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Earth Day: Protect What Matters

Today is Earth Day, a day annually marked for environmental protection. Good, we need it. We all need to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and eat clean food.

All kinds of organizations run advertisements today promoting a clean environment, a protected environment, wildlife habitat conservation, and so on. Most of the ideas we will see promoted today are worthy of attention and worthwhile policy efforts, while some of the more heavily marketed ideas are Marxist anti-capitalism dingbat stuff.

The two biggest challenges we have on Earth Day are overcoming the fake issue of human-caused “climate change,” and protecting the American economy. Achieving both of these goals will actually maximally protect the environment.

“Climate change” on its face is a factual thing, because Planet Earth has had constant climate change since its creation. Glaciers have come and gone on their own, sea levels have risen and fallen on their own, and plants and animals have come and gone as the greater environmental forces around them directly shape their habitat, the salinity of the water they live in, and the air they breathe. All of this dynamism has happened without any human intervention. In fact, most of it has happened without any humans existing at all.

Climate change continues on today just as it always has since the Earth was born, and though human actions might contribute to it in some minuscule way, the fact is that humans have a far greater and more measurable impact on more important environmental issues.

The problem with the current human-caused climate change hoax is that it sucks all of the air out of the room, leaving no oxygen for other real, actual, measurable and documented issues like lost wildlife habitat, farmland loss, water quality, forest fragmentation, and controlling the invasive plants and animals that are literally destroying our native environments and species.

All of the “climate change” policy bandied about is a result of bad modeling using flawed data, junk science, topped off with deliberate fraud and public shaming of heretics. The fake but well-heeled climate change industry is fueled by juicy foundation and government grants, making all kinds of financial incentives for people to continue this fakery. Fake climate change junk science can be a hell of a good business for a few private bank accounts!

Normal people see this obvious policy fraud and end up writing off the entire quest for environmental quality as just a bunch of “environmentalist wackos” trying to destroy Western Civilization. And indeed, a great many of the climate change advocates are in fact America-hating Marxists, whose suspect opinions aren’t worth spit. But it is not fair to roll all environmental quality efforts in with the climate change nonsense. Leftists include the real issues together with fake climate change to give climate change unwarranted credibility, while magical-thinking meatheads on the right also do it to discredit all environmental quality issues.

If there is one thing we have all witnessed over the past month of China Flu coronavirus here in America, it is that in addition to weakening America by sending our technology and jobs there, for decades Americans have exploited Chinese slave labor and the Chinese environment so that we could have more cheap junk available to play with at home. It is an undeniable fact that like the Russians before them, Chinese Marxism has destroyed the Chinese environment, while American capitalism has created the high living conditions here necessary for our citizens to expect environmental protection.

Capitalism protects the environment, while Marxism and communism destroy it through unbridled industrialism to buoy up their ruling elites.

Today, on Earth Day, the best thing we can do is to re-open the American economy and create the kinds of high quality living conditions here that incentivize environmental protection. Protect the world’s environment by repatriating American jobs from their thirty-year hiatus in China. Demonstrate to Americans that we can all enjoy high quality environmental protection without sacrificing our economy on the false altar of human caused climate change..or a Chinese virus whose effects are felt locally but whose costs are being applied equally everywhere across the United States.

SB 619 captures tug of war between big government and the citizenry

SB 619 is PA state senator Gene Yaw’s fix to a problem that should not even exist. And yet, this bill is being greeted by so-called environmental advocates as some sort of “attack” on environmental quality and environmental protection.

Senate Bill 619 is about one simple thing: Making Pennsylvania state government regulators spell out exactly what is, and what is not, an environmental spill that is so bad that it contaminates waterways and is a violation of our state “clean streams” law.

You would think that in late 2019, 243 years after the founding of America, all state governments would be run by responsible adults who are committed to the wellbeing of their fellow citizens first and foremost. A commitment like that would first and foremost be to the rule of law and the due process rights that undergird and frame everything that is American representative government. Simply put, the government cannot willy nilly decide for itself, based on ambiguous, general, opaque, undefined, arbitrary standards, what is an environmental contamination, and what is not an environmental contamination.

