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February 20, 2008

Environment suffers as politics simmer

Posted: 05:11 PM ET

Of all the issues on Earth, the values of clean air and a healthy environment aren't where you would expect to find a broken government and political gridlock.


Concerns about global warming, endangered species, energy and water supplies are mounting and many see the environment as the staging ground for a great train wreck between science, politics, money and ideology.

CNN's “Broken Government: Scorched Earth,” examines tangled policies and ambitions and finds that the federal government has often stood in the way of environmental solutions. And, in some cases, well-intended programs have made problems worse rather than better.

In the Badlands of South Dakota, rancher Marv Jobgen is less than thrilled to share his federally-subsidized grazing land with prairie dogs, which are competing with his cattle to graze on grass. One federal agency hopes to expand a prairie dog poisoning program - on the same land where a rival federal agency is working to save the prairie dog.

The rodents may be competition for Jobgen’s cattle, but they’re dinner for the highly-endangered black-footed ferret. The ferrets are staging a government-backed comeback from the brink of extinction, but it all may be imperiled when the same government begins poisoning their food supply. Jobgen’s frustration is shared on all sides: environmentalists, government biologists who oversaw the ferret’s recovery, and ranchers.

“That’s what happens when you get agencies where nobody talks to anybody,” says Jobgen.

“Scorched Earth” also takes viewers to Iowa, the so-called “Kuwait of the Midwest,” where an estimated 30 percent of the nation’s corn crop is now grown - not for food - but for fuel. Corn is being touted as a “green” alternative and an antidote to America’s addiction to foreign oil.

But a backlash is building as some researchers find growing corn for fuel may actually cost more than it saves. Some experts have also blamed the corn crop for the explosive growth of the “Dead Zone” thousands of miles downstream at the mouth of the Mississippi River, where this nearly oxygen-free ocean area is wreaking havoc on the catches of Louisiana fisherman.

We also traveled to El Paso, Texas, where a century-old copper smelter stands amid a bleak landscape of lead pollution and health impacts, which some medical experts have linked to pollutants from the smelter.

Shuttered since the late ‘90s, when copper prices hit rock bottom, ASARCO recently got permission to reopen the plant. Even though ASARCO declared bankruptcy two years ago, citing “environmental liabilities” which may total $11 billion, the company recently received clearance to reopen. Some bankruptcy experts, local residents and city leaders are crying foul and say federal laws are protecting the company from paying cleanup costs.

– Miles O’Brien, CNN Science & Technology Correspondent

Watch “Broken Government: Scorched Earth” on Thursday, February 21, at 11 p.m. ET, immediately following the CNN Debate live in Austin, Texas.

Filed under: Politics

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Roger Waters   February 21st, 2008 3:28 am ET

Very good to see that CNN is getting these issues out there. We really are at the mercy of media institutions to help us fight government incompetence and corruption – as well as corporate greed – when it comes to the environmental catastrophe that mankind (Homo Pollutantus) is residing over. The environment is easily ignored by the 'spiritually blind" people who seem to run the world – and by the average idiot who's too emotionally retarded to give a crap – and education is the only humane way to solve this intensely tragic problem.
Those, like these journalists, who are intelligent and spiritually aware enough to recognize the psychological value of having a cleaner, wilder environment, will be known by history as The True Elite. Those who oppose their efforts will be known by history as The True Scum.
Viva CNN, viva!

Susan   February 21st, 2008 11:46 am ET

C'mon CNN ~ can't you run this show at an earlier time? I'd like to stay informed, but Dr. Sanjay Gupta tells us we need our sleep!

Jeremy   February 21st, 2008 2:10 pm ET

When ex-ExxonMobile executives took over the corn industry, you know it was going to be destructive and a stain on the green movement. Every should (but unfortunately do not) realize that sugarcane is the most efficient, profitable, and less waste producing fuel crop there is. Look at Brazil and what success they have.

Dusty   February 21st, 2008 11:18 pm ET

I just watched CNN's piece on Ethanol. I was wondering if you could remind the American people that not only is Ethanol a dead end when it comes to our addiction to oil, it also raises prices in every other aspect of our economy. Our food costs have skyrocketed, and with all of our farmer's fields being dedicated to corn for Ethanol, I can only see prices going up. What the heck is our government thinking?

Dave   February 21st, 2008 11:22 pm ET

Mr. O'Brien and your production staff:

Thank you. Thank you for shedding some light to the entire nation about our plight in El Paso and the help we desperately need.

I encourage all of this audience to read more about our cause.

