Lumber is adding $34,000 to the cost of a new house: BofA report

Lumber is adding $34,000 to the cost of a new house: Bank of America report.

Ihsaan Fanusie            June 9, 2021


Rising lumber prices have contributed significantly to the increase in home prices, according to a new Bank of America (BAC) Global Research Report.

The report analyzed recent data on the housing market. Its key findings included record-tight supply and low affordability, the overheating of the housing market as a whole, and high construction costs.

Among these high construction costs is the price of lumber. Lumber prices have spiked in 2021, driving up housing prices even higher. “Given the rapid rise in lumber prices,” the report says, “the total cost of lumber and manufactured lumber products for an average single family home has soared 184% from April 2020 to April 2021, rising to $48,316.”

[Read more: How record-high lumber prices are making new homes less affordable]

The report found that the spike in lumber and related materials has added over $34K to the price of a new home over the past year. “The sharp gains in builder costs are starting to hold back production,” it stated. With lower production, sales inevitably have begun to decrease and prices have continued to rise.

Pending home sales also dropped substantially in April. The National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) Pending Home Sales Index, fell 4.4% from the previous month.

[Read more: Why buying a house will cost even more than you think]

Pent-up demand which accumulated over the course of the pandemic disrupted the housing market in 2021 as restrictions were lifted and people began to look for new homes.

DORAL, FLORIDA - MAY 27: Enrique Matamoros shops for lumber at a Home Depot store on May 27, 2021 in Doral, Florida. According to the National Association of Home Builders, lumber prices went up 300% last year. Factors driving the price increase are more demand and growing production, labor, and transportation costs. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
DORAL, FLORIDA – MAY 27: Enrique Matamoros shops for lumber at a Home Depot store on May 27, 2021 in Doral, Florida. According to the National Association of Home Builders, lumber prices went up 300% last year. Factors driving the price increase are more demand and growing production, labor, and transportation costs. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)


“Demand for housing climbed higher in the months following the onset of the pandemic, leaving existing home sales to reach a peak of 6.7 million saar in October, the highest since 2006,” the report explains. “This has left builders to scramble to respond, sending building permits to a high of 1.9 million saar in January. The result: home prices and building costs have surged higher.”

Developer officially cancels Keystone XL pipeline project blocked by Biden

Developer officially cancels Keystone XL pipeline project blocked by Biden


A TC Energy pump station sits behind mounds of dirt from the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline as it lies idle near Oyen.


(Reuters) -A $9 billion oil pipeline that became a symbol of the rising political clout of climate change advocates and a flash point in U.S.-Canada relations was officially canceled on Wednesday.

Keystone XL, which was proposed in 2008 to bring oil from Canada’s Western tar sands to U.S. refiners, was halted by owner TC Energy Corp after U.S. President Joe Biden this year revoked a key permit needed for a U.S. stretch of the 1,200-mile project.

Opponents of the line fought its construction for years, saying it was unnecessary and would hamper the U.S. transition to cleaner fuels. Its demise comes as other North American oil pipelines, including Dakota Access and Enbridge Line 3, face continued opposition from environmental groups. ​

“This is a landmark moment in the fight against the climate crisis,” said Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re hopeful that the Biden administration will continue to shift this country in the right direction by opposing fossil fuel projects.”

The Keystone XL pipeline was expected to carry 830,000 barrels per day of Alberta oil sands crude to Nebraska, but the project was delayed for the past 12 years due to opposition from U.S. landowners, Native American tribes and environmentalists.

TC Energy owns the existing Keystone oil pipeline, which runs from Alberta to the U.S. oil storage hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, and to the U.S. Gulf, along with a power and storage business. It pledged to ensure a safe termination of the project.

“We remain disappointed and frustrated with the circumstances surrounding the Keystone XL project, including the cancellation of the presidential permit for the pipeline’s border crossing,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said in a statement.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump had approved a permit for the line in 2017, but it continued to face legal challenges that hampered construction. Biden had committed to canceling the project during his campaign and revoked the permit soon after taking office.

TC Energy swung to a loss in the first quarter, hit by C$2.2 billion ($1.81 billion) impairment charge related to the suspension of Keystone XL.

Its shares closed largely flat on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

(Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli, Anil D’Silva and Lincoln Feast.)

How Third-Party Auditors Make Oil Industry Fraud Possible


How Third-Party Auditors Make Oil Industry Fraud Possible

The accounting companies hired by oil companies to evaluate their inflated financial claims are on the hook from investors frustrated by the lack of accountability.
By Justin Milulka                                    

An offshore drilling platform in the distance at sunset with mountains behind.Oil or gas platform in Cook Inlet, Alaska Range Credit: sf-dvs <ahref=”https:”” licenses=”” by=”” 2.0=”” “=””>(CC BY 2.0)</ahref=”https:>

Major accounting firm KPMG is under fire from investors who filed a class action lawsuit against the firm for overstating the asset values of now-defunct oil exploration company Miller Energy Resources. And last month, a judge dismissed KPMG’s attempt to have the case thrown out.

At issue in the lawsuit, filed in 2016, is a $4.55 million purchase by Miller Energy in 2009 for land and offshore oil assets in Alaska which included existing oil production infrastructure. Miller Energy then claimed those same assets were worth approximately half a billion dollars, a claim which would require approval by third-party auditors.

But according to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the property and old oil infrastructure in Alaska was worth only a fraction of those claims; inflating its value beyond its worth amounted to fraud, according to the SEC. The SEC stated that “Miller Energy overvalued the Alaska assets by more than $400 million.” But the oil company wasn’t the only one at fault, said the SEC. In January 2016, the SEC sent a cease and desist order for Miller Energy detailing the major fraud case and focusing in part on the role that third-party auditors such as KPMG played in making it possible.

The onshore and offshore Alaskan oil assets purchased by Miller Energy had been abandoned by the previous owner because the asset retirement obligations (AROs) — the amount of money required to properly decommission the existing assets — were likely greater than the value of the remaining oil in the ground. The property was essentially worthless once the cost of the AROs was considered. But Miller Energy then told the SEC in 2010 that property was worth half a billion dollars and KPMG signed off on that estimate for several years, starting in 2011.

In an August 2017 cease and desist order for KPMG, the SEC summarized the extent of KPMG’s failure to perform a valid audit of Miller Energy:

“[T]he KPMG engagement team performed an inadequate assessment of the risks associated with the Miller Energy engagement. Among other things, KPMG’s initial evaluation, which was completed by Riordan and approved by KPMG management, failed to adequately consider Miller Energy’s bargain purchase, its recent history as a penny-stock company, its lack of experienced executives and qualified accounting staff, its existing material weaknesses in internal control over financial reporting, its long history of reported financial losses, and its pressing need to obtain financing to operate the newly acquired Alaska Assets.”

The Miller Energy executive who signed off on the overvaluation ultimately paid an SEC fine of $125,000, while KPMG was fined $1 million.

