In Praise of Warriors, Not War

Reprinted from sierravoices.blogspot.com May 25, 2009

On this Memorial Day, I’d like to speak a few words in support of warriors, and in opposition to war.

Despite reaching my formative young adulthood during the anti-war 1960s, and despite my minor experience with something remotely similar to combat – in the National Guard at the Watts riots in August of 1965, and at Berkeley’s People’s Park in May of 1969 – it occurred to me sometime in the early 1990s that I knew almost nothing about the “Good War” that our father’s fought, that left us with a world mostly free.

I studied American history in college, and read good histories such as William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, but aside from reading Shirer’s reporting from Berlin in the early years of the war, I had never listened to the voices of those who experienced the frontlines of World War II (and Korea soon after) first-hand.

So I began to read many personal accounts of those wars, and the harrowing reports which haunt me still are – particularly – E.B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, Farley Mowat’s And No Birds Sang, and a report I’ll never forget, by U.S. Army historian S.L.A. Marshall in a collection I can no longer locate, about the hand-to-hand combat of an American squad against some Chinese infantry during the Korean War.

This effort to study war by reading first-hand accounts and by viewing documentaries and films on the subject serves as my poor but only possible substitute for the actual experience of combat. Every citizen who understands that some wars are unavoidable and necessary owes this same effort – to understand what combat really is – to those whom he may ask to risk their lives.

E.B. Sledge described the horror on the island of Peleliu in the Pacific, digging in to fight the Japanese, who were holed-up in caves. By the time he arrived on that island there had already been so much close fighting that he could find no place to sink his spade to dig a foxhole where there weren’t chunks of human flesh mixed up like rotting compost in the loose soil. If that isn’t an image of Hell, I don’t know what is.

Farley Mowat described his upbringing in a patriotic Canadian family, and how the old stories of war filled him with a keen desire to find glory in combat, but not necessarily in the infantry (where he ended up). He finally found combat in the campaign to force the Nazis out of Italy. His vivid description of the savagery of war includes the awful poetic detail of his title, “… and no birds sang.”

S.L.A. Marshall told the story of an American squad that attacked a hill held by the Chinese in Korea, and despite heavy losses – with only three surviving the fight – they prevailed, killing all of the enemy. But the hand-to-hand combat with bayonets had so unleashed the blood-lust of the Americans that – with no more enemies to kill – they went on and slaughtered a small herd of horses that the Chinese had corralled there.

The power of this account – and the sadness of it – is in the awful realization that each of us is capable of such blood lust, given the same circumstance.

I take it as axiomatic that in war, all sides always lose some portion of their humanity in the prosecution of the struggle, at least for a time.

It also seems to be axiomatic that those who are least experienced in war are often the most gung-ho to start it, and those who are most experienced – like Eisenhower and Colin Powell – are most reluctant to undertake it lightly.

Then there’s the lethal shallowness of a man who experienced combat, but whose motives for taking us to war – when he became president – may have included personal insecurity. There have been plausible suggestions that George Herbert Walker Bush undertook the invasion of Panama in part to solve the problem of his “wimp image.”

We honor the sacrifice of our soldiers and remember them on days like this not because war is glorious and just, but precisely because – whether just or unjust, whether noble or ignoble — it is always Hell, and they have gone into Hell for our sake.

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Western Showdown: Saving the Klamath

Published by Yes! Magazine May 27, 2010

How the tribes of the Klamath River stood up for the salmon—and won.

by Alice Outwater

It was a dramatic scene in a classic Western water war: Thousands of dead fish, washed up on the shores of the Klamath River. A move meant to help farmers—using Klamath water to irrigate crops—triggered a loss for Indian tribes and the salmon.

That was five years ago, when a detente in the battle was nowhere in sight.

As with many Western rivers, irrigators own nearly all of the water in the Klamath. The river, which straddles the border between Oregon and California, irrigates fields and generates electricity, but it also serves as fish habitat.

The Klamath River was once the third largest salmon fishery on the West Coast, producing roughly a million salmon a year. The upper reaches of the Klamath were originally enormous wetlands and lakes that served as a stopover for millions of waterfowl migrating along the Pacific Flyway, a nursery for tens of millions of fish, and home to two unique species of suckers.

