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Rural News

How Washington's formula for fighting wildfires makes them worse

The Los Angeles Times | Posted on October 19, 2017

The absurd way in which Washington pays to put out wildfires throughout the West is making a dangerous situation even more so. It’s a rare point of bipartisan agreement in Congress that a fix is urgently needed, particularly as fires grow in duration and intensity. The root problem: the U.S. Forest Service is strapped for cash. Its firefighting budget amounts to a fraction of what it actually costs to fight fires. Not sending firefighters is hardly an option. Even in the wine country blazes, which are not on federal land, the service has sent 1,500 firefighters to help out the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, along with dozens of fire engines, air tankers, helicopters and water scoopers.The Forest Service has no choice but to pay for the assistance by raiding funds from other programs in its budget — many of them oriented toward preventing the very fires it is fighting. Prevention efforts are put aside as dollars are funneled to putting out flames.To put it in perspective: About 56% of the agency’s budget now gets consumed fighting fires. In 1995, not even a sixth of its budget was spent there. That is a lot of fire prevention work going undone.

Puerto Rico's Environmental Catastrophe

The Atlantic | Posted on October 19, 2017

Hurricane Maria has exposed and intensified the island’s ecological crisis and its human consequences. Can it build a sustainable future? We’d followed the path that Hurricane Maria’s eye had taken along the highway to the west of San Juan. Three weeks after the storm, the tropical green was just starting to come back, sprouting over the brown wounds of mud and giant trees pulled up from their roots. Here in Arecibo, a small municipality about 40 minutes from San Juan on a good day, high-water marks from the flood stood out on building walls, seven or eight feet high. Obliterated houses marked the deserted hamlets along the road. Smokestacks had been snapped in half and wires lay slack where giant power pylons had fallen. The Río Grande de Arecibo that cuts through the municipality remained an swollen brown expanse, still threatening to drown bridges and homes. Arecibo was a ghost town. Across the island, residents already beset by water and food shortages are also facing real threats of contamination that have already spread illness and worse. “All of this is just the beginning,” Conty said. “This is catastrophic.” Puerto Rican water utility had pumped water from a well in the Dorado Groundwater Contamination Site, which had been closed off to avoid human exposure to the carcinogens tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene, in order to distribute water to citizens who’d queued up in long lines. While the well in question had been found to be within certain federal safety standards for the industrial chemicals chloroform and PCE, residents await further tests to assess the quality of the Dorado water.

Pro-Trump states most affected by his health care decision

ABC News | Posted on October 19, 2017

President Donald Trump's decision to end a provision of the Affordable Care Act that was benefiting roughly 6 million Americans helps fulfill a campaign promise, but it also risks harming some of the very people who helped him win the presidency.Nearly 70 percent of those benefiting from the so-called cost-sharing subsidies live in states Trump won last November, according to an analysis by The Associated Press. The number underscores the political risk for Trump and his party, which could end up owning the blame for increased costs and chaos in the insurance marketplace.The subsidies are paid to insurers by the federal government to help lower consumers' deductibles and co-pays. People who benefit will continue receiving the discounts because insurers are obligated by law to provide them. But to make up for the lost federal funding, health insurers will have to raise premiums substantially, potentially putting coverage out of reach for many consumers.Some insurers may decide to bail out of markets altogether. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has estimated the loss of the subsidies would result in a 12 percent to 15 percent increase in premiums, while the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has put the figure at 20 percent. Experts say the political instability over Trump's effort to undermine Obama's health care law could prompt more insurers to leave markets, reducing competition and driving up prices.

Ground is shifting under brick and morter merchants

Minneapolis Federal Reserve | Posted on October 18, 2017

A rash of store closings is a sign that the ground has shifted under bricks-and-mortar merchants, with consequences for the retail sector and district communities. The death notice typically goes out several months before the sad event. In a terse press release, the retailer explains why it must close the store and dozens of others across the country in order to position the company for future growth and enhance shareholder value. A liquidation sale follows, and over the next few weeks, shoppers and resellers hunting for bargains strip the store down to its fixtures. Finally, the doors are locked, the lights turned out and a place that was once a hive of commercial and social activity is left a hollow shell fronted by an empty parking lot. This sequence has played out numerous times this year in the Ninth District, in big cities such as Minneapolis (where Macy’s closed its downtown store, ending 114 years of retailing in that location) to small cities such as Jamestown, N.D., and Thief River Falls, Minn., which lost their J.C. Penney stores.

