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Biologists try to save ancient fish as Colorado River fades

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Biologists try to save ancient fish as Colorado River fades

PAGE, Ariz. (AP) — Barrett Friesen steers a motorboat toward the shore of Lake Powell, with the Glen Canyon Dam towering overhead. Pale “bathtub rings” line the canyon’s rocky face, starkly illustrating how water levels have slumped in the second-largest U.S. reservoir amid rising demand and a multi-year drought.

The Utah State University graduate student and colleagues are on a mission to save the humpback chub, an ancient fish under assault from nonnative predators in the Colorado River. The reservoir’s decline may soon make things worse, enabling these introduced fish to get past the dam to where the biggest groups of chub remain, farther downstream in the Grand Canyon.

On the brink of extinction decades ago, the chub has come back in modest numbers thanks to fish biologists and other scientists and engineers. But an emerging threat becomes evident in early June as Friesen hauls up minnow traps and gillnets packed with carp, gizzard shad, green sunfish and, ominously, three smallmouth bass.

“Public enemy number one,” he says as lab technician Justin Furby weighs one on a handheld scale.

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Smallmouth bass feast on humpback chub in the river’s upper section. Agencies spend millions of dollars there annually to keep those intruders in check. The native fish have been safer below Glen Canyon Dam because it blocks the path to the Lower Colorado and the Grand Canyon, some 200 miles (322 kilometers) downstream — but that may not be true for long.

Bass up in Lake Powell generally prefer warmer waters in shallow areas and at the surface. As reservoir levels drop, they are edging closer to the dam and its penstocks — submerged steel tubes that carry water to turbines, where it generates hydroelectric power and is released on the other side.

If large numbers of bass and other predator fish are sucked into the penstocks, survive and reproduce below the dam, they’ll have an open lane to attack chub and other natives, potentially unraveling years of restoration work and upending the Grand Canyon aquatic ecosystem.

That stretch of river is the only place native fish still dominate the system, said Brian Healy, fisheries biologist for Grand Canyon National Park. “(It) is very unique and we want to keep it that way,” he said.

The dam’s completion in 1963 was a primary reason the chub nearly died out in the river they had inhabited for millions of years. The concrete barrier disrupted water flow, temperatures and sediments where the fish spawned. The chub is resilient but hasn’t evolved to withstand sudden introduction of predatory sport fish.

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Although biologically a minnow, the humpback chub can reach 20 inches (51 centimeters) and 2.5 pounds (1.1 kilograms). Silver-sided and white-bellied, with a greenish streak on its back and a distinctive lump behind its head, it prefers calm eddy waters where it feeds on insects.

Its only predator in the Colorado was another native, the pikeminnow, until trout were introduced in the early 20th century to create a sport fishery. Smallmouth bass, even more voracious, arrived in the 1990s.

The chub has gained ground since its listing as endangered in 1967, with about 12,000 in the Grand Canyon’s Little Colorado River, a tributary of the Colorado. Scientists estimate thousands more inhabit the main river farther downstream.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last year loosened its designation to threatened — no longer a step away from extinction, but still highly vulnerable. Some environmental groups disagree, calling the move premature as the river’s plunge heightens predation danger.

As early as this fall, significant numbers of bass and other nonnatives could slip out through the dam, said Charles Yackulic, a U.S. Geological Survey statistician who has developed computer models of the threat.

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Under the Endangered Species Act, government agencies are required to operate in ways that will not “jeopardize the continued existence” of listed animals. That includes infrastructure.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, a branch of the Department of the Interior which operates the dam, is funding Friesen’s fieldwork under Utah State’s Fish Ecology Lab. The team catches fish, notes length and weight, and examines stomachs to see what fish are eating. Their findings about non-natives near the dam will help federal, state and tribal policymakers fine-tune their strategy. A technical team advising policy makers is expected to release a draft plan containing solutions in August.

One measure under consideration if nonnative predators get through the dam is deploying crews to catch as many as possible. They already do that with brown trout upstream, Yackulic said. But it’s expensive and not always successful. Native American tribes such as the Pueblo of Zuni consider the Glen Canyon area sacred and oppose killing fish there, any fish.

