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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Trump’s USDA Speeds Up Meatpacking Despite Virus Deaths

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Trump administration officials may have used misleading data to analyze safety so that meatpacking plants could skirt a safety rule regulating their processes. The rule regulates how fast pigs can be slaughtered.

The USDA Office of Inspector General recently released a report expressing concern about faulty data, as COVID-19 cases soar in the meatpacking industry.

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EPA Allows Agribusiness To Keep Using Widely Banned Poison

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Bayer, the giant German chemical company, has agreed to pay up to $400 million to U.S. farmers whose crops have been damaged by the deadly herbicide dicamba.

The poison is still being used on genetically modified crops until July 31, despite a court order that threw out the Trump EPA approval.

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Trump Appointees Permit Higher Soot Emissions, Increasing Covid-19 Mortality

Reprinted with permission from DCReport.

A new Harvard study has found that long-term exposure to microscopic soot in the air appears to be associated with higher death rates from the coronavirus.

But Trump's EPA has recommended keeping the 2012 standards for microscopic soot that are linked to an estimated 45,000 deaths a year.

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McConnell’s Scheme To Protect Corporations From Covid-19 Liability May Fail

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

The landmark Supreme Court decision that upheld most of the Affordable Care Act could help doom efforts by Trump Republicans to shield companies from COVID-19 lawsuits.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants to give companies that reopen during the pandemic immunity from liability. Such a law, which would supersede state liability laws, could run afoul of the Commerce Clause.

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Trump Administration Rigs Market For Big Beef Packers

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Trump's Agriculture Department is turning our nation's cattle ranchers and feedlot operators into modern-day sharecroppers as beef prices soar during the pandemic.

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) asked the Senate Judiciary Antitrust subcommittee to hold a hearing on claims of price manipulation and collusion in the beef meatpacking industry. Fischer pointed to the spike in the index of prices for butchered beef compared with the 30 percent drop in cattle futures after Jan. 24, when the country's first coronavirus case was reported.

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Trump Republicans Care Less About Workers Than Hogs

Reprinted with permission from DCReport.

Donald Trump and Republican legislators behave as if the lives of the immigrants working in meatpacking plants are worth less than the lives of pigs in a slaughterhouse.

Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD), a former GOP governor, asked Trump to intervene to keep meatpacking plants open during the pandemic.

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Nursing Homes Fouled By Lax Regulation And Lobbyist Influence

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Former Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat but the CEO of a nursing home industry group, wrote Trump after the 2016 election seeking a "collaborative approach" to regulation, much like the one the Federal Aviation Administration has had with the aircraft industry.

Team Trump acquiesced, rolling back fines and proposing to weaken rules for infection prevention employees. That collaborative approach has failed, much as it did with the FAA , the agency that enabled failures in the design of the Boeing 737 Max.

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Beware Of This Allergen When Washing Your Hands

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Even washing your hands has its drawbacks. A common preservative in soaps and household cleaners is putting thousands of people at risk of developing painful, debilitating allergies.

The preservative, methylisothiazolinone, or MI, inhibits the growth of bacteria, yeast and molds. It is made by Dow. It's widely used in our country … a 2016 study found that MI is in 47 percent of household cleaners and 29 percent of soaps. It's restricted in Europe.

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Trump Appointees Revive Payday Lending To Exploit Newly Unemployed

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

New unemployment claims reached 22 million on Thursday while the Trump administration is helping banks and financial institutions fleece out-of-work Americans and those who could lose their jobs because of Trump's pandemic.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency set up to protect consumers but has been neutered by Trump and other financial agencies, are telling banks they can practice "responsible small-dollar lending" or payday loans in areas affected by the coronavirus.

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Kushner Family Seeking To Profit From Coronavirus

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

The Kushner family is trying to cash in on the pandemic that could kill millions of us.

Oscar Health, the health insurance company co-founded by Jared Kushner’s younger brother, announced Friday it has launched a testing center locator for COVID-19. It shows where more than 100 centers are in the United States. The company is also offering a risk assessment survey and means to talk to a doctor online.

The coronavirus is predicted to kill anywhere from almost 500,000 Americans in the next year to more than 5 million. At least 62 people in the United States had died by Sunday; 3,130 have tested positive.

Team Trump announced Saturday that Trump tested negative for the virus despite presiding over a coronavirus hot zone at Mar-a-Lago. Testing efforts have been marked by delays and dysfunction. Just a few thousand people were tested during the weeks the virus spread across our country.

Trump reportedly tried to woo a German company working on a cure for the coronavirus to move here and make a vaccine only for us.

