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Articles Worth Reading: July 20, 2017

... & the Best

Are wolves a phantom menace in parts of Oregon? Cattle ranchers vs. the oil industry, green energy hits an unprepared grid, restoring soils the old-fashioned way, and more: some of the best recent reads.

By Felicity Barringer

Ever Since Wolves Returned around the West, Ranchers’ Conviction they Are Destroying Livestock has helped them get compensation. Not all their claims are well documented, and special state set-asides are showing the strain of payments. One rancher said that last year wolves killed 41 calves and 11 cows in Baker County — where there are 3 resident wolves and no confirmed wolf kill of livestock since 2012. Earth Fix | Oregon Public Radio

Land Wars Are Nothing New Around the West, but an Ongoing One Near Rifle, Colorado Has a New Twist. To keep an Conoco Phillips subsidiary off 2,500 federal land where one ranching family has grazed cattle for decades, Susan Robinson, a widow who owns an adjacent 560 acres, has gone to court to prove that title is hers because her family’s cattle occupied it uninterrupted for 18 years. The oil company, TOSCO, says it installed a pipe without Robinson’s objection, which weakens her claim. But she traces the fights over this land back to Joseph Robinson, her late husband’s grandfather. Denver Post

Until Western States’ Electrical Grid Is Less Balkanized, Electricity Is Not Efficiently Used.  Our colleague Natasha Mmonatau's reporting is confirmed by a new analysis that explains that, thanks to a bumper harvest of sunshine this spring, California had to discard enough electrons to power 55,000 homes for six months, simply because the divided authority over the grid meant it couldn’t get the power to places that needed it. A representative of the Natural Resources Defense Council is urging that these barriers fall. High Country News

Farmers Have Centuries of Knowledge Built into the Way They Deal with the Earth, but that Knowledge, Like their Soil, Is Being Reworked. In Moonpark, California, John and Molly Chester are using their organic farm as an experiment in building healthy soil through regenerative farming. The idea is to allow soil to replenish itself, making fertilizer increasingly unnecessary. Another effect is allowing the soil to store carbon, by not plowing up the soil. It’s another ay to limit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. (Video) KCET

Showing When Water Conservation Is Good for Utilities and for Homeowners, a Chicago-based research group’s new report on the Arizona towns of Tucson and Gilbert is a conservationist’s dream. In the wake of sharp cuts in water use starting in the mid-1980’s, Tucson’s water rates are 11.7 percent lower; and conservation ensures that total water use remained the same over three decades, while the population grew by 240,000. Circle of Blue

The West’s Fire Season Roars on, endangering electricity at Yosemite National Park; 4,000 residents of Mariposa County have been evacuated. Los Angeles Times

 

Previously: Articles Worth Reading: July 10, 2017

 

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...& the Best

Western Articles and Media Elsewhere
Compiled by Felicity Barringer, Francisco L. Nodarse, Devon Burger, and Madison Pobis

Articles Worth Reading: May 26, 2020

Glacial Retreat in Alaska’s Prince William Sound Could Cause a Megatsunami, climate scientists warned last week. The glacier, subject to extensive calving thanks to climate change, could dislodge a massive slope of rock and dirt, spawning a wave hundreds of feet high that would destroy much of the heavily-touristed bay. Researchers have urged local authorities to set up monitoring to address the growing threat. The New York Times

Bureaucratic Mismanagement is Undermining Wildfire Preparedness in the face of the coronavirus epidemic. Wildland firefighting crews have received little guidance from their parent organizations, and are struggling to respond to the changing public health situation, raising alarm among firefighters and politicians alike. Grist

Questions About The BLM’s Billion-Dollar Plan to Curb Wild Horse Populations and protect rangeland. It is designed to promote sustainable grazing and envisions the capture of hundreds of thousands of horses over two decades. Some groups remain skeptical, however, arguing that the plan aims to assist cattle ranchers without establishing clear protections for wild horse populations. The Salt Lake Tribune

