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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
‘We need every child—there’s only so many of us’: The SCOTUS case that could upend Native life
How a custody battle turned into a referendum on Native rights.
It takes a village: Foster program is a new model of care for Indigenous children
A foster care program on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota is attracting attention from officials elsewhere as they search for ways to reduce trauma inflicted on Indigenous families, who’ve faced generations of high rates of family separation.
States push to enshrine protections for tribal children
Montana is one of a handful U.S. states – along with Wyoming, Utah and North Dakota – considering legislation this year to keep more Native American children from enduring similar experiences by including provisions of the U.S. Indian Child Welfare Act in state law.
On the Ute Mountain Ute reservation, a new school aims to preserve culture, language, sense of community
The mood about Kwiyagat Community Academy is upbeat though there are challenges finding licensed teachers in this remote corner of Colorado.
Enjoy your public lands responsibly
What it takes to be a park ranger
Record-breaking visitation, especially during the pandemic, stretches the staff thin. Each year, this agency loses employees. What happens when the changing climate calls for all-hands-on-deck situations?
Are we loving our parks to death?
Canada's parks are growing ever more crowded, upsetting the balance between conservation and recreation.
Concerns mount over Escalante campground expansion
The trailhead and campground at Calf Creek, a popular destination in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, is getting a makeover, but critics contend expansion is not the answer to increased visits.
This land is whose land? False ‘No Trespassing’ signs could become illegal
It’s not hard to find misleading “no trespassing” and “private property” signs erected on public land in Wyoming, a tactic used to dissuade people from trekking onto property they can legally access. Soon, however, adjoining private landowners and others who post that type of erroneous signage could face big fines.
Backcountry adventurers know they’re taking chances
Six people have died in avalanches in the United States since the snow started to fly this fall. Every year, an average of 27 people – skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers, snowshoers – die this way.
Four heli rescues in four days for TCSAR
Four days. Four helicopter rescues. Such was the weekend for Teton County Search and Rescue volunteers as powder hounds sought out backcountry turns.
SHRED Act would bolster Forest Service funds collected from ski areas
Legislation seeks to create dedicated fee account for national forests to use on winter and recreational-related projects.
The danger is ‘part of the fun‘: Idaho bill may change liability for outdoors industry
The owners of small outdoor-recreation businesses went before an Idaho Senate committee Monday to support legislation that would limit their legal liability when something goes awry on a trail ride, in whitewater rapids or on a hunting expedition.
Links from the brink
Western bumblebee populations suffering alarming declines, study shows
The Western bumblebee is in precipitous decline, a new study shows, and researchers predict the species could all but disappear from parts of the American West by the 2050s.
Scientists, land managers work to restore whitebark pine nationwide
More than half of all standing whitebark pine in the United States are dead, studies say. Half of the losses occurred within the last two decades, as white pine blister rust slowly marched across the West.
Activists decry bison 'hunt' north of Yellowstone National Park
A fierce winter in Yellowstone National Park has forced bison north into the waiting rifles of tribal and state hunters.
How humans break up wolf packs
A new study explores how packs change when activities like hunting and car accidents kill wolves.
The grizzly Rorschach test
A bear biologist, a rancher and an outfitting representative weigh in on Montana’s grizzly management plan.
Game officials approve plan to kill perhaps hundreds of deer in Idaho County to mitigate chronic wasting disease
The Idaho Fish and Game Commission approved a chronic wasting disease mitigation plan Thursday morning that could result in the lethal removal of dozens to hundreds of deer in the Slate Creek drainage of Idaho County.
Landowner help sought to protect endangered animals, plants
The Biden administration called for regulatory changes Wednesday to encourage voluntary conservation projects on private land, partly by shielding owners from punishment if their actions kill or harm small numbers of imperiled species.
Re-engineering Glen Canyon Dam
For the last two years or so, federal Bureau of Reclamation officials have been fretting publicly about what might happen to Glen Canyon Dam as water levels continue to drop. Last week, the Bureau for the first time made public six alternatives the agency is considering.
Lake Powell reached a new all-time low today.
Data from @usbr shows the reservoir at an elevation of 3,522.16 ft, breaking a record set last April.
— Alex Hager (@awhager)
Feb 14, 2023
Upper Colorado River states land $125 million for pilot conservation program amid drought crisis
Colorado officials celebrated $125 million in new funding for a pilot program to rent Colorado River water for conservation amid drought.
A new strategy for Western states to adapt to long-term drought: Customized water pricing
An economist and an engineer propose a way to test higher water prices as a conservation strategy without hurting low-income users.
Thinning forests won’t help restore the Great Salt Lake, scientists say, and could even make things worse
First came the pipeline to the Pacific Ocean. Then came nuclear-assisted groundwater mining. Now, forest thinning is the latest fantastical idea floated to rescue the Great Salt Lake. But research published last year shows thinning trees in the watershed won’t help the lake refill. In some cases, it could make things worse.
Dispatches from the energy transition
Opinion: A huge, uncharted experiment on the U.S. economy is about to begin
Few Americans realize it yet, but a trifecta of the Biden-era laws amounts to one of the biggest experiments in how the American government oversees the economy in a generation. If this experiment is successful, it will change how politicians think about managing the market for years to come. If it fails or misfires, then it will greatly limit the number of tools to fight climate change or a recession. The story of the 21st-century American economy is being shaped now.
U.S. coal power refuses to die. What that means for climate.
U.S. coal power has proven exceptionally hard to kill, in spite of market conditions and environmental regulations that have stripped it of its dominance in 15 short years.
Judge blocks coal mine expansion sought by Signal Peak
In a Feb. 10 ruling, a Missoula judge found that the federal government’s environmental review of Signal Peak Energy’s proposal to expand the Bull Mountains Mine harbored “sufficiently serious” errors. The order effectively halts Signal Peak from mining federal coal until an environmental impact statement has been completed.
Solar slow to take hold in Wyoming amid national boom
Utility-scale and rooftop solar, combined, supplied less than one percent of Wyoming's electricity in 2021. Only a handful of new projects have been approved statewide.
As feds push solar in Wyoming, a group maps areas of least harm to wildlife
The Nature Conservancy is tapping local input to help identify “smart” siting for renewable energy in parallel with a federal push for solar farms.
Xcel Energy may face jolt of penalties for delays in hooking up Colorado solar projects
Companies, homeowners complain of long delays; regulators, lawmakers consider actions to speed up connecting customers to grid.
'The toughest stretch': Rural Colorado and the push to electrify roadways
Policymakers in Colorado envision a future with close to a million electric cars on the road by 2030. But before all those electric cars can hit the roadways, we’ll need a way to charge them. That includes in rural areas, not typically electric vehicle hotbeds.
Lawmakers look to boost Wyoming's rare earths industry
The rare earths industry could grow in Wyoming amid rising demand for the materials.
Can Congress find consensus on mining overhaul?
Most everyone in Congress agrees that the U.S. needs to step up its game on securing critical minerals and overhauling the nation’s mining laws, but a House hearing Thursday showcased the pitfalls that could trip up those efforts as well as bipartisan opportunities.
What else we’re reading today
‘Lake Tahoe has a people problem’: How a resort town became unlivable
The region’s popularity has seen a surge, sending real estate prices soaring and pushing locals out.
Where #vanlife meets #skibum
In the Pacific Northwest, ski resorts set aside spots in their parking lots for vans and R.V.s, creating overnight communities of skiers and riders. One writer toured three Oregon resorts to test the scene.
Skiers seek climate change moves: 'The seasons have shifted'
Overall World Cup winners Mikaela Shiffrin , Federica Brignone and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde are among nearly 200 athletes from multiple disciplines who have signed a letter addressed to the International Ski and Snowboard Federation demanding action over climate change .
California's snowpack is melting faster than ever, leaving less available water
As the state gets drier, and wildfires climb to higher elevations, snow is melting faster and earlier than before – even in the middle of winter.
Colorado may force new homes in wildfire-prone areas to adhere to a state building code
Fire chiefs and lawmakers are pushing for a statewide board with power to define wildland-urban interface danger zones and impose preventive building codes.
Wyoming senators kill ‘physical force’ trespass-termination bill
Hunters protest a measure that would have justified “termination” of criminal trespass by landowners and their agents.
Do elk bugle with regional accents?
A new study supports what elk fanatics have long known: There are variations in how elk bugle in different parts of the country.
Photographs that capture traces of American industry, class divides, and westward expansion.
What do you think of this edition?
Edited by Matthew Frank, associate director of regional journalism at the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana