Tag Archives: parks

Position cuts, mission shift lead to scaled-back DNR under Walker

Gov. Scott Walker promised to transform the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. And he has — cutting scientists, shrinking its budget and pushing the agency to be more receptive to industry.

And even more changes could be in store. Walker and Republican lawmakers, who hold their largest majorities in decades, are pondering whether to eliminate the agency and spread its duties across state government as well as charge people more to get into state parks and to hunt. It all adds up to a picture of a struggling agency no one recognizes any more, critics say.

“They want this chamber of commerce mentality,” said Scott Hassett, who served as DNR secretary under former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. “That’s a different image than protector of natural resources. It’s sad.”

Agency officials and the Walker administration counter that the DNR is doing fine, carrying out its mission to protect the environment and enhance resources while becoming more customer-friendly.

Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said the DNR has become “more efficient, effective, transparent, and accountable” since Walker took office.

Republicans have long criticized the DNR, saying its pollution and hunting regulations are too strict, making it difficult for businesses to expand and draining the fun from outdoor sports.

Walker’s three state budgets cut $59 million from the DNR and eliminated nearly 200 positions, including half of its science researchers.

Last month DNR officials announced a major reorganization to deal with staffing cuts, including allowing large livestock farm operators to use consultants to help write permit applications so DNR staff won’t have to spend so much time on them.

The budgets also have scaled back the stewardship program and removed support for state parks, leaving them to survive on fees.

That’s created a $1.4 million deficit in the parks account, and Walker’s now mulling raising access fees.

In 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cited 75 deficiencies in how the DNR handles water regulation. Two environmental groups sued the DNR in 2014 to force the agency to adopt federal air pollution standards that were published a year earlier. The agency finally adopted them late last year.

This past June, state auditors found the agency wasn’t following its own policies for policing pollution from large livestock farms and wastewater treatment plants.

The audit also found a permit backlog for large farms, with DNR employees not having enough time to closely monitor the farms’ operations.

Last fall federal regulators visited the DNR to investigate claims that the agency is failing to enforce water pollution laws and regulations. The EPA hasn’t released any findings yet. And last month the agency removed language from its website that stated human activities are causing climate change, saying instead that the cause is debatable even though most scientists agree burning fossil fuels causes global warming.

What’s more, waning interest in hunting has resulted in fewer license purchases, creating a $4 million gap between revenue and spending authority for habitat management projects. The DNR has suggested Walker make up the difference by raising hunting and fishing license fees.

“So many changes and roadblocks have tied DNR’s hands so dramatically that they’re really not able to do the job the public expects them to be doing,” said Amber Meyer Smith, a lobbyist for environmental advocacy group Clean Wisconsin, a plaintiff in the air lawsuit.

Scott Manley, a lobbyist for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group and a key Republican constituency, said the DNR has become friendlier to businesses and is still doing its job despite the staffing cuts.

DNR spokesman James Dick cited a list of accomplishments. They included improved air quality — a DNR report released in September found air pollution has dropped statewide over the last decade — efforts to recruit hunters and the purchase of a conservation easement on 67,000 acres in northern Wisconsin, the largest conservation purchase in state history.

He also pointed out the agency is working to correct the EPA-identified deficiencies, walleye stocking has expanded and the agency has made strides in building a customer service image.

“There will always be critics who vocally disagree with what we’re doing but we prefer to note the accomplishments we’ve made over the last five years,” Dick said. “Since the start of this DNR administration, we have always believed it is possible to protect the environment, wildlife habitat and other natural resources without impeding the economic growth and development of our state.”

The agency still isn’t getting any love from GOP lawmakers. Rep. Adam Jarchow has resurrected a proposal to split the DNR into two new departments that would handle wildlife and pollution and spread the rest of the agency’s duties across three existing agencies. He has said the DNR doesn’t function in its current form.

Republicans have tried to break up the agency before but have failed in the face of opposition from outdoor clubs and environmental groups. Still, Walker has said the plan is worth pursuing. Five former DNR secretaries who served under both Democrats and Republicans, including Hassett and George Meyer, now executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, sent Walker a letter last week urging him to keep the agency intact.

Meyer, who served under Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, said in a telephone interview that Walker is building a “negative” environmental legacy.

“His idea of customer service,” Meyer said, “is really just a business customer service.”

Rule would boost solar and wind energy development

The Obama administration took action Thursday to boost the development of solar and wind energy on public lands.

