Thursday, September 30, 2021

More rural community, again out of Montana

My last post was about how folks in rural places--specifically those in proximity to the Amtrak crash last weekend--came together to help others.  Now comes an even more thoroughly feel-good story out of Montana, from the New York Times, about Jeff Ament's investment in Montana communities.  He's a member of Pearl Jam, and his foundation is building a skate park in every Montana city or town that will have one, from the Blackfeet reservation to post Bozeman.   Here are some excerpts: 

Ament has paid for, or helped pay for, 27 skate parks, most of them in Montana. He has also helped build three on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Three more are planned for reservations in Montana and South Dakota, including one at Wounded Knee.
* * *

Ament weathered his own emotional storms, he said, with the help of a backyard skateboard ramp in a small and remote Montana town called Big Sandy, where he grew up. Skateboarding, he says from personal experience, is deeply therapeutic for disaffected youth in similar places.

* * * 

Growing up in Big Sandy, with fewer than 600 people, Ament said, the highlight was dinner at the nearest Dairy Queen, a half an hour away. His father was the Big Sandy barber, drove a school bus and raised chickens, pigs and cows.

Rural Montana towns are often big on team sports, particularly basketball and football, even when the towns are so small they can only field six-man football teams. Ament was a standout in multiple sports, and was offered a scholarship as an all-state linebacker. But there is always a subset of young people who aren’t cut out for team sports, and are in need of another outlet.

Ament grew up near the Rocky Boy’s reservation and knows second-hand the extra difficulty of life on a reservation. Skateboarding, and going to skate parks, “gives kids a reason to see the rest of the state, the rest of the country and possibly the rest of the world,” he said. “There’s an old-school mentality that says you are giving up on your community if you leave and go to college somewhere else.” He shook his head.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Rural community vignettes from the Montana Amtrak crash

It's been interesting to see how journalists --especially national journalists--have described what happened yesterday with the Amtrak derailment in Joplin, Montana (population just a couple hundred folks) in Liberty County, population 2,339.  The New York Times story today includes some interesting comments from a man who was on the Empire Builder when it derailed, Steve Glaser, 66, along with officials and residents of this remote corner of Montana.    

After the crash, Mr. Glaser said “the community took over.”

Sarah Robbin, the disaster emergency services coordinator for Liberty County, Mont., one of the most rural counties in the state, had spent much of her time over the past few years playing out a scenario like this in her head and planning how best to respond.

In each of the small towns that dot Route 2, which cuts through northern Montana along the railroad tracks, there are just a few hundred to a few thousand residents. The nearest major hospital is hours away by car. Emergency services are sparse.

“We are a small county,” she said, adding that anything like Saturday’s crash “would immediately overwhelm us. Being small and rural, relying on your neighbors is extremely important.”
In the town of Chester, about 7 to 8 miles west of the derailment, a siren system alerts the 1,000 or so residents to any important news. One ring signals a city meeting. Two, an ambulance. Three, a fire call. And four, “some terrible disaster,” said Jesse Anderson, who owns the MX Motel, a 20-room stopover that typically caters to anglers, construction workers and hunters.

When Mr. Anderson heard four sirens yesterday, he assumed it was a mistake. But then he saw fire trucks speeding through the 25 miles-per-hour main street.

“We had no idea it was going to be something of this scale,” he said.

Emergency responders from across at least seven counties rushed in to help. As the only motel for 50 miles, east or west, Mr. Anderson was called on to house some of the passengers. He offered his available rooms free of charge.

Families from a nearby Hutterite colony brought food for passengers while they waited for rides and lodging in the school gym. 

Here's a post from July about the strain on rural ambulance service in places like Montana and Wyoming, where fewer people are stepping up to do the work.  

Friday, September 24, 2021

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CLIII): Yesterday's winner is today's loser

That is a tenet of investing that my financial advisor has often endorsed.  Rececntly, I've seen that it applies to the coronavirus.  Alaska was an early winner, especially in the race to get folks vaccinated, as discussed here and hereDitto West Virginia.  

Now, however, Alaska's health care system is struggling, as the New York Times reports here.  This excerpt focuses on those in rural and remote areas of the state, where many are Alaska Natives: 

Jared Kosin, the head of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, called the surge “crippling” in an interview on Tuesday. He added that hospitals were full, and health care workers were emotionally depleted. Patients recently were kept waiting for care in their cars outside overwhelmed emergency rooms.

There is growing anxiety in outlying communities that depend on transferring seriously ill patients to hospitals in Anchorage, Mr. Kosin said. Transfers are getting harder to arrange and are often delayed, he said.

“We are all wondering where this goes, and whether that transfer will be available, even tomorrow,” Mr. Kosin said.

Critically ill people in rural areas, where many Alaska Natives reside, often have to be taken by plane to a hospital that can provide the treatment they need, said Dr. Philippe Amstislavski, an associate professor of public health at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

“Unlike in the lower 48, you don’t have that ability to move people quickly, because of the distances and remoteness,” said Dr. Amstislavski, who was formerly the public health manager for the Interior Region of Alaska, focusing on rural and predominantly Alaska Native communities.

West Virginia is also facing a new coronavirus wave, as NPR reported here.  Just 46% of the state's 1.8 million residents are vaccinated.  This excerpt leads with a quote from Governor Jim Justice, who touts the vaccine nearly every day:

JUSTICE: If you have chosen to be unvaccinated, in my opinion, it was a bad choice. And you know what we're going to be? We're going to be respectful of that till the cows come home. The reality is, no matter what we say here, a lot of what we say is falling on deaf ears.

[Journalist June] LEFFLER: The importance of vaccines is clear. In West Virginia, those who aren't vaccinated make up 85% of COVID-19 hospital admissions. Many smaller hospitals have maxed out their bed capacities. When that happens, patients can be sent to other hospitals. Jim Kaufman, the president of the West Virginia Hospital Association, says transferring patients might not be an option soon.

JIM KAUFMAN: You're actually seeing a bed crunch pretty much across the state. So what they're trying to do is basically stabilize the patients, take care of the patients where they can because the ability to transfer has been greatly restricted.

LEFFLER: More than 800 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in West Virginia. Kaufman expects that number to reach 1,000 in just a few weeks. 

An earlier story about West Virginia's vaccine efforts is here, this one from the non-profit news source, 100 Days in Appalachia.  

Another state with substantial rural reaches, where COVID has been raging, is Idaho.  I don't know that Idaho had a prior honeymoon period with the coronavirus, but it's certainly struggling now, as documented here, here, and here.  The latter is about Washington governor Jay Inslee's plea to Idahoans to "stop clogging up" his state's hospitals.  

Postscript:  Here's Anne Zink, Alaska's chief medical office, on NPR on Sept. 25, 2021, with more on the state's COVID strain.  She says this is the worst surge Alaska has seen during the whole pandemic, with one in five of those in the hospital suffering from COVID.  An interesting factoid:  the average Alaskan travels 150 miles to access care.  Zinke explains the logistical challenges in terms of Bethel and the Kuskokwim River Delta:   

The YKHC Delta, which is this big, beautiful region, serves 60 villages in that region. And so they are really struggling with, who do they ship in via flight to their hub hospital, Bethel? And then who do they get out into Anchorage based on just the lack of bed availability, the lack of staffing?