The Grand Canyon’s Inter-Tribal Working Group Renovated the Park’s Interpretive Sites as part of a broader effort to include indigenous histories in park curricula. Renovations at the Hopi Tower, aimed at preserving Hopi culture, could usher in a more harmonious working relationship between the Park Service and local groups. National Parks Conservation Association

A Lawsuit Brought Against the Federal Government by the Yurok Tribe Was Blocked when a federal court, which affirmed the government's decision to limit water flows on the Klamath River. Attorneys representing the Yurok had argued that diminished water flows would threaten Coho Salmon habitat near the river’s mouth. The ruling, a blow to Yurok efforts to preserve traditional salmon fishing, comes in the wake of mass fish die-offs due to bacterial infections. E&E News

The Hmong Flower Farmers of Seattle Adapt to Coronavirus Closures A long-time staple of the iconic Pike Place Market have drawn strength from their refugee experiences. The Seattle Times

Articles Worth Reading: May 11, 2020

A Series of Interstate Water Disputes Looms Over the Supreme Court. Texas v. New Mexico, an upcoming case on Pecos River floodwater storage, appears to be the first of a new breed of showdowns over water rights in the West. In the lineup for high court review is a separate case pitting Texas against New Mexico and Colorado over water distribution from the Rio Grande. The impact of climate change is being felt in all the rivers under dispute. E&E News

Bioluminescent Waves Marked the Reopening of California’s Beaches in the wake of coronavirus closures. The annual phenomenon, a result of phytoplankton blooms, was the most vibrant in decades, offering a welcome reprieve from the lockdown that has kept beaches off-limits for weeks. The Guardian

Bureaucratic Roadblocks Remain an Obstacle to Reparations Claims more than half a century after the end of nuclear testing in the West. Even as the legacy of radiation exposure continues to sicken downwind communities, relief under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act — which is set to expire in 2022 — remains elusive for Indigenous families, who often lack the formal documents required to apply. High Country News

A Global Study Pinpointed the Colorado River Basin as One of the World's Most Vulnerable Agricultural Regions. Environmental scientists from Colorado State University, noting the risk to snowmelt posed by rising temperatures, found that decreased water availability could affect the food security of people dependent on crops grown with Colorado water, as well as two billion people worldwide. The Denver Post

Sightings of the Asian Giant Hornet in the Pacific Northwest Have Raised Fears that the invasive species could establish a foothold in the United States — and wipe out bee populations. The hornets, which had not previously been documented in the country, are known for their ferocious stings, and predilection for attacking bees. The New York Times

Lakota Activists Looking Toward the Next Battle to Protect Indigenous Land — in this case against the proposed Dewey-Burdock uranium mine. The Canadian-owned project in South Dakota’s Black Hills has stirred controversy from the start, owing to water-intensive mining practices, and the sacred history of the land it would cover. Activists hope that by continuing to draw out the legal battle over the mine’s permit, they can discourage investors from supporting construction — and set an important precedent for conservation efforts nationwide. Mother Jones

A New Podcast Looks at the History of Public Lands in the West. Common Land’s inaugural episode, a deep dive into the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, reveals the falconer Morley Nelson’s pioneering efforts to preserve the country’s densest raptor nesting ground. Radio Boise

Articles Worth Reading: April 27, 2020

Researchers at Arizona State University Begin to Track COVID-19 Outbreak Through Wastewater. A pilot study conducted in Tempe revealed that wastewater-based epidemiology can accurately and precisely identify clusters of infection among individuals for a fraction of the cost of traditional testing. Early results indicate that if implemented nationwide, the technique could screen as much as 70 percent of Americans, enabling a more efficient resolution to the current crisis. Eurekalert

The Southwest Is Suffering From the First Anthropogenic Megadrought on record. The drought, which has ravaged the region for two decades, is the second-worst in the last 1,000 years, according to extensive analysis of tree-ring data. Researchers believe that strict regulations on water usage are a first step towards coping with the crisis, but that without broader efforts to combat climate change, such droughts will become increasingly frequent and intense. The Washington Post

