Wildfires are getting bigger and hotter across the West, threatening communities and causing billions of dollars in damage as forests become more cluttered and prone to disease. That’s according to a presentation by Paul Hessburg, research landscape ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service, documenting how the landscape has changed and what effect humans are having on fire behavior. Hessburg’s talk, titled “Era of Megafires,” is equal parts cautionary tale and call to action, mixing decades worth of research with short video clips to show how and why large fires erupt, the devastation they cause and what people must do to contain them in the future. Hessburg spoke March 1 before a mostly full house at Maxey Hall on the campus of Whitman College in Walla Walla. The community had its own brush with the destructive Blue Creek Fire in July 2015 that burned 6,000 acres, 12 structures and nearly crept into the Mill Creek watershed. While the prospect of megafires is a scary thought, Hessburg said it wasn’t his goal to make people afraid — quite the opposite, actually.
Monsanto officials say they’ll use a large corporate ranch in a phosphate-rich area of Caribou County to research sage grouse habitat restoration on land denuded for agricultural activities. Monsanto has hired a Ph.D. involved in sage grouse work and plans to collaborate with university researchers on projects at the ranch, intended to help mitigate for the company’s planned Caldwell Canyon Mine. The mine is proposed within public land classified as general sage grouse habitat under the Bureau of Land Management’s new land-use plan, though it shouldn’t affect any active leks, which are sensitive areas where sage grouse perform elaborate mating rituals.
Rural voters tended to vote Republican and urban voters Democratic in this election. The divide may have less to do with party labels and more to do with political philosophy. Rural Americans are more conservative than urban dwellers, and their priorities often differ. In an analysis after the recent election, National Public Radio said the rural-urban divide grew in 2016 from where it was in 2012 and 2008, and it was because rural counties became progressively more Republican. The NPR analysis said it was impossible to tell what is causing the widening rural-urban gap because of the number of factors related to voting patterns. One striking similarity between the election of Truman in 1948 and Trump in 2016 is that a segment of the population felt left out or passed over by the losing party. Dewey was criticized for speaking over the heads of voters. Truman, on the other hand, played upon farmers’ fears that a Republican administration would lead to another depression, especially in farm prices. The farm economy is always on farmers’ minds, but in the 2016 election they had other serious concerns. A major example was the regulatory overreach by the Environmental Protection Agency. It isn’t just that farmers abhorred the fines, paperwork and legal fees. They viewed EPA as a threat to private property rights. This issue was not a high priority with urban dwellers, who seldom face a loss of property rights or EPA intrusion in their affairs.
Wildlife managers estimate that more than 570 Yellowstone National Park bison have been killed so far this winter. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports that the numbers show that bison managers are making progress on their goal to eliminate 1,300 bison from the Yellowstone herd. A 2000 management plan calls for a population of 3,000 bison in the region, but about 5,500 live there now. A Yellowstone report says 179 bison have been transferred to Native American tribes for slaughter and 359 have been killed by hunters as of last Friday. A Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks report on the bison hunt compiled last week shows a lower number of confirmed bison kills but says officials believe more the total number of bison hunted and killed is already above 400.
A $10 million commercial biotech plant laboratory in Middleton, Wisconsin, first opened in 1982 with the help of University of Wisconsin–Madison scientists, will soon become part of UW–Madison following a donation from Monsanto Co. The facility, a labyrinth of greenhouses and laboratories where some of plant biotechnology’s first critical steps were taken, was officially donated to UW–Madison’s University Research Park by Monsanto last month (December 2016) to become the hub of the new Wisconsin Crop Innovation Center (WCIC). “This gift will enable us to create a plant biotechnology facility unparalleled in the public sector,” says UW–Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Dean Kate VandenBosch. “We can now leverage the diverse strengths of UW–Madison’s plant science community, allowing us to more deeply explore plant gene function and to collaborate with partners around the world to improve crop traits.” Established first as Cetus and later as Agracetus, the 100,000-square-foot facility and its plant biotechnology portfolio were acquired by Monsanto in 1996. Monsanto closed the facility in 2016 when it consolidated its research operations to the company’s St. Louis, Mo. headquarters.
Humans have dramatically increased the spatial and seasonal extent of wildfires across the US in recent decades and ignited more than 840,000 blazes in the spring, fall and winter seasons over a 21-year period, according to new research.
Less than 3 percent of people in modern industrial economies are farmers. But around the world, I am not alone: The United Nations estimates that more than two billion people are farmers, most of them small farmers; that’s about one in three people on the planet. My farm’s lack of profitability perhaps shouldn’t be of any great concern to anyone else. I’m a grown-up, and I chose to live this way. I chose it because my ancestors all did this, and because I love it, however doomed it might seem to others. My farm is where I live, and there is actually no other way to farm my land, which is why it hasn’t changed much for a millennium or more. In truth, I could accept the changes around me philosophically, including the disappearance of farms like mine, if the results made for a better world and society. But the world I am seeing evolve in front of my eyes isn’t better, it is worse. Much worse. Economists say that when the world changes people will adapt, move and change to fit the new world. But of course, real human beings often don’t do that. They cling to the places they love, and their identity remains tied to the outdated or inefficient things they used to do, like being steel workers or farmers. Often, their skills are not transferable anyway, and they have no interest in the new opportunities. So, these people get left behind.
In some states, such as Texas and Arkansas, lawmakers are responding to court rulings that struck down or scaled back earlier attempts to restrict voting. Bills in other states would make changes to early voting and registration deadlines. Proponents of the legislation say the proposed limitations, such as requiring a photo ID and eliminating Election Day registration, are necessary to restore public confidence in the electoral system. They say the measures protect the integrity of the ballot box by confirming voters’ identities and whether they are qualified to vote. In state legislatures the measures are backed mainly by Republicans, though polls show that most Democrats also support a photo ID requirement. “Confidence has been eroded. Even if it’s just anecdotal evidence, people are questioning whether the ballot is secure,” said Arkansas state Rep. Mark Lowery, a Republican who is sponsoring a photo ID law there. “When there’s a lack of confidence in the election, it undermines confidence in democracy itself.”
Two state House bills intended to attract doctors and workers to sparsely populated areas of Oklahoma were endorsed in committees recently. House Bill 2301 by Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka), would authorize a tax exemption on the first $25,000 of annual income earned by any “qualifying doctor” who moves to a rural area of Oklahoma. The exemption could be claimed so long as the doctor remained in that designated area, the bill indicates. The bill defines a “rural area” to mean any town or unincorporated area that has fewer than 25,000 residents and is at least 25 miles from the nearest municipality that has a population that exceeds 25,000. The bill also specifies that a “qualifying doctor” means a medical doctor or osteopathic physician who: * is licensed to practice medicine in Oklahoma, * was graduated from a medical institution of higher education in the state, and * resides within the same county as the rural area where the compensation that qualifies for the tax exemption proposed by HB 2301 is earned.
Rural people and issues generally receive little attention from the urban-centric media and policy elites. Yet, rural America makes unique contributions to the nation’s character and culture, as well as provides most of its food, raw materials, drinking water and clean air. The recent presidential election also reminds us that, though rural America may be ignored, it continues to influence the nation’s future.“Rural America” is a deceptively simple term for a remarkably diverse collection of places. It includes nearly 72 percent of the land area of the United States and 46 million people. Farms, ranches, grain elevators and ethanol plants reflect the enduring importance of agriculture.