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Archive for September, 2011

KEA candidate forums are a tradition as long as our 39-year run of noon meetings at the Iron Horse. We continue the tradition this coming Thursday with a forum for Coeur d’Alene City Council candidates.  

Sure, the City Council is not exactly the federal EPA, but their local decision-making authority can have a significant impact on the environment. And local environmental issues have a significant impact on local citizens.  And we don’t think we’re overstating it. Consider, for example, McEuen Park, Tubbs Hill, the dike road trees, and the sewage treatment plant.

KEA firmly believes that voters should have an accurate understanding of the position of each candidate running for office.  Our members are deeply concerned with local and regional environmental issues such as development, parkland, water quality, and open space.  (Our members are also voters.)  As a community-based nonprofit organization, it is our responsibility to raise awareness of and facilitate discussion concerning issues important to our members and community residents.  A public forum for all candidates to share their priorities regarding our community has been an effective means of achieving this goal for some 39 years, and we hope you will participate this year.

As you might imagine, we have a few questions we want to ask, but we’re also taking suggestions. If you have an environmental-related question, send it to me at terry @ kealliance [dot] org.

 

 

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“Take all the acronyms, the scientific formulas, the political agendas at cross purposes and the bitter cross-state line disputes. Flush it all down the toilet.”

Or so the ever-helpful CDA Press editorialized this past Sunday.  The paper is evidently calling for some sort of misguided citizen uprising against yet-to-be-determined sewage rate increases caused by yet-to-be-permitted sewage treatment upgrades. Wildly missing the mark though, the CDA Press does the region no favors.

In fact, some 13 years into an impossibly complicated process, the polluted Spokane River and particularly he green-slimed and oxygen-starved Long Lake finally have a reasonable cleanup plan that requires significant pollution reductions to all the dischargers on the River, including Idaho’s. Despite the editorial’s unfounded and hyperbolic claims, Idaho municipalities discharging onto the River are already committed and are hard at work designing and testing improved sewage treatment technologies.

Indeed, the reality ignored by the CDA Press is that there is no circumstance under which any of the dischargers in the Spokane River will be avoiding additional levels of sewage treatment. These improvements to wastewater infrastructure are being implemented on both sides of the state line. The actual discharge limit that will be written into Idaho permits is still a hard-fought and complicated question, but there is universal agreement that whatever the limit is, it will be much much lower than it is now.

In fact, the Washington Department of Ecology has been open to innovative ways to accommodate polluters on both sides of the border. Enabling concepts like bubble permits, seasonal averaging, pollution and pollutant trading, and bioavailability adjustments, the regulators are bending over backwards for pollution dischargers.

Most significantly, the sewer rates aren’t set yet. In fact, the City of Coeur d’Alene has appointed an advisory committee to review how the sewer rates and necessary infrastructure investments will be phased and financed. Rates will certainly be going up, but how much and how fast are still very much open questions.

These investments are certainly not easy. And they are unquestionably going to be expensive. But it’s the right thing to do for our river if we are going to continue to use it to dispose of our sewage. The hyperbole and nonsense being spewed by the CDA Press is not helpful.

 

 

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To understate it a bit, grizzly bears have certainly been in the news a lot this summer in North Idaho. Two widely publicized incidents have left two grizzlies dead, one hunter dead, and more white-hot debate over the very rare large carnivore. If there’s a universal lesson about anything this summer, it might be that human-grizzly interactions are dangerous for humans and grizzlies alike.

After retreating from 99% of their original habitat range, grizzly bears were listed as a threatened species in 1975 in the lower 48 states.  Currently, grizzly bears are found only in a very few distinct areas in the western United States, but they include the Cabinet-Yaak range in North Idaho and northwest Montana, and the Selkirk mountains in North Idaho, northeastern Washington and British Columbia.

The number of bears in our two recovery regions is uncertain, but current estimates number from the several dozens to the several hundreds. To determine more precisely how many there are, a grizzly bear census may be coming to North Idaho next summer. Federal researchers plan to analyze DNA from hair samples captured at some 800 collection sites to be established across the Cabinet-Yaak Mountains in North Idaho and western Montana. Using DNA and mapping tools, researchers will be able to identify individual bears and their location. The 3-year study will cost more than $1.7 million.

A similar study in the region around Glacier National Park discovered more than twice the number of grizzly bears were roaming the area than were previously estimated. For this reason, much of the financial support for the North Idaho study is coming from some seemingly unlikely sources. Boundary County, Idaho and Lincoln County, Montana are chipping in. So too is Revett Minerals, which has mining interests in Troy, Montana, and has proposed the Rock Creek mine in the Montana Cabinet Mountains above Lake Pend Oreille. Why? Because if the study shows that the grizzly bear population is more robust here, then grizzly-related restrictions on mining and timber activities on federal lands eventually might be lifted.

But this research will provide only an initial baseline. Most important to bear recovery efforts will be the trend line over time.  Is the bear population increasing or decreasing? Is the biological genetic diversity of the bear population improving or not? A single census, therefore, is unlikely to prove much about the species’ recovery, regardless of the number of bears found.

Moreover, the one thing that grizzly bear research in North Idaho is already very clear about is that the leading cause of death for grizzly bears in the region is human interaction (PDF). More than 50% of grizzly deaths in the Cabinet-Yaak, and 80% of grizzly deaths in the Selkirks are a direct result of human interaction. Categories of human-caused mortality used by researchers included defense of life, management removal, mistaken identity, poaching, train or automobile collision, and “unknown but human caused” in which bears were shot but researchers could not determine the circumstances of the death or incidences of cut off radio collars where no carcass was discovered.

