THE BIG STORIES UP AND DOWN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS
A curated newsletter from the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West
When the water recedes: The historic floods of 2022 in Yellowstone National Park and Park County, and what came next
A year later, the flood scars aren’t visible to the untrained eye. But for some who live and work along the river, the flooding reshaped the way they view their homes.
'Nature wins': How the 2022 floods changed the Yellowstone ecosystem
“The long term impact from the flood is really mostly on infrastructure, staff and visitors — less so on the park’s ecology and geology and wildlife."
Changing channels: Park County ranchers, landowners adapt to altered Yellowstone River
The floodwaters that breached Paradise Valley farms, ranchlands and fishing access sites last June also changed the river channels. As people continue repairs, the flooding has spurred conversations about where and how people should build along the river in the future.
Delayed science: How flooding affected research in Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is, among other things, a giant laboratory. Scientists from all over the world visit the park each year to study its geysers, its wildlife and its fish. The historic floods of 2022 paused all that work, creating delays and shortening the window for researchers to get their work done.
After last year's floods, Gardiner saw catastrophe and now looks to recovery
The economic hit to Gardiner came fast and didn’t end quickly.
Researchers studied how communities reacted to the historic Yellowstone flood and what can be learned
“I've been on a lot of reconnaissance after extreme events, and I've never seen communities pull together and just leap into action like I saw in Wyoming and Montana. Great lessons to other communities around the country.”
Some flood-displaced Montanans are still looking for stability a year later
One year after historic floods washed out roads in and around Yellowstone National Park, the park is mostly recovered and open for business as usual.
Unpacking the ICWA ruling
The Supreme Court upheld the Indian Child Welfare Act. Now what?
To unpack the Supreme Court’s Haaland v. Brackeen decision and look ahead to the next steps facing tribal nations and organizations, High Country News spoke with a group of ICWA policy and federal Indian law experts.
'Clear victory': Tribes in Montana celebrate ICWA ruling
Ta’jin Perez, deputy director of Western Native Voice, said he hopes the ruling will inspire others to learn more about the Indian Child Welfare Act and the historical context in which it was enacted.
Indigenous Child Welfare Act ruling prompts Wyoming lawmakers to mull more protections
After SCOTUS rejected challenges to the 1978 law enacted to halt the separation of Indigenous children from their families, traditions and cultures, Wyoming task force considers next steps.
What the ICWA ruling means for the economy
For one, many adoption agencies and lawyers see the law as taking potential adoptees “off the market” and cutting into their bottom line.
Native American families are being broken up in spite of a law meant to keep children with their parents
After fighting to win back her parental rights, a young Native American mother prevailed. Then the state came for her second child.
Catching up on Montana’s climate trial
Youth in historic Montana climate trial rest their case
Peter Erickson, a researcher at the Stockholm Environment Institute, said Montana is the “linchpin of the fossil fuel economy” in the West.
Indigenous experiences headline third day of Held v. Montana trial
Enrolled members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and Crow Tribe testified to the impact of climate change on their cultural heritage.
Renewable energy and health impacts highlighted in climate trial
Plaintiffs in a first-of-its-kind youth climate lawsuit sought to illustrate both the feasibility of transitioning Montana to fossil fuel-free energy sources and the physical, emotional and societal dangers of a “business as usual” approach to climate policy in the fifth day of the Held v. Montana bench trial.
Montana begins (and ends) defense in landmark climate change trial
Chris Dorrington, director of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, testified that he hadn’t been familiar with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, before the trial.
State employees, economist testify for state as climate trial winds down
The state called just one expert witness on the penultimate day of the Held v. Montana trial; closing remarks were scheduled for Tuesday morning.
Montana officials downplay first-of-its-kind climate trial
Montana officials sought to downplay a first-of-its-kind trial taking place over the state’s obligations to protect residents from climate change, saying Monday that a victory by the young plaintiffs would not change approvals for fossil fuel projects.
