OUR CRUCIAL SPRING CAMPAIGN IS NOW UNDERWAY
Please donate now to keep the mission and independent journalism of Common Dreams strong.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
Timothy Preso, Earthjustice, (406) 586-9699
Arlene Montgomery, Friends of the Wild Swan, (406) 886-2011
Kyla Maki, Montana Environmental Information Center, (406) 437-2846
A federal judge has blocked a plan to carve new roads into a 36,700-acre block of secure grizzly bear habitat within the Stillwater State Forest in northwest Montana. The judge's ruling, issued late Thursday, preserves the "Stillwater Core" grizzly bear habitat from elimination under a plan by the State of Montana that called for building new roads to open the area to increased logging.
In the ruling, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy concluded that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act by approving the state plan and issuing a permit to the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation ("DNRC") that would have allowed the agency to "take" grizzly bears in the Stillwater Core. "Take" refers to habitat destruction that drives the bears out of their territory leading to reduced reproduction. Grizzly bears are listed as a threatened species under the Act.
The ruling stems from a case filed in March 2013 by the public-interest environmental law firm Earthjustice on behalf of three conservation groups--Friends of the Wild Swan, Montana Environmental Information Center, and Natural Resources Defense Council--to challenge federal approval of a 50-year "take" permit and associated habitat conservation plan that authorized increased road building and logging across approximately 550,000 acres of Montana state lands.
A key feature of the state plan involved elimination of the only unroaded grizzly bear habitat area remaining on Montana state lands. State land managers proposed to build new logging roads into the Stillwater Core but claimed to minimize impacts to grizzly bears by imposing seasonal restrictions on road use and logging.
"A mother grizzly bear trying to raise young cubs needs a wild landscape, not a maze of roads with complicated seasonal closure rules," said Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso, who represented conservationists in the case. "Federal officials played fast and loose with the science in claiming otherwise. Fortunately we have courts in this country that require federal officials to make rational decisions and follow the rule of law."
"This is incredibly important to grizzly bears on the Stillwater State Forest," said Arlene Montgomery, Program Director for Friends of the Wild Swan. "Bears don't use calendars to know when an area is safe to raise their young and avoid conflicts with people. The court's ruling ensures that bears get a fair shake."
Matt Skoglund, Director of NRDC's Northern Rockies Office in Bozeman, Montana, said, "50 years is a long time, especially with the sobering reality of the impact of climate change in the Northern Rockies, and building new roads in secure grizzly habitat is a dangerous road to go down. We applaud the court's ruling as it relates to grizzly bears."
The judge's ruling found that federal officials lacked a rational scientific basis for their decision to approve new road-building in the Stillwater Core based on the state's plan.
"The Service has not rationally justified its finding that the approach under the Plan constitutes a complete offset--much less a net benefit--such that additional mitigation measures did not even need to be considered," the judge ruled. "Absent independent investigation into the impracticability of greater mitigation measures, the Service's finding that the Plan mitigates take of grizzly bears to the maximum extent practicable is arbitrary and capricious."
While agreeing with the conservation groups regarding the Stillwater Core issues, the judge upheld federal approval of a different portion of the DNRC's plan that authorized increased road construction and logging in habitat for the bull trout, an imperiled native fish species. The judge concluded that federal biologists properly issued DNRC a "take" permit for bull trout based on a state plan to inventory and remediate logging roads that are harming bull trout habitat. The conservationists promised to monitor the state's implementation of that mitigation program to ensure that the DNRC lives up to its promise to mitigate harms to bull trout.
LEGAL DOCUMENT: https://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/files/14-08-21%20ORDER.pdf
ONLINE VERSION: https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2014/judge-halts-plan-to-eliminate-secure-grizzly-bear-habitat-in-northwest-montana
Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.800-584-6460
Sens. Bernie Sanders and Patty Murray warned that the looming expiration of emergency funds "will likely force providers to lay off staff or shut down."
Already among the worst and least affordable in the developed world, the U.S. childcare system could soon be "pushed closer to the brink of collapse" if Congress doesn't act before emergency federal funding runs dry at the end of September.
That grave warning is at the heart of a report released Tuesday by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), top members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
Sanders, the chair of the panel, summarized the report's findings during a HELP Committee hearing on Wednesday, noting that more than $37 billion in pandemic relief funding approved under the American Rescue Plan and other legislation helped keep the nation's fragmented childcare sector afloat during the deadly public health crisis.
"This funding kept over 200,000 childcare providers in business, sustained childcare for nearly 10 million kids, and prevented a million childcare workers from losing their jobs," the Vermont senator said Wednesday, referring to the $24 billion in Child Care Stabilization Grant (CCSG) funds approved under the American Rescue Plan, which Biden signed in March 2021.
