THE BIG STORIES UP AND DOWN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS
A curated newsletter from the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West
Mountain migration and mounting problems
Increased migration, coupled with the surge of travelers flooding to mountain resorts and national parks during the Covid-19 recovery and the labor shortages hitting across the nation, have put a significant strain on ski towns and other hotspots in the West. It’s a challenge that’s unlikely to ease in the years to come – thanks to shifting demographics and rising housing costs – leaving many towns in a race against time to avoid a labor crisis that would hit some of the major amenities that draw new residents and coveted tourism dollars to town.
Poll: Support for conservation remains high as concern about in-migration grows
Forty-five percent of voters said “too many people moving” into their state is a “very” or “extremely” serious problem – more than double the rate from 2016.
New state data tool shows Missoula County adding 16K residents over next decade
A new data tool estimates the future population of all of Montana's counties. The website also shows that Flathead County is home to more vacant homes than any other county.
As more developments confront local resistance, a once sleepy Columbia Falls continues to wrestle with the best path forward.
Utah governor tells Californians to 'stay in California instead of coming as refugees'
Gov. Spencer Cox said Utah, the fastest-growing state for the past 10 years, is beset by problems including housing and water shortages.
Is remote work here to stay?
Recent experience and research suggests the benefits of remote work are compelling enough that there’s no going back, says Marketplace’s senior economics contributor, Chris Farrell.
Whopper of a winter
Whopper winter wallops wildlife
In the light of severe winter weather, managers instate emergency feeding for western Wyoming elk, though other ungulates are left to nature’s whims. Biologists hope to avoid a repeat of the deadly ‘17 winter.
Alta hits 500 inches of snow as battle for best ski season in history continues
Alta Ski Area hits 500 inches of snow in a season on the earliest date ever recorded, but the race with 1981-82 for best season ever carries on.
Yes, the snow is good in Colorado’s High Country this year. Some places may even see new records
Steamboat Ski Resort has been one of the standouts, already receiving more snow this season than in all of last season.
Will recent snowstorms reverse drought in Southwest Colorado?
“One really good winter can actually go quite a long way. The water supplies that we ended up with in our rivers here in Colorado are very much driven by whether the snowpack is good or not in any given winter,” said Colorado State Climatologist Russ Schumacher. “But when you aggregate that all together into the water situation over the entire Southwest, where it's dependent on these huge reservoirs, 20-plus years of dryness are not going to be made up by one or two years of good snow.”
This is fine
Great Salt Lake’s retreat poses a major fear: poisonous dust clouds
The mounting sense of local dread over the lake’s rapid retreat doesn’t just come from its throttled water supply and record low levels, as bad as this is. The terror comes from toxins laced in the vast exposed lake bed, such as arsenic, mercury and lead, being picked up by the wind to form poisonous clouds of dust that would swamp the lungs of people in nearby Salt Lake City, where air pollution is often already worse than that of Los Angeles, potentially provoking a myriad of respiratory and cancer-related problems.
‘A crisis of faith’: Spiritual leaders convene at Capitol to call for Great Salt Lake action
Faith communities and hope are necessary when it comes to solving this issue, according to Brigham Young University professor of Ecology Ben Abbott, who described the consequences of inaction as “genuinely biblical.”
Utah lawmakers say more information on golf course water might lead to ‘uninformed’ conclusions
Utah lawmakers have shut down a measure that would have mandated transparency around water applied on Utah golf courses, arguing the public might draw “uninformed” conclusions if these facilities were required to reveal how much water they use.
A politician came up with the Great Salt Lake tree-thinning idea – not scientists
The idea that chopping down trees is the solution to the Great Salt Lake’s impending doom appears to have originated with a county council member.
Battle lines drawn around EPA’s move against Utah ozone emissions
The EPA has formally rejected Utah’s plan to reduce emissions implicated in neighboring states’ ozone pollution problems, triggering the first round of what is expected to be multimillion-dollar litigation. State leaders have long signaled they would rather sue the EPA than require Utah power plants to clean up their emissions.
Snow and haze in Utah
Snowy surfaces increase the chance of temperature inversions, which contribute to air quality problems in the Salt Lake City area.
On grasping tribal issues
'Our lives don't matter': Montana Senate kills Indigenous Peoples' Day bill
Sen. Shane Morigeau said killing the bill sends a “chilling message” to Native youth. “It says our lives don’t matter. Our lives aren’t equal. Our opinions aren’t valued.”
Montana bill aims to improve lawmakers’ grasp of state-tribal issues
In December, legislative aide Drew Zinecker publicly questioned whether Native Americans living on reservations in Montana should be able to participate in state elections. It’s one of the examples Sen. Shane Morigeau alluded to when introducing a bill that would enhance lawmakers’ understanding of state-tribal relations.
Off-reservation hunting bill advances despite tribal objections
An Indigenous-led push to halt what tribes say is a flawed effort to put the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic Herrera v. Wyoming off-reservation hunting decision into action failed Tuesday.
Indigenous foodways are the focus in a growing number of classrooms
A recent bison harvest in Montana is one example of the work being done in a growing number of state-level curriculum programs that immerse students in sacred ceremony and food traditions.
This Native American tribe is taking back its water
With a new state-of-the-art irrigation project, Arizona’s Pima Indians are transforming their land into what it once was: the granary of the Southwest
Here are some tips for covering Indigenous communities, for non-Natives
Reporters think they do “marginalized communities” a favor by covering them. But that coverage is too often extractive and riddled with racist tropes.
Hunting groups quit CPW’s Colorado Outdoor Partnership, citing lack of focus on wildlife
The resignation of hunting and angling groups from the partnership reveals a growing schism in Colorado’s wildlife community as recreation access takes a more prominent role in resource management discussion.
Lawmakers consider definition of 'threatening' in grizzly-livestock conflicts
A bill outlining Montana’s grizzly bear post-delisting management policy saw wide ranging questions and some concerns Tuesday, but it was the definition of “threatening” that brought significant attention from opponents and lawmakers.
Senators reintroduce bill to delist greater Yellowstone grizzlies
Idaho Republican Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo, along with Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), and Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), reintroduced the Grizzly Bear State Management Act of 2023.
'Bullets are flying, and I’m ducking': Beattie Gulch bison hunt raises safety concerns for nearby residents
Beattie Gulch sits between Yellowstone National Park and residential areas near Gardiner.
Colorado legislation to ban horse slaughter for human consumption stripped down after opposition from ranchers
The agricultural industry argued the bill was pointless because there are already federal laws governing the humane transport of livestock. Also, they said, slaughter is sometimes the most humane option for a horse, rather than neglect or an inhumane killing.
State and federal funds fuel more wildlife crossings
The Federal Highway Administration this year is expected to unveil its grant program funded by $350 million from the 2021 infrastructure law.
Dispatches from the energy transition
Court sides with Montana solar developer
A Montana solar developer has prevailed in a lawsuit against Northwestern Energy in a landmark case that should boost the reliability of solar energy from similar projects nationwide.
Opposition to Magic Valley wind project comes from several directions
Idaho’s top elected officials, some state legislators and local stakeholders last week expressed concerns about or voiced solid opposition to the proposed Lava Ridge Wind Project, which calls for installing up to 400 massive wind turbines on federal, state and private lands northeast of Twin Falls.
Colorado ponders storing carbon in defunct oil and gas wells
The idea is to keep carbon locked away in a special type of charcoal known as biochar, which is made by burning organic matter at high heat and low oxygen. The substance could be used to fill defunct oil and gas wells. Proponents say biochar would not only filter dangerous gas leaks but also stop that carbon from forming carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.
Wyoming expands access to $1.2 million for lawsuits defending coal
House Bill 69 gives Gov. Mark Gordon more ways to use money already set aside to defend the coal industry in court.
'Don't do it': Utility responds to latest coal mandate
The Wyoming Legislature may double down on mandates designed to keep coal-fired power plants running, and fossil fuel revenues flowing, despite the high costs of existing directives and electric utility industry concerns.
Vestas has a new way to keep wind turbine blades out of the dump
The Danish turbine manufacturer is among a growing group of companies working to repurpose and recycle turbine blades as wind energy expands.
Gas would be cheaper and charging EVs more expensive if this bill passes
Legislation would lower the tax on gasoline and create a new tax on electric-vehicle charging, which critics say is incentivizing polluting vehicles and discouraging clean vehicles.
Electric vehicles need lithium. See how they get it.
Go inside the scramble to mine lithium, a key component in electric vehicle batteries.
What else we’re reading today
The recipe for restoring damaged lands is missing one key ingredient: seeds
A new report highlights recovery solutions to fires, droughts and other climate catastrophes.
Anaconda imagines a future beyond smelting and Superfund
A final cleanup deal for a century of toxic smelting waste in the community of Anaconda goes into effect this week. Residents spoke about what a post-cleanup future might look like.
Montana youths take climate case to trial in historical first
"My generation can't wait for the next one"
How the Supreme Court could finally force Big Oil to face trial
The procedural battles might soon end when the Supreme Court reviews Suncor v. Boulder County later this year, a case that promises to be a turning point for climate litigation.
Could Arizona’s new governor shift Colorado River politics?
There’s a historic reckoning in the Colorado River Basin – and Katie Hobbs is here to play hard ball.
Beef prices expected to rise as drought eats into ranchers' cattle counts
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a 3% drop in the country's cattle and calves inventory as of Jan. 1. The number of beef cows was down 4%, the smallest count in more than 60 years.
Kill order for New Mexico feral cows issued by U.S. officials
A helicopter with a shooter will fly over a portion of the vast Gila Wilderness in southwestern New Mexico next week, searching for feral cows to kill.
In drought-plagued New Mexico, a city loses nearly half its water – to leaky pipes
Aging water lines burst near-daily in Truth or Consequences, but funding for repairs has run dry.
'Keep Snow King weird, man'
Skiers want uphill access. So does the resort. But accidents could change that.
Glamping taming Utah’s great outdoors for luxury lovers
Glamping was a $2.35 billion global industry in 2021 and is sweeping Utah and drawing praise and criticism.
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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