Joshua Kushner co-founded Oscar Health in 2012. His co-founders are Mario Schlosser, the company CEO, and Harvard Business School classmate Kevin Nazemi who left the company in 2015.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, has become increasingly involved in Team Trump’s response to the pandemic. He helped write Trump’s half-baked Oval Office speech on the disease. The Kushner brothers co-founded Cadre, a real-estate investing start-up.

Oscar Health was criticized in 2018 for selling health insurance in Ohio through the Affordable Care Act with a deductible of $15,800. The company sold health insurance under the Affordable Care Act in 15 states for 2020.

Billionaire Peter Thiel, a Trump supporter who co-founded PayPal, invested millions in Oscar Health through his Founders Fund. Joshua Kushner’s father-in-law is New York doctor Kurt Kloss who turned to his Facebook group of emergency room doctors for advice to pass onto Team Trump about how best to handle the pandemic.

Oscar Health lost $110 million in 2019, almost double the $57 million the company lost in 2018.

Trump Administration Killing Another Endangered Species

Reprinted with permission from DCReport


Trump's Fish and Wildlife Service has pushed an endangered freshwater mussel closer to extinction. The creature is threatened through efforts to placate an energy company where Attorney General Bill Barr was once on the board.

Dominion Energy and Duke Energy want to route the proposed 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline through Hackers Creek in West Virginia. That is the site of the endangered clubshell mussel. Trump's Fish and Wildlife Service authorized trying to rescue mussels which could be smothered by sediment from pipeline construction instead of rerouting the pipeline. Sixty-nine mussels were collected from the creek to be taken to the White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery. Most of them died.

"The agency's obligation is to protect this species including this population, not hasten its end," said attorney Patrick Hunter. He represents the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Sixty-nine mussels were collected, and most of them died.

The clubshell mussel, listed as endangered in 1993, was once found throughout the Ohio River basin and tributaries of western Lake Erie. The mussels now appear to be limited to 11 populations in 19 streams. Many of those don't appear to be reproducing.

'Indicator Species'

Mussels such as the clubshell serve as an indicator species. They are much like the canaries that miners once carried to warn of possible suffocation dangers. When mussels die off, it means the streams aren't healthy enough to support them. Clubshell mussels are vulnerable to being suffocated by sediment that flows into streams from farming or construction.

Dominion once paid Barr $2.3 million in cash and stock awards as a board member. Duke and Dominion want to build the pipeline to carry natural gas from West Virginia to North Carolina. Plans for the pipeline include almost 12 miles of roads near Hackers Creek and 6.4 miles where pipeline could be laid.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency that assesses the impact of pipelines on endangered species, is headed by Aurelia Skipwith. She is an attorney and former Monsanto employee who was confirmed by the Senate in December. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has praised Trump's efforts to speed up approvals for pipelines, was one of three Democrats who voted for Skipwith.

Agency Saw No Impact

The Fish and Wildlife Service concluded in 2018 that the pipeline wouldn't jeopardize the survival and recovery of the clubshell and three other species: the rusty patched bumble bee; the Indiana bat, or the Madison Cave isopod.

Federal judges found that the Fish and Wildlife Service decided without legal authority that the clubshell population in Hackers Creek shouldn't be protected because it didn't appear to be reproducing. Judges also found flaws in the agency's analysis of the other species.

Supreme Court Case

The Endangered Species Act "is not focused exclusively on protecting those populations that currently are naturally reproductive," wrote Roger Gregory, the chief judge for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In November, Dominion CEO Thomas Farrell told investors he expected to receive a new opinion from the Fish and Wildlife Service that would allow the company to resume construction on the pipeline. The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a case focusing on another aspect of the pipeline, whether it can cross the Appalachian Trail.

Minutes from a meeting of federal regulators and employees from Dominion and Duke show that the Fish and Wildlife Service is once again considering authorizing the pipeline to cross the Hackers Creek watershed.

Trump EPA Declares War On Chesapeake Bay

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Trump once again is trying to cut most of the funding to clean up the polluted Chesapeake Bay even as the Trump EPA undermines the cleanup with legal footnotes and inaction.

Trump’s latest sabotage, for the 2021 budget, would cut more than 91 percent of the funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program created under President Ronald Reagan who called the bay a “national treasure,” and long supported by Republicans and Democrats. The program got $85 million, the most it’s ever received, in the fiscal 2020 budget.

Dana Aunkst, the director of Chesapeake Bay efforts for the EPA, said 2025 pollution goals are “an aspiration,” not an enforceable deadline. The head of EPA’s Office of Water, David Ross, represented the American Farm Bureau Federation in its 2012 lawsuit against the EPA over plans to clean up the bay. Scott Pruitt, Trump’s first pick to head the EPA, also supported polluters in the lawsuit as the attorney general for Oklahoma.

Trump’s latest sabotage, for the 2021 budget, would cut more than 91 percent of the funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program created under President Ronald Reagan.

“For the head of EPA’s Bay Program to say pollutions limits designed to save the bay are merely aspirational and not legally enforceable should put fear in the hearts of all who care about clean water,” said Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

In 2010, under President Barack Obama, six states and the District of Columbia agreed to significantly reduce pollution by 2025. The EPA agreed to step in if that didn’t happen.

More than 100,000 streams and rivers flow into the Chesapeake Bay which is about half freshwater and half saltwater. The second-largest river, the Potomac, flows by Washington, D.C.

Pennsylvania Pollution

Pennsylvania, Aunkst’s home state, has been the worst-performing state involved in restoring the bay. Maryland and Virginia also failed to meet 2017 cleanup requirements. Pennsylvania’s most recent plan says the state is about 30 percent closer to meeting its goal for nitrogen pollution reduction than it was in the 1980s. Pennsylvania has a funding deficit of $324 million a year. The Trump EPA signed off on the plan in any way in December.

The bay has gradually been getting healthier for about three decades. A 2018 report card from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science gave the bay a “C.” The Chesapeake Bay Foundation gave the bay a “D+,” noting that the bay had worse levels of nitrogen and phosphorus and that the water was murkier. Record rainfall from climate change pushed more pollution off farms and streets and into the bay.

Dead Zone

Pollution from fertilizer, sewage and other sources causes a dead zone in the bay each summer like the one in the Gulf of Mexico although much smaller. The dead zone in 2019 was on the high end of the normal range despite the deluge of water from swollen rivers, another indication that things are slowly improving.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and other pro-pollution groups sued over the cleanup. Part of their argument was that the Clean Water Act prohibits the EPA from seeking “reasonable assurance” from states that their plans will work. Judges disagreed.

In its most recent evaluations of state plans, the Trump EPA replaced “reasonable assurance” with the lesser standard of “confidence,” noting in a footnote that the language was changed “to avoid potential confusion.”

Trump’s EPA Prepares Another Gift For The Coal Industry

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Trump’s EPA administrator wants to redraw our nation’s mercury standard to benefit coal-fired power plants that belch out nearly half the nation’s mercury emissions. But the agency’s Science Advisory Board is balking.

The board, headed by Trump administration appointee Michael Honeycutt who previously opposed tougher mercury standards, told the EPA it needed to look again at how much mercury people get from fish and the harm from mercury.

“EPA should instigate a new risk assessment,” the board wrote.

Under former President Barack Obama, the EPA only looked at IQ losses in children born to mothers who ate freshwater fish caught by amateur anglers from lakes where the EPA had information on fish tissue. This excluded most of the fish eaten in our country, much of it imported or fish from the ocean.

“It’s absolutely incorrect,” said Elsie Sunderland, a professor of environmental science and engineering at Harvard.

Ellen Kurlansky, a former EPA air policy analyst, said the board recommendation isn’t clear about whether ocean fish should be included in a new assessment.

“What does that actually mean?” she asked.

The Trump EPA packed the Science Advisory Board with industry-friendly appointees like air pollution researcher Robert Phalen who said air can be “a little too clean” for children’s health and consultant Brant Ulsh who claims radiation at low doses may not be dangerous.

The mercury report mentioned a discredited study by consultant and board member Tony Cox that claimed soot in the air can be beneficial.

But even this tainted board couldn’t stomach what the Trump EPA wants to do to our planet. The board also questioned a proposed rule that would limit which wetlands and waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act and the rollback of clean car standards.

Mercury exposure at its worst can mimic cerebral palsy. When airborne mercury settles on water or land that’s often damp, microbes convert it to methylmercury which is highly toxic and becomes more concentrated as it moves up food chains to people and predators.

Mercury raises the risk of diabetes and causes cardiovascular problems for adults, including higher chances of a fatal heart attack. Even how birds sing is affected.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler twisted the math for a proposed federal rule to knock out the legal justifications for limiting mercury emissions, claiming that “the only health benefit” to reducing mercury emissions “that the EPA could quantify and monetize” was children’s IQ loss.

In March 2017, coal magnate Robert Murray, who donated $300,000 to Trump’s inauguration, gave the Energy Department a wish list that included rescinding or revising the mercury standard, which Murray Energy had sued to block. Wheeler is a former lobbyist and Murray Energy was his best-paying client.

