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Hurricane Isaias churns Friday in the Caribbean. Isaias kept on a path early Friday toward the U.S. East Coast as it approached the Bahamas, parts of which are still recovering from the devastation of last year's Hurricane Dorian.

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New beef processor could be big boon for Magic Valley ranchers

JEROME — Magic Valley ranchers have talked for years about the need to increase beef processing capacity in the region.

Now a big boost is on the way.

On Friday, True West Beef announced it’ll be building a new beef processing facility near U.S. Highway 93 within Jerome’s area of impact. The company has received tax incentives from Jerome County for the project. True West Beef is owned by Boise-based Agri Beef.


Governor Brad Little talks about his excitement for the upcoming True West Beef processing plant Friday at the Jerome County Airport. True West Beef will produce products for two high-end beef brands, giving Magic Valley ranchers access to a niche market. 

The Jerome facility will process 500 head of cattle a day and will employ nearly 400 workers at an average salary of $52,000 a year. The company does not yet know exactly when that facility will be finished or how much it will cost.

“This is a generational moment for everybody in this valley,” Oakley rancher Doug Pickett said. “It’s something we’ve hoped for for years.”

Historically, most Magic Valley-raised cattle have been shipped out of the region or state for processing. Long-distance shipping can mean less profit for producers. There are a few smaller processors in south-central Idaho — perhaps most notably Ida-Beef in Burley, which opened in 2018 and specializes in dairy cull cows — but local producers have long been eager to have more meatpackers.


Robert Rebholtz Jr., president and CEO of Agri Beef, announces plans for the upcoming True West Beef processing plant Friday at the Jerome County Airport. 

Idaho Gov. Brad Little, a rancher, attended True West Beef’s unveiling Friday at the Jerome County Airport and said the company will be a boon both to the cattle-rich Magic Valley and the state. This will add value to local beef, he said.

“It so reflects what everyone in Idaho wants to see,” Little said. “I can’t think of anything more valuable.”

Finding a niche

Agri Beef’s business covers virtually every step of the beef supply chain, from genetics operations, nutrition products and feedlots to processing, niche product marketing and online overnight beef sales. The company has feedlots in Idaho and a mid-size processing facility in Toppenish, Washington.

Much of Agri Beef’s business is focused on high-end, niche foods. Agri Beef owns the Snake River Farms, Double R Ranch, St. Helens Farms and Rancho El Oro brands. Some of those brands can be found in Magic Valley grocery stores, and some Agri Beef products have been lauded by professional chefs or appeared on national cooking television shows.

Snake River Farms Wagyu cattle are raised in eastern Idaho, while Double R Ranch beef is raised in Washington.

While an increase in local processing capacity will likely be a big benefit for some ranchers, it’s not only the beef packing that has some producers excited. The Jerome processing plant will mainly produce Snake River Farms and Double R Ranch products. Those brands are growing more popular, which is why Agri Beef needed to ramp up its processing capacity.

“It’s not just 500 head, it’s 500 head of highly, highly prized, value-added, highly-marketed livestock that’s going to go throughout the world,” Little said. “This is a big, big addition.”

When Agri Beef markets the Snake River Farms and Double R Ranch brands, it emphasizes that they come from Idaho and the Northwest. Some consumers are increasingly drawn to products that can be traced back to a specific region.

Magic Valley ranchers who can sell their beef to niche markets could see bigger profits.

“That’s huge for these ranchers,” Idaho Rep. Laurie Lickley said. “They don’t have to develop their own brands and labels.”

Pickett noted that most Magic Valley ranchers have never had an opportunity to market their beef like this. He said that bringing recognizable, desired brands to the area will help ranchers keep their operations going for future generations.

“I can’t imagine a better scenario,” he said. “It’s the next step in diversifying our ag economy and giving us a chance to be more stable going forward.”

An unusual model

Not only will some Snake River Farms and Double R Ranch beef come from the Magic Valley and be processed in a Jerome facility, some Magic Valley ranchers will partially own that facility.

