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Rural News

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.

Rural America is stranded in the dial-up age

The Wall Street Journal | Posted on June 16, 2017

As in many rural communities, broadband here lags behind in both speed and available connections. Federal data shows only a fraction of Washington County’s 25,000 residents, including Ms. Johnson, have internet service fast enough to stream videos or access the cloud, activities that residents 80 miles away in St. Louis take for granted. Some rural communities have successfully done the job themselves.In central Missouri, Co-Mo Electric Cooperative, Inc., a not-for-profit, customer-owned co-op formed in 1939 to deliver electricity, started a fiber-optic network that has built connections to 25,000 members in a region more sparsely populated than Washington County. So far, it has 15,000 subscribers, including non-members in neighboring communities.Co-Mo’s members, which include farms and businesses, realized they were falling behind, said John Schuster, board chairman of Co-Mo Connect, the internet service. Residents had to drive to the parking lot of a community college to work online. Students at local schools were cut off from the internet.The cooperative, after failing to obtain government subsidies, borrowed $80 million from two private institutions that serve utilities and went door to door asking members to contribute $100 each. In 1939, the co-op asked each member to contribute $5 toward electrification. Rather than only digging trenches for fiber-optic cable, Co-Mo strung cable along its own utility poles and rented space on others. An estimated 70% of Co-Mo internet subscribers have 100 Mbps service that costs $49.95 a month, Mr. Schuster said.The co-op’s internet service is doing well financially, Mr. Schuster said, but “the definition of making money for me and for a shareholder from AT&T is going to be two different things.”Such local broadband systems are tough to duplicate. Nearly all government subsidies go to major telecommunication providers, a legacy of the FCC’s long relationship with phone companies, said Jonathan Chambers, a former FCC strategic planning chief, now a consultant to cooperatives.

As High-Tech Farms Take Hold, Can Farm Towns Hold On?

KCUR | Posted on June 15, 2017

That means farms on the Great Plains and in many other parts of the country have had to grow in size and adopt new technologies to make ends meat. He can’t just farm 80 acres and make a living, he says. “I wish you could. I think life would be a lot simpler, easier,” Biesemeier says. “And there’d be a lot more people out here if that was the case.”About a hundred years ago, farming was the way a third of the country made its living. It used to be the most common occupation in America.As more farmers adopt new technology, they become more efficient, drive down prices on the crops they produce, and “that means the people who have not adopted find themselves with high costs and find it very difficult to make any money, and many of them wind up deciding to get out of the business,” MacDonald says.All that has led to the trends that have shaped all of American agriculture: The average farm is growing larger, fewer farmers are doing the job and midsize farms are disappearing. University of Missouri rural sociologist Mary Hendrickson says sometimes small towns in Middle America are written off, discarded in national discussions as “throwaway places.” But, she argues, there is a lot of value held not only in rural communities, but also in the surrounding farms and ranches. Farmers manage a huge swath of America’s land mass. If we want a healthier environment, she says, farmers who manage land and water need support to reverse some of the negative economic trends plaguing the small towns they live in and rely on.“Farmers can’t do it on their own,” Hendrickson says. “So it’s going to take some investments from rural development agencies, from potentially people outside the region as well.”

Communities take the search for broadband into their own hands

Daily Yonder | Posted on June 15, 2017

2017 has been a great year for winning legislative battles against bills threatening to curb or eliminate municipal broadband networks. For example: Missouri: anti-muni bill defeated;Tennessee: co-op won, muni lost in compromise bill that became law;Virginia: anti-muni bill also defeated;Maine: anti-muni bill DOA, sponsors killed it within day of introducing it. Constituents were able to work without the threat of punitive legislation in several states. West Virginia and Georgia are among those states whose legislators have opted to work with communities. These lawmakers believe public networks as one more option for advancing broadband. “Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d.” Nor Frontier, apparently, when scorned by a state legislator. West Virginia legislators this year passed a bill that makes it easier for cities to bring broadband to poorly served constituents. Frontier vigorously opposed the bill while legislators, including the leader of the state senate, supported it overwhelmingly.Soon after the vote, Frontier fired West Virginia Senate President, Republican Mitch Carmichael, who also was a sales manager for the state’s biggest ISP. According to the company, Senator Carmichael left because of “a reduction in workforce.” Local press in the state speculated this was payback for Carmichael’s support of the bill. West Virginia now allows as few as 20 individuals or organization to form co-ops devoted to deploying broadband. This makes operating networks cheaper and funding them easier because co-ops are nonprofit organizations. As such, co-ops enjoy tax breaks while those who donate to co-ops get a tax write-off. Co-ops exist for the benefit of the communities, which is reflected in lower subscription prices, plus profits that co-ops earn are returned to their members.

