Ever since environmental writer and activist Terry Tempest Williams, in February, handed her credit card to the BLM to pay for two oil and gas leases—1,120 acres north of Arches National Park—the agency has “sweated” over whether to issue the leases. This week, the BLM decided to withhold the leases and refund Williams because it claims the company she and her husband, Brooke, created “has no intention of developing the two leases.”
We have made clear to the BLM that we would consider developing our leases when science supports a sustainable use of the oil and gas at an increased value given the costs of climate change to future generations.
The story of Asmaa Albukaie, whose husband and two young boys were kidnapped, never saw her husband again, got her boys back, left for Jordan, then Egypt, where she applied for refugee status through the United Nations, went through two years of interviews and background checks, got a ticket to the United States—to “Boise”—which she had to Google.
“I noticed that women in movies, American women, decide whatever they want to decide. This is not acceptable in Syria. So I made my own decision to learn and study, but I hid in the bathroom because my husband didn’t allow me to study,” said Albukaie, laughing about that now.
Albukaie told me her story in a coffee shop in downtown Boise, where we spoke for about 90 minutes. The city of Boise, Idaho, is taking in a lot of Syrian refugees: 122 so far this year. That’s more than twice as many as Los Angeles, Boston and New York combined.
Albukaie and her two teenage sons — who arrived in November 2014 — were the first Syrian refugees in Idaho.
Boise has been resettling a lot of refugees, from many nations, because of the affordable housing and need for workers in sparsely populated Idaho.
Albukaie recently gave a TED Talk in Moscow, Idaho.
Could idle wells become geothermal heat sources?
Mitchell Pomphrey, an Edmonton-based entrepreneur, has an idea to fix Alberta’s idle-well problem. The manager of a group called the Living Energy Project says it can retrofit older, unproductive wells into geothermal heat sources. “We’re trying to reuse things that would otherwise be wasted,” he says.
The most recent count from the Alberta Energy Regulator shows there were 84,100 inactive wells in the province in September, which is up from 77,600 in March. Meanwhile, the number of orphaned wells in the province — wells for which there is no financially responsible company — has almost doubled during the same time period, rising to 1,285 from 698.
The provincial government is concerned taxpayer money may be needed to clean up after the energy industry if the number of idle wells continues to grow.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says the public need not worry about the yellow-orange smoke that billowed last week from a Commerce City refinery.
A power failure at the refinery caused an emergency shut down and sent sulfur dioxide into the air as part of the shut down procedure. The billowing smoke led emergency officials to warn nearby residents to stay indoors and to lockdown a school and close roads for a few hours.
The plant resumed operations on Sunday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants a national carbon price, in part to discourage firms from migrating to provinces, like Saskatchewan, with no carbon price, or with very low ones.
Provinces will be free to choose the system that best suits local industry. Those that opt for cap-and-trade schemes will have to meet or exceed Canada’s target of cutting emissions by 30%. Provinces will be allowed to keep the money they raise.
That will not mollify them. Energy-producing provinces, such as Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland & Labrador, worry about the effect of carbon prices on the oil industry and on export-dependent livelihoods, such as lentil farming. They are in the second year of a recession caused by a slump in oil prices. Citizens in those provinces are hostile, although 63% of Canadians support Mr Trudeau’s climate policy, according to a new poll.
24/7 Wall St., a financial news and opinion website, posted a list of the 10 worst states for women. Wyoming ranks second worst, Idaho third, Utah fourth, and Montana eighth.
In 1869, Wyoming became the first state in the country to grant women’s suffrage, roughly five decades before Congress passed the 19th Amendment. Despite being a leader in this important milestone, conditions in Wyoming today are some of the least favorable for women.
No state, for example, has a wider gender pay gap than Wyoming. The typical female worker earns $36,064, or just 64.4% of the $55,965 male median earnings in the state.
Will Montana voters approve a ballot measure to expand the state’s highly restricted medical marijuana law?
A Lee Newspapers poll of more than 1,000 registered voters, conducted Oct. 10–12, found that 51 percent of people responding said they they would vote no on the ballot initiative.
