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Week in Review

Mountain West News held its online spring fundraiser this week, and we're asking the folks who get our Weekly roundup to help us keep bringing them the news of the region on a weekly basis.


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And now, to the Week in Review:


Top stories from March 23 thru March 27:


In Community, The Pew Research Center provides a state-by-state look at the jobs filled by undocumented workers; a Utah city will be the next Google Fiber City; and the Federal Aviation Administration approves an expanded training ground in the Northern Plains, pleasing officials in the Dakotas, but Montanans are less happy about the news.


In Water, Epcor Water (USA) Inc., the City of Edmonton's wholly owned water subsidiary is on track to add its sixth water utility in the American Southwest and Montana is taking the reins in cleaning up an oil spill in the Yellowstone River.


In Environment, a bighorn sheep study is underway in Wyoming to see why some herds resist pneumonia better than others; the world's largest gold mining company, The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. government strike a conservation land bank deal in Nevada that will protect 900 square miles of land for sage grouse habitat; and the National Park Service's budget was released showing $11.5 billion in deferred maintenance projects.


Our Opinion section has a column on Montana's rewrite of its policy on bison that wander into the state from Yellowstone National Park, complete with a free book download, and another about renewable energy in Colorado, which has been the subject of legislative debate in that state.


Our Legislature section tracks gun-related bills in Idaho and Montana, and among the dozens of bills signed into law by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert was one that returns the firing squad as an option for executing condemned prisoners.


A true smorgasbord of news appears in our Economy section, ranging from a deal to create the nation's largest ski resort in Utah, Idaho's networking at President Obama's second international investment summit (the state sent three bilingual representatives), as well as more on how falling oil prices are affecting the states in our region.



Mountain West Perspective

Montana's two-year colleges revamp curricula to meet changing workplace demands
Nov. 20, 2014

On the Bookshelf

Barbara Theroux announces the winners of the 2014 Montana Book Awards

March 20, 2015

Mountain West Voices

Yellowstone Public Radio will broadcast Mountain West Voices at 7:05 a.m. on Sunday.

Tune in to Yellowstone Public Radio at 7:05 Sunday morning, or listen to the program via the Mountain West Voices website.


A Look Ahead



April 1- May 1: Free, online class on Water in the American West offered by The Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado


Western Governors Association's Drought ForumRegister now for the final webinar:

    April 8: “One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Why Variation in Hydrology and Legal Structures means that Drought Looks Different across the West”



Community

Salt Lake City picked to be latest 'Google Fiber City'
Google announced this morning that Salt Lake City would be the next city for its Google-built network that delivers gigabit-per-second access to internet users. The network is already in place in Austin, Tex., Kansas City, Mo., and Provo.
Salt Lake Tribune; 3/24/2015

FAA approves expansion of bomber training airspace in Mont., Wyo.
Despite opposition from Montanans and their elected officials, the Federal Aviation Administration approved the expansion of the Powder River Training Complex over the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming, making it the largest such training space in the nation. The space will be used by B-1 bombers from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota and B-52 bombers from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, and the expansion was characterized as necessary for those bases to retain their missions.
Flathead Beacon (AP); 3/25/2015

Report finds Idaho's Schoolnet program a waste of $61 million
The Idaho Office of Performance Evaluations' report issued Monday found that the $61 million Schoolnet software system to track students' performance was never designed to work on a statewide level, and that the State Department of Education never provided the technical assistance, training or funding to ensure all districts could use the program as designed.
Twin Falls Times-News (AP); 3/25/2015

Denver's red-hot housing market a seller's dream
About half the homes listed in the Denver metro region sell within seven days, and realtors are saying a listing prompts a response that's more akin to an auction.
Denver Post; 3/25/2015

Bonner County Commission seeks wilderness designation for Idaho peak
On Tuesday, the Bonner County Commission formally adopted a resolution asking Congress to designate northern Idaho's Scotchman Peaks mountains a wilderness area. The commissioners aren't generally supportive of wilderness designations but said they do support such a designation for the highest point in their Idaho county.
Idaho Statesman (Bonner County Daily Bee); 3/26/2015

Study finds one in three farm workers in Utah undocumented
The Pew Research Center's study of federal data provides state-by-state information on labor trends among undocumented workers that found one in six construction workers in Utah were undocumented, as were 31 percent of agricultural workers. Editor's note: Neither Wyoming nor Montana had a high enough number of undocumented workers to be included in this study.
Salt Lake Tribune; 3/27/2015

Wyoming governor unveils 'A Home for Everyone' plan
On Friday, Gov. Matt Mead rolled out the state's 10-year-plan to address homelessness in Wyoming put together by the Wyoming Department of Family Services and the Wyoming Homeless Collaborative, which will first identify the areas where the homeless are found, the circumstances which left them homeless, and what steps can be taken to provide them with housing and services.
Casper Star-Tribune (AP); 3/23/2015

EPA officially proposes Montana aluminum plant site for Superfund listing
On Tuesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency formally proposed adding the now-shuttered Columbia Falls Aluminum Plant in Montana to the National Priorities List, opening a 60-day public comment period that will begin March 26.
Flathead Beacon; 3/25/2015

Water

Alberta city's water utility buys 6th water company in SW United States
Since Epcor Water (USA) Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of the City of Edmonton, began buying water utilities in the Southwest United States in 2011, it has purchased five in Arizona and New Mexico, and will soon own six if its $2.5 million deal to buy assets and operations of the Willow Valley Water Company is approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission. The Alberta company is now the largest private, regulated water utility in those two southwestern states.
Edmonton Journal; 3/24/2015

Montana assumes control over oil cleanup in Yellowstone River
Now that the emergency response phase of the Bridger Pipeline Co.'s pipeline spill that released 30,000 gallons of oil into Montana's Yellowstone River has passed, the state will take control of the site and cleanup will continue as conditions allow and will be complete when the state, the pipeline company and parties involved agree that it is done.
Montana Public Radio (MTPR.org); 3/27/2015

USGS scientists find precious metals in waste treatment plant sludge
At an American Chemical Society conference in Denver on Tuesday, U.S. Geological Survey geochemist Kathleen Smith shared some preliminary findings of research federal scientists are doing on wastewater treatment plant sludge from eight plants, including some in Colorado, that found tiny particles of gold and other precious metals.
Denver Post; 3/25/2015

Colorado city sees need for water storage within decades
The draft water-efficiency plan developed by Aspen says that there is adequate water for the Colorado community for the next couple of decades, but does refer to the potential need for reservoirs in the future.
Aspen Times; 3/24/2015


Montana county's growth plan identifies areas with, without water
Lewis and Clark County is in the process of updating its growth plan, and a Key Issues Report focuses on five specific areas, including water, and the report identifies aquifers and other sources of water in the county, where homeowners in at least one subdivision are having to drill deeper than predicted to tap into a dwindling aquifer.
Helena Independent Record; 3/23/2015

Environment

U.S. Supreme Court hears challenge of EPA's mercury regulations
Wyoming is among the 21 states that filed challenges to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's plan to further reduce mercury and other emissions from coal-fired power plants, and on Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case.
Casper Star-Tribune (AP); 3/25/2015

Species
Researcher grabs data as wolves jump on, off protected list in Wyoming
Researchers in Wyoming have only just begun collecting data on wolves outside of Yellowstone National Park, and the shifting stance of the federal government on protection of the species in the state has led to intermittent lapses in the research. Another article in the Casper Star Tribune's series on wolf reintroduction in the state.
Casper Star-Tribune; 3/22/2015

Wyoming bighorn sheep study seeks reason for different response to pneumonia
While some bighorn sheep herds in Wyoming have been devastated by pneumonia, others seem able to fend off the fatal disease, and a multiyear study is underway to follow bighorn sheep in herds in Cody, Dubois and Jackson to see if biologists can determine why that is so.
WyoFile.com; 3/24/2015

Sage grouse deal will protect 900 square miles in Nevada
A deal struck between Barrick Gold Corp., the world's largest gold mining company, The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will protect 900 square miles of privately owned land in Nevada that Barrick will use as a "conservation land bank," which will give the mining company more flexibility and certainty as it maps out its expansion plans. Similar, but much smaller deals, are in the works with ranchers in Oregon and Wyoming.
Casper Star-Tribune (AP); 3/27/2015


Public Lands
National Park Service's budget reflects $11.5B in deferred maintenance
Contained within President Obama's 2016 budget request is the National Park Service's list of deferred maintenance projects that totals $11.49 billion, about half of which is needed road and bridge work, and in Montana, Glacier National Park has $178.5 million in needed repairs, and Yellowstone National Park is requesting $686.5 million.
Missoulian; 3/24/2015

Obama administration proposes increase in grazing fees
High Country News examines the grazing fee increase proposed by the Obama administration, why the increase is unlikely to pass and how the fees are split among federal lands agencies and states.
High Country News; 3/26/2015

USFS's new plan for forest in Montana IDs 637,419 acres for logging
Public comment is being taken through May 5 on the U.S. Forest Service's updated management plan for the Flathead National Forest in Montana that identifies 637,419 acres that are suitable for logging.
Flathead Beacon; 3/25/2015

BLM puts 250,000-acre sagebrush project in Idaho on hold
Scoping meetings won't be held as scheduled on March 30 and March 31 on the Bureau of Land Management's proposed treatment of 250,000 acres of land in Idaho's Pahsimeroi and Big Lost River valleys, as well as in the Lemhi and East Fork Salmon areas by removing sagebrush from some areas and Douglas fir from others, as BLM officials said the controversial project will be put on hold until the Greater Sage-grouse Resource Management Plan final environmental impact statement is issued this summer.
Idaho Mountain Express (Sun Valley); 3/27/2015

USFS gives preliminary OK to copper, silver mine in NW Montana
The U.S. Forest Service will take public comment for 45 days on the final environmental impact statement and draft record of decision approving Spokane-based Mines Management Inc.'s Montanore Mine, an underground copper and silver mine in Northwest Montana, an area that was rocked when the Troy Mine shut down due to low copper prices. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality must still issue a final permit, and a group led by former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer is challenging mining claims, with a trial in that matter set in April.
Flathead Beacon; 3/27/2015

Groups sue USFS over approval of Wolf Creek land swap in Colorado
The San Juan Citizens Alliance, Rocky Mountain Wild and the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, all of whom filed objections to the U.S. Forest Service's proposed land swap with B.J. "Red" McCombs on Colorado's Wolf Pass, said they were blindsided by the news that the Forest Service finalized its decision on Monday, and they responded with two federal lawsuits seeking U.S. Forest Service records requested through the Freedom of Information Act.
Durango Herald; 3/27/2015


Wildfire

Colorado selects Rifle airfield for aerial firefighting research laboratory
The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control selected the Rifle-Garfield County Airport to be the site of the new Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting, which is designed to put the state at the cutting edge of aerial technology for fighting wildfires. Rifle won out over airports in Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, Montrose and Jefferson County due to the open lands nearby as well as areas at high risk of wildfire located near the Garfield County airport.
Durango Herald; 3/23/2015

U. of Colorado report: Weather, terrain top factors in wildfire risk
A report issued Monday by researchers at the University of Colorado following their study of three of the worst wildfire seasons in forests in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming in the past 12 years that found weather and terrain, not beetle-killed trees, were the primary drivers in when wildfires would ignite.
Idaho Statesman (AP); 3/25/2015

Opinion

If Montana wants science-based bison policy, there's a book for that
Thousands of bison that wandered into Montana over the past three decades have been killed because the species was believed to carry brucellosis, a myth that was perpetuated by Montana's bison policy put in place 15 years ago, and as that state begins to rewrite that policy, and hopefully right the wrong of the previous policy, there's a book, edited by Yellowstone biologists, they may want to read: "Yellowstone Bison: Conserving An American Icon In Modern Society." A guest editorial by Todd Wilkinson.
Jackson Hole Daily; 3/18/2015

  • Download a free copy of 'Yellowstone Bison' here
    The National Park Service provides readers, for a limited time, a free e-copy of "Yellowstone Bison: Conserving An American Icon In Modern Society," published by the Yellowstone Association and edited by Yellowstone biologists P.J. White and Rick L. Wallen and the park’s recently departed science chief, David E. Hallac.
    National Park Service; 3/18/2015

Salt Lake City earned its Google Fiber designation
It would be churlish to question Google's decision to name Salt Lake City a Google Fiber City, but given the amount of public and private investment in technology in Utah's Capital City, as well as in other Google Fiber cities, it appears the company likes communities on the high side of the digital divide.
Salt Lake Tribune; 3/25/2015

Study doesn't support Colorado legislators' claims about renewable energy
Colorado Republican lawmakers based their bill to roll back the state's mandate on renewable energy on claims that renewable energy was the push behind the state's higher electricity rates, but the study "Renewable Are Driving up Electricity Prices – Wait, What?” does not support that contention. Mark Jaffe's The Balance Sheet blog in the Denver Post.
Denver Post; 3/25/2015

National Park Service has 11.5B reasons to raise entrance fees
The news that the National Park Service has $11.5 billion in deferred maintenance projects is reason enough for the agency to move forward on its plans to modestly increase entrance fees.
Denver Post; 3/27/2015


Tribes

Sen. Barrasso to hold hearing on Wyoming reservation on drug use
Next week, Wyoming U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, who chairs the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, will hold a field hearing on the Wind River Reservation to hear how drug use is affecting Native populations. The field hearing begins at 10:30 a.m. on March 31 at the Wyoming Tech Center at Wyoming Indian High School in Ethete.
Casper Star-Tribune (AP); 3/24/2015

Tribes in Montana, Washington state on opposite sides of coal-port issue
The coal-rich Crow Tribe in Montana asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to facilitate a meeting with the Lummis Tribe in Washington state, which is opposing the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal because the tribe believes it will interfere with the tribe's historical fishing practices, but the Corps declined to do so, but said it would keep the Crow Tribe informed about its review of the terminal proposed to expand coal exports from the U.S. to overseas markets.
The Bellingham Herald; 3/24/2015


Legislature


Idaho's effort to rewrite concealed carry law part of national trend
The Idaho Statesman takes a comprehensive look at concealed carry laws in the United States and Idaho, including what's driving the flurry of measures to rewrite concealed carry laws in Idaho and other states.
Idaho Statesman; 3/23/2015

Idaho Senate send Uber bill to governor's desk
After Boise and the ride-hailing service, Uber, could not come to terms on operating in the Idaho city, Uber withdrew, but state legislators rode to the rescue, and on Wednesday, the Senate sent a bill that will allow Uber to operate on its own terms in the state to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter.
Idaho Statesman (AP); 3/26/2015

Slate of gun bills move through Montana Legislature
Bills to liberalize Montana's gun laws are marching their way through the state Legislature, with the first few to hit Gov. Steve Bullock's desk this week, and while Republican sponsors of the measure say they're needed to stave off attempts from out-of-staters to wrest guns from Montanans' hands, Democrats in the Legislature call the measures "political grandstanding."
Missoulian (Lee State Bureau); 3/23/2015

Utah governor signs bill allowing executions by firing squad
The Associated Press walks the reading public through the process should Utah have to again use a firing squad to put a condemned prisoner to death. The method was reinstated by a measure passed this session of the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert on Monday, and will only be used if drugs for execution by lethal injection are not available.
Salt Lake Tribune (AP); 3/24/2015

Utah governor signs 42 bills into law
Among the measures Gov. Gary Herbert signed into law on Tuesday were one that allows terminally ill patients in Utah to try treatments that had not been fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, another that regulates the liquids in e-cigarettes, and another that creates a registry of those convicted of white-collar crimes.
Salt Lake Tribune; 3/25/2015

Politics

Idaho congressmen split votes on Medicare, Secure Rural Schools bill
U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador's spokesman said the Idaho Republican declined to vote for the Medicare Access Act, which also extended the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act for two years, because the Secure Rural Schools Act was completely unrelated to the Medicare Access measure that Labrador said adds $141 billion to the nation's $18 trillion debt. His colleague, Rep. Mike Simpson joined the majority and voted for the measure because of its importance to the nation's rural communities.
Idaho Statesman; 3/27/2015

Alberta's budget lays groundwork for more diversified economy
Premier Jim Prentice's first budget for Alberta signifies his intent to move the province off its energy-dependent diet by reducing that industry's contribution from the 38 to 55 percent over the past decade and a half to 25 percent.
Calgary Herald; 3/27/2015


Economy

Number of drilling rigs in Colorado halved over past 6 months

The number of drilling rigs operating in Colorado fell from 75 in October to 39 this month, although IHS, a Colorado-based data analysis firm, predicts that capital spending by oil and gas companies will be cut just 26 percent, roughly the same as in North Dakota, Texas and New Mexico.
Denver Post; 3/24/2015

Colorado plant to turn beetle-killed timber into power still inoperable
Utah-based Eagle Valley Clean Energy's plant built in Gypsum to burn beetle-killed timber from the area around the Colorado community to generate power was shut down in December by a fire, and three months later the plant is not yet back in operation, but the employees are still reporting for work.
Vail Daily; 3/23/2015

At international business event, Idaho offers chicken poop
Idaho made a strong showing at President Barack Obama's second international investment summit this week in suburban Maryland, that brought together states' representatives and executives from 70 foreign nations, and among the companies that expressed an interest in Idaho, was Ireland-based Monaghan Mushrooms, which needs healthy amounts of chicken manure to mix with straw to create a bed suitable for growing mushrooms.
Idaho Statesman; 3/27/2015

Monsanto to pay $600K in fines for toxic releases from Idaho plant
To settle claims filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice for unreported releases of hydrogen cyanide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury between 2006 and 2009 from its Soda Springs phosphate plant in Idaho, Monsanto Co. has agreed to pay $600,000 in fines.
Idaho Statesman (AP); 3/27/2015

Vail Resorts gets final OK on merging 2 Utah ski resorts
The Park City Planning Commission's approval this week of Vail Resort's plan to merge Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR) and Canyons Resort into one, creating the largest ski area in the United States, will allow Vail Resorts to move forward with its $50 million plan in Utah.
Salt Lake Tribune; 3/27/2015

For Montana ski resorts, a strong start sags into early end
In November and December, strong storms dumped snow onto most of Montana's ski areas and putting the resorts on a pace for a record season, but in January, the snow stopped and some areas have already closed, while others are holding on, hoping to make it to April.
Missoula Independent; 3/26/2015

As Idaho's winters warm, ski areas reach beyond the season
Sun Valley's reputation may be first and foremost as a ski area, but resort officials said that July and August are actually its busiest, and at other ski areas across Idaho, where the snow has disappeared early, work is underway to expand summer offerings.
Idaho Statesman; 3/25/2015

Beyond the region

Wyoming coal miner: Delay on Washington port won't curb exports
SSA Marine, the developer of the Gateway Pacific Terminal, a proposed coal export port on the coast of Washington state, submitted a new design of the project to lessen the effect on wetlands, a decision that will delay the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' review of the project by a year. Wyoming coal producers support the terminal as a way for them to tap overseas market to offset losses caused by a decline in domestic coal use, but Cloud Peak Energy officials said the year delay on the Gateway Pacific project won't affect them, as the company is using a port in British Columbia to export its coal.
Casper Star-Tribune; 3/25/2015

Washington gives Spokane, other entities a voice in oil-train hearings
The Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council announced Thursday that Spokane would be among the 15 entities that will get a seat at the hearings on the oil-train terminal proposed by petroleum refiner, Tesoro Corp., and Savage Companies, a transportation company at the Port of Vancouver.
Spokane Spokesman-Review; 3/27/2015

Dozens oppose Colorado firm's plan for Nebraska reinjection well
All but three of the 50 people who spoke at the public hearing on Tuesday before Nebraska’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission spoke against Colorado-based Terex Energy Corp.'s plan to use an abandoned oil well on a ranch in Sioux County to dispose of discharge water from oil and gas operations in Colorado and Wyoming. None of the public comments will become part of the official record, and the Oil and Gas Commission rendered no decision.
Omaha World Herald; 3/25/2015

Arctic sea ice hits peak early, at lowest level since 1978
Ice on the Arctic Ocean hit peak coverage on Feb. 25, a couple of weeks early, this year, and scientists said the maximum coverage of the ice was the lowest reported since 1978.
New York Times; 3/26/2015



Mountain West News is a program of the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West
at The University of Montana.
"W e need to get off the roller-coaster of oil. We are asking those who can afford it to pay a little bit more."

Finance Minister Robin Campbell, discussing Alberta's budget that reduced the province's dependency on fossil fuel revenues by half.
- Calgary Herald

On The Bookshelf

Mountain West Perspectives
Montana's two-year colleges revamp education to meet changing workplace demands


11/20/2014

A Look Ahead
Western Governors Association's Drought ForumRegister now for these webinars:

    April 8: “One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Why Variation in Hydrology and Legal Structures means that Drought Looks Different across the West”


April 1-May 1: Water in the American West, a free, online college level course, offered by The Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado. Register now.

Mountain West Voices
Hear weekly stories from the Rocky Mountain West as gathered by Clay Scott

Mountain West News is a program of the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West



at the

The University of Montana