Friday, December 02, 2022

Managers of the Colorado River fear 'a doomsday scenario'

A parched area of rapidly dropping Lake Powell near Lone Rock at
 Big Water, Utah. (Photo by Joshua Lott, The Washington Post)

As the levels of Colorado River reservoirs dip drastically low, the arid Southwest may be facing a domino effect of disasters. It could begin with a whirlpool "if the surface of Lake Powell . . . already a quarter of its former size, drops another 38 feet down the concrete face of the 710-foot Glen Canyon Dam here. At that point, the surface would be approaching the tops of eight underwater openings that allow river water to pass through the hydroelectric dam," reports Joshua Partlow of The Washington Post.

"The normally placid Lake Powell, the nation’s second-largest reservoir, could suddenly transform into something resembling a funnel, with water circling the openings," Partlow writes, citing dam operators. "If that happens, the massive turbines that generate electricity for 4.5 million people would have to shut down — after nearly 60 years of use — or risk destruction from air bubbles. Such an outcome — known as a “minimum power pool” — was once unfathomable here. Now, the federal government projects that day could come as soon as July."

“A complete doomsday scenario,” said Bob Martin, deputy power manager at Glen Canyon.  

Partlow writes, "The Colorado River, which serves roughly one in 10 Americans, is the region’s most important waterway. On the way to such dire outcomes at Lake Powell — which federal officials have begun both planning for and working aggressively to avoid — scientists and dam operators say water temperatures in the Grand Canyon would hit a roller coaster, going frigid overnight and then heating up again, throwing the iconic ecosystem into turmoil."

Tom Buschatzke, director of Arizona’s Department of Water Resources, "has also been raising the alarm about Lake Powell reaching dead pool — an elevation 120 feet below the threshold for producing power," Partlow reports. Buschatzke told him, “It is a possibility. I can’t tell you the probability. But that’s an outcome that would be not only an ecological disaster, but the world would have its attention on such an outcome in a very negative way. . . . you’re not going to have a river. It would be a catastrophe for the entire system.”

In August, the Biden administration called on "the seven states of the Colorado River basin to cut water consumption by 2 to 4 million acre-feet — up to a third of the river’s annual average flow — to protect power generation and avoid such dire outcomes," Partlow reports. "But negotiations have not produced an agreement. And the Interior Department has not yet mandated those cuts, even after an August deadline passed for states to propose voluntary reductions." Maybe an election got in the way.

Happy cows, happy farmers, and rosy-colored veal from Kentucky fields where tobacco once sustained a community

Joseph Monroe raises grass-fed calves in Henry County and
markets them with Our Home Place Meat. (Photo by The Berry Center)
When tobacco money largely disappeared in Henry County, Kentucky, it left an economic hole and an opportunity. Mary Berry, daughter of local farmer-activist-author-poet-philosopher Wendell Berry, saw hope in pasture and cattle and put her nonprofit on the case.

"The Berry Center began to think about ways small farmers could make more, and more predictable, money from their cattle operations and landed on the idea of producing veal," Jacalyn Carfagno reports for the Kentucky Lantern. The community did not want to raise the milky, white veal of the past. It chose to focus on the European model: "In Europe veal is different, a rosy-colored meat from calves raised outside, nursing and eating grass."

Thus, Our Home Place Meat was piloted in 2017 with sustaining funds from the nonprofit Berry Center. Its first challenge was "persuading farmers to raise the veal, guaranteeing them a price for it, and finding markets for it," Carfagno writes. “The program began with the principle of guaranteeing a price that took into account farmers’ expenses and added a reasonable profit." Program director Beth Douglas told Carfagno, “With the market you are gambling. We tell the farmers how many cattle we will purchase and at what price. That allows the farmers to plan for the year.”

The program has developed creative partnerships with wholesalers who value relationships such as What Chefs Want!, a Louisville-based wholesaler. They also addressed animal-welfare qualms about veal "by preparing a multi-course meal at The Berry Center in 2017 using rose veal, inviting chefs to taste the product," Carfagno reports. "He cooked sliders, ribeyes, strips and filets, even veal blanc, which he described as 'the national French hangover food' to demonstrate the flavor and versatility of rose veal."

Our Home Place Meat is thriving and John Logan Brent, a member of the Berry Center board and a farmer who sells to the program, "sees a future when this pilot program can grow up and become a full-fledged agricultural cooperative that can pay its own administrative costs," Carfagno writes, "but believes it will have to achieve a scale of about 1,000 head processed annually to get there."

The effort is driven by Wendell Berry's vision, and that of his late father and brother and father, John Berry Sr. and Jr., who founded and headed the now-defunct Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association: "prosperous, well-tended farms serving and supporting healthy local communities."

Birds can make us happier, study in the U.K. finds

Geese on the wing (Photo by Steve Smith, Unspash)
An off-kilter skit from the television series "Portlandia" had some truth to it. To spread cheer, two cast members go from place to place, in someone else's house, putting birds on pillows, birds on birds, birds on toast. Feeling gloomy? Put a bird on it.

Turns out that birds do brighten and relax our minds. "A study recently published in the journal Science found that being in the presence of birds made people feel more positive," reports Sarah Gibbens of National Geographic.

The study in the United Kingdom spanned two weeks and included a smartphone app questionnaire that was completed three times a day. "Emerging from the app’s data was a discernible trend—study participants who saw birds were more likely to report a better mood," Gibbens writes. "Research is increasingly finding that getting outside is good for our brains, which is why scientists want to know more about what aspects of nature may be the most therapeutic."

Andrea Mechelli, a psychologist at King’s College London and one of the paper’s authors, told Gibbens that he was originally seeking information on why people who live in cities may be more likely to suffer from mental illness. He told Gibbens that they stumbled upon the facts: "I don’t have a particular agenda focused on nature myself. I wasn't thinking we were going to demonstrate nature has a strong effect. . . Our first finding [was] that nature has a very powerful effect."

"With the data he collected, Mechelli performed a statistical analysis that found a discernible improvement in well-being when birds were present, even when eliminating other factors like the presence of trees or waterways," Gibbens writes. "James and other scientists note the study provides an interesting insight into how specific parts of nature may influence well-being."

