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Articles Worth Reading: November 30, 2017

... & the Best

This year’s massive West Coast fires have left an expanding list of environmental and political challenges; California gets an early Christmas present as statewide greenhouse gas emissions fall faster than expected; the Supreme Court will not reconsider a decision giving the Agua Caliente tribe groundwater rights; and more of the past week’s best western environmental journalism.

By Josh Lappen

California Greenhouse Gas Emissions Dropped Precipitously from 2015 to 2016, according to the state’s annual carbon accounting report. That unanticipated decline was due largely to rapid diversification in the state’s energy sector; in 2016, there was a 30 percent gain in the generation of solar power. As a bellwether proposed natural gas plant in Southern California faces cancelation, observers are now wondering whether California has built its last fossil fuel plant ever. Even so, the drop masked more worrisome developing trends, including a slight increase in transportation emissions, which the state has struggled to control. Southern California Public Radio UtilityDive

Long-Term Threats From the Deadly West Coast Fires are emerging. Fire ecologists argue that the firefighting methods and restoration practices now in use harm wildlife conservation and water quality. They seek to stop salvage logging in burned lands, arguing that snag forestland provides rare and vital habitat and helps enable regrowth. And the increased usage of fire-retardant chemicals has spurred a fight over water quality, toxic impacts on wildlife, and proper firefighting practices. All this comes amidst an ongoing Congressional battle to fully fund the U.S. Forest Service’s firefighting programs. Oregon Public Broadcasting The Guardian Water Deeply

Agua Caliente Tribe Gains Landmark New Water Rights, disrupting water management in the Coachella Valley and potentially magnifying tribal water rights across the country. The Supreme Court will not hear an appeal of a circuit court decision granting the tribe groundwater rights. Desert Sun

Colorado Farmers Taxed Themselves to Conserve Water, and it worked. Faced with impending aquifer collapse after prolonged drought, farmers in the San Luis Valley voted six years ago to impose fees on groundwater usage for the first time. The surprising results show that water usage has dropped significantly, the aquifer has recharged, and the farmers remain in business. This experience suggests a strategy for other agricultural communities facing water shortages. NPR

In the Midst of Monument Rollbacks, Interior Secretary Zinke Proposes Protections for the Badger-Two Medicine area in Montana. Badger-Two Medicine is a region of Lewis and Clark National Forest sacred to the Blackfeet Nation, and has been the site of repeated fights in the recent past over drilling and development. Locals attribute Zinke’s rumored decision, which runs counter to the developing themes of his tenure, to his familiarity with the area and his statewide political ambitions. Montana Public Radio

 

Previously: Articles Worth Reading: November 16, 2017

 

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...& the Best

Western Articles and Media Elsewhere
Compiled by Felicity Barringer

Articles Worth Reading: Sept. 11, 2018

In 27 Years, California Plans to Eliminate Carbon From Its Electrical Grid. That’s the central aim of legislation signed Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown. A year after a similar bill failed, the new measure underlines California’s desire to be the nation’s leader on working to slow climate change — the shifting weather that has turbocharged the state’s wildfires and caused increasing destruction from Redding to Santa Barbara. Meanwhile, wind developers are eyeing the California coast as a place to create new renewable energy for a changing grid. InsideClimate News Utility Dive

A Floating Boom a Third of a Mile Long is the Newest Garbage Collector in the Pacific Ocean. Its mission: start cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This gyre of sailing detritus has an estimated 1.8 trillion objects rotating slowly between California and Hawaii, and California. The nonprofit Ocean Cleanup is investing $20 million in the project. But can it really remove the 87,000 tons of plastic? New York Times/Associated Press

The Killer of Swaths of Bigleaf Maples in Washington State Is Unknown, but its impact is being felt from Washington State south to California. These trees, whose leaves can stretch a foot across, can grow 100 feet tall. Their impressive silhouettes mean that the landscape changes dramatically as they die. The U.S. Forest Service and the University of Washington, and the Washington state Department of Natural Resources have been studying the maples, but no diseases or insects have been found in significant numbers. So no known culprit. Seattle Times/Tacoma News Tribune

