Friday, January 20, 2012

More homeless in rural areas, fewer in metro areas

Agencies and shelters in rural areas are can't keep up with increasing numbers of homeless, as $1.5 billion in stimulus money for the national Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program runs out, reports Rob Schultz of the LaCrosse Tribune in Wisconsin. The number of rural homeless "using suburban and rural programs" rose 57 percent from 2007 to 2010, while the number in urban areas dropped 17 percent, Schultz writes. Rural homeless live "out of plain sight, often doubling or tripling up with others in small apartments or homes." Some live in cars, motels or stay outside no matter the weather.

Three rural counties in Wisconsin had the largest growth of homeless families and another the largest growth of chronic homelessness in the state in 2010, Schultz reports. The state received $17 million in stimulus money, which was earmarked mostly for rural areas. Jean Sewell, who works with the Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program, said the money helped slow the problem by buying hotel rooms, security deposits and a month's rent to "get homeless people back on track." But now, the agency is trying to stretch $50,000 it received from another federal program. Homelessness prevention programs are also losing money from county governments.

Private agencies and charities are trying to pick up the slack, such as the church-run Family Promise, part of the Interfaith Hospitality Networks that serves areas in 41 states. The program allows homeless families to live in churches for a week while volunteers cook meals, grocery shop and drive children to school. While kids are at school, parents look for jobs. Families complete the program in 70 days. (Read more) For the latest national report on homelessness, with state-by-state breakdowns, click here.

States working on agreement to spur decisions on location of new electrical transmission lines

State and federal leaders are drafting an agreement that would "create regionally uniform standards for transmitting electricity" and hope to have it ready for legislative review next year. reports Jim Malewitz of Stateline. Stakeholders' competing interests make transmission line siting across state lines difficult, making developers reluctant to invest.

An agreement would solve the problem of varying state transmission rules that often prevent energy from being sent where it's most needed, a process that will touch many rural residents where lines are proposed. In October, a federal interagency team chose seven transmission siting pilot projects to cross 12 states that it hopes to expedite.

Previous attempts at a compact have largely failed, and a successful one would "be a boon" for states with undeveloped renewable energy generating capacity, Stateline reports. Crady deGolian of the National Center for Interstate Compacts said he expects legislatures in Western and Midwestern states to be most interested in the legal contract. (Read more)

Center looks at Latino farmers in Kansas, Nebraska

The number of Hispanic and Latino farmers in Nebraska and Missouri is declining, and the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs is trying to find the reasons. Its first report gives a snapshot of Hispanic and Latino farmers in both states, and the second discusses possible barriers faced when starting, developing or sustaining farming or ranching businesses. More reports are forthcoming.

In both states, Latinos are more likely to own or operate small farms. Jon Baily discovered that in both states, farming is not the primary income source for Latinos. Latino-owned farms in Missouri are smaller than those in Nebraska, but Nebraska farms are still in the smallest farm-size category. More Latino farmers in Missouri fully own their farms than those in Nebraska, who only co-own.

Rafael Martinez-Feria, who wrote about barriers and challenges for Hispanic and Latino farmers, said the purpose of the study is to "reach out" to them, learn about the barriers and explore their relationships with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, emphasizing access to USDA programs. He identifies some barriers as limited access to land, machinery and equipment and limited economic resilience, financial literacy and education. (Read more)

Plains towns offer free land if you will move there

An old tactic is being championed in the Midwest and Great Plains for economic and community development. Under what is being called "the mini-Homestead Act," rural places are offering free land to people willing to move to their community, and the idea is gaining popularity, reports the Center for Rural Affairs. The main concept behind this throwback to the 19th Century is: "We have a great town in which to live." (Photo: 10/11 News, Nebraska)

Communities provide land for home building, schools and amenities; job-hunting is left up to newcomers. The Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska has been studying the success of such programs. Several places in Kansas have capitalized on this idea. In Ellsworth, four of 10 available lots were given away, and 20 families got down-payment assistance for existing housing. Almost all 80 lots available in Marquette, Kan., were given away and 27 of 33 were claimed in Minneapolis, Kan. Most new homesteaders have either lived in these places before, traveled there or have family ties to the area.