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

On prioritizing rural community, in the context of an extractive economy

Colin Jerolmack's book, Up to Heaven and Down to Hell: Fracking, Freedom, and Community in an American Town,” was published earlier this year by Princeton University Press, and this past weekend, Jerolmack published a related opinion essay in the New York Times.  The essay features some common themes in this era of fracking, especially in Pennsylvania, where it has drawn so much attention.  But some things set Jerolmack's essay about Mary and Tom Crawley apart, and I'll excerpt just a few of them below.  Bottom line:  the Crawley's prioritized their relations with their neighbors, some of whom were making money off licenses for fracking, over looking out for themselves and their own property values: 

I couldn’t understand why the Crawleys refused to go public with their story — which might pressure the petroleum company to remedy the situation, or speak with the Responsible Drilling Alliance — which vowed to help them secure a pro bono lawyer. They had nothing to lose, I thought. But as I sat and listened, I learned that the Crawleys’ decision to stay quiet wasn’t about what was in it for them. It was about defending their community.

“The couple that has the property the well is on now, they — I work with their daughter and she says that Mom and Dad really feel bad about this all happening,” Mr. Crawley explained. His wife chimed in, “They’re very upset. He’s afraid everybody would blame him.” Mr. Crawley emphasized that his “major concern with this whole deal is somebody harassing” his neighbors or “camping out” on their property.
* * *
“Do you have the right to come protesting in my area because of something that’s not going to affect you and you live 100, 200 miles away?,” Mr. Crawley asked of the so-called fractivists. He wondered how many of them “live in a high-rise building that’s heated by gas.”
* * *
Part of their reasoning was that fracking benefited others, like their neighbor whose family farm was no longer a millstone to unload now that it was bringing in gas royalties, or the friend who was laid off but found a better-paying job driving a water truck for the oil and gas industry. In other words, it mattered to the Crawleys that their neighbors supported fracking and benefited from it.
* * *
Of the six neighbors on Green Valley Road who settled with the petroleum company, only the Crawleys remain. Mr. Finkler died of cancer. But the rest abandoned their homes and moved far away.
* * *
Despite the Crawleys’ best efforts, they lost the one thing they cherished more than clean water: their community.

Eventually, the Crawleys also settled with the energy company responsible for polluting their water.  

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Lawyers scramble to represent California wildfire victims as plaintiffs

Ad from my Twitter feed, Sept. 26, 2021

Lily Jamali reported for KQED, in a story picked up by National Public Radio yesterday.  It's about lawyers, local and from far away, soliciting clients at an event in Plumas County, amidst the Dixie Fire rubble.  The lawyers want to represent those damaged by the Dixie Fire in a lawsuit against PG & E, or anyone else who may be found responsible for the fire's recent destruction.  It's an important story that names names, meaning names of attorneys who've represented plaintiffs in relation to other lawsuits, like those arising from the Camp Fire that destroyed Paradise.  And those lawyers have not always made good on their representations to clients.  At the end of the audio story is an admonition from the Plumas County District attorney to residents to choose their attorney wisely.  

An August, 2021 Wall Street Journal story on the shortcomings of the litigation against PG&E that arose  from the Camp Fire is here.   

Monday, September 20, 2021

LA Times analysis of California recall vote, across the rural-urban axis and on the basis of ethnicity

The Los Angeles Times published two stories yesterday on last week's California recall, one out of Lassen County in far northern California, the county with the largest margin for "yes" on the recall, and one out of California's Central Valley, where the "yes" vote won by a relatively narrow margin in most counties.  The first story, by Hailey Branson-Potts, dateline Janesville, population 1,408, is pretty focused on rurality.  The second story, by Maria La Ganga and Anita Chabria, reporting on Fresno and Merced counties, is not so rural-focused, though it might have been given that most of California considers the Great Central Valley rural in spite of its relative population density.  

The story out of Lassen County includes these excerpts: 

There was such fervor here in rural Lassen County — where a whopping 84% of voters supported the recall, the highest percentage in the state — that it was hard not to believe it could happen.

Then Newsom’s landslide victory landed like a kick in the shin with a steel-toed boot.
Ah, Branson-Potts is always great with the turn of (rural) phrase.  Here's more:  
“I went to bed really wanting to put a For Sale sign in front of my house,” said [Denise] Pickens, 50, as she sipped a chai tea latte outside Artisan Coffee in Janesville, population 1,400.

Once again, the votes of vast, rural Northern California, which overwhelmingly supported the recall, were drowned out by urban liberals, Pickens said.

“Part of me is just like, you know what, the Democratic progressive machine is what it is, and there’s just not enough of us,” she said.

Getting the recall on the ballot initially felt like a win here in Northern California, where conservatives have long felt they would be better off seceding to form their own state called Jefferson.

But there was no symbolic, emotional victory in forcing an election. The result was a walloping that displayed, in the harsh bright lights of a lopsided scoreboard, who is firmly in control of this state.

“The Democratic Party is the New York Yankees, and the Republican Party in this state is the Minor Leagues,” said Christopher Cole, the former chairman of the Lassen County Republican Party. “You can’t compete.”

The results — with Newsom prevailing 64% to 36% as of Friday — put California’s urban-rural divide on stark display. Every county in Southern California rejected the recall, as did the entire coast, save for tiny Del Norte County in the state’s northwest corner.

By the way, Hailey Branson-Potts' story attracted a lot of urban haters on Twitter, as you can see here and here.  I'm screen grabbing just two parts of that first thread to illustrate.  Many commenters asserted the Times should have talked to voters in San Francisco or Marin counties, where the vote against the recall mirrored Lassen County's vote in favor of it.  I admit I have no idea who the commenter (Charlee Ferry) is accusing of plagiarism and/or copyright infringement--Branson-Potts or some "yes" on recall supporter who Ferry assumes doesn't have original thoughts:

The LA Times story out of the Central Valley is focused on the LatinX.  The headline is "The Central Valley gives California a recall rarity: a squeaker of a race."  An excerpt follows: 

In 48 of California’s 58 counties, from Oregon to the Mexico border, voters either loved the guy or hated him, with double-digit differences on Saturday afternoon between the yes vote and the no.

Except for one small island in the middle of this vast state, where the recall election was a nail-biter.

Here in the agricultural heart of California, where the drought weighs heavy and the pandemic even heavier, the results were nearly 50-50.

In Merced County, the recall lost by 38 votes. In Fresno County, where the population just crested a million, it won by fewer than 2,000, according to an updated count released by local election officials Friday afternoon.

In both counties, that amounts to one percentage point or less separating yes and no.

Both sides here are claiming victory and both point to Latino voters as an important part of their success. Ballot counting continues throughout the state, and little will be known for sure until the vote is certified in just over a month. The political picture could shift at the county level.

