Group wants grizzly bears restored to more US states
BILLINGS — Wildlife advocates are seeking a court order that would force U.S. officials to consider if grizzly bears should be restored to more Western states following the animals' resurgence in the Northern Rockies.
Grizzly bears are protected as a threatened species outside Alaska. An estimated 1,900 bears live in portions of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Washington state.
In a lawsuit filed recently in federal court in Montana, the Center for Biological Diversity said grizzlies should also be considered for areas of California, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and Oregon.
The request comes after environmentalists successfully sued last year to block grizzly hunts planned in Wyoming and Idaho.
Federal officials have appealed the ruling. They want to lift protections for about 700 bears in and around Yellowstone National Park.
State’s high court sets aside final 2 death sentences
SANTA FE — The New Mexico Supreme Court has set aside the death penalty for the final two inmates awaiting execution after the state's 2009 repeal of capital punishment.
In a split decision June 28, the state's highest court concluded that the death sentences issued to Timothy Allen and Robert Fry were disproportionate in comparison with comparable murder cases.
The cases were returned to a district court to impose life sentences to prison. Allen and Fry, ages 56 and 45 respectively, will be eligible for parole after serving 30 years, but would immediately begin serving additional sentences of at least 25 years. Fry will not be eligible for release, the court said.
New Mexico repealed the death penalty in 2009. Allen and Fry remained on death row because of prior convictions and their death sentences.
Allen was found guilty of kidnapping, attempted rape and the murder of 17-year-old Sandra Phillips in 1994.
Fry was sentenced to death in 2000 for fatally stabbing and bludgeoning Betty Lee, a mother of five.
In separate cases, Fry was sentenced to life in prison for three murders in 1996 and 1998 in San Juan County.
New Mexico's dormant capital punishment statute prohibits death sentences that are excessive and disproportionate.
Justice Barbara Vigil, in the lead majority opinion, said there was little to differentiate between the inmates' crimes and equally horrendous cases in which defendants were not sentenced to death.
In the dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Judith Nakamura said the decision overrides the Legislature's intention to preserve the death penalty for prior sentences.
New Mexico's last execution in 2001 put to death child-killer Terry Clark after he dropped all appeals.
He was the first person executed by the state since 1960.
Feds release review on removing vegetation to stop wildfires
BOISE — Federal officials have released their review on removing or changing vegetation over a huge swath of the American West to stop wildfires on land used for cattle ranching, recreation and habitat for imperiled sage grouse.
The work would occur on strips of land up to 165 yards wide and up to 11,000 miles long in Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada and Utah, according to an environmental analysis.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced in 2017 it planned the review into creating so-called fuel breaks that starve fires of vegetation that can burn in the Great Basin.
Giant rangeland wildfires in recent decades have destroyed vast areas of sagebrush steppe that support some 350 species of wildlife. Experts say the blazes have mainly been driven by cheatgrass, an invasive species that relies on fire to spread to new areas while killing native plants, including sagebrush.
Once cheatgrass takes over, the land is of little value.
Fuel breaks can cost from $12,000 to $44,000 a mile. Methods to create them include putting down herbicide, mechanically removing vegetation and planting vegetation that can resist wildfires.
The fuel breaks would total about 1,700 square miles and help protect a 350,000-square-mile area by slowing rangeland wildfires, allowing firefighters to more easily put them out.
But critics say fuel breaks can fragment habitat and harm wildlife, including sage grouse, and in many cases aren't effective.
Court’s abortion ruling prompts new attack on death penalty
TOPEKA — A recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling declaring that the state constitution protects access to abortion opened the door to a new legal attack on the death penalty.
Attorneys for five of the 10 men on death row in Kansas argue that the abortion decision means the state's courts can enforce the broad guarantees of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" in the Bill of Rights in the Kansas Constitution. The lawyers contend the convicted killers cannot be executed because capital punishment violates their "inalienable" right to life.
They include Frazier Glenn Miller Jr., a white supremacist convicted of killing three people at two Jewish sites in the Kansas City area in 2014, and Jonathan and Reginald Carr, two brothers who, authorities said, forced five people to remove money from ATMs and have sex with one another before killing four of them in Wichita in 2000.
Defense attorneys launched the new legal attack on capital punishment in filings with the state Supreme Court in May, less than two weeks after the abortion decision. The justices took the claims seriously enough to order defense attorneys and prosecutors to file additional written arguments, with the last ones due in mid-November.
The Kansas Supreme Court's abortion ruling in April was the latest in a long list of decisions that have angered conservative Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature. It said the state's Bill of Rights grants a right to "personal autonomy" that includes access to abortion.
Four of the seven justices were appointed by Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and two by moderate Republican Gov. Bill Graves. The seventh, the only dissenter in the abortion case, was appointed by conservative GOP Gov. Sam Brownback.
Past decisions in capital murder cases also have sparked anger. Kansas' last legal executions were in 1965, by hanging, and the state enacted its current death penalty law in 1994.
In 2001, in its first ruling under the state's current death penalty law, the Kansas Supreme Court rejected an argument that the state constitution grants a right to life barring executions for crimes. Defense attorneys now argue that the abortion decision provides grounds for reconsidering that conclusion.
Governor seeks ideas for recreational pot law
SANTA FE — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is launching a new effort to craft legislation that could legalize recreational marijuana sales next year.
The first-year Democratic governor announced she has recruited health, legal and fiscal policy experts to serve in a new discussion group that provides recommendations on state legalization.
Members of the group include Democratic and Republican legislators who sponsored unsuccessful legislation this year to authorize and tax recreational marijuana sales at state run stores. That proposal passed a House vote but stalled in the state Senate.
Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis is leading the so-called cannabis legalization task force.
Other participants represent a labor union, sheriff's department, health care business, Native American tribe, medical cannabis business, county government association, commercial bank and hospital company.