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The Rockies' Year in Review: Top Stories in the Rocky Mountain West in 2012

Help keep Mountain West News coming to you every week. Please donate.

Mountain West News offers a look back at some of the happenings in 2012. You can check out the year''s worth of Western Perspectives and other original columns, as well as the year's Weeks in Review here.

Western Perspective

Friday, June 08, 2012
Headwaters Economics examines role of public lands, natural amenities in West's economy

November 08, 2012
Ecotourism could help save remaining swaths of America''s virgin prairie

These are just two of the Western Perspectives published  2012. To see a full index, go here.

On the Bookshelf

Thursday, November 08, 2012
Barbara Theroux of Fact & Fiction reviews William E. Farr''s Blackfoot Redemption: A Blood Indian’s Story of Murder, Confinement, and Imperfect Justice

Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Barbara Theroux of Fact & Fiction reviews Mary Ellen Hannibal''s The Spine of the Continent: The Most Ambitious Wildlife Conservation Project Ever Undertaken

June 21, 2012
Conflicting perspectives about returning wild bison to areas of Montana where they used to roam aren''t mutually exclusive

Monday, May 14, 2012
Shellie Nelson reviews Jim Robbins'' The Man who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet

These are just a few of the book reviews offered in 2012. To see a full index, go here.

Mountain West Voices

We invite readers to listen to Mountain West Voices, a radio program that will profile an individual or community in the Rocky Mountain West, introducing listeners to the compelling stories that are part of the human landscape of our region.

The interviews are broadcast on Montana Public Radio at 8:25 p.m. on Wednesdays  and on Sunday at 7:00 a.m. on Yellowstone Public Radio.

You can listen to this past year's programs archived here.


Climate Center: 2012 will likely be warmest on record for U.S.
This year was one for the record books in the United State, with high temperatures feeding the worst drought in decades, and in Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska, the worst drought on record.
USA Today Dec. 7

U.S. report predicts global need for fresh water could spark conflicts in the future
A report from U.S. intelligence services released Thursday said that increasing scarcity of fresh water will cause regional disturbances around the world in decades to come.
Boulder Daily Camera AP 3/22/2012

Drilling companies buy millions of gallons of water from N. Colorado cities
Companies that need vast amounts of water for hydraulic fracturing operations in Colorado are buying their water from cities such as Windsor, which sold 8.4 million gallons of water for $17,000 in four months, and Fort Collins, which got $1.6 million for 491 million gallons of water it sold last year, primarily to oil and gas companies.
Durango Herald AP 3/12/2012

  • Energy companies outbid farmers for Colorado water
    At the auction held by the Northern Water Conservancy District in Colorado last month, energy companies that need water for hydraulic fracturing, competed with farmers for the water, and the increased competition helped drive prices higher.
    Denver Post 4/2/2012

  • Water trickles through West's entire economy
    A drier West and declining flows in the Colorado River is a concern across the West, and in Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert said ensuring his state has water available for farms, energy operations and development is a priority for him. The first of the Deseret News'' three-part series on the Colorado River.
    Deseret News 5/13/2012

Report pegs cost of warming climate to winter tourism at $2B annually

The "Winter Tourism in Peril" report released Thursday by Protect Our Winters and the Natural Resources Defense Council said that warming temperatures and less snowpack could cut $2 billion annually from the $12.2-billion-a-year winter tourism industry in the United States.
Denver Post Dec. 7

New Census numbers says Montana's population topped 1 million
Montana's population increased by .7 percent in 2012, a lower percentage than all of its neighbors, with North Dakota leading the nation with 2.17 percent Wyoming and South Dakota had 1.6 and 1.19 percent growth, respectively, and Idaho's growth rate was .8 percent.
Billings Gazette Dec. 21