But a few things are clear. The recall failed dramatically statewide. And demographics are destiny.

“The proportion of Latinos [in the Central Valley] is rapidly growing, and to the extent that Latinos have been showing a preference for the Democratic Party, it is an indicator of a strong future for the Democrats,” said Thomas Holyoke, a professor of political science at Fresno State University. “But the Latino vote breaks apart. ... The early returns from the recall show that a lot of Latino men backed the recall.”
Oddly, La Ganga and Chabria paid no attention to urbanization--to the fact that Fresno is the state's fifth largest city, though it did mention Clovis, Fresno's upmarket but smaller sister city.  Perhaps eventually we'll see analysis of Fresno City v. Fresno County voters.  

The journalists also paid no attention to education level.  I would also think that the presence of UC Merced, the youngest of the University of California schools, and the attendant influx of a more highly educated populace would be worthy of note regarding the vote there.  

My earlier post about the California recall vote is here.  

Saturday, September 18, 2021

"White trash," rurality, and revenge in Percival Everett's new novel "The Trees"

The novel, The Trees, out next week, was featured on National Public Radio this morning, and Guggenheim award-winning author Percival Everett's discussion with NPR host Scott Simon intrigued me because it implicated both rurality and, more prominently, race and whiteness.  Here's an excerpt from the interview: 

Special detectives Ed Morgan and Jim Davis are the big-city heat from Hattiesburg. They're with the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, and they're in the small town of Money to investigate the murder of two men in the back room of the same shotgun-style house - one, a white man who's disfigured in a way so gruesome we can't tell you without a trigger warning, if you please; the other, a Black man, seems to just walk out of the morgue.

Simon observes near the end of the interview:

SIMON: I've got to ask you. I enjoyed the book a lot. So many of the white Southerners in this book are not just bigots. They're obese. They're dumb. They smell, as you write, memorably, of one, of excrement - and you don't say excrement - Aqua Velva and pimento cheese, which is an awfully clever phrase. And with no apologies made for white bigots, are you stereotyping white Southerners?

EVERETT: Welcome to club. Yeah.


EVERETT: I am, in fact. How does it feel? That's my question. Yes, I'm not fair in this novel. It's not a novel about fairness. In fact, after I wrote the first page, my admission to my wife was, well, I'm not being fair, and I'm not going to do anything about it.

This left me wanting to know more, and then I found this by Christian Lorentzen on Book Forum.  This explains the premise of the book, which implicates revenge for the murder of Emmett Till.  I'll just excerpt a quote here from the lengthy commentary titled "Hillbilly Effigy": 

Not much present in The Trees are white liberals or leftists. The novel isn’t about them (us), unless perhaps it’s meant to flatter them with a vision of their redneck white-trash cousins getting a comeuppance at the hands of cunning and ruthless Black assassins (spoiler: the Black corpse is not the real killer, nor is it a ghost) and their Asian counterparts, avenging their own victims of lynching. Everett has had his go at white liberals elsewhere, most notably in Erasure, his satire of the publishing industry and the Quality Lit Biz. The Trees is looser and more freewheeling than that novel, Everett’s masterpiece.
Prior to that is this, also touching on class in relation to whiteness:
Most of the white characters in this novel are guilty: even if they are merely the descendants of the perpetrators of lynchings, they are unrepentant racists (or “know-nothing, pre–Civil War, inbred peckerwoods,” as one character puts it), frequent users of the N-word (with the hard r), stealers of livestock, or members of a pathetically diminished Ku Klux Klan. The racists are present all the way up the chain of American power.

Cross-posted to Working-Class Whites and the Law.  

Friday, September 17, 2021

Rural legal scholarship: One-child town: The health care exceptionalism case against agglomeration economies

Elizabeth Weeks of the University of Georgia has just published this article in the Utah Law Review.  

This Article offers an extended rebuttal to the suggestion to move residents away from dying communities to places with greater economic promise. Rural America, arguably, is one of those dying places. A host of strategies aim to shore up those communities and make them more economically viable. But one might ask, “Why bother?” In a similar vein, David Schleicher's provocative 2017 Yale Law Journal article, Stuck! The Law and Economics of Residential Stagnation, recommended dismantling a host of state and local government laws that operate as barriers to migration by Americans from failing economies to robust agglomeration economies. But Schleicher said little about the fate of the places left behind. Schleicher's article drew a number of pointed responses, urging the value and preservation of Small Town America. But those arguments failed fully to meet the rational economic thesis, countering instead with more sentimental or humanitarian concerns. This Article offers a way to reconcile the two views, refracted through a health care lens. Health care is a particularly apt perspective for considering the question of whether America's rural places are worth saving because it necessarily, under longstanding U.S. policy preferences, walks the line between economic principles and human rights; individual responsibility and communitarian values; the rational actor and the deserving recipient of aid. The health care exceptionalism case against agglomeration economies urges consideration of the real, quantifiable costs of migration and, correctively, the value of home, as well as the market imperfections inherent in health care and, even more so, in rural health care.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

A vignette of rural poverty and rural difference

 This is from Charles Blow's column in the New York Times this week, titled "Why I Write": 

One of my favorite aunts was desperately poor, like many people I knew in rural north Louisiana. I don’t know how much money she had or made. I only know the shadow of need that stalked her. She seemed, like many members of my family, one paycheck or severe injury away from insolvency.

She had been a fixture in my life since I was born. Sweet as pie, as we say in the South. A too-good woman whose generosity others — including her own family — took advantage of.

I visited her once when my children were young. Her house was old and teetering, in need of painting, surrounded on three sides by an unkept yard of chest-high weeds.

Later, he comes back to that visit:

When I visited my aunt, I was working at The New York Times. I had been poor, but I no longer was. And yet, it was important to me then, and remains important to me now, that I remained connected to that poverty, so that I could write about it from a genuine place.

One was to write what you know. Write about some of your most intimate experiences, the things that you can’t stop thinking about no matter how hard you try.

The other was that columnists should be like an orchestra, each playing a different instrument, but together making music.

I decided that in that orchestra I was going to play the banjo. I was not a big-city writer. I was a small-town country boy from the South. I had not grown up with wealth and privilege. I had struggled, and at times, my family had barely scraped by. I had not gone to fancy prep schools or Ivy League colleges, but a small high school that had served Black students since the late 1800s and to a historically Black college, Grambling State University, the closest university to my hometown.

What I knew was that otherness, that outsiderness, that sense of being left behind and left out, that sense of being the world’s disposable people because you had little money and wielded little power.

It's interesting that the last sentence appears to focus more on class--"little money"--than on race.  The "otherness" and "outsiderness" also seems to refer to rurality, given its proximity to the prior paragraph.  But then, perhaps, the point is not to separate out these characteristics.  He was a socioeconomically disadvantaged, rural, Black man.   

This is an important column with a rural angle, at least so far as the New York Times goes.  Read it in its entirety.   

