Monday, October 26, 2009

H.R.2807 - America's Wildlife Heritage Act: Changing our public lands laws

CSU professor Barry R. Noon wrote The greatest good for the greatest number in Saturday's Denver Post. In this piece Noon advocates revising the laws that govern public land managent to emphasize resource protection over use. While I agree with his thesis that land management should shift from use towards conservation, I don’t believe rewriting our public lands laws is the way to accomplish that goal.

The laws and policies which currently guide our land management agencies already allow agencies to do the things you’re advocating. The two overarching laws governing use on Forest Service and BLM land (National Forest Management Act (NFMA) and Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA)) direct agencies to manage lands sustainably and to protect natural resources. There is a lot of decision space to work with within the existing regulatory framework. How do you want “advance environmental stewardship on our public lands?” Stringent stipulations on uses? Closed to logging and oil and gas development? All these things and more can be done within existing laws.

Congress and the Obama administration already “have the opportunity to advance environmental stewardship on our public lands” through our existing laws. Congress can do almost anything they want. Want more wilderness? Updated oil and gas On Shore Orders? Congress can do this with the stroke of a pen; they don’t need an overhaul of land management laws. We can “develop land-use policies that emphasize science-based management of our public lands—that is, policies that promote science based tools to sustain fish and wildlife populations and the resources and ecosystems on which they depend” through existing laws. In fact, land management agencies are already doing these things. Recent studies on greater sage-grouse are leading to more stringent restrictions on oil and gas development. Agencies rely heavily on scientific data to make decisions. When they don’t, they lose lawsuits. Using science is necessary to show impacts of agency actions when complying with NEPA.

Let’s look specifically at the H.R.2807 - America's Wildlife Heritage Act. I’m looking at the summary here:

America's Wildlife Heritage Act - Sets forth requirements concerning the maintenance of viable populations of existing native and desired non-native species within each planning area in the National Forest System's or the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) public lands. Directs the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior to adopt and implement a strategically targeted monitoring program for determining the status and trends of native and desired non-native species populations on System and BLM lands. Defines: (1) native species to mean species of plants and animals indigenous to a planning area; and (2) desired non-native species to mean those wild species of plants and animals that are not indigenous to a planning area but are valued for their contribution to species diversity or their social, cultural, or economic value.

Agencies already have a body of guidance regarding native species. It looks almost exactly like the broad, squishy language above, telling agencies natives are preferred while leaving room for non-natives. (Our politicians wouldn’t want to mandate that all species are native or their friends in the agriculture business would not be happy). Direction like this in a law is ambiguous and meaningless.

Requires the Secretaries to coordinate the management of planning areas of the System and the BLM with the management of the National Wildlife Refuge System and National Park System, other federal agencies, state fish and wildlife agencies, other state agencies responsible for management of natural resources, tribes, local governments, and non-governmental organizations engaged in species conservation. Requires the Secretaries to issue regulations implementing this Act within one year of its enactment.

We need a law just to tell land management agencies to work together? Is that really a good use of our legislature’s time and energy? Agencies already work together. There are processes in place (such as Cooperating Agency Status) that deal with agency cooperation.

As for NEPA, it’s a very simple law (it’s only a few pages) and should not be tampered with. NEPA says nothing about what course of action an agency should take. It does not give guidance on whether to allow use of resources or to preserve them. NEPA merely tells the agencies that they must make the public aware of the impacts of their actions and affords the public the right to participate in these decisions. No one can argue those are not very important things for a public land agency to do. It doesn’t matter how old it is, these important principles will always stand. NEPA should not be “polluted” with opinions on how to address specific resource uses. Policy, guidance, and land use plans should address those tough issues.

Maybe some tweaks around the edges could be warranted. But I would caution totally revamping our laws that govern public land management. The laws aren’t broken, only some administrations which implement them. This problem of mismanagement will not go away regardless of how many laws are changed or added. This effort might make folks feel good, but it means nothing. We would be better off with Obama’s Secretaries of Ag and Interior issuing guidance to the agencies which emphasizes protection of natural resources and makes certain practices/approaches which do this a priority. Their ability to do this is well within existing law. We saw how much Bush did within existing law (and some outside law) to make use a priority. Obama can do the same to further his administration’s environmental goals the opposite side of the spectrum.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Problems with sports culture in the US: Who is responsible?

Denver Post printed a nice piece by a high school athlete today entitled "Why I can't stand youth sports anymore." It made me think about sports culture in America.

I hear a lot of blame going around when it comes to sports in 21st century American culture. Sports is HUGE business. Absolutely enormous. Never mind the billions the NFL makes every year, now make believe (fantasy) football is now a billion dollar business. The negative aspects are pretty apparent in all levels of sports culture: hyper-competitiveness in youth sports, devastating injuries to young athletes, parents assaulting referees, athletes making it through college not knowing how to read or write, poor sportsmanship, athletes who have learned that violence and aggression is the way to address life's problems, etc. Sports headlines crowd out “more important” news as the media fans the flames of every sports story. ESPN covers our 11 year-olds playing little league like there’s nothing more important in their lives than winning, and we talk about how there’s no child exploitation in America. The list goes on and on. I'm a huge sports fan, and I realize there are many positive aspects too. However, I think most Americans can agree with this well-written piece by Scott Martin that these negative aspects are getting worse.

So who’s to blame? The parents? The kids? The agents? The athletes? The owners? The media? To some extent, all of the above. However, in my humble opinion, none of those parties are more to blame than the American sports consumer. That’s me, you, and millions of Americans who park our butts on the sofa or in a stadium seat every weekend. We feed the gargantuan monster that has become sports in America. Make no mistake about it WE drive this bus. The negative aspects are reflections of American’s obsession with sports. These negative elements are manifestations of the market reacting to millions of consumers and their dollars.

So what will it take to change? What can we do to try to reverse some of these trends? To some extent, we can change things on the ground in the neighborhoods in which we live. Grassroots action can make your child’s soccer program better. However, to make large systemic changes to US sports culture, I fear that only a large shift in sports consumption will do the trick. People need to stop watching and stop attending. I, for one, don’t see that happening. I, for one, am not about to stop watching sports. As long as the US consumer continues to demand sports, parents will continue to drive their kids too hard and the media will continue to have a heyday every time Brandon Marshall has something to say.

It’s easy to point the fingers at others. But I feel that I’m a hypocrite if I attack sports culture when I’m sitting happily on the sofa soaking it up for 6 hours every Sunday. Anyway, just something to think about.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Professional Rant of the Week: Garrison Keillor

Petulance and the Peace Prize
By Garrison Keillor

Evidently some people were disappointed that Dick Cheney didn't receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and believe me, I sympathize. I thought Philip Roth should've gotten the literature prize instead of that grumpy Romanian lady with the severe hair. But it was Mr. Obama whom the Norwegians wanted to come visit Oslo in December and stand on the balcony of the Grand Hotel and wave to the crowd along Karl Johans Gate. Face it, Mr. Obama is going to draw a bigger crowd than Mr. Cheney would have.

When a man has shot somebody in the face with a shotgun, people are going to be reluctant to line up en masse in his presence lest he get excited again. As for Mr. Cheney's boss, he was an unlikely pick for the Peace Prize after it was revealed by a White House speechwriter in a recent memoir that Mr. Bush once said, "I whupped Gary Bauer's ass." Boasting about ass-whupping is not the mark of a Nobel Peace Prize winner. The correct word is "whipping."

Going to Oslo in December and sitting through a black-tie banquet with a bunch of wooden-faced Norwegians and eating herring and delivering a speech larded with bromides about international cooperation and no jokes is not what I'd consider a whee of a good time, frankly. Oslo is rather dark and murky in December. The sun rises during the first coffee break and sets right after lunch and this does not make for a festive mood.

Some conservative pundit suggested that the president should've declined the prize, but it is not gracious to reject a compliment. One should accept it with becoming modesty, as Mr. Obama did, that's what your mother brought you up to do. The prize isn't about you, it's about Peace, or Literature, or Homecoming, or Champion Hog, or Male Vocalist of the Year, so walk up there and smile for the cameras, say thank you and sit down.

The wailing and gnashing of teeth that you hear among Republicans is 68 percent envy and 32 percent sour grapes. Here is an idealistic, articulate young president who is enormously popular everywhere in the world except in the states of the Confederacy, and here sit the 28 percent of the American people who still thought Mr. Bush was doing a heckuva job at the end, gnashing their teeth, hoping and praying for something horrible to happen such as an infestation of locusts or the disappearance of the sun, something to make the president look bad, which is not a good place for a political party to be, hoping for the country to slide into chaos. When you bet against America, you are choosing long odds.

