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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At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>