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Week in Review

Top stories from March 2 thru March 6:

In News to track,  updates on a couple of issues we've been tracking. 

U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, joined by his colleague U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, introduced the  Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act, the latest attempt by the Idaho congressman to protect areas of the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains in Central Idaho.  

The U.S. Senate fell four votes short of the 66 needed to override President Obama's veto of the bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

The U.S. Geological Survey completed its analysis of water-quality data collected by the USGS and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency between 1970 and 2010 to see if oil and gas operations had had an impact on water quality, and what the agency found was that, in areas where unconventional oil and gas resources are located, there's not a lot of data on water quality.

In Idaho, where the state has begun conjunctive management of surface water and groundwater, a water call has been filed by surface water holders in the Wood River Valley that hold senior water rights against groundwater users with junior water rights. 

Mountain West Perspective

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

On the Bookshelf

Barbara Theroux reviews Liz Carlisle's "Lentil Underground: Renegade farmers and the future of food in America"

Feb. 20, 2015

Mountain West Voices

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

Sunday's program is the first of a two-part series that tells the story of Maria Zimina, later Marie Johnson of Polson, Mont., who was caught up the turmoil of the Russian civil war in 1919 while on a trip to Vladivostok.

Cut off from her family and with no money, she made her way east and north toward the Russian Arctic.

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

Feb. 3-March 24: Wilderness Lecture series hosted by the Wilderness Institute at the University of Montana in Missoula

    March 10: Bruce Smith, The Mountain Goat: An American Wilderness Icon"

    March 17: Dr. Bob Ream, "Wilderness Research Then and Now: The Wilderness Institute’s Fortieth Year"

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.

News to track

Groups prefer national monument designation for Central Idaho area
Last week, Idaho U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson and Sen. Jim Risch introduced the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act, the latest attempt by the Idaho congressman to protect the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains in Central Idaho, but a coalition of 18 conservation groups said the new legislation allows too much motorized access into wilderness study areas and the groups said they will continue to press the Obama administration to designate the area a national monument.
Idaho Mountain Express (Sun Valley); 3/4/2015

U.S. Senate vote fails to override veto of Keystone XL pipeline bill
On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate's vote to override President Obama's veto of the bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline fell four votes short of the 66 needed, and now senators are contemplating another route to get the Alberta-to-Oklahoma pipeline approved, perhaps by attaching it to a piece of "must-pass" legislation.
Flathead Beacon (AP); 3/5/2015

USGS study on oil, gas pollutants in water unearths dearth of data
Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey said the most significant finding of their review of water-quality data collected between 1970 and 2010 to see if there was any degradation of surface waters from oil and gas drilling operations was that adequate data exists for just 16 percent of the areas where those oil and natural gas resources are found.
Casper Star-Tribune (AP); 3/5/2015

Idaho gets first water call under new conjunctive management rules
The city of Gooding, the Big Wood Canal Co. and other senior water rights holders have issued a demand for water that groundwater users with junior rights are using in the Wood River Valley, the first such call since Idaho began managing surface and groundwater together.
Idaho Mountain Express (Sun Valley); 3/6/2015


Former Idaho governors file intent to sue over nuclear-waste deal
On Thursday, former Idaho Govs. Cecil Andrus and Phil Batt filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Department of Energy to stop a proposal to ship 50 spent nuclear energy fuel rods to the state agreed to by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and state Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, which the former governors said violates the 1995 agreement then-Gov. Batt worked out to keep more nuclear waste out of Idaho.
Twin Falls Times-News (AP); 3/6/2015

Sheriffs from Colorado, 2 other states sue to overturn marijuana amendment
On Wednesday, sheriffs and prosecutors from Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska filed a federal lawsuit challenging Amendment 64, which cleared the way for legalization of recreational use of marijuana in the state, with the Colorado plaintiffs charging that the Colorado Constitution requires them to uphold the laws of the United States and Colorado, putting their oaths of office at odds with the legalization of marijuana, which is still illegal under federal law.
Denver Post; 3/5/2015

Census Bureau: Utah leads the nation for percentage of city dwellers
A study from the Census Bureau released Wednesday found that, in 2013, 88.4 percent of Utahns live in cities or towns, putting the Beehive State top in the nation for percentage of residents living inside incorporated areas, and the West was the top region in that category, with 76.4 percent of residents living in towns and cities, which the author of the study tied to limited water resources and high percentage of federal public lands in the region. Montana is an anomaly in the West, with 44.1 percent of its residents living in rural areas.
Salt Lake Tribune; 3/5/2015

