THE BIG STORIES UP AND DOWN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS
A curated newsletter from the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West
Editor’s note: We’re off next week for spring break. See you on the other side of the equinox ☀️. –MF
On the Great Salt Lake’s salvation
LDS Church to permanently donate thousands of acre-feet of water to the Great Salt Lake
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of the wealthiest and most influential institutions in Utah, plans to donate a pool of water to help save the Great Salt Lake. The gift, which amounts to about 20,000 acre-feet worth of shares, represents the first major private sector commitment to saving Utah's imperiled lake.
What early church leaders said about the Great Salt Lake
In July 1847, four days after the Latter-day Saints reached the Great Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young and pioneers were floating in the briny lake.
Salt of the Earth: Preserving the Great Salt Lake
The Frontline dives into the history of Indigenous people harvesting salt from the drying Great Salt Lake.
Farmers have yet to lease water to help the Great Salt Lake. Here’s what they have to say.
Many farmers have expressed reluctance about participating in the new water leasing program. The Salt Lake Tribune spoke to irrigators throughout the Great Salt Lake basin to understand why.
Governor signs Great Salt Lake bills into law
The bills are tied to nearly a half-billion dollars in funding for water conservation measures.
3 charts that show why one epic winter is not enough to save the Great Salt Lake.
“Even in wet years, conservation is crucially important. We’re still in a drought, we still have issues with the Great Salt Lake, we still have declining groundwater levels.”
Utah got its 'A+' snowpack. Does that mean major flooding next?
KSL went deep in the mountains to get a firsthand look at how close we are to a record-breaking snowpack year.
‘There is a whole hell of a lot of water up there right now’
A parade of atmospheric rivers dumped historic rain and snow on California and beyond. What happens next?
Severe winter, disease create deadly challenges for pronghorn
Biologists say pronghorn numbers naturally fluctuate, but this winter is hitting the species particularly hard in some areas.
Is the Western drought finally ending? That depends on where you look
Reservoirs and streams are in good shape in California and the Great Basin, but groundwater and ecosystems are another story. And then there’s the Colorado River Basin.
50-Year trend in spring snowfall. Not good. 😢 https://t.co/tehx5oUPKZ
— Brian Brettschneider (@Climatologist49)
Mar 15, 2023
Ski patrollers struggle to afford mountain towns. Will unions help?
A high-altitude labor movement is burgeoning as ski resorts have consolidated and crowds have swelled, stressing working conditions for patrollers.
Should Utah be exporting its alfalfa?
Part of Utah's alfalfa harvest is exported, raising questions about the wisdom of using Utah's precious water to feed dairy cows in Asia.
Supreme Court case could reshape Indigenous water rights in the Southwest
After 50 years, the government hasn’t developed water infrastructure owed to a Navajo Nation farm. Now the Supreme Court is set to weigh in on the government’s water obligations to tribes.
Facing drought, Western states seek to deny groundwater to foreigners
As the American West battles its worst megadrought in over 1,200 years, state elected officials throughout the region are rethinking how groundwater is used and who gets access to it — with some even targeting foreign-owned companies.
Dispatches from the energy transition
The EV mining rush could come to Montana’s mountains
A mining company has identified potentially lucrative deposits of rare earth elements tucked in the Bitterroot Mountains near the Idaho-Montana border.
Proposed rare earth mine would sit along the headwaters of a legendary Montana trout stream
Conservation groups such as Trout Unlimited and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers have expressed serious concerns about the proposed mine.
A government program hopes to find critical minerals right beneath our feet
Federal scientists are using recon flights and field research to track down metals that are key to the energy transition.
Nevada governor aims to make the state the ‘lithium capital of North America’
“Nevada is positioned to be ground zero for the energy transition and to play a key role in securing the energy independence and security of the United States,” a new strategic plan states.
