Tag Archives: minneapolis

High-speed rail plans meet opposition in southeast Minnesota

Opposition is growing in rural southeastern Minnesota to proposals for a high-speed rail line connecting Minneapolis and Rochester.

Rochester civic leaders see high-speed rail as a way to draw thousands of new workers to the Mayo Clinic and other big employers in their region.

But people living along the U.S. Highway 52 corridor see problems and costs with the Zip Rail project, Minnesota Public Radio News reported. Trains on the proposed line would speed along at more than 150 mph, cutting the roughly 90-minute ride from Rochester to the Twin Cities in half.

“Our farms are important and our industry is important. And nobody once notified me and sent me a letter and said, ‘Hey, we’re looking at this plan,’” said Heather Arndt, who lives on a 35-acre farm near Goodhue.

Arndt last year joined with other neighbors to form a grass-roots group called Citizens Concerned about Rail Line, which opposes any form of high-speed rail along the corridor. The group’s members are worried about potential loss of farm and taxable land, loss of traffic that supports local business and the lack of any stops between Rochester and the Twin cities.

Rural southeastern Minnesota should not have to bear a cost for Rochester’s multi-billion dollar Destination Medical Center development plan, and the 30,000 to 40,000 workers the development plan is expected to draw over the next 20 years, Arndt contends.

“If their choice is to take a great job opportunity in Rochester but they prefer to live in the Cities, that is their personal choice,” Arndt said. “It should not be the responsibility, the problem or (to) the economic disadvantage of people who live between the two places to have to pay for that.”

Traffic on Highway 52 has grown steadily. According to a 2010 corridor study by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, volume on the highway could nearly double to about 87,000 vehicles a day by 2025, up from 47,000 in 2000.

Earlier this year, officials with the state Transportation Department released eight corridor options as well as Zip Rail’s potential social, economic and environmental impacts. Now, the agency is wrapping up an environmental review of the rail line due out at the beginning of next year. MnDOT paid for the $2.3 million study mostly with state funds.

Private investors are pushing a second rail option. The North American High Speed Rail Group proposes an 84-mile elevated line to be built over Highway 52. The line would run along the median, which would be the least disruptive to the region’s farming, said Wendy Meadley, the group’s chief strategy officer.

The privately held firm based in Bloomington says it has backing from undisclosed U.S. and Chinese investors and expects to raise $4.2 billion for the project. Once it receives a permit from MnDOT early next year, the group will have 120 days to complete its pre-development study.

American Queen offers luxurious Upper Mississippi cruises through October

A trip from the Quad Cities to Burlington seldom is an all-night affair.

But navigating the world’s largest overnight steamboat under bridges —some with mere inches of clearance — and through a series of locks on water crowded with pleasure craft and barges is no rush job, meaning what might take a couple of hours by car is a 12-hour voyage on the Mississippi River.

Not that any of the more than 400 passengers aboard the American Queen seemed to be complaining as it paddled gently south earlier this month. Amid its comfortable appointments, gourmet meals, top-notch entertainment, active nightlife, cozy sleeping accommodations and smooth ride, the transit between ports was fast enough, indeed.

“It’s like a mansion on the river,” veteran river cruiser Nancy Wee of Broomfield, Colorado, said of the Queen.

Compelling though the boat may be, however, the 20-year-old paddle wheeler is not the big draw here, The Hawk Eye (http://bit.ly/1KAyzk4 ) reported.

That claim is staked by the river itself, and shared by the communities that lie at its banks and welcome passengers to town throughout cruise season, which runs July to October on the Upper Mississippi.

“It’s just being out on the water,” said Carolyn Hezlep of suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who was traveling earlier this month with her husband, Morgan, on a seven¡day cruise between St. Paul, Minnesota, and St. Louis, Missouri.

“The banks of the river are constantly changing,” Morgan Hezlep said. “There are stretches of nothing but nature.”

Of those remote spots between cities and towns, he said, “You kind of get the feeling this is how the pioneers saw it.”

For them and other passengers, who on this cruise hailed from 11 countries and almost every state, it was an experience not to be missed. The same, they said, ought to go for people who live in places like Burlington, where the river, its views, history and commerce are a constant presence — whether any of those things get much day-to-day notice or don’t.

Ohio residents Robert and Linda Schwenke, of Dayton, were on their third American Queen cruise, but their first on the Upper Mississippi.

“There’s always something to see,” Robert Schwenke said, Linda Schwenke explaining that on an ocean cruise, there frequently is nothing but water all around.

“It’s neat on the top decks at night looking at the cities and the locks,” she said.

First-time cruiser Kirby Brown of Manteca, California, said someone who lives near the Mississippi River but doesn’t take the opportunity to experience it truly is missing out.

