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Rural News

Coalition Pushes for Reauthorization of Timber Funds Program

Education Week | Posted on May 10, 2016

A bipartisan Senate coalition is calling for the reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act, which provides timber revenue for rural schools and communities located near national forest land.

More than 30 lawmakers sent a letter to Senate leaders in late April encouraging the reauthorization of the program, according to Montana's Flathead Beacon. In the letter, lawmakers called the program a "critical safety-net" for communities near federally-owned forests because those communities are unable to tax that land. Money from the timber program is used to support many community services, including schools, transportation infrastructure, and local law enforcement agencies.

Cartoonist says his work got him axed

Des Moines Register | Posted on May 10, 2016

A freelance cartoonist says he was fired for drawing an editorial cartoon that bemoaned Iowa farmers' dwindling profits while CEOs at large agricultural corporations earn millions of dollars.

In last week's "It's Friday" cartoon, Friday said the CEOs of Deere & Co., Monsanto Co. and DuPont Pioneer made more money than 2,129 Iowa farmers last year. A large affiliated company "was insulted and canceled their advertisement with the paper, thus, resulting in the reprimand of my editor and cancellation of 'It's Friday' cartoons," wrote Friday, who worked 21 years for Farm News, publishing 1,090 cartoons. DuPont and Monsanto officials said the companies were unaware of the cartoon until the media brought it to their attention. A Deere spokesman wasn't immediately available Monday to comment. Monsanto's Christi Dixon said the St. Louis-based company has no interest in shutting down farm discussions. "We respect various viewpoints and want to be open to dialogue. We're interested in finding common ground," said Dixon, adding the company recently hosted a vocal critic of the company's genetically modified seeds at its headquarters.

Closing Ohio’s prison farms will halt a $9 million project

Farm and Dairy | Posted on May 6, 2016

The proposed closure and sale of Ohio’s 10 prison farms will affect some ongoing construction projects — including a $9 million project to build new dairy and beef facilities at two farms. The state was in the final stages of constructing new cattle facilities at the London and Marion prison farms — and was about to begin installing the milking parlor equipment, when the intent to close and sell was announced. Grant Doepel, deputy communications chief for the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, told Farm and Dairy the department is reassessing the new buildings at London and Marion, to see how they can be repurposed for the prison. He said some other prison farms were also undergoing some routine renovations, and those projects will be re-assessed, as well.

DRC will need the Ohio General Assembly’s approval to sell the property.

Human activity helps drive wildfires

Plos One | Posted on May 6, 2016

Wildfire predictions do not accurately account for anthropogenic factors.  A new study examining wildfires in California found that human activity explains as much about their frequency and location as climate influences. The researchers systematically looked at human (anthropogenic) behaviors and climate change together, which is unique and rarely attempted on an area of land this large.

The findings suggest many models of wildfire predictions do not accurately account for anthropogenic factors and may therefore be misleading when identifying the main causes/drivers of wildfires. The newest model proportionately accounts for climate change and human behavioral threats and allows experts to more accurately predict how much land is at risk of burning in California through 2050, which is estimated at more than 7 million acres in the next 25 years.

Digital farming could spell shake-up for crop chemicals sector

Reuters | Posted on May 6, 2016

Global pesticides, seeds and fertilizer companies may be forced to re-engineer their business models as farmers adopt specialist technology that helps maximize harvests while reducing the use of crop chemicals. New businesses are springing up that promise to tell farmers how and when to till, sow, spray, fertilize or pick crops based on algorithms using data from their own fields. Their emphasis on reducing the use of chemicals and minerals known as farming inputs is a further challenge for an industry already struggling with weak agricultural markets worldwide.

Fort McMurray,Alberta fire: Entire city forced to flee as inferno rages

CNN | Posted on May 4, 2016

The sky in northern Alberta's Fort McMurray resembled a wall of fire and smoke as a mammoth inferno swallowed parts of the Canadian city. Authorities ordered the evacuation of about 88,000 people, including the entire city of Fort McMurray.A state of emergency across the province was declared later in the day.The blaze has already destroyed 80% of Fort McMurray's Beacon Hill community.In all, some 1,600 structures have been destroyed by the fire, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said. However, there have been no reports of deaths or injuries, officials said. High winds, warm weather and dry conditions were expected to create "explosive conditions" for fire growth and make it difficult for firefighters to keep up.