Dave Cortez
takedownasarco organizer
El Paso, Texas

johnny uhrig   February 21st, 2008 11:35 pm ET

First off note that I never write tv shows, nor am is some sort of a Green Earth NUt.. HOWever I have to say I have been truely impressed by the SCORCHED EARTH Program I am Viewing currently this Thursday Night on CNN.
Much Detail and good work. Not some fly by night hack story or kissing up to politicians or corporations

Branden Mann   February 21st, 2008 11:53 pm ET

If I understand the prairie dog story correctly, the prairie dogs are eating too much grass and need to be controlled. The ferrets need the dogs as they are their primary diet. This means the ferrets eat the prairie dogs. So couldn't an aggressive introduction of the ferrets into the grass lands solve both problems? This would be using nature against nature, instead of poisons, restoring the natural balance back to this ecosystem. Its like using ladybugs as pesticides, which has proven time and again to be very effective, both environmentally and financially. Is this solution so simple that no one else sees it?

Rebecca Alllen   February 21st, 2008 11:57 pm ET

Why do ranchers get so much more attention than the others of us who care about the land and the environment. Cattle are NOT native to America. They cause damage and supporting cattle continues to cause damage in many ways. Coyotes and wolves are disregarded in some places, ferrots and prairie dogs in other places. Fences for cattle are left across Federal lands that causes pain and havok for Elk and others that need to migrate. Oh, but the "cattlemen need it", seems to justify anything. Even the waste of cattle is different than the waste of deer and native mammals. Cattle wates is ruining rivers and streams. Ever see cattle feces? It's not healthy. It's watery.

The government needs to listen to environmentalists and scientists.

Mark Wendell   February 22nd, 2008 12:01 am ET

For those who have never lived on a ranch in the west, your opinions are not relevant. This native dog is out of control, and anyone who takes time to look at the problem objectively will see that the crisis is too many of these dogs, and the only way to get nature back into balance is to thin the population. They are a problem as much as rats and roaches are a problem in New York, and nobody is trying to save them, why not.
Washington, get real, and get rid of the problem, by getting rid of the dogs so the native grass can survive, and nature will be in balance and the ranchers can go on with their native lives. (I was one of those natives many years ago, so I understand the problem).

Steve Smith   February 22nd, 2008 12:18 am ET

If you think that the Asarco Copper Plant was polluting, wait till a story that a reporter from the S.F. Chronicle is working on comes out in June 2008. You see this Chemical Plant, (Searles Valley) very close to Death Valley. This plant is selling the product that it makes to seven western states and one-third of the pacific rim, however their product has over 400 banned chemicals attached to each molecule of product. When I got sick one question led to another, and we ended up having a fat sample taken from my body, product sample (Boric Acid) shipped around the world, and soil samples, one at a house beside the plant, another about three miles away at the county line where a subdivision ended. All samples showed higher concentrations of PCB, DDT, DDE, othoro-cloro-pestacides, and over 400 more banned chemicals. We have called every government person that might do something, nothing no one will listen. The men that have knowledge of this willful contamination poured out on the American people should be put in jail.

Olivia   February 22nd, 2008 12:47 am ET

Miles, I just finished watching your Scorched Earth special - despite the late hour! The four stories - on ethanol, Asarco, ferrets/prairie dogs/ranchers and muzzled-government-scientists - are gripping, and disturbing. I agree with Jim Hanson that our Founding Fathers would be in tears if they saw how the collusion of corporate and government greed, deception, and tyrannical power have destroyed the environment and its inhabitants, both human and animal. What's been left in the biggest shambles is TRUTH itself.

I agree with everything Roger says. I'd add that there's a simple step every U.S. citizen can take to help revive and restore the earth and its multiple species: stop buying and eating meat! Just think, with no consumers of cattle flesh, ranchers would have to turn to another line of work, which would spare the prairie dogs from poison and give ferrets the food source they need to survive, even thrive. Though this show didn't have time to mention the endangered Yellowstone grey wolves that are being prematurely delisted (as of today) or the Yellowstone bison that are being shot for senseless reasons or the wild horse herds that are being rounded up and surreptiously slaughtered, the common culprit is the cattle kings (as well as trigger-happy hunters).

Indeed, it seems the theme of this Administration is kill kill kill. Then kill some more. Kill innocent people with poisonous chemicals and metals. Kill native wildlife with guns and poisons. Kill defenseless livestock with captive bolt guns and knives. Kill honest people's careers with corrupt policies. Kill taxpayers' trust in government with predatory practices, such as subsidies for corn farmers to produce inefficient ethanol, subsidies for cattle ranchers to keep meat prices low, and so on. In fact, Miles, you could do 100 Scorched Earth specials and you still wouldn't have unearthed all the physical, emotional and economic killing fields this terrorizing, terrifying Administration has left in its wake. But things will look up in November, God willing....

Jo Ruggles   February 22nd, 2008 12:59 am ET

Congratulations and thank you Miles O'Brien for your CNN Special Report, "Scorched Earth, an incisive, straight-to-the-heart expose on the current dreadful state of affairs at the EPA, Fish & Wildlife Service, etc. due to the Bush administration's political interference and protection of special interests by unqualified, meddling political hacks. It was eye-opening, mid-jogging and shocking! All of our natural resources are being exploited and destroyed.
Well, you know what? I want the Kanata(?) Basin back!!! It belongs to me and 300 million other US citizens, NOT the cattle ranchers who are "leasing" MY land. The prairie dog, black-footed ferret, and the ranchers are all vying for "their" portion of grass? Excuse Me? Ranchers..??? The prairie belongs to me and the creatures who live there, and I have decided that I want it back.
Miles, do an unofficial poll on the CNN website, asking America who THEY want to be allowed to remain on OUR prairie.
Next, do a report on the Bush Administration's attempt to eliminate the Yellowstone and Central Idaho wolves, emphasizing the positive and unexpected benefits to the ecosystem that Anderson Cooper learned on his visit, after the reintroduction of the wolves. Terrific report!!!

Tim   February 22nd, 2008 1:02 am ET

Will this be available as a video?

Jacques   February 22nd, 2008 1:17 am ET

David Pimentel is a well known anti-ethanol extremist who publishes analysis based on near-fraudulent assumptions. Miles O'Brien should talk to some of the world class experts from America's national labs such as Argonne and NREL which have worked on biofuels for decades and actually know something. We have so many outstanding experts so why use an extreme one-sided view?

Wake up, team. We are importing $1 million per minute of oil from countries who do not have our interests at heart. Also every one needs to wake up: the future of oi is bleak: geological exhaustion for light sweet crude and move to highly polluting sources such as tar sands, oil shale and coal-to-liquids. At $100 per barrel, this nation is on the verge of an economic and energy abyss if we do not develop and commercialize clean substitutes quickly. I am convinced that if the US went to the oil markets to buy the extra 400,000 barrels per day we would need to shut down all US biofuels (to satiisfy Pimentel and his small coalition of extremists), the price would jump tomorrow to $120 or more, driving up the price of food, gasoline, plastics and all core elements of daily life. If CNN is against clean, domestic and renewable alternatives, then we are dealing with an irresponsible and broken media, hell bent on showcasing extreme views for the sake of ratings. Maybe we prefer our farmers to starve so we can eat cheaper food and let our motorists to pay through the nose for foreign oil whose sources are becoming increasingly dirty. Is this what CNN advocates?

Please provide those who actually know something on biofuels the opportunity to respond in the near future. This show is occcasionally enlightening. Tonight it was dead wrong.

Chad Balkowitsch   February 22nd, 2008 1:39 am ET

A simple way to allow the black footed ferret to survive, would be for the government to stop leasing the grassland to the ranchers, whose only concern is to get the land at a reduced leased price from the government and overgraze and abuse the land with domesticated cattle for the almighty dollar. Make the grassland an endangered species habitat for the black footed ferret. As you could see from the program the damage that was done to that grassland is from the cattle. They stated the farmers would loose there lively hood if they were unable to lease the land, I'm sorry to say if there whole ranch operation depends on the government handout of cheap grazing land then they are not stable enough to be in buisness, I dont buy it.. We need to protect our natural resources and cattle do not make the list.
I live and have lived in North Dakota my whole life and you drive through the country and there are no native grasslands left, everything has been reseeded with non native grasses and overgrazed by cattle to the point that all that grows in the pastures is weeds and cactus. Sorry but the ranchers and cattlemen are the last people who are going to care about anything except there immediate interest. It is a shame what we are doing to our environment.......

Gary Wainright   February 22nd, 2008 2:44 am ET

Miles, you raised some excellent issues during your program tonight entitled "Broken Government: Scorched Earth." Thank you for this excellent effort to bring these subjects to the attention of the American people. Nevertheless, I believe that CNN's handling of environmental issues is lacking in a number of respects. Moreover, I have several suggestions that I believe would have significantly improved your program.

To begin with, why were no environmental questions asked during tonight's debate? Campbell Brown tried to drown Hillary Clinton out when she attempted to raise an environmental issue. Is CNN really trying to bring environmental issues to the American people? If so, it should always have asked at least one environmental question during the many debates it has sponsored and from which it has profited so greatly. It should also feature environmental issues prominently on the Web site, not merely as part of the Health and Science categories, but under their own category.

I find it appalling that CNN does not have a category for environmental news on its Web site. After viewing your program, I tried to find information about it by browsing on I could find no links to it. I finally Googled the program and located this page. CNN seems to give lip service to environmental issues, but it does not give them a prominent place on its Web site or even give them equal time with other subjects.

There was a great deal of emphasis on illegal immigration and Latino issues during the debate this evening. The intent of ASARCO to reactivate an old copper-smelting plant and resume emitting massive quantities of lead into the local atmosphere of El Paso and northern Mexico would seem to be a subject of interest to the Latino community. Why didn"t the journalists questioning the candidates ask them anything about this situation?

