Archive for June 2019

89 Elk Island bison heading ‘home’ to Montana Indian reservation

BILLINGS, Mont. – Descendants of a bison herd captured and sent to Canada more than 140 years ago will be relocated to a Montana American Indian reservation next month, in what tribal leaders bill as a homecoming for a species emblematic of their traditions.

The shipment of animals from Alberta’s Elk Island National Park to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation follows a 2014 treaty among tribes in the United States and Canada. That agreement aims to restore bison to areas of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains where millions once roamed.

“For thousands of years the Blackfeet lived among the buffalo here. The buffalo sustained our way of life, provided our food, clothing, shelter,” Blackfeet Chairman Harry Barnes said. “It became part of our spiritual being. We want to return the buffalo.”

The 89 plains bison, also known as buffalo, will form the nucleus of a herd that tribal leaders envision will soon roam freely across a vast landscape: the Blackfeet reservation, nearby Glacier National Park and the Badger-Two Medicine wilderness – more than 4,000 square miles combined.

Bison were hunted to near-extinction in the late 1800s as European settlers advanced across the once-open American West.

In this undated photo provided by Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives from a stereograph shows Michel Pablo looks over some of his bison, which were rounded up, sold, and shipped to the Canadian government.

Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives via AP

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Most of the animals that survive today are in commercial herds, raised for their meat and typically interbred with cattle. The Blackfeet have a commercial bison herd established in 1972 that numbers more than 400 animals.

The lineage of Elk Island’s bison, which experts say are free of cattle genes, traces back to a small group of animals captured by several American Indians on Blackfeet land just south of Canada.

Those bison were later sold to two men, Charles Allard and Michel Pablo, who formed what became known as the Pablo-Allard herd. By the early 1900s, the Pablo-Allard herd was said to be the largest collection of the animals remaining in the U.S.

After U.S. officials rejected a sale offer from Pablo, the Canadian government purchased most of the bison. The animals were then shipped train from Ravalli, Montana, to Elk Island, according to park officials and Western historians.

“They’ve made a big circle, but now they’re coming home,” said Ervin Carlson, a Blackfeet member and president of the Intertribal Buffalo Council.

The relocation comes as the restoration of genetically-pure bison to the West’s grasslands and forests have gained traction. The efforts include the relocation of some genetically-pure bison from Yellowstone National Park to two Indian reservations in eastern and central Montana.

The tribes – the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation and the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Tribes of the Fort Belknap Reservations – are signatories to the 2014 treaty. But ranchers and landowners near the reservations have strongly opposed the tribes’ plans, driven by concerns over disease and the prospect of bison competing with cattle for grass.

In this undated photo provided by Parks Canada, a bison and it’s calf roam in a section of the Elk Island National Park, Canada.

Parks Canada via AP

Brucellosis, the disease found in Yellowstone’s bison herds, is absent from Canada’s Elk Island, according to the park’s superintendent, Stephen Flemming.

“The difficulty (with Yellowstone bison) is the stigma attached to them. In this case, the animals (coming from Canada) have never been exposed to brucellosis,” said Keith Aune with the Wildlife Conservation Society, which has been working with the Blackfeet on their bison program.

Over the past five years, Flemming said, about 180 Elk Island bison were relocated to form a private herd maintained by the American Prairie Reserve, which controls a large area between the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap reservations. Those animals, too, have met some resistance from ranchers, but the absence of brucellosis has largely neutralized that issue as a point of contention.

The Blackfeet will loan 20 of the Elk Island bison to the Oakland Zoo in California for a special exhibit slated to open this fall, according to tribal officials and the zoo’s president, Joel Parrott.

Offspring from the animals would be returned to Montana, and there are plans to promote eco-tours to the Blackfeet Reservation among zoo patrons.

“Bison historically are native California animals, too,” Parrott said. “We’re going to highlight the efforts of the Blackfeet. A big part of this which is so unique is the return of buffalo to tribal lands after all these years.”

McGee Lake dump fire extinguished, now under control: fire officials

More than a dozen fire stations have been working to tackle a blaze that started at a dump site in McGee Lake, N.S., on Tuesday.

Sunday afternoon, officials confirmed that fire is now under control.

“The majority of the fire has been extinguished,” said Scott Hamilton, Deputy Fire Chief, Kentville Fire Department.

“There are still a few hot spots, so we haven’t been able to deem the fire as out at this point,” said Hamilton. “We’re in a monitoring phase.”

READ: Construction site fire prompts air quality advisory

Over the last five days, 75 volunteer firefighters in and around the Kentville, N.S., area have given their time and resources to help fight the stubborn blaze.

“This has been one longest fires that I’ve been involved in,” said Hamilton.

