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Rural News

Review of sage grouse agreement could turn partners into adversaries

Daily Yonder | Posted on June 23, 2017

A public-private agreement has managed to preserve the habitat of a threatened species while accommodating hunting, fishing, ranching, and energy development. Interior Secretary Zinke says he's revisiting the agreement. That could lead to the sage grouse qualifying as "endangered," which would mean a far less flexible approach to conservation. “The sage grouse initiative, the collaboration, up to now it’s been working,” said O’Toole, owner of Ladder Ranch along the Wyoming and Colorado border.“It’s the collaboration that’s the key. Everybody involved has been trying to prevent the whole sage grouse effort from the conflict and litigation that could from a listing” of the bird as an endangered species.The sage grouse team involves ranchers along with the Bureau of Land Management, U. S. Forest Service, U. S. Department of Agriculture, state agencies and non-governmental partners. The success of the collaboration, including its public-private partnership, led to the 2015 decision to invest in this approach rather than list the sage grouse as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Listing the grouse as endangered would trigger a more stringent set of regulations that limit landowner and public agency choices and could trigger litigation.

WA:Court water-well ruling imposes undue burden on rural families

Yakima Herald | Posted on June 23, 2017

Now a harsh ruling by the Washington State Supreme Court in Hirst v. Whatcom County, blocks access to water for rural families — making that life unaffordable and simply impossible for the average Washington citizen. Declaring that counties can no longer rely on the Washington State Department of Ecology to determine if there is enough water for permit-exempt wells, the court brought the state’s Growth Management Act into conflict with 80 years of water law.  Supporters of Hirst argue the court’s strict new interpretation helps salmon. However, that is just a political disguise for the underlying motivation of impeding development and stopping families from being able to live in rural areas.Permit-exempt wells were designed to decrease bureaucratic red tape for a de minimums (minimal) amount of water, in the form of 5,000 gallons per day. Supporters of the Hirst ruling say families should not be given access to this water without getting a special, and expensive, permit.The result is an effective ban, even though permit-exempt wells use far less than the permitted 5,000 gallons a day. In fact, all the rural wells in a large area have less of an effect on the natural water supply than one concentrated city-run water system.The cumulative effect of all permit-exempt wells on the total water supply amounts to less than 1 percent. Supporters of the water ban want to block access to a paltry 0.9 percent of total water consumption, and make all citizens in Washington bear the cost.What is the cost all of Washington must bear? Existing homeowners reap a windfall, since they already have wells without a permit. For people without water, however, their land has become nearly worthless. Few families can spend up to $100,000 or more for the hydrogeological studies needed to get a permit-exempt well or pay for expensive water transfers. The result is slowed rural development, decreased property tax revenues for rural communities, and lower employment rates in rural areas.

For First Time in History, Solar Jobs Outnumber Coal Jobs in Virginia

WVTF | Posted on June 23, 2017

Virginia has long been coal country, but the solar power industry has been increasing its foothold in the Commonwealth over the last few years. Virginia now has more jobs in the solar industry than the coal industry. Numbers from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy show a 40% drop in the number of people working in the coal industry over the last five years. Henry Childress with the Virginia Coal and Energy Alliance says coal produces more energy with fewer employees.For now, though, the solar industry has more employees in Virginia than the coal industry. That’s a dramatic shift for a state that has a long history with coal. Alexander Winn at the Solar Foundation says he’s hopeful some of those jobs might move from coal to solar.“There are efforts to retrain some coal workers, and hopefully those will continue to grow as solar becomes an increasingly large employment sector in the Virginia energy industry.”Most solar energy jobs are in installation, construction and manufacturing. Numbers from the Solar Foundation show that the industry grew by about 65% over the last year alone.

