Thursday, March 31, 2022

Posted By on Thu, Mar 31, 2022 at 2:00 PM

click to enlarge Ducey Signs Anti-Trans Laws Barring Medical Treatment, Sports Participation
Photo by Ted Eytan

In a move against transgender youth in Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey signed new laws barring them from participating in girls’ and womens’ sports, and from obtaining gender reassignment surgery.

Senate Bill 1138 prohibits doctors from providing genital reassignment surgery to minors, including mastectomies or mammoplasties to feminize and masculinize a patient’s chest to be more in line with their gender identity. Senate Bill 1165 requires all interscholastic sports to narrowly define gender, effectively denying trans student-athletes the ability to play on the teams most consistent with their gender identity from elementary all the way to university.

In a signing letter, Ducey explained the bills ensure a level playing field for biological women and protect trans minors from irreversible procedures that could affect their future ability to have children.

“This legislation is common-sense and narrowly-targeted to address these two specific issues — while ensuring that transgender individuals continue to recieve the same dignity, respect and kindness as every individual in our society,” he wrote.

Trans advocates have noted that enacting anti-trans legislation negatively affects the mental well-being of trans children, and may contribute to increased suicide risk. A recent poll from The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ youth, found that as much as 85% of surveyed transgender and nonbinary youth felt debates around anti-trans bills negatively impacted their mental health.

Ducey responded to a question from the Arizona Mirror about this effect by saying that the bill’s intent was to protect girls’ sports.

“(SB1165) was positioned and framed to protect girls’ sports, female sports, and Title IX. And of course, on the subject of mental health with our children, this is something we all have great concern for and great empathy for…I think that Arizona has handled this in the most responsible way possible to keep a level playing field out there for young female athletes and to address the other issues,” he said.

Sponsors of SB1138 have touted it as a reiteration of international standards of care for transgender kids. But opponents say those standards are due to change this year, and codifying old standards can present doctors with a contradiction between following the law and providing best medical care practices for their patients.

“We’re going to be putting doctors in a situation where they’re codifying standards from 10 years ago, and we’re going to put them in a situation where they’re now at odds with new standards,” said Rep. Melody Hernandez, D-Tempe, who is also a paramedic, during a House debate of the bill on March 24.

Proponents of enacting barriers to girls’ sports argue that trans youth have an unfair biological advantage. But the Arizona Interscholastics Sports Medicine Advisory Committee says that’s not a problem that needs solving in the state. Out of the roughly 170,000 students the committee oversees in high schools across the state, it has fielded only 16 appeals from transgender youth since 2017. When reporters pointed this out to Ducey during a brief media availability Wednesday, he deflected, reiterating the bill’s intent.

“We’re going to protect girls’ sports. It’s an issue of fairness,” he said.

Critics say the law pushes Arizona backwards. Just two years ago, a 1991 law banning schools from promoting a “homosexual lifestyle” was repealed, and Kathy Hoffman, Superintendent of Public Instruction in Arizona, tweeted that the new legislation will be equally difficult to deal with later.

“We repealed ‘no-promo homo’ three years ago, a bigoted law that took decades to overturn. Today, (Ducey) sided with extremism, injected politics into our schools, and signed similarly hateful bills,” she wrote.

Last week, similar legislation in Indiana and Utah was vetoed by governors in those states.

The Human Rights Campaign condemned Ducey’s action in comparison to this, saying the move only contributes to nationwide attacks on trans kids. This year saw a record number of anti-trans legislative proposals, with as many as 280 — a spike from last year’s 147 bills.

“Gov. Ducey has chosen discrimination over protecting the well-being of vulnerable children. This isn’t leadership, it’s cowardice,” said Director Cathryn Oakley in an emailed statement.

The article was originally published in the Arizona Mirror, a nonprofit news organization.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 31, 2022 at 12:22 PM

With the stroke of a pen Wednesday, Gov. Doug Ducey made it illegal for Arizona women to seek an abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy — even if they became pregnant because they were raped.

The legislation, which will go into effect 90 days after the legislative session ends, was modeled after a Mississippi law that the U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering. Under Senate Bill 1164, doctors would be prohibited from performing the procedure, even if the patient was a victim of incest or rape. Doctors in violation face a class 6 felony and revoked license. A class 6 felony comes with fines, probation and possible prison time between months and up to 5 years.

“In Arizona, we know there is immeasurable value in every life — including preborn life. I believe it is each state’s responsibility to protect them,” Ducey wrote in a signing letter.

Speaking to reporters after an event Wednesday afternoon, Ducey noted the new law doesn’t ban all abortions, just those done after 15 weeks. But if a victim finds out about a pregnancy afterward that time, they’re left without recourse. Ducey said few abortions happen after 15 weeks, so that argument didn’t persuade him.

“I think if you would look at the statistics on what is already happening in our country, you’d find that this is a very reasonable policy,” he said.

While supporters have championed the measure as in defense of children, opponents argue it actually places undue burden on women.

“Banning abortion will do NOTHING to protect babies, but everything to strip Arizonans of their bodily autonomy & self-determination,” tweeted Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe.

The ban comes in the wake of Republican attacks on abortion access across the country, as conservatives anticipate the federal protections will be torn down by the U.S. Supreme Court later this year. A 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi is being contested in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which observers predict the high court will uphold. Currently, Planned Parenthood v. Casey makes bans earlier than 24 weeks unconstitutional.