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Rural-urban in the California recall

The county-level map on the California gubernatorial recall has shifted somewhat this morning compared to last night.  Two big counties that flipped over night:  Placer and Fresno counties.  

As of about 10 pm last night, Placer County, suburban and exurban Sacramento and extending east to Lake Tahoe, was "no" on the recall, but this morning it is "yes" by a margin of 51-49%.  Other counties that shifted overnight include Inyo in the eastern Sierra, with "yes" votes now at just over 50%.  With the exception of Merced County, where the vote was "no" by a margin of about three dozen votes, and San Joaquin County, just south of Sacramento County, where "no" prevailed by a margin of 56% to 44%, the entire Central Valley stretching south from Sacramento, was "yes" on the recall.  The margin in Fresno County was especially narrow, with the "yes" vote prevailing by less than 100 votes out of 180K cast.  This region, while not entirely rural in terms of population density/sparsity, is widely referred to as rural because of its ag-centric economy.  

Another notable commentary on the rural-urban divide in the California recall vote is that all of the state's coastal counties were "no" on the recall except Del Norte County, at the Oregon state line.  I suppose that suggests rural gentrification in many of these sparsely populated communities, including Humboldt and Mendocino where the margins in favor of "no" were quite robust.  That is, city folks who lean left may be moving to these places in greater numbers, driving up property prices and shifting the electorate to the left.  

The so-called Gold Country/Motherlode was consistently "yes" on the recall, which was to be anticipated.  The widest margin among these counties was Amador County, just southwest of greater Sacramento, where the margin was 63% to 36%.  The state's Inland Empire was "no" on the recall with varying degrees of strength, with more support for recalling Newsom in Riverside and San Bernardino counties than in more heavily Latino/a Imperial County.  

Regarding the recall's outcome, Jonathan Martin observed in today's New York Times,  

Mr. Newsom found success not because of what makes California different but because of how it’s like everywhere else: He dominated in California’s heavily populated Democratic cities, the key to victory in a state where his party outnumbers Republicans by five million voters.  (emphasis added).  

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Photos of rural California in NYTimes recall coverage

I am loving that photos of Ferndale, Eureka, and Garberville, California, are all included in the New York Times rotating photos in its recall election coverage.  Ferndale and Garberville, in Humboldt County in far northern California, are particularly rural.  Eureka is the county seat of Humboldt County, population 132,000, which voted "no"on the recall.  This may defy some expectations because Humboldt is a rural region.  On the other hand, it is coastal, and the only coastal California county that voted in favor of the recall is the only one north of Humboldt, Del Norte County on the Oregon state line.  

I note that these photos were taken by Alexandra Hootnick, and I thank the New York Times for dispatching the photos or buying them from her as a freelancer.  Doing so signals rural inclusion by the "gray lady."  

Other Legal Ruralism posts about Humboldt County are here.  

California wildfires ignite an insurance crisis, Cal Matters reports, but with nary a mention of "rural"

Dan Walters reported on Monday for CalMatters, the nonprofit website, about the impact recent wildfires--and the destruction of entire towns and hundreds of houses--will have on insurance availability in the Golden State.  Oddly, though, Walters doesn't mention the disproportionate impact of these shifts on rural folks--at least what Californians consider "rural," and what others call the "wildland-urban interface."  Here are the first few paragraphs: 

As if California needed another crisis, the state’s seemingly perpetual wildfires are forcing millions of homeowners in fire-prone areas to pay skyrocketing premiums for insurance coverage — if, indeed, they can buy it at all.

As the number and severity of wildfires increase, insurers are increasingly reluctant to renew policies and even if they do, premiums often double or triple.

Insurance is required for most homeowners since their mortgage lenders demand it. And if they cannot obtain regular coverage, they are forced into the insurer of last resort, FAIR, that has very high premiums and limits on coverage.

Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara has repeatedly invoked a law he authored three years ago as a state legislator, imposing one-year moratoriums on policy cancellations for property in or immediately adjacent to the sites of major fires.

In 2020, Lara’s moratoriums covered 2.4 million policyholders after fires scorched more than 4 million acres and consumed hundreds of homes and other buildings. When this year’s fires are finally extinguished, including the immense Dixie fire and the Caldor fire that nearly wiped out South Lake Tahoe, Lara will extend the moratoriums to their burn zones.

And then, from famously posh Marin County, Walters reports this:

There is some scapegoating. This month, Assemblyman Marc Levine, a Democrat from fire-prone Marin County, fired off a letter to insurance trade groups, telling them, “I do not believe that the costs of utility mismanagement, or the impacts of climate change should be arbitrarily and capriciously passed through to my constituents in the form of homeowners’ insurance being declined, non-renewed, or their insurance premiums being raised exorbitantly. Particularly when there has been no change of conditions or circumstances.”

One could think of Marin County as an example of rural gentrification, but I tend to think of it as suburban and exurban San Francisco.  It has one of the highest per capita incomes among California's 58 counties.  My point: I'm less worried about Marin County residents being able to afford insurance than I am counties more rural, farther north, and more clearly impacted by recent fires.  I'm surprised that Walters, who started his career in Humboldt County, isn't more sensitive those other California places.  

Some earlier posts about California wildfires in more rural places are here, here, and here (focusing on WUI:  Wildland-urban interface).  

Monday, September 13, 2021

A mellow, artsy story out of California's Motherlode

The inimitable Hailey Branson-Potts, who today celebrates a decade with the Los Angeles Times, reports from Volcano, California, about the re-opening of the community theatre, shuttered first by COVID-19 and then disrupted by nearby wildfires, including the Caldor Fire in neighboring El Dorado County.  

Here's a short excerpt: 

The Volcano Theatre Company has long been the cultural heart of this Amador County hamlet, drawing thousands of people each year to its few restaurants, hotels and businesses.

The town, population about 100, sits in a bowl-shaped valley, which Gold Rush miners thought might be the crater of a dormant volcano. It once was a boomtown, with thousands of residents, a private law school, an astronomical observatory, and — in deference to the sacred and profane — lots of churches and saloons.

Now, it’s one of those tiny places peppering California that seem primed to be blotted out by some calamity, human- or nature-made.
* * * 
The all-volunteer theater began in 1974. Shows take place in the outdoor amphitheater and, across the street, the Cobblestone Theatre built in 1856. With just 35 chairs, it is reputedly the smallest fixed-seat theater in California.

“We’re such a small county, and we don’t have a massive amount of art,” said Savannah Mulderrig, a 32-year-old actress. “It’s just important for people to experience live theater. If you don’t go here, you’re going to Sacramento.”
One of my favorite things about this story:  seeing the photographer, Myung Chun, who accompanied Branson-Potts to photograph this story, tweet this acknowledgement of his own lack of familiarity with rural California and gems like Volcano.  

Sunday, September 12, 2021

"Special interest group" for rural and small town kids, part of National Association for College Admission Counseling

I just recently discovered that this exists, and it made me happy to know of an organized effort to meet the needs of rural and small-town high school kids looking caught up in the college admission process.  Here's what the group has to say about itself
The Rural and Small Town SIG mission is to bring rural and small town admissions and college counseling professionals, as well as those committed to rural and small town education, together to increase college access and success, promote college-going culture in rural areas, and support counselors and students at rural and small town schools.

The purpose of the group is to bring together professionals who support rural education and share knowledge of rural assets, challenges, and issues with one another.

All professionals committed to rural and small town student admission, matriculation, and success are welcome to join.
Peggy Jenkins of Palouse Pathways and Andew Moe of Swarthmore College lead the group.    

Some of my prior posts about rural kids and the college admission process are here.  One of the very best posts, based on an Eric Hoover piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, is here.   One of the more provocative posts is here.  

Rural hospital's maternity ward to close because too few staff vaccinated

Several news sources have reported out of Lowville, New York, in the past few days, that the hospital there will close its maternity ward and cease to deliver babies because too few nurses and staff are getting the coronavirus vaccine.  Here's a link to the story from the Washington Post, and here's a link to a story by Penn Live.  

An excerpt from the Washington Post story follows:

At least six unvaccinated maternity staffers at Lewis County General Hospital have resigned in recent days, and seven others remain undecided on whether to get vaccinated, Gerald Cayer, chief executive officer of the Lewis County Health System, said at a Friday news conference. The staff shortage will result in the hospital being “unable to safely staff” the maternity department beginning Sept. 25, he said.

“The number of resignations received leaves us no choice but to pause delivering babies at Lewis County General Hospital,” Cayer said. “It is my hope that the [New York State] Department of Health will work with us in pausing the service rather than closing the maternity department.”
Cayer said 165 hospital staffers, about 27 percent of the workforce, remain unvaccinated. Seventy-three percent of those unvaccinated staffers provide clinical services at the hospital.

The fragility of rural labor and delivery services at rural hospitals is not a new phenomenon, and it's been covered here on Legal Ruralism.   The issue attracted a lot of attention back in 2017, less more recently.  

Looking out for the rural disabled in the midst of natural disasters

The New York Times published a big story today on the challenges of protecting people with disabilities amidst natural disasters like the recent wildfires in California.  Amanda Morris reports from the Dixie Fire, including Plumas County.  

As wildfires burn with greater size and intensity across the American West, forcing thousands of people to evacuate their homes each year, communities in the danger zone are struggling to protect their disabled and older residents.

This is a particular problem in Northern California, where some of the biggest blazes are now burning, including the Dixie fire, the second largest in state history. The region is home to a significant population of people with disabilities — the percentage in the area is roughly twice the state average — many of whom live in largely rural areas that lack the critical infrastructure and resources needed to support them during disasters.
The Camp fire wiped out the town of Paradise in 2018, killing at least 85 people — the majority of whom were older or disabled, according to Butte County data. The next year, a state audit found that the county, which includes Paradise, had not adequately prepared to protect people with “access and functional needs,” and that the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services had not provided enough guidance to local officials about how to develop emergency plans for them.

Since then, a growing number of California communities have partnered with local disability organizations to develop better plans to alert, evacuate and shelter vulnerable populations. But plenty of weak spots remain, and officials acknowledge that many people could still find themselves in danger. 

Other posts about the Dixie Fire are here, and other posts about disability issues are here.   

Friday, September 10, 2021

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CLII): Why hillbillies don't get vaccinated

I want to highlight the condescension and rural lack of anonymity angles in this CNN segment with Elle Reeve out of Carter County, Missouri this week.  The subhead speaks of "Covid-19 ... moving through towns of unvaccinated Americans."  Here's an excerpt in which an area physician opines why some of his patients are vaccine skeptics.          

Dr Christopher Cochran, Ozarks Healthcare

I don’t want to ever give anybody an excuse for doing something like not getting vaccinated, but the reasons do hearken to someone who has, you know, been told that they're a dumb hillbilly all their lives by the rest of the country, and that is not, that's not an excuse, but it's part of the reason. I don't know that we're oppressed or disenfranchised, and I don't know if we deserve to even feel that way here, but we are a fly over state.

In a social situation where peer pressure is so hard, we've had a lot of trouble to try to get people vaccinated to break out of that peer group is very hard for people.   

That reminds me of how coastal elites have so often condescended to rural Americans, as I documented here.  

The CNN interview continues with a discussion that suggests some residents are being vaccinated in secret because they are feeling so much local peer pressure not to be vaccinated:  

Elle Reeve

Has anyone wanted to get vaccinated in secret?

Dr Christopher Cochran, Ozarks Healthcare

Well, yeah, absolutely.

Elle Reeve

Tell me what they say.

Dr Christopher Cochran, Ozarks Healthcare

When they’re in my office and they say “I don't want to get vaccinated and this is why,” and it's usually, at the very best, a specious reason or fallacious reason.

We have set up things where we can sneak one in your arm wherever you need to do it, because that's our goal.

Elle Reeve

It's hard, but it's not impossible. The Health Center said more people in Van Buren got the vaccine after two local kids in their 20s were hospitalized with COVID earlier this summer.

Last year we. Talked to Brian, he was pretty cavalier about COVID.

Brian [Footage from 2020]

I guess if I get it and it kills me then it's slow walking and sad singing for the family.

Elle Reeve

What would you put on your tombstone?


“Didn't wear a mask.”

Elle Reeve

It took some convincing, but he agreed to talk to us again and tell us what's happened since.

Brian [Footage from 2021]

No one feels like they can trust our government. It’s not my fault no one’s wearing their mask. It’s not my fault no one’s taking the vaccine. It’s the government’s fault.

Elle Reeve

Did you get the vaccine?



Elle Reeve

Please Brian...


[Holding back a laugh]

Elle Reeve

Did you get the vaccine?


It doesn't matter whether I got vaccinated or not, whether I did or didn’t. Corona doesn't care whether you're – who you are. Whether you think you’re a big tough guy or whatever. It doesn't matter whether you’re...anything. It doesn’t matter. If you get it, it can kill you. I don’t want my wife to have to wonder when they put you in a medical induced coma and stick a tube down your throat, “Is he going to come back?”

That's why I got a vaccine.

Earlier in the story, one man interviewed said he won't get vaccinated because the vaccine was withheld from "my president," as if this withholding was an effort to kill Trump.  The assertion is, of course, also untrue, as Trump got the vaccine. 

Carter County, population 5,202, is in southeast Missouri, near the state's bootheel.    

And that brings to the vaccine rate in my home county, Newton County, Arkansas, at the other end of the Ozarks, where the vaccination rate has crept up, over the past two months, from 23% to 27%. 

Earlier posts about what is happening with coronavirus in the Ozarks are here (also talking about rural lack of anonymity), here, and here.

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CXXXIV): Crime in the Buffalo National River

Two stories of crime in the Buffalo National River Park caught my eye in several editions of the Newton County Times, my hometown weekly newspaper.  They are both dateline Fort Smith, where the federal court for the western district of Arkansas sits.  

