Friday, April 29, 2011

'Weak dollar can help farmers harvest foreign cash for crops'

No, it wasn't the headline for my Capital Press centerpiece story a few weeks ago on the impacts of a declining dollar on agriculture, though it very well could have been.

It was actually the headline of a column I wrote in June 2008, while I was at the Red Bluff, Calif., bureau of the Redding Record Searchlight. I rediscovered it today while thumbing through archives looking for background on something else.

The column reads:

Is the weak dollar boosting Tehama County's crop values?

The total value of the county's agricultural production in 2007 was a record $190.7 million, up nearly $28.4 million over 2006, Agricultural Commissioner Rick Gurrola noted in his annual crop report last week.

Walnuts alone rose nearly $15.4 million, or almost 40 percent, "driven largely by a favorable foreign currency situation for exports," Gurrola said in his report.

While the declining dollar has been fueling fears of inflation -- not to mention making travel abroad a rather unattractive prospect -- there's a silver lining to this dark cloud. It's the fact that many American goods and services can be had pretty cheaply by foreigners. [ ... ]

So is that exchange rate fueling agricultural production, here and elsewhere?

"The walnut and almond industries have both been able to develop the foreign markets," Gurrola told me.

Actually, agricultural values rose almost across the board -- including olives and milk. The county's 17 percent increase in overall value can be credited to a variety of factors, including increased orchard acreage, prices for commodities and recovery from a disastrous olive crop in 2006, Gurrola's report said.

Also, someone made the point last week that we shouldn't confuse high values with profits. Farmers and ranchers are seeing rising production costs, such as the skyrocketing prices of diesel fuel and gasoline.

This winter's freeze didn't help, either. Losses in Tehama County -- estimated about $16 million -- have prompted Gurrola's office to seek a disaster declaration, he said.

Still, despite the rising costs and setbacks, one can't blame the agricultural business for looking at foreign markets and seeing a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

It just goes to show that when it comes to fiscal matters, not much has really changed in the past three years.

Ex-Farm Bureau manager faces prison

A former local Farm Bureau manager was sentenced to two years in state prison and ordered to repay more than $78,000 she embezzled from the organization over a seven-year period.

Melissa Lockie of Cottonwood, Calif., was sentenced April 29 in Shasta County Superior Court.

She resigned abruptly from the Farm Bureau in 2009 after board members planned to question her bookkeeping at a monthly meeting, and a subsequent audit and sheriff’s investigation discovered that money was missing, Shasta County Farm Bureau president Ivar Amen has said.

“I’m happy that it was able to work out for the Farm Bureau,” said Michael Hemker, the Shasta County prosecutor assigned to the case. “I know it was a very emotional and difficult time for them.”

For more, check CapitalPress.com soon.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Government schools get low grades

From Rasmussen:

Voters overwhelmingly believe that taxpayers are not getting a good return on what they spend on public education, and just one-in-three voters think spending more will make a difference.

Nationally, the United States spends an average of about $9,000 per student per year. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that only 11% of voters think the taxpayers are getting a good return on that investment. Seventy-two percent (72%) disagree and say taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth. Sixteen percent (16%) are undecided. [ ... ]

Thirty-four percent (34%) voters believe student performance will improve if more money is spent on funding for schools and educations programs. A plurality (41%) disagrees and thinks that increased spending will not lead to improve student performance. Twenty-five percent (25%) aren’t sure.

Also interesting:

The survey also found that voters tend to underestimate how much is spent on education. Thirty-nine percent (39%) say the average per student expenditure is less than $9,000 per year while only 12% think it’s higher than that. Nine percent (9%) estimate the right amount but a plurality of 40% is not sure. There is a wide range of expenditure on education depending upon the state and region.

To be fair, many would argue the "return on investment" from public education is pretty good for ag, what with all the critical university research projects that help growers succeed and with the schools' participation in 4-H and FFA programs that teach kids how to farm and raise animals.

Still, the poll is another sign that the vast majority of the public gets it when it comes to the system's overall failure.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Obama continues 'war on Western jobs'

From the Congressional Western Caucus:

Today, the Obama Administration released a draft “Clean Water Protection Guidance.” This guidance document dramatically expands federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. The draft released today was a subtly revised version of an initial draft that received significant opposition.

“This is another attempt by the Administration to circumvent the proper process to implement its job-killing policies. It is clear that even the Obama Administration acknowledges it was significantly overreaching with their initial proposal. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration continues their war on western jobs under the guise of a ‘non-binding’ policy,” said Western Caucus Chairman Steve Pearce.

“They started by going after lands with the egregious ‘Wild Lands’ policy and now they are going after water by expanding federal jurisdiction with this guidance. The Administration continues to set a dangerous precedent by circumventing the proper procedures and showing a total disregard for western jobs by its continued push to implement job killing policies,” continued Pearce.

The ‘guidance’ will substantively change federal policy with respect to which waters fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act and significantly increase the scope of the federal government’s power to regulate waters. It will significantly expand the federal government regulatory reach on private property.

Legislative attempts to expand this authority were met with strong bipartisan resistance in previous Congresses. Last week, a bipartisan letter signed by 170 Members of Congress was sent to the EPA and Army Corp of Engineers expressing serious concerns about the Clean Water Act Guidance and the expansion of federal jurisdiction without following the proper rulemaking process.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Judge issues final ruling on Siskiyou permits

A judge has finalized his earlier interim decision invalidating California Department of Fish and Game-issued permits to irrigators in two rural Northern California valleys.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith last week reiterated his opinion that the DFG’s special permit program for water diversions wasn’t set up according to state environmental laws.

The decision upholds a preliminary ruling by Goldsmith in February that effectively suspended the controversial permitting program, which had drawn fire from both conservationists and irrigators.

“The judge has essentially remanded it back to the agency to do it right and fix it, and they can do that,” said Glen Spain, northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.

For more, check CapitalPress.com soon.

Good radio station alert

On a couple of recent mornings while driving to assignments, I was surfing the radio dial and found a far-off station at 750 AM that was playing some great old, classic country -- not this new rocky stuff that passes for country. It had few commercials and no shouting DJs; just music.

The station is KHWG in Fallon, Nev. For some reason, I haven't been able to get the station in the Redding area at night or during the day, but it comes in fairly well from south of Chico to the Oregon state line for a few hours around sunrise. If you're in Nevada, I would imagine you can get it just about anywhere, at any time. They say they serve the entire state.

Fortunately for us in Northern California, the station is streamed on its Web site here. Great music for working -- or driving.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Cattlemen welcome Earth Day

From the California Cattlemen's Association:

Sacramento, Calif. – As Earth Day arrives tomorrow, April 22, California ranchers will be celebrating their way of life. Moreover, it is an important time for everyone to stop and consider where their food comes from and what the hardworking people in production agriculture are doing to ensure that food for the world’s 7 billion people is grown in our state, today and in the future.

According to California Cattlemen’s Association President Kevin Kester, a life long rancher from Parkfield, Calif., California beef producers are found in every part of the Golden State – and they are doing more than just providing steaks and burgers.

“Ranchers serve many important purposes – from caring for the land, water and environment to providing food for people worldwide. Because they live off the land, ranchers are caring stewards of the land and environment,” Kester said, “Beef producers also believe that giving animals the humane care, proper handling and nutrition they deserve is an obligation, not an option. We love what we do, the animals we raise and the land that supports our way of life.”

Ranchers and cattle are also great managers of the state’s expansive open space. Rangeland cattle grazing provides habitat for many endangered species. If California’s open space continues to be converted into shopping plazas and housing developments, many species of wildlife may cease to exist. Research has shown that nearly all of the species of grassland birds, most native plants and a variety of large and small wildlife actually benefit from responsible cattle grazing.

Thanks, in part, to California ranchers, Americans know a quality of life that many people around the globe unfortunately do not. However, if regulations and lack of consumer support continue to erode, the scenario could greatly change.

Eating beef is more than just enjoying a delicious food with a rich supply of nutrients that are not provided by other foods. By eating beef, consumers are not just doing something good for their bodies, they are supporting a way of life that is good for Mother Nature and good for California. Ranchers are proud of their product – so proud that the beef they supply to consumers is the same beef they put on their own family’s table.

This Earth Day, California ranchers hope all Americans will appreciate the good that cattle ranching and agriculture does for the land and be thankful that they live in a place where safe food is abundantly raised for their benefit and the stewardship that ranchers provide for their livestock and the environment will help maintain quality of life that has existed for generations.

For more information about the California beef industry and the positive impacts ranchers have on the environment, visit www.calcattlemen.org and www.carangeland.org.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Another water fight for Siskiyou farmers

...