Both the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, and Ducey have cited the upcoming Supreme Court case in defending the legislation’s legality. But Democrats in staunch opposition to the measure say its current unconstitutionality opens it up to legal challenges.

“Arizonans won’t stand for this. We’ll see you in court and at the polls,” tweeted Rep. Melody Hernandez, D-Tempe.

Critics say the move is out of step with the opinions of Arizonans and medical professionals.

Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which advocates for reproductive freedom, denounced Ducey’s approval and said it ignores the varied medical situations women could face.

“Medical professionals in Arizona are against this ban. Nobody asked for this. But Arizona politicians — including the governor today — are willfully ignoring both public opinion and science with the sole goal of stripping constituents of their constitutional rights,” said President Alexis McGill Johnson in a statement.

NARAL Pro Choice America, an abortion rights group, said the bill is incongruent with the actual opinions of Arizonans statewide, citing a survey which found 71% of respondents oppose making abortion illegal, and 90% agree that family planning should be left up to individuals, without government interference.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs echoed this in a statement her office released shortly after Ducey’s, condemning his action.

“With Governor Ducey’s signature, our elected leaders have chosen to turn their backs on the overwhelming majority of Arizonans who support the constitutional right to choose. Make no mistake — stripping away women’s constitutional rights won’t stop women from seeking access to reproductive health care,” Hobbs, who is running as a Democrat to replace Ducey as governor, said.

This article was originally published in the Arizona Mirror, a nonprofit news organization.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Posted By on Wed, Mar 9, 2022 at 2:20 PM

WASHINGTON – U.S. life expectancy fell by an “unprecedented and shocking” 1.8 years between 2019 and 2020, a dramatic drop that experts say can only partly be blamed on the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The drop, from a life expectancy of 78.8 years to 77 years, could also have come from existing issues with obesity, opioids and suicide, officials say. It was the largest single-year drop since 1943, according to a December report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It is no question that … at least for the last four years, opioids, obesity, and then getting hit with COVID has really just resulted in more people dying much sooner than they should have,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

For Arizona, 2020 life expectancy numbers are not expected to be available until later this year. But life expectancy in the state had been declining for several years, falling from 79.6 years in 2014 to match the national rate of 78.8 years in 2019, the latest year for which CDC numbers are available.

But 2020 also saw a huge spike in the overall death toll in Arizona, when the number of deaths jumped 25% from 60,161 in 2019 to 75,700 deaths in 2020, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Deaths rose again to 80,733 in 2021. While annual deaths in Arizona have been rising since 2009, the average annual increase had always been fewer than 1,500 deaths.

Swapna Reddy, a clinical associate professor at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions, called the fall in life expectancy “an unprecedented and shocking … world event” that is “bigger than anyone would have predicted.”

“We have not seen a dip like this since literally a world war … I think it really starts putting into perspective the effect of COVID-19 on our population,” she said.

Reddy said that while much of the drop in 2020 was caused by the virus, “staggering” prepandemic increases in suicide, heart disease and diabetes also impacted life expectancy.

Benjamin said the country had been “on a pretty good pathway” toward longer lifespans as a result of changes such as a reduction in unhealthy habits like smoking. Then COVID-19 hit.

Benjamin said a drop in life expectancy of the size seen between 2019 and 2020 could take “10 years or more” to recover from.

“It’s a big deal. And you don’t get that back right away,” he said. “You know, you can’t do a lot of magical things and all of a sudden, the next year you gain those two years back in life expectancy.”

And the full extent of the pandemic’s effects on conditions like cancer has not been seen yet, according to Allan Williams, an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. He said fewer people were able to visit a physician for regular screenings in 2020, which delayed them from receiving life-saving treatments.

“If you don’t get your mammogram … it’s not going to be an immediate death,” Williams said. “It just means that by the time they do find it (breast cancer) … you’re at a more advanced stage, and so death is going to occur sooner.”

Reddy noted this same risk of putting off preventive and curative measures, adding that fewer children received scheduled vaccines during the height of the pandemic.

“What’s going to be the result of all of that, when we kind of come through the COVID fog?” Reddy said. “I think, unfortunately, the answer is not great.”

This article was originally published through Cronkite News, the news division of Arizona PBS, which is produced by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Posted By on Tue, Mar 8, 2022 at 3:00 PM

click to enlarge After Mistakenly Scrapping Party Official Elections in 2022, GOP Lawmakers Scramble to Undo It
Gage Skidmore
Arizona State Capitol Building

Undoing an emergency change to the way elected political party activists are chosen is proving more difficult than passing the law in the first place.

Lawmakers last week approved legislation intended to standardize the number of signatures that congressional and legislative candidates need to get their names on the ballot. The process was thrown into disarray and confusion by a combination of changes to election laws in recent years, the redistricting process and delays in the 2020 Census. The legislation was introduced and unanimously approved in less than a day so it would be in place on Monday, when candidates can legally begin submitting their nomination petitions to qualify for the ballot.

The bill also included another provision, misunderstood or unread by many legislators, that makes drastic changes to the process for selecting party officials known as precinct committeemen.

Posted By on Tue, Mar 8, 2022 at 2:00 PM

click to enlarge New Report Highlights Roger Stone’s Efforts on Behalf of Trump Allies in Arizona
Photo By Gage Skidmore
Rep. Mark Finchem
A new investigation by the Washington Post into Donald Trump ally Roger Stone sheds light on his push for pardons for two Republican members of Arizona’s congressional delegation and work behind the scenes to overturn the 2020 election with people who would later support the Maricopa County “audit.”

