THE BIG STORIES UP AND DOWN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS
A curated newsletter from the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West
The Montana climate ruling's ripple effects
'This changes everything': Experts respond to landmark youth climate ruling
Legal, scientific and industry experts say the ruling in Held v. Montana could have lasting legal consequences. But will it result in changes to Montana’s energy policies?
How climate science won in the Montana youth climate case
The ruling in Held v. Montana is expected to bolster cases in other states with similar environmental protections in their constitutions.
Impacts of Held vs. Montana decision already being seen in Montana
The ramifications of a judge’s decision this week in the historic Held v. Montana trial are already being seen in the Treasure State, and policymakers and lawyers say its impact can’t be overstated in Montana and beyond.
Montana youth climate ruling could set precedent for future climate litigation
"I thought this was one of the strongest decisions on climate change issued by any court anywhere," said Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia Law School's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.
Montana kids win historic climate lawsuit. Here's why it could set a powerful precedent
The case hinged on Montana’s “green amendment,” which guarantees a constitutional right to “a clean and healthful environment.” Other states have similar amendments, and more are considering them.
Q&A: A legal scholar calls the ruling in the Montana youth climate lawsuit 'huge'
Pat Parenteau explains how the judge ruled in favor of a group of young litigants, and why an expected appeal by the state of Montana could be hard to win before the Montana Supreme Court.
Montana's expert witnesses in climate change trial billed state $95K
The state of Montana was billed nearly $95,000 in total by the three expert witnesses the Attorney General’s Office utilized in the Held v. Montana climate change trial, two of whom the state never called to testify.
Over a barrel
Federal court vacates approval of Utah oil-train project opposed by Colorado local governments
A federal court has sent regulators back to the drawing board on their approval of a new short-line railroad in the oil fields of eastern Utah, finding major flaws in how the federal Surface Transportation Board analyzed the risks of increased oil-train traffic through western and central Colorado.
The oil business is booming in Utah’s Uinta Basin
With Utah oil production at an all-time high, the Uinta Basin is enjoying another boom economy. How long will it last?
‘Unprecedented’ times: New Mexico revenue boom to generate $3.5B in new spending capacity
Fueled by an incredible oil and gas boom and strong consumer spending, New Mexico’s financial reserves reached about 52% of ongoing state spending this summer — a financial cushion of nearly $4.4 billion. And the geyser is still spewing.
As wildfires rage, canada's oil sector looks to ramp up production
Even as unprecedented wildfires hamper Canadian oil drilling, fossil fuel firms are seeking to boost production, ramping up Canada’s oil output by 8 percent over the next two years.
Court sides with Interior in Wyoming NEPA fight
The 10th Circuit ruling is a loss for environmentalists who said the natural gas project at the heart of the fight poses risks to two iconic Western species.
95 oil and gas wells are in the way of economic development in Frederick. Town officials want the barrier gone.
Frederick, and its neighbor Dacono, are appealing to state regulators to force K.P. Kauffman to plug and abandon wells developers say are making them look elsewhere.
This Colorado-built satellite will leave methane polluters nowhere to hide
The Environmental Defense Fund says MethaneSAT, set to launch next year, is a new frontier for climate accountability.
What's to blame for too little water in Flathead Lake: climate or mismanagement?
Accusations of mismanagement have been flying while dam operators point to the role of a rapid runoff of a modest snowpack.
The Great Salt Lake and its web of life face an uncertain future
"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.
Another inland port project approved on imperiled Great Salt Lake wetlands
Lake advocates balk at governor's claim Utah will have "the most environmentally friendly inland port anywhere in the country."
Mining company responds to concerns about its plans at Great Salt Lake, but lawmakers aren’t happy
Following lithium “dust-up,” powerful legislator prepares to slap mineral extractors with unprecedented restrictions, including limits on how much lake water they can use.
Feds ease Colorado River cutbacks after positive forecast, but more work remains
The latest study from the Bureau of Reclamation shows how a wet winter in 2023 helped boost Lake Powell and Colorado River water supplies. But experts say more cuts to demand for the water supply are needed.