So, for the safety of the humans and the recovery of the bears, regardless of the outcome of the census, human-bear interactions will still need to be managed very carefully.

 

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KEA is surrounded by great Waterkeeper activism, and we are partners with keepers in a lot of clean water efforts in North Idaho and the Spokane River. In an email we received yesterday, Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper, our water quality neighbors to the north, announced the appointment of a new waterkeeper, replacing founding keeper Jennifer Ekstrom who is moving on to new adventures.

Shannon Williamson takes over as the new Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper next week.  Shannon is a high-powered PhD marine scientist and professor who has authored or co-authored more than 20 peer-reviewed scientific journal articles and several chapters in graduate-level textbooks.  We’re really looking forward to working with her.

 

 

 

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After more than 1700 online signatures, and about the same number of signatures on paper, the most frequent hesitation to our Save the Dike Road Trees petition has been of the “I don’t live in Coeur d’Alene” variety.

Our response is: go ahead and sign. We want all the signatures we can get, of course, but our response is not without some rationale.

First, the petition is directed at the Assistant Secretary for the Army for Civil Works. This is the person who we think has the most direct authority to make changes to the Corps of Engineers vegetation policy and how it is implemented. This person has national authority and national accountability and so we think anyone in the nation should be able to join our petition for redress.

Second, the Corps’ vegetation policy is actually a national policy. The policy is applied in Coeur d’Alene the same way it is applied across the country – regardless of the flood threat, regardless of soil characteristics, and regardless of the trees. In fact, the one conclusion drawn from the otherwise inconclusive science is that threats to levee safety from vegetation can best be made with site-specific assessments. Communities across the country who are not getting these site-specific assessments are welcome, therefore, to join in our petition.

Finally, our community is made up of people from around the country and around the world. And our economy depends on people from around the country and around the world who come to visit. Or, who might want to come to visit in the future. We think that these visitors, future visitors, residents and future residents might have a stake in whether the trees stay.

So go ahead. Sign the petition.  And feel free to get your out of town friends to sign too.

 

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On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives will hold a hearing on at least one bill to address the expiration of the Secure Rural Schools Act (SRS), which supplies rural counties with federal cash to counterbalance declining forest products revenues. As it turns out, the federal government is out of money.

The imminent end of SRS is of some serious concern to North Idaho counties which have received millions of dollars in direct annual payments which may no longer arrive. Recently, several Idaho counties floated a trial balloon for a “Community Forest Trust” in which the federal government would set aside some 200,000 acres of federal forest lands in Idaho for local management under local laws for local revenues.

While we’re sincerely sympathetic to the plight of the rural counties, we’re concerned that some of the solutions proposed so far are ill-advised, and would likely compound the problem of funding local government services. In a letter sent today to the Shoshone County Commissioners who solicited our input on the counties’ proposal, KEA noted:

The proposal would essentially transfer land out of public control and established multiple-use management and would eliminate environmental and procedural protections that have served to improve our forests, watersheds, and wildlife resources.  Moreover, ultimately, we don’t know that such a proposal would solve the structural economic problems the SRS was intended to bridge.

Our letter described major concerns with the environmental protections, the selection of the trust lands, the accountability of the trust and trustees, the value lost to the federal taxpayer, and the legal difficulties posed by federal ownership but local control.  But our letter was also concerned about the failure to see handwriting on the wall:

While we absolutely concur that rural Idaho counties need a long-term solution for schools and roads funding, ultimately, coupling a solution to federal lands management may be too constrictive. For example, broadband, health care, education, and clean energy are economic sectors we’d emphasize for more sustained growth, and we’d certainly hope Congress would focus on those opportunities in the SRS reauthorization debate.

Indeed, this proposal of a Community Forest Trust appears to be a doubling-down on a bet that forest resources will be an economic engine like it was several decades ago.  Unfortunately, there’s just no evidence that it’ll work. Currently on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest, there is a huge backlog inventory of timber “sold” by the federal government but not yet actually cut. And mills continue to close — not for lack of timber supply, but for lack of product demand. A Community Forest Trust, which would presumably put more timber onto the market to generate revenue for the Trust, would only compound the current supply and demand imbalance.

This is a tough spot for counties, which will have immediate financial needs that will go unmet if SRS isn’t reauthorized. There are lots of ideas on how to do things better. But the counties shouldn’t be clamoring for Congress to make things worse.

Update 9/21: Here’s a statement from Congressman Labrador. “Congressman Labrador and the county commissioners from throughout Idaho were unanimous in their desire to find a solution that would increase the revenue stream from our federal forests.”  Why? “Diseased forests on a colossal scale in immediate danger of catastrophic wildfire.”  No risk of understatement by our Congressman.

 

 

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I’m pretty sure that if you’re reading this blog post, you’re doing so with a reasonably operable computer. (Or you know someone with a reasonably operable computer who prints out the KEA Blog posts for you.)

You can probably also guess that we are also using computers to write these posts and place them on the internets for your perusal. What you might not know, however, is that the computers in our KEA offices are increasingly less operable. Or, decreasingly operable, if you prefer. Either way, they’re making noises and giving us error messages that we don’t understand except to back up our work to “the cloud” every couple of minutes. We’re afraid that they’re one minor power surge away from being e-waste.

Anyway.  We’re letting you know this insider information in the off chance that you have a computer that is definitely operable that you could donate to KEA. We need to run office stuff and database stuff and internet stuff, so it needs to have some sufficiently modern amenities. If you don’t have a computer, we have set up a “buy KEA a new computer” account for online donations. Assuming, of course, we can still get online to process them.

While at least one of the computers is still working, here’s thanks in advance for any help you can provide.

 

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