Despite ag downturn, shoots of optimism sprout in southwest Minnesota

Federal Reserve Bank | Posted on October 18, 2017

 six-county area of southwest Minnesota has all the makings for a classic tale of economic hardship. The area—Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Pipestone, Redwood and Yellow Medicine counties—is dominated by a farm sector struggling with another year of low commodity prices. The region also has gradually lost population as larger cities have lured away young workers and families. But in farm country, every year is a new growing season bringing new shoots of optimism, literally and figuratively. Despite agriculture’s downturn in recent years, the region’s unemployment rate is down and job demand is up. There are also signs that wages are rising. And a new business enterprise might, ironically, make the region an inland hub for seafood.

Maine: Legislative panel to study pet peeve of governor: conserved land

The Fresno Bee | Posted on October 12, 2017

Lawmakers have begun diving into the issue of land conservation programs, which supporters say benefit surrounding communities and Republican Gov. Paul LePage has often derided as a tax giveaway for wealthy interests. LePage has, for years, criticized lawmakers for catering to wealthy groups and individuals whom he claims enjoy scenic views on tax-exempt land that increase property taxes for seniors and poor Mainers. In the days before this year's three-day government shutdown over the state budget, LePage claimed that Democrats were ignoring his proposal to remove property tax exemptions for land trusts and nonprofits that hold large tracts of land.

Unique model makes citizens a funding partner in broadband network

Daily Yonder | Posted on October 12, 2017

Ammon, Idaho (pop. 13,800), today celebrates its success at thinking differently to produce a city-owned gig network. The city built the network with no debt and got an impressive 70% of the potential customers to sign up for service. One key is new technology. The other is that the “private” in this PPP structure is citizens themselves. “Ammon has created a unique and interesting model,” says Deb Socia, executive director of Next Century Cities, a national organization of mayors and other civic leaders who are trying to improve broadband connectivity locally. “The funding structure for Ammon’s [system] worked perfectly for them and may possibly work for others.”No one has to convince Technology Director Bruce Patterson of the City of Ammon the value a bringing new thinking to the table. He recalled a city he knew that recently hired a consultant to do a broadband feasibility study.A city in eastern Idaho figured out how to build a gig network for its city of 13,800 residents with no debt and a strong sign-up rate. Maybe there’s a lesson for other communities here.

Fish farm has 60 days to fix net pens outside Seattle as 1 million Atlantic salmon move in

The Olympian | Posted on October 12, 2017

Just a week after the state Department of Fish and Wildlife approved shipment of 1 million more farmed Atlantic salmon to Cooke Aquaculture’s fish farm near Bainbridge Island, another state agency says it has found holes in the nets and corrosion in the structure of the facility. The Department of Natural Resources on Monday notified Cooke that it is in default of the terms of its lease at its Rich Passage operation. It ordered the facility repaired within 60 days, or the department may cancel the company’s lease for the facility, which operates over public bed lands.

Killer wildfires continue to menace California's wine country, with 24 dead and hundreds missing

The Washington Post | Posted on October 12, 2017

The 21 fires currently burning across the northern part of the state have killed at least 24 people, destroyed more than 3,500 buildings and torched more than 191,000 acres — a collective area nearly the size of New York City. Nine fires are now burning in Sonoma and Napa counties, the heart of California’s wine-growing industry. One of the biggest and by far the deadliest, the Tubbs Fire in Sonoma grew about 6,000 acres overnight before conditions began to improve.As thousands of firefighters work to contain the blazes, officials have started looking at what’s ahead: Cleaning up the charred remains of thousands of structures, some of which could contain potentially hazardous materials.“You can imagine what it’s going to take,” said Dugan, the Sonoma County spokesman. “You just take one area in Santa Rosa, the Coffey Park area. There’s dozens if not hundreds of [destroyed] homes. That’s a lot of cleanup and a lot of debris. Once the fire is under control, there’ll still a lot of work to do.”He added: “This is going to be months and years of recovery for the county.”Amid these grim bulletins, the huge utility company PG&E acknowledged that the extreme winds late Sunday and early Monday had knocked trees into power lines in conditions conducive to wildfires.

Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico's food supply — here's what the island's farms look like now

Business Insider | Posted on October 11, 2017

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the devastation to Puerto Rico has sunk in. Many of the island's 3.4 million residents are still without access to power, running water, and health services. The Category 4 storm also left Puerto Rico without most of its farmland, roughly a quarter of the island's land divided into over 13,000 farms.  After Maria barreled through with 155-mph winds, it wiped out approximately 80% of the territory's crop value.