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THE BIG STORIES UP AND DOWN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS
A curated newsletter from the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West
BLM's big idea raises hopes and hackles
Western lands fight erupts over Bureau of Land Management’s conservation proposal
One thing opponents and proponents of a recently proposed U.S. Bureau of Land Management rule agree on: It would be a major shift in how the agency manages nearly 250 million acres of federal lands.
BLM rule proposes to put conservation on ‘equal footing’ with other uses
A conservation organization called the proposal a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to improve the condition of public land. An oil-and-gas group argued that the agency is overstepping its authority.
Colorado public lands rule hearing draws ranchers wary of changes
While energy developers and mining companies could purchase these conservation leases and use them as compensatory mitigation to offset impacts from projects at other sites, environmental groups and other nongovernmental organizations could also buy them, raising the ire of critics who warn large swaths of public lands could be off-limits to oil and gas drilling and mining.
Hunting and fishing groups are glad, Utah Republican leaders are mad about Biden’s public lands use plan
The Biden administration's proposed Public Lands Rule elevates conservation as a legitimate use on federal lands, but Republicans say it's an unauthorized land grab.
Opinion: Are conservation leases the key to resolving competing demands on public lands?
“If designed effectively, it could empower conservationists to channel their interests through voluntary market mechanisms rather than the legal fights and zero-sum political battles that are common on public lands today,” writes Shawn Regan of the Property and Environment Research Center.
Opinion: Proposed BLM rule conservation timestamp in history
“By elevating conservation, naysayers of the rule see restrictions or uses taken away. But that won’t happen. Quite the opposite. Without conservation, we don’t see any real future for public lands,” writes the Durango Herald editorial board.
On other public lands matters
The tipping point of national parks
’Tis the season for crowded trails and hissy fits at the park gates. What’s the solution?
How to open a national park for the summer season
Anticipating a swell of visitors as peak season begins, workers at Bryce Canyon National Park are clearing trails, training rangers and conserving wildlife.
Guardians of Nínaiistáko
Along the eastern border of Glacier National Park, the Aamsskáápipikani — or southern Blackfeet — have implemented the first U.S. co-management conservation program between a tribe and the National Park Service.
Judge rules in favor of corner-crossing hunters
A federal judge ruled Friday that four Missouri hunters did not trespass when they corner crossed and passed through the airspace above Fred Eshelman’s Elk Mountain Ranch.
Judge decries improper lobbying in corner-crossing case
A federal judge received improper proposals — which he neither reviewed nor considered — regarding how he should decide on the high-profile corner-crossing trespass case, according to a ruling he filed Friday.
Utah’s latest attack on the Antiquities Act
The bid to diminish national monuments threatens landscape preservation.
Biden administration pauses copper mining project on Oak Flat, a sacred Apache site
The Biden administration has put a hold on a proposed copper mine that would be built on a sacred site for the San Carlos Apache in Arizona.
Proposed protections for Grand Canyon spark fight over uranium mining
On Saturday, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visited land near the Grand Canyon that tribal leaders and environmentalists want to permanently protect as a national monument. The visit immediately reignited a decades-old debate over the costs and benefits of uranium mining in this iconic landscape.
Oil and gas land sale nets $79M. New Mexico environmental groups fear climate impacts
A contentious auction of public land to the oil and gas industry brought in about $78.8 million to the federal government this week, amid outcry from New Mexico environmental groups calling for a halt on using the lands for fossil fuel drilling.
Mining company to explore Bitterroot rare-earth deposit
Nevada company that hopes to mine what it describes as the nation's richest deposit of rare-earth elements at the south end of the Bitterroot Mountains plans to conduct further exploration this year on its claims.
Investment firm proposed buying this state land near McCall. Now it has a recreation lease
Valley County has partnered with McCall-based conservation group United Payette to lease two popular parcels of state-owned land in an effort to ensure recreation is protected. The parcels are part of several Idaho Department of Lands-managed tracts that a Boise-based developer proposed privatizing in recent years.
Is Montana’s pandemic tourism boom over?
After three years of congested trailheads, crowded restaurants and packed hotels, Montana tourism officials say this summer might be a little calmer as the state’s pandemic-fueled travel boom starts to level out into something closer to normal.
The fire next time
Opinion: No wonder Alberta is on fire. We made this planet into a volcano
We can’t call these supercharged seasonal infernos our “new normal.” There’s nothing natural about how we changed the Earth’s climate.
When the fire came for Fort McMurray
In 2016, a wildfire jumped the Athabasca River and headed straight for Fort McMurray, an Alberta oil town 600 miles south of the Arctic Circle. In this excerpt from ‘Fire Weather: A True Story from a Hotter World,’ John Vaillant chronicles the moment the blaze enters town, forcing nearly 90,000 people to flee in what remains the largest, most rapid single-day evacuation in the history of modern fire.
When fire goes feral
A conversation with John Vaillant, author of “Fire Weather: A True Story from a Hotter World.”