Oil reserves fraud — in which companies overestimate the amount of oil that can be produced from their assets — has been recognized as a growing problem in the oil and gas industry, as DeSmog has previously reported. But in order for companies to succeed in convincing investors of their incredible claims, it is critical to have independent third-party auditors — like KPMG — to support these claims.

A Seal of Approval on Fraud

Having third-party professionals sign off on corporate financial reporting is a standard part of doing business. The idea is to have independent parties verify that the reports are accurate. When companies are engaged in fraud, getting an apparently reputable third party to put its name on the financial reporting is one way to hide the fraudulent dealings, while also offering plausible deniability to those committing the fraud.

Much like the role of Enron’s auditor, the major accounting firm Arthur Andersen, whose “audits were meant to, and did, act as a seal of approval, a willingness to put a stamp of good practice on Enron transactions,” as Slate described in 2002, Miller Energy found a third party to sign off on its questionable financials: the small firm Sherb & Co.

And just like that seal of approval by a supposedly independent auditor ended up being the downfall of Arthur Andersen — then part of The Big Five accounting firms in the U.S. — and saw Enron’s top executives go to prison, so too are Miller Energy and its auditors’ activities now under scrutiny.

Sherb & Co. completed audits for Miller Energy in 2009 and 2010. Then, in 2013, the SEC found “that Sherb & Co. LLP and its auditors falsely represented in audit reports that they had conducted the audits in accordance with U.S. auditing standards when in fact they were riddled with failures and improper professional conduct.”

But by that time Miller Energy had switched, in 2011, to a new auditing firm to validate the claim that the land and oil infrastructure the company purchased in Alaska was worth one hundred times what it paid for it: Big Four accounting firm KPMG.

SEC and Miller Energy

In August 2017, the SEC charged KPMG with “audit failures” in its work with Miller Energy.

“Auditing firms must fully comprehend the industries of their clients. KPMG retained a new client and failed to grasp how it valued oil and gas properties, resulting in investors being misinformed that properties purchased for less than $5 million were worth a half-billion dollars,” Walter E. Jospin, Director of the SEC’s Atlanta Regional Office, said in a statement at the time.

The SEC’s 2016 order against Miller Energy recounted the details of a 2010 call in which the management discussed how to validate the oil company’s inflated asset valuations. On that call, the Miller Energy CFO reportedly told the other participants that “a professional had to sign off on it, not us, some third party…”

"Upon hearing the news that a new report might take two to three weeks, Alaska personnel, including the Alaska CEO, called the CFO. According to one participant on this call, the CFO said he could not wait weeks for a new report. He “needed it quickly and he needed to base it on something . . . a professional had to sign off on it, not us, some third party. . . .” During the call, the CFO and the Alaska CEO decided to rely on numbers in the insurance report as replacement costs, despite the Alaska CEO having been told by the broker that it could not provide Miller Energy with replacement costs."
Source: SEC Cease and Desist Order to Miller Energy, January 12, 2016

Financial reporting at the heart of the matter in 2010 showed an increase in asset value of over $490 million for Miller Energy, compared to 2009 when the company had assets of less than $10 million. Essentially, the company’s entire value in 2010 was attributable to the Alaskan assets.

Miller Energy 2010 Financial Statement. Source: SEC filing

Both Sherb & Co, and later KPMG, audited and approved that valuation.

Then, in April 2011 the SEC sent a letter to Miller Energy with some questions about its annual 10-K filing from the previous year, first asking the oil company to explain its valuation of the Alaskan property.

Starting with its response to this question, Miller Energy went all-in on its fraudulent claims and shielded itself with the veneer of credibility from a Big Four accounting firm.

“The Management is Incompetent” 

According to SEC documents, KPMG was retained as Miller Energy’s independent auditor on February 1, 2011. Two months later, on April 13, executives for the oil exploration firm rang the opening bell on the stock market floor as the company was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. It was a big moment for a company with no history of profits and that had been trading as a penny stock before the Alaska purchase.

That day, Miller Energy CEO Scott Boruff gave an interview on the trading floor, mentioning his company’s “explosive growth” and its bright future prospects. Boruff was paid $7.6 million in 2011.

Boruff was joined that day by company founder Delroy Miller, who also happened to be his father-in-law. While this arrangement apparently didn’t raise any questions with auditors, in 2014 their relationship was flagged in more SEC correspondence from “Concerned Miller Shareholders (CMS)”:

“In the absence of proper qualifications, CMS has raised reasonable questions surrounding Mr. Boruff’s appointment as Miller’s CEO and specifically, whether it was motivated by his close familial ties to the Company’s founder.”

Boruff had no oil industry experience before being appointed in 2008 as CEO by his father-in-law. However, Boruff did have experience with companies involved in financial fraud, as lawyers for CMS noted.

According to CMS correspondence with the SEC, in a section titled “The Management is Incompetent,” Boruff had previously worked at the firm GunnAllen Financial, leaving in October 2006, and that “GunnAllen has since been closed by regulators [in 2010] and entered bankruptcy in the wake of investor lawsuits and allegations of a major Ponzi scheme involving Provident Asset Management.”

Provident was a good old-fashioned Ponzi scheme, promising investors eye-popping 18 percent returns from oil and gas royalties. In reality, however, the company paid those returns with money coming from new investors. The scam involved almost a half-billion dollars.

But Boruff, who worked as a broker at GunnAllen, was not charged in that Ponzi scheme. Instead of distancing himself from it, however, as the new head of Miller Energy, he hired Darren Gibson in 2009, who according to documents sent to the SEC, “was Provident’s former National Sales Director during the alleged Ponzi scheme.”

Announcing the new hire in a press release, Boruff said “[Gibson]’s proven track record in raising capital will allow Miller to aggressively pursue our acquisition and drilling program goals.”

But Boruff and Gibson’s proven track record should have raised red flags to auditors evaluating the company’s financial records, especially given the pair’s lack of oil and gas industry experience.

Despite all this, KPMG continued rubber-stamping Miller’s financial statements even after the concerned shareholders had been communicating with the SEC.

Reserves Fraud and Asset Retirement Obligations

As DeSmog has reported, oil and gas companies inflating the values or volumes of their reserves estimates lies at the heart of much of the fraud now surfacing in the industry. Miller Energy is just one example of many.

Another major factor is how oil companies get around financial obligations to clean up their old wells and surrounding lands after they are done extracting oil and gas — known in the industry as asset retirement obligations (AROs). These obligations are increasingly becoming an issue as oil and gas companies try to sell old assets because the cleanup liabilities are likely greater than the value of the oil and gas. This was the case with Miller Energy.

The asset retirement obligations for the Alaskan property Miller acquired were the reason why no one else wanted to buy it.

In July 2010, the SEC asked questions about Miller’s AROs and noted that in 2009, “a third party report had indicated that the AROs for these assets were $41 million.”