I just returned from Siskiyou County, where farmers have been through two whirlwind days of meetings and staged a protest this morning over the latest battle in their ongoing water wars. The latest issue is over state sediment and temperature controls in the Scott River, for which exemptions for certain agricultural activities are set to expire.

All of it is proving too much for some farmers -- and for state Sen. Doug LaMalfa, who basically went off on state regulations during a town hall meeting this afternoon in Yreka.

I'm planning a three-story package on the latest water blowout to our north, and I hope to have it up at CapitalPress.com before the weekend.

'Why in the world would you want to be a reporter?'

Doni Greenberg, a former colleague who now publishes Redding's anewscafe.com, had an interesting conversation with four high school students who were "job-shadowing" her. You can read the transcript of the conversation here.

I had to get a kick out of one exchange, when Doni asked them what "assumptions" they had about journalists.

Brianna: That reporters work long nights, and that they're really pushy people.

Felicia: I think of media - and journalists - as being rude, maybe even kind of solitary.

Brianna: Yeah, and that they only care about the story.

Morada: They only care about getting the dirt. They don't care about people.

Doni: Ouch. Gosh, if those things are true, why in the world would you want to be a reporter?

Felicia: Having your own opinion and getting that out.


Ahh, yes, journalism as a vehicle for getting your own opinions out. The profession -- or at least a significant portion of it -- certainly is transparent, isn't it?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Do vegetarians have smaller brains?

So suggests a study cited by blogger/author Barry Groves (hat tip: Stevie Stewart Ipsen at California Cattlemen's)

Scientists at the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford, have discovered that going veggie could be bad for your brain – with those on a meat-free diet six times more likely to suffer brain shrinkage.

The study involved tests and brain scans on community-dwelling volunteers aged 61 to 87 years without cognitive impairment at enrolment, over a period of five years. When the volunteers were retested five years later the medics found those with the lowest levels of vitamin B12 were also the most likely to have brain shrinkage. It confirms earlier research showing a link between brain atrophy and low levels of B12.

Vegans are the most likely to be deficient because the best sources of the vitamin are meat, particularly liver, milk and fish.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Turtle Bay's total contempt for the public

The Turtle Bay Exploration Park, erstwhile albatross around the necks of Redding taxpayers, has a funny way of showing its appreciation for all the support it's received of late.

Set aside for a moment the museum's annual $300,000 subsidy from the city, which existed for many years before finally ending last year. In the past year alone:

-- The California Department of Transportation completed $66 million worth of upgrades to the Highway 44 entrance into downtown Redding, largely to improve access to Turtle Bay. Those included a widening and sprucing-up of a major overpass outside the park, complete with fancy fish designs embedded in the sidewalk and side rails.

-- The City Council let Turtle Bay amend its lease of city-owned riverfront land (for which it pays no rent) to build a swank hotel that would generate revenue for the park.

-- The Redding Electric Utility, which is hitting city residents with an 8 percent rate increase each year for the next four years or more, apparently had the money to be the prime sponsor of a Hollywood costume display at the museum.

So enter Kool April Nites, a popular classic car show that occupies the adjacent Redding Convention Center and parking lot for one weekend a year. Turtle Bay initially threw a fit a few years ago because the car show was blocking access to the park from tourists on Interstate 5, so Union Bank has stepped in each year with thousands of dollars in grants so that Kool April Nites patrons could visit the park at little or no extra charge. Bear in mind that proceeds from the car show have supported local youth programs -- including the ones at Turtle Bay, which received some $150,000 from the car show over a recent five-year period.

So how did Turtle Bay thank Kool April Nites patrons (most of whom were city and/or state taxpayers) who walked over to the museum on Saturday? By closing its main exhibit halls and art gallery, so that visitors could only see the teepee and other standing displays in the lobby and maybe walk through the arboretum. They were "transitioning between exhibits," their staffers told me. Nice. Didn't want all those unwashed classic car buffs to track motor oil on the carpet, I suppose.

Throughout its illustrious history, Turtle Bay officials have often had the attitude that they don't need us locals, that they can subsist on glowing write-ups in Via magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle. That's fine; many local residents have told me they don't have much use for Turtle Bay, either. They just wish that various layers of government would realize this and require the museum to be truly self-supporting. Maybe then Turtle Bay would change its attitude.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Youngsters show skills at horse show

...



In the top photo, Patty Doolittle (left), 12, talks with Ashley Neau, 11, both of Redding, before competing in Saturday's West Valley 4-H buckle horse show at the Palo Cedro Riders' arena in Palo Cedro. At bottom, 16-year-old Will Fletcher of Susanville was the only boy in the contest.

