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The Wild

The Obama administration signalled today that it is rescinding a last-minute rule change by the Bush administration that eliminated a requirement that executive agencies (the Forest Service, for example) must consult with scientific experts in the Fish and Wildlife Service or NOAA when a project may affect protected species. When Bush instituted the change last December, Earthjustice immediately challenged the rule change in federal court.

Order "Roadless Rules" at www.islandpress.org/roadlessrules. On the checkout page type in RR09 (that’s a zero, not a capital O) for a 25 percent discount.

As longtime readers of this screed know all too well, I’ve been obsessed by the Roadless Rule for a long time. The trigger for this was when several states, the timber industry, a few counties, some off-road vehicle interests, and an Indian tribe challenged the rule in court.

In a devastating blow to the mountains, streams and people of Appalachia, today, federal judges ruled in favor of a mountaintop removal mining case.

As a result, mining companies can conduct mountaintop removal mining operations without minimizing stream destruction or conducting adequate environmental reviews. The Appalachian community will now—more than ever—be dependent on President Barack Obama to fulfill his campaign pledge to stop this terrible practice. Earthjustice remains on the front lines of this struggle and will continue fighting to preserve our mountains and waters.

(UPDATE: Since this was posted, more than 21,000 Earthjustice supporters sent comments to the Minerals Management Service opposing expansion of oil and gas exploration in the "Polar Bear Seas.")

The Beaufort and Chukchi seas are home to one in five of the world's remaining polar bears. That's why these icy waters north and west of Alaska are often called the Polar Bear Seas.

One of my favorite memories is of being in Brighton, England, in June 1985 when the International Whaling Commission, after a struggle that lasted well over a decade, adopted a moratorium on commercial whaling, to last for at least five years. It has lasted for almost 24 years, but now seems in jeopardy of being fatally watered down.

After cancelling oil and gas leases in Utah last week, Interior Sec. Ken Salazar is strongly hinting that he might do the same with a crown jewel of Colorado -- the Roan Plateau. The Roan is a rippling expanse of natural riches that rises dramatically 3,000 feet above a plain in the state's northwest quadrant.

The Roan was leased off for oil and gas exploitation last August despite massive public outcry from a remarkably diverse group of folks, including hunters and fishers, Republicans and Democrats, locals and people from across the country, and of course dedicated environmentalists. Salazar, then a U.S. senator from Colorado, was among those urging the Bureau of Land Management to not proceed with the lease sale.

Now, as boss of the BLM, Salazar is in position to put money where his mouth was last year -- $113 million in lease payments already divvied up between the state and feds. But it's a pittance compared to the priceless wilderness qualities that would be displaced by industrial drilling operations.

A study in this month's "American Journal of Agricultural Economics" shows a significant correlation between rising numbers of factory farm animals and increased infant mortality. The study found that an increase of 100 million pounds of farm animal flesh meant 123 more infant deaths for every 100,000 babies born. That means our shift in the last half century away from sustainable family farms and toward highly concentrated factory farms has put our babies in jeopardy.

When one hears the phrase "Boy Scout," one picture that comes to mind is a bunch of youngsters out in the woods, around a campfire, enjoying marshmallows as well as nature.  One might assume that on top of "trustworthy," "obedient," and "brave," Boy Scouts might also put protection of the Great Outdoors among their values.

A recent investigative series has thrown some cold water on that notion, however, exposing activities of some scouting groups that are cringe-inducing.  One piece has a part of the scouting organization clearcutting lands to make profits, just like the boys in Big Timber have been doing for years.  Another piece has another scouting group killing threatened salmon to fill a lake for recreation, and then using their political muscle to avoid any penalties.

There's no doubt that many individual scout troops are doing important things for the youngsters involved, and that the volunteer parents who make the organization work are conscientious caring folks who are trying to help boys become responsible adults.

And any organization that needs money to keep its work going and that supprts a large bureaucracy  like the Scouts is likely to have its problems.  Heaven knows us folks in the Environmental Movement have been known to not always "be the change" we want to see in the world.  (Please don't make fun of my gas guzzling hybrid SUV.)

The Scouts could use the airing of their dirty laundry to say "Whoops!  We could do a lot better."  Sadly, it seems the national headquarters of the BSA is choosing to hunker in its bunker, issuing a press statement that in part shoots the messenger: "We are extremely disappointed that [Scouts'] efforts have been portrayed in such a negative light." 

That doesn't exactly seem like the "brave" response.

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