Fish consumption rate: Why 20 years of studies is enough

Source: Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

Over at Keep Our Seafood Clean, we’ve taken a look at the current debate in the state legislature over funding a new study on fish consumption rates in Washington. This isn’t a new debate, but after twenty years of study, some are still calling for “more study.”

Catherine O’Neill’s broad piece on the fish consumption rate has a great explanation on all of the attacks on previous fish consumption studies and why decades of work is enough.

Throughout the process of updating the FCR in Washington, there have been broadsides on the science that supports increased rates.

Although the relevant surveys of tribal fish consumption were carefully conducted to ensure their scientific defensibility, and have consistently been found to meet EPA’s (and sister states’) standards in this regard, their validity has nonetheless continued to be challenged by industry and individuals.

Ecology’s initial (Fish Consumption Rate Technical Support Document) FCR TSD considered three studies of tribal fish consumption and one study of Asian and Pacific Islanders in King County, finding each of these four studies to be scientifically defensible. In its FCR TSD, Ecology developed a set of criteria to determine the technical defensibility of fish consumption survey data, to be used in assessing the data’s relevance and appropriateness to the regulatory context in Washington, i.e., for use in standards for water quality, surface water cleanup, and sediment cleanup. …

As documented at length in the FCR TSD, each of the tribal studies considered… was found to have “satisfied” Ecology’s measures of technical defensibility.

The support for the previous studies has been deep and wide:

Moreover, the scientific defensibility of each of the tribal studies had previously been considered and affirmed in various assessments by EPA and by sister states. After an evaluation of the surveys according to five criteria, including the study’s “soundness,” “applicability and utility,” “clarity and completeness,” its handling of “uncertainty and variability,” and whether the study’s methods and information were “independently verified, validated, and peer reviewed,” EPA selected each of the tribal studies for inclusion in its general guidance document for conducting exposure assessments, the Exposure Factors Handbook. EPA Region X, moreover, recommends the Tulalip/Squaxin Island and Suquamish studies in its guidance for cleanups in Puget Sound, giving “highest preference” to these “well-designed consumption surveys.” Oregon’s independent Human Health Focus Group conducted an extensive year-long review and found each of these studies to be scientifically defensible, deeming them both “reliable” and “relevant.”

But, yet:

Still, the scientific defensibility of the tribal studies has been questioned, repeatedly, by individuals and industry as part of the Washington process. Some commenters asked that the tribal survey data be “verified” or sought additional “peer-reviewed studies generated through traditional means.”

Some people have asked that all the year’s of previous study be treated differently that other studies:

Some commenters called for the raw data (as opposed to the studies summarizing the survey results) to be “turned over” for “independent review” – a highly unusual request in general, given the ethical protocols that govern studies with human subjects, and a request in this context that is at the very least insensitive, given tribal populations’ understandable mistrust of handing over their raw “data” to outsiders.

To the credit of the state, the pushback against questioning these studies has been consistent. For example, in terms of turning over the “raw data”:

Ecology also called upon experts at the University of Washington School of Public Health to explain the standard practice in the field with respect to custody of survey data – an explanation that confirmed the inappropriateness of requests that the raw data be turned over to the public.

Even as late as last fall, Ted Sturdevant, then director of the Washington Department of Ecology told a house committee: “I’m confident that the studies that we’re relying on were done with all appropriate scientific rigor.”

So, why the need for even more study?

Lummi Nation harvests hatchery fish, releases natural origin chinook

Lummi Natural Resources staffers Tony George, left, and Ralph Phair collect a hatchery chinook salmon from a tangle net in the Nooksack River.

Lummi Natural Resources staffers Tony George, left, and Ralph Phair collect a hatchery chinook salmon from a tangle net in the Nooksack River.

Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

The Lummi Nation Natural Resources Department is conducting a pilot tangle net fishery for hatchery chinook salmon that allows natural origin fish to be released without harm.

Nooksack River early chinook are part of a major population group that must be recovering before the Puget Sound chinook listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) can be delisted.

