[imgcontainer] [img:NFUmass.gif] [source]National Farmers Union[/source] National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson at the podium during the group’s annual convention, held over the last weekend in Springfield, Massachusetts. [/imgcontainer]

The prison boom has been followed by a prison bust.

Falling crime rates and better success at rehabilitation have led to a whole bunch of empty prison beds in Texas, Mike Ward reports. With 11,000 empty bunks, state prisons are closing. And county jails have 21,000 empty beds. Ward reports that nearly two dozen county and private lockups are now vacant or nearly so. 

Many rural communities looked on the “prison industry” as a stable source of jobs and local income. That form of economic development is over, at least in Texas, Ward reports.

The change in the economics of prisons has left some small communities in the lurch. Ward reports:

The financial hit that taxpayers across Texas are taking from the empty jail and prison beds is unclear. But the experience in the West Texas community of Littlefield provides a hint. Taxpayers there are paying for an $11 million, 372-bed lockup built to house contract prisoners that has been empty since 2009. Even a recent auction attempt fell through, officials there said.

Closure of the lockup left 100 employees without work in a community of about 6,300. For at least two years after the closure, the community had to come up with $65,000 a month to pay the note on the vacant prison — or about $10 per resident….

Perhaps the most telling statistic: in 1996, at the height of the prison boom, Texas counties and private companies were housing more than 4,800 prisoners from a dozen other states. Now, only 67 inmates from two states remain, according to a Feb. 1 statistical report by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

The abandoned prisons aren’t much good for anything else. The rooms are too small for offices. And who wants to be around all that concrete and iron bars anyway?

“It’s a problem, especially for a lot of communities that relied on these facilities for economic development — and actually competed to get them located in their community,” said state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, whose district is dotted with several privately run lockups that now hold mostly immigration detainees — some with empty beds. “It’s a good thing that the crime rate is down, that the (jail) population is down, but this is the downside. It’s a big issue in a lot of places.”

Keystone Is Wrong Battle — The Washington Post editorial page writes that environmentalists are “fighting the wrong battles” — meaning that it is pointless to fight the Keystone XL pipeline. 

At best, the Post contends, stopping the KXL from bringing tar sands oil into the U.S. would only reduce Canadian tar-sands production by 2 to 4 percent by 2030.

Saturday Mail — Nearly two-thirds of people in Maryland approve the decision to end Saturday mail delivery, according to a Washington Post poll. 

We note that the more rural parts of the state had slightly higher percentages of approval for the end of Saturday mail. The highest disapproval came from Baltimore city.

Yes, the more rural the place, the greater the percentage who favored ending Saturday mail. At least in Maryland

Vermont Pipeline — The owners of a pipeline running across Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine want to reverse the flow so that it can carry tar sands oil out of Canada to the northeastern coast. Currently, the pipeline carries oil from east to west.

Listen to the NPR story on this proposal here

Native Lands — Check here for an animation of Native American land loss over the years. 

NFU in Mass — The National Farmers Union met in Springfield, Massachusetts, to talk about country of origin labeling, renewable fuels and the still-missing Farm Bill. 

NFU President Roger Johnson said that more than one group in agriculture will have to push for a final Farm Bill. “Traditionally those three legs of support have been what have pushed the farm bill through,” Johnson told Brownfield Ag News, “the farmers, the folks who want a safety net for when times are difficult, the nutrition folks and the conservation community.”

Buying Out Farmers — Texas is running short of water and so for the last two years, rice farmers have been told they can’t make a crop. There was a plan to build new reservoirs to supply agricultural water, but now there’s a new plan — just buy out the farmers

A consortium of Central Texas (read Austin) businesses and communities have suggested the Lower Colorado River Authority simply pay farmers not to farm rice.

State Forests and Federal Forests — Rocky Barker in the Idaho Statesman explains why state forests produce way more cut timber than federal forests: 

Private forests and state forests are, by definition, high-value forests. If they weren’t, the owners would have disposed of or traded them in years ago.

But the Forest Service doesn’t manage forests for a profit. You don’t hear the conservation groups that are supporting new mills and increased timber harvests and jobs complaining about timber sales that lose money.

That’s because they know the restoration value for wildlife and fish habitat that comes with timber sales are a part of the cost of managing forests for multiple uses.

Private and state forests are managed for maximum timber harvest. The recreation, habitat and other values that come from those lands are secondary. That’s why you can go to some state forests in Idaho and clearly see the difference between them and the federal forests next door.

It’s the state forests that are still being clear-cut.

Hamlet on the Shale — That’s what observers are calling New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has yet to make a decision on whether to support or oppose hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas in his state. 

Wherever he goes, North Country Public Radio’s Karen DeWitt says he his asked about the issue. Pete Seeger has demonstrated. Yoko Ono and her son Sean tried to meet with Cuomo about fracking, which she believes will harm her Catskills farm. “Fracking kills,” Ono said.

On the other side, supporters have held their own rallies. And through it all, Cuomo has remained neutral. “I want to take the emotion out of the fracking discussion and substitute facts and information,” Cuomo said.

He has waited so long in making a decision on tracking in New York that both sides see him as a Hamlet on the Hudson, unable to come to a conclusion.

What Ranchers Need — Pickups, fencing, feed and a sharp pencil for all the paperwork raising cattle now demands. The Billings Gazette reports on ranchers and record-keeping. 

Old MacDonald’s iPad — Want to get into a high-tech business? Become a farmer. The Des Moines Register reports

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