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Rural News

Fire-starting ranchers get a new blessing from BLM

High Country News | Posted on April 18, 2019

Last year, President Donald Trump pardoned the ranchers, ending the jail time they were still serving for lighting wildland fires that endangered federal firefighters. Then, in January, then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reissued their grazing permit, and the Hammonds returned to ranching. On April 9, the BLM released a new environmental assessment for grazing on the Hammond Allotment, one of the largest of several the family uses in the high desert of eastern Oregon, where rolling hills are broken by rocky outcroppings. The BLM says cattle have not grazed the land for five years because the ranchers’ permits weren’t renewed in 2014.After years without grazing the allotment has become a wildfire risk, and locals have sent letters to the BLM, voicing concern. The agency’s plan would authorize the Hammonds to graze cattle to help reduce that risk. In many ways, it comes as the anticlimax to decades of disputes between the Hammonds and federal land managers. Facilitated by Trump’s pardon last year, it represents a return to business as usual in an area where ranching interests have significant sway over land-management policies.

Petting zoos a breeding ground for drug-resistant superbugs, study finds

Independent | Posted on April 18, 2019

Petting zoos could be a breeding ground for drug-resistant superbugs after a study found more than one in 10 animals carrying at least one strain of bacteria capable of withstanding multiple important antibiotics. Israeli researchers collected samples from 228 animals across eight randomly chosen petting zoos, and concluded they were “reservoirs” for microbes that could easily spread from children to vulnerable relatives.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs bill banning local 'right-to-work' zones

Chicago Tribune | Posted on April 18, 2019

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday signed into law a bill that bars local governments from establishing so-called right-to-work zones, another rebuke to his Republican predecessor, who blocked similar legislation as he battled with Democratic lawmakers over his pro-business, union-weakening agenda.

Southern States Slowly Embracing Harm Reduction to Curb Opioid Epidemic

Pew Trust | Posted on April 18, 2019

As a top agent with North Carolina’s Bureau of Investigation, Donnie Varnell had tried everything to stop people from fatally overdosing on opioids, from arresting more low-level drug users to talking with doctors. Nothing worked. In 2014, he heard a former SWAT commander speak to law enforcement officers about carrying the opioid antidote naloxone.“I’ve arrested more people than you can put on a cruise ship,” Varnell said, recalling the speech. “But the message — and the messenger — resonated with me. He spoke cop. But he also had ideas, programs and studies. I could see naloxone wasn’t dangerous.”Soon Varnell was traveling the state, working with drug policy activists to convince other officers to carry the overdose-reversal drug. He also embraced syringe exchanges, using data — nearly 1 in 3 officers get stuck with a syringe during the course of their career — to persuade fellow officers to support exchanges.And he even educated police chiefs concerned about the costs and liability of naloxone and needles.

Rural America Growing Again Due to Migration Gains

Carsey School of Public Policy | Posted on April 18, 2019

For the first six years of this decade, rural America experienced overall population loss for the first time in history. New Census Bureau estimates suggest that last year overall growth accelerated in nonmetropolitan America where 46.1 million people reside. The population gain was small, just 37,000 (.1 percent), but it contrasts with a loss of 32,000 just two years ago and to a modest population gain last year. Population growth was fueled by renewed net migration coupled with a surplus of births over deaths, though this natural increase is dwindling. The population grew in rural counties near metropolitan areas which have historically grown faster than more remote rural counties because of the advantages of metropolitan proximity. The Great Recession reversed this long-term trend and for several years adjacent counties lost more population than remote rural counties. Between July of 2017 and July of 2018, adjacent rural counties gained 46,000 residents because a domestic migration gain supplemented immigration and natural increase. In contrast, rural counties that were not near metropolitan areas continued to lose population due to sustained domestic migration loss. Growth rates vary widely across nonmetropolitan America. The fastest growing counties have recreational and scenic amenities that attract migrants including retirees from elsewhere in the U.S. Migration slowed to these counties during the Great Recession, but is has significantly increased in the last two years. In contrast, rural farm counties continued to experience domestic outmigration and population loss.

The maybe disaster of Northwest Missouri

Daily Yonder | Posted on April 18, 2019

Recovery continues in and along the Missouri Valley in Iowa. And in Nebraska – where a dam burst on the Niobrara River leading to the collapse of many Missouri River levees and flooding downstream in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri – the landscape is bleak.As is too often the case, it ain’t over till it’s over, and it ain’t over yet.Governors in Iowa and Nebraska have declared disasters, and Nebraska has already deployed close to $12.5 million in aid to displaced workers, families, businesses, and farms hammered by the torrent of water, ice, and debris.There’s been no disaster declaration in Missouri, where at least two counties in the northwest corner received the brunt of a record-setting crest close to two feet higher than any recorded flood.Now the Missouri Valley is impassable — due to road and bridge damage, and water — from US Hwy 34 near Plattsmouth, Nebraska, and Pacific Junction, Iowa, all the way down to Rulo, Nebraska, and Big Lake Missouri, on US 159. In all, four river crossings in a row are disabled. That also includes Highway 2, which connects Iowa and Nebraska at Nebraska City; and and US 136 in Missouri at the Brownville Nebraska bridge. Those 4 closures leave a 140 mile long transportation gap in the heart of America.

5G technology is coming to rural America

The New Food Economy | Posted on April 17, 2019

At an afternoon press conference at the White House, flanked by tower linemen and ranchers, the president and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai announced the agency’s largest-ever auction of wireless spectrum—that is, the radio frequencies over which wireless communications signals travel—for the purpose of deploying fifth-generation wireless (5G) technology.   As Mashable explains, wireless networks run on radio waves that FCC controls and opens up to private carriers through an auction process. In other words? What the announced last week will open up a huge new swath of those frequencies. China has already been pursuing similar domestic actions. Pai also announced a Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, headed by FCC, that will award over $2 billion in subsidies every year for the next 10 years to build out that 5G network; the goal is to reach 4 million residences and businesses. Ars Technica reports the fund will subsidize companies that build out the infrastructure, like a fiber-optic backbone, needed to support wireless broadband. (Wireless needs wires.) The fund will succeed the Connect America Fund, a federal rural broadband initiative that primarily subsidized technologies like cable and DSL.


What is a rural community? The answer isn't always so simple.

Politico | Posted on April 11, 2019

That experience underscores the complexity of defining what constitutes a rural community for the purposes of qualifying for rural-specific federal programs — a question that has plagued Congress, USDA officials and researchers for decades. Communities looking to qualify for rural development programs must first prove that they meet the government's definition of “rural” before they can be considered for assistance. But there’s no one-size-fits-all definition, and population thresholds vary from program to program. As larger socioeconomic forces have shaped demographic changes in rural communities and spurred population shifts, some experts and policymakers — Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue among them — have called for an updated calculation that takes more factors into account beyond population size.


The disease devastating deer herds may also threaten human health

HCN | Posted on April 11, 2019

But the mountain lions know that something is wrong. A number of years ago, Swanson and her colleagues studied which deer mountain lions prefer to attack. “The mountain lions were definitely preferentially selecting deer that had chronic wasting disease over those that were negative,” she says. “And for most of the ones that they had killed, we had not detected any chronic wasting disease symptoms yet. So certainly the lions were able to key in on far more subtle cues than we were.”

Are state legislatures wising up about broadband coops?

Daily Yonder | Posted on April 11, 2019

Co-ops offer several advantages for rural communities attempting to improve broadband connectivity. But large telcos don’t like them. North Carolina has loosened its restrictions on co-ops. Will other states follow?