Today in New West news: Senate introduces Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, Oregon man dies in Yellowstone, ZAGG Inc. holds 51 percent of cellphone screen protection market share in April, and Idaho farmer sentenced to three years prison for seed fraud.
According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, a bill co-sponsored by seven Democrats in the U.S. Senate (including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada) is calling for major protections on millions of acres across the West. Entitled the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, the bill would designate 23 million acres of roadless regions as wilderness, along with 1,800 miles of streams as Wild and Scenic Rivers. The land, which you can see in the map here, is spread across Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.
Besides the magnitude of acreage the bill seeks to designate wilderness, the bill warrants attention since it echoes a very similar bill that’s been stuck in the House since 1992. Both bills are being pushed by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, a wilderness advocacy group. Although Alliance executive director Mike Garrity says he doesn’t expect the bill to fare well in the Senate, he says its introduction “demonstrates that we are making progress.”
Progress or not, the measure is getting the cold shoulder from every U.S. Senator from the region, especially Montana’s senators. From the Chronicle:
Democratic Sen. Jon Tester said in a statement that Montana has special places that need protection, but he still opposes the bill.
“I oppose the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Bill because it lacks the kind of broad support we’ve come to expect on western public land issues,” Tester said.
Jason Thielman, the chief of staff for Republican Sen. Steve Daines, dismissed the bill in a statement.
“This is an extreme proposal from a fringe environmental group whose made it their mission to sue against responsible timber projects, costing Montana jobs, and blocking needed work to improve the health of our forests,” Thielman said.
The group does routinely sue the government over timber sales or other actions that they believe will harm wildlife and that skirt environmental laws. One such case is over a thinning project south of Bozeman, known as the Bozeman Municipal Watershed project. A federal judge recently decided to continue an existing stay on that case.
Garrity said that those activities are simply to make sure the government follows the law, and that he doesn’t know how that makes Alliance for the Wild Rockies a “fringe group.”
“If they don’t like it, quit breaking the law,” he said.
Garrity said the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act is meant to protect the areas that are already wild and preserve corridors through which wildlife can travel and connect with other populations. Many biologists say habitat connectivity is very important for the long-term viability of a species because it increases genetic diversity, and Garrity said that is what the bill is aiming for.
Keeping with the area, there’s some tragic news out of Yellowstone National Park. According to Yellowstone Insider, earlier this week, a 23-year-old Portland, Oregon resident perished after venturing off the boardwalk in Norris Geyser Basin. The man, who was visiting Yellowstone with his sister, went walking 225 yards off the boardwalk near Porkchop Geyser when he slipped and fell into a hot spring. After a day of recovery efforts, the man was declared dead the next day. Further (and most gruesomely) Yellowstone officials reported there were “no remains left to recover,” due to the hot spring’s acidic waters. The accident comes less than a month after a group of Canadian tourists were charged with misdemeanors for walking on Grand Prismatic Spring.
Over in Utah, according to Utah Business, citing The NPD Group’s Retail Tracking service, Salt Lake City-based ZAGG Inc., which specializes in cellphone screen protectors, covered 51 percent of the U.S. market in April 2016. ZAGG’s InvisibleShield has seen its market share increase 65 percent over the past few years, driven largely by the increasing proliferation of smartphones—and smartphone related accidents. From Utah Business:
“Recent changes in wireless provider contract terms have driven a consumer need to preserve a phone’s condition to maximize trade in value. As a result, we are seeing increasing consumer awareness and desire to purchase screen protection,” said Brian Stech, ZAGG’s Executive Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing. “Our new InvisibleShield launches coming in 2016 will build upon our heritage in product innovation, with enhanced material composition, unparalleled protection and an improved installation method.”
Finally, over in Idaho, we previously reported a Bliss-based farmer (Bernard Saul, of Bliss Seeds LLC) had been stung by the Idaho State Department of Agriculture for “seed fraud” (selling nonorganic alfalfa as organic, allowing him to buy cheap and sell dear). Now, according to the Idaho Business Review, the farmer has been sentenced to three years in prison for fraud, as well as three years of supervised release. In addition, Saul will have to forfeit $1.9 million and pay a $7500 fine. From the Review:
In total, Saul made $1.9 million more in seed sales than he would have selling non-organic alfalfa seeds. Investigators said Saul used that money to buy a 2015 Dodge Ram 2500 Truck for $36,505; a 2014 polar Kraft boat, engine and trailer for $42,553; and 438 acres of land in Buhl for $1 million. He also put $20,000 toward a partial payment on a recreational vehicle.
Saul pleaded guilty in March to wire fraud for intentionally misrepresenting alfalfa seed as organic to several Midwestern buyers. His wife, Roza Saul, will be sentenced in June after pleading guilty to delivery of a misbranded food product.
Saul’s sentencing sends a clear message that business owners who cut corners will be punished, Olson said in a prepared statement.
“Bernard Saul committed a basic fraud,” [U.S. Attorney Wendy] Olson said. “Business people who misrepresent their product in order to make more money than their product is worth cheat both their customers and honest, fair businesses.”