Monday, March 31, 2008
Both House and Senate Leadership says there's light at the end of legislative tunnel but tax issues, the primary election bill, the Drug Treatment Bill threaten to drag the session into next week.
That said, there's still hope of ending the session by Thursday it just depends on lawmaker anxiety levels. With cold, inclimate weather lawmakers tend to stayed put, sunny warm weather usually ends a session.
House Speaker Lawrence Denney had predicted an early session because of cramped space but a tight economy killed that optimism.
Friday, March 28, 2008
In 1995, 66 wolves were reintroduced to central Idaho and the population has steadily grown to more than 1,500 wolves in Wyoming, Montana and the Gem State.
The wolf population grew steadily in the past decade and met the federal government’s goal of delisting the gray wolf as an endangered species in Northern Rockies.
But environmental groups including the Western Watersheds Project say they are suing the U.S. Department of the Interior to keep wolves on the endangered species list.Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, have taken over wolf management from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will start wolf-hunting seasons in the fall as a way to control growing wolf populations.Some 15-hundred gray wolves live in the Northern Rockies; bounty hunters nearly exterminated the species in the 1930’s. Wolves were given federal protection in 1974.Federal statutes require Idaho, Montana and Wyoming to keep at least 300 wolves in habitat areas.Idaho’s wolf population increases an estimated 24 percent each year, according to wildlife officials.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
“Progress has been made but it’s coming awfully slow, said Idaho Farm Bureau President Frank Priestley. “We’re willing to wait for a good farm bill, but our farmers can’t afford another extension, we’re moving into another growing season and we need to get this wrapped up.”
President Bush now appears willing to sign the bill if it spends no more than an extra $10 billion over 10 years. That funding would still need to be offset and allocated among commodity conservation, rural development, trade and other programs.
The sticking point in conference negotiations has been the amount of spending over the existing budget of $280 billion dollars over five years. President Bush threatened a veto should spending go over the budget.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Price of Gasoline Hits Record $3.26
BOISE--The average price of a gallon of gas in the United States has risen to a record $3.26, and the cost of diesel fuel has soared to a record $4.06 a gallon, adding to pressure on consumers and farmers that produce the nation's food supply.
The United States Department of Agriculture estimates net farm income, the amount left over after paying production expenses, was a record $88.7 billion in 2007, about $29 billion higher than 2006. The department forecasts another income boost this year, to $92.3 billion, that sounds good but production costs, fuel and fertilizer could climb 8.6 percent higher than last year.
"Certainly the record farm income last year has been the big story in agriculture and has been very positive for farmers and their families. It's given them a chance to make up for years when income was not so good," said Bob Young, American Farm Bureau Federation chief economist. "Will commodity prices stay ahead of production costs? Probably but that gap is narrowing a bit. Expenses are taking a bigger bite out of farm revenues."
Monday, March 24, 2008
Idaho ranks 13th in the nation for its wind power development potential. Select areas of Idaho are highly suitable for wind development projects. Several determining factors establish an area as suitable for development. These factors may include; average wind speed, elevation, location, and proximity to electrical transmission lines.
The report also finds many of the residues from agriculture and forestry products have higher value uses as feed and fiber than as feedstock for biofuels.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
The mountains of Colorado and Idaho have 150 to 200 percent of average water contained in a snow pack, leading to a higher than normal flood potential.
Joanna Dionne, a meteorologist at the National Weather service's Hydrologic Services section, added that "all the ingredients are there for flooding because of heavy snowpack.
"American citizens should be on high alert to flood conditions in your communities. Arm yourselves with information about how to stay safe during a flood and do not attempt to drive on flooded roadways," said Vickie Nadolski, deputy director of the weather service.
