BLM would exclude most Utah rivers from protection

Please read article, cited after the quote. Articles open in a new window.The Salt Lake Tribune recently editorialized in support of protecting more of Utah’s incredible rivers as Wild and Scenic Rivers. As the main advocate for Wild and Scenic Rivers in Utah, the Utah Rivers Council wholeheartedly agrees.

However, the recently finalized Bureau of Land Management plans may be a good beginning for a few rivers, as The Tribune states, but they are also a death trap for the majority of Utah’s rivers.

As The Tribune pointed out, there is a bit of good news. The BLM is recommending that a few of the most outstanding rivers in the country, including the Green River in Desolation and Labyrinth Canyons and the Colorado River in Westwater Canyon should become Wild and Scenic Rivers. They would be the first Wild and Scenic Rivers in Utah.


Protection a long shot

Military whistleblowers’ complaints about reprisals are rejected nine times out of 10

Mon, Nov 10, 2008 (2:09 a.m.)

Whistleblowers have the potential to right a lot of wrongs, but if no one protects them against backlashes they are likely to repress the urge to speak up.

That is why most workplaces have adopted policies that protect whistleblowers from reprisals, such as harassment or entries in their personnel files that could harm their careers.

But policies are worthless if they are not earnestly followed. An investigation by the Associated Press has found that whistleblower protections adopted by the military are followed, but mostly by people just going through the motions.

Members of the military who suspect they are being punished for having reported possible wrongdoing have a right to appeal to the Pentagon inspector general.

A total of 3,000 appeals were filed over the past six years. The AP reported that 90 percent were rejected, most after only a cursory review.

Perhaps a main reason for so many pro forma reviews is related to something else the AP reported — an appalling lack of staff. Reprisal complaints are supposed to be settled within six months, but it is taking much longer because the number of Pentagon employees assigned to review them has dropped from 22 to 19 over the past 10 years. During that time, the workload has increased 68 percent, according to a congressional report cited by the AP.

Another reason could be related to morale within the inspector general’s office. The AP obtained a confidential survey of the workforce there. Overall it found ambivalent and demoralized employees. The survey also showed that the employees handling reprisal complaints do not believe supervisors value their work.

This is not an issue that should wait for the next presidential administration. Defense Secretary Robert Gates should commence action now by ordering that rejected reprisal complaints be reexamined. The careers of many military professionals could be on the line even though they acted in the country’s best interest. He should also address the bigger picture: How many people with critical information are not coming forward because word has gotten around that there is little recourse if they suffer recriminations?


Election Protection

Election Protection

by Amy Goodman

Election Day approaches, and with it a test of our election system’s integrity. Who will be allowed to vote; who will be barred? Who will get paper ballots; who will use electronic voting machines? Will polls be open long enough to accommodate what is expected to be a historic turnout?

Veteran activist Harvey Wasserman has co-written four books on elections and voter rights. He says John Kerry won Ohio in 2004. Why look back? Wasserman is concerned about the attempt by the Ohio Republican Party, with help from the Bush White House, to challenge the registration of new Ohio voters:

“The GOP is trying to disenfranchise these 200,000 people by challenging their right to vote, asking the secretary of state here, Jennifer Brunner, to let the counties investigate and knock off the voter rolls, if they choose to, people who have minor discrepancies in their Social Security numbers or driver’s license numbers. And the secretary of state has rightfully showed that many of these mistakes come from typographical errors when the numbers are entered in at the agencies.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that only the U.S. Department of Justice can purge these new registrants from the voter rolls. Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner, of Ohio, and President Bush urged U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey to take action, potentially purging these 200,000 people. Advocates feared the homeless in Ohio would be disenfranchised because they lack a traditional address or identification (Wasserman notes that many of them may be veterans). U.S. District Judge Edmund Sargus ruled that Ohio counties must allow voters who list their addresses as park benches or other non-building locations.