Bighorn Sheep and Moose Tell Their Friends Where to Go for the best food, a new study shows. The notion that migration behaviors, following the green wave of food around the West, was a learned behavior and not a product of genetic inheritance, had been around for a while. The thought was “they just have to learn how to do this,” said Matthew Kauffman, an ecologist at the University of Wyoming. So he set up a study involving bighorn sheep that were transplanted into an area unfamiliar to them, but where established herds existed. Without genetic coding for this particular migration, they did it anyway. National Geographic

Some Called Him ‘The Renaissance Man of the West;’ His Maps Combined Geography, History and Whimsy into one package. Jo Mora, an immigrant from Uruguay, did some sculpture and coin design before finding maps to be his metier. One observer said “They’re almost like books,” to be perused in bits and pieces at several sittings. The maps he left are cartographic cartoons, telling not just the shape of the state, but the stories of its places. Atlas Obscura

Articles Worth Reading: Sept. 1, 2018

Hunters Have Waited More Than 40 Years To Shoot Grizzlies around Yellowstone National Park. The wait was almost over, when a federal district judge delayed the hunt for two weeks to study whether the federal Fish and Wildlife Service erred in lifting protections from the bears. Judge Dana Christiansen wrote, “harm to…members [of endangered species] is irreparable because once a member of an endangered species has been injured, the task of preserving that species becomes all the more difficult.” Casper Star-Tribune Montana Free Press

Canada’s Transmoutain Pipeline, Whose Growth Was A Key Aim of the Canadian Government, Just Lost its bid for expansion in court. The Canadian Federal Court of Appeal overturned approval of the pipeline because the government failed to adequately consider native nations’ concerns and didn’t take environmental impacts into account. Opposition groups had argued that the risks of oil spills in the Salish Sea — home to an already-endangered killer whales — and the potential hazards of increased petroleum tanker traffic are too high a price to pay for an economic boom. The expansion could have tripled the 750-mile pipeline’s capacity bringing up to 890.000 barrels a day from tar sands in Edmonton to the coast of British Columbia. Oregon Public Broadcasting Grist Reuters

Facebook and the Navajo Nation Commit to Renewables, but on very different scales. The year-old Solar Project – built mostly by Navajo workers – is the largest tribally-owned renewable power plant in the country and has been operating a year. Generating 27.3 megawatts, it provides enough power for 18,000 Navajo nation homes – the same number that had been without electricity a decade ago. Facebook, the social media giant in Menlo Park, California, is also expanding its uses for renewable power, but on a far vaster level. It has committed to powering its global operations with completely renewable energy by the end of 2020, in party by positioning data centers near electrical grids that can accommodate more renewables. In the last year Facebook has signed contracts for more than 2.5 gigawatts of renewables, Cronkite News/Elemental Utility Dive

Lake Mead Has Been Using Lake Powell to Keep Its Levels Up and postpone the moment when drought contingency plans are triggered because its level has dipped below 1,075 feet. But scientists now report that this draining of Lake Powell can’t go on forever: it is now 48 percent full, while Lake Mead is 38 percent full. “We’re draining Lake Powell to prop it up,” said one scientist. Arizona Republic

Is The Current Drought Just the Beginning? David Gutzler, a climate scientist at the University of New Mexico, says “It is possible that the next big megadrought is upon us, and we’re right in the middle of it.” The snowpack that supplies the upper half of the Rio Grade has decreased 25 percent in the past 40 years. The Elephant Butte reservoir, the largest in the upper Rio Grande, is just six percent full, down from 24 percent last winter. Some 500 years ago, tree rings tell us, a megadrought hit the Southwest just as the Spanish arrived; the population was decimated. And a study shows that climate change increase the chances of a megadrought to 70 percent or more. Quartz

Articles Worth Reading: August 21, 2018

Colorado River Cutbacks Possible by 2020, the Bureau of Reclamation forecasts.The result could be water shortages in the Lower Basin states of Arizona, New Mexico. If Lake Mead’s elevator drops below 1,075 feet, as is likely in 2019, decade-old agreements mean downstream users will lose water the next year. Arizona farmers would be hit hardest. KUNC Radio Circle of Blue John Fleck

