Press Newspaper 7/31/08

Missoula judge picked by Defenders of Wildlife, co-plaintiffs to decide defining issue in the West

POST FALLS - The mood was somber - and resentful - at the Fish and Game Commission’s public hearing in the conference room at Cabela’s last week, not unlike families of victims who just heard that their loved ones’ serial killer got off on a technicality.

In this case it was the unhindered growth of the “reintroduced” Canadian gray wolf that got off and the technicality - the judge determined - was that there was not enough natural long-term genetic exchange between the three state’s wolf populations to ensure a healthy gene pool far into the future.

“We’re five times over recovery,” said Fish and Game Director Cal Groen. “However, those numbers weren’t discussed, we got into a different discussion in genetics.

“We were deeply, deeply disappointed.”

Even though U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy, of Missoula, Mont., acknowledged that Idaho had a good wolf management plan, he decided to grant a preliminary injunction that reinstated Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf across all three states on July 18. That effectively stopped Wyoming, Montana and Idaho from holding special hunting seasons for wolves this year.

“It is not a final determination in court,” said Clive Strong, chief of the natural resource division of the Idaho Attorney General’s Office. “The defendant - the U.S. in this case - cannot go forward with delisting until there is a full hearing on the merits.”

By granting the injunction Judge Molloy is indicating that he believes the (final) case will prevail on its merits although he hasn’t seen much of the evidence.

Although wolf populations are five times higher than original agreements for ESA delisting, 12 groups including Defenders of Wildlife, the National Resources Defense Council and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for delisting wolves in March primarily using the genetic exchange issue as the reason.

“They picked and chose where they wanted to go to court … I think you might wonder, why Missoula, Montana,” said Commissioner Randall Budge of the Southeast Region. “Most likely because they wanted to be before a particular judge in Missoula.”

The genetic exchange issue picked by Judge Molloy as the primary reason to reinstate ESL status, would not have worked for nine out of 10 judges, Randall surmised.
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