Yellowstone roads are cleared the cowboy way • Reservation schools are hit hardest by sequester • North Korea and China eye Montana timber • Those high farm land prices
Iron-ore strip mining could be an issue in the Wisconsin Supreme Court election April 2.
Last week Wis. Gov. Scott Walker signed a law loosening restrictions on open-pit mining. The law could eventually allow strip mining in the Penokee Mountains near the Bad River reservation of the Ojibwe.
Any challenge to the law will likely wind up in the state Supreme Court. So Wisconsins are watching the April 2 judicial election carefully. Incumbent Justice Patience Roggensack is seeking a second term. Her opponent is Marquette University law professor Ed Fallone.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writes:
At least one [legal] challenge is expected to center on the state constitution’s public trust doctrine, which says the waters of the state ‘shall be common highways and forever free.’ Wisconsin courts have repeatedly interpreted that to mean that Wisconsin’s lakes, rivers and streams are to be maintained for the general public’s benefit.
Incumbent Roggensack signed onto one Supreme Court opinion that shows she may favor such an argument. The challenger Fallone hasn’t made any public statements on the issue, the Journal-Sentinel Reports.
Tribal leaders are worried about mining’s impact on waterways and wetlands, as reported by Mary Annette Pember in the Daily Yonder.
Critter Cams — The Goat Blog has a list of the West’s best critter camera sites. Owls, eagles — get ’em here.
The Locals Do It in Yellowstone — Small communities around Yellowstone Park are raising $200,000 privately to get the park open on time for spring visitors, the Washington Post reports.
The money is being used to plow the high mountain roads at two park entrances. The park normally does this kind of work, but with the sequester of federal funds, Yellowstone had to cut $1.8 million from its budget this year. The plows went idle.
So, the communities stepped in.
“We’re showing how a community and a state can band together,” said Jeff Golightly, executive director of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce. “It’s the old cowboy way: We’ll open that gate if you can’t.”
Keystone XL — The AP reports from Martell, Nebraska, on what may be the final battle to prevent the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast.
“An unusual coalition of environmentalists, property rights advocates and ranchers is now attempting to find new ways to derail a project that, more than ever, seems to be headed for approval in a nation eager for jobs and energy development,” the AP writes.
“I’m associated with people I never dreamed I would have been associated with,” said Randy Thompson, a Nebraska rancher and self-described conservative Republican, at a meeting of activists at his rural home south of Lincoln. “There’s a stigma on people considered environmentalists. I had that concept.”
Farm Land Prices — It could all end badly, the New York Times reports.
The article is about land prices, which have been booming recently — soaring, in fact, driven up by high crop prices and endless demand.
The article notes that we have all seen this before. In the 1970s, land prices rose until they crashed in the early 1980s. Now, land prices in the Midwest have surpassed the ’70s bubble. Julie Creswell reports:
But if the price of corn falls — and many forecasters predict it will, particularly if the ethanol boom wanes — the price of farmland will fall with it. While many farmers have borrowed little money or used cash to finance their purchases, those who have overexpanded could run into trouble, leaving banks and other creditors with their bad debts.
“You can’t continue to see the price increases in land like we’ve been seeing. That’s just heading for trouble,” said Michael Duffy, an economist in farm management at Iowa State University. If the price of a bushel of corn were to fall to $4.50 from about $7 now, farmland values could collapse by as much as 25 percent, he said.
The potential dangers for the economy are nowhere near as serious as the consequences of the housing collapse. But for individual farmers and farming communities, as well as rural farming banks, the repercussions could be severe.
Justify Those Subsidies — The editorial page of the Des Moines Register says farmers didn’t give up much when they offered last year to give up direct payments from federal farm subsidy programs. Instead, they got crop insurance that protected them not only from bad weather but also from fickle markets.
At least some growers got subsidized insurance — soybean, rice, cotton, corn and peanuts. The paper writes:
Critics question why only favored segments of American agriculture should be protected from the forces of nature and the marketplace while growers of other foods — let alone other businesses and industries — enjoy no such government subsidized protection.
Farmers can make the case that food is an essential commodity and that farmers need a safety net to protect them from catastrophic losses that could put them out of business. However legitimate that argument may be, it has been weakened by the fact that a sizable share of corn and soybean crops are diverted from food to fuel in the form of corn ethanol and soy-based biodiesel.
Reservation Schools Feeling It First — The federal budget sequester appears to be hitting American Indian reservation schools the hardest.
Corey Mitchel of the Minnesota Star-Tribune reports that reservation schools are “taking a hit months before the rest of the country’s classrooms will feel the effects of reduced funding.” The White Earth Reservation school could cut its year short this year because of the cuts.
And, Mitchell reports, “The Red Lake School District, where the high school was the site of a shooting that left seven people dead in 2005, has scaled back its security staff.”
“There’s a real sense of frustration for everybody,” Red Lake Superintendent Steve Wymore said.
The cuts come just as reservation schools were showing some progress, raising their graduation rates by three points in 2012 to 45 percent. Statewide, 87 percent of all students graduate from high school in four years. “It is indefensible that the first wave of reckless sequestration cuts to education will hit our most vulnerable students,” said U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., who co-chairs the Congressional Native American Caucus.
Montana Lumber Exports — The Missoulian reports that a delegation of Chinese and South Korean wood importers were on tour in Montana, eying the state’s timber resources.
“The forest materials in Montana are a good fit for our Chinese market,” said Wu Zhi Xi, general manager of the Shanghai Daonuo Industry Co. “China has a high demand for forest resources. For Montana, this is really good.”
Coal Mining and Health — A New York doctor talks to Montana physicians about the health consequences of burning coal to create electricity.