“Zuni do not necessarily make distinctions between native and nonnative life forms,” said Arden Kucate, a tribal councilman. “Strong stewardship is very much needed, a philosophy that recognizes and treats all nonhuman life forms as sentient beings.”

Other options include penning off areas downstream from the dam where chub congregate or installing structures such as “bubble curtains” to keep nonnatives in Lake Powell away from the penstocks.

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Or cold water also could be released from jet tubes deep in the dam to disrupt smallmouth bass spawning downstream, a move that has been successful in other rivers.

“We can use the dam essentially as a tool,” said Clarence Fullard, a Bureau of Reclamation fish biologist.

That move, however, would sacrifice hydropower generation. To address that, turbines could be installed at the jet tubes — but that would require congressional approval. These steps also depend on having enough cool water in the river. Levels at Lake Powell had been relatively stable for some 15 years, but since 2020, have fallen dramatically.

“Where is the water going to come from to support those needed flows?” said Anne Castle, a senior fellow with the University of Colorado law school and a former assistant U.S. Interior secretary for water and science.

Wayne Pullan, who oversees the Upper Colorado Basin for the Bureau of Reclamation, declined to speculate, although in recent years, states, tribes and Mexico have taken cuts to their supply, both voluntary and forced.

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“We’re going to rely on those extraordinary relationships and the history we have of cooperation on the river to come up with solutions,” Pullan said.

In a worst case scenario Lake Powell falls so far that water doesn’t flow past the dam beyond a trickle, a condition known as “deadpool.” It may be unlikely in the next few years, but planners should be looking ahead to “a future in which Lake Powell ceases to exist,” said Taylor McKinnon, senior public lands campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity, an advocacy group.

The prospect is real enough that the Department of Interior is discussing how to protect native fish if that happens, Pullan said.

Humpback chub wouldn’t be the only victims, McKinnon said. Deadpool also would slash Southwest communities’ water supplies.

“That is a signal of our own self-destruction,” he said.

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Flesher reported from Traverse City, Michigan.

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The Associated Press receives support from the Walton Family Foundation for coverage of water and environmental policy. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s environmental coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/environment

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‘Romney Republican’ now GOP primary attack…

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‘Romney Republican’ now GOP primary attack…

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Mitt Romney isn’t up for reelection this year. But Trump-aligned Republicans hostile toward the Utah senator have made his name a recurring theme in this year’s primaries, using him as a foil and derisively branding their rivals “Mitt Romney Republicans.”

Republicans have used the concept to frame their primary opponents as enemies of the Trump-era GOP in southeast Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The anti-tax group Club For Growth, among the most active super PACs in this year’s primaries, used “Mitt Romney Republican” as the central premise of an attack ad in North Carolina’s Senate primary.

But nowhere are references to Romney Republicanism as common as they are in Utah. Despite his popularity with many residents here, candidates are repeatedly deploying “Mitt Romney Republican” as a campaign trail attack in the lead-up to Tuesday’s Republican primary.

“There are two different wings in the Republican Party,” Chris Herrod, a former state lawmaker running in suburban Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, said in a debate last month.

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“If you’re more aligned with Mitt Romney and Spencer Cox,” he added, referring to Utah’s governor, “then I’m probably not your guy.”

The fact that his brand has become potent attack fodder reflect how singular Romney’s position is in U.S. politics: He’s the only senator with the nationwide name recognition that comes from running for president and the only Republican who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump twice.

“It’s kind of a puzzlement, actually,” said Becky Edwards, an anti-Trump Republican running in Utah’s Senate primary.

As one of the most famous members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Romney is revered by many in Utah, where the church is a dominant presence in politics and culture. He won praise for turning around Salt Lake City’s 2002 Winter Olympics after a bribery scandal. After moving to Utah full-time more than a decade ago, he breezed to victory in the state’s Senate race in 2018. He did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

Herrod, who went to Las Vegas to campaign for Romney in 2012, said in an interview that referring to Romney was effective shorthand — a way to tell voters about his own belief system as well as that of incumbent Republican Rep. John Curtis. Herrod has attacked Curtis for his positions on energy policy and for founding Congress’ Conservative Climate Caucus.

