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Archive for July, 2011

Big milestones were reached this past week with our wonderful Roots CSA  in Dalton Gardens.

First, after a late start to the growing season, the CSA team delivered a first round of produce to regular and low-income subscribers: bitter greens (bagged), Asian greens, kale, mustard greens (twine bundle), broccoli, bunching onions, lettuce, spinach, salad greens mixed assortments, cabbage, raddish, and red leaf lettuce. As a result, some totally awesome salads are being made throughout North Idaho this week.

Second, the first annual Roots BBQ Cook-off event is sold out.  One possible explanation — that there’s a mid-summer BBQ shortage – could explain the demand for tickets. Mostly, we think our volunteers did a great job with ticket sales. Buy them early next year. (Same goes for the upcoming and always-sold-out Dinner Under the Stars at the Shared Harvest Garden.)

 

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An incompetent Corps of Engineers and an inflexible FEMA are about to destroy a Coeur d’Alene treasure unnecessarily. The out-of-town and out-of-control federal agencies are blindly calling for the City of Coeur d’Alene to remove hundreds of mature trees from the dike that follows the lake and riverfront around City Park and North Idaho College. (News coverage here, here, here, and here.)

Built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1940s, the dike runs just less than a mile and it purports to protect NIC and the Fort Grounds area from 100-year flood events. The main significance, however, is that the dike protects NIC and the Fort Grounds from unreasonable flood insurance premiums.

Nationwide, FEMA administers the flood insurance program for properties in potential flood zones. Very high premiums for very limited coverage are available to properties built in an area at high risk for floods. However, areas protected by a dike certified by the Corps of Engineers are not considered high-risk. If not certified by the Corps of Engineers, FEMA won’t consider the dike as sufficient flood protection. Burned by the experience in New Orleans during hurricane Katrina, both the Corps and FEMA are taking a much harder look at dike certifications around the country.

In a recent inspection, the hammer fell on Coeur d’Alene. A third-party inspection team found some 137 deficiencies in the flood protection system. Many of the deficiencies are minor, and many are legitimate, but the tree-removal issue is the most significant. According to the directive from the Corps of Engineers, all trees on the dike – along the road and to the base of both sides of the dike – will need to be removed. All the roots from the trees will need to be removed. And the dike will then need to be reconstructed to patch the tree-removal.

At a briefing to the City’s Public Works Committee, Coeur d’Alene engineer Gordon Dobler asked for approval of a mitigation plan to address the deficiencies. The full City Council will need to approve the plan at their next meeting. The cost to implement the plan is not entirely clear.

We hope the city pushes back. KEA would be the first to defend a federal environmental agency decision when it is based in clear law and regulation, sound science, and with the public health and safety a foremost priority. This, however, is not the case in this Corps of Engineers decision.

The Corps actually acknowledges that there is no scientific basis for their restriction of vegetation in flood control levees. The Corps’ regulatory authority doesn’t come from law or regulation, but rather an “Engineering Technical Letter” disconnected from what the regulations (pdf) actually require. And the local impacts could be significant. For one thing, the dike is likely to contain toxic materials from mine wastes which would have thoroughly contaminated the shoreline when the dike was constructed in the 1940s. Tearing up the dike could make a real mess. And who knows how much it’ll cost.

The last major flood event that would have seriously implicated the dike was in 1933, before the dike was built.  More recent floods – like in 1997, 2008, and this past year – have not come close to inundating the dike. Certainly, flood control lessons learned in Minot, North Dakota this year should not be lost on anyone, but a more realistic assessment of risks and costs might argue in favor of keeping the trees. Or coming up with a different approach.

In any event, we hope the City Council will shelve the tree-removal decision until more can be known and options can be studied. The trees provide real value to the park and the community every day. Removing them to accommodate out-of-town federal agencies acting only on fear and a hunch and remote probabilities would be a shame.

UPDATE: Here’s the online version. Link to it, email it, post it to your facebook friends!

 

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Often, our job seems like an exercise in futility. Today, KEA sent yet another set of comments regarding wolf management to Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game.  Shielded from lawsuits (maybe), the Department is free to push the state’s wolf management balance back toward extinction.