Rural America is being ignored, again

Wisconsin State Farmer | Posted on June 23, 2017

It has been remarkable how quickly the “buzz” about rural voters and their electoral impact has faded. Many Main Street advocates, myself included, predicted the super-majority of rural voters who carried Donald Trump to victory would prompt a policy spotlight that would shine brightly on small towns and rural spaces. After all, without rural voters there would be no President Donald Trump.Then, the incoming administration waited until the day before the inauguration to announce an Agriculture secretary-nominee. Earlier, a biofuels skeptic was nominated to run the EPA, which oversees the Renewable Fuel Standard.Now, to add insult to injury, Trump has proposed $29 billion in cuts to crop insurance that create a yuge (huge) hole in the producer safety net! This will leave farmers without options in bad crop years caused by changing weather. All the while, eliminating locally led conservation efforts on farms and ranches and limiting programs that provide hunting and fishing opportunities on private lands.Trump Republican cuts to agriculture and rural economic development programs will eliminate rural business programs that have supported more than 800,000 jobs in the last eight years. He proposes ending rural energy programs that help small businesses on Main Street save on energy costs — and that’s before the proposed cuts to Medicaid under Trumpcare-AHCA.

Oregon moves to strengthen its unique sanctuary state status

Statesman Journal | Posted on June 21, 2017

Oregon's Legislature took a step closer Tuesday to strengthening its unique sanctuary-state status, with the House passing a bill that would bar state and local agencies from asking about a person's immigration status and from disclosing information to federal officials, except in certain circumstances.  The bill, introduced at the request of Gov. Kate Brown and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, both Democrats, has sharply divided lawmakers along party lines in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.Oregon became America's first, and so far only, sanctuary state in 1987 with a law preventing law enforcement from detaining people who are in the United States illegally but have not broken other laws. In February, Brown ordered all state agencies to follow it. Massachusetts lawmakers are considering a bill that would create another sanctuary state.A federal judge has blocked, at least temporarily, an executive order issued by Trump to cut funding to sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration agents.

One Ohio Town’s Immigration Clash, Down in the Actual Muck

The New York Times | Posted on June 20, 2017

Migrant workers arrive here every spring to work in the “muck,” which is what everybody calls the fertile soil that makes this part of Ohio the perfect place to grow radishes, peppers, cucumbers and leafy greens. The temporary workers can be seen planting, weeding and, later in the season, harvesting crops that will be sold at national supermarket chains. But there’s trouble in the muck this growing season. “Without the Hispanic labor force, we wouldn’t be able to grow crops,” said Ben Wiers, a great-grandson of the pioneer Henry Wiers, who bought five acres here in 1896, noting that he considers many workers at Wiers Farms, which cultivates more than 1,000 acres of produce under the Dutch Maid label, to be friends.But beefed-up border enforcement has slowed the flow of workers who enter the country illegally. Last year, a shortage forced Mr. Wiers and the other growers to leave millions of dollars’ worth of produce in the fields. This year could be worse. The Trump administration has encouraged local law enforcement across the country to help identify deportable individuals for the federal authorities, making long-distance travel risky for those already in the country without legal status.“It’s not a hospitable climate,” lamented Mr. Wiers, who joined other farmers in discussing their concerns recently with Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio.

Opioid crisis threatens rural Georgia's workforce

Valdosta Daily Times | Posted on June 19, 2017

The state’s emerging opioid crisis may be partly to blame for the workforce shortages stymieing local efforts to attract new jobs.  This was one of the revelations from the second meeting of the state’s new House Rural Development Council, which met recently in Toccoa. The group of legislators is tasked with identifying potential policy fixes for the economic challenges facing the rural Georgia. “We have a drug problem in Stephens County, and it’s a big one and it does impact the labor force,” Barry Roberts, director of operations for ASI Southeast, told legislators Friday during a meeting that was livestreamed. ASI Southeast employs more than 400 people, making it the largest private employer in the county that sits on the South Carolina border. The company, which makes steel and polymer products used in commercial restrooms, has invested $50 million in Georgia in the last decade, Roberts said. “We want to stay here. We want to thrive here,” Roberts said. “But we do feel like there are some obstacles in the way right now.” The substance-abuse problem, which manifests itself at ASI Southeast as failed drug tests, is one issue that “needs to be on your radar,” he told state lawmakers. It’s not a problem unique to the northeast Georgia community, though. Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is monitoring the growing statewide impact of the opioid crisis. 

