Famous southern Alberta ranch joins conservation trust


Harrold King and Maurice King

A historic southern Alberta ranch once owned by eccentric multimillionaire brothers will now be protected from future development.

The King Ranch, located along Highway 22 (the Cowboy Trail), has been added to the Waldron Conservation Project, the largest conservation easement in Canadian history.

The land now protected extends to 14,058 hectares of ecologically important grasslands and is linked to other protected lands in the area, such as the 28,000-hectare Bob Creek Wildland Park (the Whaleback) and the 39,000-hectare Porcupine Hills Forest Reserve.

❝ “This last one per cent of the Northern Great Plains has a complete (array) of wildlife. The space is really important, really precious,” said Larry Simpson, associate regional vice-president for the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which signed the agreement with the property owners, the Waldron Grazing Co-operative.

“If we were talking about the Serengeti, the last one per cent of it, people would go, “Oh, my God, we’ve got to conserve it. But the Great Plains are North America’s Serengeti.”…

The Waldron co-op bought the King Ranch in 2014 for $11.25 million with funds received from a conservation easement the Nature Conservancy purchased on the Waldron Ranch a year earlier. The King Ranch had last been owned by Bill and Cody Bateman of Cochrane but is renowned for its original owners, Harrold and Maurice King, who died in the 1990s.

The bachelor brothers lived together for 60 years in a log cabin on the property. They lived in self-imposed isolation without electricity or indoor plumbing, and were often seen wearing old pants held up by twine suspenders. But despite their frugality, they were well-read and shrewd businessmen who poured all their money back into the ranch…

The ranch is in native fescue grassland, of which less than five per cent remains in Canada. The area is considered one of the most threatened regions in the country. Simpson says the NCC’s conservation easement here prevents further development and will help conserve water quality, mitigate floods and maintain the watershed of the southern foothills. The land is also a prime wildlife corridor for bears, cougars, elk, deer and moose. The King Ranch is also home to the ferruginous hawk, which is on Alberta Species at Risk’s threatened list. The endangered limber pine can also be found here.

RTFA. I’ve known beaucoup characters like the King Brothers. Cripes, my kinfolk may not be quite as frugal or isolated; but, most still own and crop the farms that have been in the family since we landed in Canada in the first half of the 19th Century.

Nothing big like the Kings. But, the family attachment to the land is as strong.

Dioxin, PCBs and pollution — a present from the US Military to the people of Okinawa


Travis Tritten/STARS AND STRIPES

More than 8,700 pages of documents recently obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act reveal serious contamination at Kadena Air Base, the largest U.S. Air Force installation in Asia.

Last week, The Japan Times on Sunday reported about asbestos, lead and the impact of pollution on local water supplies. We also explored the shortcomings of current environmental regulations.

This week, we investigate how past disposal of hazardous waste, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxin, continues to threaten the health of American and Japanese residents, as well as the economic future of Okinawa.

Kadena Air Base has been in operation for more than 70 years but its current custodians know very little of its history — particularly when it comes to the disposal of hazardous substances.

Documents dating from the 1990s to 2015 repeatedly record service members stumbling upon pollution caused, but not reported, by their predecessors. Underground discoveries include petroleum/oil/lubricant contamination, white phosphorous and abandoned storage tanks, one of which leaked approximately 450 liters of diesel, endangering nearby farmland in March 2012.

The struggle to control past contamination is highlighted by the base’s ongoing troubles with PCBs…

During the 1970s, service members at Kadena Air Base stored PCB-contaminated oil in a 21-meter-wide outdoor pool from where it was “subsequently sold for disposal off base or mixed with fuel and burned on base.”

The pool was located on a hilltop near Kadena Marina, a popular recreation spot, and past tests revealing PCBs in the sea suggest contamination had spread from the base via groundwater or storm drains.

The existence of the pool only came to light in 1998 when a whistleblower reported it to local media, sparking an official investigation…

Today, the installation claims to test its water supply twice a year for PCBs and at specific intervals for other substances, for instance quarterly for arsenic and annually for lead. However, the 2014 discovery of high levels of lead in water fountains in an education building and recent failures to warn on-base personnel of elevated perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) levels have called into question the reliability of such tests.

…It appears that the military dumped barrels containing mixed hazardous waste into ravines on the outskirts of Kadena Air Base in the mid-1960s. Around 1980, the two schools were built in the vicinity and then, in 1987, some nearby land was returned to civilian control. In 1996, local authorities constructed a soccer pitch on the site.

In June 2013, workers renovating the pitch unearthed dozens of the buried barrels — some of which contained high levels of dioxin…When military families finally learned about the toxic waste six months later, they were furious. In response, base officials conducted their first checks of the school grounds on Dec. 31. However, they only tested surface soil and did not conduct magnetic tests to ascertain whether any barrels lay buried beneath the school fields.

In February 2014, U.S. Air Force officials declared the school grounds safe but the laboratory test results — totaling 107 pages — have been entirely redacted from the documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.

RTFA. It’s long, detailed – and disgusting. It appears the military command at this, the largest US Air Base in all of Asia, commonly covered up the environmental danger affecting military personnel. No concern at all for the citizens of Okinawa, of course.

At this moment, the cover-up continues. US military response to enquiries from the Japan TIMES downplays dioxin compounds as only being a skin irritant – not the danger of cancer, compromised immune systems and more the EPA declares. Reports describe PCB contamination as being within EPA limits – when actual tests exceed acceptable limits by 1700%.

Ghost towns all that remains from New Mexico’s abandoned, played-out mines


Click to enlargeAl Jazeera/Gabriela Campos

By the late 1800s and early 1900s communities such as Kelly, Dawson, Madrid, Pinos Altos, Golden and Hanover/Fierro proliferated throughout the state, providing the silver, gold, lead, coal and zinc that helped to fuel the industrial western expansion taking place in America. These boom towns, composed of a diverse mix of foreigners, would fundamentally change the demographic character of the state, arising from the dust and often abandoned in equal haste.

In the former mining towns of Hagan, Kelly and Dawson next to nothing remains. In Kelly, a mining head frame stands surrounded by flattened earth; there are remains of the once numerous houses located at the base of the Magdalena mountain.

In Hagan, only skeletons of a large coal mining town remain, its adobe and concrete structures mirroring the orange and white of the New Mexico landscape. In Dawson, a lonely graveyard commemorates the hundreds of now deceased coal miners who travelled from Greece, Italy, Mexico and China to the remote high plains of northern New Mexico.

In places such as Hanover, Fierro and Golden, a different pattern of decline prevails. Melting couches, tattered curtains, ornate peeling wallpaper, all indicate different periods of abandonment and decay.

Some former ghost towns have been repopulated. Mining villages such as Madrid and Pinos Altos have found a second life, repopulated by artists and professionals attracted to these unusual spaces.

Today, throughout the state, these often haunting and intimate ruins stand as monuments to the patterns of migration and abandonment in rural New Mexico, a glimpse into a rich history and the people who helped to shape the region.

Please RTFA. A solid, educational essay on a piece of Southwestern history. Accompanied by stunning photography. Some of the best you’ll ever see.