Miller Energy’s finances were rife with red flags. Enough even to get one engineering firm, with prior experience with the Alaskan property Miller purchased, to walk away. According to the SEC, this was because the firm “refused to assign any value to a property known as the Redoubt Shoal field [a major part of the Alaskan assets Miller acquired, which was then valued at $291 million by Miller], because it was uneconomical … and the prior firm had explained that it would not put its ‘name on a report that implies value exists where it likely does not.’”

After its Alaska deal, Miller Energy not only needed an auditor to give its seal of approval to claims that its property and oil infrastructure in Alaska had some value, it would require an auditor to agree it was worth half a billion dollars. KPMG was willing to do this.

Third-Party Auditors and KPMG

In 2017, the SEC laid out the many failures of KPMG in the Miller Energy case, including that the evidence that something was wrong should have been obvious to anyone who knew to look for it: “All of these facts were readily ascertainable from the publicly available bankruptcy records of the prior owner of the Alaska Assets. If they had reviewed those records, KPMG would have learned that their understanding of the facts leading to the acquisition was inaccurate.”

The SEC also noted that, like the CEO of Miller Energy, the partner whom KPMG put in charge of the audit, John Riordan, lacked relevant oil and gas industry experience, “resulting in departures from professional standards.”

But the issue was not just one partner at KPMG, according to the SEC, which noted that company management and national personnel “became aware of the unusual and highly material prior-year transaction,” yet “the firm did not take sufficient action.”

KPMG 2015 Audit Quality Report 


As the SEC also noted in this case, due diligence requires an auditor to exercise professional skepticism — something the Miller valuation should have raised. Yet in 2011, when the financial website Street Sweeper published research challenging Miller Energy’s financial claims, KPMG chose to overlook those red flags as well, says the SEC. Now defunct, Street Sweeper was known for reporting on “over-valued, over-hyped stocks on Wall Street.”

The SEC noted that KPMG’s Department of Professional Practices (DPP), which was responsible for developing the firm’s internal auditing standards and guidance, failed to step in despite its knowledge of the Miller Energy case.

The SEC concluded that “DPP’s decision not to inquire further about the valuation of the Alaska Assets was unreasonable in light of the circumstances.” It also added that once KPMG learned of the 2011 Street Sweeper report, the department should have provided oversight of both Miller’s assessment and its own company procedures for the valuation.

In August 2017, the SEC found KPMG guilty of a long list of violations with regard to its audits of Miller Energy, including “lack of competence” and “highly unreasonable conduct.”

While not specifically implicated in the Miller Energy audit, David Middendorf, the former head of KPMG’s DPP where he was responsible for “audit quality and professional practice,” was sentenced to prison in 2019 for his part in trying to cover up KPMG’s dismal auditing results from 2013 and 2014.

After being misled about the oil company’s financial realities, many investors in Miller Energy lost their entire investments, which is why they are now suing KPMG.

Investors Lose, Fraudsters Walk Away 

In the end, the SEC settled the charges against KPMG and John Riordan, its partner overseeing the case. KPMG agreed to give back the money it earned from working for Miller Energy, which was a little over $5 million when interest was included. Additionally, KPMG paid a civil penalty of $1 million while Riordan was fined $25,000. Riordan remained a partner at KPMG until he retired in 2020.

KPMG did not respond to a request for comment on whether anyone at KPMG was held accountable for their role in the Miller Energy audit.

Miller Energy was also fined $5 million, but due to its 2015 bankruptcy, it is not clear if that amount was ever paid in full during the three years it had to make the payments. In 2016, the company was reorganized into new entities controlled by Apollo Investment Corporation.

The SEC did not respond to a request for information on the status of that payment.

For their roles in the fraud, Miller’s CFO Paul Boyd and COO David Hall were both personally fined $125,000.

Scott Boruff, the CEO who oversaw all of the fraudulent activity, was not fined. After leaving Miller Energy in March 2016 when the bankruptcy was finalized, Boruff was sued by his father-in-law for failure to repay a $6 million personal loan.

Meanwhile, defrauded investors have turned to a lawsuit against KPMG to try to recoup their losses. That lawsuit is now expected to proceed next year.

Jeffrey Skilling, CEO of Enron, spent 14 years in jail for misleading investors. Arthur Andersen ceased to exist as one of the Big Five accounting firms due to its role in the Enron fraud. Meanwhile, Miller Energy executives and KPMG have essentially walked away with fines irrelevant to the scale of the fraud.

The oil company executives who oversaw the company during this fraud kept the money they were paid.

As this case and many others make clear, there is little incentive for oil industry executives to play by the rules when a company can engage in blatant fraud, get caught, and suffer almost no consequences. However, these frauds require the help of a third-party auditor willing to look the other way.

And while there are clearly auditors and engineering firms who will not put their “name on a report that implies value exists where it likely does not,” as the SEC wrote, there are plenty of others who will — including some of the biggest names in the business.

Justin Mikulka is a freelance investigative journalist. Justin has a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Cornell University.

Rural Arizona residents wait as wildfire spreads uncontained

Rural Arizona residents wait as wildfire spreads uncontained


PHOENIX (AP) — Firefighters in Arizona were fighting Tuesday to gain a foothold into a massive wildfire, one of two that has forced thousands of evacuations in rural towns and closed almost every major highway out of the area.

The so-called Telegraph Fire, straddling two counties, has burned 112 square miles (290 square kilometers) and is at zero containment. The blaze was first reported Friday south of Superior in Pinal County, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) east of Phoenix.

Residents in neighboring Gila County, which includes Globe, Miami and smaller communities, have been in various stages of the evacuation process. The town of Miami is among those under an evacuation order.

Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers confirmed that a family home he owns in the woods southeast of the Globe-Miami area burned down overnight. He toured the gutted property Tuesday. The home was not his primary residence but a family retreat, said Andrew Wilder, a spokesman for House Republicans. Bowers, who lives in Mesa, would go there weekly and often do his artwork.

At least 2,500 homes in Gila County have been evacuated, said Carl Melford, the county emergency manager. He estimated that there are twice as many households who are in “set” mode with bags packed just in case.

“Over the past three years, we’ve had some pretty extreme fire seasons,” said Melford, who has bags at his front door. “We’ve become very familiar with the process, with what it takes to evacuate a community. But this is the largest evacuation to date.”

Becky Stephenson, 37, whose Globe home sits on a hill near the U.S. Highway 60, is feet away from a zone under “set” status. Still, she decided to have essentials, including her pet parrot, Buddy, and his travel cage, ready to go.

Watching flames climb trees Monday night from her home as the fire made its way into the Pinal Mountains and create an eerie orange glow was surreal, Stephenson said.

“Honestly, it just makes me feel like I can’t wait till they get it under control and I can go out and start helping them revegetate,” said Stephenson, who is a plant biologist. “It’s just really sad to think about all of the torched plants and all of animals that lost their habitat during breeding season.”

Meanwhile, Superior residents remain in “set” mode. But about 400 people in nearby Top-Of-The-World have been evacuated, said Lauren Reimer, a Pinal County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman.

Officials with the American Red Cross say 90 residents in total stayed Monday at shelters in Globe and Mesa.