“We’re trying to conserve all the natural origin fish by using a smaller mesh net,” said Alan Chapman, ESA coordinator for the tribe. “The fish tangle by the snout, rather than the gills or body, so they can be safely released.”

Fish from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s North Fork Nooksack early chinook hatchery program are marked with a clipped adipose fin and/or coded-wire tag. When a tangle net is used, tribal fishermen can harvest those fish, while releasing the wild ones.

The Lummi Nation contracted with tribal fishermen Rab Washington and Johnny Olsen to fish the small mesh net, with the assistance of natural resources staff who sort the fish, take tissue and scale samples from natural origin fish before releasing them, and take scale samples and coded-wire tag information from the retained hatchery salmon.

“We hope this pilot program will lead to a closely supervised tribal fishery so we can get back to the days our elder fishers reminisce about,” said Merle Jefferson, director of Lummi Natural Resources. “Eventually, we could use the tangle net to harvest pink salmon that haven’t been available to tribal fishermen because of chinook bycatch concerns. This will also increase fishing opportunities during the spring and summer months, and help protect the fall chinook fishery from bycatch concerns.”

The decline in salmon runs has come at a great cost to Lummi fishermen, who make up one of the largest tribal fishing fleets in the country. Increasing fishing opportunities is crucial to supporting their Schelangen, or way of life, and retaining their tribal identity.

“We need to get our kids out fishing so they can understand the way it used to be and why we do what we do,” said Randy Kinley, fisherman and Lummi policy representative. “Future leaders need to remember where we came from, as it was taught to us.”

The tangle net fishery helped the tribe get one step closer to that goal by providing all of the salmon served at the Lummi Nation’s First Salmon Ceremony in May.

“Everyone in our community had an opportunity to feast on the salmon and celebrate our culture and connection to our fishing heritage at our First Salmon Ceremony,” Jefferson said.

The Healing Trees: Planting Takes Off in Lame Deer, Pine Ridge, Fort Thompson and Beyond

 Nonee White, 10, shows off the treehouse behind her family’s home on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, in Montana. (Stephanie Woodard)

Nonee White, 10, shows off the treehouse behind her family’s home on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, in Montana. (Stephanie Woodard)

Stephanie Woodard, Indian Country Today Media Network

“Trees offer food, shelter, shade and privacy; they control erosion and air pollution, and they’re beautiful,” said Ryhal Rowland, extension agent for the Northern Cheyenne Extension Service, in Lame Deer, Montana. The service was finishing up its annual spring tree and shrub extravaganza, during which it sold 2,700 plants for copy each.

“Most people bought 10 to 20 seedlings, and we provided them with planting and care instructions—siting, spacing, soil preparation, watering and so on,” said the service’s administrative assistant Pamela Dahl. Lilacs have always been a favorite with the older generation, Dahl said. “They’re still top sellers, along with crabapple trees and chokecherry and juneberry bushes.”

Hunkpati gardens coordinator Billy Joe Sazue and director Corrie Ann Campbell in Crow Creek Sioux Tribe’s new orchard, planted this past April on land in Fort Thompson, South Dakota, provided by Christ Episcopal Church, seen at rear. (Stephanie Woodard)
Hunkpati gardens coordinator Billy Joe Sazue and director Corrie Ann Campbell in Crow Creek Sioux Tribe’s new orchard, planted this past April on land in Fort Thompson, South Dakota, provided by Christ Episcopal Church, seen at rear. (Stephanie Woodard)


After years of intensive planting of flowering and fruiting plants, the Northern Cheyenne homeland is covered in spring and summer with clouds of fragrant lavender, purple, pink and white blossoms. Several miles from Lame Deer, an ornamental cherry tree presided over Patricia and Richard Rowland’s yard, which was bounded by hedges of mature lilacs and a grove of crabapple trees. Similar uplifting sights abounded— lyrical embellishments of the dramatic landscape of craggy mountains and broad green valleys.

As warm weather arrives across the country, extension services, tribal forestry departments and funders such as First Nations Development Institute and the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation are helping tribal members put in trees of all types. According to First Nations senior program officer Raymond Foxworth, the group has assisted new or established orchards for the Oneidas of Wisconsin, the Hopi and Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College. “Our grantees distribute fruit and information about healthy eating within their communities, as well as bring produce to market,” Foxworth said.