Those in the I-182 campaign say that the majority of voters remain on their side. The campaign’s own poll, conducted by Colorado-based Harstad Strategic Research, had 59 percent in favor of the measure, with 32 percent against and 9 percent undecided.
The 80-megawatt Grand View solar project is more than twice as big as the farm built in Kuna several months ago and will provide clean energy to some 17,000 homes.
Mountain bikers have found spiked boards buried on the Dirt Surfer trail above Eagle, Colorado, prompting an investigation involving the BLM and local law enforcement agencies.
“We are definitely taking the threat of potential harm very seriously,” Eagle County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Amber Barrett said. “We don’t want anyone retaliating over this. We want everyone to get along on the trails. It’s hunting season and we’ve got trail joggers who have issues with mountain bikers who have issues with hunters and horseback riders. But setting a malicious trap like this, we are not going to take lightly.”
An interim report finds that birds, plants, and groundwater continue to benefit from the pilot effort to revive the Colorado River delta.
The interim report, released on Wednesday, documents the effects of the environmental flows in the delta from the initial pulse in March 2014 plus subsequent supplemental deliveries of water through December 2015.
“Some of the cottonwoods that germinated during the initial pulse flow are now more than 10 feet tall,” Karl W. Flessa, UA professor of geosciences and co-chief scientist of the team that’s monitoring the impact of the pulse, said in a statement.
Migratory waterbirds, nesting waterbirds, and nesting riparian birds have all increased in abundance, the report says. The monitoring team found that the abundance of 19 bird species of conservation concern, including vermillion flycatchers, hooded orioles, and yellow-breasted chats, was 43 percent higher at the restoration sites than at other sites in the floodplain.
Climate change has forced Washington State’s Yakima Basin to rethink how it manages water—and its plan could “point the way for an American West where long-standing water challenges are only growing more urgent and fractious.”
The pressure to solve decades-old disputes is rising. Water is already one of the West’s most contentious issues, with an infinite number of colliding interests — urban residents, farmers, environmentalists, native Americans, agribusiness owners, hydroelectric operators — all dipping their hoses into receding rivers and reservoirs. The only thing they all seem to have in common is their impulse to hire a lawyer.
Now, amid growing urbanization and the effects of climate change, the tensions are becoming even more fraught.
Yet the Yakima accord has given some people optimism that there’s a way out of this Gordian knot. They hope the example here — the deal as well as the years of squabbling and millions of dollars spent in courtrooms — will convince other regions to broker similar accords rather than perpetuate the debilitating era of water wars.
While the proposed Bears Ears National Monument doesn’t include any tribal lands, it would give a coalition of tribes “the freedom to be stewards of their homeland, and to have some say over how that land is administered, protected and interpreted to the public.”
…the Bears Ears battle at its core comes down to one type of local control versus another, of the Sagebrush Rebellion against an Indigenous uprising to gain sovereignty over ancestral homelands.
“It’s been far too long that us Natives have not been at the table,” says Malcolm Lehi, a Ute Mountain Ute council representative from the White Mesa community in San Juan County, at the Bluff hearing. “Here we are today inviting ourselves to the table. We’re making history.”
A federal report (PDF) finds that since 2009 the Wyoming Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been unable to collect in excess of $4.5 million in unpaid penalties for health and safety violations, money that’s passed on to school districts.
In response to the unpaid fines, Wyoming had enlisted a collections agency to better collect on delinquent companies, John Ysebaert, Wyoming’s workforce standards and compliance administrator, wrote in [a response to some of the federal report’s findings in a July 29 letter].
In this episode of West Obsessed, the writers and editors of High Country News discuss some of the most interesting challenges — and solutions — to rural food supply.
How to buck the BLM’s wild horse problem?
The BLM’s wild horse program pays $49 million a year in rent for private ranches, corrals and feedlots where it stores the 46,000 wild horses it has removed from the West’s public lands. The cost is a symptom of a broader problem: too many wild horses roaming the West—about 77,000, some 27,000 more than the agency says the land can support.
Trying to make that rent has pushed the wild horse program into crisis. The expense eats up 66 percent of the federal budget for managing wild horses, and it is expected to total more than $1 billion over the life of the herds. The program cannot afford to continue old management practices that created the problem in the first place, or afford to come up with solutions that might fix it.
In short, the agency cannot break its cycle of storing horses because it is too busy storing horses.
“We’re in a real pickle,” Mr. Bolstad said. “We have huge challenges ahead of us, and we don’t have the resources to respond.”
Negotiators from more than 170 countries reached a legally binding accord to counter climate change by cutting the use of hydrofluorocarbons—“a sort of supercharged greenhouse gas, with 1,000 times the heat-trapping potency of carbon dioxide.” The pact could have an equal or even greater impact than the Paris agreement.
Over all, the deal is expected to lead to the reduction of the equivalent of 70 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — about two times the carbon pollution produced annually by the entire world.
The Kigali accord is “much, much, much stronger than Paris,” said Durwood Zaelke, the president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, a research organization. “This is a mandatory treaty. Governments are obligated to comply.”
The deal is an amendment to the Montreal Protocol, the landmark 1987 pact designed to close the hole in the ozone layer by banning ozone-depleting coolants called chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs. That means the Kigali amendment maintains the legal force of a treaty, even if that treaty was ratified by the Senate during the Reagan administration.
Chemical companies responded to the 1987 agreement by developing HFCs, which do not harm the ozone layer but do trap heat in the atmosphere.
There are few places in the country with more wind energy potential than Wyoming, but the state has seen almost no new wind turbines built in six years. That’s about to change.
In total, more than $12 billion dollars worth of wind projects are proposed in Wyoming. The tabling of the tax hike was good news for those projects, but political support alone isn’t enough for Wyoming’s wind industry to boom — there are technical challenges as well.
Most of the wind built in Wyoming would be sold to customers out of state, but there aren’t enough power lines to carry it. Half a dozen proposals for new lines have been stuck in the permitting process for years. But now, several of those are close to being approved, and that could open the floodgates.
Cypress Creek Renewables cites vague engineering delays for why at least five of the California company’s permitted solar farms in Montana are currently stalled. All were approved before the state Public Service Commission in June suspended the requirement that NorthWestern Energy pay small-scale solar energy producers $66 per megawatt hour.
There’s a new class of city bears that researchers find to be highly adapted to urban terrain and evade detection by foraging at night.
“It is amazing to me that, given all the time she spends in town — she is a big bear — she’s never gotten into significant trouble that has resulted in efforts to trap and remove her,” said Colorado Parks and Wildlife researcher Heather Johnson, who tracks [a 225-pound bear known as] B27 as part of an unprecedented five-year project driven by rising bear-human conflicts.
Solar Roadways is the only business receiving federal highway research money in pursuit of solar road panels, part of the Federal Highway Administration’s efforts to fight climate change.
[Scott Brusaw’s] business, Solar Roadways, recently unveiled its first public installation, in a downtown plaza in this northern Idaho resort town. It’s 150 square feet of hexagon-shaped solar panels that people can walk and bicycle on.
The company is working on proof that the panels, for which it has a patent, are strong enough and have enough traction to handle motor vehicles, including semitrailers.
Montana U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, has asked the Obama administration to block a pair of mining proposals outside Yellowstone National Park, and announced that he’s considering legislation to accomplish that.
In a letter (PDF) sent Thursday to the heads of the Interior Department, USDA, Forest Service, and BLM, Tester wrote, in part:
Mining has long played an important role in Montana’s history and our economy, but there are some places where it simply isn’t appropriate. The doorstep of Yellowstone, which was established as our first national park 144 years ago, is one of those places. The approximately 31,400 acres of public lands proposed from withdrawal adjacent to Yellowstone and the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness in the Custer Gallatin National Forest deserve special consideration because of their unique character, exceptional beauty, and ecological value.
The Billings Gazette recently reported that the proposals highlight “the growing pains of the New West — an old economy of resource extraction versus a cleaner, but often lower-paying, service industry; recreation versus industry; wildlife and the remaining areas of undisturbed habitat versus development,” and produced the following video.
