Iconic monarch butterflies scarce in state, study finds
IDAHO FALLS — Something catastrophically wrong happened in 2018 to monarch butterflies, researchers and a new study have found.
Idaho wildlife biologist Ross Winton spent years working with monarch butterflies. With the help of volunteers, he would carefully put a tiny tag the size of a paper hole punch on about 30 to 50 of the iconic insects each summer in south-central Idaho's Magic Valley. Then during the summer of 2018 he could only find two to tag.
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation issued a recent report finding that the population of monarch butterflies overwintering in California had fallen to the lowest level ever recorded.
The Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count found only 28,429 butterflies, an 86 percent fall from the previous year and a 99.4 percent decline from numbers counted in the 1980s. Overwintering butterflies in central and Southern California numbered about 4.5 million in the 1980s.
Experts say much of the blame for the species' demise can be aimed at habitat destruction, particularly the loss of old-growth trees and the disappearance of milkweed, which supplies nectar for the butterflies.
Beth Waterbury, a retired wildlife biologist for Idaho Fish and Game, said contributing factors include wildfires, pesticides and hot weather.
"Monarchs are kind of a canary in a coal mine for a lot of other insect species, especially bees which are some of our primary pollinators," she said.
State considers bill aimed at blocking protests like Standing Rock
CHEYENNE — After a veto by then-Gov. Matt Mead at the close of the 2018 budget session, legislation that would create criminal charges for impeding fossil fuel facilities and pipelines during protests is back in the Wyoming Legislature.
The Crimes Against Critical Infrastructure bill was written with numerous fixes to address questions raised last year in the wake of the Dakota Access pipeline protests. But critics told lawmakers at a recent packed committee hearing that the bill would still restrict people’s lawful right to protest.
Like a version introduced last year, this year’s bill would make it a crime to purposefully obstruct the construction of “critical infrastructure,” like pipelines. Critics argued the 2018 bill was far too vague about what it would actually do. Others criticized it on First Amendment grounds, arguing the bill served only to restrict free speech and dissuade protests.
In the new legislation, the definition of critical infrastructure has been clarified to include not only fossil fuel infrastructure but also transportation facilities, various agricultural installations and reservoirs.
Nowhere in the bill, its backers said, is language infringing on free speech.
However, many in attendance at the hearing — including representatives from both the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes — argued that the bill does exactly that, and, while the technical issues may have been worked out, the concerns were still the same.
A study from the University of Colorado Boulder found that the protests on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation cost private industry more than $7.5 billion throughout their course, with nearly $38 million in costs to the North Dakota government.
Militia members get decades in prison in bomb plot
WICHITA — Three militia members convicted of taking part in a foiled plot to massacre Muslims in southwest Kansas were sentenced to decades in prison during an emotional court hearing in which one of the targeted victims pleaded: "Please don't hate us."
U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren sentenced Patrick Stein, the alleged ringleader, to 30 years in prison and Curtis Allen, who drafted a manifesto for the group, to 25 years. Gavin Wright, who authorities said helped make and test explosives at his mobile home business, received 26 years.
The judge dismissed defense attorneys' request that he take into the account the divisive political atmosphere in which the men formed their plot to blow up a mosque and apartments housing Somali immigrants in the meatpacking town of Garden City on the day after the 2016 election.
Stein's attorneys have argued that he believed then-President Barack Obama would declare martial law and not recognize the validity of the election if Donald Trump won, forcing militias to step in. Stein's attorneys noted that during the 2016 campaign, all three men read and shared Russian propaganda on their Facebook feed designed to sow discord in the U.S. political system.
Prosecutors presented video testimony from some Somali immigrants who were the targets of the bombing. In one clip, Ifrah Farah pleaded: "Please don't kill us. Please don't hate us. We can't hurt you."
The judge told all three men that the planned attack was worse than the Oklahoma City bombing because the Garden City plot was motivated by hatreds of race, religion and national origin.
The Kansas plot was thwarted when a militia member tipped off authorities to escalating threats of violence. He testified at the men's trial last year that Stein started recruiting others to kill Muslim immigrants after the June 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, by a gunman who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
Lawmakers seek to end penalties for youth in prostitution
ALBUQUERQUE — Children who are subjected to prostitution won't be treated as criminals under legislation being considered by New Mexico lawmakers.
The legislation sponsored by Rep. Gail Chasey, an Albuquerque Democrat, proposes changing state law so that prostitution would no longer be considered a punishable offense or delinquent act for New Mexico youth.
The state's children's code currently lists prostitution among numerous offenses for which juveniles can be arrested and taken into custody.
Under the measure, the Children Youth and Families Department would instead refer children and teens younger than 18 to community-based services for referral to counseling and housing services.
"A child below the age of 18 is below the age of consent," Chasey said. "So how can that child be consenting to prostitution when she really is a victim of human trafficking?"
State Olympic-bid officials to seek $15M to attract sports events
SALT LAKE CITY — Olympic bid officials say they will request as much as $15 million from the Utah Legislature to help bring more world-class sporting events to Utah in preparation for future Winter Olympics.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports the funding being sought would go through the Utah Sports Commission to be used over the next 10 to 12 years to bring in more events, like the FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboarding World Championships that started in February at Utah resorts.
The U.S. Olympic Committee in December gave Salt Lake City the green light to bid on a future Winter Games, most likely for 2030.
Fraser Bullock, co-chair of the Salt Lake Olympic Exploratory Committee, says the next big task will be preparing for venue-use agreements across the state.