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National
AP
Israel signs pacts with 2 Arab states

WASHINGTON — Israel on Tuesday signed historic diplomatic pacts with two Gulf Arab states at a White House ceremony that President Donald Trump declared will mark the “dawn of a new Middle East,” casting himself as an international peacemaker at the height of his reelection campaign.

The bilateral agreements formalize the normalization of Israel’s already thawing relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in line with their common opposition to Iran. But the agreements do not address the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, who view the pacts as a stab in the back from their fellow Arabs and a betrayal of their cause for a Palestinian state.

Hundreds of people massed on the sun-washed South Lawn to witness the signing of agreements in a festive atmosphere little marked by the coronavirus pandemic. Attendees did not practice social distancing and most guests didn’t wear masks.

“We’re here this afternoon to change the course of history,” Trump said from a balcony overlooking the South Lawn. “After decades of division and conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the day “is a pivot of history. It heralds a new dawn of peace.”

Neither Netanyahu nor Trump mentioned the Palestinians in their remarks, but both the UAE and Bahraini foreign ministers spoke of the importance of creating a Palestinian state.

Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the brother of Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, even thanked Netanyahu for “halting the annexation” of West Bank land claimed by the Palestinians in exchange for Emirati recognition. Netanyahu, however, has insisted that Israel has only suspended its plans to annex West Bank settlements.

“Today, we are already witnessing a change in the heart of the Middle East — a change that will send hope around the world,” al-Nahyan said.

Bahrani Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani said Bahrain would stand with the Palestinians. “Today is a truly historic occasion,” he said. “A moment for hope and opportunity.”

But in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian militants fired two rockets into Israe l, apparently meant to coincide with the ceremony. The Israeli military said the rockets were fired from Gaza and one was intercepted by air defenses. Earlier in the day, Palestinian activists held small demonstrations in the West Bank and in Gaza, where they trampled and set fire to pictures of Trump, Netanyahu and the leaders of the UAE and Bahrain.

Israel and the U.S. hope the agreements can usher in a major shift in the region should other Arab nations, particularly Saudi Arabia, follow suit. That could have implications for Iran, Syria and Lebanon. Until now, Israel has had peace deals only with Egypt and Jordan.

Other Arab countries believed to be close to recognizing Israel include Oman, Sudan and Morocco.

“We are very down the road with about five different countries,” Trump told reporters before the ceremony.

Many longtime Mideast analysts and former officials, among others, have expressed doubts about the impact of the signings.

In addition to the bilateral agreements signed by Israel, the UAE and Bahrain, all three signed a document dubbed the “Abraham Accords” after the patriarch of the world’s three major monotheistic religions.

The “Abraham Accords” and the bilateral agreement signed by Israel and Bahrain fell short of more detailed formal treaties that are the diplomatic norm. Both documents were made up of general statements pledging to advance diplomacy, mutual cooperation and regional peace.

The most detailed of the agreements was the one between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. The nations agreed to approve bilateral agreements on 15 areas of mutual interest, including finance, trade, aviation, energy, telecommunications, health, agriculture and water.

During the signing ceremony, the leaders were seated at a long table where President Harry S. Truman once held weekly luncheon meetings with his Cabinet. Discussions about the Truman Doctrine to restrain Soviet expansion during the Cold War and the Marshall Plan to send billions in economic aid to Western Europe after World War II were held at the table.

The stagecraft, including live music and flags was meant to evoke previous Middle East agreements. Trump’s political backers are looking to boost his standing as a statesman with just seven weeks to go before Election Day. Until now, foreign policy has not had a major role in a campaign dominated by the coronavirus, racial issues and the economy.

Besides Republicans, a few House Democrats attended the event, a notable development at a time when their leader, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is barely on speaking terms with the president. Many Democrats, including presidential nominee Joe Biden, widely support the deal.

Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., said she accepted the invitation immediately on receiving it over the weekend. “It definitely was a monumental event, and the ceremony was very fitting for that,” Luria, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a telephone interview afterward.

Questions remain, however, about the significance of the agreements. Even in Israel, where the accords have received widespread acclaim, there is concern they might result in U.S. sales of sophisticated weaponry to the UAE and Bahrain, thus potentially upsetting Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region.


