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Wildlife refuges suffer budget woes

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Rockies Today

November 20 · Issue #39 · View online
The big stories up and down the Rocky Mountains, curated by Mountain West News

Wildlife refuges suffer budget woes
Reporting from the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley, High Country News’s Helen Santoro shows how the key mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System—to protect and restore wildlife habitat—may be falling by the wayside.
Wildlife refuges suffer under budget cuts and staff shortages Wildlife refuges suffer under budget cuts and staff shortages
On a sunny, early-October afternoon, a cacophony of birdsong — the staccato chirp of the Song Sparrow against the loud whistle of the European Starling — could be heard throughout the 2,800-acre Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. A group of visitors sat on descending rows of stairs, shaped like an open-air theater, as they watched trumpeter swans glide across the shimmering pond.
While budget and staff cuts may not diminish this experience, they do dampen scientists’ understanding of the local avian population, which includes some 240 species of migratory birds. Deborah Goslin, the refuge’s former biological technician, used to spend her days surveying the migrations of waterfowl, raptor and shorebirds and studying their responses to floods, wildfire burns and other environmental changes.
Goslin was let go, however, and now no one is doing that work. These days, the refuge leans heavily on volunteers, especially for less specialized tasks, such as running the environmental education program or staffing the visitor center. But even with that help, the visitor center is closed many days due to insufficient staffing. “There’s so much information right behind that door,” said volunteer Richard Davis, “and it’s not even available.”
The Trump administration’s budget cuts are hitting all the public-land agencies. But the National Wildlife Refuge System has been struggling for years, never receiving the funding and recognition that it needs, said Geoff Haskett, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, a nonprofit based in D.C. “I don’t think it’s a Democrat or Republican thing,” he said. He suspects that some of the Refuge System’s woes stem from its lack of visibility compared to, say, national parks. But despite these challenges, said Haskett, keeping refuges working remains crucial. Not only do they protect some of the country’s most iconic ecosystems and wildlife, refuges allow the public to connect with the nature around them.
More goings on relating to public lands:
Senate committee advances LWCF, national parks funding
Internal email lays out BLM goals—including heading West
Westward heave-ho: How a federal agency’s move to Colorado threatens public lands, science and the climate
Committee approves wilderness bills in heated markup
The Colorado Wilderness Act moves forward, and demonstrates the congressional partisan divide
Senate committee to discuss programs helping fund rural roads, schools
Utah fails well-check
Auditors lambaste Utah’s environmental and safety oversight of oil and gas wells Auditors lambaste Utah’s environmental and safety oversight of oil and gas wells
More energy news:
Bill to overhaul Wyoming net metering rule fails after massive public pushback
Climate, water effects of Montana coal mine expansion ignored, groups say
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon testifies for Clean Water Act reform in D.C.
Suncor, Exxon urge 10th Circuit to eject climate case from Colorado court
Colorado oil and gas regulators could soon decide whether to make maps of pipelines public
Guest opinion: Idaho, Wyoming utilities embrace clean energy; Montana lags behind
Layoffs at Montana's largest newspaper
Billings Gazette newsroom layoffs mirror nationwide trend Billings Gazette newsroom layoffs mirror nationwide trend
The Billings Gazette laid off three people from their newsroom earlier this month. The latest string of cutbacks in Billings mirror widespread newsroom layoffs in Montana and across the nation.
The Billings Gazette gave former copy editor Steven Funk one week notice before he was laid off.
“Mine’s an empty desk, there’s another empty desk at sports,” Funk said. “And if you’ve looked at the paper recently it’s like halved in size recently, have you noticed that? So Local got bumped into mixed in with Nation and, I don’t know, it’s a huge reduction.”
At the same time the Gazette announced the layoffs, the paper also cut 50 pages a week, which Funk said shocked him.
“If it were my paper I would want to focus more on local content,” Funk said. “I would want to cut out some Nation and World because we live in a society where most people are getting that through their smartphones anyways. The news that’s really hard for them to get is local reporting, local investigative stories.”
An editorial published by the Gazette on November 10 addresses changes to the print version of the paper. Editor Darrell Ehrlick wrote that shifts in advertising and media more broadly led to a reduction in the amount of the paper’s pages. The editorial did not address staff layoffs.
Ehrlick declined to comment for this story.
Steven Funk said Ehrlick is the last person he would “throw under the bus” for cutbacks at the Gazette.
“Of course people are at fault. There would never be one person at fault,” Funk said.
The Casper News Guild, a journalism union based in Wyoming, placed blame for the cutbacks on executive leadership at Lee Enterprises, which owns newspapers nationwide, including the Billings Gazette and Casper Star Tribune. In a statement released November 12 the guild says Lee executives should look at cutting their own salaries and bonuses before making cuts in their newspapers to make up for falling revenue.
The joint statement released by the Casper News Guild and two other journalism unions points out Lee Chairman Mary Junck received a $391,000 bonus last year, more than the entire Casper union’s salary.
Meanwhile…
The precarious state of local news giants
'What do I have to run from?'
Colorado immigrants face difficult decision when considering entering sanctuary Colorado immigrants face difficult decision when considering entering sanctuary
The night before his November 13 check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Jorge Zaldivar faced an agonizing choice: go to the check-in and risk being detained and eventually deported, or enter sanctuary in a local church.
“We had discussed the idea and had everything in place for it,” says Zaldivar’s wife, Christina, about Jorge considering entering sanctuary in a Denver church. “But because he has nothing to run from, he just keeps thinking in the positive. ‘The law is supposed to work. What do I have to run from?’”
Zaldivar decided, as he had many times before, to go to his check-in. Every time he had gone in the past, he was allowed to leave. However, on November 13, ICE, which declined to comment for this story, detained him.
Zaldivar is now in ICE custody at the Aurora immigrant detention facility, which is run by the private prison company GEO Group, and awaiting possible deportation.
Originally from Mexico, Zaldivar is undocumented. Because he’s married to a U.S. citizen, in theory he has an obvious path toward gaining the right to stay in the U.S.
But in the convoluted immigration process for America’s ten million-plus undocumented residents, nothing is a sure bet.
Meanwhile…
ACLU of Colorado sues prison company over death at Aurora ICE detention facility
Mental health in the oil patch
Alberta documentary sheds light on men in the oilpatch and suicides Alberta documentary sheds light on men in the oilpatch and suicides
The trailer:
DIGGING IN THE DIRT - 2 Minute Trailer on Vimeo
A Q&A with one of the film’s subjects:
‘Boys don’t cry’: Q&A with Alberta oil patch worker on industry’s mental health crisis
What else we're reading today
Wind River tribes defend ICWA against renewed legal challenges
A new book investigates B.C.'s missing Native women
Company must pay Idaho tribe for toxic waste
Colorado ranchers have beef with lab-grown and plant-based 'meat'—and they want well-done labeling
Wyoming’s other bears finally getting a count
Groups sue to stop bull trout plan
Lawsuit targets Wildlife Services for killing native species in Montana
Trudeau won the election, but hasn’t won over western Canada
Rockies Today is edited by Matthew Frank, Fellow in Regional Journalism at the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana.
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O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, 59812