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, 11:37pm
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Final plan less lethal than earlier proposal to cull elk in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park’s final plan to cull the elk herd in the Estes Valley is less lethal than a draft proposal released last year.

Park Superintendent Vaughn Baker laid out the culling strategies as part of the final environmental impact statement of the park’s Elk and Vegetation Management Plan during in a phone conference Tuesday morning.

Somewhere between 2,200 and 3,100 elk live in the Estes Valley and Rocky Mountain National Park, making it one of the highest population concentrations in the Rocky Mountains, Baker said.

Park biologists believe the elks’ foraging habits are to blame for reduced numbers of new-growth aspen and willow trees in the park, sparking a five-year effort to create the plan to reduce the herd size.

The management plan unveiled Tuesday has park officials and “authorized agents” culling 100 elk each winter with mainly rifles over a 20-year period, and no more than 200 animals killed annually. To goal is to achieve a target elk population of between 1,600 and 2,100 animals in 20 years, Baker said.

“That will be a year-to-year decision to determine how much culling is needed for the following winter,” he said.

Some years, no elk could be culled, Baker said, but added that the plan could change if populations aren’t going down.

That’s a dramatic shift from the preferred alternative released in the draft plan in July 2006, which had 200 to 700 elk shot annually to cut the population down to 1,200 to 1,700 animals in just four years. That plan would cost $16 million to implement and had rangers or authorized agents suited out with night-vision devices to corral and kill animals at night using various lethal devices… [more]

14 Dec 2007, 11:05pm
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Study Increases Concerns of Climate Model Reliability

Newswise — A new study comparing the composite output of 22 leading global climate models with actual climate data finds that the models do an unsatisfactory job of mimicking climate change in key portions of the atmosphere.

This research, published on-line Wednesday in the Royal Meteorological Society’s International Journal of Climatology*, raises new concerns about the reliability of models used to forecast global warming.

“The usual discussion is whether the climate model forecasts of Earth’s climate 100 years or so into the future are realistic,” said the lead author, Dr. David H. Douglass from the University of Rochester. “Here we have something more fundamental: Can the models accurately explain the climate from the recent past?

“It seems that the answer is no.”… [more]

14 Dec 2007, 8:47pm
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We should give up futile attempts to combat climate change

Open Letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dec. 13, 2007

His Excellency Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General, United Nations, New York, N.Y.

Dear Mr. Secretary-General,

Re: UN climate conference taking the World in entirely the wrong direction

It is not possible to stop climate change, a natural phenomenon that has affected humanity through the ages. Geological, archaeological, oral and written histories all attest to the dramatic challenges posed to past societies from unanticipated changes in temperature, precipitation, winds and other climatic variables. We therefore need to equip nations to become resilient to the full range of these natural phenomena by promoting economic growth and wealth generation.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued increasingly alarming conclusions about the climatic influences of human-produced carbon dioxide (CO2), a non-polluting gas that is essential to plant photosynthesis. While we understand the evidence that has led them to view CO2 emissions as harmful, the IPCC’s conclusions are quite inadequate as justification for implementing policies that will markedly diminish future prosperity. In particular, it is not established that it is possible to significantly alter global climate through cuts in human greenhouse gas emissions. On top of which, because attempts to cut emissions will slow development, the current UN approach of CO2 reduction is likely to increase human suffering from future climate change rather than to decrease it… [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]

11 Dec 2007, 11:53pm
Latest Climate News
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Antarctica: Warming, Cooling, or Both?

The ice caps are melting – right? If you visit thousands of websites on climate change, watch Gore’s film or many similar documentaries, you would be left with no doubt that the icecaps are warming and melting at an unprecedented rate. However, with respect to Antarctica, you might be surprised when you examine what the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says in their 2007 Summary for Policymakers. Believe it or not, IPCC reports “Antarctic sea ice extent continues to show inter-annual variability and localized changes but no statistically significant average trends, consistent with the lack of warming reflected in atmospheric temperatures averaged across the region.” Furthermore, they note “Current global model studies project that the Antarctic ice sheet will remain too cold for widespread surface melting and is expected to gain in mass due to increased snowfall.”

A major article on this subject appears in a recent issue of the Journal of Climate by William Chapman and John Walsh of the University of Illinois. The two scientists extensively review the literature on temperature trends in Antarctica and conclude “These studies are essentially unanimous in their finding that the Antarctic Peninsula has warmed since the 1950s, when many of the surface stations were established.” They note “Recent summaries of station data show that, aside from the Antarctic Peninsula and the McMurdo area, one is hard-pressed to argue that warming has occurred, even at the Antarctic coastal stations away from the peninsula and McMurdo.” Furthermore, they write “Recent attempts to broaden the spatial coverage of temperature estimates have shown a similar lack of evidence of spatially widespread warming.” Like it or not, over the past four decades, and during the time of the greatest build-up of greenhouse gases, Antarctica has been cooling! … [more]

Antarctica’s penguins threatened by global warming

NUSA DUA, Indonesia (Reuters) - Antarctica’s penguin population has slumped because of global warming as melting ice has destroyed nesting sites and reduced their sources of food, a WWF report said on Tuesday.

The Antarctic peninsula is warming five times faster than the average in the rest of the world, affecting four penguin species — the emperor penguin, the largest and the grandest in the world, the gentoo, chinstrap and adelie, it said.

“The Antarctic penguins already have a long march behind them,” Anna Reynolds, deputy director of WWF’s Global Climate Change Programme, said in a statement at the Bali climate talks.