Nearly 750 firefighters are working on the blaze, which gained momentum in the past few days thanks to gusty winds and low humidity. The Southwest Area Type 1 Incident Management Team, the highest tier, is conducting some controlled fires and dropping flame retardant by air in other areas.

Dean McAlister, a spokesman for the fire’s incident command center, said crews were having success as of Tuesday afternoon holding the fire at bay in some places. They are closely monitoring a constructed fire line that on the fire’s east side.

“The intent is to try to create a catcher’s mitt to trap the fire as it continues to move east, and our intent is to try to stop the fire before it gets any further into the Globe area,” McAlister said.

The fire was human-caused. But fire officials have not shared further details.

Several miles east of the wildfire, the smaller Mescal Fire was at 23% containment Tuesday. Fire officials lifted evacuation orders for residents of the community of San Carlos and in the areas of Soda Canyon and Coyote Flats. But the community of East El Capitan was still on mandatory evacuation.

The fire has burned nearly 105 square miles (13 square kilometers) — mostly desert brush, oak and grass. It was first reported June 2 southeast of Globe.

The cause is still under investigation.

Meanwhile, in northern Arizona a much smaller wildfire closed a stretch of U.S. Highway 180 on Tuesday. The fire, only 2 square miles (5 square kilometers), was reported Monday 23 miles (37 kilometers) northwest of Flagstaff. The cause is unknown. ____

Associated Press writers Bob Christie and Paul Davenport in Phoenix contributed to this report.

Salmon face extinction throughout the US west. Blame these four dams

Salmon face extinction throughout the US west. Blame these four dams


Knee-deep in the rumbling waters of Rapid River in western Idaho, Mike Tuell guided his dip net between boulders and tree branches in search of the calm pockets where salmon rest.


It was a Tuesday evening in May, and his first time out fishing this season. The spring-summer Chinook were just beginning their treacherous journey back to their natal spawning areas.

His shoulders tensed as he pushed the net deeper. With each passing stroke, Tuell, 53, a member of the Nez Perce tribe, settled into a rhythm with his net, becoming less an intruder on the river and more a natural part of its ecosystem.

Crouched on the rocks behind him was his girlfriend’s 12-year-old son, Nat’aani McCaskey. Decades ago, Tuell had been taught to fish along this same waterway by his uncle, and he was now passing that knowledge on.

“If we want to have the way of life we have now, or the life we used to have, he’s got to learn to do it now and do it right so he’s not wasting fish or doing it for the wrong reasons,” explained Tuell, who also serves as production division deputy director for the tribe’s fisheries department.

Not quite big enough to manipulate the pole himself, Nat’aani held a knife and club, ready to take over once Tuell caught a salmon. He listed off the steps: “Hold it by its tail, club it, cut its gills out, and then put it in the ice.”

But the opportunity never came. After nearly two hours, with sweat glistening across Tuell’s forehead, the pair weren’t able to catch a single salmon.


It’s a scene that has increasingly played out in recent years across the 1,078-mile Snake River and some of its tributaries, due in large part to four towering and closely spaced dams in eastern Washington state. The dams act as massive hurdles to the salmon’s migration.

Today, experts have voiced concern that the salmon are headed toward a point of no return.

The loss of these anadromous fish along a waterway that twists through western Wyoming, Idaho, Washington and Oregon, would wreak havoc on over 130 species that depend on salmon – from salamanders to whales – and leave a gaping hole in a region that prides itself on hosting them. Thirteen populations of Columbia-Snake salmon and steelhead are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

It puts us in a situation where we start asking the question, who would we be if we didn’t have salmon?

Alyssa Macy

But for the Nez Perce community and other Columbia River basin tribes, whose physical sustenance and cultural and spiritual practices have been tied with salmon for millennia, it would be pure devastation.

“It puts us in a situation where we start asking the question, who would we be if we didn’t have salmon? If they became extinct, then as salmon people, who would we become?” said Alyssa Macy, CEO of the Washington Environmental Council and a member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. “Obviously, that’s a question that none of us want to answer.”


Just as the situation reaches a fever pitch, an unlikely pair of bipartisan US congressmen out of Idaho and Oregon have come on to the scene, championing a $33.5bn solution centered on breaching the four dams.

Mike Simpson, the Republican congressman from Idaho who first introduced the proposal, is resolute in his efforts to get ahead of what he described as an impending “train wreck”: the Bonneville Power Administration – the federal agency which markets electrical power from 31 hydroelectric dams – facing key financial problems due in part to salmon mitigation costs, or the dams being removed without any thought to the communities and industries that rely on them, or ultimately the salmon disappearing altogether.

While many different political choices can be made, “salmon don’t have a choice”, he said. “They need a river. And right now, they don’t have a river.”

The dams back up the water flow for miles, increase water temperature and create an overall much longer and thus more dangerous journey for them, explained Jay Hesse, director of biological services for the Nez Perce tribe.

Mitigation efforts involve a complex and costly system of fish ladders for adults, spillways for juveniles to get through, a barge transporting them down river, and even wires and loud noises to keep predators away.

The proposal to breach the dams is timely: the Biden administration has signaled an appetite for big spending on infrastructure; the flood of renewables have created uncertainty for hydropower; and leaders in a wide array of sectors have signaled interest in finding solutions, explained David Moryc, senior director of wild and scenic rivers and public lands policy at the non-profit conservation organization American Rivers.

In other words, he said, there’s a unique merging of both crisis and opportunity.


Salmon don’t have a choice. They need a river. And right now, they don’t have a river

Congressman Mike Simpson

In north-east Oregon, the creation story for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation begins with a sacrifice by the salmon, explained Don Sampson, a member of the tribe and an advisory board member for the Northwest Tribal Salmon Alliance. Out of a crowd of animals, they were the first to respond to a call from the Creator warning that the humans were coming and would need nourishment.

The story goes that the salmon’s responsibility would be to travel through the waters, ingesting food in order to provide nourishment to humans. In exchange, the tribe was given the sacred duty of taking care of the salmon and honoring them through prayer and ceremony.

“This is part of our religious belief. We do it every Sunday at our church,” said Sampson. “We sing our ceremonial songs. We teach our kids about who they are by these religious beliefs and the relationship to the animals and the plants. And that is our identity.” Similar stories can be found across the Pacific north-west.

For thousands of years, both the salmon and humans remained largely in step. The Native communities would eat what they needed, while large portions of the population would be left to complete their lifecycle of hatching in fresh water, traveling downstream to the ocean and then returning to their birthplace to spawn and die.

But a little over a century ago, the situation started to shift. Initially, largely unregulated commercial fishing fueled by the expansion of salmon canneries resulted in the population declining. In the years that followed, the runs were further strained by habitat loss.

By 1975, the US army corps of engineers completed construction of a series of four dams across just 137 miles of the lower Snake River in Washington in an effort to produce renewable energy while facilitating barge transportation.