The conflict between Klamath-area farmers and fishermen has lasted for decades, complete with lawsuits and public relations campaigns, a disastrous political intervention, and a thrilling finale. But this year, after 15 years of meetings, an agreement was forged to allow the parties to share water; a related agreement calls for removing four dams. The linchpin? The Yurok and Klamath tribes.

Indian treaties from the 19th century give the Yurok and Klamath the right to speak for the salmon. Through these treaties, the tribes established the salmon’s right to water and required that the river be managed with the health of migrating salmon in mind. Since Indian treaty rights predate the farmers’ rights, salmon have priority over crops.

In 1994, the Yurok formed a fisheries program to develop the legal, political, and biological expertise to restore the Klamath Basin. “We’re salmon people,” says Yurok tribal member Troy Fletcher. “The existence of the Yurok people depends on the health of the Klamath and its fisheries. This is something the creator provided the tribe, and it is the responsibility of the tribe to have healthy fisheries.”

But first, a deal had to be made.

How the Water Was Won

Water is scarce in most Western states, and the laws governing its use date all the way back to the mining days of the 1800s, when mine owners diverted the high mountain streams to power mills that crushed ore; open-pit miners also used water to separate gold from gravel. But rather than allow one person to divert the entire stream, individual mining camps divided the flow into water rights based on the location of the diversion, the amount of water taken, and the date the right was established. Water courts, set up shortly after Western territories became states, enforced these rules. A water right keeps its original date no matter how many times it’s bought and sold; earlier rights have priority.

When ranchers and farmers moved in, salable water rights worked as a way to cope with low rainfall. Farmers without a stream running through their property, for example, could buy rights to use water from a neighbor’s stream. Ranchers and farmers own between

75 percent and 95 percent of the surface flow in Western states, while government-funded dams have helped provide water for holders of more recent water rights—cities. By the 1960s, most Western rivers were dammed, and irrigators with frontier-era water rights drained many rivers. Since then, fish populations have crashed, and rivers have become battlegrounds for fishermen, farmers, ranchers, tribes, utilities, businesses, environmentalists, and recreationists.

With modern irrigation systems, farmers can cultivate the same acreage using much less water. But according to mining-era laws, you lose rights to water you don’t use. So across the West, farmers grow wet-weather crops on arid land with inefficient irrigation methods in order to avoid losing their water rights. Meanwhile, cities run dry. In a reasonable world, some of a river’s flow would be diverted for agriculture, and some of the flow would remain in the river to nurture the fish. But when water is privately owned, those management decisions are more difficult. Take the Klamath Basin, where farmers own 93 percent of the surface water.

Starting in 1905, the federal government began draining much of the Klamath Basin wetlands and lakes for farmland. Today, farmers there cultivate about 500,000 acres of irrigated cropland adjacent to six national wildlife refuges, which serve as a stopover for migratory birds and shelter the largest wintering population of bald eagles in the contiguous United States. The Bureau of Reclamation built two dams on the Klamath and dammed many of its tributaries, while utilities built three others downstream. Upstream farmers divert most of the water to irrigate crops, and manure and fertilizers contaminate the river’s reduced flow. Dams slow the flow, the water heats up, and pollutants breed algae that color the river a bright pea green every summer. The river is so badly damaged that the Klamath’s coho salmon face extinction.

Enter the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Native American treaty rights. The ESA protects the habitat that endangered plants and animals need to survive. The Lost River sucker and the shortnose sucker, two species of formerly plentiful lake fish in the Klamath Basin, were listed as endangered in 1988; the Klamath coho salmon was listed in 1997. According to the ESA, these fish have the right to survive and need water for habitat. And by treaty, the Yurok and Klamath tribes have the right to catch them. When the Yurok treaty was ratified in 1855, the tribe retained its right to fish for salmon. In 1864, the Klamath tribe was granted a federally reserved fishing right. Since water rights are based on prior appropriation, the Indian treaty rights to fish trump the farmers’ rights to irrigate.

During the drought of 1992, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shut off the irrigation water from Clear Lake to protect endangered suckers and was sued by a group of farmers and ranchers from the Langell Valley. More lawsuits followed.