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“In the midst of a campaign, it’s kind of tough to draw a line. I just put it in terms I thought people would understand,” Herrod said.

The Curtis campaign said the congressman was more focused on legislation and passing bills than branding. “Congressman Curtis doesn’t spend his time labeling himself or other Republicans,” his campaign manager, Adrielle Herring, said in a statement.

Much like Herrod, Andrew Badger, a candidate running in northern Utah’s 1st Congressional District, frames his primary campaign as a “tug of war” between two competing factions within the Republican Party. He describes one as the moderate, compromise-friendly wing embodied by Romney and the other as the conservative wing embodied by Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a frequent guest of FOX News who is often the Senate’s lone “no” vote.

Both Badger and Herrod acknowledge attacking Romney may turn off some voters, four years after he easily defeated a right-wing state lawmaker in Utah’s Republican primary and a Democrat in the general election. But they question the durability of his support given how the last six years have broadly transformed Republican politics.

“There’s a lot more frustration, and it’s only building. I don’t think he would win in a vote today, certainly not in a Republican primary,” Badger said.

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Badger in his campaign has focused on simmering outrage stemming from the 2020 election and anger over coronavirus mandates and how race, gender and sexuality are taught in K-12 schools. He has attempted to draw a direct line between Romney and his opponent, incumbent Rep. Blake Moore, by attacking Moore for being one of 35 House Republicans to vote to create an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection.

In a district where support for Trump remains strong, he’s likened Moore’s vote to Romney’s two votes in favor of impeachment.

“These folks like Mitt Romney and Blake Moore, they always cave to the left when the pressure gets turned on them,” Badger said. “We’re not going to compromise for the sake of compromise.”

Moore did not vote for impeachment. After the Senate scuttled the commission, Moore, along with all but two House Republicans, voted against the creation of the Jan. 6 select committee that ultimately convened.

In response to Moore being labeled a “Mitt Romney Republican,” Caroline Tucker, the congressman’s campaign spokesperson, said he could be best described a “Big Tent Republican” who doesn’t think the process of lawmaking requires abandoning his conservative principles.

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Jason Perry, director of University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, said the label “Mitt Romney Republican” may appeal to some Republican primary voters, but given Romney’s popularity, it likely won’t work in Utah, he said.

“They’re appealing to a segment of the Republican Party but probably do not have the numbers on that far-right side to be successful,” Perry said.

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Pro-life is not just opposing abortion, Vatican says after U.S. ruling

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Pro-life is not just opposing abortion, Vatican says after U.S. ruling

Anti-abortion demonstrators and abortion rights supporters protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court the day after the United States Supreme Court ruled in the Dobbs v Women’s Health Organization abortion case, overturning the landmark Roe v Wade abortion decision, in Washington, U.S., June 25, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

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June 25 (Reuters) – Anti-abortion activists should be concerned with other issues that can threaten life, such as easy access to guns, poverty and rising maternity mortality rates, the Vatican’s editorial director said on Saturday.

In a media editorial on the United States Supreme Court’s ruling to end the constitutional right to abortion, Andrea Tornielli said those who oppose abortion could not pick and choose pro-life issues. read more

“Being for life, always, for example, means being concerned if the mortality rates of women due to motherhood increase,” he wrote.

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He cited statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing a rise in maternity mortality rates overall and that the rate was nearly three times higher for black women.

“Being for life, always, means asking how to help women welcome new life,” he wrote, citing an unsourced statistic that 75% of women who have abortions live in poverty or are low-wage earners.

He also cited statistics from the Harvard Review of Psychiatry showing that the United States has much lower rates of paid parental leave compared with other rich nations.

“Being for life, always, also means defending it against the threat of firearms, which unfortunately have become a leading cause of death of children and adolescents in the U.S.” he wrote.

The Roman Catholic church teaches that abortion is murder because life begins at the moment of conception and ends with natural death.

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Pope Francis has compared having an abortion to “hiring a hit man” to eliminate a problematic person.

But he has tried to steer the U.S. Catholic Church away from seeing abortion as the single, overarching life issue in the country’s so-called culture wars.

The death penalty, gun control, support for families, and immigration are also life issues, he has said.