About 20 youngsters participated. For my story on Saturday's horse show, check CapitalPress.com soon.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A word to the wise

Robert Minch, a crotchety ol' real estate broker from Red Bluff, Calif., who briefly wrote a column for my Sunday supplement when I held down the Redding Record Searchlight's bureau there, later reclaimed his familiar Friday spot on the Red Bluff Daily News' editorial page.

You might get a kick out of some words of advice he passes along to his readers today:

If you are so inclined to donate to the Humane Society of the United States, be advised that this organization does not own, operate, or directly control a single animal shelter in our country, despite a budget of over $100 million! Tsk, tsk.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

LaMalfa to hold town hall meetings

From state Sen. Doug LaMalfa:

Senator Doug LaMalfa (R – Richvale) announced today that he will host three town hall meetings next week while legislators are on spring recess.

The details of each town hall are included below:

WEAVERVILLE

Senator LaMalfa Community Coffee
Tuesday April 19th
11 am - 12:30 pm
Trinity Public Utility District - conference room
26 Ponderosa Lane
Contact: Lisa Buescher 916-435-0744

CRESCENT CITY

Senator LaMalfa Town hall
Wednesday April 20th
5 pm - 7 pm
Crescent City Veterans Hall
810 H Street
Contact: Scott Feller 707-218-7888

YREKA

Senator LaMalfa Town hall
Thursday April 21
2 pm - 3 pm
Yreka Chamber of Commerce
117 West Miner Street
Contact: Lisa Buescher 916-435-0744

Senator Doug LaMalfa is a lifelong farmer representing the fourth Senate District including Shasta, Tehama, Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Siskiyou, Sutter, Del Norte, Placer, Trinity, Yuba and Nevada counties.

'It feels like a slow death'

So blogs Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento and former star NBA point guard, on watching the Kings' seemingly inevitable departure for Anaheim.

A snippet:

The strange part is, our true destiny as a professional sports town continues to rest with us – not the Kings or Royals or whatever they want to call themselves.

Our region – one of the most desirable places to live, work and raise families in the U.S. – can start the next chapter of our cultural destiny in the upcoming weeks.

It’s in our hands. It’s our decision.

First things first, we’ll fight to protect taxpayers and the city. That means making sure the Kings fully pay off their loan.

Then, we plan for the future.

By May, the feasibility study by ICON Venue, David Taylor and partners, should be completed. The pros at ICON are now building a new entertainment and sports complex on paper – figuring it down to the price of the restroom faucets.

We will know exactly where we stand when the study is ready. The question for the Sacramento region will be: Are we ready?

The slow death is almost over. It’s painful. But a new beginning is right around the corner.

Yeah, and besides, Sacramento's only less than an hour and a half away from the Warriors.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

City kids to visit valley farm

From the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation:

Thirty-five Oakland middle school students will leave behind their urban surroundings for a day to explore an exciting new world of Central Valley agriculture on April 15.

The students are sixth- and seventh-graders from Roosevelt Middle School and Roots Academy in Oakland. They were selected because of their involvement with REAL Choices, a local youth intervention program. The field trip is a community-focused project organized and funded by Class 40 of the California Agricultural Leadership Program (CALP).

The children will travel by bus from Oakland to Hilmar Cheese Company, the world’s largest single-site cheese and whey products manufacturing facility. They will take part in a one-and-a-half-hour educational tour of the facility, including the cheesemaking process and hands-on exhibits. The company produces more than 1.9 million pounds of cheese and processes more than 2 million gallons of milk each day.

The students will then travel to the family-owned Clauss Dairy Farms in Hilmar to take a tour of a working dairy. They will meet dairy farmers, see cows up close and view the milking process. Clauss Dairy Farms has 3,500 dairy cows and is one of the suppliers to Hilmar Cheese Company.

“This field trip is an incredible and special opportunity to expose inner-city children to things they’ve never seen before in person, such as cows being milked, cheese being made and crops being grown,” said Dan Sutton, one of the CALP Class 40 fellows. “It’s also a chance for us in agriculture to better understand how these children tackle the challenges and issues they face.”

Businesses struggling with inflation

On the subject of the dollar not going as far as it used to, there's this from CNS News:

Escalating global inflation is the biggest challenge for businesses struggling to recover from the economic downturn, according to a survey of 2,300 accountants conducted in March by the global Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.

The Global Economic Conditions survey -- the largest study ever undertaken by the London-based ACCA -- shows that for the first time, more than half (51 percent) of accountants reported problems with rising operating costs, making that the most commonly cited business challenge. Only 31 percent had reported rising costs as being a problem when the question was asked in the fourth quarter of 2010.

The increased operating costs are making it more difficult for accountants to spot opportunities for growth or cost-cutting for the business they advise, ACCA said in a news release on Tuesday.

"The huge rise in inflation has been the most worrying development to emerge from our latest survey," said Manos Schizas, a senior policy adviser with ACCA who authored the report. "More than half of respondents reported problems with rising operating costs, which will hinder their ability to look for new opportunities at a time when businesses desperately need to fill the order books."

The inflation train chugs on.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Maybe it's a Massachusetts thing

Mitt Romney already has a bit of a hard sell to Republican presidential primary voters, considering his health care plan was pretty much the basis for Obamacare.

So it's a little odd that he appears to have recycled his campaign slogan from Kerry-Edwards '04.

'Wild lands' demise: what they're saying

Western Republicans seem pleased with the fact that the budget deal reached over the weekend apparently blocks funding for the Obama administration's "Wild Lands" initiative, which many had considered detrimental to public lands ranchers and rural communities.

The Congressional Western Caucus issued this press release today:

Washington, D.C. – Today, Western Caucus Chairman Stevan Pearce (R-NM) released the following statement regarding language included in H.R. 1473, the final budget bill for fiscal year 2011, which will prohibit the Department of the Interior from using taxpayer money to fund the controversial Wild Lands initiative:

“The ‘Wild Lands’ proposal issued by Secretary Salazar last December was another attempt by the Obama Administration to circumvent congressional authority in the Administration’s ‘War on Western Jobs.’ It would have had tremendous negative impacts on job creation, energy production and recreation throughout the West and its defunding is a victory for all western states.

“On behalf of the Congressional Western Caucus, I would like to thank Speaker Boehner for ensuring this key provision was included in the final negotiated bill. Speaker Boehner and Republican leadership understand that there is a ‘War on Western Jobs’ and we will continue to work with them to stop these types of job-killing initiatives while putting forward legislation to bring jobs back to the West.

“Additionally, Congressional Western Caucus members Chairmen Mike Simpson and Rob Bishop should be applauded for their leadership on the ‘Wild Lands’ issue.

"As Chairman of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, Mike Simpson played a key role in defunding this dangerous initiative. Congressman Simpson and the House Appropriations Committee deserve the gratitude of all westerner job creators for leading the effort to prevent taxpayer funding of this job killing initiative.

“Chairman Rob Bishop must also be recognized for his tireless work in exposing Secretary Salazar’s effort to circumvent congressional authority to create de facto wilderness areas. As Chairman of the Public Lands Subcommittee, Rob Bishop was one of the earliest and most vocal critics of Secretarial Order 3310 and his vigorous oversight efforts should be applauded.”

The Wild Lands policy, established by Secretarial Order 3310, asserts that the Bureau of Land Management has the authority to “designate appropriate areas with wilderness characteristics under its jurisdiction as ‘Wild Lands’ and to manage them to protect their wilderness value.” The Wilderness Act of 1964 gives Congress the sole authority to designate public lands as Wilderness areas.

The Wilderness designation is the most restrictive land use policy that can be taken as it places severe limitations on public access to public lands. In addition to the impacts on jobs and the economy, many forms of popular recreation and access could be prohibited.

Section 1769 of the FY2011 CR states:

“none of the funds made available by this division or any other Act may be used to implement, administer, or enforce Secretarial Order No. 3310 issued by the Secretary of the Interior on December 22, 2010.”

Separately, Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee that oversees Public Lands, stated:

“Implementation of the Secretarial Order would take hard-earned taxpayer dollars and put them toward a policy that would lock up millions of acres of public lands and destroy thousands of jobs. The creation of new de-facto wilderness throughout the West would be severely detrimental to state and local economies and create a paralyzing uncertainty for western communities. Since the time it was announced, elected officials throughout the West recognized it was essential that this proposal be halted in its tracks. With the passage of this CR, we do just that. [...]

“The provision to defund Wild Lands is a victory for Utah and all public lands states. I thank my colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee, including Rep. Mike Simpson, for recognizing that funding the Wild Lands policy would be a wasteful use of taxpayer dollars and government resources."