In 1995, U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., assembled the Klamath Basin stakeholders and asked them to resolve the water impasse. Local businesses, farmers, ranchers, utilities, conservation groups, the commercial fishing industry, and the tribes were represented in the working group, and Hatfield promised that if they came up with a solution, he’d make it happen. He retired two years later, but the meetings continued.

In 2001, the Klamath Basin received half its normal rainfall, and a group of environmentalists and the fisheries industry sued the Bureau of Reclamation to limit water deliveries to farmers. Scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service concurred, and the Bureau of Reclamation cut off water to the 1,200 farmers in the Klamath’s upper basin. The farmers lost their crops, for which the government compensated them $36 million.

The next year was dry as well but the farmers had no intention of losing their water a second time. The Klamath Bucket Brigade, a grassroots organization of farmers, had a message for Washington, D.C., from rural America: They claimed that the Endangered Species Act threatens the nation’s economic health, and rural property rights were being abused. Their plight struck a chord with the Bush administration, and the irrigators got their full measure of water in 2002. Interior Secretary Gale Norton flew in to open the ditch gates herself. By the end of the summer, low water and high temperatures triggered a bacterial infection that left at least 34,000 dead salmon rotting in the Klamath River.

The waste of those tens of thousands of chinook salmon—some of the last Klamath salmon on Earth—shocked all the parties involved into recognizing that even though farmers held rights, what was happening was wrong.

Everyone was “totally frustrated,” said Fletcher, who helped negotiate the agreement for the Yurok. “They were broke, and beat up by Congress and the administration. All of the parties tried litigation. All tried political routes. And in the end, it turns out that the communities in the basin are the ones who know best how to solve the problems they’re faced with.”

On Feb. 18, 2010, all 28 parties signed an agreement to restore the Klamath Basin. “The Klamath River, which for years was synonymous with controversy, is now a stunning example of how cooperation and partnership can resolve difficult conflicts,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in announcing the agreement. The 369-page plan includes habitat restoration and flow management. Water is provided for agriculture, but the levees around the lakes will be breached, wetlands restored, and, according to the companion agreement, four dams removed to allow salmon access to hundreds of miles of spawning streams while improving water quality.

The plans amount to a compromise; no interest group got all it wanted. And federal money still must be set aside.

It’s a daunting task, Fletcher said. “Now we have to make it happen.”

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons License

Alice Outwater wrote this article for Water Solutions, the Summer 2010 issue of YES! Magazine. Alice is a writer based in Durango, Colo. She is the author of Water: A Natural History and co-author of The Cartoon Guide to the Environment.

Interested?

A summary of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement is available from the Yurok Tribe: www.yuroktribe.org/documents/summaryofproposedKlamathBasinRestorationAgreement.pdf

I’m Accused of Missing the Big Picture

I made a few comments this morning behind Russ Steele’s blog posting, Let’s hope the BOS has more brains and …….. than the Planning Commission.” In my remarks, I defended as rational and fact-based the Planning Commission’s decision two days ago to deny “vested right to mine” to Blue Lead LLC.

I made my comments primarily in response to this assertion by another commenter to Russ’s post:

… it is apparent that there are people amongst us that care very little about “sustainability” of our community but instead push their personal agendas. Nevada County has lost a significant business tax base in the past 5 years due to narcissistic souls hell bent on their strange agendas and beliefs. Such individual extremism has a drastic and long lasting impact on a community.

From the allusion to “sustainability,” I assume the commenter was saying that environmentalists were the driving force behind the Planning Commission’s decision, and that they are all a bunch of narcissists.

After I pointed out that the case for vesting was weak and primarily opposed by Blue Lead’s neighbors, whose own property rights were being trampled, and invited  the participants in Russ Steele’s blog to check the facts for themselves by reading the copious documentation publicly available on the county website (and I cited the appropriate link), I was politely told:

Don, you’re looking through the wrong end of the binoculars and missing the point. It’s the bigger picture.

Now this is definitely the sort of criticism I pay attention to, because it can be very constructive when it’s true. I love the big picture, and I don’t mind having it pointed out to me when I’ve missed it.

So I went back through Russ Steele’s blog posting and tried to find that bigger picture. I’m not sure, but I think most of the participants would probably accept these other comments there as expressing the bigger picture:

Yes, it is a property and resource rights issue and frankly they should be able to do what they want within guidelines of the law.

