Merced Sun-Star
UC proposes 9 percent increase in student fees...TERENCE CHEA, Associated Press Writer
OAKLAND, Calif. The University of California on Wednesday proposed raising student fees by 9.3 percent for the coming academic year, the latest move by the 10-campus system to close a growing budget deficit.
The UC Board of Regents is scheduled to vote on the proposal when it meets in San Diego next week.
Under the plan, UC undergraduate fees for California residents would increase $662 to $7,788 a year. Adding fees charged by individual UC campuses, in-state undergraduates on average would pay a total of $8,720 in student fees.
Tuition for nonresident undergraduates would increase by 10 percent to about $22,000.
Fees for in-state graduate students in academic and professional programs would increase by 9.3 percent.
UC officials said the fee increases would be largely offset by expanded grants and tax credits in the $787 billion federal stimulus package approved earlier this year. The university estimates that 81 percent of undergraduates with family incomes below $180,000 will have access to those grants or tax credits.
"For virtually all families ... they are in very good shape," UC President Mark Yudof said. "The lion's share of this is already paid for."
The proposed fee increase is expected to generate $152 million, though $54 million would be used to provide financial aid to undergraduate and graduate students.
Lucero Chavez, a UC Berkeley law student who heads the University of California Student Association, said while the expanded financial aid would cushion the impact of the fee increases, the university should find alternatives to raising fees to solve its budget problems. The current system makes low-income students dependent on financial aid and vulnerable to policy changes, she said.
"UC needs to work toward a better long-term solution to funding," Chavez said. "The current high-fee, high aid model ... isn't smart or sustainable policy."
The fee increase is one of several measures aimed at reducing the university's $450 million budget deficit. UC has frozen administrator salaries, imposed hiring freezes, reduced faculty recruitment and cut freshman enrollment.
The university is also preparing a plan to reduce pay and impose furloughs for employees in case it needs to cut expenses further later this year.
UC President Mark Yudof said the university may have to make more drastic cuts if California voters do not approve a series of budget reform measures in the May 19 special election. Five out of six of those measures trailed in a new Field Poll.
UC Merced pioneers have put down a few roots...DANIELLE GAINES
Matt Lyons had never stepped foot in Merced until move-in day at UC Merced four years ago. The San Diego native never really thought about what college would be like after he got accepted -- he just went with the flow.
"What did I get myself into?" he remembers asking himself that day.
And while Lyons, scraggly-haired and admittedly apathetic at the time, didn't feel any connection with the campus that first day, the bond he developed with UC Merced will be on display to every student that arrives on Scholars Lane for years and years to come.
Lyons, now 21, is the determined mind behind the UC Merced class of 2009 gift: Little Lake Amphitheater.
The amphitheater will be an outdoor venue located just outside the dining center on campus, and facing Little Lake.
While the guts of the theater's infrastructure will be a naturally terraced grassy slope, the class of 2009 is raising money to create rows of brick platforms and stairs to provide an ideal sitting space for lunch, class or club and community meetings.
The UC Merced seniors can't fund the gift entirely on their own, though, with an estimated cost of $50,000.
Instead, Lyons came up with a community and alumni fundraising plan -- and by all accounts announced that plan with a flair.
In February, several members of the senior class were present at an informal graduation planning meeting at WingStop, a restaurant on Yosemite Avenue.
Lyons arrived at the meeting -- a bit frazzled -- toting a 1:87 scale model of the amphitheater, his idea of the ultimate class gift.
Committee members said great, but how are you going to pay for it?
"In the middle of WingStop, he just slammed an already engraved brick on the table," fellow senior Renata Santillan recalled.
"An amphitheater is something that every university community needs, and without the combined efforts of the entire community, it could be a decade before our campus has one," Lyons tells potential contributors. "The time to make this happen is now, and the project is ours. Leave your legacy -- build our amphitheater."
