Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The good, the bad and the conundrums

Some major choices before the residents of Blaine County and the state of Idaho fall into three major categories: the good, the bad and the conundrums—problems for which there may be no good answers.

The good: Blaine County residents can now recycle plastic grocery bags, courtesy of both valley markets, Atkinsons' and Albertsons.

That's great news for consumers who do not use cloth bags that can be packed over and over. It's also great news for the landfill near Twin Falls, which is the final resting place of discarded bags.

Now it's up to residents to make recycling work by returning clean bags to the stores that will send them to be remade and thus preserve scarce resources.

The bad: Blaine County and the Idaho Transportation Department haven't addressed problems with wildlife crossings on state Highway 75 where collisions with moving vehicles are common.

Solutions exist that could help, particularly on the busy stretch of highway north of Hailey that is plagued by potentially deadly collisions. Even though plans call for widening the highway to improve traffic flow, solutions like wildlife detectors and lighted warnings, wildlife underpasses or moving herds to other areas to protect drivers have not been incorporated into the plan despite a 2008 study that showed where the problems are greatest.

Blaine County and state transportation officials need to revisit the issue before the expanded highway is constructed.

The conundrums: Although southern Idaho's sage grouse populations have plummeted to dangerously low levels, the birds have not made it onto the Endangered Species List, ironically because there are other, more endangered species.

Unfortunately, the birds inhabit windy sagebrush steppes where energy companies want to locate major new wind farms to produce the kind of clean energy that is the darling of environmentalists.

There's the conundrum.

Development of wind turbines and location of other economically essential industrial uses outside cities require clearing sage-grouse habitat and invading it with tree-like structures that grouse view as perches for the hawks and eagles that prey on them. This will weaken the already fragile populations of sage grouse.

Yet, dependence on foreign oil threatens the global political ecology, the nation's security and the world's environment. Though an impressive creature, the little sage grouse may stand little chance in the face of those formidable problems.

The goal of local and state leaders for 2011 should be to change bad choices to good ones and to find win-win solutions for what seem to be win-lose propositions.

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