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Week in Review

Mountain West News will not publish on Memorial Day, Monday, May 25. Our next daily edition will publish on Tuesday, May 26.

Top stories from May 18 thru May 22:

In News to track, an update to the Endangered Species Act and public lands legislation are in the news.

In what some analysts are saying is a pre-emptive strike to an increased effort in Congress to revamp the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service released proposed changes to the four-decades-old Act, including a change in the process by which parties petition those services to protect a species to give states a larger role in the process.

On Thursday, the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining took testimony on the latest version of an Idaho wilderness bill that would protect areas of the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains. Idaho U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson said last weekend that he believes this version of the bill, which now carries the title of "The Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act,” nicknamed SNRA Plus, has a good chance of passing this session.

The Senate subcommittee heard a number of public lands measures that day, including Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch's measure to restore grazing levels in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Colorado U.S. Rep. Jared Polis introduced his "Continental Divide Wilderness Area and Recreation Act," which would designate an additional 90 square miles of wilderness in Eagle and Summit counties along the Continental Divide, with some of those lands added to existing wilderness areas, as well as others that would be designated new wilderness areas. The Colorado Democrat now sits on the House Natural Resource Committee, a position that may help the legislation's passage through Congress this time.

Also in Colorado, a proposed land swap that we've been following for a decade is given the green light by the U.S. Forest Service.

Texas businessman B.J. "Red" McCombs has been working for decades to get Rio Grande National Forest lands between a 300-acre parcel of land he owns and U.S. Hwy 160 to allow him access to the land so he could build his Village at Wolf Creek Pass. This week, the supervisor of the national forest in Colorado approved the land swap, and McCombs plans to move forward with the proposed development.

And finally, a new group has formed to counter what they say are extreme groups fighting federal land agencies' authorities. Spurred to action by last year's armed confrontation at Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy's ranch over his nonpayment of fees for grazing his cattle on Bureau of Land Management lands and this year's confrontation at an Oregon mine, the Great Old Broads for Wilderness and other groups formed the "Ballots Not Bullets" group.

Mountain West Perspective

Montana's two-year colleges revamp curricula to meet changing workplace demands

Barbara Theroux reviews three books that deal with water in the West

April 15, 2015

News to track

Agencies propose changes to federal Endangered Species Act
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service released proposed changes to the four-decades old Endangered Species Act, including one that would change the process by which species can be nominated for protection to give states more of a role in the process.
E&E Daily (Greenwire); 5/19/2015

  • Proposed revisions to the Endangered Species Act
    This is a pdf of the proposed changes to the federal Endangered Species Act, which is expected to be published in the Federal Register later this week, opening a 60-day comment period on the changes.
    U.S. Department of Interior; 5/19/2015

U.S. Senate panel holds hearing on Idaho wilderness bill
On Thursday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining took testimony on a slate of public lands measures, including the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act, the latest iteration of a measure to protect areas of the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains in Idaho.
Idaho Statesman; 5/22/2015

  • Idaho congressman confident about wilderness bill this time
    U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson has been working for years to protect the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains as wilderness, and at the Idaho Conservation League’s annual Wild Idaho conference on Sunday, Simpson said he believes "The Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act,” nicknamed SNRA Plus, which is set for a hearing before a Senate subcommittee on Thursday and before the House in June, will be passed this year. Simpson also said that he would actively resist any efforts to add amendments to the measure.
    Idaho Mountain Express (Sun Valley); 5/20/2015

USFS gives final answer on controversial Colorado land swap
On Thursday, B.J. "Red" McCombs' decades-long effort to obtain land from the Rio Grande National Forest in Colorado needed to connect property he owned on Wolf Creek Pass to the highway, and thus allow development of that 300-acre parcel in Colorado, came to fruition with the approval of the controversial land swap with the U.S. Forest Service that gives the Texas businessman 204.4 acres of federal land to build a road to U.S. 160, and gives the Forest Service 177.6 acres of wetlands, fens, springs and streams.
Denver Post; 5/22/2015

