Broken leg may keep blogger out of action

I’m late filing my blog today because I’m preparing for surgery on my ankle following breaking my leg playing hockey Sunday. You probably won't see many stories from me in the paper this week.

I have played organized hockey on and off since 1972 and never had a serious injury. I have been knocked out a few times, I’ve had stitches from a stick to the face and I’ve taken pucks to the face and other painful places more times than I can count.

But Sunday my leg got tangled up when I collided with an opposing player at Idaho IceWorld, the indoor rink that J.R. Simplot built for us, causing a bone to break and several ligament tears in the ankle. At 54, I’m thinking I’ve pushed my luck pretty far. I am at least thinking hanging up my skates, which is what my wife has wanted me to do for two years (after a teammate had a compound fracture in a playoff game.)

Gould, Hardesty help grass farmers and environmentalists cut deal

The Otter administration pulled off a major coup last week when bluegrass farmers and environmentalists cit a deal that could allow field-burning again as early as this summer and will ensure that air quality is protected.

There are still a lot of hoops that the state has to jump through before field burning will again be allowed. A year ago, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of Safe Air For Everybody, a Sandpoint physicians group, that the EPA improperly approved the state’s field-burning program and farmers were forced to quit burning.

But Celia Gould, Idaho Agriculture Chief and Toni Hardesty, Administrator of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, brought the two sides into mediation with Duke University professor Francis McGovern, the man who negotiated the Nez Perce water rights agreement.

Obama opposes House-passed 1872 Mining Act reform bill

The Nevada Democratic caucus Jan. 19 was supposed to be the place that western issues made their way into the presidential campaign.

But with candidates now engaged in a national campaign, its doubtful regional issues will get much attention.

In the Nevada debate last year there was little discussion of issues like energy development, water and public lands. The big news this week was that the 460,000-member casino workers union backed Barack Obama.

But one issue big public land issue has come up, mining. Obama said in November that he opposed the mining reform bill sponsored by West Virginia Democrat Rep. Nick Rahall. Hillary Clinton has refused to say what her position is and John Edwards has said Rahall’s royalty is too high and he would seek a compromise.

Blixseth prepares to sell crown jewel retreat for the rich

When Tim Blixseth bought the 179,000 acres of former Boise Cascade lands across south central Idaho and a penthouse at the Grove Hotel, it appeared that Idaho would become one of the bases for the rags-to-riches timber tycoon.

But last year he and his wife Edra’s divorce turned sour and they have been selling off assets to divide their treasure. Last year it was the Idaho timber land, which also includes some prime development lands near McCall.

Now they announced they are selling off their best known asset, the Yellowstone Club near Big Sky, Montana. Blixseth is in negotiations with a Boston real estate concern, Crossharbor Capital to sell the exclusive ski resort for between $400 million and $600 million.

Bighorn-domestic sheep conflict could blow up soon

One of the hottest wildlife issues this winter could be about bighorn sheep. You might remember last spring when U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ordered ranchers to move their sheep off of five allotments on the Payette National Forest in Hells Canyon to protect bighorns.

He ordered ranchers to keep their sheep off of another allotment on the Nez Perce Forest in November for the same reason. That has angered the sheep ranching community and headed it toward a political show-down with sportsmen and environmentalists.

Scientists have long believed that domestic sheep are responsible for infecting bighorn sheep with an pneumonia-like disease that can be quite devastating to bighorn populations. There is strong evidence that shows the wild sheep get sick and often die when the two species mix.

Otter funds science for water so managers can make tough decisions

Gov. Butch Otter’s proposal to put $20 million aside for aquifer monitoring and planning, fits into his theme this year of maintaining and upgrading the state’s infrastructure.

Without the highly complex scientific models that the University of Idaho and others have developed to show how water moves through the system, managers can’t defend the tough decisions they have to make. The Eastern Snake Plain model, which has been improved constantly since first developed in the 1970s, now has enough credibility that groundwater users and surface water users have at least a starting point from which to debate ownership.

Is a new Teton Dam on Butch Otter's wish list?

Gov. Butch Otter has long advocated additional storage as a solution to Idaho water problems. We will learn today if he plans to spend state money to begin that process.

Dan Popkey and Heath Druzin asked Otter last month whether he planned to propose a study of rebuilding the Teton Dam. Otter’s reply was quick and succinct: “no comment.”

For those of you too young to remember, the Bureau of Reclamation built the Teton Dam on the Teton River in the 1970s. It was completed in 1976 and failed as it filled June 5. When the dam finally gave, a wall of water, 300,000 acre feet rolled across eastern Idaho through the towns of Teton, Newdale, Sugar City and Rexburg.

Nuclear plant proposal triggers worries about growth

Western Idahoans told their lawmakers at recent town meetings in Payette and Weiser they were concerned about what a proposed nuclear power plant near Payette would mean to their quality of life.

House Speaker Lawerence Denney of Midvale said he got a lot of questions and expressions of worry about the plant at the town meetings but for the most part the issue wasn’t about nuclear power. Instead residents of this region, which likes to call itself the western Treasure Valley, feared the socio-economic impacts of a large industrial plant sited in their rural community.

I heard much the same message at the meeting MidAmerican Nuclear Energy Co. held before Christmas in Payette. That’s not to play down the impact of nuclear fears regionally and statewide on the future of the proposed plant, eventually those will be huge.

Langhorst wants to ensure irrigation districts treat urban voters fairly

Boise Valley irrigation districts’ have gotten the negative attention of urban and suburban residents lately by claiming the water that keeps the Boise River running in the winter and by a homeowner’s tax dispute over $4.78.

Before these two stories most people hardly knew these governments who tax and can bond existed. Many people pay the tax but don't get any water because developers didn't hook into the historic canal system to water lawns.

Now one urban lawmaker want to make sure the boards of these governmental entities are accountable to their increasingly urban customers. Boise Democratic Rep. David Langhorst plans to introduce legislation that would require that each voter had an equal vote in irrigation district elections.

Wolf delisting tests the quality of media on polarized issues

The next three months will bring the wolf debate to a boil.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to delist Rocky Mountain wolves in late March. The decision should mark the the end of one major conservation success story and the beginning of a new chapter in wildlife management for Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. But instead, it will trigger the latest in a long history of polarized activism over a species treated more as an icon than an animal.

Groups on both sides of the issue don't like where wolf management is heading. It's relatively easy to raise funds from people casually involved from both sides of the debate, both wolf lovers and hunters.

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