(Legislative action is still fast and furious at the Capitol--Jake Putnam photo)
BOISE--The Idaho Legislature is still in session, leadership had set a goal back in December to have the session wrapped up by Friday. With complicated budget issues looming this session could stretch a week or two.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Agriculture and Conservation Must Work Together
by Bas Hargrove and Jennifer Ellis
Idaho is changing fast. In the most recent census report, Idaho was the fourth fastest growing state in the nation. And this growth is taking its toll on our private rural working lands. According to a recent study by Sian Mooney of Boise State University, Idaho lost 145,000 acres of range and cropland between 1997 and 2003, while developed lands increased by 56,600 acres. Idaho’s working ranches, farms and forests not only produce food, fiber and jobs, they provide other important benefits to Idahoans like clean water and wildlife habitat.
Conservationists and agricultural producers need to work together to find solutions to the tremendous challenges facing Idaho’s rural landscapes. We have a growing history of collaboration in tackling important issues like invasive weeds, post-fire restoration, and most recently House Bill 467--the Idaho Ranch, Farm and Forest Protection Act. H467 would have provided tax incentives to producers who donate the development rights on their lands. Although the bill died in committee, the can-do spirit of collaboration that led to this legislation lives on through a coalition of supporters comprising 30 groups representing more than 100,000 Idahoans.
What remains clear is that Idahoans must rally around pragmatic solutions rather than laying blame and grinding axes. And unfortunately, there still is too much of the latter happening on both sides—from the shrill cries of extremists who want to stop all uses of the land to the obstinate objections of folks who refuse to accept or acknowledge the changing operating environment. It has never been more important to rise above principled differences in search of pragmatic solutions. There’s simply too much at stake.
According to Professor Mooney, crop and livestock production contributes nearly $4 billion, or 7.3%, per year to Idaho’s gross domestic product, while recreation – much of which occurs on private lands – contributes over $2 billion annually, or 4.1%. Together these industries account for more than 88,000 jobs – over 10% of the state’s total employment.
Moreover, agricultural lands provide a boon to local tax bases, while new subdivisions are often a drain. Repeatedly, Idaho and national studies show that farmers, ranchers, and forest owners pay more in county and municipal taxes than they receive in services, while the reverse is true for residential property taxpayers. A 2004 report by the American Farmland Trust summarizing these studies showed that for every dollar in local taxes paid, working lands received just $0.36 in services, while residential developments received $1.15.
These figures do not account for other important benefits from private working lands less easy to quantify, such as contributions to our rural heritage, local communities, scenic beauty, and wildlife habitat. It’s these “quality of life” factors that are drawing more and more people to Idaho, and ironically, threatening the goose that’s laying the golden egg.
Idahoans care about these benefits, and they’re willing to pay more to protect them. In November, Republican public opinion researcher Bob Moore found that more than six in ten Idahoans were concerned about the loss of family farms and ranches, pollution of streams and lakes, and unplanned growth and development. Seventy percent favor setting aside more state money to protect land around lakes and streams, conserve fish and wildlife habitat, and preserve natural areas.
Leaders in conservation, agriculture, and the Legislature owe it to these voters, and to future generations of Idahoans, to find solutions to protect what’s best about Idaho. Despite the setback on H467, our coalition remains committed to meeting the challenges facing Idaho’s working lands.
Jennifer Ellis is a third generation rancher from Blackfoot, Idaho and President of the Idaho Cattle Association. Bas Hargrove is Policy Representative for the Idaho Chapter of the Nature Conservancy and lives in Boise.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Francl said Americans will benefit in other ways, too. After farmers endured years of barely breaking even with corn priced around $2 a bushel, today’s relatively high market prices for corn, soybeans and other crops mean federal farm program payments will be reduced by at least $8 billion and possibly as much as $12 billion annually, he said. The overall gains to the economy from ethanol will more than offset any incremental food price increases associated with the production of biofuels.
These and other points about the emerging ethanol industry were shared by Francl during his presentation at a renewable fuels conference in Omaha today. The aim of the 25 x ’25 Alliance, the sponsor of this week’s National 25 x ‘25 Renewable Energy Summit, is to advance the concept that by 2025, 25 percent of U.S. energy needs will be met by resources produced by this country’s farms, forests and ranches.
Among the major factors influencing the prices of key U.S. crops and the foods derived from them are investors’ growing interest in commodity-focused funds, rising world demand—particularly in China and India where middle-class populations are expanding, years of declining stocks of essential crops and the falling value of the U.S. dollar.
“Commodity funds, in particular, have helped drive up prices and made prices more volatile—with frequent and large movements up and down the price scale—as investors move in and out of the markets, especially the futures market,” Francl said.
High crude oil prices are another contributor to today’s high crop and food prices, but Francl emphasized the extent to which increased use of ethanol and biodiesel may stem even higher gas prices.
“It’s easy to say the growth of the ethanol industry is leading to higher fuel and food prices, but that’s just not the case,” Francl said. “Complex and overlapping issues that developed over several years are at play, and the growing use of ethanol actually helps keep gas prices from going even higher.”
In addition, Francl said the U.S. benefits in other important ways from the burgeoning domestic ethanol industry. Besides a reduced reliance on foreign energy sources, the ethanol energy industry spurs new job growth and economic growth in rural areas. Ethanol also helps the environment because it is made from corn and other renewable resources.
Monday, March 17, 2008
(Cuddy Mountain near Council-Stever Ritter Photo)
By Jake Putnam
BOISE--The first day of spring could bring another rash of storms and cool weather, bolstering snowpack numbers across Idaho. Pocatello had seven inches of snow on Saturday afternoon, while much of the Snake River plain was soaked in rain. The good news is that cool upper valley temperatures have slowed runoff so far, according to hydrologists that briefed Idaho Water Resource Board last Friday.
The longer the snowpack stays in the mountains, lessens the chance of valley flooding and increases streamflow for farming, recreation, and steelhead and salmon runs. Meteorologists correctly predicted this La Nina pattern that called for a steady dose of snow, rain and cooler temperatures. “And that’s exactly what we saw,” said Jay Breidenback, of the National Weather Service.
Breidenback told the board that winter storms have built snowpack levels that are above 30-year averages across the state. According to Snow-Tel measurements more than two feet of water suspended in snow sits above the Boise River Basin ready for the spring thaw. State snowpack levels are 95 percent to 130 percent of average.
“The Water supply numbers are looking quite good. We should see some improvement there in the long-term drought,” said Breidenback. Even with the good snowpack numbers officials are still watching unpredictable spring weather.
Water Resources Director David Tuthill told legislators in a Statehouse meeting that good snowpack numbers should decrease the chance of issuing curtailment orders this summer for groundwater pumpers that could all change with a spring heat wave.
Friday, March 14, 2008
Legislation aimed at reinstating Idaho farmers’ ability to burn crop residue is a big benefit that will help keep families on their farms. But it wouldn’t have been possible without making compromises that came in the form of increased regulations.
Prior to a court ruling last year, farmers throughout southern Idaho were allowed to burn crop residue, mostly wheat and barley stubble, almost at will. However, North Idaho’s Kentucky bluegrass seed industry has been operating under strict crop burning regulations for several years. After an environmental group’s 2007 lawsuit halted the practice statewide on a procedural technicality, Gov. Butch Otter encouraged both sides to negotiate a settlement.
After several months of strenuous negotiations, representatives for Safe Air For Everyone (SAFE), Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, the Idaho Grain Producers Association, individual growers and the state departments of agriculture and environmental quality came up with the following compromises that are expected to reinstatement the program.
First, the program is now statewide and the regulator will no longer be the agriculture department. Idaho DEQ will oversee the program. Second, growers must register the fields to be burned and pay a $2 an acre fee. Third, burn days will be chosen only when air quality levels do not exceed 75 percent of the national standard. Fourth, information on persons responsible for burning, location, crop type, number of acres to be burned and time of burning will become a matter of public record.
DEQ officials have expressed confidence that there will be an adequate number of burn days with the new standards but producers will need to remain flexible when atmospheric conditions change.
The Idaho Legislature is to be commended for fast-tracking legislation that helps pave the way for burning to resume, hopefully by mid-September. The bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously and was signed by Gov. Otter on March 7. The new program must still be approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before burning can resume.