Feds announce start of public process to reshape key rules on Colorado River water use by 2027
A public process started last week to reshape the way Colorado River water is distributed, with federal officials promising to collect comments about updating and enacting rules in 2027 to continue providing hydropower, drinking water and irrigation to farms, cities and tribes in seven Western U.S. states and Mexico.
Interior: Drought threatens 'every Western community'
"The Colorado River Basin isn't alone in water management challenges," said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton.
Tribes seek greater involvement in talks on Colorado River water crisis
Leaders of several tribes say they continue to be left out of key talks between state and federal officials, and they are demanding inclusion as the Biden administration begins the process of developing new rules for dealing with shortages after 2026, when the current rules are set to expire.
As the Colorado River declines, water scarcity and the hunt for new sources drive up rates
The price of water is rising across the Southwest as utilities look to cover the cost of the increasingly scarce resource, the infrastructure to treat and distribute it and the search for new supplies.
Great Salt Lake’s dust melted Utah’s ‘greatest snow on earth’ more than two weeks early in 2022
The Great Salt Lake’s dust storms aren’t just harming Utah’s air quality. They’re threatening the snowpack, water supply and forests in the Wasatch Mountains. A new study co-authored by three University of Utah scientists found the 2021-2022 winter was the dustiest on record in the Wasatch. And a whopping 23% of those dust loads came from the Great Salt Lake.
Side-by-side photos show how much Blue Mesa Reservoir's water levels have risen thanks to this winter's snow
Heavy snow this past winter dramatically rose water levels in Colorado's Blue Mesa Reservoir. Just look at these photos from 2021 and 2023.
Don’t be fooled by rain and snow, the Colorado River is still in serious trouble, experts say
“It’s a whole new world out there,” Jennifer Gimbel, a senior water policy scholar at Colorado State University, said. “This is a great year but it’s not enough to get us out of this situation.”
Nevada senator asking Congress to OK Vegas-area water pipeline through conservation area
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto announced Thursday she introduced legislation asking Congress to let the Southern Nevada Water Authority drill the underground pipeline through part of Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area.
Luxury surf community surfacing amid southern Utah sand and sagebrush
Can a private, luxurious surf community in the middle of a wind-swept desert be rad enough to be successful? Developer Jason Christensen insists it can — and he’s banking on it. He and his partners have poured millions of dollars into the resort thus far.
The fire next time
The most effective fire-fighting strategies don’t include firefighters
Recent research calls for a fundamental rethinking of how we fight and live with fire.
Firefighters boost use of prescribed burns in bid to prevent massive wildfires
Officials in the U.S. West take advantage of wet conditions to set controlled fires in hopes of reducing the risk of destructive blazes.
Lessons from Colorado’s Marshall Fire
A conversation with County Commissioner Ashley Stolzmann on her community and what comes next for the Boulder-area suburbs.
Colorado ozone accelerated by smoke from out-of-state wildfires, study shows
Smoke from distant wildfires contributes a big chunk of Colorado's ozone problem, complicating efforts to cut the toxic gas, a study shows.
The Grizzly Creek fire burn scar is recovering in Glenwood Canyon. State officials hope that means fewer I-70 closures
Where charred soil once was, a healthy amount of trees and plants are now growing. But there’s still work to do.
When fire burns a path for flood
As fires now rage across Canada, their frequency and intensity bound to increase due to climate change, experts are urging planners to mind the connective tissue between fires and floods and back again.
Oregon wildfires case highlights the climate change risks to utilities
A jury found PacifiCorp liable for devastating wildfires in Oregon in 2020, highlighting the risks utilities face if they don't prepare for climate change.
PacifiCorp potentially wants its customers to pay $90M in wildfire liability
In a filing Thursday with the Oregon Public Utility Commission, PacifiCorp asked its regulators to allow it to defer any costs related to wildfire liability through June 2024. That would allow the company the option to add those costs to customer rates in the future.
In B.C.’s bone-dry northeast, what happens when wildfires and fracking collide?
The Donnie Creek wildfire, the largest ever recorded in the province’s history, is burning in one of the world’s biggest gas deposits, suspending fracking operations and raising questions about potential dangers to human health.
Dispatches from the energy transition
Tribal activists oppose Nevada mine key to Biden's clean energy agenda as 'green colonialism'
A huge lithium mine under construction in northern Nevada is at the center of a dispute over President Joe Biden’s clean energy agenda. The administration says the mine will produce battery material needed to meet Biden’s goal for half of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. to be electric by 2030. But Native American tribes and environmentalists say the mine at Thacker Pass will harm wildlife habitats, degrade groundwater and pollute the air in a remote area dotted with sagebrush. The mine also could destroy a sacred site where U.S. troops massacred dozens of Paiute tribal members after the Civil War. One activist calls the mine “green colonialism″ that will irreparably harm Indigenous people.
Build begins on Wyoming-to-California power line amid growing wind power concern
On Tuesday, state and federal officials will break ground on TransWest Express, a transmission line that will move electricity from the $5 billion, 3,000-megawatt, 600-turbine Chokecherry and Sierra Madre wind farm in southern Wyoming to southern California, a place legally mandated to switch to clean energy. The wind farm will be the country’s biggest yet.
Building renewable energy projects a better way with community buy-in
Utah, one of the best places in the United States to capture energy from solar fields, has multiple projects in the works that will diversify the grid. One company is making a difference with its approach to community engagement.
Uranium hype heats up (even as the industry falters)
The uranium mining hype continues to heat up, with a conflagration of news of drilling results and acquisitions. Meanwhile, the domestic uranium industry appears to be sinking deeper into its long coma.
Plutonium by degrees
New Mexico’s local colleges are training students to work in a plutonium pit factory. What does this mean for their future — and the world’s?
Defense Department signs deal to boost cobalt supply chains
The U.S. Department of Defense has entered into a $15 million agreement with the U.S. unit of Australian miner Jervois Global Ltd to conduct feasibility studies on expanding cobalt extraction in Idaho, to decrease reliance on overseas mineral sources.
Colorado is going wolf shopping. First stop: Washington
Colorado has a detailed plan to reintroduce wolves to the Western Slope by the end of the year, but until this week, it wasn’t clear where the state would get the animals. It now appears Colorado wildlife managers will ask for wolves from Washington and a few other Rocky Mountain states.
New study of grizzly bear body fat could carry ESA weight
At the urging of several Western states, the Fish and Wildlife Service is reassessing whether the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear population still requires Endangered Species Act protections. In an interview Friday, U.S. Geological Survey scientist Frank van Manen said the new study showing the bear's resilience and diet adaptability could inform the decision.
Montana study links seasonal spike in lead poisoning of eagles to big-game hunting season
A recently released study on the threat of lead exposure in bald eagles found that 89% of free-flying bald eagles have elevated levels of lead in their system in the months following Montana’s big-game hunting season.
Wyoming elk wars: Inflated herds spur committee duel, radical proposals
Two elk-related bills are poised to emerge from the Agriculture Committee, where lawmakers took on an unassigned topic because of dissatisfaction with another committee’s response.
Wyoming seeks to kill 50% more lions in hard-hit deer range
Unplanned quota hike is a direct response to mule deer winterkill in the Wyoming Range. A lion hunter blasts the proposal.
Privately funded group to pursue remedies for trout decline in southwest Montana
Outfitters, guides and others in southwest Montana concerned about declining populations of brown and rainbow trout have formed a new, privately-funded organization to identify potential causes and remedies.
Two more tribes make historic co-management agreements with Oregon
Four tribes in Oregon can now issue their own hunting and fishing licenses for their citizens, based on harvest limits informed by tribal values. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife shelved its planned agreement with a fifth tribe.
And more public lands news
Facing staunch opposition, BLM extends Public Lands Rule deadline
Wyoming officials, other interests oppose rule they decry as bureaucratic meddling; conservationists call it solid strategy for tackling contemporary issues.
Republicans from Western states attack public lands plan in heated U.S. House hearing
The governors of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and South Dakota signed a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Wednesday asking her to withdraw the proposal.
House committee sets vote to block contentious BLM rule
The bill would not only require the BLM director to withdraw the draft rule, but prohibit the bureau from developing "any substantially similar rule" in the future.
New BLM rules would allow cultural, ecological protections
The Bureau of Land Management is developing a proposal to carve out parcels of public land from its 245-million-acre portfolio that carry cultural and ecological value, making them ineligible for development.
National parks are crowded – and so are many national forests, wildlife refuges, battlefields and seashores
Crowding is increasingly affecting all kinds of public lands. Adjoining communities need to find ways to manage it, or risk harm to the attractions that make them a destination.
Facebook page tracks Yellowstone tourists' bad behavior
The misconduct has prompted some workers to refer to Yellowstone visitors as "tourons," a mashup of "tourist" and "moron."
As outdoor recreation surges, a new survey reveals a 'stewardship gap'
“While we've seen this incredible surge of getting more people outside, we now need to figure out how to really instill this ethos of responsible recreation in everyone.”
What else we’re reading today
Families of missing Indigenous people feel failed by justice system
Feeling let down by law enforcement and tangled in a web of complex legal jurisdictions, family members often conduct their own investigations into their loved one's disappearance or death.
At MSU, a new approach to rebuilding Native food sovereignty
Jill Falcon Ramaker, a professor in the native studies department and member of the Anishinaabe Ojibwe Nation, has spent two years creating an accredited graduate certificate in Indigenous Food Systems, which is set to start next spring.
Montana population trends: New neighbors from Arizona
In 2021, there were 30,060 new residents in Montana that had resided in a different state the previous year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. About 4,278 of those people came from Arizona, followed by 3,740 from Washington.
Rising rents: Missoula couple's $700 shock illustrates larger issue
Strong demand and tight supply means landlords are incentivized to get the maximum possible rent.
Boise City Council unanimously adopts zoning code revamp, with changes: 'a home... is fundamental'
Proponents say the new approach will allow for more diverse housing types built within Boise city limits, which lends itself to more affordable options in the decades to come and more walkable, mixed-use communities instead of endlessly sprawling suburbs.
Colorado ski resorts enjoyed a record season with mountain towns harvesting highest-ever tax revenue
Colorado's ski resorts reported a record 14.8 million ski visits in 2022-23, with mountain towns reporting highest-ever tax revenue.
A Colorado program helps train the next generation of outdoor innovators
The ICELab in Gunnison joins with Moosejaw Business Accelerator program to foster next generation of outdoor recreation entrepreneurs.
Camping in Color, other initiatives aim to diversify outdoor recreation, but is it working?
New Wasatch Mountain Institute program strives to remove barriers for Black families wanting to explore the outdoors.
Colorado already violating ozone standards into ‘serious’ category for 2023, watchdogs say
Colorado’s Front Range has already recorded violations of federal ozone caps for 2023 that put the state into the “serious”pollution infraction category, and regulators should voluntarily call for EPA sanctions in order to speed up health-protecting fixes, environmental watchdogs said.
Plan to dredge Utah Lake islands appears dead as developer dissolves business
A plan to dredge Utah’s largest freshwater lake and build islands with the spoils appears officially scrapped.
Supreme Court water ruling could transform NEPA, ESA
Removing the need for many projects to obtain permits under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which governs dredge-and-fill discharges, would also erase important triggers for National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act reviews, said Robert Glicksman, a law professor at George Washington University. “The programs are intertwined in ways that aren’t immediately obvious,” he said.
Hidden beneath the surface
Digging deep into a humble lake in Canada, scientists found a spot on Earth like no other — and a record that could redefine our history of 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
What do you think of this edition?