Tester has also come out against the contentious Black Butte copper mine proposal, which could pollute the Smith River, saying the river “represents one of the best places to float, fish, and camp, and one of the last places you can escape civilization and truly experience Montana as our ancestors did.”
A new report (PDF) by the Conference of Western Attorney Generals, based on two years of work, casts doubt on many of the arguments Utah and other states have put forward in their push to gain control of millions of acres of federal land. CWAG, made up of the top law officers in 15 western states and three U.S. territories, voted 11–1 to approve the report at their annual meeting in Idaho this summer.
The report’s conclusion, in part:
Equality of sovereignty is an important constitutional principle that can help prevent federal intrusions upon the sovereignty and independence of the states. Court precedents, however, provide little support for the proposition that the principles of equal footing or equal sovereignty may compel transfer of public lands to the western states.
David Showalter celebrates the sage grouse in his recent book Sage Spirit. Journalist Todd Wilkinson recently interviewed Showalter on what he learned as he toured the country speaking about sage grouse and the government’s controversial decision not to list the species.
I never really wanted my book to be a grouse book; it’s far more important that we view this sagebrush sea as the fabric that holds the West together. Sage-grouse are an umbrella species for 300-plus western wildlife species that rely on sagebrush for survival and sage-grouse offer a window into this remarkable, singular sagebrush ecosystem.
Pairing food with marijuana in Colorado.
The marijuana industry is trying to move away from its pizza-and-Doritos roots as folks explore how to safely serve marijuana and food. Chefs are working with marijuana growers to chart the still-very-unscientific world of pairing food and weed. And a proliferation of mass-market cheap pot is driving professional growers to develop distinctive flavors and aromas to distinguish themselves in a crowded market.
“We talk with the (marijuana) grower to understand what traits they saw in the marijuana … whether it’s earthy notes, citrus notes, herbal notes, things that we could play off,” said Corey Buck, head of catering for Blackbelly Restaurant, a top-rated farm-to-table restaurant that provided the meal.
Lighthouse Resources, which operates mines in Montana and Wyoming, says it’s exporting coal to South Korea through British Columbia’s Westshore Terminals, and abandoning the stalled coal terminal proposal at Port of Morrow in Boardman, Oregon.
“I imagine Lighthouse doesn’t see a future for coal exports on the Columbia,” said Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky with Columbia Riverkeepers. “I see their attempt to export coal through Canada as a backdoor way to avoid the environmental standards that Oregon and Washington have put in place to review — and in Oregon’s case deny — coal exports.”
South Korea, Asia’s fourth-largest economy, plans to build 19 new coal-fired power plants by 2022, and ranks among the top coal importers globally.
Sicilian-born artist Giuseppe Licari has spent the last month and a half collecting, disassembling and then reconfiguring burned trees — many of them from Idaho’s massive Pioneer Fire—for a new art exhibit called “Contrappunto,” which means counterpoint.
“So in a way, metaphorically, this burning landscape somehow reflects the burning political situation we are in and the results we are seeing also in contemporary society,” says Licari. “Not just in the States or in Europe, but in the world.”
About 13.7 million people, or 6 percent of the U.S. population over age 16, consider themselves hunters. Below are some figures from the U.S. Census Bureau’s National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation 2011 report, the latest available.
On Thursday, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock took the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayors’ Monarch Pledge, committing the city to “sustainable practices” that will help a butterfly whose numbers in North America have declined drastically.
Denver’s effort will include creating a monarch-friendly demonstration garden at City Hall, converting abandoned lots to monarch habitat and changing mowing schedules to allow milkweed to grow.
A recovery will require much more than milkweed:
A new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concludes that human-induced climate change has doubled the area affected by forest fires in the West over the last 30 years.
Fires in western forests began increasing abruptly in the 1980s, as measured by area burned, the number of large fires, and length of the fire season. The increases have continued, and recently scientists and public officials have in part blamed human-influenced climate change. The new study is perhaps the first to quantify that assertion. “A lot of people are throwing around the words climate change and fire — specifically, last year fire chiefs and the governor of California started calling this the ‘new normal,’ “ said lead author John Abatzoglou, a professor of geography at the University of Idaho. “We wanted to put some numbers on it.”
The EPA is wrestling with whether to try to contain toxic mine drainage inside the mountains, or funnel it out and clean it perpetually at huge expense.
Colorado and federal authorities want to resolve the issue as soon as possible because today’s untreated flow into Animas headwaters — averaging 3,750 gallons a minute — may be hurting not only the environment but human health, officials said recently.
All it would take inside this abandoned Red and Bonita Mine tunnel is a turn of the blue screw on that bulkhead plug to stop hundreds of gallons of the sulfuric acid from leaking. But if the EPA crew does turn that screw, shutting a valve, the blockage could cause new toxic blowouts from other mountainside tunnels, veins, faults and fissures.
The BLM has released its final environmental impact statement for the two segments of the Gateway West project proposed by Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power. Should it win final approval, the 1,000-mile transmission line would run through southern Wyoming and southern Idaho, potentially tapping into Wyoming’s wind energy.
As growth and development spread across the Treasure Valley, the Treasure Valley Food Coalition is starting a conversation about preserving farmland in places like Canyon County.
…Boise State has released a new survey that shows 24 percent of respondents think agriculture is the most important economic sector in the Treasure Valley.
Environmentalists and Wyoming ranchers agreed last month to end their two-year legal fight over whether a field worker trespassed when measuring water pollution on public grazing allotments. The real conflict, both sides agree, was never really as much about “trespassing” as it was about who was trespassing.
…the “settlement” between the 17 Wyoming ranchers who brought the lawsuit and Western Watersheds, the Idaho-based environmental watchdog, is like a ceasefire in Syria — more posturing than fact — rather than an actual end to hostilities.
Provo city leaders have approved a new fee for rooftop solar customers, arguing, as many utilities do, that net metering amounts to a subsidy paid by customers without solar panels. Matt Pacenza, executive director of HEAL Utah, a renewables advocacy group, said that instead of making it easier to install solar, “four council members decided to stick a knife in its back.” Rooftop solar is generally booming in Utah.
From Utility Dive:
The utility in an open letter to customers on its Facebook page said the “new Grid Access Fee is not intended to raise revenue but is intended to cover the fixed cost of the distribution system accessed by solar customers and not transfer these cost to customers that do not have the opportunity to install solar panels.”
Nationally, nearly a third of new homes built since 2000 are in the wildland-urban interface.
More than half the wildfires between 1992 and 2013 occurred in southern states such as Texas, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina. Fires there typically are smaller — with an average size of 27.6 acres. Fires in Western states are roughly six times larger.
But as climate change continues to bring warmer, drier conditions to most of the country, many experts agree that wildfires will be both larger and more frequent.
And those frequently tasked with battling the flames — local fire departments — often don’t have the training to fight wildfires.
The U.S. Court of Appeals has now joined the Federal District Court in denying the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s motion for an injunction to stop construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.
As travelers increasingly descend on Colorado, how to “push the right travelers to the right places”?
Tourism is booming in Colorado. Last year the state lured 77.7 million visitors who spent $19.1 billion, setting a fifth record for an industry that generated $1.13 billion in state and local taxes. Since the depth of the Great Recession, Colorado has seen a 31 percent rebound in visitation — almost double the national rate of recovery.
This year is pacing toward a sixth consecutive record number of visitors, and along the way, tourism leaders say they are hearing a consistent lament from Colorado’s most popular destinations: We are too busy.
Jordan Fisher Smith, who came to know the Craigheads while working on a book about John and Frank’s collision with the National Park Service, writes about “the most recognizable faces in American wildlife conservation” in the ’60s and ’70s.
They wore flannel shirts and lived in log cabins, but were presciently unsentimental about what was “natural” or “unnatural” — a distinction that, with climate change and other human injuries to the planet, has become harder and harder to make. They thought only about what would give wild creatures a chance.
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