“One part of the river is not like another,” Brown said. “Each town is different. The scenery is different.”

“When you live someplace, you ignore what’s nearby,” he added, citing the four years he lived in Connecticut but never visited New York City. “To your regret.”

Capt. Brent Willits, who grew up in Clinton and advanced from towboat deckhand to helming or leading construction of gambling boats up and down the Mississippi, has piloted the American Queen for the past two years.

A native of these waters who has seen them from St. Paul to New Orleans, Willits likewise recommends a Mississippi cruise to people who live near it.

“There is so much history close to home,” he said from his seat in the pilothouse as he guided the Queen downriver approaching the Interstate 280 bridge.

The boat and its crew, Willits said, are “ambassadors, and show a lot of folks the importance of the inland waterways.”

For passengers from the American East or West, or overseas, meanwhile, he added: “We get a chance to show them what the heartland of America is all about.”

Only cruise vessel on the Mississippi

The American Queen is operated by Memphis, Tennessee-based American Queen Steamboat Co. and was built in 1995. It replaced the Mississippi Queen and Delta Queen, and is the company’s only cruise vessel on the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. A sister vessel, the American Empress, carries cruise passengers on the Columbia and Snake Rivers in Washington and Oregon.

On the Upper Mississippi, passengers start and end their cruises in St. Paul or St. Louis.

There is no mid-stream boarding, Chief Purser Chris Caussade said.

“You have to go one way or the other,” he said, noting most passengers will fly into one city and out of the other.

From southeast Iowa, connections through Lambert Airport at St. Louis would be easy enough. Non-stop flights are available to and from Minneapolis. Some passengers, though, avoid the need for airplanes by making it a two-way trip.

“I just find it relaxing,” said 91-year-old retired hardware store owner Cyril Hegerle of Bloomington, Minnesota, whose 76 th river cruise was last week as he headed home from the previous week’s voyage south.

Buses that trail the boat up and down the river carry passengers on their excursions at daily ports-of-call like LaCrosse, Wisconsin, Dubuque or Hannibal, Missouri, and at each stop, local guides come aboard to share stories about local history and color, Brown said.

The boat offers plenty aboard to keep passengers occupied, too.

There are nightly shows in the 250-seat Grand Saloon, movies in the theater, after-dinner entertainment including piano music in the Captain’s Bar and dancing in the Engine Room Bar, a never-ending supply of cookies and ice cream in the Front Porch Cafe, daily games and more.

Beer, wine and spirits are never far away for those who want them. And nobody ever goes hungry on the Queen.

“I think the food is fabulous, and the variety is wonderful,” Robert Schwenke said.

A cordoned off area of the engine room is open to visitors, and they can see large hydraulic arms powered by a 78-year-old steam engine pumping back and forth, turning the paddle wheel. A pair of gas-powered thrusters provide assistance while maneuvering and when paddling against the current on northbound cruises.

Also powered by the steam engine is a 37-whistle calliope, which is played daily as the Queen leaves port.

Topside on the sun deck, passengers who are so inclined can take a dip in a small heated pool, or get a workout in the gym.

Indoor and outdoor seating is plentiful, too, for those who wish to relax with a book or watch the river slide by.

The 222 guest cabins range in size from 500-square-foot luxury suites where guests are catered to by their own butler, to windowless interior cabins ranging between 140- and 80-square-feet. Each room is named for a person or place connected to the steamboat era.

“It’s a little more interesting than saying ‘I’m in 212,’ “ Caussade said. Cabin 212 bears the name of President Zachary Taylor.

For those who can’t quite disconnect completely from the world, there is satellite TV in every cabin and stateroom and Internet access throughout the boat.

“It’s kind of like stepping back in time. Welcome to the 1860s, with WiFi,” Willits said.

Like many on board, the Hezleps were traveling with a contingent from the organization Road Scholars, which coordinates educational travel opportunities for seniors. While the cruise’s theme was musical in nature, their tour was focused on the steamboat industry’s impact on the development of America.

“We don’t just look at things,” Morgan Hezlep said. “We learn what they represent.”

By visiting communities where the cruise made port calls, the Hezleps said, they had an opportunity get a glimpse at what Morgan Hezlep described as “the culture of Middle America.”

Cruise passengers, even those not part of an educational tour, also have the chance each day aboard to deepen their knowledge of the history of America on the Mississippi in the Chart Room, a forward space on the Queen’s observation deck where maps and charts and history are at their fingertips, and where the boat’s historian and storyteller — known aboard as the “riverlorian” — shares river lore several times a day.