Wasserman’s two main concerns about the integrity of the election are mass disenfranchisement through computerized purging and the failures of electronic voting machines, which can skew vote tallies and cause impossibly long lines at polling places (as can the provision of too few voting machines, whether they work well or not). These issues are both coming to a head in Colorado. There, Secretary of State Mike Coffman, a Republican who is also running for Congress, has been sued by Common Cause, Mi Familia Vota and the Service Employees International Union for purging 30,000 voters within a 90-day window before an election. Six thousand seven hundred new registrants were purged for failing to check a box on the voter-registration form. Colorado has seen enthusiastic participation in early voting (some estimates nationally put the number of early voters at an astounding 10 million, with days to go), and also has seen many voters opt for mail-in ballots. However, more than 11,000 voters in Denver did not receive their mail-in ballots because of a mistake made by Sequoia Voting Systems, the company that was supposed to have delivered 21,000 ballots to a Denver mail-processing facility on Oct. 16. Election officials promise the ballots will be delivered.

Brad Friedman of told me: “Sequoia is one of the big-four voting-machine companies. Of course, they have failed in state after state.” Friedman also reports on “vote flipping,” a problem with electronic, touch-screen voting machines. “It’s West Virginia, it’s Tennessee, it’s Texas, Missouri, Nevada … people go in and vote for a Democratic straight-party ticket or for Barack Obama, and the vote flips to a Republican or some other candidate.” The companies claim the machines can be calibrated to work properly. Friedman disagrees: “These machines need to be pulled out, because even when they work, the problem is that there is absolutely no way to ever verify that any vote ever cast on a touch-screen machine like this has been recorded as per the voter’s intent.”

In response to video of Georgia early voters waiting eight hours, Friedman blogged: “Thank you to those voters who were willing to hang in there! Shame on you to those officials who set up this system that can’t even accommodate the limited numbers of early voters! God save us all next Tuesday. Stay strong and brave people!”

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has sued Virginia’s Democratic governor, Tim Kaine, on the grounds that he is unprepared to deal with a massive onslaught of voters there Nov. 4. Virginia is not among the 31 states with early voting.

Thousands of lawyers and citizen-activists will be monitoring the polling places on Election Day. People are posting videos of election problems at When you go to cast your vote, take a friend or neighbor, take your ID and take a camera as well. Election protection is everyone’s job.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Palin loses bid to block beluga whale protection

Federal government declares population off Anchorage ‘endangered’

Beluga whale
All beluga whales in U.S. waters are in five distinct populations off Alaska. One of those, the Cook Inlet population, has been declared endangered after failing to recover despite earlier protections.

WASHINGTON – The federal government on Friday determined that a species of beluga whale native to an inlet off Anchorage, Alaska, is endangered and will require additional protection to survive.

The finding could even have presidential implications: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Sen. John McCain’s running mate, had questioned scientific evidence that the population was declining.

The listing has the potential to affect major Alaska projects including an expansion of the Port of Anchorage, additional offshore oil and gas drilling, a proposed $600 million bridge connecting Anchorage to Palin’s hometown of Wasilla and a massive coal mine 45 miles south of Anchorage.

The state does have serious concerns about the low population of beluga whales in Cook Inlet and has had those concerns for many years, Palin said in a statement. “However, we believe that this endangered listing is premature,” she said.

Palin in April successfully lobbied for a six-month delay in a listing decision until a count of the whales this summer could be included in deliberations. That count showed no increase over 2007 numbers — 375 whales, compared with a high of 653 in 1995.

‘Whales are not recovering’
“In spite of protections already in place, Cook Inlet beluga whales are not recovering,” James Balsiger, assistant administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said in a statement.

The population declined nearly 50 percent between 1994 and 1998, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which runs the fisheries service.

“NOAA scientists estimated the Cook Inlet beluga population at 375 for both 2007 and 2008,” NOAA stated. “Estimates have varied from a high of 653 belugas in 1994 to a low of 278 belugas in 2005.”

Acting on a 2006 request for listing by the Center for Biological Diversity and several allies, NOAA in April 2007 proposed that the population be listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Friday’s action represents the final determination to list the Cook Inlet belugas.

“Despite restrictions on Alaskan Native subsistence harvest of Cook Inlet belugas starting in 1999, the population is still not recovering,” NOAA added. “Between 1999 and 2006, Alaska Native hunters took a total of five Cook Inlet beluga whales for subsistence. No beluga whales were harvested in 2007 or 2008.”

Cook Inlet belugas are one of five beluga populations in U.S. waters. The others, all off Alaska,  inhabit Bristol Bay, the eastern Bering Sea, the eastern Chukchi Sea, and the Beaufort Sea.

“The Cook Inlet population is considered to be the most isolated, based on the degree of genetic differentiation and geographic distance between the Cook Inlet population and the four other beluga stocks,” NOAA said.