In putting the findings to use, Mechelli told Gibbens that he asks his "patients go for walks to observe the trees and plants growing in the city, and the wildlife fluttering by. It has no side effects. It’s something they could try, and they have nothing to lose.”

Media roundup: Alaska TV show is about Natives; candidate buys up paper with attack ad; brevity, soul of journalism?

Hilary Swank and Grace Dove are protagonists on "Alaska Daily."
"CNN is laying off hundreds of employees in a cost-cutting effort that illuminates the financial challenges facing a wide array of media companies as the economy teeters toward a possible recession," Jeremy Barr and Elahe Izadi of The Washington Post report in a story that is also about the previously announced layoffs at Gannett Co., which began yesterday.

"NPR is also facing a financial shortfall that will require $10 million in budget cuts over the next 10 months, chief executive John Lansing told employees on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, Washington Post Executive Editor Sally Buzbee informed employees of plans to close the company’s weekly print magazine, citing the Post’s plans for 'global and digital transformation'."

The Post's owner, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, built success on his "overlooked and underappreciated communication skills," Bill Heavey writes in a Wall Street Journal review of The Bezos Blueprint: Communication Secrets of the World’s Greatest Salesman, by Carmine Gallo, who analyzed 24 years of Bezos's letters to shareholders, which now average 16 words per sentence "with a readability score fit for an eighth-grader."

Some newspapers have used the Flesch-Kincaid readability scale to guide their reporters and editors, and maybe it's time to use it again, when they are competing with other information sources for attention. Axios is building readership nationally and in local markets with "smart brevity."

Gallo writes, “Our brains are not made to think,” citing neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett, who says “Your brain’s most important job is to control your body’s energy needs. In short, your brain’s most important job is not thinking.” Heavey writes, "This is one of the most reassuring sentences I have ever read. . . . Whether you’re writing an article, document or email, says Mr. Gallo, you have 15 seconds—the time it takes to read 35 words—to grab a reader’s attention. After that, 45% of readers will stop paying close attention."

ABC's "Alaska Daily" is in reruns until Feb. 23, but that means you can catch up with the show's primary subjects: local journalism and Alaska Natives. For The Seattle Times, Chase Hutchinson interviewed Vera Marlene Starbard, a Native and journalist who is a co-writer for the show: "She’s hoping the show will provide a more authentic portrayal of Alaska Natives that pushes back against harmful stereotypes she argues have been perpetuated in both television and journalism."

News literacy: "Billionaire couple Melanie and Richard Lundquist are throwing their support behind the News Literacy Project to arm students and the public against mis- and disinformation," Inside Philanthropy reports (behind a paywall).

Kentucky Press Association Executive Director David Thompson reports, "Seems there was an unhappy political candidate in Breathitt County just prior to the election. And you might think a newspaper selling out of all of its newsstand copies is great publicity for the paper. But what happened to the Jackson Times Voice on Nov. 2 was unusual. As soon as the paper opened its office that morning, calls and messages started coming in. There wasn’t a copy of the Times Voice to be found anywhere. After checking with some stores, the Times Voice learned that county judge-executive candidate Harvey Jason Richardson and his driver traveled throughout the county that a.m. buying up all copies of the Times Voice. The duo apparently told people they were buying up the copies for a “school project.” But investigating further, the Times Voice learned from sources close to the situation that Richardson was not happy with an ad that showed him in a negative light, namely multiple mugshots and court documents from previous DUIs and public intoxication arrests. Instead of going back to repress the day’s edition, the Times Voice just put the entire paper on its Facebook Page."

Journalism skills: Chris Sutcliffe and Catalina Albenau of update their list of "12 essential self-taught journalism skills," from shorthand to coding.

Officials, advocates push more rural health-care providers to prescribe Suboxone (buprenorphine) for drug addiction

Bonnie Purk, left, meets with nurse practitioner Andrea Storjohann at the
Primary Health Care clinic in Marshalltown, Iowa. (Photo by Tony Leys, KHN)
More than 150 people a day die of overdoses related to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and disproportionate share of the dead will be from rural areas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Given the magnitude of loss and the prevalence of fentanyl in most illicit drugs, more rural medical providers are prescribing buprenorphine for patients struggling to end their addictions, and treatment advocates are pushing them to do more, Tony Leys reports for Kaiser Health News: "The number of U.S. health care providers certified to prescribe buprenorphine more than doubled in the past four years. Treatment advocates hope to see that trend continue."

Buprenorphine, best known by the brand Suboxone, "does not cause the same kind of high as other opioid drugs do, but it can prevent the debilitating withdrawal effects experienced with those drugs," Leys notes. "Without that help, many people relapse into risky drug use.

Such “maintenance treatment” has been done mainly with methadone, but it "is tightly regulated, due to concerns that it can be abused," Leys explains. "Only specialized clinics offer methadone maintenance treatment, and most of them are in cities. Many patients starting methadone treatment are required to travel daily to the clinics, where staffers watch them swallow their medicine."

Federal approval of Suboxone in 2002 helped smaller towns, but physicians have been slow to get certified to prescribe it. Recently, "Federal regulators have made it easier for doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants to become certified," and "have encouraged more front-line health care professionals to prescribe Suboxone and other medications containing buprenorphine." Congress could relax the rules even further in must-pass legislation next week.

The spread of fentanyl has complicated the effort to expand the treatment. Patients "can suffer severe withdrawal symptoms when they begin taking buprenorphine, so health practitioners must be careful when starting the treatment," Leys reports. "In Iowa, officials designated $3.8 million from the state’s initial share of opioid lawsuit settlement money for a University of Iowa program that helps health care providers understand how to use the medications.

Andrea Storjohann, a nurse practitioner in Marshalltown, Iowa, a town of 27,000, works in a repurposed grocery building, with "no signs designating it as a place for people to seek treatment for drug addiction, which is how Storjohann wants it," Leys writes. Until recently, “We were kind of a unicorn in this part of the state, but that is changing,” Storjohann told Leys.