After construction of the dams was completed, wild salmon returns fell by more than 90%, according to American Rivers. The Idaho Conservation League reported that before the dams, about 1.5 million spring-summer chinook salmon returned each year to the Snake River. By 2017, only about 5,800 wild spring-summer chinook completed that journey.

The impact is especially evident when looking at the smolt-to-adult returns below the dams, compared with above. While 3.5% of salmon survive the ocean and make it through three dams to return to the John Day River to spawn, only 2.4% return to the Yakima River after passing through four dams (2% is considered the minimum needed for salmon persistence). By comparison, less than 1% of salmon return to the Snake River after crossing eight dams, according to Trout Unlimited, a conservation non-profit organization.

The dams are spaced so closely that they have created a type of “pressure point” for the salmon population, explained David Montgomery, author of King of Fish: The Thousand-Year Run of Salmon. Removing them wouldn’t get rid of all of the historical impacts that there have been, according to him, “but it’s an impact that can be undone in a single stroke that is acknowledged to be very likely to have a major effect”.


Last February, 68 of the country’s top salmon and fisheries experts sent a letter to north-west leaders stating that in order to avoid extinction and restore the once abundant salmon runs, these four dams would need to be removed. Two months later, the American Rivers listed the Snake as the country’s most endangered river, citing the dams, along with the climate crisis and poor water quality, as its biggest threats.

A Columbia River system impact statement last year reported that breaching these dams would have the greatest positive impact on Snake River salmon. But the report, which was authored by the US army corps of engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration, ultimately did not endorse such a plan due to the “adverse impacts to other resources such as transportation, power reliability and affordability, and greenhouse gas emissions”.

In 2016, it was reported that the four dams were producing on average over 1,000 megawatts of energy each year – or enough to power 800,000 American homes. But as the renewable energy sector continues to shift and hydropower competes against low-cost renewable energy, including solar and wind, there is some uncertainty when it comes to what the future will look like for the industry.

Against this backdrop, more than $17bn has been spent in recent decades as part of federal salmon recovery efforts.

The local tribes have contributed through habitat recovery efforts and extensive salmon hatchery work. The Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery has been working toward releasing 825,000 Spring Chinook this year – 200,000 more than last year.


Erik Holt, a member of the Nez Perce tribe and its fish and wildlife commission chair, was seven the first time he caught a salmon. It was the summer of 1977, and he and his family had hiked the two miles up to the Blue Hole on the Imnaha River, a tributary of the Snake River, in Oregon.

Clutching an 18ft gaff and tied to his grandpa to make sure he didn’t fall in, Holt struggled against the strength of the creature.

“I could feel the power and the spirit of it all because it just absorbs you,” Holt said. “Even as a young boy, I could feel that.”

We ceded 13m acres to the US government to be held in trust for our way of life. That way of life included salmon

Shannon Wheeler

Since then, he’s worked to introduce the tribe’s younger generations to fishing, including his 10-year-old nephew. He’s taught him the basic mechanics of the practice, and also about how to treat such a sacred place:

“When you get to the river, you pray for your pole and then you put it in the water and you say another prayer … [Then] you got to get in the water yourself. And that’s what we call washing the bad medicine away. Before you even go fishing, you get in that water, you wash off and purify yourself.”

Holt’s nephew was excited to travel out to the Clearwater, a tributary of the Snake in Idaho, to carry on the tradition. He had his hook, line and mini dip net ready to go when Holt broke the news that the fishery had been closed because of the lack of salmon.

He said it was “devastating” to have to explain it to him and see the forlorn look on his face.

Already this season, the Nez Perce tribe has closed virtually all of the lower Snake River to fishing, along with most of the middle and upper parts of the Salmon River, in an effort to protect the salmon. The Clearwater has recently been opened, but with very limited harvest.

These closures can affect Native families’ ability to travel out together to fish and share songs and prayer, and also the tribe’s ability to feature the salmon in their first foods ceremonies and funeral services, explained Shannon Wheeler, the Nez Perce tribal vice-chairman.

The possibility of losing salmon altogether also gets in the way of treaties the federal government signed with Nez Perce and many other local tribes. About 150 years ago, they fought to secure rights to fish these waterways. Having to close down fisheries because there’s not enough salmon is a huge infringement on crucial contracts.

“In that treaty, we bargained for a way of life,” said Wheeler. “We ceded well over 13m acres of land to the United States government, to be held in trust for our way of life. That way of life included salmon.”


The fight to remove these dams is more than just about the survival of salmon. It’s also about the cultural impact these structures have had on the surrounding Native community.

Standing on a dock in the middle of a largely motionless section of the Snake River in Colton, Washington, Louis Reuben looked out on to what had once been his ancestors’ home. He pointed out the spot he believed had held a series of rock formations perfect for fishing, and the hills that may have housed graveyards.

But it’s difficult to be sure, he explained, as the winter home for the Wawawai Band of the Nez Perce is now underwater due to the dams.

“The dams displaced us, disconnected us from our place of origin for me,” said Reuben, a Nez Perce tribal member and descendant of the Wawawai Band of the Nez Perce. “It’s difficult to go back to a place that’s underwater. It really kind of put a huge dent in my identity as an Indigenous person.”

For Reuben, a free-flowing Snake River would finally give him the chance to return to the cave where his great-grandfather was born, and the place where his ancestors lived before being moved on to the reservation.

In April, representatives from 12 tribes located throughout the north-west devoted two days to discussions on breaching these dams and the overall proposal first presented by Mike Simpson and then supported by Congressman Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon.

Simpson is resolute in his effort. “Everything we do on the Lower Columbia and Snake River can be done differently if we choose to do it,” he told the Guardian.

Kat Brigham, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation board of trustees chair, said that they support the proposal, applauding the lawmakers for thinking outside the box. She highlighted the fact that there have been periods where parts of the Columbia River basin had no salmon runs, but they were able to rebuild them.

“We know it’s possible,” she said. “But we have to do it together. No tribe, no state, no federal agency, or no individual organization can rebuild these runs. It has to be collaborative, partnership approach.”

In addition to breaching the dams, the proposal would include funds to replace the energy lost and help the agricultural community reconfigure transportation. But it would also involve waiting about 10 years before the dams are breached, offer a 35-year license extension for other dams in the Columbia River basin and provide a 35-year dam litigation moratorium.

Some stakeholders still have plenty of questions about its viability.

In May, Washington’s governor, Jay Inslee, and Senator Patty Murray released a statement rejecting the proposal.

Kristin Meira, executive director for Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, made up of ports, barge companies, steamship operators and farmers, also spoke out against the proposal, citing the toll it would take on hydropower and barge transportation.

More than a dozen environmental organizations sent a letter in March to Democratic lawmakers in Washington and Oregon explaining that while they support removing the four dams, it should not be at the expense of environmental protections.

Simpson said that he put the proposal out there to continue the discussion and is open to hearing ideas and suggestions. But after about 500 meetings with tribes, environmental groups, state representatives and a variety of other stakeholders over the last three years, he said it was clear that salmon recovery will need to involve removing these dams.