Only rural hospital in Massachusetts imperiling Medicare funds

Boston Globe | Posted on May 2, 2016

Under nearly impenetrable hospital payment rules, Medicare must reimburse a state’s urban hospitals for employee wages at least as much as it reimburses its rural hospitals. As a result, Nantucket sets the floor for wage reimbursements at hospitals across the state. And because Nantucket’s wages are high, due to its remote island location and steep cost of living, that has created bonuses for many other Massachusetts hospitals in recent years.

Not this year. Consultants hired by Partners made several errors that led to lower wages being reported to Medicare for Nantucket Hospital. They overestimated hours, thereby reducing the hourly rate, and did not include enough higher-paid physician hours and overtime pay, according to an e-mail from the Massachusetts Hospital Association obtained by the Globe.

Those mistakes, combined with another smaller adjustment to Nantucket’s wages, would result in a “steep and extraordinarily serious’’ decline in Medicare payments, wrote the association’s general counsel, Timothy Gens, in the e-mail. He said “the situation is further complicated by the fact that the [Medicare] deadline for corrections has passed.’’ The rates affect the next fiscal year, beginning in October.

Alberta announces funding for conservation

The Wester Producer | Posted on April 30, 2016

The Alberta government recognized Earth Day April 22 by announcing $15 million to be available annually, over the next five years, for public and private land conservation projects.

The funds were allocated in the recent budget and will support the Land Trust Grant Program and the Land Purchase Program, according to an Alberta Environment news release.

The two programs are used to promote voluntary conservation of private land and to buy land the province considers to be of high conservation value.

Earlier this year, six different land trusts were granted $5.89 million for 22 different projects. They will help conserve more than 13,300 acres of land, said the release.

Land trusts use the money to buy easements or undertake stewardship projects.

Thousands of fish die in Colorado, concrete from flood recovery blamed

High Country News | Posted on April 30, 2016

In early March, a resident of the small Colorado towns of Drake and Glen Haven — situated within northern Colorado’s Big Thompson River Canyon — reported noticing funky gray water in a side creek of the river and a murder of crows picking at a few dead fish. A few days later, March 7, a large plume of more cloudy water ran down the Big Thompson, leaving behind a massive fish kill. Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials now confirm that more than 5,600 fish, mostly rainbow and brown trout, died in the Big Thompson and its North Fork, and are blaming concrete from a bridge reconstruction project, part of the state’s massive recovery and reconstruction effort following the September 2013 floods. 

The die-off is alarming news for the Big Thompson, a popular fly fishing river among tourists and locals, which formerly generated an annual $4.3 million for the region. Larry Rogstad, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Area Manager, says the “iconic” fishery is also important as one of the only rivers in Colorado with wild rainbow trout free of whirling disease. The 2013 floods had already knocked back the river’s fish populations, and Rogstad estimates the recent incident killed more than half of the estimated fish within an eight-mile-long downstream stretch of river.

Concrete can include toxic compounds and is very alkaline — which can be lethal to fish. High alkalinity was documented in the Big Thompson downstream of the bridge construction for eight river miles to a Loveland water-treatment plant in the days following the apparent concrete spill. Since then, water-quality levels have returned to normal, and officials continue to monitor any effects.

USDA Seeks Applications for Nearly $12 Million in Broadband Grants for Rural Communities

USDA | Posted on April 29, 2016

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that USDA is soliciting applications for grants to establish broadband in unserved rural communities through its Community Connect program. Community Connect is administered by USDA's Rural Utilities Service and helps to fund broadband deployment into rural communities where it is not economically viable for private sector providers to provide service.

USDA plans to award up to $11.7 million in grants through the Community Connect grant program. The grants fund broadband infrastructure to help foster economic growth by delivering connectivity to the global marketplace. The grants also fund broadband for community centers and public institutions.