Most move to these communities because they are looking for a "simpler pace of life, less congestion, lower cost housing and cost of living, and being closer to family and relatives," the Center for Rural Affairs reports. The center provides a FAQ page on its website with a list of resources for communities interested in the method and several local news stories about the trend. A list of other states where this has been successful, including contact information, is also available. (Read more)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Politics aside, Nebraska agricultural interests were the key in delaying proposed tar-sands pipeline

Republicans charged that President Obama, in denying a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline to send Alberta tar sands to the Gulf coast, is "favoring radical environmental interests over a project they said would provide thousands of jobs and bolster domestic energy security," reports Cody Winchester of the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls. Obama said there was not enough time to review the project's new route within congressional Republicans' "arbitrary" 60-day deadline, which they imposed after Obama earlier deferred a decision until after the November election. And the national political debate obscures the fact that last year Nebraska lawmakers, farmers and ranchers forced Trans-Canada to re-route the pipeline around the state's ecologically sensitive Sandhills region and the Ogallala Aquifer, the lifeblood of agriculture in the relatively arid Great Plains.
TransCanada said it would reapply for a permit for the new route. That will trigger a new review process and environmental impact statement for the entire route. Assistant Secretary of State Kerri-Ann Jones told Winchester the new application would not be expedited, but the agency can use information from the first review in the new one. The department advised Obama to deny the permit.

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard told Winchester the denial was "disappointing on many levels," but mostly because the state needs the project's jobs to help it recover from the recession. A mile of the pipeline would have crossed rancher Zona Vig's land. "This is looking at the whole state, the whole country -- every creek and every dam and every well that would be affected," she said. (Read more)

Native American activists have played a major role in protesting the pipeline, reports Rob Capriccioso of Indian Country Media Network, and some say they are preparing to continue protesting. They have said the pipeline would threaten the health and culture of Native peoples and that the government has not consulted them about the project. Lakota Sioux activist Debra White Plume told Capriccioso the denial is a temporary victory. "The oil industry will not give up its attempt to get their weapon of mass destruction approved for entry to this country. We must keep fighting, we must fight harder. If we say this is our Treaty Territory, we must be ready to defend it." Pat Spears, president of Intertribal COUP (Council on Utility Policy), said Native Americans should ask for more detailed risk analysis of economic and environmental issues for all people affected by the pipeline.

The Washington Post detailed the President's decision to deny the project, and The Houston Chronicle reported that Congressional supporters of the pipeline are "exploring legislation" that would let Congress or an independent federal agency reverse the denial and approve the permit.

Colo. farmers deplete aquifers, turn to surface streams amid drought; will pay more for water

Drought has forced large-scale commercial farmers in southern Colorado's scenic San Luis Valley to pull groundwater through center-point irrigation systems, but pumping has depleted aquifers by more than 1 million acre-feet since 1976 and has started to affect surface streams, which are strained because of drought. Plans to reduce aquifer irrigation by 30,000 acre-feet a year must be in place by May to avoid well shutdowns, reports Bruce Finley of The Denver Post. (Finley photo)
Farmers have proposed buying surface-water rights to offset aquifer pumping, and while water may be conserved, the increased cost may remove 80,000 acres of farmland from production. This will be an economic blow to the area, where there's a 38 percent child poverty rate, Finley reports. Surface-water rights fees will likely increase from $45 an acre to $75, making an irrigated crop circle cost as much as $20,000. Brian Neufeld, a potato farmer, said this could mean layoffs, fewer employees and less crop production. Some think this starts the decline of their farms.

The farms lie in the upper Rio Grande River watershed. An interstate compact restricts water withdrawals from the river and its tributaries. Texas and New Mexico have sued Colorado in the past for drawing too much. Enforcement of the compact has tightened because of massive drought in those states. Steve Vandiver, manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, said it's time for commercial farms "to pay for the impacts they are causing to the river." (Read more)

Army has destroyed 90 percent of chemical weapons, stored mainly in remote rural areas

