Four companies that developed solar energy facilities in Alabama, Idaho and Illinois have agreed to pay a total of $1.3 million for violating construction permits and rules for handling groundwater, authorities said Monday.
A statement by the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency said the companies used a common construction contractor. In each case, the government alleged companies failed to take steps to control runoff water. In Alabama and Idaho, sediment from construction sites got into nearby waterways, the government said.
The cases involved AL Solar A LLC, which built a solar farm near LaFayette, Alabama; American Falls Solar LLC, which owned a site near American Falls, Idaho; Prairie State Solar LLC, owner of a development in Perry County, Illinois; and Big River Solar LLC, which had a development in White County, Illinois, according to the statement.
The solar farm owners are all subsidiaries of large international companies, the government said.
AL Solar will pay $500,000 in civil penalties to state and federal regulators, it said, and American Falls will pay a civil penalty of $416,500 to the federal government. The Illinois sites remain under construction, and officials there have to follow the rules for the remainder of the work.
The article has been updated with a statement from GE Renewable Energy.
One of the wind turbines at Arklow Bank, Ireland’s first and so far only offshore wind farm, has caught fire after it was presumably struck by lightning amid severe weather with thunderstorms that hit the area, according to Irish RTE.
The 25.2 MW Arklow Bank, commissioned in 2004, was co-developed by SSE and GE Energy as Arklow Bank Phase 1, a demonstrator project to prove the opportunity that offshore wind energy could represent for Ireland.
The wind farm, located off the coast of Arklow, Co. Wicklow, comprises seven 3 MW wind turbines and is owned and operated by GE Energy under a sublease to the foreshore lease.
The unit that caught fire was first showing visible fire and was engulfed in heavy smoke, according to multiple social media posts.
“An offshore wind turbine event has been reported on October 19th, 2022, at the Arklow Bank Offshore Windfarm located in the Irish Sea. There were no injuries. The Coast Guard has been notified”, a GE Renewable Energy spokesperson said in a statement.
“Once weather conditions permit and we can access the site safely, we will start working to determine the root cause of this event.”
SSE Renewables is also developing the next phase of the Arklow Bank project which was initially planned to have a capacity of 520 MW.
However, following the transfer of Arklow Bank Wind Park Phase 2 to the Maritime Area Planning (MAP) process in March 2022, the project was revised to substantially increase the power generation output from the site to up to 800 MW.
With the transfer of the Phase 2 project to the new consenting regime, SSE also plans to have the new, 800 MW offshore wind farm built by 2028, instead of the originally planned 2025.
Published 14 mins ago on September 20, 2022 By BNO News
Scientists in New Zealand have raised the alert level at the Taupō supervolcano from 0 to 1 after a series of small earthquakes, but emphasize that the chance of an eruption “remains very low.” The last eruption happened nearly 1,800 years ago.
Geological agency GeoNet said nearly 700 small earthquakes have been recorded at Lake Taupō since May of this year, although many of them were too weak to be felt on land. The largest was a 4.5-magnitude earthquake on September 10.
Ground deformation has also been observed at Horomatangi Reef, where the existing magmatic system is believed to be located and where most of the earthquakes have been recorded.
“We interpret the ground uplift and earthquake activity to be caused by the movement of magma and the hydrothermal fluids inside the volcano,” the agency said. “We have also sampled springs and gas vents around the lake for changes in chemistry that may be related to the earthquake and ground uplift.”
As a result, GeoNet has raised the Volcanic Alert Level for Taupō from 0 to 1 for the first time since the alert levels were introduced in 1994. The system has 6 levels, from 0 to 5, although an eruption is possible at any level.
There have been 17 episodes of unrest at Taupō since 1870, including four episodes which could’ve been classified at alert level 2 if the system had existed, according to GeoNet. None of those events caused an eruption.
“The Volcanic Alert Level reflects the current level of volcanic unrest or activity and is not a forecast of future activity,” GeoNet said in Tuesday’s statement. “Volcanic unrest at volcanoes like Taupō could continue for months or years and not result in an eruption.”
The Taupō Volcano caused the largest eruption on Earth in the past 5,000 years when it exploded nearly 1,800 years ago, covering lakeside areas in tens of meters of rock and pyroclastic flows. Parts of the North Island were covered in at least 1 cm of ash.
An even bigger eruption occurred at the volcano about 25,500 years ago, creating a large basin that formed much of the present lake shape. It least 27 other eruptions are known to have happened in between those events, many of which were much smaller.
Liz Truss meets supporters at a Conservative Party leadership election hustings in Birmingham, England, on Aug. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira, File)
U.K. Prime Minister Liz Truss ended England’s ban on fracking Thursday, opening the door to domestic shale gas production amid a European energy crisis.
The return of fracking is just one piece of a larger energy and economy plan Truss is pursuing in her first weeks since gaining office. Her administration also announced a national freeze on household energy prices, a plan that will cost the government tens of billions.
Under Truss’ plan, household energy costs will be limited to $2,900 per year after ballooning to $4,100 in 2022.
The U.K. and other European countries have faced a worsening energy crisis due to heavy dependence on oil and gas imports from Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin limited exports to Europe after NATO countries imposed severe economic sanctions on the county for its invasion of Ukraine.
The U.K. originally banned fracking in 2019 but could restart domestic production as early as March 2023.
The energy crisis has pushed the U.K. and several of its European neighbors to reconsider their shutdown of nuclear power. Germany made loopholes in its plan to shut down its last plants last week, allowing for two to be re-opened if necessary.
Belgium, meanwhile, was planning to close two reactors by 2025 but will now keep them open through 2036. France is looking to build an additional 14 reactors over the next several decades.
The U.K., Czech Republic, Poland and others are also planning for entirely new reactors.
Nuclear energy is the cleanest and most efficient energy source currently available, though disasters at some plants have caused some to fear the method. The most problematic part of nuclear energy production is the safe disposal of spent fuel rods, which remain highly radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.
It’s time once again, gentle readers, to look in on, with appropriate fear and trembling, the bold, new, tranformatively transforming electric vehicle transformation. We begin with an article from Just The News from December of 2021, a matter that has gone mostly under the radar:
President Biden has signed a series of executive orders to make the federal government carbon neutral.
The Democrat president on Wednesday [12-08-21] ordered federal agencies to purchase electric vehicles, harness wind, solar, and nuclear energy to power facilities, and to use sustainable building materials. The goal is for the federal government to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by 2050.
In the next decade, Biden wants the government to cease purchasing electricity produced from sources that emit carbon dioxide. By 2035, the administration wants all new federal cars and truck purchases to be zero-emissions. Right now, only about 1.5% of the government fleet is electric vehicles. The government buys about 50,000 vehicles a year. In fiscal 2021, only 650 of those were electric.
This is, of course, wildly irrational and physically impossible. The charging infrastructure for such a fleet isn’t remotely in place, and it’s a certainty local power providers would have to significantly upgrade their hardware to accommodate the necessary chargers wherever they were installed. Ad that to the fact there isn’t enough power capacity to charge the vehicles now, and the Administration isn’t doing a thing to prevent nuclear, coal and gas plants from going off-line—precisely the opposite. D/S/Cs still have no idea from where electricity comes, and they’re doing nothing to educate themselves. They simply mandate things and expect them to magically appear, you know, like when you plug something into the wall, there’s electricity!
As part of its recently passed infrastructure bill, the Biden administration plans to spend $7.5 billion building 500,000 chargers for electric vehicles. But will drivers actually want to use those chargers?
The two biggest impediments to the widespread adoption of electric vehicles are the vehicles’ range and their upfront cost. Right now there are only five varieties of electric vehicles with a range of more than 350 miles per charge, and none of them retail for a base price of less than $47,000. And while the Build Back Better Act passed by the House last month contains tax rebates for new electric vehicle purchases, none of the five qualify for the full amount. For comparison, a base model Ford Focus costs considerably less and can go further on a full tank of gas.
Check that: a base price of less than $47,000. Base prices for any model of vehicle are the absolute lowest that vehicle can cost, and dealers order very few, if any, of those vehicles. They exist mostly for PR, bragging right purposes. Various sources place the current EV average at $63,000 dollars, which is luxury vehicle territory. EVs are currently bought by the upper 7% in income of the population. Oh yes, that 350 mile range? That’s an optimistic, best possible situation guess. Actual range, with drivers driving as they would a conventionally fueled vehicle, is considerably less.
It’s no joke; EV battery replacement costs run 1/3 or more of the MSRP of the vehicle, and it’s absolutely not a pull one out, plug the other one in, evolution.
Conveniently placed vehicle chargers could mitigate the range issue: Ideally, a trip to a charger would simply replace a trip to the fuel pump. But the Biden plan is unlikely to fix this problem. There are two types of public vehicle chargers, Level 2 and Level 3. (Level 1 uses a standard power outlet.) Level 2 chargers produce around 25 miles of range per hour, meaning that a full charge from empty could take five hours or longer. Level 3 chargers produce considerably more power, and can charge some vehicles from empty to 80 percent in as little as 15 minutes. But while Level 2 chargers cost less than $3,000 apiece, Level 3 chargers cost as much as $140,000 each to build. There is no indication which the administration prefers, but if it plans to build 500,000 for $7.5 billion, it’s almost certainly going to have to settle for Level 2 chargers.
Time, as they say, is money. If one uses an EV only for a short daily work commute, and there are enough conveniently placed chargers available, that might work. But if one can afford only one car for every possible driving situation, it would be impossible. Imagine needing to travel say 300 miles, carefully altering—extending–your route to be near a charger, and arriving with 25 miles of range left—it will actually be less—only to find the charger is out of service, or there is already someone charging their vehicle, and you have a four hour wait until you can begin charging. And it’s the dead of winter or the heat of summer, and the entire family is along, which also considerably shortens your range, and if it’s cold, it will take longer to charge and you’ll have less range…
Toyota Motor Corp.’s leader criticized what he described as excessive hype over electric vehicles, saying advocates failed to consider the carbon emitted by generating electricity and the costs of an EV transition.
Toyota President Akio Toyoda said Japan would run out of electricity in the summer if all cars were running on electric power. The infrastructure needed to support a fleet consisting entirely of EVs would cost Japan between ¥14 trillion and ¥37 trillion, the equivalent of $135 billion to $358 billion, he said.
‘When politicians are out there saying, ‘Let’s get rid of all cars using gasoline,’ do they understand this?’ Mr. Toyoda said Thursday at a year-end news conference in his capacity as chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association.
He said if Japan is too hasty in banning gasoline-powered cars, ‘the current business model of the car industry is going to collapse,”’ causing the loss of millions of jobs.
In a country such as Japan that gets most of its electricity from burning coal and natural gas, EVs don’t help the environment, Mr. Toyoda said. ‘The more EVs we build, the worse carbon dioxide gets,’ he said.
He said he feared government regulations would make cars a ‘flower on a high summit’—out of reach for the average person.
Ah yes: the sweet sound of reality. What Mr. Toyoda knows and is willing to say is EVs are not, in fact, better for the environment than gas powered vehicles. All of the energy and pollutants necessary to produce an EV greatly exceeds that necessary to build a conventional vehicle, and the difference is not made up by electric charging. There’s that inability or unwillingness of D/S/Cs to accept electricity is produced almost exclusively by coal, oil, natural gas or nuclear power sources. When I see coal trains a mile long rolling out of Wyoming, I think:
*The auto giant’s goal is to save $3 billion in costs by 2026
*Ford’s other goal is to build 2 million EVs by 2026
*They also intend to produce electric F-Series trucks
‘As part of this, we have laid out clear targets to lower our cost structure to ensure we are lean and fully competitive with the best in the industry,’ Ford’s Chief Communications Officer Mark Truby said in a statement.