Back at Rapid River, Tuell lifted up his dip net and began the short walk with Nat’aani through the high grass away from the river. The sound of water crashing against rocks and branches slowly began to dim.

Nat’aani turned to Tuell: “Next week might be better.”

The two continued on in silence. The uncertainty of the season ahead hung in the air.

U.S. report concluded COVID-19 may have leaked from Wuhan lab – WSJ

U.S. report concluded COVID-19 may have leaked from Wuhan lab – WSJ


Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Wuhan


(Reuters) -A report on the origins of COVID-19 by a U.S. government national laboratory concluded that the hypothesis of a virus leak from a Chinese lab in Wuhan is plausible and deserves further investigation, the Wall Street Journal said on Monday, citing people familiar with the classified document.

The study was prepared in May 2020 by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and was referred to by the State Department when it conducted an inquiry into the pandemic’s origins during the final months of the Trump administration, the WSJ report said.

Lawrence Livermore’s assessment drew on a genomic analysis of the COVID-19 virus, the Journal said. Lawrence Livermore declined to comment on the Wall Street Journal report.

President Joe Biden said last month he had ordered aides to find answers to the origin of the virus.

U.S. intelligence agencies are considering two likely scenarios – that the virus resulted from a laboratory accident or that it emerged from human contact with an infected animal – but they have not come to a conclusion, Biden said.

A still-classified U.S. intelligence report circulated during former President Donald Trump’s administration alleged that three researchers at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became so ill in November 2019 that they sought hospital care, U.S. government sources have said.

U.S. officials have accused China of not being transparent about the virus’ origins, a charge Beijing has denied.

Separately, Mike Ryan, a top World Health Organization official said on Monday the WHO cannot compel China to divulge more data on COVID-19’s origins, while adding it will propose studies needed to take understanding of where the virus emerged to the “next level”.

Earlier this month, U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci called on China to release the medical records of nine people whose ailments might provide vital clues into whether COVID-19 first emerged as the result of a lab leak.

(Reporting by Akriti Sharma and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru and Eric Beech in Washington; Editing by Chris Reese, Leslie Adler and Edwina Gibbs)

Arizona governor issues declarations of emergency in response to wildfires

Arizona governor issues declarations of emergency in response to wildfires

In this photo provided by Joseph Pacheco, a wildfire is seen burning in Globe, Ariz., on Monday.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has issued Declarations of Emergency in response to two wildfires that have burned more than 146,000 acres in his state, he announced Wednesday. The declarations will provide up to $400,000 for response efforts.

“The Declarations of Emergency and Federal Grants will help make sure responders have the necessary resources for response and recovery — protecting people, pets & property,” Ducey tweeted. “We will continue to work closely with local officials to ensure the needs of those communities are met.”

The Telegraph Fire was first reported Friday afternoon and was estimated to be over 80,000 acres in size as of midday Wednesday, according to incident information management system InciWeb. The fire was 21% contained and more than 750 personnel were responding to it.

The cause of the “fast moving” and “dynamic fire” near the southern border of Tonto National Forest is still under investigation.

Residents in the Top-of-the-World area were instructed Sunday to “evacuate immediately” by the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office. “Numerous evacuation status alerts” have been issued in nearby areas in response to the “extreme fire activity” as well.

The Red Cross of Arizona has set up evacuation centers and large animal sheltering has also been made available, the sheriff’s office said. Telegraph Fire Information advised residents in surrounding areas to “remain vigilant and be prepared to evacuate.”

The second active wildfire, called the Mescal Fire, was reported last Monday and was an estimated 70,066 acres in the Mescal Mountains as of Wednesday, according to Inciweb. The 610 responders have made “significant progress” on containing the fire by using methods like aerial water drops.

“Firefighters have been successful in reducing the fire threat to important infrastructure, resources and communities,” the incident overview stated. “Fire potential continues to exist.”

Certain highways in the area have begun to reopen and all residents in San Carlos have been directed to return home. Other areas like East El Capitan remain under evacuation. The cause of the Mescal Fire is also still under investigation.

“Arizonans must take the threat of wildfires seriously and follow all safety precautions during these dry months, including following evacuation orders,” Ducey stated. “I’m grateful to our brave firefighters and everyone working to protect Arizonans this wildfire season.”

American democracy is fighting for its life – and Republicans don’t care

American democracy is fighting for its life – and Republicans don’t care

<span>Photograph: Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Getty Images


On Sunday, the West Virginia senator Joe Manchin announced in an op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail that he opposes the For the People Act. He also opposes ending the filibuster.

An op-ed in the most prominent state newspaper is about as non-negotiable a position a senator can assert.

It was a direct thumb-in-your-eye response to President Biden’s thinly veiled criticism of Manchin last Tuesday in Tulsa, where Biden explained why he was having difficulty getting passage of what was supposed to be his highest priority – new voting rights legislation that would supersede a raft of new voter suppression laws in Republican-dominated states, using Trump’s baseless claim of voter fraud as pretext.

“I hear all the folks on TV saying, ‘Why doesn’t Biden get this done?’” Biden asked rhetorically in Tulsa. “Well, because Biden only has a majority of effectively four votes in the House, and a tie in the Senate, with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends. But we’re not giving up.”

Everyone knew he was referring to Manchin, as well as Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, another Democratic holdout.

Manchin’s very public repudiation of Biden on Sunday could mean the end of the For the People Act. That opens the way for Republican states to continue their shameless campaign of voter suppression – very possibly giving Republicans a victory in the 2022 midterm elections and entrenching Republican rule for a generation.

As it is, registered Republicans make up only about 25% of the American electorate, and that percentage appears to be shrinking in the wake of Trump’s malodorous exit.

But because rural Republican states like Wyoming (with 574,000 inhabitants) get two senators just as do urban ones like California (with nearly 40 million), and because Republican states have gerrymandered districts that elect House members to give them an estimated 19 extra seats over what they would have without gerrymandering, the scales were already tipped.

Then came the post-Trump deluge of state laws making it harder for likely Democrats to vote, and easier for Republican state legislatures to manipulate voting tallies.

Manchin says he supports extending the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to all 50 states. That’s small comfort.

The original 1965 Voting Rights Act was struck down by the supreme court in 2013, on the dubious logic that it was no longer needed because states with a history of suppressing Black votes no longer did so. (Note that within 24 hours of the ruling, Texas announced it would implement a strict photo ID law, and Mississippi and Alabama soon followed.)

The efficacy of a new national Voting Rights Act would depend on an activist justice department willing to block state changes in voting laws that suppress votes and on an activist supreme court willing to uphold such justice department decisions. Don’t bet on either. We know what happened to the justice department under Trump, and we know what’s happened to the supreme court.

Besides, a new Voting Rights Act wouldn’t be able to roll back the most recent round of voter suppression laws from Republican states.

Without Manchin, then, the For the People Act is probably dead, unless Biden can convince one Republican senator to join Senate Democrats in supporting it – like, say, Utah’s Mitt Romney, who has publicly rebuked Trump for lying about the 2020 election and has something of a reputation for being an institutionalist who cares about American democracy.