Murray Energy, once the largest privately held coal company in the country, filed for bankruptcy in October. At least seven coal companies filed for bankruptcy in 2019.

EPA is required by law to base decisions on the “best available science.”

The Obama restrictions on mercury have worked. Mercury emissions from U.S. power plants plunged by 65 percent from 2015 to 2017. The standards prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths a year, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks, according to EPA estimates.

The Trump EPA also wants to quash rules on sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants which cause acid rain.

EPA Will Ease Rules On Storage Of Deadly Coal Ash

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Utilities soon could get federal approval for the riskiest way to get rid of coal ash.

The latest Trump EPA proposal to prop up the financially struggling coal industry would make water supplies more vulnerable to the ash, the toxic remnants of burning coal.

report from the Environmental Integrity Project warns that the enduring legacy of coal ash will be groundwater pollution such as that in Memphis where city water is threatened.

The EPA proposal to set up a permit program to dispose of coal ash applies in Native American territory and states except two. Oklahoma and Georgia have set up their own permit programs. The Oklahoma program, which allows dumping in unlined ponds unless they leak, is being litigated.

Coal-burning power plants produce about 100 million tons of coal ash yearly. Arsenic, lead and mercury lace the ash. Companies mixed the ash with water and stored  it in unlined pits called coal ash ponds.

Such carelessness led to catastrophes, including 130 million gallons of coal ash and water being released into the Clinch River near Cleveland, Va., in 1967. The spill killed an estimated 217,000 fish and damaged the river for 35 years. In 2014, a break in a pond at Duke Energy’s plant in Eden, N.C., sent 27 million gallons of  sludge into the Dan River.

Jenny Cassel, an attorney for Earthjustice, said the language in the proposed Trump regulations would allow utilities to seek permits to continue to operate coal ash ponds which fail more frequently than landfills.

The Environmental Integrity Project found that 92 percent of plants with regulated ponds have at least one that leaks. Also, 76 percent of plants with regulated landfills have at least one leaking landfill. Researchers found the groundwater often has unsafe levels of four or more pollutants. They included arsenic, which causes cancers, and lithium, which can cause kidney damage and birth defects.

The levels of contamination at many sites are hundreds of times greater than what could be considered safe. For example, some of the wells at New Castle Generating Station in West Pittsburg, part of TaylorTownship, Pa., and Allen Fossil Plant near Memphis, Tenn., have enough arsenic to cause cancer in one out of six people.

The contaminated groundwater near Memphis is connected to the aquifer that supplies the drinking water for Memphis. About a third of coal ash ponds are within five miles of a public drinking water intake or reservoir. About 80 percent are within five miles of a drinking water well.

Obama administration regulations would have allowed unlined ponds to remain open until they showed statistically significant evidence of contamination.

In August 2018, the Court of Appeal for the D.C. Circuit threw out this part of the law, writing that many of the 575 known unlined ponds are likely to contaminate groundwater. The Trump EPA recently proposed that unlined ponds stop accepting coal ash by Aug. 31.

Trump EPA Guts Chemical Plant Safety Regulation

Reprinted with pemrission from DCReport

Just before the holidays, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency quietly threw out regulations protecting an estimated 177 million Americans who live and work near dangerous chemical plants. The EPA’s move came just 22 days after horrendous fire and multiple explosions 95 miles east of Houston threatened thousands.

The Chemical Disaster Rule, written under former President Barack Obama, covered about 12,500 industrial facilities nationwide using or storing highly hazardous chemicals. It included safeguards such as requiring an independent party to investigate spills and explosions and plant owners to keep safety information current.

‘People Will Die’

“People will die,” said Eric Whalen, a spokesman for Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform.

For example, the explosion at Texas Petroleum Chemicals Group in Port Neches on Nov. 27, Thanksgiving eve, killed one person and forced out 50,000 people.

The plant manufactures butadiene, an extremely flammable, colorless gas used to make tires and plastics. Butadiene is a known human cancer-causing agent. It can cause blurred vision, nausea, unconsciousness and respiratory paralysis.

The EPA finalized the Chemical Disaster Rule just a day before Obama left office in 2017. The rule was supposed to prevent tragedies like the April 17, 2013, explosion near Waco, Texas, at the West Fertilizer Co. plant. That inferno killed 15 people, injured more than 250 and damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes.

No Inspections

The fertilizer plant stored 270 tons of ammonium nitrate,1,350 times the amount that would ordinarily trigger safety oversight by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. There was no full plant inspection in almost three decades.

“The American people and American politicians, they have a short memory,” said West Mayor Tommy Muska. “They’re going to say everything is fine, and every few years something like this is going to happen again.”

At least one in three children attend school near a hazardous chemical facility. School in Port Neches was canceled after the explosions. People had to shelter in place because of the levels of butadiene.

Environmental Groups Sue

Thirteen environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Air Alliance Houston, sued the EPA over gutting the Chemical Disaster Rule.

The EPA previously calculated that its protections before the rule failed to prevent more than 2,200 chemical fires, explosions, leaks and other incidents during a 10-year period, including about 150 a year that caused injuries.

Industrial groups including American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce worked to kill the rule.

Trump Administration Hides Maps Of Pollution Danger In Communities

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Former President Ronald Reagan enshrined in law the public’s right to know what dangerous chemicals are in our communities. But Trump Republicans have killed off an online mapping tool that lets us easily do that.

ToxMap, a feature of the National Library of Medicine, which bills itself as “an international leader in health informatics research and development,” went dark Monday.

“Our National Library of Medicine has now joined this administration’s ideologically-driven anti-science crusade, effectively shrinking the public’s access to environmental as well as disease and mortality data,” wrote Chris Sellers, a professor of environmental history and politics at Stony Brook University in New York.

ToxMap started in 2004 to display information the Environmental Protection Agency collects on toxic releases of chemicals. It also included information on nuclear power plants, coal plant emissions, Census figures and health and income data. People with basic computer skills could easily map potential dangers in their communities.

Much of the information fromToxMap is still online but scattered among different web sites, making it more difficult to learn about pollution and the polluters who are Trump’s pals and campaign contributors.

Former EPA officials have described making toxic release information available to anyone who wants it as “among our most potent environmental weapons.”

Shuttering ToxMap is part of Trump’s push to roll back environmental rules and regulations.

The New York Times counted 85 rollbacks or rollbacks in process. These actions, which include canceling a requirement for oil and gas companies to report methane emissions and shrinking two national monuments in Utah, could significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions. That would lead to thousands of extra deaths each year from poor air.

Reagan signed the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act in 1986. Public demand for information about chemical releases had skyrocketed because of a pesticide release at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, in 1984 that killed thousands and a toxic chemicals release in 1985 from a Union Carbide plant in West Virginia. The law had overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats.

Forest Service Opens ‘America’s Amazon’ To Loggers

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Trump’s National Forest Service is using a refuted scientific theory to justify building roads in our country’s largest national forest, what some call “America’s Amazon.”

Loggers want to raze trees more than 1,000 years old.

The discredited study says the environmental impact of more logging in the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska would be temporary and “may be completely reversed with time.” Trees hold carbon; cutting them down would release the carbon to the atmosphere.

The Forest Service says guidelines from the United Nations’ climate authority would be followed. Two scientists whose research was cited in the U.N. study says the Forest Service is espousing junk science.

“Nothing in that report supports what they’re claiming,” says Dominick DellaSala, a former president of the Society for Conservation Biology.

Beverly Law, an Oregon State University professor, says the Trump administration’s argument is “misinformation.”

People have until Dec. 17 to comment on the draft Environmental Impact Statement. Opponents like the Sierra Club say Trump could go further, logging in parts of other national forests that are protected.

Trump’s plan, pushed by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, would slash protections for more than 9 million acres of the Tongass National Forest, an area larger than Yellowstone, Glacier and Grand Canyon national parks combined. Building roads in the Tongass is prohibited under a rule published in the last days of President Bill Clinton’s administration.

The Tongass stores more carbon removed from the atmosphere than any other national forest in the country in its old-growth Sitka spruce, hemlock and cedar trees. It  helps protect Alaska, which is warming more than twice as fast from climate change as our planet overall. The forest holds about 650 million tons of carbon or about half of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in 2017.

Alaska’s Republican politicians, including Gov. Mike Dunleavy, support logging the Tongass.

The Alaska Forest Association, an industry group that supports logging, received more than $200,000 from a USDA grant that was supposed to help states fight fires. The money was used to support undoing prohibitions against building roads.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) have asked the inspector general for the Agriculture Department to investigate any misuse of the grant.

Dunleavy defended how the money was spent.

Historically, large-scale industrial logging has damaged salmon streams. The Tongass is spawning ground for 40 percent of wild salmon along the West Coast.

“It’s sad that we have to continue to fight our own government to protect our forests and streams,” says Joel Jackson, the president of the Organized Village of Kake which depends on food such as berries and salmon from the Tongass.

The Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people rely on the land for cultural and  traditional practices like hunting and fishing.