Still, treatment may be hard to find. The public database of providers certified to prescribe buprenorphine treatment "lists only providers who agree to include their names," Leys reports. "Many do not do so. In Iowa, only about a third of providers with the certification have agreed to be listed on the public registry, according to the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services."

Thursday, December 01, 2022

In notorious case of water pollution, big oil-and-gas firm will build water system and pay residents' bills for 75 years

What may be America's most notorious case of drinking-water pollution from oil and gas operations ended Tuesday, as "Pennsylvania’s most active gas driller pleaded no contest" charges of "polluting a rural community’s drinking water 14 years ago" and trying to evade responsibility, reports Michael Rubinkam of The Associated Press.

Wikipedia map
"Residents of the tiny crossroads of Dimock in northeastern Pennsylvania say they have gone more than a decade without a clean, reliable source of drinking water after their aquifer was ruined by Houston-based Coterra Energy Inc.," AP reports. "Coterra agreed to pay $16.29 million to fund construction of a new public water system and pay the impacted residents’ water bills for the next 75 years."

The plea was "the result of years of negotiations between Coterra and the attorney general’s office"  of the state, AP notes, and "represents a milestone in one of the most prominent pollution cases ever to emerge from the U.S. drilling and fracking boom. Dimock drew national notoriety after residents were filmed lighting their tap water on fire in the Emmy Award-winning 2010 documentary 'Gasland'. Coterra’s corporate predecessor, Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., was charged in June 2020 with 15 criminal counts, most of them felonies, after a grand jury investigation found the company drilled faulty gas wells that leaked flammable methane into residential water supplies in Dimock and surrounding communities. . . . Coterra pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of prohibition against discharge of industrial wastes under the state’s Clean Streams Law. The plea means Coterra does not admit guilt but agreed to accept criminal responsibility."

Residents have shunned their well water since "and even water drawn from creeks and artesian wells instead," AP reports. "Resident Scott Ely said some of his neighbors had moved away or developed health problems as a result of Coterra’s practices, while his own children, now in college, had grown up 'without a safe water source. . . . There’s so much heartache."

Latest set of methane-emission rules seeks to curb waste and prevent harmful leaks on public lands

Shots with a regular camera (left) and with an infrared camera (right)
to reveal methane leaks. 
(Screenshots from NYT video by Jonah Kessel)
The Biden administration has delivered on its promises to crack down on methane leaks on public lands, "Washington's latest move to crack down on emissions of the potent greenhouse gas," Valerie Volcovici and Nichola Groom report for Reuters.

The proposal intends to "complement new rules the U.S. government already proposed for the industry on private land," they report. "It would place monthly limits on flaring and require oil and gas companies to undertake methane leak detection programs for operations on federal lands," which produce almost a tenth of U.S. oil and gas.

The proposed rules received some industry push-back: "The issue is not as cut and dried as this regulation would make it seem, as there are many reasons to vent and flare gas, such as safety concerns and connectivity" to pipelines said Mallori Miller, vice president of government relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

But "There’s no reason for oil and gas companies to waste a publicly owned resource, much less a powerful greenhouse gas like methane," said Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, an environmental group.

"The rules will cost oil and gas companies around $122 million per year to implement but will give them $55 million per year of recovered gas," Volcovici and Nichola Groom write, per BLM. "That gas will also boost royalty revenues paid to U.S. coffers by $39 million per year."

Methane is the main component of natural gas and tends to leak into the atmosphere from drill sites and pipelines. It is about 80 times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide during a 20-year timeframe, but disappears from the atmosphere about 10 times as quickly as CO2, which lasts about 200 years.

Honoring tribes by protecting their lands of heritage, Biden commits to make a huge tract off-limits to development

Proposed monument area (NPCA, OpenStreetMap adapted by The Rural Blog)

Spirit Mountain boasts a 5,642-foot-high summit peak, which is the highest point in the stunning Spirit Mountain Wilderness near Searchlight, Nevada. According to Fort Mojave and 11 other tribes, their ancestors emerged from the rocks and their mystical strength lives through the sacred mountains.

President Biden "pledged Wednesday to put hundreds of thousands of acres off-limits to development in southern Nevada around Spirit Mountain" under the 1906 Antiquities Act "A broad coalition backs the move, but renewable energy firms have raised concerns," reports Dan Michalski of The Washington Post.

"This expanse of Nevada offers some of the best prospects for clean energy development in the country," Michalski writes. "The canyons here produce tremendous wind, and the sun shines 292 days per year, usually without any cloud cover. The area also boasts dozens of mining claims for rare earth elements, now coveted by the clean tech sector." Solar energy firm Avantus says it supports the monument but wants an exception: a narrow path "that 'avoids all cultural and environmentally sensitive areas' so renewable energy companies can access transmission infrastructure from a long-decommissioned coal-fired plant in Laughlin."

Native Americans "have often been pressured to make concessions in the past," Michalski notes, but "this marks a rare instance in which they have driven the process — bolstered by the support of environmental groups, lawmakers and the rural business community."

“There’s a spiritual connection that makes us Mojave people,” Tim Williams, chair of the tribal council told Michalski. “If it’s not protected, our generation will not have done our job.”

Neal Desai, a senior project manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, who has been spent more than a decade working to protect the area, told Michalski, "This is the missing link connecting the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Plateau. . . . Wind and solar companies will have to stay on the other side of the monument boundaries."

Many activists feel the land can support the people through "businesses related to camping, hunting, birding, hiking, stargazing and other forms of outdoor recreation," Michalski writes. It is also an area that will protect animals. "This 700-square-mile expanse will allow desert tortoises, bighorn sheep, golden eagles and dozens of other species to live and migrate uninterrupted."

Hey, you guys! Let's all say 'you all' or 'y'all'

A water tower in Northern Kentucky first promoted the Florence Mall but the city
learned it couldn't do that, so "y'all" was a replacement. (Photo by Getty Images)
Here's one thing Americans can be blessedly thankful for: We don't have to say "You guys" anymore. Not at restaurants or family gatherings, not when trying to get everyone's attention, and not when we really don't know "who-all" should be included. We can send our gratitude to historian David Parker, who looks at the contraction's past and gives everyone permission to say "y'all" (short for "you all").