“Now it seems these icons of the Antarctic will have to face an extremely tough battle to adapt to the unprecedented rate of climate change.”… [more]

11 Dec 2007, 11:49pm
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Biologists revert farmland to wetland to sell credits

MONROE (AP) — As Canada geese bank westward above the green and blue expanse of Muddy Creek Wetland, wood ducks, mallards, pintails and northern shovelers paddle on the shallow ponds below.

The 108 acres near Monroe used to be a rye grass farm and was a cattle ranch before that.

Now low soil berms hold rainwater in ponds and indigenous prairie grasses poke up through the mud.

It’s the work of two wildlife biologists, Chris Kiilsgaard and Jeff Reams who have pooled their money and experience to return this patch of Willamette Valley to its former function.

They’re avid environmentalists, but hope to make some money as well.

If done right, it could pay off in millions of dollars. Muddy Creek is part of Oregon’s growing bank of mitigation banks, wetlands that developers and land managers can buy into when they can’t avoid damaging wetlands themselves… [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]

9 Dec 2007, 1:26pm
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Judge: Study grouse again

BOISE, Idaho — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ignored expert advice when it decided to deny federal protection to the sage grouse, and the agency must reconsider its decision, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

In a decision highly critical of the agency and its decision-making process, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill said the service also failed to use the “best science” available when deciding not give the declining species protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Such protection could have dramatic consequences in Wyoming, where state and industry officials fear it would shut off millions of acres to livestock grazing and energy development.

John Emmerich, deputy director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said Wyoming has vast areas of sage grouse habitat and the bird is widely distributed across the state.

“If a species like that gets listed, it’ll have huge ramifications,” he said… [more]

9 Dec 2007, 1:25pm
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Grizzly attacks evoke response

BILLINGS, Mont. — Grizzly bears, the West’s largest and most fearsome predators, are back in a big way in the Northern Rockies — rising in numbers, pushing into new territories and mauling hunters who stumble across them in the wild.

While state and federal officials laud the bear’s remarkable comeback from near-extinction last century, others say it’s time to lift the remaining protections that helped them recover and point to the recent grizzly encounters as evidence.

“We’ve got grizzly bears eating people who come here to hunt,” said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commissioner Vic Workman, who fended off a grizzly during a Nov. 25 hunting trip near Whitefish. “It’s getting out of whack. We’ve got too many bears.”…

The biologist in charge of restoring grizzlies acknowledges they appear to be on track toward recovery in some areas. For example, in central and western Montana they’ve expanded their range by more than 2,300 square miles over the last two decades…

But Christopher Servheen, grizzly recovery coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said it will take at least five more years of research to show the bear’s progress is not fleeting.

While there is no comprehensive data on grizzly-human conflicts, an Associated Press tally shows at least a dozen grizzly bear attacks reported since April. Seven victims were injured, including several severely… [more]

9 Dec 2007, 1:22pm
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Truck plows through bighorn sheep

THOMPSON FALLS, Mont. (AP) — At least 25 bighorn sheep lapping up salt-based de-icer on Montana Highway 200 have been struck and killed by vehicles this year, including seven struck by one semitrailer east of here earlier this month.

Witnesses told Bruce Sterling, a wildlife biologist with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, that the truck’s brake lights never came on as it passed a readerboard asking drivers to slow down because sheep congregate on that part of the highway and that 18 had already been killed this year.

The trailerless semi slammed into the herd, killing at least seven sheep, cutting some in half, Sterling said. Others may have been fatally injured, but wandered away before dying, Sterling said…

In an effort to reduce sheep deaths, which have topped 350 since Sterling began keeping records in 1985, FWP has tried putting salt blocks out away from the highway, with little success.

“Salt is a natural mineral the sheep routinely seek out,” Sterling says, “and finding it on the road has become a learned behavior over the course of many years. It’s difficult to put salt blocks out and expect them to find it.”

They’ve fired cracker shells near the herd, and the loud explosion works — for about a half hour.

Then they’re back, licking up the de-icer again.

“Our saving grace is that the sheep aren’t active at night,” Sterling says. “They go up into the cliffs to bed down at night. If they were down on the road at night, I don’t know if we’d have any left.”… [more]

Ninth Court Blocks Life-Saving Thinning

A Bush administration rule that allowed expedited logging on national forests saved thousands of homes during the recent wildfires in California, Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell said today.

Kimbell cited “some real vivid examples” in California where the Forest Service practice of logging without first analyzing its effect on the environment saved homes and lives.

“The hazardous fuels treatments were instrumental saving thousands of homes” in southern California during recent wildfires near San Diego and Lake Arrowhead, Kimbell said.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the practice Wednesday, saying it violated the National Environmental Policy Act. Kimbell said the administration was considering whether to appeal…

In its opinion Wednesday, the three-judge appeals court panel said the Forest Service had failed to properly analyze the rule, causing “irreparable injury” by allowing more than 1.2 million acres of national forest land to be logged and burned each year without studying the ecological impacts.

The justices ruled that the Forest Service can no longer exempt such projects from environmental analysis until the rule itself can be properly analyzed.

The ruling sided with the Sierra Club and Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign…

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., called the decision an assault on common sense and reason.

“The court’s overzealous interpretation of environmental regulation is placing lives and personal property in danger,” said Issa, adding that the appeals court “placed greater weight on the concerns of a special interest group than the lives and welfare of Americans threatened by wildfires.”

The case is Sierra Club v. Bosworth, 05-16989… [more]

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