Through its Trees for Tribes program, the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation has installed orchards on dozens of tribal homelands and even used helicopters to airlift plants into the Havasupai Tribe’s remote village at the base of the Grand Canyon. The foundation collaborates with local groups and individuals, according to director Cem Akin. “That way, advocates for the orchards remain as the trees mature,” said Akin.

On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Akin’s foundation recently established five orchards. Under the direction of arborist Rico Montenegro, tribal members planted phalanxes of young trees at schools and community organizations. The lead local partner was Earth Tipi—a sustainable-living nonprofit in Manderson and the site of the fruit-tree foundation’s first Pine Ridge project, in 2011.

Ryhal Rowland, director of the Northern Cheyenne Extension Service, lends a hand, as Rhonda Sankey plants blue spruce near her home on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, in Montana. (Stephanie Woodard)
Ryhal Rowland, director of the Northern Cheyenne Extension Service, lends a hand, as Rhonda Sankey plants blue spruce near her home on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, in Montana. (Stephanie Woodard)


Robert Brave Heart, an official at Red Cloud Indian School, one of the five new sites, called Pine Ridge a “food desert” and said the trees would become a critical community resource. “None of us will sell the fruit,” explained Earth Tipi director Shannon Freed, but rather will manage pick-your-own operations, a requirement of the foundation.

In Lame Deer, Rowland, who is Northern Cheyenne, checked in with Rhonda Sankey, as she mixed peat moss and soil and got ready to plant 10 newly purchased blue spruces. Sankey eyed a row of holes in her lawn: “My kids helped dig the row. I guess it’s straight!”

While individuals like Sankey were enhancing their homesites, the tribal forestry department was replanting ponderosa pines on the thousands of reservation acres burnt by last year’s forest fires, said Rowland. “The fires were horrendous, terrifying, the worst in living memory. It’ll take years to replant.” At 30 cents per tree, the springtime reforestation job is a good gig for tribal members, who can typically plant 1,000 trees a day, earning $300, she said: “For some, it’s the only income they’ll have all year.”

Looking at the hills surrounding her yard, Sankey, who is Blackfeet, recalled the damage. “The fire came just to the top of them. This side looks normal, but the other side is completely charred.”

A 20-year-old crabapple grove graces a yard on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, in southeastern Montana. (Stephanie Woodard)
A 20-year-old crabapple grove graces a yard on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, in southeastern Montana. (Stephanie Woodard)


Sankey lifted the bare-root spruces from a basket of peat moss, tucked them into their new homes and surrounded each with a wire cage to protect it from marauding animals. She and Rowland shared gardeners’ war stories of cats and dogs gnawing on small trees, goats making a meal of them and horses simply yanking them out of the ground. “My goats ate the lilacs I put in last year,” Sankey recalled ruefully.

The spruces will do well, not least because the area’s soil is so good. “A river once ran through here, so the soil is very rich,” explained Sankey. “These seedlings will grow nearly a foot a year and within five years will screen the house from the road.”

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a fruit tree! Fruit Tree Planting Foundation used a helicopter to airlift trees to the Havasupai tribe, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, in Arizona. (Courtesy Fruit Tree Planting Foundation)
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a fruit tree! Fruit Tree Planting Foundation used a helicopter to airlift trees to the Havasupai tribe, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, in Arizona. (Courtesy Fruit Tree Planting Foundation)


On the Crow Creek Indian Reservation, in South Dakota, a brand-new orchard is taking root with support from First Nations Development Initiative. In April, a hardy group gathered in Fort Thompson just after the season’s last big snowstorm to plant 200 trees and 70-plus shrubs, including traditional favorites such as wild plums, chokecherries and buffalo berries. They went in on land provided by nearby Christ Episcopal Church.

The tree enthusiasts donned parkas and boots to dig and plant, with tribal chairman Brandon Sazue leading the way. “Putting in the first tree was an honor for me,” said Sazue. “It was a cold, foggy day, but everyone was out there. It showed lots of dedication, and I thanked them for the job they were doing.”