The investigation by the Washington Post reviews previously unseen documentary footage by Danish filmmakers who had unprecedented access to the conservative political consultant, including on and after Jan. 6.

The Post obtained a copy of what was dubbed the “Stone Plan” to lobby for Trump to preemptively pardon a number of people, including himself, U.S. Reps. Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar of Arizona.

“Hell, Pardon not only Gaetz, Brooks, Biggs, Gosar, Jordan, Cruz and Hawley but every Republican remember (sic) of either House or Senate who voted for you,” Stone said in the memo obtained by the Post, referring to a variety of Trump political allies in Congress. “Pardon a movement. Give the Deep State the finger.”

Both Biggs and Gosar sought preemptive pardons for their roles in the Jan. 6 Capitol riots but neither received one. When reached by the Post, Gosar’s office said they were unaware of Stone’s effort and did not seek a pardon, stating he did nothing wrong.

Ali Alexander, one of the lead organizers of the “Stop the Steal” protest that culminated in the violent Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol said in a series of deleted videos that Biggs, Gosar, and Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks “schemed up” the plan to put “max pressure on Congress while they were voting” on whether to certify the results of the Electoral College.

In the footage reviewed by the Post, Stone met with Alexander at his home in Florida in late November and the two had deep connections, having been photographed at Republican events several times in prior years, the Post reported.

Alexander is connected to another Arizona politician as well, state Rep. Mark Finchem, a Republican from Oro Valley. After the events of Jan. 6, Alexander would say that the “Stop the Steal” movement had “taken over Arizona” due to Finchem.

Finchem was present at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and his story on where he was that day has not been consistent. Currently, he is fundraising to hire an attorney due to a subpoena from the congressional Jan. 6 Commission, saying he needs the attorney to fight off the “kangaroo court.”

In November, Finchem brought a number of Trump allies to Phoenix for an election integrity hearing that he would later say would help to convince Senate leadership to pursue the so-called “audit” of the election in Maricopa County.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Posted By and on Mon, Mar 7, 2022 at 3:00 PM

click to enlarge Reversing the Desert: How an Arizona Engineer is Trying to Heal the Land and Protect Water
Photo by | Brock Blasdell/Cronkite News
Ricardo Aguirre stands in the same field just a single season after it had been treated with animals.

RED ROCK – All around Picacho Peak, the Sonoran Desert is brown and dry and rough. The soles of your feet could not tell the desert hardpan from an asphalt road.

About 2,500 feet above the ground, water vapor streaming northeast into Arizona from the Gulf of California condenses into larger and larger droplets until they’re too heavy to remain suspended. When thousands become one, that drop falls toward earth. For two to seven minutes, the drop freefalls, reaching speeds up to 20 mph before it strikes the surface.

The impact is quiet. But for the compacted soil, the rain does not provide necessary moisture, it tears the land apart. The crust on top of the soil keeps the water from penetrating. As the water seeks its level, it rips across the surface in muddy flash floods, further eroding topsoil.

On an 8-acre plot off South Aguirre Lane in unincorporated Red Rock, Ricardo Aguirre is using his family’s old ranch to prove there is a way to stop the flooding and erosion. He can’t make the rain fall, but his mission is to prepare the land to utilize the rain when it comes, “making sure every raindrop is effective the moment it falls on the ground,” said Aguirre, a drainage engineer.

“Which means get it in the ground and make sure that it doesn’t run laterally across.”

Aguirre directs land management and water security for the civil engineering firm WEST Consultants Inc., which specializes in water resource management and has offices in Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington and Texas. The land where his family once farmed cotton and ran cattle is where he now demonstrates methods to restore grasslands, improve soil health and ultimately reverse desertification.

Deserts cover more than 41% of Earth’s landmass, according to the United Nations. But because of human activity, deserts are growing by about 33,000 square miles – the size of Ireland – every year.

Deforestation, destructive agricultural practices and climate change have contributed to the degradation of topsoil and expanding deserts. Yet healthy topsoil is essential to growing food, and according to one U.N. study, if land degradation continues, topsoil could be gone within 60 years.

The symptom of desertification that Aguirre is addressing is excess flooding. He’s looking at alternative land management practices to return water cycles to nature’s designs.

click to enlarge Reversing the Desert: How an Arizona Engineer is Trying to Heal the Land and Protect Water
Photo by | Brock Blasdell/Cronkite News
Grant Tims points out an area heavily affected by desertification. The sparse areas of tall grass are caused by rapid evaporation of rainwater after it rolls off unhealthy soil.

Going against the grain

Aguirre spent more than a decade of his civil engineering career utilizing modern methods of stormwater management. His textbooks and his degree from University of Illinois taught him to manage water with a pipe, a channel and a hole in the ground. He described his career as “intrinsically connected to the land,” and that connection, along with his agrarian roots, led to much deliberation in the back of his mind. He felt a responsibility to leave the land he worked with better than he found it.

In August 2010, he became a father, and those deliberations moved to the front of his mind.

Aguirre imagined a conversation 15 years in the future in which his son asks whether he took advantage of being in a position to do something about the degrading environment.

“Looking at the designs that I had, that are now constructed, and the impact that they have on the environment,” Aguirre said, “I didn’t like the answers that I was giving … for that conversation with my son.”

