Prisoners grow for food bank
BOISE (AP) -- Idaho prisoners are growing produce for a food bank on cropland in the desert south of Boise, a project that aims to give inmates something to do and the needy something to eat.
Inmates are preparing about 6 acres of prison ground near the South Idaho Correctional Institution for beans, carrots, corn and red potatoes. Once the vegetables mature, they'll go to the Idaho Foodbank.
The Idaho Statesman reports this project hearkens back to an era when Idaho prisoners raised their own food.
But a prison slaughterhouse, dairy and produce-growing operation were abandoned years ago, because it became cheaper just to buy food for inmates.
For this project, donations accounted for seeds, fertilizer and other supplies to make it affordable.
"Occupying time is a big issue in prison," said Deputy Warden Jay Christensen. "When inmates get up at 5 a.m. to fire up the irrigation pumps, then work in the fields, when they come back, they're ready to hit the bunks."
The University of Idaho Extension Service is lending its expertise to the growing operation, which is located on land that's been fallow since the 1990s.
The Idaho Food Bank's study "Hunger in Idaho 2010" found that 17,200 Idahoans per week, and 142,200 per year, need emergency food assistance.
The food bank, which has seen a 25 percent increase in demand for food assistance over the past year as Idaho's unemployment rate topped 9 percent, has refrigerated trucks and a big freezer, so it can manage the volume of vegetables the prison field will produce.
Declining grange seeks new life
POST FALLS, Idaho (AP) -- Avery Bright remembers when the Cloverleaf Grange was the hub of a close-knit community focused on farming and family values.
Over the past century, the grange hall on McGuire Road in Post Falls has hosted dances, political debates, 4-H meetings, rummage sales, wedding receptions, potlucks and cowboy-themed church services.
"I spent a lot of my life inside those walls," said Bright, 87. "Now, I'm one of the only ones left."
Dying membership is threatening Idaho's oldest grange.
The 106-year-old Cloverleaf Grange has shrunk to 22 members, only a handful of whom are still active, said Donald Billmire, the Idaho State Grange's master. In April, he sent a letter to the grange, saying that he was "regretfully" taking action to revoke its charter.
Billmire said he'll be contacting grange members over the next several weeks to discuss options.
"We're in the process of trying to reorganize that grange," he said.
Many of Idaho's 33 chartered granges face similar challenges, Billmire said. Members are elderly and the farmlands surrounding grange halls have been replaced with subdivisions.
To survive, granges have to reinvent themselves for an increasingly urban population.
Founded after the Civil War, the Grange movement mobilized farmers to advocate for progressive causes, such as rural mail delivery and antitrust laws for railroads. Over the years, granges stayed active in grass-roots politics.
Montana aims to reduce wolves
HELENA, Mont. (AP) -- Montana wildlife commissioners approved a plan May 13 that aims to reduce the gray wolf population for the first time since the once-endangered animal was reintroduced to the region 15 years ago.
The proposal approved by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission calls for at least doubling the number of wolves that hunters can kill and introducing an archery season to go with the rifle season.
The population of wolves in the northern Rockies has increased every year since they were reintroduced to the region in 1995 after being nearly wiped out in the last century due to conflicts with humans and loss of habitat.
There were at least 524 wolves in Montana at the end of last year, and 1,706 wolves in the combined northern Rockies region of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and parts of Washington and Oregon, wildlife officials estimate.
Ranchers and hunters say the wolf population has now grown too high, which has led to more attacks on livestock and game.
Montana commissioners will decide in July after a public comment period whether the final quota for the 2010 hunt will be 150, 186 or 216 wolves. The quota was 75 in last year's inaugural hunt.
Wildlife officials in Idaho also are considering a higher quota for this year's hunt.
But a pending federal lawsuit could block states' wolf seasons this year. Environmentalists filed suit to overturn the loss of federal protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho, and oral arguments are expected to be heard in that case in June.
Montana's wolf management plan calls for a population of at least 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs, which would affect the ability of the species to reproduce. If the number of breeding pairs falls below 10, federal protections would once more be imposed on the state's wolf population.
In 2009, there were at least 37 breeding pairs, state wildlife chief Ken McDonald told the commission.
Mink farm fights development plan
HEYBURN, Idaho (AP) -- A developer's plan to build hotels, restaurants, a movie theater and more in southern Idaho is running into opposition from the owners of a nearby mink farm concerned that ambient light will hinder molting and breeding patterns of the fur-bearing mammals.
The Heyburn City Council on May 12 decided to continue at a later date a hearing on a rezoning request by developers P&R Enterprises and project developer Alfresco LLC following objections by Moyle Mink and Tannery.
Developers hope to have the area changed from agricultural low zoning to commercial general zoning so they can begin a project they call Alfresco Parkway.
Lance Loveland, the mink farm's attorney, said the company produces up to 60,000 pelts a year and has contributed $90 million to the area's economy in the last 30 years, employing about 60 people.
"The light in a hotel on 24 hours a day is going to affect the animals significantly," Loveland told the council, The Times-News reported.
Chris Carford of Cache Landmark Engineering of Logan, Utah, said developers could build a berm with trees to reduce light reaching the mink farm.
Steve Tuft, attorney for the city of Heyburn, said developers and the mink farm should work together to resolve differences before the hearing continues.
The city council decided to continue the rezoning hearing on May 26.