Idaho environmental pioneer Day dies

One of the last of a generation of early Idaho conservationists, Ernie Day, died Tuesday at 89.

Day’s photograph’s especially his dazzling picture of Castle Peak, helped convince Idahoans and eventually Congress to protect the White Clouds as a part of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. the campaign helped get Cecil Andrus elected in 1970 just as the nation was celebrating its first Earth Day.

Flood threat, not water shortages will drive new dam projects

Gov. Butch Otter didn’t include any money in the budget this year for studies of potential new water storage projects but the Idaho Legislature is preparing to throw its weight behind the idea.

The House Resources and Conservation Committee received Idaho Department of Water Resources director David Tuthill warmly last week as it agreed to print a joint memorial supporting his call for studies of dam projects to increase water storage. Joint Memorial 8 tells federal officials, Congress and frankly anyone who will listen that Idaho supports studies of any dam that might increase the amount of water stored in the state.

Bighorn sheep decision expected this week

Gov. Butch Otter set Feb. 15 as the deadline for The Idaho Bighorn/Domestic Sheep Working Group to get to him its Interim Policy for the Management of Bighorn Sheep and Domestic Sheep in Idaho.

The plan calls for buffer zones between domestic sheep and bighorn sheep, which by itself isn’t so controversial. But when wild sheep cross into the zone it appears Fish and Game could kill them to prevent contact with the domestic sheep, Matt Christensen reported in the Twin Falls Times-News

Climate change may be overwhelming old forest and logging debates.

Environmentalists, the timber industry and the U.S. Forest Service are fighting over new rules the agency has proposed to guide how it conducts land management planning on 193 million acres of national forests.

The agency released its latest planning rule environmental impact statement Thursday. Environmental groups quickly jumped to say it weakened protections for fish and wildlife. The had their usually strong rhetoric: "The national forest planning rules are like the Constitution for our national forests, and the Bush administration tried to throw out the Bill of Rights," said Earthjustice attorney Trent Orr.

Low federal grazing fees lie at heart of calls for reform

The federal government made its annual announcement of the fee it will charge ranchers for 2008 to graze livestock on their land. Western Watersheds Project, Jon Marvel’s group, quickly heralded the low numbers that are among its strongest case in its quest to drive livestock off of 235 million acres of public lands.

The fee is set at $1.35 per animal unit month, the amount of grass it takes to feed a cow and her calf for a month. That fee, which results from a complicated formula negotiated in the Public Rangeland Improvement Act of 1978, compares to a fee of $2.36 per AUM in 1980. That 40 percent drop compares with a 78 percent increase in grazing fees on private lands, WWP reports. The fee brings in revenues that fall short of the costs of administering grazing by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service by $115 million, according to a 2005 Government Accountability Office report.

Mining industry bypasses negotiations on groundwater pollution rules

The Idaho mining industry took the first step to ensure its mines retain the legal right to pollute the groundwater below their operations.

The industry got a bill printed Monday in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee that would clear up the industry’s current exemption from the state’s groundwater protection law. All summer the mining industry, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and environmentalists tried to negotiate rules to rewrite the state’s groundwater protection rules that include an exemption for mining activities.

Both sides say that exemption is too vague and needs to be improved. But that's where agreement ends. The state has not yet finished the rulemaking but the mining industry, which didn’t like the direction the state was going anyway, didn’t wait.

Climate change will challenge our view about what's natural

Climate change is once again challenging the very foundations of the environmental movement.

It is raising the question about what is natural and forcing the environmental community to reconsider what it values and how to protect it. High Country News explores this fascinating subject in its latest issue.

Henry David Thoreau expressed a special value for wildness in the 1850s that became one of the foundations of the modern environmental movement. “From the forest and wilderness come the tonics and barks which brace mankind,” he wrote.

Keep journalists free in our national parks

Journalists have been drawn into the debate over what is proper commerce in America’s national parks.

The debate goes back to the beginning of Yellowstone National Park. Poachers were killing thousands of elk. Visitors were carting off pieces of the travertine hot springs commercial fisheries were set up on the park’s rivers to feed visitors and surrounding communities.

Moses Harris, the first military superintendent of Yellowstone said in 1889: “if under the guise of improvement selfish interests are permitted to make merchandise of its wonders and beauties, it will eventually become a by word and reproach.” At the time many people thought Harris went too far, halting hotel construction and discouraging visitors instead of encouraging them.

Are wolves or climate change bringing back the willows?

In the wolf hearings Fish and Game held around the state, one of wolf advocates most powerful arguments for keeping the wolf population high was their assertion that it would have a positive cascading effect throughout the ecosystem.

Their argument, based on the research of two Oregon State ecologists released in 2003, is that fear of wolves is keeping elk from eating too many young trees and shrubs in the streamside zones along rivers. Robert Beschta and William Ripple , professors of forestry at Oregon State say the reintroduction of wolves has allowed willows and cottonwoods to grow back, reducing erosion, improving stream quality and encouraging the return of species from insects up to birds.

Fish and Game chief seeks public trust on wolves

You can feel the frustration between the lines of Cal Groen’s short defense of the state wolf plan.

Groen, director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, has heard people from around the nation refer to the carefully written plan as a “blueprint for slaughter.” Wolf advocates have portrayed Idahoans as bloodthirsty killers, just waiting for permission to wipe out the invaders from the North.

Fish and Game managers like Groen can’t help but take this criticism personally. They have devoted their lives, their careers and their reputations on protecting and managing wildlife. So this month he wrote a column he including in the agency's press release packet this week.

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