Backyard chickens are boosting salmonella needlessly

Meatingplace (free registration required) | Posted on June 15, 2017

I saw recently that the CDC reported that nearly 400 people in 47 states have been sick from salmonella from backyard birds. Although these are mostly egg laying birds involved as most backyard chicken fanciers want the birds for eggs not meat, it reminds me of the quote by Edmund Burke, “Those that don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”Now we are seeing this push to raise birds outside, in some cases, with no concern for their welfare, because people do not have a good understanding of what is best for the birds but project their own needs and comfort somehow to food animals.  No wonder there is an upturn in salmonella cases. We need young people to have experiences raising farm animals as they are our next generation of farmers and we will need them to produce food for the rapidly expanding population.  However, we need to make sure that they have a solid understanding of how food animals should be raised.It is a tragedy when children get a life threatening disease because people do not understand consequences of treating food animals like pets.  The poultry industry has made improvements that have significantly reduced the incidence of food borne illness and will continue to make improvements so that we can enjoy safe food. People can enjoy producing their own food but it should not come with a risk of disease.

Texas budget includes funding for vet school at Texas Tech | Posted on June 15, 2017

Gov. Greg Abbott has signed into law a 2018-2019 state budget worth around $217 billion, vetoing about $120 million in planned expenditures but keeping $4.2 million in funding for a Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo. “For everyone in the Panhandle, this is a big victory,” Smithee said. “The establishment of a vet college here has been a dream goal for some for at least 30 years, most thought it was unreachable within our lifetimes, but now it looks like it will be a reality.”The amount of funding is down about $1.5 million from the House’s initial proposal and well short of the $16.75 million that the Texas Tech University System initially requested from lawmakers to build the school.Smithee said previously that the more than $4 million was a commitment from the state of Texas that a veterinary college would be established in Amarillo.

Court Rules Chimpanzees Are Not Persons

JD Journal | Posted on June 15, 2017

An appeals court ruled that chimps are not legal persons but are they missing something? The New York State Appeals Court rejected an appeal by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) seeking rights for a pair of chimpanzees. The group is not going to let this setback stop them for finding a way to give highly intelligent animals legal rights. The captive chimpanzees in question – Tommy and Kiko – will remain in their cages for now until the NhRP can find a way to help them. The New York appeals court unanimously found that the chimps are not persons so they do not deserve the same protections afforded to humans. The NhRP lawyers were fighting to have the chimps released and placed in a sanctuary. Tommy is held at a trailer dealership in a warehouse in Gloversville, NY while Kiko get a storefront cage in Niagara Falls, NY.Efforts have been underway for a number of years to achieve legal personhood for a select group of nonhuman animals like apes, dolphins, whales, and elephants. The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Techologies (IEET) has established a Rights of Nonhuman Persons Program and there is a world conference focused entirely on the subject.

Drug crisis is pushing up death rates for almost all groups of Americans

The Washington Post | Posted on June 15, 2017

he opioid epidemic that has ravaged life expectancy among economically stressed white Americans is taking a rising toll among blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans, driving up the overall rate of death among Americans in the prime of their lives.Since the beginning of this decade, death rates have risen among people between the ages of 25 and 44 in virtually every racial and ethnic group and almost all states, according to a Washington Post analysis. The death rate among African Americans is up 4 percent, Hispanics 7 percent, whites 12 percent and Native Americans 18 percent. The rate for Asian Americans also has increased, but at a level that is not statistically significant.After a century of decreases, the overall death rate for Americans in these prime years rose 8 percent between 2010 and 2015.