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.
Researchers in Colorado and around the country are starting to take a closer look at how air pollution from oil and gas development, particularly ground-level ozone, affects public health.
Some researchers are starting to draw a straight line between ozone and oil and gas development. In a study published in September in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers in Pennsylvania found that exposure to oil and gas air pollution was associated with exacerbated asthma attacks. It was the first scientific study of its kind.
Another report this summer linked asthma attacks and oil and gas development. It was written by an environmental advocacy coalition, the Clean Air Task Force, and said tens of thousands of childhood asthma attacks here in the future would be caused by oil and gas development. The report was not peer-reviewed. The oil and gas industry in Colorado rejected the study.
Another recent study was the first to quantify the contribution of the oil and gas industry on the amount of ozone on Colorado’s Front Range.
“Oil and gas contributed seventeen percent to ozone production locally,” said Erin McDuffie, who is a scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.
A federal judge has invalidated the BLM’s approval of 16 gas wells in Utah’s Uinta Basin, saying the agency didn’t sufficiently analyze how the wells would contribute to the rural region’s worsening air quality.
The ruling illustrates how ozone could be the Achilles’ heel for future development in the hydrocarbon-rich Uinta Basin, already saddled with transportation bottlenecks that render its 30-million-barrel output of crude less valuable than oil produced elsewhere. Although the basin is rural, it has been plagued with an unusual wintertime ozone problem that is largely attributed to the region’s oil and gas boom. Emissions and leaks from drill rigs, wells, pipelines, tanks and compressors react with sunlight to form ground-level ozone during cold-weather inversions.
Airborne methane is difficult to track using conventional analysis, but the “crisp signal” of ethane serves as evidence that the Bakken is leaking raw natural gas, including huge amounts of methane.
What they found in the skies over the Bakken that May was the equivalent of 1 to 3 percent of the world’s estimated emissions of ethane floating over a relatively tiny place. It was evidence that the Bakken was leaking raw natural gas, including huge amounts of methane, which is 86 times more potent as a global warmer than carbon dioxide during the first nine years of its life. Then it decays into carbon dioxide, which can last for centuries.
The study concluded that the Bakken was leaking methane at a rate of 275,000 tons per year. That meant finding and closing the leaks would have about the same impact on climate change as removing 1.45 million cars from the nation’s highways for a year. The ethane leak, of similar size, was so big that it was detected in Europe.
The most comprehensive international climate agreement ever will take effect next month after the European Union on Wednesday pushed the pact past the threshold required for it to be enacted.
The Paris agreement commits rich and poor countries to take action to curb the rise in global temperatures that is melting glaciers, raising sea levels and shifting rainfall patterns. It requires governments to present national plans to reduce emissions to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
Canada also ratified the agreement on Wednesday.
Biologists, business owners, and river recreationists come together to discuss adapting to the new normal.
Scott Opitz, the FWP fisheries biologist on the Yellowstone River, said there have been significant changes to the way snowpack feeds the Yellowstone. Runoff is starting earlier and ending sooner, reducing available habitat for fish in the hot months of July and August.
“Now we see below average flows more often than we used to in that mid-summer, early fall time frame,” Opitz said.
He said that’s a time when fish are looking for deeper holes or cooler spots in the river, a place of refuge from high temperatures. Portions of the Yellowstone saw temperatures above 70 degrees this summer, well above the ideal temperature for trout.
Will Montana’s conservative attorney general write an opinion to nullify the state’s first local law requiring background checks for most gun sales and transfers?
Donald Trump’s ridicule of Republican Party leaders, his calls for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and for a ban on Muslim immigration, and the vitriol and violence evident at his rallies raise major questions about our nation and our democracy. But how are they playing out in the West? In this episode of West Obsessed, the writers and editors of High Country News discuss Trump’s run for president and the impact its having in the region.
For the first time since late June, U.S. crude passed $50 a barrel, partly due to data suggesting the market is beginning to work through its supply glut.
U.S.-traded oil prices climbed after the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s latest data Wednesday showed U.S. crude supplies fell by 3 million barrels in the week ended Sept. 30, down for the fifth straight week. The surprise drop brought total inventories to 499.7 million barrels, the lowest since January, though they were still 38.7 million barrels higher than a year ago.
It makes sense for the state and federal government to impose severance taxes when oil, gas, precious metals and other minerals are permanently taken from the land. But taxing energy production from renewables such as wind and solar as if they, too, were not renewable, makes no sense. Nor does it make sense to single out a specific form of energy production that has the capacity to meet consumer demand and help reduce carbon emissions.
TAURUS (April 20-May 20): It's theFrank and Focused Feedback Phase, Taurus — prime time to solicit insight about how you're doing. Here are four suggestions to get you started. 1. Ask a person who loves and respects you to speak the compassionate truth about what's most important for you to learn. 2. Consult a trustworthy advisor who can help motivate you to do the crucial thing you've been postponing. 3. Have an imaginary conversation with the person you were a year ago. Encourage the Old You to be honest about how the New You could summon more excellence in pursuing your essential goals. 4. Say this prayer to your favorite tree or animal or meadow: "Show me what I need to do in order to feel more joy."