A final rule announced by the Interior Department would create a new leasing program on public lands and encourage development in areas where it would have fewer effects on the environment.

The rule came a little more than two months before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, and a new Republican administration could reconsider it.

The Interior Department said the rule would help develop cleaner domestic energy.

“We are facilitating responsible renewable energy development in the right places, creating jobs and cutting carbon pollution for the benefit of all Americans,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

President Barack Obama has called on the Interior Department to approve renewable energy projects that generate 20,000 megawatts of power on public land by 2020. The department said the rule’s competitive leasing provisions will apply to 700,000 acres of public lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

 

Q&A: Chicago park defender unapologetic on Lucas Museum fray

The head of a small nonprofit that stood its ground and blocked “Star Wars” creator George Lucas’ private museum from being built on Chicago’s prized lakefront is unapologetic in the face of attacks that its campaign merely protected an existing parking lot.

The preservationist group was vilified after going up against a billionaire Hollywood mogul and a mayor who was once a White House chief of staff. Lucas’ wife accused them of denying “black and brown children” opportunities and a prominent Catholic priest even compared them to a street gang.

But as crowds fill the ribbon of green along Lake Michigan for the Fourth of July holiday, Friends of the Parks director Juanita Irizarry urged people not to take for granted the dazzling open spaces that generations of activists have fought to preserve.

Here are excerpts from an Associated Press interview with Irizarry:

Q: Friends of the Parks’ fight with Lucas, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other powerful interests has been cast by some as a David vs. Goliath story. Some cheered you as “lakefront-loving idealists,” while the Rev. Michael Pfleger compared your group to the Gangster Disciples gang. Who is the Friends of the Parks?

A: “When we got started (in 1975) really Chicago’s parks all across the city … were not very well invested in. And so there was actually a call for a watchdog group to be created to kind of keep the city accountable. Then, around 1980, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the Chicago Park District for discrimination against minority communities. And we were brought in as part of the implementation team to do the things that the consent decree called for. … Folks have called us elitist and a bunch of rich white people, but the history of the organization actually is very much connected to this effort to make sure that brown and black folks on the West and South sides got better served.”

Q: The site is currently a parking lot for Soldier Field, yet you say leaving it as such is preferable to allowing construction of a private museum — even one that adds acres of new parkland around it — because it would violate the public trust doctrine meant to guard public land. Emanuel, meanwhile, says your lawsuit and Lucas’ departure last week cost the city thousands of jobs, millions of dollars in economic investment and countless educational opportunities. Why was this fight so important to you?

A: “All of those jobs and economic development benefits could just as easily have been brought to Chicago by a Lucas Museum built on the other side of Lake Shore Drive. So it was really the Lucases who would only accept an East Lake Shore Drive site who decided that Chicago should not have those benefits. Period.

“… Now the (Emanuel) administration is blaming us for there being a parking lot there when the city has chosen the revenue (it brings) over living up to a previous commitment to turn it into parkland.”

Q: Your predecessor as director, in announcing the lawsuit in November 2014, said Lucas’ plan was “an assault to the shores of Lake Michigan” and noted Chicago’s lakefront is the envy of waterfront cities throughout the world. What are some examples of cities striking the right balance, and what cities have failed?

A: “I think you can look at any lakefront city and find that you don’t have anywhere near the access that we do. I recently read an article with somebody talking about how Toronto has screwed up their access to the lake. … The legislature in Puerto Rico (recently) voted to sell eight public beaches to billionaires to address their economic problems. And Puerto Rico for many years had been unusual in the Caribbean for keeping most of its beachfront open to Puerto Ricans.”

Q: Reflecting on his own 20-year lakefront crusade, Montgomery Ward told the Chicago Tribune, “Had I known in 1890 how long it would take me to preserve a park for the people against their will, I doubt if I would have undertaken it.” Why, a century later, is Chicago still fighting these battles?

A: “There’s always (going to be) folks who care about the environment who think that open space should be open space and real estate developer people who think open space is space to be built on. … In Chicago, I think we probably need a renewed effort … of educating people about the history of why they have this lakefront to enjoy. … Most Chicagoans probably (don’t) even have a clue that this is even special.”

 

Wisconsin poll shows bipartisan support for state conservation funding

The Nature Conservancy on March 18 released a bipartisan statewide poll showing Wisconsin voters — across the political spectrum — overwhelmingly agree on the need to continue dedicated state funding for land, water and wildlife conservation.

