THE BIG STORIES UP AND DOWN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS
A curated newsletter from the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West
Mountain West rewriting its zoning regs
Montana's YIMBY revolt aims to head off a housing crisis
A wave of legislation designed to reform local zoning rules and boost housing is sweeping this GOP-led state, thanks to an unusual left-right coalition of supporters.
Attempt at housing compromise emerges in Montana Legislature’s final days
Proposal would spend $175 million on housing infrastructure, mortgage assistance and rent-restricted apartment projects. Amid late-session political tensions, it may face an uphill climb.
Whitefish at odds with bill to loosen ADU restrictions
“What I think is the biggest issue in this bill is I think It will prohibit us from putting any short-term rental restrictions on the ADU. That’s a huge issue for us,” said Montana League of Cities and Towns Executive Director Kelly Lynch, who spoke against the bill.
No one wants ‘California-style’ housing prices. But the state’s policies are not unique.
In blue and red localities across the country, researchers find a “California-style” preference for single-family homes, hostility to density and renters, a tendency to segregate types of development (industrial, commercial, and residential), and a default toward delaying or blocking the construction of new homes, whether affordable or market-rate.
Polis’ land use bill aimed to blunt climate change. Conservation groups say watering it down is a ‘huge disappointment’
In its original form, the bill would have forced local governments to allow for more residential density in many cities across the state and cut local parking requirements. That would be a big change for many Colorado cities that mostly only allow sprawling single family neighborhoods.
Colorado Democrats move to put upzoning back in the upzoning bill after it was gutted
Colorado’s sweeping land-use bill was gutted once, and then gutted again. Now, House Democrats will attempt reconstructive surgery to restore the bill’s most ambitious — and controversial — components, including density mandates on local governments.
As Colorado considers upzoning, here’s a look at how it’s gone in other states and cities
States like Oregon and cities like Minneapolis have adopted similar laws over the last five years, often in the name of enabling construction and driving down housing costs — the same goals shared by Colorado’s bill. So how have those changes worked out?
Editorial: We are not ready to give up on single-family zoning yet
Colorado lawmakers’ attempt to completely overhaul planning and zoning in almost every municipality across this state with a single piece of legislation was ambitious, drastic, and rushed.
Higher densities may be coming soon to your SLC neighborhood
Salt Lake City mulls new ways to bring more affordable homes into more residential and commercial areas.
Boise’s zoning code rewrite unanimously passes Planning & Zoning Commission
The code updates allow for greater housing density and flexibility, expanding mixed residential and commercial zones into more areas of the city.
More on growth and development
After the housing boom comes the school boom: Some districts seeing huge growth
More people will mean more streets, more water treatment plants, but it also is already stressing some school districts that are seeing growth. That growth isn’t confined to the seven largest cities in Montana, but the pressure is mounting in places like Laurel and Hamilton – places that are nearby those larger cities, but more affordable.
Airbnb tax contribution growing in Montana
Missoula officials said the number of short-term rentals increased 25% from 2020 to 2022.
Building in the Flathead ‘takes a breather’
Construction in the county has slowed down since its pandemic peak, but each municipality faces its own challenges as the residential and commercial development momentum eases.
Developers propose annexing 81 acres into south Bozeman
Developers are proposing to build a variety of homes on about 81 acres in south Bozeman.
As Idaho home prices skyrocketed, wage increases lagged
In Idaho, the median cost of a home increased nearly two and a half times faster than the average pay over the past decade. Home prices rose 146% from 2010 to 2022, and in that same time period, the average wage rose only 60%.
Nampa proposes expanding city area, raising questions about ag preservation
Ag ground preservation is “crazy hard” because the city feels pressure to grow to fund itself in the long-term, Nampa Mayor Debbie Kling said.
Denver-area assessors warn of major spike in property taxes as Colorado legislature rushes to provide relief
Property taxes owed next year in the Denver area may increase by as much as 50% because of skyrocketing home values, county assessors warned Wednesday, as the Colorado legislature races to ease the financial burden before the 2023 lawmaking term ends May 8.
St. George’s housing crunch leaves working professionals unable to buy a home — or even rent
A working professional who oversees pre-nursing programs at several colleges in central and southern Utah, Jennifer Liebert doesn’t fit the stereotype many have for people caught up in St. George’s housing crunch.But despite Liebert’s high-profile job, $60,000 annual salary and life amidst bucolic redrock cliffs, she often feels St. George more resembles poet John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” than a slice of heaven.
Will Morgan County residents get to vote on exclusive resort project?
A Morgan County judge is fielding dueling lawsuits over Wasatch Peaks Ranch, an exclusive 750-home community and private ski area under development since 2019 on the 12,700-acre former Gailey property outside Peterson.