That spring day may have been surprisingly chilly and wet, but the snowfall got the reservation out of drought status—just barely, but a welcome change from the past several parched years, said Billy Joe Sazue, coordinator of the gardens program, part of local community development group Hunkpati Investments. According to Sazue, the trees will bear fruit in three to five years, with the berry bushes probably producing sooner than that. “It’s all about healthy food and eating,” he said.

Ryhal Rowland, director of the Northern Cheyenne Extension Service, checks lilac blooms in her grandparents’ yard for frost damage. (Stephanie Woodard)
Ryhal Rowland, director of the Northern Cheyenne Extension Service, checks lilac blooms in her grandparents’ yard for frost damage. (Stephanie Woodard)


Much planning—from researching suitable plant varieties to designing the irrigation system—preceded planting day, said Hunkpati’s new director, Corrie Ann Campbell. Joining Hunkpati and First Nations in the preparations were tribal members, the tribal council, Diamond Willow Ministries, additional churches, Boys and Girls Club of Three Districts, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Health Service and nearby Lower Brule Sioux Tribe’s wildlife department. “We were blessed to have so many great partners,” said Krystal Langholz, former director of Hunkpati, on whose watch the orchard was conceived and planted.

Said Campbell: “The orchard is one of many positive changes in the way people at Crow Creek view nutrition, exercise and health.”

Trees provide everything from fruit to an opportunity to mobilize a community, according to Akin: “Their energy is healing. Trees do it all.”



Paul Frank Native American-designed collection an apology for powwow party?

Paul Frank parent company Saban Brands President Elie Dekel surrounded by products featuring Paul Frank icon Julius the Monkey. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times / June 19, 2013)

Paul Frank parent company Saban Brands President Elie Dekel surrounded by products featuring Paul Frank icon Julius the Monkey. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times / June 19, 2013)

By Booth Moore, Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2003

On Tuesday, I wrote a post about the new “Paul Frank Presents” collection of accessories designed in collaboration with Native American artists.

After so many egregious misappropriations of Native American culture by fashion brands (“Navajo” T-shirts at Urban Outfitters and feather headdresses on the runway at Victoria’s Secret), I wrote that it was heartening to learn that Los Angeles-based Paul Frank, the brand that turned a sock monkey into a fashion statement, announced it is collaborating with four tribes in regions across the country in what seemed to be an authentic way, giving artists the opportunity to design accessories for a special collection launching in August on

(The artists include Louie Gong from the Nooksack tribeCandace Halcro from the Cree/Metis tribe; Dustin Martin from the Navajo tribe; and Autumn Dawn Gomez from the Comanche/Taos tribe.)

But I failed to include the backstory. Dr. Jessica R. Metcalfe, a Turtle Mountain Chippewa from North Dakota, who writes about Native American art, fashion and design, as well as owning and operating the site, where many of the artists tapped by Paul Frank sell their designs, elaborates on the collaboration in an illuminating post here.

“While I am undeniably thrilled about the announcement and all that it represents, the press release failed to mention the various factors that led to this collaboration,” Metcalfe writes. “Last September, the lifestyle brand Paul Frank hosted a “powwow”-inspired fashion event that featured some questionable party favors and activities.”

“After a sizable backlash from people from Native American communities and our allies, the brand removed over a thousand images of the event from their Facebook page, and the president of the company, Elie Dekel, reached out to myself and Adrienne Keene of Native Appropriations. He reached out to the two of us, I think, because we had been the loudest in pointing out the obvious racism behind this event … and so it began — the gesturing to apologize for this major slip-up,” Metcalfe writes.

Although Paul Frank’s collaboration with Native American artists will undoubtedly help bring the work of these talented young people to a wider audience, the company should have been forthcoming in press materials about the journey it took to get here. Because what is corporate responsibility without full disclosure?