The finding comes as state lawmakers consider Scott Walker’s push to end public funding for land and water conservation through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.  

“Nearly nine-in-10 Wisconsin voters believe that, even when the budget is tight, the state should continue to invest in protecting Wisconsin’s land, water and wildlife,” said  Lori Weigel from Public Opinion Strategies, which conducted the survey. ”Most voters also said that one of the best things state government does is protect Wisconsin’s natural areas, outdoor recreation and history in state parks and other public lands.” 

When asked about the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, Wisconsin’s land and water conservation program, two-thirds of voters say they would have a more favorable impression of a legislator who voted in favor of continuing to protect natural areas, wildlife habitat and parks in Wisconsin through the program. 

Voters also overwhelming believe that protecting Wisconsin’s natural resources is important to a healthy economy, with nine-in-10 saying that protecting water quality and land in Wisconsin is critical to keeping the state’s economy strong. 

The poll showed:

• Four-in-five voters would tell their legislator to continue conservation investments through the Stewardship Program. About 76 percent of Republicans say investments should continue, as do 88 percent of independents and 97 percent of Democrats.

• About 89 percent of urban residents support continued investment through the program, as do 80 percent of suburbanites, 82 percent of town residents and 79 percent of rural residents.

• Support among hunters and anglers is at 81 percent.

• More than eight-in-10 voters in every region of the state agree that conservation investments should continue.

• Almost nine-in-10 Wisconsin voters believe that protecting public lands is one of the things government does best. Overwhelming majorities of Republicans (81 percent), independents (83 percent) and Democrats (90 percent) agree that one of the best things state government does is protect Wisconsin’s natural areas, outdoor recreation and history in state parks and other public lands.  

• Voters overwhelmingly agree there are significant benefits to Wisconsin’s economy and quality of life from continued investments in land and water conservation. About 91 percent of voters say investing in conservation helps support jobs in Wisconsin’s tourism, farming, fishing and forestry industries and helps support our economy.

• Almost every voter — 98 percent — says keeping Wisconsin lands and waters healthy benefits the economy and quality of life. 

“From its inception in 1990, strong bipartisan support for the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program has been a hallmark of its success,” said Mary Jean Huston, who directs The Nature Conservancy’s work in Wisconsin. “This poll shows that 25 years later, people across the political spectrum have not wavered in their support for conservation of the forests, lakes and rivers that make Wisconsin a great place to live and work.”

The survey was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies Feb. 19-21 at the request of The Nature Conservancy. The firm completed 600 telephone interviews with registered voters in Wisconsin. Interviews were conducted on landlines and cell phones. The margin of error is +/-4.0 percent.

Selling names of state parks is obscene

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker created a $2.2 billion deficit by reducing taxes on his wealthy cronies, and now he’s scrambling to mend the gap as he gears up for a presidential run. A spreadsheet awash in red ink is an albatross around the neck of a tea party leader, but so is raising taxes. That leaves him with few options.

It would be fun for progressives to watch their nemesis twisting in the wind if not for the fact that the future of our state and the quality of our lives are at stake. Winning a political battle is no compensation for losing the very things that make us proud to be Wisconsinites, such as our pure, abundant natural resources, our strong academic system and our reputation for good government and workers’ rights. 

One idea that the Walker crew has floated to address its self-generated crisis deserves credit for sheer audacity: Issuing bonds to pay for more than $1.3 billion in unneeded highway development after turning down $810 million in federal grants to develop a high-speed rail system that could have brought huge economic benfits to the state. When he turned down the rail money, Walker said he didn’t believe in taking federal dollars. Apparently that belief doesn’t apply to federal dollars that winds up in the hands of roadbuilders who have given him massive contributions.

Other Walker ideas for closing the budget gap deserve credit for their creativity, including slashing $300 million from the University of Wisconsin system in exchange for giving that system autonomy to raise tuition so high that few state residents could afford to attend UW-Madison. What better way could there be for Walker to prove he’s not the only one with a price tag?

But perhaps the most creative idea put forth so far by his administration is selling to corporations the naming rights for our state parks. When we reported this idea, which was proposed by DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, on our Facebook page, readers suggested some clever names: Koch Devil’s Lake State Park, for instance, along with Viagra Land and Ex-Lax Cavern. 