Colorado congressman introduces Continental Divide wilderness bill
On Thursday, Colorado U.S. Rep. Jared Polis introduced the Continental Divide Wilderness Area and Recreation Act, which would designate 90 square miles of land bordering the Continental Divide in Eagle and Summit counties, and proponents of the measure believe that the Colorado Democrat's seat on the House Natural Resource Committee will help propel the measure through Congress.
Durango Herald; 5/22/2015

New coalition formed to counter extreme groups' stance in land fights
The armed standoff at Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch last year and this year's confrontation at the Sugar Pine Mine in Oregon were cited by representatives of groups who have banded together to form the Ballots Not Bullets Coalition to counter such actions. Among the groups forming the BNBC are the Colorado-based Great Old Broads for Wilderness, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, WildEarth Guardian, Alliance for a Better Utah and Center for Biological Diversity.
Durango Herald; 5/20/2015


BLM releases final EIS on Wyoming-to-Nevada transmission line
The Wyoming Bureau of Land Management released the final environmental impact statement on the TransWest Express, a proposed 725-mile transmission line proposed to carry wind-generated power from Wyoming to a substation in Nevada, with ultimate delivery of power to two million homes in that state as well as California and Arizona. A final decision on the project, and the route it will take from Wyoming through Idaho, Utah and Nevada, is expected in September.
Deseret News; 5/19/2015

Colorado DMV to resume scheduling for immigrant drivers' licenses
After a rancorous legislative session that saw funding for Colorado's immigrant driver's license program deeply decreased, forcing the DMV to reduce the number of offices where such services were offered from five to one, and then some funding was restored, allowing three offices to offer the service, but due to a backlog of demand, the DMV had stopped taking appointments at those offices, but announced this week that new appointments will be taken starting next week.
Denver Post; 5/22/2015


EPA's role in marketing Clean Water Act changes under fire
Thomas Reynolds, an associate administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, says the social media campaign and other efforts to spread the word about proposed changes to the Clean Water Act are just methods to educate the public, but critics believe that the agency's actions violated federal lobbying laws.
New York Times; 5/19/2015

Utah drought increases concerns about Kennecott's water treatment plan
More than a decade ago, Kennecott Utah Copper reached an agreement with the state to treat contaminated plumes of groundwater, and the mining company teamed up with the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District to build two water treatment plants on in West Jordan and one in South Jordan, and soon a pipeline will be in place to discharge reverse-osmosis wastewater into the Great Salt Lake's Gilbert Bay, but the addition of the selenium-laced water to the Lake at a time when it's at historic lows, raising concerns about how migratory birds could be affected by the discharge water, and a system is now in place to monitor migratory birds and their eggs to ensure selenium levels do not affect the birds.
Salt Lake Tribune; 5/18/2015

Wyoming residents get update on plume of contaminated groundwater
On Thursday, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel said that it will take two more years of testing to determine the reach of a plume of groundwater contaminated with trichloroethylene, or TCE, emanating from a 1960's era missile site in Wyoming near Cheyenne.
Wyoming Tribune Eagle; 5/22/2015

Interior Sec'y announces $50M in water funds for projects in 12 states
On Wednesday, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced $50 million in funds from the Department's WaterSMART sustainable water initiative to help partially fund 60 projects in 12 drought-stricken states, including Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Oregon and Washington.
Twin Falls Times-News (AP); 5/20/2015

Recent rains provides respite for Idaho farmers
The recent spate of rain has improved soil moisture levels in Idaho, and helped improve stream flow momentarily, but did little to improve the state's overall water picture.
Idaho Mountain Express (Sun Valley); 5/22/2015

Drought conditions eased by rains in southeast Colorado
The federal government report issued Thursday changed the drought conditions in southeastern Colorado from "extreme" to "abnormally dry," after torrential rains covered the state.
Denver Post; 5/22/2015

Gov. Inslee declares drought emergency in Washington state
On Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency across the entire state of Washington, clearing the way for aid due to water shortages.
Seattle Times; 5/16/2015

British Columbia to continue killing wolves to save caribou herds
Documents obtained under a Freedom of Information request indicate that British Columbia plans to continue a controversial wolf cull launched last winter to protect dwindling caribou herds in the South Peace region of the province.
Toronto Globe and Mail; 5/20/2015

Multistate study seeks to protect prairie dogs from plague to save ferrets
Prairie dogs are a primary food source for endangered black-footed ferrets, but the burrowing rodents are also susceptible to sylvatic plague, which can quickly eradicate colonies, so researchers are conducting a four-year study at 12 prairie dog colonies in Montana and six other states to test bait laced with a vaccine to help prairie dogs fend off the plague.
Billings Gazette; 5/18/2015

House bill paints sage grouse as major military disruptor
Republican House members' latest effort to fend off federal protection of sage grouse appears in the $612 billion military response bill with an amendment that says protection of the sage grouse would put military training in peril, although Mark E. Wright, a Defense Department spokesman, said management of the species has not "resulted in unacceptable limits on our military readiness activities."
New York Times; 5/21/2015

Avista Corp., 26 agencies work to restore fish population in Montana river
The Cabinet-Gorge Dam on the Idaho-Montana border obstructs the passage of bull trout and cutthroat trout into the Lower Clark Fork River in Montana, but those two species of fish get a truck ride around the dam, thanks to a $10-million program funded by Avista Corp. and some 26 federal, state, local and private groups.
Missoulian; 5/20/2015

Washington state hires international wildlife expert to work on wolf conflicts
As wolves expand their numbers and range in Washington state, conflicts with humans are on the rise, and the state recently hired Francine Madden, the executive director of the Texas-based Human Wildlife Conflict Collaboration, which has worked internationally to resolve wildlife-human conflicts to prepare a report on the level of conflicts with wolves in the state as well as work with groups on both sides of the issue to find areas of agreement.
Spokane Spokesman-Review; 5/22/2015

Public Lands
Interior Dept. releases new wildfire plan to save sage grouse
On Tuesday, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was in Idaho, where she rolled out the federal government's 82-page plan to protect sage grouse habitat from wildfire that focuses primarily on lands in the Great Basin in Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and California.
Flathead Beacon (AP); 5/20/2015

Federal wildfire plan latest tool in effort to stave off sage grouse listing
In advance of the Sept. 30 court-ordered deadline for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make a decision on protection of sage grouse, the federal government and 11 western states continue to put policies in place to keep the species off the endangered species list, the latest of which was the plan released Tuesday by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to protect sage grouse habitat from wildfires.
Idaho Statesman; 5/20/2015

Industry says proposed gas plant won't harm Wyoming area
Representatives of the Denver firm QEP Resources, which wants to build a natural gas processing plant to produce helium, methane and carbon dioxide planned in the Dry Piney Creek drainage of the Wyoming Range, said that the plant, as well as the wells and other infrastructure needed for it, present no threat to Colorado River cutthroat trout, as the species long ago disappeared from the heavily drilled area of Wyoming.
Jackson Hole News & Guide; 5/20/2015

Colorado senator asks OSM, Jewell to appeal coal mine ruling
After U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson ruled that the Office of Surface Mining did not fully comply with federal law when it issued the permit for the Colowyo mine 20 years ago and gave the federal agency 120 days to complete the environmental analysis for the mine required under the National Environmental Policy Act, Colorado U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner met Saturday with Moffat County commissioners and drafted a letter to the OSM and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell urging that the decision be appealed.
Craig Daily Press; 5/17/2015

Wyoming data trespass law focused on grazing on public lands
The conflict between the nonprofit Western Watersheds Project and Wyoming ranchers who graze their livestock on public lands is at the foundation of the new law in Wyoming that criminalizes the collection of data on open lands, and the debate is now focused on whether that law can be used to oppose such data collection on federal lands.; 5/19/2015


Peabody Energy's new campaign casts coal as path out of poverty
The world's largest privately held coal company, Peabody Energy, is shifting its campaign on coal from resisting regulations designed to curb greenhouse gases linked to climate change to casting coal as the path out of poverty for developing nations.
The Guardian; 5/20/2015

Water treatment plan in Utah needs monitoring, perpetual funding
While the 40-year, $74 million water treatment project to clean up a century's worth of copper mining contamination in 100 square miles in Utah is admittedly better than not cleaning up the contamination, the project will have to be monitored to ensure that discharge from the treatment plants do not push selenium levels in the Great Salt Lake to the point where it affects migratory birds, and that monitoring will require funding in perpetuity as well.
Salt Lake Tribune; 5/19/2015

California oil spill will wash through Canada's energy debate
In the energy industry, the sins of the few are revisited upon the many, and the spill from Plains All American Pipeline's oil pipeline into the Pacific Ocean along Santa Barbara's coastline will wash through the debate about pipeline and port projects on the West Coast needed to get Canada's oil overseas with the force of a tidal wave, a considerably different response than similar, earlier oil spills in Canada.A column by Stephen Ewart.
Calgary Herald; 5/22/2015


Tribes band together to keep federal protections for Yellowstone grizzlies
Guardians of Our Ancestral Legacy, a coalition of 35 tribes in seven Western states, including all of those in Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska, oppose the removal of federal protections for grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and the group also charges that Chris Servheen, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's grizzly bear recovery coordinator, and state wildlife officials have been dismissive of tribes' concerns about the species. (Environment & Energy Daily); 5/19/2015

DOJ presses Congress for voting reforms for Native Americans
Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, credited litigation in Montana and South Dakota seeking satellite voting sites for the Department of Justice's push in Congress to pass legislation for reforms to improve access and other voting issues for Native Americans and Alaska Natives.
Flathead Beacon (AP); 5/22/2015

Vermont women sue Montana tribe's payday loan company
In a federal lawsuit filed in Vermont, two women allege that Plain Green LLC, an online payday loan company owned by the Chippewa Cree Tribe, engaged in predatory loan practices and uses tribal sovereignty laws to skirt state laws that cap interest rates on such loans.
Flathead Beacon (AP); 5/15/2015

Colorado U.S. senators seek federal tuition aid for Native Americans
As part of Fort Lewis College's 1910 land grant, the Colorado college agreed to pick up the tab for Native American students, but student numbers have expanded significantly over the past century, with Colorado footing the bill for the federal mandate, and on Wednesday, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner introduced The Native American Indian Education Act, which would provide $16 million in funding for tuition for Native students at the college. The Senate bill is a companion measure to the House bill introduced by Colorado U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton in February.
Durango Herald; 5/22/2015


Colorado moves to the forefront in wildfire prediction technology
Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill on Wednesday that provides $600,000 in funding to use technology developed over the past two decades by researchers led by the Boulder-based National Center for Atmospheric Research that could give Colorado wildfire responders hours of advance notice about fire behavior driven by atmospheric conditions.
Durango Herald; 5/21/2015


Federal scientists in Canada seek protection from political interference
For the first time, public-service unions have made protection of scientific integrity an issue in contract negotiations in Canada, after new contact rules were put in place a few years ago that required all questions for federal scientists go through media relations specialists in Ottawa, who may, or may not, allow scientists to speak directly to journalists.
Toronto Globe and Mail; 5/18/2015

U.S. Senate confirms Utah Supreme Court Judge as new federal judge
Utah Supreme Court Justice Jill Parrish was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be a federal judge in Utah.
Deseret News; 5/22/2015


Utah governor: Energy trumps tourism in economic benefits
At his annual Energy Development Summit, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert touted a report from Applied Analysis of Las Vegas that found the energy sector supplied $21 billion in economic activity, and provides 10,600 direct jobs and 29,000 indirect jobs. In contrast, the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research said that, in 2012, tourism supported 129,000 and spent $7.4 billion in the state, while the Outdoor Industry Association reported $12 billion in consumer spending related to outdoor activities in the state.
Salt Lake Tribune; 5/22/2015

Idaho adventure tourism a booming business
Tourism in Idaho is a $2-billion-a-year boost to the state's economy, and a fast-growing segment of the tourism industry are companies that offer outdoor thrills like running the rapids of Idaho's rivers, BASEjumping, ziplining and paragliding.
Idaho Statesman; 5/20/2015

CDC links deaths of 9 in U.S. oilfields to toxic vapors from production tanks
The U.S. Centers for Disease Controls issued a warning about the toxic mix of vapors that are released when hatches on crude oil production tanks are opened manually, and linked the inhalation of those vapors to nine oilfield deaths over the past five years, with three each occurring in Colorado and North Dakota, and one each in Montana, Texas and Oklahoma.
Denver Post; 5/18/2015

Crews clean up waxy crude spilled in Utah tanker crash
An estimated 5,000 gallon of crude oil spilled into a dry wash in Utah Saturday, when a tanker truck rolled off a curve and both tanks the truck was pulling ruptured. Crews continued on Monday to clean up the waxy crude, which has to be hauled hot from the thousands of wells in the Uinta Basin, which has no pipelines in place to move the oil.
Salt Lake Tribune; 5/19/2015

Alberta again leads Canada in new filings for unemployment benefits
For the third consecutive month, Alberta led Canadian provinces in new unemployment benefit filings, as lower oil and gas prices continue to exact a toll on the province's economy.
Toronto Globe and Mail; 5/21/2015

Colorado's Arapahoe Basin still open for skiing--and there's new snow
In the last month alone, nearly four feet of new snow has fallen on Arapahoe Basin's slopes, allowing more powder days at the only ski area in Colorado that's still open for the season.
Denver Post; 5/21/2015

Beyond the region

Fatal Amtrak accident shifts focus to U.S. spending on rail systems
The United States' passenger rail system is far less extensive than that in Europe, Asia and Australia, yet its safety record is far worse, and the defining difference is the amount governments spend on their rail infrastructure.
New York Times; 5/20/2015

Canada's Agriculture Minister: Time for U.S. to end COOL program
The World Trade Organization ruled earlier this week that the United States' country-of-origin labeling laws for meat violates trade agreements, and Canada's Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said that, while Canada is prepared to go to the mat and slap tariffs on U.S. products if the COOL rules aren't repealed, he believes cooler heads will prevail and those rules will be revoked.
Calgary Herald (Canadian Press); 5/22/2015

U.S. releases plan to help honeybees, monarch butterflies
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama released a strategy developed by his appointed Pollinator Health Task Force to support the nation's ailing honeybee and monarch butterfly populations that includes planting areas along Interstate 35, which runs from Duluth, Minn., to the Mexico border at Laredo, Tex., with wildflowers and milkweed by 2020. Conservation groups generally approved the plan, although some criticized it for not addressing the role pesticides may play into declining bee populations.
New York Times; 5/20/2015

Owner of California pipeline involved in oil spill has history of problems
On Friday, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a corrective action order against Plains Pipeline, the owner of the pipeline that ruptured and spilled an estimated 21,000 gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean in California near the Refugio State Beach, and an analysis of the company's safety record done by the Los Angeles Times found that the company's rate of incidents was three times the national average.
Los Angeles Times; 5/22/2015

Hundreds of protesters block access to Seattle oil terminal
On Monday morning, hundreds of protesters gathered outside Terminal 5 in Seattle, where Shell Oil's massive Polar Pioneer drilling rig is moored, to protest the company's plan to drill off the coast of Alaska.
Seattle Times; 5/18/2015

Study links dolphin deaths in Gulf of Mexico to 2010 oil spill
Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published the results of their latest study on Wednesday that again tied dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill as the dead bottlenose dolphins found stranded along that gulf contained adrenal and lung adhesions consistent with damage marine animals experience when exposed to petroleum products.
New York Times; 5/21/2015

U.S. housing starts in April at highest rate since November 2007
The U.S. Commerce Department reported housing starts increased 20.2 percent in April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.14 million homes, the highest in more than seven years.
Denver Post (AP); 5/19/2015

Mountain West News is a program of the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West
at The University of Montana.
"I researched the history of that extensively and even though some people don't agree, it was clear that that inholding was created to create some sort of development and even back then they called it a village."

Rio Grande National Forest supervisor Dan Dallas, on the decision to approve a land swap with Texas businessman B.J. "Red" McCombs that will clear the way for the Village at Wolf Pass in Colorado.
- Durango Herald

On The Bookshelf
Barbara Theroux reviews three books that deal with water in the West


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


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