The Vatican’s Academy for Life praised Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, saying it challenged the world to reflect on life issues, but also called for social changes to help women keep their children. read more

U.S. President Joe Biden, a lifelong Catholic, condemned the ruling, calling it a “sad day” for America and labelling the court’s conservatives as “extreme”.

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Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mike Harrison

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Supreme Court ‘Misleadingly Quotes Me’ in Abortion Ruling: Law Professor

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Supreme Court ‘Misleadingly Quotes Me’ in Abortion Ruling: Law Professor

Laurence Tribe, a Harvard professor of constitutional law, accused the conservative Supreme Court majority of “misleadingly” utilizing his quotes in its controversial Friday decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Conservative Associate Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The ruling in that case brought an end to nearly five decades of Supreme Court precedent—overturning the landmark 1973 Roe decision and bringing an end to woman’s constitutionally protected right to an abortion.

“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences,” Alito argued in his opinion.

Four of the top court’s justices concurred with Alito’s opinion, while Chief Justice John Roberts concurred with upholding the 15-week abortion ban of Dobbs, but took issue with fully overturning Roe. The Court’s three liberal justices together issued a dissenting opinion.

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Tribe, who has been harshly critical of the Supreme Court’s decision, said the conservative majority opinion misused his quotes to justify its arguments overturning Roe.

The Dobbs majority misleadingly quotes me on pages 50 and 54 in straining to justify a decision the dissent rightly calls an exercise in “power, not reason.” Don’t be fooled. The writings from which the Court cherry-picked my quotes were totally supportive of the result in Roe.

— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) June 25, 2022

“The Dobbs majority misleadingly quotes me on pages 50 and 54 in straining to justify a decision the dissent rightly calls an exercise in ‘power, not reason.’ Don’t be fooled. The writings from which the Court cherry-picked my quotes were totally supportive of the result in Roe,” the constitutional law expert wrote in a Friday evening Twitter post.

On page 50, the conservative majority opinion states: “As Professor Laurence Tribe has written, ‘[c]learly, this mistakes ‘a definition for a syllogism.’ Tribe 4 (quoting Ely 924). The definition of a ‘viable’ fetus is one that is capable of surviving outside the womb, but why is this the point at which the State’s interest becomes compelling?”

On page 54, it quotes Tribe again, stating: “Laurence Tribe wrote that ‘even if there is a need to divide pregnancy into several segments with lines that clearly identify the limits of governmental power, ‘interest-balancing’ of the form the Court pursues fails to justify any of the lines actually drawn.”

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Protest at Supreme Court
Constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe accused the Supreme Court on Friday of misleadingly using his quotes in its majority opinion overturning “Roe v. Wade.” Above, abortion-rights demonstrators protest in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on Saturday.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images

Newsweek reached out to the Supreme Court’s press office for comment.

“Three men — Presidents GHW Bush (Justice Thomas), GW Bush (Justices Alito, Roberts), Trump (Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Alito) — two of whom won with a minority of the popular vote — have done this to tens of millions of women and to the rule of law. This must be undone,” Tribe wrote in a follow-up Friday evening Twitter post.

Three men — Presidents GHW Bush (Justice Thomas), GW Bush (Justices Alito, Roberts), Trump (Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Alito) — two of whom won with a minority of the popular vote — have done this to tens of millions of women and to the rule of law. This must be undone.

— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) June 25, 2022

Protests have broken out across the country in the wake of the controversial ruling. Multiple states quickly implemented so-called “trigger laws,” which were in place and ready to go the moment Roe was overturned. Meanwhile, states that have already protected legal abortions have taken steps to make them easier to access to women traveling across state lines.

Former President Donald Trump hailed the decision and took credit, describing the ruling as “the biggest WIN for LIFE in a generation” in a statement. He said it was “only made possible because I delivered everything as promised, including nominating and getting three highly respected and strong Constitutionalists confirmed to the United States Supreme Court.”

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden slammed the decision.

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“Now, with Roe gone, let’s be very clear: The health and life of women in this nation are now at risk,” Biden said in a Friday address at the White House. The president went on to say that the nation’s top court “has done what it has never done before: expressly take away a constitutional right that is so fundamental to so many Americans that had already been recognized.”

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