GEMINI (May 21-June 20): Many of my readers regard me as being exceptionally creative. Over the years, they have sent countless emails praising me for my original approach to problem-solving and art-making. But I suspect that I wasn't born with a greater talent for creativity than anyone else. I've simply placed a high value on developing it, and have worked harder to access it than most people. With that in mind, I invite you to tap more deeply into your own mother lode of innovative, imaginative energy. The cosmic trends favor it. Your hormones are nudging you in that direction. What projects could use a jolt of primal brilliance? What areas of your life need a boost of ingenuity?
CANCER (June 21-July 22): Love wants more of you. Love longs for you to give everything you have and receive everything you need. Love is conspiring to bring you beautiful truths and poignant teases, sweet dispensations and confounding mysteries, exacting blessings and riddles that will take your entire life to solve. But here are some crucial questions: Are you truly ready for such intense engagement? Are you willing to do what's necessary to live at a higher and deeper level? Would you know how to work with such extravagant treasure and wild responsibility? The coming weeks will be prime time to explore the answers to these questions. I'm not sure what your answers will be.
LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): Each of us contains a multiplicity of selves. You may often feel like there's just one of you rumbling around inside your psyche, but it's closer to the truth to say that you're a community of various characters whose agendas sometimes overlap and sometimes conflict. For example, the needy part of you that craves love isn't always on the same wavelength as the ambitious part of you that seeks power. That's why it's a good idea to periodically organize summit meetings where all of your selves can gather and negotiate. Now is one of those times: a favorable moment to foster harmony among your inner voices and to mobilize them to work together in service of common goals.
VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): Pike's Peak is a 14,115-foot mountain in Colorado. It's not a simple task to trek to the top. Unless you're well-trained, you might experience altitude sickness. Wicked thunderstorms are a regular occurrence during the summer. Snow falls year-round. But back in 1929, an adventurer named Bill Williams decided the task of hiking to the summit wasn't tough enough. He sought a more demanding challenge. Wearing kneepads, he spent 21 days crawling along as he used his nose to push a peanut all the way up. I advise you to avoid making him your role model in the coming weeks, Virgo. Just climb the mountain. Don't try to push a peanut up there with your nose, too.
LIBRA (Sept. 23-Oct. 22): "It isn't normal to know what we want," said psychologist Abraham
Maslow. "It is a rare and difficult psychological achievement." He wasn't referring to the question of what you want for dinner or the new shoes you plan to buy. He was talking about big, long-term yearnings: what you hope to be when you grow up, the qualities you look for in your best allies, the feelings you'd love to feel in abundance every day of your life. Now here's the good news, Libra: The next ten months should bring you the best chance ever to figure
out exactly what you want the most. And it all starts now.
SCORPIO (Oct. 23-Nov. 21): Practitioners of the Ayurvedic medical tradition tout the healing power of regular self-massage. Creativity expert Julia Cameron recommends that you periodically go out on dates with yourself. Taoist author Mantak Chia advises you to visualize sending smiles and good wishes to your kidneys, lungs, liver, heart, and other organs. He says that these acts of kindness bolster your vigor. The coming weeks will be an especially favorable time to attend to measures like these, Scorpio. I hope you will also be imaginative as you give yourself extra gifts and compliments and praise.
SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22-Dec. 21): The coming weeks will be one of the best times ever for wrestling with God or tussling with Fate or grappling with karma. Why do I say that? Because you're likely to emerge triumphant! That's right, you lucky, plucky contender. More than I've seen in a long time, you have the potential to draw on the crafty power and unruly wisdom and resilient compassion you would need to be an unambiguous winner. A winner of what? You tell me. What dilemma would you most like to resolve? What test would you most like to ace? At what game would you most like to be victorious? Now is the time.
CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): Are you grunting and sweating as you struggle to preserve and maintain the gains of the past? Or are you smooth and cagey as you maneuver your way towards the rewards of the future? I'm rooting for you to put the emphasis on the second option. Paradoxically, that will be the best way to accomplish the first option. It will also ensure that your motivations are primarily rooted in love and enthusiasm rather than worry and stress. And that will enable you to succeed at the second option.
AQUARIUS (Jan. 20-Feb. 18): Do you believe that you are mostly just a product of social conditioning and your genetic make-up? Or are you willing to entertain a different hypothesis: that you are a primal force of nature on an unpredictable journey? That you are capable of rising above your apparent limitations and expressing aspects of yourself that might have been unimaginable when you were younger? I believe the coming weeks will be a favorable time to play around with this vision. Your knack for transcendence is peaking. So are your powers to escape the past and exceed limited expectations.
PISCES (Feb. 19-March 20): In one of your nightly dreams, Robin Hood may team up with Peter Pan to steal unused treasure from a greedy monster – and then turn the booty over to you. Or maybe you'll meet a talking hedgehog and singing fox who will cast a spell to heal and revive one of your wounded fantasies. It's also conceivable that you will recover a magic seed that had been lost or forgotten, and attract the help of a fairy godmother or godfather to help you ripen it.
The dozen caribou that live deep in the forests of the Selkirk Mountains in northern Idaho, near the Canadian border, are among the most endangered species in the lower 48 states. Wolves and the “unanticipated ecological consequences of development” could wipe out the herd entirely.
Part of the problem is that the Selkirk herd is international. The caribou can be found in the snowy old-growth forests of Idaho and extreme northeast Washington, but spend about 90 percent of their time in southern Canada. The threat to the animals there is so serious that Canadian government sharpshooters began killing wolves from helicopters. In the Selkirk Mountains, they have killed just 19 so far.
Widespread wolf culls further north in Alberta are credited with saving theLittle Smoky caribou herd in the Peace River region. But the price was high: About 1,000 wolves were killed over a decade.
The Selkirk herd is not the only one so greatly imperiled. At last count, there were some 1,354 mountain caribou in 15 subgroups in southern British Columbia. Ten years ago, there were thousands. Today, all are in steep decline and listed as endangered in Canada, primarily because of wolves.
Last week the U.S. Forest Service streamlined the recreation permit process to encourage access for younger visitors, groups, non-profits and schools seeking to explore public lands. Two days later, about 2,000 hikers climbed a White River National Forest Service trail to a remote hut where Upslope Brewing was hosting its second annual “backcountry tap room.”
“The fact that people are attracted to their public lands and getting out is awesome,” [Scott Fitzwilliams, supervisor of the White River National Forest, said]. “But at the same time how do we manage this? How do we manage so we can get a huge number of people enjoying the outdoors, building a stewardship ethic, building a constituency that supports public lands and still not have a negative impact on all the things everyone wants to see?”
The goings on at Sagebrush Rebellion hotspots around the West.
In Utah, the base level of vitriol around land management is often a level above most other places in the West. And the current battle over whether to create a Bears Ears National Monument in the southeast corner of the state is riling residents again, opening the festering wound of the 1996 designation of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.
A dispatch from Gillette, Wyoming, six months after Black Thursday, March 31st, when Peabody and Arch Coal cut 465 miners between them.
Gillette is the coal capital of the nation’s most productive coal-mining state, and while it has not boarded up its doors or “rolled up its streets,” as Mayor Louise Carter-King puts it, the town remains in the grip of an economic downturn. Some indicators point to recent stabilization, but prolonged unemployment and increased stress on social services tells the tale of tough times.
Three federal agencies that operate and market power from 14 dams in the Columbia Basin announced they are going to do an environmental review on future operations of the structures.
Over this review the federal agencies will evaluate the potential environmental and socioeconomic impacts on flood risk management, irrigation, power generation, navigation, fish and wildlife, cultural resources and recreation. The dams include the four dams on the lower Snake, the five dams on the Columbia, Hungry Horse in Montana and two other dams in the Columbia watershed.
The dams not only provide tens of thousands of megawatts of electricity that can be turned on immediately, they also make the Columbia River a major shipping corridor with $20 billion of cargo and 10 percent of all U.S. wheat exports moving through the dams. Dam supporters also say taking out dams will increase the carbon that contributes to climate change.
The Navy and U.S. Department of Energy want to build a $1.6 billion nuclear waste facility in eastern Idaho that would handle spent fuel from the nation’s fleet of nuclear-powered warships.
Barring protests, a document approving the plan could be issued early next month. Officials say site preparation would likely begin in 2017, with the facility becoming operational in the early 2020s.
Wyoming has the fourth highest suicide rate in the nation, and last week the state joined the National Crisis Text Line to make it easier for people at risk of suicide to reach out for help.
People can text “WYO” to 741–741 and hear back from a crisis counselor within five minutes. The counselors can help them talk through their problems, and then help them find services in their communities.
The National Crisis Text Line has exchanged over 23 million messages since it started in 2013. These messages provide data about the days and times when people most often experience suicidal thoughts. The service also tracks 27 topic areas important to mental health, such as bullying, body image, and LGBT issues.
The Conference Board of Canada, an Ottawa-based think-tank, says Canada’s oil extraction industry is headed for a $10 billion loss this year, the first time on record it has failed to be profitable two years in a row.
In 2014, a massive explosion tore through the Williams natural gas processing plant in Opal. Wyoming’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration conducted an investigation in the aftermath and found a number of safety violations, but never collected fines nor released a final report. Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce interviews the director of the Department of Workforce Services to find out why.
The Justice Department has urged a federal judge to reject a lawsuit that seeks to reinstate a 6,200-acre energy lease in Montana that was canceled by the Obama administration in March.
The lease is within a 165,000-acre area deemed by the government to be a traditional cultural district of the Blackfoot tribes. It’s the site of the creation story for the Blackfoot tribes of southern Canada and the Blackfeet Nation of Montana.
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