That history is further illustrated in a collection of paintings by Iowa artist Michael Blaser, whose works hang in corridors throughout the boat.

‘It’s the story of America’

Though the Hezleps had visited the Mississippi previously, wading across at the headwaters in Minnesota’s Lake Itasca, their mid-September cruise was a first for being out on the water.

“I always wanted to be on the Mississippi,” Morgan Hezlep said. “It’s the story of America, practically.”

That was a common refrain among passengers.

“This is America,” said Wee, who was on her 30th river cruise leading a group through her travel agency, Wee Travel. “You get to see America. You get to learn about America in a way you can’t do anyplace else.”

She keeps coming back for more, Wee said, because “it’s always something different,” with a new view around every bend in the river, or changes in scenery as spring blooms or fall colors burst.

Brown and his wife, Iran, chose a river voyage over an ocean cruise “because this was closer, and part of the country we’d never seen before,” he said.

Both said they were enjoying the on-board entertainment, and learned the calliope is a musical instrument best appreciated from a distance, where it isn’t quite as loud. Watching the riverside come and go, and experiencing passage of the locks were favorite activities, too.

Being aboard the Queen is different from other cruises, Kirby Brown said.

“It’s much more leisurely,” he said.

Taking their shore excursions in the morning, Brown said, gave them freedom to “lay around in the afternoon.”

A cruise is as programmed or relaxed as the individual passenger wants to make it. After all, the only place anybody has to be is on board when the Queen leaves the dock.

Willits said the American Queen, which weighs 3,700 tons, measures 420 feet long and 89 feet at the beam and has a 432-passenger capacity, “is a big boat but a small cruise ship.”

A 6,000-passenger ocean-going cruise ship, by comparison, can be “overwhelming for some.

“This is still big enough to be impressive,” he said, noting in a review of 101 luxury cruise vessels by Cruise News and Reviews magazine, the Queen was No. 9, just ahead of the Queen Mary at No. 10.

Luxury comes at a price

A cruise aboard the American Queen — or on the Queen of the Mississippi, a smaller boat operated by American Boat Lines that cruises past the Burlington area without stopping (Viking River Cruises will begin Mississippi River operations in 2017 with a possible stop in Fort Madison) — is an experience that, if not exclusively for the well-heeled, is certainly the domain of the comfortable.

Most who come aboard, Willits explained, can be described as “affluent, intelligent and intellectually curious.”

“Seventy is the new 50, I guess,” he said.

The longer the cruise, the better the accommodations and the closer to peak season, the higher the cost.

Fares aboard the American Queen in 2016 for a St. Paul-to-St. Louis cruise will range from $2,224 per person double occupancy for a 132-square-foot inside cabin in July and August to $7,999 per person for a luxury suite with veranda in September and October.

A cruise of the whole river between St. Paul and New Orleans runs, per person, between $5,949 for a northbound voyage to $20,000 for a southbound one, depending on accommodations.

“It’s may be a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Morgan Hezlep said, “but you will not regret it.”

At 91, Hegerle’s perspective is a little different, calling cruise travel “cheaper, really, than a nursing home.” Meals, entertainment and shore excursions are included in the cost of every cruise. Special on-shore activities are extra. Those include alcoholic beverages at the Queen’s four bars; a cabaret show in the Bart Howard Room at the Des Moines County Heritage Center in Burlington; bus trips from Bettendorf to experience the Herbert Hoover Museum at West Branch; a John Deere plant tour or the riverside charm of Le Claire and Flexibility to book passage at the last-minute and a willingness to accept whatever berth is available, Hegerle said, is a good strategy for obtaining discounts.

With only a couple of cruises left on the 2015 season, now may be a good time to test that theory.

The Schwenkes were late in booking and wound up with an inside cabin for their cruise. They didn’t say whether they were enjoying a reduced rate, but they weren’t disappointed in their small accommodations.

“We’re never in the room, anyway,” Linda Schwenke said, her husband Robert adding, “There’s always something to do.

This is an AP Member Exchange story shared by The Hawk Eye.


Minneapolis school board calls Utah-made books offensive

Minneapolis school board members are demanding an apology and a refund from a Utah-based publisher of educational books after a community backlash against what some called racial and cultural stereotypes in the material.

The books from Reading Horizons include a story about a black girl called “Lazy Lucy” and a stereotyped illustration of an American Indian girl in a book called “Nieko the Hunting Girl,” The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports

Board members said the Utah-based company Reading Horizons should return the $1.2 million the district paid for the books for children in kindergarten through third grade.

“Reading Horizons needs to step up to the table,” board member Carla Bates said. “I want them to bring me a check, bring you a check, bring the taxpayers of Minneapolis a check.”

