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: It’s time to take a leap. Next week I’m leaving my gig at the University of Montana to launch an independent, nonprofit news organization in Missoula called The Pulp. I’d love for this newsletter to live on but it won’t be at the O’Connor Center, where Mountain West News (originally Headwaters News) was born more than 20 years ago. Ideas? Email me. In any case, whether you’ve been a subscriber for a month or a decade, thanks for following along.
Groups sue Utah, trying to save Great Salt Lake with the public trust doctrine
Environmental groups have filed a lawsuit to save the Great Salt Lake as its water continues receding and its lakebed blows dust. The case uses a legal concept that recently stifled plans to turn Utah Lake into a private island development and, years ago, stopped a salty lake from getting sucked dry in California.
The Great Salt Lake is becoming too salty to support life
From brine flies to brine shrimp to eared grebes to pronghorn and buffalo, the lake supports an exquisite ecosystem whose collapse is literally making people sick.
"Vanishing Oasis" — First-Place Winner of the Yale Environment 360 Film Contest — documents how massive withdrawals from rivers that feed the Great Salt Lake are threatening the survival of millions of migratory birds and creating bare lake beds that generate plumes of toxic dust.
Interactive map shows location of inland port projects across Utah and their proximity to wetlands
What does Utah stand to gain and lose as open space gets paved over by port development?
‘We must change or die,’ author Terry Tempest Williams says of saving Great Salt Lake
Utah Author Terry Tempest Williams discussed her piece on the Great Salt Lake during Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson’s book club event last weekend.
The land report
The American West is built on contradicting ideals. These elk hunters were caught in the middle.
Over eight million acres of public lands are gridlocked by private property. When a group of hunters jumped from one plot of federal land to another, they ignited a debate around just how much a landowner can control.
Public lands had a roller coaster month
Rounding up the Biden administration’s ups and downs on land policy.
BLM shifts green on 2 million Western Slope acres, setting up Colorado clash of environment vs. oil
Far bigger chunks of pristine public lands would be walled off from extraction, as federal land managers are ordered to consider climate impacts of activities on land spanning Eagle, Mesa and Pitkin counties.
BLM recreation strategy preps for growing numbers of visitors
The agency reported more than 81 million visits last year, a 40 percent increase over 58 million in 2012.
Utah lands trust joins effort to downsize small town near Bears Ears
Will opposing a solar farm blow up Bluff’s boundaries?
Ninth Circuit: Forest Service has no duty to regulate lead ammo waste
After hearing the case for the third time in a decade, the appeals court ruled that the federal government isn’t liable for hazards to critically endangered species caused by the disposal of lead ammunition on federal land.
Glacier National Park seeks input on controversial entry system
Glacier Park officials held back-to-back open-house meetings — one on the east side at St. Mary and another on the west side in Columbia Falls — to gather input on the ticketed entry system it has used to manage visitation during the peak summer months.
How to wrangle Grand Teton crowds? Park seeks public input.
As visitation grows, GTNP is looking for input on how users view management instead of proposing specific plans like timed-entry or park reservations.
Wind River Air is out. Yellowstone Helicopters is in — and under the microscope
Overflights of wilderness, possible ‘photo flights’ in Grand Teton raise watchdogs’ hackles.
Feds give emergency status to new Seeley logging project
The determination allows the Forest Service to skip a step of the project’s public approval process: soliciting and responding to formal objections before the project is finally approved and implemented.
The U.S. is spending billions to reduce forest fire risks. We mapped the hot spots where treatment offers the biggest payoff for people and climate
Forest thinning and controlled burns take away fuel for fires, but the U.S. can only treat so many acres. Which ones to choose?
Over a barrel
After a century, oil and gas problems persist on Navajo Lands
The legacy of fossil fuel development endures in leaks, spills and neglect.
The long tail of toxic emissions on the Navajo Nation
Communities contend with ongoing air quality issues tied to gas and oil wells.
$1B oil and gas deal coming in Permian Basin despite slight dip in forecast oil production
For the assets, Viper agreed to pay $750 million along with 9.02 million in common stock units, totaling more than $1 billion in cash and stock.
Researchers warn that changes in the Permian Basin surface due to oil and gas industry activities are leading to increasing number of geohazards
A new study published this month examines how the petrochemical industry in the Permian Basin has deformed the landscape by causing some areas to sink while other areas rise.
With last lease laid to rest, Blackfeet end 40-year fight to halt drilling on Badger-Two Medicine
Under a settlement agreement reached Friday, the Louisiana company Solenex relinquished the only remaining oil and gas lease on land sacred to Blackfeet traditionalists.
Fossil fuel advocates revive ballot measure to prohibit local gas bans in Colorado
A leading fossil fuel advocacy group has once again proposed a ballot initiative to stop Colorado communities from banning natural gas hookups in new buildings.
New oil and gas rules would raise BLM royalties in Colorado and across nation, demand land protections
The BLM will raise oil royalties, add well insurance and layer other new protections as part of leasing overhaul.
What’s next for Utah’s Uinta Basin Railway after court forces railroad expansion project back to the start?
The Seven County Infrastructure Coalition could re-start the two-year environmental review of the project or petition review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In wake of oil train legal win, Colorado mountain towns dream of passenger rail
Stakeholders in Colorado are girding for future battles around railroad and hoping passengers can replace petroleum along the mountain line.
BLM office in Wyoming has built national well-plugging model
Through years of trial and error, the Buffalo Field Office has developed a process to track down and hold accountable oil and gas companies for plugging their own idle wells, to ensure that federal taxpayers don’t have to take on the financial burden of cleanup.
Dispatches from the energy transition
Powered by wind, this $10B transmission line will carry more energy than the Hoover Dam
Executives with one of the largest wind and solar energy development companies in the world gathered with federal officials on the dusty plains of New Mexico to mark the groundbreaking of what will be the largest renewable energy infrastructure project in the United States.
On the SunZia transmission project and carbon tunnel vision
It seems at first glance like a win-win situation. And in some ways and places it is. But there’s at least one loser here, and that’s the San Pedro River valley in southern Arizona.
Colorado’s largest proposed battery plant gets last-minute charge despite opposition, winning OK
Plans for Colorado’s largest battery plant in Brighton nearly ran out of juice in the face of strong opposition from neighbors who fear chemical contamination and fires from the planned lithium-ion manufacturing facility.
A fight is brewing to build Colorado’s first geothermal plant as neighbors oppose development
A group of Chaffee County residents is battling a geothermal plant under consideration near their subdivision.
Wyoming could gain the most from federal climate funding, but obstacles are many
Ambitious climate action could reap rewards for the No. 1 coal state, one study concludes. But the state economy remains tied to fossil fuels.
Wyoming lawmakers use power bill increase to target renewable energy
Fossil fuels are the primary culprit behind rising electrical costs, utility says, yet lawmakers will consider measures to limit renewables, preserve gas and coal.
The unplugging of a promising Alberta solar project
A solar energy project in western Alberta was poised to not only power 1,200 homes but innovate a new way to pay for such initiatives, say its backers. But then came the “gut-wrenching” decree by Premier Danielle Smith.
How to mine the world's largest known lithium deposit sustainably
The McDermitt Caldera in Nevada and Oregon could hold up to 100 megatons of lithium. Now companies are proposing a new method for mining it.
Burning Man’s climate reckoning has begun
The festival's biggest issue may be its opposition to renewable energy in its own backyard.
Colorado, running out of options for a source of wolves, turns to Native American tribes
Colorado is running out of options to get the gray wolves it is supposed to reintroduce to the state by the end of the year.
Yellowstone lays out bison management approaches in draft plan
Park officials are soliciting public comment on the plan, which comes on the heels of a tumultuous year for bison management.
Southern Ute Tribe’s bison herd at maximum capacity due to environmental restrictions
The Southern Ute tribe has successfully grown its bison herd to sustain its bison meat distribution program but is restricted in expanding the herd.
Federal government, salmon advocates agree to continue talks that could lead to breaching Snake River dams
After nearly two years of negotiating, the Biden administration and a coalition of Northwest tribes, environmental groups and other parties agreed Thursday to continue talks that could lead to breaching the Lower Snake River dams in an effort to help endangered salmon recover.
Sow grizzly bear killed in self-defense encounter in Whitefish Range
Two local men scouting for hunting opportunities ahead of archery season in the Whitefish Range killed a grizzly bear in self-defense on Aug. 26.
Man kills grizzly in self-defense surprise encounter in Tom Miner Basin
An angler shot and killed a grizzly bear in self-defense this week in the Tom Miner Basin, Montana, Fish, Wildlife and Parks said Friday.
Archery hunters in Island Park shoot and kill grizzly bear in self-defense
Two men shot and killed a grizzly bear in self-defense while hunting west of Island Park Reservoir Friday.
Grizzly 399 has hopped Grand Teton's southern border — and crossed onto private land
Famous bruin, cub spotted on private land; wildlife managers urge caution with trash, food.
Jackson Hole pronghorn counts nosedive
In 2022, Game and Fish, Teton park and the National Elk Refuge counted a record 708 pronghorn in the Jackson Hole valley and Gros Ventre drainage. This year, officials counted only 79, an 88% decline.
Killing more lions to boost Wyoming deer draws scant support
Comments came in from across Wyoming and the country, mostly opposing a proposal to target 50% more mountain lions in areas where mule deer sustained sky-high winter mortality.
Red Lodge logging project stalls again; judge rules lynx need more consideration
A logging project proposed outside of Red Lodge to reduce wildland fires has been delayed once again following a judge's ruling.
In this Rocky Mountain wildlife corridor, a luxury development forges ahead despite fierce opposition
Hundreds of locals voiced opposition to the Galloway Lands development near Fernie, B.C. Despite their protests, development is forging ahead, making some residents suspicious of political donations and a developer who emerged from bankruptcy.
Wildlife and the inescapable impact of road noise
The “blab of the pave” disrupts animals’ lives everywhere, even in national parks.
What else we’re reading today
Trouble in Wyoming
When a GOP megadonor didn’t like the coverage he was getting from Wyoming’s newsrooms, he funded a new one. Now it’s pushing anti-trans talking points and climate misinformation.
An Eastern Oregon effort to join Idaho reflects the growing American divide
The fact that the movement has gotten even this far illustrates the growing tear in the American fabric.
Legacy of Native American boarding schools comes into view through a new interactive map
A group focused on shedding more light on the troubled legacy of boarding schools where Indigenous children were stripped of their culture and language as part of assimilation efforts released a new interactive map that includes dozens of additional schools in the U.S. and Canada.
A year into its investigation into Indian boarding schools, History Colorado begins to lay out steps toward reconciliation
The state is outlining how it could begin to reconcile with a history of separating Indigenous children from their families and communities and forcing them to assimilate into white European culture at schools around the turn of the 20th Century.
Revisiting the Rock Springs Massacre
In 1885, white coal miners in Wyoming Territory, murdered at least 28 Chinese men and ran the rest of the Chinese out of town at gunpoint. These artworks bring that history back to the present.
The climate crisis could mean the twilight of the American West
In an excerpt from his book “River Notes,” leading anthropologist Wade Davis recalls how the taming of the Colorado River in the 1960s — “nature serves man” went the thinking — helped shape the nation. But now facing a historic drought, all that could be lost in a generation.
America is using up its groundwater like there’s no tomorrow
Unchecked overuse is draining and damaging aquifers nationwide, a data investigation by the New York Times revealed, threatening millions of people and America’s status as a food superpower.
An evolving Salt Lake City hopes to be ‘just like Austin’
Shedding its stodgy image, the city has become a destination for start-ups looking for cheaper space and younger workers on the hunt for roomier housing.
Montana property taxpayers could see highest tax increase in history
“In 2023, Montana homeowners and renters are about to experience the largest property tax increase in history, nearly $200 million, an 18% increase in one year,” said former state Revenue Director Dan Bucks. “That has never happened before.”
A Montana town faces a homelessness problem similar to San Francisco and L.A.
Missoula’s parks are full of people in tents, but moving them is hampered by a court ruling that has frustrated many leaders in the American West.
Around Durango, chasing unhoused campers a game of cat and mouse for law enforcement
“I hate to say it, it’s Whac-A-Mole. We’ll chase them around and try to figure out solutions for them.”
Colorado's mountain town homeowners are tired of being cast as villains in the fight over short-term rentals
Homeowners in Colorado mountain valleys are pushing back on local regulations capping and taxing short-term rentals.
Alterra Mountain Co. goes big — bigger than Vail — on a Utah resort for skiers only
Plan for $3.2 billion Deer Valley expansion includes 3,700 new acres of ski terrain plus a village built by the developer of posh New York City residential towers.
Deer Valley stands by its snowboarder ban as it takes over new Utah ski resort
Deer Valley Resort announced it will retain its snowboard ban even as the luxe Park City resort expands to the Mayflower property, which will nearly triple its skiable terrain. Here's why.
July was the hottest month ever recorded and Colorado’s mountains didn’t fully escape it
As the earth roasted last month, reaching a global average temperature that scientists have confirmed to be the highest on record for any month, the Colorado High Country got an uneven sampling of the heat.
Rikki Held fought the climate crisis in court. And won
Her name will always be tied to one of the landmark environmental decisions of our time. And she wouldn’t change a thing
Win for Montana youth fuels another climate battle in Hawaii
"The law is starting to catch up with the reality of the climate crisis," one legal observer said.
Was the leading Colorado River conservation program a flop? Officials say no, but it wasn’t perfect either.
As the postmortem begins, Colorado River officials and water users say the program should continue even as they wonder if it had enough bang for the buck.
Tests find more Colorado towns' drinking water is contaminated with ‘forever chemicals’
New EPA test results for PFAS “forever chemicals” in drinking water supplies turn up more Colorado communities with contamination problems.
How far will Montana’s push to remove lead from school drinking water go?
Montana has earmarked $3.7 million to address widespread high levels of lead in school drinking water. But it likely isn’t enough to solve the problem.
Feet to the fire: Butte residents expect EPA to ensure a clean future for the young
The EPA held a public meeting Wednesday night in Butte to discuss the potential use of “onsite material,” or “grey dirt,” as fill at sites slated for Superfund remediation.
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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