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Bears Ears Alternative Moves Into House of Representatives as Opponents Cry Land Grab

bears_ears_sunset-tim_peterson

The Utah Public Lands Initiative Act, touted as an alternative to granting National Monument status to 1.9 million acres in Utah, does not include the two sacred peaks that give the region its name. Photo by Tim Peterson

A congressional bill touted as an alternative to the Bears Ears proposal, an intertribal request to designate nearly two million acres of land as a national monument in southeast Utah, is moving forward to the full House of Representatives.

The Utah Public Lands Initiative Act, H.R. 5780, sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and co-sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) passed 21–13 in the Republican-majority House Natural Resources Committee on September 22.

Committee Democrats, including ranking member Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, expressed several concerns with the bill, saying it did not contain a tribal consultation component or protect half a million acres identified by the tribes in their larger Bears Ears designation request.

Grijalva offered an amendment that would remove the Bears Ears National Conservation and the Indian Creek Wilderness areas from the bill. The Public Land Initiative designates about 1.4 million acres of federal land for “conservation and recreation,” according to a media release from the bill’s sponsors, as well as “exchanges and consolidates certain federal and non-federal land; and provides for economic development within the State of Utah.” Opponents say the measure would open the land to natural-resources development and give a fair amount away to unspecified private interests.

Committee Republicans rejected a total of six amendments from Democrats, including one by California Rep. Raul Ruiz that would have protected land, water, roads or other resources within the Uintah and Ouray Ute Reservation. Calling H.R. 5780 “legislation that tramples over sovereignty and self-determination” and “a modern-day Indian land grab,” Ruiz said the Ute tribe was denied an opportunity to present their concerns to the committee in a formal hearing and that the bill was fast-tracked to avoid a hearing in the Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs (IIANA) Subcommittee, where Ruiz is a ranking member.

“Without a hearing in the IIANA subcommittee we’re not able to fully discuss the true status of these lands within the Ute Indian Tribe’s reservation,” Ruiz said. “H.R. 5780 would be the first bill to take away these lands from these tribes. Attempting to justify taking away these lands based on misleading questions raised at the federal land subcommittee hearing last week is wrong and glazes over the disastrous impact on the tribe’s reservation and impact on federal Indian policy.”

Located in northeastern Utah, the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation—made up of the Whiteriver, Uncompahgre and Uintah bands—is rich in oil and gas deposits. The Bureau of Land Management currently oversees land and minerals for sections of tribal land, but Ute officials, citing that the issue of ownership has been settled by past litigation, affirmed the BLM-managed land lies within its boundaries and say the land should have been placed under trust through the Indian Reorganization Act. The tribe opposes the bill, stating it “proposes to take Indian lands and resources to fix Utah’s problems.”

Democrats during the hearing continually referred to opposition from area tribes, including the bill’s exclusion of 500,000 acres of the Bears Ears region named after two 9,000-foot twin buttes, an area residents say is sacred and contains more than 100,000 archeological sites.

RELATED: Bears Ears 1.9 Million–Acre Monument Would Be Unique Tribal-Federal Collaboration

California Republican Tim McClintock said the movement to protect Bears Ears came from outside the Four Corners area, and several tribes in the area have supported the Public Lands Initiative (PLI), including a single elected Navajo official, Republican San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally.

“The testimony that we received from the county commissioner called the claim of the Native American support for the Bears Ears monument campaign a sham,” McClintock said. “She says, ‘I’m here to help you unmask it.’ She did. I’m sorry she didn’t have more sway.”

Ruiz took issue with the characterization of Benally as a spokesperson for the entire Navajo Nation and reminded McClintock about tribal sovereignty.

“First of all, saying that one woman, this Navajo woman acting as a commissioner, using her as a token spokesperson for her tribal nation, that is wrong and not right,” Ruiz said. “The Navajo Nation under their president and their council opposes this land grab and are in solidarity with the Ute Nation. It’s their land; they can decide what to do with their land.”

The Navajo Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Uintah and Ouray Ute Indian Tribe and the Hopi and Zuñi Pueblos support the monument proposal, and created the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition last year after failed attempts to work with Utah representatives.

RELATED: Bears Ears Coalition Splits From ‘Disrespectful’ Congressional Reps

The coalition formally asked President Obama to designate 1.9 million acres in the area as a national monument under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives the President signing power to create such monuments on federal lands.

RELATED: Tribes Ask President Obama to Designate Bears Ears as National Monument

During a press tour of the region in July, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the President plans to make a decision on the issue before the end of his term.