I thought you missed an opportunity during your program to deal with the policy of "cap and trade" and to make the point that it is totally inappropriate in the context of controlling heavy metals like lead and mercury. Permitting cap and trade to apply to heavy metals creates heavy-metal "hot spots" that are extremely deleterious to the health of local residents.

It seems to me that this form of lead pollution is a species of environmental genocide since it has a disproportionately large effect on the Latino population of southern Texas and northern Mexico. Of course, ASARCO stands for American Smelting and Refining Company. However, the program should have noted that ASARCO was acquired in 1999 by a company named Grupo México, which itself began as ASARCO's 49%-owned Mexican subsidiary in 1965. If, as would appear to be the case, ASARCO is a Latino-controlled company, it is, in effect, conducting Latino-on-Latino environmental aggression. CNN should have investigated the company's ownership and, if it proved to be Latino controlled, CNN should not have allowed its dedication to political correctness to deter it from noting ASARCO's Latino ownership.

Fortunately, cap and trade was recently held to be illegal in the case of heavy metals like mercury and lead, but this decision may be overturned if CNN does not properly publicize this issue. Some mention of this should have been made during the program.

With respect to the black-footed ferret, I was dismayed that you did not expressly point out the fact that the ferret can be used as a means of controlling the prairie-dog population. Why are black-footed ferrets not used as the preferred means of controlling prairie dogs instead of poison? You hinted at this solution, but nowhere during the program did you clearly state this obvious solution.

I understand why ranchers dislike prairie dogs–they consume grass and create burrows that can cause cows and horses to break legs. However, you did not make it clear why they also seem to be averse to ferrets. Is it simply because poison is a faster means of eradicating prairie dogs?

"Meeekat Manor" is a very popular program on the Discovery Channel that has turned the meerkat into an American media darling. Meerkats are an environmental analog to the prairie dog. That is to say, they occupy the same ecological niche in Africa that prairie dogs hold in North America. Our American "dogs" are much cuter creatures than meerkats. Why does this American cable channel highlight the African meerkat, rather than the prairie dog? If the dogs received similar publicity to what is being given the meerkats, perhaps Americans would value them more and would have greater sympathy with efforts to preserve them.

I seems to me that the ranchers want to exterminate the dogs so they can have a perfect situation to raise their cattle. It is inconceivable to me that prairie dogs are capable of consuming enough grass to eliminate the cattle. They co-existed for many thousands of years with American bison, wich also depended on grass for their survival. The ranchers are simply attempting to engage in a far more intensive level of animal husbandry than the land is capable of supporting.

Thanks again for producing this program.

Dianne James   February 22nd, 2008 4:51 am ET

Thank you CNN, for bringing attention to an issue I am very concerned about. This segment is an educational eye-opener for those who are unaware of the lack of accountability, waste, and fiscal irresponsibility within our government. No creature big or small remains unscathed by the conditions that have adversely affected our environment. The prairie dog vs. cattle rancher situation is a classic example of the lack of communication between government agencies, and the obvious waste of time and money. Cattle ranchers drag prairie dogs into the political arena with every approaching election. "Get rid of the prairie dogs or you won't get my vote". The solution is simple: stop leasing federally subsidized land to cattle ranchers who refuse to share the land with prairie dogs and other wildlife. Period. I am vehemently opposed to the poisoning of prairie dogs on land that my tax dollars pay for. Poison is cruel, inhumane and horribly painful to its victims, and those that use poison as a means of "control" are either ignorant or sadistic. We need to nurture, protect and defend the soil we grow our food in, and the air that we breathe. Banning poison and other hazardous chemicals makes more sense. I do hope that CNN will air this segment again at an earlier time in the evening, to educate the public on the truth about the death and destruction caused by corporate greed and political agendas. We have been on a collision course with nature for too long now and the end results will be catastrophic if we don't act quickly to restore what has been so badly damaged.

Lance Gambis   February 22nd, 2008 7:15 am ET

Thank you CNN for running the 'Scorched Earth' "Broken Government" story. Kudos for stressing the power of the agricultural lobby and the Iowa caucuses: both presidential Republicans and Democratic candidates are loathe to say anything remotely negative on the energy/agricultural subsidies ruining the health of the environment AND the health of Americans.

Miles, please do a story on the link of agricultural policy and health/obesity issues in this country. Specifically, the corn subsidies that are creating a river of cheap corn- and corn-syrup based products that are making corn-fed cattle sick and sending a slew of junk products in the supermarket aisles.

Those issues are best explained in Michael Pollan's books ('Omnivore's Dilemma').

Justine Burt   February 22nd, 2008 12:14 pm ET


You have picked two of the biggest environmental "hornets nest" issues, endangered species and environmental cleanup, to illustrate why government is broken. This adds fuel to the fire of the view that "federal government does nothing useful and should be abolished." Consider that our government serves many vital functions, services that the market place will not provide: research, oversight, safety net and infrastructure.

But having spoken out in defense of government, I agree with you that the many agencies within the federal government often do work at cross purposes and rarely communicate. This is why we need a vision of a sustainable future and leadership to help us all pull in the same direction.

CNN, I know it's sensationalist and exciting to characterize the situation as a "staging ground for a great train wreck." What if you reframed this situation in a positive way, as an opportunity for government agencies to work together, for someone to take a leadership role, for America to define a vision of a sustainable future? Challenge our leaders to work together and create something better, for our sakes, for the benefit of our children and for the benefit of the environment that our lives depend on.

Check out my blog for more information on this positive approach to creating a sustainable future:

Robin Hoek   February 22nd, 2008 1:14 pm ET

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for your tv show last night regarding environmental polluters and prairie dogs!
I am a speech language pathologist who quit my career to start the Colorado Green Action Network. The town that I live in Broomfield Colorado- is killing prairied dogs left and right. Since October of 2007 our small county has killed next to 800-1000 dogs. And plans on killing more.
I have tried to work with city/county officials etc and have gone right up the line. I went to the Fish and Wildlife service,contacted every agency I know and NO ONE can help me.
I met Jonathon Proctor- who is an amazing advocate for these animals and for the prairie habitat, during my search for help. That's when I learned of the plight of the dogs on the Conata Basin. He has been working so hard as well as many others – to help save these dogs and the black footed ferret.
Now if we can only get help with the urban prairie dogs. These dogs suffer an inhumane death by Aluminum Phosphate. The dogs can be seen for up to 15 hours crawling bleeding from orifices and trying to stay alive...while they bleed to death. Videos of this have been shown to our council to everyone yet no one wants to listen. Development and ranchers get to make the decisions. We need to set aside land for these critters. They are so important to saving the prairie and all it's inhabitants. Beside you make a good point...we do nothing to set aside land for them but use tax payers money to kill them. Makes no sense. Check into it- if you want to move these guys across county lines in the west they have made it so difficult, there is no choice but to kill them. If we had land in eastern Colorado that woudl take them, we still couldn't move them across county lines.
It is a tragedy and one that could be fixed if we would protect some lands for our wildlife and keep them protected.
I hope this will begin to educate people. There is no dispute that prairie dogs are needed to maintain a healthy prairie ecosystem.
Please continue your work in this area. There are so many of us fighting for our wildlife- and not getting paid for it either! Fighting the good fight for our children.

lechugia   February 22nd, 2008 1:15 pm ET

No one wants the smelter to reopen – not Mexico, not New Mexico and not El Paso TX. But there is a fraud/cover-up. In the ASARCO bankruptcy proceeding in Corpus Christi they are refusing to discuss the toxic waste handled and burned illegally by ASARCO in the 1990's. And, in the Paso del Norte region no one asks what toxic waste is here from that illegal burning.

They are dividing up the company assets, deciding what damages/liabilities they have to still pay for, and NOT DISCUSSING THE ILLEGAL TOXIC WASTE that got into the Paso del Norte soils, air, the Rio Grande and the international Hueco aquifer.

Meanwhile, just several miles up river from the El Paso smelter the 2nd largest N.M. regional dump is renewing a ten year permit - and its application would allow it to accept (radioactive) Uranium mining and milling waste into that dump. That radioactivity will outlast the dump's liners. That dirt would be blown all over the region, and the isotopes would flow with the dirt during rain and wind events into the dump's unlined storm ponds to likely flow down the documented Sunland (park) surface fault (that extends along sunland park drive and then the edge of the dump) into the aquifer below. (A whole pile of that waste sits up at Coyote Canyon in Navajo N.M. land, stockpiled by EPA Region 6).

It is time that the community asked what EPA Region 6 is hiding, what Asarco is hiding - what all these powerful concerns are hiding from us about what ASARCO poisoned us with. Has anyone seen a dioxin report on the Paso del Norte region? No. Has anyone seen a comprehensive beta radiation level plot graphed of our region? No. Has anyone seen a comprehensive chemical analysis of the Asarco pond-dirt that Asarco felt was bad enough that they railed it all the way back to Corpus Christi? No. What about a PCB report/chemical analysis? No. Can the EPA water lab find the chemical report and records for when they came out here in 2001 to try to duplicate Rio Grande samples from an unpublished UTEP masters thesis (running a mini double membrane osmosis treatment system at the Canal street station)? NO.

Are we and have we been sacrificed? YES.

The powers that be must think that we are ignorant stupid people down here in El Paso to sit idly by and simply ask for the smelter to be CLOSED without asking WHAT ARE THEY HIDING and WHAT TOXIC WASTE IS HERE??????????

Heather McMurray
El Paso, TX

phil james   February 22nd, 2008 1:27 pm ET

To clear up any confusion. Although the segment showed a Park Service sign identifying Badlands National Park, in fact the Conata Basin with its major ferret recovery is on National Grasslands adjacent to the Park and administered by the Forest Service. Badlands National Park administered by NPS does not have livestock grazing. The FS grasslands have to support multiple uses so they do have grazing.

Travis Livieri   February 22nd, 2008 3:24 pm ET

Thanks to Miles and crew for a phenomenal job in capturing the dynamics of the black-footed ferrets/ prairie dogs / ranchers in Conata Basin, South Dakota. This issue is large and complex but Miles et al. were able to boil it down to it's basic elements. It's also encouraging to hear from people who were 'awakened' by this segment and now are asking 'how are my public lands being managed?'.

For those posing the question about ferrets ability to control prairie dogs: black-footed ferrets ecologically never 'controlled' prairie dogs, they evolved with them in the Great Plains along with bison and numerous other species. Ferrets diet consists of almost only prairie dogs thus why would ferrets eat themselves out of house and home? One black-footed ferret will eat ~130 prairie dogs in one year, leaving enough prairie dogs to sustain reproduction and other sources of predation (badgers, hawks, fox).

Again, thanks to Miles and crew for highlighting the species we've been working so hard to restore to the Great Plains.

Travis Livieri
Prairie Wildlife Research

Steve Kelley   February 22nd, 2008 4:31 pm ET

As an individual who spent 28 years with the federal government, educated in wildlife and range management, and now running my own environmental consulting business, I am qualified to speak to the endangered species issues with black-footed ferrets. The problem here is a simple one. Money. The politicians who accept money from these large ranchers influence politicians, who appoint those managers in office that favor this continued abuse of federal land. How much money do you think the federal government actually receives from grazing leases? If this practice was stopped today; the impact on the cattle market would be negligible, the impact on the federal budget would be microscopic, the few ranchers that would be financially hurt would be insignificant, and the benefit to the American public would be priceless.

So, you have to ask....if it is this simple, who is against stopping this practice of leasing federal land for grazing? Once again, the answer is simple. Only those few senators and congressmen that receive support from these few ranchers. Anyone who believes that the USDA, through the Forest Service or any other agency, actually wants to preserve the environment over agriculture interests, is making a terrible mistake.

In closing, I can only add, that I have been a lifelong Republican voter. However, as stated by the USFWS biologist that retired and voiced his disdain for the current administration, I too, left my position with the USDA for the same reason. The Bush administration has chosen to ignore science, ignore the environment, and refuse to listen to those "on the ground" that know the facts. We may not need the black footed ferret, or golden cheeked warblers, or cave beetles, but we are stupidly arrogant if we think we know enough to be certain. Every species has value, every species is unique. If you try to play God and decide which ones are worth saving and which ones are not, you are a fool.

Thank you CNN for making this issue public. Only through an educated public, can we ever hope to effect those in power, who can change these disastrous policies.

Steve Kelley
Georgetown, Texas

Nikki Calkin   February 22nd, 2008 7:06 pm ET

Thank you for enlightening the American Public to the conflict which exists between the prairie dogs/black footed ferrets and ranchers.
For those of us who have farmed and or ranched without access to Federal grazing lands and to all tax payers in U.S. it would be appropriate for everyone to know the fees charged to ranchers for the use of our lands. In 2007, the Federal Grazing Fees dropped from $1.56 to $1.35 per animal unit month. An "animal unit month" is
"the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, one horse, or 5 sheep or goats for a month".

Most economists would say "if it sounds too good to be true, it is".
But not so for ranchers who use and sometimes overgraze our lands, release their animals early and don't remove them until late on our
publically owned lands. I have never talked to a rancher who would rent his own personal land for the amounts he is required to pay for use of our lands. I do wish there had been more time to present this little piece of information in the CNN Presentation.

joanne d   February 22nd, 2008 11:22 pm ET

Thank you for enviromental news. Story about El Paso and their copper smelter and the Company who is trying to reopen the toxic sight, as one american I care about supporting those people and on trying to protect people and the ocean this lead is being dumped into and creating the dead zone. What can citizens who live in other states do right now?

Fred Watson   February 23rd, 2008 7:41 am ET

When it comes to ranchers and government land, I think that the ranchers should take what come with the land. Wolves to ferrets, the ranchers can take it or leave it. We the people shouldn't have to pay to take care of their cattle and waste our money. We're already paying for it in the grocery store as it is. If the ranchers don't like the wildlife that's on the government land, then they can keep their cattle on their own land.

Brian Weiss   February 24th, 2008 3:31 am ET

I am disappointed that your show on ethanol says nothing about cellulosic ethanol. Won't this process will allow us to efficiently make ethanol from pretty much anything that grows including grass? How about the effect this would have on the corn ground if you could take it out of 'production' for a time to grow something like grass for energy that doesn't require the massive amounts of nitrogen, etc. Even the brush cleared around towns to help prevent fires could be made into ethanol. The cellulosic process uses yeast to ferment material with cellulose in it into ethanol. Even the desert or a mountainside where traditional farming is not feasible could be used to grow a plant like hemp to make ethanol. This is the goal (not corn) with ethanol and it seems ridiculous to even discuss the subject without greater mention of this fact.

Richard Stine   February 24th, 2008 4:18 am ET

Put the Prairie Dogs on Birth Control Medicine and that way the Ferrets won't die from the poison when eating the Prairie Dogs. They both can be controlled that way. They can then live out their lives.

Mark Hunter   February 24th, 2008 4:50 am ET

The U.S. gov't spent 25 million in a few short years to save the black footed ferret, is going to now pay for for the extermination of the prairie dog (ferret food) and will undoubtedly continue to fund the ferrets comeback from extinction.
The question I was waiting for was never asked. How much money would it take, for the 17 farmers in question, to simply keep their cattle off the gov't land or simply sell the farm and move away and turn the whole thing into a conservancy area? The money could come from gov't or private sources (whatever keeps it legal). So, what's the answer to that question?

Jason Plonka   February 24th, 2008 9:40 am ET

Hello, great show, yet another example of how our government is wasting our money. I loved how the ethanol lobbyist was trying to sell ethanol as this environmental savior and then 30 seconds later he jumped into his gas, sorry, ethanol guzzling SUV and drove off into the sunset. Hello people, instead of spending billions on alternate fuel development lets start out by driving more fuel efficient vehicles!! It is so easy to see that this is a great first step. Lets have our politicians put pressure on our auto industry to make more fuel efficient vehicles. The excuse from the auto makers that they can't do it will not work. Both Ford and GM sell vehicles in Europe that get great gas mileage. So, my question is, WHY NOT IN AMERICA?? Ask you elected officials!!!

JK Smith   February 24th, 2008 10:27 am ET

CNN did not pick up on one irony of this story. Smelters, like the ASARCO smelter produce sulfuric acid as a by-product. That acid is used in the production of fertilizers for crops like – you guessed it – CORN. It's an inescapable fact: Corn Ethanol impacts the environment even in ways you would not expect, such as lead emissions from a copper smelter.

Jean Williams   February 24th, 2008 9:45 pm ET

Thank you CNN, for shining some light under the proverbial rock of the politically corrupt and biased handling of prairie dog management. It started back in the late 1800's, with the major impact of prairie grasslands being converted to cropland. Thus, the advent of chemical control efforts began on a massive scale to reduce competition for grasses between prairie dogs and cattle. Although, prairie dogs co-existed for many decades, with herds of buffalo. For well over a century, this small animal has been caught in the middle of a politacal meat grinder, fostered by greed and ignorance. The prairie dog populations have been eradicated by means of habitat destruction, poisoning, bulldozing, shooting, and disease, down to 2% of their original populations. All of these elements in their destruction have been spear-headed by mankind. Even the sylvatic plague, was accidentally introduced into North American ecosystems in the early 1900's, and ravaged countless healthy prairie dog colonies, down to dust.

Gale Norton, under preassure from the Bush administration, removed the only glimmer of hope that has been bestowed upon this under appreciated species, when she stripped the black-tailed prairie dog of its precluded status for a threatened species by the ESA. We are clearly approaching another major Extinction Event on Earth, and it is being driven by people, who are too self-obsorbed in their personal motivations, to recognize the importance of one species on an entire ecosystem of other animals, plants, reptiles, and insects. Prairie dogs are a key stone species, vital to the health of our great American plains, and they should be protected and valued.

Any farmer or rancher, who believes that the cruel and inhumane poisoning of prairie dogs, is somehow bringing a natural "balance" to their land, is totally delusional. The rest of the world has been quietly watching this battle for many years. And it has been a shameful exposure. Now, thanks to CNN and your "scorched Earth" program, the spotlight will shine even brighter. I am cautiously optimistic, that the next administration will help turn the tide of this environmental sinking ship, or the human race may be the beneficiary of mass reduction in its own sustainability. Bush will go down in history as the worst enemy to global and environmental improvement, in American history. Thanks again, CNN!

adeal   February 25th, 2008 2:30 am ET

Man! It's a shame CNN aired "Broken Government Scorched Earth" in the early morning hours, keeping more viewers from watching. Why is this program only shown ONE TIME??? Well, we know the answer to that question. Every citizen in America should have been able to watch this program. Air "Broken Government Scorched Earth" again CNN!



Peter Dykstra

adeal   February 25th, 2008 2:33 am ET

Well put Roger Waters!

Peter   February 25th, 2008 1:20 pm ET

I'm chiming in late on this program, because I was watching the back of my eyeballs, when this show aired in the wee hours of the morning a few days ago, so I just heard about it.