But the sale of naming rights for our state parks really isn’t funny. It would be the worst kind of slap in the face to name our parks after the cartel of polluters who are among Walker’s most ardent supporters. What could be more cynical than using our most beautiful natural sites to provide branding opportunities for the corporations and individuals who are hell-bent on destroying them?

Of course, Stepp has to find revenue somehow. Walker’s budget eliminates funding for the management of state parks. He appears to want them to be self-supporting, which is not the purpose for conservation. Maybe he simply doesn’t understand what conservation is.

Along with her naming rights scheme, Stepp also wants to raise user fees for park visitors and campers, thus restricting access to the people’s land based on affordability. 

Putting Stepp in charge is just one of the many ways that Walker has heavily politicized the Department of Natural Resources. A developer, Stepp was an outspoken critic of the agency, which she blasted as “anti-development,” before taking control of the agency. She won’t flinch at the bombs Walker’s aimed at the agency in his latest budget. 

That budget freezes any future purchases of Wisconsin land and resources for conservation. It also turns the DNR into essentially an advisory board that has no authority to make policy decisions, including decisions to protect the environment and wildlife. The budget virtually puts Walker — and, by extension, his corporate backers — in charge of the state’s resources. In that sense, tacking the names of his corporate backers on our state’s most cherished natural attractions could be the most honest thing he’s ever done.

But that doesn’t make it any less reprehensible. Only Walker could find a way to pimp out Mother Nature. We now know what we’ve long suspected: When it comes to his fulfilling his political ambitions, there’s nowhere too low for Walker to stoop.

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Summertime woes worsen with climate change

he Natural Resources Defense Council says climate change will worsen some of the common woes of summertime.

With climate change comes more intensive heat waves and bad air alert days, more insects and poison ivy, more sneezing and wheezing, more foodborne illness and ruined visits to national parks.

“Across America, climate change already is super-charging summer, and with hotter days we’re seeing more risks to our health and happiness,” said Peter Altman, director of NRDC’s Climate Campaign. “We can ease these warm-day woes today, but it would be wrong to doom tomorrow’s families and children to even more heat waves, code red air alerts, disease-carrying ticks, poison ivy rashes, stomach illnesses and degraded national landmarks. That’s not a future they deserve. And that’s why we need to rein in the biggest source of climate pollution, the unrestricted carbon pollution from power plants.”

Heat waves: Temperatures in cities already are higher due to the urban heat island, and rising global temperatures from heat-trapping carbon pollution will make heat waves longer, hotter and more frequent. Eight of the nine warmest years since record-keeping began in 1880 have occurred since 2000. May 2014 was the hottest May ever. And temperatures could be hotter by 4 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

Today, heat is the leading weather-related killer in the United States. During heat waves, deaths and illness can occur from conditions caused by direct heat exposure (like heat stroke), but extreme heat can also increase hospital admissions or deaths among people with existing health conditions such as cardiovascular, respiratory, or cerebrovascular diseases. Hot nighttime temperatures are especially dangerous to those vulnerable to heat stress.

What should you do?

• Never leave children or pets in unattended parked vehicles on hot days.

• Slow down. Reduce, reschedule or eliminate strenuous activities until the coolest part of the day.

• People with health problems should stay in the coolest place, which may not be indoors. Use shade outdoors, and drink plenty of water.

• Don’t get too much sun; sunburn lowers your body’s ability to dissipate heat.

Bad air alert days: With climate change, days will be hotter and that will amp up ground-level ozone smog pollution and increase the number of “bad air days.” These days, marked by local code red or code orange alerts warning people to curtail outdoor activities are based on daily air monitoring data gathered in the EPA’s Air Quality Index.

Bad air days put many of us at risk for irritated eyes, noses and lungs — but air pollution is particularly dangerous for people with respiratory diseases like asthma. Already about 27 million Americans suffer from asthma, according to the American Lung Association. As the climate changes, unhealthy air pollution will get worse. Here’s how: Ozone smog forms when pollutants from vehicles, factories and other sources react with sunlight and heat. Increasing temperatures speed this process up, resulting in more smog. Added to the mix are ragweed and other allergens in the air—which are expected to worsen as climate change leads to more pollen production. Also, as dry areas get drier, wildfire risks go up and smoke from burning landscapes will further decrease air quality.

And so, those with asthma, allergies and other respiratory diseases will have a harder time in our hotter future.

What should you do?

• On high-smog days, take breaks and do less intense activities.

• Asthma sufferers should follow their asthma action plans and keep their quick relief medicine handy.

• Use the Air Quality Index to learn about local ozone smog conditions, and take precautions on bad air days.

Ticks and mosquitoes: Tick and mosquito bites are not only a nuisance of summertime, they transmit serious diseases. Unfortunately, climate change may create more favorable conditions for the spread of disease-carrying insects.

Warming temperatures and a changing climate are particularly likely to turn some U.S. regions into new suitable habitat for Lyme-carrying ticks. And the EPA just added Lyme disease as a new indicator of climate change.

Mosquito species that can transmit dengue fever typically live in tropical regions, but two species of mosquitoes that are capable of spreading dengue are now found in 28 states.

Scientists have projected that higher temperatures and lower precipitation leads to a higher probability of West Nile virus infections. One study estimates that by 2050, approximately 68 percent of California will face increased risk from West Nile virus due to climate change. West Nile is also projected to spread northward into other previously unaffected areas. A harbinger: in 2012, Maine recorded its first human case of West Nile Virus.

What should you do?

• After spending time outdoors, especially in wooded or grassy areas, check for ticks and remove them with tweezers. If a tick is attached for less than 24 hours, the chance of getting Lyme disease is lessened.

• To avoid insect bites, tuck in your shirt and wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks when spending time outside.

• Eliminate standing water in rain gutters, buckets, plastic covers and other potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Empty and change water in bird baths, rain barrels and wading pools.

Poison ivy: Today, about 350,000 cases of poison ivy-induced contact dermatitis are reported each year. This will get worse with climate change because poison ivy grows faster and is more toxic as carbon dioxide pollution increases.

Even now, the plant can be found in forests, roadsides and even backyards in every state except California (although poison oak grows there with similar health impacts), Hawaii and Alaska.

What should you do?

• Wear long pants, long sleeves, boots, and gloves when working outside. If clothing is exposed, wash separately with hot water and detergent

• Do not burn poison ivy, as the smoke can cause severe allergic respiratory problems.

• If you come in contact, immediately and repeatedly rinse skin with dishwashing soap or detergent and water. Oatmeal baths and hydrocortisone cream can reduce itching.

Sneezing and wheezing: Climate change may already be making life miserable for the 30 to 40 million seasonal allergy sufferers nationwide, according to a number of scientific studies conducted over the past several years. Rising carbon dioxide levels and global temperatures are driving the growth of the very plants that make us sneeze and wheeze.

A 2011 study confirmed that ragweed, a major culprit in seasonal allergies, now sheds pollen up to a month longer than it did in 1995 in some parts of North America. In late summer, higher temperatures can worsen ozone smog at the same time ragweed plants produce their allergenic pollen, creating a “double-whammy” for respiratory health.

What should you do?

• Check daily pollen reports and ozone air quality conditions online, particularly on sunny, still, hot days.

• On days when pollen counts or ozone levels are high, minimize outdoor activities and keep windows closed when possible.

• Shower and wash bedding and outdoor clothing to remove pollen that settles on pillows and sheets and vacuum regularly. After outdoor work or play, use a damp cloth to remove pollen from hair and skin—or shower.

Foodborne illness: Salmonella and Campylobacter are two of the most common forms of bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Scientists have shown that hotter summer temperatures are closely associated with the number of Salmonella and Campylobacter infections. These and other diarrheal diseases are more common when temperatures are higher. Climate change also is expected to increase harmful algal blooms in some areas, which may lead to increases in illnesses from seafood consumption. Already, an estimated 10 percent of foodborne disease outbreaks in the United States result from seafood contaminated with algal toxins.

What should you do?

• Keep perishable food refrigerated — don’t leave out food for more than one hour when temperatures are above 90 Fahrenheit.

• Cook poultry, beef and eggs thoroughly. If you are served undercooked meat in a restaurant, don’t hesitate to send it back.

• Pay attention to shellfish warnings and alerts about harmful algal blooms. Cooking does not destroy algal toxins, so avoiding consumption of contaminated seafood is the only method to prevent illness from harmful algal blooms.

Dangerous swimming conditions: Climate change is expected to increase harmful algal blooms and runoff of pollution into beaches and waterways, leading to more unsafe swimming conditions. Harmful algal blooms, including “red tide” and blue-green algae, can cause respiratory symptoms and also irritate the eyes and skin.