All 50 states as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana, and the U.S. Virgin Islands operated Child Care Stabilization programs during the pandemic, according to the Biden White House, and 90% of providers that received funding from the federal grant program said the money helped them keep their doors open during the coronavirus crisis.
"That is the good news," Sanders said Tuesday. "The bad news is that if Congress does nothing, this funding will expire on September 30th of this year, making a very bad situation even worse."
\u201cLIVE: Every family in America deserves high quality, affordable child care and every child care worker deserves a livable wage. The HELP Committee is holding a hearing NOW on how we can make that a reality. https://t.co/ogDf1n1TV0\u201d— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders) 1685541749
Citing survey responses from more than 12,000 early childhood educators, the new report says the end of the emergency federal funding could force many childcare providers to raise prices for families, serve fewer children, or slash wages for childcare workers who are already badly underpaid.
By law, states have until September 30 to distribute the federal money provided under the American Rescue Plan.
"Just as these grants helped to temporarily fill a gap in funding in the childcare sector," the report notes, "they will likely leave programs with a significant hole when funding runs out on September 30, 2023."
Childcare workers and advocates across the country have been bracing for the end of federal funding for months and sounding the alarm about the consequences of inaction.
In a July 2022 letter, dozens of national organizations warned congressional leaders that failure to make new investments in the nation's funding-starved childcare sector would shove the system "closer to a catastrophic funding cliff that will affect America's entire economy, resulting in higher prices and longer waitlists for families and reduced access to quality care for children, while lower wages push more early educators out of the field."
That letter was sent shortly before Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act, legislation that was gutted by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and other right-wing Democrats.
Childcare provisions were stripped out of the bill entirely.
"How can a working family, making $50,000 or $60,000 a year, afford to spend $15,000 or $30,000 on childcare?"
Murray, the former chair of the Senate HELP Committee, said in a statement Tuesday that "failing to invest in childcare means failing to invest in our economy—it means worsening an already serious workforce shortage."
"Our nation's childcare sector was hanging on by a thread before the pandemic, and it was headed straight for collapse when Covid hit our country and providers prepared to close their doors for good," she said. "The historic federal investment in our nation's childcare sector that I fought tooth and nail to deliver saved the childcare sector from collapse."
"But the funding we provided will expire this fall—which will likely force providers to lay off staff or shut down, force parents to leave work when they lose their child care, and take a wrecking ball to our economic recovery—unless we take action," the Washington Democrat added.
As of 2021, The New York Timesreported that year, the governments of rich countries spent an average of $14,000 per kid on childcare annually. The U.S., by contrast, spent just $500 per child.
During Wednesday's hearing, Sanders stressed that in addition to renewing the federal funding that is set to lapse in a matter of months, Congress needs "a vision for the future which understands that every family in America has the right to high-quality, affordable childcare."
"I think that all of us pride ourselves as a nation that loves our kids. We all understand that our children are the future of America. But, we have a funny way of showing that love," Sanders said. "Today, it costs about $15,000 a year, on average, to send an infant to childcare in our country and in D.C. it can cost, in some cases, $30,000 a year. How can a working family, making $50,000 or $60,000 a year, afford to spend $15,000 or $30,000 on childcare?"
The court found that two bans passed in 2022 conflicted with the Oklahoma Constitution's guarantee of a pregnant person's "inherent right" to life.
The Oklahoma state Supreme Court on Wednesday became the latest state-level court to rebuke Republican legislation passed in recent months to bar residents from accessing abortion care, ruling that two laws signed by GOP Gov. Kevin Stitt are unconstitutional.
The court found that S.B. 1603 and H.B. 4327 both conflict with an earlier ruling in March, when five of the nine justices ruled that the Oklahoma Constitution guarantees the "inherent right of a pregnant woman to terminate a pregnancy when necessary to preserve her life."
Earlier this year, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that a six-week abortion ban violated the state's constitutional right to privacy. Republicans in the state ignored that finding this month as they passed another six-week ban, only to have a state judge grant abortion providers and three rights groups a temporary restraining order, blocking the law from taking effect.
The ruling by the Oklahoma court on Wednesday was 6-3, with Justice Richard Darby joining the majority due to the precedent set by the March ruling.
S.B. 1603 banned abortion care after the point at which an ultrasound can detect an electronically induced sound from the tissue that will become a fetus' heart—often erroneously referred to as an actual fetal heartbeat by pro-forced pregnancy groups and lawmakers.
H.B. 4327 imposed a near-total ban on abortion care with exceptions for medical emergencies in which a pregnant person's life was at risk and for cases of rape or incest that had been reported to law enforcement.
As Common Dreamsreported in April, the life of at least one woman in Oklahoma was put at risk by those so-called "exceptions" when she developed a cancerous molar pregnancy and was told by three different hospitals that she could not obtain an abortion for the condition, which had no chance of ever developing into a fetus.
The woman, Jaci Statton, was eventually advised by one hospital staffer to wait in the facility's parking lot until her heavy bleeding and other symptoms reached the point of "crashing," at which point doctors would be able to treat her without fearing a lawsuit permitted under Oklahoma's laws.
In the state Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday, said Slate journalist Mark Joseph Stern, "the majority found that both the total ban and the 'heartbeat' ban lacked a sufficient exception for medical emergencies."
\u201cThe majority found that both the total ban and the "heartbeat" ban lacked a sufficient exception for medical emergencies, and that the remainder of each bill was not severable from the emergency provision. So it struck down both laws in their entirety. Quite a big deal.\u201d— Mark Joseph Stern (@Mark Joseph Stern) 1685547764
Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond responded to the ruling by saying a 1910 abortion ban is still in effect due to the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade last year. The law bans abortion care except when it is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant person.
"Except for certain circumstances outlined in that statute, abortion is still unlawful in the state of Oklahoma," Drummond said.
\u201cThe Oklahoma AG appears to believe that abortion remains illegal in the state under a 1910 criminal ban, which tees up another challenge at the Oklahoma Supreme Court. It strikes me as ... unlikely that this court will allow that law to be enforced.\nhttps://t.co/sH4pG2DM17\u201d— Mark Joseph Stern (@Mark Joseph Stern) 1685547764
The Republican attorney general's claim "tees up another challenge at the Oklahoma Supreme Court," said Stern.
Considering the justices' recent rulings, he said, "it strikes me as... unlikely that this court will allow that law to be enforced."
"We cannot allow generative AI to promote a parasitic economy that diverts financial resources that should benefit the news media," said one advocate.
Warning of the ongoing expansion of artificial intelligence-generated websites that resemble legitimate news outlets and draw ad revenue away from them, Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday implored search engines and advertisers to slow the spread of automated "content farms" by denying them access to "funds that should be reserved for real journalism."
"We cannot allow generative AI to promote a parasitic economy that diverts financial resources that should benefit the news media," Vincent Berthier, head of the Tech Desk at Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said in a statement.
"As well as an overall fall in the quality of online information, there is also a real danger of a further decline in funding essential to online media," said Berthier. "We urge search engines and advertisers not to allow these AI-generated sites to become profitable."
"As well as an overall fall in the quality of online information, there is also a real danger of a further decline in funding essential to online media."
Earlier this month, NewsGuard, which evaluates the reliability of online news and information, published an analysis entitled Rise of the Newsbots: AI-Generated News Websites Proliferating Online.
The report identified at least 49 ostensible news websites "spanning seven languages—Chinese, Czech, English, French, Portuguese, Tagalog, and Thai—that appear to be entirely or mostly generated by artificial intelligence language models designed to mimic human communication."
These automated content farms, which reach millions of internet users, "churn out vast amounts of clickbait articles to optimize advertising revenue," NewsGuard noted, exacerbating the dangerous worldwide spread of misinformation in the process.
As RSF noted Wednesday:
Dressed up to look like media, some of these sites rewrite journalistic content plundered from real news sites. Others produce fake stories or mediocre content designed solely to attract traffic. One reported in April that Joe Biden had died. Another falsely reported that Ukraine had claimed that it killed 3,870 Russian soldiers in a single attack.
Generated by AI and usually run anonymously, some of these sites "publish hundreds of articles a day," according to NewsGuard. There is a real risk that the Internet will soon be flooded by many more of these sites pumping out garbage that will inevitably congest search engines, with the result that reliable news reporting will struggle to make itself visible.
The modus operandi of these sites is very simple—maximize clicks while minimizing effort in order to optimize profit. "Many of the sites are saturated with advertisements," says NewsGuard, "indicating that they were likely designed to generate revenue from programmatic ads—ads that are placed algorithmically across the web."
"Advertisers have a huge responsibility," RSF continued. "These content farms will inevitably proliferate if they can continue to make money from advertising. The ad industry must give a firm undertaking to ensure ads are placed above all with media that are reliable news sources."
The watchdog also urged the ad industry "to manage programmatic advertising mechanisms responsibly and to acquire the monitoring and control tools needed to ensure that these content farms do not become profitable."
RSF is pushing advertisers to curb the rapid spread of automated clickbait just weeks after it warned in its annual press freedom report that the fast-growing, AI-powered "fake content industry" threatens to undermine fact-based journalism around the globe, which is already at risk due to old-fashioned violence against reporters, who are being jailed and killed at alarming rates.