Interior Dept. sends $12.9M to Montana for tribal water projects
Roughly 25 percent of the $50 million the Interior Department announced Wednesday for water infrastructure projects will flow to Montana, where $12.9 million will be used for two tribal water projects, with the Fort Peck Reservation/Dry Prairie Rural Water System getting $9 million and the Rocky Boy''s/North Central Montana Rural Water System getting $3.9 million.
Great Falls Tribune 02/09/2012

Tribes in the West take different approaches on energy
About 10 percent of the nation''s power plants operate within 20 miles of reservations, and while the Navajo Nation has embraced power production, with five power plants operating on its sprawling reservation in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, while members of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in Montana are fighting to get the Colstrip coal-fired power plant shut down.
Denver Post AP 7/5/2012

First Nations plan additional Idle No More protests in Canada this week
Four women from Saskatchewan who were angry about bills before the Canadian Parliament that they believed would weaken environmental laws began what is now known as the First Nations' Idle No More movement, and after several gatherings last week, more such rallies are planned across Canada this week, culminating with one on Parliament Hill on Friday.
Edmonton Journal Dec. 17


Report says climate change is already affecting Western landscapes
A report, "Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity, Ecoystems and Ecosystem Services," issued Tuesday provided details on how climate change is already affecting states in the Intermountain West.
Deseret News Dec. 19

USDA releases new online only map of growing zones
Gardeners who''ve pushed the limits with plants thought too tender to grow in some zones know what the U.S. Department of Agriculture''s new online map of growing zones indicates: winters are getting warmer in most places in the United States.
Washington Post 01/26/2012
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Public Lands
Interior Department: Oil, gas leases in West account for 95% of 2012 sales
The Interior Department sold $221 million in oil and gas leases on federal lands in five Western states in 2012, with most of the activity occurring in New Mexico, although the January sale of leases in Montana was the largest.
Denver Post Dec. 19

Study: Outdoor recreation an 'overlooked economic giant'
A study released by the Western Governors Association and Boulder''s Outdoor Industry Association examined the economic effects of trail sports, biking, camping, snow sports, water sports, fishing, hunting, wildlife-watching, motorcycle riding and off-roading, and found that those outdoor activities provided 2.3 million jobs and pumped $256 billion in spending in western states.
Denver Post 6/12/2012

President Obama to designate Colorado's Chimney Rock a national monument
Bipartisan efforts to get legislation passed to protect Chimney Rock in southwestern Colorado have failed to make it through Congress, so on Friday, President Barack Obama will designate the 4,726-acre portion of the San Juan National Forest a national monument.
Denver Post Sept. 20

Federal program will pay farmers, ranchers to protect sage grouse habitat
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the new Working Lands for Wildlife program that will provide $33 million in funding to rural landowners to protect habitat for seven species, including the sage grouse, lesser prairie chicken and the southwestern willow flycatcher.
Missoulian 3/9/2012

BLM puts wind-farm project on Idaho-Nevada border on hold
The Bureau of Land Management announced Thursday that the proposed China Mountain Wind Project, which would put 170 turbines on 25,500 acres of land straddling the Idaho and Nevada border, would be put on hold for two years, during which time the agency plans to improve sage grouse habitat on those lands.
Twin Falls Times-News 3/9/2012

University of Colorado research tracks double annual hatch of pine beetles
Researchers at the University of Colorado found warmer temperatures allowed a double hatch of mountain pine beetles in the forest at CU's Mountain Research Station, 10,000 feet northwest of Nederland, adding the mountain pine to a growing list of insects whose life cycles have been affected by warming temperatures.
Boulder Daily Camera 3/16/2012

Blister rust, beetles attack white pine forests in Alberta
Whitebark pine trees in Alberta''s alpine forests are under attack from both blister rust and mountain pine beetles, due in part to warmer temperatures that have allowed the beetles to live through winters, and researchers are gathering pine nuts to ensure the species survives.
Edmonton Journal 3/19/2012

Vail Resorts first to submit summer-use plan under new federal law
Vail Resorts'' plan for Vail Mountain in Colorado is the first to be submitted under the Ski Area Recreational Opportunities Enhancement Act signed into law last year.
Vail Daily 7/20/2012

Colorado Roadless Rule benefits Aspen Skiing Co.
The Colorado Roadless Rule approved by the U.S. Forest Service on July 3 removed all inventoried roadless acres within ski area boundaries from the roadless inventory, an exemption that will clear a hurdle for Aspen Skiing Co.''s plan to expand skiing on Burnt Mountain.
Aspen Times 7/20/2012


Wyoming governor says state's plan will prevent mass killings of wolves
At a news conference Thursday, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said that only 14 percent of the state's 328 wolves live in an area where they are classified as predators, and that a majority of the wolves live in an area where they are protected from being shot on sight.
Casper Star-Tribune Sept. 7

Rocky Mountain West bear panel says hunting must be an option
At the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee meeting in Missoula on Thursday, the panel voted to approve a policy that opens the doors to an eventual hunt of grizzly bears after the species is deemed recovered to the point where federal protections are removed.
Missoulian Dec. 14

Interior Department releases plan to tighten rules on wild horse sales
After a ProPublica investigation this fall found that a buyer in Colorado had bought 70 percent of the wild horses sold at Bureau of Land Management auctions since 2009, and that he had resold the animals, many of which could not be accounted for, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced new restrictions on the sales of wild horses.
Colorado Springs Gazette Dec. 10

USFWS to review status of woodland caribou herd in Idaho, Washington
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is undertaking a year-long review of the woodland caribou herd in the Selkirk Mountains in northern Idaho and northeastern Washington state to determine if federal protection of the caribou should be lifted.
Idaho Statesman Dec. 19

White-nose syndrome put 3 bat species in Canada on path for protection
Concerned about bat die-off caused by white-nose syndrome, a fungus-caused disease that has decimated bat populations in the United States and Canada, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, or COSEWIC, asked the federal government to issue an emergency order designating three species of bats as endangered, two of which are found in Manitoba: the little brown bat and northern long-eared bat found in Manitoba.
Edmonton Journal Winnipeg Free Press 3/14/2012

Grizzly bear deaths in B.C. up to 383 in 2011
There are an estimated 16,000 grizzly bears in British Columbia, where the species is listed as one of special concern, but last year hunters killed 334 grizzlies, and another 49 died from various causes, including vehicle collisions, poaching and removal due to human-bear conflicts.
Vancouver Sun 3/31/2012

California condors now 405 strong after nearly going extinct

Thirty years ago, the California condor nearly winked out of existence, with only 23 of the birds alive in 1982, but an April 30 count found 226 of the enormous vultures in the wilds of California, Arizona and Baja, Mexico, and 179 in zoos and breeding centers.

Los Angeles Times 5/21/2012


Western governors struggle with longer wildfire seasons, dwindling budgets
Colorado had its worst wildfire season ever this year, with the Waldo Canyon fire destroying 350 homes in four hours, and a wildfire still burning in Rocky Mountain National Park that forced the evacuation of homes near Estes Park on Dec. 1, and governors across the West are facing a hotter, drier future with less funding for fighting wildfires.
Great Falls Tribune Dec. 14

Beetle-killed forests change challenges for firefighters
Pine beetles have killed millions of acres of trees in the Rocky Mountain West, and as recent wildfires in those beetle-affected forests have indicated, wildfire behavior has changed as well, and now firefighters are at higher risk of being harmed by falling trees.
Missoulian 3/18/2012


Utah Gov. Herbert''s opposition to Flaming Gorge project would be awkward
The fundamental reason Utah Gov. Gary Herbert hasn''t taken a strong stance opposing the proposed pipeline to carry water from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Wyoming-Utah border to Colorado Front Range cities is that opposing that cockamamie project would make his support of an equally cockamamie pipeline from Lake Powell to St. George area hard to defend.
Salt Lake Tribune 01/18/2012

Utah needs to get its head out of the sand on climate change, water issues
The Natural Resource Defense Council''s latest report ranked Utah among the worst in the West in planning for changes in water resources caused by a warmer, drier climate, with the state''s lack of planning can be linked to elected officials'' attitude that climate-change science is some sort of communist plot, and it''s time the state start looking at water planning that does NOT include relying more on the Colorado River.
Salt Lake Tribune 4/10/2012

The buck on pipeline spills stops at the energy industry's desk
If Enbridge Inc., TransCanada and other pipeline operators want to build new projects, such as the Northern Gateway from Alberta through British Columbia, and the Keystone XL from Alberta south through the United States, then they must prove that their response to any spills, no matter how rare, must be swift and effective.
Toronto Globe and Mail 7/12/2012

Use of West's diminishing water supplies to drill oil short-sighted
The drought of 2012 is approaching the magnitude not seen since Dust Bowl years, yet oil companies continue to use and some Colorado cities inexplicably continue to sell the millions of gallons of water needed for each well drilled with the method known as hydraulic fracturing, with apparently no concerns about the future.
Idaho Mountain Express Sun Valley 8/17/2012

Wyoming wolves are teetering on the need for federal protection again
A review of Wyoming's wolf management system by the numbers, as well as the number of wolves killed legally and legally so far this hunting season, indicates that the numbers could soon fall below the threshold needed to sustain a healthy population, and could result in wolves returning to federal protection. A guest column by Franz Camenzind Ph.D., Jackson, Wyo.
Mountain West News Dec. 7


Utah governor signs bill banning unauthorized photos of ag operations
Opponents of the so-called "ag-gag" bill, which bans unauthorized photographs or video recordings of agricultural operations in Utah, said they intend to fight for repeal of the bill signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert on Tuesday.

Salt Lake Tribune 3/21/2012

Federal officials say Utah's proposed land grab a political stunt
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and U.S. Bureau of Land Management Bob Abbey recently criticized Utah's new law requiring the federal government to hand over public lands not designated as a national park or wilderness by 2014 or face a lawsuit, and Utah U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop called their criticism a "comedy routine."
Salt Lake Tribune April 25


Revised Canadian law removes 492 projects in B.C. from federal review
Canada's federal government has dropped environmental assessments of 492 projects in British Columbia after revisions to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act take effect.
Vancouver Sun 8/23/2012

Utah's U.S. senators, state officials have different takes on EPA soot law
The Environmental Protection Agency's announcement Friday that it would drop the agency's fine particulate standard by 20 percent earned swift condemnation from Utah U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, but state officials said the new regulation wouldn't have much of an impact in the state because it's already meeting the lower threshold.
Salt Lake Tribune Dec. 15


Interior Department: Oil, gas leases in West account for 95% of 2012 sales
The Interior Department sold $221 million in oil and gas leases on federal lands in five Western states in 2012, with most of the activity occurring in New Mexico, although the January sale of leases in Montana was the largest.
Denver Post Dec. 19

IEA: Coal will supplant oil as world's most popular fuel
As coal use rises in China and India, the International Energy Association predicted that coal will replace oil as the most widely used fuel in the world within the next decade.
Christian Science Monitor Dec. 20

Coal opponents pack Seattle meeting on study of port
The final public hearing on a proposal to export coal from Montana and Wyoming through a port in Washington state's Whatcom County was held on Thursday, with most of the estimated crowd of 2,300 there to show their opposition to the plan.
Seattle Times Dec. 14

NW power group says server demands could equal that of smelters
A recent analysis done by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council found that the massive server farms being built in the Pacific Northwest by Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple and other technology companies will require as much electricity to operate by 2030 as aluminum smelters required in their heyday decades ago.
Hungry Horse News 7/12/2012

Disparity in oil pricing takes a bite out of Alberta's bottom line
Last week, Bloomberg News reported that the price Alberta producers get for their oil had fallen to a record low and was $37 less per barrel than the American benchmark.
Edmonton Journal Dec. 19

As pipeline battle continues, Canadian oil producers consider rail shipments
The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline designed to carry Alberta crude to a port on British Columbia's west coast is mired in controversy, and oil producers are reportedly exploring shipping the oil by rail, and while both railway and port authority officials in Canada shied away from discussing the option, terminals at the Port of Grays Harbor in Washington state are considering offloading oil from railcars onto barges and ships.
Toronto Globe and Mail Dec. 14

Canada's largest natural gas company signs $2.18B deal with Chinese firm
Officials of Calgary-based Encana Corporation said they cleared the $2.18-billion deal with a subsidiary of PetroChina, which gives Phoenix Duvernay Gas a nearly 50 percent share of Encana's Alberta Duvernay liquids-rich gas holdings, with the Canadian government.
Calgary Herald Dec. 14

Colorado oil, gas industry sues Longmont over hydraulic fracturing ban
On Monday, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association filed a lawsuit against Longmont over its ban on the drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing within the Colorado city, alleging that the ban is an illegal taking of mineral rights and that it blocks a process allowed under state law.
Denver Post Dec. 18

Energy transmission

Company settles Montana eminent domain lawsuits to resume power line build
The Canadian company that is building the Montana-Alberta Tie Line reached an agreement with landowners in two Montana counties against which it had filed eminent domain actions, and construction on the northern leg of the Lethbridge-Great Falls power line has resumed.
Great Falls Tribune 4/14/2012

NorthWestern Energy puts Montana-Idaho transmission project on hold
After four years and $14 million in costs, NorthWestern Energy has asked government agencies to stop considering its application for a permit to build the Mountain States Transmission Intertie project, which would stretch 430 miles from southwest Montana to southeast Idaho.

Montana Standard 8/15/2012

Log yard at former Stimson mill in Montana is once again full
It took Mike Boehme and Steve Nelson about three months to get the Stimson Lumber Co. log yard at Bonner full of logs again, after they leased a portion of the Montana property to Willis Enterprises, which has a long-term contract to supply Boise Inc.''s paper mill in Walla Walla, Wash., with wood chips.
Missoulian 3/20/2012

Vestas announces more job cuts in Colorado
Denmark-based Vestas Wind Systems announced that it was closing its research and development office in Louisville, the last of the company's three R&D facilities in the United States, and eliminating all 60 jobs, putting the company's remaining workforce in Colorado at an estimated 1,100.
Denver Post Nov. 1

Chobani plant in Idaho provides jobs, market for dairy farmers
At the grand opening of the Chobani Greek yogurt plant in Twin Falls on Monday, founder Hamdi Ulukaya said that the company was attracted to Idaho because of its relatively cheap power, an available supply of milk, the state's water, and the people.
Idaho Statesman Dec. 17

Beyond the region

Taxpayer-funded power projects sit unused in Southern California
More than two dozen renewable-energy installations have been put in place on federal public lands in Southern California over the past three years, paid for with millions of dollars of taxpayer funds, and all sit idle as federal agencies have not been able to reach a deal with Southern California Edison to tie the projects to SCE''s transmission grid.
Los Angeles Times 01/09/2012

BPA files plan to address wind power shutdowns
The plan filed by Bonneville Power Administration on Tuesday will require BPA to pay half the costs of lost revenue to wind farms in the event of a shutdown caused by excess power, but wind-energy developers said until the BPA treats all power sources equally, inequities will remain.
Portland Oregonian 3/7/2012

"N o one is better suited to look after Utah's interests than the people who live and work in Utah. The [Obama] administration asked the state to come up with a plan to protect the bird. Utah did. It was a good plan. The administration rejected it for its own flawed plan."

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, applauding Utah's decision to sue the federal government to invalidate land-use plans in the Beehive State put in place to protect sage grouse and its habitat.
- Salt Lake Tribune

On The Bookshelf
Barbara Theroux provides a preview of coming book attractions for 2016


Mountain West Perspectives
The TransPacific Partnership could affect Rocky Mountain States' local measures


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

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The University of Montana