The U.S. Army came one step closer yesterday to destroying its stockpile of 20th Century chemical weapons, stored mostly in remote rural areas. After a two-hour process in which 23 projectiles filled with mustard agent were stripped of the agent's ability to blister skin and attack the respiratory system, the last of the "hard weapons" at the Deseret Chemical Depot near Tooele, Utah were destroyed. The facility once housed the Army's largest supply of chemical weapons, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The U.S. signed a treaty to dispose of its chemical weapons by April 29, 2012, but is expected to get waivers for missing that deadline, and the U.S. is farther along in this task than some other treaty signers, including Russia. The Army has destroyed about 90 percent of its chemical weapons. The remaining 10 percent are in Colorado and Kentucky, but those stores may not be destroyed until 2021. For decades, the Tooele facility burned chemicals, releasing toxins into the air. In the 1970s, more acceptable disposal methods were sought. (Read more)

Rural students in California are hit hardest by school transportation cuts

Rural schools in California will be hit especially hard by school transportation funding cuts beginning Jan. 1 because for some students, buses are their only way to and from school. The cuts are in effect for the remainder of the fiscal year to help alleviate the state's debt, reports Teresa Watanabe of the Los Angeles Times. Next year, they will likely get nothing. (Wikipedia map)

Nowhere are the cuts felt more than in the Death Valley Unified School District, Watanabe reports. Nine students living in the Native American village of Furnace Creek must ride 120 miles to their school in Shoeshone. According to the California School Boards Association, the district spends $3,500 per student per year on transportation, compared to $26 in more populated districts. State funding is based on transportation costs, and some rural districts lose about $200 per student. Districts must find money to transport students or stop busing them. In Death Valley, 85 percent of students are low-income and their families can't afford personal transportation. (Read more)

Educators have said transportation cuts are "particularly unfair" to small and rural districts. They are trying to reverse the cuts with legal action, letter-writing campaigns and legislative lobbying. Some say if cuts are necessary, they should be distributed equally across districts. The Southern Humboldt Unified School District in northern California is organizing a protest in the state capital nest Tuesday, Virginia Graziani of the Redwood Times reports.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ed Bishop, irreplaceable rural voice, dies at 90

Funeral services were held today for Ed Bishop, a voice for rural America at the highest levels of higher education. He died Saturday at 90 in Durham, N.C. Bishop was the first chancellor of the University of Maryland at College Park, and was later president of the University of Arkansas and the University of Houston systems.

"He spent his life working to make life better in rural communities," Bill Bishop, no kin, writes in the Daily Yonder. "There isn’t anyone like Ed Bishop in the U.S. today — someone who can command the respect of presidents but understands completely the way people live in the poorest community."

Bishop's career in higher education began with his bachelor's degree at Berea College in Kentucky, "an institution whose motto, 'God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth,' became a part of his life," said his obituary, which directed memorial gifts there. After earning a master's at the University of Kentucky, he became a professor and then head of agricultural economics at North Carolina State University, then vice president of the University of North Carolina.

He served on many boards and commissions, including President Carter's Commission on an Agenda of the Eighties and his Advisory Commission on Balanced Growth and Economic Development, and President Nixon's White House Task Force on Rural Development. He was executive director of President Johnson's National Advisory Commission on Rural Poverty, which produced a report that Bill Bishop says is still "the federal government's most ambitious plan for driving poverty from the countryside." (Read more)

"Ed married a life-long commitment to the 'people and places left behind" with an uncompromising intellect and the most rigorous analytic standards," said the website of MDC Inc., a North Carolina nonprofit he worked with after retirement. "He was a champion for rural people while remaining unsentimental about the prospects of rural areas in a globalizing economy."

Farmers opt out of Conservation Reserve Program

Farmers are increasingly removing parcels of their land from the federal Conservation Reserve Program to cash in on higher-than-ever crop prices. The program pays farmers to return some of their land to natural habitat or pasture. As participation declines, Congress may cut funding for the program in the newest Farm Bill, but some say the program should be maintained to prevent soil erosion and protect waterways.