In representative government, We, The People are entitled to know our boundaries, where the borders are to our behavior, and where the government gets to step in and correct us. This understanding keeps us from making decisions in good faith that end up getting us entangled with government enforcers who hit us with fines and penalties for making an incorrect decision.

Presently, and unbelievably, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has no clearly defined standards for what qualifies as a reportable spill and contamination into a waterway. PA DEP’s entire standard is, get this, for real: “We will know it when we see it.”

Folks, I am not exaggerating, I am not making this up. This is how much infinite latitude the state government has now and wants to maintain. This means that literally every time something – a cup of coffee, a can of paint, a bucket of mine sludge, or any miniscule part thereof – falls from its original container into the environment, and into or next to a waterway, it must be reported to PA DEP. And PA DEP reserves the right to fine whoever is responsible, irrespective of whether or not that spill involved anything dangerous, toxic, or at such a small dilution that it is de minimus in its effect.

In practice, this means that PA DEP both chases its tail going after ridiculously unimportant “spills” that pose no threat to anything, which underserves the citizenry who underwrite PA DEP’s budget, and that the agency also holds a huge arbitrary hammer over the head of every single citizen, contractor, and industrial or commercial operator in or passing through the Commonwealth. While being arbitrary is bad enough, reports from the field – you know, the little people who actually work outside getting stuff done for the rest of us consumers – is that plenty of PA DEP staff use that arbitrary standard in capricious ways. These PA DEP staff are, simply put, empowered to be vindictive and petty little tyrants whenever they want to be.

To their shame, the opponents of SB 619 are acting as if the bill is some sort of assault on environmental quality, when it is not, not even close. The PA Fish & Boat Commission is actually on record opposing SB 619 because it allows for “interpretation” in the law. This is embarrassingly bad government to say things like this. Needless to say, the private sector opponents of SB 619 say even worse and less accurate things than the PFBC has written.

Can you imagine something so horrid as there being two sides to a story, some “interpretation” about what happened, and not having just one omnipotent government agency position, take it or take it, because you can’t leave it, because the government agency has 100% of the say in what happened, and you can’t figure it out until some government employee tells you? Is it really so terrible to rein in our government agencies and require them to live by defined standards like the rest of us have to live? Like our Federal and State Constitutions require? Like a whole bunch of other states already have?

SB 619 simply asks PA DEP to establish criteria and standards so that the citizenry and the industries they work in can know when they are following the law, and when they are not. It asks government employees to live by the rules everyone else must live by. It asks government to not engage in arbitrary and capricious behavior, which undermines everything our Republic and our Commonwealth are about. You know, that liberty and freedom stuff that seems so insignificant to the self-appointed guardians of environmental quality. One thing is clear: My fellow environmental professionals may care about the environment, but they do not care about democracy or good government.

This bill is not about environmental quality, it is about democracy, the role of government, good government, government transparency and accountability, and limits on government power. It represents the tug of war going on nationwide between people who want unfettered big government power, and those of us who want government to live within the Constitutional boundaries everyone else lives in.

SB 619 needs to be implemented now.

(c) 2006 Bonnie Jacobs

Time to regulate the social media utilities

Social media companies like FakeBook, Twitter, Google, InstaGram, etc. have become the modern day information equivalents of the first power and public service utilities.

Instead of water molecules, gas, sewer, or electrons (electricity) entering and exiting your home to keep your life running, today’s digital social media companies transmit photons and ones and zeros to your laptop and handheld device. The net result for the end user is that all these things are all one and the same utility service, and they serve the same function.

Just like the power company, say PPL, and the gas company, and the water company cannot discriminate against users of their services, so the same applies to the digital information companies above.

For example, you do not come home at night, flick the light switch on your wall, and remain in darkness because you got a call earlier in the day from PPL saying “Sorry, Jane, we have turned off your electricity, because we have determined that your political views are contrary to our arbitrary and vague terms of service and our company’s values.”

PPL and other utilities must provide their services and products equally to all who pay for them.

It is time to hold digital utility service providers to the same exact standard. No discrimination against users.

Presently, Google so obviously fakes its search results to favor political candidates and campaigns the owners of Google favor. Google’s politicization of search results on every subject and person is egregious.