The dust-up comes as critics say the school district isn’t doing enough to help students of color close a wide achievement gap.

The books are designed to help teachers reinforce reading lessons, but administrators acknowledged during a Tuesday meeting that they didn’t fully vet the material before buying the books, which have since been returned.

“We rushed the contract,” Interim Superintendent Michael Goar said. “Where we can hold people accountable, we will.”

The company is overhauling its teaching material to be more culturally sensitive, but Reading Horizons representative Laura Axtell said wouldn’t say whether it will issue a refund.

The titles were published in 2012 and have been used in other schools without complaints, Axtell said.

“That doesn’t matter to us, because as soon as we became aware of the concerns in Minneapolis, we took action,” she said, adding that the company takes responsibility for its role in the controversy.

Though the subject material may be questionable, the skills taught in the books do help kids learn to read, said Peter Sage, an elementary school reading specialist in Minneapolis. Students are falling behind, and faculty can’t afford to wait for new books, he said.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the North Salt Lake-based company is considering a voluntary recall of the series, which also includes a book about Kenya that says “Kenyans are able to run very fast.”

The books were purchased as part of a program designed to help close the achievement gap between white students and students of color.

The district will continue to use the Reading Horizons focus on phonetics and decoding words, though without the 54 books in the series, Goar said in a statement.

Cecil’s slaughter will have major impact on region

When Cecil the lion’s carcass was finally found after he was lured out of a Zimbabwe wildlife reserve to be killed by an American hunter, it was a headless, skinless skeleton the vultures had been picking at for about a week.

Conservationists decided the most natural thing was to leave the bones where they were for hyenas to finish off, said Brent Stapelkamp, a lion researcher and part of a team that had tracked and studied Cecil for nine years.

Stapelkamp darted Cecil and put his last GPS collar on in October. He was probably the last person to get up close before Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer used a bow and a gun to kill the now-famous lion with the bushy black mane, its head and skin eventually cut off as trophies. Stapelkamp had first alerted authorities that something might be wrong after Cecil’s GPS collar stopped sending a signal.

The killing of the big cat in early July has unleashed global outrage, sending Palmer into hiding back home in suburban Minneapolis, leading to the arrest of the local hunter he employed, and prompting Zimbabwe’s environment minister to say the southern African country would seek Palmer’s extradition to face charges.

Stapelkamp shares the anger, not just because of the demise of Cecil. Also because, he said, it’s not the first time a lion has been killed illegally around Hwange National Park in northwestern Zimbabwe, a reserve known for its rich wildlife. About a dozen lions in the region were killed illegally in recent years, Stapelkamp said, and no one was caught.

“I think this was just the final straw,” Stapelkamp told The Associated Press in a phone interview from the Hwange reserve. “Everyone locally just thought, no ways, we’re not letting anyone get away with this anymore.”

Cecil had an intriguing story, making him a celebrity in Hwange. He arrived as a kind of lion refugee, alone and wandering after being displaced from another territory. Cecil befriended another male lion, Jericho, and together they grew and watched over two prides, one with three lionesses and seven cubs and another with three lionesses.

Cecil’s killing will have an impact on the area, explained Stapelkamp, a field researcher for an Oxford University study on lions.

Jericho may not be able to hold their territory alone and could be chased away by rival lions. Unprotected, the lionesses and cubs would then be under threat and also move away or be killed. Safari operators who invested millions of dollars in the area would lose one of their biggest attractions for tourists.

“They’re burning fire breaks. They’re grading roads. They’re pumping water,” Stapelkamp said. “They’re spending a lot of money in the management of lions and then someone just draws it across the railway lines having not paid a penny in its management and shoots it and runs away with its skin. It’s unacceptable.”

Stapelkamp, unsure of the details of Cecil’s killing, described the usual tactics of hunters to draw an animal onto private land and out of the park where it is protected. The two areas are separated by a railway line. Hunters shoot a zebra or giraffe and hang it on a tree; the main bait. They then drag the intestines of that animal, “something that really smells,” Stapelkamp said, up and down the park boundary behind a vehicle. Sometimes they’ll even play the sounds of a dying buffalo over a loudspeaker to attract a lion.

The lion “comes across that scent trail and it leads him straight to this bait,” Stapelkamp said. “It rushes in for a free meal and they’re waiting … and they kill him like that.”

Even on private land, this hunt was still illegal, Stapelkamp said, because no hunting quotas for lions were issued in the region this year. Legal hunts do happen, he said, but only after authorities consult with ecologists and decide that it won’t adversely affect the area.

This didn’t happen with Cecil, Stapelkamp said, and he doesn’t believe Palmer’s story that he trusted his professional guide to ensure a legal hunt.