Susan Heathcore of the Des Moines Register said the program is "instrumental" in protecting Iowa's wildlife and environment and reducing pollution. "We can use proactive public policy to protect our soil, water and habitat resources, or we could allow short-term profits to drive sensitive land into row crop production whether or not that choice is the best long-term decision." She offers several solutions that would preserve CRP benefits while still allowing land to be "economically productive" for farmers. (Read more)

Dean Kuipers of the Los Angeles Times reports that the program covers 32 million acres, but Congress has proposed cutting that to 25 million or even in half. Farmers in Great Plains states removed 800,000 acres from conservation programs last year to cultivated them. Protections for 6.5 million acres will expire in September. Kuipers wrote that the smaller acreage will hurt wildlife, most notably ground-dwelling birds like quail. (Read more)

Gas boom brings steel production back to Ohio

The natural-gas boom is creating a resurgence of Ohio steel production, report Mark Niquette and Romy Varghese of Bloomberg News. Youngstown's steel era ended 34 years ago, but a new $650 million steel mill is being built to produce seamless pipe used in hydraulic fracturing. Other states are taking note and competing for other gas-related projects.

Youngstown has lost more than half its population since the 1950s, and officials hope the new steel plant will make the area "the Utica Shale supply-chain capital." Eric Planey, vice president of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, told Bloomberg, "Our past was exclusively steel. It looks like our future is going to be significantly a part of the oil and gas and energy business.”

State officials are trying to capitalize on other "spinoff investments" related to gas drilling, like processing plants, which Royal Dutch Shell has said it intends to build in Ohio, Pennsylvania or West Virginia. Officials are offering companies incentives. (Read more)

Alaska to let bears be killed from planes to protect human food supply in rural areas

The Alaska Board of Game announced Tuesday it will allow state wildlife officials to shoot bears from the air. This move is the latest "intensive management" practices targeting bears and wolves, including gassing wolf pups in their dens, reports Kim Murphy of the Los Angeles Times. A similar measure is being considered in Western states to protect livestock and wildlife from wolves. (Alaska Wildlife Voyages photo)

The measure is an attempt to protect from predators a "precarious population of musk oxen" in the high Arctic. It's also "designed to appease long-standing concerns among a broad swath of Alaskans about declining populations of moose and caribou, upon which much of rural Alaska depend for food." The National Park Service says aerial shooting, along with other debated methods like snaring and trapping, should not be used in Alaska's 19 million acres of federal wildlife refuges. "They have a management policy which specifically says you don't manipulate the population of one species to benefit the hunting of another," said Jim Stratton, the state's director for the National Parks Conservation Association.

Other opponents cite humanitarian concerns and say shooting, snaring and trapping conflict with scientists' advice about wildlife management. But Murphy reports the state Department of Fish and Game "has its hands tied" because a 1994 state law mandates "intensive management" policies in "crucial" parts of the state to protect human food supply. Some game officials say stronger methods should be used because current and proposed methods don't target female bears and their cubs, which they say must be killed to create meaningful population declines. (Read more)

Scientists fear white-nose syndrome has killed many more bats than they previously thought

Scientists have been trying to determine the cause of white-nose syndrome in North American bats since it was discovered five years ago. The disease has been killing bats at an alarming rate, and now researchers fear many more have died than previously thought, estimated at 5.7 to 6.7 million, Louis Sahagun of the Los Angeles Times reports. The disease seems to affect the 25 species of hibernating bats, but scientists say all 45 species of North American bats could be at risk. (Times photo by Mark Boster: Bag holds bat found in cave believed to have syndrome)

The estimate was difficult because common bat species have not been regularly counted. As mortality rates at some sites reached 100 percent, a team of 140 Canadian and U.S. researchers coordinated to come up with a number. Jeremy Coleman, national white-nose coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told Sahagun that since bats have low reproductive rates, it will probably take more than 100 years for populations to fully recover.

The disease has killed mostly little brown bats, one of the most common mammals in North America. The species has lost 20 percent of its population in five years. Bats who contract it exhibit unusual behavior during winter, like flying outside and clustering around cave entrances when they should be hibernating, and they can freeze to death. Researchers are trying to find a treatment, including vaccination or manipulating cave environments. (Read more)

Local reporters were first to probe virtual schools

Virtual education can connect isolated rural students to students in other places and provide them with resources they may not have otherwise, but as Emma Brown of The Washington Post wrote recently, some are "leery of cyber schools," and that has drawn national journalism attention to virtual schools and the companies that operate them. But she says local news media were first to "raise questions about virtual schools' cost and effectiveness," and should be recognized for this.