Community members can buy engraved bricks of varying size and dedicate them to any friend, family member or cause, Lyons said. The bricks cost $100-$175, but donations of all sizes are appreciated, Lyons said.
A large gift even by the standards of top-tier universities, Lyons' plan for the gathering area was shot down and even deemed impossible when he first presented his plans to members of the campus administration in February last year.
Mostly that was because the first cost estimate for the project came in at $500,000, Lyons said.
Instead, students were presented with a plan to plant a few trees and create a scholarship.
"Trees? Hardly pioneering," Lyons said.
At that point, he redoubled efforts and started thinking of ways to reduce the project's cost.
"I was distressed," he recently admitted. "I had invested a lot of time and effort into the project."
On a Friday afternoon in February, Lyons said he caught the ultimate break when he passed Tom Lollini, chief campus architect, on the Quad sidewalks.
Pulling the small, black leather notebook he always carries out of his pocket, Lyons asked Lollini if he had any cheaper ideas.
Lollini did and he couldn't help providing the input.
The two created a rough sketch in the notebook as they walked across campus together.
"They made a very compelling presentation," Lollini said of the senior class gift committee.
Lollini said he was deeply impressed with Lyons.
"It was quite clear that he was young and ambitious, energetic, idealistic," Lollini said. "He had this big idea, this great ambition."
After a formal meeting later that week, they had a new, cheaper plan that was ultimately approved by campus planners.
The amphitheater requires 5,000 bricks for completion and will provide a gathering place for up to 2,000 people. Lollini said the project could be completely finished in six to eight months after the students are done fundraising.
While plans for the Little Lake Amphitheater have come a long, long way since Lyons' rough computer rendering that featured squiggly white paint lines superimposed over a photo of the ridge, visions of bricks will continue to follow him long after graduation.
When he finishes all of the final requirements for his 24 credits of classes, Lyons will put his U.S. history degree to work in Merced: "I'm going to buy some bricks, build an oven and open a pizzeria," he said.
Our View: Study doesn't warrant halt of exit exam
There is help for students, and it does a disservice to give them a diploma if they can't read or do math.
Can you read at the 10th-grade level? Can you do math at the seventh- and eighth-grade level?
That's the basic information that California's exit exam, required for graduation, tells students, employers and others.
On the bright side, the majority of students pass the exit exam on their first try in 10th grade -- more than three-quarters, in fact.
But what happens to students who don't pass the exam in 10th grade?
A new study by Sean Reardon, an associate professor at Stanford University, and Michal Kurlaender, an assistant professor at the University of California, Davis, examines that question.
The unremarkable conclusion: Students in the bottom quarter of their class in achievement in middle school and who do not pass the exit exam in 10th grade are less likely to graduate with their classmates in 12th grade than if the exit exam requirement did not exist.
But there were some surprising conclusions: Lower-achieving students who pass the exit exam in 10th grade are less likely to graduate than they would be if there was no exit exam. That's a thoroughly odd result.
Lower-achieving girls and minorities in middle school who do not pass the exit exam in 10th grade are much less likely to graduate when they reach 12th grade than lower-achieving boys and whites.
The researchers say this is not because of the school they attend (they're all attending the same schools) or racial or gender bias in the test questions.
So what is going on? They conclude that the problem is "stereotype threat" -- out of fear of fulfilling negative expectations about their group, students suffer anxiety and underperform relative to their true ability.
The researchers believe this is activated when at-risk students "sense that something important is at stake" -- such as their own graduation.
The evidence cited for this is that minority and female low-achieving students do better on low-stakes standards tests than on the high-stakes exit exam in the 10th grade.
So what now? Certainly, further research will be necessary.
Reardon and Kurlaender did not look at any of the post-10th grade interventions that school districts have adopted to reach this group of students.
For example, John Marinovich, chief academic officer for Fresno Unified School District, said students who don't pass one or both parts of the test in 10th grade are automatically put into an intervention class the next school year.
The district also tries to identify struggling students early on to provide extra help well before the test.