"While 'y’all' is considered slang, it’s a useful word nonetheless," Parker writes for The Conversation, a platform for journalistic writing by academics. "The English language doesn’t have a good second person plural pronoun; 'you' can be both singular and plural, but it’s sometimes awkward to use as a plural. It’s almost like there’s a pronoun missing. 'Y’all' fills that second person plural slot – as does 'you guys,' 'youse,' 'you-uns' and a few others."

“'Y'all' might serve an important function, but it has acquired negative connotations,” Parker notes. “Back in 1886, The New York Times ran a piece titled 'Odd Southernisms' that described 'y'all' as 'one of the most ridiculous of all the Southernisms'. . . . Like the Southern dialect in general, the use of 'y’all' has often been seen as vulgar, low-class, uncultured and uneducated. As someone noted in Urban Dictionary, 'Whoever uses [y’all] sounds like a hillbilly redneck.'”

In tracing the etymology of "y'all," Parker explores several options from American, English (a 1631 poem) and Nigerian. His verdict is "murky," but he does get to the point: "The word seems to have grown in popularity. An article in the Journal of English Linguistics in 2000, "The Nationalization of a Southernism," said that scientific polling showed ”'Y'all will soon be seen as an American, rather than Southern, word.”

And maybe with good reason. Parker writes that “'you guys' . . . is losing support because of its sexist connotations. Are females included in you guys? How about those who identify as nonbinary?"

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

David Sawyer, who built an international consulting career on his work in rural Kentucky and Appalachia, dies at 71

David Hartwell Sawyer (Photo via
David Sawyer, who built an international consulting career on his work in rural Kentucky and Appalachia, died Nov. 25 in of heart failure in Portland, Oregon, after a year of declining health. He was 71.

Sawyer was president of Context, a consultancy on strategy, leadership and culture, and a cofounder of Converge, a network of consultants who help form social-impact networks. He worked in many fields, including sustainable agriculture, education reform, national service, social entrepreneurship, venture philanthropy, the emerging green economy, and multisector collaboration.

For a decade, Sawyer directed leadership and service-learning programs at Berea College in Kentucky, earning him the nation's highest award for voluntary service from the White House. He designed Save the Children's Appalachian Teen Leadership Program and traveled to India to meet with the Dalai Lama to help design a Tibetan refugee education program at Berea. He worked with the Clinton administration to help launch Americorps and facilitated The New Generation Training Program and other national leadership programs.

Sawyer spent four years working with BP, coaching senior leaders, designing the cultural dimension of the BP-ARCO merger, and facilitating a conference on global climate change in Washington, D.C. He was executive-in-residence for the Kauffman Foundation, promoting citizen engagement and civic innovation; first executive director of Social Venture Partners Portland, and was chief culture officer for gDiapers, maker of the world's first flushable and compostable diaper.

"Though Sawyer's professional accomplishments are vast, his lasting impact lives in his deep love for his people, his community, and our planet," his obituary says. "Sawyer was a dedicated and generous friend to many. He was clever and wise, fun and funny, deeply serious, and eternally committed to creating positive futures for all. His life's work could perhaps be summed up by a simple tattoo on his arm that read: 'maximum positive impact'."

Sawyer, whom his Kentucky family called "Buzz," is survived by his brother, religious artist Stephen Shelby Sawyer of Versailles, Ky. Their cousins include Diane Sawyer of ABC News.

UPDATE, Dec. 4: A memorial service will be held at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17, at Union Church in Berea. Live streaming will be available and a reception will follow; details to come. Organizer Peter Hille writes, "In lieu of flowers we request that you consider making a contribution in David's honor to an organization of your choice. Or, if you prefer, send flowers to someone you love."

Federal government is giving millions to Natives for 'managed retreat' from areas threatened by climate change

The village of Napakiak, Alaska, which is losing land to
erosion. (Photo by Emily Farnsworth, U.S. Air Force, via AP)
Three Native American tribes will receive $25 million each to relocate to higher ground because their settlements are threatened by global warming. The awards are "one of the nation’s largest efforts to date to relocate communities that are facing an urgent threat from climate change," reports Christopher Flavelle of The New York Times.

"Three communities — two in Alaska, and one in Washington state — will each get $25 million to move their key buildings onto higher ground and away from rising waters, with the expectation that homes will follow," Flavelle reports. "The federal government will give eight more tribes $5 million each to plan for relocation."

“It gave me goose bumps when I found out we got that money,” Joseph John Jr., a council member in Newtok, a village in southwest Alaska, told Flavelle. The land around Newtok is vanishing and the tribe will receive receive $25 million to relocate inland.

"Relocating whole communities, sometimes called 'managed retreat', is perhaps the most aggressive form of adaptation to climate change," Flavelle writes. "Despite the high initial cost, relocation may save money in the long run, by reducing the amount of damage from future disasters, along with the cost of rebuilding after those disasters."

Deciding who gets money when can be difficult. "This year, the Bureau of Indian Affairs held a contest, in which tribal nations applied for up to $3 million in relocation money," Flavelle reports. "Of the 11 tribes that applied, only five received funding; the bureau would not say how it had decided which tribes to help relocate." 

Officials acknowledge they have a learning curve. Bryan Newland, assistant Interior secretary for Indian affairs, told Flavelle, "The federal government needs to learn how to help relocate communities that want to move. The new funding will be a chance for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to learn to coordinate its relocation efforts with other agencies that work on disaster recovery, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency."

In addition to Newtok, the other tribes to receive $25 million were Napakiak, a village on the shore of the Kuskokwim River that is losing 25 to 50 feet of land each year to erosion, and the Quinault Indian Nation, on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, whose main town, Taholah, faces a growing risk of flooding, Eight other tribes will get $5 million each to consider whether to relocate and to begin planning for relocation if they decide to do so. They include the Chitimacha Tribe, in Louisiana; the Yurok Tribe, in Northern California; and other Native villages in Alaska.