Fighting fire with fire
How a B.C. Indigenous community is reintroducing traditional fire knowledge and practices to manage land vulnerable to wildfires.
‘It looked like an animal, just arms of fire going forward’
Micha Kingston reflects on post-wildfire parenting. “How will I prepare her for this world?”
How does a small town rebuild after a devastating wildfire?
A wildfire burned through the small town of Denton, Mont., in December of 2021. It burned more than 10,000 acres and destroyed 25 homes. So how is the town of Denton rebuilding, and what does wildfire resilient construction look like?
Insurer cites ‘growing catastrophe exposure’ as it stops new sales in California
State Farm says it's no longer accepting homeowner insurance applications in California due to "historic increases in construction costs outpacing inflation" and "rapidly growing catastrophe exposure" to extreme weather events like wildfires.
New registry could shed light on link between wildland firefighting and cancer
It’s something many current and former wildland firefighters ask themselves: what does all this smoke, dust and ash I’ve been breathing for months on end mean for my health? A new national registry for all firefighters could eventually shed a great deal more light on that largely unanswered question.
Judge says fire retardant drops are polluting streams but allows use to continue
The U.S. government can keep using chemical retardant dropped from aircraft to fight wildfires, despite finding that the practice pollutes streams in Western states in violation of federal law, a judge ruled Friday.
Drones, native seed stock, hard work revitalizing scorched Montana forest
A Montana forest devastated by fire two years ago is focus of innovative reforestation project.
Slaughters and revivals
Ken Burns’ latest chronicles the slaughter and revival of ‘The American Buffalo’
“The American Buffalo” is a two-part, four-hour series that will premiere on PBS in October, although Burns will be in Missoula for a free preview June 8.
Yellowstone wolf population rebounds in wake of heavy Montana hunter take in 2021-22
By the end of last hunting season, Yellowstone National Park had 80 wolves before pups were born. This December, thanks in part to a reduced wolf hunting quota in Montana, the park population grew to 108 wolves in 10 packs with seven breeding pairs. Pups made up more than a third of the total Yellowstone wolf population.
Coyotes gamble on humans to avoid wolves. It's a bad bet.
Coyotes and bobcats appear to shift toward human landscapes when wolves and cougars live nearby, with deadly consequences.
10th Circuit revives fight over grazing permit amid questions about grizzly deaths
The 10th Circuit on Thursday remanded a lawsuit challenging grazing permits issued in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest with instructions for the feds to consider limiting lethal takes of female grizzly bears. The court did not vacate the permits issued in 2019.
Opinion: More confusion about Yellowstone National Park's grizzly bear population
One of the challenges of managing the grizzly bear population in Montana, according to bear biologist David Mattson, is understanding the numbers and cutting through the political spin.
Pronghorn hunting tags slashed by 75% after about half of the Sublette herd died-off
After a historically harsh winter in southeast and south central Wyoming, the death toll to some wildlife is only now being fully revealed. Consequently, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is further cutting pronghorn hunting tags by 75 percent in these areas.
Montana delegation responds to 'cottonwood decision' regarding endangered species
Montana’s congressional delegation is reviving bills to undo the consequences of a 2015 Endangered Species Act lawsuit that’s angered the state’s logging industry.
CSKT’s push to protect Flathead Lake and its native trout
Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes innovate to sustain the lake's native fishery.
State wildlife agencies focus on 'hook and bullet' work. Some see a new path.
State wildlife management relies heavily on hunting and fishing revenue, and much of its work is focused on species like trout and deer. But with many species in danger of extinction, some advocates say wildlife agencies need to expand their attention beyond “hook and bullet” activities. Doing so could require drastic changes to the funding models, governance structures and underlying value systems of those departments.
Bullfrogs are invading Sheridan, Wyo., threatening native species
Game and Fish, which banned the invasive species from entering Wyoming, also welcomes bullfrog hunting. One biologist suggests they taste just like chicken.
Supreme Court limits EPA’s power to address water pollution
Experts said the decision would sharply undercut the agency’s authority to protect millions of acres of wetlands under the Clean Water Act, leaving them subject to pollution without penalty.
The Supreme Court just shriveled federal protection for wetlands, leaving many of these valuable ecosystems at risk
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in Sackett v. EPA that federal protection of wetlands encompasses only those wetlands that directly adjoin rivers, lakes and other bodies of water. This is an extremely narrow interpretation of the Clean Water Act that could expose many wetlands across the U.S. to filling and development.
Microplastic shards plague every Colorado river. Here’s where — and how — they get there.
A new study shows microplastic pollution in all Colorado waterways tested, and environmental groups call for better recycling efforts.
New study shows Durango's water supplies declining dramatically as climate change, drought hit home
Climate change has come home to Durango, with a new study indicating that the once water-rich mining and railroad mecca is much drier than it once was, so dry in fact that the city can no longer depend solely on direct flow from the Florida and Animas rivers for a reliable supply of water.
Colorado River crisis taps hard questions
A new podcast, Thirst Gap, explores what it means to live with less water.
