The orders came down to mobile home residents as the menace of Hurricane Michael approached in the Gulf of Mexico: Get out. Get out now. The evacuation mandate reached Gene Bearden, 76, in this blink-and-you-miss-it town with an aspirational name south of Tallahassee and in an area where a storm surge of up to 13 feet had been forecast.Mr. Bearden wanted to leave. He had been wanting to leave Panacea, in fact, for four years, but had not mustered the financial wherewithal to do it, and the arrival of a Category 4 hurricane did nothing to change that.Versions of his story played out across the eastern edge of the Florida Panhandle, home to modest coastal communities where people already hard on their luck had little means to escape the storm’s wrath.
Native American groups in North Dakota are scrambling to help members acquire new addresses, and new IDs, in the few weeks remaining before Election Day — the only way that some residents will be able to vote. This week, the Supreme Court declined to overturn North Dakota's controversial voter ID law, which requires residents to show identification with a current street address. A P.O. box does not qualify.Many Native American reservations, however, do not use physical street addresses. Native Americans are also overrepresented in the homeless population. As a result, Native residents often use P.O. boxes for their mailing addresses and may rely on tribal identification that doesn't list an address.Those IDs used to be accepted at polling places — including in this year's primary election — but will not be valid for the general election. And that decision became final less than a month before Election Day, after years of confusing court battles and alterations to the requirements.
Kansas dairy farmers are used to dealing with hard times, but as they struggle through the fourth year of depressed milk prices, they too have become down.Orville and Mary Jane Miller have been dairy farmers their entire lives. Mary Jane's father passed the farm in Reno County down to them, and they plan to pass it on to their son. “It's very demanding, my wife starts at 1:30 a.m. milking cows. There's a calf born nearly every other day. There's just a lot happening all the time,” said Orville Miller. The Millers milk 170 cows a day, a process that takes four hours at a time. While they know the business is cyclical, times are really tough right now."Here a couple of weeks ago, I went to sit at my desk to pay the bills, and I started crying, because I didn't know how I was going to pay the bills," Mary Jane told KAKE News.Farmers are making less per gallon of milk now than they did 20 years ago, and they blame an increase in milk production combined with sharply lower exports. The cost to produce a gallon of milk is higher than what a farmer sells a gallon for, meaning most dairies can't even break even."The numbers just don't work out for us. Every month we borrow money to pay the bills and think it's going to get better next year," said Miller.In fact, milk prices have been so low over the last five years, the number of dairy farms in Kansas has dropped from 400 to 290.
Simba is the nation's first dog to be assigned to a county public defender's office. While the name Simba might remind most of us of a beloved cartoon lion, kids at the Depke Juvenile Justice Complex will meet another Simba whose purpose is to comfort them. The 2-year-old Labrador retriever is assigned to the guardian ad litem office, which advocates for kids' best interests. Simba has one mission, and it's a lucky one. "His job is to be petted," said Kathy Gordon, an assistant public defender and guardian ad litem, according to the Daily Herald. She'll be Simba's main handler.Simba "will provide comfort, compassion and companionship to children involved in abuse, neglect and dependency cases. He will share his same empathetic energy in any Public Defender case where his special presence is needed," the release said.
Terrain, demographics, trees, hills, politics, and low population density all conspire to block rural residents from getting easy internet access. Could that be changing? A year ago Microsoft announced its Airband Initiative, an effort to move TV whitespaces from a good idea to a working technology. The project coordinates smaller Internet service providers, manufacturers, and software vendors around the new technology. Some early signs hint at future successes. “At least 100,000 Ohioans who currently have no broadband should become connected thanks to Microsoft and TV whitespace,” says Kyle Quillen, founder and CEO of Agile Networks. He said Microsoft’s efforts eclipse the work of other tech giants to reach rural parts of the United States. Amazon is focusing broadband work in the United Kingdom and Germany. Google Fiber has stuck to cities, many already mainstays of the digital economy (Seattle, Austin, and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, for example). Facebook has pilot projects, primarily in developing nations, but members of Congress would like them to do more. Facebook’s effort to serve Africa via satellite literally exploded on the launch pad in 2016.