New listing as endangered species might help save the northern long-eared bat, victim of a fungus that wakes it up

A northern long-eared bat (Photo from the Wisconsin
Department of Natural Resources
via The Associated Press
Efforts to save the northern long-eared bat from extinction have received a boost of hope: "The Biden administration declared the northern long-eared bat endangered on Tuesday in a last-ditch effort to save a species driven to the brink of extinction by white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease," reports John Flesher of The Associated Press.

Martha Williams, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told Flesher, “White-nose syndrome is decimating cave-dwelling bat species like the northern long-eared bat at unprecedented rates."

Since its discovery in a New York cave in 2006, the fungus has spread rapidly in the U.S. "The northern long-eared bat is among the hardest hit, with estimated declines of 97% or higher in affected populations," AP reports. "The bat is found in 37 eastern and north-central states . . . and much of Canada. The disease has infected 12 types of bats and killed millions."

Why should we care? "Bats are believed to give U.S. agriculture an annual boost of $3 billion by gobbling pests and pollinating some plants," AP notes. "Recovery efforts will focus on wooded areas where the bats roost in summer — usually alone or in small groups, nestling beneath bark or in tree cavities and crevices. Emerging at dusk, they feed on moths, beetles and other insects."

Research for a vaccine is ongoing, "The service has distributed more than $46 million for the campaign, which involves around 150 agencies, private organizations and Native American tribes," AP reports. Ryan Shannon, senior attorney with the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, told Flesher, “We have to find a cure for white-nose syndrome that is killing our bats and we have to protect the forests where they live. This endangered listing will help on both counts."

The fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, appears as a white fuzz that grows on muzzles and wings of hibernating bats. While hibernating, the fungus drains the bat's precious energy stores, disrupting their hibernation cycle. They wake up, have little or no insects to eat, and often starve.

Rural roads in Minn. giving tests to autonomous vehicles

Cruising across rural Minnesota, the autonomous
vehicle. (Photo by Jiahong Pan, The Daily Yonder)
There's a new way to get across rural Grand Rapids, Minnesota. It's called the 'goMARTI' autonomous vehicle. Five goMARTIs will be hitting North American roads for the next 18 months, and Grand Rapids is the first U.S. community to get them. Here's a "first ride" experience from Jiahong Pan of The Daily Yonder:"

"A Toyota Sienna, looks different from a regular Sienna. It has a cylinder mounted just above the windshield. Someone is in the driver's seat, but they aren’t actually driving. Instead, they are outfitted with a headset, ready to take over in case something goes wrong. To their left, a mobile device shows where the vehicle is going. It also plays the baseball charge tune every time the vehicle goes through an intersection."

Five of the autonomous vehicles were sent out for testing in September, and "for the following 18 months they will navigate around Grand Rapids," writes Pan. "In conditions unfamiliar to them: snow, extreme cold, and lots and lots of trees. If it works out, it could prove to be a solution to help those with limited mobility who live in remote, rural areas get around. It could also affect the workforce for good, and for bad."

The shortage of transportation alternatives in Grand Rapids and other rural communities is striking, and it is amplified if an individual is handicapped. "Today, more people with limited mobility are living in rural America," Pan reports. "For rural counties across the United States with no concentrated core population of 10,000 people or greater, 18% lived with a disability in 2019, up from 17.71% in 2014. In Itasca County, which contains Grand Rapids, 17% of residents lived with a disability in 2020, up from 15% in 2012."

This is where Myrna Peterson, a retired teacher who uses a wheelchair, comes in. "She founded Mobility Mania, which partnered with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the city of Grand Rapids, May Mobility, New York City-based transportation technology company Via, and a St. Paul, Minnesota-based consulting firm called The Plum Catalyst, to deploy the project, called goMARTI," Pan writes. "MARTI stands for Minnesota’s Autonomous Rural Transit Initiative, the project cost $3.5 million to deploy, with a share of this funding coming from the state."

The autonomous vehicle may be paving the way for rural future. And likely there will be multiple challenges. "There may be more autonomous vehicle systems — and more workforce changes and development opportunities — to come for rural communities," Pan reports. "The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed last year includes $500 million over the next five years for public agencies to develop autonomous vehicle systems. Pending rulemaking as of this writing, applicants might not need to comply with Buy America provisions, potentially allowing them to work with providers overseas to deploy projects across the nation."

Photo essay: A bypassed town tries to keep going

The big road in Crab Orchard, Kentucky, is US 150, which began as the northwest leg of the Wilderness Road blazed by Daniel Boone and others. But now the federal route bypasses the town of 700-plus, leaving KY 39 as Main Street.
Story and photos by Richard Yarmy

Kentucky Route 39 is a two-track strip of pavement running out of horse country near Lancaster, Ky., that cuts right through the heart of Crab Orchard — one of the bypassed villages scattered all across the country.

There's still a place to eat, on the former US 150 (now KY 2750).
No Trader Joe’s, no Sam’s Club or Costco — just an abandoned movie house, and some closed cinder block storefronts. I’ve passed by several times, but decided to stop the other day.

I was kneeling in the middle of the highway, framing the movie house when a car pulled up behind me. It was a police cruiser. The window came down and the officer said: “Did you get your shot?” I said I did, and he said: “OK, I thought you might want me to stop traffic while you worked.”

He was the first car I had seen in the 20 minutes I had been there.

Later when focusing on a faded wall with a Coca-Cola sign rapidly disappearing, another gentleman stopped by in an older pick-up.

“Whatcha doin’?”
The theater still advertises its last movies. To enlarge any image, click on it.

“I’m documenting the town, “ I said.

“Well, if you need anything, let me know, I’m on the town council and I can show you around.”

I told him about meeting the police officer.

He said: You didn’t meet an officer — you met the entire Crab Orchard police force.

Nice people, nice town. Glad I stopped.

I hope they get the funds to restore the theater. I will send a check.

