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03/29/07 Calif. resource officials offer $6B Salton Sea alternative
The California Resources Agency this week unveiled a new preferred alternative design for restoration of the Salton Sea in Southern California that will try to combine many of the most desired elements of several plans that had been under consideration. Not only would the new plan try to preserve a recreation-oriented marine sea at the northern end of the Salton Sea, it would also greatly increase the size of a salt-water wildlife habitat on the south end to accommodate migrating birds that use the sea as a stopping point along the Pacific Flyway. Stop over at the sea.

03/29/07 Calif. project at risk from court ruling on fish kills
In a preliminary decision issued March 22, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch ruled that operations at a critical water pumping facility on the California State Water Project system are killing chinook salmon and delta smelt in violation of the California Endangered Species Act. He declared that the Department of Water Resource has never obtained an incidental take permit covering the affected species. The judge gave DWR 60 days to obtain such a permit from the Department of Fish and Game or to otherwise make a showing that it is in compliance with the law, or risk shutting down the Harvey O. Banks pumping station, near Tracy. Such a move could jeopardize state water exports to millions of people, farms and business in Central and Southern California. Pump it up here.

03/22/07 Tongass management plan would bring wasteful logging, groups say
As the U.S. Forest Service completes its latest round of collecting public comments on a revised land management plan for the Tongass National Forest, environmental groups are again taking issue with projections for timber from the southeastern Alaskan forest. According to the Wilderness Society, a revised timber demand forecast recently issued by the Forest Service repeats errors and assumptions used in a flawed 1997 projection. Look for the debate here.

03/22/07 Rockies population reached 1,300 in 2006
An annual count of gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountain area shows that there are now about 1,300 wolves in at least 173 packs living in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The 2006 report, released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on March 16, documents the continued population increases since wolves were formally reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and environs a decade ago. Start counting.

03/22/07 Court denies emergency appeal by Army Corps for Alaskan project
In a harshly written ruling, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has maintained an injunction against further construction work at the planned Kensington Gold Mine on Lower Slate Lake in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. The court on March 16 issued a preliminary ruling that rejects an emergency motion from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that would have allowed mine owner Coeur Alaska to build a diversion ditch to protect a temporary dam that it built last summer. The court also signaled its intention to vacate permits that had been issued for the overall project. See what the judges had to say here.

03/15/07 Costly Reclamation plan would retire 194,000 farming acres in Calif.
The Bureau of Reclamation this month signed off on a $2.5 billion plan to control salt- and selenium-laden agricultural runoff in California's San Joaquin Valley that would involve the purchase and retirement of more than 194,000 acres of prime farmland, as well as a 20-year project to build evaporation ponds, treatment plants and other facilities. Even as Reclamation officials tallied up the costs for the San Luis Drainage Feature re-evaluation project, they are working on a separate agreement that could involve transferring ownership -- and much of the cost for cleanup -- to local water districts. Check it out here.

03/15/07 Elwha River a living laboratory for dam removal, restoration
The issuance this month of a critical Washington state water quality permit means that the National Park Service is on track to begin removing the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams beginning in 2009. The project, considered the largest and most important dam removal operation in the United States, is being closely watched internationally as well. "This is a major stepping stone toward dam removal," said Rob Masonis, senior director for American Rivers Northwest office in Seattle. "We need to clear several regulatory hurdles and this was a major permit." The Undammed.

03/15/07 Management plan released for Yellowstone grizzly bears
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week released several key documents in its ongoing effort to delist the grizzly bear as an endangered species in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Besides revised methodologies for estimating and monitoring sustainable populations, the agency issued a final conservation strategy that includes three state management plans that will guide the recovery effort in the future. Bear with it here.

03/08/07 Despite gains in science, origins of Sudden Oak Death still a mystery
After years of investigation, forest biologists have developed a deeper understanding of the cause and effects of "Sudden Oak Death." Still, they cannot fully explain how a fungal pathogen, Phytophthora ramorum, developed into such a fatal agent, responsible for killing as many as 1 million oak trees in California and infecting an equal number with no hope of preventing their eventual mortality. During a symposium this week devoted to the latest research into Sudden Oak Death, researchers offered more information about the extent of the problem, but few potential solutions beyond continued quarantines of host plants and mixed success in attempts to eradicate the problem at the local level. Look here for the latest.