“He’s a well-educated man, he’s got a lot of resources,” Stapelkamp said. “You could do your homework. Due diligence. You would know that you’re hunting in a controversial area. You’ve got a GPS you could have in your pocket and you have a look at the map, and you say, ‘listen, friend, I think we’re in the wrong area.’ There’s no excuse.”

Palmer came “with the intention of getting the biggest lion that he could and getting out. And he got caught,” Stapelkamp said.

As Zimbabwe seeks to extradite American who slaughtered lion, donations pour in for conservation group

EDITOR’S NOTE: Corrects money raised to U.S. dollars

A pair of U.S. philanthropists with a passion for wild cats pledged Friday to match new donations to Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Unit — the researchers who were tracking the movements of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe.

Tom Kaplan, a natural resource investor whose net worth was put by Forbes magazine at $1 billion, and his wife, Daphne, will match donations made after 3 p.m. London time Friday up to a total value of $100,000. The Kaplans hope to help the Oxford researchers raise half a million pounds to further their work.

More than the equivalent of half a million in U.S. dollars has already been raised from all over the world — $150,000 of it in the 24 hours after Jimmy Kimmel made a tearful plea for funding to assist WildCRU’s conservation efforts.

David McDonald, the director and founder of WildCRU, thanked Kimmel with a message on the organization’s website that said: “Jimmy Kimmel implored his millions of listeners in the USA to make donations to support our work on lions, and conservation more widely. We are so grateful for this and for the up-welling of support for our work worldwide.”

Kaplan said he was spurred into action to maintain the conservation momentum that Cecil’s death sparked.

“We have to seize this moment where we can all make a difference,” Tom Kaplan said in a statement, adding that if the “death of Cecil can lead to the saving of many more lions, then some good can come from tragedy.”

The pledge comes hours after Zimbabwe started extradition proceedings for the American dentist who paid two locals $50,000 to help him lure the lion out of a national park under cover of night and shot him with a crossbow. The wounded lion roamed for 40 hours in pain before the three men found, shot, skinned and decapitated the beloved animal.

Walter Palmer “had a well-orchestrated agenda which would tarnish the image of Zimbabwe and further strain the relationship between Zimbabwe and the USA,” Oppah Muchinguri, the African nation’s environment minister, told CNN.

But the Bloomington, Minnesota, dentist apparently has gone in to hiding. He briefly hired a public relations agency, but the firm quickly dropped him as a client. His business and suburban Minneapolis McMansion have been shuttered and all of his social media profiles have been erased.

A representative of Palmer’s contacted the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement late yesterday, but Palmer has yet to surface.

Cecil was not the first large mammal doomed to an illegal death by “trophy hunter” Palmer. The Bloomington, Minnesota, resident was convicted of poaching a black bear he killed in Wisconsin several years ago.

Records also show that Palmer had other impulse-control issues. His dental practice’s insurance company paid $127,000 to settle a sexual harassment complaint filed against him by a former receptionist there.

Palmer, who donated $5,000 to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, was also ordered to take management and ethics classes.

The slaughter of Cecil, a protected and internationally beloved resident of Hwange National Park, has touched off international outrage and sparked a worldwide conversation as to how to best safeguard the dwindling number of big cats. It has also harmed the local economy. Zimbabwe officials estimated that Cecil brought the area about $100,000 in tourism.

Oxford’s WildCRU, one of the world’s top university research groups, tracks the movements of hundreds of lions and runs an anti-poaching team. It also works with local farmers to help them live alongside the lions. It had followed Cecil’s movements in minute detail since 2008.

To make a donation to WildCRU from North America, click here.

Walter Palmer wanted by U.S. and Zimbabwe officials for slaughter of Cecil the lion

Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service want to talk to Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who became a target of worldwide outrage after illegally killing Cecil, a beloved and protected lion, in Zimbabwe.

But since issuing an apology to his patients on Tuesday for having to cancel their appointments, he seems to have disappeared, the Washington Post reports.

According to the newspaper, investigators have come up empty handed after visiting Palmer’s house, stopping by his dental office in Bloomington, a Minneapolis suburb, calling his telephone numbers and filling his inbox with e-mails.

But unlike Cecile, whom Palmer and two local guides lured out of the safety of a national park by tying a dead animal to their vehicle, Palmer can’t be lured out of hiding.

“I’m sure he knows” the government is looking for him, Ed Grace, chief of law enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told WaPo. “We’ve made repeated attempts to try and get in contact with him.”

Grace said that Palmer has had plenty of time since to contact U.S. authorities and that he should know how to reach the agency, “because we convicted him for lying about a bear kill” in Wisconsin in 2009.

