Weekend Roundup: Mice On Their Own

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We’ve been following Richard Oswald (the Yonder’s Letter From Langdon author) as he moves from his Missouri River bottomland farm in Atchison County to higher ground. His land and house are going to flood soon.

It’s not a question of if. We wrote Richard yesterday and asked what to pray for.

“Pray for world peace,” Richard answered. “The water is already on its way!”

The Oswald family (both four and two-legged) are scattered. Richard reports:

Boomer the cat is going to Mandy’s, Kit-Kat the cat is going to Wayne’s apartment, the dogs Claus and Boo are going with us to a vacant farmhouse in the hills, and Rocky the horse is going to Mandy’s to share a pen with their horse. 

All the mice and rats are on their own.

Richard also talked to Brownfield about this summer’s flooding and word from some of his neighbors that they are getting buy-out offers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Brownfield continues

Oswald tells Brownfield, “I’m not sure what to make of it. I mean, we don’t have enough money to keep the river system up, the levee system up? We’re stressed for cash to do the things that ought to be done on these levees and yet we’ve got money to buy flooded farmers out.”

Oswald, who is president of the Missouri Farmers Union, has been through this kind of flooding preparation before and he’s been through some floods. In the last several years he says they’ve had some close calls. And he’s frustrated with the Corps’ decisions on upstream river management.

“To a great extent, this excess water that we’re dealing with is water that they haven’t dealt with in those dams that they should have been sending down and making more room. And they just don’t make enough room in the lakes anymore.”

Oswald says they could be living elsewhere for two months and may be forced to stay away from the place he was born and raised in and has farmed for several decades.

“We expect to lose, if these predictions are true, we expect to lose about 80% of our crop because 80% of what we farm is here on the Missouri River bottom.” Oswald says he expects ag disaster aid to be far less than after the big flood of 1993, given the current federal budget deficit, and what he says is the declining power of the rural voter and the inflexibility of Congress.

“And I’m worried that those of us out here in the country, in these flooded areas, are gonna be forgotten,” says Oswald.

• By Friday, the Arizona fires threatened the electric supply in New Mexico and Southwest Texas, as transmission lines from a nuclear generating plant were threatened by the Wallow fire. 

The wildfires that have burned more than 600 square miles have renewed a debate over logging and forests. The ponderosa forests, overgrown over the past century, have fueled the Arizona wildfires. 

• And flooding continues in Vermont. Here’s a story about the newspaper in Barre, where workers put their paper together while standing in ankle-deep water. 

• Here’s the argument for letting the rivers flow naturally. The authors, an environmentalist and a geologist, write

New federal projects should work to restore the floodplains of the Mississippi and the rivers that feed into it, and existing projects should be better managed to protect communities from floods. Federal, state and local leaders in river communities should help citizens better understand flood risks and should work collaboratively with them to develop strategies for voluntarily moving off the floodplains where appropriate. And while levees will remain an important tool, it must be recognized that none are infallible, and that all structural protection comes with inescapable “residual risk.”

• We turn to Ken Ward Jr. at Coal Tattoo daily and are never disappointed. 

This week, he reviews an anti-coal strip mining movie The Last Mountain, noting that coal strip mining is “discovered” by generation after generation of outside journalists and movie makers. When we were kids in Kentucky, we remember seeing the photos of mountaineers protesting strip mining operations being hauled off their land by the state police — and we were kids a long time ago. This fight is nothing new. 

Ken then makes the most important point, what the environmentalists miss:

It’s becoming more and more clear that the rest of the country — especially power brokers in places like Washington, D.C., and New York — understand the damage that mountaintop removal does to our region’s environment and communities.

That’s important. But do they understand fully where all this coal is going? And more importantly, do they really understand the economic trap that young people find themselves in across the coalfields?  I’m not talking about the “war old coal” rhetoric that says if you try to more fully regulate coal’s impacts the sky will come falling down. I’m talking about the situations that young folks like Roger and Beth confront every day. Figuring out how to give them more options is the huge task that really confronts this region, whether you ban mountaintop removal or not.

Thanks, Ken.

• Fed chair Ben Bernanke says he thinks that recent changes in commodity prices are for real, that they are not the result of speculation. Bernanke says that “strong gains in global demand that have not been met with commensurate increases in supply” are the reason for the increase in commodity prices. 

• The Kansas City Fed has a rundown on farmland prices — how stable they might be after a huge run-up. 

• Reuters is reporting that prices for gas-rich shale land may be dropping. 

Exxon Mobil recently paid $5,000 an acre for leases in Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia. In early 2010, Chesapeake Energy paid $17,000 an acre. 

Lower land prices may be because gas prices have been weak. And state environmental regulators are taking a harder line on hydraulic fracturing, the method used to extract the gas.

 

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