Arcosa chooses New Mexico for new wind-tower production facility
Texas-based Arcosa Inc. announced Tuesday its subsidiary, Arcosa Wind Towers, will open a wind-tower production facility in Belen, N.M., with production to begin as soon as next year
Greens sue Biden over Willow oil project approval
The groups charge BLM with failing to consider the project's impacts on lands used for subsistence by Alaska Natives and argue the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to properly consider Willow's potential impacts on endangered species such as polar bears.
The Willow project is part of a larger trend: energy colonialism
Five decades ago, the late Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah described America’s “power madness.”
More from Indian Country
Dozens of museums and universities pledge to return Native American remains. Few have funded the effort.
Reporting from nearly 50 local newsrooms, based on ProPublica’s “Repatriation Project,” has sparked a wave of apologies and commitment to returning ancestral remains. But without funding for the work tribal nations could still face empty promises.
Biden plans to name Nevada’s Spirit Mountain area a national monument next week
President Biden plans next week to designate nearly a half-million acres of the Spirit Mountain area in southern Nevada — known as Avi Kwa Ame in Mojave — as a national monument, protecting some of the most biologically diverse and culturally significant lands in the Mojave Desert.
‘Treated different’: Biased reffing hurts Native youth
“I know we work just as hard as other schools, but once it comes to the games, we get treated so different. Sometimes, it just seems like (the refs) don’t like to see us do good.”
Wyoming codifies ICWA into state law. Could Montana be next?
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon signed legislation codifying the Indian Child Welfare Act into state law. A similar bill is moving through the Montana Legislature.
Montana Legislature’s Indigenous caucus aspires to keep Native issues at forefront
Montana is the only state in the nation where the percentage of Indigenous elected lawmakers exceeds the state’s overall Indigenous population, potentially giving Native Americans a bigger voice in their government.
U.S. tribes get bison as they seek to restore bond with animal
Dozens of bison from a mountain park outside Denver were transferred Wednesday to several tribes from across the Great Plains, in the latest example of Native Americans reclaiming stewardship over animals their ancestors lived alongside for millennia.
Polis orders Colorado regulators to set new rules for oil and gas industry to sharply cut ozone by 2030
Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday ordered Colorado’s oil and gas and air pollution regulators to set new rules by the end of 2024 to cut ozone-producing nitrogen oxide from petroleum development in half by 2030.
Suncor will finally reopen after a 3-month closure. But will anything change for its neighbors?
Gas prices that rose when Colorado’s only petroleum refinery closed are expected to drop. But residents who’ve dealt with Suncor’s pollution for decades aren’t so thrilled — and they have a plan.
Independent air monitoring in Commerce City finds radioactive particles ‘that no one has had on their radar’
A year-long air monitoring project in Commerce City found there are more harmful pollutants in the air than people realize, and advocates say federal and state environmental authorities are not doing enough to regulate those emissions and protect people’s health.
EPA 'neighbor' rule cuts downwind pollution by power plants
A new “good neighbor” rule issued by the Environmental Protection Agency will restrict smokestack emissions from power plants and other industrial sources that burden downwind areas with smog-causing pollution they can’t control.
‘This is family’: Wolves kill two dogs in northern Colorado
The North Park area has been described as ground zero for wolf conflicts that ranchers fear will become common once wolves are reintroduced in the state by the end of this year.
Moffat County ranchers unite in effort to inform wolf recovery rules including lethal take
Ranchers and other residents across Moffat County are focused on obtaining what they see as the most favorable regulations possible when Colorado reintroduces gray wolves in the state.
Judge says 23 years too long for feds to roll out grizzly bear recovery plan
While Fish and Wildlife may have taken its time to roll out a final rule on its grizzly bear recovery plan, grizzly bears have managed to make their way back to the Bitterroot Ecosystem on their own.
Some bruins bearing winter out of dens in west-central Montana
It’s a hallmark trait of bears, a characteristic known even by small children: bruins hibernate through winter. Except, this year around Missoula, many of them aren’t.
