Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Small-town government run amok (Part V): Douglas County, Oregon can't afford a single library site but spends federal dollars to lobby for timber interests

story in today's Oregonian newspaper is headlined:  "Struggling Oregon county spent safety net money on pro-timber video, animal trapping."  The story is about Douglas County, Oregon, the fiscal travails of which I the New York Times wrote about here.  (I've written about the economic travails of rural Oregon here, here, here, and here, and wrote a travelogue that passed through Douglas County here).  The consequences of fiscal trauma in Douglas County include, most recently, the closure of all of the county's library branches.  Now, the Oregonian reveals, the Douglas County Commissioners have spent $250,000 in federal "Secure Rural Schools" money (meant to compensate counties for the loss of revenue from timber harvesting) over the past two years to make pro-timber industry videos, and they've spent an addition $240,000 to support the organization that made the videos, the opaquely named "Communities for Healthy Forests."  Here's an excerpt from the story by Rob Davis.
The Douglas County commission's spending raises questions about a federal program called Secure Rural Schools, which has suffered from a lack of oversight since it was co-authored in 2000 by Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat. 
The program gives counties part of what they once earned from logging on federal land before endangered species listings curtailed the harvest. Oregon has received $3 billion, more than any other state. 
Most of the federal money goes to roads and schools. But counties have wider leeway over a portion known as Title III, which was funded at $14.3 million nationally in 2015.
Don't miss the full story, which also includes this nugget.
[Douglas County] gave $71,000 to Wildlife Services, a federal animal trapping agency, for work that included killing bears and porcupines on public and private timber land. The animals eat the inner bark of Douglas fir, damaging timber crops.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

On life's little culinary joys in remote Alaska

The New York Times ran this story in the "Food" section about 10 days ago, "In Alaska's Far-Flung Villages, Happiness Is a Cake Mix."  Here's an excerpt that highlights the gist of the story:  the importance of simple--or perhaps not so simple--pleasures in a place with few amenities, culinary or otherwise. 
Elsewhere, the American appetite for packaged baking mixes is waning, according to the market research firm Mintel, as consumers move away from packaged foods with artificial ingredients and buy more from in-store bakeries and specialty pastry shops. Yet in the small, mostly indigenous communities that dot rural Alaska, box cake is a stalwart staple, the star of every community dessert table and a potent fund-raising tool.
The story quotes Cynthia Erickson who owns the sole grocery story in Tanana, an Athabascan village of 300 in central Alaska. 
Cake mixes are the center of our little universe.  I have four damn shelves full.
Journalist Julia O'Malley describes another remote Alaskan locale, Gambell, population 681, thusly:
Traveling out here, where huge bones from bowhead whales litter the beach, takes a 90-minute jet ride north from Anchorage and another hour by small plane over the Bering Sea. In this vast, wild part of America, accessible only by water or air, there may not be plumbing or potable water, the local store may not carry perishables and people may have to rely on caribou or salmon or bearded seal meat to stay fed.
And the story includes lots of rich detail about how local folks--all women--become the local "cake lady." One of the concotions described was a lemon-blueberry cake, that appeared to be decorated with chocolate chips.

Another woman, this one in Unalakleet, described a white sheet cake dressed up thusly:
I mixed orange Jell-O with two cups of bright orange salmonberries. I poured it on top of that cake and I threw it in the fridge.  People were just like, "Wow, can you make that again for me?”
O'Malley also describes cake walks, which are often used for fundraisers, as when people die and money must be raised to help pay for burial expenses.  She also tells a really interesting tale of how at least one of the remote bakers games, buying cake mixes at a bargain price (compared to what they sell for locally).  When delivery of the cake mixes is delayed--as they often are--she gets refunds on her Amazon Prime account, thus helping finance her cottage industry, tricking out mixes.  

Monday, September 25, 2017

What the heck is Mark Zuckerburg doing in West Virginia talking rural health?

The Charleston Gazette is reporting this morning that Facebook founder, CEO, gazillionaire and would-be presidential candidate visited tiny Dawes, West Virginia on Sunday, in particular stopping in at a rural health care center in Cabin Creek. (By the way, all of these places are in metropolitan Kanawha County, home of Charleston, the state's capital; they are rural by the U.S. Census Bureau definition, but embedded in a metropolitan area and so not remote).  An excerpt from the story, which quotes heavily Amber Crist, director of CabinCreek Health Systems, follows: 
Cabin Creek Health Systems, Valley Health Systems, West Virginia Primary Care Association and the New River Health Association participated in the roundtable discussion. Zuckerberg also brought a “team” of people, which included communications staff, according to Crist.

“I think he just had an interest in learning more,” she said. “He was a great listener. He had really great questions. I think it’s something that he wasn’t that familiar with and wanted to educate himself.” 
Participants discussed rural health, including “provider shortages, the opioid epidemic, difficulty with transportation, mental health, and complex chronic conditions,” Crist said by phone Monday evening. They also discussed the work of communities across the state to organize locally-controlled community health centers, using community health centers to expand the availability of outpatient medication assisted treatment, community health centers’ work with diabetic patients, the threat of Affordable Care Act repeal to community health centers, hepatitis C, limited Internet access and lack of economic diversification, Crist said. 
“We were asked not to invite the media,” she said. “I think he wants to keep it private and informal and not create a lot of hubbub.”
The story also provides details of the restaurant where Zuckerberg and his entourage ate (the Bluegrass Kitchen) and of stops he made in neighboring states, including Hazard, Kentucky.  Crist said Zuckerberg had been looking for places to visit that were near airports.  He was referred to Cabin Creek Health by a health care provider he had visited several weeks ago in Dayton, Ohio.   

Thursday, September 21, 2017

On global warming's impact in the rural West

I was surprised to hear this story on NPR about a new climate change report out of...drumroll... Montana.  Montana? I thought  They have a Democractic governor (Steve Bullock), I know, but it's not the sort of state you would expect to be on the vanguard of climate research.  Turns out the report, the Montana Climate Assessment, was the product of several grants and sponsors and isn't a political document at all, but rather a scientific one.  The report's sponsors include the National Science Foundation EPSCoR Track 1 RII grant, Montana State University, the University of Montana, the Montana EPSCoR Office, and the Montana Institute on Ecosystems.  The lead scientist is Cathy Whitlock of Montana State University, who says the report is intended to help Montanans “plan, make wise decisions and become more resilient.”

Here's a summary of some of the report's findings, as reported by the Bozeman Chronicle.  
Montana’s average temperatures are increasing, mountain snowpacks are declining, large wildfires are more frequent, and all that is expected to continue in the coming decades.   
The assessment says temperatures across the state increased by about 3 degrees on average between 1950 and 2015. That increase outpaced the national average, which the study attributes to Montana’s geographic location, and the authors expect warming here will continue to outpace “most parts of the country, particularly when compared to states in coastal regions.” 
“Key to the concern is that coming temperature changes will be larger in magnitude and occur more rapidly than any time since our 1889 declaration of statehood,” the study says.

The report predicts that temperatures could warm as much as 6 degrees by 2050, and as much as 9.8 degrees by 2100. 
* * * 
Agricultural growing seasons are longer than they were in 1950, with 12 more frost-free days each year, according to the report. Even fewer days of frost are expected in the future, but the report also predicts there will be more days that surpass 90 degrees, which creates challenges for farmers and ranchers as water demand from crops and livestock increases.
Read more here.  And here is a related story from NPR today about Montana's epic (and tragic) wildfire season, which I wrote a bit about here.