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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
Wyoming’s proposed sage grouse protections anger local ranchers
The Sage Grouse Implementation Team, a group appointed by the state to look at ways to protect sage grouse, believes core area designations, while inconvenient, are still better than the federal government designating the sage grouse as an endangered species. But it’s the ranchers who are feeling threatened.
Judge rules for grizzlies in logging project
A federal court blocked a large logging project near Libby, Montana, on Monday, ruling planners failed to analyze how it might hurt a struggling population of grizzly bears and Canada lynx. The decision halts the Ripley Project on the Kootenai National Forest, which anticipated 10 to 20 years of commercial timber work on just under 11,000 acres east of Libby.
Feds: Washington state grizzly bears are gone
The grizzly bear’s long absence from the North Cascades ecosystem led the Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday to announce it’s no longer considering a proposal to boost the bear’s level of Endangered Species Act protections.
Groups split as Congress mulls Cottonwood ESA 'fix'
Over the past eight years Cottonwood has grown into perhaps the most controversial ESA court decision not just in the West, but also in Washington, D.C.
Group proposes tribal confab to discuss co-management of Yellowstone bison
Buffalo Field Campaign’s executive director, a member of the Nez Perce Tribe, mailed a letter on June 16 to 31 tribes proposing a summit in November to discuss the idea.
'Absolutely epic': Blackfeet release wild buffalo on tribal land
On Monday, the Blackfeet Nation transferred 20 wild buffalo (iinnii in the Blackfoot language) to tribal lands near Chief Mountain, an area steeped in Blackfeet cultural significance in the northwest corner of the reservation bordering Glacier National Park. The buffalo were brought to the Blackfeet from Alberta in 2016 after testing negative for diseases.
Wild horses back in court amid swelling populations, planned roundups
Mustang advocates have mounted a legal fight aiming to reverse a Bureau of Land Management decision calling for zero horses in some portions of southwestern Wyoming.
Declining trout population in southwest Montana prompts research and advocacy push
Marked declines in trout populations across several of Montana’s iconic fisheries have led a group of anglers, fishing guides and community members to launch a “Save Wild Trout” initiative in hopes of better understanding the cause of those declines.
Group's lawsuit hopes to stop grayling project in Red Rock Lakes Wilderness
Alawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Missoula describes a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan to install a water-diversion pipeline in the Red Rock Lakes Wilderness in southwest Montana as a blatant violation of the Wilderness Act and a flawed attempt to protect Arctic grayling in a federal wildlife refuge.
Water flow in Alberta is 'exceptionally low' this year and could pose challenges for fish
Snowpacks disappeared, on average, about a month earlier than they would have in a normal year, according to Paul Christensen, a senior fisheries biologist with Alberta Environment and Protected Areas.
Environmentalists, politicians clash over Republican hearing to defend Snake River dams
A decades-long fight about whether to breach the four Lower Snake River dams to save salmon brought four politicians to a hearing Monday near the confluence of the Snake and Columbia rivers.
Braiding Indigenous rights and endangered species law
Recovery targets fall short of culturally meaningful abundance.
Waiting for water
Supreme Court keeps the Navajo Nation waiting for water
The court case was the Nation’s bid to accelerate decades of fruitless negotiations and secure water for its reservation.
Supreme Court ruling in Navajo case disappoints, angers people
Monte Mills, a law professor at the University of Washington School of Law and another author on the amicus brief, said the decision may make it harder for tribes to argue that the United States has a trust obligation to assist tribes.
Navajo Nation vows to continue its fight to secure help with water access
The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a blow of sorts to the Navajo Nation over its access to clean, running water because the conservative majority said the “ask” from the nation went beyond treaty obligations enshrined in 1868. The nation’s president, Buu Nygren, called it a sad day but a motivator.
Does it matter that Neil Gorsuch is committed to Native American rights?
Justice Gorsuch’s Navajo Nation opinion is written not as a doleful tragedy but as a call to action. As he sees it, the contradiction between the government’s position in 1961 and the one it is taking now offers a legal opening for the Navajo to try, again, to intervene in the Colorado River litigation on their own behalf.
