Feds send $930 million to curb fire “crisis” in western US
BILLINGS – The United States is committing $930 million to reducing wildfire dangers in 10 western states by clearing trees and undergrowth from national forests, the Biden administration announced on Jan. 19, as officials struggle to protect communities from the destructive hells aggravated by climate change.
As part of a strategy now entering its second year, the U.S. Forest Service is seeking to prevent runaway fires that start on public lands from raging through communities. But in an interview with the Associated Press, US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack acknowledged that worker shortages that have plagued other sectors of the economy are hampering the agency’s efforts.
He warned that “draconian” budget cuts launched by some Republicans, who control the US House, could also undermine the Democratic administration’s plans to reduce wildfire risks on nearly 80,000 square miles of public and private lands in the next decade.
The work is expected to cost up to $50 billion. Last year’s climate and infrastructure bills earmarked about $5 billion for the effort.
Vilsack said wildfires on public lands will continue to threaten the West, after burning about 115,000 square miles over the past decade — an area larger than Arizona — and destroying about 80,000 homes, businesses and other structures, according to government statistics and impartial research group Headwaters Economics.
The idea is to remove many trees and other flammable material from hot spots that make up only a small fraction of fire-prone areas but account for about 80 percent of the risk to communities. Vilsack said officials would try to restore “old forest conditions,” meaning fewer but larger trees that can withstand fires.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman said he was pleased to see the Biden administration take “long overdue action” and streamline forest management rules. But Westerman wondered why more money will be spent this year even though new projects include fewer acres than last year, according to administration documents.
Mexican Gray Wolf wandering past recovery area captured
ALBUQUERQUE — A female Mexican gray wolf wandering past the endangered species recovery area in northernmost New Mexico has been captured, authorities said on Jan. 23.
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish used a helicopter to locate and capture the wolf the day before.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials in Albuquerque said the wolf will be held in captivity temporarily and mated with a male Mexican wolf “for relocation as a pair to Mexico later this year.”
They said the female wolf first moved north of the arbitrary Interstate 40 boundary into New Mexico on Jan. 2 and then showed no signs of returning to the experimental population recovery area.
Authorities said last week that a map showed the wolf near Taos and south of the Colorado border.
The wolf, from Arizona’s Rocky Prairie Pack, was named “Asha” by school children.
His wandering has reignited a debate over whether predators should be confined to a certain stretch of the southwestern United States while wildlife managers work to boost the population.
Wolf-livestock conflicts have been a major challenge to the reintroduction program over the past two decades, with ranchers saying wolves’ killing of livestock remains a threat to their livelihoods despite the efforts of wildlife managers wild to scare away the wolves and repay part of the losses.
Lawmakers aim to attract investments in hydrogen
SANTA FE – New Mexico state lawmakers to consider government incentives aimed at attracting investment in hydrogen production and distribution as a potential new source of industrial employment and an alternative for vehicles and factories that rely on fossil fuels for heat the climate, while the legislature meets in January .
Democrat state representative Patricia Lundstrom of Gallup, the lead House budget negotiator, said she planned to introduce a bill aimed at allocating money for public-private partnerships for hydrogen projects.
New Mexico has partnered with Wyoming, Utah and Colorado to compete for a cut of federal funds earmarked to support regional hydrogen hubs that would scale up hydrogen production and distribution.
Lundstrom says his initiative aims to give New Mexico a competitive edge in its bid to attract federal and private investment.
A similar proposal from Lundstrom last year stalled amid fierce criticism from environmentalists who are wary of the impacts of producing hydrogen from natural gas, a process that creates greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide.
The 2021 federal infrastructure law included $8 billion for the US Department of Energy to fund regional hubs.
Lawmakers are desperate for new sources of employment as New Mexico reels from the recent retirement of coal-fired power plants amid efforts to fight climate change by calling for more carbon-free sources of electricity.
Bill allocating $10 million to school crosswalk advances
CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Senate advanced a bill that would allocate $10 million for improvements to school crosswalks and pedestrian bridges after passing the Senate Appropriations Committee on Jan. 18.
The legislation is sponsored by the Joint Judiciary Committee, which has been studying crosswalk safety as an interim topic in response to community concerns across the state. Pedestrian accidents have been brought to the attention of lawmakers, including the death of a middle school student in Cheyenne who was struck and killed while using a crosswalk outside his school more than a year ago.
Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, said the bill came as a result of the startling statistics on the number of children who have come into contact with traffic on Wyoming’s roads.
The bill was supported not only by Cheyenne lawmakers seeking greater safety for students, but also by the Wyoming Department of Transportation. Officials have focused on a crosswalk safety awareness campaign over the past year and are looking at ways to use the funding to improve their systems. This could be in the form of an underpass or overpass, a high-amplitude flashing system or additional signage.
Janelle Jones, the mother of the McCormick Junior High student who was shot, has filed with lawmakers asking for funding. She founded a non-profit organization, ForMak, which was named in honor of her son.
The Senator’s re-election campaign was scammed out of $690,000
TOPEKA – Someone defrauded US Senator Jerry Moran’s re-election campaign out of $690,000 by convincing the Kansas Republican accounting firm to wire the money to fraudulent bank accounts, his office said on Jan. 23.
Moran’s campaign treasurer, Timothy Gottschalk, notified the Federal Election Commission Dec. 8 via electronic letter of “fraudulent activity by a third-party cybercriminal.” The letter said that after the campaign notified the local sheriff’s office on November 16, the case had been escalated to the FBI and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
The letter said the campaign had received two fraudulent bills that appeared to come from SRCP Media Inc., a Washington-area firm hired to handle Moran’s television advertising. The letter said the campaign organization transferred $345,000 on October 25 and another $345,000 on November 9.
The campaign’s e-letter to the FEC stated that as of December 8, the campaign had recovered $168,184.
Moran won his third six-year term in the Senate in November with 60% of the vote against Democrat Mark Holland, former mayor of Kansas City, Kansas. His re-election campaign has raised more than $7.3 million and he has spent more than $5.1 million through Nov. 28, according to a financial report filed with the FEC, also Dec. 8.