For me, it's difficult not to be at least a little skeptical. One has to wonder if this wasn't a plum from the leadership to get Western conservatives to vote for a bill that really doesn't address the problem of deficit spending as the GOP had promised. And considering the "Wild Lands" concept is believed to be a big part of the UN's anti-rural agenda, who's to say the administration won't adopt the policy anyway, Congress be darned?

The Labor Department's jobs deception

When the Labor Department releases its new jobs numbers, I -- unlike most of what we used to call the mainstream media -- always wait for the other shoe to drop.

And it always does.

From John Crudele in the New York Post:

Deception is a dangerous thing. You never really know when a lie may turn on you.

Take, for instance, the Labor Department's annual springtime boost in the faux jobs market. While it's nice that the government thinks there is an employment boom coming, this won't be a good development if that boom turns out to be imaginary yet still causes the Federal Reserve to prematurely tighten credit conditions.

Let's start from the beginning.

Early this month Labor reported that 216,000 new jobs were created in March. It was better than Wall Street expected.

But the figure included 117,000 jobs that the department thinks, but can't prove, were created by newly formed companies that might not even exist. In fact, the department is getting so optimistic about the labor market that it increased this imaginary job count from just 81,000 in March, 2010.

Crudele goes on to demonstrate why it's best not to believe the sure-to-be-over-inflated government jobs statistics in the months ahead. Here's a money quote:

In other words, you still might not be able to get a job in the real world, but there should be plenty of fake jobs for the newspapers to write about and the politicians to brag about in speeches.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Overcoming 'man-made drought'

From U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif.:

Water and Power Subcommittee Chairman Congressman Tom McClintock (CA-04) today made the following opening statement in Fresno, California, at the Water and Power Subcommittee oversight field hearing on “Overcoming Man-Made Drought: Time for Congress to Listen and Act.”

Opening Statement
Congressman Tom McClintock
Chairman, House Subcommittee on Water and Power
April 11, 2011

During the last session of Congress, Republicans unsuccessfully attempted for two years to get the Water and Power Subcommittee to come to Fresno to hear first-hand from the communities that have endured the devastating financial, social and environmental damage done by the government’s decision to deny this region 200 billion gallons of water to indulge the pet causes of the environmental Left.

A little over a year ago, Republicans held an informal listening session, at which time we heard riveting testimony of the human suffering caused by this misguided policy.

· We heard the stories of food lines in communities that once prided themselves on supplying American grocery shelves.

· We heard about the frustration of seeing the same produce once grown in the Central Valley of California instead imported from China -- handed out at those Central Valley food lines.

· And we saw the anger as the absent Secretary’s testimony to the Natural Resources Committee in 2009 was played back, in which he admitted that the Obama administration had the authority to restore water deliveries but that it chose not to do so because that would be – quote – like admitting failure.

Even now, with the snowpack at 165 percent of normal for the season – the wettest year in the last 16 – the San Joaquin Valley has been guaranteed only 75 percent of its contracted allotments.

In this discussion, the left has attempted to pit fishermen against farmers. What they ignore, of course, is the actual science:

* They ignore the findings of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center that determined the Pacific Decadal Oscillation is the principal reason for changes in salmon migration; that these changes are not unique to Delta fisheries but have been observed throughout the Pacific Coast; and that as those conditions have improved over the last several years, salmon populations are rebounding.

* They ignore the California Department of Water Resources analysis of pumping flows that determined that their influence on salmon and smelt migration is negligible compared to natural tidal flows.

* They ignore the overwhelming impact of natural predation in the Delta that alone is responsible for some 90 percent of salmon smolt mortality.

* They ignore the tremendous contribution of fish hatcheries to supporting fish populations.

* They ignore – indeed, they actively oppose – the construction of new reservoirs and other water projects that could dramatically increase year-round supplies of fresh cold water throughout the Delta.

* They ignore the findings of the Federal District Court that the U.S. Interior Department’s biological opinion on Delta smelt to be “arbitrary, capricious and contrary to law.”

* And worst of all, they ignore the plight of the tens of thousands of farm families needlessly thrown into unemployment by these policies.

For too long, our government policies have been misguided by politically motivated junk science instead of the sober, dispassionate and accurate application of real science. For too long, our government policies have focused on rationing of shortages rather than on providing abundance.

Today we will hear testimony about what these policies have done to harm the economy of the Central Valley and the cornucopia of fruits, nuts and vegetables it once produced for the entire world. And we will hear suggestions on the changes in federal law that need to be made to restore abundance and plenty to all those who rely on the Delta.

