Spurred by drought, grasshoppers threaten rangeland
BILLINGS — A punishing drought in the U.S. West is drying up waterways, sparking wildfires and leaving farmers scrambling for water. Next up: a plague of voracious grasshoppers.
Federal agriculture officials are launching what could become their largest grasshopper-killing campaign since the 1980s amid an outbreak of the drought-loving insects that cattle ranchers fear will strip bare public and private rangelands.
Grasshoppers thrive in warm, dry weather, and populations already were up last year, setting the stage for an even bigger outbreak in 2021. Such outbreaks could become more common as climate change shifts rainfall patterns, scientists said.
To blunt the grasshoppers' economic damage, the U.S. Department of Agriculture in late June began aerial spraying of the pesticide diflubenzuron to kill grasshopper nymphs before they develop into adults. Approximately 3,000 square miles in Montana are expected to be sprayed, roughly twice the size of Rhode Island.
The program's scale has alarmed environmentalists who say widespread spraying will kill numerous insects, including spiders and other grasshopper predators as well as struggling species such as monarch butterflies. They're also concerned the pesticides could ruin organic farms adjacent to spray zones.
A typical infestation can remove 20% of forage from the range and have a $900 million impact, according to a 2012 University of Wyoming study cited by federal officials.
Drought benefits grasshoppers in part because it lessens exposure of grasshopper eggs to deadly parasites that need moisture, said Chelse Prather, a University of Dayton insect ecologist.
This year's outbreak will peak in roughly two months, Prather said, when the insects reach 2 to 3 inches in length and become so prevalent they'll start to eat more plant matter than cattle can.
State jobs seekers can nab $1,000 federal bonus
SANTA FE — Federal relief funds will be used to offer back-to-work bonuses of up to $1,000 for New Mexico residents who find a job in the coming weeks and stop receiving unemployment insurance benefits, state labor officials announced July 2.
The program from Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is aimed at encouraging a return to work before federal unemployment supplements expire in early September.
The new support payments decline gradually from $1,000 to $400 by late July, providing a bigger payout the sooner a job is secured. The federal supplement provides an extra $300 a week on top of state unemployment benefits.
Some businesses have complained that expanded federal aid to the unemployed — especially the $300-a-week supplemental benefit, intended to cushion the economic blow from the pandemic — has discouraged people from looking for a job. But other factors also are believed to have contributed to the shortage of people seeking work again, from difficulty arranging or affording child care to lingering fears of COVID-19.
Responding to the criticism about the duration of expanded jobless benefits, dozens of states began dropping the expanded federal aid in June.
More than 70,000 residents of New Mexico are receiving unemployment insurance. On July 1, state health officials lifted the last restrictions on business occupancy and public gatherings — throwing open the economy as vaccination rates surpass 62%.
The Department of Workforce Solutions says it expects up to 15,000 people will take advantage of the back-to-work program at a total cost of up to $10.1 million.
Recall petition begins against Cowboys for Trump founder
SANTA FE — A political committee has begun circulating a petition to recall Cowboys or Trump founder Couy Griffin from public office as a commissioner in Otero County.
The Committee to Recall Couy Griffin said July 1 in a news release that it has begun collecting signatures in efforts to scheduled a recall election.
The petition alleges that Griffin neglected and misused his position as a county commissioner while skipping public meetings and promoting a support group for President Donald Trump that Griffin treated as a for-profit business.
Griffin, elected in 2018, says allegations in the petition are frivolous and without merit. Separately, Griffin is confronting federal charges in connection with the U.S. Capitol siege on Jan. 6, where he appeared on an outdoor terrace and attempted to lead a prayer.
The recall committee needs to collect about 1,540 signatures from registered voters in Griffin's district to trigger a vote on whether Griffin stays in office through 2022.
Otero County Clerk Robyn Holmes says a successful petition would put the question on the November general election ballot for local, nonpartisan races.
Northwestern Band of Shoshone sues Idaho over hunting rights
BOISE — The Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation is suing Idaho Gov. Brad Little and state wildlife officials in federal court, contending the state has wrongly denied the tribe hunting rights guaranteed by the 1868 Treaty of Fort Bridger.
The lawsuit, filed in Idaho's U.S. District Court in June, asks a judge to declare that the Northwestern Band is protected under the treaty. Attorneys for the state didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
On its surface, the legal case could come down to whether one of the Native American leaders who signed the treaty was representing the Northwestern Band along with other bands of the Shoshone Nation, and whether the Northwestern Band itself has remained a cohesive unit in the time since.
But at the heart of the dispute is a dilemma faced by many Native American governments across the U.S. who sometimes find themselves at odds with game wardens, mining companies, water users or other groups as they try to preserve their use of the land they were promised in treaties signed centuries ago.
Today, the Northwestern Band doesn't have reservation land and its tribal offices are in Brigham City, Utah. Historically, members of the band would spend time fishing near what is now Salmon, Idaho, would hunt big game in western Wyoming and hunt and gather in southern Idaho and Utah. Winters were often spent in southeastern Idaho.
According to the lawsuit, the state of Idaho doesn't recognize that the northwestern bands of the Shoshone nation were part of the Fort Bridger Treaty, and doesn't believe that members of the federally recognized Northwestern Band have the right to hunt on unoccupied lands pursuant to the treaty.
In 1997, two brothers and Northwestern Band tribal members were found guilty for hunting out of season in Idaho, though they had hunting tags issued by the Northwestern Band. Shane and Wayde Warner appealed their convictions, claiming treaty rights under the Fort Bridger treaty.
Drunk, disorderly Yellowstone tourist gets 60 days in jail
JACKSON — A Yellowstone National Park tourist has been sentenced to 60 days in jail and banned from the park for five years after pleading guilty to disorderly conduct and other charges involving a disturbance that erupted when a guide refused to take the tourist's party on a kayak trip because the group was too drunk to go.
Prosecutors say 31-year-old Kyle Campbell of Fairmont, Indiana made threatening comments and kicked at park officers while resisting arrest in the incident.
Campbell was sentenced on June 23 by U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark L. Carman in Mammoth. Campbell also faces five years of unsupervised probation and was ordered to pay more than $1,550 in fines, according to a statement from Acting U.S. Attorney Bob Murray that was reported by the Jackson Hole News&Guide.
"We understand that people are eager to get out this summer and enjoy our national parks; however, this type of behavior is unacceptable," Murray said.