Arizona Farmers Who Depend on Irrigation Will Fight Cutbacks before they let one third of Pinal County’s agricultural fields go fallow. “That’s a pill we’re not going to swallow,” said one, a board member of the Maricopa-Stanfield Irrigation and Drainage District, one of the county’s largest. “It would be a huge economic hardship.” Water Deeply

Phoenix Has Learned That Heat Can Kill, and More Is Killing More People. As summer temperatures have reached well above 100 degrees for days on end, Phoenix lost 155 people to heat-related deaths in 2017. To gird itself against the “silent storm” of heat deaths in the future, it aims to prepare for heat emergencies the way other cities prepare for hurricanes. Phoenix is in competition for a $500 million grant to make its ideas a reality. KJZZ/NPR

When It Comes to Sage Grouse Protections, Wyoming Wants to Keep Its Level of Protection. Even as the Interior Department seeks cutbacks in requirements for mitigating the destruction of sage grouse habitat, the state that houses one-third of these birds is pushing back. The federal government apparently will not disturb Wyoming’s rules even as it cuts back on similar safeguards of its own. In a recent letter to the Bureau of Land Management, Gov. Matt Mead said the federal agency should “defer to the state’s assessment of how to apply avoidance, minimization and, if necessary, compensatory mitigation to address impacts to this State-managed species.” Wyofile

The Ocean Off the San Diego Coast Just Broke All-Time Temperature Records. “Just like we have heatwaves on land, we also have heatwaves in the ocean,” said Art Miller of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. At risk are kelp forests and coral reefs, and the marine “heatwaves” last longer than those in the atmosphere. A new study predicts they will become more common. The Guardian

The Last Salmon Cannery in British Columbia Is a Sign of the Future, as Native Nations are taking over the business of processing the fish that have sustained them for centuries. In 2015, the owner of St. Jean’s cannery, Gerard St. Jean, sold a controlling interest in his family’s business to NCN Cannery LP, a partnership between five of the 14 Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations that call the western side of Vancouver Island home. Hakai Magazine

Midsummer Heat and Fire: August 6, 2018

How Hot is it Around the West This Year? Hotter and hotter. A landmark: Death Valley just had the highest temperature on Earth. Again. The Washington Post

How Have Wildfires Changed? The fire tornado is the newest phenomenon that is defining wildfires during this, one of the most destructive and unusually hot summers in human history. “From an on-the-ground, human perspective, July looked and felt like hell.” Six of California’s 10 most destructive fires have occurred in the past 10 months. The Carr fire near Redding, California (animation), has burned more than 1,500 homes. Grist

How are the Fires Hurting the Air We Breathe? Air quality in parts of the Rocky Mountain states of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana as well as parts of California, Oregon and Washington has got significantly worse, even as the rest of the country has experienced a sharp improvement in air quality, “There’s a big red bullseye over that northern Rockies area where they are getting the big wildfires,” said a co-author of a University of Washington study. The link between the smoke and illness or death is sometimes complicated; smoke exacerbates a range of conditions. No death certificate cites “air pollution” as the cause of death. The smoke from the deadly Ferguson fire near Yosemite (animation) is making Fresno’s air extremely unhealthy. The Guardian/Climate Desk Fresno Bee

How Are We Going to Pay for Fighting Fires? Congress just changed the way in which the federal government will pay for large fires, but it may not make a dent in controlling the burgeoning costs of fighting big fires. Fire seasons are longer, and there is more to burn. Climate change, the fire deficit on many western lands and development in the wildland-urban interface ensure that the potential for major fires is baked into the system for decades to come. Scientific American/The Conversation

How Can We Preserve Some of the Forests We Inherited? Without major ecological investments, Arizona risks losing its ponderosa forests in a generation. It's likely too late to save it all, so federal foresters and their allies are racing against the next megafires to choose the places that matter most. Some areas are crucial to the survival of rare birds or the small mammals whose paws scatter the seeds of new forests. Some areas, after fires, could filter ash and debris from water headed for city systems, reducing treatment costs, and preventing post-fire floods. But all this means major investment in thinning trees.“We’re really managing for the future, so we have a forest,” said a silviculturalist for the federal Forest Service. Arizona Republic

What Does it Mean to Live Amid the Heat and Fire? “One truism about the future is that climate change will spare no place. Still, I suspect the threat of warming feels more existential in New Mexico than it does in Minnesota…. The fire risk was so high by June 1 that the U.S. Forest Service closed all 1.6 million acres of the forest to the public. The forecasts for our water supplies are equally grim.…. Staying put may not mean that Colin and I lose what we’ve put into our home, and it may not mean running out of water. But it may mean bearing witness to the slow death of the Rio Grande. It may mean biting our nails every June, hoping this won’t be the year that a mushroom cloud of smoke rises from the Santa Fe Mountains, which are primed for a destructive fire.” High Country News

July 24, 2018

Factory Nut Farms Drain an Aquifer in Arizona; Homes Go Dry. There are 356,000 acres of nut orchards in the Sulphur Spring Valley. And to ensure a constant water supply, farmers can drill a well 1,000 feet deep every 160 acres. As yearly water consumption doubled, the soil in the aquifer collapsed, and the elevation sank 15 feet in places. Now a water-truck delivery services must ensure water for homeowners. Many have abandoned their homes. The New York Times

Endangering the Endangered Species Act? Or Making Sensible Changes? The moves to change the 45-year-old law credited with saving the bald eagle began in Congress, where legislation to change the law has percolated for years. That accelerated this year, and now the Trump Administration proposes major changes. The Washington Post ASU Cronkite News

Feds Returning Mining to a Place That Had Left It Behind. Once a coal town in Colorado’s Western slope, Paonia has transformed itself over the past few decades. It’s now known for wineries, boutiques, galleries and organic farms that draw tourists from nearby ski resorts. But Paonia’s shift away from its fossil fuel roots could be reversed under the Trump administration’s new push to maximize oil and gas leasing on federal land. Reveal/E&E News

Climate Change Leaving Wild Horses Dying of Thirst on the Navajo reservation. Last month, more than 100 were found dead, stuck in thick mud near a dried-up stock pond. Now a dozen volunteers are taking care of 200 other horses of the more than 30,000 horses counted on the reservation in 2016. But because of horses’ competition with cattle for sparse forage, the tribal government hopes to partner with outside groups to get some horses adopted. KJZZ via Elemental

As Wildfires Spread, Scientists Try to Understand Health Impacts. With fires spreading and air quality alerts being called around the West, scientific efforts to correlate the particulates from the widespread smoke have redoubled. Two Colorado universities and the University of Washington are part of an unprecedented effort, costing more than $30 million, to map the fire-sparked air pollution, using aircraft, satellites and vans full of high-tech equipment. Boulder Daily Camera Science Magazine

June 1, 2018

Mussels Off Coast of Seattle Test Positive for Opioids, according to scientists at the Puget Sound Institute at the University of Washington Tacoma. The mussels were contaminated, they said, by oxycodone present in sewage that was treated at wastewater plants and pumped into the sound. Mussels are bottom feeders and filterers that often test positive for other drugs, but this is the first time they’re known to have been polluted with opioids. Huffington Post

Court Rules Montana Broke Law in Allowing Gold Drilling North of Yellowstone. The district court found that environmental regulators ignored environmental concerns and illegally approved Lucky Minerals Inc.’s plans to drill for gold in Emigrant Gulch, a narrow canyon near Chico Hot Springs. Opponents believe the drilling may lead to an industrial-scale mine that could harm the environment, water quality and the region’s tourism-based economy. The court directs the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to complete a more extensive environmental review Bozeman Daily Chronicle

California Governor Sets Permanent Water Restrictions . Although California declared an end to one of its longest-lasting droughts this past year, Governor Jerry Brown signed two new laws that would require cities, urban water districts, and large agricultural water districts to set strict annual water budgets – or risk fines. Three factors should go into the new standards: an allowance of 55 gallons per person per day for indoor water use; a set amount for residential outdoor use that will vary depending on regional climates; and a standard for water loss from leaky pipes. The Mercury News