Colorado River Basin states stake out positions on the future of Mead, Powell reservoirs
Colorado River Basin states don’t agree on very much when it comes to the future operations of the basin’s largest water savings banks.
Colorado River Basin ranks among the world's most water-stressed regions, analysis finds
A new global analysis finds U.S. states along the Colorado River are under extremely high water stress. The region is grappling with how to reduce water use.
Can Colorado's source streams make a comeback? These scientists, and beavers, think so
Restoring natural infrastructure, such as beaver habitat and the wetlands it creates, could shield communities from damaging floods, remove toxins and high sediment loads from water, and reduce the apocalyptic effects of megafires.
Smallmouth bass survives eradication efforts in Colorado River
National Park Service data shows the invasive species' population growing below Glen Canyon Dam, posing a danger to threatened fish.
Why are we paying for crop failures in the desert?
Taxpayers are on the hook for heat-related crop losses in parched states like Arizona. That needs to change.
Public land matters
BLM invites public comment on Grand Staircase draft plan
“Your feedback during this public comment period is critical to shaping the future management of this unique and unparalleled Utah landscape.”
BLM's Utah monument plan emphasizes conservation
The proposal would establish four new areas of critical environmental concern in Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
GOP bill would require the BLM to manage Grand Staircase by Trump’s rules
The bill passed in July, which the full House of Representatives is expected to vote on in September, would tie the BLM’s hands in two fundamental ways.
Federal judge tosses Utah lawsuit seeking to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments
A federal judge tossed a lawsuit by Utah political leaders who’d asked the courts to declare Presiden Joe Biden’s expansion of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments unlawful on Friday.
Utah will appeal the decision against its Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante lawsuit
Last week, Utah gave notice of an appeal just days after a lower U.S. District Court tossed out its suit against the Biden administration.
See inside the Grand Canyon region’s new monument
A weeklong journey through the under-documented region, which now has new protections.
Uranium hunters in the West face partial ban, pollution fears
President Biden’s declaration of a new national monument put some Western areas off limits to uranium mining, but companies have plans in others—and tribes are pushing back.
BLM releases long-awaited management plan for Red Desert region
Update will guide management of 3.6 million acres of public lands in Rock Springs Field Office, including Red Desert and migration corridors.
Spending time outdoors could get more expensive in parts of Wyoming
Two national forest systems and Grand Teton National Park are seeking to raise the costs of camping, backpacking and more.
Wyoming’s first woman forester has plans for the future of the state’s forests
Wyoming Public Radio’s Hugh Cook spoke with Kelly Norris about the state of Wyoming’s forests, her plans for the agency, and being the first woman to fill the position of state forester.
To defund or defend?
Amid congressional efforts to defund Glacier National Park’s vehicle reservation system, park administrators and stakeholders defend it as an adaptive tool that has evolved based on public feedback.
BLM rolls out new ‘cautious approach’ to e-bikes
Green groups and off-roaders are divided on the agency's policy, which scales back a Trump-era exemption of e-bikes from rules governing vehicle use on backcountry trails.
BLM whistleblower says illegal grazing is ruining land along the Rio Grande River
A veteran employee of the Bureau of Land Management in the San Luis Valley filed a whistleblower complaint Monday, saying her bosses are failing to enforce livestock grazing rules on public lands and are jeopardizing the ecosystem along the Rio Grande River.
More than 120,000 acres set aside in Idaho as conservation area
The Bennett Hills conservation area covers more than 120,000 acres of rolling grasslands in southwest Idaho, just outside Mountain Home. It’s home to upland game bird species and serves as winter habitat for elk and mule deer.
New ways to measure trail use could transform how outdoor recreation is developed and managed
Better data is needed to measure recreational use on public lands. New, accurate methods are being pioneered in Montana’s Bridger Mountains.
Dispatches from the energy transition
Xcel will raise electric bills again next month. A quarter of the hike will cover closing coal-fired power plants.
Xcel Energy’s 1.6 million Colorado customers will see their bills rise again next month an average of 4.4%, or about $4, on residential bills.
Missoulians united in opposition to NorthWestern Energy plan
Invoking a recent Montana climate court case, many western Montana residents are calling for NorthWestern Energy to redo its energy management proposal for the next 20 years.
Southwest Montana solar project powers up
An 80-megawatt solar array in southwest Montana is now operating, roughly doubling the amount of the commercial solar energy in the state.
Melville ranch adds solar, joins growing number in Montana taking advantage of federal grants
With an end to its hefty power bills, J Bar L anticipates the new system will pay for itself within a few years.
Cleaning up Utah’s energy picture? These Utahns want to bank on it.
After years of failing to convince Utah legislators, green-minded Utahns are setting up a nonprofit to fund clean-energy projects.
Want a hot tub at your Colorado ski town home? You might have to offset its emissions first.
Breckenridge — and soon Summit County — is adopting a “renewable energy mitigation plan” to offset greenhouse gases from outdoor amenities.
Colorado launches statewide e-bike rebates, pouring $10M into the program’s first year
Colorado’s e-bike rebate program is one of the largest in the country.
BLM reserving land for proposed Lava Ridge wind-energy project
The federal Bureau of Land Management announced last week that more than 106,000 acres of BLM-managed public lands in the proposed Lava Ridge Wind Project area northeast of Twin Falls will continue to be kept open for the project for two more years.
CCS 2.0: Company reboots bid to save New Mexico coal plant
A proposal from a New Mexico startup is in the race to be the nation's second large-scale carbon capture proposal on a power plant.
Appeals court upholds regional haze plans for Wyoming coal plants
PacifiCorp’s Wyodak coal-fired power plant near Gillette and its Naughton coal-fired power plant near Kemmerer are in compliance with federal requirements to reduce pollutants that contribute to regional haze, according to a ruling by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Washington’s carbon-pricing program nears $1 billion in revenue, far outpacing early estimates
Washington’s latest auction of carbon-emission allowances raked in an estimated $62.5 million last week, with revenue from the state’s carbon-pricing program now nearing a billion dollars and far outpacing early estimates.
Grizzlies roam, but where? A new study offers clues
If you were a grizzly bear on the move, where would you go and how would you get there?
Majority of 2023 Yellowstone grizzly bear deaths happening in Wyoming
There were 15 grizzly bears that died or were reported dead in 2023 in Wyoming's portion of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, mortality data shows.
Citing climate impacts and grizzly bear mortality, judge halts Yaak logging project
The 95,412-acre Black Ram timber sale was proposed on a segment of the Kootenai National Forest that is home to the imperiled Cabinet-Yaak grizzly population.
Grand Teton National Park black bears raiding swimmers' coolers, backpacks
Black bears keep eating human items left along lakeshores while visitors dip in the water.
Yellowstone's draft Bison Management Plan lays out case for less lethal control
The park’s Bison Management Plan draft environmental impact statement was released to the public for comment on Thursday, outlining three possible alternatives.
Montana wildlife commission lowers wolf hunting quotas, but not in the area bordering Yellowstone
Commissioners passed a statewide hunting and trapping quota of 313 wolves. That’s higher than what was originally proposed by Montana FWP, but lower than last year’s quota.
Wildlife crossings proposed on east side of Vail Pass could be funded through new state, federal programs
There are more female deer killed by cars than hunters in Colorado every year. Advocates hope three new wildlife crossings on Vail Pass will reduce collisions, improve animal health.
Yellowstone, Montana fight trout for territory in Lamar River drainage
Yellowstone, Montana battle invasive fish — and public opinion — for iconic waterway.
Bad actor suspected in Yellowstone brook trout discovery
Scientific evidence still lacks, but signs point toward an illegal introduction of nonnative trout in already restored Soda Butte Creek.
Water-quality testing could yield clues to declining trout populations in SW Montana
Water-quality testing underway in the Jefferson River Basin could help scientists form hypotheses about trout population declines and identify potential interventions.
Biden administration proposes $106 million for Western salmon and steelhead recovery
Grants may fund agencies with salmon protection missions, tribes and tribal partnerships in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and California.
What else we’re reading today
More than 150 years after the Sand Creek Massacre, descendants want more authority on the Colorado lands that tribes called home
Cheyenne and Arapaho descendants are asking why more hasn’t been done to welcome them back to their ancestral lands and heal the traumatic events of the past.
Native mental health providers seek to heal boarding school scars with informed and appropriate treatment
As more visibility is brought to the legacy of U.S. boarding schools, Indigenous mental health providers and social workers feel that therapy must address the unique trauma carried by survivors.
U.S. launches program to provide electricity to more Native American homes
In all, federal officials said $150 million is being invested from the Inflation Reduction Act to support the electrification of homes in tribal communities, many of which have seen mixed success over the decades as officials have tried to address the lack of adequate infrastructure in remote areas.
Tribal and first nation governments craft proposal to address transboundary mining concerns
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the Ktunaxa Nation sent President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau a proposal to refer coal mining pollution on the Elk-Kootenai watershed to the International Joint Commission.
Can affluence and affordable housing coexist in Colorado’s Rockies?
The outdoorsy lifestyle of Colorado mountain towns has become a magnet for the new remote-worker class, upending life for those already rooted there.
What ballooning home values mean for one tenant and her landlord
Rising prices are reshaping Montana, ramping up pressure on both sides of the ownership divide.
Reading between the front lines
Montana’s libraries are the latest battlefield in a culture clash over community standards.
ACLU, tech coalitions file amicus briefs in favor of overturning Montana's TikTok ban
The American Civil Liberties Union is among nonprofit organizations and tech-oriented business coalitions that filed amicus briefs in the TikTok ban lawsuit– in favor of enjoining the law
EPA's plan to sanction use of slightly contaminated fill dirt in Butte remains controversial
EPA released a position paper Friday touting the benefits of using onsite material, also known as slightly contaminated “grey dirt,” at Superfund sites in Butte. The plan is controversial.
Colorado sues EPA to stop public access to air pollution records
Feds are holding up approving a state air quality improvement plan unless Colorado agrees to give public access to air pollution information.
Little Cottonwood Canyon gondola: A timeline of the decision, and what comes next.
UDOT decided on an 8-mile gondola for Little Cottonwood Canyon last month. Explore the 5-year-process that led to the gondola's selection, and what's to come by 2050.
Who will pay for Utah gondola to bring skiers to Alta, Snowbird?
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox says the state shouldn’t be the only one paying for a gondola up Little Cottonwood Canyon, which some estimates suggest could cost over $1 billion.
Copper Mountain starts seeding to spark a landscape-scale biodiversity effort
Copper Mountain’s 10-year plan to sink carbon into native grasses on ski slopes is one of many sustainability projects underway at Colorado ski areas that are working together to deflect the impacts of climate change.
How climate change stoked Canada's record-breaking wildfires
A study finds eastern Canada's fire weather this summer was made twice as likely by the influence of global warming.
In the summer of 2023, Canadians woke up to the reality of climate change amid fire and smoke. Now that we have seen and smelled the future, what will we do?
An arts oasis on Colorado's high plains is reckoning with changing climates of all kinds
Maureen Hearty and Kirsten Stoltz’s idea for Prairie Sea Projects is to get people thinking about their uncertain future by embracing the best of rural life.
Could weathered rock vault us towards our climate goals?
Building on previous research, a new study estimates how much carbon farmers could lock away by spreading crushed rock on croplands. Their numbers are enormous.
Opinion: 47 days in extreme heat, and you begin to notice things
As the red rock desert broils us in beauty, will we have to leave?
Climate chaos is outpacing science and outrunning journalism
A new type of disaster reporting is needed to keep up.
The local-news crisis is weirdly easy to solve
Restoring the journalism jobs lost over the past 20 years wouldn’t just be cheap—it would pay for itself.
Mountain Journal (2017-2023): Our summit was truth
An open letter of gratitude to Mountain Journal's valued readers and supporters as we fade into the sunset.
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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