The microbeads in your body wash are slowly filling the Great Lakes with plastic

By Sarah Laskow, Grist,

Sigh. You think the world would have caught on by now that plastic is one of the most incidentally destructive inventions the human race has ever come up with. Sure, L.A. just banned plastic bags, which is great. But meanwhile those tiny microbeads — the little bits of plastics in body wash that cosmetics companies invented for no real reason except to have a new thing to sell their customers — are slowly accumulating in the Great Lakes, where fish eat them.

Scientific American reports:

They are too tiny for water treatment plants to filter, so they wash down the drain and into the Great Lakes. The biggest worry: fish such as yellow perch or turtles and seagulls think of them as dinner. If fish or birds eat the inert beads, the material can deprive them of nutrients from real food or get lodged in their stomachs or intestines, blocking digestive systems.

I know, I know. But your skin feels so soft! (Does it? Does it reeeeallly?) Well, don’t worry: Soon you’ll probably be able to buy “natural” mud from the Great Lakes that’s full of the same exact exfoliants!

Sarah Laskow is a reporter based in New York City who covers environment, energy, and sustainability issues, among other things. Follow her on Twitter.

Fracking equipment set ablaze in Elsipogtog, New Brunswick

Shot-hole driller ablaze down the Bass River road. Photo: Miles Howe

Shot-hole driller ablaze down the Bass River road. Photo: Miles Howe

Source: Earth First! Newswire

Halifax Media Co-op reports that a piece of drilling equipment was set ablaze on the 24th, by person or persons unknown.  This comes amidst escalating resistance to hydraulic fracturing by indigenous peoples in Elsipogtog, “New Brunswick”.

This comes after numerous direct actions, the midnight seizure of drilling equipment, and a local man being struck by a contractor’s vehicle.

Supreme Court Ruling Impacts Voting Rights in Indian Country

Suzette Brewer, Indian Country Today Media Network

Signaling the end of Civil Rights era reformation, the Supreme Court on June 25 ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that section four of the landmark Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. According to voting rights experts and political scientists across the country, the ruling clears the way for states with poor histories in discrimination and voting violations to change election laws and enact procedures without federal preclearance or oversight.

In essence, the 5-4 decision issued by Chief Justice Roberts gutted the Act, ruling that while the section was necessary when the law was enacted by providing a formula for determining which jurisdictions would be covered under federal law, “current conditions” make that section unconstitutional. Previously, all or part of 15 states had been required to seek federal consent to any changes that may hinder the rights of minorities in elections.

For Indian country, the ruling has potentially devastating consequences for tribes residing in South Dakota and Arizona, as both states are specifically mentioned in the Act because of their repeated violations in gerrymandering, vote splitting, unreasonable polling placement and other discriminatory practices. While Charles Mix County in South Dakota is still under court order for preclearance until 2024, Shannon, Todd and Bennett counties are no longer required by law to apply for approval of their election laws.

“It’s incredibly terrifying for the Native community in South Dakota,” said Jana Kooren, interim executive director for the South Dakota office of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Striking down section four presents a real challenge to the tribes here because it essentially just made it easier for South Dakota to put up road blocks in allowing free, fair and accessible voting to Indian people.”

Election officials in South Dakota, however, minimized the impact of the decision, noting that the federal government rarely denied changes requested by the state.

“While it’s true that the ruling is limited in impact,” said Dr. Dan McCool, co-author of Native Vote, “what you’re going to see is a lot of law suits now coming out of section two of the act. And make no mistake, South Dakota holds the record for voting rights violations lawsuits.”

Section two of the Voting Rights Act, says McCool, specifically prohibits racial gerrymandering, vote splitting, and unfair voting practices, such as moving polling places to unreasonable places with the intent to hinder voter turnout.

“[The ruling] is also a very bad thing for tribes in Arizona,” said McCool, who is a professor of political science at the University of Utah and editor of The Most Fundamental Right: Contrasting Perspectives on the Voting Rights Act. “White election officials can now make changes in election laws without federal preclearance, and that could leave tribes vulnerable if local governments engage in election law changes that would have otherwise been rejected under section five. Even so, the rest of VRA is still intact, and that means tribal members must have equal opportunity to elect the candidates of their choice.”

But, he cautioned that it is now imperative that for section five to be effective that Congress will have to come up with another formula.

