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Posts Tagged ‘Butch Otter’

The battle over an obscure policy directive by Interior Secretary Salazar over BLM lands blew up this week, with Governor Otter testifying before the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, and Rep. Raul Labrador introducing his very first piece of legislation.

The “wild lands” policy, announced in December, would simply have BLM consider wilderness values if and when it writes management plans for the properties under its control. Until a Bush administration settlement with the State of Utah in 2003, it has been the standard practice of the agency dating back to a Congressional mandate in 1976. Salazar’s directive doesn’t create new areas for wilderness-level protection. Rather, it simply allows some sort of continued protection to occur, if warranted, and after an extensive public review. Indeed, both Democratic and Republican administrations have maintained provisional protections for these places until Congress can consider permanent designations. Nationwide, less than 1% of BLM’s land is designated as wilderness. Some 42%, however, is leased to oil and gas interests.

According to a 2007 management plan and environmental impact statement for the Coeur d’Alene region, BLM identified only three parcels that might qualify for wilderness-level considerations. One is a 720 acre BLM parcel adjacent to the Forest Service’s 98,000 acre roadless area on the Selkirk Crest. Another is a 12,000 acre BLM parcel adjacent to 22,000 acres of Forest Service roadless area on Grandmother Mountain in Shoshone County. Another is 9000 acres around Crystal Lake at the headwaters of Latour Creek south of Cataldo, also in Shoshone County.

But continuing to protect this type of spectacular roadless land is some sort of outrageous, apparently.

Labrador’s bill, called the “Idaho Land Sovereignty Act” would require Congressional approval for BLM’s continued protection of these lands for their wilderness values. Labrador’s over the top press release says:

This denies jobs and security to a nation in need of both and is a sad example of the out of touch decisions being forced upon us by an aloof administration. In addition, the administration is totally out of line with the interests of Western states by denying us the right to manage our own lands and wildlife populations.

Meanwhile, Idaho’s fiercely anti-wilderness Governor Otter testified to Congress that the floating green on Lake Coeur d’Alene was more valuable than Idaho’s 2-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness managed in part by the BLM.

It’s a nice green, on a really nice lake, but literally, there’s no comparison.

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For all of our friends and members who wrote a letter, sent an email, or signed a petition, here’s some moderately good news from Boise. Even though, by all accounts, it is a tough budget year for Idaho, Governor Otter has allocated full funding in his budget for water quality monitoring. Our friends at Idaho Conservation League who have been monitoring the monitoring issue from their offices near the capitol, say that the Governor recommended funding for water quality monitoring in the full amount of $349,000.

However, Otter is proposing to use money from the water pollution control account – an account where DEQ banks revolving funds for drinking water and wastewater facility loans and grants. Typically, the state uses this fund to provide the match to federal funds for these important projects.

Although the DEQ account apparently has a balance sufficient to use on water quality monitoring this year, it is not a long-term solution. As our local municipalities look for help in funding very costly wastewater projects to clean up the Spokane River, for example, taking money from the revolving account for monitoring may prove to be funding one critical water quality program at the expense of another. Unfortunately, the state may be in the same position next year unless additional funding is identified.

In any event, the next step in the budget process will be to get the legislature’s important JFAC (Joint Finance Appropriations Committee) to approve the funding. We will keep you up to date.

 

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On Monday, according to Idaho Reporter, Gov. Butch Otter will be in Denver to talk wolves with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the Governors of Wyoming and Montana. A legal morass and election-year political grandstanding have made a mess of  wolf management in the northern Rockies, and it certainly needs some high-level discussion.

It isn’t clear what Secretary Salazar will be bringing to the table Monday, but the meeting gives Gov. Otter the best opportunity to reverse his pre-election decision to no longer manage wolves in Idaho. Otter’s nonsensical decision, issued in the heat of his re-election campaign, is almost certain to be reversed. But the question is what political cover will Salazar provide to Otter in order to do so sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, the stalemate is probably doing everyone an ecological favor. Without a public hunt this year, the wolf population has an opportunity to create the interconnectedness and genetic diversity to more firmly establish the species’ recovery once and for all. Meanwhile, in the Idaho panhandle at least, the elk hunting is actually improved.  Wolves have evidently driven a healthy elk herd from the upper St. Joe to the closer-in Coeur d’Alene forests, where more hunters are being more successful in hunting more elk.

We’re hoping that some semblance of sanity will reign on Monday.  It is past time to settle the issue. Otherwise, long-running lawsuits, long-shot legislation, and ridiculously overheated rhetoric will continue to be the northern Rockies substitute for reasonable wolf management.

(Also worth reading: George Wuerthner on livestock predation. Can ranchers really expect a predator-free landscape?)

UPDATE 11/29Here is the Spokesman-Review’s AP report on how the meeting went. Nothing resolved, they “discussed a path forward,” but it seems Wyoming may still be a problem.

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As you probably know, we’ve been rallying support for water quality monitoring for weeks now.  We have been calling on Gov. Otter to restore funding to the budget to perform one of the basic functions under the Clean Water Act, something the Governor and legislature have declined to fund for the past two years. Of course, this is exactly what you’d expect of your local grassroots conservation organization.

But guess what — we’re not the only ones. Because of the potential impact that another year of non-monitoring  would have on water quality permitting and municipal budgets, a number of Idaho municipalities have joined in the chorus. Boise, Nampa, Hailey, Moscow, Post Falls, Ponderay, and Blaine County are on record as supporting the water quality monitoring line item in the budget.  (And we believe that more municipalities will be weighing in soon.)

Agriculture and industry should consider the impacts as well. A third straight year without water quality monitoring data could force EPA to require Idaho dischargers to meet stricter effluent standards in their permits.  A number of states have cut back on water quality monitoring during the tight budgets during the economic downturn, but Idaho’s elimination of the entire program for two years is unparalleled.

Idaho DEQ has been outspoken in the need for funding this year, and in an AP article over the weekend, Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little signaled that he understands the concern. But still no definitive word from Gov. Otter.  And, of course, any water quality line item would still need approval by the state legislature. So if you haven’t done so already, consider sending your governor and legislators a quick note. All of us in Idaho — individuals, cities and businesses alike — depend on clean water.

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Leave it to Butch Otter to actually follow through on what should have been an empty threat. Today, Butch Otter decided to end Idaho’s role in wolf management. For the time being, at least. Unless it’s a purely political move, the directive is completely baffling, no matter which side of the debate you’re on.

Even the most vehement anti-wolf partisan needs to ask some serious questions: Now that Idaho is officially not dealing with the wolf problem, what leverage does it have in negotiating terms of future wolf management? What do Idaho ranchers do while the state officially ignores legitimate management needs? Wait for the federal agents to help? Will federal enforcement be less restrictive than the state’s?

Instead, the decision appears to be a cynical political move two weeks before an election. On twitter, at least, the official state announcement and the official Otter campaign announcement appeared to be simultaneous.

This isn’t leadership. It does nothing to resolve the impasse. And it will simply muddle the issue for the foreseeable future. Is this an appeal to the base? A need to close an “enthusiasm gap”? Or is it that the unthinking anti-federal-government vote must be bigger than we thought.

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We had some interesting discussions yesterday about our blog posting about Idaho’s water monitoring meltdown. Recall that we wrote:

We know that Idahoans care deeply about water quality. The failure of DEQ to accomplish the very basic minimum requirements of the Clean Water Act should be unacceptable. The legislature, which has zeroed the water monitoring budget for two consecutive years, needs to provide the resources to DEQ to do its work before the U.S. EPA, or a federal court, is forced to step in.

Some of our friends thought that we were (slightly) unfair in calling it a”failure of DEQ” to get the job done, because in fact, DEQ has requested the money for water monitoring in their budget submittals. Instead, our friends suggest, the financing failure belongs to Butch Otter, whose budget leadership is followed by the legislature, and whose budget priorities are decidedly elsewhere.

We wonder if this is a fine point that’s significant, or whether it’s a distinction without a difference. The responsibility for Clean Water Act implementation is squarely with DEQ. It isn’t optional, and Idaho’s state code makes it clear what needs to be done and who needs to do it. But if the Department asks for, but doesn’t get the resources, what is it supposed to do? More to the point, who should Idahoans hold accountable for this mess?

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Our great friend and office neighbor Mary Lou Reed invited us to a last minute lunch today with Keith Allred, candidate for Idaho Governor.  Allred, who was in the area for a number of events, evidently hadn’t completely filled his calendar, so a small group of “Friends of Mary Lou” got an invitation to have lunch at the Iron Horse and discuss North Idaho issues with the candidate.

(KEA, of course, has a deal with the IRS about not endorsing candidates and not being involved in elections. And we adhere scrupulously to those rules.  But we are allowed to talk to candidates about our issues, and we are allowed to inform our members about those issues and what candidates say.)

To the small gathering, Allred gave what amounted to a mini 10-minute version of a stump speech, and then opened the meeting to questions. Not surprisingly, Allred spoke about the bigger state-level issues of taxes and education, where he is attempting to distinguish his record from that of incumbent Governor Butch Otter. However, quite a bit of the question-and-answer session pertained to local issues with a conservation focus.

KEA's Cathleen O'Connor with Candidate for Governor Keith Allred today at the Iron Horse, photo by KEA BlackberryCam

Allred was first asked about the proposed 3-way land swap with developers M3 Eagle, Idaho Forest Group and the BLM, and acknowledged that he was mostly familiar with the southern portion of the deal and was less familiar with the northern portion. He noted, correctly, that in any land exchange deal, the details are very important and that a complex deal should be studied carefully to maintain a balance of values. In response to another question about state lands, he affirmed that the public interest is very important in considering how those lands should be used.

We had the opportunity to ask Allred about the state’s Clean Water Act dysfunction – the failure to do water quality monitoring, the failure to implement cleanup plans on local lakes, in particular – and Allred took a subtle swipe at his opponent saying that that rather than sitting back and railing at the federal mandates of the Clean Water Act and fighting in courts, Idaho would be better off if it invested in managing its own Clean Water Act program (like all but 4 of the other 50 states do) and coming up with Idaho solutions to Idaho problems.

Interestingly, we had a very similar conversation with Idaho DEQ Administrator Toni Hardesty at a meeting concerning the Spokane River TMDL last week. She admitted that she was in an “awkward” position to be negotiating for Idaho interests with the State of Washington when her agency does not have the authority to issue Clean Water Act permits. But she said the costs of taking over the federal program were a deterrent.

We’ll be interested in how this debate plays out in the campaign this fall. It appears to be a clear distinction between the candidates, and we know that voters take clean water issues very seriously.

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