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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
The blowup over Lava Ridge
Biden’s renewable energy goals blow up against a painful WWII legacy
A stretch of sagebrush country in southern Idaho, where a developer is proposing to erect hundreds of windmills, is also the site of one of the darkest chapters of America’s past, where thousands of Japanese Americans were unjustly imprisoned during World War II.
Clean energy, at what cost? BLM to decide what’s next for Idaho Lava Ridge Wind Project
The Lava Ridge Wind Project would consist of 400 turbines up to 740 feet in height and the associated infrastructure, including new roads, powerlines, substations, maintenance facilities and battery storage facilities. It would be located 25 miles northeast of Twin Falls.
Idaho Sen. Risch grills Haaland on Lava Ridge: ‘Don't do it!’
Idaho Sen. Jim Risch and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland had a tense exchange for over seven minutes on the proposed Lava Ridge Wind Project on Tuesday.
Utah's suicide pact with the fossil fuel industry
Oil and gas projects in the Uinta Basin illustrate how a state, run largely by people who don’t believe in climate change, still presses ahead with carbon-belching fossil-fuel developments that, if successful, will only exacerbate the megadrought that has brought the Colorado River—and the West—to the brink of disaster.
A train on fire and mud on the tracks as Eagle County, conservation groups argue against Uinta Basin Railway plan in federal court
Attorneys for Eagle County and conservation groups blast Uinta Basin Railway project in U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. as Glenwood Springs cleans up mudslide, Palisade firefighters douse burning railcar
Barrasso seeks to limit federal oversight on fossil fuel leasing
Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso’s 114-page Spur Permitting of Underdeveloped Resources (SPUR) Act would limit federal officials’ discretion over coal, oil and gas leasing, set time limits on the issuance of permits and raise the priority of pipelines and transmission lines.
Coal, gas viewed favorably in NorthWestern Energy planning
As other Western utilities shutter coal-fired power plants and pivot to renewables, NorthWestern suggests the likelihood of an energy shortage at times of peak demand. Coal and natural gas are the energy sources the utility concludes make the most sense.
Another big Alaska fossil fuel project gets Biden team’s blessing
The $40 billion export project would be the second major fossil fuel initiative in the state to have stalled under the Trump administration — only to see its fortunes rise under Biden.
Uranium speculation comes knocking on Bears Ears’ doorstep
Two Canadian uranium mining companies on Tuesday announced plans to drill 25 exploratory wells on the edge of Bears Ears National Monument, raising the possibility of large-scale industrial development on some of the nation’s most sensitive lands without much in the way of environmental review.
Planned uranium drilling near Bears Ears sparks pushback
Vancouver, British Columbia-based Atomic Minerals Corp. CEO Clive Massey said the company’s confidence is high that the region could be a prolific producer of the material — used to fuel nuclear reactors — because old oil wells on federal land reveal thick layers of “off the charts” radioactive rock.
Rico Reprieve + BLM revokes Moab-area lithium permit
Atlantic Richfield Company purchases more than 1,000 acres of patented mining claims and other properties from Arizona-based Disposition Properties in and around Rico, Colorado, dimming the threat of massive development.
Lithium mining company hopes to plow ahead by growing endangered plant in greenhouse
This week in Gardnerville, Nevada, mine developer Ioneer Corp. held a grand opening for its Tiehm’s Buckwheat Conservation Center, a greenhouse dedicated exclusively to research and conservation of the buckwheat.
Third company announces major rare earths find in Wyoming
The metallurgical coal company developing a coal mine near Sheridan says it has unearthed a major deposit of rare earth elements at the site.
More public lands news
At Zion National Park, too many people, too little management
Fewer people visited Zion National Park in 2022, but the Utah jewel still saw the second-most visitors in its history and was in the top three in visitation for the 63 official national parks. That's not sustainable, one conservation group says.
Meetings planned, comments sought on Thompson Divide proposal
Federal agencies have announced two upcoming meetings on a proposal to ban new oil and gas leasing and mining claims on some 225,000 acres in western Colorado for up to 20 years.
New Mexico delegates renew push for broader Chaco protection
Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation are again pushing to make permanent a stop on oil and gas development outside the boundaries of Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
Corner crossers reject GPS ‘Waypoint 6’ as trespass proof
Hunters fighting a $7-million corner-crossing suit on Wednesday rejected an assertion that a digital “waypoint” marker set in a mapping program on one of their cellphones proves they trespassed on the Elk Mountain Ranch.
Holland Lake proposal reignites debate over environmental reviews
Flathead National Forest’s initial proposal to not review potential environmental impacts is raising questions about how forest managers decide which projects deserve a closer study.
Groups urging veto of bill related to Paradise Valley gold mine ruling
The Montana Legislature passed a bill that sets new limits on legal challenges against projects impacting the environment, and about 250 businesses and residents in Paradise Valley are urging a veto from the governor.
The EPA extends federal protection to tribal waters
Of the 300 or so tribal nations with reservations in the United States, just 47 can say with certainty that their water meets the health and safety standards the federal government established 50 years ago. That means more than half a million people cannot be sure that the rivers and lakes they swim and fish in are safe. After more than 20 years of work to correct this, the EPA announced on Wednesday a proposal to finally extend the protections guaranteed by the Clean Water Act to tribal waters that never had them.
The water brokers
A small Nevada company, Vidler Water Resources, spent decades buying water. As the West dries up, it’s cashing out.
Colorado may have its best boating season in over a decade thanks to this winter’s large snowfall
But if the deep snow melts too fast, the rafting season that might have been could end in a rush of dangerous water and debris.
Snow detectives are in the mountains to solve a mystery: Where’s all the snow going?
Scientists in Colorado are studying snow sublimation, in which snow evaporates before it can melt into water. The new data collected will help water managers across the West understand Colorado River supply.
Dust on snow seems to be increasing the chances of Rio Grande drying this year through Albuquerque
We have a chance this year to watch a fascinating intersection of climate-change driven changes in the Rio Grande through Albuquerque as filtered through both physical infrastructure and what we call the "institutional hydrograph".
Once thick with salmon, Spokane's thundering waters pulse through our past and present — coursing on toward climate change
The falls' power in the face of human fragility can make them seem immortal, but they're not. As our combustion of fossil fuels continues to warm the earth, Spokane Falls — like everything else on our planet — faces very real danger.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife commissioners unanimously approve plan to restore wolves on Western Slope
The restoration will begin with introducing 30 to 50 gray wolves in the next three to five years. The state proposes wintertime releases of captured wolves in two areas on the Western Slope: along the Interstate 70 corridor between Glenwood Springs and Vail, and along the U.S. 50 corridor between Monarch Pass and Montrose. The first releases are planned for state or private land around the I-70 corridor.
Grizzly bear killed near Yellowstone
Responding to the scene of a dead grizzly bear Monday, officials found a mature boar shot and killed just off the North Fork Highway at MP 14 near the East Entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
Shed hunters flock to Teton County for opening day, including many out-of-staters who will face nonresident restrictions next year.
Utah to ban hunting trumpeter swans, North America’s largest bird
After four consecutive years of excessive numbers of trumpeter swans killed by hunters, Utah wildlife officials propose outlawing the hunting of the rare waterfowl.
Biden rule protecting lesser prairie-chicken overturned by U.S. Senate
Senators passed a resolution overturning a rule that listed the lesser prairie-chicken under a federal endangered species designation.
Biologists puzzled about brown trout population's decline in upper Clark Fork River
The once-abundant brown trout population in the upper Clark Fork River has plummeted. Recent electrofishing by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks counted only 25 fish per mile. Biologists are puzzled.
Tribe wants to gather its share of Clearwater River run: ‘We are a people who need salmon’
Feeling crowded out of the prime fishing spots in the Clearwater Basin, the Nez Perce Tribe will experiment with gill nets and drift nets during the spring chinook fishing season.
Colorado is banning pesticides that hurt bees. Here are other ways people can help the keystone species.
A new restriction on chemicals sold at garden centers in Colorado could help restore bees. Here are ways you can help the keystone species.
What else we’re reading today
‘Crisis’: Calls grow to stem violence against Indigenous women
Advocates demand urgent action on day commemorating missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in U.S. and Canada.
Alberta wildfires: 13K forced from homes, out-of-province firefighters en route to help
"This is a stark reminder of just how unpredictable and powerful wildfire can be."
For Western ranchers, harsh weather has meant brutal losses during prime calving season
Because calves are born wet they have to get dry, get a drink of milk, and warm up quickly. And the brutal weather has made that tough.
Ricketts talks: Billionaire pitches luxury Bondurant resort as conservation
TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts painted a picture of an environmentally benign utopia, a place where high-dollar guests from places like Los Angeles could take their golf carts down to view animals traveling along the world’s longest-known mule deer migration route.
Montana to ban foreign adversaries from buying property
Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill Thursday to prohibit the sale or lease of agricultural land, critical infrastructure and homes near military assets in Montana to the government, businesses and individuals from China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia or Venezuela — all countries the U.S. government designates foreign adversaries.
'Butte deserves better': EPA officials get an earful Monday night
A community meeting sponsored by EPA in Butte on Monday night included some harsh words for agency officials about the EPA's performance to date, lead levels in soil and more.
Wyoming wind farm aims for 2024 completion
As the imminent Rail Tie Wind Project clears its final hurdles, other wind farms are emerging in the northern part of Albany County — to significantly less fanfare or controversy.
First major carbon capture projects break ground at Wyoming test site
The carbon capture testing ground built at a Wyoming coal plant in 2018 is positioned, at last, to launch a pair of promising technologies from the lab to the market.
Colorado Senate advances scaled-down ozone pollution bill amid continued pushback
Colorado lawmakers advanced an air pollution bill that, despite a signification reduction in scope last month, continues to face opposition.
Forests will save us. If we let them
Peter Wohlleben changed our understanding of the inner workings of trees. Now he’s taking on the climate crisis. A Tyee Q&A.
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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