- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Recent editorials from Kentucky newspapers:

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Oct. 4

The Daily Independent on the elk population in Kentucky:

Almost 20 years after Kentucky began reintroducing elk into the state for the first time in more than a century, wildlife officials in neighboring West Virginia say elk soon will roam its hilly terrain for the first time since 1875. However, as a tribute to the highly successful restoration of elk in Kentucky, West Virginia will not have to import elk from west of the Mississippi River. Instead, the first elk in West Virginia since the 19th century will be moved there from Kentucky.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports West Virginia wildlife officials have reached an agreement with officials at Kentucky’s Land Between the Lakes and Bison Prairie to bring as many as 27 elk to West Virginia by mid-December.

Elk were once common in West Virginia, but market hunting and habitat loss caused their numbers to decline. The state’s last elk was killed in Webster County 141 years ago.

The elk herd established in 1997 in rural, mountainous eastern Kentucky by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Reserves continues to flourish and is now estimated at a total of 15,000 elk in Bell, Breathitt, Clay, Floyd, Harlan, Johnson, Knott, Knox, Leslie, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin, McCreary, Perry, Pike and Whitley counties.

The restoration project was made possible by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, which was founded in 1984 by four Montana elk hunters with the goal of restoring elk in areas where they once flourished. In 1996, the foundation pledged $1.4 million in privately raised funds to Kentucky’s elk restoration project. On Dec. 18, 1997, seven elk that had been captured in western Kansas were released at the Cyprus Amax Wildlife Management Area in eastern Kentucky.

From that small beginning, Kentucky’s elk herd has continued to grow and the state’s limited elk hunting season now attracts hunters from distant states who spend tourism dollars here, with much of that money being spent in rural areas.

The elk from Kentucky are not West Virginia’s first attempt to restore its elk population. In fact, in 1913, 50 elk were obtained from the Yellowstone National Park and transferred into an enclosure maintained by the Allegheny Sportsmen’s Association at Minnehaha Springs, W.Va., in Pocahontas County. These animals were subsequently released into the wild, but this stocking proved to be unsuccessful in re-establishing elk.

The goal of the latest elk restoration effort is to establish and manage a healthy, free-ranging elk population within a seven-county region of southwestern West Virginia. The Elk Management Area includes portions of seven counties in southern West Virginia - 2,845 square miles.

When Kentucky first began reintroducing elk, neighboring states opposed the project. In fact, Virginia officials declared open season on elk, encouraging residents to shoot to kill any elk from Kentucky that wandered across the border into Virginia. But that was before neighboring states saw how successful Kentucky’s elk restoration was and how elk were boosting the economy.

Wildlife officials originally hoped some elk from Kentucky would migrate eastward into West Virginia without having a formal elk restoration project. However, that has not happened. That led to West Virginia Department of Natural Resources to decide to begin importing elk.

Randy Kelley, a West Virginia DNR biologist and the elk project leader, says the animals aren’t known for moving long distances.

“Since January, we’ve moved into a different mode, so to speak, of having an active elk management plan. The plan is to actively release elk in West Virginia,” he said. “It’s a restoration of a native species for one, and also, from an economic standpoint, it is a good tool to help diversify southern West Virginia and provide some economic input through tourism,” Kelley said.

From having no elk two decades ago, Kentucky now has an elk herd large enough for hunters to harvest between 800 and 1,000 elk a year without threatening the elk population. That’s quite an accomplishment, one that more and more states are hoping to eventually achieve.

Online:

http://www.dailyindependent.com/

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Oct. 1

The Courier-Journal on lawsuits and the University of Louisville:

No more lawsuits.

No more appeals.

It’s time to let the University of Louisville begin moving ahead. Let’s get to work rebuilding the university and its reputation. The students, the faculty and staff, and the community deserve no less.

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd was unequivocal in his order last week setting aside Gov. Matt Bevin’s attempted dismantling of the U of L board of trustees and creation of a new board. “Entirely without precedent” and “unilateral fiat” were among the ways Judge Shepherd described Gov. Bevin’s action.