The article reports that one federal agency is trying to poison prairie dogs and another federal agency is trying to save the prairie dogs. The fact is, there have been numerous federal and grassroots agencies fighting to save prairie dogs for years upon years. These notable organizations include The National Wildlife Federation, Defenders of Wildlife, The Prairie Dog Coalition, WildEarth Guardians, Citizens for Prairie Dogs, and dozens more grassroots organizations across the country. The fact that they use biologically proven science as basis for their argument, to defend a highly threatened species, is not sufficient for politically corrupt government agencies. It all comes down to money, greed, control, and power.

Protection for the species was weakened further in 2003, when the CDC and the FDA put a ban on the movement of prairie dogs, due to a brief monkey pox outbreak, in which prairie dogs became innocent carriers. The fact that a keystone species is in peril, and the black-footed ferret, who depends on that species, is barely hanging on by a thread, means nothing to our government and this administration. Until black-tailed prairie dogs are given the protected status they deserve under the ESA, it will be an up hill battle. Hopefully, that will happen soon after November of this year. Meanwhile, federal agencies in places like Colorado, Texas, and South Dakota, gleefully continue their war against an innocent animal that has been shamelessy demonized by ranchers and local politicians. There are other options available, by hiring qualified trappers to relocate the prairie dogs to a more suitable habitat, but evidently that would be too humane to consider.

Mr. Wendall on this blog feels that anyone who hasn't lived on a ranch, doesn't have a relavent opinion. He compares prairie dogs to rats and roaches in New York City. His statement is reflective of the mind set in the ranchers, farmers and politicians of those regions. How sad. He claims that cows and horses break their legs in prairie dog burrows. Yet, there are literally no statistics to support that theory. How would that happen? A horse or a cow grazzing along, face down in the grass, when suddenly, they fall in and break their leg?

We are stewards of our Earth and our public lands. It is our job to defend animals, who cannot defend themselves. Especially an important species, such as black-tailed prairie dogs. Their value to the ecosystem of the American plains and other co-dependent species, is beyond calculation. To compare such an important and cohesive species, to rats and roaches, is truly the height of ignorance.

Pdog   February 26th, 2008 7:01 pm ET

I didnt watch this but have heard lots about it. Does anyone know where I can see this segment online? All I can find now is the trailer.

tubby   February 26th, 2008 7:04 pm ET

Native species do not get out of control.

carlos rodriguez   July 25th, 2008 11:01 am ET

Mr Miles, thank you so much for your great interview of Daniel Arrelleno. His story being heard from coast to coast, I pray will be taken seriously. Asarco has a strong track record of polluting communities dating back to the early 1900's The Science is there. Our government has ignored its citizens long enough, clearly siding with this polluter. Do we need this copper producing business, yes we do, but in this day and age we can put this copper producer miles away from any community, city or town. The workforce can commute to and from while the polluter sits safe distances away. We must also look at the green house, ozone concerns and force this polluter to bring their plants to environmental standards. In El Paso, Tx Asarco has out lived its welcome and is time for them to move on. The fact that they very willfully poisoned their employees and parts of the city and all for greed tells me it is time for them to move on. There is no need for this type of neighbor to be permitted to stay. If we look at Asarco now in Hayden, Arizona you can see just how much this polluter cares for its neighbors and employees. This run down facility is a junkyard that continues to breath dark black smoke. The plant sits a stones throw away from its neighboring community where conveying systems run directly above people's back yards. A new generation of infants, children and old continue to suffer the ill effects of the acids, leads, arsenics. A community of about 900 strangely enough die of cancers. The red flags are waving all around this community yet Asarco does nothing to protect these people. Visiting the area cemeteries the head stones show deaths of men and women dying in their early 50's and an abundence of babies and children. In the early 50's and 60's unions fought long and hard to obtain protection from companies just like this polluter. They were forced to provide protective equipment such as respirators, work boots, protective eye wear, gloves, in some cases two man teams to watch over eachother. Agencies were formed to watch over these activities. Agencies that were set in place to protect the employees and communities from polluters like Asarco, and at some point these very same agencies are now protecting the interest of the Asarcos. What happen? When did the human element become second to the big industry. Remember the sweat shops, the unhealthy working conditions, the unfair labor laws put in place, the fair wages. Big lobbiest took over and now the rights have changed hands to those who pay out the most. Our government is truly broken and we the people must stand together and force these polluters away from harms way. Miles O'Brien and CNN is one example of those jounalist trying to make things right for all of us. Thanks Again

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Harriet Russell   June 30th, 2010 12:38 am ET

What is the latest environmental news today?",;

David Begum   August 31st, 2010 3:07 am ET

the environmental news these days are full of man-made disasters like oil spills~;;

Taylor Lewis   October 11th, 2010 3:49 am ET

when i look at environmental news these days, they are not always good'*~

Catnip   December 13th, 2010 1:31 am ET

certainly, the environmental news theses days are not so good but there are other good news too like opening of new forest reserves '-'

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