Yet given Trump’s continuing hold over the shrinking Republican party, any Republican senator who joined with the Democrats in supporting the For the People Act would probably be ending their political career. Profiles in courage make good copy for political obituaries and memorials.

I’m afraid history will show that, in this shameful era, Republican senators were more united in their opposition to voting rights than Democratic senators were in their support for them.

The future of American democracy needs better odds.

Amid mega-drought, rightwing militia stokes water rebellion in US west

Amid mega-drought, rightwing militia stokes water rebellion in US west

<span>Photograph: Dave Killen/AP</span>
Photograph: Dave Killen/AP


Fears of a confrontation between law enforcement and rightwing militia supporters over the control of water in the drought-stricken American west have been sparked by protests at Klamath Falls in Oregon.

Protesters affiliated with rightwing anti-government activist Ammon Bundy’s People’s Rights Network are threatening to break a deadlock over water management in the area by unilaterally opening the headgates of a reservoir.

The protest has reawakened memories not only of recent standoffs with federal agencies – including the one led by Bundy in eastern Oregon in 2016 – but a longer history of anti-government agitation in southern Oregon and northern California, stretching back to 2000 and beyond.

Related: Climate crisis is suffocating the world’s lakes, study finds

The area is a hotbed of militia and anti-government activity and also hit by the mega-drought that has struck the American west and caused turmoil in the agricultural community as conflicts over water become more intense. Among the current protesters at Klamath Falls are individuals who have themselves been involved in similar actions over two decades, including an illegal release of water at the same reservoir in 2001.

In May, the federal Bureau of Reclamation announced that there would be no further release of water from the reserves in the Klamath Basin for irrigators downstream, who rely on the Klamath Project water infrastructure along the Oregon-California border.

Later in the month, two Oregon irrigators, Grant Knoll and Dan Neilsen, began occupying a piece of land adjacent to the headgates of the main canal which pipes water to downstream farmers and Native American tribal groups, like the Yurok, who depend on the water “flushing” the river for the benefit of salmon hatchlings.

Knoll and Nielsen, along with members of the People’s Rights Network, which has engaged in militant anti-mask protests in neighboring Idaho, began staffing a tent on the property which they dubbed a “water crisis info center”.

Grant Knoll and Dan Nielsen have set up a large tent on land adjacent to the headgates of the main canal.
Grant Knoll and Dan Nielsen have set up a large tent on land adjacent to the headgates of the main canal. Photograph: Dave Killen/AP


They also told a number of media outlets that they were prepared to restore the flow of water, even at the price of a confrontation with the federal government, with Knoll telling Jefferson Public Radio last Monday: “We’re going to turn on the water and have a standoff.”

Also on the property is a large metal bucket, daubed with anti-government slogans, which is a memento of a 2001 confrontation at the same spot. That July, 100 farmers, including Knoll and Nielsen, used an 8in-wide irrigation line to bypass the headgate, sending water down the canal. That year, the action by the farmers was followed by other protest actions, such as an American flag-bedecked horse charge, similar to the one that took place on the Bundy ranch during that family’s standoff with federal authorities in 2014.

The confrontation was only defused after appeals were made to the farmers in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks on September 11.

Then as now, the reduced flows were partly with environmental issues in mind.

This year, amid the severe drought, the measure is being taken in accordance with the Endangered Species Act, to ensure the survival of two species of suckerfish whose last remaining habitats are in the reservoirs.

In order to keep enough water in the system to ensure their survival, water must be denied to those who rely on it downstream, including both farmers and tribes who depend on fishing.

Endangered Coho Salmon will likely suffer from the lack of water, along with migrating birds later in the season whose refuges have dried up. But previous court decisions have determined that the interests of those upstream should take precedence, including the Klamath Tribes, for whom the suckerfish have a spiritual significance.

While the protesters claim to represent the interests of farmers, they have been disavowed by agricultural leaders, including Ben DuVal, president of the Klamath Water Users Association, who told the Sacramento Bee that the protesters were “idiots who have no business being here”, who were using the crisis as “a soapbox to push their agenda”.

Whether or not DuVal speaks for the majority of farmers, there is no sign that the so far small protest is catching on like 2001’s anti-government surge, which saw protest crowds in the thousands in the lead up to the breaching of the headgates.

And while the protesters’ placards promise “Ammon Bundy coming soon”, their leader has so far not made the trip to the Klamath camp from neighboring Idaho, where he recently filed to run for governor.

The Superrich Bought Up This Idaho Town and Regular Folks Now May Have to Live in Tents

The Superrich Bought Up This Idaho Town and Regular Folks Now May Have to Live in Tents

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photo Courtesy Brad Womack
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photo Courtesy Brad Womack

Affordable housing in Ketchum—the Idaho resort community adjacent to billionaire and celebrity playground Sun Valley—has been a problem for decades.

But the situation is becoming so dire in the wake of COVID-19 that city officials are considering an unusual range of quick fixes—including building tent cities and RV parks for the common folk in the ultra-rich mountain town, where the average median home listing price is hovering above $900,000.

Residents and housing activists say their friends and neighbors, some whose families have lived in Ketchum for generations, are being priced out as landlords sell buildings to well-heeled buyers and out-of-town investors. The problem is exacerbated, they say, by property owners renting homes for a bigger profit on sites like Airbnb to short-term remote employees escaping Silicon Valley and big cities.

“There’s a joke going around: you either have three houses in Ketchum or three jobs,” said Kris Gilarowski, a hospitality worker and father of two who recently launched a Facebook group titled Occupy Ketchum Town Square to address the housing crisis.

And those losing homes and apartments aren’t just service industry workers, but teachers, nurses, and other professionals who are fast becoming the hidden homeless in the picturesque city of roughly 2,800 people.

“I think the people who have three jobs don’t have time to write a letter to the editor or go to a city council meeting,” Gilarowski told The Daily Beast. “It got me thinking that you need to get these people involved, because if they don’t come out, a solution won’t happen.”

As local TV station KTVB reported, some temporary housing solutions weighed by city officials include “a plan to allow Ketchum’s nurses, teachers, and service workers to sleep in tents in the city park as rent and housing costs continue to soar out of their grasp.”

The discussions come at a time when one developer is seeking approval for an affordable housing complex downtown called Bluebird Village but facing backlash from residents who claim the building will be an eyesore and absorb valuable parking spaces.

They also follow another developer’s $9 million sale of an affordable apartment building called KETCH, leaving residents unable to pay new rates imposed by the new landlord. (At a recent city council meeting, one KETCH resident said the new owner increased rents by 50 to 60 percent. “He wants me to be paying $1,700 for 425 square feet. It’s insane, it shouldn’t have happened,” the woman said.)

“One of the biggest oppositions to Bluebird and any affordable housing, really, was aesthetics,” Reid Stillman, a mayoral candidate who works in advertising and is scrambling to find rental housing himself, told The Daily Beast. “That is so embarrassing when we’re dealing with human lives.”