Oil, gas operations leave a mark in Colorado
Under Colorado's regulations, oil and gas companies don't have to file a reclamation plan before they begin drilling, and although the state does require that drill sites be completely reclaimed to reduce erosion, loosen compacted soil, prevent dust storms and control invasions of noxious weeds, there is no mandated timeline for such work to be done nor does the state track such work, and the Denver Post has found that there are 47,505 inactive wells in Colorado, that the area around half of those have yet to be restored, and that work on 72 percent of the unrestored sites has been ongoing for more than five years.
Denver Post; 3/2/2015

Transit system in Colorado's Roaring Fork Valley sets new ridership record
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority reported 4.9 million passengers were reported on the routes served by the Colorado transit system last year, breaking the record of 4.85 million passengers set in 2008, and RFTA officials said the expansion of the transit system's service, as well as a strong ski season helped boost rider numbers this year.
Aspen Times; 3/3/2015


Report paints February as foe to Utah's water resources
The Natural Resources Conservation Service's Utah Climate and Water Report released Wednesday said February's warmer than normal temperatures and drier weather sealed the deal for a poor snowpack year in the Beehive State, and said that snowpack is melting at lower elevations and across southern Utah.
Salt Lake Tribune; 3/5/2015

Idaho water resources a mixed bag this spring
Ron Abramovich, water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Boise, said that some areas in Idaho have snowpack levels that are well above average, while other areas are at record lows, and the water forecast for the Magic Valley is the best in the state, and some farmers are already at work planting.
Twin Falls Times-News; 3/5/2015

U.S., Nevada, Idaho tribes reach water accord
On Friday, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell signed off on an agreement to settle longstanding water claims of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation on the Nevada-Idaho border, which will send millions of dollars in federal funding for water projects on the reservation.
Idaho Statesman (AP); 3/2/2015

Yellowstone Park's Boiling River running hotter
The Boiling River in Yellowstone National Park near Gardiner, Mont., is running about 20 degrees hotter, and officials believe that the increase of the water temperature to 140 degrees may be due to less cold water flowing through underground sinkholes that feed the underlying travertine or lower water levels in the Gardner River, into which the Boiling River flows.
Missoulian (Livingston Enterprise); 3/2/2015


Map details march of fatal disease through Wyoming elk, deer herds
Wyoming Wildlife Advocates released a map this week that details the spread of chronic wasting disease through elk and deer herds in the Cowboy State over the past 40 years, with the disease, which is now in areas just 40 miles away from Yellowstone National Park.
Bozeman Daily Chronicle; 3/5/2015

USFS laboratory in Montana taps wildlife genomes
On the University of Montana campus, researchers are at work in the new National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation applying genome testing technology developed for humans to wildlife, and they can, from a single tailfeather of a grouse, trace its family tree, and determine if bighorn sheep have a genetic defense against lung worm.
Missoulian; 3/4/2015

Trappers killed 77 wolves in Montana during trapping season
With trapping season over and rifle season for wolves ending March 15, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials said it's unlikely that the number of wolves killed this season will surpass last season's 230 wolves, with trappers having killed 77 and hunters 127. In Idaho, hunters and trappers have killed 205 wolves, far below last season's 302 wolves.
Flathead Beacon (AP); 3/3/2015

Another year, another ringtail captured, collared in Southern Idaho
Bassariscus astutus, or ringtails, are tiny carnivores with big ears, pointed nose, long tail and striking facial markings that evidence their relation to the raccoon family, and are native to the deserts of the Southwest United States and Mexico, but in February of 2014, a female ringtail was captured and radio-collared in southern Idaho and released near Rock Creek in the South Hills, and last month, a male ringtail was captured in Oakley, radio-collared and released in the Big Cottonwood Wildlife Management Area west of Oakley.
Twin Falls Times-News; 3/4/2015

Public Lands
USFS to put area of W. Wyoming forest off limits to dogs, errant owners
Bridger-Teton National Forest officials are closing Cache Creek drainage trails to dogs the week of March 18 to March 25 to give officials time to figure out how to deal with dog owners that let their dogs chase wildlife and who do not clean up after their dogs, both of which are growing problems in that area of the Western Wyoming national forest.
Jackson Hole Daily; 3/3/2015

Opponents of states' efforts to lay claim to federal lands rally in Utah, Nevada
On Monday, an estimated 200 people gathered in Utah's Capitol to protest efforts in that state to gain control of federal lands within its borders, and in Nevada, a similar rally before legislators in Carson City drew several dozen people.
Idaho Statesman (AP); 3/3/2015

Alberta restores funding to bring bison back to Banff National Park
Banff National Park officials have spent the last 18 months discussing the plan to reintroduce bison back into the Alberta national park, and Alberta Fish and Game Association officials said an announcement about federal funding for the project will be made on Friday.
Calgary Herald; 3/3/2015

Montana sells oil, gas leases on state lands for $53,000
On Tuesday, the Montana Department of Natural Resources auctioned off oil and gas leases on 78 parcels of state land covering 35,000 acres, with companies paying an average of $1.50 per acre for the leases.
Flathead Beacon (AP); 3/4/2015

