Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A big challenge for public transportation in Idaho

I found out last week that Idaho is one of only two states in the country, Mississippi being the other, that provide no state funding for public transportation and prevents local option taxes for transportation funding. If you add in the fact that the Boise metro area is now larger than 200,000 people, it can no longer use federal funds for operating public transportation (it can still get federal funds to purchase capital equipment). This leads to a very unstable funding source that is solely dependent upon city's general funds. Lack of a stable income source for operations, limits most eligibility for federal capital funds. Thus, without a significant change in Idaho law, the public transportation service in the Boise metro area, and other cities in Idaho, will continue to lower service levels.

Another interesting fact - the Idaho constitution prevents fuel tax and registration fees from being used for public transportation. To change this would require a constitutional amendment - 2/3 of house, 2/3 of senate, and 50+% of voters in the state.

And another - due to the fuel tax cap put in place in 1996, the state funds for highways now has 30% less buying power than it did in 1996, putting all transportation options in the state at higher risk.

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Thoughts on Portgate

Since every other blogger in the world is commenting on PortGate, I thought I would throw in my 2 cents.

When I first heard about outsourcing the management of our ports to a UAE owned company, I was outraged as many others are. I do believe it was incredibly bad judgement on the part of the Bush administration to authorize this without preparing the nation through a debate on the topic. Upon further reflection, I don't necessarily believe it is a bad theory, although clearly it involves more risk than I and many others are comfortable with. I want to trust that the government has a pure and honest rationale, although their track record is not one the promotes trust with me.

Let me start be saying that I do not believe that military engagement, such as our action in Iraq, has or will do anything to decrease our risk of terrorism. I believe that terrorism rates are similar to crime rates in the US. The rates are not dependent upon how many police officers are working in a given area, but instead on the economic strength of the neighbothood. I believe the only true solution to international terrorism is to break down some of the large inequities in the world. The best way to do this is to promote economic stability in areas of the world that currently lack it. The primary problem with much of the middle east is the lack of a broad economic base to support a powerful nation.

If we do outsource the management of our ports to the UAE, it will provide a stronger economic connection to the UAE, and more importantly, a connection that is not based solely on oil. I think this is a step in the right direction and much more positive than military intervention.

With that said, I think we have chosen a particular area of very high risk to embark on this experiment. I would feel much more comfortable engaging less security oriented operations to countries with which we do not have a long standing trusted relationship. Some might claim that this is a racist response, I do not. Relationships usually begin by exposing small portions of risk, allowing trust to build up over time. The most security focused assets are usually reserved for long term partners who have proven time and again to be trust worthy. I, as a citizen of this country, have had little exposure to how the UAE has handled our less secure assets, to know if they have earned the ability to manage our critical ports. In addition, you usually pick partners who you are confident will be with you in the long run. What will our relationship be with the UAE when their oil runs out. I would like to think that we will still be their friend, but I am not so naive to truely believe that.


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Carbon Offsets

With all of the crisis' going on in the world it is sometimes difficult to determine what an individual can do to make a difference. One approach to combat global warming is to purchase carbon offsets, sometimes referred to a green tags.

Carbon offsets refer to the process of investing money at a commercial level to offset your individual impact. For example, investing in clean energy production at a commercial level to offset your dirty energy consumption at a personal level. Most carbon offset mechanism allow you to calculate your dirty energy usage and provide you an option to purchase that much clean energy at a commercial level, thus resulting in a net neutral green house gas impact. Actually, you only pay the incremental expense of the clean energy over the dirty energy production. Some utilities, such as Idaho Power, will ensure that the clean energy is purchased and put into the grid, ensuring a direct local impact. Other approaches simply ensure that the new investment is made in the most effective generation areas - remember that global warming is a global issue.

Why commercial? Clean commercial energy is the most cost effective form of clean energy, thus the value of the offset approach. For example, to convert my house to clean energy using solar panels would cost me $22,000, with a 20 year break even period. To purchase commercial offsets for the same amount of electricity costs me $15 a month more than my traditional energy bill. Both approaches have an immediate impact, but one approach is much easier to get started.

Most utility companies are now offering green programs that can be added directly to your utility bill. My electrical offsets ($15 a month) are purchased from Idaho Power. For more information on the Idaho Power Green Power Program - http://www.idahopower.com/energycenter/greenpower/default.htm.

To offset your vehicle emmissions, you can purchase vehicle offsets at http://www.terrapass.com/. To offset a large SUV (like our camper van) at 12,000 miles a year costs me $79.95 per year. Terrapass has a carbon calculator for calculating the carbon your vehicle produces based on your vehicle type and annual miles driven.

Both sites listed above provide more information on the projects that their offsets have funded.

Remember, the most effective mechanism to combat global warming is to reduce consumption - saves money and the planet.


Friday, February 17, 2006

Sunrise while camping at the Galena yurt

Bloggers now considered a threat by Homeland security

Last week the homeland security department completed a mock cyberattack. The purpose was to gauge the nation's readiness to handle large scale cyber threats. While I support this type of preparedness, I was surprised that one of the focus areas was to respond to bloggers. DHS described the exercise as "...biggest-ever exercise to test how it would respond to devastating attacks over the Internet from anti-globalization activists, underground hackers, and bloggers." Bloggers?

There are two ways to look at this:

1. The government realizes that information is power and that they should pay more attention to it (too bad we didn't focus on it before invading Iraq)

2. This is the first step in their "war on bloggers". This administration has a track record of building a PR campaign against people that they eventually attack (axis of evil, Al-Queda/Iraq connections, etc).

My pessimistic view and lack of trust in this administration believes the later. The blogosphere has been a major pain in the butt for them and I believe they would like to discredit it as much as possible.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Boise Library Bond Fails

In last week's Boise library bond election, the community voted 57% to 43% in favor of the bond measure to build 3 new libraries in Boise. This vote failed to meet the two-thirds super majority required to increase the taxes to pay for the libraries.

I did not vote in this particular election, as I was struggling with which way to vote. In general, I support public libraries and am not opposed to paying more tax for services that predominantly benefit the lower income portions of our society. I also like the reuse model that a library promotes. It is much more efficient on our natural resources. My dilemma came in two areas: the centralized versus distributed model and priorities in general.

Centralized versus distributed: The distributed library model requires much more redundancies in the assets that are available. We must buy 4 copies of the same book, instead of buying 3 more unique titles. Computers in one library must sit idle, which computers in other libraries have a waiting line. Of course, at some point the scale of Boise is too large to support a single location. I am just not sure if we are there yet.

Priorities: Of the issues I would like to see funded, and would happily pay tax to support, libraries unfortunately don't rise the the top of the list. Number one, as you can probably tell from my blog, would be public transportation. The money required for the three libraries would support a large expansion in the public transportation system in Boise. This would make it very efficient for people to travel to the library we currently have. I will continue my personal work to this end.

In the end, I didn't vote and I remain undecided on the issue. The families who live in the portions of Boise furthest from the library, still don't have efficient access. I am not convinced that Idaho is a better place as a result.


Boise urban area transit trips down in 2005

To follow on the the post listed below: According to data provided by Valley Regional Transit to the Coalition for Public Transportation, total transit trips in the Boise urban area decreased 3% from 2004 (990,626 trips) to 2005 (960,341 trips). For Nampa (including intercounty service to Boise) trips decreased over 10% (66,564 trips down to 59,709) .

The question remains, how to reverse the trend and increase ridership. I participate in a few groups working to this end - COMPASS of Idaho and the Coalition for Public Transportation. I'll keep you posted.


Thursday, February 09, 2006

APTA Announces Increases in Public Transit Use

Good news from the American Public Transportation Association. According to their recent Q3 2005 study, all public transit modes relized increases over the year earlier. Question is, how to accellerate this trend?

Some points of interest:

  • national transit ridership grew by 3.3 % from the same period in 2004
  • vehicle miles of travel (VMT) decreased by 0.2%
  • Light rail showed the largest increase at 8.8% (wish we had some here)
  • Commuter rail showed the second highest national ridership increase of 4.6%
  • Heavy rail (subway) lines across the country averaged a 4.3% increase
  • Other types of public transportation showed the following increases: Bus (2.5%), Demand Response (3.2%) and Trolleybus (0.2%).
  • Many metro areas realized double digit ridership increases: Ann Arbor, MI 19.5%; Antioch, CA 10.0%; Atlanta, GA (Xpress) 121.0%; Big Bear Lake, CA 14.0%; Canton, OH 63.0%; Dallas, TX 14.9%; Durham, NH 12.0%; Eden Prairie, MN 16.7%; Flint, MI 20.0%; Fort Worth, TX 18.5%; Grand Rapids, MI 18.8%; Houston, TX 14.9%; Ithaca, NY 12.8 %; Jersey City, NJ 13.0% ; Kansas City, MO 13.0%; Knoxville, TN 12.9%; Logan, UT 19.7%; Montgomery, AL 20.3%; Muncie, IN 13.5%; North Little Rock, AR 15.2%; Oklahoma City, OK 17.0%; Palm Bay/Melbourne, FL 12.9%; Prince George's County, MD 12.0%; Reno, NV 12.4%; Salt Lake City, UT 17.7%; San Antonio, TX 13.8%; San Luis Obispo, CA 21.0%; Tucson, AZ 10.5%; Tulsa, OK 22.0%;

As a regular commuter by bus, I believe there has been a noticible increase in Boise, although I do not have any statistics to back that up.

Full report: http://www.apta.com/media/releases/060118ridership_increases.cfm


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Google AdSense

When I created my blog I was intrigued by the fact that Google provided an easy checkbox for adding ads to blog page. They call this Google AdSense. If the ads generated revenue for the advertiser, I would get a commission. Why not? I added that option to my blog.