Colorado River states bought time with a 3-year water conservation deal – now they need to think bigger
Southwest states have bought time with an agreement between California, Arizona and Nevada to cut Colorado River water use by about 14%. Now comes the hard part.
Will Colorado River cuts create a new Dust Bowl?
Plus: A little ditty on the water-energy-water nexus
Preserving the cowboy way of life
How the Los Charros Foundation is combating the diminishing ranching lifestyle in the shadow of Arizona’s decades-long drought.
Water vs. growth: Colorado communities, developers struggle to juggle both
Across the Denver area, local governments, water utilities, homebuilders and developers are employing a number of strategies to meet the demands for housing, respond to growth and strive to ensure the long-term supply of the resource essential to a future in this semi-arid region: water.
A wet year promises a boost to both Colorado River Basin reservoirs and ecosystems
The network of pipes and massive bathtubs that is the Colorado River Basin’s reservoir storage system is going to see some recovery this year thanks to higher-than-average snowpack. That’s a promising sign for aquatic habitats in need of a health boost.
What else we’re reading today
Earth is 'really quite sick now' and in danger zone in nearly all ecological ways, study says
Earth has pushed past seven out of eight scientifically established safety limits and into “the danger zone,” not just for an overheating planet that’s losing its natural areas, but for well-being of people living on it, according to a new study.
A giant pile of logs is trapping millions of tons of carbon in Canada
A pileup of ancient logs nearly as big as Manhattan is trapping millions of tons of carbon in northern Canada — and much of that stored material could be released into the atmosphere due to climate change, according to a recent study.
Judge allows Montana youth climate change lawsuit to proceed to trial
A Lewis and Clark County District Court judge this week denied the state’s request for summary judgment in the Montana youth climate change lawsuit, meaning the case is effectively guaranteed to proceed to the trial scheduled to start June 12 in Helena.
Opinion: What should our national petroglyph be?
It’s time to elevate the telling of these remarkable symbols for future generations, writes Joel Berger, the Barbara Cox Anthony University Chair in Wildlife Conservation at Colorado State University.
The long return: The Assiniboine and Sioux fight to reclaim sacred items and remains
Across the country, museums, universities and other institutions have been slow to repatriate items and human remains to Fort Peck.
Wood for Life turns downed trees into firewood for Indigenous communities, teaches job skills
In an attempt to repurpose materials that would most likely otherwise be burned, Wood for Life turns downed trees on national forest land into firewood for nearby Indigenous communities.
From decline to boom, a Wyoming community struggles to transition
Some Kemmerer and Diamondville residents worry the communities are unprepared to take advantage of major energy construction projects.
Massive rare earth discoveries could mean a new mining rush in the Mountain West
Down a bumpy dirt road next to a small meandering creek in southeast Wyoming lies the site of a potentially massive rare earth mineral mine. These elements are used in many emerging technologies, including cell phones and solar panels, and they’re a growing part of the future of extractive industry in the Mountain West. But mining them here and in other places around the region are sure to have big impacts on nearby communities and the environment.
In Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, an Australian-owned coal mine is quietly forging ahead
Grande Cache locals were surprised to hear Mine 14 — exempt from Alberta's pause on coal mining in the Rockies — is poised to start digging.
Colorado’s mountain towns are being loved to death. A new roadmap can help them escape the ‘amenity trap.’
A new report by Headwaters Economics highlights progressive growth strategies across the country to help amenity-rich communities navigate growth challenges.
Spokane wants to regulate AirBnBs (again). No one can prove their local impact.
New policies for short-term rentals try to strike a balance and actually have teeth.
Ketchum program pays property owners to rent to local workers
Real estate prices in Ketchum skyrocketed during the pandemic. To address local workers being priced out, it’s trying to lure property owners with cash incentives if they start renting to local workers.
How the affordable housing crisis drives homelessness
Marketplace’s David Brancaccio sat down with Gregg Colburn, an assistant professor at the University of Washington’s College of Built Environments and co-author, along with Clayton Page Aldern, of the book “Homelessness Is a Housing Problem: How Structural Factors Explain U.S. Patterns.”
Crested Butte Mountain Resort lift mechanics unanimously vote to form union
The lift maintenance crew at the Vail Resorts-owned ski area in Mount Crested Butte is the second in the nation to unionize and part of a growing labor movement in the resort industry.
‘A season to celebrate’ as U.S., Rocky Mountain ski areas experience record visitation
Record snowfall draws highest-ever visits to Rocky Mountain ski areas and an all-time high of 67.4 million skier visits to U.S. ski resorts.
Utah ski areas saw record snowfall in 2022-23. Here’s what it looks like in Toyota Tacomas
It's no secret that Utah's ski areas saw a record amount of snow this season. But what does 900 inches look like? Here's a look each resort's total measured in uniquely Utah units.
These animals shouldn’t be alive, much less sprinting
Snow flies have adapted to keep running in subzero temperatures, but their time is running out.
Edited by Matthew Frank, associate director of regional journalism at the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana
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