Local
breaking featured
UPDATE: Badger Fire grows to 23,500 acres in Cassia County, other fires in region continue to burn

OAKLEY — The Badger Fire in southwest Cassia County has grown to 23,500 acres and remains 0% contained, fire officials said Tuesday morning.

The fire began Saturday about 20 miles southwest of Oakley in the Sawtooth National Forest near Badger Gulch. It is threatening multiple structures.

The cause of the fire remains unknown.

Dry conditions, high winds, low visibility and extreme fire behavior, including long-range spotting, torching and fire whirls, caused the fire to grow quickly, according to an update from the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

There is a helicopter, four engines, two crews and two dozers with 94 total people fighting the fire as of Tuesday morning.

The Great Basin Type 3 Team — Nevada Sierra Front assumed command of the fire Tuesday morning, with Incident Commander Scott Stephenson.

The fire is currently burning in grass, brush, logging slash and heavy timber, multiple structures are threatened.

Firefighters said high winds, warm temperatures and low relative humidity made their work difficult Tuesday. Fire crews will be focusing on creating a safe anchor point, constructing direct fire containment lines and point protection on structures, the forest service said.

Forest Service roads 533 and 536 are being restricted to fire personnel only. A forest closure order for the area was issued Tuesday and includes Diamondfield Jack Campground.

Wildfire engulfing road closes Idaho 21 near Stanley

A wildfire burning in the Sawtooth National Forest has forced a highway closure on Idaho Highway 21, according to U.S. Forest Service officials.

In a Sawtooth National Forest news release Tuesday, officials said the Trap Fire was burning 9 miles northeast of Stanley. The road is closed between Grandjean Road and Cape Horn Road (mile markers 112 to 119), according to the Idaho 511 traffic map.

In a Facebook post, neighboring Salmon-Challis National Forest said the fire emergency is “evolving rapidly” after the fire was first reported on Monday. The cause of the fire has not been determined, but officials said it is burning on both sides of the road in timber. It had burned about 110 acres by late Tuesday morning.

The fire, which is burning near the confluence of the Boise, Sawtooth and Salmon-Challis national forests, is one of a handful currently burning in Idaho. Officials have not released any estimates on when it might be contained.

U.S. Forest Service 

A firefighter walks on Idaho 21 toward the Trap Fire, which ignited near Stanley on Sept. 14. Part of Idaho 21 was closed due to fire activity.

Grouse Fire moves into Sawtooth National Forrest

The Grouse Fire started Sunday along the boundary of the Boise and Sawtooth national forests about 6 miles northeast of Pine, prompting a group of campers to be evacuated.

The fire has since spread from the Boise National Forrest into the Sawtooth National Forrest. As of Tuesday, it has burned 3,922 acres and is 8% contained.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. Officials expect the 269 firefighters working the area to have the fire contained by Oct. 1.

Campgrounds, recreation areas and roads in the area remain closed.

Remote fire being monitored

A third fire, the Leggit Fire, has burned 1,000 acres in a remote area in the Sawtooth Wilderness. Fire managers are using aircraft to monitor the fire.

Little says Idaho is in good shape

Despite this week’s fires, Idaho appears to have avoided a tough wildfire season so far with a combination of quick responses by state and federal firefighters and good luck with weather, Gov. Brad Little said Tuesday.

The Republican governor said an early plan forced by the coronavirus pandemic to quickly attack all wildfires appears to have paid off. Avoiding large wildfires meant avoiding large accumulations of firefighters where the virus could spread.

“The fact that we got on these fires early is one of the reasons we’re in such great shape,” Little said while presiding at the monthly meeting of the Idaho Land Board.

Officials say wildfires that Idaho is responsible for fighting have burned about 6 square miles, only 18% of the 20-year average. The number of wildfires started is 217, which is 82% of the 20-year average.

Of those 217 wildfires, 169 were started by humans and 48 by lightning.

The National Interagency Fire Center said that another 220 square miles of mostly U.S. Forest Service Land in Idaho have burned this year. Much of that is the Woodhead Fire burning in western Idaho. It has grown to about 110 square miles (285 square kilometers) and is 32% contained.