Yellowstone Bear World, fined by OSHA, lobbies for bill to nix oversight of wildlife parks
Idaho lawmakers have moved forward with a bill crafted by a Rexburg drive-thru wildlife park that would remove Idaho Fish and Game and Idaho State Department of Agriculture oversight for similar facilities.
Wilderness status complicates grayling fix in Red Rocks refuge
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Montana Trout Unlimited want to find a way to increase dissolved oxygen for a shrinking population of Arctic grayling in a wilderness area. No easy task, as it turns out.
The little-known world of caterpillars
An entomologist races to find them before they disappear.
This is fine
Nature is out of sync — and that’s reshaping everything, everywhere
Everything in nature — flowering, breeding, migration — lives and dies by a clock that is being recalibrated by climate change. We don’t yet know how severe the consequences may be.
As 1.5 degrees looms, scientists see growing risk of runaway warming, urgent need to slash emissions
Scientists say that surpassing 1.5 degrees C could trigger a cascade of tipping points, which would irreversibly alter the global climate system and further exacerbate warming.
Arctic ice has seen an ‘irreversible’ thinning since 2007, study says
New research suggests the decline was a fundamental change unlikely to be reversed this century — perhaps proof that the planet has passed an alarming climactic tipping point.
Study: Ocean surface tipping point could accelerate climate change
A new study found that the capacity of oceans to absorb carbon dioxide will be severely diminished by the start of the next century, leaving more carbon in the atmosphere and accelerating climate change.
What else we’re reading today
Biden administration sides with Colorado counties in climate lawsuit against fossil fuel companies
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a legal brief on Thursday in support of local governments in Colorado that are part of a growing wave of local and state governments pursuing climate litigation against fossil fuel companies
Is a healthy environment a 'fundamental right'? Utah Supreme Court to hear case
The case argues that state laws directing Utah government agencies to "systematically authorize fossil fuel development" are unconstitutional because they cause dangerous air pollution and climate change in Utah, "taking years off the youths' lives and substantially endangering their health and safety."
EPA’s proposed change on PFAS limits would deem dozens of Colorado water sources unsafe
Federal officials proposed to slash their acceptable standards Tuesday for concentrations of PFAS, toxic “forever chemicals” in water in a long-anticipated announcement with widespread implications in Colorado and the rest of the country.
An Alaska law. A Colorado road. A lawsuit argues those two do not belong together.
Environmental groups 10 years into fighting a plan to build a luxury home community above Edwards have sued the Forest Service to overturn the agency’s approval of a road across public land to access the island of private property.
Mountain West lawmakers seek property tax relief as home values soar
State officials around the Mountain West are looking to provide property tax relief to residents as they struggle with the increasing costs of living in the region.
Housing prices hit new record in Missoula, rent prices soar too
The median sales price of all homes sold in the Missoula area in 2022 was $520,000, an all-time record for a year’s worth of sales and a $70,000 (15.5%) increase over 2021.
Montana Legislature wades into exempt-well debate
Montana lawmakers are eyeing changes to a loophole increasingly used to facilitate residential development. Opponents say the real estate and building industries are turning water appropriation on its head.
Friends of the ghost forests
Whitefish Mountain Resort gains recertification as whitebark pine friendly ski area for its efforts to promote conservation of a threatened keystone species.
Board orders California couple to remove home in Glacier Park
It is one of the few private parcels left in Glacier National Park. Private land in Glacier is governed by Flathead County, not the National Park Service.
Gear repair for the planet
Marijke Stob recently launched Superbloom Gear Repair in Whitefish to extend the lifespan of outdoor gear and apparel while promoting recycled materials and less waste.
Program helps Montana landowners abate abandoned mines
Over the past three decades, the DEQ-administered program has closed more than 1,600 mine openings around the state. It recently received funding for another 15 years of work.
Bathed to the bone: This new cremation method uses water instead of flame
People are choosing alkaline hydrolysis for themselves and loved ones. The process is considered more environmentally friendly than traditional flame cremation.
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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