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... & the West Blog

By Madison Pobis
California is not as thirsty for Colorado River water as it once was; bouncing back from salmon struggles; listening in on blue whale heartbeats; and other environmental news from around the West.
Oct 29 2019 | ... & the West Blog
By Felicity Barringer
With outdoor recreation in its east and fossil-fuel resources on the west, can Garfield County develop an economy that serves both ends?
Sep 24 2019 | ... & the West Blog
In 1919, a difficult cross-country trek made the case for better roads in the West. The roads came, but a hundred years later, Central Nevada may be as isolated as ever.
Sep 18 2019 | ... & the West Blog
By Felicity Barringer
Updated | As was true a half century ago, forces in Washington, D.C. want to loosen emission requirements and strip California of its ability to impose tough standards for vehicle emissions, and once again, California officials are fighting back.
Sep 11 2019 | ... & the West Blog
By Sierra Garcia
As field hands rethink traveling to the U.S., some farmers have been forced to watch their produce rot in the fields. Many others are cutting back acreage.
Jul 18 2019 | ... & the West Blog
By Felicity Barringer
An academic study supports the notion that one way to mitigate wildfires is clearing out trees, brush and brambles in the forest understory, often with prescribed burns. But proponents face a slew of obstacles, from pollution concerns and shrinking seasonal windows, to the vast scale of undertreated western forestland.
Jun 26 2019 | ... & the West Blog
By Danielle Nguyen
With the state committed to decarbonizing its electricity supply by 2045, Farmington’s coal-fired power plant and mine are set to shut down. Faced with the loss of their largest employer, city leaders are considering whether to get behind an uncertain carbon-capture technology, or turn to renewables and the tourist economy.
Jun 4 2019 | ... & the West Blog
By Felicity Barringer
With new rules coming into effect, farmers and municipalities using groundwater must either find more water to support the aquifers or take cropland out of use. To ease the pain, engineers are looking to harness the torrential storms that sometimes blast across the Pacific Ocean and soak California.
May 28 2019 | ... & the West Blog
By Carolyn P. Rice
Forty percent of food produced for consumption never gets eaten, instead filling landfills and releasing greenhouse gases. With a recent law, California aims to drastically reduce the amount of food that ends up in the ground.
Apr 2 2019 | ... & the West Blog
By Felicity Barringer
In Utah, outdoor recreation is more and more of a booming business. Its impact on the land is still being understood, but there are few limits in sight.

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Graphics & the West

Where California Grows Its Food

See the most detailed survey ever done of crops and land use in California. It covers nine million acres of land devoted to grapes, alfalfa, cotton, plums, you name it – food for people and animals all over the world. View map »

California's Changing Energy Mix

A look at the energy sources California utilities have used gives us insights into the state’s progress in decarbonizing its electricity supply. In 2015, 35% of total electricity generation (in-state generation plus imported electricity) came from zero-greenhouse-gas sources, which include solar, wind, hydropower, and nuclear. View Graphic »

U.S. Conservation Easements

Conservation easements of various kinds cover more than 22 million acres of land in the United States, according to the National Conservation Easement Database, a public-private partnership. Take a look at our interactive map of nearly every conservation easement, with details on over 130,000 sites. View map »

 

...& the Best

Western Articles and Media Elsewhere
Compiled by Felicity Barringer, Madison Pobis, and Sierra Garcia

Articles Worth Reading: December 2, 2019

A Downward Trend for California’s Colorado River Water Consumption is shown by the most recent datasets. A favorable snowpack melt in the Sierras reduced the stress on Southern California water needs from the Colorado River. “Simply put, we are consistently using less water,” in spite of population growth, says Eric Kuhn, a retired general manager for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. John Fleck/Inkstain

Idaho Fisheries Managers Predict Long-term Success for Sockeye Salmon despite a small percentage of recruits making it back to Snake River. Unusually high water temperatures and harsh transitions from soft to hard water led to low success in the past few years. New adjustments to the program and favorable conditions could mean much higher returns of salmon to the Sawtooth Basin in 2020 and 2021. Associated Press/Idaho Falls Post Register

The First Recording of a Blue Whale Heartbeat Suggests an Upper Limit for Animal Size. Researchers at Stanford University recovered the data from a monitor that the team attached to a blue whale with suction cups while it was surfacing between dives near Monterey, California. During dives up to 200 meters, the 220-ton whale’s heart rate can slow to as few as two beats per minute in order to conserve oxygen. Even after surfacing, their hearts likely can’t beat faster than 37 beats per minute, and this ability to bounce between such extremes is what helps such a massive animal dive so deep for food. If a deep-diving animal were any bigger, it’s likely the heart couldn’t beat fast enough to compensate for the oxygen lost during dives. The Atlantic

