Boise could lose its last sagebrush-steppe remnant to industrial development

It’s time to envision, identify, and preserve an “emerald necklace” of trails and open lands encircling Boise from its southeast, south, southwest, west, to its northwest.

Boise airport officials are asking the city to rezone for industrial development what may be the last sagebrush forest on the city’s edge. The 77 acres is zoned A-2, Open-Land Reserve District “to provide for permanent open space and to properly guide growth of the fringe areas of the city.”

In early January, I decided to go take a look after reading the compelling testimony of Indian Lakes and Western Riding Club neighbors opposed to the plan to build industrial facilities behind their homes. As I approached the area, the first thing I noticed was a hawk circling above. She certainly did not view the land as “vacant and unused,” as it is described in the airport’s rezoning application.

I entered the property from the Western Riding Club on the north, where this photo was taken, looking south.

Then I went through the Indian Lakes neighborhood to the southwest corner of the A-2 properties. From both vantages, what I found is a dense sagebrush forest extending a half-mile to the east and to the south.

The sagebrush habitat—seen here, looking north—is much more extensive than anything we have in the Fort Boise Military Reserve, Boise’s first and largest open-space reserve, next to which I’ve lived since 1986.

The Military Reserve was once viewed by some as “vacant and unused.” In the early 1970s, Aldape Heights neighbors noticed speculators scoping out the Military Reserve for development. The original 460 acres had been patented to the city by the federal government in the 1950s. Led by parks commissioner Alice Dieter, photographer Stan Burns, and the US Interior Department’s Idaho solicitor Bill Dunlop, the Aldape neighbors negotiated a reversion clause into the patent, which permanently protects the now 734-acre Military Reserve from development.

In this case, there is no federal patent to fall back on. It’s up to city officials, guided by public input, to recognize and acknowledge the unique ecological and recreational values of this place and continue to protect it as open land.

On Feb. 6, accompanied by a botanist familiar with the sagebrush-steppe ecosystem, I decided to take another, closer look at the area the airport is asking to rezone for industrial development. This is likely the largest sagebrush steppe remnant in Boise. Wherever there are clearings in the sagebrush, we found cryptogamic soils—a thin, fragile crust made up of mosses, lichens, algae, and bacteria—which are found in undisturbed areas throughout the Columbia and Snake River Basins.

Cryptobiotic crust has been dubbed the “protector of the desert” because the sticky webs of soil retain water, so plants are able to root into the spongy crust, which enables them to survive hot, dry conditions. It then converts nitrogen from the air into usable nitrogen to help plants grow—the perfect breeding ground for young sagebrush starts:

Young sagebrush plants take root in the cryptogamic soil.
In a clearing of the sagebrush forest, bunchgrasses, rabbitbrush, and—yes—cheatgrass thrive.

In 1990, the airport purchased this land, ostensibly to protect it from residential development within the airport influence zone. The land was then outside the city limits in Ada County and was zoned RP, Rural Preservation. In 2005, the land was annexed into Boise City and zoned A-2, Open Land Reserve, a zone comparable to its Rural Preservation designation by the county.

Airport officials now want to rezone the land so that it may be leased for light-industrial development in order to finance the expansion of airport facilities. In the rezoning application, the parcels are described as “vacant and unused.” There is no evidence that the ecological and recreational values of the property were surveyed or considered. There is only the simple assertion that “Light industrial would be the best use of these properties as they are within the Airport Influence Area…”

More than 2,000 new homes have been approved in the Cory Barton Homes “Locale” development that is being constructed on the southern edge of the sagebrush-steppe remnant about a half-mile from the A-2 parcels. There are plans for more residential, commercial, and industrial development in the surrounding area.

In addition to the 77 acres included in the airport’s A-2 open-land reserve, there are about 100 additional acres of sagebrush forest on State of Idaho lands that also should be preserved.

Alexander Garvin was a renowned New York City architect and city planner who passed away in December. Alex produced the 2004 BeltLine Emerald Necklace plan that added 1400 acres of parkland and miles of trails as Atlanta developed its BeltLine corridor.

The Cleveland, Ohio, metropolitan area where I grew up is also encircled by an Emerald Necklace of parks, trails, and open lands envisioned over a century ago. These urban and suburban amenities have proven invaluable.

The Boise area’s Ridge-to-Rivers system of trails and open space is unparalleled, but it is largely in the foothills to the city’s north and east. It is high time for Boise and surrounding communities to envision, identify, and preserve an “emerald necklace” of trails and open lands encircling the area from its southeast, south, southwest, west, and northwest.

The Sagebrush-Steppe remnant southwest of the airport just east of Indian Lakes would be a worthy gem to hang on such a necklace. Air travel is the least efficient form of transportation on our planet. In light of the city’s goal to reach “net zero” fossil-fueled energy by 2050 or earlier, it’s time to start asking ourselves difficult questions: How many more jet-fueled passenger miles would destruction of this sagebrush forest buy Boise? Seems like a devilish deal to me.

The Boise Planning and Zoning Commission has scheduled a public hearing on the airport’s rezoning proposal, CAR21-00037, beginning at 6 p.m., Monday, March 14, 2022, at City Hall. Members of the general public have 3 minutes, or approximately 500 written words, to testify. Written testimony and documents—no word limit— may be submitted by 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 10, 2022. Email: crain@cityofboise.org

Through the smoke

Sun setting through the wildfire smoke,
A hummingbird samples a trumpet flower.
My friend Pilar wrote, “En México el colibrí representanta
el espíritu de nuestros seres queridos que nos visitan…

The hummingbird is the spirit of our loved ones visiting us.

Repeat History?

Doonesbury

Here are the details behind Garry Trudeau’s “Doonesbury” cartoon published Sunday:

On Nov. 9, 1923, Adolf Hitler led his stormtroopers in a failed attempt to overthrow the German government in which some 20 people were killed. For this, he was sentenced to the lightest allowable sentence of five years in a minimum-security prison. In cases of high treason, Weimar judges tended to show leniency towards right-wing defendants claiming to have acted out of sincere, patriotic motives.

Hitler was released after serving eight months, during which he dictated Mein Kampf to fellow conspirator Rudolf Hess—the book deal that Trudeau implies, the book of grievances that became the Nazi bible. The attempted Munich insurrection was a teaching moment.

Within a decade, Hitler and his Nazi party managed lawfully to seize power. The rest, as they say, is history. The failed “beer hall” putsch of 1923 found a special place in the story of the Nazi movement; Nazi Germany celebrated Nov. 9 as the Reich Day of Mourning.

Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

—Winston Churchill (paraphrasing George Santayana)

Veterans Day 2020

Two veterans in my family tree came near death in war and survived, or I would not be here. One was my father, whose wounding at Tarawa in the South Pacific during World War II I’ve written about before: Tribute to a veteran: Robert Earl Richardson

My maternal great-great-grandfather Allen Danford Lile served with the Michigan Volunteers’ Company F , 18th Infantry Regiment, which was called into service by President Lincoln in July1862. In mid-September, 1,000-strong, the unit left Michigan for Cincinnati, where they crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky. After fighting their way through central Kentucky, in August 1863 they were ordered to Nashville to act as a rear guard for Union forces.

During the summer and fall of 1864, the Michiganders did garrison duty at Decatur, Alabama, as part of the First Brigade, Fourth Division, Twentieth Corps occasionally pursuing Confederate troops when they approached that part of the state. Allen Lile was among some 200 troops detached to reinforce the Union garrison at Athens, Alabama, about 15 miles to the north across the Tennessee River. On Sept. 24, 1864, the detachment was attacked by about 5,000 Confederate troops under Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest near their destination. After fighting for five hours, the entire command was surrounded and captured with “heavy loss in killed and wounded.”

The survivors were imprisoned at Athens, Alabama, until the end of the war. On April 22, 1865, they were exchanged for Confederate prisoners at Vicksburg on the Mississippi River. A few days later, they were among 1,866 troops crowded aboard the Steamer Sultana headed upriver for home. In the early morning hours of April 27, near Memphis, Tennessee, “the boilers of the steamer exploded creating an appalling tragedy. Those on board were hurled into the air by the force of the explosion and their mutilated bodies fell into the Mississippi. Of the 1,866 troops on the steamer, 1,101 were lost. The hundreds who were not seriously injured were thrown into the river and drowned.”

Sixty-eight members of the Michigan regiment were killed or drowned; only a small number survived. My second great-grandfather, Allen Danford Lile, was one of them. He was mustered out on 10 June, 1865 at Camp Chase, Ohio, and returned to Michigan to farm and raise a family at Boardman in Kalkaska County. The steamship accident was the subject of a board of inquiry, but no cause of the explosion was determined.

Sad & Mad

Sad & Mad

I am sad, and I am mad.

I began this Sunday morning by reading Audrey Dutton’s excellent story in the Idaho Statesman about the plight of the hundreds of people dying alone in nursing homes during this pandemic. She detailed how information mismanagement by politicians, public health officials, and facility managers often leaves family members in the dark, who cannot visit their loved ones under pandemic restrictions.

She told how it is often a front-line worker, a nurse or caregiver, who calls a family member to alert them that their loved one is about to die. She recounted the experience of a woman who got a call from her husband’s nurse while eating dinner with their granddaughter. The husband who battled Alzheimer’s disease for five years had contracted COVID-19 in the nursing home. The nurse called to say he was unlikely to come back from this.

“Any chance you can put the phone up to his ear?” the wife asked. They both said their goodbyes: “I love you. Your family is OK,” the wife said. He mouthed the words, “I love you.”

Reading that account, I was in tears. I recalled the last days with my mother, who was receiving comfort care in hospice. I called mom’s grand-kids so that each of them could say their goodbyes. While I could not hear what they were saying, I recall that one of them, the comedian in the family, said something that registered her last smile.

By the end of Audrey Dutton’s story, I was a mess, alternately sobbing and seething: sobbing from accounts of the compassion shown by the heroic efforts of under-appreciated front-line workers and seething because of the failures of the politicians, public-health bureaucrats and facilities managers to provide the information and resources necessary to support those workers and to fight this coronavirus.

Dutton’s careful reporting showed the emotional toll this disease is exacting and exposed the failures to disclose adequate data and to provide adequate testing and treatment resources that have made Idaho and the US some of the worst places on the planet to be exposed to this virus.

I was an emotional wreck; so, I decided to go for a long walk in the 734-acre open-space reserve next door. The Fort Boise Military Reserve has been my godsend during this pandemic. Throughout the spring, documenting in photos the blooming of each species of the reserve’s wildflowers as it emerged helped me maintain my equanimity.

This morning’s walk started well. The trail was wide, and I was able to distance myself from others. But I realized that in my emotional fog, I had forgotten the N95 mask I usually have around my neck in case I can’t adequately distance from others on the trails. So, I fashioned one of my handkerchiefs into a “bandit” mask as I approached the narrower trails. I knew it would not offer much protection for me, but it would protect others from me and comply with the city and county mask mandates where six-foot distancing is not possible.

It was not long before I was seething again. On my hour-and-a-half walk, I was passed by several dozen bikers, hikers, and runners as I hiked up the Central Ridge, down the Ridge Crest, and up the Eagle Ridge trails. Among the many cyclists, for whom when possible I stepped off the trail, only one was wearing a surgical mask. Not a single runner had a mask of any sort on or available to pull up. Among dozens, I counted 10 hikers, with masks, and thanked each of them.

After about a half hour, as I stepped off the trail so they could pass at a six-foot distance, I began to ask people where were their masks. Most said that since they were outside, they didn’t need masks; they could social-distance. This was the common refrain from those hikers, bikers, and runners who responded. Several times, I noted that I, who had moved off the trail, was the only one distancing—and I was “masked”! A few walkers with young children even argued with me that face-covering is not required outside.

I returned home even more disheartened than before I left. So many thoughts continue to crowd my mind about the failures of our elected leaders and our fellow citizens—local, state, and national—to care for us and each other:

Among the deniers, there is the casual, callous disregard for those compromised by age or frailty who are forced to die alone. “They were gonna die soon anyway.”

“To wear or not to wear” face-covering has become the question…raised not only by flag-waving Trumpsters, Ammonites, and antivaxers. It also baffles well-meaning Boiseans out for a Sunday stroll with family and friends.

How much individual liberty should we sacrifice to protect the most compromised and underprivileged among us? Tracing people’s contacts is a government plot to take away our liberties.

Pandemics tests the credulity of the people. We are told that a dread disease is lurking. We don’t know for sure what it is. “Experts“ say it’s caused by a virus, an invisible thing that isn’t even alive. So we have to take the word of the “experts.”

Individual rights versus group welfare: No longer are we all in this together to face a common threat.

Alice Dieter, a Force of Nature

Alice Dieter, July 2018 —Diane Ronayne photo

There was an aftershock felt in Boise early last week, somewhere in the 4–5 range on the Richter Scale. Alice Dieter passed away at home on Sunday, April 19, 2020. Alice was a Force of Nature.

For 15 years (1964–1979), Alice served on the Boise city parks board when parks superintendent Gordon Bowen was shaping a caretaker agency into a park system. Among her many accomplishments, Alice worked tirelessly for more than a decade to help make the Boise Greenbelt a reality.

Alice also was instrumental in saving the Fort Boise Military Reserve from development. When she and her husband, Les, moved to Boise in 1955, they built their first home in Aldape Heights. About the same time the city acquired the Military Reserve from the feds. In the early ’70s, she and neighbors, including Bill Dunlop, then US Interior solicitor for Idaho, became concerned. They got wind that developers were sizing up the reserve for residential development.

With Alice on the Parks board, they worked to have the federal land patent reissued with a master plan and firm non-development directives. The idea was that any activities, including recreational uses, would be allowed strictly in ways that do not compromise the natural state of the area.

At the time, the Fort Boise Military Reserve was the only reserve in the park system. At a staff suggestion, Alice worked to establish a clear distinction between parks and open-space reserves. She led the commission in adopting the following definition: Properties that we will retain in their ecologically natural state will be called “reserves.”

When I visited with her a couple of years ago, she said one of her greatest regrets was that she did not press to establish separate parks and recreation boards. She foresaw the danger that the parks and recreation commission would be dominated by recreational interests and lose sight of the passive values of parks and open space.

In 1986, I moved to Aldape Heights adjacent to the Military Reserve. A few days after we got settled in, Alice came calling, I assumed to welcome us to the neighborhood. I invited her in. Alice could be direct; she got right down to business.

“Gary, you and I are going to start the Friends of Military Reserve.” She paused just long enough for me to understand that this was a direction, not a suggestion. “When the North End and the East End begin limiting access to foothills development, access through Military Reserve is not going to be an option,” she explained. Thus, Friends of Military Reserve were organized in the summer of 1986 with Alice Dieter as chair.

Alice was right about Mountain Cove Rd: There were repeated attempts over the years to “upgrade” Mountain Cove Rd. in violation of the reserve master plan, which specified that “Parking lots and upgraded roads including the three main roads will have a gravel surface.” In 1988, likely responding to pressure from a few large property owners, the city quietly got the BLM to sign off on a plan amendment allowing “the granting a right-of-way to the Ada County Highway District for the Mountain Cove Road and authorizes paving of the road.” Both the Simplot and Hawkins families had foothills properties above the reserve. The Hawkins land is now part of the reserve thanks to the first Foothills Open-Space Levy, which Alice supported.

At one point, ACHD actually began preparing Mountain Cove Road for paving. Friends of Military Reserve requested a public hearing, which was held Oct. 30, 1990, when paving the road was overwhelmingly opposed. Yet, a year later, the Ada Planning Association proposed a Mountain Cove Parkway through the reserve. Each time the proposal to pave the road comes up, it has successfully been thwarted. My guess is that, like the proposal for a cross-foothills thoroughfare, it will continue to crop up from time to time unless a clear prohibition laid out in the Reserves Master Plan puts that genie back in the bottle. Alice would like that.

My response to Risch’s nap.

Image result for Risch napping drawing

Here’s a link to an Idaho Statesman article by Cynthia Sewell, “One dozed. Another studied. How Idaho senators Risch, Crapo are handling impeachment,” followed by my online comment:

https://www.idahostatesman.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article239608983.html?fbclid=IwAR39neUxF1ENCrLP1SqMOg-AihvTCTS7QmQ2HC8R1tn-9e43W9fiRmFRCXk

When it comes to Ukraine, Jim Risch has been “asleep” (compromised) since meeting with unregistered foreign agents hired by Paul Manafort in 2013. Risch subsequently accepted $3,000 in blood-money from those lobbyists for his 2014 senate campaign.* The contributions were laundered by Manafort’s European Center for a Modern Ukraine in a straw-donor scheme funded by then Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych to curry favor in the US Senate—where Risch was in line to chair the foreign-relations committee—for the Russian takeover of eastern Ukraine.

A year ago, Yanukovych was convicted of treason for inviting Russia to invade Ukraine and reverse a pro-Western revolution. His police snipers killed more than 100 protesters who succeeded in ousted Yanukovych from power in February 2014, and he escaped to Russia. Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine and is still waging an ongoing war to occupy the eastern region of Donbass that has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 Ukrainians.

Risch’s understanding of Ukraine and Russia has been corrupted as badly as Trump’s.

*https://www.idahostatesman.com/…/article213135899.html

The Elisions

The Elisions

CNN.com image

Unless House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a card up her sleeve that she has yet to play, the Democrats have miscalculated and truly botched their impeachment effort.

In the White House TELCON memorandum of their July 25, 2019, phone conversation, there are three elisions in the text as U.S. President Donald J Trump tries to explain the favor he is asking of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy:

I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike

I guess you have one of your wealthy people

The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.

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I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved. Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great. The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that. The other thing, There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it

It sounds horrible to me.

It is possible that there still exists a true transcript of that July 25 conversation?

Those elisions may be the equivalent of the White House tapes that Nixon tried to withhold from Congress during the Watergate investigations.

We know from the note of “Caution” on the first page of the five-page TELCON summary that it is not a verbatim transcript of the conversation, in spite of President Trump’s claim that it is. The call lasted a half-hour but the released text covers about ten minutes. We know from the testimony of Col. Vindman, who listened in on the entire call in the White House situation room, that he had pushed to have some of the omissions to be reinserted in the call summary. He testified that the third ellipsis omitted Trump claiming there were recordings of Joe Biden discussing corruption in Ukraine and that the “company” cited actually refers to the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, but the company name was edited out.

In Nixon’s case, it took a court order for the Watergate tapes to be turned over. But in this case, the Democrats have made a calculated decision not to seek a court order for the White House to turn over documents and to require officials with firsthand knowledge of the president’s actions to testify.

Will Speaker Pelosi refuse to forward the articles of impeachment to the senate until the White House comes clean? That might drive the president over the edge!