Logging forests after they're chewed up by bark beetles won't cut fire risks, new report says

An interesting study out today (PDF) concludes that logging in Western forests ravaged by pine beetles not only doesn’t do much to prevent wildfires – it also wastes precious government dough that could be used instead to actually protect the homes of those folks foolish enough to build in fire-prone forests.

This particular study comes out of Colorado, which is described as the “epicenter” of the pine-beetle outbreak, although I think I wouldn’t have a lot of trouble finding folks in British Columbia who would dispute that characterization.

 And it’s reminiscent of the findings in Oregon following massive fires there a few years ago: That coming in and “salvaging timber” actually disrupts the natural processes that govern forests the way God made them.

This newest report, spearheaded by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, points out that insect outbreaks have been a part of forest ecology in the West for millennia. It also details how it’s climate, high temperatures and the sparse amount of water in our changing Western climate that are primarily responsible for the beetle outbreaks. Harvesting beetle-mauled trees does not head off climate change. Perhaps even the opposite is true? 

It's particularly damaging to do this kind of post-beetle tree-cutting in roadless areas, sacrificing longterm ecological integrity for short-term profits and roads that pierce into formerly intact wilderness areas, the report argues.

The chemicals within us

JenniferSitting before a Senate subcommittee is a young mother. She is slim, pretty, intelligent . . . and full of dangerous chemicals.

Molly Jones Gray of Seattle testified this week in Washington, D.C., regarding human exposure to toxic chemicals.  After participating in a study conducted by the Washington Toxics Coalition, a pregnant Gray was horrified to learn that her body contained a variety of dangerous chemicals. Gray said she was testifying not only on her own behalf, but also for her 7-month-old son Paxton. She told the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health:

On behalf of my son Paxton and all other children, I am asking for your help to lower our body burdens of chemicals that come between us and our health.

The Toxics Coalition conducted a study testing nine pregnant women from Washington, Oregon, and California for five groups of chemicals: phthalates, mercury, so-called “Teflon” chemicals known as perfluorinated compounds, bisphenol A, and the flame retardant tetrabromobisphenol A.

The study, entitled Earliest Exposures, examined the blood and urine of the nine women in their second trimester.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Just say 'no' to plastic and paper - bring your own bags until lawmakers - and voters - get the courage to act

Just say no.

To paper and plastic.

An Oregon lawmaker is backing legislation to ban plastic bags. A big fight is shaping up, with plastic bag makers pointing to the  harmful effects of paper, and asking 'who can say paper is worse than plastic?' In Seattle last year, rita_hibbardwebvoters bowed to big spending by big plastic and chemical interests and voted down a proposal to  impose fees on all disposable bags.

The Oregon battle, a long shot to begin with, will be a tough one, marked by rhetoric and big spending by corporate interests that have derailed similar efforts around the nation. Expect that to continue. Why? Because nationwide, grocery stores and pharmacies go through about 92 billion plastic bags a year, compared to about 5 billion paper bags.

“The plastic industry … will try to win local battle by local battle,”  Marc Mihaly, director of the environmental law center at Vermont Law School, says of such contests. “They will intimidate where they can. If they can’t intimidate … they will try to influence legislators.”

But all of us could make the decision ourselves, and just bring our own re-usable bags. Yeah, it's hard to remember.  And really annoying to carry five oranges, a jar of honey and three cans of dog food out of the store with no bag. But, sigh, we could save a lot of money and energy and advertising brochures headed for the landfill if we just said 'no.'  To non-reusable bags, that is.

The Oregonian's Scott Learn writes that State Sen.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Tying student scores to teacher ratings in Oregon and Idaho, while WA takes a go-slow approach

The state of Oregon is putting it on the line, taking the controversial step -- with the backing of its teachers unions - to connect student test scores to teacher ratings and using them to judge effectiveness.

rita_hibbardweb"Schools will be expected to use those results to improve teaching practices and could use them to help decide which teachers they should promote, give bonuses or let go,” reports Betsy Hammond of The Oregonian. Oregon will take this step in its application to win $200 million of the Obama administration’s $4 billion Race to the Top fund – deadline Tuesday. About 43 states, including Idaho, are expected to apply in this first round of competitive funding, and Oregon is one of only 28 with teacher union backing.

Meanwhile, Washington state is proceeding more tentatively. Gov. Christine Gregoire has announced the state will apply for round two of the funding – deadline June. Superintendent of Schools Randy Dorn agrees with the go-slow approach.