Ford announced on Sept 27, 2021, that they were planning to build EV-related factories in Tennessee and Kentucky, which will supposedly create 11,000 jobs.
As if driving an electric F-150 isn’t enough to give a man Low-T, the factories themselves will be painfully green as well.
Mrs. Manor and I drive a 2016 F-150 and a 2022 Ford Escape, vehicles with which we are both well pleased. Back in June of 2021, I chronicled a summer trip in the F-150,carrying three passengers, a fully loaded bed, and hauling a U-Haul trailer loaded with a motorcycle and everything else we could jam into it across much of Wyoming and South Dakota. By all means, take the link, but the upshot is, the F-150, with 325 horsepower, performed admirably, with expected lowered mileage, against fearsome headwinds. A comparable EV would have been a disaster, as I explain.
It would also be worthwhile to visitthis YouTube video of a towing contest between a new F-150 Lightning EV and a conventionally powered GMC pickup. They towed identical trailers, and the F-150 did very, very badly. Consider this:
While the GMC Sierra Denali doesn’t really need to do much to prepare apart from top off the fuel, the same does not apply to the Ford pickup. The first issue, before even beginning the top off of the battery charge, is the charging station. Unfortunately, the charging station and most charging stations are a pull-in design which means that unless the driver parks and unhitches the trailer, drives to the station, charges, then goes back to the trailer to hook up, he will be blocking either the roadway or any other charging ports.
See the video, gentle readers. It would also be worth your while to visit this Motor Trend report of Lightning towing capacity. I’ll do a stand alone article on this in the near future, but suffice it to say it was a disaster. If Ford is putting its future in the EV basket, I fear for my future ability to find parts and service for what are our excellent, carefully chosen, vehicles. Pickups of any kind just aren’t that popular on the blue coasts or in blue cities, and people living in Flyover country who buy most of Ford’s trucks and SUVs, can’t afford EVs, and know they’re incapable of meeting their needs.
But let’s visit a May 22, 2022 article at Watts Up With Thatto explore the wonderful world of electric public transit, this time in Paris, France:
A video recording shows the start of the fire which completely consumed an electric RATP bus on Friday 29 April. The incident caused no injuries. The bus burst into flames within seconds. This is what can be seen on the video that captured the very beginning of the fire of an electric vehicle of the RATP in Paris , this Friday, April 29. In the images, we can see a small explosion occur on the roof of the bus, where the batteries are located, followed by huge flames that spread to the entire body, at breakneck speed. This line 71 bus caught fire in the 13th arrondissement of Paris in the morning, mobilizing around thirty workers, according to the firefighters contacted by Le Parisien. It is a 100% electric vehicle, from the Bolloré brand Bluebus 5SE series, like the bus that burned down at the beginning of April.
This afternoon, the RATP decided to temporarily withdraw from circulation the 149 Bolloré electric bluebuses that circulate on its network.
About all that was left was a melted lump on the pavement. But what about the US, where electric public transit is the wave of the future? Let’s visit a local media article about another blazing bus:
One day after officials touted the passage of the Connecticut Clean Air Act, including plans for thousands of electric vehicles to hit the road, one of the state-run electric buses caught on fire over the weekend.
The blaze engulfed a CT transit bus in a Hamden parking lot Saturday morning, sending two workers and a firefighter to the hospital, officials said.
‘Lithium ion battery fires are difficult to extinguish due to the thermal chemical process that produces great heat and continually reignites,’ Hamden fire officials said.
‘The bus, last operated on July 20, on routes 243 and 265, and was not in service at the time of the incident,’ Rickman said. ‘Bus fires are rare, but can occur similar to cars. This is CT transit’s first fire incident with a battery electric bus. Bus operators, maintenance staff and others undergo extensive training and safety protocols are in place.’
As a result of the fire, the electric bus fleet was pulled from service as a precaution, Rickman said.
This fire too left a smoking pavement lump. What the article is not telling you is EV batteries contain extremely volatile substances, which must be kept separated. If allowed to mix by even a pinhole, the results are violent, explosive and immediate. Manufacturers have been reluctant to admit the danger, but some (ahem, cough: Chevy and the Chevy Bolt) have suggested their vehicles should not be recharged at home in a garage, or left unsupervised when charging–something about EVs spontaneously bursting into flames, and garages and homes too. Imagine sitting and watching an EV recharge, outdoors, for hours on end.
The bold, brilliant EV future, gentle readers, forcibly coming to you in the near future?
Rum on Most people do not realize that putting an ever higher density of electrons into a battery, which is what so many are trying to do, runs the risk of it suddenly turning into a bright blue fireball bigger than the vehicle carrying it. High performance batteries are like liquid fuel rockets. Both components for the energy producing reaction are always on board and close together. Neither needs air/oxygen to make them burn at full force. All they need is a “short” connecting + to – or kerosene to liquid oxygen. Both of these dangers can express themselves quite violently and pouring water on it does not work to quench the melt down because neither needs air.. Reply
A group of climate activists has started a campaign to randomly slash tires of parked SUVs across the U.S. in an effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
The Tyre Extinguishers — a group that originated in the U.K. and has expanded to various European nations — conducted its first “action” in New York City this week. The group vowed to conduct similar operations in cities nationwide.
“We are rapidly expanding across the United States and are in touch with people in major cities across the USA,” a spokesperson for the Tyre Extinguishers told Fox News Digital. “We expect this to expand massively.”
The spokesperson referred Fox News Digital back to the group’s website in response to a series of other questions. They didn’t comment on the legality of vandalizing SUVs.
On Tuesday, the Tyre extinguishers celebrated “disarming” 40 SUVs in New York City’s Upper East Side neighborhood. Participants of the action left flyers on each of the vehicles asking its owner not to “take it personally.”
“We did this because driving around urban areas in your massive vehicle has huge consequences for others,” the pamphlet said.
“The world is facing a climate emergency,” it added. “We’re taking actions into our own hands because our governments and politicians will not.”
The group noted that it would slash tires of electric and hybrid vehicles as well since they also have a carbon footprint.
The pamphlet that activists with the group Tyre Extinguishers left on SUVs in New York City on Tuesday. (Tyre Extinguishers)
“On June 28, 2022 at 12:20am in front of 146 East 65 Street there is a report on file in the 19th Precinct for criminal tampering,” a New York Police Department spokesperson told Fox News Digital in an email. “A 49-year-old male victim states upon returning to his vehicles he discovered one tire to each of his vehicles had been deflated.”
The spokesperson added that no arrests have been made and that the investigation remains ongoing.
“The Tyre Extinguishers want to see bans on SUVs in urban areas, pollution levies to tax SUVs out of existence, and massive investment in free, comprehensive public transport,” the group said in a statement Tuesday.
“But until politicians make this a reality, Tyre Extinguishers action will continue,” the statement continued.
The group has conducted operations in the U.K., Austria, Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Sweden and New Zealand.
Thomas Catenacci is a politics writer at Fox News Digital
ULYSSES, Kan. – The dangerous and relentless heat wave gripping a quarter of the country right now has left thousands of cattle dead in the Midwest.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment told FOX Weather that they are aware of at least 2,000 cattle deaths that have occurred in the southwest part of the state.
“This number is representative of the facilities that have contacted our agency to assist with disposal,” KDHE Communications Director Matt Lara said.
Heat stress is caused in cattle when you combine high temperatures and humidity, no wind, and warm temperatures at night.
“That’s why you would see the majority of feed yards located in the western region of the state because normally it’s a more arid part of the state,” said Scarlett Hagins, vice president of communications for the Kansas Livestock Association.
A feedlot in Garden City, Kansas, is pictured, on June 16, 2010. The meat industry was responsible for as much as $12.9 billion in economic activity in Kansas during 2020.
(Chris Oberholtz/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service / Getty Images)
Cattle can acclimate to anything given time, but recently there was a sudden change in weather almost overnight.
“They saw a 10- to 14-degree increase in temperature last weekend from that Friday into Saturday,” Hagins said. “They had been in the 80s and 90s and then all of a sudden it was 107, 108 and the humidity was high, which is not normal for that region of the state.”
There was also no wind at night, and temperatures weren’t dropping below 70 degrees. It’s a crucial time when cattle dissipate their heat load.
The heat index was in the triple digits Saturday afternoon in parts of southwest Kansas and only fell, in some spots, into the 80s.
“And if they can’t dissipate that at night, then it continues to accumulate into the next day and the next day. And that leads to heat stress,” Hagins said.
Heat stress is a concern this time of year for cattle producers, and farmers have protocols in place to lessen the stress. That includes everything from providing extra water, to altering feeding schedules and rations. Some have even implemented sprinkler systems to make sure that their cattle are cool.
“This was an unfortunate and unique weather event. And cattle producers work really hard to mitigate any kind of situation like this. They want to make sure that their animals are comfortable, safe and healthy. And they work to do that every day,” Hagins said.
Kansas ranked sixth nationally in beef cow numbers as of January 1, 2022, with 1.42 million head.
(John Moore / Getty Images)
Nightly heat bursts top 103 degrees
Extremely high cattle stress was reported last weekend in southwest Kansas, according to the Kansas Mesonet, a series of weather stations across the state.
Heat bursts were reported in Ashland where temperatures reached 103 degrees at 10:30 p.m. on June 12. The station was down to 90 degrees right before the heat burst occurred, the mesonet reports.
Extremely high cattle stress was reported last weekend in southwest Kansas.
( Kansas Mesonet)
This rare phenomenon is associated with dying thunderstorms. As a thunderstorm falls apart, the air rushes out of it and descends toward the ground, drying out and warming up by compression as it does so.
Eventually, that hot, dry air hits the ground as a blast of gusty winds, sending temperatures soaring to levels you’d expect to find on a hot afternoon.
“Basically that combined with the heat and humidity over the previous three, four days was, in my hypothesis, kind of the last straw for those cattle,” said Greg Peterson who owns about 1,000 head of cattle on his farm in central Kansas near Salina. “And the reason why it didn’t happen to a whole bunch of different feedlots, at least at that volume, was because those heat bursts are very localized.”
On the opposite side of the state, Kansas City is expected to hit 98 degrees Monday and Tuesday next week. The last time they hit 100 was in 2018. Another indicator that this prolonged heat shows absolutely no signs of letting up anytime soon.
“I don’t know for sure what happened … but we were having some of the most extreme heat and heat changes that we had seen in the last 5, 10, 15 years this week. And so it was very likely that the heat was to blame,” Peterson said.
The most cattle Peterson has ever heard about dying at once is maybe 1 or 2% of someone’s herd.
“For a 1,000 herd, we never have more than four or five die in a day. That would be the worst-case scenario,” Peterson said.
The state would not detail the exact feedlot in this case, but Peterson said there’s a good chance it has 100,000 head.
“It sounds like it’s like 2,000 is a lot. But if they had 100,000 head, it’s 2%. It’s still very sad and very tragic.”
Success of Kansas beef cattle industry
More than 45.7 million acres of farm ground are sprawled across the state, however, not all of this land can be used to grow crops. Cattle are the ideal mechanism for efficiently utilizing grasses and plants growing on the 15.5 million acres of Kansas pastureland.
The beef cattle sector has been and continues to be the single largest sector in the Kansas agriculture industry. Last year, cattle generated $9.85 billion in cash receipts, the state reports.
A bison grazes among blooming arrowleaf balsamroot on the Bison Range nature preserve on the Flathead Indian Reservation on May 20, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon
Over three days the Salish and Kootenai celebrated the restoration of the Bison Range to tribal ownership allowing them to manage the resources and wildlife for the first time in 112 yearsBy Micah DrewMay 25, 2022
Red Sleep Mountain rises 2,000 feet above the floor of the Mission Valley, one of the best vantage points to take in the dramatic expanse of the Mission Mountains that form the valley’s eastern border. The top of the mountain is only accessible via a one-way dirt road that winds through 18,524 fenced-off acres in the heart of the Flathead Indian Reservation.
That swath of land is home to deer, elk, bears and approximately 455 bison, a herd of animals whose history is intricately bound to the Salish and Kootenai people.
However, for more than a century that parcel of land was federally owned and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) as a National Wildlife Refuge known as the National Bison Range (NBR). Tribal members were cut off not only from their ancestral land and the herd of bison they helped bring back from the brink of extinction, but from their ability to leverage generations of resource conservation knowledge to protect the landscape and habitat within the fence line.
For decades, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) actively sought to restore ownership of the NBR to allow the Salish and Kootenai to resume full management responsibilities of the range.
The Bison Range nature preserve on the Flathead Indian Reservation on May 20, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon
Rich Janssen, head of the CSKT’s Natural Resource Department (NRD), said in a 2015 interview with Montana Public Radio that he believed the range would be returned in his lifetime.
“I just had that feeling back when I was 45, I felt in my heart that I thought it was going to happen,” Janssen said last week. “You know we just weren’t going away until it was done, and when I turned 50 it happened.”
Legislation to restore the Bison Range was included in the 2020 annual omnibus spending bill, known as Public Law 116-260, which was signed on Dec. 27, 2020, transferring the land to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to be held in a trust for the tribes, effectively restoring the land forcefully taken more than a century ago.
“The range was always a postage stamp of pink, which is the federal land color, on our land status map for so long,” said Whisper Camel-Means, division manager of fish, wildlife, recreation, and conservation for the tribal NRD. “Now it’s green, the tribal ownership color, and we don’t want this hard border anymore. Yes, we have a fence to keep the bison in. But as much as we can I want to see that line blurred, making the bison range holistic with the rest of our management and the rest of our reservation.”
Dancers march to the dance floor during the powwow portion of the Bison Range Restoration Celebration on the Flathead Indian Reservation on May 20, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon
While the legislation restoring the Bison Range was signed in late 2020, it wasn’t until January of this year that the transfer was completed. As a culmination of decades of work, as well as to commemorate the opening of the range under full tribal management for the first time, the CSKT held a three-day celebration last week that began with prayers, dances, and a powwow on Friday, May 20 and ended with half-price admission to the Bison Range on Sunday, May 22.
The ceremonies reached a peak on Saturday afternoon inside the gym of the Salish Kootenai College in Pablo. A multigenerational crowd packed the venue and, after songs by Flathead Nation singers and opening prayers by tribal elders, the first Native American Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland took the stage, tearing up as she started speaking.
“I cannot help but imagine what this area looked like before European contact with vast herds of bison roaming the plains, when our Indigenous ancestors lived on this land alongside the plethora of animals and each respected their place in the balance of nature,” Haaland began. “With the loss of tribal homelands and the depletion of the buffalo herds, Plains tribes lost traditional connections with this beautiful animal; but in spite of that tragedy and loss, we are still here. You are still here, and that’s something to celebrate.”
Former Interior secretaries expressly opposed the restoration of land ownership, making Haaland’s presence an important affirmation of the reunification. As the first Native American in the presidential Cabinet, Haaland’s position also prompted emotional reactions from many attendees who congregated around her for handshakes and photos.
“When our wildlife management and conservation efforts are guided by Indigenous knowledge developed over millennia, we all succeed,” Haaland said. “The return of the bison range to these Tribes is a triumph and a testament to what can happen when we collaboratively work together to restore balance and ecosystems that were injured by greed and disrespect.”
Deb Haaland, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, speaks at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo May 21, 2022. Micah Drew | Flathead Beacon
Throughout the celebrations, tribal elders relayed the history of the Tribes’ relationship with the buffalo, both in person and through screenings of the short documentary film, “In the Spirit of Atatice: The Untold Story of the National Bison Range,” which was commissioned by CSKT to explain how members of the Tribes were responsible for initially bringing buffalo to the Flathead Indian Reservation from across the Continental Divide when the animals were at the brink of extinction, a narrative that was fractured by the creation of the Bison Range.
The idea to restore bison to the Flathead Reservation dates to the 1860s when a tribal member named Atatice, or Peregrine Falcon Robe, was on a buffalo hunt across the Continental Divide and asked the tribal chiefs if they could bring some bison back with them, but the chiefs were at an impasse.
His son Latati, or Little Falcon Robe, was able to realize his father’s vision while on a buffalo hunt by bringing some orphaned calves across the Divide. A small herd began to flourish on the Reservation, but in 1884, Latati’s stepfather sold the herd to tribal members Michel Pablo and Charles Allard without Latati’s consent.
The Allard-Pablo herd continued to grow and, in 1901, a portion of the herd was sold to Charles E. Conrad in Kalispell. Three years later, the Flathead Allotment Act opened land to non-Indian homesteaders, effectively ending free range on much of the Reservation and allowing the federal government to force Pablo to sell the remaining head of his herd.
When the American Bison Society began scouting land to establish a bison range to preserve the species, the organization contracted with the ecologist Morton J. Elrod, a professor at the University of Montana who recommended the Flathead Indian Reservation as a fitting landscape, where the species could return to its native land. In 1908, the federal government seized 18,524 acres of land to establish the National Bison Range.
Flags fly over the Bison Range Visitor Center on the Flathead Indian Reservation on May 20, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon
In a wrenching twist of irony, the 36 animals that made up the initial herd for the range were purchased from the Conrad family — the same animals (or their direct descendants) that formed the Allard-Pablo herd prior to the federal government’s forceful removal.
The establishment of the Bison Range continued the fragmentation of the reservation, which was reflected in the Salish translation for the range: “fenced-in place.”
“It was common knowledge that the fence was as much to keep the Indians out as it was to keep the buffalo in,” former CSKT councilman Leonard Gray said over the weekend. “I remember growing up driving down [U.S. Highway] 93 heading toward Ravalli and knowing this was the Bison Range but that it was federal land and I just didn’t feel welcome.”
For decades, tribal members were prohibited from working for the Bison Range; as recently as the early 2000s, only one tribal member, Darren Thomas, was employed there.
“There’s so many things you can learn from a buffalo — from how they act, how they behave, their strength, their kindness, their wiseness, how they run in a herd,” Thomas said. “So as a Flathead Nation, now we are truly a buffalo nation.”
Salish elder Johnny Arlee folds his hands over his hat and cane during a prayer at the Bison Range Restoration Celebration on the Flathead Indian Reservation on May 20, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon
Rich Janssen has worked for the NRD for more than a decade, helping to steer conservation and restoration work across the 1.25 million-acre reservation, protecting habitat for everything from grizzly bears and bighorn sheep to trumpeter swans and bull trout.
That meant managing thousands of acres abutting the imaginary ecological boundary of the Bison Range, including shared wetlands, watersheds and wildlife habitat, without being able to complete the same work on the other side of the fence.
Now conservation work can continue unfettered by jurisdictional divides, an efficient, but subtle difference. Day-to-day management of the range and bison hasn’t changed much since the transition from federal to tribal management, though Janssen said one difference is how the annual bison roundup is conducted. The roundup allows biologists to monitor the health of the herd, as well as cull some animals to send to other herds or auction off to raise funds for the range. Starting last fall, staff implemented a low-stress handling procedure, doing away with the use of whips and horses and cattle-like treatment.
“The roundup took a little longer than normal,” Janssen said. “It was an extra day to gently move them through the corrals and handle them with the respect they deserve and we’re already seeing the changes in the bison. They’re really taking to our way of caring for them.”
The most visible change to the Bison Range is at the visitor’s center in Moiese, where a newly renovated wing of exhibits details the history of the Tribes’ relationship to the bison and the land. There are also plans for a cultural center and a second entrance to the range at the top of Ravalli Hill, located directly off U.S. Highway 93, which will make access easier for travelers.
“We’re getting a lot of traffic and it’s only getting larger,” Janssen said. “We’re inviting the public to come out and enjoy the Bison Range, especially if they can’t get into Glacier and can’t get into Yellowstone.”
Rich Janssen, Department Head of Natural Resources for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on the Flathead Indian Reservation on May 20, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon
Preparing for a greater number of visitors means addressing a backlog of deferred maintenance on the Bison Range that has piled up through the years. Janssen said the Tribes are working on improving the roads, making the visitor’s center ADA accessible and upgrading technology to make both staff and visitor experiences smoother.
“Some people have been worried about the transition, but we’ve already got our feet on the ground, and I don’t worry about this place failing,” said Camel-Means, the NRD’s division manager of fish, wildlife, recreation, and conservation. “We can manage wildlife and we can manage places and now we get to manage this land in the same way. Failure isn’t a term that’s part of my vocabulary anymore because we don’t have to worry about other people ruining things for us for a political agenda.”
If there was one entity that didn’t seem to understand the magnitude of the weekend’s celebration, it was the dozens of buffalo lounging hillside across the Bison Range, unfazed by the procession of cars driving past, visitors snapping photos through open windows.
Just over the summit of Red Sleep Mountain, a few bison were grazing among the blooming yellow arrowleaf balsamroot. Standing out in stark contrast to the adult’s dark brown shapes were a few diminutive reddish baby buffalo, a few of the 20 calves born this spring, which Secretary Haaland fittingly referenced in her closing remarks.
“Today represents a return to something pure and sacred,” she said. “I am confident that the future is as bright for the little calves just learning to walk in the spring as for the generations of CSKT members who will be reconnected with their ancestral traditions over the decades.”A cow bison rests with her calf on the Bison Range nature preserve on the Flathead Indian Reservation on May 20, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon
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Author, illustrator and Flathead resident Jonathan Fetter-Vorm reflects on the 10-year anniversary of his debut book, a graphic history of the first atomic bomb
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From polystyrene peanuts to non-recyclable bubble wrap to plastic-wrapped pouches of air, almost every Amazon order arrives wrapped in plastic packaging that is then thrown away or littered.
A new report estimates that Amazon generated 465 million pounds of plastic packaging waste in 2019 of which 22+ million pounds is now polluting the world’s oceans and waterways. This the equivalent of Amazon dumping a delivery van’s worth of plastic into the ocean every hour and 10 minutes!
And the problem has only grown worse since COVID began as the pandemic has fueled huge growth in Amazon sales.
Amazon claims to be “obsessed” with giving its customers exactly what they want, so it’s time for all of us to demand that they make a big change to their packaging practices.
Sign this petition to join Beyond Plastics and other members of the Break Free From Plastic coalition to tell Amazon to STOP polluting our planet with single-use plastic packaging.
To: Amazon.com From: [Your Name]
I urge you to stop using all single-use plastic packaging and to offer customers a plastic-free packaging option at check-out by no later than 2022.
Recycling has failed for more than half a century, an unarguable fact when you see recycling rates. Under 6 percent is dismal, but so was 8.7 percent. Decades were wasted because of the plastics industries’ multimillion-dollar public relations efforts. It wanted consumers to believe they were responsible for the plastic pollution problem and could prevent it if they used their recycling bins more effectively.
Now, here we are, with the equivalent of two garbage trucks full of plastic entering our oceans every minute — 33 billion pounds a year — and an estimation from the plastics industry that plastic production will more than triple by 2050.
Federal lawmakers must stop following industry’s playbook and take real action. The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, introduced in March, would phase out unnecessary single-use plastic products and prevent new and expanded plastic production facilities across the country. It’s up to U.S. leaders to reverse course and reduce the production and use of single-use plastic before it’s too late.
Christy Leavitt, Washington
The writer is plastics campaign director of Oceana.
Electric-grid operators from across the country are warning of the potential for blackouts as companies attempt to transition to green energy sources.
“I am concerned about it,” MISO Chief Executive John Bear told the Wall Street Journal in a report Sunday. “As we move forward, we need to know that when you put a solar panel or a wind turbine up, it’s not the same as a thermal resource.”
Extreme heat and wildfires over the summer could lead to a shortage of energy in California, the state’s grid operator told WSJ. The Midwest could face similar issues with MISO warning of capacity shortages that could lead to outages.
The issue is on the rise throughout the country as many traditional and nuclear power plants are being retired to make way for renewable sources of energy, but the plants are going offline faster than renewable energy and battery storage can keep up.
Wind turbines in Palm Springs, California. (2013 Getty Images)
Wind and solar farms are among the most popular forms of renewable power generation, but their lack of ability to generate power 24/7 means they have to store some of their energy in batteries for later use. But the development of better battery storage is underway, operators fear it isn’t happening fast enough to replace the retiring plants.
The risk of outages is heightened this summer, with supply chain issues and inflation slowing the pace developers can get the components needed to build renewable energy farms.
Space Coast Next Generation Solar Center, in Merritt Island, Fla. (AP)
“Every market around the world is trying to deal with the same issue,” Brad Jones, the interim chief executive of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, told WSJ. “We’re all trying to find ways to utilize as much of our renewable resources as possible…and at the same time make sure that we have enough dispatchable generation to manage reliability.”
But others have argued for slowing the pace of taking traditional plants offline.
“We need to make sure that we have sufficient new resources in place and operational before we let some of these retirements go,” Mark Rothleder, the chief operating officer of the California Independent System Operator, told WSJ. “Otherwise, we are putting ourselves potentially at risk of having insufficient capacity.”
Recently Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland visited the isolated Aleut community of King Cove on the Alaskan Peninsula southwest of Anchorage, Alaska, to see and hear firsthand whether to approve the construction of a road across the Izembek Wilderness and National Wildlife Refuge. Recently, a federal court approved a Trump Administration land exchange proposal to facilitate the road right of way through the refuge.
The Izembek Refuge is one of the blue areas is on the Alaskan Peninsula which connects the Aleutian Islands to the main part of Alaska.
The debate about a road pits Alaskan Aleuts against the legal mandate of the Wilderness Act to preserve wildlands and protect wildlife. The 315,000-acre Izembek Wildlife Refuge is a critical stopping ground for migratory waterfowl. Its eel grass lagoons are considered of International Importance.
The road would connect the King Cove community to an all-weather airstrip (built during WW11) 37 miles away in Cold Bay, Alaska. The airport was initially operated as a military base before being transferred to the state of Alaska.
The 10,000 foot airstrip in Cold Bay was built by the Army and can easily service jets. Photo American Airlines
Currently, access to the Cold Bay airport is either by air from a strip in King Cove or by boat.
Roads are prohibited in wilderness areas. The Izembek Refuge Wilderness was designated in 1980 as part of the expansive Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).
Henry Mack, the major of King Cove, Stanley Mack, the mayor of Aleutian East Borough, and Della Trumble, a member of the King Cove Corporation and Agdaagux Tribal Council, suggests in an editorial Anchorage Times, opponents put wildlife ahead of humans.
As they wrote in a commentary about opposition to the road by former Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt and former Fish and Wildlife Service Director Jamie Clark, “It’s easy for highly paid former federal officials like Bruce Babbitt and Jamie Clark to pretend that the lives of nearly 1,000 indigenous Aleuts in King Cove, Alaska don’t really matter.”
Some 98 percent of all black brant spend part of the year feeding among the eelgrass lagoons of the Izembek NWR.
Izembek is particularly important for Pacific Black Brant; 98 percent of those small geese spend part of the year there, slurping up the world’s most extensive eelgrass beds, their dietary staple. The area also supports about half the world’s Emperor Geese and a substantial percentage of the threatened Steller’s Eider population. The refuge supports one of the denset population of grizzly bears on the Alaskan Peninsula, as well as wolves, foxes, caribou, and even walruses.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that allowing a road through the refuge would “degrade irreplaceable ecological resources.” It also would jeopardize the global survival of a migratory sea goose, called the Pacific black brant, and the emperor goose and other waterfowl.
A 2013 Record of Decision on a Final EIS that reviewed the potential impact of the road concluded: ” Construction of a road through the Izembek NWR wouild lead to significant degradation of irreplaceable ecological resources.”
The document went on to note that the proposed land trade between the Aleuts and federal government would compromise the ecological integrity of the refuge. “The Service has determined that increased acreage would not compensate for the overall values of the existing Izemeck REfuge lands and Wilderness that would be removed. Nor would the offered lands compenstate for the anticipated impacts that the proposed road would have on wildlife and the habitat that surround the road corridor.”
Therefore, in 2013 Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell decided to preclude road construction from protecting the wildlife and wilderness values of the area. But the Trump administration, under the Secretary of Interior, approved a land exchange between the Aleut natives of King Cove and the Department of Interior that would permit the road construction to proceed.
Jewell found ” Increased human traffic and noise, changed hydrology of the wetlands, pollution runoff, and introduced contaminants and invasive species would despoil the isthmus.” She further concluded there were other modes of transportation available to address emergency medical transportation and pledged to work to implement them.
The King Cove villagers contend they need the proposed road for “medical emergencies.” Although King Cove has an airport, planes and helicopters cannot operate in extreme weather, which frequently closes the King Cove facilities. The Cold Bay airport can operate in more inclement weather. A road connecting the two communities would also permit villagers to fly more frequently to Anchorage and other destinations for shopping and other purposes.
The mountains along the Alaskan Peninsula in an unusually good weather day. Photo George Wuerthner
I have some sympathy for the situation of the villagers. I have experienced the horrific weather typical to the Aleutian Islands and Alaskan Peninsula. I was once trapped for days without food other than the fish I caught while camped at Ugashik Lake because aircraft could not fly to pick me up. Other times I was delayed for days by bad weather while trying to fly out of the villages of Port Moller and Meshik. I’ve been out numerous times on trips to the Alaskan Peninsula in the rain with 50 mile per hour winds, so I know how difficult the weather can be at times.
Villagers have latched on to the idea that a road would provide safe passage between King Cove and Cold Bay. However, a doctor who oversaw medical evacuations in King Cove for 15 years said traveling almost 40 miles on the gravel road during 60 mph winds and blinding snowstorms would be “suicidal” for patients and rescue teams.
“Should the road happen, I foresee all sorts of calamity,” said Dr. Peter Mjos, who was the Eastern Aleutian Tribes’ medical director until 2002. He retired from practicing medicine in 2015.
The original justification for the road was more pecuniary. “In 1994, King Cove passed a resolution saying the road would “link together two communities having one of the State’s premier fishing ports/harbors (including North America’s largest salmon cannery) in King Cove with one of the State’s premier airports at Cold Bay.”
But twenty years later, the justification was changed to the medical emergency rationale.
Izembek NWR. Photo Audubon.
To find an alternative to the road, the federal government contributed $37 million (a taxpayer subsidy of over $56,000 per King Cove resident) for an improved medical clinic in King Cove and the purchase of a hovercraft and improved dock facilities that could link both communities by water. The hovercraft only operated for three years before the Borough shut it down, arguing it was too expensive to operate and failed to work in high winds. However, during the three years it operated, the hovercraft successfully transported 22 medical evacuations.
In addition, of the original $37 million allotted by Congress for the hovercraft purchase and operation, villagers chose to spend $26 million to construct part of the road they hope will eventually link the two communities. In other words, they spent $26 million on a road to nowhere which could have paid hovercraft and other alternative transportation like Coast Guard transport for many years.
Community leaders admitted they used part of the federal grant to construct a partial road because they believed it would make it harder for the federal government to deny its completion.
However, some suggest the real purpose of the road is related to money. The Peter Pan Processing plant in King Cove is Alaska’s biggest salmon and seafood processing operation. The route would make getting workers in and out of King Cove easier. But it would also reduces costs for shipping fish. Currently, Peter Pan must load fish on a boat, transport it by sea to Cold Bay, where it is loaded on another truck to be transported to the airstrip.
The transport of fresh fish to markets is another justification for the road. However, the land exchange approved by the Trump Administration has specific language that precludes large companies like Peter Pan from using the road to transport fish.
The agreement says explicitly: “The road shall be used primarily for health, safety and quality of life purposes (including access to and from the Cod Bay Airport) and generally for non-commercial purposes. The commercial transport of fish and seafood products, except by an individual or small business on any portion of the road shall be prohibited.”
The term “generally”and “small business” opens a big loophole. Not surprisingly, the local Aleut leaders of King Cove all support road construction. Since they own fishing boats, including in 2019, the mayor of King Cove and five out of six city council members, all considered small business owners, would not be prohibited from using the road to transport fish.
It is important to note that the US Small Business Administration defines a firm engaged in “seafood product preparation and packaging” to be a small business if it has no more than 750 employees. Though Peter Pan is owned by a fortunte 500 Maruha Nichiro Corporation in Japan. The Peter Pan currently operates with 500 employees. So all Maruha would have to do is spin off as a separate company, and it would qualify as a “small business.”
Another important issue is that such an exemption to Wilderness Act prohibition against roads could easily become a precedent for new roads in other parts of Alaska where many villages are not part of any road network. In this instance, apparently, the Izembek Refuge is not part of the traditional “sacred” lands of the Aleut.
Many villages in Alaska have no road access to year-round air service. People choose to live in these places. While I might support the road if I thought there were no other viable alternatives, as former Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell concluded, viable (if not expensive) alternatives do exist including emergency transport from the U.S. Coast Guard. It seems to me that “medical emergencies” is a red herring. While there may indeed be a few times when alternative means of transport are not available, I do not believe this is the real reason for the road. The main motive is to create economically viable alternatives for seafood transport. This is about advancing economic desires rather than satisfying the “needs” of King Cove residents.
Many Alaskan communities face the same limitations on transportation due to weather, terrain and other constraints. People choose to live in these places. While the Indigneous Aleuts living at King Cove have other alternatives, the Indigenious wildlife that depends on the Izembek Refuge lands do not.
Secretary of Interior Haaland has stated she wants to represent the interests of Indigenous people. It will be interesting to see whether she agrees with the conclusion of former Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell that other options exist to meet the desires of King Cove residents while protecting globally significant wildlife and wilderness values.
Hike on the crest of the Gallatin Range looking down on the Porcupine drainage. Photo George Wuerthner
Many conservation groups are heralding the recently released Final Custer Gallatin National Forest Plan as a “win” for the environment. At least in my initial review, I am less sanguine and enthusiastic about the outcome.
The CGNF proposes 140,000 acres of new wilderness across the entire forest (keep in mind that only Congress can designate wilderness). But recent mapping by the Gallatin Yellowstone Wilderness Alliance has determined there are more than 1.1 million roadless acres on the forest that could, in theory, qualify for designation as wilderness under the 1964 Wilderness Act.
Yet, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) breathlessly reported they had “exciting news” to share. They celebrated the CGNF recommendation for 140,000 acres of new wilderness spread across the three million-acre forest due to their “hard work” as the Gallatin Forest Partnership (GFP) members. The GFP successfully fought to keep a portion of the Gallatin Range in the Buffalo Horn and Porcupine drainages and the West Pine Creek areas from being recommended for wilderness. Way to go, GYC.
Likewise, Wild Montana (aka Montana Wilderness Association) declared they were “thrilled” by the Forest Plan recommendations.
Gallatin Range. Photo George Wuerthner
The CGNF plan recommends 92,000 plus acres out of a possible 270,000 plus roadless areas in the Gallatin Range, stretching south from Bozeman to Yellowstone Park.
The Gallatin Range has been targeted for protection for more than a century as one of the most critical wildlife areas in the entire Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Buffalo Horn drainage, Gallatin Range, recommended as “Backcountry” instead of Wilderness. Photo George Wuerthner
With the support of GYC, Montana Wild, The Wilderness Society, Winter Wildlands, and other so-called “wilderness advocacy” groups, the CGNF establishes a 26,496-acre backcountry area in the southwestern Buffalo Horn Porcupine Hyalite WSA and 22,632 acres of a similar backcountry area in West Pine drainage of the Gallatin Range.
Both areas were part of the 151,000 acres protected in 1977 by Senate 393 Buffalo Horn Porcupine Hyalite Wilderness Study Area legislation. They are critical low elevation lands that are poorly represented in most protected wilderness areas. The CGNF plan, with the approval of these “green” groups, only recommends 78,000 acres out of the 151,000 acres Buffalo Horn-Porcupine-Hyalite WSA for the wilderness. This is a “win”?
South Cottonwood drainage, Gallatin Range. Photo George Wuerthner
Another 13,763 acres in the South Cottonwood drainages are also recommended for Backcountry designation. The South Cottonwood area was the center of a significant conservation fight in the 1990s. The site was proposed for logging, but local conservationists successfully fought for protection with the understanding that someday, it too would be designated wilderness.
Unlike wilderness designation, which has Congressional protection, Backcountry Areas are purely an administrative designation. In other words, the Forest Service can change the status on a whim.
For example, the Record of Decision for the Final CGNF plan says Backcountry Area designation in the Gallatin Range will permit logging for “restoration” and fuels Treatment as well as existing mechanical recreation access by snowmobiles, mountain bikes, and dirt bikes.
Mountain biker in Buffalo Horn drainage. According to S.393, the FS is supposed to manage the Buffalo Horn Porcupine Hyalite WSA to protect wilderness values. And only activities that existed in 1977 (there were no mountain bikes) are permitted. Photo George Wuerthner
The S. 393 legislation says, “the wilderness study areas designated by this Act shall, until Congress determines otherwise, be administered by the Secretary of Agriculture to maintain their presently existing wilderness character and potential for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System.
Dirt bikes in the Buffalo Horn drainage of the Gallatin Range. Typically motorized use is not permitted in wilderness or proposed wilderness. Photo George Wuerthner
The wording “shall” is essential. It means the Forest Service must preserve the wilderness character and potential for future wilderness designation. But unfortunately, the Forest Service has not abided by the law. Instead, it has encouraged uses like mountain biking, snowmobiling, dirt biking, etc.—all of which are not permitted in the designated wilderness–to occur in the WSA.
I am more forgiving of the CGNF itself since it is under extensive political pressure to minimize additional wilderness on the Forest. However, instead of holding the Forest Service feet to the fire, GYC, Wild Montana, The Wilderness Society, Winter Wildlands, and others all fought against wilderness protection for some of these areas.
One of the problems with the CGNF final plan is the creation of “backcountry areas” on lands that clearly should be recommended for wilderness. For example, the ecologically critical Buffalo Horn Porcupine drainages are among essential lands for west slope cutthroat trout, grizzly, elk, wolf, moose, and bighorn sheep in the entire northern region of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Numerous scientific studies have documented the ecological value of the Gallatin Range. Photo George Wuerthner
Indeed, a 2002 study (Noss et al. 2002 Multicriteria Assessment of the Irreplaceability and Vulnerability of Sites in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem) that colleagues and I did on biological hot spots of the ecosystem identified the Upper Gallatin drainage as one of the most ecologically significant areas in Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Similarly, biologist Lance Craighead completed a biological assessment of the Gallatin Range and repeatedly noted the ecological importance of the Buffalo Horn Porcupine drainages.
Hyalite Canyon is one of five recreation areas promoted by the final CGNF plan. Photo George Wuerthner
The Final Plan also designates five recreation areas in the Gallatin Range and around West Yellowstone. The 36,000 plus acre Hyalite Canyon, 36,500 plus Storm Castle, 16,500 area Gallatin River, 71,000 Hebgen Winter, and 13,000 Hebgen Lake Shore. In other words, approximately 156,500 acres are recommended for recreation in the Gallatin Range and nearby areas, far more than the total acres of new wilderness on the entire forest.
A small amount of wilderness is recommended in the Madison Range, including 13,000 plus areas in Cowboy’s Heaven adjacent to the Spanish Peaks of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness and another 4,000 or so acres on the southern end of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness.
The rugged Crazy Mountains have more than 130,000 acres that could be designated as wilderness, but the FS only recommends less than 10,000 acres. Photo George Wuerthner
The plan recommends a small 9,619 acres of wilderness in the southern Crazy Mountains and a 30,642-acre Backcountry Area out of a potential 130,000 acre or so roadless acres, which could be designated as wilderness.
The Punchbowl area of the Pryor Mountains. Photo George Wuerthner
Likewise, the plan skimps on wilderness for the Pryor Mountains, one of Montana’s most unique mountain ranges, rising from desert to alpine and home to 40% of the plant species found in Montana. The Final CGNF plan recommends 10,662 acres of new wilderness in Bear Canyon 8,168 acres of recommended wilderness for Lost Water Canyon. The Punchbowl and Big Prior Plateau WSAs were not recommended for wilderness. A problematic feature is the construction of a new mountain bike trail that will bisect the Pryor Mountain proposed wilderness, making future wilderness designation problematic.
The Lionhead area is an important connection between Yellowstone and the Centennial Range to the west. Photo George Wuerthner
The Lionhead area, recommended initially as wilderness in the earlier 1987 Forest Plan, was downgraded to Backcountry. And a tiny backcountry area for the Blacktail area in the Bridger Range is part of the Forest Plan.
Deer Creek roadless area southeast of Big Timber, Montana, one of many larger roadless areas that did not get FS wilderness recommendation. Photo George Wuerthner
Important and significant other proposed wilderness were left out of the plan including the biologically important low elevation Deer Creek area near Big Timber, and the Poker Jim roadless areas on the Ashland Ranger District.
Clearcuts in the Gallatin Range. Photo George Wuerthner
Under the plan, about 560,000 acres or 18 percent of the forest is considered “suitable” for timber production, with another 603,000 acres or an additional 20 percent suitable for timber cutting for “fuel reduction” or “wildlife purposes.”
So while these groups crow about how wonderful the final Forest Plan is, they ignore how much of the forest can still be logged. The CGNF is not the nation’s woodbox. Logging here has numerous ecological impacts, including loss of carbon storage, the spread of weeds, disturbance of wildlife, sedimentation from logging roads, loss of biomass, and so forth, none of which any green groups ever acknowledge.
The FWS says the final CGNF plan may affect and is likely to affect grizzly bears. Photo George Wuerthner
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s biological opinion on the Final Forest Plan found that the proposed management may affect and are likely to adversely affect the grizzly bear and lynx, both species listed under the Endangered Species Act. Not a word about this opinion in the glowing approval of the plan by the Big Greens.
I’m typically an optimistic person and even somewhat pragmatic (though some of my critics might suggest otherwise). So I tend to see the glass as half full rather than in the negative as half empty. But this forest plan doesn’t even pretend to half fill a glass. Instead, there are just a few sips of water at the bottom.
In my view, overall, the forest plan fails to recognize and adequately protect the fundamental values of the forest.
The crest of the Gallatin Range. Photo George Wuerthner
The CGNF is part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, one of the few functioning temperate ecosystems in the world. It is the headwaters for major river systems of the West, including the Mississippi-Missouri, Snake-Columbia, and Green-Colorado. And lest we forget, it is home to numerous wildlife species that are rare or endangered elsewhere, from genetically pure bison to various subspecies of cutthroat trout to an isolated grizzly bear population. And the CGNF and other public lands surrounding Yellowstone National Park are part of the best wildlands south of Canada and Alaska.
The Three W’s include wildlife, watershed and wildlands. Photo George Wuerthner
In other words, the CGNF’s central values are the three W’s: watershed, wildlife, and wildlands, and these values were given short shrift in the forest plan.
Sourdough Creek, Gallatin Range, part of Bozeman’s water supply. Water is one of the three W’s that represent the most valuable aspects of the CGNF. Photo George Wuerthner
That is why it is baffling, even discouraging to me, for groups like GYC or Wild Montana to declare the plan a success.
For organizations like GYC etc., to declare their support for the CGNF plan as a “success” is like hiring a realtor to sell your home estimated to be worth $200,000, and the realtor declares how lucky you were because they managed to get you $20,000 for it. You would fire that realtor in a flash.
Crazy Mountains near Livingston, Montana. Photo George Wuerthner
When you consider that another 1.1 million acres could, in theory, be designated as wilderness on the CGNF, and would genuinely protect its international value, the CGNF final plan fails to live up to its obligation to protect the forest’s unique attributes.
The value of wilderness designation is that it legally recognizes restraint and humility. It is the best way in our legal system to protect lands from human arrogance—i.e., active resource management. Wilderness means “self-willed” lands or places where natural processes operate with minimum human interference.
Although the Forest recommendations are just that—recommendations since Congress has final authority to designate wilderness, it is still disappointing to see wilderness advocacy groups willing to declare the CGNF a “success.” I want to think the plan rises to Half Full status, but it leaves me thirsty.
The Continental Divide Trail in the Lionhead area. Photo George Wuerthner
Passage of the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act could correct the deficiency of the CGNF plan, and we can hope that someday Congress and the American people will have the wisdom to enact this visionary legislation.
On a warm spring morning in 1976, when Beth Pratt was 7 years old, she noticed a “For sale” sign posted in the woods near her home just north of Boston.
“I asked my mom what it meant,” she recalled. “She said the land was up for sale and would soon be flattened by bulldozers.”
The next day, Pratt went door to door in her neighborhood of old elms and deep porches asking for donations to save one of her favorite outdoor playgrounds. Then she called the phone number on the sign and made an offer: $5.
After several seconds of silence, the person on the other end of the line said, “Wonderful. Just $40,000 more and that property is all yours.”
Today, Pratt is still raising money for causes she believes in. At 52, Pratt heads the nonprofit National Wildlife Federation’s #SaveLACougars campaign, which seeks to raise funds to build an $87-million bridge that will allow isolated clans of cougars to cross a 10-lane stretch of the 101 Freeway at Liberty Canyon Road in Agoura Hills.
To get a full measure of her dedication to the cause, start with the campaign’s poster puma, P-22. A likeness of the lone mountain lion prowling the chaparral-covered slopes in Griffith Park is tattooed on Pratt’s upper left arm.
Groundbreaking is just around the corner. The thought of it brings a proud smile to her face.
“When I took on this assignment I thought, well, how hard can it be?” Pratt said, shaking her head. “I didn’t dream it would grow into a nearly $100-million project that would consume almost 10 years of my life.”
An artist’s rendering of the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, set to break ground in late January.
(Living Habitats and National Wildlife Federation)
When it is completed, the 200-foot-long, 165-foot-wide bridge will be the largest and most expensive of its kind in the world — and the only one designed to save a species from extinction.
It is crucial, scientists say, to restoring gene flow among small, isolated populations of cougars trapped south of the freeway that roars with 300,000 vehicles each day in the Santa Monica Mountains and cougars confined to the north in the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains.
Recent scientific studies suggest there’s an almost 1 in 4 chance that Southern California mountain lions, which have the lowest genetic diversity documented for the species aside from the critically endangered Florida panther, could become extinct within 50 years.
The next few months are vital for those cougars and for Pratt, regional executive director in California for the federation. As of early December, the effort still needed $5 million to meet deadlines and contractual obligations.
Beth Pratt works in her office at her home in Midpines, Calif., near Yosemite National Park. Her ability to raise considerable amounts of money owes, in part, to a group of connected L.A. Westsiders.
(Gary Kazanjian / For The Times)
Yet Pratt looked pleased on a recent morning, writing grant proposals and soliciting donations over the phone in her home near Yosemite National Park. Her living area is filled with artistic renderings and life-size cardboard cutouts of mountain lions.
She had reason to be pleased. Future historians may look back on the second decade or so of 21st century American architecture as the Age of Wildlife Crossings. Congress in November passed a national infrastructure package that for the first time sets aside $350 million in federal funding for wildlife crossings to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions in all 50 states.
This would not have been the situation most people would have predicted when Pratt took on the tricky fundraising job. Wildlife bridge proposals, she quickly learned, come with a hitch: You need money to get past the blueprints, but you need blueprints to generate donations.
It’s rare these days — and almost impossible — to see a big-bucks urban wildlife project survive such long odds, particularly in a region that is home to unbearable traffic jams, smog and cookie-cutter planned developments.
Her ability to raise money in breathtaking amounts owes, in part, to a group of connected L.A. Westsiders — celebrities, corporate leaders and philanthropists — who have ready cash and enjoy throwing elegant private fundraisers for progressive causes.
Beth Pratt, a self-described “goofy, loud, middle-class Boston Irish woman” who dresses in blue jeans and worn tennis shoes, relaxes at her home in Midpines, Calif.
(Gary Kazanjian / For The Times)
While the Westside may not be the natural habitat of a self-described “goofy, loud, middle-class Boston Irish woman” who dresses in blue jeans and worn tennis shoes, Pratt learned that she could successfully coax the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Barbra Streisand without changing habits.
Pratt carries a backpack instead of a purse. At one Beverly Hills fundraiser, the host asked, “Are you going hiking after this?”
“I discovered that mountain lions are a great icebreaker when you don’t have much else in common,” she said. “For example, when I met my favorite actor, Viggo Mortensen, at a Santa Barbara film festival, I only talked about cougars and not about my 20-year crush on him.” Pratt shoved a furry P-22 figurine under his arm as a reminder.
Her other gifts are patience, energy, ambition and what Cinny Kennard, executive director of the Annenberg Foundation, described as “relentless competence.”
Between solicitations to prospective donors, Pratt has partnered with photographer Robb Hirsch to publish the first in-depth account of the wildlife in Yosemite in almost 100 years.
She also promotes the Liberty Canyon project during visits to local elementary schools and annually retraces the 20-mile odyssey that P-22 braved from the Santa Monica Mountains to Griffith Park. The cat’s route took him over concrete and backyards, commuter traffic and culverts.
A 2014 photo provided by the National Park Service shows a mountain lion known as P-22 in the Griffith Park area near downtown Los Angeles.
(National Park Service )
“Some of her supporters have been moved to tears,” said Paul Edelman, deputy director of natural resources for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, “seeing Beth emerge from the brush near the carousel at Griffith Park looking bedraggled, dusty and sunburned.”
When asked about her heroes, she quickly gives credit to Outdoor Afro founder Rue Mapp, who wants to bring healing hikes and what she calls the “outdoor Black experience” to more Americans.
A selfie taken by Beth Pratt with Outdoor Afro founder Rue Mapp, right, who wants to bring healing hikes and what she calls the “outdoor Black experience” to more Americans.
Pratt sensed a kindred spirit in Mapp after they met about a decade ago. They both have great faith in the transformative power of the outdoors, and they both were struggling through personal issues while launching unprecedented projects that would define their careers and nurture new cooperative relationships between the urban and the wild.
“We became professional confidants who bonded in our own brand of sisterhood,” said Mapp, 49, a former Morgan Stanley analyst whose Outdoor Afro has expanded into a nonprofit with chapters in 36 cities across the nation. “For us, it was like Stars Wars’ Yoda says, ‘Do or not do. There is no trying.’”
The #SaveLACougars campaign kicked off in 2014 after the National Wildlife Federation and the Santa Monica Mountains Fund joined forces to raise money for the project at Liberty Canyon, about 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
“Normally, the majority of funding for projects of this scale comes from government agencies and not private donations,” Pratt said. “But the incentive was powerful to act quickly and reach out to visionary private investors or the lions of L.A. County would vanish within our lifetime.”
One of Pratt’s first donors was veteran rocker David Crosby. “This has always been a very uphill project and Beth is a very brave, focused and strong girl,” he said. “I plan to be there when they cut the ribbon on that wildlife bridge.”
Beth Pratt’s home in Midpines, Calif., is filled with artistic renderings and life-size cardboard cutouts of mountain lions.
(Gary Kazanjian / For The Times)
Since 2020, wildlife biologists have discovered the physical manifestations of extremely low genetic diversity among several of the dozen cougars that roam the 275 square miles in and around the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area — a tail kinked like the letter “L,” only one descended testicle and abnormal sperm.
In the face of such a dire prognosis — what biologists call an extinction vortex — conservationists are stepping up calls for construction of the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing at Liberty Canyon.
As envisioned by architects and Caltrans, cougars would move unseen by humans over a reinforced concrete-and-steel wildlife crossing landscaped with native vegetation — including oak and willow trees — and irrigation systems, and shielded with sound walls and light deflectors to dampen the noise and glare of headlights below.
Fencing up to 12 feet high would funnel wildlife including mountain lions, bobcats, deer, coyotes, skunks, badgers, squirrels, mice and lizards over the passage. To reduce roadkill, fencing would also extend several miles in both directions from the project footprint.
Project partners include the California Department of Transportation, the National Park Service, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, and the National Wildlife Federation.
Because the bridge crosses the freeway, Caltrans will oversee design and construction — but the agency is not providing funding. Instead, most of the funds come from more than 3,000 private, philanthropic and corporate donors around the world, including a recent $25-million challenge grant from Wallis Annenberg and the Annenberg Foundation.
Mountain lions as a species are not threatened in California, but the state Fish and Game Commission has granted cougars in six regions from Santa Cruz to the U.S.-Mexico border “candidate status” to be listed as threatened sometime next year.
The action came in response to a petition co-sponsored by the Center for Biological Diversity and the nonprofit Mountain Lion Foundation. It argues that six isolated and distinct cougar clans within those regions make up a subpopulation that is threatened by extinction.
“In car-centric California, what we do with our roads is critical to the future of mountain lions,” said Brendan Cummings, the center’s conservation director. “A new, more hopeful relationship is breaking ground on the side of the 101 Freeway at Liberty Canyon.
“This project is significant not just because it will directly benefit our endangered Southern California cougars,” he added, “but also because of what it represents: the most important step toward reimagining and rebuilding our infrastructure to ensure a continuing place for them and other wildlife in 21st century California and beyond.”
Not everyone is a believer, however. Critics ask why we should willingly share more space in our crowded world with stealthy, 140-pound predators who kill livestock and might menace us if we walk down a trail at night.
Pratt has answers. And there is an edge of impatience mixed with her self-effacing humor as she delivers them.
“I don’t want to see people hurt, but it’s important to put the risk in perspective,” she says. “Over the past century there’ve been less than 20 mountain lion attacks in California, six of them fatal. Yet, 3,000 to 4,000 people die every year on California’s highways.
“So c’mon,” she adds, “ask yourself when was the last time you helped pull an endangered lion back from the edge of extinction?”
There have been tumultuous years. But by perseverance and a generous measure of personal charm, Pratt has become California’s most recognizable promoter of wildlife crossings.
“Beth rocks,” said Fraser Shilling, co-director of the Road Ecology Center at UC Davis. “I’d like to see her apply her considerable organizing powers to other roads driving local lions toward extinction.”
What’s the only thing cooler than a castle? An ice castle. Figuratively and literally, these ice castles and other impressive winter displays are among the best of the bunch. Read on for some of the most breathtaking ice castles and sculptures in the country. FYI: Unless specified or noted as a free attraction, check the website listed for entrance fees, which vary depending on age and day.
Ice Castles New Hampshire, North Woodstock, New Hampshire
Ice Castles New Hampshire, North Woodstock, New Hampshire (White Mountains New Hampshire)
In the majestic White Mountains, journeyers will be treated to a fairy-tale display of ice castles from mid-January until mid-February depending on the weather conditions. All of the castles are hand-constructed and hand-placed by ice artists using hundreds of thousands of icicles, and you’ll also see tunnels, ice caves and ice slides. Illuminated by LED lights, visitors can also opt for a horse-drawn sleigh ride or the “Enchanted Forest Walk.”
Ice Castles in Lake George, New York (Courtesy to A.J. Mellor for Ice Castles)
Prepare to be amazed in the Empire State. In Lake George, you’ll be treated to ice displays with LED lights and colors at the Festival Commons at Charles Wood Park. This new winter event is expected to be open from January to early March, weather permitting. Each hand-built castle is said to take thousands of hours to create, and each castle is approximately a whopping one acre in size.
Ice Castles in Midway, Utah (Courtesy of Valor McNeely)
It’s to Utah we go for yet another Ice Castles experience. This one, situated in the scenic foothills of the Wasatch Mountains at the Soldier Hollow Nordic Center — a one-time Winter Olympics venue — is Ice Castles’ original outpost. Guests will be amazed by ice-carved slides, fountains, caverns and narrow slot canyons, crafted completely in ice and inspired by the natural slot canyons for which the Southwest is known. For a special outing, hop aboard a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the Wasatch Valley for ice-ing on the cake. Ice Castles in Midway, Utah, typically opens in late December or early January and remains open through late February.
International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge, Colorado
International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge, Colorado (The Breckenridge Tourism Office)
Not familiar with Breckenridge’s International Snow Sculpture Championships? Once you start scoping out videos from the mesmerizing event, good luck leaving the YouTube vortex. The celebrated snow-sculpting competition brings together 12 teams from around the globe to hand-carve 20-ton blocks of snow into larger-than-life art. Making these pieces even more impressive is the fact that competitors can only use hand tools. The carving week takes place Jan. 24-28, 2022, and viewing week for this unique outdoor art gallery is Jan. 28-Feb. 2, 2022.
Ice Castles in New Brighton, Minnesota (A.J. Mellor)
Head to Long Lake Regional Park in the Twin Cities suburb of New Brighton, and you’ll be greeted with quite the frozen sight to behold. As you marvel at the castle, take note of the various caverns, tunnels, crawl spaces, slides and fountains, all handcrafted from individually placed icicles. To up the ante, there’s also a sculpture garden with fairy-tale-themed ice sculptures linked by a light grove along a wooded trail to the castle. Ice Castles in Minnesota historically opens in early January and stays in place through early March, weather permitting.
Michigan Technological University’s 100th Winter Carnival in Houghton, Michigan
Michigan Technological University’s 100th Winter Carnival in Houghton, Michigan (2nd Sandbar Productions and Keweenaw Convention & Visitors Bureau)
From Feb. 9 to Feb. 12, 2022, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula will host this free-to-visit carnival that’s sure to dazzle folks of all ages. Every year, the carnival has a different theme, and students put on quite the spectacle through highly detailed snow and ice sculptures. Some of the largest sculptures take a month to create, and smaller statues are built overnight. There are also broomball games, comedy skits and the carnival’s queen coronation to enjoy.
Ice Castles in Lake George, New York (A.J. Mellor for Ice Castles)
A crazy-cool citadel awaits at Geneva National Resort and Club in this so-called “Newport of the west,” where you can ooh and ahh at caverns, arches, ice slides, an ice maze, crawl tunnels, the arctic alcove (a popular spot for proposals) and more. To boost your holiday activities quota, you can take a horse-drawn sleigh ridge along the shoreline of Lake Como. Due to the shorter winter season in Lake Geneva, Ice Castles in Wisconsin typically doesn’t open until late January and only remains open through late February, weather permitting.
Winter Carnival Ice Palace in Saranac Lake, New York
Winter Carnival Ice Palace in Saranac Lake, New York (The Adirondack Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism)
This free attraction alone is well worth a visit to the charming mountain town of Saranac Lake. At the winter carnival, the ice palace is the pièce de résistance, erected on the shore of Lake Flower’s Pontiac Bay and built similarly as it was in 1897, the first year the palace revealed its shimmering, glimmering self. Using ice harvested from Lake Flower with 1,500 blocks stacked atop each other, this ice display is built by volunteers. Visible for the duration of the carnival Feb. 4 to 13, 2022, heavy equipment is now used to help make the labor easier, but the communal spirit of neighbors coming together to make something special is ever present.
Samoset Glacier Ice Bar & Lounge in Rockport, Maine
Samoset Glacier Ice Bar & Lounge in Rockport, Maine (Samoset Resort)
Yes, grown-ups can enjoy a good old-fashioned ice castle excursion, but for some adults-only fun, it’s tough to outshine this ice bar and lounge put together by ice sculptors and designers who devote weeks to chiseling down 300-pound blocks of ice to fashion bars, seats, tables, ice luges, couches and sculptures. Fire lamps and faux-fur cushions round out the mix as you sip on hits like a “snowball martini or “Old Man Winter” and warm up with New England clam chowder and chili. There’s live music at night and the bar will be open Jan. 14-15 and Jan. 21-22, 2022, with free access for hotel guests and $25 for outside visitors.
Ice Maze at CityCenterDC in Washington, D.C. (Albert Ting / CityCenterDC)
Our nation’s capital recently welcomed the return of the Ice Maze at The Park at CityCenterDC, a mixed-use development and public park. The free, interactive experience surpassed its previous ice records, with a 130,000-pound clear ice maze accompanied by multicolored lights. This year, the maze was created by 10 international award-winning sculptors and ran in mid-December for three days. Ice activations have been a tradition at CityCenterDC for the past five years, and an announcement will come in 2022 as to what surprise guests can expect in the new year.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Saturday that he is “certain” more than 70 people are dead after a tornado traveled around 227 miles through the commonwealth and is wreaking havoc on even more states as it pushes eastward.
Beshear called it the most devastating tornado event in state history, and he said that the death toll could top 100.
“Everywhere along this line of this tornado where it touched down … has been severely and significantly impacted,” Beshear said.
“It is indescribable,” he said. “The level of devastation is unlike anything I have ever seen.”
Beshear earlier said about 110 people were inside a candle factory in Mayfield when the tornado struck.
At least four different tornadoes struck the state during the night.
“It hit Mayfield as hard as just about any town,” the governor said.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear speaks to reporters at the Statehouse in Frankfort, Ky., Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. (Associated Press)
Other nearby towns were also hit, he said.
He advised Kentucky residents to stay as safe as they can and warned them to stay off the roads as emergency crews continued their response.
He declared a state of emergency and deployed the National Guard, he said.
Police departments and other agencies were using heavy equipment to clear fallen trees and other debris, he said.
Earlier Saturday morning came reports that hundreds of customers were without electricity in Jefferson County, Kentucky, with an estimated 20,000 or more losing service statewide, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported.
The Kentucky State Police warned that “Loss of life is expected,” in a social media post around 1 a.m. Saturday.
According to the National Weather Service, the tornado producing storm system is expected to go through southeastern Alabama, Georgia, and parts of the Florida panhandle this afternoon into tonight. Portions of the mid-Atlantic are also under a “marginal” risk of severe weather this evening.
During a press conference on Saturday, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said that the Amazon warehouse collapse in Edwardsville has resulted in six deaths so far.
For centuries, indigenous groups in north-east India have crafted intricate bridges from living fig trees. Now this ancient skill is making its way to European cities.
When monsoon clouds bring pelting rains to the village of Tyrna, Shailinda Syiemlieh takes the nearest bridge to reach the opposite bank of a gushing stream. The bridge is no ordinary structure made of concrete and metal. Instead, it is composed of a single giant fig tree that sits by the riverbank, and the support that Syiemlieh walks over is a mishmash of aerial roots tightly knotted and woven together. The bridge is not only a part of the landscape, it is helping to support its ecosystem at the same time.
Tyrna lies just above the plains of Bangladesh in the north-eastern Indian state of Meghalaya, which hosts hundreds of these bridges. For centuries, they have helped the indigenous Khasi and Jaintia communities to cross swelling rivers in monsoons. “Our ancestors were so clever,” says Syiemlieh, “When they couldn’t cross rivers, they made Jingkieng Jri – the living root bridges.”
Meghalaya hosts some of the wettest locations on Earth. The village Mawsynram, the world’s rainiest place, receives an annual rainfall of 11,871mm (39ft) – that would be enough to submerge a typical three-storey house if deluged all at once. Nearby Sohra comes second, averaging 11,430mm (37.5ft). From June to September, monsoon winds sweep north from the Bay of Bengal, passing over the humid plains of Bangladesh. When these air currents meet the hilly terrain of Meghalaya, they break open – and torrential rains begin.
When monsoon downpours periodically isolated the remote villages of Syiemlieh’s ancestors from nearby towns, they trained living aerial roots of Indian rubber fig tree (Ficus elastica) to form a bridge across flooding rivers.
The trees are important not just for crossing rivers, but they hold a revered place in Khasi culture (Credit: Alamy)
Building these bridges takes decades of work. It begins with planting a sapling of Ficus elastica – a tree that grows abundantly in the subtropical terrain of Meghalaya – in a good crossing place along the riverbank. First the trees develop large buttressing roots and then, after about a decade, the maturing trees sprout secondary aerial roots from further up. These aerial roots have a degree of elasticity, and tend to join and grow together to form stable structures.
In a method perfected over centuries, the Khasi bridge builders weave aerial roots onto a bamboo or another wooden scaffolding, wheedle them across the river and finally implant them on the opposite bank. Over time, the roots shorten, thicken and produce offshoots called daughter roots, which are also trained over the river. The builders intertwine these roots with one another or with branches and trunks of the same or another fig tree. They merge by a process called anastomosis – where branching systems like leaf vessels, tendrils and aerial roots naturally fuse together – and weave into a dense frame-like structure. Sometimes, the Khasi builders use stones to cover the gaps in root structures. This network of roots matures over time to bear loads; some bridges can hold up to 50 people at once.
The generations that follow the initial bridge builders continue the maintenance of the bridge. While only one single person may maintain small bridges, most require the collective effort of families or the entire village – sometimes several villages. This process of care and development down the generations can last for centuries, with some bridges dating from 600 years ago.
As well as being a regenerative form of architecture, living root bridges grow stronger with time, self-repairing and becoming more robust as they age. “When it rains heavily, small cement bridges wash away and steel bridges tend to rust, but living root bridges withstand the rains,” says Syiemlieh.
“People came to realise that root bridges are much more durable than modern alternatives, and they cost absolutely nothing. So villagers now repair root bridges they had abandoned in the forest valleys.”
This resurgence in interest in root bridges is in part thanks to the efforts of Morningstar Khongthaw, a native from Rangthylliang village, who founded the Living Bridge Foundation. Khongthaw and his team create awareness about root bridges, repair and maintain old bridges while also constructing new ones.
The living root bridges of north-east India have become famous as a tourist attraction – but they could also inspire European urban architecture (Credit: Getty Images)
Unlike conventional bridges, root bridges are also central to their surroundings. Apart from producing their own building material, the trees absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide over their lifetimes. They help stabilise the soil and prevent landslides. Conventional bridges can disrupt the soil layers, but roots can anchor different soil structures which helps protect against soil erosion, says Ferdinand Ludwig, professor for green technologies in landscape architecture at the Technical University of Munich, who has been studying the bridges for 13 years.
This is true of many trees, but Ficus elastica plays a particularly important role in its ecosystem, says Salvador Lyngdoh, a local to Meghalaya and a scientist at the Biodiversity Institute of India, whose work focuses on conservation in the Himalayas. Fig trees are framework species that promote biodiversity around them: moss grows on them, squirrels live in their branches, birds nest within their canopy, and they support insects that help with pollination. The act of turning these trees into bridges can also help animals to thrive in their habitat, says Lyngdoh. Bark deer and clouded leopards are known to use root bridges to move from one part of the forest to another.
Root bridges may not be able to outperform the conventional kind in every sense, Lyngdoh notes. A conventional bridge can bear more weight, for example. “But root bridges are much more useful to a large sphere of natural species than the modern bridges we have,” he says. “The living root bridge is a mosaic that’s embedded within the forest. Species do not differentiate between the bridge and natural forest.”
This form of indigenous architecture has fascinated scientists like the Technical University of Munich’s Ludwig, for the potential to learn from them to make buildings and spaces in other parts of the world greener.
Ludwig sees these bridges as an example of not just sustainable development, which minimises the damage and degradation of natural systems, but of regenerative development. The latter attempts to reverse degradation and improve the health of the ecosystem. But understanding the living root bridges is not an easy process.
“There’s no one way to build these bridges,” says Ludwig. “How these roots are pulled, tied and woven together differ from builder to builder. None of the bridges looks similar.”
The lack of historical written information on the bridges has also been a challenge in researching them. Until the British colonial period in the 19th Century, native Khasi inhabitants in Meghalaya didn’t have a written script, as the Khasi way of life is passed down through oral histories. This has meant that documented information on the bridges is sparse.
The fig tree is uniquely adaptable to making root bridges, but other species can also be used to integrate into architecture, such as the London plane tree (Credit: Alamy)
So Ludwig’s team turned to conversations with Khasi bridge builders and digital tools to understand the bridge-building techniques. They started with mapping the complicated shapes of roots and built digital skeletons of the bridges; next, they used photogrammetry – recording, surveying and interpreting root bridges using photographs – to document the bridges and construct 3D models using them.
“[Conventionally], when we construct a bridge or a building, we have a plan – we know what it’s going to look like,” says Ludwig. “But this isn’t possible with living architecture. Khasi people know this; they are extremely clever in how they constantly analyse and interact with tree growth, and accordingly adapt to the conditions.” Whenever a new root pops up, Khasi builders find a new way to integrate it into the structure.
But in Europe, with its very different climate, using Ficus elastica wasn’t a viable option, so they had to make compromises, choosing instead Platanus hispanica, the London plane tree. “That’s not all. The Khasi have incredible knowledge because they live in nature, and are deeply coupled with the ecosystems. We are not,” says Ludwig. So his team used digital tools to mimic this process and to settle on a geometry that allowed for weaving twigs together into a roof. The team constantly trims and prunes the trees to encourage them to grow to keep the trees thinner.
“We are learning how to react to plant growth in Europe: humans plant trees, trees grow, humans react, trees react again,” Ludwig says. “This way of interacting with nature is essential for a sustainable and regenerative future.”
The Double Decker Root Bridge of Meghalaya is now famous, drawing tourists from around the world (Credit: Alamy)
Ludwig hopes that living architecture can contribute to improving the outer wellbeing of residents in cities. Integrating trees in buildings, bridges, and parks will help bring nature into crowded areas. “The idea is not to copy the bridges, but to borrow the elements of this indigenous engineering and try to understand how we can adapt it in our urban environments,” says Ludwig.
Julia Watson, architect and assistant professor at Columbia University, whose work revolves around nature-based technologies of indigenous knowledge, says part of this is changing the way we see trees.
“Instead of viewing trees in cities as passive elements, we can view them as active infrastructures, to expand the ecosystem services trees provide in the urban context,” she says. For instance, trees can reduce the effect of urban heat islands (where concrete structures absorb heat and keep cities warmer) and lower outdoor ambient temperature, Watson notes.
The Ficus elastica provides potential that goes far beyond bridges, Watson says. These trees needn’t be an add-on to a building, but an integral part of its façade or roof.
In Meghalaya, the Khasi’s practice of bioengineering takes integration of the trees with their surroundings one step further, bringing people together as well as the ecosystem. The bridges, Lyngdoh says, promote community life and create reverence within the society when people come together to build, maintain and repair the bridges.
The young bridges being trained today won’t be traversed by those who are tending to them now, but by generations to come. “The community doesn’t think of today. It’s a selfless act. It’s a conservation philosophy,” says Lyngdoh. He sees this selflessness as a sacred element that pulls the community together and protects the ecosystem.
As well as being a part of Khasi culture, the root bridges have always brought economic benefits to the community. In the past, a network of bridges connected villages with nearby cities, providing a pathway for locals to transport and sell betel nut and broom grass. Today, there is also the tourism economy they bring, says Syiemlieh.
About 3,500 steps below Syiemlieh’s home village of Tyrna is the Double Decker Root Bridge that connects the two banks of the Umshiang River. When water levels rose high, Khasi villagers trained additional roots of the same fig tree across the river higher above the water, creating a second bridge over the first.
Today, it’s a major tourist attraction. As tourists began flocking, homestays opened. Locals built campsites and guided visitors through the hilly jungle. Makeshift stalls stacked up everything from crisp packets to bottled drinks. In March, when Syiemlieh visited Laitkynsew, a village just south of Tyrna, she saw locals pull, twist and weave aerial roots of a fig tree on bamboo scaffolding to build a triple bridge – two layers run parallel to each another as in the double-decker bridge, while a third root layer is slanted across the river bank. “Maybe they thought that three layers can attract more tourists,” says Syiemlieh.
Tourism comes with concerns, Syiemlieh says. Aside from the empty crisp packets and bottles, some root bridges see crowds of hundreds at a time as tourists clamber for selfies, potentially overburdening the trees. But locals are already planning different models of sustainable tourism.
Khongthaw, for example, is building a museum and a learning centre to educate tourists about living root bridges and other infrastructure made of Ficus elastica, such as canopies and tunnels in the deep jungles, and ladder-like structures, which farmers would use to climb up and down rock ledges on the way to Meghalaya’s fertile plains for cultivation.
Although still in its infancy outside Meghalaya, Watson hopes that architecture inspired by the living root bridges could come to play a fundamental role in cities – bringing with it benefits for urban air, soil and wildlife. “Living infrastructure can support incredible biodiversity and species, not just humans,” Watson says. “We need that biodiversity to survive.”
Activists are increasingly suing governments and companies to take action against climate change – and winning. Could this be a turning point?(Image credit: Getty Images)
David Schiepek, a student from the southern German state of Bavaria, has been involved in climate activism for around three years. “After all this time fighting, protesting and talking to politicians, I was losing hope a bit,” the 20-year-old says. “I feel like my future is being taken away.”
But in May this year, an unexpected event gave him a fresh sense of optimism. A lawsuit brought by a number of environmental NGOs, on behalf of a group of young activists, resulted in Germany’s constitutional court ruling that the country’s climate protection act must be amended to include more ambitious CO2 emissions reductions. The decision stated that the government’s failure to protect the climate for future generations was unconstitutional.
“I saw that, finally, politicians can be put under pressure and forced to take measures against climate change,” Schiepek says. “It really changed the way I see politics.”
Now he is hoping to build on this ruling, which applies only to the federal government. He has been recruited by an NGO, along with other young people from around Germany, to bring similar cases against their local state governments. Technically, he is suing his state to take action on climate change.
The last few years have seen a snowballing of court rulings in favour of environmentalists around the world. The cumulative number of climate change-related cases has more than doubled since 2015, according to a report authored by Kaya Axelsson of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute and colleagues. Just over 800 cases were filed between 1986 and 2014, while over 1,000 cases have been brought in the last six years, researchers Joana Setzer and Catherine Higham of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment found. Thirty-seven of those cases were “systemic mitigation” cases brought against governments.
One of the most high-profile was a Dutch case in 2015, in which a court ruled that The Netherlands’ government has a duty of care when it comes to protecting its citizens from climate change. The judges decided the government’s plan to cut emissions by 14-17% compared with 1990 levels by 2020 were unlawful given the threat of climate change. They ordered the target be increased to 25%. As a result, the Dutch government closed a power plant four years earlier than planned and introduced a new climate plan in 2019. Elsewhere cases have led to similar rulings – including the recent German one that inspired Schiepek, as well as cases in countries such as Australia.
The rising number of cases is paving the way for stricter enforcement of environmental laws around the world and giving activists like Schiepek a new sense of hope.
A number of high-profile rulings have found certain governments’ and corporations’ climate action has been insufficient (Credit: Getty Images)
Roda Verheyen, one of the best-known environmental lawyers in Germany, and one of those who represented citizens in Germany’s constitutional court case this year, says she believes there are three reasons for the increase in successful cases. “One is that courts take a long time to actually come to conclusions,” she says. An increasing number of cases have been filed since 2014, so some are only now being heard after many years of work.
“And then obviously the narrative of what society perceives climate change to be has changed,” she explains. “A lot of law is flexible to some degree, because you always have to interpret existing rules. And when [judges] do that, they take into account societal norms and how belief systems might have changed.”
She compares this development to marijuana-related offences – as attitudes towards the drug have become more liberal in many countries, sentences have become much lighter. In the context of climate change, the public now overwhelmingly accepts the scientific consensus that it is man-made, and polls regularly put it towards the top of peoples’ concerns. This has in turn made courts more willing to rule against those responsible for emissions.
Verheyen explains that this year’s German ruling is significant because many countries do not have a constitutional court that can make this type of decision. Secondly, it is unlimited, so applies from now until forever, and she expects it to have a big impact on other cases around Europe.
Roda Verheyen successfully represented citizen’s in Germany’s constitutional case in 2021 (Credit: Alamy)
“Our 2022 business plan will reflect this new target, which we are committed to delivering regardless of whether we win or lose our appeal against the ruling,” the Shell spokesperson says.
These reductions don’t include the emissions from burning Shell’s fossil fuel products, which come under the category of Scope 3 emissions. The Dutch ruling stated that the company also needed to reduce its Scope 3 emissions, but the Shell spokesperson says that these findings hold Shell accountable for a wider global issue.
Paul Benson, a lawyer at Brussels-based NGO Client Earth, which specialises in environmental litigation, says this case “sought to apply the same reasoning [from the ruling against the Dutch government] to a corporate body. That was very novel, and I think a lot of commentators and people in our fairly enclosed legal circle weren’t entirely sure what way the court would interpret [that].”
“I was thrilled for a court to find that a company’s climate policy is in effect inadequate,” he continues, calling the judgment “ground-breaking”. The case was also the first time that a company was ordered to comply with the Paris climate agreement: “[It] shows the Paris agreement has teeth – not just against governments, but against companies.”
This has paved the way for other lawsuits seeking to force corporations to comply with the treaty – Verheyen is currently working on a lawsuit against German carmakers BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen which, if successful, would force them to phase out combustion engines by 2030 in line with the Paris goals. “As you would expect, actors in this space and lawyers in our community have been studying the [Shell] judgement very carefully, and sought local reasoning to apply [it] in their jurisdiction,” adds Benson.
“The complaint has not yet been served on us,” says a spokesperson for Daimler, which makes Mercedes-Benz vehicles. “We do not see a basis for a cease-and-desist declaration, because we have long since issued a clear declaration for our ‘lane change’ to climate neutrality: As a car manufacturer, it is our ambition to become fully electric by the end of the decade wherever market conditions allow.”
A BMW spokesperson says: “The BMW Group is firmly committed to the Paris climate agreement and already leads the automotive industry in the fight against climate change.” Meanwhile a Volkswagen spokesperson says that Volkswagen was the first car manufacturer to commit to all targets set by the Paris climate agreement “and is committed to become net carbon neutral at the latest by 2050”, aiming to invest €35bn [£30bn/$40bn] in electric mobility before 2025.
Benson and one of his colleagues, Sebastian Bechtel, both stress that the cases taking place now only challenge a fraction of environmental destruction that is happening around the world. Many activists do not have the financial resources to take on big corporations. “A lot of countries do not want to bring these claims,” Bechtel says. “In the UK, those relate primarily to costs. In other countries, it’s simply not possible to go to court to enforce specific laws.”
Increasingly solid science proving anthropogenic climate change and shifting public sentiment are two reasons for the uptick in climate lawsuits (Credit: Getty Images)
Back in Germany, a newly launched NGO, Green Legal Impact, is seeking to address this issue by offering specialised training to young lawyers and connecting civil society groups to those offering legal representation. Managing director Henrike Lindemann says that as a young environmental activist she “always saw that young people had political ideas. And then there were lawyers, often old white men, who told us our ideas were not possible because of the law,” she says. “And I thought, I want to know for myself if this is true. And if it is, I want to know how to change it.”
Lindemann says that one of the aims of the organisation is to encourage activist groups to be strategic in the court cases they pursue, so that any judgments can pave the way for further litigation. She gives the example of a number of current cases challenging the planned 850km (530 miles) of motorway due to be built in Germany, which she argues has not been looked at through the lens of climate. “I think if the court [ruled against one part of motorway], the discussion would change,” she says. “It would not just be about that one section of motorway, it would be the entire plan. And then we would have to change the whole discussion around mobility.”
The question of access to justice also brings about the issue of whether those in the Global South, who are disproportionately impacted by climate change, could in future bring cases against corporations or governments in wealthier nations. Green Legal Impact is already working on helping people in other countries who have been impacted by German companies’ actions seek justice, and a recent UK ruling stated that communities can sue parent companies for environmental damage caused by their subsidiaries.
Verheyen says it would be difficult to find courts to support cases against foreign governments, “unless at some point one very severely hit country decides to go state-versus-state, which has been a topic of conversation in academic and political circles for a long time, but hasn’t happened.”
Environmentalists are feeling optimistic after this year’s judgments. But given how slowly courts move, do they feel this may all be too little, too late? “Obviously I don’t think it’s too late, otherwise I would stop what I’m doing,” replies Verheyen. “I think we’re actually seeing a lot of movement.”
Benson agrees. “I think there’s a tendency sometimes for people to think about climate in a fatalist way,” he adds. “But everything we do now to mitigate and adapt is hugely worthwhile.”
In terms of which potentially ground-breaking cases we might see in future, Verheyen suggests that both the finance sector “and anything to do with land use and forests” are areas where she is expecting more action to arise. “If you look closely at the Shell judgement, it says, no further fossil fuel investment, full stop,” she explains. “If I was a financial institution, I would be looking very closely at that one.”
But overall, lawyers working in this field are keen to point out that litigation isn’t a silver bullet for ending the climate crisis. “It’s just one of the levers that can be pulled to trigger necessary change,” says Benson. “The other levers are activism, policy and, of course, science. But [litigation] is an incredibly powerful tool, and I think this year we’ve seen that.”
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