North Carolina became the 11th state this year to consider a form of an “ag-gag” bill, which limits the spread of information about agricultural practices through laws about employee practices.
Called the “Commerce Protection Act,” the North Carolina bill was proposed by Senators Brent Jackson, Wesley Meredith and Jim Davis on April 2 and would make private investigations at all places of employment illegal. The bill would also allow prosecution of undercover investigators who exaggerate on their job applications and would also make any photography at a place of employment illegal. Animal activists, in particular, often use private investigations and photography to expose animal cruelty.
“The public has a right to know where their food is coming from,” Matt Dominguez, policy manager for animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States, said to Public News Service.
There are currently five states that have a form of an “ag-gag” bill. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam vetoed similar state legislation this spring.
Due to federal budget cuts caused by the sequestration, 20 full-time service positions in Central Appalachia were cut, says April Trent, team director for the Appalachian Coal Country Team, a branch of the Office of Surface Mining’s AmeriCorps VISTA program.
The VISTA program is a part of AmeriCorps service network and promotes aid in rural and poverty-stricken areas throughout the country. There are 8,000 VISTA volunteers currently serving 1,100 different projects in the United States, according to nationalservice.gov.
Before the cuts began, there were more than 30 positions at the Appalachian Coal Country Team, a group that works in coal mining communities in seven central Appalachian states to promote environmental quality and economic development. Currently there are ten positions, but the team could possibly be cut to three in the fall. All cuts will be final, unless funding is restored.
The changes, Trent says, have “really impacted our ability to keep momentum going in rural communities where a VISTA person contributes substantially to small organizations and really means a lot to those communities.”
In 2012, the OSM VISTAs generated $889,111 in cash and grants for the communities they serve and more than $300,000 in in-kind donations. Among the cuts’ many impacts, 568 acid mine drainage sites will go unmonitored and 23 community garden projects will lose their coordinators, says Trent.
AmeriCorps also has two other branches in the Appalachian region. Project Conserve works with land conservation, water quality issues, energy conservation and local food and farmland in western North Carolina. Project Power is a program that serves students in Buncombe County, N.C.
The American Lung Association released its “State of the Air” report this spring, showing positive trends in air pollution for numerous counties in Kentucky. Among the counties that received “A” grades in the eastern part of the state were Bell, Perry, Pike and Pulaski. Data was not available for all counties.
“The air across Kentucky is certainly cleaner than when we started [the report] 14 years ago,” Ellen Kershaw, Kentucky ALA advocacy director, noted in a press release. “But the work is not done, and we must set stronger health standards for pollutants and cleanup sources of pollution to protect the health of our citizens.”
Southern Appalachian Raptor Research and partners are currently conducting a bird breeding survey through August and are looking for volunteers.
SARR will use the Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship protocol to conduct the study, and it will be held at the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee preserve. The study started May 18 and will take eight samples total.
Volunteers are needed for every aspect of the survey, and no experience is required. Children are welcomed with adult supervision.
For more information, call 828-524-2711.