Interior Department Plans to Auction 4,000 Acres of Northern Arizona Public Land for Oil Exploration. The decision follows the Trump administration's rollback of environmental protections for oil and gas leases on public lands. Local environmental organizations are prepared to challenge the plans in court, claiming that drilling and fracking the land, which straddles the Little Colorado River, could deplete and pollute groundwater. White Mountain Independent

Conservation and Human Rights Groups Link Up to Protest Border Wall. Organizations opposed to the proposed wall plan to gather on June 2 at the site of new border wall construction near the Santa Teresa Port of Entry, west of El Paso, Texas. The groups cite concerns from militarization of border communities, to the threat to wildlife, endangered species, and public land. KRWG Las Cruces

May 21, 2018

Congress Could Prevent Closure of Navajo Coal Plant and Mine. The bill, drafted by Rep. Paul Gosar, an Arizona Republican who serves on the Committee on Natural Resources, would address several problems facing the plant that is now up for sale. The legislation exempts the new owner of the plant from the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Air Act. Opponents, like Navajo representative Nicole Horseherder, say that it “should be called a tribal exploitation act,” because it would remove environmental safeguards for the Navajo people. Arizona Star

To Clean Up the Willamette River, Oregon Hopes to Remove Homeless Camps. The Department of State Lands proposed a measure that would ban people from camping alongside a stretch of public-owned beach along the river. The river is undergoing cleanup after years of industrial pollution, including several oil spills. However, these beaches have become increasingly popular for homeless people, whose tents and fires are blamed for destroying nearby vegetation. Oregonian

Six States Are Suing Washington State for Blocking Coal Port Expansion. Attorneys general from Montana, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, Utah, and South Dakota filed a joint amicus brief against the Washington Department of Ecology. That office had denied the environmental permits necessary for the expansion of the Millennium Bulk Terminal based in Longview, saying it would cause “significant and unavoidable harm” to the environment. Attorney General Fox of Montana, the latest to join the lawsuit, says politicians are “hold[ing] coal states hostage.” Missoula Current

Local Resistance to Native Tribes’ Push to Change Two Names on Map of Yellowstone National Park A geologist and a soldier, one of whom is said to have advocated for the “extermination” of native people and the other of whom has been a war crimes in an Indian massacre, both are memorialized in the park, by Hayden Valley and Mount Diane. Tribal groups petitioned the U.S. Board of Geographic Names for a change; local county commissioners are pushing back. WyoFile

New Focus on Small Farmworker Communities’ Bad Drinking Water. California's Central Valley is home to 19 percent of food production in the world, but about 100,000 of its residents have lived without clean drinking water for decades, and a million may do so today. Two audio reports look at the reasons, the cost of solving the problem permanently by filtering toxins out of tap water, and the reli-ance to date on indifferent stop-gap solutions. KCET Podship Earth

Why Are Environmental Groups so White, and What Can Be Done About It? A 2014 report found that ethnic minorities do not exceed 16% of board members and or staff of environmental organizations. A similar 2018 report found that of 2,057 organizations that volunteer their data, 80 percent of board members and 85 percent of staff are white. While some institutions are trying to increase diversity, the statistics are slow to change. Environmentalists of color like Eddie Love and Queta González say organizations must commit to systemic change and changing their own internal cultures. Ensia

May 8, 2018

Study Finds Mega-Storms Will Become Increasingly Common for California. Extreme weather swings will occur more frequently as global warming raises sea levels and puts more water vapor in the air, according to a new study published in Nature Climate Change. It suggests that the drought-to-flood weather patterns the state has experienced in recent years indicates a growing risk for more turbulent weather ahead. San Jose Mercury News

Hawaii May Ban Sunscreens Containing Chemicals That Hurt Marine Environment. After years of advocacy by local groups, Hawaiian lawmakers have passed a measure to ban the sale of sunscreens with the chemicals oxybenzone and octynoxate. The risk of these chemicals has often been overlooked, but they have been shown to wash off in the ocean and threaten local marine life and ecosystems, particularly coral reefs. Should Gov. David Ige sign the bill, Hawaii would become the first state banning such products to protect marine ecosystems. Washington Post

Oregon Health Department Says Air Near The Dalles Is Safe, Despite the Odor. For several years, residents living near the Amerities railroad tie plant in The Dalles have voiced concern over the stench apparently a result of the plant’s chemical activities. The plant uses a creosote mixture to treat the wooden ties, which emits several substances called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that, in high levels, are known to cause cancer and other health problems. While the air does not pose these risks, according to the report, it may still cause reactions in some people. KGW TV

NIMBYism and the Environment: Opponents of Housing Development for Homeless Cite Environmental Law to Shut Down Project. The Los Angeles development’s would-be neighbors, the Rosadas, have filed a lawsuit claiming that the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act when it approved an environmental report prepared for the city by consultants. The land to be developed apparently sits over an abandoned oil well, causing concerns over remaining contaminants in the soil. While experts conducted extensive studies on the land before the housing plan, the Rosadas insist the dangers to the environment still exist. Los Angeles Times

An Unusual Alliance: Washington Farm Groups Joins Cattle Association and EPA in an Environmental Suit. The Washington Farm Bureau succeeded in overcoming, for the moment, a state court decision that blocked them from intervening in an environmental organization’s lawsuit. The suit, by Northwest Environmental Advocates, alleges federal and state regulators aren’t protecting waterways from agriculture and required buffers to keep out runoff are inadequate. The Bureau has been concerned that an eventual decision might hurt agricultural interests, and wanted a seat at the table. Capital Press

April 20, 2018

Las Vegas by the Sea? Desert City Thinks About Desalination. With a new report predicting the Nevada city will outgrow its water supply within 20 years, Bronson Mack, a spokesman for the Southern Nevada Water Authority said recently, "Certainly desalination might be part of Southern Nevada's water portfolio at some point in the future. He added, "it could be something that happens within the next 20 or 30 years." Water Deeply

Once Again, Water Is For Fighting Over: the Central Arizona Project Is Accused of Unfairly Manipulating its claims on the Colorado River. Four states from the Upper Basin have joined Denver's water utility to accuse the Arizona agency of seeking to avoid the kind of cutbacks that could be imposed on other river users, In the throes of an 18-year drought, with Lake Mead's levels projected to decline further, the states risk losing their decade-old spirit of cooperation. John Fleck/Inkstain Denver Post

Protecting Hawaii's Reefs Means Cutting Tropical Fish Collection. That's the impact of a ruling by federal judges in the 1st Circuit Court. The court voided all 131 outstanding aquarium permits issued by the state of Hawaii, blocking the harvest of a quarter-million fish annually. This ruling blocking recreational harvesting of tropical fish comes on the heels of a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling last fall, which held that all commercial aquarium collection permits in the state had been issued illegally. Hawaii's conservation groups.have been fighting to protect the reefs and marine wildlife. Wisconsin Gazette

If Mojave Desert Groundwater Is Sent to Cities, Can Bonanza Spring Survive? Yes, say studies by Cadiz Inc., the company selling the groundwater. No, says a new study, which links the spring — the biggest in the southeastern Mojave — to the same deep pool of groundwater from which Cadiz plans to pump 16 million gallons annually. Andy Zdon, a hydrogeologist, determined that Bonanza Spring seems to have a "hydraulic connection" to the deep aquifer Cadiz will use. "The spring is going to be highly susceptible to drawdown from the pumping," he said. "It would likely dry up." Desert Sun

Wyoming Area Set Aside for Species in a Collaborative Process Now May Be Leased. County commissioners in the southwestern section of the state object to the fact local Bureau of Land Management officials have been stripped of their ability to postpone leasing decisions, while examining environmental effects. They fear that the new policy, removing decision-making to the bureau's Washington, offices threatens the 522,236 acres of the Greater Little Mountain Area — and the work of a years-long collaborative effort — to optimize the area's management. Proposed leases would allow drilling along a 150-mile mule deer migration route. WyoFile

To Thrive, the Conservation Movement Needs Buy-In by People of Color. But this video report on the fraught history of the National Park Service and non-white visitors shows that if people of color need to learn more about the value of parks, parks need to know more about people of color. Grist

Graphics & the West

 

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