by Cara Gardner and Joel Smith

And the Swan Goes to... -- Coeur d'Alene -- The Upper Columbia River Group of the Sierra Club announced the winner of its annual Dead Swan Award, a prize designed to publicly denounce politicians who support and create anti-environmental legislation. This year's winner is (drum roll, please)... Mark Rey, a former timber lobbyist who is now an Undersecretary of Agriculture for the Bush Administration. Sierra Club representatives in the Inland Northwest say Rey's efforts to increase logging in national forests further harmed the Coeur d'Alene National Forest, which is part of the larger Idaho Panhandle National Forest and which, they say, is the most heavily damaged of all 156 of America's national forests.

"Mark Rey ... shares a responsibility for the toxic floods of the Coeur d'Alene," said John Osborn, the Sierra Club's Upper Columbia River Group conservation chair, in a press release issued Tuesday. "For Rey, the dead swan has come home to roost."

The Dead Swan Award got its name after eight swans were found dead in a lead-polluted field of the Coeur d'Alene River's floodplain in 1997. Heavy metals from a century of mining in the region have caused about 15,000 acres of wetlands to be covered with more than 100 million tons of toxic material. Floods, which are made worse by extensive clear cuts in the forest, carry the toxic material into Lake Coeur d'Alene, from the Coeur d'Alene River and then into the Spokane River.

American Rivers rated the Spokane River the sixth-most endangered river in the nation in 2004. And last week, with Rey's support, the Bush Administration announced a new policy allowing local managers to approve logging projects without formal scientific review.

Environmentalists fear that without an impact statement on logging projects in an already heavily damaged area, the Coeur d'Alene Forest and floodplain will be polluted even more. Jeff Holmes, hunting and fishing program coordinator for the Sierra Club, finds Rey personally liable for the damage to wildlife and the risks to human health. "Mark Rey has his hand on the chainsaw," he said. "The poster child of damage [to national forests] is the Coeur d'Alene in Idaho."

-- Cara Gardner

Intelligence Gathering -- SPOKANE -- This just in from the Brain Trust: Spokane has been named a finalist for the Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year, for the second consecutive year, by the Intelligent Community Forum. Eighteen cities are still in the running for the Final Seven, but Spokane hopes to make the cut when the winners are announced at the Pacific Telecommunications Council Conference in Honolulu on Jan. 19. The city made the finals last year, winning bragging rights (but no sash) as a Top Intelligent Community, though it was beaten out by Glasgow, Scotland, for first place. A celebration (or stinging defeat) party will be held the day after the Honolulu decision, on Jan. 20, at the Steam Plant Square, from 10 am to 1 pm.

But while the ICF is convinced that Spokane is a civic smarty-pants, the sweat hogs at Men's Health aren't. In its most recent issue, the magazine ranked 101 top cities in terms of, among other things, the percentage of resident college grads, SAT scores and the number of universities. They say we're not the dumbest apple in the bucket -- that honor goes to Fort Wayne, Ind., home of former VP Dan Quayle -- but with Spokane in 32nd place, they see room for improvement. Spokane tied with New York City, winning the passable grade of B-. But at least we beat those doofuses down in Boise, who stumbled in at 37th place with a C+. Try that won on fer size, loozers!

-- Joel Smith

Mastering the Wilderness -- SPOKANE -- Inching ever closer to their utopian vision of a greenbelt wonderland around the Spokane River gorge area, the Friends of the Falls will be holding its final stakeholders meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 4. At the meeting, the group will unveil its final strategic master plan for the project, which the Friends hope will include the much-talked-about whitewater park down around the Sandifur pedestrian bridge, increased access to the river, improvement of some existing facilities along the water and more.

Consultants from Moore, Iacofano and Goltsman, the development firm that has worked on the gorge project will be on hand at Tuesday's meeting to review the final master plan.

-- Joel Smith

The final stakeholders meeting is from 7:30-9:30 am on Tuesday, Jan. 4, in the first floor conference room of the Spokane Regional Business Center, 801 W. Riverside Ave.

Publication date: 12/30/04

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