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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
How Colorado’s wolf reintroduction is supposed to go — and how it’s going
Wildlife biologists have developed a three-phase approach to restore the wolf population in Colorado. Here's how it's going so far.
Wolf report spawns debate over population, hunting
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks' annual wolf report sparked debate over the animals' population, how they are counted, upcoming hunting seasons and a new wolf management plan.
FWP releases plan to manage one of Montana’s most iconic and controversial game species
Elk counts have increased 42% since the state adopted its current Elk Management Plan. A new draft plan, now out for public comment, seeks to balance the state’s biological, ecological and social carrying capacities for the species.
Idaho's senators want to remove grizzly bears from the endangered species list
On Thursday, Republican lawmakers Sen. Jim Risch and Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Russ Fulcher of Idaho, as well as Sen. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming proposed a bill, the Grizzly Bear Review and Resource Restart Act, to remove the grizzly bear from the endangered species list.
Bear tags as revenue generators: How much will Wyoming make bringing back griz hunt?
One of the arguments states use in pushing for grizzly delisting is bringing back a trophy season to help them recoup money they've spent on bear recovery. Does the premise add up?
Christopher Servheen: Don't short-circuit ESA on grizzly bears
The former U.S Fish and Wildlife Service grizzly bear recovery coordinator had supported the eventual delisting of recovered grizzlies and turning them over to state management, but he’s changed his perspective as “science-based state wildlife management has been replaced by legislation founded on anti-predator misinformation and emotion.”
Feds fight to build planned pipeline into wilderness lake
Environmentalists say a planned pipeline to bring oxygen-rich water to arctic grayling violates the Wilderness Act's ban on human-made improvements.
GOP measures would undo protections for endangered lesser prairie chicken, northern bat
Congress has approved two measures to undo federal protections for the lesser prairie chicken and northern long-eared bat — two endangered animals that have seen their populations plummet over the years.
Public land matters
Scared bears and crowded camps: Weighing outdoor recreation’s impacts
Researchers find as more humans play outside, a smaller proportion are engaged in stewardship that can protect the lands from growing impacts.
Yellowstone unionization comes amid surge of labor activity
Yellowstone’s interpretive rangers, park guides, fee collectors, researchers and administrative staff voted 66-15 to form a union. Some 350 employees were eligible to vote.
USDA: Forests will emit carbon, not hold it
A new report says U.S. forests are losing their ability to absorb carbon and could become a major emitter by 2070.
Two popular fourteeners reopen with ‘temporary’ solution to landowner concerns
In order to climb the peaks legally now, hikers will need to sign an electronic waiver of liability.
In Yellowstone, teepees to light the night, illuminating age-old connections
Several days of festivities at Roosevelt Arch and Madison Junction honor the heritage of indigenous Yellowstone. The public is invited to attend these August events.
Garden of the Gods’ new manager says she’ll look to her Indigenous background to steward the popular park
Anna Cordova knew since she was a college student that Indigenous voices needed to be heard within the field of archeology, seen as a “colonial kind of practice.”
Why a conservancy nonprofit purchased a 320-acre plot of land in Bears Ears
A conservation nonprofit completed a $2.15 million purchase of a 320-acre parcel of land within Bears Ears National Monument earlier this month, setting up a new easement for it.
‘It feels like you’re a part of something bigger:’ Federal infrastructure dollars reach the West
The federal government is spending billions on infrastructure projects, including ecosystem restoration. Here's a look at what some of those dollars are buying in Wyoming.
The heat beat
The West sizzles — even at midnight
Climate change and the urban heat islands take their toll from Phoenix to Portland.
July has been so blistering hot, scientists already calculate that it's the warmest month on record
July has been so hot so far that scientists calculate that this month will be the globally hottest on record and likely the warmest human civilization has seen, even though there are several days left to sweat through.
As temperatures grow hotter, cheatgrass, invasive species thrive in Montana, the West
As the climate grows warmer, scientists have noticed a huge uptick in the rise of invasive grasses in the West.
Yellowstone proposes nonnative trout removal to restore native cutthroat species
As record high temperatures are recorded around the nation and world, Yellowstone National Park’s fisheries division is proposing to protect its native cutthroat trout by securing a high mountain stream as a coldwater refuge.
Heat and smoke drive for Idaho farmworkers continues
A coalition of Idaho nonprofits is organizing a heat and smoke drive for a third yearto buy supplies that help farmworkers stay safe in the heat and wildfire smoke. Over the past two years, the Idaho Immigrant Resource Alliance has raised $35,000 to buy water, electrolyte drinks, cooling clothing and other gear.
Migrant workers, unhoused people face blistering temps in Montana
Seasonal migrant farmworkers in Montana and other people living unhoused have had to deal with the recent scorching temperatures without much relief.
Amid climate change, Colorado’s mountain towns are warming with the rest of the planet, but high elevations provide some refuge from extreme heat
As temperatures in Denver neared record highs last week, Summit County remained almost 20 degrees cooler — but the fingerprints of climate change were still present.
Biden announces steps to help communities deal with extreme heat
Scientists called the new measures important but insufficient. With research showing that recent heat waves in the United States and Europe would have been “virtually impossible” without the influence of man-made climate change, many climate experts said Mr. Biden needed to take a strong stand against new fossil fuels.
Over a barrel
The Colorado provides drinking water to 40 million people. Do they know what Utah does to it upstream?
A closer look at what’s happening in the Uinta Basin, where dystopian industrial development overshadows its critical ecological role as the watershed of the endangered Colorado River.
Oil-train opponents look to railroad's expiring Moffat Tunnel lease for bargaining power
Colorado officials have quietly been reaching out to communities about a railroad's expiring lease of the state-owned Moffat Tunnel.
Zero oil companies bid in BLM's Nevada lease sale
The bust amplified conservationists' calls to turn away from oil production in the state, where 95 percent of acres leased for oil development are nonproducing.
‘Path of the Pronghorn’ bottleneck leased for development at $19/acre
Wildlife advocates are decrying the Wyoming’s decision to offer critical migration habitat for drilling, and are renewing calls to protect the famous antelope thoroughfare via the long-stalled state designation process.
The tiny lizard at the center of a big Endangered Species Act fight
Last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed federal protections for a lizard found only in the Permian Basin, one of the world’s most lucrative oil- and gas-producing regions. Now, the tiny lizard is fueling a big fight between House Republicans and the Biden administration over the reach of the 50-year-old Endangered Species Act.
How wildfires are threatening Colorado water supplies — and costing lots of money
Wildfires reduce reservoir capacities and make water more difficult to treat — two expensive problems for water utilities and towns that might start manifesting in residents’ water bills.
Xcel Energy tells shareholders Marshall fire lawsuits could seriously hurt its finances
The CEO of Colorado’s largest utility continued to dispute its power lines were partially responsible for the most destructive wildfire in state history, but executives acknowledged to shareholders Thursday it might not have enough insurance coverage to pay damages in more than a half-dozen related lawsuits.
'I'm amazed': A streak of lightning, then fast-moving flames
Blow-ups like the Colt fire’s — the rapid spread of wildfire when flames are whipped through dense, dry fuels by strong and often erratic winds — are a marquee trait of the largest fires burning in western Montana so far this year.
Fire danger goes to very high and extreme across western Montana and central Idaho
Fire danger has increased across western Montana and central Idaho — and some restrictions have been enacted — after a handful of new wildfires exploded to hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of acres this week and last.
Wildfire fighter in B.C. dies on front lines of largest fire in province's history
The death is the fourth such fatality among wildfire fighters in Canada this year, which is considered to be the worst wildfire year on record.
For this smoky summer, 12 new books and reports on wildfires
Photographs of dusky orange skylines have become part of the iconography of climate change. Successful action, including adaptation, requires that we better understand the dynamics of the fires behind the smoke.
Home out of range
How will Jackson Hole house its growing workforce?
The demand for local workers appears to be hitting a wall amid a lack of affordable housing in Jackson Hole.
Jackson’s new workforce housing units go for nearly one million a piece
the condos are geared toward dual-professional households — people like doctors and lawyers who make too much to qualify for affordable housing, but still can’t afford market rate prices.
Homebuilders ‘only game in town’ as sales of existing homes slow down
Homeowners don’t want to sell amid high interest rates, so builders are finding foothold in the market — especially in Utah
Colorado affordable housing advocates urge local governments to opt into Proposition 123. Only 14 have applied for funding so far.
Colorado governments must pledge to increase their affordable housing stock by 3% each year for the next three years
Flathead population growth continues to outpace housing supply
According to data from the U.S. Decennial Census, Flathead County’s housing supply grew by 6.2% from 2010 to 2020 while the population grew by 14.8%.
Whitefish council approves proposal to reallocate portion of resort tax for community housing
The plan calls for 10 percent of the resort tax revenue to go towards community housing. Voters in this fall’s municipal election will have to approve the change.
What else we’re reading today
What happened when a Tesla came to Ekalaka, Montana
A Los Angeles couple, an electric vehicle and an unattended utility outlet energized the gossip mill in the 400-person eastern Montana town last week.
Will the reduction of red tape put conservation success at risk?
Two state commissions are merging into a larger program that some worry could lose sight of its goals to protect the watersheds of western Montana.
Colorado River losing vast amounts of water due to warming climate, study finds
New research examines how much global warming has sapped the Colorado River since 2000. It shows the region has lost more water than Lake Mead can hold.
Water war at Whitney: How history and hydrology are colliding on the upper Eagle River
Mark Twain may or may not have actually said it first — “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting!” — but even if he didn’t, the high-altitude wetlands, ancient fens, and mountain meadows of southeastern Eagle County, peaceful as they seem now, are all places that fit perfectly within what’s become the West’s most descriptive and divisive aphorism of the last century.
Colorado’s drought is back after only a short reprieve
The U.S. Drought Monitor last week reported that 20% of the state is back in drought, just two weeks after its July 6 finding that the state was drought-free for the first time since 2019.
Would you drink wastewater? What if it was beer?
In an era of drought, turning treated wastewater into drinking water may be the future. Utility companies are working with breweries to get people past the “ick factor.”
Salt Lake City west-siders, at last, may have the proof they need to fix air pollution
EPA study could bring more funding to help west-siders, who suffer from worse air and higher health risks than others in the Salt Lake Valley.
Coal ash cleanup advances at Colstrip even as costs rise
Coal ash cleanup is progressing at Colstrip Power Plant, though inflation is pushing costs upward, according to state environmental officials.
Finding a fix for ‘forever chemicals’
Tests found PFAS in nearly all the public drinking water in Vancouver, Washington. The city is testing a solution that could take years — and more than $170 million — to build.
USGS: Biofuel crops could hurt grassland birds more than oil
U.S. Geological Survey biologists studied grassland birds in North Dakota and found that the biofuel crops cause more habitat disturbance than oil and gas development.
Sacred seeds provide pathway for Native preservation
While working with Indigenous people on six continents, ecologist Cristina Eisenberg has found a common thread – seeds are sacred. “There are seeds in medicine bundles in almost every culture,” she said. “There are seeds in burial mounds. Seeds are sacred. Each seed is a life.”
B.C. is weighing the merits of appointing a ‘chief ecologist,’ internal docs show
As species disappear and ecosystems collapse, the new role could help keep B.C. accountable on forthcoming biodiversity laws and policies
Spiked: A conservative 'shadow' hangs over Colorado newspapers owned by GOP billionaire Phil Anschutz
An investigation by the Colorado Times Recorder shows that the editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette has failed to stop Anschutz or his lieutenants from siphoning unwanted information out of the news at the Gazette; that news affecting the interests of Anschutz gets special scrutiny and extra editing; that journalists steer clear of stories touching on Anschutz; that former and current Gazette journalists are clamming up when asked about Anschutz; that Anschutz-owned news platforms align with conservative groups; and more.
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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