Cheers: To recovery at the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge east of Washougal. Nearly 150 acres of the 1,049-acre refuge was scorched in a wildfire last October that also destroyed a boardwalk on the Gibbons Creek Trail that linked the public parking area with most of the refuge's trail system. With the coming of spring, nature has done its part, and the fields are once again verdant. Humans have done their part too, spreading 36 tons of crushed rock donated by Tapani Underground to reopen the trail system. Some burned trees remain, but the refuge will once again be a place for humans and wildlife to enjoy.
Jeers: To the U.S. Forest Service's demands that rural counties, such as Skamania County, repay millions of dollars. Here's the short version of a long story: For years, the federal government has compensated local schools and governments in counties where there is a lot of federal forest not on the tax rolls. Now, due to the federal budget sequester, the Forest Service has to tighten its belt. So the Obama administration is demanding the local governments and schools across the country return $17.9 million, money that in some cases is already spent. Even worse, the sequester applies to the 2013 budget year, and the money the administration wants back was appropriated in the 2012 budget, but held up until 2013. Members of Congress are working to reverse the unfair decision.
Cheers: To a new Bureau of Labor Statistics report that shows improvement in broad categories of employment data for Washington. The state computes a monthly unemployment rate that includes only people who are available to take a job and have actively sought work in the past four weeks. In Washington, that unemployment rate was 8.3 percent in 2012. (Clark County's rate was greater.)
The new BLS data include not only those unemployed, but people who worked part time but wanted more hours and people marginally attached to the labor force -- for example, discouraged workers. Statewide, that rate was 16.9 percent in 2012, down from 17.8 percent in 2011 and 18.4 percent in 2010, the peak year. Washington fared a little worse than the national average, which was 14.7 percent in 2012. Unemployment is still too high, but at least the trends are in the right direction.
Jeers: To obfuscation in state government. A government watchdog group, WashPIRG, gives the Evergreen State a "B-" in it annual report on transparency in government, down from a "B" grade last year. The group admits that the state's grade slipped because its standards are getting higher. The state gets accolades for providing online access to checkbook-level information on contracts, economic development tax credits, grants and other expenditures. But the report knocks the state for lacking information on some agency spending, and for lacking adequate information for the public to hold companies accountable for economic development subsidies.
Cheers: To the new San Juan Islands National Monument, signed into law on March 25 by President Obama. The United States has approximately 100 national monuments, some dating back to the time of Teddy Roosevelt. In 1982, Ronald Reagan designated the Mount St. Helens National Monument. The designation as a national monument means that the land will remain publicly accessible and a long-term comprehensive management plan will be put in place, according to the office of Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. The monument consists of approximately 1,000 acres of federally owned land split among 60 parcels in the San Juan Islands of northern Puget Sound. About 70,000 people annually visit the sites, which encompass everything from lighthouses to pine forests.