“We’ve estimated we’ve probably flown close to a million gallons of water in a single day and we’ve been there for five days, so potentially up to five million gallons of water have been flown on that pile of debris.”

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The fire at McGee Lake is believed to have started through spontaneous combustion. It may seem unusual, but experts say it actually happens quite frequently.

“Large piles of municipal waste, irrespective of what it is, can lead to some problems and this is a perfect example,” said Richard Buggeln, retired.

Buggeln has done years of research about spontaneous combustion and written multiple reports on the topic through the University of Tennessee Centre for Industrial Services.

Since the fire started, many in the community of Lake Echo, N.S., have been concerned about whether or not something similar could happen at a proposed construction and demolition site in their area.

A site that the community has been vocal about not wanting in their backyard.

MORE: Hundreds show up to public meeting over proposed waste site in Lake Echo

Buggeln says any site where wood waste is processed has the potential to spontaneously combust. “They have to cut up wood waste to turn it into charcoal, or to turn it into compost,” he said. “It can lead to problems unless the material is stockpiled in a way that you increase your chances of not inviting spontaneous combustion to occur.”

Buggeln believes government should ensure there are proper regulations in place around these types of sites in the future.

“People have to be trained, people meaning operators of sites and currently there’s no requirement within the province and pretty much within Canada for training,” he said.

Meanwhile, one of the things that’s kept firefighters going this week has been the support of the community. People of all ages have stepped forward to help volunteers by donating food and supplies.

Police search for 2 female suspects after man found near Belvedere LRT Station dies

EDMONTON – The homicide section was called in after a middle-aged man was found “with signs of trauma” near 129 Avenue and 58 Street.

Police would not describe the nature of the man’s injuries.

Staff Sgt. Duane Hunter said a man was driving in the area when he saw someone on the ground on the east side of the Belvedere LRT Station parking lot.

“He knew he was in bad condition,” Hunter said of the witness.

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    When officers arrived around 2:23 a.m. Sunday, the man was unconscious and “in critical condition.” He later died in hospital.

    Based on the investigation so far, Hunter said police are looking for two female suspects.

    “From our investigations up until this point, we believe there are two female suspects,” Hunter said. “From speaking to people, from interviewing people from canvassing the area.”

    They have not provided a description of the suspects.

    Police are hoping to speak with anyone who was in the area early Sunday morning. Police are also in the process of obtaining video surveillance from the LRT station.

    They are describing the death as suspicious in nature.

    “To this point, the investigation would suggest it was targeted,” Hunter said.

    Hunter said people living in the area have no reason to be concerned for their safety.

    An autopsy has been scheduled for this week.

    More to come…

World Bank providing Jordan with $100 million loan to create 100,000 jobs

AMMAN, Jordan – Jordan will get a cheap $100 million loan to help create 100,000 jobs for Syrian refugees and its own citizens, the World Bank president said Sunday.

The long-term loan, almost interest free, is part of an attempt by the international community to improve conditions for refugees in overburdened regional host countries, including Jordan and Lebanon.

More than 4.8 million Syrians have fled their country since the start of the Syria conflict in 2011. Jordan hosts about 640,000 registered Syrian refugees and Lebanon more than 1 million.

Cheap loans by the World Bank and other donors are among the new tools meant to help finance education and job creation for refugees in the region. Such support is also meant to slow the migration of refugees to Europe.

WATCH: US President Barack Obama, King Abdullah of Jordan talk Islamic State, Syria, refugees

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World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and U.N Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have been visiting the region since last week, first stopping in Lebanon.

Kim announced the $100 million loan for job creation in Jordan on Sunday, after Lebanon was also awarded $100 million to ensure universal school enrolment for Lebanese and Syrian refugee children by 2017.

The bank president said the money for Jordan and Lebanon – both middle income countries – is from a special fund normally reserved for the poorest countries.

“We are taking money from that fund and giving it to a middle income country because Jordan has taken such extraordinary measures” in hosting refugees, he said.

Kim did not say how soon the 100,000 jobs could be created and how many of them would go to refugees.

Jordan has set aside special economic zones where it hopes improved trade arrangements with Europe will lead to greater investment and eventually more jobs. However, the trade arrangements have not yet been worked out, and the entire job creation scheme is expected to take several years.

The idea of concessional loans was part of a package of support for refugees and their hosts announced at a Syria aid conference last month.

Eventually, the World Bank and other donors hope to offer $3 billion to $4 billion in cheap loans to refugee host countries, with international donors buying down interest.

Earlier Sunday, Ban held talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman. The meeting had not been announced previously.

Ban said he is concerned that “we cannot give any hope to these people, the Palestinian people” because of long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and ongoing violence.