Lighthouse Relocation Stirs Up Tensions in a Coastal California Town. Eroding cliffs surrounding the original landmark prompted the community to move the local Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse. Some locals want to preserve the names of those buried or lost at sea, but native tribes are worried that a new location would disturb ancestral burial grounds and reinforce painful histories. Los Angeles Times

A Man Unearths His Ancestral History of the Crow Tribe in Yellowstone Valley by inviting tribal members to share stories and spending time in Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth mountains. An archaeological excavation revealed the original foundations of a fort that had remained intact for more than 130 years. A new school curriculum centered on the fort and the history of the land has sparked new energy to honor the Apsalooke people and their traditions. Mountain Journal

Articles Worth Reading: November 18, 2019

Mining Expansion Poses Risks for a Colorado Tourist Destination. The town of Glenwood Springs relies on water flows from the Colorado River and subterranean heating to supply its popular hot springs. Denver-based mining company Rocky Mountain Resources acquired a nearby limestone quarry in 2016. Now the firm has proposed plans to expand from 20 acres to more than 450 over the next few decades. Several surrounding towns, including Glenwood Springs — a bedroom community for ski resorts — have passed resolutions opposing the expansion, citing impacts of dust, traffic, and impacts on water (read our recent report from Garfield County, Colorado). The Bureau of Land Management has not yet decided whether or not to allow it. The Denver Post

Caribou Take Home the Gold for Long-Distance Migrations. A recent study confirmed the widely cited evidence that caribou are the mammals that routinely make the longest migrations over land. Over the course of a year, caribou will travel as much as 840 miles. The New York Times

Bird Rehabilitators Seek to Ban Lead Ammunition after seeing the devastating impacts of lead toxicity in raptors like Wyoming’s golden eagles. Lead bullets shatter easily upon impact, which means that birds feeding on prey that have been shot can ingest the toxic substance and suffer severe impacts to the brain and nervous system. Many hunters are resistant to the transition because lead-free ammunition tends to be more expensive and less-suited to certain styles of hunting. WyoFile

Dry Lakes are Kicking Up Dust Throughout the West and prompting air quality officials to consider legal action. The Salton Sea in California’s Imperial County and the Utah Great Salt Lake are two of the largest contributors to dust in the wake of increasingly dry conditions. Dust in the air clogs lungs and airways and carries with it toxic compounds from agricultural sources. Bitterroot

Mountains Could Act as Batteries for Storing Gravitational Potential Energy according to new research. As western states work to meet their renewable energy goals, lithium-ion batteries often fall short when it comes to storing energy from solar or wind for more than a few hours. But by using a contraption similar to a ski lift to hoist sand up mountainsides, gravitational potential energy is stored and ready to generate electricity once the material falls down again. The system would increase the time and scale of energy storage while avoiding the drawbacks of hydropower storage, like evaporation. Utility Dive

Articles Worth Reading: November 5, 2019

Devastating Sea Urchin Invasion is Spreading to the Oregon Coast and wreaking havoc on abalone fisheries. Rapacious purple urchins have decimated California’s kelp ecosystems in recent years, and new estimates suggest that as many as 350 million of the spiny critters were latching onto a single Oregon reef — a 10,000 percent increase over the 2014 numbers. “You can't just go out and smash them. There's too many,” says Scott Groth, a shellfish scientist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Conservationists and other stakeholders are hoping to combat the issue by paying divers to remove the urchins by hand so they can be farmed for their meaty roe. Associated Press

Lasers, LiDAR, and Drones Can Detect Methane Leaks that contribute to global warming and cost the oil and gas industry as much as $30 billion per year. Tech entrepreneurs in Colorado are working to design monitoring systems that are rugged enough to be left unattended in the oil fields forlong periods but accurate enough to identify even small leaks. Yale Environment 360

The Wild Population of California Condors is Well on its Way to Recovery. There are now more than 300 condors throughout the Southwest thanks to an aggressive breeding program and a ban on lead ammunition put into effect in July. Scientists are finding that an abundance of marine mammals contributes to healthier chicks. Soon the population will reach the goals originally set for the species in the 1996 plans Hakai

New Law Requires Texas Homeowners to Disclose Flooding Risk to potential buyers in the wake of damage from Hurricane Harvey. The new law means that buyers are more informed about flood history and risk, but properties in floodplain areas may have more difficulty selling. Surveys suggest that more than 74 percent of Americans are in favor of a disclosure law that can help buyers decide whether or not to purchase a home or seek flood insurance. NPR

Navajo Woman Reflects on the Importance of her Grandmother’s Weaving. Melanie Yazzie remembers holding yarn between her feet as her grandmother wove traditional rugs in their home in Arizona. Now a printmaker and educator, she draws from her memories of her grandmother to find purpose in her work. The piece begins at the podcast’s 11:41 mark. The Moth Podcast

Articles Worth Reading: October 22, 2019

Greater-Sage Grouse Populations Stand a Better Chance, thanks to a new court ruling that found a lack of acceptable scientific support for the Trump administration’s rollback of protections on more than 9 million acres of the bird’s habitat in states like Wyoming and Oregon. The rollback in March was an effort to lease prime land for oil and gas drilling projects. This week’s court ruling, in which the judge wrote, “When the [Bureau of Land Management] substantially reduces protections for sage grouse contrary to the best science and the concerns of other agencies, there must be some analysis and justification,” is a win for conservation groups suing to get the plans thrown out. The sage grouse has already lost some 90 percent of its historic numbers. Audubon

Colorado Cannabis Growers Are Becoming More Energy-Efficient by taking advantage of sustainable investments in technology. Carbon emissions are rising with the expansion of the legal marijuana industry because indoor growing operations rely on huge amounts of electricity to power cooling and lighting equipment. Creative design systems and a rigorous energy offset program are helping to keep the state on track for its efficiency goals in the next few years. The Denver Post

Shellfish Farming Permit Thrown Out Due to Concerns for the Marine Environment in the Pacific Northwest. A federal judge found the Army Corps of Engineers didn’t properly analyze the environmental impact of aquaculture farms. The industry takes in nearly $150 million per year in Washington state, the hub of shellfish aquaculture. Critics said the original permit doesn’t account for potential damage from microplastics, herbicides, and tideland conversion. The Seattle Times

Ecologists Lobby for Wildlife-Friendly Highway Crossings Along the Border With Mexico. Mexico’s Highway 2 intersects a wildlife corridor that could be used by populations of endangered species like jaguars, ocelots, and black bears traveling between Arizona and Sonora. Wildlands Network is pushing for additions to highway construction that would direct animals to safe crossings and maximize their chances of survival during dangerous travel. ASU Cronkite News/Arizona PBS

Wild Burros Aren’t All Bad for the Death Valley Ecosystem according to ongoing research. Yes, the donkeys compete for resources with the park’s native species, but they may also serve other beneficial purposes. By digging wells in dry streambeds, they create small water sources for insects and amphibians and help struggling tree species germinate. The default option is to round up and remove the burros, but there may be unintended consequences for the complex desert ecosystem. Undark

Articles Worth Reading: October 7, 2019

California Fisherman Are Repeatedly Catching and Releasing Protected Great White Sharks Without Consequences due to cloudy language in the law. Although state regulations strictly prohibit killing a Great White, it’s almost impossible to prosecute because anglers can claim the catches were accidental. Changing ocean conditions mean that more of the animals are sticking around in Southern California, spurring advocates to call for heftier penalties for illegal takes. Hakai Magazine

More Than 80,000 Wild Horses Ended up in Foreign Slaughterhouses Last Year even though killing horses for food is illegal in in the U.S. “Kill buyers” say that exporting to Canada and Mexico decreases the exploding population and helps feed the world, but animal rights activists say that the Bureau of Land Management can do more to protect adoptable horses. The New Food Economy

The Western Rivers Conservancy Conserves Vital River Habitat by Purchasing Land and partnering with local managers. The recent acquisition of old-growth forest surrounding the Blue Creek watershed marks a 10-year effort to preserve critical salmon streams. The organization has purchased and conserved an estimated 175,000 acres of riparian habitat since its founding three decades ago. The acquisitions are handed over to stewards who are expected to implement long-term conservation management plans and make the lands more accessible to the public. Modern Conservationist

The Right of Personhood for the Klamath River Means It Can Bring Cases in Tribal Court, opening up avenues for legal advocacy and shifting the conversation around indigenous knowledge. The move follows a precedent set by New Zealand tribes and an international indigenous movement called Rights of Nature. Although no case has yet been brought to court, the Yurok Tribe’s resolution means that issues like pollution, diseased fish, and even climate change can now be addressed through tribal court. High Country News

A Small Alaska Town Is Slowly Being Consumed by Rusting Cars along with refrigerators, forks, shoes, and everything else imported by plane and boat. With limited options for removing waste once it arrives, Bethel’s citizens instead create graveyards of junk and spare parts. Native Yup’ik Elder Esther Green says that the abandoned cars are more than an eyesore — they’re a disturbance to their native land. “Everything around us has ears, and they can see and they can feel. Just like us human beings.” 99 Percent Invisible Podcast

 

Recent Center News

Dec 2 2019 | ... & the West Blog, ... & the Best | Stories Recommended by the ‘... & the West’ Blog
California is not as thirsty for Colorado River water as it once was; bouncing back from salmon struggles; listening in on blue whale heartbeats; and other environmental news from around the West.
Nov 11 2019 | Center News, Happenings, ArtsWest
A curatorial tour of a new Cantor Arts Center exhibition gave audiences a glimpse of iconic Western photographs.
Nov 1 2019 | Stanford News Service | Center News, Research Notes
The new normal for Western wildfires is abnormal, with increasingly bigger and more destructive blazes. Understanding the risks can help communities avert disaster.