Already, the Great Lakes states are seeing an abundance of algae growth causing beaches to be closed to swimming earlier in the year. Climate projections also show that, in the Great Lakes region, the amount of untreated sewage overflowing into waterways could increase significantly in coming decades as combined sewer systems are overwhelmed with rainwater, triggering even more beach closings.

What should you do?

• Check the safety of your local beach before swimming. Take a look at NRDC’s Testing the Waters Guide.

• Do not swim at your local beach for a day or two after heavy rainstorms, especially if your city does not monitor water quality.

Ruined visits to national landmarks and parks: Many of the United States’ iconic national parks, landmarks and heritage sites are at risk from climate change. Sea level rise, coastal erosion, increased flooding, heavy rains, and more frequent wildfires are damaging park land, archaeological resources, historic buildings, and cultural landscapes across the nation, according to research by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which recently provided case studies on 25 impacted sites.

What should you do?

• Send in a statement of support for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan to curb carbon pollution from power plants.

• Support efforts to build climate resiliency and prepare national parks and historic sites for the impacts of climate change.

Louisiana sheriff’s office arrests gay men under invalidated sodomy law

Although sex in public and solicitation of “unnatural carnal copulation” for money are illegal in Louisiana, neither element was part of these 12 cases, and most of the men were arrested after agreeing to have sex away from the park at a private residence, District Attorney Hillar Moore III told the newspaper.

Moore said, “From what I’ve seen of these cases, legally, we found no criminal violation.”

Metro Councilman John Delgado said Sheriff Sid Gautreaux owes an apology to the men arrested and the entire parish.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that a Texas sodomy law was invalid. Louisiana was among nine states which had such laws. Richard Ieyoub, then attorney general, said the high court’s ruling made Louisiana’s law unenforceable.

However, “crime against nature” remains part of Louisiana law, punishable by up to five years at hard labor and a $2,000 fine. The criminal code accessible through the Legislature’s website states that “Crime against nature is the unnatural carnal copulation by a human being with another of the same sex or opposite sex or with an animal.”

Gautreaux has told the Capital City Alliance, an LGBT group, that deputies “will no longer be enforcing this law until the courts or the legislature removes it.

The sheriff’s office sent a statement to the newspaper saying it “should have taken a different approach” to worries about park safety, the newspaper reported.

“We will consult with others in the legislative and judicial branches to see what can be done to remove this law from the criminal code that each deputy receives and to also find alternative ways to deter sexual and lewd activity from our parks,” it said.

The sheriff’s office said it only meant to respond to calls from parents, park officials and members of the public about safety concerns at parks.

“When we receive reports of public masturbation, sex and other lewd activity in a park where children are playing, we must take these concerns seriously,” the statement says. “Our intent was honorable. Our approach, however, is something we must evaluate and change.”

In an email to the sheriff’s office, Delgado wrote that its response on Sunday sensationalized the matter by using terms like “lewd conduct” and “public masturbation” and suggesting that children were present during the arrests.

“The newspaper article makes it quite clear that nothing of the sort occurred in these 12 arrests,” Delgado says. “These men were arrested even though they were innocent of any crime.”

Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks said the office has no record of being informed that the District Attorney’s Office would not pursue charges in the cases.

On the Web…

Criminal code: http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/law.aspx?d=78695 

How federal budget cuts could affect you

Government agencies are already taking steps to comply with automatic spending cuts that took effect March 1.

Some examples:

AIRCRAFT CARRIER

One of the Navy’s premiere warships, the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, sits pier-side in Norfolk, Va., its tour of duty delayed. The carrier and its 5,000-person crew were to leave for the Persian Gulf on Feb. 8, along with the guided-missile cruiser USS Gettysburg.

AIRPORT CUSTOMS

People arriving on international flights were said to experience delays at airport customs and immigration booths, including at Los Angeles International and O’Hare International in Chicago. Officials said Monday that’s because they closed lanes that would have previously been staffed by workers on overtime.

Examples of other steps that are planned or predicted:

FEDERAL WORKERS

More than half of the nation’s 2.1 million government workers may be furloughed. At the Pentagon alone that could mean 800,000 people who will lose a day’s pay each week for more than five months; other federal agencies are likely to furlough several hundred thousand more for a varying number of days.

AIRLINE FLIGHTS

There could be widespread flight delays and cancellations due to furloughs of air traffic controllers, but furloughs won’t start until April because of the legal requirement to give workers advance notice. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood predicts flights to cities such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco could have delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours. FAA officials have said they expect to eliminate overnight shifts by air traffic controllers in more than 60 airport towers and close more than 100 towers at smaller airports. But information posted online by the agency shows 72 airports that could lose midnight shifts and 238 airports whose towers could be closed.

DEFENSE

Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff paint a dire picture of construction projects on hold, limits on aircraft carriers patrolling the waters and even a delay in the expansion of Arlington National Cemetery. About 800,000 Defense Department civilians face furloughs. The Pentagon will be forced to furlough for one day a week about 15,000 teachers who work at schools around the world for children of people in the military. Veterans’ funerals at Arlington could be cut to 24 a day from 31. Troops killed in action in Afghanistan will be the priority; they usually are laid to rest within two weeks. Beginning in April, the Army will cancel maintenance at depots, which will force 5,000 layoffs, and it also will let go more than 3,000 temporary and contract employees. The Air Force Thunderbirds and the Navy’s Blue Angels will cancel air show appearances.

FOOD SAFETY

There could be an estimated 2,100 fewer food safety inspections, meaning greater risks to consumers. Worker furloughs are not planned, but rather the reduction in inspections would come from cuts in travel spending. On meat inspections, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that it will be several months before meat inspectors are furloughed and that each will likely be furloughed 11 days or 12 days, instead of 15 days as the Obama administration indicated earlier.

TOURISM

The administration is canceling tours of the White House beginning today (March 9), citing staffing reductions. House Speaker John Boehner says Capitol tours will continue. Visiting hours at all 398 national parks probably will be cut and sensitive areas blocked off to the public. Thousands of seasonal workers looking for jobs would not be hired, according to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. He and National Park Service director Jon Jarvis said visitors would encounter locked restrooms, fewer rangers and trash cans emptied less frequently.

NUCLEAR CLEANUP

There could be disruption of efforts to close the radioactive waste tanks currently leaking at Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The Department of Energy estimates that it will have to eliminate $92 million for the Office of River Protection at Hanford, which will result in furloughs or layoffs impacting about 2,800 contract workers. Other high-risk sites facing work delays are the Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee, Savannah River Site in South Carolina and the Idaho National Laboratory.

EDUCATION

Some 70,000 students enrolled in pre-kindergarten Head Start would be cut from the program and 14,000 teachers would lose their jobs. For students with special needs, the cuts would eliminate some 7,200 teachers and aides. The Education Department is warning that the cuts will impact up to 29 million student loan borrowers and that some lenders may have to lay off staff or even close. Some of the 15 million college students who receive grants or work-study assignments at some 6,000 colleges would also see changes.  The 77-member Student Aid Alliance – a coalition of universities and college professionals – says the cost to a student could be as much as $876 annually in new fees, fewer work-study hours and reduced grants for students receiving federal aid.

CONGRESS

Congressional trips overseas likely will take a hit. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told fellow Republicans that he’s suspending the use of military aircraft for official trips by House members. Lawmakers typically travel on military planes for fact-finding trips to Afghanistan or Pakistan, or other congressional excursions abroad.

TAXES

The Internal Revenue Service says tax refunds shouldn’t be delayed because it won’t furlough workers until summer. But other IRS services will be affected. Millions of taxpayers may not be able get responses from IRS call centers and taxpayer assistance centers. The cuts would delay IRS responses to taxpayer letters and reduce the number of tax returns reviewed, impacting the agency’s ability to detect and prevent fraud. The IRS says this could result in billions of dollars in lost revenue to the government.

JOBS ISSUES

More than 3.8 million people jobless for six months or longer could see their unemployment benefits reduced by as much as 9.4 percent. Thousands of veterans would not receive job counseling. Fewer Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors could mean 1,200 fewer inspections of dangerous work sites.

HEALTH CARE

Hospitals, doctors and other Medicare providers will see a 2 percent cut in government reimbursements. But they aren’t complaining because the pain could be a lot worse if there was a deal to reduce federal deficits. The automatic cuts would reduce Medicare spending by about $100 billion over a decade. But President Barack Obama had put on the table $400 billion in health care cuts, mainly from Medicare. Republicans wanted more. Obama’s health overhaul law is expected to roll out on time and largely unscathed by the cuts. Part of the reason is that the law’s major subsidies to help uninsured people buy private health coverage are structured as tax credits. So is the Affordable Care Act’s assistance for small businesses. Tax credits have traditionally been exempted from automatic cuts.