She wrote that a public radio station in Greeley, Colo., reported about lax oversight and poor student performance at virtual schools, resulting in the president of the state senate calling for an emergency audit of virtual schools. Local stories in Tennessee, both in newspapers and on television, raised similar questions about its first virtual school, drawing statewide attention to the issue. Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey investigated political and financial connections between virtual-school company K12 and the state's top education official. In Arizona, blogger David Safier reported K12 was outsourcing grading of papers to workers in India.

Brown said she could continue listing top-notch local stories about the failings of virtual schools from local, often rural reporters, but summed up: "Local reporters in farflung places were paying attention to virtual schools long before folks in big cities took notice. And for that, they deserve a heap of credit." (Read more)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Low cost of newly plentiful gas discourages both use of coal and investment in alternative energy

In the early 1980s, oil as a source of energy was threatened by alternative sources, but when oil prices dropped, the prospect for alternatives quickly faded. Now, a similar situation appears to be happening as a result of the boom in natural gas from tight, deep shales. Energy & Environment News reports investment in alternative energy sources is decreasing with the emergence of gas as a plentiful and cheap source of energy.

The largest U.S. wind energy producer, NextEra Energy Inc. has canceled plans for new wind projects and Exelon Corp. isn't going to expand its nuclear power plants. Even plans for new coal-fired power plants are being shelved as CMS Energy Corp. in Michigan has cancelled plans to build a new $2 billion facility. Electricity pricing in linked to the low-cost gas market, resulting in dramatically lower profits for power producers and discouraging investment in coal, nuclear and wind.

Some are warning, though, that a major shift from coal to gas will leave the industry with few alternatives, especially when gas prices rise again."The way to make $4 gas $8 gas is for everyone to go out and build combined-cycle natural-gas plants. We need to be cautious about how we go about this," Michael Morris, chairman of American Electric Power Co. Inc. told Energy & Environment News. (Read more)

New study outlines best practices for water wells and those who regulate them

The National Ground Water Association has released a study promoting best practices to maintain water well systems. The study, Water Well Systems Inspection Best Suggested Practice, is meant to be a guide for rural residents who rely on well water, and also for water system managers, regulators, contractors and pump installers.

The NGWA suggests routine inspection of well to prolong operational lifespan and monitor groundwater quality. It recommends anyone hired to inspect a well should have several specific qualifications, such as knowledge of codes and regulations for wells, awareness of safety protocols, understanding of natural and human-caused threats to drinking water supplies, and technical awareness of pump and related electrical systems.

The Water Well Systems Inspection Best Suggested Practice guide can be accessed here.

FDA's proposed ban on certain antibiotics in livestock, new research put fresh attention on issue

Early this month, the Food and Drug Administration proposed a ban on a class of antibiotics in livestock for fear the practice is fostering bacterial resistance to antibiotics used to treat a wide range of human infections. Public health officials say the move indicates "a new willingness by the government to tackle the longstanding issue," but some think public misconception about antibiotic use in livestock is driving the decision.

It's not clear how how much use of antibiotics in livestock affects humans, but those who work with farm animals are at risk for becoming colonized by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, Jill Adams reports for the Los Angeles Times. Advocates of antibiotic use in livestock cite studies that diminish human risk, like a 2004 paper that says contamination between animals and humans is a "two-way street." (Read more)

Resistance to antibiotics has become a global public health issue. Michael Fielding of Meatingplace reports German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner has submitted legislation to limit antibiotic use after a study revealed E.coli in chickens. Germany is Europe's third-largest poultry producer. But Meatingplace blogger Sarah Hubbart writes a new study from the University of Glasgow in Scotland suggests livestock likely doesn't "have a major impact on antibiotic resistance in humans," and the researchers are urging British lawmakers to reconsider antibiotic bans in livestock.

Hubbart says that research is important in light of the recent FDA decision. Iowa State University professor Scott Hurd, a former U.S. agriculture undersecretary, said misconceptions about antibiotic use are widspread. "They think it is just being poured into the feed to make the animals grow better," he said. Tom Talbot, former president of the California Cattlemen's Association, thinks people believe that, too. He told Tim Hearden of Capital Press that "The idea that we're using this enormous quantity of antibiotics in beef cattle prior to slaughter, I think that's a misconception." Hearden reports livestock industry representatives don't think the FDA's recent change will have a big impact on operations, but they fear further restrictions.