According to Kooren, efforts are already under way to seek a Congressional remedy to protect the rights of minority voters in states with historical problems in voting rights. She said that states under previous preclearance requirements are already rushing to pass new laws before Congress comes up with a new formula and that the reservations in South Dakota could be negatively affected until that happens.

“We’re encouraging Congress to pass a new formula that protects the rights of all voters,” said Kooren. “We believe that Shannon, Todd and Bennett counties should remain covered by the preclearance requirements because of the long, tortured history of abuses in those areas. And we need it to happen quickly.”

Regardless of yesterday’s ruling, said Kooren, the ACLU will continue to work on behalf of the tribes in South Dakota to ensure that the voting rights of tribal members remain intact.

“If necessary, we will continue to sue under section two,” said Kooren, “regardless of what happens to the coverage formula.”

In her scorching dissent issued from the bench, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg forcefully decried the Court’s circumvention of Congress’s authority to seek fair and equitable voting privileges for all Americans.

“The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective,” said Ginsburg. “The Court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclearance is no longer needed…. With that belief, and the argument derived from it, history repeats itself.”



Environmentalists demand new climate analysis for Keystone XL

Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post

Just a day before President Obama announced he would only approve theKeystone XL pipeline if it “does not significantly exacerbate the climate problem,” six environmental groups quietly lodged a protest with the State Department charging it would do exactly that.

The 48-page letter obtained by The Washington Post demands the State Department, which has jurisdiction over the pipeline permit, prepare a new supplemental environmental impact statement to take into account several new analyses that they say prove the project will speed heavy crude extraction in Canada’s oil sands region.

The State Department is currently responding to more than 1.2 million comments on the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement it issued March 1, which it plans to finalize this fall. In that document, the department suggested denial of TransCanada’s permit would have little overall climate impact because the oil would be extracted and shipped out anyway, largely by rail.

“Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the U.S.,” the draft assessment reads. “Limitations on pipeline transport would force more crude oil to be transported via other modes of transportation, such as rail which would probably (but not certainly) be more expensive.”

By contrast, the six advocacy groups–Bold Nebraska, Center for Biological Diversity, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oil Change International, and the Sierra Club–said recent evidence does not support this conclusion.

“Since the close of the comment period, evidence of inaccuracies and bias in the State Department’s review of Keystone XL has been steadily mounting,” says Doug Hayes, a Sierra Club attorney. “This new information demonstrates that the review relies on an overly-simplistic, outdated view of a rapidly-changing oil market.”

They cite several reasons for redoing the assessment’s climate analysis, including a Goldman Sachs report that questions the extent to which rail shipments can replace a pipeline slated to transport 830,000 barrels of crude per day; the Royal Bank of Canada’s estimate that denying the project would jeopardize $9.4 billion in oil sands development; and the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency filed comments in April suggesting the State Department downplayed the amount of greenhouse gas emissions linked to the project’s construction. EPA estimated the pipeline’s annual climate impact–taking into account the carbon intensity of Alberta’s oil compared to average crude oil–would be 18.7 million metric tons of carbon from the time of extraction to the time it reaches gas stations.

The groups also call on State Department officials to take into account the higher “social cost of carbon” the administration is now using, which aims to capture the negative climate impact of activities that release carbon into the atmosphere. This month the Office of Management and Budget raised that figure by roughly 60 percent.

Will the State Department do a new assessment? That remains to be seen, since the department is in the midst of finalizing its environmental impact statement, and it did not respond immediately to a request for comment Thursday.

Strengthening our Federal Partnership with Tribal Nations

By Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior,

This week represents another important step forward in the nation-to-nation relationship between Indian Country and this Administration.  Yesterday, President Obama signed an Executive Order establishing a White House Council on Native American Affairs, which will help to continue to strengthen our federal partnership with Tribal Nations.

As Secretary of the Interior, I am honored to chair this Council, which will bring together federal departments and offices on a regular basis to support tribes as they tackle pressing issues such as high unemployment, educational achievement and poverty rates.  By further improving interagency coordination and efficiency, the Council will help break down silos and expand existing efforts to leverage federal programs and resources available to tribal communities.