Farmworkers across the West Classified as Essential Workers but excluded them from aid payments. Roughly half of farmworkers are unauthorized and ineligible for stimulus checks; two-thirds remain uninsured even as their employers accept nearly ten billion in stimulus money earmarked for agriculture. The vast majority of ranchers and growers have failed to provide paid sick leave or best practice guidelines for their employees. Reveal News

Fieldwork Is on Hold as Environmental Scientists Follow Social Distancing Regulations. Projects requiring on-site data collection, like conservation efforts designed to reintroduce native species and track invasive ones, have been postponed indefinitely, and scientists fear that the resulting gaps in data could undermine decades of research. Crosscut

Biologists Fight Government Efforts to Remove Lynx Protections in the Pacific Northwest. A Washington state survey of lynx populations revealed that habitat destroyed by forest fires in 2018 has yet to be recolonized — and that warming temperatures create a vicious cycle in which that habitat becomes less suitable. Though the exact number of wild lynx in the region remains unknown, researchers believe that southern populations in Colorado, Montana, and Idaho could be wiped out without continued protection. The New York Times

A Report Attributing Kilauea’s 2018 Eruption to Rainfall Sent Shockwaves through the geology community. Using hundreds of years of historical data, vulcanologists at the University of Miami identified a link between heavy rain and volcanic activity. Other geologists, however, maintained that the eruption — the most explosive in the volcano’s recorded history — could not have been caused by rainfall alone. Scientific American

Amateur Botanists Discovered 10 Lost Apple Varieties in the Pacific Northwest as part of the Lost Apple Project’s ongoing effort to shed light on a lesser-known part of American history. The apple varieties, which were recovered from abandoned orchards across the region, could help restore early homesteaders' efforts to the historical record. Associated Press

Shale Oil Producers Across the West are Shuttering in the face of plummeting oil prices. A global surplus coupled with non-existent demand has sent crude oil prices to new lows, causing major producers to close fracking installations and sending thousands of family-owned operations into bankruptcy. The Guardian

Articles Worth Reading: April 14, 2020

Billions of Birds Could Die as the Trump administration moves to roll back the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Bipartisan condemnation of the decision — which would reverse a hundred years of regulations — has failed to shake corporate support for the rule change. One industry leader suggested “the birds themselves are the actors.” Associated Press The Seattle Times

On the Navajo Nation, a Serious Spike in COVID-19 Deaths, as local officials scramble to respond. Authorities have enacted curfews, set up checkpoints, and airlifted medical equipment into rural communities as epidemiologists warn that risk factors — like limited access to running water, the large number of background health conditions, and multigenerational households — could exacerbate the disease’s spread and intensity in the region. The New York Times

Wildlife Is Rebounding in Yosemite amid the park's longest closure in modern history. Animal populations typically relegated to less-trafficked parts of the park are enjoying the lack of visitors, with hotel staff observing large increases in the numbers of bears, bobcats, and other predators. Los Angeles Times

Hunting in Wildlife Refuges Is Part of Federal Plans to Expand Recreational Access on two million-plus acres of federal land. The plans were unveiled during the Department of the Interior’s annual review. Fishing and hunting for once-protected species would be allowed in more than 100 national wildlife refuges that have been off-limits. Salt Lake Tribune

Farm-to-Table Supply Chains Have Come Undone n the wake of the coronavirus’s spread, sowing uncertainty among restaurant owners and farmers alike. Once an obscure pipe dream, the farm-to-table industry generated $12 billion in 2019; now, with restaurant, university, and corporate closures, demand has collapsed, and farmers are struggling to adapt. As individuals become the main supporters of local farms, the increase in labor-intensive packaging and distribution is crushing profits, and leaving some low-skilled workers behind. The New York Times

Arizona Is Sinking thanks to both rising temperatures and the exhaustion of groundwater resources. Scientists at the University of Arizona say that massive subsidence zones — fissures that swallow infrastructure and livestock — are appearing around the state, as hotter air evaporates groundwater and withers plants, making agriculture more water-intensive. And the problem will only get worse: “Even the most moderate warming projection" would cause an annual loss in groundwater volume equivalent to the contents of Lake Powell. High Country News

California Has Approved the Largest Dam Removal Project in history. PacifiCorp, which operates the four dams along the Klamath River that are set for removal, plans to transfer ownership to a nonprofit that will oversee the $450 million project. Local tribes cheered the decision, which ideally will restore the Klamath’s salmon runs. But landowners remain opposed, fearing the removal would lower property values. E&E News

Articles Worth Reading: March 30, 2020

The Economics of California Farming Could Be Upended as the new coronavirus begins to infect farmworkers and continues to shut restaurant customers. One sixth-generation farmer told California’s Public Policy Information Center, “The big concern going forward is the virus going through our workforce. The disruptions of food supply we’re seeing in stores right now is caused by … difficulty keeping shelves stocked. But if there’s disruption on farms—if crops don’t get harvested in time or the logistics for getting food to market go down, that would be much scarier.” PPIC

Sheltering May Affect Wildlife as human-wildlife interactions decrease. Three mountain lions have been spotted in residential neighborhoods in north Boulder, Colorado, causing some surprise. Experts are unsure how quarantine will affect wildlife patterns overall. Boulder Daily Camera

“Victory Gardens,” Popular During WWII, Are Seeing a Comeback during the era of COVID-19. Nurseries in Seattle are seeing an increase in edible plant sales as citizens prepare for anything. Crosscut NPR

Arizona “Nestwatchers” Monitor Breeding Bald Eagles to protect the birds. Nestwatchers work 10 days in a row, staying near the nest day and night to make sure the bald eagles are safe. The program is so popular that there’s a waitlist to get involved, and there has been a significant growth in bald eagle population since the program began. Cronkite News/Elemental

Utah in Next in Line for an Earthquake Alert System. ShakeAlert, the system developed by the U.S. Geological Survey, is being tested along the West Coast and has the potential to give a few seconds of warning—enough for medical procedures to pause, gas lines to automatically shut down, and trains to stop. Salt Lake Tribune

Western Monarch Butterfly Populations are Declining, and scientists are hoping to discover why. By collecting photo submissions of monarchs, they can better understand the butterflies’ habits and help the populations rebound. The New York Times

Articles Worth Reading: March 20, 2020

Economists’ New Estimates of the Supply of Health Facilities Show Surprise Findings around the West on average, rural areas have more beds per person than urban areas, thanks to a 23-year-old federal program to keep rural facilities open. Still, in Idaho, Oregon, Colorado, and New Mexico 19,000 seniors live in counties without hospital beds. High Country News

Will Coronavirus and the Oil Shock Accelerate or Decelerate the Path to Decarbonization? What will it mean for shale-drilling companies in places like Texas? (Start at 7:50) The Energy Gang Podcast / Greentech Media Texas Tribune

For Stir-Crazy Shut-Ins, National Parks Are Now Free. But the systems that control visitors won’t be working. In Utah’s Zion National Park, the shuttles are gone and the traffic is crazy. And gateway communities aren’t sure they want tourists right now. San Jose Mercury News Salt Lake Tribune High Country News

We Know Much of the West’s Water Supports for Agriculture. Now We Know That Much Agriculture Supports Cattle. The nonprofit Sustainable Water has done extensive research showing as much as 50 percent of Colorado River water goes to feed the cattle that produce our hamburgers and yoghurt. The detailed tracing they’ve done gives growers, policymakers, and consumers a lot of power to make different choices. National Geographic

Intense Acidification of the Arctic Ocean, Made Worse by Ice Melt, Harms Species at the base of the food web. One of the biggest impacts is the way the more acid water makes it harder for creatures to form shells, making it harder for them to survive. Hakai Magazine

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 »

 

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