Last week, video footage released by an Israeli rights group showed an Israeli soldier lethally shooting a Palestinian attacker who had already been shot and subdued. The incident fueled long-running complaints that Israeli forces are at times using excessive force in responding to Palestinian attacks.

The shooting came amid six months of Palestinian stabbings and other attacks that killed 28 Israelis and two Americans. In this time, at least 188 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire. Israel says most were attackers, and the rest died in clashes with Israeli security forces.

Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have not held meaningful peace talks since Netanyahu took office in 2009. Gaps remain wide between them on the terms of Palestinian statehood.

Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh said the Palestinian leader told Ban on Sunday that it’s important to convene an international conference to revive peace talks. It’s a French idea backed by the Palestinians.

Airport aims to use Uber drivers’ fingerprints to check criminal history

ATLANTA – A battle over background checks for Uber drivers at the world’s busiest airport comes as cities like Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, consider more thorough screenings to prevent criminals from getting behind the wheel.

Uber has objected to the Atlanta airport’s plan to use fingerprints to check criminal records of its drivers, saying its own record checks are sufficient.

But the district attorney in Uber’s hometown of San Francisco has called the ride-booking firm’s process “completely worthless” since drivers aren’t fingerprinted.

In Houston, city officials say they found that background checks without fingerprints allow criminals who have been charged with murder, sexual assault and other crimes to evade detection in a variety of ways.

WATCH: Uber rider reimbursed after billed for cleanup

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Atlanta’s city council on Wednesday is set to consider the airport’s plan for screening drivers for Uber, Lyft and other ride-booking firms when proposed new rules go before the council’s transportation committee.

Uber has agreements with more than 50 U.S. airports, none of which require the fingerprint-based background checks being proposed by Atlanta’ s airport, the company said in a statement. Those airports include major air hubs in Denver; Los Angeles; Memphis, Tennessee; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Salt Lake City, Utah.

READ MORE: Michigan shooting suspect says he was being controlled by Uber app

But New York City does fingerprint drivers, and the mayor of Los Angeles this month asked state regulators to allow his city to do so as well.

Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, was among the first in the nation to require drivers for Uber and other ride-booking firms to undergo fingerprint-based background checks using the FBI’s database. Houston’s program began in November 2014, and city officials there say they’re far more thorough than any other way of checking someone’s criminal past.

“Public safety is our No. 1 priority – that’s something the city of Houston does not compromise on,” said Lara Cottingham, Houston’s deputy assistant director of administration and regulatory affairs. “That’s the reason we license any vehicle for hire.”

Since Houston’s ordinance went into effect, the city’s fingerprint-based FBI background checks have found driver applicants who have been charged with murder, sexual assault, robbery and indecent exposure, among other crimes. Those drivers had already cleared the commercial background checks used by ride-for-hire companies, according to a city report released this month.

Potential drivers can pass background checks that don’t rely on fingerprints simply by using an alias, the report found. For instance, one driver cleared by a company that does background checks for Uber underwent Houston’s fingerprint check, which turned up 24 alias names, 10 listed social security numbers and an active arrest warrant, the report states.

READ MORE: Breakfast Buzz: Should taxi regulations be relaxed to match Uber?

Companies that perform background checks for ride-hailing firms typically seek to identify counties where they’ve lived in the past, then search public records from those places, the report states. But the checks don’t search every county, creating “a huge potential gap where crimes go undetected,” the report states.

“The FBI provides the only true nationwide check,” the report states.

Uber has now been operating in Houston for more than a year, “and everything we’ve seen is that the number of drivers getting licenses continues to grow and their business continues to thrive,” Cottingham said.

However, Uber maintains that Atlanta’s plan would add “substantial, additional bureaucratic barriers for drivers,” company spokesman Bill Gibbons said. Atlanta would use the Georgia Department of Driver Services to help check the backgrounds of potential drivers, though specific details of how drivers would be screened haven’t been released.

The ride-booking firm Lyft also says Atlanta’s proposal would prove difficult.

“While the Hartsfield-Jackson staff has recognized the benefits Lyft provides, the current plan as proposed will make it extremely difficult for Lyft to operate,” Lyft said in a statement to The Associated Press.

WATCH: Montreal cab driver appoints himself Uber sheriff

The conflict in Atlanta is the latest in a series of disputes Uber has had over its background checks of drivers.

In December 2014, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced a lawsuit against Uber, partly over its background checks.

In Los Angeles, “registered sex offenders, a kidnapper, identity thieves, burglars, and a convicted murderer had passed Uber’s ‘industry leading’ background check,” the lawsuit states.

“Uber’s process cannot ensure that the information in the background check report is actually associated with the applicant since it does not use a unique biometric identifier such as a fingerprint,” the lawsuit adds.