Overall nonmetro population declines

USDA | Posted on June 19, 2017

The number of people living in nonmetro counties declined by nearly 21,000 (-0.05 percent) between July 2015 and July 2016, continuing 6 years of modest population losses. Although many individual nonmetro counties have shown population losses for decades, this is the first period of overall nonmetro population decline. ERS tracks demographic change in nonmetro areas and conducts research to help explain the relationship between population change and the socioeconomic well-being of rural and small-town residents. The total population in nonmetro counties stood at 46.1 million in July 2016—14 percent of U.S. residents spread across 72 percent of the Nation's land area. Annual population losses averaged 43,000 per year between 2011 and 2015, but dropped to 21,000 in 2016.Population change varies widely across rural and small-town America (see map). A record 1,350 nonmetro counties have lost population since 2010, as a group declining by 790,000 people. At the same time, nonmetro counties that gained population added 598,000 residents.Nonmetro population growth from net migration peaked in 2006, then declined precipitously and shifted geographically in response to rising unemployment, housing-market challenges, energy-sector developments, and other factors. Suburban expansion and migration to scenic, retirement/recreation destinations were primary drivers of rural demographic change for several decades, but for the time-being, their influence has considerably weakened. Population growth rates in nonmetro areas have been significantly lower than in metro areas since the mid-1990s, and the gap widened considerably in recent years. While annual rates of population change in nonmetro areas went from 0.7 percent to below zero between 2006 and 2016, metro rates declined only slightly, from 1 percent to 0.8 percent.

Wildfires used to be rare in the Great Plains. They’ve more than tripled in 30 years

The Washington Post | Posted on June 19, 2017

The grasslands of U.S. Great Plains have seen one of the sharpest increases in large and dangerous wildfires in the past three decades, with their numbers more than tripling between 1985 and 2014, according to new research.The new study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that the average number of large Great Plains wildfires each year grew from about 33 to 117 over that time period, even as the area of land burned in these wildfires increased by 400 percent.“This is undocumented and unexpected for this region,” said Victoria Donovan, the lead author of the study and a researcher at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. “Most studies do document these shifts in large wildfires in forested areas, and this is one of the first that documents a shift, at this scale, in an area characterized as a grassland.”Donovan published the study with two university colleagues. The research looked at large wildfires, defined as fires around 1,000 acres or more in size. 2011 saw a particularly large surge of Great Plains wildfires, which accounted for half of the total acreage burned in the United States that year.By specific region, some of the largest wildfire increases occurred in the Cross Timbers region of Texas and Oklahoma (which saw a 2,200 percent increase in the total area burned), the Edwards Plateau of Texas (a 3,300 percent increase), and the Central Irregular Plains, encompassing parts of Iowa and northern Missouri, as well as parts of Kansas and Oklahoma (1,400 percent increase).

Oregon wrestles with wolf management questions

Capital Press | Posted on June 19, 2017

There’s a question about who should investigate when Oregon wolves devour livestock. A “depredation,” as it’s called in wildlife management-speak. The Oregon Department of Fish Wildlife says it could use some help. Cattle ranchers would like to see properly certified local groups involved, to speed up the process. Depredation investigations are important because wolves involved in enough of them can end up dead. “Lethal control,” is the polite term. Oregon State Police say no thanks. The OSP Wildlife Division head, Capt. Jeff Samuels, said his game officers would need eight hours of training each, about 1,000 hours total. That’s expensive. Another issue: Does the burden of Oregon’s wolf management approach weigh too heavily on private landowners? People in Northeast Oregon, especially in Wallowa County and especially cattle ranchers, would say of course. Russ Morgan, ODFW wolf program manager, said 74 percent of confirmed wolf depredations occur on private land. Michael Finley, the ODFW Commission chair, raised the question. He said it’s a dichotomy: Private land with private expectations, and a public resource — wolves — is doing damage and costing owners money.He wondered out loud whether wolves on private or property ought to be managed differently. For example, require only two confirmed depredations on private land instead of three, the uniform private-public standard.  It’s complicated because Oregon land is about 50-50 public and private, often butting up against each other. Wolves go where they want and ranchers use both, because grazing is a permitted activity on land managed by the BLM and Forest Service.Todd Nash, a Wallowa County commissioner who is wolf committee chair for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, agreed property lines are intermixed and sometimes unfenced. But he said cattle are private property, and ranchers wouldn’t allow someone to rustle their cattle, for instance, no matter where they were grazing. Insert eat for rustle and the point is made.