Obstacles listed
Potential obstacles to recovery, NOAA said, include:

  • Beach strandings of beluga whales;
  • Continued development within and along upper Cook Inlet and the cumulative effects on important beluga habitat;
  • Oil and gas exploration, development, and production;
  • Industrial activities that discharge or accidentally spill pollutants;
  • Disease;
  • Predation by killer whales.

NOAA said that within a year it would identify habitat essential to protecting the belugas.

Palin had opposed the endangered listing — as well as one decreed for polar bears due to melting summer sea ice — in part by questioning the science and saying the listings would hinder oil and natural gas drilling.

The Interior Department has proposed making available oil leases in the Cook Inlet as early as next year and in 2011, saying the waters have an estimated $1.38 billion worth of energy resources. Protection of the whale could hinder some of those activities.

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The polar bear listing came with a caveat that it should not hinder economic development — a move being challenged in court by environmentalists.

But no such caveat came with the beluga whale listing. “Listing the Cook Inlet beluga whales means any federal agency that funds, authorizes, or carries out new projects or activities that may affect the whales in the area must first consult with NOAA’s Fisheries Service to determine the potential effects on the whales,” NOAA stated. “A federal action must not jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species.”

Friday’s action came after the Center for Biological Diversity accused the Bush administration of stalling, stating that federal law required the listing and identifying critical habitat by last April.

Cook Inlet stretches 180 miles from the Gulf of Alaska to Anchorage. It is named for Capt. James Cook, the British explorer who sailed into the inlet in 1778 on a quest to find the Northwest Passage.

Beluga whales feed on salmon and smaller fish. They can also eat crab, shrimp, squid and clams. During summers, the whales, which reach a length of up to 15 feet, often can be spotted from the highways leading away from Anchorage, gathered at river mouths, chasing salmon that have schooled before a run to spawning grounds.

Beluga whales’ natural enemies are killer whales, but something else has been keeping their numbers down in Alaska’s Cook Inlet.

Craig Matkin, an independent biologist who has worked in south central Alaska for 25 years, said the delay in the listing had held up a comprehensive research plan to find out why the population had not recovered after subsistence hunting was curtailed.

The concern is not just in numbers, he said, but in distribution. Whales in recent years have been staying in northern Cook Inlet near Anchorage.

“They’re just gone from these areas,” he said of his own home near in Homer, near the tip of the Kenai Peninsula and about 100 miles from Anchorage. “Why they aren’t coming down into this habitat is a question I’d like to answer.”

Future development won’t be helpful to the recovery, said Brendan Cummings, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, starting with the noise and pollution associated with industrialization of the inlet, which includes oil rigs off the Kenai Peninsula.

Global warming, changing ocean conditions and higher temperatures in salmon streams may be another factor, Cummings said.

The Port of Anchorage, helped by congressional earmarks secured by Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young, has embarked on a $500 million project to double the port’s size and replace its aging docks.

Environmental groups also have expressed concern about a planned coal mine 45 miles from Anchorage across Cook Inlet, where developers propose to mine 300 million metric tons of sub-bituminous coal, roughly equal to the energy of a billion barrels of oil, over 25 years. That would mean noise and boat traffic associated with building and operating a mine, a potential effect on salmon streams and more warming.

Disaster protection in a box

Disaster protection in a box


A disaster shelter developed at Y-12 has been licensed to Adaptive Methods, a Virginia-based company that plans to manufacture the portable shelters in Chattanooga, according to information released to the media.

Congressman Zach Wamp participated in the license signing earlier this week. He said in a prepared statement that the agreement was a “model of successful technology transfer” from a government facility.

The original concept, dubbed “hospital in a box,” was developed years ago as a battlefield technology for the U.S. Army. It has been refined and enhanced in recent years to broaden its applications and enable its deployment by a single person in less than two minutes.

The technology reportedly can be adapated to different uses, ranging from humanitarian missions to possible protection against terrorist chem-bio attacks. The Y-12 project was honored in 2007 with an R&D 100 Award as one of the year’s top innovations.

According to a press statement, Adaptive Methods will have sole commercial licensing of the Rapid Deployment Shelter System (RDSS).

Lee Bzorgi, a senior technical advisor at Y-12, is credited as the technology’s inventor.

Posted by Frank Munger on August 14, 2008