Laury Parramore of the Fish and Wildlife Service, declined to say what the agency might do once it has more information. But she said the agency was “deeply concerned.”

In terms of sport hunting abroad, the United States’ primary authority is over importation of the carcasses, which hunters refer to by the euphemism “trophies.” Foreign animals can be listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Palmer could have violated the U.S. Lacey Act, a law tied to a United Nations treaty for the protection of animals. The act governs the actions of Americans who violate the laws of foreign governments.

Grace said the State Department also is looking into the matter in Africa. And, in addition to conducting its own probe, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it is ready to assist Zimbabwe in its investigation.

Zimbabwe officials also seek to question Palmer. Zimbabwe Republic Police spokesperson Charity Charamba said Palmer will face charges of poaching.

The two Zimbabwean men who assisted Palmer in committing the atrocity, for which Palmer paid over $50,000, have already been arrested. The men are a local landowner, who permitted Palmer to lure the animal to his land, and a professional hunter. Neither man had a hunting permit, making the kill illegal.

The Associated Press reported the following things to know about U.S. regulations surrounding the case:

FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE’S ROLE

Parramore said the agency is “currently gathering facts about the issue and will assist Zimbabwe officials in whatever manner requested.”

The agency could potentially find a way to block importation of the animal’s body, or body parts, if Zimbabwean authorities approved it for export.

“It is up to all of us — not just the people of Africa — to ensure that healthy, wild populations of animals continue to roam the savanna for generations to come,” she said in a statement.

Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minnesota, said she believes the Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. attorney’s office should investigate whether any U.S. laws were violated related to conspiracy, bribery of foreign officials, and illegal hunting.

PROPOSED ENDANGERED SPECIES LISTING

The agency proposed last year to list the African lion as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, a move that could limit the importation of African lion carcasses into the United States from some countries. But that rule has not yet been made final.

Listing a foreign species under the act allows the United States to strengthen enforcement and monitoring of imports and international trade, the agency says. A listing can also prohibit certain commercial activity with regard to body parts.

The agency said when it proposed the listing last fall that 70 percent of the African lion population existed in only 10 major strongholds. Threats facing the lions include hunting, loss of habitat and loss of prey, officials said.

Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of The Humane Society of the United States, said that while much of the vitriol has been aimed at Palmer he hopes the incident adds to pressure on U.S. government officials to finalize the proposed rule.

“It does seem to be a potential breakout moment of public understanding of the ugly underside of the international trophy hunting business,” Pacelle said. “There is a much larger problem than Walter Palmer.”

ZIMBABWE’S ANIMAL MANAGEMENT

The agency’s proposal would allow permits for the importation of sport-hunted lion trophies only if the lions come from countries with a “scientifically sound management plan for African lions.”

Long before Cecil’s killing, Zimbabwe was heavily criticized for failing to properly manage its wildlife populations. The Fish and Wildlife Service last year announced an indefinite suspension on the import of sport-hunted trophies from elephants hunted in Zimbabwe.

The agency cited shortcomings in Zimbabwe’s plans for overseeing its elephant herds and said it was “unable to find that the killing of an elephant whose trophy is intended for import would enhance the survival of the species.”

Legal sport hunting, when properly regulated, is considered to be a sound element of wildlife management. Revenues from hunting can be funneled into conservation programs and finance incentives for local communities to guard protected species. But, in reality, only a tiny fraction of the revenues actually winds up in the coffers of such programs.

Read also about Walter Palmer’s history of sexual harassment.

Alec Soth finds the extraordinary in the ordinary

Alec Soth has a rare gift for transforming glimpses of ordinary life into extraordinary images — and now we have a chance to see some of his finest work.

The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art showcases the Minneapolis photographer’s work in From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America. On display through Jan. 4 in Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts, the exhibit offers 100 images from the artist’s first major traveling survey of the United States. 

Organized by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Soth’s exhibition is a very different kind of road trip.

“I just try to follow my curiosity and intuition,” says Soth, a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College. “My work shifts in tone from one project to the next, from documentary work to my personally expressive approaches.”

Utilizing a cumbersome 8” x 10” camera, Soth recorded the images in the current show during multiple trips across America over the past decade. He follows in the footsteps of narrative photographers like Robert Frank and William Eggleston.

However, Soth’s approach and his process of wandering are singular. He carefully chooses random subjects and settings that are singularly subtle in their content.

“If I see something that turns my head, I try to follow up on that,” Soth says. “But a good picture is a magical thing. I equate it to pop music. Just about anybody can write a pop song, but a great pop song is rare and almost impossible to define.”

