Razorback sucker fish thrived in the Colorado River before falling victim to dams, development and nonnative predators that ate them nearly to extinction. But a 25-year, $360 million government-run rescue has the razorbacks making a comeback.
Meanwhile, a three-decade, $62 million Superfund cleanup has Clear Creek, in the historic mining town of Idaho Springs, living up to its name.
But might the outcome be different?
Indigenous people have a long history opposing energy development and infrastructure projects they say threaten their environment. Those fights, including the one today, raise questions about sovereignty. About tribes’ rights to have a say in managing their land.
“Just about every tribe has horror stories about the government allowing companies and corporations at will to destroy these sacred sites.,” said Brian Cladoosby, president of the National Congress of American Indians, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
From environmental problems in Alaska after the Exxon Valdez oil spill to coal mining on ancestral land, these stories are shared widely at the camps here in North Dakota.
Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah are among the 27 states challenging the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, even though those Western states are among the 21 plaintiffs on track to meet the plan’s 2030 emissions targets.
“We don’t have anything against clean air,” Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman told Reuters. “That really doesn’t factor into my decision to say the federal government has gone beyond its legal authority.”
“Young people,” Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, told me, “are more separated from the natural world than perhaps any generation before them.”
The central government will soon levy a minimum national carbon price on any province that lacks adequate plans to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions. “It’s mandatory that everyone will have to have a price on carbon. If provinces don’t do that, the federal government will provide a backstop,” Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Sunday.
Canada’s provinces will be able to choose either to tax greenhouse-gas emissions, as British Columbia and Alberta have already done and the Trudeau government favors, or adopt the cap-and-trade approach Ontario and Quebec have put in place. The federal mandate would likely involve some form of higher taxes on fuels. McKenna says that the price will have to be high enough to encourage energy conservation or switch to cleaner renewable sources, and that it will have to rise over time.
On Friday morning a man was outside doing chores at his home near Dutton, 35 miles northwest of Great Falls, when he thought he saw four-wheelers in a field. They were grizzlies — a sow grizzly and three cubs.
As winter approaches, grizzly bears are searching up and down the Rocky Mountain Front for food to fatten up before hibernation, said Mike Madel, a grizzly bear management specialist with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
That’s brought them into open areas in farm and ranch country such as the grain field where Pilgeram spotted the four bears Friday.
“I think there will be an increase in observations of bears crossing these open farmland and ranch land areas looking for grain,” Madel said.
As Snowbird ski resort in Utah moves to expand, some worry that dozens of disturbed mine sites will send toxic sediments down the canyon and pollute water.
For the past 60 years, heavy metals from mines in Mary Ellen Gulch and Mineral Basin have settled in the sediments behind Tibble Fork Dam, several miles downstream, without doing much harm to the environment. That changed on Aug. 20, when the North Utah County Water Conservancy District drew down the reservoir — releasing up to 8,700 cubic yards of sediments into the American Fork River, wiping out all fish for a two-mile stretch and contaminating the river bed.
The unwanted companies in the oilpatch.
There’s a “gulf” between what buyers are willing to pay and what sellers are willing to accept, Hansen said, especially for assets offering marginal returns at today’s low oil and gas prices.
The Whitefish Lake Watershed Project “is the culmination of years of work by land managers and environmental groups who recognized the development pressure that could bear down on the prized landscape surrounding Whitefish Lake, which is…laced with creeks and tributaries that provide critical habitat to grizzly bear, lynx, bull trout, cutthroat trout, elk, wolves, and white-tail deer in the state.”
It marks one of the most complex land swaps in state history, according to public land managers, and protects a block of land that sees among the heaviest concentrations of multiple-use in Montana — it is a working forest, a recreational haven, and the source of the lion’s share of Whitefish’s municipal water supply.
“Reorganization, bankruptcy and also just market turmoil, it’s kind of like you’re going through a storm. It’s a tough transition to a new equilibrium,” explained Rob Godby, director of the Energy Economics and Policies Center at the University of Wyoming. “But, most observers believe that the new market equilibrium — the reality of lower prices — is something that most (coal) companies are going to be able to deal with.”
While the New York Times reported earlier this week that the Census Bureau’s good economic news comes as a surprise to some rural areas, including Wyoming communities hard-hit by coal industry layoffs, the Census Bureau reported Thursday that in 2015 Montana was the fastest-growing state in median household income.
Using the 2015 American Community Survey, Census Bureau analysts estimated Montana’s median household income had grown 6.8 percent to $49,509, more than $3,000 over the 2014 median.
The new amount is still below the $55,775 national average. And the analysts also noted that their statistics are subject to sampling error. The 6.8 percent growth in Montana could be plus or minus 4.1 percent.
Coloradans earned more money last year and the poverty rate declined, but since 2007, the median monthly rent in Colorado has jumped 41 percent.
Utah continues to gain economic strength, with incomes rising and poverty decreasing, though more than a quarter of the state’s young adults, ages 18 to 34, live with their parents.
The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan measure that authorizes states to develop permitting programs for dealing with coal ash. Environmental advocates said in a letter that the bill is too ambiguous. In Montana, an estimated 200 million gallons of contaminated water has been seeping each year for 30 years from ash ponds at the Colstrip coal plant, rendering the groundwater undrinkable.
…environmental groups worry the provision will undermine EPA’s new coal ash disposal standards and limit citizens’ ability to bring enforcement action. The legislation requires states’ ash disposal plans to be “at least as protective” as EPA’s federal rule, language that green groups fear is too vague and could allow states to set easier disposal standards. In addition, another section of the coal ash provision would allow states to include technical standards for individual permits or conditions for approval that are different from EPA’s rule as long as they are “as protective.”
More broadly, critics of the WRDA provision fear states and industry representatives could interpret the bill to take away citizens’ right to sue over ash disposal.
After public outcry over the 2014 decision by the Wyoming DEQ to downgrade the status of 75 percent of the state’s streams, allowing for the presence of more bacteria like e. coli, the agency has revised its decision—barely.
The original controversial 2014 stream quality decision downgraded the status of about 76 percent of the surface water in the state. The new version now only downgrades 72 percent. [Wyoming Outdoor Council’s Dan] Heilig says that’s not a big enough change since the downgrade allows five times as much e. coli in the state’s streams and assumes they aren’t deep enough for recreational swimming. He says the revised decision still doesn’t truly consider the public comments.
U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee introduced legislation Thursday to exempt Utah from the Antiquities Act, extending a loophole that now covers Wyoming, as part of an effort to keep President Obama from creating national monuments, as the law allows. Critics dismissed the move as a desperate attempt to halt protection of Utah’s Bears Ears region.
Representatives of nearly 30 international projects across 70 countries and indigenous territories are taking part in a three-day workshop hosted by Glacier National Park.
While recent decisions by federal agencies represent a turning point in the government’s relationship with private detention, they leave intact much of the private immigration detention apparatus, which has come under increasing scrutiny for poor conditions and opaque operations.
Although much of the scrutiny is centered on the private companies that operate detention facilities, local governments often profit from detaining immigrants too, by agreeing to house detainees on behalf of the federal government. For cash-strapped rural towns and counties, these deals, known as Intergovernmental Service Agreements, are especially appealing.
The provincial government’s approvals are the first projects to get green-lighted since it established a 100 megatonne greenhouse gas cap on oilsands emissions.
The Blackfeet Water Compact was first passed by the Montana Legislature in 2009, but it has languished in Congress until now.
Negotiations between the Blackfeet Tribe, local communities and state and federal governments began more than 30 years ago to establish water rights in and around the reservation. The compact will also help rehabilitate the Four Horns Dam and Blackfeet Irrigation Project; give the tribe the ability to use, lease or exchange water on tribal land; and protect the rights of non-Indian water users and members of the Fort Belknap Indian Community.
National parks face myriad challenges, ranging from climate change, funding woes and even a lack of diversity in park visitation. In this episode of West Obsessed, the writers and editors of High Country News discuss those challenges and possible solutions. (Don’t miss the magazine’s recent edition focused on the troubles facing the National Park Service as we mark the agency’s centennial.)
Columbia Falls Mayor Don Barnhart is unfazed by the EPA’s decision last week to list Northwest Montana’s Columbia Falls Aluminum Company property as a federal Superfund site, even as some balk at the designation, calling the federal environmental cleanup program ineffective, improvident and stigmatizing. “We are going to clean it up and move on, and that’s all that matters,” Barnhart says.
…while the listing is designed to ensure a thorough cleanup, it is something of a scarlet letter for the once-thrumming aluminum plant along the Flathead River near Glacier National Park, a critical piece of Columbia Falls’ industrial backbone and blue-collar identity, which for years stood out as the region’s largest employer.
But the deserted manufacturing site is also a blemish on a proud landscape and the source of unresolved environmental and public health concerns, leading the federal government to trigger its foremost hazardous waste cleanup program.
A draft plan for managing Utah’s water shortages may draw controversy not only for its recommendations, but also because it’s unclear whether officials will release it to the public.
[The draft document] urges state leaders to emphasize water conservation for homes, businesses and industry, and to maintain sufficient water supplies for natural systems, such as the Great Salt Lake. But it also calls for the construction of regional water projects, including the Lake Powell Pipeline and the Bear River Project, and recommends that the state develop a financing plan to pay for future water development.
While 71 percent of Americans want the federal government to do something about global warming, only 57 percent are willing to pay an additional $1 a month in higher electric bills, according to a new poll. As that fee goes up, support for action plummets.
That a majority is willing to pay more is a new phenomenon, said Tom Dietz, professor of sociology and environmental science and policy at Michigan State University.
“While the amounts may seem small, the willingness to take action, even if there are some out-of-pocket costs, is encouraging,” Dietz said.
Alberta-based pot producer Aurora Cannabis has launched a mobile app to make it easier for patients with a prescription to purchase federally-regulated medicinal marijuana.
Cam Battley, of Aurora Cannabis, said the idea was to give customers the same service as giant online retailers such as Amazon.
“As far as we know, it is the first legal app for Android and Apple for federally-approved legal medical cannabis,” Battley said.
“The fact is that people live on their phones and tablets. They use them to shop for everything from consumer products and health products to medicine. It is an acknowledgment of the reality of how people operate today.”
Social scientist Nik Sawe liberated the raw numbers from a study about how a temperate forest is impacted by climate change and transformed them into music, using a discipline-bending process called data sonification.
Part science, part art, data sonification transmutes metrics into soundscapes using a combination of a composer’s aesthetic sensibilities and special modeling software.
The goal? To reveal nuances of scientific phenomena not easily seen. In the case of Oakes’ sonified study, which eerily resembles phrases from piano sonatas by the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, the music conveys the meaning — and pathos — of her findings in about three minutes.
More on Sawe’s data sonification from Michelle Nijhuis:
At its current level, the wild horse population is 40,000 more than what the BLM calls an “appropriate management level.” The management agency is tasked with finding the best way to keep the population in check but is caught in the difficulties of navigating between the challenges of administering birth control to large, intelligent, and powerful animals and litigation from animal rights advocacy groups.
Shell Canada says the first carbon-capture project in Alberta’s oilsands has successfully stored one million metric tons of carbon dioxide deep underground after a year of operation.
The Quest project is designed to capture about a third of the emissions from Shell’s Scotford Upgrader near Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., turn that into a near-liquid, and then pump it over two kilometres underground into porous rock formations.
Federal officials have rejected greater protections for the American pika, which researchers warn is disappearing from areas in the West as climate change alters its mountain habitat.
…the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in documents released Tuesday that pika adapt to warmer temperatures by seeking refuge beneath rock fields in the summer. As a result, surface temperatures may not be the best predictor of population declines, the agency said.
The agency also said the most severe effects of climate change are felt at elevations below 8,200 feet (2,499 meters), which is near the lower limit of the pika’s range in the West. That suggests pika habitat “has not experienced the more substantial changes” of reduced snowpack due to climate change, the wildlife service said.
A new study by researchers in Canada and Australia finds “alarming losses…of global wilderness areas over the last two decades.”
“There has been a broad assumption that [wilderness areas] are fairly stable because they are so isolated, but our study is really showing that [all] wilderness is susceptible to development pressure and as wilderness declines a large amount of very unique values disappear.”
Air quality tests performed two days after Midwest School, 40 miles north of Casper, Wyoming, was evacuated in May for a gas leak found benzene at 200 times safe levels, according to health officials.
The Salt Creek Oil Field, which surrounds Midwest, has been drilled since the late 1800s. There are 120 abandoned wells in the 640 acres around Midwest, according to state records. FDL [Energy] identified and plugged the well responsible for the leak and is monitoring other the wells in the area, under the guidance of the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
Ultimately, the trial will likely be a critical touchstone amidst a spate of Sagebrush Rebellion activities throughout the West in the past few years. It will inevitably touch on the issue of federal management of public lands, a talking point in this year’s election, as well as gun ownership and use, a discussion after a string of mass shootings and gun violence has brought gun control to the forefront of national conversation.
While the seasonal temperature cycle typically peaks in July, August 2016 wound up tying July 2016 as the warmest month ever recorded.
Unpacking the prospects of a Owyhee Canyonlands National Monument.
…Obama has created more than two dozen national monuments, protecting more square miles of land and sea than any predecessor.
If these actions delight some, they alarm others — notably folk who run cattle, mine, log or otherwise exploit nature’s bounty in picturesque bits of America. One such place is the Owyhee basin of eastern Oregon, a remote landscape of wild rivers and vertiginous cliffs, and high desert edged with red and pink rocks. Before Mr Obama steps down, environmentalists, outdoor-leisure companies (including Keen, an Oregon-based shoe-maker) and some Democratic politicians want him to create an Owyhee Canyonlands National Monument covering as much as 2.5m acres.
Mosida Farms has 16,000 cows producing 92,000 gallons of milk every day—about 18 percent of all the milk sold in Utah. Now a solar array almost twice the size of a football field provides about 20 percent of the farm’s electricity.
“Yeah, this is very good-sized for the state of Utah,” said Billy Sorenson of RS Energy, the company that installed the solar panels. “It’s probably the largest one, agricultural one, for the state of Utah.”
The panels are expected to generate 950,000 kilowatt-hours per year. That’s enough juice to power nearly 200 family homes. Instead of powering homes, it will provide about 20 percent of the Bateman farm’s annual electricity demand. The family hopes it will be a hedge against rising electricity costs.
A government-commissioned study concludes there’s considerable risk that a $57 million dam and fish bypass proposed on the Yellowstone River, near the Montana-North Dakota border, won’t meet its goal of helping the ancient, endangered pallid sturgeon reach upstream spawning grounds.
“There is no evidence that the behavior of adult fish can be manipulated to attract them to the bypass channel, that they would be motivated to swim upstream through the bypass channel, or that they would navigate upstream through the proposed bypass channel,” panel members said in the 74-page report.
On October 1, Alberta’s current minimum wage of $11.20 per hour will rise to $12.20, then to $13.60 a year later until reaching $15 on Oct. 1, 2018. In the U.S., the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, though several states have higher minimums.
The province estimates that 305,000 employed Albertans earn less than $15 an hour, two-thirds of whom are women.
Of those figures, it estimates one in four are students, one-third are in retail, one quarter in food services, 40 per cent are heads of households, and five per cent are working single parents.
Arch Coal, the second largest U.S. coal miner, has agreed to set aside collateral to cover future mine cleanup costs as part of its bankruptcy reorganization plan.
The plan would end Arch’s use of self-bonding, a controversial federal exemption that the largest U.S. coal companies have used for decades. Its use exempts companies from posting bonds or other securities to cover the cost of returning mined land to its natural state.
Arch had $485.5 million in self-bonds in Wyoming when it filed for bankruptcy protection in January, saddled with $6 billion of debt.
The Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto recently began her tenure as bishop of the Mountain Sky Area of the United Methodist Church, and in doing so became first openly gay pastor in the denomination to hold the leadership post in the second largest denomination in the country. Based in Denver, she’ll work with churches in Montana, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and a part of Idaho. “It was tough breaking that stained-glass ceiling,” Oliveto said in a recent interview in Billings.
The liberal side of the denomination calls her election the culmination of a hard-fought battle to fully include LGBTQ people in the life of the denomination. Conservatives are disappointed in both the action and its timing, saying it violates the UMC’s governing policies.
One thing most agree on is that her election could be one more step toward schism in a denomination that finds it increasingly difficult to call itself the United Methodist Church.
Environmental groups have filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service arguing that distinct populations of the lesser prairie chicken, including one in southeast Colorado, warrant emergency protections as climate change exacerbates threats to the species.
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