Aguirre relegated his textbook knowledge and looked to a different teacher: Mother Nature. He studied how nature configured the water cycle, and how humans used to exist in and be part of the mineral cycles, eating and drinking off the land and returning the nutrients as wild animals do today, before the industrial revolution began in the 1700s.

“So through that discovery, I realized that we are going 180 degrees against the grain,” Aguirre said. “And the harder that we fight nature’s principles, the more degradation that we’re creating.”

In his research, Aguirre discovered holistic land management, which uses controlled grazing techniques to work cooperatively with ecosystem processes. It was pioneered by Allan Savory, founder of the Savory Institute, who grew up in South Africa loving the environment and despising livestock because he believed grazing damaged the land.

As a young biologist in Africa, he worked to set aside land to become national parks. In the 1950s, the protected land he studied in Zimbabwe continued to deteriorate, and he concluded there were too many elephants for the land to sustain. His superiors confirmed his research.

Reversing the Desert: How an Arizona Engineer is Trying to Heal the Land and Protect Water
Photo courtesy of | Grant Tims
A photo of a field before it was treated for desertification.

“Over the following years, we shot and killed 40,000 elephants to try to stop the damage,” Savory said in a 2013 TED Talk. “And it got worse, not better.”

He described it as “the saddest, and biggest blunder” of his life.

Savory was determined to find solutions. He traveled to the western U.S., where cattle had been removed from land to demonstrate how that would stop desertification. But he said he found the opposite.

Savory came to understand that the vegetation being lost in these expanding deserts was developed over thousands of years and adapted to large herds of grazing animals migrating across the landscape.

Aguirre is trying to address these same issues in the Southwest, explaining that land degradation has been caused by the lack of migratory animals brought on by urban expansion that reduces and limits animal populations.

When a fence goes up, said Grant Tims, Aguirre’s ranch manager, the land is left idle.

“So in arid climates, it’s the rest that is the problem,” Aguirre said, as Savory witnessed in Africa. “Where most people think it’s overgrazing.”

Aguirre relates “the health of the land to the health of the human body,” comparing land degradation to muscle atrophy in people: A sedentary lifestyle will cause the body to deteriorate.

“You’re not stressing the land with hoof action, you’re not stressing the land with animal impact,” he said. “That stress will actually cause a positive response.”

Aguirre reached out to the Savory Institute after the 2013 TED talk with a new concept of connecting civil engineering and holistic land management. In 2014, he went to Zimbabwe to see Savory’s work for himself.

Aguirre visited a small stream with big implications. The stream in recent decades had been ephemeral, meaning it only runs after rains, but villagers in the area had transformed the stream through holistic land management.

“For me, as a drainage engineer,” Aguirre said, “that just blew my mind that seven out of nine villagers that subscribed to this program were able to restore the watershed function to the degree that the streams were running again, on a perennial level, and reversed 40 years of an ephemeral stream.”

Shortly after, Aguirre became the director of his own Savory Hub in Arizona, which now is called the Drylands Alliance for Addressing Water Needs, where he teaches holistic land management practices. His goal is to transform his desertifying homeland, halfway between Phoenix and Tucson.

“That’s … my personal BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) as a drainage engineer is to get that level of watershed function back into the watersheds of Arizona and the Southwest and beyond,” he said.

Aguirre took the idea of using land management instead of concrete and steel to address water resources to WEST Consultants, which welcomed the idea.

click to enlarge Reversing the Desert: How an Arizona Engineer is Trying to Heal the Land and Protect Water
Photo by | Brock Blasdell/Cronkite News
Ricardo Aguirre stands in a wash next to Interstate 10, which desertification and monsoon rains expanded in 2021.

How a watershed works

A watershed is an area of land that “channels rainfall and snowmelt to creeks, rivers and lakes” according to the National Ocean Service.

“If you look at a leaf,” Aguirre said, “a leaf pattern shows that. Because that’s how nature has figured out how to get nutrients.” Or like the human body, he added, with a system of veins leading to the heart.

Ideally, most rain will seep into the soil, recharging the aquifers and moving through the soil toward a common body of water.

When raindrops fall onto land where watershed function is deteriorating because of desertification, it runs off.

“It begins to make one, two, three, four one-off tributary streams,” Aguirre said. Those ephemeral streams lead to extensive erosion, which destroys roads and bridges as well as topsoil.

“A functioning watershed should really only have one, maybe two tributaries,” he said.

The remedy, Aguirre believes, is to restore vegetation and root systems to the barren soil.

Erinanne Saffell, Arizona’s state climatologist, described the important role of plants in the hydrologic cycle.

click to enlarge Reversing the Desert: How an Arizona Engineer is Trying to Heal the Land and Protect Water
Photo by | Brock Blasdell/Cronkite News
Grant Tims holds a handful of healthy soil taken from the project’s small production area.

“We want to have what’s called interception,” she said, “which is where the precipitation will hit trees, vegetation of some kind … that allows the water to infiltrate more readily and recharge our aquifers.”

Vegetation acts as “storage locations and transfer mechanisms of water,” Saffel said. “If (raindrops) come down and hit bare soil, that’s actually very disruptive to having water go into the ground and recharge our aquifers.”

Water security concerns continue to loom in Arizona, where heavy monsoon rains in 2021 did little to alleviate long-term drought conditions, according to the Arizona Department of Water Resources. Arizona is still experiencing severe drought or worse this year.

Aguirre is preparing the land on his demonstration site to better receive rain to revitalize the grasslands, which are now bare, but under the soil lie seeds hungry for water.

“What we can expect is that there is a seed bank, roughly about 2,000 seeds waiting to be germinated in every square yard,” Aguirre said. “It’s just a matter of assembling the right conditions for that germination.”

click to enlarge Reversing the Desert: How an Arizona Engineer is Trying to Heal the Land and Protect Water
Photo by | Brock Blasdell/Cronkite News
Ricardo Aguirre, director of land management for WEST Consultants Inc., digs into desertified soil to demonstrate how hard it is for plant roots to establish themselves.

Soil intervention

Like a human body that has spent years resting, failing to get proper nutrition and not drinking enough water, the desert needs help, Aguirre said.

The health services Aguirre and Tims provide are moving sheep, goats and chickens across the demonstration site; their hooves break up the hard soil and their dung and urine fertilize it for weeks at a time.

To accelerate the regeneration process, Aguirre and Tims also use what they call biological soil amendments, made up of bacteria, fungi and other microbes. The increase in this carbon-based matter helps provide nutrients to plants and boost the soil’s ability to absorb and hold water.

When Aguirre returned to the property he grew up on in the summer of 2019, “we started with basically bare soil,” he said. Now, especially after heavy monsoon storms in 2021, there is growing evidence that the land is responding positively to the animals, in some places the evidence is as tall as him.

“The grasses where the animals have been have been beyond waist high, compared to where the animals have not been, are barely coming up to a person’s knees,” Aguirre said.

On a tour last fall of the site, Tims lifted a blue tarp off a compost pile used to brew the biological soil amendments. Unlike the surrounding landscape, the little world under the blue tarp is teeming with life that flies, jumps or scurries away as the tarp is removed.

Aguirre and Tims steep the compost like a tea bag, extracting the abundance of microbial life.

“We take that water and put it in a brewer, and that’s what we’re actually putting into the soil,” Tims said. Using a low impact plow with circular blades, the brew soaks into soil, priming the pump for seed germination.

click to enlarge Reversing the Desert: How an Arizona Engineer is Trying to Heal the Land and Protect Water
Photo by | Brock Blasdell/Cronkite News
A goat and chicken graze within a designated section of desertified land. The animals break up the hard dirt with their feet, which allows for new and healthy plants to grow after the animals are moved.

The lungs of the land

Revitalizing grasslands in desertified regions does more than improve watershed function, it allows the soil to breathe in and trap carbon – making it a natural countermeasure to the rising carbon dioxide levels contributing to climate change, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Healthy vegetation sequesters carbon through photosynthesis, pumping it down through its roots and into the soil. The healthier the soil, the deeper the carbon may go.

Pawlock Dass, with the department of land, air and water resources at the University of California, Davis, co-authored a 2018 study that shows grasslands are an even more reliable carbon sink than trees, particularly because of the increasing threat of wildfire.

Dass said healthy forests store more carbon than grasslands, but there’s a catch in California, Arizona and other arid places.

“Forests store a large percentage of their carbon above ground, that is the bulk of the tree biomass, that is a trunk of a tree,” Dass said, and in a wildfire, all that carbon is released into the atmosphere.

Grasslands, however, store most of their carbon below ground as root biomass, he said, where it’s protected from fires and promotes healthy soil that allows grasslands to grow back.

Dass’ study looked specifically at companies investing in planting forests to offset carbon emissions.

“If that carbon gets emitted back into the atmosphere (in a fire), it doesn’t really make much sense,” Dass said. “All the investment is basically lost.”

click to enlarge Reversing the Desert: How an Arizona Engineer is Trying to Heal the Land and Protect Water
Photo by | Brock Blasdell/Cronkite News
Soil samples in various stages of study sit next to a microscope in the small in-home laboratory.

Restoring the cycle

When a raindrop strikes areas of revitalized grass off South Aguirre Lane, it doesn’t tear the land apart. It gets captured by the vegetation and transferred into the soil. The root systems and growing microbial populations absorb and hold the water – promoting more grass growth and more water capture. Eventually, it seeps down to recharge the aquifers.

“We can’t make it rain, but what we can do is we can make the rainfall more effective,” Aguirre said. “We’re offering land management as an alternative to engineering.”

The process starts in the lab, where Aguirre and Tims inspect the bacterial and fungal population of the compost through a microscope. The microbiology helps germinate the seeds in the soil, the grass then is grazed by chickens, sheep and cows that further break up the soil. More water is absorbed, which means more grass, more animals, more life.

The objective is to counteract desertification and its symptoms.

“All of (the problems) come back to this,” Tims said. “Compaction and biology.”

It turns deserted land into a valuable, fertile asset. It restores watershed function, helping with water security concerns, according to Aguirre and Tims.

Don Steuter, with the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, which has been critical of Allan Savory’s cattle grazing claims in the past, expressed cautious optimism about Aguirre’s undertaking.

click to enlarge Reversing the Desert: How an Arizona Engineer is Trying to Heal the Land and Protect Water
Photo by | Brock Blasdell/Cronkite News
Ants scurry about a section of desertified land on WEST Consultants Inc.’s demonstration plot in Red Rock. Ant colonies help break up the compact dirt and aid the regrowth of vegetation by tunneling through the soil.

“We’re always interested in projects like this,” Steuter said, although he believes the success of cattle-grazed land is more likely to be a site-specific fix rather than a universal one.

“We’d be tickled to death if cattle could make the land better,” Steuter said. “It would solve a lot of our problems, but we don’t think it’s very likely.”

