Monday, April 24, 2017

Nurse practitioners join fight against opioid addictions by gaining ability to prescribe anti-addiction medication

Rural America is struggling with an opioid epidemic. Since 1999, opioid overdoses cause four times more deaths in America. In 2015, nearly 13,000 people died from heroin overdoses which were 20,6% more than in 2014. Although all states have experienced increases in opioid overdoses, states with large rural populations, like Kentucky, West Virginia, Alaska, and Oklahoma, have experienced disproportionately high increases. Various blog posts have recently discussed this issue (here, here, here, and here).

Unfortunately, there is a shortage of doctors in rural areas to treat this problem. In rural areas, the patient-to-primary care physician ratio is 39.8 physicians per 100,000 people. In urban areas, the ratio is 53.3 per 100,000 people. This shortage will only worsen after the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services made procedural changes to the temporary visas for skilled workers (H-1B visas) because rural areas depend heavily on foreign doctors. 

However, nurse practitioners may help to solve the shortage of doctors in rural areas. In 2012, 127,000 nurse practitioners provided patient care in the United States. Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have also completed Master's degrees or other higher level nursing degrees. It takes much less time to become a nurse practitioner rather than a physician with an M.D. On average it takes six years of education and training to become a nurse practitioner and eleven to twelve years for a physician to complete their education and residency. Like physicians, nurse practitioners can hold hospital privileges, write prescriptions, specialize in certain practice ares. 

There are already significantly more nurse practitioners practicing in rural areas than physicians. There are 85.3 registered nurses per 10,000 rural residents compared to 13.1 physicians and surgeons per 10,000 rural residents. However, in many states, nurse practitioners cannot prescribe life-saving medication to opioid addicts.

This month two federal agencies gave over 700 nurse practitioners the ability to write prescriptions for buprenorphine to create broader access to the anti-addiction medication. In the United States, a federal licenses is required to prescribe buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is one of three anti-addiction medications approved by the FDA. It is a highly effective addiction treatment because it prevents withdrawal system and lessens cravings. The Comprehensive Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act passed in 2016 allows nurse practitioners and physician assistants to obtain federal licenses to prescribe buprenorphine. To obtain the license nurse practitioners must complete a 24-hour training and may only prescribe it to 30 patients a year. (Qualifying physicians may currently prescribe it to 275 patients a year).

Currently 28 states restrict nurse practioners' scope of practice by only letting them prescibe buprenorphine if they are working in collaboration with a doctor who has a federal license to prescribe it. However, 21.2 million people live in rural counties with no physician with a waiver for office-based physicians to prescribe buprenorphine. Of the total counties in the United States with no physician able to prescribe buprenorphine, 82.1% were in rural areas. In addition, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wyoming explicitly prohibit Nurse Practitioners from prescribing buprenorphine even if they are working with a licensed physician. 

Credit: Huffington Post

Some states recognize the potential positive impacts allowing nurse practitioenrs to prescribe buprenorphine. Oregon is currently updating its laws to allow nurse practitioners to prescribe buprenorphine for addiction. Currently nurse practitioners can prescribe Schedule III drugs like buprenorphine for pain management, but not for addiction treatment. In 2016, West Virgina changed its laws to allow nurse practitioners to prescribe all prescription drugs except Schedule II drugs (i.e., Percocet,  Vicadin, and OxyContin) without doctor supervision. West Virginia has a large rural population, a shortage of medical professionals, and the most overdose deaths in the country.

Hopefully, more states will follow Oregon and West Virginia's example and change their laws to allow nurse practitioners to prescribe buprenorphine. With the physician shortage and rise of opioid overdoses, rural areas can benefit from more medical professions having the ability to prescribe buprenorphine to treat addiction.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Child Abuse Prevention (Part IV): shortage of foster parents in rural areas

As discussed in Part I and Part II, and Part III of this series, child abuse affects all communities, but the state's involvement can affect rural communities differently than urban ones.

A shortage of foster parents
Unfortunately, federal laws (such as the Fostering Connections to Success and Adoptions Act, Child and Family Services Improvement Act, etc.) do not address the fact that rural communities may have different needs than more urban communities. Rural areas are in desperate need for more foster and adoptive parents. All foster parents must be licensed and approved, and must receive background checks and TB tests. Because all these processes need to be done and training usually spans over several days, (maybe weeks) it is difficult for state workers to travel to a rural area to recruit and train just one or two prospective parents at a time. This leaves it to rural prospective foster parents to step up and drive outside their communities, sometimes several times, to become approved as foster parents. For them to even to do that, they must first be aware of the opportunity to become foster parents, and state agencies are unable to recruit in rural communities. Some states have laws or funds established to address these challenges, but not all.