Down the line
Tracing the route — and risks — of Utah’s proposed Colorado-bound oil trains
A five-part series on the Uinta Basin Railway project, which would bring up to five 2-mile-long oil trains through Colorado daily.
The Valley: In Grand Junction, oil train route would retrace Colorado railroad history
Uinta Basin Railway could send 10 trains per day through remote Ruby Canyon, Palisade orchard country.
Boomtowns: Once connected by railroads, Colorado River Valley towns now feel threatened by them
The 88-mile Uinta Basin Railway, proposed by a partnership between industry and Utah county governments, would establish a direct rail connection between the basin and Garfield County for the first time in nearly a century.
More energy news
Court to hear appeal over Biden-backed Nevada lithium mine opposed by tribes, environmentalists
A U.S. appeals court is considering challenges to a huge lithium mine in Nevada that pits environmentalists and Native Americans against President Joe Biden’s plans to combat climate change.
Solar sprawl is tearing up the Mojave Desert. Is there a better way?
America needs lots of clean power, fast. Should it go on public lands or on rooftops?
Utah Supreme Court allows current net metering policy to stand
Solar advocates, long critical of how Rocky Mountain Power makes its decisions on compensating rooftop solar customers who provide energy to the grid, have another reason to be unhappy after a court ruling issued this week.
Holy Cross Energy grapples with rooftop solar net-metering equity as renewable percentage increases
Colorado Solar and Storage Association, which represents 75% to 80% of the state’s solar companies, with about 9,000 employees among them, insists Holy Cross Energy’s proposed rate increase would violate the net-metering law governing electrical cooperatives that was adopted by Colorado in 2008.
Regulators tell BNSF to move more coal from Navajo-owned mine
Federal regulators have told BNSF Railway it must transport more than 4.2 million tons of coal this year from the Spring Creek Mine in southeast Montana after its owner, the Navajo Transitional Energy Company, alleged the railroad was giving better service to the mine’s competitors.
Life in a northern B.C. boomtown
Settled in the 1950s to support an aluminum smelter, Kitimat is no stranger to industrial development. As the town adapts to life with LNG Canada and other projects, its community faces new challenges and new opportunities.
$77B needed to slash oil and gas methane emissions — report
Record industry net income could be used to finance methane reduction efforts, the International Energy Agency said, noting that the oil and gas industry’s profits soared to nearly $4 trillion in 2022.
America aims for nuclear-power renaissance
The Biden administration is pouring billions into the industry. The payoff isn’t certain
From the fire lines
U.S. push to lower wildfire risk across the West stumbles in places
Using chainsaws, heavy machinery and controlled burns, the Biden administration is trying to turn the tide on worsening wildfires in the U.S. West through a multi-billion dollar cleanup of forests choked with dead trees and undergrowth. Yet one year into what’s envisioned as a decade-long effort, federal land managers are scrambling to catch up after falling behind on several of their priority forests for thinning even as they exceeded goals elsewhere. And they’ve skipped over some highly at-risk communities to work in less threatened areas, according to data obtained by The Associated Press, public records and Congressional testimony.
Report: Wildfire policies that effectively protect communities get short shrift
A new report from Headwaters Economics and Columbia University’s Climate School paints a damning picture of wildfire policy priorities: Those interventions most effective at protecting communities and ecosystems – like building codes, home hardening and prescribed fire – often get the least support, while the least effective (and even sometimes counterproductive) – like wildfire suppression – receive billions in funding.
Closing the gap
The U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station wanted to understand how wildland firefighter compensation presents across agencies, and how it impacts quality of life and employee well-being. This report evaluates the structure of compensation packages and their impacts, and suggests where improvements can be made to retain key talent.
As Canada's wildfires intensify, recruiting firefighters is tougher
Canada is wrestling with its worst-ever start to wildfire season, but recruiting firefighters is becoming increasingly difficult due to tight labor markets and the tough nature of the job, provincial officials say.
Canada’s explosive wildfires have damaged a forest carbon offset project
Canada’s explosive wildfire season has already pumped millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Some of that carbon is coming from vegetation burned at a carbon offset project, highlighting the fragility of a tool the world is relying on to fight catastrophic climate change.
Spring Creek fire in Western Colorado explodes overnight, grows to 3,000 acres
The fire sparked over the weekend and quickly spread across private land in Garfield County before entering the White River National Forest, according to a map posted by the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit.