The FDA is accepting public comments about the proposed ban on certain antibiotic use in livestock until March 6. Comments can be submitted here.

Pilot program in Minn. to stanch runoff would make farmers exempt from new environmental laws

A federal pilot program aims to support farmers in Minnesota and protect them from new environmental regulation if they agree to lessen the flow of agricultural runoff into the headwaters of the Mississippi River, reports Energy & Environment news. Federal officials say they hope the program will make farmers more responsible about water quality.

Farmers would enter a 10-year agreement in which they would limit erosion and fertilizer, pesticide and manure runoff. In return, the federal government will provide technical help, funding and certify farmers in a new Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program. Farmers would then be exempt from new environmental requirements that might be imposed generally.

Conservation groups say the program won't provide enough protection for the Mississippi's headwaters. They say farmers will be exempt from following the Clean Water Act, and this will create a bigger burden on other polluters, like cities and sewage treatment plants. Funding for the program would be provided in the next Farm Bill. (Read more)

Climate change cuts snow, lets elk graze longer at high altitude, affecting birds and other species

Scientists have found climate change is reducing snowfall in mountains and having trickle-down effects on mountainous songbird and plant populations. The U.S. Geological Survey and University of Montana study shows browsing elk are staying at higher altitudes for longer periods of time, thus consuming more plants. As a result, songbirds and deciduous trees in the Arizona mountains have declined over the last 22 years. This phenomenon directly lowers songbird habitats.

To get these results, study authors "mimicked the effects of more snow on limiting the ability of elk to browse on plants by excluding the animals from large, fenced areas," reports Science Daily. They compared bird and plant populations in exclusion areas with similar areas where elk had access. Through this six-year experiment, they found songbird and plant declines were reversed in areas where elk were excluded. (Read more)

Louisville conference will discuss local food movement on college campuses

Louisville Farm to Table, the University of Louisville and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture are hosting a conference at U of L Jan. 20 "designed to bring resources to colleges that would like to start making the switch to local food." Conference sessions will "address common perceived barriers and challenges to such changes, and will include administrators, food service contractors and local food distributors."

Farm to Table is a Metro Louisville government project that aims to open the local food market to  products from Kentucky and Southern Indiana, but the conference, called "Farm to Campus: Exploring the farm-to-food service connection," is aimed at any college educators, contract food vendors and interested parties.

The conference will begin at 8:30 a.m. with registration and end around 3 p.m. Workshops include: "Eating local: What’s in it for you?," "Getting to local: Important first steps," "Making the switch to sustainable," "If you serve it, will they come?", "Finding local food, Safety First: Is Local Food Safe to Eat?" and "Making the Money Work." (Read more)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Rural women less likely to complete cervical-cancer vaccinations; study says vaccine, sex unrelated

Women living in rural areas of the U.S. were far less likely to return for their follow-up doses after they get the initial injection of the human papillomavirus vaccine, a study in the Journal of Rural Health has found. (Photo by Pete Rodman, Bowling Green Daily News)

The study contrasted the rates of vaccination follow-up by young women recruited from two rural locations and one urban location. "Despite being free, the researchers concluded that uptake of booster doses by rural women was problematic," states an article in the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention's "RAP Time" publication. "This barrier might be resolved by providing the HPV doses at easy-to-access locations in rural communities, such as large grocery stores and area events."

The HPV vaccine requires three doses. The women who went to the rural clinic were seven times less likely to return for at least one follow-up dose.

The vaccine, which has proven to prevent most cervical cancers, has been approved for use in women ages 9 to 26 years, as well as boys. The vaccine is generally given at the age of 11 or 12 and is effective only if administered before a person becomes sexually active. As many as 80 percent of men and women become infected with HPV during their lives, but most do not develop symptoms or illness.

The vaccine has been met with reluctance by parents, some of whom fear it encourages sexual activity, but a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found girls or women who received the vaccine "were no more likely to be sexually active or have more partners than those not vaccinated."

Last year, just 49 percent of adolescent girls nationwide had received at least the first dose of the vaccine, and only a third had gotten all three. In Kentucky, just 25 percent of adolescent females had gotten the first dose and fewer than 11 percent had received all three doses. (Read more)

In Texas, Feb. 1 requirement for fracking disclosures includes water use, not just chemicals

Texas frack job (Michael Stravato, New York Times)
Opponents and skeptics of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas eagerly await Feb. 1, when drillers in Texas will have to report many of the chemicals they use, "but a less-publicized part of the new regulation is what some experts are most interested in: the mandatory disclosure of the amount of water needed to 'frack' each well," reports Kate Galbraith of The Texas Tribune. " Experts call this an invaluable tool as they evaluate how fracking affects water supplies in the drought-prone state."

Justin Furnace, president of the Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners Association, told Galbraith that most fracking jobs use 1 million to 5 million gallons of water. In rural areas where water is short, that can amount to a significant share of the local supply. The Texas Water Development Board project that in 2020, more than 40 percent of water demand in La Salle County will be used in “mining,” which "in this case means almost entirely fracking," Galbraith reports. "Until recently, no water went toward mining there." (Read more)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Despite some disconnects, Harlan County seems to like being the fictional setting of 'Justified'

This week's premiere of the third season of "Justified," a show on the Fx channel about a U.S. marshal fighting crime in Eastern Kentucky, got the full treatment today from the Lexington Herald-Leader: a review and story about the show in the arts section, and a Page One news story about how the show is viewed in Harlan County (Wikipedia map), where it is set but not filmed; as usual for Hollywood, that work is done in California. That has helped lead to some obvious inaccuracies, but those declined after the producers did some local research, reports reports Bill Estep of the newspaper's Somerset bureau.

"Despite the less-than-positive image of Harlan residents, the show has a lot of fans locally," Estep writes. "To be sure, some people wish the show would include more positive images of the county." He quotes local historian and school administrator James S. Greene III: "It's not supposed to be a literal interpretation of Harlan. It's not sociology. It's not journalism. It's not history. . . . I think we should just enjoy the fact that Harlan County has a reputation." (Read more)

Herald-Leader arts reporter Rich Copley says the show "is still at the top of its game," with great acting and fine writing. His review is here.

Alaska publisher and Native official, wearing 2 hats in fuel delivery, explains state to media in lower 48

With a Russian tanker's delivery of desperately needed fuel yesterday to Nome, Alaska (here is a good video report from The Nome Nugget, "Alaska's oldest newspaper"), the publisher of a regional newspaper, The Arctic Sounder, wrote an editorial drawing on his dual role as chairman of Sitnasuak Native Corp., the village corporation for Nome and operator of a fuel company.

Jason Evans (above, with child) wrote that in interviews with media at lower latitudes, he was surprised that he had to explain what a native corporation was (they handle money allocated to Alaska natives from the state's oil revenues), and that some reporters "asked if doing all this effort for such a small community is really worth it. I tried to explain the Coast Guard has a 220-year history of assisting commerce throughout our country. The Coast Guard routinely assists commerce in the Great Lakes, along the Hudson River, across the eastern United States. Shouldn't the citizens of Alaska have the same opportunity?" (Read more)

Small-town sports editor named Kentucky's best sportswriter for the sixth year in a row

Kentucky is one of the more rural states and has no major-league pro sports teams, but it's a pretty big sports state, with several strong college basketball teams, the Kentucky Derby, many Thoroughbred breeding farms, and much interest in high-school sports. So it attracts some excellent sports journalists, and that makes it all the more remarkable that the sports editor of a 12,000-circulation newspaper has been recognized for six years in a row as the best sports writer in the state.

Larry Vaught of The Advocate-Messenger in Danville and was named Kentucky's 2011 National Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. He has won it in seven of the last nine years. “It never ceases to amaze me that my peers deem me worthy of this prestigious award,” Vaught told Gary Moyers of their newspaper. “It's a tremendous honor once again to receive this award, and I'm not sure exactly what I have done to deserve it.”

Well, I read Larry Vaught from time to time, and I am always impressed with his ability to churn out incisive columns, solid game stories and athlete features, often all in the same day, ranging from the University of Kentucky to the smallest high schools. I don't know who else was nominated for this award, but I have no doubt that he deserves national recognition. He will receive it at the association’s banquet in June in Salisbury, N.C.