Like Google, FakeBook also obviously discriminates against conservatives, engaging in shadowbanning and hiding messages its liberal owners do not want the public to see. Worse, Fakebook has made a lucrative business charging its users for advertising, but the person who pays for that service never knows just how far their investment went, because FakeBook deliberately withholds information about its actual efforts.  It is a blind item, exactly the opposite of what it should be: Open and transparent.

Twitter’s legendary war against non-liberals is the most public form of censorship. As illiberal as this censorship is, liberals still cheer.

These companies and the many other liberal book-burners in the digital media business have declared war on ideas and people they simply disagree with. It is time to end this assault on the First Amendment rights of American citizens who have entrusted these companies to abide by universal free speech standards.

It is time to regulate these companies like the public utilities they have become, to prevent them from illegally discriminating against people who merely disagree with their owners.

Treat us all the same legally.

Lazy summertime guidance here

It is a scientifically proven fact that humans can endlessly watch three things:

Fire. Not a building on fire, but a campfire or a bonfire can hold a gaze long into the night. The licking flames dance and mesmerize. So long as it is not a threat, fire is intriguing, even consoling. People sitting around a campfire can stargaze and stare silently into the coals for a very long time, no words necessary.

Running water. Tumbling streams, rivers broken by rocks indicating the flow, running water is equally as eye-gluing as fire, except that its sounds can tinkle and chime, often mimicking voices if you listen closely enough. A medium size free-stone stream is probably the most fascinating to watch of all water bodies, because it is a rich mix of intimate nooks and crannies, power, and music.

If you enjoy staring at mirror-still lakes, see a doctor.

Last but not least, people working. Yes, that is right, watching people work is one of the most fulfilling and enjoyable acts you can do. I do it all the time. Try it, you will definitely like it. It beats actually working, but oddly it makes you feel like you are achieving a lot. That right there is perfect summertime, my kind of summer time.

So, in terms of a lazy summer enjoyment, I am looking for a splashy back yard pool, with a dad barbecuing over a natural wood campfire grill nearby. If you are aware of of such a set-up, let me know.

I’ll be able to just sit there and quietly soak it up all day long. And yes, I will bring the beer.

Hope you are enjoying your summertime…

Major Conservation Milestones Remind us of Happy Things

Amidst all the present misery, happy reminders float to the top of our consciousness. That America and Pennsylvania have achieved great conservation successes amidst tremendous challenges.

The US National Parks turned 100 this year.

What would America be without our national parks and monuments? These special places define who we are; they are the cultural blood quietly flowing through our national body.  Green, magnificent, beautiful, beyond human abilities, our national parks should be celebrated. Like our own blood, we only see them if we prick the skin to see what is underneath. Go ahead, take a drive and visit a national park; discover yourself.

This spring our family vacationed in Yosemite, and hiked day after day, lusting after photo-perfect landscape views and heavenly skies within our grasp, and without end. Last year it was Sequoia. I remain proud of my contributions to the creation of the Flight 93 Memorial, which has grown up and flown far beyond my 2003 expectations.

Here in Penn’s Woods, the Fish & Boat Commission turned 150 years old this spring. Yes, the PFBC is as old as the first US Civil War, a reminder that even in the often lawless throes of the industrial revolution’s filthy sewage, Americans, namely Pennsylvanians leading the way, valued their clean water and healthy fish stocks.

Mostly innocuous, the PFBC is like the angel in white whispering on our shoulder, reminding us of the good things we should do. Several years ago the agency survived an assassination attempt. Turned out, angel’s voices are too pure for industrial-strength greed and career politicians’ wishes for unlimited power and public wealth.

Also in Penn’s Woods, the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources recently named six new wild areas on existing public land. While wild areas are nice and welcome, waving a magic wand over existing public land and renaming it kind of begs the question: Why is this conservation agency not adding additional new acreage to the public holdings, and then striking a balance with the new designations?

Last week my son and I drove through the heart of Pennsylvania’s state forest complex, up in the northcentral region. Natural gas development arrived there and changed some of the publicly owned landscape in the past nine years. While gas drilling brought much needed cash and energy independence, laudable and valuable results, they came with a price – our public lands bore new scars from industrialization.  DCNR would do the public interest best if it sought to balance impacts on its land with the addition of new acreage purchased from willing sellers. Then the new wild areas would really mean something.

Live on, PFBC, long may you prosper and guard our most basic nourishment, the water we drink.

Live long, national parks, long may you remind us of our best, purest selves.

Invasives & Sustainability

Invasives present a challenge to sustainability because they quickly fill gaps where natives take longer to grow and thrive. Natives evolved in their environment over long periods of time and they perform certain key services and functions that are necessary for the overall system to function properly.

As non-native invasives proliferate, they choke out the natives and reduce their ecosystem services. Almost always, the non-native invasives perform limited or no services, despite showy appearances. Their presence is totally unsustainable and is ruinous if left unchecked.

A day or so ago while walking on my favorite rail-trail, it was impossible to ignore the sickly sweet smell of Japanese honeysuckle, a huge invasive nearly everywhere in Pennsylvania. For whatever reason, Japanese honeysuckle has spread like wildlfire in the past few years. My only neighbor’s property is like Ground Zero, so whatever fight I am carrying on at my place is limited in effect by the invasive sanctuary across the boundary line. Like a shrub explosion.

Sure, the ruby throated hummingbirds benefit from honeysuckle, and who doesn’t like watching the gentle, delicate little birds flit around?

But this much honeysuckle is quickly crowding out native trees that benefit our native wildlife. Occasionally deer will browse the tender tips of a honeysuckle shrub, but after the first inch it’s just tough woody debris that deer won’t eat. So it grows pretty much unchallenged. And boy does it ever grow!

Along with Japanese honeysuckle comes barberry, multiflora rose, and autumn or Russian olive, often all popping up unannounced in large clumps. Interesting, isn’t it, that they all appear together? Once in a while a nasty ailanthus (“Tree of Heaven”) will push its way in among the other invaders.

After years of battling these non-native invasives, I have come to rely on pulling up the barberry by hand, usually with the aid of a length of re-bar, and spraying the smaller olives, honeysuckle, and multiflora rose with glyphosate. Sawing substantially into the larger honeysuckle shrubs and spraying the cut with glyphosate usually does the trick; it works much better than trying to spray the whole big shrub.

Intriguing, don’t you think, that the biggest advocates of fighting non-native invasives are the ones most aggressively pushing non-native invasives in the form of lawbreaking illegal border crashers?

Recently I was on the West Coast, in an area in the grip of a Biblical-size drought. Water scarcity is becoming a serious problem. Public demand for water far outstrips supply. A drive through the Central Valley revealed apocryphal “Dustbowl” conditions, with signs everywhere warning about the consequences of poor water management.

It is not a sustainable situation. Yet this area also holds the greatest number of illegal invaders in America, who put an unsustainable demand on other public services besides water. Public transportation, public schools, roads, highways, sewage treatment, public spaces like parks, police, fire and hospital services are all stretched way beyond capacity by the presence of the non-native, non-tax-paying  invasives.

And yet the voting citizens of Los Angeles and California continue to aggressively vote for unsustainability.

Boggles the mind.

Tom Wolf & Republican legislature should agree on this, if nothing else

A version of the following essay was published by the Patriot News at the following URL: http://www.pennlive.com/opinion/2014/12/if_they_can_agree_on_nothing_e.html#incart_river

Conservation: An Area Where Democrat Tom Wolf and the Republican Legislature Should Agree
By Josh First

Land and water conservation are not luxuries, they are necessities in a world of growing demand for natural resources. As America’s population grows, the natural resources that sustain us, feed, us, cloth us, nurture us, warm us, and yes, even make toilet paper (and who can do without that), must be produced in ever greater supply.

Some of these resources are at static levels, like clean water, while others, like trees, are renewable. All are gifts that God commands us to manage wisely in Genesis.

Pennsylvania is facing some challenges in this regard, however, as the Susquehanna River shows serious signs of strain, and our world-famous forests face a devastating onslaught of invasive pests and diseases.

John Arway, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, has been advocating for officially declaring the Susquehanna River an “impaired waterway” for years. The data Arway draws upon support his concerns: Dissolved oxygen so low that few animals can live in the water, one of three inter-sex (hermaphroditic) smallmouth bass populations in the country, a bass population with insufficient young to keep the species alive, the remaining bass covered in tumors and pfiesteria lesions, invasive rusty crayfish pushing out the tastier native crayfish, among many other factors. Once-abundant mayfly hatches are now non-existent.

Fishermen used to travel to Harrisburg from around the country to fish for smallmouth bass; not any more.

This past September a friend and I hunted geese out in the river, wading in our shorts. We saw none of the usual turtles, water snakes, birds, or fish that once teemed there, and the water smelled…odd. One day later, a small scratch on my leg had became infected with MRSA, and I spent four days hooked up to increasingly stronger antibiotics at Osteopathic Hospital.

In November, we canoed out to islands and hunted ducks flying south. Except that over the past ten years there are fewer and fewer ducks now flying south along the Susquehanna River. We speculate that there is nothing in it for them to feed upon, and migrating ducks must have turned their attention to more sustaining routes.

The river almost seems….dead.

Feeding the waterways are Pennsylvania’s forests, the envy of forest products producers around the world. Our state’s award-winning public lands and their surrounding mature private forestlands sustainably and renewably produce a greater volume of the widest variety of valuable hardwoods than any other state in America.

Our forest economy isn’t just about timber production, however, as hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation themselves represent large economic sectors. Our robust black bear and wild turkey populations draw hunters from around the world, but these popular species depend almost entirely on acorns from oak trees; without acorns, they would hardly exist.

The oak forests at the core of our world-famous hunting and valuable timber were once considered under the gun from overabundant deer herds, but with that problem now resolved they face an adversary that could turn them into the 21st century version of the American chestnut – sudden oak death disease.

Recall that the American chestnut, like the now-extinct passenger pigeon, once carpeted the entire east coast with unimaginably abundant white flowers and nutritious nuts that fed wildlife and humans alike, and its wood was a more available version of cypress – strong, rot-resistant, straight grained, easy to work. And then, like the once unimaginably vast swarms of passenger pigeons that had blackened the day sky until they also suddenly disappeared, the mighty chestnut was wiped out in a few short years, 100 years ago, by an imported disease.

Our oaks, ash trees, and walnut trees seem to be facing a similar doomsday right now.

Thousand cankers, emerald ash borer, lanternfly, ailanthus, mile-a-minute weed, Japanese honeysuckle, Asian bittersweet vine, and many, many other non-native invasive plants, bugs, and diseases now threaten our valuable native forests on a scale unimagined just a few years ago.

Ironically, the edges of our state and federal highways appear to be the greatest means of spreading these pests.

Today, Pennsylvania has a true balance of power between Democrat governor-elect Tom Wolf, and an overwhelmingly Republican legislature. There isn’t much policy that these two equal forces are going to agree on. But if there is one area that they should easily find common ground, it is land and water conservation.

Something is seriously wrong with the Susquehanna River, and something is about to be seriously wrong with our forests.

Whether a crushing regulatory response is the appropriate way to address these issues, or not, let’s hope that Pennsylvania state government can help fix these problems before they become catastrophes future history books write about.

Josh First is a businessman in Harrisburg

When the government just takes your land

About four years ago, Pennsylvania state government created a new regulation setting aside 150-foot buffers on waterways classified as High Quality and Exceptional Value.

This means that 150 feet from the edge of the waterway up into the private property, it’s designated as off-limits to most types of disturbances.

The purpose was to protect these waterways from the effects of development.

The end result is an obviously uncompensated taking of private property by the government. When the government takes a tape measure and marks off your own private land and says you can’t do anything with this huge area, or a road is going through, you’re simply taken advantage of. You’re robbed. It’s Un-American.  It’s unconstitutional.

Pennsylvania is a great state. I love living here. It’s saddening to see such top-down, command and control, clunky, one-size-fits-all regulations in this day and age. We can do so much better than this approach.

To start, create incentives for landowners to go along. Give tax credits and write-offs for land taken by government.

Do we all want clean air, soil, and water? Sure. Breathing, eating, and drinking clean air, food, and water are necessary to surviving. But that’s not the question.