State officials say wildfire-fighting expenses so far for the state are about $19 million. Idaho has about $45 million available to spend on firefighting costs.

Idaho Department of Lands Director Dustin Miller told the land board that with large and devastating wildfires burning in Washington, Oregon and California, it’s difficult to get high-level management teams for firefighting.

But he said the wildfire season could wrap up in the next few weeks with possible cooler weather and rain.

“Fire season came late this year,” he said. “We’re hearing that in the next two or three weeks we will see some season-ending events.”

The Land Board is responsible for managing about 2.5 million acres of state-owned land to make the most money over the long term. This fiscal year it is expected to generate more than $84 million for distribution. Most of that revenue comes from timber sales.


National
AP
Choking air from Western fires just won't ease up

PORTLAND, Ore. — Relief from putrid, dangerous air spewing from massive wildfires across the West won’t come until later in the week or beyond, scientists and forecasters say, and the hazy and gunk-filled skies might stick around for even longer.

People in Oregon, Washington and parts of California were struggling under acrid yellowish-green smog — the worst, most unhealthy air on the planet according to some measurements. It seeped into homes and businesses, sneaked into cars through air conditioning vents and caused the closure of iconic locations such as Powell’s Books and the Oregon Zoo in Portland, the state’s biggest city.

“I don’t think that we should be outside, but at the same time, we’ve been cooped up in the house already for months so it’s kind of hard to dictate what’s good and what’s bad. I mean, we shouldn’t be outside period,” said Issa Ubidia-Luckett, a Portland resident, who was grabbing lunch on Monday.

Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality extended an air quality alert to Thursday after it was to initially expire on Monday. The air was so thick that on Monday Alaska Airlines announced it was suspending service to Portland and Spokane, Washington, until at least Tuesday afternoon. Hazy, smoky skies fouled Washington state and experts said some parts of California might not see relief until next month.

Zoe Flanagan, who has lived in Portland for 12 years, has barely left the house but braved the smog to walk her two dogs on Monday. On Sunday, Flanagan and her husband, in desperation, turned on the heater, which has a better filter than their air conditioning.

She said the air made her feel hungover, despite not drinking. She could not get enough water, and she had a headache. With health officials urging people to stay inside, the poor air also took away the simple pleasure of being outdoors during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Those backyard hangouts that we all got so used to as our one saving grace are now totally gone, and we just have to keep practicing letting go of what normal is,” Flanagan said.

Dylan Darling, a spokesman for the state’s department of Environmental Quality, said: “I grew up in Oregon and lived here a long time, and to see this much smoke for this long and wide spreading, really stands out in the state’s history.”

Some areas of central California blanketed by smoke are not likely to see relief until October, said Dan Borsum, the incident meteorologist for a fire in Northern California.

“It’s going to take a substantially strong weather pattern to move all the smoke,” Borsum told a fire briefing Sunday night. He said smoke from dozens of wildfires in the West and throughout California is pooling in the Central Valley, which already has some of California’s worst air quality even when wildfires are not burning.

Joe Smith, advocacy director for Sacramento Loaves & Fishes, which attends to homeless people, said California’s capital city hasn’t seen consistent blue skies in weeks. People experiencing homelessness have grappled with an unrelenting onslaught of virus, searing heat and now, polluted air they can’t escape.

“Some of the toughest folks you’ll ever meet are people who live outdoors, unhoused, but it is getting to them,” he said. “We’ve got COVID-19, followed by excessive heat wave, followed by smoke. What’s going to start falling out of the air next on these poor folks?”

In Oregon, places like the Oregon Convention Center in downtown Portland are being used as a smoke advisory shelter where people in need of healthy air quality can go.

Darling said typically during wildfires in Oregon, such as those in 2017 that carried heavy smoke to the Willamette Valley and Eugene area, people can escape to other areas of the state for clean air.

“That’s what’s standing out — there just isn’t a place in Oregon right now to find fresh air,” Darling said.


Outdoors
top story
F&G has killed more than 40 elk since late July to prevent crop damage

TWIN FALLS — Since late July, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has killed 41 elk to reduce crop destruction.

The Magic Valley elk population has been growing, and those elk have been eating more crops in the past few years. The uptick in elk-caused crop loss has gotten expensive for Fish and Game.

Fish and Game is required by state statute to compensate farmers for losses caused by big game, so as elk have eaten more crops, Fish and Game’s costs have skyrocketed. The Magic Valley region Fish and Game office paid out four claims in fiscal year 2015, totaling $69,000. That number jumped to 40 claims for $1.5 million in fiscal year 2019.

Fish and Game says paying out more than a million dollars in depredation claims every year wasn’t sustainable. So the department tried new techniques to prevent the depredations. Attempts to haze the elk away were largely unsuccessful, so during the past two years Fish and Game has used nighttime sharpshooting to both change behavior and remove animals.

COLIN TIERNAN, TIMES-NEWS FILE 

A bull elk grazes in an irrigated pasture at dusk in August in Blaine County. Elk in the northern part of the Magic Valley have been eating more crops in recent years, forcing Idaho Fish and Game to pay farmers millions of dollars for losses. 

The department killed 206 elk last year. Of the 41 elk killed this year, 37 were antlerless and four were spike bulls. The Camas Prairie and Little Camas areas in Camas and Elmore counties have had the most elk depredations.

Nighttime sharpshooting has angered some Magic Valley hunters. Many said sportsmen should be used to kill more of the animals, instead of Fish and Game staff.

Fish and Game said it’s often impossible to use sportsmen, mainly because the elk only come into the ag fields at night — it’s illegal to hunt at night, Fish and Game needs a special permit to do the sharpshooting. Plus, the elk are mainly on private land. When the elk are on public land, it’s much easier for the department to use sportsmen.

Fish and Game has used hunters more this year. The department has offered five depredation hunts on public land for elk and one for deer. Fish and Game has also had better luck coordinating with Magic Valley landowners and offering hunts on private land. Those are called managed hunts, and there have been two in 2020, for six tags. Managed hunts had been virtually unprecedented in Idaho.

Landowners can get kill permits as well — landowners have taken six antlerless elk in 2020.

All of the elk killed by Fish and Game staff are processed and donated to Idaho Hunters Feeding the Hungry. The meat ends up in Magic Valley food pantries.

Big operation coming

This fall and coming spring, Idaho Fish and Game will use a helicopter and a long, funneled trap to capture 100 antlerless elk in the Little Camas region. Focusing on removing cows should prevent the population from bouncing back too quickly. The department will move the animals to central Idaho, outside of their home range.

“They will be taken far enough away that we’re confident they will not return to the same area,” Idaho Fish and Game Regional Communications Manager Terry Thompson said.

Those 100 individuals represent about a third of the depredating herd.

The department is trapping the animals in the fall and spring to ensure those are the specific elk that have gotten into the habit of eating local crops.

It’s hard to know exactly how quickly the Little Camas herd’s population could rebound after the translocation.

“(But) we won’t know until we do it.” Thompson said, adding that the department wants to reduce the number of elk throughout the northern part of the Magic Valley region. “The ultimate goal is to have fewer elk in that area.”


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center, walks to her office, Monday on Capitol Hill in Washington.


Local
top story
Idaho’s suicide rate isn’t up in 2020. But advocates say COVID-19 stress still major concern

BOISE — Isolation, unemployment, illness and waves of major change have put mental health care providers on edge as some Idahoans are in need of help during the pandemic.

Despite allegations during the Idaho Legislature’s Special Session, including in a House concurrent resolution that failed to pass the Senate, Idaho’s suicide rate is not at a record high in 2020 due to the pandemic. Statewide, Idaho has reported fewer suicides in 2020 than we saw in 2018. However, Idaho still consistently has one of the highest suicide rates in the country.

While some areas of the state have reported modest increases, 2020’s deaths by suicide are very close in number to 2019’s deaths by suicide.

As of Aug. 31, 248 Idahoans died by suicide in 2020. By that time in 2019, the state saw 240 suicides. But by that time in 2018, the state had seen many more, counting 280 deaths by suicide, according to Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

The entire year of 2019 saw 362 suicide deaths in Idaho.

The entire year of 2018 saw 409 suicide deaths in Idaho.

“Suicide is a huge problem in Idaho in general,” said Dr. Christopher Edwards, a St. Luke’s psychologist. “If you look at in comparison to other Western U.S. states, we are much higher.”

Idaho had the fifth highest suicide rate in the U.S. in 2018, according to Health and Welfare.

Edwards said that Idaho is in the top five states for those in need for behavioral health services and in the bottom five for the amount of providers available to residents.

“We know that if we can’t get people in for care with mental health issues, it just exacerbates the problem,” Edwards said.

The pandemic hasn’t helped. Nationally, when looking at reports this time of year to last, anxiety has increased about three-fold, depression has increased about four times and about 25% of people are reporting trauma-like symptoms related to COVID-19, Edwards said.

“What we’re seeing is a frightening increase in amount of mental health issues in general; depression, anxiety, things like that,” Edwards said. “The frightening piece is typically with depression in particular we tend to see an increase in suicide as well.”

A report released in June by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 40% of adults in America are struggling during the pandemic with mental health issues or substance abuse.

“Mental health conditions are disproportionately affecting specific populations, especially young adults, Hispanic persons, Black persons, essential workers, unpaid caregivers for adults, and those receiving treatment for preexisting psychiatric conditions,” according to the CDC report. “Unpaid caregivers for adults, many of whom are currently providing critical aid to persons at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, had a higher incidence of adverse mental and behavioral health conditions compared with others.”

The increased isolation, not being able to get out as much, as well as the overall changes in lifestyle have had a serious impact on mental health. As the pandemic continues, the concern heightens.

Edwards said there is concern for people who believed coronavirus would only result in a few weeks of quarantine before returning to normal life and they would just wait to get medical care. That has now become six months of waiting.

“People who were struggling initially with some mental health issues and were sort of putting it off,” Edwards said. “Things are not getting better for them.”

While Idaho’s statistics are far from good, Edwards says there are ways to help loved ones who may be struggling.

“One of the greatest myths that we have about suicide is ‘If I talk to someone about suicide it’s gonna make them want to kill themselves, or it it’s going to put this idea in their mind that they never had before,’” Edwards said. “Actually, talking to people about suicide helps them because it gives them an outlet. “

He suggests people be willing to say “Hey, I’m worried about you. Have you had any thoughts about hurting yourself?” or asking “Are you thinking about hurting yourself or killing yourself?”

“That can open a door to a conversation that they themselves may be scared of talking about,” Edwards said. “They may think, as their friend, you’re going to judge them or think poorly of them. But if you’re willing to have that conversation … that can be literally a life-saving phrase and conversation.”

Health care workers see coronavirus impact up close

Nationally, health care workers and hospital staff have seen the impact of coronavirus up close, but that tragedy can take a toll.

St. Luke’s Health System is working to combat that problem for its staff. St. Luke’s hospitals had 29 COVID-19 patients in St. Luke’s hospitals on Sept. 10, and the number fluctuates daily.

The hospital system offers a variety of programs, ranging from yoga and counseling referrals to a critical incident stress management team, to support workers. Dr. Beth Gray, St. Luke’s system director of practice, employee safety and well-being, said she has seen an increase in staff using the programs.

One of the most popular programs for staff is called “sprinkling yoga throughout your day” and Gray said recently they had 300 staff participate. They are offering programming virtually as much as possible.

“People are recognizing that they are vulnerable and that they are looking for ways to keep themselves whole to be able to go ahead and take care of themselves,” Gray said. “...Our mission at Luke’s is to be patient-centered, but we recognize there is no way we can do that without this employee focus and make sure they feel good about the environment as well as (provide) the resources that we can provide them to take good care of themselves.”

That Critical Incident Stress Management Team is used when an especially stressful incident happens and a worker or team of workers needs to debrief about what workers need, said Gray.

“(It’s used) to normalize those feelings of sometimes inadequacy or fears and being able to share that common experience of what happened in that situation,” Gray said.

St. Luke’s Health System is hosting a community behavioral health webinar for the public on Sept. 24. Registration can be found at stlukesonline.org/communities-and-locations/classes-and-events/reduce-the-stigma.