A person can run down the list of all that's wrong with this country, including the lobbyists who cross back and forth from public service to influence-peddling like alligators on the golf course, or the bankers who lost their minds in the great mortgage mania, but the country has a history of rising to challenges and turning away from demagogues and doing what needs to be done. Because we are a passionately patriotic people, infused with a love of our history and our land, and so we have limited patience for fools, such as the ones who now dominate the right.

Conservatism is a powerful strain in American life that ordinarily passes as common sense. Save for a rainy day. Don't foul the nest. Don't burn your bridges. Don't sacrifice the future for short-term profit. But when it contradicts itself and becomes weighted down with bigotry and cynicism, then it doesn't hold water any more.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." And conservatives tried to keep functioning through the Bush administration but the contradictions wore them down, and last fall, when the federal government wrote a blank check to stave off collapse of the financial sector, conservative principles came crashing to the ground, and now all they have in common is that they don't like President Obama. OK, but resentment of an American president being honored by the Norwegians is not a good point from which to build a Republican revival. Petulant fury isn't a winning hand in politics. Get over it.

Raiders’ shitty attitude direct result of Al Davis’ actions

So, my Oakland Raiders are the worst team in the NFL. Never mind that a few other teams are winless—they’ve played much better than Oakland. At least they still try. The Raiders have already given up, illustrated by that horrible performance against the Giants. One would think the lack of effort lies with the players, right? Not necessarily. Remember in Raiderland everything goes back to Al. Some players might give 100% at first, but they soon get extremely discouraged by Al’s actions. Here’s my thoughts on how low morale and zero effort goes directly back to Al Davis:

1) Davis drafts players based purely on their physical skills. He doesn’t care one iota about leadership skills, locker-room dynamics, drive, effort, love of the game, studying the game, etc. How can we build a franchise that wants to win when the players Al brings in don’t care?

2) Al pays underperforming players HUGE contracts. The fact that JaMarcus, Javon Walker, Tommy Kelly, etc. are making more than players who deserve it is obviously a blow to morale.

3) The coaching staff is inept and/or hamstrung. Preparation is bad. The game plan is bad. The play calling is suspect. The coaches also don’t care. Al doesn’t pay coaches well, and no coaches want to be puppets. So the players are stuck with leaders that can’t help them pull out of a shitty season. However, if we happened to find a diamond in the rough, or if a coach makes the right decision, Al vetoes it. Coaches must implement the game plan Al Davis wants. I’m sure players get frustrated with Al’s obsession with the long ball game of the 1970s. D lines and D secondaries are too good to make this the foundation of a football team in the 21 century. But coaches are not allowed to stray from Al’s MO. Coaches are puppets that can’t fix the problems, so why should the players play hard for them?

4) We all know Al plays favorites and has his “pets.” There is no punishment for bad play and there’s no little reward for good play. JaMarcus would be sitting on the bench if he were on any other team in the NFL. But Al won’t have that. He was mad when Kiffin didn’t play him earlier. This is clearly discouraging for players. Players are saying “well, if they put up more than 14 points on us, this game is over, so why try after we get down?” Once Chaz gets back, do you think Al would let Cable sit Darrius Heyward-Bey like he should? Maybe, but somehow I doubt it. How do you think that makes Higgins, Walker and especially Murphy feel? Why play hard when you’ll get benched for Al’s new speedy toy that clearly isn’t ready to start in the NFL? You have to have an incentive to play hard, and that incentive is missing in Oakland.

5) They know their owner and sole decision maker won’t correct the problem. The last 7 years tell a clear story. Things in most losing franchises eventually get better if you stay patient. No one lets their team wallow in horridness forever. History has shown that’s not the case in Oakland. No other team in recent memory has been this bad for this long. There’s NO HOPE because people know Al is an incompetent leader and they know nothing will get fixed.

I’m not excusing players for quitting. It is partly their fault. However, when looking at this issue deeper, it becomes apparent that Al Davis is a major factor in poor morale and no effort.

The Rams, Chiefs and Bucs clearly give more effort and show more spirit than the Raids. Embarrassingly enough, I’m really jealous of the Detroit Lions right now. They’ve got a promising young coach who is committed to changing the losing culture of the franchise. They’ve got a young QB who wants to play there and who gives 100% during and between games. You can tell they scrap and fight in every game, even against teams that are supposed to blow them out. How freaking wrong is it that any team should envy the Lions?