True West Beef will have a somewhat unusual ownership arrangement. Agri Beef will be the majority owner of the Jerome plant, but the ranchers who provide beef to the facility will also have equity. True West Beef Executive Vice President Jay Theiler said the company will know in the next month or two which producers will be partial owners of the plant, but it’s highly likely some of them will be Magic Valley ranchers.

“We believe that this model can serve as a new way for beef processing to expand in the U.S. and meet consumer needs,” Thieler said.

Little noted that other Idaho products already have great marketing and brand recognition. And for many Gem State staples a lot of processing is done in state, keeping more of the revenue here.

Adding True West Beef will help make that true for the beef industry.

“We’ve got the dairy industry pretty well taken care of,” Little said. “We’ve got the potato industry pretty well taken care of. The gaping hole was the beef industry.”

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UPDATE: Drops Fire near Shoshone now at 3,000 acres; 15 engines plus air attack on scene

SHOSHONE — A wildfire ate up at least 3,000 acres of rocky desert Friday, coming dangerously close to several buildings on the northwest side of Lincoln County’s largest city.

The Drops Fire began some time before 10 a.m. Friday morning right on Shoshone’s northwestern edge, next to the Lincoln County transfer station. The cause of the fire is still under investigation. A handful of planes, a helicopter, 15 fire engines and roughly 150 firefighters attacked the blaze on what was already a 100-degree day without the added heat from the fire.


Lt. Derek Oliver, of the Shoshone Fire Department, watches as the Drops Fire burns more than 2,000 acres Friday near Shoshone.

As of early afternoon, a massive wall of pale gray smoke blocked out much of the cloudless sky just outside Shoshone.

Planes swooped in and out of the smoke, dropping long, billowing plumes of crimson retardant on the flames. A helicopter repeatedly doused the fire with massive buckets of water.

In patches on the now-black desert, white smoke curled out of hotspots the fire had already passed through. The area smelled strongly of burnt sagebrush. Much of the desert around the fire is dominated by a brown-gold carpet of cheatgrass and other invasive species. In recent years the same area burned in the Lava Fire and Antelope Fire.

A handful of agencies, including the Wendell, Gooding and Shoshone fire departments, Bureau of Land Management, Notch Butte Rangeland Fire Protection Association and U.S. Forest Service fought the fire.

As of 2 p.m. Friday, the fire had not incinerated any structures and was heading northwest, away from Shoshone.

Mitch Silvester, the BLM’s incident commander for the Drops Fire, said the wind was likely to shift later in the afternoon, potentially pushing the fire back toward the city.


The Drops Fire burns more than 2,000 acres Friday near Shoshone.

“We’re really worried about it coming back,” Silvester said. “We’re really getting a good plan in place for the future to keep the people of Shoshone safe.”

The Drops Fire poses a few challenges for firefighters. For one, it’s in unforgiving terrain. The landscape is covered in lava rock outcrops that make it difficult to drive close to the fire in an engine. It’s incredibly difficult — or impossible — to drive a bulldozer over bare, bumpy areas of lava rock.

On top of that, Friday’s 100-degree heat helps the fire.

“It’s extremely hot, this is one of the hottest days of the summer so far,” Silvester said. “The winds have been pretty strong this morning. Starting to calm down for a little bit, but we know they’re going to switch back the other direction.”

Silvester said that the strategy to keep Shoshone safe involves keeping a lot of engines on the fire, while “mopping up the line that could affect the city of Shoshone.” During the early afternoon, some firefighters were spraying down smoldering hotspots near the city.


A helicopter drops a payload of water to try and control the Drops Fire as it spreads more than 2,000 acres Friday near Shoshone.

As a backup, firefighters are also bulldozing the area around some Shoshone neighborhoods to create a firebreak. That should create a defensive buffer zone if the primary plan doesn’t work out.

BLM Twin Falls District spokeswoman Kelsey Brizendine said that it’s been a relatively mild fire year so far. The Drops Fire is the largest the district has fought in 2020.

Brizendine also emphasized that the public needs to keep a safe distance from the Drops Fire. Silvester noted that some people have been getting in the way and potentially putting themselves in dangerous spots.

“I know it’s interesting and cool to look at it,” Brizendine said. “But we really need people to stay out of the area and let the firefighters do their jobs.”

PHOTOS: Drops Fire spreads more than 2,000 acres

Fauci hopeful of vaccine

WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday that he remains confident that a coronavirus vaccine will be ready by early next year, telling lawmakers that a quarter-million Americans already have volunteered to take part in clinical trials.

But if the future looks encouraging, public health alarms are still going off in the present. Officials testifying with Fauci at a contentious House hearing acknowledged that the U.S. remains unable to deliver all COVID-19 test results within two or three days, and they jointly pleaded with Americans to comply with basic precautions such as wearing masks, avoiding crowds, and washing their hands frequently.

Those simple steps can deliver “the same bang for the buck as if we just shut the entire economy down,” said a frustrated Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adding that he has studies to back that up.

Meanwhile, Pharma giants GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi Pasteur announced they will supply 100 million doses of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine to the United States as governments buy up supplies in hopes of securing a candidate that works.

The United States will pay up to $2.1 billion “for development including clinical trials, manufacturing, scale-up and delivery” of the vaccine, the two companies based in Europe said in a statement. Sanofi will get the bulk of the funds.

Looking ahead, Fauci said he’s “cautiously optimistic that we will have a vaccine by the end of this year and as we go into 2021. I don’t think it’s dreaming … I believe it’s a reality (and) will be shown to be reality.” As the government’s top infectious disease expert, Fauci heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Under White House orders, federal health agencies and the Defense Department are carrying out a plan dubbed Operation Warp Speed to deliver 300 million vaccine doses on a compressed timeline. That will happen only after the Food and Drug Administration determines that one or more vaccines are safe and effective. Several candidates are being tested.

Don’t look for a mass nationwide vaccination right away, Fauci told lawmakers. There will be a priority list based on recommendations from scientific advisers. Topping the list could be critical workers, such as as medical personnel, or vulnerable groups of people such as older adults with other underlying health problems.

“But ultimately, within a reasonable period of time, the plans now allow for any American who needs a vaccine to get it within the year 2021,” Fauci said.

Fauci, Redfield, and Department of Health and Human Services “testing czar” Admiral Brett Giroir testified at a moment when early progress against the coronavirus seems to have been frittered away. High numbers of new cases cloud the nation’s path. The three officials appeared before a special House panel investigating the government’s pandemic response, itself sharply divided along party lines.

Almost 4.5 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19, and more than 150,000 have died. In recent weeks the virus has rebounded in the South and West, and now upticks are being seen in the Midwest. Testing bottlenecks remain a major issue.

Asked if it’s possible to deliver coronavirus test results to patients within 48 to 72 hours, Giroir acknowledged “it is not a possible benchmark we can achieve today given the demand and supply.”

But rapid, widespread testing is critical to containing the pandemic. It makes it easier for public health workers to trace the contacts of an infected person. Delayed test results only allow more people to get infected.

Giroir said a two- to three-day turnaround “is absolutely a benchmark we can achieve moving forward.”

The bitter politics surrounding the U.S. response to the coronavirus was evident at the hearing by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

As the health officials testified, President Donald Trump in a tweet repeated a false claim that high numbers of U.S. cases are due to extensive testing. Committee Chairman James Clyburn, D-S.C., tried to enlist Fauci to rebut the president.

During the hearing Clyburn displayed a chart showing rising cases in the U.S. juxtaposed with lower levels across Europe. That caught the president’s eye.

Trump tweeted: “Somebody please tell Congressman Clyburn, who doesn’t have a clue, that the chart he put up indicating more CASES for the U.S. than Europe, is because we do MUCH MORE testing than any other country in the World.”

Clyburn turned to Fauci for a real-time fact check.

“Now Dr. Fauci,” the chairman intoned, “do you agree with the president’s statement, or do you stand by your previous answer that the difference is caused by multiple factors including the fact that some states did not do a good job of reopening?”

Fauci answered directly.

“I stand by my previous statement that the increase in cases was due to a number of factors,” he said. One was “that in the attempt to reopen, that in some situations, states did not abide strictly by the guidelines that the task force and the White House had put out.”

The NFL suspended free agent wide receiver Antonio Brown for the first eight regular-season games of the 2020 season Friday under the league’s personal conduct policy. Brown has caught 841 passes for 11,236 yards and 75 touchdowns in parts of 10 NFL seasons.

US: Snake River dams will not be removed to save salmon

SPOKANE, Wash. — The U.S. government announced Friday that four huge dams on the Snake River in Washington state will not be removed to help endangered salmon migrate to the ocean.

The decision thwarts the desires of environmental groups that fought for two decades to breach the structures.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement was issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration, and sought to balance the needs of salmon and other interests.

The plan calls for spilling more water over the dams at strategic times to help fish migrate faster to and from the ocean, a tactic that has already been in use.

Environmental groups panned the Trump administration plan as inadequate to save salmon, an iconic Northwest species. They contend the dams must go if salmon are to survive.

“This plan is not going to work,’’ said Joseph Bogaard, director of Save Our Wild Salmon.

“The federal failure to remove the dams despite clear supporting science is a disaster for our endangered salmon and orcas,” said Sophia Ressler of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Scientists warn that southern resident orcas are starving to death because of a dearth of chinook salmon that are their primary food source. The Pacific Northwest population of orcas — also called killer whales — was placed on the endangered species list in 2005.

Todd True of Earthjustice called the plan “a slap in the face to Native American Tribes, rural fishing communities and anyone in the Northwest who cares about the future of our salmon, orcas and the economic well-being of our river and ocean communities.’’

The dams have many defenders, including Republican politicians from the region, barge operators and other river users, farmers and business leaders.

Three Republican members of Congress from Washington state hailed the decision.

“We have always said that our rivers and the benefits they provide are the lifeblood of our region,” Reps. Dan Newhouse, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Jaime Herrera Beutler said in a joint statement

``The benefits of the dams along the mighty Columbia and Snake rivers are far too precious for our region to go without,’’ they said. ``We are proud to see a comprehensive, science-based process come to fruition.’’

The four hydroelectric dams were built from the 1960s to the 1970s between Pasco and Pomeroy, Washington. Since then, salmon populations have plunged.

The dams have fish ladders that allow some salmon and other species to migrate to the ocean and then back to spawning grounds. But the vast majority of the fish die during the journey.

The 100-foot (30 meter) tall dams generate electricity, provide irrigation and flood control, and allow barges to operate all the way to Lewiston, Idaho, 400 miles from the Pacific Ocean.

The final report was similar to a draft plan issued in February, which concluded that removing the four dams would destabilize the power grid, increase overall greenhouse emissions and more than double the risk of regional power outages.

The four dams are part of a vast and complex hydroelectric power system operated by the federal government in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

The 14 federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers together produce 40% of the region’s power — enough electricity for nearly 5 million homes.

But the dams have proven disastrous for salmon that hatch in freshwater streams, then make their way hundreds of miles to the ocean, where they spend years before finding their way back to mate, lay eggs and die.

Snake River sockeye were the first species in the Columbia River Basin listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1991. Now, 13 salmon runs are listed as federally endangered or threatened. Four of those runs return to the Snake River.

The Columbia River system dams cut off more than half of salmon spawning and rearing habitat, and many wild salmon runs in the region have 2% or less of their historic populations, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

On the way to the ocean, juvenile salmon can get chewed up in the dams’ turbines.

In all, three federal judges have thrown out five plans for the system over the decades after finding they didn’t do enough to protect salmon.

A record of decision on the plan announced Friday will be released in September.