Throughout the year, the Council will work collaboratively toward advancing five priorities that mirror the issues tribal leaders have raised during previous White House Tribal Nations Conferences:

1) Promoting sustainable economic development;
2) Supporting greater access to and control over healthcare;
3) Improving the effectiveness and efficiency of tribal justice systems;
4) Expanding and improving educational opportunities for Native American youth; and
5) Protecting and supporting the sustainable management of Native lands, environments, and natural resources.

Identifying these priority areas was just one of the many beneficial outcomes of the White House Tribal Nation Conferences, which have been held each year since the President came into office. That is why it’s so important that yesterday’s Executive Order also takes the step of codifying the White House Tribal Nations Conferences as an annual event to ensure that the Executive Branch will continue to meet directly with federally recognized tribal leaders each year.

We know the power of these conferences to strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship between the United States government and tribes and want to ensure that they continue.

The federal government’s unique trust relationship with tribes, as well as distinct legal and treaty obligations, calls for a priority effort to promote the development of prosperous and resilient tribal communities. Yesterday’s Executive Order underscores this Administration’s promise to engage in truly collaborative partnerships and meaningful dialogue with tribal communities.

I’m pleased to play a role in the President’s historic action to further advance the policies of tribal self-determination and self-governance that will help tribes build and sustain their own communities.

After mass bumblebee die-off, activists call for new pesticide rules

jetsandzeppelinsIf only bees could read.

If only bees could read.

By John Upton, Grist,

Even as Oregonians are mourning and memorializing the tens of thousands of bees killed in a recent pesticide spraying, they’re also trying to prevent other bees from meeting a similarly tragic end. That means keeping the pollinators away from the poisoned trees that caused the deaths. And for some activists, it also means pushing for new rules and policies to curb use of neonicotinoid insecticides.

The tragedy started a week and a half ago when a landscaping company sprayed Safari neonic insecticide over 55 blooming trees around a Target parking lot in Wilsonville, Ore. Soon thereafter bees started dropping dead. The number of bees killed in the incident has risen to more than 50,000, making it the biggest known bumblebee die-off in American history. The insecticide was reportedly sprayed in an attempt to kill aphids.

bumblebee net
Mace Vaughan / Xerces Society
Insect-proof netting being draped over insecticide-drenched trees in Wilsonville, Ore.

To stop the slaughter, nets have been draped over the insecticide-drenched linden trees to prevent pollinators from reaching their flowers. The time and equipment needed for the draping were donated by five cities, three landscaping companies, and volunteers, according to the Xerces Society, a nonprofit that works to conserve insects and has been helping to coordinate the effort.

Xerces Executive Director Scott Black told Grist that the Wilsonville die-off, and a similar but less dramatic Safari-induced die-off in a linden tree in Hillsboro, Ore., represent the “tip” of a pollinator-killing iceberg.

“These insecticides are used throughout the country in both urban and agricultural environments,” Black said. “If these events had not happened over areas of concrete, I am not sure anyone would have ever noticed. The insects would just fall into the grass to be eaten by birds as well as ants and other insects.”

Black said his group will send letters to local and state agriculture departments across the country, urging them to end the use of neonicotinoid insecticides on trees, lawns, and for other cosmetic purposes on lands that they manage. He said such a policy is in place is Ontario.

(Separately, beekeepers and activists are suing the federal government in an effort to ban the use of neonicotinoids in America. The pesticides are deadly to pollinators and their use is being banned in Europe.)

Xerces also wants warning labels mandated in aisles of stores where insecticides are sold to help consumers understand their hazards.

“In urban areas, most of the pesticides used are purely cosmetic. It’s to have a perfect lawn. It’s to have a perfect rose. It’s to have a linden tree that doesn’t have aphids that drop honey dew,” Black said. “Losing valuable pollinators, such as bees, far outweighs the benefits of having well-manicured trees and lawns.”

A bumble bee protected from insecticide-covered tree
Mace Vaughan / Xerces Society
A bumblebee kept away from poisoned flowers by netting.
John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: