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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
On tribal water rights and wrongs
The forgotten sovereigns of the Colorado River
As the West’s major river dries up, tribes have asserted rights to its water long ignored by state and federal authorities.
A racist past and hotter future are testing Western water like never before
In Western states, the older a water claim, the more secure it is during a drought. Tribes have long been excluded from that system and now, they're pushing for change.
How private interests benefit from tribal water settlements
When power players like mining and agriculture are involved, tribal nations, usually the senior-most water-rights holders, often must fight obstruction.
The Colorado River flooded Chemehuevi land. Decades later, the tribe still struggles to take its share of water.
The Chemehuevi’s reservation fronts about 30 miles of the Colorado River, yet 97% of the tribe’s water stays in the river, much of it used by Southern California cities. The tribe isn’t paid for it.
In Arizona water ruling, the Hopi Tribe sees limits on its future
Arizona's unique method for awarding water to tribes was supposed to open up economic possibilities beyond farming for the Hopi Tribe. Instead, the tribe says it has dashed their dreams of building a thriving homeland.
Colorado tribes fear the effects of U.S. Supreme Court ruling against Navajo Nation in water rights case
Colorado tribes are worried that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month against the Navajo Nation in a Colorado River water rights case may narrow the federal government’s broad, historic responsibility to provide them with aid.
Room to roam
In the Northern Rockies, grizzly bears are on the move
As grizzlies recover, they’re no longer content to roam within the boundaries we’ve contrived for them.
FWP confirms first sighting of Grizzly bear in the Pryors
Historically, grizzly bears occupied most of Montana, including the Pryor Mountains, but likely have not inhabited these mountains since the late 1800s.
Idaho appeals decision that prompted new grizzly bear planning
The state of Idaho is appealing a case that prompted the Fish and Wildlife Service to start a big new study of reintroducing grizzly bears into the Bitterroot ecosystem that links the Gem State and Montana.
The clock is ticking as the feds grapple with delisting grizzly bears
Can states handle grizzly bear management, and the scrutiny that comes with it? Here's a look at the future of bears in the West.
Wolverines are the ‘embodiment of wilderness’. Can they make a comeback?
These are hopeful signs for a creature that, despite a century of challenges, remains a symbol of wildness in the American West.
When the woods get noisy, the animals get nervous
New study uses trail cameras and speakers to isolate what human sounds do to animals.
At long last, the American buffalo has come home
A conservation effort has returned bison to Blackfeet Nation tribal lands more than a century after the animal was nearly slaughtered to extinction.
Revisions to Wyoming’s sage grouse protection map take flight
Sizable new swaths of Wyoming’s greater sage grouse domain — including parts of the Powder River basin and Moneta area — could soon receive the highest level of state protection afforded to the embattled bird.
The ‘Path of the Pronghorn’ migration sees far fewer animals this year
Very few Pronghorn are taking part in the longest annual migration in the lower 48 this year, largely because of an extremely harsh winter.
Western states' budgets, industries rely on federal lands. So does wildlife.
Across the West, a vast swath of federal land has been staked out by oil and gas drillers, miners, cattle grazers, loggers, renewable energy developers and outdoor recreationists. Soon, the federal agency that oversees those lands will allow them to be leased for a new purpose: conservation.
FWP unveils new efforts to study trout declines in southwest Montana
Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks held a press conference Thursday morning to address concerns and answer questions about their work to stop trout population declines in southwest Montana rivers.
Tracing mining’s threat to U.S. waters
Environmental concerns are raised anew about potential contamination from Canadian open-pit mines flowing through the waterways into Montana’s lakes, harming fish.
Amargosa Valley lithium proposal sparks lawsuit
The search for lithium has found its way to a treasured corner of the Nevada desert, resulting in a lawsuit by conservation groups who say further mining exploration could endanger a trove of species found nowhere else in the world.
12 questions about Lithium Americas' $2.3 billion Thacker Pass Project in Nevada
The Nevada mining and chemical-processing project has begun about 50 miles north of Winnemucca. General Motors will use the lithium in electric cars.
Colorado company seeking to mine Nebraska for rare earth minerals needed in EVs signs deal with carmaker
The company that wants to mine for critical minerals in southeast Nebraska has signed a deal with Stellantis, giving the automaker access to the rare earth elements used to produce high-powered magnets needed for its electric vehicles.
IEA warns of supply risks as critical mineral demand doubles
The market for lithium, cobalt and nickel is skyrocketing amid the clean energy transition, but the International Energy Agency says more work is needed to ensure a sustainable supply chain.
Biden could fast-track first critical minerals project by 2026
The White House hopes to approve a $1.7 billion Arizona manganese and zinc mine, offering domestic minerals for EV battery supply chains.
More on the energy transition
Utah geothermal project hits a milestone, pumping water through deep granite
Utah FORGE, the nation's most advanced geothermal energy experiment, is drilling through more than a mile of granite to reach hot rock that could one day provide continuous clean power.
An entrepreneur is one big step closer to capturing methane leaking from Colorado coal mines
The project in White River National Forest is the first step toward capturing methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and converting it to fuel.
UW, carbon capture company begin statewide CO2 pipeline study
UW’s Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute and a carbon capture company aim to develop a statewide carbon capture and storage pipeline system in Wyoming.
Carbon capture faces a major test in North Dakota
An expert weighs in about Project Tundra and the viability of retrofitting coal plants to capture carbon.
Grassland agrivoltaics show minimal difference in forage yield to traditional growth
A Colorado State University study found that despite a 38% reduction in light availability, a C3 semi-arid grassland only reduced aboveground productivity and photosynthesis by 6%, pointing to the feasibility of grassland agrivoltaics.
New Mexico court upholds decision keeping utility from transferring shares of coal-fired power plant
The New Mexico Supreme Court has affirmed a decision by utility regulators who rejected a proposal by the state’s largest electric provider to transfer shares in a coal-fired power plant to a Navajo energy company.
‘Left to rot’
The Ute Tribe’s kids have been failed by the public school system more than any other students in Utah.
The Ute Tribe gave the state its name — and America promised to educate the tribe’s children when it took its land. But rather than providing an education that would empower them, the boarding schools’ focus on work and cultural erasure damaged their health and left them with “often irrelevant” skills. That legacy echoes today.
Utah’s education system is failing Ute children. A former tribal education leader thinks that’s intentional.
The warning signs were clear and repeated. Former tribal education leader Forrest Cuch believes shortcomings are intentional because it “keeps the Indian down.”
Experts know how to educate Native kids. Uinta Basin school districts aren’t doing it.
The school districts in the Uinta Basin haven't done much to incorporate Ute language and culture into the curriculum, which experts say would help them succeed.
This is fine
'We are in uncharted territory': Earth logs hottest week on record
The world just experienced its hottest week ever recorded, with seven straight days of blistering, historic levels of heat, according to preliminary data released by the World Meteorological Organization, or WMO. The unsettling milestone, set during the first week of July, also follows the hottest June on record.
June extremes suggest parts of the climate system are reaching tipping points
Research shows heat domes, wildfires and vanishing polar ice are the symptoms; unabated greenhouse gas emissions are the cause.
Climate change ratchets up the stress on farmworkers on the front lines of a warming Earth
As Earth this week set and then repeatedly broke unofficial records for average global heat, it served as a reminder of a danger that climate change is making steadily worse for farmworkers and others who labor outside.
Wildfire activity exacerbated, vulnerable people at risk as temperatures soar
With more than nine million hectares of forest burned so far this year in Canada, 2023 is the worst wildfire season on record.
Across the Southwest, residents in desert cities like Phoenix are experiencing extreme heat wave
Even Southwestern desert residents accustomed to scorching summers are feeling the grip of an extreme heat wave smacking Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Southern California this week with 100-degree-plus temps and excessive heat warnings.
How climate change drives hotter, more frequent heat waves
Everything you need to know about the science linking global warming to extreme heat.
What else we’re reading today
Conservatives go to red states, like Idaho, and liberals go to blue ones, like Colorado, as the country grows more polarized
Colorado and Idaho represent two poles of state-level political homogenization. Both are fast-growing Rocky Mountain states that have been transformed by an influx of like-minded residents. Life in the two states can be quite similar — conversations revolve around local ski areas, mountain bike trails, and how newcomers are making things too crowded. But, politically, they increasingly occupy two separate worlds.
Who’s moving to Utah? Who’s leaving? Breaking down the birthplace, race and educational data of our new neighbors
How is Utah's population changing as a result of people moving in and out of the state? Tribune data columnist Andy Larsen has the data.
In Oregon timber country, a town buys the surrounding forests to confront climate-driven wildfires
A logger, forester and former mayor joined forces to help Butte Falls manage its forests to protect the town and build an economy supported by tourism rather than logging.
Idaho grapples with high turnover among the state’s seasonal firefighters
The economy, Idaho housing costs, state pay levels and competition with federal agencies are playing a role.
Forest composition affects how wildfire plumes carry embers
Increased turbulence in the crosswinds flowing over a forest means greater unpredictability for where embers go. But that conclusion came from taking a look underwater.
Can mushrooms prevent megafires?
Thinning forests to prevent fires produces a lot of sticks and other debris, which also pose a fire risk. In Colorado and elsewhere, scientists are using fungi to turn those trimmings into soil.
Environmental groups sue EPA over lack of oversight of Colorado’s efforts to reduce smog
The Center for Biological Diversity and 350 Colorado petitioned the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to hear their complaint, bypassing the lower courts. The two groups say the EPA approved a state plan to reduce ozone pollution even though that plan will not meet federally mandated goals for clean air.
Front Range inches closer to banning gas-powered mowers and blowers in fight against ozone pollution
State air pollution officials are likely to vote by the end of the year on a 2025 ban on the sale of push or hand-held, gasoline-powered lawn equipment in nine Front Range counties with ozone problems.
Troubled Colorado oil and gas operator dodges cleanup deadline, $2M in fines as judge halts state enforcement action
K.P. Kauffman was supposed to pay its fines and remediate 78 sites by Aug. 1 or stop operating in Colorado. A judge agreed to stay that order while the company sues to block it from taking effect.
Protest over Chaco Canyon drilling ban stirs deeper debates among Navajo leaders, citizens
Supporters of the Biden administration's ban say confusion and misinformation have clouded the issue, but local residents insist it's about local control.
Court victories give limited but uncertain protection to corner crossers
Despite winning two court fights against penalties for corner crossing, hunters are not yet assured they and others can step with immunity through private airspace to reach public property, legal experts say.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort projects will impact whitebark pine
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is looking for federal approval for about 35 projects, some of which will impact whitebark pine, the iconic western conifer recently protected under the Endangered Species
Iconic Crystal Mill closes visitor trail after repeated bad behavior in the backcountry
Owners and local businesses in Marble, Colorado, blame Instagram for the influx of people who disregard leave no trace etiquette.
What do ranchers, oil producers and bike groups have in common? They all want a say in new federal land management rules
The Bureau of Land Management's draft rule elevating the role of conservation in its mission has sparked debate across the West.
How the Western drought has increased carbon emissions
Hydropower loss added 121 million metric tons of carbon emissions over 20 years — about the same as putting 1.3 million more cars on the road.
Colorado is drought-free for the first time since 2019. Will it last?
Colorado is drought-free for the first time in four years — a rare reprieve for a state in the middle of a 23-year megadrought.
6 southern Colorado counties, facing drought and thirsty neighbors, move to block water exports
Colorado's San Luis Valley counties band together in bid to delay or block water sales to the Front Range and beyond.
How might we save the Colorado River?
From desalinating seawater to ripping out grass and changing crops, here are some of the boldest and most crucial ideas.
As summer heats up, impacts of drought begin to appear in northwest Montana
Perhaps the most stark reminder that much of northwest Montana is now in either “moderate” or “severe” drought is the empty boat docks along the shores of Flathead Lake.
This Canadian lake should mark the start of the Anthropocene, scientists say
A humble lake in a Canadian suburb may soon become the symbolic starting point for a radical new chapter in Earth’s official history: the Anthropocene, or the age of humans.
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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