Still, Steuter said, he’s intrigued with Aguirre’s mission to heal watershed function and is looking forward to seeing the results.

Aguirre and WEST consultants are working on land restoration projects in Cochise County and are seeking state and federal contracts as well.

Aguirre said he’s the only civil engineer he knows of who’s bridging holistic land management with his profession. He hopes not for long.

“The overarching objective that I believe my calling is, is to reinvent my profession of civil engineering,” Aguirre said.

In three years, when his son turns 15, Aguirre can realize that imaginary conversation. If his son asks him if he used his position to improve the degrading environment, Aguirre no longer has to give the answer he never wanted to:

“I didn’t do anything about it.”

This story was originally published in Cronkite News. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Posted By on Tue, Mar 1, 2022 at 1:00 PM

click to enlarge Early Ballot Voter ID Measure Will Be On the November Ballot
Photo By Jim Small | Arizona Mirror

Arizona voters will decide in November whether they should have to put more than a signature on their early ballots to prove their identities.

Voters who cast early ballots, the preferred method of voting for the overwhelming majority of Arizonans — an estimated 89% voted with early ballots in the 2020 general election — affirm their identities by signing an affidavit on the envelope they use to return their ballots. Election officials compare the signatures with others they have on record for those voters to confirm voters’ identities.

The House of Representatives on Monday approved Senate Concurrent Resolution 1012, which seeks to change those rules, on a party-line vote. The Senate has already approved it, so the House vote was the final approval it needed in order to go onto the November ballot as a proposition.

If voters approve the measure in November, people who vote early will have to add something extra: their driver’s license number, state identification number, the last four digits of their Social Security number or their voter identification number. The affidavit would be concealed in the envelope used to return early ballots so that, unlike the signatures on the envelopes currently in use, the voter’s identifying information wouldn’t be visible from the outside.

Ballots that don’t include the information would not be counted.

The law, if approved, would also waive $12 cost of non-operating identification cards, which are state ID cards that don’t entitle a person to drive a vehicle Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, sponsored a SCR1012 and ran a similar bill during the 2021 legislative session. That version died after two House Republicans, Reps. Joel John and Michelle Udall, voted against it. In response, Mesnard, other GOP lawmakers and the conservative Arizona Free Enterprise Club launched a citizen initiative campaign to put the issue on the ballot. But the preference was for the legislature to refer it instead, and the campaign had hired almost no petitioners to collect the 237,645 valid signatures it would have taken to put it on the ballot.

The initiative campaign became unnecessary on Monday when all 31 House Republicans voted for the measure.

“I’m thrilled the voters will have an opportunity to vote on this common sense voter ID legislation,” Mesnard told the Arizona Mirror after the vote.

Voting by mail has become a popular target for Republicans, especially in the wake of the false allegations former President Donald Trump and many of his supporters made that his defeat in the 2020 election, including his loss to President Joe Biden in Arizona, were the result of fraud. Trump falsely told his supporters in the run-up to the election the voting by mail was insecure. Those suspicions became far more prevalent as a result of the “Big Lie,” as some call the fictional conspiracy theories about 2020. In Arizona, the largely debunked claims from the so-called “audit” of the election in Maricopa County helped fuel those allegations.

Elections officials view Arizona’s early voting system and similar systems in other states as highly secure. There have been a small number of cases stemming from the 2020 election in which people forged signatures on other people’s early ballot envelopes, largely other members of their households. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Arizona announced on Monday that a Mohave County woman was sentenced for illegally casting her dead father’s ballot in 2018.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said people who want to fraudulently cast other voters’ early ballots can find examples of their signatures at home if it’s a member of their household, online through documents on the county recorder’s website.

“This bill closes a weak link in the security chain of our election system,” Kavanagh said.

Democrats, however, accused Republicans of putting up unnecessary new barriers to fix a system that already works.

“This is not about voter ID, because we all agree voter ID works in Arizona,” said Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe. “Voter ID is fine. We respect and appreciate voter ID laws. But this, this is barrier after hoop after lava pit after problem after more barriers. This is voter suppression.”

Rep. Judy Schwiebert, D-Phoenix, noted that voters must already show identification in Arizona without the proposal. Arizonans must show ID to vote in-person, including at in-person early voting sites, and those who vote by mail still must provide proof of citizenship in order to register to vote.

“Democrats are not against showing voter identification. As a Democrat, I am pro-vote. I am for the freedom to vote. But this bill leads people astray. It suggests that it’s about making sure that people show identification, when in fact they already do show identification,” Schwiebert said. “This is just one more bill in a whole litany of bills that build upon the Big Lie that the last election was not conducted properly.”

Rep. Sarah Liguori, D-Phoenix, warned that the law could cause many more early ballots to be rejected. She pointed to the problems Texas has had in recent weeks with new restrictions on absentee voting that have led to an unprecedented number of absentee ballots being rejected.

In Arizona, election officials must attempt to contact voters if they’re unable to verify the signatures on their early ballot affidavits. Voters have up to five days after the election to “cure” the signatures on their early ballots. Under SCR1012, election officials would have to do the same for voters whose identification can’t be confirmed on their early ballots.

Other Democrats noted that Republicans have become increasingly hostile to early voting in general. Several proposed bills would eliminate early voting entirely in Arizona. The Arizona Republican Party on Monday filed a lawsuit alleging that the state’s 31-year-old no-excuse absentee voting system violates the Arizona Constitution.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Posted By on Wed, Feb 9, 2022 at 4:30 PM

Feds – Again – Deny Endangered Species Status to Sonoran Desert Tortoise
Photo Courtesy by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Tortoise Rejection.

WASHINGTON – The Sonoran desert tortoise has been denied endangered species status for a second time after a 14-year battle waged by advocates to protect the “ancient, iconic species of the desert.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Tuesday that after a scientific review of the Arizona tortoise and its habitat, it determined that endangered species protection was “not warranted,” noting the current population of adults estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.

But environmental groups, which had sued in hopes of forcing the designation, said the tortoise needs protection, as its habitat is threatened by grazing, increased fire risk and housing developments, among other things.

“We hope that the Fish and Wildlife Service is correct … but we’re going to request more information from the agency and we’re going to carefully go over that and look at their models, look at the science they say they’re using and make sure that they’ve done the job they’re supposed to do,” said Cyndi Tuell, the Arizona and New Mexico director for the Western Watersheds Project.

It and the group WildEarth Guardians questioned the government’s analysis and said they will continue to advocate for the tortoise’s protection.

The same two groups sued the service in 2020 in an effort to get it to reverse its 2015 decision that came to the same conclusion on the health of the species. That suit led to the review that ended with Tuesday’s status decision.

An FWS statement on the decision said that “populations remain stable, with estimates in the hundreds of thousands of adult tortoises.” It acknowledged that there are several potential threats to the species, but that none of them pose an immediate threat.

“While several of these threats, mainly development and drought, may increase in scope or severity over time, the species and its associated habitat are projected to remain at levels that do not threaten the survival of the Sonoran desert tortoise in the foreseeable future,” said an agency statement.

The service also noted that large parts of the tortoise’s range is on federal or tribal lands that are managed for its protection.

The environmental groups said the service relied on predictive modeling and data not available to the public to conduct its analysis, painting a rosier picture of the current and future situation of the tortoise.

“The Service’s announcement asserts that 29 percent of the species’ range in Arizona is on publicly-owned lands managed specifically ‘for the benefit of wildlife,’” said a joint statement from the groups. “This includes the Sonoran Desert National Monument where the Bureau resisted conducting a thorough or adequate analysis of the impacts of livestock grazing.”

Tuell also said the FWS ignored data that suggests the border wall will have a negative impact on the tortoise species, instead reporting that it would be impossible to know what impact a wall would have.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service knows that the border wall has basically entirely cut off the tortoises ability to move north and south between the US and Mexico,” Tuell said. “So, I think it was pretty disingenuous of them to make that claim.”

Requests Tuesday for comment on the advocacy groups’ claims were not immediately returned by the service.

Tuell said Western Watersheds and WildEarth Guardians will continue to fight for protection for the tortoise species.

“The tortoise population is declining, the tortoise habitat is being harmed and the Fish and Wildlife Service should still recognize the fact that the species needs protection as an endangered species,” she said.

For more stories from Cronkite News, visit

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Posted By on Tue, Feb 8, 2022 at 2:00 PM

click to enlarge To Stop the Most Onerous Election Restrictions from Passing, Democrats are Relying on GOP Defectors
Photo courtesy Maricopa County Elections Department
Arizona lawmakers are considering close to 100 election-related bills in the 2022 legislative session, including many that Democrats say attack the right to vote. But in a state where Republicans hold the governor’s office and majorities in both the House and Senate, stopping those bills is an uphill fight.

WASHINGTON – Arizona Democratic Party Chair Raquel Terán concedes that Democrats don’t have the numbers on their own to rebuff Republican election reform bills so she turned Thursday to an unlikely source for help: Republicans.

Terán, speaking on a panel of Democratic leaders from swing states, said it will likely take help from across the aisle to stop the most-extreme bills from passing in Arizona.

That may have happened already, with House Speaker Rusty Bowers on Tuesday referring the most-controversial election reform bill to 12 different House committees for review, a move seen by many as a way to bleed the bill to death.

“That bill is as dead as it can get at this moment,” said Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix. “And generally we don’t say that.”

But that does not mean Democrats are out of the woods: The National Conference of State Legislatures said that of 994 election-related bills filed in state capitals this year, 99 are in Arizona, or 10% of all such bills in the U.S. currently.

“Republicans in our state legislature have been active in putting forward bills that will make it harder for people to vote,” Terán, who is also a state senator, said during the discussion Thursday with Democratic leaders from Wisconsin and Michigan. The call was organized for Democrats to discuss ways they can combat GOP efforts to restrict voting rights in their battleground states.

Terán said that Democrats in Arizona face the trifecta of GOP control of the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature. That has forced them to go on “complete defense.”

“We are two seats away from majorities in the House, two seats away from majorities in the Senate,” said Terán, who is also a state senator from Glendale. “So we always just need one Republican to block legislation.”

What we’re really talking about here is protecting democracy, and that shouldn’t be a Democratic value or a Republican value.

– Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix

Getting Republicans to cross the aisle is “an uphill climb,” said Bob Grossfeld, a political and public affairs strategist at Politicare. But it’s not unheard of.

Besides Bowers’ move this week to hobble HB 2596, virtually every expert asked about the possibility of Republicans aiding Democrats pointed to Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale.

Boyer last year bucked his party to oppose SB 1069, which would have removed voters from the Permanent Early Voting List if they had not voted early in the preceding two election cycles. He later supported a slightly modified version of that bill that became law.