“We have this older generation worried about the look and color of the brick of the building,” Stillman added. “What they don’t understand is these are the people that serve them food, sell them clothes, bag their groceries… and you’re not allowing them to have affordable places to live because you’re worried about the color of brick in town.”

Meanwhile, Gilarowski said he’s heard from long-term residents who received notices of rent hikes anywhere from $600 to $1,500—and one well-paid hospital worker lived in his car for three weeks because he couldn’t find a place to live.

Gilarowski shared another horror story at a special city council meeting last month to address the crisis: A couple was living in a tent in Sawtooth National Forest for 94 days through January before they found affordable housing.

“I do support the city of Ketchum opening up some public spaces, so people could temporarily park an RV, pitch a tent, because then we can’t hide from these people,” Gilarowski said at the meeting. “These are the people that work at your school. These are the people that work at your local business. These are the people that serve you. I know some of you put up your $8 million houses … but you don’t have compassion for working class people. You say you’re for community housing but ‘not this project, not that project…’”

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Gilarowski alluded to the wealth infused in Ketchum and neighboring Sun Valley, including Allen & Co.’s annual media conference, sometimes referred to as a “summer camp for billionaires.” (This year, the guest list includes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos.)

“There’s so much wealth here and it’s kind of embarrassing to hear that people, families, decide to live for 94 days in a national forest, hidden,” Gilarowski said.

Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw raised a variety of possible solutions to the housing crisis at the council meeting: using city funds to rent hotel rooms this summer and encouraging local residents to rent out spare rooms. He also floated using public lands, including parks or parking lots, for temporary tent sites or RV parking.

Bradshaw said Ketchum’s Rotary Park could house a number of tents, has public restrooms and was across from a YMCA, which has showers. “It would require a certain level of qualification to stay there, so the people would have to show they are working for a local business and contributing to our economy in a certain way. It wouldn’t just be for roadtrippers passing through Ketchum,” Bradshaw told the crowd.

But Stillman blamed Bradshaw and city officials for not acting sooner and called the tent city for nurses and teachers “a joke.”

“We have homeless people,” Stillman countered at the meeting. “They may not be on the street and you may not see them, which is good for you and good for business. But they’re living on couches, they’re in our friends’ houses, they’re in tents up north, they’re camping down south, they’re doing anything they can to get to work here in town.

“We’re not just talking waitresses and waiters,” Stillman added. “We’re talking nurses, and medical supply people, teachers. My best friend works at Montessori school—he’s a teacher, he has nowhere to live.”

Stillman said his own landlord sold his apartment building and he must be out by September. “I make good money and I still can’t find a place,” Stillman said. “So it’s not just affecting one income level … To live in a tent in Rotary Park is a joke especially for people who need WiFi, have to work and have to make a living. That’s a joke.”

“Not only am I going to be homeless with a good job Sept. 1, but my friends who are in the service industry who don’t make a lot of money, they can’t pay $2,900 a month for a two bedroom in Ketchum. This isn’t San Francisco, Neil,” Stillman fumed.

In an interview on Monday, Stillman told us Ketchum suffers from a disconnect among the city’s classes, a situation that stymies action on workforce housing. He said there’s everyday permanent residents who have three to four jobs just to live in the city, second-homers who travel in for vacations, and extremely wealthy people who own a house in Ketchum which they visit only a week or so out of the year.

“Not everyone has a seat at the table,” Stillman said. “I feel our current leader caters to a certain population and there’s not an open line of communication with longterm residents.”

Bradshaw told The Daily Beast that the tent housing was only one idea suggested during a community workshop and bristled at The Daily Beast, and local mediaplaying up the specter of tent cities. He said Ketchum city planners are also looking into whether elderly homeowners could rent out rooms in their homes in exchange for tenants helping with yard work or other chores, and into altering city code to allow RVs on private property or using federal funds for rental assistance.

The mayor said newer, wealthier residents who fled cities for mountain ski towns during the coronavirus pandemic put pressure on Ketchum’s already limited housing market, driving up rental prices as much as 50 percent.

“We are a small town,” Bradshaw said. “We have seen over the last year, an influx of more people moving to our town due to COVID. COVID has taken what was probably going to happen in 15 years and accelerated it into 15 months.”

“COVID has been the catalyst to amplifying our housing situation,” added Bradshaw, who like others interviewed for this story, noted that for dozens and dozens of help-wanted ads in local press, there’s only a handful of rental advertisements.

“This is so complicated and so nuanced, and it’s happening around the country, it’s not just us,” the mayor continued. “Just like we were during COVID, because we had the highest density of COVID cases per capita at one point, we’re having our little moment of fame here with this idea of affordable housing. But we’re a microcosm of what’s happening around the country.”

The city’s hands are tied, Bradshaw said, because its taxing authority is limited—other hotspots for the uber-rich like Aspen, Colorado, for example, enjoy a real-estate transfer tax that Idaho lacks—and it’s unable to limit Airbnb, VRBO and other short-term rentals because of a 2017 state law.

“We have a very wealthy population and most of them are very supportive of affordable housing although, you know, always wanting something else that’s maybe not quite in their backyard,” Bradshaw said.

In recent months, a retired doctor named Gary Hoffman parked a trailer throughout Ketchum and covered it with a massive sign that declared, “What The One Percenters Ignore: Affordable housing has always been the lifeblood of a vibrant community. A town dies when its most productive people cannot afford to live in it.” Hoffman’s banner also demanded in all caps: “Worker housing now!”

The 79-year-old physician owns a pair of mobile home parks just outside Ketchum and a rental cabin on a 28-acre ranch about 24 miles south of the city.

After the tenant of the cabin announced she was moving out, Hoffman placed a rental ad in the local newspaper, for $650 a month, and received 85 phone calls in 48 hours. “It went to the second person who called. So I had 83 more calls to field,” he said.

The doc saw it as an opportunity to galvanize more residents into fighting for affordable housing. “Everybody I talked to after that, I said, ‘What the hell are you doing to get things changed around here? What are you doing besides bemoaning the fact that we don’t have housing? Are you going to meetings? Are you writing letters to the editor, are you protesting, are you picketing, are you going down to Boise and haranguing the legislators who said Airbnbs and VRBOs are wonderful in resort communities?’”

On Monday, Hoffman was busy doing his own roofing repairs at the mobile home park since he couldn’t find construction workers who were immediately available. “There’s a lot of construction already, everybody who’s got a contracting construction company is working to the max,” Hoffman said.

The mobile home parks are some of the area’s only workforce housing, where tenants pay an average of $550 a month. Many of Hoffman’s tenants work in construction, landscaping or basic clerical work, speak Spanish as a first language, and “do the work nobody else wants to do,” he said.

“People look at the parks I have and they say, ‘My God, you could double your rents.’ People are working, they live there,” Hoffman told us. “Why would I do that if I don’t need the money? And I don’t, so there you go.”