On the table at the quarterly meeting of the Fish and Game Commission’s meeting in Salmon this week, are hunting and trapping seasons for wolves that we believe go far beyond what would be reasonable and sustainable.  With no limits on taking wolves in some regions – including the panhandle – the plan isn’t really much of a plan.

Fundamentally, we continue to oppose a wildlife management philosophy that so strongly favors an un-endangered class of animals at the detriment of an endangered or threatened one.  The balance between predator and prey is one that will reach equilibrium naturally if left alone to do so.  Indeed, we think that predators should return naturally to their fundamental ecological roles instead of the heavy-handed human interventions to adjust nature to our preferences.

Nevertheless, we acknowledge the political desire for more active management. We would just prefer that management be based in facts, science, and transparent honesty.

The current stated target population for wolves in Idaho — 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs — is not based in science, but rather old school ideas about what minimal wolf populations should be.  Of course, Congressionally-established immunity from judicial review helps. Still, accepting arguendo the premise that there should be specific numeric targets, having no hunting quotas or limits whatsoever in certain zones is arbitrary and indefensible.

Idaho’s plan proposes tracking and monitoring wolf kills, with the Commission supposedly able to review and adjust the plan at its November and January meetings. But the plan gives no indication as to how the adjustments would be made, and under what criteria. Indeed, we suspect that there are secret harvest quotas in each of the no-quota zones, but that the Department and the Commission do not have the political courage to honestly announce them.

Instead, we have a season that quite literally relies on the failure of hunters. While complete extermination of a wolf population in a particular zone might be cheered by some, it would be a disaster for wolf management, and it would probably not survive federal scrutiny.  Even if there is reason to be emboldened by the recent Congressional intervention, the Commission should not so blatantly test the limits of federal interests if it wants to continue state control over wolf management in the long run.

Sure, other animals are managed without limits. But the Department’s rationalizing analogy to management of black bears and mountain lions, for example, is inapposite. Other species have longer histories of much more robust, stable populations, with well-established and similarly stable hunting seasons. Also, black bears and mountain lions are not as endangered.

To be completely clear, Kootenai Environmental Alliance is not opposed to sustainable management of sustainable wolf populations if such management is based in fact, sound science, and honest transparency. In this instance, though, Idaho Fish and Game has proposed no such plan.

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Always busy at KEA, it seems even busier lately.  Some things going on that we care about:

The megaloads controversy remains as muddled as ever. Idaho has given a go-ahead to trips up Highway 95 from Lewiston, through Moscow and Coeur d’Alene, and then along I-90 through Montana to Canada’s tar sands.  Two were permitted, but only one smaller load has traveled through town. The permit for the second, larger one has expired, but ITD has indicated a willingness to issue permits on demand and could come any time. Meanwhile, a Montana court has halted trips along the Highway 12 corridor due to a failure to do a proper environmental analysis. That case is likely to be appealed by the oil companies.  And finally, as a reminder that highway transport is not without accidents, there’s a huge roll of toilet paper sitting in the Lochsa River at the moment. – Missoulian

We knew it was going to be a problem, and sure enough, the Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental Law and Policy have filed a lawsuit over PCB pollution in the Spokane River. According to the lawsuit, the Washington Department of Ecology is violating the law by failing to prepare a plan for cleaning up PCBs in the River. – Spokane Riverkeeper at Center for Justice

The debt ceiling debate may be getting all the attention in Washington DC, but Congress is still causing environmental mischief.  Perhaps having learned a lesson in allowing environmental riders in the continuing resolution battle months ago, the administration has recently issued several clear veto threats on anti-environmental bills and budget riders. — The Wildlife News

Finally, we’re still very much Woodsy the Owl aficionados, and we came across this lament recently. Has Smokey the Bear completely overtaken Woodsy as the charismatic mega-mascot for conservation?  Give a hoot. Environmental Law Prof Blog

 

 

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With a whirlwind week of committee meetings, focus groups, and “Citizen Congress” town hall gatherings, Kootenai County is finally getting on with the business of re-writing its out-dated land use laws. The initial meetings this week will set the stage for an 18-month process in which the laws that govern everything development-related in the county — from subdivisions to signage, from hearing procedures to shoreline protection – will be overhauled.