Headlines across Indian Country
Without Indigenous history, there is no U.S. history
“Scholars have recently come to view African-American slavery as central to the making of America, but few have seen Native Americans in a similar light,” writes Ned Blackhawk. “Binary, rather than multiracial, visions dominate studies of the past where slavery represents America’s original sin or the antithesis of the American idea. But can we imagine an American Eden that is not cultivated by its original caretakers? Exiled from the American origin story, Indigenous peoples await the telling of a continental history that includes them. It was their garden homelands, after all, that birthed America.”
Retelling U.S. history with Native Americans at the center
A new account by the Yale historian Ned Blackhawk argues that Native peoples shaped the development of American democracy while being dispossessed of their land.
Who gets a say in tribal treaty hunting?
In Wyoming, everybody wants influence over off-rez hunting — and nobody’s happy.
Tribe to fish for salmon on Elwha River a decade after dams fell
More than 90% of the surveyed coho returning to their spawning grounds on the Elwha in 2012 and 2013 were tagged hatchery fish. In 2021, less than 4% of the coho were tagged, suggesting wild, naturally spawned fish are finding their way back.
Report: Colorado Indigenous communities say media coverage is flawed
Media coverage of Indigenous communities has perpetuated harmful stereotypes among other shortcomings, according to a new report from the Colorado News Collaborative.
ICT opens Mountain Bureau at University of Montana School of Journalism
The bureau offices will be housed within the School of Journalism at the University of Montana in Missoula through a partnership with UM and ICT’s parent company, IndiJ Public Media.
In Montana, competing Child Welfare Acts face off
The Federal Indian Child Welfare Act is at risk. In the closing days of Montana’s legislative session, a duel — or a duet? — of would-be replacements plays out.
Funding to support oral histories in boarding school era
The Interior Department announced a partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities to document the experiences of thousands of Native students at federally funded schools across the country.
Navajo Nation officials, activists feel cut out as company advances uranium mining plans
The past history of uranium contamination serves as a backdrop as Laramide Resources seeks to begin mining. The Navajo Nation feels as if it has been excluded from the process in part because of the checkerboard of land and mineral jurisdiction.
Largest powwow draws Indigenous dancers to New Mexico
The annual Gathering of Nations kicked off with a colorful procession of Native American and Indigenous dancers from around the world moving to the beat of traditional drums as they filled an arena at the New Mexico state fairgrounds
The land report
BLM eyes a new kind of leasing to safeguard public lands
Biden’s Interior wants to give conservationists equal power to oil companies on public lands in order to protect them — rather than exploit them.
Conservation momentum surges for southwest Colorado's Dolores River as record flows draw rafters
The River of Sorrows could see increased protection with federal legislation as a survey shows growing support for a national monument around Colorado’s pristine Dolores River Canyon Country.
Environmentalists denounce Nevada U.S. senator's mining bill
The Nevada Democrat who’s the heir apparent to the late Sen. Harry Reid’s role as chief defender of the mining industry across the West is for the first time feeling the wrath of environmentalists, who otherwise consider her an ally.
Ranch owner: No $7M claim if judge rules corner-crossers trespassed
The ranch owner suing hunters for trespassing through his airspace to access public land says he would drop his damage claim of some $7.75 million if a judge rules in his favor in a landmark corner-crossing case.
Clark Fork: DEQ proposes leaving more contamination to cut cleanup costs
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality described a new approach to cleanup of the Clark Fork River that will leave more contaminated tailings in place to cut remediation costs.
Montana bill banning greenhouse gas analysis from permitting decisions heads to governor
The Montana Legislature has passed an 11th-hour bill prohibiting the state from analyzing the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions in its permitting decisions, clearing the bill to head to Gov. Greg Gianforte’s desk.
Think this winter was bad? More extremes are likely for Wyoming due to climate change
It’s not just about higher temperatures. With them will come stronger spring floods, harsher summer droughts, longer wildfire seasons and other threats to the Wyoming way of life.
The places at greatest risk from extreme heat
A record-shattering heat wave that blistered the Pacific Northwest in 2021 carried an important lesson, scientists say. Places that historically haven’t had to deal with extreme heat may not be prepared when it strikes.
Climate change is changing public health
In Washington, a new team of epidemiologists is preparing for a hotter, smokier future.
Tenacious specimens of the Grand Canyon
In the 1930s, two women risked their lives to record a scientific survey of the region’s plants.
Dispatches from the energy transition
Supreme Court move could spell doom for power of federal regulators
Overturning the Chevron doctrine would have major implications for the Biden administration’s climate agenda. It would complicate the administration’s efforts to tackle major issues such as climate change via regulation, including possibly derailing the Environmental Protection Agency’s push to mitigate carbon emissions from the electricity and transportation sectors — the two highest polluting industries in the United States.
Massive Lava Ridge wind farm plan generates 8,000 comments
The proposal, which has sparked widespread opposition, would feature up to 400 turbines on 84,000 acres of federal, state and private land in three Idaho counties.
Idaho Power eyes more solar
Idaho Power has a goal of relying on 100% clean energy by 2045. Today, its energy mix consists of more than 30% hydropower, 10% wind and less than 4% solar. One-third of its energy comes from natural gas and coal.
A gigawatt of solar in Colorado's wheat country
Crossroads Agriculture, which has 400,000 acres of land in production of wheat and milo in eastern Colorado as well as New Mexico and Kansas, has announced it will partner in development of two major solar projects in eastern Colorado near the towns of Haswell and Cheyenne Wells.
Buzz-over country in northwest Colorado
Massive volumes of wind-generated electricity from Wyoming will reach California and other southwestern states. Colorado? It’s on the path—but like an interstate with no exits or on-ramps for hundreds of miles.
Federal oil and gas lease sales return to regularity in Montana
For the first time in several years, the federal government will have at least two oil and gas lease sales in Montana and North Dakota.
A climate heist and revenge movie
“How to Blow Up a Pipeline” stands firm in its sympathetic framing of its protagonists, and then asks you to evaluate yourself.
Chart: Americans actually agree on supporting solar and wind power
But polling data shows a big partisan divide and age gap on the question of whether climate change is a serious problem.
Links from the brink
Seeking sanctuary on a warming planet
Scientists look to identify, map and preserve climate change refugia.
Montana fisheries managers ‘concerned’ about low bull trout numbers
According to FWP’s monitoring data, which spans more than 40 years, declining redd numbers were documented at 48% of FWP’s monitoring sites last fall.
Colorado is bringing back wolves. On this ranch, they’re already here.
Don Gittleson’s 11,000-acre ranch has become a testing ground for the wild canines’ future in Colorado — and for the hopes and fears of both their advocates and opponents.
In winter’s wake, lions, bears and coyotes could be in the crosshairs
Wyoming wildlife officials are considering slashing populations of three native predators in an area where a hard winter has cratered mule deer survival rates.
Utah to reduce deer tags after winter devastates population in the north
Utah's record snowfall may have eased the drought, but it took a toll on Mule deer in the northern counties, where wildlife officials plan to severely cut the hunting tags.
Study near Yellowstone finds 'gardening' cougars help feed their prey
A study in Yellowstone National Park found that cougar kill sites foster nutritious plant growth that can keep their prey coming back.
Inside the fight to save a beleaguered butterfly
In 2020, the population count of the Behren’s silverspot was zero. That didn’t stop Clint Pogue.
What else we’re reading today
Colorado lawmakers ‘belly flop’ on water crisis, opting for further study of Colorado River over action, experts say
Colorado’s legislative leadership promised this year that the state’s water problems would be the “centerpiece” of conservation efforts but their keystone proposal focused on the Colorado River and widespread drought plaguing the West is to study the issue further.
Strawberries in the Desert: From drip irrigation to vertical gardens, Utah officials learn how Israel does more with less water
A group of Utah Mormon Republican lawmakers walk into a Jewish socialist kibbutz in the middle of the desert.
It’s not a joke.
In Arizona, fresh scrutiny of Saudi-owned farm's water use
In rural Arizona’s La Paz County, on the state’s rugged border with California, the decision by a Saudi-owned dairy company to grow alfalfa in the American Southwest for livestock in the Gulf kingdom first raised eyebrows nearly a decade ago. Now, worsening drought has focused new attention on the company and whether Arizona should be doing more to protect its groundwater resources.
Suncor refinery has another hazardous chemical leak, polluting Commerce City air
The Suncor refinery in Commerce City again released potentially dangerous sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide into the surrounding neighborhood late Friday night, the second time in April.
Montana recreational marijuana tax bill headed to Gov. Gianforte’s desk
Bill seeking to split weed tax collections between rural roads, wildlife habitat, veteran services and addiction treatment clears its final legislative hurdle.
Award-winning editor leaves Montana for Arizona
McCumber has served as Lee’s local news director for the west in recent years, including supervising the top Montana and Arizona editors for the company.
A deadly cry for help
The fatal shooting of Collin Neztsosie exposes the tragic consequences when someone calls for help — and police answer.
The many ways to see a story
Acclaimed Indigenous author Debra Magpie Earling returns with a new novel.
Idaho efforts targeting library books join a national trend. Where are bills coming from?
The Idaho effort is part of a broader push to restrict access to library books — many with LGBTQ+ themes — or target the people responsible for collecting them.
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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