Crab Orchard is in Lincoln County, where the Bluegrass gives way to Appalachia. Yarmy told The Rural Blog, "Little adventures like this one is what I think is meant by the cliché 'stop and smell the roses'." More photos from his sojourn in Crab Orchard are at

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Two rural weeklies in California's wine country being saved with purchase by a public benefit corporation

Recent editions of the Calistoga Tribune and the Yountville Sun, with an early edition of Calistoga's first paper, founded in 1877. A Tribune story notes the end of another paper, which was published by the daily paper in the county seat of Napa. 

Two weekly newspapers in Napa County, California, have been saved from likely closure by a public-benefit corporation after a community effort to keep them going.

The 20-year-old Calistoga Tribune announced in August that it would be closing, and "at about the same time," the 24-year-old Yountville Sun announced that it was for sale, the Napa Valley Register reports. "In September, the Tribune announced it would continue in its current form, at least until the end of of year, while its owners figured out the paper’s future. The pivot came after a community effort to save the paper emerged, and the owners received several offers to acquire it. ...

"Calistoga native and former Santa Rosa Press Democrat senior editor Paul Ingalls, who’s been involved in efforts to save the Tribune since August, said that, with the deal, many of the functions that go into operating the two papers could be centralized." Ingalls said a local board of directors chaired by Marc Hand of Yountville would run the public benefit corporation, Highway 29 Publishing.

Cheryl Sarfaty of the North Bay Business Journal reports, "Highway 29 Publishing will be set up as a public benefit corporation rather than a nonprofit, Hand said. A public benefit corporation allows owners to make a profit while furthering the public interest." PBCs are "created to generate social and public good, and to operate in a responsible and sustainable manner," says the Cornell University law school.

Wikipedia map, adapted
Hand is a co-founder and board chair of the National Trust for Local News, "a nonprofit formed in 2021 that aims to support community news and keep ownership of those outlets in local hands," the Register reports. "The National Trust last year partnered with the journalist-owned Colorado Sun to purchase 24 weekly and monthly newspapers in the Denver area and run them under the Colorado News Conservancy, also a public benefit corporation."

Calistoga, pop. 5,266, and Yountville, pop. 2,984, are the smallest incorporated towns in Napa County, which has 138,000 people and is known for its wines. The Register is based in Napa, pop. 78,509, and publishes papers for St. Helena, pop. 5,939, and American Canyon, pop. 19,873.

Some local governments show the way to slaying medical debt with federal relief money, for pennies on the dollar

(Photo by Micheile dot com, Unsplash)
Do your local governments have some pandemic relief money that hasn’t been spent or appropriated? Perhaps they would be interested in helping to wipe out local residents’ medical debt for pennies on the dollar, as some have. "Local governments in Ohio and Illinois are using American Rescue Plan Act money to relieve residents struggling with medical debt by partnering with an organization that buys debt and wipes the slate clean for debtors. It’s a strategy advocates say could be duplicated across the country to help erase a multi-billion-dollar problem," reports Casey Quinlan of States Newsroom.

Toledo is an example where $800,000 of ARPA funds were used to erase eligible residents' medical debt and "Commissioners in Lucas County, of which Toledo is a part, also announced they would contribute $800,000 in ARPA funds," Quinlan writes. "The combined $1.6 million will go to RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit based in New York, which buys medical debt from hospitals in bundles at a much lower price than the actual debt, allowing the money to go further." Michele Grim, a Toledo City Council member who pushed to have RIP Medical Debt help with the transactions, said, "This means that $190 million to $240 million of community members’ debt will be eliminated."

The sheer size of medical debt can be overwhelming for many Americans. "According to a Kaiser Family Foundation report published in June, 4 in 10 adults in the United States have some kind of medical debt, and 1 in 5 of those with health care debt don’t think they will ever be able to pay off their debt," Quinlan reports. "The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates the total amount of medical debt in the U.S. at $81 billion, based on data from credit reporting agencies, but acknowledges its total is likely understated."

Allison Sesso, president of RIP Medical Debt, told Quinlan that more local governments have reached out to the group to use ARPA funds to wipe out medical debt after learning about Toledo's and Cook County’s efforts: “I think it was sort of a no-brainer for anyone that’s focused on health equity and the recovery, post-Covid, on their communities, to get rid of this medical debt burden from people as quickly as possible.”

Federally qualified health centers, rurally important, are insulated from lawsuits; here's a list of what taxpayers paid

Screenshot of top of KHN list, adapted by The Rural Blog; the whole list, which is searchable by state, is here.

Federally qualified health centers, or FQHCs, are very important parts of the health-care delivery system for the poor in rural areas. They must not turn anyone away, and charge patients based on their income. In return, they get an annual grant and higher reimbursements from Medicaid and Medicare — and, for the vast majority of clinics, financial immunity from malpractice lawsuits.

The centers can still be sued for malpractice, but the federal government pays the settlements or judgments. That little-known aspect of FQHCs is examined in a story by Phil Galweitz and Bram Sable-Smith of Kaiser Health News, along with a list of the 485 payouts made on the centers' behalf from 2018 through 2021, totaling $410 million. "Nearly half of the centers’ patients are covered by Medicaid, and 20 percent are uninsured," Galewitz and Sable-Smith report.

To win congressional protection in the 1990s, the clinics "argued their revenues were limited and malpractice insurance would divert money that could better be used for patient care," KHN reports. About 86% of the 1,375 clinics have protection; to get it, a clinic "must have quality- improvement and risk-management programs and must show regulators that they’ve reviewed the professional credentials, malpractice claims, and license status of their physicians and other clinicians. . . . Ben Money, a senior vice president for the National Association of Community Health Centers, said the process improves care and directs scarce operating dollars toward the needs of patients, versus costly malpractice coverage." Attorney fees are limited to 25 percent of awards.

"A patient alleging medical malpractice by a health center must first submit claims to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for review. The government can make a settlement offer or deny the claim. If the claim is denied or not settled, or a six-month review period expires, the patient may sue in federal court under the Federal Tort Claims Act," KHN reports.