I know that people are feeling powerless and disregarded by Washington. But the fact is that the debates inside the Capitol are merely a reflection of a much larger debate going on across the country. The public is rapidly engaging, becoming aware of these past policies and demanding change. As this occurs, public policy will follow.

Chairman Hastings has made it very clear that he wants priority given to this issue, and from this hearing today, the House majority will craft legislation to restore abundance as the principal objective of federal water and power policy -- and with it, an era of abundant water, clean and cheap hydroelectricity, new recreational centers, desperately needed flood protection, burgeoning fisheries, re-invigorated farms – not to mention lower electricity, water and flood insurance bills for American families.

It is toward that brighter and more prosperous future that this majority seeks to proceed. It is my hope that the testimony today will assist the House in identifying those changes in law necessary to get there.

Ethanol makes strange bedfellows

It's not often you see an organization that promotes a sector of major production agriculture praise a story in the New York Times.

Then again, it's not often the paper runs a story with the headline, "Rush to Use Crops as Fuel Raises Food Prices and Hunger Fears," which includes this quote:

“The policy really has to be food first,” said Hans Timmer, director of the Development Prospects Group of the World Bank. “The problems occur when you set targets for biofuels irrespective of the prices of other commodities.”

The article caught the attention of Richard Lobb, spokesman for the National Chicken Council, who e-mailed a link to the article last week.

"Amen to that," he wrote of Timmer's food-first suggestion.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

PLF sues over elderberry beetle

From the Pacific Legal Foundation:

Sacramento, CA; April 8, 2011: Attorneys with Pacific Legal Foundation today filed a lawsuit asking that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) be ordered to start the process of dropping the valley elderberry longhorn beetle (VELB) from the U.S. Endangered Species Act list.

Filed in federal court in Sacramento, the lawsuit aims to compel FWS to take the first step toward delisting – i.e., issuing a "finding" on whether to move forward with the delisting process. A study by FWS several years ago indicated the beetle is not threatened, but FWS never followed up with a finding based on that study, so the delisting process has never gotten started. The case is North Sacramento Land Company v. Salazar.

Donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation is the leading legal watchdog for limited government, property rights, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations. In this lawsuit, PLF attorneys represent – free of charge – a coalition of California landowners, businesses, farmers, and flood-control agencies harmed by unnecessary and unjustified ESA regulation of the VELB.

Plaintiffs include Levee District 1, Reclamation District 784, Butte County Farm Bureau, Solano County Farm Bureau, Yolo County Farm Bureau, Sacramento Valley Landowners Association, and North Sacramento Land Company.

Federal officials have stalled on their own recommendation to delist the VELB
and they failed to respond to a VELB delisting petition last year

These organizations – and others – petitioned FWS last year, asking it to issue a finding on the VELB. But it never responded – in spite of ESA’s requirement for a response within 90 days.

The VELB is found in California’s Central Valley, from southern Shasta County south to Kern County. In Sacramento, "critical habitat" designations include a zone in Sacramento between the Western Pacific railroad tracks and Commerce Circle, and areas along the south bank of the American River.

Although the VELB has been listed as "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act since 1980, in 2006 FWS completed a review as part of a settlement agreement in a case brought by PLF attorneys. It found the VELB should be taken off the ESA list. However, no action ensued. The FWS also has failed to respond to a petition, asking for the delisting process to begin, submitted last September by PLF attorneys for a broad coalition of farming organizations, flood-control districts, landowners, and businesses.

"This lawsuit is necessary to stop the federal government from stalling any longer in taking action on its own scientific recommendations with regard to the VELB," said PLF attorney Brandon Middleton. "The federal government is harming businesses, farmers, and the cause of economic recovery by keeping this species on the ESA list when it doesn’t need to be. The general public, and the interests of taxpayers, are also at risk, because costly, unjustified VELB mitigation rules impose major costs on flood control and reclamation agencies charged with building and maintaining levees."

The unjustified VELB listing complicates flood protection

"The federal government’s regulations for the VELB are imposing costly burdens on agencies responsible for flood control and drainage activities within the Sacramento Valley and Central California," said Middleton. "These agencies are required to divert scarce resources to provide ‘mitigation’ when their work impinges on this beetle’s habitat. So, by failing to drop the unjustified ESA listing of the beetle, the federal government is creating difficulties for the agencies charged with protecting us from flooding – and imposing additional burdens on taxpayers."

For instance, Yuba County’s Reclamation District 784 had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for VELB "mitigation," for levee work outside of Marysville, and the permit process took a year.

Likewise, PLF has been told that the American River Flood Control District has a policy of not touching elderberry bushes with bases larger that one inch in diameter, on or around its levees.

In addition, in the Yuba County area, levee repairs reportedly were delayed more than six years at one point, because of concerns about VELB habitat. A VELB mitigation pond was dug near a levee in Arboga, and Rep. Wally Herger, R-Marysville, argued that it helped cause the levee’s failure in 1997.

VELB listing’s impact on the economy: harming landowners, farmers, and job creation

"Federal regulators ought to take pains to make sure their environmental rules are reasonable in the light of science," said Middleton. "Any unjustified rules must be pruned back so they don’t stifle economic recovery. Instead, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is actively hurting the economy – putting job-creating projects on the endangered list – by keeping its unjustified VELB regulations on the books."

Bob Slobe is a prime example of a business person who is blocked from proceeding with job-creating land use plans. Slobe’s North Sacramento Land Company owns property adjacent to American River Parkway and California Route 160 in Sacramento. The land is zoned for offices which he hopes to build. "But Bob Slobe can’t use his property because the federal government has been stalling on withdrawing its unjustified VELB listing," Middleton continued. "Mr. Slobe is prohibited from disturbing bushes where beetles live – unless he pays a massive sum of money to pay for relocation of the bushes to other property."

Over the years, Slobe’s parcel – vacant because of the federal VELB rules – has become a dumping ground and even camping ground for trespassers. Despite Slobe’s aggressive and continuous work to clean up the property, abandoned cars and bicycles, stolen copper wire, and dangerous waste, such as syringes, all turn up on the land.

Another example of problems for landowners and the larger public created by the VELB listing: Dubious pesticide restrictions – with potential economic harm for farmers and other landowners – were imposed because the listing. Last year, for instance, EPA entered into a settlement with environmental groups that restricts use of numerous pesticides in VELB habitat areas.

"The VELB listing distorts public policy and puts obstacles in the way of positive, productive use of private land," said Middleton. "In a real sense, everybody is hurt by this listing – and not even the beetle is really helped by it, because the government’s own science report says the beetle is not threatened or endangered. By failing to act on its own scientific findings, the Fish and Wildlife Service is failing in its duty to taxpayers, businesses, and the public at large. This is why we have no choice but to take the agency to court."

Plaintiffs: Farm groups, landowners, and water-related agencies harmed
by unnecessary regulations

In filing suit, PLF attorneys represent a number of organizations that are harmed, or have members who are harmed by, the continued, unnecessary classification of the beetle as "threatened," even when the federal government’s own study has concluded that the listing is unwarranted. The plaintiffs include:

Levee District 1 and Reclamation District 784 are among the agencies responsible for flood control and drainage activities within the Sacramento Valley. In recent years, the districts have spent significant amounts of money and labor in order to provide mitigation when their operations have impacts on the beetle and its habitat. Because of the beetle’s status as a threatened species, the districts are prevented from fully devoting their limited resources to their core missions of flood control, drainage, and irrigation management.

Sacramento Valley Landowners Association is a nonprofit organization of farmers and ranchers throughout California’s Sacramento Valley. SVLA members own, manage, or enjoy properties inhabited by or near the beetle and beetle habitat. Improper restrictions placed on land and water use due to the listing of the beetle as a threatened species have significant impacts on the ability of these individuals not only to continue to enjoy California’s wildlife and natural environment, but also their ability to sustain their livelihoods.

Butte County Farm Bureau is a nonprofit organization of farmers and ranchers throughout Butte County.

Solano County Farm Bureau is a nonprofit organization of farmers and ranchers throughout Solano County.

Yolo County Farm Bureau is a nonprofit organization of farmers and ranchers throughout Yolo County.

North Sacramento Land Company owns property adjacent to the American River Parkway and the California State Route 160 in Sacramento. For years, North Sacramento Land Company has desired to develop this property into commercial office space. However, the company is unable to develop this parcel due to its classification as critical habitat for the beetle. Simultaneously, the company incurs substantial maintenance and oversight costs in order to ensure that trespassers do not adversely affect beetle habitat within the parcel and subject the company to potential Endangered Species Act liability.

The lawsuit, titled North Sacramento Land Company v. Salazar, has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. The complaint may be found at Pacific Legal Foundation’s website: www.pacificlegal.org.