RELATED: Sally Jewell Visits Bears Ears, Says Obama Will Decide on National Monument Before Leaving Office

The issue has deeply divided the Four Corners community. The day before the House Natural Resources hearing a group of Utah Navajos during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol opposed the monument, saying a monument designation would interfere with Bears Ears access and their traditional way of life. Six of seven Navajo communities in Utah have passed resolutions supporting a monument.

Standing with Utah lawmakers and Gov. Gary Herbert, Navajo resident Susie Philemon made a direct plea to the President, “Please do not take this land from us. Please don’t break more promises not again,” according to the Associated Press.

In a video posted on the day of the Natural Resources meeting, Rep. Bishop, who is committee chairman, said the Public Lands Initiative is a compromise after 1,200 meetings, 50 field trips, and public and private hearings.

“There has been no bill before Congress that has had this kind of transparency and this kind of scrutiny,” Bishop said. “And, in the end of it when we take it to the floor of the House, it will be a good bill that will solve the problems and provide stability moving forward into the future.”

A look at Gold Butte, Nevada, two years after the Bundy standoff

Surveyors found illegal cattle grazing, defaced petroglyphs and ditch-digging. 

    by Anna V. Smith / High Country News

In June 2015, for the first time since federal officers confronted Cliven Bundy and militia members over Bundy’s illegal grazing in 2014, the Bureau of Land Management sent a survey crew to the Gold Butte area near Bunkerville, Nevada. The three surveyors from the Great Basin Institute were there to inventory springs, cattle troughs and seeps. According to contemporary news reports, they encountered Cliven Bundy and his son, Ryan Bundy, who spoke with them briefly and asked what they were doing. Later that night, as the surveyors were getting into their tents, a vehicle lit up the camp with its headlights as it drove by, and shortly afterward, three gunshots rang out nearby. An hour later, they heard three more shots. The surveyors packed up in the dark, left and did not come back. Cliven Bundy told reporters he had not fired the shots, and the BLM kept out of Gold Butte.

Image by Friends of Gold Butte. Read more about FoGB's findings here.  

Bullet holes in petroglyphs. Image by Friends of Gold Butte. Read more about FoGB’s findings here.

Since the standoff at Bunkerville, Cliven Bundy’s roughly 1,000 cattle have remained at large. Nor has the rancher paid the more than $1 million he owes in grazing fees and fines. Cliven Bundy hasn’t escaped altogether, though: In February, he was arrested en route to support his sons’ armed occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon. He is now behind bars awaiting trial in 2017. But in other respects, Bundy got what he wanted: His cattle still graze for free on Gold Butte, just as they have done for the past two decades, despite a 1999 ban, and there was little to no federal oversight for two years.

Read the full article at High Country News

Utah Lawmakers Scheme to Fund California Coal Terminal

By Center for Biological Diversity

SALT LAKE CITY­— Republican lawmakers in Utah are attempting an eleventh-hour maneuver that would use $53 million in state sales tax money to pay for a California coal-export terminal.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams (R-Layton) has proposed using $53 million in sales-tax revenue targeted for highway improvements to fund a proposed coal terminal in Oakland. The scheme would ship millions of tons of coal from four Utah counties to be burned abroad, further deepening the climate crisis. Under legislative rules, Wednesday is the last day bills can be taken up in committee to be considered this session, which has eight scheduled days remaining.

The redevelopment of the waterfront in Oakland, California, is generating new controversy over a proposed coal export terminal. Image: "Port of Oakland 'Round Sunset" by Russel Mondy/CC BY-NC 2.0

The redevelopment of the waterfront in Oakland, California, is generating new controversy over a proposed coal export terminal. Image: “Port of Oakland ‘Round Sunset” by Russel Mondy/CC BY-NC 2.0

“This is clearly a cynical maneuver to sneak legislation into the waning days of the session,” said Wendy Park of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It makes no sense to use highway-improvement money from Utah to build a coal terminal in California. On top of that, Utah would be doubling down on coal, one of the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet and one of the primary reasons our climate’s in serious trouble.”

“With China’s coal consumption falling, and coal exports down more than 20%, this bill is a risky bet,” said Ted Zukoski, an attorney at Earthjustice.  “Apparently, one of the few places it’s legal to gamble in Utah is at the state legislature, where it’s OK to raid taxpayers’ wallets to wager on an industry in historic decline.”