In the first meeting of a stakeholder committee set up to advise the process, problems with the current code were enumerated and hopes for the new code were discussed. Most community members were adamant in the need for regulations to protect our valuable waterways and the natural and scenic resources that make North Idaho a great place to live. Most were also adamant that property rights be protected. Developers were interested in creating a code that provides “certainty” and clarity in decision-making. Rural residents emphasized a need to protect the character of their rural communities.

Todd Messenger, the project leader for Kendig Keast the consulting group in charge of the code project, noted that in most instances, 80% of community values are shared and entirely non-controversial. Of the remaining 20%, maybe half is less important, leaving only 10% to be difficult to reach agreement.

Nevertheless, the advisory group also acknowledged the difficulty in the process to come. For example, how to protect rural character is an open question. The community will need to decide if it wants to maintain working farmland and private forests in rural areas or whether the predominant land use should be relegated to some form of “rural residential.” How to better protect stream banks and shorelines is another open question. Can there be a balance of stronger shoreline regulation coupled with development flexibility?

There will be numerous opportunities for public input and comment. The consultants promised that the entire process will be open and available on-line.  (Bookmark www.kccode.com now!) But the consultants are certainly getting an earful this week.

Lane Kendig, a principal in the code-writing consulting firm, said a good set of land use regulations will require foremost a “look at the land.” Development on land well-suited for development should actually be encouraged.  Development on land not-suited for development? Not so much. So, in fact, a code that actually requires a careful look at the land does indeed seem a good place to start.

 

 

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Interns!

KEA Summer Interns Kayla Baker and Trevor Frank - photo by KEA BlackberryCam

The best part about summers at KEA? Probably the nice weather in North Idaho. Second best? Interns!

Meet Kayla Baker and Trevor Frank — this summer’s interns in the office at KEA. Kayla joins us from North Idaho College where she is currently studying zoology with an eye toward a career in wildlife conservation. Now, though, she’s helping us with pretty much anything and everything that a small local conservation non-profit organization needs to have done.

Interns Kayla Baker and Trevor Frank actually working on stuff - photo by KEA BlackberryCam

Trevor rejoins KEA part-time this summer from University of Oregon’s law school where he will be a 3rd-year student in the fall. Trevor was a member of last summer’s crack legal team and he is back this year doing legal research and causing serious  problems for local polluters.

We’re really pleased that they are taking time from their valuable summer break to help us out.  Also, otherwise, we’d be stuffing envelopes by ourselves.

 

 

 

 

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Tubbs Hill -- July 11, 2011. Photos by KEA BlackberryCam

More about all of this soon enough, but yesterday afternoon we were pleased to take part in a unique event. KEA has been invited to participate in a City of Coeur d’Alene committee reviewing accessibility and other issues on Tubbs Hill. Yesterday, the committee got a first hand experience with accessibility concerns on a brief field trip to the east side of the Hill — and three committee participants in wheelchairs took a first-ever trip to our City’s crown jewel.

Recall that concern over impacts to Tubbs Hill caused the City Council to remove Tubbs Hill from the concept plan for McEuen Park. The Council, however, insisted that the City continue to work with stakeholders on accessibility and management issues on Tubbs Hill. This new committee has met preliminarily a couple of times and has a great deal of work to do. This was the committee’s first fact-finding outing.

But yesterday, the scope of the work — and the reason for doing it — became much more clear and concrete.  On trails most of us have no trouble navigating, wheelchairs have a great deal of difficulty. Relatively gentle uphill slopes, downhill slopes, and cross-trail slopes make travel much more difficult in a wheelchair. The small outcroppings of rocks and tree roots that most of us simply step on or step over can be impassable obstructions to a wheelchair. It’ll be a serious challenge for the committee to find opportunities for access that eliminate the natural barriers of the terrain without damaging the hill or compromising its fiercely-protected natural state.

But Tubbs Hill is an extraordinary place — we saw walkers, joggers, swimmers, dogs, bratty teenagers, tourists, locals, and all manner of people enjoying the beautiful natural surroundings.  Yesterday, it included people in wheelchairs. And there was an appreciation that they belonged there as much as anyone.

 

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