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Senators urge emergency protections for wolves

BILLINGS, Mont.— A group of Democratic lawmakers on Thursday urged the Biden administration to enact emergency protections for gray wolves in the U.S. West in response to Republican-backed state laws that make it easier to kill the predators.

Twenty-one U.S. senators led by New Jersey's Cory Booker and Michigan's Gary Peters asked Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to shield wolves from being killed for 240 days while permanent protections are considered.

With hunts in the region ongoing, a federal wildlife agency spokesperson told The Associated Press that emergency protection of wolves "remains on the table."

It's been legal to hunt and trap wolves in the U.S. Northern Rockies for more than a decade after they rebounded from widespread extermination and federal endangered species protections were lifted.

But Republican elected officials in Montana and Idaho are intent on culling more wolf packs. Wolves periodically attack livestock and also prey on elk and deer herds that many hunters prize.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last month launched a year-long review to determine if protections need to be restored. The move did nothing to protect wolves in the interim, and Yellowstone National Park administrators have since complained after three wolves from a pack popular with tourists were killed a fter roaming into Montana.

"If continued unabated for this hunting season, these extreme wolf eradication policies will result in the deaths of hundreds of gray wolves," the Democratic lawmakers said in a letter to Haaland. "The Department of Interior can prevent these senseless killings."

The letter was signed by senators including from California and Nevada in the West, but no Northern Rockies lawmakers.

Federal officials under former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump defended the 2011 decision to take wolves off the endangered list, pointing to wolf populations that remained strong despite hunting. There are more than 3,000 wolves in the region, including an estimated 1,500 in Idaho and 1,200 in Montana.

Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines suggested the Democrats pressuring Haaland should "study the data."

"Then they might know the gray wolf is thriving under state-led management," Daines said. "We should use our limited resources to protect species actually endangered."

Native American groups and environmentalists have also requested emergency listing of wolves as an endangered species. 

Federal officials said in response that temporary protections can't be enacted through the legal petitions they received from the groups. However, the Endangered Species Act gives Haaland authority to do so if she determines there's a significant threat to a species.

"Emergency listing remains on the table, if the Service sees circumstances develop that would lead us to apply that authority," Fish and Wildlife Service public affairs chief Karen Armstrong said in an email.

Thirty-six wolves have been killed in Montana since the current hunting and trapping season opened last month, according to state harvest data. While it's still early in the season, that's not out of line with past years, said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Greg Lemon.  — The Associated Press

World Series to feature Atlanta’s ‘chop’

As the World Series shifts to Atlanta, some TV viewers may be offended to see Braves fans still chopping and chanting in force.

After teams in the NFL and Major League Baseball have dropped names considered racist and offensive to Native Americans the last two years, the Braves chop on — with the support of baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred.

What matters most to Manfred is the Braves have the support of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, based in North Carolina about three hours from Atlanta.

"The Native American community in that region is wholly supportive of the Braves program, including the chop," Manfred said Tuesday. "For me, that's kind of the end of the story. In that market, we're taking into account the Native American community."

Manfred's decision to accept input from only one Native American group doesn't sit well with the Oklahoma-based Muscogee Nation.

"I think on a subject like that and when you're dealing with Indian country you have to look at it as a whole instead of one or two specific places," Jason Salsman, press secretary for the Muscogee Nation, told The Associated Press on Thursday.

"You have to look far and wide and how all Indian nations feel."

Richard Sneed, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, would like to see more outrage about what he says are far bigger issues facing Native Americans, including poverty, unemployment, child abuse, sexual assaults and suicide.

"I'm not offended by somebody waving their arm at a sports game," Sneed told the AP on Tuesday. "I'm just not. If somebody is, that's their prerogative, it's their right. They can be offended. ... I don't know very many, maybe one or two, from my tribe who say, 'Yeah, I don't like that.' But at the end of the day, we've got bigger issues to deal with."

Sneed said the problems with crime and poverty remain largely ignored when the national attention has been on team names and the tomahawk chop.

"There's just so much happening and the frustrating part for me as a tribal leader is when the only issue that seems to be discussed is ... 'How offended are you by the chop and should the Braves change their name?' ... Really, it's the least of our problems, I guess is what I'm saying."

There is no indication the Braves plan to change their name or discourage the chop, which has been a tradition for their fans since the early 1990s. Former Braves outfielder Deion Sanders is credited with bringing the chop, which was part of his college football background at Florida State, to Atlanta.

Sanders, now Jackson State's football coach, declined an interview request from the AP.

The Braves are following the lead of Florida State and the minor league Spokane Indians in nurturing relationships and developing support from local Native American groups.

The Braves temporarily attempted to deemphasize the chop in the 2019 NL Division Series against St. Louis after Cardinals reliever Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee nation, said he found it insulting.

Following Helsley's complaint, the Braves stopped distributing the red foam tomahawks used by fans doing the chop during the series. They also stopped having the accompanying music played to encourage the chant.

The coronavirus pandemic emptied stadiums and took attention away from it.

Now fans have returned and the chop is fully revived, complete with drum beats, stadium music and the tomahawk images posted on video boards around Truist Park. — The Associated Press

Trunk or Treat this holiday season

The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community is promoting the Halloween Trunk or Treat this year as an alternative to door-to-door trick or -treating.

Salt River leaders said case numbers for COVID-19 have increased by 140 percent over the last year and about 5,700 community members remain unvaccinated. More than 1,400 infections and 48 COVID-related deaths have been reported within the community since the pandemic began, according to Salt River.

So Salt River is promoting alternatives, such as virtual activities, online costume contests and pumpkin carving competitions.

"The COVID-19 virus continues to be a serious public health threat to the Community and now all COVID-19 positive cases within the Community area of the Delta variant are twice as infectious as previous strains," Salt River's leaders said.

Plus the Trunk or Treat event Saturday that will allow residents to collect prizes and treats safely from their cars.

Could a Catholic Church apology be in the works?

The Vatican is reporting that the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has invited the pope to make an apostolic journey to Canada “also in the context of the long-standing pastoral process of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”

In return, Francis “has indicated his willingness to visit the country on a date to be settled in due course,” the statement said.

The pilgrimage could be the occasion for a papal apology that has been demanded by many in Canada.

Interior guidelines for Native youth service corps

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The Interior Department issued draft guidelines Thursday for a new conservation corps that will allow Native youth to work on projects that benefit their own communities.

The department scheduled a series of consultations in late November and early December to get feedback on the guidelines from Native American tribes, Alaska Native corporations and Native Hawaiians.

The Indian Youth Service Corps was created through a bill that expanded the Public Lands Corps Act in 2019. The Interior Department was tasked with coming up with the guidelines on how it will be implemented.

Tribes and Alaska Native corporations will be able to work with the Interior, Agriculture and Commerce departments to carry out conservation projects on public land, tribal land and Hawaiian homelands. Projects can include restoring trails, removing invasive species, gardening, sampling water or soil, and preserving historic structures.

Apprentices in vocational programs could work on construction, electrical or plumbing projects.

Anyone between the ages of 16 and 30, or veterans who are 35 and younger are eligible to apply for the temporary positions.

"The Indian Youth Service Corps program has the potential to transform the lives of Indigenous youth all across our country," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a news release. "Young people are the future stewards of our lands, waters, and resources."

Congress did not appropriate funding for the program. The Interior Department said federal agencies are encouraged to redirect existing funding to support the service corps. — The Associated Press

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