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Community Voices

10 May 2013
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Lead is banned in paint, gasoline, dishes and children’s toys, and now California is looking at removing the largest unregulated source of the neurotoxin by also banning lead ammunition. One motivation is to generally protect wildlife and human health, but some see it as a way to improve the prospects of California condors; lead poisoning is the leading cause of death for the massive, inky-feathered carrion eaters. Twenty-six endangered California condors have died from lead poisoning since 1996. One recently notable lead casualty was a 9-year old bird in Big Sur that died last November. Even though lead ammunition is already banned in the bird’s California range, the source of the lead was a .22-caliber bullet, and he likely swallowed it while chowing down on a shot-up carcass. Condor No. 318 was one of the first captive bred condors released on the California coast around Big Sur. According to the…
01 May 2013
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Earl Butz, Richard Nixon’s controversial secretary of Agriculture, was a profane man known for his hair-trigger temper and his rough handling of subordinates. So when the chief of the Forest Service stood him up for a meeting, Butz unloaded in response: “There are four branches of government,” he reportedly snarled, “the executive, legislative, judicial and the Gawd-damn U.S. Forest Service.” Although current Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack might have worded it differently, he probably appreciates the sentiment now: He recently discovered how ornery the powerful Forest Service can be. At issue was one of Vilsack’s pet projects—an attempt to reshape the image of the entire $132 billion Agriculture Department, which oversees everything from plant and animal inspections, food safety and ending hunger to the health and productivity of national forests. Dubbed “One Brand,” this graphic facelift has engaged Agriculture Department officials overseeing the agency’s 20 departments for the past three years.…
19 Apr 2013
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When I told my family I was going kayaking on the Salton Sea, their reaction was just what I expected: “Are you sure that’s safe?” my mother asked with uneasiness. That is precisely what had crossed my mind when I was invited to join Assemblymembers V. Manuel Pérez and Ben Hueso (now a state senator) on a kayaking excursion on the manmade sea bordering Riverside and Imperial counties. As a beat reporter for Coachella Unincorporated, there is no “standard” assignment. I never know what will come out of an editorial meeting, but I am usually up for anything. However, this particular assignment made me nervous and excited at the same time. The nervous part of me worried I would flip the kayak upside down, forcing me to swallow gallons of the toxic salt water. The excited part of me couldn’t wait to row a vessel across this controversial body of…
16 Apr 2013
I grew up with a dozen horses on Colorado’s eastern plains. In winter, I busted hay bales to feed them, and, under a star-strewn sky, chopped holes in iced-over water tanks so the animals could drink. I’ve always believed that the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man. But not all horses are equal, and these days, I question the presence of so many so-called wild horses on our public lands. Sure, they look great—manes flying, tails outstretched, as the herds gambol across the wide-open spaces. They look great, but unfortunately, those photogenic herds, with their voracious appetites and heavy hooves, endanger native plants, introduce invasive species, hog precious water holes that other mammals need, and continue––endlessly—to multiply. What kind of symbol is this for the American West? Unlike mule deer, elk or mountain lions, wild horses aren’t really wild. They are feral—turned loose. Perhaps…
15 Apr 2013
Two summers ago, I was feeling anxious, nervous and scared. But it was more than the usual sadness about another summer coming to an end; I was about to begin my freshman year at a fancy prep school outside my community—not to mention my comfort zone. I have lived in the city of Coachella my entire life. The great majority of the population is Hispanic, and many families who live here don’t have access to adequate living conditions, health care or even healthy food. In the near vicinity are thousands of acres of farmland where many people, including my own grandfather, work every day in order to support their families. Up until last year, I attended elementary and middle school at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, just outside of Coachella, in the city of Indio. Even though OLPH is a Catholic school, things like exotic family vacations or fancy computers…
26 Mar 2013
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We take so many of the West’s open spaces for granted—the private ranches and agricultural lands that provide invaluable resources for us all, from clean air and water, wildlife habitat and crop-pollination, to scenic vistas, hunting opportunities and so much more. But landowners are rarely compensated for the far-reaching benefits they provide, and they face intense pressure to sell out their land for development. Yet, finally, some landowners are starting to get reimbursed for what they’ve freely provided for decades. “With scarcity comes value,” says Story Clark, author ofA Field Guide to Conservation Finance. “A lot of work is going into figuring out the cost of natural capital, (defined loosely as intact ecosystems), and what will be lost if we lose it. On the reverse side, we need to be able to pay for it to keep it.” So far, in most cases, the money to restore habitat or keep…
24 Mar 2013
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Perhaps drilling rigs should be allowed in cities, towns and even into our own metaphorical backyards. It would be good for the environment. Maybe not your personal environment, but more broadly for our environment. Community planners for decades have urged mixed-use development, in which we combine work, play and shopping in closer physical proximity. Lately, we’ve expanded the idea to food. Some people have always supplemented their pantry with backyard gardens, and now we have the concept more formally called “urban agriculture,” a phrase that embraces in-town farms. Growing your own victuals feels good and connects you more directly with the weather and changing climate. Soil fertility becomes something personal, and creepy-crawly things become a delight or demons, depending upon their role in your personal ecosystem. Energy, however, remains an abstraction—and many people would like to keep it that way. Fort Collins, Colo., has banned fracking, which amounts to a…
19 Mar 2013
Years ago, when I was much younger and dumber, I sometimes drove after drinking too much, occasionally even with a beer in hand. A state policeman once stopped me leaving the small town of Joseph, Ore., and asked me to count backward, touch my toes and walk a line. Fortunately, he knew me, so he just suggested gently that I get in the passenger seat and let my wife drive home. There was also the time after a full and fabulous day at the ski run when, sipping that last beer as we headed for home on the back roads, I hit a patch of ice and slipped into the barrow pit. Again, fortunately, the only damage was to my ego, and all my law-breaking and stupid behavior took place at low speeds on quiet roads. Then along came Mothers Against Drunk Driving with its memorable acronym, MADD. Mothers across…
15 Mar 2013
Since 1872, mining interests have made billions of dollars by removing and selling valuable minerals from our public lands without having to pay a cent to the American taxpayer. This is one of the biggest budget loopholes of the modern economy, and it needs to change—especially now—as Congress tries to address the deficit and balance budgets. Blame this bizarre omission of royalties on the 1872 Mining Law, which encouraged Westward expansion by allowing prospectors to stake claims on public lands and freely remove “hardrock” minerals like gold, silver, copper and uranium. This saloon-era handout—established more than 140 years ago—continues unchanged to this day. Mining companies still receive these precious metals and minerals for free. Today, some of the world’s biggest companies make a mint by mining our metals, selling them to the highest bidder, keeping all the profits and often sticking taxpayers with a costly cleanup bill. We’re left with…
10 Mar 2013
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There are still only two important things in politics, as the 19th century’s own Karl Rove, a Republican fundraiser named Mark Hanna, once said: “The first is money, and I can’t remember the second.” For Americans who want to make sure that their government isn’t for sale to the highest bidder, that first item should be transparency. Through its Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, the Supreme Court made it easier than ever for politicians and their surrogates to raise huge donations from special interests. There were 31 donors who gave $1 million or more to Priorities USA Action, the super-PAC that supported President Barack Obama’s campaign. Majority PAC, which backed Senate Democratic campaigns, had a total of five donors in the million-plus range. The Congressional Leadership Fund, which had ties to House Speaker John Boehner, had four donors who gave $1 million or more, including Sheldon and Miriam…