Idaho farmers should understand that from a negotiating perspective, the court’s decision had taken away crop residue burning as a farm tool, which is the reason for the new regulations. The burning program only applies to crop residue left on fields where it was grown. Open fires for weed abatement along fence lines, canal banks and ditch banks already are allowed. Without the compromise, the ban on burning would have lingered into the future threatening the viability of many farms – especially bluegrass seed producers who depend on burning as the only practical tool to remove residue. Burning exposes the crown of bluegrass plants to sunlight, allowing the perennial crop to regenerate itself. Idaho farmers should further understand that they need to follow these new rules or face stiff penalties.
Idaho is one of the fastest growing states in the West. As a vital cog in our state economy, Idaho agriculture has and continues to adapt to the changes brought about by urban encroachment on farm land. We hope the public is aware of these changes and compromises that have been made to accommodate a growing population. We want to be good neighbors, while at the same time we want to keep our farms viable and profitable. We are proud to produce the world’s safest, most abundant and affordable food supply.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
AFBF President Bob Stallman expressed farmers’ and ranchers’ concerns about the proposed deal by Brazil-based JBS Swift in a letter sent to Douglas Ross, the special counsel for agriculture in the Justice Department’s antitrust division.
“Our farmers and ranchers, especially our beef producers, expect a thorough review and analysis by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to determine what impact this will have at the producer level and the cattle markets,” Stallman wrote. “The proposed $1.5 billion transaction would combine the nation’s third-, fourth-, and fifth-largest beef packers with the nation’s largest cattle feeder. It would make JBS Swift the largest American beef processor by a significant margin and remove an important independent bidder from the fed cattle market.”
Stallman asked Ross to work closely with Agriculture Department officials to analyze the proposed acquisition of Smithfield beef assets, National Beef and Five Rivers Ranch Cattle Feeding by JBS Swift. Only last summer, Stallman wrote, JBS acquired Swift and Company, making JBS Swift the world’s largest beef processor.
“Farm Bureau understands and appreciates that beef packers operate within a tight profit
margin environment just like cattle feeders, stocker operators and cow-calf producers,” Stallman wrote. “However, livestock producers are faced with a rapidly concentrating market as it is. Our farmers and ranchers are questioning the potential for market manipulation and further downward pressure on prices received by the producer.”
In addition, Stallman requested Ross to inform AFBF of the “potential challenges as you consider this or any other proposed agribusiness merger or acquisition.”
Monday, March 10, 2008
(Calves wait for the Owyhee rites of spring--Ritter photo)
Friday, March 7, 2008
The commissioners based those number on population counts in 2005 (512) and 2007 (732).
The state management plan hinges on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removing the wolves from Endangered Species Act protection in the coming weeks.
The plan calls for predation hunts in areas where elk and deer populations aren't meeting F&G goals with at least 15 to 20 breeding pairs free to roam Idaho, Montana, Wyoming.
The reintroduction of Canadian gray wolves into Idaho, Wyoming and Montana is arguably one of the most successful projects of its kind ever undertaken. In just over 12 years, these incredibly efficient predators multiplied over 15 times the number reintroduced, far exceeding what the top federal biologists predicted.
In spite of the fact that the top federal wolf biologists agree the population is recovered, 11 environmental groups are mounting a logic-defying legal challenge, arguing the wolf population is not yet sustainable. This lawsuit could stall the delisting process for several months or even years, while the wolf population continues to escalate exponentially. According to FWS estimates, Idaho’s wolf population has grown by 20 percent in each of the last two years.
The wolf population achieved its recovery goal of 30 breeding pairs and 300 total wolves in the three-state region over five years ago. Today’s numbers stand at over 100 breeding pairs and over 1,500 total wolves, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In the beginning, FWS promised to remove wolves from protection of the Endangered Species Act as soon as the population reached the recovery goal. Part of the reason for the delay is Wyoming state officials were reluctant to submit a management plan that was acceptable to the feds, which held up delisting in the entire region. A clear majority of the rural residents in the region didn’t want wolf reintroduction in the first place and in pushing for unrestricted predator status Wyoming probably did a better job of representing their rural constituents than either Idaho or Montana. That’s water under the bridge now, but our bet is that after living with wolves for the last 12 years; most rural residents in the region would want them gone if given the option today. We know that’s not an option, and we believe it was mainly environmentalists in faraway cities that wanted wolves in the northern Rockies. They got their way, but it’s time the people who live here have a say in how these predators are managed.