Boyer also refused to join other GOP senators last year when they tried to hold Maricopa County supervisors in contempt as part of the partisan audit of county results from the 2020 presidential and Senate elections.

But while Boyer has been “a voice that has sided with the Democrats from time to time,” that does not mean they can count on him – or other Republicans – to join them if they don’t compromise as well, said Jason Rose, a Republican political consultant in Arizona.

He said there is a need for some electoral reform, but charged that Democrats have dug in their heels to gain an electoral advantage.

“The problem for the Democrats is they have developed a good sound bite and it’s voting rights,” said Rose. But he said some Republicans have responded “sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly” with legislation that protects their own base of voters.

He said it will take “the sobriety of people that have been around the block that can forge great compromise” to move effective voting legislation.

“But until the personalities that often drive politics can emerge from the noise, you’re going to continue to have this paralyzing partisan pandering taking place,” Rose said.

Bowers this week appeared to target one of the most-extreme GOP election bills, HB 2596. It would eliminate early and mail-in voting, limit the number of polling centers to 1,500, require hand-counting of all ballots and give the Legislature the power to overturn election results. The bill even prohibits county officials from making people wear masks at polling places.

The newest GOP election proposal would allow lawmakers to reject election results

While that language may appeal to a certain set of Republican voters, it would likely anger most Arizona voters, “especially considering upwards of 80% or more … vote by early ballot,” said Paul Bentz, chief pollster at HighGround Inc.

Bentz said Bowers’ move with HB 2596 showed “that there (are) even Republicans who recognize that some of the proposals are not having merit and should not be really considered in any serious way.”

But HB 2596 is just one of scores of what one advocate calls “democracy-undermining bills” in the Legislature this year.

“It’s not just that one bill, the provisions that are in that bill are broken up into a bunch of other bills,” said Alex Gulotta, Arizona director of the group All Voting is Local.

“We have real concern, because there are extreme anti-democratic policies that are being pushed by a whole host of legislators that basically undermine our freedom to vote,” Gulotta said.

Grossfeld said Democrats should “not hold out a whole lot of hope for a Republican assist” in the Legislature. He said they would be better served by focusing on ballot initiatives and voter referendums “to stop the worst of the worst.”

The Arizona Democratic Party two weeks ago endorsed a proposed initiative that Terán said prevents “the Legislature from overturning future presidential elections …

establishes both the same-day and automatic voter registration, restores the popular Permanent Early Voting List and expands voting access to Arizonans with disabilities.”

While Democrats look for help from the other side of the aisle, Longdon said it shouldn’t be a partisan issue.

“What we’re really talking about here is protecting democracy, and that shouldn’t be a Democratic value or a Republican value,” Longdon said. “An accurate, secure and accessible election should be the goal of every legislator in this body.”

Cronkite News reporter Alexia Stanbridge contributed to this report.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, January 31, 2022

Posted By on Mon, Jan 31, 2022 at 12:00 PM

click to enlarge Jan. 6 Congressional Panel Subpoenas Bogus pro-Trump Electors from Arizona, six other states
Maricopa County Elections Department

WASHINGTON —The congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol subpoenaed on Friday 14 people from seven states who participated as fake electors following the 2020 presidential election.

Groups from Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin all allegedly sent in lists of so-called alternate electors to the National Archives.

The groups had met in December 2020 to sign documents assigning their respective states’ Electoral College votes to former President Donald Trump — though their states actually voted to elect Joe Biden as president.

Various Republicans then urged the Trump administration to use the slates of bogus electors as a reason to block the certification of the election during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.

The Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol has subpoenaed the chairperson and secretary of each of the groups from the seven states.

“The Select Committee is seeking information about attempts in multiple states to overturn the results of the 2020 election, including the planning and coordination of efforts to send false slates of electors to the National Archives,” Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said in a statement.

“We believe the individuals we have subpoenaed today have information about how these so-called alternate electors met and who was behind that scheme.”

The list of individuals contains some high-ranking Republican officials, including Michigan National Committeewoman Kathy Berden, Chairman of the Nevada Republican Party Michael J. McDonald, and Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer.

The other alternate elector subpoenas went to Arizona chair Nancy Cottle, Arizona secretary Loraine B. Pellegrino, Georgia secretary Shawn Still, Michigan secretary Mayra Rodriguez, New Mexico chairperson Jewll Powdrell, New Mexico secretary Deborah W. Maestas, Nevada secretary James DeGraffenreid, Pennsylvania chairperson Bill Bachenberg, Pennsylvania secretary Lisa Patton, Wisconsin chairperson Andrew Hitt and Wisconsin secretary Kelly Ruh.

Cottle and Pellegrino did not respond to requests for comment from the Arizona Mirror.

The subpoenas ask the individuals to provide before Feb. 11 various documents regarding their role in selecting the “alternate” electors and to appear for depositions before the committee at different dates in February.

The subpoenas are part of the Jan. 6 select committee’s ongoing investigation into the attack on the Capitol building that temporarily delayed the certification of the presidential election after rioters attacked and entered the building.

The panel has subpoenaed several high-ranking Trump administration officials, and the House of Representatives held former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and aide Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with those subpoenas.

The committee has requested information from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican whose refusal to cooperate has led to discussions about whether the panel should subpoena him as well.

The select committee’s letters to the “alternate electors” said its members were not seeking information about political views or activities in the 2020 presidential campaign, but information about their “role and participation in the purported slate of electors casting votes for Donald Trump and, to the extent relevant, your role in the events of January 6, 2021.”