… these issues always remind me of people that come in and buy a house next to – a race track – outdoor concert venue – airport, then complain about the noise.

… Maybe the problem up there is you have too many people that are independently wealthy and would just as soon have everybody else move away.

Aside from the manner in which these comments are obviously unconnected to the actual facts of the case, which copiously document the absence of evidence for vesting and the egregious disregard of Blue Lead for the property rights of its neighbors, some of whom have been there over forty years, some of whom are pro-mine, most of whom are not affluent and are not especially environmentalists, and aside from the sad but telling fact that all this documentation is apparently too much hard work to actually look at for many of the Planning Commission critics, there still does remain the interesting question:

What exactly is the big picture?

To boil it down, it sounds as though the Planning Commission critics see the big picture as the primacy of “property and resource rights.” Yes, the commenter did say “within guidelines of the law,” but the rhetoric is usually heavily weighted in favor of the property owner, and not much focused on the interests of others or of the community at large.

I see it a bit differently and suggest that my big picture is even bigger than their big picture.

Here’s my big picture:

DON’S BIG PICTURE

No right is absolute. No right has primacy over all others.  Every right operates somewhat uneasily and conditionally within the entire sphere of individual rights enjoyed by all members of the community.

For instance, if I want to start a business on my property, I don’t automatically thereby have the right to cut down my neighbors trees or widen roads on his property without his permission. So, my right to pursue my business activity is limited somewhat by my obligation to respect the rights of others.

All rights have this quality of “constraint by other rights.”

Government regulations (“guidelines of the law”) exist to keep peace within this sphere of individual rights. Without these guidelines, lawlessness would reign (which was somewhat the case early in our Gold Rush history, and appears to be the sensibility of a minority of those who wish to pursue mining now).

If there’s a bigger relevant picture than this, I’ll gladly accept a correction from anyone.

By the way, within the context of this sphere of individual rights, I would now define the narcissist as one who is so focused on the pursuit of his own self-interest that he believes his own right to profit is unconstrained and trumphs the  rights of everyone else in his community.

The Little Town That Sent a Corporation Packing

Published by Yes! Magazine May 27, 2010

Why controlling your water supply is so important

by Tara Lohan

Click to enlarge

In 2008, weeks after communities all over the United States celebrated the Fourth of July, the tiny town of Felton, Calif., marked its own holiday: Water Independence Day. With barbecue, music, and dancing, residents marked the end of Felton’s six-year battle to gain control of its water system. The fight, like the festivities, was a grassroots effort. For when a large, private corporation bought Felton’s water utility and immediately raised rates, residents organized, leading what was ultimately a successful campaign for public ownership and inspiring other communities nationwide.

Like many other communities with a privately controlled water system, Felton quickly experienced some of the drawbacks: skyrocketing rates, and little public recourse. But officials of some cash-strapped towns seek privatization because they believe a corporation will help lift their burden. Across the country, public water systems require massive repairs to deteriorating infrastructure, at an estimated annual cost of about $17 billion over the next 20 years. Our aging water mains result in some 240,000 breaks a year, and more than a trillion gallons of wastewater spill into our waterways annually. Federal funds typically help communities pay the repair bills, but escalating costs have prompted many cities to look for alternatives.

Some local leaders, eager for financial help, have turned to private companies to buy their utilities or lease them—arrangements known as public-private partnerships. Companies promise system improvements, greater efficiency, and money up front, but increasing evidence suggests that cities are getting the raw end of such deals: Privatization jeopardizes public supply and access to water and drives up costs for citizens.

“Providing clean, accessible, affordable water is not only the most basic of all government services, but throughout history, control of water has defined the power structure of societies,” Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, filmmakers who documented the effort of Stockton, Calif., to fight privatization, wrote in the book Water Consciousness. “If we lose control of our water, what do we as citizens really control through our votes, and what does democracy mean?”

Communities Fight Back

A former logging town in the redwood hills above Santa Cruz, Calif., Felton had a privately run water system, a holdout since privatization fell out of favor in the late 19th century. It hadn’t been much of an issue until 2002, when Citizen Utilities, the small company that ran the water system, was acquired by American Water Works Co. Its subsidiary, California-American Water (Cal-Am), took over Felton’s water utility. American Water was acquired shortly afterward by London-based Thames Water.

In November 2002, Cal-Am proposed a 74 percent rate increase over three years, subject to approval by the California Public Utilities Commission. Felton residents formed Friends of Locally Owned Water (FLOW), and with legal help from Santa Cruz County, fought the rate increase, which the utilities commission knocked down to 44 percent. But the threat of escalating costs loomed, so FLOW began working on a plan to buy the water system and turn it over to the nearby San Lorenzo Valley Water District (SLVWD), a public utility. By 2005, FLOW had enlisted the help of Food & Water Watch and was working on a ballot initiative to raise the estimated $11 million to buy the system from Cal-Am/RWE.

Jim Graham of FLOW said the group sent volunteers door to door three times throughout the community to educate residents about privatization and the public ownership campaign. That meant urging voters to accept a property-tax increase of up to $600 a year for 30 years.

Their efforts were successful, and the ballot initiative won with nearly 75 percent of the vote. SLVWD then proposed to buy the water system for $7.6 million, but Cal-Am/RWE refused to sell. So SLVWD pursued eminent domain to force a buyout. Just before the case was to go to jury trial, the company settled with SLVWD. Today, with Felton’s water back in the hands of a public utility, the average resident’s bill has dropped by at least 50 percent. FLOW has calculated that even with the tax increase, most residents are already saving as much as $400 per year.

A Private Matter

In recent decades, the government’s role in water service has changed. Three years before Reagan took office, 78 percent of money for new water projects came from the federal government. Nearly 30 years later, the proportion has fallen to 3 percent. Then the Clinton administration made several tax-law changes that made it easier for cities to privatize local water and sewer systems and for foreign companies to enter the market, explained Emily Wurth, water program manager for Food & Water Watch.

Food

Water Watch has studied the effects of water-system privatization and has helped Felton and other communities turn—or return—to public control. In a 2009 report that examined nearly 5,000 water utilities and 1,900 sewer utilities, the organization found that the private entities—which have a fiduciary obligation to shareholders—charge up to 80 percent more for water and 100 percent more for sewer services. Privately owned utilities cost more to operate, too: They typically have to pay income and property taxes, while public utilities are exempt. In all, according to Food & Water Watch, operation and maintenance costs of privatized water systems can spike 20 to 30 percent, when dividends, taxes, and profits are factored in. It follows that corporations make more money if more water is used; conservation and repairs, then, can fall off the priority list. When Stockton, Calif., privatized its wastewater system, higher-than-promised rate hikes, poor maintenance, and sewage overflows followed. When 8 million gallons discharged into the San Joaquin River, the spill went unnoticed for 10 hours and unreported to the public for three days.

According to a 2002 Century Foundation survey of 245 municipalities, 73 percent of them ended private water contracts because of poor service. In Lee County, Fla., officials realized that after five years of control by Severn Trent Services, a British multinational corporation, the county needed $8 million to repair improperly maintained systems, which could have jeopardized environmental and public health. The county lost money on the deal and didn’t renew the five-year contract once it ended. Other cities that privatized sewer systems—including Woonsocket, R.I., and Wilmington, Del.—have discovered chronic pollution problems.

Meanwhile, some cities turn to water-system leases. But under a lease, the city retains control of the infrastructure, so the corporation has even less incentive to perform proper maintenance. If spills or overflows result in environmental damage, it is often the municipality that has to pick up the tab on any fines.

In 2008, the city of Milwaukee was looking for solutions to an impending $100 million shortfall when the city’s comptroller recommended a lease of the Milwaukee Water Works. He hoped a private company would pay the city $500 million for the right to lease the utility for 99 years. “The driving reason wasn’t that our water system was falling apart or in need of maintenance,” said Deputy Comptroller Mike Daun. “We wanted a public-private partnership that would result in a very large transfer of funds to the city up front, which we’d use to create an endowment and address the deficit.”

But not everyone shared that vision. Research by Food & Water Watch revealed that for every dollar the city received from the lease, residents would end up paying $1.60 to $5.40.The organization aided a grassroots effort in Milwaukee that helped defeat the privatization plan, at least for now.

Cities such as Chicago continue to contemplate privatization, while many others are reverting to public control or fighting privatization at the outset.

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, says that her organization advises communities to focus on who is able to stop the privatization threat, usually the city council or water board. That means ­doorbelling, working with the media, releasing reports that challenge the company’s claims, and working closely with labor groups and community groups. If cities need to make improvements to ailing systems, municipal bonds are usually a cheaper option than private financing, and they can seek public-public partnerships (PUPs), an alternative to public-private

partnerships. PUPs, according to the Transnational Institute, are “a collaboration between two or more public authorities or organizations based on solidarity to improve the capacity and effectiveness of one partner in providing public water or sanitation services.” Essentially those communities with well-run systems offer their expertise to managers of utilities in need of some help.

But for many, the issue of water privatization isn’t just about money. Felton FLOW member Barbara Sprenger said she was motivated to act primarily “because it was water.” Private ownership, she said, meant extra costs without the necessary monitoring and transparency.

“The people on our water board manage our water as part of a watershed,” she said. “They care, and they are local—we see them at the grocery store. You really have to have local control over something so vital.”

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons License

Tara Lohan wrote this article for  Water Solutions , the Summer 2010 issue of YES! Magazine. Tara is senior editor at AlterNet and editor of Water Consciousness.

Interested?

County Planning Commission Denies Vested Rights to Blue Lead

The Nevada County Planning Commission, in a stunning 180 degree reversal over their earlier intention to approve vesting, tonight voted unanimously to deny Blue Lead Mine the vested right to mine.

They were no doubt influenced by the new revelation by Dave Comstock that Lyle White, on whom Blue Lead was pinning its hopes for vesting because he was thought to be a serious miner on the Blue Lead property in 1954, was in fact working full-time as a typesetter for The Union newspaper during the fifties, and thus could not have been conducting mining at Blue Lead in any serious manner.

Most of the commissioners could not get over that fact, and seemed seriously shaken from their earlier determinaton to grant the right.

When I asked Dave Comstock before the meeting what his source was for that new revelation, he told me it was Bob Wyckoff.

In his comments to the Commission, Blue Lead owner, Robert White (no relation to Lyle White) angrily accused Dave Comstock of “having an agenda.”

In several discussions I’ve had with Dave Comstock about this whole process, I know for certain that his only agenda was to get people to understand the truth about Lyle White, who was not a miner, after all, but a typesetter by profession and historian by avocation (for the love of it). Comstock knew Lyle White personally and clearly respected him.

Blue Lead has the right to appeal the decision to the County Board of Supervisors. Most likely, though, they will give up the quest for vested right and resume their pursuit of an ordinary use permit to mine.

We’ll report it here if such an appeal occurs.

Attacks on Federal Forest and Park Staff Reach All-Time High

PEER Press Release
Incidents More than Triple in National Parks, Forest Violence Up a Third in 2009

Washington, DC – Attacks and threats against U.S. Forest Service employees and National Park Service rangers reached an all-time record in 2009, according to agency incident reports released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  This spike in violent incidents reflects growing danger to both staff and visitors on federal lands

Agency incident reports, obtained by PEER through the Freedom of Information Act, document increasing lawlessness in remote public lands where people go to get away from urban ills:

The National Park Service (NPS) recorded 158 attacks or threats on its law enforcement rangers, more than triple the 36 such incidents it reported for 2008 and nearly 50% above its previous record year of 2004.  These numbers are understated, however, as the agency only records assaults against its law enforcement staff and not those directed against other workers and these numbers do not include assaults on the U.S. Park Police, an urban police force largely based in D.C;

The U.S. Forest Service logged 427 violent incidents in 2009, a 33% jump from the year before and the greatest number ever recorded.  This is also the fourth straight annual increase; and

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management reported only a slight increase in incidents but surveys of its law enforcement rangers by PEER indicate a strong sentiment that the influx of violent elements with off-road vehicles (ORVs) presents a new major threat on recreational desert lands.

Incidents ranged from murders to sexual assaults to break-ins of government buildings.  Drugs and alcohol appeared to play a role in a large number of incidents.  These figures do not reflect the effects of liberalized firearm rules in national parks and refuges which went into effect earlier this year.

These numbers suggest that the challenges facing national park and forest workers have never been greater,” said PEER Staff Counsel Christine Erickson who obtained and compiled the agency incident reports.  “They say ‘it’s not easy being green’ but deteriorating public treatment of federal land management staff make that statement truer today than ever before.”

PEER has maintained a database of incidents against federal resource employees since the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.  The U.S. Justice Department stopped tracking assaults on federal employees back in 2002, after it persuaded Congress to repeal a reporting requirement for such incidents.

We remain mystified that the Justice Department does not deem attacks against federal workers a high enough priority to even monitor,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that DOJ does have a program devoted to animal rights groups but no program on threats against environmental workers.  “Our concern is that surging anti-government rhetoric may be playing a role in this rising tide of violence.”

Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

###

See the latest numbers

Look at Park Service incident summaries

Scan Forest Service incident summaries

View the role played by ORVs

Important Planning Commission Meeting Tomorrow

The Nevada County Planning Commission will meet tomorrow (Thursday, May 27 2010 1:30 PM in the Rood Center Board Room) to make its final decision on the application of Blue Lead Mine for the “vested right to mine.”

If the Commission decides in favor of Blue Lead, it is very likely that the decision will be appealed to the Board of Supervisors.

The Planning Commission staff worked harder than anyone on this issue since last fall, producing numerous studies and recommendations to the Commission, all concluding that Blue Lead, the applicant, has not met its burden of proof of credible legal mining activity on the site in October of 1954, when the county’s Ordinance 196 was enacted establishing zoning regulations. The staff has repeatedly recommended against granting this vested right.

However, at its March 25th meeting, the Commission ignored the recommendation of its own staff and indicated its intention to grant vested rights.

When more than one hundred concerned and vocal citizens — including Blue Lead neighbor, historian and publisher Dave Comstock —  packed the chamber for its subsequent April 22nd meeting, the commissioners decided to continue consideration of the issue until tomorrow’s meeting, at which time they will presumably make a final determination.

The new public testimony presented at the April 22nd meeting seemed to influence at least two of the commissioners to reconsider their earlier inclination to grant vesting.

The meeting is important because, if Blue Lead wins the vested right to mine, it may open a Pandora’s Box of similar applications, since a number of other Nevada County properties are now being advertised as eligible for that right.

Another wild card is OMR, the Office of Mine Reclamation, which at the April 22nd meeting, indicated its willingness to replace Nevada County as lead agency for all mining projects if the county does not properly enforce applicable SMARA regulations. OMR representatives will be at tomorrow’s meeting.

This meeting should be interesting, and may include some surprises, including some new research on the issue of vesting.

If you have anything to say about this issue, tomorrow’s meeting will afford you an opportunity to say it.

The meeting will be videotaped, and NCTV is still deciding whether to carry it live.

UPDATE (2 PM): NCTV will broadcast and stream this meeting live.

Patience and Wisdom

Our daughter-in-law, Sandra, posted this picture to Facebook, as a perfect image of “patience and wisdom.”

(Graphic) History of Events Pertaining to Blue Lead Property

Here’s an excellent graphic “history of events pertaining to the Blue Lead Property,” prepared by the Nevada County Planning Commission staff and posted two days ago to the public Docushare online directory. This graphic clearly shows that the current owner has not met his burden of proof that Blue Lead Mine acquired a “vested right to mine” in 1954.

First, notice under “Regulatory Events” the notation for the crucial date, October 10, 1954: “County Ordinance 196, Required Use Permit for Mining.”

If the owner of Blue Lead was engaged in legal mining activity on the date of that ordinance, then that activity would be considered “vested.”

However, the current applicant offers only problematic material — too weak to rise to level of “evidence” — that non-owner Lyle White was engaged in mining-like activities somewhere in that geographic vicinity sometime around 1954. Staff notes that “Lyle White conducts possibly unauthorized mining activities in the area.”

Since vesting has not been established, all questions of subsequent abandonment are moot. ((It is, of course, up to the Nevada County Planning Commission to determine whether the applicant has met his burden of proof of vesting, and that’s what the meeting at 1:30 PM on Thursday the 27th in the Rood Center is all about. This vesting agenda item is scheduled for 2:30 PM)).

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