Monthly Archives: March 2018

Rural Digital Divide

Throughout the previous century and into the 21st, there has been a gradual population shift from rural to urban locales. The jobs just aren’t there anymore. Early on this was dominated in a shift from subsistence farming to a reliance on cash crops. Later, it was driven by the mechanization of farming technology.

This demographic shift was very obvious when looking at life in the Ozarks. Subsistence farming filled the hills and dales. Even in face of the double whammy of the economic collapse of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, families survived. The advent of World War II however, created jobs that hadn’t existed before. The Ozarks saw a huge drop in populations as whole families moved off to work in defense plants.

In addition to the demographic shift to towns and cities, there is also an age shift, with the average age of rural populations increasing. This is entirely understandable as the older folks with jobs in rural areas stay and the youth head to the cities to find employment.

A big step bolstered the success of rural life, rural electrification. President Roosevelt signed an executive order in 1935 which was followed later with legislation creating the Rural Electrification Administration. Were it not for this act life in rural areas would have disappeared even faster. Electrification brought some parity to rural life compared to life in the cities.

As we transition to the age of the internet, there is a new form of disparity between the cities and rural areas. Access to broadband internet is becoming essential to both learn and earn in contemporary society. Increasing numbers of jobs depend absolutely on broadband internet. With quality internet access, many jobs could come back to rural areas. Rural life is inherently attractive to many but there has to be an income source.

The value of broadband internet has been recognized now and even the smallest schools have access. But what about when the children go home? Not so much. The best method for broadband is fiber optic cables but the cost for rolling out the cable is unattractive to commercial entities. Broadband can be delivered via a cell phone signal to many rural areas, but again low population densities mean low income for private investment.

The Ozarks present a particular difficulty because of the topology, deeply cut serpentine valleys mean even more towers are necessary for complete coverage. It is time to consider a significant effort to support bringing broadband internet to rural areas, just like rural electrification. In fact, the electric coops could act to broker the delivery. The poles to string cables are already there. It would require an expansion of the skill set for the coops to manage internet connections, but that in itself would bring jobs back.

It’s time to bridge the digital divide and bring our rural areas into the twenty-first century. Children at home need access to high speed internet. Modern home security systems require connectivity, even many personal health notification devices for the elderly require access.

Deregulation = Poisoned Eagles

Much of president Trump’s success, if you want to call it that, has come from deregulation. Consumer and environmental protections are at the forefront of the race to make a buck at any cost. The attacks on environmental protection are broad and untimely dangerous. Clean air and water, especially if Obama’s name is connected, are under fire.

Gone is the the clean power plan created by Obama, which had the two-fold benefit of reducing releases of greenhouse gasses and lowering our exposure to lung damaging fine particulate matter. Gone is the methane rule which which was designed to prevent fugitive emissions of Methane, a greenhouse gas 22 times more potent than Carbon Dioxide.

Gone is the 2015 Clean Water Rule which clarified just what bodies of water should come under federal regulatory rule. Conservatives saw it as overreach, but then who needs clean water, right? Wetlands protections, Mercury emissions, numerous regulations meant to protect the environment from rapacious fossil fuel extraction, and on and on, gone.

One recent deregulatory step has been to lift the ban on lead used for hunting on wildlife refuges. This increases the the likelihood of poisoning of non-target species that can be poisoned from eating carcasses of unrecovered animals or the entrails of field dressed animals like deer and elk. Among those animals at increased risk is none other than our national symbol, the Bald Eagle. They, other raptors, and vultures can receive lethal doses of lead.

My personal experience is not uncommon. Recently while floating on the Illinois Bayou with friends we stopped on a gravel bar to grab a bite to eat. Not 20 yards from where we stopped was a Bald Eagle near the brush line on the gravel bar! Just sitting there. We assumed it would fly away so we didn’t disturb it. After several minutes it hadn’t moved so we walked closer, within just a few feet of it. It made no attempt to flee. This bird was obviously in very bad shape. We contacted the HAWK center (Helping Arkansas Wild Kritters) and were encouraged to bring him in. Lynne Slater met us at the takeout and took over his care.

A toxicology screen showed a blood lead concentration of 3.6 ppm. Concentrations of lead greater than 0.6 ppm are diagnostic for lead toxicosis. X-ray examination of the eagle show no physical damage or the presence of any lead shot, hence he was poisoned indirectly. After around the clock intensive treatment for almost a week, the eagle died. Essentially this eagle died because someone want ed to save 2 to 5 % on the cost of bullets. Non-lead bullets and shot exist but are ever so slightly more expensive.

Multiple studies show that even when a lead slug passes through an animal, it leaves small, even microscopic bits of lead which contaminate the flesh and entrails. One study found lead fragments in 1/3 of all ground venison packages examined. So not only are the scavengers getting lead from the gut piles, the hunters and their friends and family are similarly exposed.

We have recognized the hazard of and removed lead from our gasoline, paint, plumbing and numerous consumer products. It is high time that we get the lead out of our environment by mandating alternatives to lead in weaponry.