Gov. Bevin could still appeal the ruling, but an earlier case involving his efforts to force universities to slash their budgets suggests it would just delay the inevitable. While Gov. Bevin’s budget move was originally upheld by a different Franklin Circuit Court judge, Thomas Wingate, it was overturned by the Kentucky Supreme Court just a week before Judge Shepherd’s ruling.

“Whatever authority he (the governor) might otherwise have to require a budget unit not to spend appropriated funds does not extend to universities, which the legislature has made independent bodies politic with control over their own expenditures,” wrote Justice Mary C. Noble in the budget-case ruling.

That language makes it clear that the Supreme Court would also uphold Judge Shepherd’s ruling against abolishing an entire board, where independence from political whims is an even greater concern, especially when it comes to a university’s all-important accreditation.

Gov. Bevin can still make five appointments to open positions on the original 20-member U of L board, which can help address one of his concerns about the balance of Republicans and Democrats on the board, which Kentucky law mandates and former Gov. Steve Beshear conveniently seemed to overlook.

Gov. Bevin should make those appointments quickly. He certainly has a pool of highly qualified candidates among those he tried to install as his replacement board.

With all of this behind it, the trustees can move ahead on their search for a replacement for former president James Ramsey and on reaching an agreement with the U of L Foundation to undertake a much needed forensic audit of the foundation.

Online:

http://www.courier-journal.com/

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Sept. 30

The Lexington Herald-Leader on health problems in eastern Kentucky:

News of the first-ever MIT Appalachian Health Hack-a-thon, which will be held Oct. 6-8 in Somerset, sent us hunting for a relevant definition of “hack” and we came up with “an appropriate application of ingenuity.”

Congratulations to Shaping Our Appalachian Region, the organization that’s trying to apply ingenuity to Eastern Kentucky’s economic woes, for organizing the hack-a-thon, which is free and will be taking applications to participate through Monday. A kick-off reception is open to non-participants who register.

Just exposing Kentuckians to the process will yield benefits. A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Hacking Medicine, which has led almost 50 such confabs, but never one in Appalachia, will facilitate the gathering, focusing on substance abuse and obesity/diabetes.

The aim is to stimulate innovative solutions and business plans by cross-pollinating ideas and expertise in intensive brainstorming sessions involving everyone from clinicians to techies to patients.

Kentucky suffers the nation’s highest cancer rates, third highest fatal overdose rate, some of the worst overall health outcomes and shortest lifespans and needs all the innovative solutions it can get.

We hope the hack-a-thon produces a scalable new technology or protocol that saves lives. But we’d be remiss if we did not also plug some obvious, well-known solutions that are already proven to save lives, but that too many of the region’s leaders shun.

Most obvious is tackling extraordinarily high smoking rates. Smoke-free laws, higher cigarette taxes and aggressive public education campaigns have reduced rates of tobacco-related disease in other places. But too many of our state’s politicians - from SOAR founder U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers in Washington to Gov. Matt Bevin and legislators in Frankfort to city councils and county fiscal courts - protect the tobacco industry not their constituents’ health.

Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has brought top federal health officials to the 5th District. In addition to Rogers, the hack-a-thon’s kickoff speakers are Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Dr. Douglas R. Lowy, acting director of the National Cancer Institute.

The high-level attention is great but avails little when state and local officials refuse to take the most basic steps to improve the region’s health outcomes.

Along those lines, Kentucky’s political, public health and medical establishments continue to show a stunning lack of curiosity about the role of environmental toxins in Eastern Kentucky’s health problems.

In 2014, a SOAR committee identified possible links between surface coal mining and health problems as one of its top concerns and recommended further study, but there has been no follow-up in Kentucky. The U.S. Office of Surface Mining has commissioned the National Academy of Sciences to review the research on mining’s health effects which will be ready in two years.

Poverty, widespread in Eastern Kentucky, is a predictor of disease, and some of Kentucky’s poorest people still lack safe drinking water. We don’t need MIT to tell us that clean water is critical to human health.

Health and prosperity are inextricably linked. SOAR is fostering an entrepreneurial spirit in places long tied to a single industry. But good ideas require leadership. Raising hopes only to dash them through inaction reinforces hopelessness, and hopelessness is dangerous to ingenuity’s health.

Online:

http://www.kentucky.com/

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