In addition to the MMoCA exhibit, Soth and frequent collaborator and writer Brad Zeller will serve as artists-in-residence at UW-Madison for the fall semester. The residency will include several public talks and a course for both undergraduate and graduate students on the intersection of writing and photography.

Although From Here to There consists of photographs taken throughout the United States, the exhibition includes several special features. Sleeping by the Mississippi, Soth’s breakthrough series, chronicles five years the photographer spent traveling up and down the Mississippi River capturing images of overlooked settings. 

The series’ most famous piece, “Charles, Vasa, Minnesota,” shows a jump-suited worker wearing a balaclava and goggles against a bleak winter landscape. The subject also has two model airplanes in his hands, offering a sense of incongruity and mirth to the image.

Niagara, another of Soth’s series featured in the exhibition, chronicles the aging tourist amenities that surround the mighty waterfall, inadvertently commenting on the decay and despair surrounding what was once a symbol of romance and love. One pieces in the series is Soth’s favorite in the exhibition.

“Perhaps my favorite image is of Melissa, the bride in Niagara Falls,” Soth says. “She is photographed just after her wedding. But with this picture, I decided to depict her without the groom. By doing so, the picture becomes less about the specifics of her wedding than of her dreams and aspirations.”

The exhibition also features Broken Manual, Soth’s most recent body of work. In this series, the photographer explores the edges of society, the places people go to escape civilization. His subjects include monks and hermits, outlaws and survivalists.

Other parts of the exhibition include some early, rarely seen black-and-white photographs of Minnesota and a series on repurposed movie theaters in Texas.

Unique to the Madison exhibition is Soth’s Lothlorien series, photography commissioned by MMoCA in 2006 that focuses on the city’s 23 housing cooperatives. Among them is Lothlorien, a Tudor-style cooperative on Lake Mendota’s southern shore that burned to the ground in 2013.

Soth anticipates a lot of commentary on the Madison exhibition.

“Some people see it as a critique of America, others as a celebration of looking and just about everything in between,” he says. “I don’t have a specific agenda with the work that I’m trying to express. I’m happy for just about all interpretations.”

On exhibit

The photographic exhibition From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America runs through Jan. 4, 2015, at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 227 State St., Madison. For information visit www.mmoca.org or call 608-257-0158.

 

Audubon: Glassy new Vikings stadium poses serious threat to birds

The National Audubon Society says the new Minnesota Vikings stadium poses a serious threat to migratory birds and calls for quick action by the team and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority to protect animal welfare.

State guidelines require bond-funded buildings to protect birds from window collisions, but the Vikings and the MSFA have rejected calls to use safer types of glass that could help prevent birds from colliding with the stadium’s huge glass windows.

“We’re talking about a billion dollar stadium here, and the cost to save perhaps thousands of migratory birds  — and make the Vikings a global leader in green stadium design — is about one-tenth of one percent of that,” said Audubon Minnesota executive director Matthew Anderson. “Hundreds of millions of dollars of public money is going to build this stadium, and we know the people of Minnesota do not want their money killing birds. The Vikings recently approved spending millions and millions of additional dollars to make sure the stadium is ‘iconic’ — surely they also want to make sure it’s not a death trap. We’re asking them to change their minds and do the right thing.”

According to scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Smithsonian Institution, up to 988 million birds are killed annually in the United States by collisions with buildings, especially glass windows. The new Vikings stadium will feature nearly 200,000 square feet of glass.

Audubon, in a news release, said it has worked with building owners and managers in Minnesota and nationally for many years to reduce bird collision mortality through its BirdSafe/Lights Out program. As part of this program, Audubon volunteers survey downtown buildings in the Twin Cities and have found more than 125 species of native migratory birds that have fatally collided with windows since 2007.

Audubon first met with MSFA and the Vikings in May 2013, after the stadium design was unveiled.

As early as December 2012, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources had urged the stadium to incorporate bird-safe design into the new building. A few months later, a special committee of the Minneapolis City Council recommended that the stadium adopt Audubon’s suggestions to create a bird-safe structure through glazing techniques and special site lighting.

Audubon staff communicated regularly with stadium developers until this April, when they were told that another meeting would be scheduled before a July 15 decision on the type of glass to be used. That meeting was canceled, and Audubon staff were told on July 17 that there would be no change in the stadium glass choice to protect birds.

“We are grateful that the MSFA will be incorporating some of our recommendations regarding lighting design and operations, but lighting is just one part of the problem,” said Joanna Eckles, bird-friendly communities manager for Audubon Minnesota. “The huge expanses of glass, especially facing a new park, are a real cause for concern. Our request was that they meet either the state requirement or the nationally recognized LEED standard for bird safety. In the end, they did neither.”

Minneapolis mayor delivers wedding invites to gay Wisconsinites

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak traveled to Milwaukee and Madison earlier this month to deliver wedding invitations to Wisconsinites.

Because Wisconsin bans same-sex couples from marrying, Rybak suggested gay couples exchange vows in the more welcoming state of Minnesota, specifically in the City of Lakes.

Minnesota’s marriage equality law went into effect on Aug. 1. In less than two months, 1,640 same-sex couples have applied for marriage licenses – that’s one in three marriage licenses granted during that time. Rybak has officiated at more than 40 same-sex weddings, including that of Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau to Police Sgt. Holly Keegel. 

On Sept. 9, the Minneapolis mayor stopped by the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center to talk about marriage equality and invite same-sex couples to take a 337-mile trip to exchange vows.

He also went to Madison to court the LGBT community and spread the equality message.

“Minnesotans and Wisconsinites are almost like family: We know each other well and see each other often. Now, our Wisconsin cousins have another great reason to come see us in Minneapolis: to get married,” said Rybak. “Gay and lesbian couples from Madison and across Wisconsin don’t have to wait one more day to get legally married in Minneapolis. We’re a supportive and welcoming city where we’re ready to help them put together the wedding of their dreams.”

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin added, “It’s time for Wisconsin for to join the 21st century and do the right thing. Eventually, we will recognize same-sex marriage – and the sooner, the better.”

Katie Belanger of Fair Wisconsin spoke at the events in Madison and in Milwaukee, advocating for equality at home.

“Wisconsin’s antiquated and discriminatory laws banning marriage equality and civil unions are bad for our people and our economy, and put our entire state at a disadvantage to our more welcoming neighbors,” she said.

Several days before visiting Wisconsin, Rybak took his “I Want to Marry You in Minneapolis” campaign to Chicago. In the spring, Illinois and Minnesota seemed to be racing toward passage of marriage equality legislation. However, while Minnesota lawmakers passed legislation that was swiftly signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton, the drive stalled in Illinois, where a vote was expected but not taken on the last day of the House’s regular session.

The Illinois measure, which passed the Senate on Valentine’s Day and has the support of the governor and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, could be taken up in late October, during a brief fall session.

In addition to Minnesota, 12 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage. Also, county clerks in New Mexico and one county official in Pennsylvania have issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The legal status of theses marriages remains unclear.

Madison mayor calls for a 21st century Wisconsin and marriage equality

UPDATED: Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak was in Wisconsin on Sept. 9 to court same-sex couples who can’t marry in their home state. He was inviting gay couples to marry in Minneapolis, where he has officiated at same-sex weddings, including that of the city’s police chief.

Rybak joined supporters of marriage equality at a press conference at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center earlier on Sept. 9. He also went to Madison to court the LGBT community and spread the equality message.

“Minnesotans and Wisconsinites are almost like family: we know each other well and see each other often. Now, our Wisconsin cousins have another great reason to come see us in Minneapolis: to get married,” Rybak said. “Gay and lesbian couples from Madison and across Wisconsin don’t have to wait one more day to get legally married in Minneapolis. We’re a supportive and welcoming city where we’re ready to help them put together the wedding of their dreams.”

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, at a press conference in the capital, said, “It’s time for Wisconsin for to join the 21st century and do the right thing. Eventually, we will recognize same-sex marriage — and the sooner, the better.”

Kate Belanger of Fair Wisconsin spoke in Madison and in Milwaukee, advocating for equality. She said, “As more and more states surrounding Wisconsin enact marriage equality, many Wisconsin couples are certainly likely to avail themselves of the full recognition afforded by those states and the federal government. Wisconsin’s antiquated and discriminatory laws banning marriage equality and civil unions are bad for our people and our economy, and put our entire state at a disadvantage to our more welcoming neighbors.”

The Minneapolis mayor last week visited Chicago, where he offered the same invitation. He’s also expected to visit Colorado, where same-sex couples can enter into civil unions but not marriage.

Minneapolis has launched a ad campaign – “I Want to Marry You in Minneapolis” – to draw LGBT tourists. Minnesota’s law allowing same-sex couples to marry went into effect in August.

Since then, according to a survey by The Associated Press, same-sex couples have received nearly 1 in 3 marriage licenses issued in Minnesota.

At least 1,640 same-sex couples have applied to be married since Aug. 1.

The AP reported that demand for licenses was heaviest in metropolitan areas, with three of every four licenses for gay marriages issued in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, which make up about 32 percent of Minnesota’s population.

Marriage equality could bring $45 million to the state through increased spending on wedding and tourism businesses and through a rise in total state and local tax revenue, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage.