Drilling on Public Lands: Native American Voices Frustrated by Virtual Public Hearings Over Zoom
The Trump administration has attempted to plow forward with its plans to open up public lands to drilling for oil and gas exploration. To do so, it has continued to hold public meetings over Zoom. That means that Native American groups who often have spotty internet service or no service at all are not able to participate in the public meetings, according to The Washington Post.
While tribal groups are often vociferous in public meetings in an attempt to protect their land from encroaching industry and the pollution that accompanies it, some have complained that the technology creates a roadblock to participating in the public discussion.
More than 30 percent of tribal lands lack access to basic broadband, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
The issue was recently relevant in Alaska, where ConocoPhillips is looking to expand its drilling operation in Alaska's North Slope. The project would move drilling deeper into the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska in the direction of currently protected habitat. It would also increase development that may affect the Alaska Native village of Nuiqsut, which sits just inside the petroleum reserve border and is home to roughly 400 people, as E&E News reported.
Martha Itta, a resident of Nuiqsut, said in a letter to the Bureau of Land Management's project manager, Rachael Jones, that she was "frustrated and saddened" after an April 23 meeting. She described technology as a hurdle that excludes many members of the public in rural Alaska, as E&E News reported.
She also noted in the letter that the Zoom platform gave outsized control to the moderator. "I myself was muted after my initial comment and they would not unmute me," she wrote in her letter, as E&E News reported.
"How many North Slope members have access to WiFi?" Raymond Ipalook, vice president of the tribal council in the Alaska Native village of Nuiqsut, asked during one virtual hearing on April 21, according to The Washington Post. "That's what I want to know. How many of them know that this webinar is going on?"
A similar problem happened with a proposed project in New Mexico, where there were complaints of speakers being dropped by bad connections and moderators muting the microphones of meeting participants.
The Bureau of Land Management, however, is telling another story, saying that the virtual meetings are a resounding success and allowing more people to participate in the meetings. According to The Washington Post, more than 300 people participated in eight virtual public meetings in Alaska while 100 participated in the first in New Mexico last Thursday, with yet more viewing on Facebook, the BLM said. By contrast, 250 attendees showed up to six in-person meetings held in Anchorage, Fairbanks and other spots in Alaska last year.
In northwestern New Mexico, where an oil and gas project would infringe on Pueblo land, speakers asked the government to pause the public comment period, since they would like more time to make their voices heard before the government moves forward with a plan that will bring energy and other development near cultural sites considered sacred to New Mexico's Pueblos and other tribal groups within the Chaco Culture National Historical Park, according to The Washington Post.
"Although I am participating in today's virtual public meeting, I want to make clear that the All Pueblo Council of Governors and our member Pueblos have not had the resources necessary to meaningfully comment," said Marissa Naranjo, policy director with the All Pueblo Council of Governors, noting that the two counties surrounding the protected area have some the highest coronavirus infection rates in New Mexico, according to The Washington Post.
The entire congressional delegation for New Mexico has asked that the public comment hearing be extended 120 days.
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Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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