Statewide, students have at least five opportunities after 10th grade to retake sections of the test they haven't passed.
They also can take the exit exam as many times as necessary after 12th grade.
This study, emphatically, does not mean that the state should get rid of the exit exam.
It would be a disservice to students to give them a high school diploma when they can't read or do basic math.
Other research indicates that challenging students with high expectations and letting them know that they have the potential to meet high standards is effective -- and that's where California should concentrate its efforts.
Lowering California's graduation standards is not the answer.
Modesto Bee
Algae chemical blamed for dead fish in Modesto canal...John Holland
An algae-control chemical is believed to have killed fish in a Modesto canal, but this did not violate any rules, a Stanislaus County official said Wednesday.
The fish kill was reported Tuesday evening in a canal near Modesto Junior College East Campus.
"Circumstantial evidence" indicates that the fish were poisoned by a herbicide used by the Modesto Irrigation District to clear algae from the canal, said Milton O'Haire, assistant agriculture commissioner for the county.
His office, which monitors pesticide use, was among the agencies that responded after the dead fish were reported near Wright Street.
O'Haire said about 40 carcasses — small catfish, bluegill and carp — were counted at the site.
Neighbor Fred Detherage, who reported the fish, said he saw dead frogs and turtles as well.
"It's just something we don't want to happen again, that's all," he said. "To see so much death was terrible."
O'Haire said the MID applied the chemical, Magnacide H, at far less than the maximum concentration allowed. It entered the canal system near Empire and apparently poisoned the fish between there and the Modesto neighborhood, he said.
"It's not a natural waterway," he said. "It's a canal, and so (the chemical) is allowed."
MID spokeswoman Melissa Williams said fish sometimes get past barriers in the canal system or are dropped in by people.
She added that Magnacide H is injected underwater by well-trained crews and "dissipates quickly" after killing the algae.
The California Department of Fish and Game and the Stanislaus County Department of Environmental Resources also responded. O'Haire said they inspected the canal almost to the San Joaquin River and found about half a dozen dead fish.
He said such fish kills are not uncommon. The fish can spend the winter in the small pools left after canals are drained, then get poisoned when the waterways fill and the anti-algae chemical is applied for the first time in spring.
Nuclear dump fight continues...BRENDAN RILEY, Associated Press Writer
CARSON CITY, Nev. -- While heartened by the Obama administration's opposition to a high-level nuclear waste dump at Nevada's Yucca Mountain, a state panel fighting the project was told Wednesday it can't let up on its efforts.
"We really can't relent until we know for certain we've accomplished what we set out to do," Senior Deputy Attorney General Marta Adams told the state Nuclear Projects Commission.
Adams said the proposed federal dump "is on its way to dying" but added the problem, "like a prisoner on death row, is now we've got endless appeals" aimed at keeping the federal Department of Energy project alive.
The Bush administration had applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a construction and operating license. But President Obama's 2010 budget calls for scrapping all spending on Yucca Mountain except for what is needed to answer questions from the NRC on the license application "while the administration devises a new strategy toward nuclear waste disposal."
Bruce Breslow, the state commission's new executive director, said he believes that given the Obama administration's stance on the dump "a political decision will lead to the licensing application being withdrawn before any hearing begins some time next year."
But, Breslow added, the state must be "prepared to do battle in court" if need be to keep the project, which already has cost $13.5 billion, from moving forward.
Bob Halstead, a longtime transportation consultant to the state commission, said the DOE in January released a plan for transporting the waste across the country, but added the plan is badly flawed.
"Nowhere in the plan does DOE mention that spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste are dangerous," Halstead said in a report to the commission, adding that many train and truck shipments would come through the Las Vegas area.
For two decades, Yucca Mountain has been the sole focus of government plans for storing the nuclear waste. But Obama's energy secretary, Steven Chu, said last month that Yucca Mountain is no longer viewed as an option for storing reactor waste.
Instead, Chu said the nearly 60,000 tons of used reactor fuel can remain at nuclear power plants around the country while a new, comprehensive plan for waste disposal is developed.
In 1982, Congress declared that the government has responsibility for reactor waste. Five years later, Congress passed what Nevada officials termed the "screw Nevada bill," which singled out Yucca Mountain as the only site to be considered for the waste dump.
Fresno Bee
Water Coalition want to take plight to D.C....Robert Rodriguez
Members of the California Latino Water Coalition, who recently staged a four-day protest march that drew thousands, said Wednesday that they now want to take their plight to Washington, D.C.
"We want to keep building the momentum and bring civic leaders and celebrities to Washington," said entertainer and comedian Paul Rodriguez, a member of the coalition. "We have to keep this fight for water alive."
Rodriguez, who led the demonstration that began in Mendota on April 14 and ended with a rally at the San Luis Reservoir, joined more than 50 others at the Fresno County Farm Bureau offices for a planning meeting.
Among the first steps is to thank the marchers and supporters with a free comedy show on May 9 in Firebaugh.
"Right now, people need something to lift their spirits. It's good to see people laugh," Rodriguez said. "Besides, Jay Leno did it for the auto workers, and I'm a lot funnier."
Rodriguez said he wants to invite some of his fellow comedians, including Gabriel Iglesias.
The March for Water, as the event was called, drew protestors from every walk of life and included farmers, farmworkers, business owners and politicians.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger attended the final day of the rally and was criticized by some for not doing enough.
During Wednesday's meeting, coalition members vowed to not let their cause be ignored or misunderstood. They want to continue to raise awareness and pressure lawmakers for more water.
Among the goals is to ease the Endangered Species Act to allow more water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta for Valley farms.
Coalition members argue that environmental restrictions have pinched water supplies, forcing growers in the Westlands Water District to fallow thousands of acres. And unemployment rates in some rural communities have reached 40%.
Mario Santoyo, a member of the coalition, said it succeeded in accomplishing one of its main objectives: drawing state and national attention to the issue.
Now, he said, the coalition needs to continue to spread its message that water for Valley farms should not be restricted for the benefit of endangered species in the delta.
"We need to continue to let the entire state know that this is a problem," Santoyo said. "We need to make changes to the ESA [Endangered Species Act], and we need to make that trip to Washington to make that argument."
Coalition supporter and Fresno radio personality Ray Appleton said the group is up against a big opponent that is armed with more money and lobbyists.
"But we are not going to stop until we win this," Appleton said.
Sacramento Bee
Editorial: UC's case for executive pay
To hear public officials talk, you would hardly know that the nation faces a major economic crisis, that California's state revenues are in trouble or that there's any need to reject business as usual.
Consider the 2008 annual report on executive compensation for the University of California system. It's prefaced with explanatory statements such as:
• Salaries have been frozen for 340 senior managers.
• Senior management salaries represent less than 1 percent of the total UC payroll.
• "Markets are a reality. The University needs to be able to pay market wages to attract and retain quality people."
All of that is true. And yet, given the situation that the state and nation faces, the UC system comes across as out of sync with current events and civic sentiment.
The president of the UC system earned $591,084 in cash compensation in 2008. And most of the UC system's 528 senior managers earned well over $200,000.
They're worth every penny is the refrain. We're in a global war for talent is the justification. Well, yes.
But why shouldn't the nation's renowned public university system take the lead in acknowledging that in the current climate public university administrative salaries have to come down to earth – just as housing prices and corporate executive compensation have begun to do?
Instead, the UC system announces a pay freeze and then proceeds to do such things as promote the director of national laboratory affairs (earning $244,500) to a job promoting UC's federal agenda (earning $270,000). The higher salary represents an infinitesimal portion of UC's budget. But sticking with big salaries when higher education is being slashed sends a bad message.
And it is costing the public university system much-needed public and political good will. A revised but still flawed Senate Bill 217 by Sen. Leland Yee would prohibit pay raises for all public university executive officers in any year that the Legislature freezes or reduces money for higher education. It carries all sorts of perverse, unintended consequences (such as providing incentives to set higher base salaries or to use other sources of funding to boost pay).
To forestall such ill-considered legislative action, leaders of our public university systems need to show that they understand the changed situation. It's not enough to dismiss the issue of executive compensation with "markets are a reality." The market is undergoing a huge correction, and our public university systems need to follow suit.
Stockton Record
Habitat for threatened frog could cost tens of millions...Alex Breitler
SACRAMENTO - Call it the $44 million frog.
That's the estimated cost to designate "critical habitat" for the threatened California red-legged frog, believed by many to be the inspiration behind Mark Twain's "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."
Last year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed tagging 1.8 million acres across the state as critical habitat, including a corner of far southwest San Joaquin County and 4,500 acres of private ranchland in Calaveras County.
Critical habitat can slow down or stop development if scientists believe the frogs are in danger.
Fish and Wildlife commissioned an economic report released this week, suggesting the direct cost on new developments as a result of frog habitat could top $44 million through 2030.
That number, however, is highly variable and may be only a fraction of the real cost.
Even if no critical habitat is established, the price to protect the frog and consider its habitat could range from $1.65 billion to $2.5 billion over the same time period, the analysis says.
The report's release gives the public another chance to comment on the frog habitat, said Fish and Wildlife spokesman Al Donner. Comments about the cost are fair game.
"The law does give the secretary authority to delete areas from critical habitat if there are sufficient economic impacts," Donner said.
Much of the $44 million in direct costs would be because of delayed construction as developers or private property owners consult with scientists, the report says. Development, however, is expected to occur on less than 1 percent of the private lands pegged for habitat.
The red-legged frog tale has grown into a tome. The feds originally proposed 4.1 million acres of critical habitat, but that was scaled back to 450,000 acres in 2006.
The number was changed yet a third time, to 1.8 million acres, after it was revealed that a former Department of Interior official had inappropriate influence over decisions about endangered species, including the frog.
The Home Builders Association of Northern California, which sued Fish and Wildlife over its original designation, could not be reached Wednesday.
An association official said last year that environmentalists were using the law to "hijack" land use in California.
To comment
To submit comments on the California red-legged frog's critical habitat, visit www.regulations.gov. To learn more about the frog, visit www.fws.gov/sacramento.
Delta fix a must, speaker warns...The Record
STOCKTON - Someone must make a hard decision about how to fix the Delta, a decision that will likely involve trade-offs, a Stanford University professor of civil engineering told alumni and community leaders on Wednesday.
Delta smelt are "definitely on the way out," Stephen G. Monismith said during a luncheon address, while other species such as striped bass and salmon also have declined.
Changes to the state's water delivery system - such as a peripheral canal, the "$10 billion experiment" - may not be enough, he said.
"We seem to be getting more and more questions," Monismith said. "I wish it was as simple as re-plumbing the Delta."
A key issue, he said, is how much fresh water flows through the Delta and out into San Francisco Bay.
When flows are high, saltwater is pushed back to the west; during low flows, salt creeps into the Delta and potentially affects the amount of food available for fish, not to mention water quality for farmers.
He said a holistic approach to the Delta is needed, rather than considering its many parts piece by piece.
"At least people are starting to think about what we want the Delta to be," he said.
Los Angeles Times
Judge blocks part of ports' clean-truck program
Truckers may stay independent at Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, preliminary injunction says. Old, polluting diesel rigs can still be banned...Ronald D. White
In a victory for independent truckers, a federal judge on Wednesday blocked part of a program to cut diesel emissions by phasing out 17,000 old big rigs at the nation's busiest port complex.
U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder's preliminary injunction halted some new rules, including one that prohibits drivers at the Port of Los Angeles from being independent contractors. That was a provision sought by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
But supporters of the nation's most ambitious effort to clean the air around a major seaport complex said that the most important part of the plan -- bringing in newer and cleaner trucks -- would proceed.
"We are still banning older trucks and collecting the clean-truck fee to fund replacement trucks," said Richard D. Steinke, executive director of the Port of Long Beach. "That allows us to achieve our goal of cleaning the air and protecting the health of our community."
Villaraigosa said he was "pleased that the heart of the clean-truck program is in place and we're moving full steam ahead with removing dirty diesel trucks from our communities and harmful pollutants from our air."
Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Geraldine Knatz said the port was "committed to implementing the most sustainable program possible."
Some major issues remain unresolved.
Left for consideration is just how much of the ports' original plan can be used to decide which trucking companies and independent operators may ply their trade at the ports.
Snyder called a halt to the Port of Los Angeles' plan to require all independent drivers to become employees of trucking companies with concession agreements and to the Port of Long Beach's stipulation that concessionaires prove that they have informed drivers about available health insurance programs. Also left undecided is whether the ports will have to return concession fees that have already been collected.
Some said that the effort to clean the air at the ports could suffer significant delays. That's in part because there are doubts about whether independent drivers can earn enough to replace their older rigs.
"Without the employee program, port cleanup goals could be severely delayed because most independent owner-operators cannot afford to maintain and repair their trucks," the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement.
But some independent drivers have said that they prefer the freedom to set their own hours and pace of work, which they would lose if they were forced to become employees.

A lofty idea that's for the birds
There's a flock of reasons to increase funding to save imperiled avians, but one winning argument: Just watch a peregrine falcon...Olivia Gentile. Olivia Gentile is the author of "Life List," a biography of a housewife and cancer survivor who was the first person to see more than 8,000 bird species. Gentile's website is oliviagentile.com.
If you live in a large American city, you can probably drive a short distance to a skyscraper or bridge, spot a peregrine falcon nesting high above the ground and, if you stick around long enough, watch it dive down in pursuit of a pigeon at a speed of up to 200 miles per hour, capture the bird with its feet, kill it with a swift bite to the neck and devour the carcass in a nearby tree.
The peregrine falcon is marvelously abundant throughout the country and the world today, but that wasn't true 40 years ago. During the 1950s and '60s, the pesticide DDT dramatically reduced the peregrine's reproductive success by causing it to lay eggs with abnormally thin shells. The bird might have gone extinct if not for the growth of the environmental movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which led to the banning of DDT, the passage of the Endangered Species Act and the allocation of public money for captive breeding programs and other conservation projects.
Last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in conjunction with several conservation organizations, released a State of the Birds report, an assessment of the health of the country's 800 bird species. The findings were mixed. On the one hand, nearly one-third of our birds face the possibility of extinction, have suffered a serious population decline or are in danger of such a decline. On the other hand, many of the species that were in trouble several decades ago, such as the peregrine falcon and dozens of wetland birds, are now thriving precisely because our conservation efforts have paid off.
"People focus on the fact that indeed a large number of birds are declining, but what we have learned in the past 20 or 30 years is that, if we actually read the data and adjust our behavior and do some conservation, they can rebound," said John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and one of the contributors to the report.
The banning of DDT and other toxic pesticides also has led to the recovery of the bald eagle and the brown pelican in recent decades, according to the report. Over the same period, Duck Stamps, which give hunters and bird watchers a year's access to National Wildlife Refuges for $15, have generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, nearly all of which has gone to expanding wetland refuges. As a result, wetland bird populations have increased by nearly 60% since 1968, the report found. Species that have made particularly impressive recoveries include the American white pelican, osprey and double-crested cormorant.
Many of the birds we risk losing now are in Hawaii, which is home to about 30 of the roughly 75 American bird species and subspecies protected under the Endangered Species Act but receives only about 4% of the public money spent on threatened birds. Although 10 of these Hawaiian birds haven't been seen in decades and could be extinct, many of the others are eminently savable, according to George Wallace, vice president of the American Bird Conservancy and another contributor to the State of the Birds report.
"Hawaii has tended to be out of sight and out of mind," Wallace said. "We need to aggressively take steps to change that."
Until that happens, birds such as the Maui parrotbill will remain imperiled. A small yellow honeycreeper with a curved, parrot-like beak, the Maui parrotbill has been reduced to a single population of about 500 birds in a stormy, high-elevation rain forest. Feral pigs, an introduced species, have degraded the bird's habitat, eating holes in the trunks of tree ferns that then fill with water and become breeding grounds for mosquitoes, another introduced species. The mosquitoes, in turn, infect parrotbills and other birds with malaria. Because Hawaiian birds didn't evolve with mosquitoes -- Europeans brought the insect to the islands in the 1800s -- they have no resistance to the disease.
Currently, only about $100,000 a year of public money is spent on parrotbill conservation. If we spent between $250,000 and $400,000 a year over 10 years, Wallace said, the entire range of the surviving population could be fenced off to keep pigs and other introduced ungulates out, and a few of the birds could be translocated to a part of Maui with less severe weather in hopes of establishing a second, more fecund population. With these measures in place, the population of the species could be doubled in 10 to 20 years, Wallace said, significantly increasing its chances of long-term survival.
On the mainland, the birds that most need our attention are desert species, which together have suffered a 30% decline in population since 1968, and grassland species, whose populations are down 35%, according to the report. To reverse these declines, we need to put more money into habitat preservation and restoration.
The plights of both desert and grassland birds would be significantly improved, Fitzpatrick said, if the federal government were to increase its annual appropriation to acquire new land for the National Wildlife Refuge system. In recent years, this appropriation, under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, has been between $100 million and $200 million; conservationists would like to see that figure rise to $800 million. For that sum, the refuges could expand to include a significant amount of grassland, desert and forest habitat, giving terrestrial birds the same opportunity to rebound that wetland birds have been afforded through the Duck Stamp program.
The birds can be saved. The only question is, do we care enough to save them?
Some environmentalists talk about saving species because we have a moral imperative to do so. Others emphasize that we never know when a plant or animal will prove useful to medicine. Still others make the point that for the sake of our own health -- physical and economic -- we need to preserve and protect the nation's natural resources.
I agree with all of these arguments. But to me, the most compelling case for saving the birds is simply beholding a peregrine falcon and taking a moment to consider that we almost destroyed it.
New York Times
Undoing the Damage, Step by Step...Editorial
The Obama administration is reversing many of the potentially damaging anti-environmental regulations rushed through in the Bush administration’s final months. This week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar withdrew a rule that would have weakened protections for endangered species. He also took the first legal step to revoke a rule that would have allowed the ruinous coal mining practice known as mountaintop removal to inflict even greater damage on Appalachia’s landscape.
Former President George W. Bush’s endangered species rule would have greatly narrowed a longstanding requirement that federal agencies consult with scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration before proceeding with any project like a dam or road that could harm an imperiled species. For years, such consultations had been automatic; under the Bush rule, an agency could skip this step if it decided — entirely on its own — that no species would be harmed.
Mr. Bush’s Interior Department presented the change as an overdue act of regulatory streamlining, arguing that it would only affect cases in which there was no obvious threat. But there was impressive evidence assembled by the National Audubon Society and other mainstream environmental groups that federal agencies often underestimated the threat and that projects frequently needed to be modified or scrapped altogether in order to protect endangered species.
The Bush administration also rewrote a Reagan-era rule — the so-called stream buffer rule — in a way that allowed coal companies to dump wastes produced by mountaintop mining operations into the valleys and streams below. Restoring the old rule, which barred operators from depositing debris within 100 feet of a stream, will not by itself stop the practice. The rule must be rigorously enforced, which both Democratic and Republican administrations have failed to do. The government estimates that 1,600 miles of streams in Appalachia have been wiped out this way since the mid-1980s.
Other loopholes in the law also need fixing. Bit by bit, however, the new administration is tightening the noose on a practice that should have been outlawed years ago.
Mr. Salazar says he knows that coal, which produces half of America’s electricity, is important today and will remain so. He also says that he favors a responsible energy strategy that honors the needs of nature as well as commerce. The Interior Department is charged with managing the nation’s physical resources in a balanced way. After eight years in which nature was often sacrificed to private interests, it is a relief to see the department taking that responsibility seriously.
CNN Money
Foreclosure filings in record jump
Hope Now reports a 20% increase in initial foreclosure filings during March. But there was a steep drop in bank repossessions...Les Christie
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Lenders continued to rewrite troubled mortgages at a fast clip during March, but the weakening economy still sent foreclosure starts soaring to a record high.
March mortgage workout results announced on Thursday by Hope Now - a coalition of mortgage lenders, servicers, investors and community groups put together to fight the foreclosure plague - were a decidedly mixed bag.
Approximately 134,000 mortgages were rewritten by Hope Now members, which is nearly 20,000 more than the average since September. Another 115,000 at-risk borrowers were granted repayment plans, for a total of nearly a quarter of million troubled mortgages addressed for the month.
Repayment plans merely postpone payments for delinquent borrowers without making them any more affordable. Mortgage modifications are changes in the terms of loans that reduce or freeze interest rates, extend the life of the loan, reduce loan balances or any combination of those three, to, ideally, lower the amount borrowers pay monthly. Modifications are considered more effective that repayment plans.
"The lending industry is steadily working out solutions for homeowners and keeping as many as possible in their homes," said Faith Schwartz, director of Hope Now."I expect that these numbers will continue to increase as servicers work with the Obama Administration to implement its Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan."
Steep spike in starts
Despite the efforts, however, more homeowners fell into default in March. Servicers initiated foreclosure proceedings against 290,000 mortgage borrowers, a jump of nearly 20% from February's 243,000, and the highest monthly total since the coalition began tracking data in mid-2007. Starts have risen by more than a third since January.
On the other hand, completed foreclosure sales, transactions in which lenders have actually taken back homes from defaulting borrowers, dropped by 39% in March. Banks repossessed only 53,000 homes compared with 87,000 taken over during February.
Since the mortgage meltdown hit in July 2007, 1,447,866 homes have been lost to foreclosure.
Michael Bright, a chief statistician with Hope Now, attributed the sharp reduction in completed foreclosures to servicers suspending foreclosures as they geared up to implement the administration's refinance and mortgage-modification program.
"It's too early to say this is a trend," he said in a press release. "But anecdotal reports from servicers do indicate that they are taking this extra step to help homeowners who qualify stay in their homes."
Once the program is fully in place, servicers will have more tools to be able to make successful modifications to unaffordable mortgages. In the meantime, they're allowing a kind of grace period for homeowners until the government program can be applied to individual cases.
"Our counselors have been getting hardly any answers for weeks," said Mark Seifert, director of the East Side Organizing Project in Cleveland, which advocates mortgage workouts for hundreds of delinquent homeowners a month. "The servicers have been sitting on their hands."
But the impact of the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan should begin to be felt soon, according to Schwartz, who thinks it going to change - and improve - the mortgage landscape.
"It's one of the most comprehensive programs I've seen," she said. ""Eleven major servicers have formally signed on, and we should start to see data from it over the next few months."
5-4-09 Merced City Council/Redevelopment meeting...7:00 p.m….Not posted at this time
The City Council Agenda is available by 8:00 a.m. on Friday, prior to the regularly scheduled meeting.
5-5-09 Merced County Board of Supervisor meeting...10:00 a.m.
Agendas are posted 72 Hours Prior To Meeting
5-6-09 Merced City Planning Commission meeting...7:00 p.m.
Agendas are posted the Monday before a Wednesday Planning Commission Meeting.
5-7-09 MCAG Technical Planning Committee meeting...10:00 a.m.