Today in New West news: Utah Senator pleads with Rep. Zinke over monuments, Idaho Supreme Court ponders reviving ACLU lawsuit against state’s public defense system, and Montana’s many bumble bee species.
Since he was announced as the incoming administration’s pick for Interior Secretary, we’ve been following developments in the debate over U.S. Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT), specifically his record and presentation as a friend to sportsman and conservationists on the issue of federal land.
That “friendship” has been called into question ever since Zinke joined the House in voting to make it easier for the federal government to transfer lands to states. The move was decried by Zinke’s fellow Montanans in the Senate, Senators Jon Tester (D) and Steve Daines (R), especially since Zinke was previously seen as stalwart on public lands—going so far as to resign from the platform committee at the Republican National Convention this summer when the Republican Party made land transfer a central plank.
Earlier this week, we reported that Tester had met with Zinke; reportedly, Tester came away from the meeting satisfied that Zinke “is committed to tprotecting Montana’s outdoor way of life, and understands the threats facing those of us who love to hike, hunt, and fish on our public lands.”
On the other side of the lands debate, however, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), an advocate of state transfer, says he hopes his side has a friend in Zinke, especially on the question of national monuments, according to the Salt Lake Tribune:
Hatch says his support for Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, to be confirmed as interior secretary is contingent upon the congressman’s commitment to “repair much of the damage caused” by the monument designation.
“After meeting with Secretary-designate Zinke today, I am confident that the new administration will work with us to right this wrong,” Hatch, R-Utah, said in a prepared statement.
Zinke also told Hatch his first trip on the job would be to Utah to speak with the state’s congressional delegation and residents of San Juan County, according to the senator.
Hatch and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, are co-sponsoring a bill that would limit the president’s executive powers granted in the 1906 Antiquities Act. It wouldn’t repeal the Bears Ears monument — which they hope Trump’s administration will do — but would require state and congressional approval for future sites.
The two senators, as well as all four of Utah’s House members, staunchly opposed the designation when it was announced by President Barack Obama on Dec. 28. Hatch called it an “astonishing and egregious abuse of executive power.”
Obama’s order encapsulates 1.35 million acres of public lands surrounding San Juan County’s Cedar Mesa and was enacted at the behest of five American Indian tribes with ancestral and spiritual ties to the area. Its proclamation preserves existing rights to drill, mine and graze within the area, to be administered by the Bureau of Land Management, while preserving cultural sites.
Hatch said he appreciated “Zinke’s willingness to act in good faith” in the matter, but did not cite any specific commitment.
Hatch also pushed for Zinke to consider Utah Representative Mike Noel (R-Kanab) to head the Bureau of Land Management, who, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, has been gunning for the position since at least December 2016.
Public lands is on the minds of several legislatures across the Rocky Mountain West right now. In Wyoming, for instance, a proposal to amend the state’s Constitution to make it easier to receive federal lands transferred to the state is in the Legislature currently. According to the Casper Star Tribune, the amendment is slated to be assigned to a Senate committee for review. If it passes, it will go to the floor for discussion. We previously reported that the proposal had sparked public outcry as well as concerns from Governor Matt Mead that the state has no legal or financial basis for managing federal lands.
Over in Idaho, according to the Idaho Business Review, the state’s Supreme Court is mulling whether to revive a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union against Idaho’s public defense system:
Attorneys on both sides told the high court Jan. 11 that they agree Idaho’s public defense system has serious deficiencies. But the state’s attorneys say the blame should lie on the counties, not Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and the state’s Public Defense Commission.
“The plaintiffs have identified serious issues,” Idaho Deputy Attorney General Mike Gilmore said. “But they have named defendants who are not responsible for providing the services.”
The ACLU sued the state in 2015 on behalf of Idahoans who rely on court-appointed public defenders when they face criminal charges. They contend that state officials have known for years that Idaho’s public defense system is broken, and that by not fixing the problems the state is violating the 6th Amendment rights of its citizens.
Indeed, Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, many legislators and legal experts who have studied the issue on behalf of the state have all acknowledged that Idaho’s patchwork public defense system is deficient at best, and likely unconstitutional.
But last year a lower court judge dismissed the lawsuit, partly because the judge said he believed a court ruling requiring the state to adequately fund the public defense system would violate the separation of powers. The ACLU promptly appealed.
“For the thousands of indigent criminal defendants languishing in jails across the state or trying in vain to communicate with their criminal defenders, time is short,” ALCU attorney Jason Williamson told the high court on Jan. 11.
He said the state is asking the court to “pass the buck once again.”
Idaho delegates the responsibility to pay for and provide public defenders to county governments. That resulted in a patchwork system of public defenders, with high caseloads, little funding and no set standards or policies across the state. After several years of study, lawmakers created the Public Defense Commission in 2014, asking members to create minimum requirements for counties to follow. The commission got additional authority from the legislature in 2016, along with some funding to help counties cover the costs of the needed changes.
Those steps are positive, Williamson said, but the lawsuit needs to move forward so the ACLU can collect evidence to see if they’re enough to fix the unconstitutional system.
“It may be messy. It may take some time. Criminal defendants around the state can’t afford to simply wait and see what happens,” Williamson said. “The court’s responsibility is to make sure that process moves forward.”
Over in Montana, according to the Billings Gazette, a new paper from Montana State University faculty and a former graduate student has shed light on the Treasure State’s extraordinary diversity of bumblebee species:
The group’s research is detailed in a paper, “Bumble Bees of Montana,” which was published this week in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America. The paper’s co-authors were Michael Ivie, associate professor of entomology in the MSU Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology, Kevin O’Neill, professor of entomology in the MSU Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, Casey Delphia, MSU research scientist, and Amelia Dolan, former MSU entomology graduate student.
“Because of Montana’s size, landscape diversity and regional junction of eastern and western geographies, when it comes to bumble bees, Montana hosts a diverse, large and globally relevant community of species,” Ivie said. “Our research shows 28 different species of Bombus, with four more expected to make the list. That’s the largest number of bumble bee species recorded for a state in the entire country.”
Ivie added that the research project greatly expanded the known distribution of the bumble bee species within Montana, with at least four species now documented from each of Montana’s 56 counties.
To get to that number, a research group that included Dolan, Delphia, Ivie and O’Neill used existing specimens in the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station’s Montana Entomology Collection, those from a variety of existing MSU faculty projects and material in other museums. Then, they enlisted a host of MSU faculty, staff, students and alumni from across the campus and around the state to collect and contribute specimens from under-sampled areas. Collaborators from the Montana Agricultural Experiment Stations (located at seven different research centers across the state), statewide MSU Extension agents and specialists, Montana Master Gardeners, hobby entomologists, hikers, and U.S. Geological Survey researchers all pitched in, greatly expanding the areas represented in the database.
“The specimen gathering was a large effort,” Dolan said. “We reached out to (a) wide group of people who have an interest in entomology (and gave them directions for catching specimens), who would be out and about in Montana for the summer for potential specimen collection. The turnout of people willing to collect specimens and send them in was exciting.
“It was amazing because we had people collecting specimens across the state, in varying elevations and diverse ecosystems — areas we alone wouldn’t have had access to in the time that we had to complete the project,” Dolan said. “The number of species is representative of Montana’s wild spaces and diverse landscapes that host these bees.”
Once the MSU researchers cleaned, examined and identified the specimens, Dolan and Delphia pored over bumble bee research records spanning 125 years and 25 natural history collections. They consulted with national bee labs and compared data sets so they could accurately identify and document specimens.
Because so little is known about bumble bees in Montana, much of the species identification was tedious, and it look a lot of comparing and contrasting with other collections, Delphia said. Especially difficult specimens were sent to a world expert at University of California, Davis, for verification.
“Montana is a bit of a black hole when it comes to bee species records and information, so you’re working with very little documentation to begin with,” Delphia said. “Our taxonomic work for the bumble bees had to be referenced with other museums and collections because there isn’t a baseline summary of what’s already here.”
The Bumble Bees of Montana reference collection is currently housed in the Montana Entomology Collection at MSU. MSU computer science graduate student James Beck created an interactive web-based map showing bumble bee species by county in Montana, which can be found online.
Delphia told the Gazette the bumble bee data will help researchers understand and identify the rest of the state’s native bee species. This is especially important as it will help researchers understand how Montana’s bees fit into the picture of widespread bee decline across the country.