This is from the August 9, 2021 issue under the headline, "Two Arkansas men plead guilty to damaging historic mines in Buffalo National River."  The subhead notes that the men sold what they got from the mines at a "rock shop" in Alpena, which straddles neighboring Boone and Carroll counties.  Note how long it took for this case to get to court--the men were first observed by a park ranger more than five years earlier:  

Two men pleaded guilty last week to felony violations of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, in connection with their illegal excavations of archaeological sites in the Historic Rush Mining District of Buffalo National River, and the sale of stolen geological and mineral specimens at a store in Alpena. U.S. District Judge P.K. Holmes III presided over the July 27 change-of-plea hearings, in which Nathan Bradford LeMay, 35, of Hot Springs Village, and Justin Charles Baird, 32, of Hot Springs, each pleaded guilty to the first count of the three-count indictment in which both were named.

According to court documents, on multiple occasions in 2015 and 2016, LeMay and Baird traveled to the Historic Rush Mining District, in Marion County, Arkansas, to dig for mineral and geological specimens to sell at LeMay’s business, Alpena Crystals. The pair’s plans went awry on Feb. 14, 2016, when a U.S. Park Ranger observed them camped in Buffalo National River, which is a United States National Park.

Noticing evidence of their excavations, the Ranger obtained consent to search their campsite and vehicles, recovering digging tools and containers of geological specimens. Two days later, officers were sent to several mines in the area to assess whether or not they had been entered. The Monte Cristo Mine, a gated, locked and controlled mine along Clabber Creek, was observed to have been broken into. Trash, water bottles and other items were located both just inside and outside this mine. On the Rush Creek side of the same mountain, drag marks in high grass, from the Morning Star/Ben Carney Mine, down to Rush Creek and the parking lot, indicated large heavy objects had been dragged down the mountain to the parking area.

A subsequent investigation by the National Park Service, assisted by local law enforcement and the Carroll County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, established the full extent of the pair’s illegal excavations. LeMay and Baird had excavated and damaged 22 areas within those mines, removing mineral and geological materials, and damaging the historic sites—which add to the knowledge of the mining community in the Ozarks as the industry transitioned from crude mining techniques to modern methods. Dr. Caven Clark, an archaeologist with the National Park Service, now retired, conducted a resource damage assessment, determining that the cost of restoration and repair to the site was approximately $22,241.

Both men were indicted by a federal grand jury in March 2020. In addition to violation of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, which prohibits excavating, damaging, altering and defacing archaeological sites and resources, both men were also charged with theft of U.S. property and damage to government property. ...  Before the [two defendants] announced their intentions to plead guilty, the case had been scheduled to be tried beginning on July 26.

As a result of their guilty pleas both LeMay and Baird face up to two years in prison and fines of up to $250,000. Additionally, both men have agreed to pay $22,241 in restitution as a shared obligation.

The earlier story is from May 10, 2021.  The headline is "Man sentenced for setting fire within BNR."  Here's an excerpt: 

A Harrison man was sentenced on May 5, to five years in prison followed by three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $12,494.14 in restitution on one count of willfully and without authority and consent of the united states set on fire timber, underbrush, grass and other inflammable material upon a public domain within the Buffalo National River. The Honorable US District Judge P.K. Holmes, III, presided over the sentencing hearing in the United States District Court in Fort Smith. 
According to court documents, In March 2020, Jacob Edward Walls, 29, was indicted by a federal grand jury, of setting a wildland fire within Buffalo National River, in Newton County, near Pruitt, on Feb. 5, 2019. Federal investigators determined Walls set a fire within the park, which threatened nearby private structures and lands, and subsequently fled the area. 

The Newton County Sheriff's office assisted federal authorities in the case.  

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Big NYT Magazine feature on rural schools: out of sight, out of mind

Casey Parks, who has just joined the Washington Post, gets credit for this deeply reported story out of the Mississippi Delta.  The story appears in the Education issue of the magazine, and its headline is "The Tragedy of America's Rural Schools."  Many may see the word "tragedy" as an overstatement, but I'd argue it is not hyperbole with respect to many rural schools, including those in high-poverty and persistent poverty counties like Holmes County, Mississippi, where this story is set.  Holmes County's poverty rate is 33.8%.

The story centers Harvey Ellington, a high school senior in Holmes County, but the following excerpt focuses not on that compelling personal narrative, but rather on the funding schemes that undermine rural schools--and therefore rural students:  

Mississippi’s Department of Education doesn’t have any staff members dedicated to rural issues, and its most recent strategic plan doesn’t even include the word rural. But in 2016, when Ellington was in middle school, Republican lawmakers concluded that the best way to bolster Holmes was to consolidate it with Durant Public Schools, an even smaller and equally poor district 12 miles east, so that the districts could pool their resources.

Leaders from Holmes and Durant begged state lawmakers to consider alternatives. Several states have tried consolidation, and studies have consistently found that forced mergers rarely save much money and often don’t boost student achievement. What Holmes and Durant needed, their leaders said, was more money from the state.

Mississippi lawmakers have long known that rural districts can’t compete with wealthier suburban schools. In 1994, legislators even rolled out a new funding model designed to increase rural districts’ budgets. But the state has only fully funded the law three times in the last three decades, and leaders from Durant and Holmes argued that the shortfall had left both districts in a bind.

The story is worth a read in its entirety, not least because of the compelling cast of characters, including Ellington.  

I have written a great deal over the years about rural school consolidation (a lot of it based on events in my home county in the Arkansas Ozarks), and a bit about school funding.  

My recent academic work about rural school deficits, with Diana Flores, analyzes the situation, through the dual lenses of race/ethnicity and socioeconomic class, in New Mexico.   

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

On the rural-urban divide for Afghan women

Anand Gopal reports for The New Yorker Magazine under the headline, "The Other Afghan Women."  The subhead is more revealing, "In the countryside, the endless killing of civilians turned women against the occupiers who claimed to be helping them."

A village woman named Shakira is the center of Gopal's narrative, but here's an excerpt that encapsulates the overarching point the journalist seems to be making:  

This summer, I travelled to rural Afghanistan to meet women who were already living under the Taliban, to listen to what they thought about this looming dilemma. More than seventy per cent of Afghans do not live in cities, and in the past decade the insurgent group had swallowed large swaths of the countryside. Unlike in relatively liberal Kabul, visiting women in these hinterlands is not easy: even without Taliban rule, women traditionally do not speak to unrelated men. Public and private worlds are sharply divided, and when a woman leaves her home she maintains a cocoon of seclusion through the burqa, which predates the Taliban by centuries. Girls essentially disappear into their homes at puberty, emerging only as grandmothers, if ever. It was through grandmothers—finding each by referral, and speaking to many without seeing their faces—that I was able to meet dozens of women, of all ages.

* * *

I sampled a dozen households at random in the village, and made similar inquiries in other villages, to insure that Pan Killay was no outlier. For each family, I documented the names of the dead, cross-checking cases with death certificates and eyewitness testimony. On average, I found, each family lost ten to twelve civilians in what locals call the American War.

This scale of suffering was unknown in a bustling metropolis like Kabul, where citizens enjoyed relative security. But in countryside enclaves like Sangin the ceaseless killings of civilians led many Afghans to gravitate toward the Taliban.

As you can see, Gopal is focused on misbehavior by the U.S. military, and how that misbehavior --or at least the collateral damage of the military--disproportionately impacted rural Afghans these past two decades.  

Postscript:  This Twitter thread, captured on Sept. 11, 2021, provides a different perspective on Gopal's article.  Heather Barr, the author/tweeter, is Associate Director, Women's Right's Division, Human Rights Watch.  Her bio says she is a former Afghanistan researcher.  

And here's a second commentator on Gopal's piece, and Barr's commentary on it.  
Azmat Khan's bio says she is an investigative reporter and associated with the Columbia Journalism School.  

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Gold Country Republicans expect Newsom to cheat in California recall election

Republicans in Sierra-Nevada foothills--sometimes called the Motherlode or the Gold Country--are articulating  skepticism about whether the Gubernatorial Recall election a week from today will be on the up-and-up.  Hailey Branson-Potts brings us the story for the Los Angeles Times, dateline Sutter Creek, in Amador County.  Here's a quote from Ed Brown, 67, whose trailer of pro-Recall and pro-Trump merchandise sits off "Gold Chain Road," apparently a reference to famed Highway 49, named for the 49'ers.

“They’ll probably do something to cheat,” Brown said of Newsom’s supporters, adding that he will vote for Larry Elder because “he’s more like Trump; he’s for the people.”

Tomi Lahren has been on Fox News similarly alleging election shenanigans in the upcoming recall.  

“Yes, Gavin Newsom has raised a whole lot of money from teachers unions and special interests and tech, but that money is not going to save him,” said Lahren. “The only thing that will save Gavin Newsom is voter fraud, so as they say: Stay woke. Pay attention to the voter fraud going on in California because it’s going to have big consequences not only for that state but for upcoming elections.”

Washington Post columnist Erik Wemple linked Lahren's claim to Trump and the 2016 election;   

The idiocy of this claim dates back almost five years, at least. Though Donald Trump in the 2016 election won the electoral college vote, he lost the popular vote, a shortcoming that quite clearly anguished him. “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” Trump wrote on Twitter, also alleging that there was “serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California.”

Also responding to Lahren's claim, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter noted on Twitter that it'll just be simple math if Newsom survives the recall.  After all, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans 2 to 1 in the Golden State. 

Branson-Potts' story out of Sutter Creek also features the Amador County Republican Party chair, Vince Destigter, who say 

the recall has channeled rural voters’ deep-seated anger at the state’s liberal politicians and at institutions such as public schools and the news media, which they claim give them the short shrift.

“We have to be real sure that you understand: We don’t like your newspaper,” Destigter told a Los Angeles Times reporter at a diner in Jackson last week. He said he screams at the news: “Come on, you guys have no concept of what we do up here!”

I must say I think there's some truth to that--that urban folks, including politicians in Sacramento, don't much understand what rural folks do, in California or elsewhere.  

Destigter, 79, of Pioneer said people here are an independent lot who “don’t like the government running our lives.”

Elsewhere in the story, Destigter reports that he's vaccinated.  He also opines on other issues driving the California recall:  

Recall supporters, Destigter said, blame Democrats for forest management policies that they believe have made wildfires more destructive.

“There are many — I’m sorry, but they’re liberals — they don’t believe in cutting trees,” he said.

Destigter voted for Elder and dropped his ballot off at a drop box instead of mailing it.

“We’re very fussy about that,” he said. “We believe that there were a lot of shenanigans done with the voting” in the presidential election.

Finally, the story features details of how folks in neighboring El Dorado County, also Republican leaning, are voting amidst the Caldor Fire.  

Postscript:  Within a few days of this Los Angeles Times story, allegations of (anticipated) voter fraud were showing up in other national news fora, with the allegations being made by Larry Elder and Donald Trump.  And they allegations weren't just coming from rural California.  Read stories here, here, here, and here.  

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CLI): Rural California schools, with low vaccination rates and high infection rates, bearing brunt of COVID closures this fall

Ed Source reports about school closures in rural California, where closures are proving more disruptive and common than in urban areas.  Last fall, it was just the opposite, as many rural schools opened with precautions, as reported here, and metro schools educated almost exclusively online.  

Here's an excerpt from Diana Lambert's story, which focuses on schools in Lassen County and its seat, Susanville.

This week, at least five schools were closed to tamp down high Covid infection rates, with more planning to close next week. Others are waiting to see if the Labor Day weekend will reduce the Covid rates on their campuses, according to Patricia Gunderson, Lassen County superintendent of schools.

This situation is the reverse of what happened last year, when most urban and suburban school campuses were closed and many rural schools remained opened for in-person instruction amid low Covid rates. This year, with Covid rates and teacher shortages worse in rural communities, these schools are struggling to stay open.

Complicating matters more is the requirement that quarantined students no longer have the option of distance learning. Instead, they are required to enroll in independent study, which comes with a list of requirements rural districts are having trouble meeting.
* * *
High infection rates among school staff are keeping neighboring Diamond View Middle School from opening until Tuesday, according to an announcement from the Susanville School District. The school has about 330 students.

“With almost 50% of our staff affected and a severe shortage in available substitutes, we cannot open safely at this time,” it states.

In Lassen County, about 6% of its 3,800 students are being quarantined. The county has the highest Covid infection rates it has ever had and a 30% vaccination rate, Superintendent Gunderson said.

“Everybody is in the same boat and with contact tracing. It’s crazy,” Gunderson said. “We thought we were in pretty good shape to handle it because we handled it last year.”

Gunderson said district officials are pleading with families to keep students home if they are sick. Some students have returned to school with symptoms they attributed to allergies or to the smoke from wildfires, but later found out they were Covid-related.

Lambert's story also mentions school closures in Shasta, Tuolomne, and Tehama counties, and it acknowledges the disruption of the Dixie Fire on life in Lassen County

Earlier stories about rural schools in the era of COVID are here and hereThis recent Sacramento Bee story discusses the closure of a school in Sutter County, just north of Sacramento, because of a COVID outbreak.

Here's a recent Washington Post story contrasting rural and urban schools' handling of the pandemic.  The rural school is in Clarion, Pennsylvania, and the urban one is Alexandria, Virginia.  

Postscript:  Here's a September 16, 2021 Fresno Bee story by Ashleigh Panoo about a contentious meeting of the Yosemite School Board in Oakhurst, California.  Because some parents refused to wear masks at the regular Monday meeting, the meeting re-adjourned on Wednesday night in the football stadium.   

Monday, September 6, 2021

Seen in the foothills (Part IV): After the Caldor Fire

Looking northeast across the Middle Fork of the
Cosumnes River gulch, El Dorado County, California,
where the Caldor Fire started on August 14, 2021

My family owns property in El Dorado County, California--and that property happens to be about four miles from where the Caldor Fire started more than three weeks ago in the gulch of the Middle Fork of the Cosumnes River.  For most of the time the fire has been active, it has burned in an easterly and northerly direction, away from my property.  Most recently it threatened the town of South Lake Tahoe, perhaps 80 miles away by road, but not that far as the crow flies and and as the fire has burned.  

Though the more immediate threat has been to points north and east--the tiny town of Grizzly Flats was leveled a few days after the fire started--my family's property was nevertheless under a mandatory evacuation order until three days ago.  Today we went up to see the lay of the land, knowing based on the fire and containment maps that we've followed closely every day for weeks that the fire was stopped by a dozer line at the top of the ridge behind our cabin, less than a mile from our property.  Sure enough, our property--and indeed all of our views--were entirely unscathed.    

FairPlay Road, Somerset, September 6, 2021

Our property is in the wine-producing region of FairPlay, a subset or community within the area known as Somerset (that's where the nearest post office is).  All along the road on the way there we saw many signs thanking firefighters and "LEOs," which we ultimately deduced stood for "Law Enforcement Officers."  One sign said "Firefighters and Law Enforcement," but another just said "Firefighters and Law," which you can see above.  Given that rural folks like my El Dorado County neighbors have a reputation for antipathy to the state and thus to the law, I found that an interesting abbreviation in that it seems to mislead. It also highlights the difference between "law," which is kinda' abstract--and law enforcement--real live folks who help, especially in times of crises like wildfires.    

FairPlay Road, Mt. Aukum, California, Sept. 6, 2021
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2021

We also saw many FairPlay properties with signs signaling to fire fighters that ponds or water storage tanks were available to fight the fire, should it reach those properties.  When we built our off-the-grid cabin in FairPlay in 2010, the county required us to include a 5000 gallon storage tank for just this purpose.  Needless to say, no fire hydrants nearby. 

Slug Gulch Road, Somerset, California
looking north across canyon Middle Fork of Cosumnes
where Caldor Fire started August 14, 2021

I also took some photos of the area where the fire started, on the south side of the Middle Fork of the Cosumnes, like the one above.  We saw several homes saved (like the one in the top photo), though the fire had burned right up to the structures.  A lot of coverage of these fires has indicated a focus on saving structures, a strategy that has largely been successful, including in Christmas Valley, where Highway 89 meets Highway 50 in the Lake Tahoe Basin.  No homes were lost as the fire blazed down Echo Pass and to that community a week ago.     

Mt. Aukum Road/E16
near Gray's Corner, at FairPlay Road

All photos (c) Lisa R. Pruitt, Sept. 6, 2021.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CL): The most rural communities in California's Central Valley are giving up, drying up in the face of unprecedented hardship

This Priscella Vega piece in the Los Angeles Times is one of the most extraordinary and distinctive features I've read in a very long time.  As if the cities of California's Great Central Valley--Fresno, Modesto, Merced, Stockton, Visalia, Bakersfield--aren't challenging enough places to live and work, this story goes deeper into the truly rural reaches of Fresno County, population 1 million.  The dateline is Three Rocks, population 246.  Dominated by Fresno City, population 542,000, the fifth largest city in the state, Fresno County covers more than 6000 square miles, including some very remote places with few services.  Many of these communities are unincorporated.  The story suggests that even undocumented migrant workers are fed up with the deprivations of the most remote parts of California's Central Valley.  

For decades, farm labor has kept unincorporated communities alive throughout the Central Valley. But the drought is making it hard to stay. The dearth of essential resources — clean water, adequate housing and fair employment wages — has crippled towns that are easily overlooked and triggered a slow exodus to bigger places.

It can be seen in the dwindling number of people attending nonprofit-led workshops and meetings on agricultural worker rights, said Chucho Mendoza, an environmental and public health advocate who has worked with migrants and small farming families in the Central Valley for 25 years. The pandemic further hollowed out rural life.

In the Cantua Creek area, where pistachio and almond crops reign, some families are grappling with what’s next. Faced with a confluence of challenges, some are leaving; others are arguing over whether they should. Still others are determined to make it work here.

“They don’t know what to pinpoint but they’ll say, ‘We know something is wrong, but we don’t know what it is,’” Mendoza said. “Those who leave move to the next town but don’t realize hell is a lot bigger.”

Don't miss out on the entire story, which challenges so many assumptions we make about immigrant workers and what they are willing to tolerate just to be in America.    

Another major theme is loneliness and isolation as rural places--to use a term from my own upbringing--dry up and blow away.  

A Sacramento Bee story from this weekend about the impact of the drought on an almond farmer in Fresno County is here.   Another Los Angeles Times story about the drought, this one out of Needles in southeastern California, is here.  

Saturday, September 4, 2021

A ruse to ship Montana/Wyoming coal to China, via scenic rural northern California?

The Lost Coast Outpost reports here under the headline, "Aiming to Ship Coal Out of Humboldt Bay, Shadowy Corporation Makes Bid to Take Over NCRA Line."  Here's an excerpt from the story by Ryan Burns: 

Unidentified coal companies appear to be behind a new backdoor effort to acquire the North Coast Railroad Authority’s right-of-way between Eureka and Willits and rehabilitate the defunct railroad, all so they can export coal to Asian markets via the Port of Humboldt Bay.

State Senator Mike McGuire calls this development “one of the largest environmental threats to hit the North Coast in decades.”

On Aug. 16, a mysterious, newly formed corporation called North Coast Railroad Company, LLC, filed a pleading with the Surface Transportation Board. Ostensibly a proposal to submit an “Offer of Financial Assistance” to rebuild the line, the filing makes a number of surprising claims.

For one, the 14-page filing, submitted by a pair of Chicago attorneys, says NCRCo. is “capitalized to the tune of $1.2 billion” and has “thoroughly-developed plans” to acquire and rehabilitate the dilapidated rail line between Humboldt Bay and Willits. Once complete, the company says, this newly reconstructed railroad will move “high-volume shipments” between the San Francisco Bay Area and Humboldt Bay.

The document does not disclose what these “high-volume shipments” might contain. Nor does it identify anyone involved with the corporation.

The pleading prompted an incredulous response from the North Coast Rail Authority (NCRA), the state agency that spent 30 years trying to resuscitate that same stretch of railroad but is now, under McGuire’s leadership, working to develop the Great Redwood Trail, a multi-use pathway extending 320 miles along the agency’s right-of-way.

NCRCo., the opaque corporate entity, appears to be trying to derail this rails-to-trail effort by submitting a last-minute “Offer of Financial Assistance” (OFA) to rebuild the line. Federal law holds that the Surface Transportation Board must give priority to maintaining or restoring a rail line wherever possible.

This story first came to my attention last night when California State Senator Mike McGuire tweeted about it.  He represents northern coastal California, from Sonoma to Del Norte counties.  You can sign a petition against the coal train project here.

The anonymous trickery here reminds me of the use of limited liability corporations LLCs to protect the owners of  concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) from liability for industrial agriculture pollution.