How Google AdSense works is that it reads the content of your blog and tries to match the best ads to your topics. Unfortunately, the plan backfired for me. Due to my subjects covering Elk populations and the Idaho Fish and Game, Google determined that the ads appropriate for my site were Elk Hunting ads for outfitters in Idaho. While I am not necessarily against elk hunting, I was not sure I wanted to promote it either. It was definitely contrary to my key message that wildlife and balanced ecosystems are more important than the elk hunting rights of people. The Ads are now gone!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The propagation of fear and hate in Idaho

Idaho, which has long suffered from the national belief that it harbors hate groups, appears to be taking steps to further that stereotype. Last week, the Idaho State House of Representatives voted 53 to 17 to push forward with HJR002 - "Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Idaho to provide that a marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state."

The sponsor of this bill, Representative Denny ldenny@house.idaho.gov, has been very successful in attacking the gay and lesbian population, by using the club of marriage. If this amendment does make it to a vote by the public, it will read, as it does above, gay marriage yes/no. If you read and interpret the amendment carefully, it also covers civil unions and partnerships. I interpret this to apply to all state rights, benefits for state workers, custody cases, etc. While the word marriage is emphasized in all public communication, this is really about restricting the rights of gay and lesbian individuals in our society. This is a discrace. Please contact your state senator. It is not too late.


Sunday, February 05, 2006

Defenders of Wildlife Conservation Score Card

Defenders of Wildlife, of which I am a financial supporter, has compiled a list of the top issues facing congress and a report card for how the various senators and representatives voted.

You might think that a state like Idaho, with the largest wilderness area in the United States outside of Alaska, might have a pro-wildlife stance. Think again. In general, both our national and state legislators have consistently voted to exploit the natural and wildlife resources of our state.

The defender's report card illustrates this quite well. Of the top issues compiled by Defenders of Wildlife effecting wildlife and its habitat, here are the Idaho Results:

Senator Mike Crapo - Voted on the side of wildlife 0 of 19
Senator Larry Craig - Voted on the side of wildlife 0 of 19

Representative Mike Simpson - Voted on the side of wildlife 2 of 24
Representative Butch Otter - Voted on the side of wildlife 2 of 24

Aren't we proud.

You can read about the specific bills and their votes, or look up how your representatives voted at the following link:


Saturday, February 04, 2006

Idaho Fish and Game Wolf Control Proposal

Just three days after the US Government gave the Idaho Fish and Game Department wolf management responsibility over the wolf population in Idaho, Fish and Game submitted a proposal to kill 43 wolves in the Clearwater area. As a resident of Idaho, the surprising point was that it took them three days.

More information is available at: http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/cms/wildlife/wolves/wolf_control.cfm

Comments can also be submitted on the site.

Here are my comments submitted against the proposal:
First, let me start by saying that I am opposed to the control proposal. While I do believe that compromises need to be made now and then, I do not believe that the solution put forth in this proposal is going to solve the problem. It is clear that this report makes some very large assumptions which are based on political perspective and not on science. I would encourage the team to look at the depth of research available on wolves, wolf predation, the impact of wolves on eco-systems, etc. This report is written from the same "the sky is falling" perspective that was used to try to block reintroduction in the first place.

A few points on the proposal.
-Eco-systems have natural controls in place to balance out. If the elk do significantly decline, the wolf population will naturally decline as well. Take a look at the Yellowstone wolf populations. For two years running there has been no growth in the populations, and surprise, the elk have not been decimated as predicted by some.

-By controlling the wolf population, you may very well increase the elk population in the short term, but you will still not have a balanced eco-system. We must pay the price for a balanced eco-system at some point. Why not now, instead of waiting for 5 years to face the same issue.

-The proposal is also based on a "target population" of elk which is artificially set. Do we know what the historical elk population in the area is? Say 1000 years ago? The target populations are based on our experience from years without wolves in the eco-system. Those numbers are artificially high, which occur whenever a top predator is missing. Yellowstone once again provides proof of this theory. After wolf re-introduction, the coyote population was cut in half and then stabilized. What is the right coyote population in Yellowstone, the number before re-introduction or after. We must look at elk in the same manner. I claim that you don't know what the target elk population should be in a natural eco-system in this area. Lets find out.

-The study on cow elk depredations does not look at all of the important factors. The proposal does not provide the age and condition of the cow elk that were collared for the research. Yellowstone studies for 10 years have shown that wolves are more than twice as likely to take cow elk which are past or in their final years of reproduction (10+ years old).

-The study cited that elk calf survival rates increased when bears were previously reduced in the area. The implied assumption here is that this was better for the eco-system. How do we know that? Once again I would question our understanding of what a healthy eco-system in this area looks like.

I would once again like to encourage you to be conservative in your intervention, and let the natural processes work themselves out like they have in other eco-systems. We will all be better off when this eco-system reaches it natural balance, versus our ongoing intensive management.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


First post

I've kept a professional blog for some time at my work, but I just have too much to say that I can't say there.

I plan to post my perspective on a number of topics effecting Idaho. This will include, but not be limited to, my views on our elected officials, their policies, wildlife conservation, etc.

I welcome your comments as well.