“Race to the Top money will help change the way we do education and make our schools better for our students,” Dorn said. “But we need time to make sure local districts can participate in the process. Waiting for the second round of applications gives us that time.”

Like Oregon, Idaho schools also will seek the federal funding in the first round – about $75 million for a pilot program to pay teachers based on performance in several areas, including student test scores.

Feds rush toward LNG in Coos Bay

The state of Oregon is fighting federal efforts to push through a liquid natural gas terminal in Coos Bay, Oregon, reports Ted Sickinger of The Oregonian.

The Jordan Cove Energy Project terminal is being developed by Fort Chicago Energy Partners LP and Energy Projects Development LLC to import up to 1 billion cubic feet of gas per day, mostly for customers in Northern California.

That supercooled natural gas, which would also be sold to Pacific Northwest buyers, would travel through a 234-mile long Pacific Connector pipeline to be built over forests and marshlands.

Opponents include the state of Oregon, environmentalists and landowners who  say the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the LNG terminal in Coos Bay without fully studying the environmental effects of building the infrastructure to pump gas from the Coos Bay terminal to California via an interstate gas pipeline near Malin, Oregon.  The feds also gave too much power to the developers to condemn private property, they say.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Attorney General John Kroger vowed to press the commission to reconsider, and held out the possibility of appealing to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  They've done so already with another commission-approved LNG terminal on the lower Columbia River.

Oregon newspaper documents one year at innovative Salem high school

Oregon's Statesman Journal launched a creative new multimedia series today chronicling one of Salem's most ethnically diverse student bodies, McKay High School, as the school pilots a new formula for increasing academic success.

Each month for the full academic year, reporters will feature a student, teacher, administrator and alum from the school. The profiles kick started today. But what really makes this project interesting is the progressive curriculum this school has developed, resulting in higher attendance, lower dropout rates and improved test scores -- in one of the most impoverished schools in the state.

They're calling the school model "career academies," or smaller learning communities geared toward helping students explore their interests. As freshmen, students are quizzed to help them choose from three possible disciplines they will study for the next four years: Arts & Communications; Business, Engineering & Technology; and Health & Human Services. From there, they can explore more specific pathways. The class of 2010 is the first to root themselves entirely in the program.

It's the kind of template that has been used in foreign countries for years, but one that has not yet caught on in the United States, though it has been around for more than 30 years. Some fear dividing students into sub-classrooms will increase segregation in an already ethnically divided school. Others worry that the system could limit students' potential by restricting their interests too soon. But administration and staff working at the high school and witnessing the changes disagree.

Oregon looks at foster care neglect; abuse rates twice the national average

Two recent cases of maltreatment have prompted Oregon officials to initiate the state's first ever study of how children in foster care are neglected or abused, reports Ruth Liao of the Statesman Journal.

A team of law enforcement agents, youth organizations and foster care programs have been asked by the Oregon Department of Home Services to find ways to prevent abuse of agency children. The review process includes randomly sampling foster families who have served at least five years, as well as reviewing cases of foster care abuse that were previously closed.

Reports from the state's Critical Incident Response Team, which detailed the sexual abuse of one adoptive child, as well as the neglect of six medically fragile infants, led DHS officials to call for such an investigation. Some beleive that Oregon's child-welfare policies have long needed an overhaul, a state where the rate of foster child abuse is double the national average, said Carol Jones, president of the National Foster Parent Association.

-- Natasha Walker

Homelessness up in Denver; total in Oregon includes thousands of kids

Ben Bernanke says it looks like we're out of the recession, but the facts on the ground in the West say something different:

  • In Oregon, the population of homeless people who are children numbers more than 18,000, The Oregonian's Betsy Hammond writes. The numbers are highest out in the countryside (where, as InvestigateWest's Rita Hibbard noted earlier today, it's also hard to find medical care because of a shortage of doctors.) The 14 percent increase in homeless kids this year stems from foreclosures and job losses, of course.
  • In Denver, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless just released a report showing that in a seven-county area centered on Denver, more than 11,000 homeless people were counted using a new census technique. Forty-four percent were homeless for the first time, Catherine Tsai reports for the AP.

    While the new counting method makes comparisons to previous years perilous, consider this: The count was done on Jan. 27. So in the dead of winter, in a really cold place, this country was unable to find homes for thousands of its citizens.

So while the official economists' definition of a recession may no longer apply, there's still a whole lot of pain out there, Mr. Bernanke. We can see it from the Pacific coast to the crest of the Rockies.