"Malpractice lawsuits are a risk for all health-care providers and are just one barometer of quality of care. The settlements and court judgments against the health centers don’t measure the clinics’ overall performance. Even lawyers who have sued on behalf of health center patients acknowledge the importance of the facilities. Rhode Island plaintiff attorney Amato DeLuca said that the health centers serve a vital role in the health industry and that he had found “a lot of really wonderful, extraordinarily capable people that do a really good job” at the centers. Yet everyone must be held accountable for mistakes, DeLuca said."

Armed protesters are increasingly using their Second Amendment rights to chill others' First Amendment rights

Armed protestors at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix
Jan. 6. (Photo by Adriana Zehbrauskas, The New York Times)
Armed civilians are increasingly appearing at public protests and rallies, as some Americans believe it's their right to carry a gun almost anywhere, reports Mike McIntire of The New York Times.

"The frequency of these incidents exploded in 2020, with conservative push-back against public-health measures to fight the coronavirus and response to the sometimes violent rallies after the murder of George Floyd," McIntire writes. "Today, in some parts of the country with permissive gun laws, it is not unusual to see people with handguns or military-style rifles at all types of protests."
While a June Supreme Court ruling established the right to carry a gun outside the home, some Americans feel that the presence of firearms hampers the democratic process and deepens the country's political divides. "But the effects of more guns in public spaces have not been evenly felt. A partisan divide — with Democrats largely eschewing firearms and Republicans embracing them — has warped civic discourse. Deploying the Second Amendment in service of the First has become a way to buttress a policy argument, a sort of silent, if intimidating, bullhorn." McIntire says, "The loosening of limits has occurred as violent political rhetoric rises and the police in some places fear bloodshed among an armed populace on a hair trigger."

The midterm election in Arizona is an example, McIntire reports: "Armed protesters appeared outside elections center in Phoenix, hurling baseless accusations that the election for governor had been stolen from the Republican, Kari Lake." Also, "In October, Proud Boys with guns joined a rally in Nashville where conservative lawmakers spoke against transgender medical treatments for minors."

Kevin Thompson, executive director of the Museum of Science & History in Memphis, told McIntire that armed protesters prompted the cancellation of an LGBTQ+ event. “It’s disappointing we’ve gotten to that state in our country. What I saw was a group of folks who did not want to engage in any sort of dialogue and just wanted to impose their belief."

The Supreme Court's 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller "made clear that gun rights were not unlimited, and that its ruling did not invalidate laws prohibiting 'the carrying of firearms in sensitive places,'," McIntire writes. "More broadly, there is no evidence that the framers of the Constitution intended for Americans to take up arms during civic debate among themselves — or to intimidate those with differing opinions."

With fire and pizza dough, farmers gain a sense of community and build vital connections for mental health

A 'Pizza for Producers' event in Skagit County, Washington, helps farmers and
farmworkers make connections. (Photo by Karen Ducey, The Seattle Times)
Farmer suicide is an increasingly acknowledged fact of life in rural communities. "The reality is that there’s no perfect source of information about the high levels of stress in the farming community. Suicide rates represent the most dreaded outcome but fall well short of painting a complete picture of behavioral health among farmers and farmworkers," writes Matt Perdue of the National Farmers Union. It is equally clear that isolation, hopelessness, mental-health stigmas, untreated work injuries and access to household firearms also play a part in farmer suicides.

In an effort to address the unique farm-life stressors, an Extension office Skagit County, Washington, has begun to weave group events into its farmer outreach. Last month a group of farmers gathered to learn how to make wood-fired pizza. "On the surface, the demonstration — pushing and pulling the dough into a perfect circle, crisping the toppings in a kiln until the pizza turns golden brown — was an effort to show that making delicious food only takes a few ingredients. But the primary purpose of this 'Pizza for Producers' event lay in between the making and baking: Farmers and farmworkers, many of whom labor in solitude, came together, ate and opened up about their work and themselves," reports Michelle Baruchman of the Seattle Times.

Don McMoran runs Skagit County's Extension office. He grew up knowing that farming and suicide often live in tandem. "He grew up as the fourth-generation farmer on a 2,000-acre potato farm in Skagit," Baruchman writes. "As a child, he experienced the suicide of a man who worked on his family’s farm. Between 2016 and 2019, he experienced three more. . . . After that, he slammed his fists on his kitchen table and said, 'That’s it. I’m not going to have this in my county anymore. I need to get off the sidelines and do something.'"

Allison Brennan, a Montana State University professor studying behavioral health, told Baruchman: "The idea that farmers should be self-reliant and not need counseling also creates challenges. In small communities, everybody knows everybody. If there is a mental health clinic and I go there, someone will see my vehicle parked outside and then I’ll get labeled." Through group events, McMoran is seeking to help are farmers overcome stigmas and have honest conversation about farming life.

Monday, November 28, 2022

AppHarvest, called 'future of farming,' is running low on cash

 Artificial intelligence at AppHarvest determines which 
tomatoes are ripe enough to harvest. (AppHarvest photo)
In the Appalachian foothills of Morehead, Kentucky, AppHarvest built the largest greenhouse in the U.S. Its impassioned plans to open more high-tech, indoor farms and be an example of the "future of farming" have been paused as it struggles with cash flow. In its third-quarter securities filing, the company told investors "'that it’s running out of cash,'" reports John Cheves of the Lexington Herald-Leader. The company said, "Absent additional sources of financing, we expect that our existing cash and cash equivalents will only allow us to continue our planned operations into the first quarter of 2023."

The company "will focus on trying to turn a profit over the next few years at its three existing farms, in Morehead, Berea and Somerset, and a fourth, in Richmond, that should be operating soon. The farms grow tomatoes, leafy greens for salads and berries," Cheves writes. "To raise the necessary capital for its next 12 months — an estimated $85 million to $95 million — AppHarvest hopes to sell its 15-acre Berea farm to its distributor, Mastronardi Produce Limited, and then lease back the facility."

AppHarvest CEO Jonathan Webb, a Kentucky native, told Cheves that he remains committed to his goal of employing large numbers of people at high-tech farms around the eastern half of the state. "If you’re asking today, we’re going to focus on saying, let’s get these four farms up and running in 2023, and month by month in 2023, we’ll continue to evaluate options to expand the business,” Webb told Cheves. “But I would say if you let the past be a predictor of the future, we started with absolutely nothing two and a half years ago and we’ve built eight million square feet of stuff. Anything we do going forward will never be as hard as what we’ve already done on the development side."

"People in Eastern Kentucky are understandably skeptical about companies that come into the region and make promises about jobs," Webb told Cheves. "But AppHarvest actually has built farms, hired people and started to deliver produce to market. . . . Hopefully when we have this conversation in the end of ‘23, you’ll see a company that is less about talk — and less about me talking, candidly — and more about results."

On Giving Tuesday, please consider a gift to the Institute for Rural Journalism, publisher of The Rural Blog

In the beginning, there was Thanksgiving. Then there was Black Friday, named by retailers for the positive ink it brings to their business ledgers. Then there was Small Business Saturday, Subscribe Sunday and Cyber Monday. And now, as a relief or antidote to all the getting, there is Giving Tuesday.

"It’s a simple idea," the organizers say. "Find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to join in acts of giving. Tell everyone you can about what you are doing and why it matters. Join a national celebration of our great tradition of generosity. And together we’ll create ways to give more, give better and give smarter."

The gifts can be of time, talents or money. If you're making monetary contributions, please consider supporting the publisher of The Rural Blog, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky. The institute is supported by an endowment at the university, which accepts online donations. To make an online donation, click here. If you want to make a gift with more immediate impact, make out a check to the university, put "Rural Journalism, operating" on the memo line and mail it to us at BLD 217, University of Kentucky, Lexington KY 40506-0042.

Thanks for whatever you can do. At a time when audiences are being asked to pay more for journalism, so it can remain robust in the service of democracy, we hope you will find The Rural Blog and its publisher worthy of your support.

Melanoma cases are more common in rural areas; one reason: lack of dermatologists, Michigan researchers say

Melanoma is the the third most-common cancer found in rural America. A new study from Cancer Reports on residents from rural Michigan that shows the frequency and deadliness of undiagnosed skin cancer among rural residents when compared to urban dwellers. "One reason for that dramatic disparity: lack of dermatologists in rural counties," reports Eric Freedman of Capital News Service in review of the report. "Michigan has almost twice the number of dermatologists per capita practicing in urban counties And 38 of the state’s 62 rural counties have no dermatologists at all."

Lead researcher Richard Shellenberger, an internal medicine specialist at Trinity Health Ann Arbor Hospital in Ypsilanti, told Freedman, “The lack of doctors in rural areas was a significant factor. It takes a special person to say, ‘I want to practice in the Upper Peninsula; I want to practice in rural Northern Lower Peninsula.’”

3D structure of a melanoma cell derived by ion abrasion
scanning electron microscopy. (Image from Unsplash)
If cancer is diagnosed late, it is more likely to be severe. Dearborn dermatologist Karen Chapel told Freedman, “The more deeply melanomas invade the skin, the higher their risk of metastasizing – spreading to internal organs – and being deadly."

Steven Daveluy, professor at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, told Freedman that rural residents are more than three times as likely to work outdoors than their urban counterparts, increasing their exposure to the sun,

While there is a national dermatologist shortage, the lack is more acutely felt in rural areas. Daveluy gave Freedman an example of a farmer he treated: "After years of sun exposure working outdoors, he found an open sore that wouldn’t heal on his scalp. He didn’t like to go to doctors, plus he was busy working his farm to keep everything running, so he delayed coming to get treatment. When he did come, the sore had grown significantly. Due to his delay in seeking care, his surgery was more extensive.”

Chapel and Shellenberger gave Freeman a short list of items that could help ease the medical care gap between rural and urban areas, which included telehealth, incentives for rural rotations by medical students, and government support for new physicians entering rural communities with a focus on specialty physicians.

As U.S. farmlands remain dry, California counts the cost of its drought: $1.7 billion, thousands of acres unplanted

U.S. Department of Agriculture Drought Monitor map, adapted by The Rural Blog; click on it or the legend to enlarge.
Lack of rain has forced many Western farmers to leave their lands fallow, and the Department of Agriculture's Drought Monitor shows many other farming areas are also parched. But perhaps the most significant drought is in the No. 1 agricultural state, California.

The state's drought is scalding its way into its third year and cutting its agricultural output. "In the fall, rice fields in the Sacramento Valley usually shine golden brown as they await harvesting. This year, however, many fields were left covered with bare dirt," reports Ian James of the Los Angeles Times. About 752,000 acres have gone unplanted. "Gross crop revenues fell $1.7 billion, or 4.6%, this year. Revenues of the state’s food processing and manufacturing industries declined nearly $3.5 billion, or 7.8%."

Don Bransford is a rice farmer and board president of the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District along the northern Sacramento River. "Bransford typically farms about 1,800 acres of rice. But the drought was so severe this year that water deliveries to area farms were drastically cut," James writes. "Bransford didn’t plant a single acre. Many other farms went idle as well. . . . This year the drought has pushed the fallowing of farmland to a new high." Bransford told James, “It’s a disaster. This has never happened. Never. And I’ve been farming since 1980.”

The severity and length of the drought have compounded the suffering. Loss of farmland is a piece of that, along with farmworker job loss. "The researchers said California lacks sufficient programs to assist laborers who lose farm jobs," James reports. "They said it’s crucial 'to identify and assist communities that rely on seasonal and permanent agricultural jobs that are vulnerable to drought'."

California farmers have turned to pumping groundwater, but "Such heavy reliance on wells will face new limitations in the coming years," James writes. "In areas where rice farms have long depended solely on flows from the Sacramento River, many growers have no wells. Without water flowing in canals, farmers were left without options."

The continued drought leaves an uncertain future for wildlife such as salmon and migratory birds, James reports: "While the dry fields show the drought’s immediate toll, farmers expect it could take a year to determine how severe the ecological ripple effects turn out to be." Tim Johnson, president and CEO of the California Rice Commission, told him that millions of wetland-dependent birds are threatened, and could alter their migratory paths along the Pacific Flyway.