03/08/07 Calif. mulls electric transmission corridors
Not waiting for the federal government to designate National Interest Energy Corridors for high-voltage electric power lines in the West, the California Energy Commission this week began a process for establishing transmission corridors within the state. During a workshop in Sacramento on Monday, state officials and utility representatives differentiated the two corridor proceedings by emphasizing that the state level action derives from a bill enacted last year, S.B. 1059, seeking to improve system reliability and access to potential renewable resources. Flow here.

03/08/07 Air Force responsible for lands cleanup, court rules
Asbestos removal at the site of the former Lowry Air Force Base in Colorado is the responsibility of the federal government, a U.S. claims judge ruled Feb. 22. While damages were not specified in the order, homebuilders that conducted removal work -- after the government refused to do so -- say they spent over $9 million in order to complete housing developments. Get briefed here.

03/01/07 Coast Guard wants to transfer historic lighthouses to GGNRA
The U.S. Coast Guard and National Park Service are considering making a transfer of five historic lighthouses, including the popular station at Alcatraz Island, to become part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). Although still in use as visual landmarks in and around often-foggy San Francisco Bay, the lighthouses have been supplanted by global positioning satellites and other modern technology that are much better suited to providing navigational guides for shipping. Light the way here.

03/01/07 Eminent domain restrictions spread through nation
Reactions to the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London continue to reverberate across the nation, as legislatures in every state have taken up some form of a bill to restrict or refine the limits of eminent domain actions. According to the latest tally from the National Conference of State Legislatures, eminent domain legislation has been raised in 39 states so far this year. "Each of 16 states that did not pass Kelo-related bills or a ballot measure during 2005 or 2006 is considering legislation this year," said Larry Morandi, director of state policy research for NCSL. Find out the big issues here.

02/22/07Altamont wind ops trimmed to cut raptor kills Over the past month, scores of windmills along Altamont Pass Road have been taken out of commission, their blades dismantled and generator boxes removed. And even though there is a sufficient breeze on this unusually warm February afternoon to generate electricity for sale to utility customers, at least half of the still-operating turbines here at the Altamont wind farms are off line. These operational changes come as a result of settlements between wind companies and environmental groups, seeking to minimize the large-scale killing of birds that has plagued Altamont's wind industry. Fly with the eagles and hawks here.

02/22/07 9th Circuit weighs in on NW logging and salvage projects
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued two rulings last week against federal agencies' planned logging and fire salvage operations in the Pacific Northwest. While the two unrelated cases presented a mixed bag of legal findings, their net effect was to at least temporarily halt two controversial timber harvests. See here.

02/15/07 Minn. lawmakers advance multi-state water management compact
Minnesota is expected to become the first state to enact provisions of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact following action in the state Senate this week to pass S.F. 38. Earlier this month, the House passed its version of the measure, H.F. 110, setting the matter up for quick approval by Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), who has already endorsed the compact, along with seven other governors and the heads of two Canadian provinces. Dive into the details here.

02/08/07 Report urges fresh thinking to solve Calif. delta problems
A fundamental change is needed in thinking about policies to restore the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region, a California think-tank declared this week. Instead of trying to forge incremental, consensus-based solutions to what have proven to be intractable problems, the state should consider giving up on its long-held belief that the delta should be managed as a freshwater resource devoted to agriculture and drinking water exports to Southern California. Dip into the report here.

02/08/07 Compromise seen for Ore.'s Measure 37
The recent flood of claims for financial compensation or waivers of land-use restrictions under Oregon's controversial Measure 37 has brought a backlash of unfavorable public opinion and new proposals for legislative reform. As a special joint legislative committee meets this week to consider a bill offered by Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) that would severely limit development under many of the newly filed claims, parties indicated that some compromise might be possible. A Dec. 4, 2006, deadline for filing Measure 37 claims under less restrictive rules resulted in more-than doubling the number of filings, overwhelming government planning offices' ability to process them in a timely manner. See what's at stake here.