Idaho livestock operators and our elk and deer herds have borne the brunt of wolf reintroduction. Wolf depredation on livestock and decreased hunting opportunities has created a drain on our rural economy that isn’t an issue to environmentalists in those faraway cities. They don’t know that only one in ten cows or sheep killed by wolves ever gets confirmed as a wolf kill. They don’t know what it’s like to sit up all night, night after night during calving season keeping watch over a herd. They don’t know what it’s like to ride out to check on a flock of sheep and find 100 or more dead on the ground, their throats ripped out purely for the sport of the kill. This has happened twice in Idaho in recent years. They don’t know what it’s like to have their dogs killed and consumed or to pay the vet bills when horses are torn up after being run ragged through the forest by pursuing wolves. They don’t know what it feels like to be stalked by a pack of wolves or that without a wolf hunting season these predators have nothing to fear.
In addition, they don’t know that even if a wolf hunting season comes to fruition it will have very little effect on the overall wolf population. The steep and difficult to access mountains and dense, remote forests where wolves live in Idaho will make it extremely demanding for men on the ground with rifles to shoot enough wolves to make any noticeable change in the overall year to year wolf population – especially at the rate wolves are currently reproducing. In addition, we believe that most of the wolves that could be harvested by hunters in Idaho will be incidental kills – animals taken by hunters who are out after elk or deer. And this depends on whether the seasons are set to overlap. We don’t believe that large numbers of sportsmen are going to load up exclusively for a wolf hunt.
Environmentalists in faraway cities don’t know how living with wolves has changed our lives, and they ought to before they go to court to argue that Idaho doesn’t yet have enough wolves.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
BLM Sued for Rebuilding Fences on the Murphy Complex Fire
BOISE--The Western Watersheds Project is suing the Bureau of Land Management claiming the agency violated a 2005 settlement by authorizing fence reconstruction on 500,000 acres of federal land burned on last summer’s Murphy Complex Fire.
Rep. Bert Brackett, (R-Rogerson), ranches in the Three Creek area and is still recovering from the summer disaster. He told the Times News the lawsuit concerns him. "I find it amazing that they would do that, they had the chance to appeal the rehab plan last fall just like everybody else.”
According to U.S. District Court documents, the group wants the court to stop fence building in the Three Creek and surrounding areas south of Twin Falls. Western Watersheds also wants the court to stop grazing on 20 allotments covered in the 2005 court-stipulated settlement and another 36 allotments until an environmental impact statement is completed.
The group claims fencing and resuming the grazing allotments will disturb sage grouse and pygmy rabbit habitat. Both sides agree that the fire destoyed habitat but its too early to determine how much how much damage. The July fire scorched 650,000 acres of prime grazing land. Since then the BLM crews have done vigorous rehabilitation building 99 miles of burned fence and planting more than 1,600 shrubs at a cost of about $25 million. The agency has authorized additional grazing in unburned areas and an additional 400 miles of fence repair and that has angered the Watersheds group because of their historic opposition to grazing.
The lawsuit has not gone unnoticed at the Idaho Statehouse, lawmakers there are studying the effects of wildfire and grazing and looking at all the research they can find.
On March 6th Range Specialist Wally Butler told the Idaho House Agricultural Affairs Committee that conservation and range management goes hand in hand when done properly. Butler showed lawmakers photos taken of rangeland taken three weeks after the Murphy Complex fires. The photos showed rangeland just grazed and range un-grazed. The photos illustrated that grazed lands suffered significantly less damage because of less fuel load.
Steve Ritter shot these photos one month after the Murphy Complex Fire
Rehab crews also found less damage where fuel loads were the lightest. "One thing we had going for us is that a lot of this country was in excellent condition," Crane said. That’s helped rehabilitation and should speed up recovery.
Range expert Ron Kim with the Idaho Department of Agriculture testified about range recovery after a major fire. The BLM usually waits two years, but there’s evidence that a year recovery from wildfire is adequate prior to grazing. The year difference according to Kim can make or break a ranch recovering from fire.
The BLM has a number of experts currently studying the effects of grazing on wildfire and Rehabilitation that started in August continues this spring.
"We got a tremendous amount done," Ken Crane, rangeland management specialist with the Twin Falls BLM district. The Agency is also following the best science in wild land fire management and they want to amend its fire prevention program that affects southern Idaho. That includes changing 12 land use plans written between 1975 and 1988, and calls for reducing cheat grass, brush and fuel-loads the agency says is responsible for huge blow ups like the Murphy Complex fire.
"We took what we thought was damaged the most and tried to reseed that," Ken Crane of the BLM said. "We know we didn't get it all."
A BLM spokesman says it’s latest plan would increase fuel load treatment on the Idaho range from more than 25,000 acres to 154,000 acres each year for the next decade.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
The spud was first grown in the Peruvian Andes several thousand years ago. Today, more than 350 million tons of potatoes are grown each year, making the crop the fourth-largest food source behind rice, wheat, and corn. The side dish is usually in a supporting role at dinner and rarely takes center stage until now.
The U.N. says the world’s population will grow by an average 100 million people a year over the next 20 years with 95-percent of that growth coming from the developing world. With those numbers the need for a nutritious and fast-growing food is more critical than ever.
A good source of nutrients like vitamin C and potassium and virtually fat free, the potato is also smart: "It's one of the most efficient ways to convert seed, land, and water into nutrients for human consumption," says Lee Frankel, president of the United Potato Growers of America.
The U.N hopes the high profile will bring awareness of its role in food security and income generation, and lead to stronger potato demand and improved returns for potato growers worldwide who have struggled this past decade.
Speaking at the official International Year of the Potato ceremony at U.N. Headquarters in New York, Larry Alsum, chairman of the U.S. Potato Board, said his group was committed to continuing research on the nutritional and health benefits of potatoes.
“I hope that we can work together to share this information and that the long-term result is that more people can benefit from eating potatoes,” said Alsum, a Wisconsin potato farmer.
Research continues on new varieties, disease resistance and improved techniques to grow store and package potatoes,” he said.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
The 2006 Legislature passed House Concurrent Resolution 47 authorizing the Capitol Commission and the Department of Administration to enter into agreements with the Idaho State Building Authority to finance the restoration and construction of two 2-story wings on each end of the Statehouse.
Subsequently, a total of $130 million was secured in bonds; McAlvain/Hummel, design/build professionals, was hired to begin work on the wings; and, the design team of CSHQA Architects and Lemley/3DI continue to finalize space-use plans of the existing building.
In his FY08 budget, Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter proposed that only the restoration of the existing Capitol be completed and not the addition of the 2-story underground wings. But, he and legislative leadership eventually negotiated a compromise to proceed with the addition of two, 1-story underground wings and to reassign the use of the first floor of the Capitol to the Legislature rather than to the Executive Branch.
The Capitol restoration work includes:
· restore and refinish windows
· repair marble flooring
· repair decorative plaster
· restore wood floors
· refinish wood doors and restore hardware
· replace/refurbish light fixtures
· upgrade electrical
· complete smoke and fire detection system
· install fire sprinkler system throughout
· improve exterior lighting
· add emergency power generator
· install new HVAC system
· replace sewer piping
· replace hot water system
· improve exiting from basement
· safer access to roof domes
· add egress hardware
· provide accessible toilet rooms
· install accessible elevator (gurney size)
The underground expansion provides:
· approximately 25,000 square feet on each side of the Capitol
· larger Legislative hearing rooms
· opportunities to move various functions out of the Capitol Building