Rurality can create challenges for rural foster parents
This dynamic can create especially demanding circumstances for foster parents who are located in rural areas, or who are caring for a child who came from a rural or remote area. These volunteer caregivers are then often asked to drive many hours and miles in order to help transport the child to family visits, court hearings, or doctor's appointments. Consider all the challenges that many rural families face: lack of connection with larger systems, lack of services, and a general lack of accessibility. Day-to-day caregiving activities may become more onerous. For example, one long-time foster parent living in rural Wisconsin said that the biggest issue was finding a dentist. A social worker will always have to report to the dependency court about the child's health, which usually includes mandatory dental visits. Foster children are often covered under Medicaid, and it can be extremely challenging to find a dentist that will take Medicaid within a reasonable distance of the rural community where the child lives, so foster parents, or even social workers can end up driving hours to bring a child to see a dentist or other care provider.

Children are impacted the most 
The foster parent scarcity heavily impacts children in foster care. One child welfare worker reported that in the absence of enough high-quality foster placements in rural areas, (and in desperation) a worker might place the child in a 'marginal' home that is available, possibly sacrificing things like consistent supervision or cleanliness. Additionally, while many other areas have "receiving homes" or emergency placements, many rural areas do not. (a 'receiving home' is a safe place where children who have just been removed from their families can stay until the social worker finds a more stable, sometimes long term foster placement. In many places places, such as San Francisco, this 'home' is staffed with people who are trained in crisis counseling for children.)

The shortage of foster homes in rural communities also means that children who are removed from their homes are much more likely to be moved out of their communities and into different ones. Children who are already facing trauma and fear that comes with being removed from their homes will be in a new place with a new school, likely far away from friends and relatives.

Kinship care
In recent years, policy has moved toward supporting kinship care: placing a child in the home of a relative caregiver in order to utilize the organic support systems that exist within families and minimize the trauma to a child by placing him or her in the care of a known caregiver. Federal law has kept up with this trend by enacting a law that requires "relative notification." Within 30 days after the removal of a child, the social worker must conduct "due diligence" by identifying and notifying as many relatives as possible that the child has entered into foster care. The hope is that a relative may want to offer a home to the child (or offer a permanent safe loving relationship in a different capacity).

This "due diligence" could be more difficult in rural communities if a  social worker is unable to access family members over the phone, but it feels like a hopeful concept. Certainly, it comes with its own complications; mainly the lack of anonymity in rural areas. Depending on the type of abuse, a relative in the same community might not be able to protect a child from an abuser. Social workers might have less control and oversight in a community that tightly functions on its own if a child is placed in a nearby home and a social worker is stationed  somewhere else. Overall, increasing stability and familiarity where possible and minimizing the trauma of moving could make a big difference to a child. Though a commitment to kinship care may not relieve some of the challenges of the foster parent shortage and rural isolation, it might broaden the net of safe families for children to stay in while caregivers work toward reunification.

Child Abuse Prevention (Part III) Reunification services in rural areas

Previous posts in this series (here and here) discussed some of the impacts that rurality has on the child abuse reporting and response systems. This installment will explore challenges that arise when families who live in rural areas attempt to reunify with their children who have been removed from their home and placed in foster care. I argue that rural parents involved in the foster care system face distinct barriers that make it especially challenging to comply with court orders and successfully reunify with their children.

When the CPS determines that a child is in danger if he or she remains in the home, a social worker will remove the child from the home and place him or her in another family's home temporarily.  Meanwhile, the child's parents or caregivers are charged with addressing the underlying problems that initially created the harm to the child. A Child Welfare Worker creates a reunification plan that includes action steps that the parents must complete in order to have their child returned to their care. Reunification plans can include many different case-specific action steps, which may include: rehabilitation, anger management and parenting classes, or sometimes even a requirement that one parent move away from and stop contacting an abusive spouse. Generally, if the child is in foster care, the case plan will also outline a visitation schedule so that the child can maintain his or her relationship with the parents while in foster care. If the caregiver completes the reunification plan within the time allotted by the social worker, a dependency court must find that the danger to the child has subsided,  and then the child will be allowed to return home. If the case plan has not been completed, it may be up to the courts to decide whether to grant the caregivers more time to complete the case plan, taking into account arguments from parents, CPS, and child's counsel. State law controls the time periods that parents have to complete their case plans, and time limits usually vary with the child's age (see eg: CA. Welf & Inst. Code 361.5)

While the foster care system impacts many many families in both rural and urban areas, rural families may face more difficulties completing their mandated case plans. In September 2015, there were 427,910 children in foster care. 55% of these children stayed in foster care for over one year. In rural communities, it may take rural parents more time than their urban counterparts to comply with case plans because they have to travel to access the services that they are required participate in part of their case plans. Sometimes, a specific program that has been mandated in a family's case plan is almost impossible to access for rural residents. Even judicial officers in rural places have reported that it is difficult to find educational and training programs to further train those on the bench.