02/08/07 Montana takes Yellowstone River allocation dispute to Supreme Court
Fed up with having its requests ignored for a full allocation of water under a 1950 agreement, Montana officials this week petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in its dispute with the state of Wyoming. At issue are water supplies from the Tongue and Powder rivers, which are shared by the two states as part of the Yellowstone River Compact, signed along with North Dakota 57 years ago. Get the brief here.

02/01/07 Calif. vows to protect Headwaters deal from Pacific Lumber bankruptcy
The state of California has intervened in the bankruptcy case recently filed by Pacific Lumber Co. and affiliates, with the intent of ensuring continued adherence to a controversial deal covering hundreds of thousands of acres of Northern California forest lands. The Headwaters Agreement preserved old-growth redwood forests in Humboldt County, Calif., while applying special environmental protections and strict harvest limits on more than 200,000 acres of commercial timber lands held by Pacific Lumber and its corporate parent Maxxam. Find out more here.

01/25/07 Calif. officials struggle to rid Lake Davis of stubborn pike
Ten years and $20 million later, California fish and game officials are once again planning to inject a powerful poison into Lake Davis and kill off all fishlife there in an attempt to eradicate the invasive northern pike before it spreads into key waterways. A similar effort in 1997 not only ended in failure but also raised significant community opposition to the complete poisoning of the lake, which is part of a reservoir system on U.S. Forest Service land in Plumas County. Cast your net here for the story.

01/18/07 Meetings on Black Mesa Project turn fractious
Opponents of continued coal mining operations at the Black Mesa and Kayenta mines in northeast Arizona tried to press their concerns during a series of public meetings sponsored by the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM). But the groups, including environmental organizations and Native American tribal factions, report being frustrated by limitations to the format of a dozen meetings held this month in various Arizona locations. The meetings were to take public comment on the adequacy of a draft environmental impact statement for the Black Mesa Project. Find more here.

01/18/07 Federal court upholds favorable tax ruling for habitat easements
A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of a Michigan couple that claimed tax deductions for two conservation easements negotiated with a local land trust. Initially, the Internal Revenue Service cited the couple, Charles and Sharon Glass, with a tax deficiency notice for more than $116,000 over a four-year period from 1992 through 1995, claiming that two of three easements did not qualify as being "exclusively for conservation purposes." Although a tax court sided with the Glass family in the matter, the IRS Commissioner appealed the ruling. See what the judge said here.

01/11/07 Calif. governor wants new storage projects
Though he barely mentioned it during his "state of the state" speech Tuesday night, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has proposed spending nearly $6 billion for new water storage facilities, water conservation and habitat restoration programs as part of a new $40 billion "Strategic Growth Plan" revealed this week. "We must invest in public safety, water supply, courts, education and transportation," the governor said in his speech, after alluding to a projected 30 percent growth in population in the next few decades. "Building California is not a burden; it's not a chore; it's a privilege." Look here for the rest of the story.

01/11/07 Whitewater enthusiasts test the waters of the Upper Chattooga
For the first time in 30 years, a group of kayakers was allowed to experience a run down the upper reaches of the Chattooga River this week. They were taking part in a unique Forest Service study on whether to remove a long-standing ban on boaters along the portion of the river, imposed when a 57-mile stretch of the Chattooga flowing through parts of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia was granted "wild and scenic river" status in 1976. Run the river here.

01/04/07 Ariz. utility resorts to eminent domain to secure supply for power plant
An Arizona judge has scheduled a July trial date for a case in which Arizona Public Service Co. is trying to acquire through condemnation some 7,000 acres of land from the Aztec Land and Cattle Co. While the undeveloped property itself has a relatively modest value, the real issue is APS's attempt to secure groundwater for its Cholla coal-fired power plant near Joseph City. Check out the dispute here.

01/04/07 Year in Review: Drilling, water, fires and invasive species top news As we make way for a new year, the editors of Land Letter offer this sampling of some of our best and most important stories from 2006. Land Letter puts a spotlight on original reporting of stories about wildlife protections and how our public lands are used and managed -- whether for recreation or commercial applications such as mining, timber harvesting or oil and gas drilling. Revisit the year here.

Above articles are Copyright 2007 E&E Publishing, Inc.

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