The question is HOW we pursue those goals.

Requiring American citizens to simply give up their investments, with no compensation, creates losers in a system that was originally designed to make everyone a winner.

Instead of pitting government against the citizens, we need policies and laws that help and serve citizens, that are fair to citizens. That is by definition good government.

This current 150-foot buffer regulation is by definition bad government.

For You, Land Dedication this Sunday

This Sunday at 1:00, in Clark’s Valley, Dauphin County, a wonderful ceremony will be held to dedicate a mile-long stretch of Clark’s Creek to the public.  Sold by Flemish Down LLC at a bargain sale price to the Central Pennsylvania Conservancy, the pretty property was then flipped to the PA Fish & Boat Commission so that the public can fish and hunt on it until the next glacier comes through.

I had a hand in it.

I remain confused by fellow Americans who see land conservation as some sort of sinister plot, a “land grab,” and other negative epithets.  These same people have no problem with open land being converted to concrete, a permanent alteration of an otherwise functioning system that spews clean air and water without anyone lifting a finger.  If converting to concrete is good, and maintaining as a functional system supporting human life is bad, then I have to say that logic and reason are not behind the opposition.  These are mutually exclusive perspectives.

Put another way, if open land is bad, and developed land is good, from where do we get our food, water, and air?  Is land really only good and valuable if it has been developed?  Can humans replicate the free air- and water-producing services of open land?  No?

Other benefits of this land protection include stable stream banks, wildlife habitat, scenic beauty, public recreation, and so on.  Thanks to the generous Blum + Cameron family, the public now has a quiet place to picnic, fish, hike, and look at.  Last year we documented dozens of native wildflowers there, and to me, they alone are reason enough to keep this property open; I have yet to meet a human (common, easy to find) who looks or smells as good as a pink lady slipper, trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit, or bluett (all uncommon, hard to find).

BLM giving open land a black eye

The Bureau of Land Management was established as a temporary holding entity, dealing more with water management than common natural resources and the plants and animals living on the land under its care.

Now, BLM has become the poster child of Big Government Gone Wild, using armed force and the threat of lethal force, let alone more prosaic forms of terrifying government coercion, to achieve dubious policy goals.  Many of these policy goals grate on the public, who perceive them as being at best ancillary to BLM’s mission, if not at odds with the multiple-use land management models the agency is supposed to implement.

Citizens, who own their American government, chafe at official signs that say “No Trespassing – BLM Property,” as though the very taxpayers underwriting BLM are alien invaders upon that government-managed ground.

Job #1 would be to actually communicate with the citizenry about the agency’s policy goals, the underpinnings and purpose of its policies, the reasons for protecting some landscapes from vehicles.  Certainly, BLM can achieve better ways to manage environmentally sensitive land, and perhaps asking the citizenry for ideas would take the agency into new, good places.  Many users of federally-managed lands are actually savvy about Leave No Trace, and most others at least care, even if they do not yet know how to minimally impact an area.

BLM’s heavy hand in the supposed name of environmental quality is giving all open land a black eye.  As a result of BLM’s foolish behavior, all kinds of questions are being asked about public land, not just about how it is managed, but why it even exists.  Perhaps it is a good discussion to have, and I certainly stand on the side of having those public spaces, but so far the BLM is just pouring gasoline on the fire, which threatens to overtake all public lands.

Part of any discussion should include What Next about BLM.  The agency has clearly outlived its established purpose.  My instinctive thinking is to divide up its lands among the agencies best suited to manage each piece – National Park Service for this heavily used area, National Forest for this timbered area, and so on.  And no, conveying some of these lands to states is not a bad thing, so long as the deeds carry perpetual stipulations that the lands cannot be sold to private owners or converted to some other use.  Mining, timbering, preservation of historic artifacts, water management, passive and active recreation, scenic beauty, ecological purposes…states can do many of these as well as a federal agency, and all without having snipers in fatigues pointing guns at citizens.

If nothing else, getting rid of BLM to get rid of its ridiculous snipers and armed thug culture is a worthy step.  Not only is that insane behavior unworthy of a representative government, it is unrelated to the purpose of protecting open land in the first place.