Utah’s Permanent Community Impact Fund, designed to offset the effects of mining on rural communities, last year agreed to loan $53 million to four Utah coal-producing counties, which planned to invest the money in the coal terminal. The state agency asked state Attorney General Sean Reyes to review the deal’s legality. The results of the review have not been made public.

“The lack of transparency in the attorney general’s office on this review makes one wonder whether there is a legal reason that the Community Impact Board review has not been made available and could explain this last-minute attempt to shift the burden of this scheme to taxpayers,” Park said.

“It’s clear this bill is being pushed because there’s concern that the CIB loan is illegal,” said Zukoski. “The Attorney General should release his analysis now – before the bill is considered – so the public can know whether SB 246 is also vulnerable to challenge.”

In a letter to Reyes in November, environmental groups, including the Center, Sierra Club, Earthjustice and Grand Canyon Trust, argued that the $53 million loan violated federal and state laws.

The proposed coal terminal that is to be built on a former Army base in Oakland has been vigorously opposed by Mayor Libby Schaaf and many city officials, faith leaders, residents and environmental groups in the Bay Area who do not want to see trainloads of dusty coal pass through their neighborhoods. Several bills have been introduced in the California legislature to block funding for the $1.2 billion terminal project over concerns about effects of transporting coal locally and the burning of coal globally.

China announced last week that it is closing more than 1,000 coal mines due to a “price-sapping supply glut” and the government’s new determination to clean up dangerous air pollution across the country.

The Obama administration has also paused all new federal coal leasing until a comprehensive review of the federal coal-leasing program is completed. Some of the coal that would supply the Oakland terminal could come from the publicly owned coal from the Greens Hollow mine, but the president’s coal moratorium offers no guarantee that this coal will be mined, making the legislature’s gambit to bet state sales tax revenue on the coal-export terminal a very questionable move.

BLM Utah Halts Oil and Gas Lease Sale

By Center for Biological Diversity

SALT LAKE CITY— Climate activists are celebrating today as the Bureau of Land Management made a last-minute decision to halt an oil and gas lease sale owing to a “high level of public interest.”

Photo by Andres Sheikh, Center for Biological Diversity

Photo by Andres Sheikh, Center for Biological Diversity

Dozens of citizens were planning to protest the auction on Tuesday morning in Salt Lake City. Instead they will now celebrate the Bureau’s decision to postpone the auction of 73,000 acres of publicly owned oil and gas in Utah—which harbor an estimated 1.6 million to 6.6 million tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution. The planned protest had been led by Elders Rising, calling on the BLM to act to prevent catastrophic climate change and to ensure a livable future for generations to come.
The victory is the latest from a rapidly growing national movement calling on President Obama to define his climate legacy by stopping new federal fossil fuel leases on public lands and oceans—a step that would keep up to 450 billion tons of carbon pollution from escaping into the atmosphere. Similar “Keep It in the Ground” protests were held in Colorado and Wyoming in recent weeks and more are planned for upcoming lease sales in Reno, Nev., and Washington, D.C.

“The BLM knows the public is watching, and that they don’t want our lands and our climate auctioned off to the highest bidder,” said Valerie Love with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We pushed the BLM to stop this lease sale, and we won’t rest until all new fossil fuel lease sales on America’s public lands are ended.”

 

Colorado River desalination plant nearing its end

The obscure Paradox Valley Unit keeps the Colorado River’s salinity levels in check for farmers, but causes quakes upstream.

By Stephen Elliot / High Country News

The Paradox Valley in western Colorado got its name because the Dolores River bisects it, rather than running through it in the normal topographical fashion. The landscape is short on people, long on sagebrush and probably best known for the dramatic red cliffs that loom over travelers making the long drive from Telluride, Colorado, to Moab, Utah. This remote valley was formed millions of years ago, when a huge dome of salt collapsed. Now, that salt remains, buried just within the earth, and as a white, crystalline blanket atop the red soil.

And that’s a problem. The waters of the Dolores pick up that salt and carry it to the Colorado River, where it eventually degrades the water quality for downstream cities and farmers. For about a quarter century, however, an unassuming facility has been tackling this salt. Every minute, in fact, the Paradox Valley Unit sucks nearly 200 gallons of brine, which is seven times saltier than ocean water, from wells here, then shoots it 14,000 feet beneath the earth’s surface, in order to keep it out of the river. It’s perhaps the most critical piece of a massive project designed to keep salt out of the Colorado River, but it’s in trouble. The facility itself is near the end of its lifespan, and there is no obvious replacement. Not only that: The re-injection process can cause earthquakes.

Read more at High Country News

Water: Southwest Coalition Statement of Commitment and Call for Allies

By Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

            Whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting over. —Mark Twain

More than any other area of North America, the Southwest faces water shortages just as demands for water increase. These colliding forces are inevitable products of industrial civilization. Deep Green Resistance chapters across the Southwest recognize the imminent catastrophe. We view the protection of ground and surface water, and the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights to their water and landbase, as critically important. We declare water preservation and justice as our primary focus.

Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition is a confederation of DGR action groups located in the southwest region of North America. While each group focuses on ecological and social justice issues specific to their region, as a Coalition we work together to reinforce each group’s efforts. Our members include:

Deep Green Resistance Colorado Plateau

Deep Green Resistance Sonoran

Deep Green Resistance Colorado

Deep Green Resistance Great Basin

Deep Green Resistance Chaparral

Great Basin Spring, Goshute Reservation

Great Basin Spring, Goshute Reservation

The Increasingly Arid Southwest

The region is among the driest areas in the world. The southwest receives only 5-15 inches of rainfall a year[1] and nearly all climate models predict an increase in both aridity and flooding with global warming.[2] As increasing temperatures force the jet stream further north and more surface water is evaporated (notably in desert reservoirs like Lake Powell where an average 860,000 acre-feet of water—about 8 percent of the Colorado River’s annual flow—is lost every year),[3] overall precipitation is decreasing even as summer storms paradoxically become more intense. And there is no margin of safety from which civilization can draw—the Colorado River, for example, is already fully allocated; all the water is claimed.[4]

Agriculture is far and away the largest water consumer: California’s Imperial Irrigation District consumes 3.1 million acre-feet of Colorado River water every year, compared to the rest of Southern California, which gets only 1.3 million.[5] Large amounts of water are also used for oil and gas drilling—an estimated 100,000 gallons per fracked well[6]—and coal mining and burning.

LakeMeadWaterLevel

Ken Dewey, climate.gov

The water shortage is already wreaking havoc among wildlife. In California, the drought is partially implicated in the deaths of tens of thousands of native waterfowl. As water sources dry, birds congregate around remaining oases like fountains and irrigation ditches. In such close quarters, disease spreads quickly. Other victims of water scarcity in California include scores of thousands of bark beetle-killed trees—so much so that these results “herald a region in ecological transition.”[10] Unsurprisingly, 2015 is among the worst California fire seasons ever.This year, twelve western states declared drought emergencies.[7] On April 25, 2015, the largest US reservoir, Lake Mead, dropped to an historic low of 1,080 feet. That record surpassed the previous low set last August; Mead has never been lower since it was filled in the 1930s.[8] These conditions are unlikely to improve. In spring of 2015, snowpack in the Sierra Mountains measured at just 5 percent of normal.[9]

Desperate Measures

These unprecedented changes are driving ever more desperate and costly projects, such as the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s planned multi-billion-dollar pipeline project in eastern Nevada’s and western Utah’s arid basin and range country. If completed, the project would pump billions of gallons of groundwater to Las Vegas, threatening the Goshute Indian reservation, the livelihoods of ranchers, many rare endemic species, and the land itself.[11]

A proposed California water pipeline may move as much as 7.5 million acre feet of northern California water south a year. It was just revised to include only a third of the originally planned habitat protection, re-allocating water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Situated between California’s wetter north and its dry and populous south, the delta contains one of California’s largest remaining wetlands, home of green sturgeon, steelhead, and endangered Delta smelt.[12] More extreme are plans to siphon off some of Canada’s abundant water to California.[13] As drought and demand continue their increasing arcs, however, these desperate plans for massive water transfers become more acceptable to many.

The Only Sane Response

The government-industry axis takes water from the less powerful, regardless of any natural rights such groups may have.[14] This cannot continue, not even beyond the very short term. When the unstoppable force of increasing demand for water—continuing without limit—meets the immovable object of shrinking water supplies, environmental devastation and injustice swiftly follows.

DGR Southwest Coalition supports any protective or restorative action for ground and surface water, including the removal of dams and reservoirs by any means necessary. At the same time, we advocate for and support the dismantling of the systems (capitalism specifically and industrial civilization generally) as the only strategic way to safeguard the planet, and to keep it from degrading into a barren, lifeless husk. These are daunting tasks, no doubt, even if we limit our focus to the southwest; and yet, it’s a critical calling for all of us who care for life and justice.

We are reaching out to others who also view water protection and justice as values worth fighting for. For example, preserving instream flows (what’s left in a stream channel after other allocations) and groundwater protection—from fracking, from water mining, from surface contamination. We offer whatever expertise and resources we can muster, and all the passion we have, for our landbase. We’re ready to work with those who struggle with these problems; we’re also ready to take on whatever role is necessary in support of their fights.

This fight should be shared. Please contact us so we can network with you in pursuit of water, justice, and life.

swcoalition@deepgreenresistance.org

[1] C. Daly, R.P. Neilson, and D.L. Phillips, 1994. “A statistical-topographic model for mapping climatological precipitation over mountainous terrain,” J. Appl. Meteor., 33(2), 140-158, as displayed in http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/pcpn/westus_precip.gif

[2] Melanie Lenart, “Precipitation Changes,” Southwest Climate Change Network, September 18, 2008,  http://www.southwestclimatechange.org/node/790#references

[3] “Glen Canyon Dam,” Wikipedia, accessed December 10, 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glen_Canyon_Dam. An acre-foot is about 325,853 US gallons.

[4] Brett Walton, “In Drying Colorado River Basin, Indian Tribes Are Water Dealmakers,” Circle of Blue, July 1, 2015, http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2015/world/in-drying-colorado-river-basin-indian-tribes-are-water-dealmakers/

[5] Tony Perry, “Despite drought, water flowing freely in Imperial Valley,” Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2015, http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-drought-imperial-valley-20150412-story.html

[6] Rory Carroll, “Fracking In California Used 70 Million Gallons Of Water In 2014,” Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/02/fracking-california-water_n_6997324.html

[7] Elizabeth Shogren, “Senate considers legislation to help the West store and conserve water,” High Country News, June 3, 2015, http://www.hcn.org/articles/california-farmers-fear-irrigation-water-will-go-to-salmon-instead

[8] Sarah Tory, “Canadian water for California’s drought?” High Country News, April 28, 2015, http://www.hcn.org/articles/could-canadas-water-solve-californias-drought-1

[9] Ben Goldfarb, “Fowl play: California’s drought fingered in bird deaths,” High Country News, April 2, 2015, http://www.hcn.org/articles/fowl-play-californias-drought-fingered-in-bird-deaths

[10] Keith Schneider, “California Fire Danger Mounts in Sierra Nevada Forests,” Circle of Blue, July 10, 2015, http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2015/world/as-california-drought-rebalances-sierra-forests-fire-danger-mounts/

[11] Stephen Dark, “Last Stand: Goshutes battle to save their sacred water,” Salt Lake City Weekly, May 9, 2012, http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/article-35-15894-last-stand.html?current_page=all

[12] Kate Schimel, “Gov. Brown slashes Sacramento Delta environmental protection,” High Country News, May 7, 2015, http://www.hcn.org/articles/gov-jerry-brown-slashes-delta-environmental-protection

[13] Sarah Tory, “Canadian water for California’s drought?” High Country News, April 28, 2015, http://www.hcn.org/articles/could-canadas-water-solve-californias-drought-1

[14] Ed Becenti, “Senate Bill 2109 Seeks to Extinguish Navajo and Hopi Water Rights,” Native News Network, April 4, 2012, http://www.nativenewsnetwork.com/senate-bill-2109-seeks-to-extinguish-navajo-and-hopi-water-rights.html

 

Aspen trees in La Sals stricken with leaf blight

Editor’s note: Ongoing climate change and drought due to industrial civilization are having a cumulative negative effect on aspen trees of the intermountain west.  The world we live in is changing right before our eyes.  

by Eric Trenbeath, Moab Sun News September 19, 2015

Defoliated Aspens

Blight has defoliated these aspen stands along the Geyser Pass Road in the La Sal Mountains. An estimated 80 percent of aspen stands between Utah and Montana have been impacted by a fungal disease this season. [Photo courtesy of Brian Murdock / U.S. Forest Service]

Golden quaking aspen leaves won’t be making an especially grand appearance in the La Sal Mountains this fall due to a rampant iinfection of aspen leaf blight, or Marssonina, that has left many stands wilted and defoliated.
The disease, caused by fungal pathogens, is the result of a wetter-than-average May that has allowed the fungi to grow, according to U.S. Forest Service pathologist Elizabeth Hebertson. Hebertson said the condition is widespread throughout the intermountain West from Utah to Montana, and that 80 percent of the stands she has observed are infected.

“Almost in any given year, in any location, you can probably find infected aspen,” Hebertson said. “But this year was unusually high.”

A grove of affected aspens in the La Sal Mountains. Stands along the roads to Geyser Pass and Oohwah Lake, and along the east side of the range on the flanks of South Mountain, have been particularly hard hit by leaf blight. [Photo courtesy of Brian Murdock / U.S. Forest Service]

A grove of affected aspens in the La Sal Mountains. Stands along the roads to Geyser Pass and Oohwah Lake, and along the east side of the range on the flanks of South Mountain, have been particularly hard hit by leaf blight. [Photo courtesy of Brian Murdock / U.S. Forest Service]

Manti-La Sal National Forest Moab-Monticello Ranger District Ranger Mike Diem told the Moab Sun News that we probably won’t see the same spectacular colors that we have in the past.

Stands along the roads to Geyser Pass and Oohwah Lake, and along the east side of the range on the flanks of South Mountain, have been particularly hard hit.

Diem said that under normal conditions, leaf blight isn’t a serious concern, and that affected trees should recover the following season. But, he said, prolonged drought conditions and factors associated with climate change have also likely had an effect.

“When you put it in conjunction with other stresses, it’s hard to say what the cumulative effects of something like this will be,” he said.

Diem said that aspen forests in the La Sal Mountains, as well as those in other areas of the Southwest, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and the ravages of drought.

Read the rest of this article by Eric Trenbeath of Moab Sun News

Center for Biological Diversity: 2.7 Million Animals Killed by Wildlife Services in 2014

For Immediate Release, April 13, 2015

Contact: Amy Atwood, (503) 504-5660, atwood@biologicaldiversity.org

New Data: 2.7 Million Animals Killed by Rogue Federal Wildlife Program in 2014

Ignoring Calls for Reform, Agency Shoots, Poisons and
Traps Tens of thousands of Coyotes, Bears, Wolves, Foxes

WASHINGTON— New data from the highly secretive arm of the U.S. Agriculture Department known as Wildlife Services reveals it killed more than 2.7 million animals during fiscal year 2014, including wolves, coyotes, bears, mountain lions, beavers, foxes, eagles and other animals deemed pests by powerful agricultural, livestock and other special interests.

Despite increasing calls for reform after the program killed more than 4 million animals in 2013, the latest kill report indicates the reckless slaughter of wildlife continues, including 322 gray wolves, 61,702 coyotes, 580 black bears, 305 mountain lions, 796 bobcats, 454 river otters, 2,930 foxes, three bald eagles, five golden eagles and 22,496 beavers. The program also killed 15,698 black-tailed prairie dogs and destroyed more than 33,309 of their dens.

Coyote snared by Wildlife Services in Nevada. Photo by Sacramento Bee.

Coyote snared by Wildlife Services in Nevada. Photo by Sacramento Bee.

“It’s sickening to see these staggering numbers and to know that so many of these animals were cut down by aerial snipers, deadly poisons and traps,” said Amy Atwood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These acts of brutality are carried out every day, robbing our landscapes of bears, wolves, coyotes and other animals that deserve far better. Wildlife Services does its dirty work far from public view and clearly has no interest in cleaning up its act.”

Agency insiders have revealed that the agency kills many more animals than it reports.

Many animals – especially wolves, coyotes and prairie dogs – were targeted and killed on behalf of livestock grazers or other powerful agricultural interests. Wildlife Services does not reveal how many animals were wounded or injured, but not killed.

The new data also show that hundreds animals were killed unintentionally including 390 river otters, as well as hundreds of badgers, black bears, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, jackrabbits, muskrats, raccoons, skunks, opossums, porcupines and 16 pet dogs.

The data show that the federal program has refused to substantially slow its killing despite a growing public outcry, an ongoing investigation by the Agriculture Department’s inspector general, and calls for reform by scientists, members of Congress and nongovernmental organizations.

“Wildlife Services continues to thumb its nose at the growing number of Americans demanding an end to business as usual,” said Atwood. “This appalling and completely unnecessary extermination of American wildlife must stop.”

Just since 1996 Wildlife Services has shot, poisoned and strangled by snare more than 27 million native animals.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Ecowatch: Utah Oil Boomtown Hostile to Midwife’s Concern Over Skyrocketing Infant Deaths

By , originally appearing on Ecowatch

When a polluting industry creates jobs and economic activity, especially in the very poor areas where these industries often land, there’s a tendency of citizens to want to deny any impact on its health or environment. Such a clash of interests has reached a sad impasse in a Utah oil boom town where some citizens are scapegoating a midwife who is raising questions about a spate of infant deaths.

UintahBasin
The ozone levels in the Uintah Valley have been found to be as high as in Los Angeles, thanks to oil and gas operations. Photo credit: Scott Sandberg/NOAA

A heartbreaking story in the Los Angeles Times tells about 20-year midwife Donna Young, who noticed what she thought was an exceptional number of gravestones for infants at the local cemetery in Vernal, Utah.  She wondered if there could be a connection to the oil industry, which underpins the area’s economy and provides about half the town’s annual budget.

A state investigation is underway, but in the meantime, area residents—even mothers of some of the deceased infants—are already angrily denying the connection and demonizing Young for asking questions, reports the L.A. Times. She’s gotten threatening calls, been attacked on local talk radio and online, and even found rat poison in the animal feed on her ranch, exposing the fear, anger and denial some people feel when fossil fuel industries are the linchpin of an economy. As Vernal’s Mayor Sonya Norton aptly told the paper, “People get very protective of what we have here. If you challenge our livelihood, it’s considered personal. Without oil, this town would be a couple of storefronts and a gas station.”

After spotting the graves, Young dug into obituaries and cemetery records and found that the number of graves for an infant skyrocketed from one in 95 in 2010 to one in 14 in 2013. That concern led her to contact the Tri-County Healthy Department. When its director Joseph Shaffer called a public meeting and Young’s involvement in raising concerns was revealed, blowback began. And as the matter was referred up to the state, it intensified with Shaffer taking heat as well as Young. Even area doctors were angry with her. Digging around for anything that could deflect blame from the oil industry, some citizens are blaming drug use or poor nutritional habits among oil field workers.

Vernal is located in the Uintah Basin, where a recent study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revealed elevated levels of winter ozone pollution caused by the widespread oil and gas exploration and extraction activities in the region. That was alarming because ozone pollution generally spikes in warmer weather. “Chemicals released into the air by oil and gas activities can spark reactions that lead to high levels of ozone in wintertime, high enough to exceed federal health standards,” said NOAA. Ozone pollution in the Uintah Basin has been measured at levels as high as the Los Angeles basin. And ozone is known to cause respiratory problems which are most acute in the old and the very young, including infants.

Meanwhile, the number of infant deaths in 2014 dropped to just two, after 13 died in 2013, which is likely to only fuel blowback and the depiction of Young as an anti-oil demon. The Los Angeles Times quoted the George Burnett, owner of a local smoothie and juice bar, saying “Drilling brings the Earth’s energy to life” and accusing Young of “alarmist thinking that has gotten ahead of good science.”

Washington Post: Four Corners Methane Plume

By Joby Warrick, The Washington Post
CUBA, N.M. — The methane that leaks from 40,000 gas wells near this desert trading post may be colorless and odorless, but it’s not invisible. It can be seen from space.

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Satellites that sweep over energy-rich northern New Mexico can spot the gas as it escapes from drilling rigs, compressors and miles of pipeline snaking across the badlands. In the air it forms a giant plume: a permanent, Delaware-sized methane cloud, so vast that scientists questioned their own data when they first studied it three years ago. “We couldn’t be sure that the signal was real,” said NASA researcher Christian Frankenberg.

The country’s biggest methane “hot spot,” verified by NASA and University of Michigan scientists in October, is only the most dramatic example of what scientists describe as a $2 billion leak problem: the loss of methane from energy production sites across the country. When oil, gas or coal are taken from the ground, a little methane — the main ingredient in natural gas — often escapes along with it, drifting into the atmosphere, where it contributes to the warming of the Earth.

Methane accounts for about 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and the biggest single source of it — nearly 30 percent — is the oil and gas industry, government figures show. All told, oil and gas producers lose 8 million metric tons of methane a year, enough to provide power to every household in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

As early as next month, the Obama administration will announce new measures to shrink New Mexico’s methane cloud while cracking down nationally on a phenomenon that officials say erodes tax revenue and contributes to climate change. The details are not publicly known, but already a fight is shaping up between the White House and industry supporters in Congress over how intrusive the restrictions will be.

Republican leaders who will take control of the Senate next month have vowed to block measures that they say could throttle domestic energy production at a time when plummeting oil prices are cutting deeply into company profits. Industry officials say they have a strong financial incentive to curb leaks, and companies are moving rapidly to upgrade their equipment.

But environmentalists say relatively modest government restrictions on gas leaks could reap substantial rewards for taxpayers and the planet. Because methane is such a powerful greenhouse gas — with up to 80 times as much heat-trapping potency per pound as carbon dioxide over the short term — the leaks must be controlled if the United States is to have any chance of meeting its goals for cutting the emissions responsible for climate change, said David Doniger, who heads the climate policy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

“This is the most significant, most cost-effective thing the administration can do to tackle climate change pollution that it hasn’t already committed to do,” Doniger said.

Methane’s hot spot

The epicenter of New Mexico’s methane hot spot is a stretch of desert southeast of Farmington, N.M., in a hydrocarbon-soaked region known as the San Juan Basin. The land was once home to a flourishing civilization of ancient Pueblo Indians, who left behind ruins of temples and trading centers built more than 1,000 years ago. In modern times, people have been drawn to the area by vast deposits of uranium, oil, coal and natural gas.

Energy companies have been racing to snatch up new oil leases here since the start of the shale-oil boom in recent years. But long before that, the basin was known as one of the country’s most productive regions for natural gas.

The methane-rich gas is trapped in underground formations that often also contain deposits of oil or coal. Energy companies extract it by drilling wells through rock and coal and collecting the gas in tanks at the surface. The gas is transported by pipeline or truck to other facilities for processing.

But much of this gas never makes it to the market. Companies that are seeking only oil will sometimes burn off or “flare” methane gas rather than collect it. In some cases, methane is allowed to escape or “vent” into the atmosphere, or it simply seeps inadvertently from leaky pipes and scores of small processing stations linked by a spider’s web of narrow dirt roads crisscrossing the desert.

For local environmental groups, gas-flaring is a tangible reminder of the downsides of an industry that provides tens of millions of dollars to local economies as well as to federal tax coffers. Bruce Gordon, a private pilot and president of EcoFlight, an environmental group that monitors energy development on federally owned land, recently banked his single-engine Cessna over a large oil well near Lybrook, N.M. He pointed out two towers of orange flame where methane was being burned off, a practice that prevents a dangerous buildup of pressure on drilling equipment but that also wastes vast quantities of methane.

“For these companies, the gas is worthless — the oil is what they want,” Gordon said. The burning converts methane into carbon dioxide — another greenhouse gas — while contributing to the brown haze that sometimes blankets the region on sunny days, he said.

Other environmental groups have documented leaks of normally invisible methane using infrared cameras that can detect plumes of gas billowing from wells, storage tanks and compressors. All of it contributes to the giant plume “seen” by satellites over northwestern New Mexico, a gas cloud that NASA scientists say represents nearly 600,000 metric tons of wasted methane annually, or roughly enough to supply the residential energy needs of a city the size of San Francisco.

The NASA analysis estimated the average extent of the gas plume over the past decade at 2,500 square miles — and that was before the recent energy boom from shale oil and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, said Frankenberg, the NASA scientist.

Possible remedies

But spotting the leaks is far easier than fixing them. The Obama administration is reviewing a host of possible remedies that range from voluntary inducements to more costly regulations requiring oil and gas companies to install monitoring equipment and take steps to control the loss of methane at each point in the production process. The announcement of the administration’s new policies has been repeatedly delayed amid what officials describe as internal debate over the cost of competing proposals and, indeed, over whether methane should be regulated separately from the mix of other gases given off as byproducts of oil and gas drilling.

The American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade association for the oil and gas industry, contends that companies are already making progress in slashing methane waste, installing updated equipment that reduces leaks. New regulations are unnecessary and would ultimately make it harder for U.S. companies to compete, said Erik Milito, API’s director of upstream and industry operations.

“Every company is strongly incentivized to capture methane and bring it to the market,” Milito said. “We don’t need regulation to tell us to do that.”

But environmentalists point to problems with old pipelines and outdated equipment that are the source of more than 90 percent of the wasted methane, according to a report earlier this month by a consortium of five environmental organizations. The study said relatively modest curbs would result in a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions over two decades comparable to closing down 90 coal-fired power plants.

The report’s authors noted that the measures would also help protect taxpayers who, after all, are the ultimate owners of the oil and gas taken from federally owned lands, including most of New Mexico’s San Juan Basin.

“The good news is that there are simple technologies and practices that the oil and gas industry can use to substantially reduce this waste,” said Mark Brownstein, an associate vice president for climate and energy at the Environmental Defense Fund, one of the contributors to the report.

“You don’t have to be an environmentalist to know that methane leaks are simply a waste of a valuable national energy resource,” he said.