Groups line up for, against bill to expand rafting in Wyoming national parks
The Yellowstone and Grand Teton Paddling Act sponsored by Wyoming U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis has the support of the American Packrafting Association and individual paddlers, but the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance are all opposed to the measure, which would open waters in the two national parks to hand-propelled watercraft.
Jackson Hole News & Guide; 2/25/2015


Utah needs to rework its water plan to address drought
While Utah deserves praise for its Prepare60, which is the water plan developed by the Jordan Valley, Weber Basin, Central Utah and Washington County water conservancy districts, which provide 85 percent of the state's population with water, none of those four districts' forward looking plan examine a drier future, despite a recent report from NASA that predicts a much drier future, a situation that all of Utah--and its water providers--must consider.
Salt Lake Tribune; 3/4/2015

Colorado should join other states and ban microbeads
The microbeads embraced by the health and beauty industry are proving to be an environmental disaster in the making, and while a federal ban on the production and sale of products containing the microscopic beads, which are piling up in the nation's lakes and rivers would be the best way to go, the fractious nature of Congress these days puts such a solution years away, and Colorado should join the dozens of other states and pass a ban on the production and sale of products containing the miniscule plastic beads.
Denver Post; 3/2/2015

Torrent of visitors endangering ancient past, future of Utah's Cedar Mesa
The remote canyons of Cedar Mesa in Southeast Utah contain a trove of archaeological sites and used to provide an area of quiet communion with its ancient past, but social media sites have guided a flood of visitors to the area in recent years, some of whom help themselves to archaeological relics, a situation that may be addressed if the area becomes National Conservation Area as part of the Utah Public Land Initiative proposed by Utah U.S. Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, and this weekend in Bluff, Utah, the Friends of Cedar Mesa will host its annual meeting that will kick off Friday with a documentary about the area, and will continue Saturday with presentations, which will include information on the Utah lands bill. A column by John Peel.
Durango Herald; 3/2/2015

Utah legislators beating a dead horse on federal lands transfer
Much has been written about Utah's quixotic quest to claim ownership of federal lands within its borders, and state Rep. Ken Ivory has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote similar measures in other Western states, but the case law is settled and Utah doesn't have a legal leg to stand on, although state legislators have approved another $2 million to pursue the matter. A Writers on the Range for High Country News by Hillary Hoffmann, a law professor at Vermont Law School's Environmental Law Center, specializing in natural resources and public lands issues throughout the West.
High Country News; 3/6/2015


Chippewa Cree council again ousts chairman of Montana tribes
The third time was apparently not the charm for Ken Blatt St. Marks, who has been elected as chairman of the Chippewa Cree Tribes in Montana three times, and on Tuesday, was again expelled by the tribes' Business Committee, alleging "gross misconduct and neglect of duty," which St. Marks again denied and for which he has never been charged.
Flathead Beacon (Great Falls Tribune); 3/5/2015


Idaho Senate panel OKs measure on federal lands
On Monday, the Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee voted to consider a proposal to enlist the state's federal lawmakers to help improve management of federal lands within the state's borders.
Idaho Statesman (AP); 3/3/2015

Utah governor gets patients' right-to-try' legislation
A measure that allows terminally ill patients the right to try experimental treatments after those treatments have passed the initial phase of the federal Food and Drug Administration's approval process made its way through the Legislature and is now awaiting action on Utah Gov. Gary Herbert's desk.
Salt Lake Tribune; 3/3/2015

Wyoming governor signs science standards bill into law
On Monday, House Bill 23, which will allow the State Board of Education to consider Next Generation Science Standards as well as other K-12 science standards for public schools' curricula was signed into law by Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead. A provision in the budget bill passed last year prohibited such consideration.
Casper Star-Tribune (Wyoming Tribune Eagle); 3/3/2015

Gov. Mead signs Wyoming Food Freedom Act into law
Wyoming food sales between producers and "informed end consumers," like transactions at farmers markers, are now free from government regulation in the state after Gov. Matt Mead signed House Bill 56 into law.
Casper Star-Tribune (Wyoming Tribune Eagle); 3/4/2015

Bicycle safety bill headed to Wyoming governor's desk
On Wednesday, the Wyoming Senate gave final approval to House Bill 85, which requires motorists to give bicyclists three feet of space when passing them, but only "when space allows," but states no penalties for motorists who fail to follow that law. If Gov. Matt Mead signs the bill, it will become law July 1.
Casper Star-Tribune; 3/5/2015

Wyoming House passes bill to study state management of federal lands
On Wednesday, the Wyoming House passed Senate File 56, which authorizes a study to be done on the state's management of federal lands, but the House version authorizes just $75,000 for the study, $25,000 less than the original bill in the Senate, a difference that will have to be negotiated by House and Senate members.
Casper Star-Tribune; 3/5/2015

Wyoming bills seek to protect grazing leases for domestic sheep
WyoFile tracks the path of two bills before the Wyoming Legislature designed to protect domestic sheep grazing: Senate File 133, which calls for the relocation of the Darby Mountain bighorn sheep herd to deter the U.S. Forest Service from banning domestic sheep grazing to protect the wild sheep, and a companion measure, Senate File 134, which codifies the state's policy of resolving conflicts between wild and domestic sheep.; 3/3/2015


Saving ways of U.S. could lead to collapse of oil price
Because the United States has been socking away an average of a million more barrels of oil than it's been using for the past seven weeks, and the country's storage capacity for that stockpiled oil is expected to max out in mid-April, which could send the price of crude oil--and gasoline--into a sharp decline.
Flathead Beacon (AP); 3/4/2015

Oil companies hold off on fracking wells in Wyoming
Current low prices for oil have EOG Resources, Chesapeake Energy and Devon Energy taking a wait-and-see approach on drilling new wells using the hydraulic fracturing method, a move analysts said was expected given the cost of drilling the wells and the current price of oil.
Casper Star-Tribune; 3/3/2015

U.S. Supreme Court sends Colorado internet tax case to federal court
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision that will put the dispute over Colorado's law that requires online vendors to report sales to Colorado customers for state tax purposes before a federal court, a decision the Direct Marketing Association, the plaintiff in the case, called a victory.
Denver Post; 3/4/2015

Glencore announces it will close Montana aluminum plant
The Swiss owner of the Columbia Falls Aluminum Plant in Montana announced Tuesday that the plant, which was closed in 2009, will not reopen. The announcement indicated that the company, which has been fending off a federal Superfund listing of the site to clean it up, would seek other possible uses for the site and that it would demolish some structures and follow all rules and regulations on cleaning up the site.
Flathead Beacon; 3/3/2015

U.S. added 295,000 jobs in February
The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that 295,000 jobs were added in February, pushing the national unemployment rate down to 5.5 percent.
Salt Lake Tribune (AP); 3/6/2015

N.J. settles $9B pollution case against Exxon Mobil for $250M
The lawsuits filed more than a decade ago by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection against Exxon Mobil alleging $9 billion in damage to wetlands has reportedly been settled for $250 million.

New York Times; 3/2/2015

Beyond the region

California drought increases demand for natural gas from Canada
Shale gas production in the United States cut sales of Canadian natural gas in that country's Midwest region, but producers are finding market conditions considerably better on the country's West Coast, especially in California, where drought has cut hydropower production in that state and increased demand for natural gas in Canada.
Calgary Herald; 2/28/2015

BNSF train carrying Bakken oil derails, burns in Illinois
Eight cars of a 103-car train carrying crude from the Bakken left the tracks in a rural area three miles from Galena, Ill., on Thursday afternoon and started a small fire, prompting the evacuation of a mile-wide area around the fire, which is being allowed to burn itself out.
Chicago Tribune; 3/6/2015

Vancouver official: Chemical fire at B.C. port a 'silent emergency'
Wednesday afternoon's chemical fire at DP World's Centerm container terminal on the south shore of Burrard Inlet at the Port Metro Vancouver in British Columbia served as a wake-up call for Vancouver city manager Penny Ballem, who said the emergency was the closest the city has come to a widespread evacuation, but port and fire officials said all systems worked as they should, with the transmission of accurate information within minutes to fire responders about the hazardous materials involved in the fire.
Vancouver Sun; 3/6/2015

Groups sue USDA Wildlife Services over plan to kill wolves in Washington
Five environmental groups have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services' plan to kill wolves in Washington state, and charging that the federal agency must do a complete environmental impact analysis of the plan before killing any wolves.
Reuters; 3/4/2015

USFWS begins meetings on boosting grizzly numbers in Washington state
Thousands of grizzly bears used to roam the North Cascades in Washington state, and meetings begin today on the federal government's proposal to boost grizzly bear numbers in those mountains, with the first meeting set for today in Winthrop.
Portland Oregonian (Northwest Public Radio); 3/4/2015

Mountain West News is a program of the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West
at The University of Montana.
"S enior surface water rights holders making a call on groundwater users, well that’s new. This is a complete change now that we’re moving toward conjunctive management."

On The Bookshelf
Barbara Theroux of Fact & Fiction reviews Liz Carlisle's 'Lentil Underground'


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


A Look Ahead

Feb. 3-March 24: Wilderness Lecture series hosted by the Wilderness Institute at the University of Montana in Missoula

    March 10: Bruce Smith, The Mountain Goat: An American Wilderness Icon"

    March 17: Dr. Bob Ream, "Wilderness Research Then and Now: The Wilderness Institute’s Fortieth Year"

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