Sometimes, the very nature of rural life is held against parents in dependency court. Judges (sometimes outsiders to the communities that come into their courtrooms) are tasked with discerning what placement or lifestyle decisions would be "in the best interest of the child."   Judges have scolded parents for living in an area that is isolated from services, expressing the concern that children may be isolated and not get the help or support they need.  In some courtrooms, a stereotype exists that urban children are more involved in school events and receive a higher quality education.

All this is to say: rural parents and caregivers who find themselves involved in the foster care system face significant barriers to reunification. Is the case plan system with mandatory participation in social services a one-size-fits-most approach that doesn't quite fit some rural communities?

Learning rural

An article recently came across my screen about a new college class called "Dolly Parton's America." My initial reaction was a pang of jealously. Why couldn't I have taken this course in college? Could I have double majored in Dolly and Beyonce studies? After I got over these dreams, I started to read a bit more about the course and what it was all about.

"HIST 307: Dolly Parton's America: From Sevierville to the World" is an honors history course at the University of Tennessee Knoxville taught by Lynn Sacco. (Interestingly, Sacco is a former attorney turned academic with an academic focus on the history of incest in America.) According to the course description, the class seeks to answer the question: "How did a poor, young Appalachian woman become one of the most influential popular artists of the 20th century, not only in Tennessee but in the world?" To do this, the class will focus on "histories of popular culture," including movies, radio programs, tv shows, and Dolly's autobiography. Sacco said she was inspired to come up with the course "after hearing students express ambivalence about being from East Tennessee" and "wanted to give them a picture that coming from East Tennessee doesn't mean you don't have a bright future."

East Tennessee is culturally and geographically considered part of Appalachia, which many consider the face of rural, white poverty in America. (For a beautiful collection of Appalachian documentary photography, check out Looking at Appalachia.) For example, over a quarter of the people living in Johnson county, the easternmost county in Tennessee, are living below the poverty rate. In Dolly Parton's hometown, Sevierville, Tennessee, around 25% of the residents also live below the poverty line. According the census data, there are 16,490 people residing in the city and the racial makeup is 88.9% white.

Students will watch "TV shows like The Beverly Hillbillies and movies like Coal Miner's Daughter, to examine how Appalachian people have been portrayed in pop culture and what can be learned from it." This approach seems familiar. It sounds a bit like our own course, Law and Rural Livelihoods, where we often incorporate movie clips to illustrate aspects of "rural life" and learn about rural people. This concept of showing rural life isn't unique to classrooms. When Assemblyman Brian Dahle presented to our class, his answer to explaining rural problems to urban politicians was to invite them to visit his district and show them how life works out there. It seems to be an effective way to expose urban populations to the realities of rural life.

Putting this all into the context of America's current political landscape, perhaps showing rural is our best hope to come to terms with the "Trump voters" and begin to understand the reality many Americans face. A New York Times op-ed published after the election asked, "Who are these rural, red-county people who brought Mr. Trump into power?" Perhaps this is academia's call for more rural studies and courses like "Dolly Parton's America" and "Law and Rural Livelihoods" are the answer to moving towards a more understanding or less-fragmented American identity. At the very least, maybe the more movies, radio shows, and new stories we have covering rural life will show the current situation in rural America to a broader audience and hopefully foster some sort of empathy or understanding.

Friday, April 21, 2017

School choice policy unlikely to supplement education for rural schools

School choice initiatives will harm rural schools disproportionately despite what Michael McShane claims to the contrary. In a recent article for the U.S. News and Review,  McShane maintains that concerns over new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos's penchant for school choice are embellished and exaggerated.

McShane proposes that School Choice is not only a solution for some parts of the country but "offer[s] a great deal to rural communities." Specifically, he says, this initiative will increase course access by granting funding flexibility to students and allowing them to take courses from outside providers.

His suggestion is dismissive of a handful of uniquely rural impediments, chief amongst the challenges are access to internet and school recruiting abilities. Indeed, he seems more concerned talking about his travels and efforts to avoid tornadoes than addressing the infrastructure issues that are apparent with his thesis.

Rural schools' access to internet

McShane's main proposal is that School Choice allows students to take a handful of courses from outside providers.
These courses might be offered by a university, a for-profit provider, a nearby community college or technical school or even another school district. Maybe a small rural district wants to make the investment to hire a Mandarin teacher and can generate revenue by sharing his or her class in an online course marketplace for surrounding districts. This could be virtual instruction, or it could be an in-person class at the local carpenters’ union apprenticeship center.
Sidestepping the absurdity of why a rural school district would hire a Mandarin teacher when they struggle to maintain a full staff to teach traditional subjects like math and english, this proposal is narrow minded. Virtual instruction requires internet access and a computer, stepping stones that rural schools largely struggle with for economic and supply reasons. The cost to build rural schools is high for being far from requisite building and infrastructure resources. Economically, service providers cannot justify implementing the far-reaching infrastructure within their own business models and economies of scale.

Even where internet may be provided at the school, complete lack of home internet access or restricted home internet access is predominant. Where schools are able to teach students computer skills or provide a unique course in the classroom via internet, it is nearly impossible for students to complete their homework online.

Major efforts to reverse this challenge and the accompanying harm to students were stalled in February. New Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pal stopped federal subsidies promised to a handful of low-income home internet accessibility projects. The federal Lifeline Program seeks to bridge the digital divide, making information and technology available to low-income people. It is no secret that rural areas experience higher rates of poverty. This move will disproportionately harm rural students who not only do not have access to internet but also do not have facilities to use it temporarily, such at county libraries, internet cafes, and coffee shops offering Wi-Fi. Despite Pai repeatedly saying closing the digital divide is one of his main policy agendas, this regressive move was allegedly to preserve administrative procedures.

At a state level, the California Assembly has maintained a commitment to closing the digital divide since 2007. The California Advanced Services Fund was established to provide grants to telephone corporations spearheading programs that address the divide. This program will sunset in 2020 despite 57 percent of rural households lacking reliable broadband service. At least one new assemblymember, Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, is determined to ensure the program continues in the state. Indeed, she has proposed a constitutional amendment that would give local government the flexibility in funding critical infrastructure, including broadband.

Rural school recruiting

McShane suggests that rural schools can hire a unique teacher and then market their curriculum as an an online course. The main issue with having such a program is that rural schools struggle to retain such high-quality teachers for reasons such as: funding issues, limited teacher supple, lack of rigorous training and certification options, and geographic isolation.

Applicants for such a position are not likely to be local community members. Rural schools lack the material advantages of wealthier districts to attract teachers: high-achieving students, more modern school buildings, and more professional development. Younger teachers that could make a long-term commitment to a rural school eschew the isolation of being far from large cities. Further, it is difficult for potential teachers to see the benefits of rural teaching like small class sizes, greater curriculum development autonomy, and sincere relationships with parents in the smaller community, over the pitfalls.

Essentially, even if rural areas did not lack internet connectivity in their schools and in their homes, it is nearly inconceivable that they would be able to find a mandarin teacher for such a program.

Homeschool opportunities 

McShane briefly suggests that a homeschool-private school hybrid, accessible in the School Choice policy, should be especially attractive to rural communities. This is only available to certain people and a detriment of the community overall.  Choice of homeschooling is limited to parents who do not need to work, meaning usually well-educated, middle class parents. As a result, families who have more time and resources are not putting their energies into the local rural public schools. This exacerbates class divisions educationally and economically.

McShane is ill informed about the particular struggles of rural schools making his short article problematic and an over-simplified, if not wrong, advocation for School Choice. His largest flaw is to over-idealize rural spaces. He is not the first person nor will he be the last, but deeper research and support is required before his claims may be supported. 

Attachment to place and nonmetropolitan labor markets

One of the characteristics of rurality that surfaced early on as sometimes legally relevant on in my study of rural livelihoods is attachment to place.  That is, a strong presumption seems to exist among rural sociologists and perhaps others that rural residents--especially multi-generation rural residents--are more attached to their rural hometowns/areas than is the case with urban dwellers.  The words "homestead" and "home place" have this rural connotation.  Indeed, I have speculated elsewhere regarding whether the (apparent) attachment is to the place more broadly speaking--to the community--or more to the land itself. I note that the attachment to place label/tag on this blog has been used 89 times in the near decade-long life of Legal Ruralism.  Usually, I (or my students blogging with me) use the label to describe the phenomenon when they observe it in their hometowns or read about it, though journalists themselves rarely use the term.

One context in which the phenomenon often arises regards labor markets--the question frequently being asked:  If rural employment opportunities are so poor, why don't rural residents just move to where the jobs are?  The same might be said about poor rural infrastructure, schools and healthcare for example--if these are inferior, why don't rural folks "move to town"?

Against that backdrop, I was surprised to see NPR's "Indivisible" program treat attachment to place sympathetically in its episode this week, titled "How Do We Get America Back to Work?"  Here's the blurb describing the program:
When GM idled its plant in Janesville, Wisconsin in 2008, the town became emblematic of a crisis facing many communities in middle America. When traditional manufacturing leaves – for whatever reason – economies are turned upside down, the collective identity changes, and very often depression sets in. While it may seem outdated to some that a community will identify with a corporation, that's just what happened for decades. Losing the plant left many in Janesville searching for a future. This week, President Trump signed an executive order to bring jobs back to towns like Janesville, but the question is — is it too little too late? On this episode of Indivisible, host Kerri Miller talks with Amy Goldstein, author of "Janesville, An American Story," and Linda Tirado, author of "Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America," about the realities of the company town and what the future holds.
Among those featured in the episode was a man Amy Goldstein followed for her book about the closure of a General Motors plant in Janesville, Wisconsin, population 65,000, so not exactly rural.  Once the Janesville GM plant closed, he and several other Janesville men decided to commute to another GM plant in Indiana, driving there on Monday morning to work the second shift and staying through Friday night, when they returned home to their families in Janesville.  One particularly poignant segment was where Goldstein described the men coming back into Janesville on a Friday night and dropping off the worker who lived in the southernmost part of the city.  Then the men would vary the journey they took to the northern part of town where other workers lived; they did this because they enjoyed seeing the different parts of town, the streets of Janesville, generally empty in the wee hours.  It seemed to prompt them to wax nostalgic about how great Janesville was, their upbringing there.  I suppose it also helped justify the decision they had made to leave their children there to benefit from a Janesville upbringing.

Another person who was interviewed or called in to the program talked of moving from his smallish city in Florida out of state for a job, only to mourn the sense of being known that he had enjoyed in his hometown.  In short, the anonymity he experienced in the place to which he moved left him grieving the connectedness he had enjoyed in the place where he grew up.    

I highly recommend this episode of Indivisible and, indeed, the entire series.  It's the best forum I've found for neutrally, non-judgmentally exploring the issues that are dividing our nation in the age of Trump.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

California rurality: what the Central Valley has to offer

Just this week in our seminar course on Rural Livelihoods, we had Camille Pannu (profiled here) in to speak about things like environmental justice and access to water, specifically in the Central Valley. In the context of the discussion, Fresno and its surrounding farm communities (where I was born and raised and attended college) necessarily received some of our attention.

Especially timely because of this recent exposé in the NY Times, this discussion of California's central region reinvigorated my interest in thinking about rurality in a state full of big cities, home to the largest population bases in the United States. I know first hand that when traveling out of the state, saying you are from "California" invokes images of beaches, the Golden Gate, and progressive politics. Say you are from Fresno, however, and people will scratch their heads and say "where's that again?" or will say "oh, farming, huh?" While farming is absolutely an integral and everyday part of life in Fresno (see discussion in these previous posts), the NY Times article sums up Fresno's appeal thus:

Fresnans talk about their city’s lively arts scene, fine state university and easygoing vibe. The city is situated in the middle of the state, allowing residents to get into the Sierra Nevada in under two hours and to the Pacific in under three.

And then there is affordability.

The survey, by the financial website GoBankingRates, found that you could live comfortably in Fresno on income of roughly $44,500 a year, putting the city on par with Albuquerque and Detroit.  

Arts and university are not two things that, at least in my personal experience, spring to mind immediately for the people who are vaguely unfamiliar with Fresno and its surrounding communities. While I would certainly agree that the politics in Fresno diverge greatly from those of much of the rest of California, I also think that can be one of the hallmarks of rurality. Texas is an example perhaps of the logical inverse: its large cities are decidedly urbanized and liberal, despite the vast majority of the state being made up of smaller ruralities who vote overwhelmingly conservative.  This dichotomy, especially present in an area like the Central Valley, is to me a fascinating exploration in our preconceived notions of rurality. Is Fresno rural? According to these definitions collected by USDA, the answer is largely no. Does that, and should that, change the fact that many who live in Fresno and surrounding areas consider themselves denizens of the rural lifestyle? Is self-identification a valid tool for identifying rural status?

In addition, one of the things I always found interesting about living in Fresno is the refrain that it is so "centrally located." As addressed by the NY Times article, this really means residents of the Central Valley can drive a few hours either direction and be in a main city or a national park. One of the things we've discussed often this semester is rurality meaning less access to services and measurements of distance between the community in question and the "next closest" place of note. Living in Fresno embodies this notion; your proximity to other places is one of the biggest benefits of  living there.

The idea of affordability also reflects an identity of rurality to me. One of the largest differences raised when considering a place like Fresno compared to a place like San Francisco is the cost of living. Many people cite cost of living as a reason for moving rural, and that certainly seems to be the case for Fresno as well. This raises an interesting inherent contradiction--the more people that move to a place like Fresno because of its touted affordability, the further it gets from a pure "rural" definition based on population size. It seems to be a crux of the issue of Fresno's rurality to ask whether we should take into account the sentiments of those that reside there. Philosophically and politically, Fresno can at times be more reminiscent of the conservative midwest than of a bustling, progressive California city. Its prominence as an agricultural superpower tends to reinforce the self-identification of many that live there; it is a self-identification of looking out for yourself and your neighbors, resisting government intrusion, and driving several hours to get to "the big city." The fact that Fresno itself is the fifth biggest city in California does not appear to matter much to those that call it home.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Rural-urban divide meaningful in Turkish referendum, too

I've spent a lot of time documenting the rural-urban divide in politics--from Brexit to Poland--and all around the United States.  (On the latter, read more here, here, here, here, here and here, with several of these posts written by students in my Law and Rural Livelihoods course).  In each instance, rural voters are by and large opting for the more regressive position, the more authoritarian candidate.

Now, coverage of last week-end's Turkish referendum suggests that the pattern has held up in that country, too.  Here's the salient part of Patrick Kingsley's story for the New York Times:
[T]he referendum reflected a country sharply divided, with voters in the major cities tending to oppose the changes while those in rural areas, who usually are more religious and conservative, voting in favor of them.
Being religious and conservative are certainly associations with rural America, too, and they arguably played role in the 2016 election that put Trump in the White House.  In due course, I hope we'll hear more analysis of the rural-urban divide in contemporary Turkish politics.  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Rivers in the news, in need of protection, and linking rural with urban

Rivers are not quintessentially rural "things," but a number of recent prominent stories about rivers and their well-being (or lack thereof) have prompted this post.  After all, rivers are one ways in which rural and urban places are connected, and that seems especially important right now, as rural advocates increasingly seek to convince the world--well, especially urbanites--that rural and urban are indelibly linked and reliant on each other.  (See this 2008 piece from The Daily Yonder, which seems startlingly more relevant now than it did then, if only because of the surprising outcome of Election 2016).

The first story that caught my eye was this one out of New Zealand last month, about the parliamentary vote there to designate two guardians of the Whanganui River.  The two will represent the 90-mile river in all legal matters concerning it.  Colin Dwyer for NPR reports that the legislation is a "monumental victory for the local Māori people,  who view the river as 'an indivisible and living whole,' according to Gerrard Albert, lead negotiator for the Whanganui tribe. " The act of parliament also includes $80 million in financial redress and $30 million toward improving the river's health.  Adrian Rurawhe, a Māori member of Parliament, told the New Zealand Herald regarding this culmination of 140 years of legal wrangling:
It's not that we've changed our worldview, but people are catching up to seeing things the way that we see them.
Dwyer quotes Clay Finlayson, New Zealand's Minister for Treaty of Whanganui Negotiations:   
I know the initial inclination of some people will say it's pretty strange to give a natural resource a legal personality.  But it's no stranger than family trusts, or companies or incorporated societies.
Other recent river stories in the United States have been about Tennessee rivers threatened by coal ash and the Colorado River in Arizona.

The latter story, dateline Yuma, Arizona, includes this lede:
The Rev. Victor Venalonzo opened his New Testament to the Book of Revelation on a recent Sunday and offered the men and women assembled at Iglesia Betania for a weekly Bible study a fresh look at its apocalyptic message.
Journalist Fernanda Santos quotes Venalonzo regarding that message as it relates to the Colorado River:
We’re failing as stewards of God’s creation, but these changes we’re seeing, that’s not God punishing us — we’re destroying ourselves.  
The shift in Venalonzo's focus--from topics more directly affecting his congregants such as poverty  and employer exploitation--has come in part because "development, drought, overuse and a drier, warming climate threaten the Colorado River, the source of the water they drink and use to irrigate the fields where they work."  The Colorado, of course, famously flows through--indeed, formed--the Grand Canyon, but it loses steam before flowing into Los Angeles.

And here's an excerpt about the Tennessee story, which is about coal ash pollution and which implicates rivers throughout the Southeast:
Coal ash gets far less attention than toxic and greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, but it has created environmental and health problems — every major river in the Southeast has at least one coal ash pond — and continuing legal troubles and large cleanup costs for the authority and other utilities.
A caption for a photo featured with that story says:
The Gallatin Fossil Plant, a coal-burning power plant run by the Tennessee Valley Authority in Gallatin, Tenn. Coal ash from the plant has been seeping into groundwater and the river, two recent lawsuits say, possibly threatening drinking water for a million people.
The rivers mentioned elsewhere in the story are the Cumberland, Emory and Tennessee.

In addition to these two stories, this blog and the daily news feature many others about rivers.  There are, of course, the years of publicity linking the Flint River to the Flint water and lead poisoning crisis, such as this one. And then there are my numerous posts about the well-being of the Buffalo National River, near my own hometown. Here is but one of those posts, and I published this op-ed on the matter--comparing it to the Flint crisis--about a year ago.

Plus, I have been reading the editorials that won Art Cullen of the Storm Lake Times a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing, and you know what:  the hub of the dispute discussed in most of the editorials is BigAg's pollution of the Raccoon River in northwest Iowa--and who should pay for clean up and monitoring.

All of this has me thinking about the ways we might use shared concern about rivers and their well-being to achieve rural-urban coalitions.  I hope others will brainstorm with me, as finding such common ground--identifying the inter-reliance of rural and urban--seems especially important these days.   

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Chobani and Clif Bar have micropolitan south central Idaho humming

I visited Idaho's Magic Valley in 2011 on a field trip with the Rural Sociological Society's (RSS) Annual Meeting in Boise, so it was with particular interest that I read Kirk Johnson's story about Twin Falls in the New York Times this week.  Johnson reported a few days ago--in a front-page story--under the headline, "What Decline? A Rural Hub Thrives in Idaho."  In a related story, Johnson offered a more personal reminiscence of his path to report this feature on Twin Falls, from the vantage point of his own upbringing in Utah, not far to the south.

Sadly, I never got a blog post written about my RSS field trip to the Magic Valley, memorable though it was.  I did, however, upload a few of my photos for this post in the run up the RSS Annual Meeting the following year.  One of the reasons I never got a blog post written is that what I saw and heard was so controversial.  Among other things, the "family" dairy we visited (family owned, but an industrial-sized operation)--across the river from Twin Falls in Jerome--was using immigrant labor in a way that seemed, well, exploitative.  The owner of the dairy talked about "her Mexicans" and how the dairy needed them in order to keep U.S. dairy products affordable, to prevent China from becoming the source of all of our nation's milk.  The owner also told us that local white workers were unreliable but that the occasional refugee resettled to the area worked out, too; she referred in particular to a Burmese refugee working at the dairy who had proved himself hard working, reliable and competent.  Mostly, however, she lauded "her" Latinx workers as critical to her business's sustainability.  After that visit to the dairy, our group went into Twin Falls where we had lunch at a "Mexican" restaurant and where a local priest talked to us about immigration and refugee resettlement into the region.  We were also made aware of the Idaho dairy industry's push for immigration reform, especially from many in this region whose economic livelihoods were reliant on immigrant labor.  (See a related, recent story here, about Wisconsin dairies).

Johnson's story is providing an update on what has happened since I visited nearly six years ago--and the news is good.  In recent years Chobani Yogurt (2013) and Clif Bar (2015) have established manufacturing facilities in Twin Falls.  These economic splashes are among factors that have the nine-country area in south-central Idaho booming.  Both pay workers$15/hour, more than twice the state's minimum wage of $7.25.  In short, with this story Johnson is offering a contrary narrative to the dominant rural narrative--so often featured on this blog--of decline, population loss, sagging economies.  (See just one example here).

Johnson puts Twin Falls' growth in national perspective: Between 2000 and 2015, the population of Twin Falls County increased by 25%, twice as fast as the national rate.
Twin Falls, population 47,000, is a place where rows of hay and feed corn brush right up against the edge of town, but it’s also the biggest community for a hundred miles in any direction, which makes it a shopping hub. Five new hotels have opened since the end of the recession, and more than 80,000 people a day drive in to work or shop.
This is consistent with what I wrote in this recent post--about the efficiency of regional services and retail consolidation, even (or especially) amidst a largely rural region with numerous smallish towns. Indeed, Johnson writes,
In its heady growth spurt, Twin Falls is sucking the oxygen from some smaller, struggling communities farther out in the country as retailers and restaurants cluster in the center.
Johnson also speculates about the "why"--why Twin Falls is growing while many nonmetropolitan places are not (though he notes that northern Idaho and Bend, Oregon are other communities in the "rural" West that are similarly booming, for different reasons):
What went right in southern Idaho started and ended with the rich volcanic soil. With irrigation, the black dirt was splendid for growing crops, from potatoes to alfalfa, that in turn fed the dairy cows that grew up in what became known as the Magic Valley.
Idaho, Johnson reports, is the 4th largest milk producing state in the nation, following California, Wisconsin and New York.  Further 75% of that milk production is within 75 miles of Twin Falls.  That's what drew Chobani, which each day purchases up to 60 tanker trucks of milk (8000 gallons each) from area dairies.

But Johnson also gives "culture" its due in regard to Twin Falls' ascendancy:
[A]bove all else, city leaders, business owners and residents say, it’s a practical place, where the old small-town values of hardball competition shape political life. If an idea gets in the way of economic growth, it should be discarded.
He quotes the Twin Falls City Manager, Travis P. Rothweiler:
Economic development is a blood sport, and I mean that in every single way you can think of it.
And this brings me to Johnson's more personal reflections, given his familiarity with the region:
I was not prepared for Zumba classes and personal trainers at the Clif Bar company gym in Twin Falls, in the still new building the company opened last fall. It was not just jobs and economics that were changing, I immediately saw, but culture. Companies like Clif Bar, based in California and steeped in the outdoor identity of biking and health, and Chobani ... were also changing the nature of a job for their Twin Falls employees, and for workers at other companies that were being forced, through competition, to up their pay and benefits.
* * *
In reporting there on the ground, I then also saw that the old frozen-in-place southern Idaho was defrosting fast, with strains and stresses along the way.
Both of these stories are well worth reading in their entirety.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Rural children and guns (Part V): Hunting as a sport

"Those guns were initially designed for killing but we've turned them into a recreational sport here in the United States." - Boo Boo, the son of the owner of Lock N Load gun store

"Hunting is something that lives in my soul." - from "Who We Are"

The Rural (and American) Tradition of Hunting

Hunting is often considered to be a rural activity, or at least an activity with roots in the rural. For many rural individuals, they grew up in a community and with a family that had a long tradition of hunting. While hunting was historically primarily a male activity, which served as a male bonding experience and was often considered to be a rite of passage, in modern times more and more women are getting involved in this activity (while I personally do not want to go hunting I am always happy when my fellow ladies start breaking gender stereotypes). One writer even compared the rural hunting tradition to religion as both are often inherited, both have a community of shared values, these values are reinforced by community and family activities, and both have expectations of behavioral conformity. Additionally, even President Obama stated that he had a "profound respect" for America's hunting tradition.

Rural Children and Hunting for Sport

While there are obviously some individuals, both adults and children, who hunt to eat (as seen in my last post), there are also those who hunt as a form of recreation. Hunters and sport shooters have said that shooting is a good way to spend family time outdoors, allows children to lead less sedentary lifestyles, and helps to teach children responsibility and safety in gun handling. While some states do not have a minimum age to hunt big game, most states do have some sort of age requirement for young hunters, especially when they are unsupervised. Additionally, most states require a hunter education course and/or firearms safety instruction before children may legally hunt. However, there appears to be a worry in the hunting community that not enough young hunters are "replenishing [the] aging ranks" and therefore, there are a truly impressive amount of lists available across the internet about how to get children interested in hunting and there are many stores out there about parents attempting to get their children interested in hunting or sport shooting.

JD Williams, a father, a US army veteran and a triple amputee, discussed how being able to spend quality time with his four-year-old daughter and teach her everything about hunting was one of the purposes he found in life after suffering his injuries. In keeping with the family's tradition of hunting, JD stated that the first "William's life skill" was the learn how to shoot. Indeed, at one point in the documentary he even said that his daughter was "going to learn how to shoot whether she like[d] it or not." However, toward the end of the film, he acknowledged that he made a mistake pushing her to hunt before she was ready and decided that if his daughter did not want to go hunting, he was not going to make her do so.

In one of the more unique stories I read about children hunting, nine-year-old Gia would go "Zombie hunting" with her dad (which involved them going into the woods and shooting at targets hung on tree trunks depicting zombies) and used her Barbie dolls as target practice. Her father, who she lived with in rural Texas, taught Gia about the four rules of gun safety by the age of five. To those who question whether children should use guns, Gia's father stated "Tough shit. That's what we do." Her father also shared "an expression [from] Texas: 'If you know how many guns you've got, you haven't got enough.'"

What many of these stories I read or saw have in common is the importance that parents often place on teaching their children how to take care of themselves and how to safely use a firearm. Indeed, for many parents who enjoy hunting and shooting, taking their children hunting is "the most rewarding opportunit[y] in the field." They remember their child's first kill and what guns their children used. Hunting and shooting is a way for these parents to spend quality time with their children while "educat[ing] them on natural resources." Indeed, Wide Open Spaces "10 Reasons to Teach Children to Hunt" has "Bonding time," "Making a tradition," and "Teaching conservation" as the top three reasons to take children hunting.

However, there are also instances in which parents acknowledge and accept that their children are not interested in hunting or shooting. Multiple parents have stated that hunting is not for all children and that if its not for them, then there are other activities parents can engage in with their children to spend time with them.

I think by this time, any person reading my series of blog posts knows that I will not be purchasing a gun nor will I be going hunting anytime soon. I also doubt I will ever teach any of my children how to handle a gun (given that I currently have no children though, all of this is incredibly hypothetical as my posts have likely made clear I know little about guns and even less about child rearing). However, I also readily acknowledge that these statements are based on the fact that I will probably always live in a city or suburb and I would personally rather read Harry Potter with my children than go hunting. What I do wonder about though is what will happen if I ever have a child who is interested in hunting and shooting. Will I try to be supportive of their potential passion or will I not allow them to pick up a firearm while they are in my house? While currently I believe the later is more likely, I guess only time will tell.