‘Please help us’: Unhoused Missoulians beg for assistance from city
"I have done everything I can do to prove that I am a good person and to end up being homeless has just about broken me."
Kalispell struggles to address growing homeless population
City plans to deter people from sleeping on public benches, but homeless advocates say bigger issues need to be addressed.
Hope for rural homeless
Colville’s Hope Street Project is building skills and homes for an overlooked homeless population.
How diverging police tactics shape homelessness policies in Colorado’s largest cities
A new study reviewed the outsized influence that police departments have on homelessness policymaking in America’s 100 largest cities.
Utah eviction law means harsh consequences, and more people face that potential than in years
Landlords across the state filed more than 2,600 eviction cases in the first four months of 2023. That’s up 40% from the same time period in 2022 and higher than pre-pandemic levels going back to at least 2017.
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.
Modular housing community near Telluride that may become a Colorado model welcomes its first residents after months of delays
A new modular home community in Norwood creates a model for affordable housing in mountain communities with donated land, low-interest loans
Report: Towns need tax, policy tweaks to coexist with tourists
Part of the solution to stressors facing popular outdoors tourism destinations could be as simple as having tourists pay their fair share to communities they visit.
SCOTUS wetlands rollback through a development lens
How the Sackett v. EPA ruling could impact one of Montana’s fastest-growing communities.
What else we’re reading today
EPA tries to discredit scientists studying metals exposure in Butte
From a study of EPA records and multiple interviews, The Montana Standard has found a disturbing pattern of agency involvement in repeated efforts over the past two decades to discredit and pressure scientists studying how metals exposure may have affected Butte’s health and mortality.
Helena judge orders Gianforte to produce communications with mining company
Two environmental groups are positioned to receive previously undisclosed communications between Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte and Hecla, an Idaho-based company seeking to open two mines in northwestern Montana, nearly 18 months after requesting the documents.
In the nation’s first youth-led climate trial, a case for hope
Five days of expert testimony argued that Montana can transition away from fossil fuels and reap economic benefits in the process. Now it’s up to the judge.
'I cried like 10 times': Bozeman plaintiffs reflect on youth climate trial
Since the trial closed on Tuesday, the four Bozeman plaintiffs have been reflecting on why they got involved in the case, the preparation required, and how the trial went.
The six big surprises in the Montana youth climate trial
The state’s headline expert witness’s testimony was canceled — and other twists from the landmark trial.
Bears Ears land exchange and lawsuit advance
Bears Ears National Monument — designated in 2016, eviscerated n 2017, restored in 2021 — continues to make news as Congress considers a proposed land exchange aimed at making the national monument whole and a lawsuit attacking the monument — and the Antiquities Act — wends its way through the courts.
Opinion: The BLM Public Lands Rule is a common-sense solution
“The only thing wrong with a proposed rule that would have the U.S. Bureau of Land Management officially consider conservation as one of the ‘multiple uses’ intended for the huge swaths of public land it oversees is that it wasn’t written 47 years ago,” writes The Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board.
NPS names superintendent to lead Rocky Mountain National Park
After leading three smaller sites for the National Park Service in Georgia, Gary Ingram will take charge of Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the most popular national parks.
No sign of threat from the hazardous train that plunged into Yellowstone River, regulators say
Preliminary testing of water and air quality along a stretch of the Yellowstone River where train cars carrying hazardous materials fell into the waterway following a bridge collapse did not indicate any threat to the public, state and federal officials said Sunday.
Resort operator turns to Colorado Mountain College to train much-needed next generation of lift mechanics
Alterra, whose resorts include Steamboat, partnered with Colorado Mountain College to get lift mechanics swiftly trained in the cornerstone job of all ski resorts.
The miller moth is hard to love, but it deserves our respect
Every summer, the migration of the small insect plays a role in the food web. Don’t be annoyed when they show up in your bedroom.
Humans have used enough groundwater to shift Earth’s tilt
Rampant removal of groundwater for drinking and irrigation has altered the distribution of water on Earth enough to shift the planet’s tilt, according to a sweeping new study. The finding underscores the dramatic impact that human activity can have on the planet.
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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