Housing start fluctuations and an abundance of timber are limiting the ceiling on stumpage prices in Mississippi now, but expect the market to improve when sawmills begin stocking up for winter. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau National, home construction dropped 13 percent from May to June, which is considered a significant decrease. The seasonally adjusted rate for July -- nearly 1.17 million homes -- was 1 percent above June but 1.4 percent below the July 2017 estimate.“Housing starts did drop sharply in June and only rebounded slightly in July,” said John Auel, an assistant professor of forestry with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “This was likely due to increased mortgage rates and a limited supply of homes, which drives the prices up, so people are not purchasing at the rate which would improve housing starts.”For Mississippi tree farmers, this data, coupled with favorable harvesting conditions, means now is not the best time to sell their timber.“Dry weather increases the amount of timber on the market because you can get logging equipment on sites that you couldn’t get them on in the winter because they were too wet,” said Extension forester Glenn Hughes. “If you have a site that is on sandy ground or dry soils, you would want to hold off until the first quarter of 2019 to get a higher price when supplies tighten.”
Years after the Flint water crisis drew national attention, another water pollution issue has emerged in House races in Michigan. Residents are growing concerned about human exposure to so-called forever chemicals, known as perfluoroalkyl or polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The chemicals, linked to health problems such as hypertension in pregnant women and a higher risk of developing certain cancers, have been found in groundwater and drinking water systems across the state.Along with other water-centric issues springing up through the summer, including an outbreak of lead contamination in Detroit public school drinking water systems, the current of bad news about Michiganders’ water has made the issue a “powder keg” in the election, said Bob Allison, deputy director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.
California’s pet insurance regulations, which experts peg as the strictest in the country, owe their existence to a dearly departed golden retriever named Bodie. It was Bodie’s death more than a decade ago from blood cancer, and his owner’s subsequent tussle with a pet insurance company for reimbursement of medical expenses, that led to the legislation requiring California’s pet insurance rules today. But outside of the Golden State, pet insurance is governed by a loose, state-by-state set of regulations that vary widely, experts say. Mostly, they come under general insurance regulation and often are governed under the property-casualty umbrella rather than the health insurance category.That can leave consumers navigating an insurance labyrinth on their own when collecting on claims or in other disputes with the companies.“It can vary dramatically, state by state,” said Kristen Lynch, executive director of the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHI), a consortium of the largest pet insurance companies in the United States and Canada. “California is the only state that has a law that guides pet insurance. Other states have tried it, but none of those has passed yet.”
A fight is brewing over the Endangered Species Act after congressional Republicans and federal agencies this year proposed major changes, including shifting more control over species protection to the states. Many states, especially Western ones with vast expanses of federal land, have long pushed for changes to the law. But what seemed unlikely under prior administrations has a better shot under the Trump presidency.A package of bills introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by members of the Congressional Western Caucus, all with Republican sponsors, would alter how species are listed and habitat is protected. States are most focused on measures that would affect their power, including bills that would allow them greater say over which species get protections. A draft bill in the U.S. Senate being circulated by Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican, would “elevate the role of state conservation agencies,” according to a news release from the U.S. Senate committee.While the various pieces of legislation may face a heavy lift getting through Congress, federal agencies last month finished taking public comments on proposed rule changes. Unveiled in July, the agency revisions would allow agencies to consider economic costs when deciding whether to protect species, possibly reduce the amount of protected habitat and make it easier to take species off the endangered and threatened species list, among other changes proposed by the Department of the Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Urban farming in Minnesota reached a milestone this summer, when the state announced the first round of grants for agriculture education and development projects in cities. It’s the first time the state has allocated money specifically for urban agriculture, and it took several tries to get the legislation passed. Michael Chaney, a long-time advocate from north Minneapolis who founded Project Sweetie Pie, a grant recipient, said he approached lawmakers with the idea about four years ago. At the time, he saw plenty of interest in urban agriculture — but not the kind of financial support that exists for rural farmers. “I was disenchanted and discouraged,” Chaney said.Advocates said state investment is crucial because it lends credibility to what Chaney calls the “changing face of agriculture.” Such state funding, even a small amount, can usher in a shift toward seeing urban areas as potential farms and their residents as fellow food producers.