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Articles Worth Reading: September 1, 2018

... & the Best

Courts block grizzly hunts in Wyoming and Idaho and a pipeline in Canada; How long can Lake Powell prop up Lake Mead?; Facebook and the Navajo Nation have faith in renewables, and other recent articles about the West and its environment. 
 

By Felicity Barringer

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

 

Previously: Articles Worth Reading: August 21, 2018

 

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...& the Best

Western Articles and Media Elsewhere
Compiled by Felicity Barringer, Sierra Garcia and Danielle Nguyen

Articles Worth Reading: July 2, 2019

A Tiny Creature Threatens Utah’s $1.8 Billion Lake Powell Pipeline. The culprit is an invasive mussel. Concerns that the quagga mussel will infiltrate the water supply and grow inside pipes could well stall the long-awaited pipeline, which is designed to carry water from the Colorado River to quickly growing Utah counties. Utah’s Division of Water Resources has proposed adding a molluscicide (a compound that kills mollusks) into the water supply, but critics fear that it would be impossible to prevent the quagga ‘epidemic’ from eventually spreading further via the pipeline. Salt Lake Tribune

As Legal Cannabis Spreads, Growers Go Organic to gain an edge and meet a growing demand in the industry. Many growers chose to go beyond state restrictions on pesticides for marijuana and cultivate a holistic, ultra-organic brand. Many new organic-certifying companies are emerging to fill the vacuum left by the U.S. National Organic Program’s inability to vouch for cannabis-growers’ standards, since cannabis remains federally prohibited. Several firms provide certification for additional attributes, such as being biodynamic or handled through fair trade. Environmental Health News

Who Gets To Own The West? The answer to the fraught question: a shrinking group of wealthy landowners, 100 of whom collectively hold more than 42 million acres. The new landowners face considerable local opposition when they close down trails, roads, and other spaces that many have had access to for generations. The handful of people consolidating these gigantic swathes of land argue that cracking down on local recreational use of the land promotes conservation. The New York Times

Reining In Free-Roaming Horses to protect ecosystems in the Great Basin region from possibly permanent damage has become a more urgent task. . The wild herds have swelled to over 300 percent of the Bureau of Land Management’s estimated “appropriate maximum level.” As they roam across 31.6 million acres of remote rangeland, the horses compact the soil, consume scarce water sources, and trample native plants. However, because grazing domestic animals also occupy many of the same areas, it is often difficult for scientists to single out the ecosystem damage caused by wild horses. Also, public affection for the wild horses makes policymakers reluctant to control their rapid population growth. EurekAlert

Dramatic Ocean Warming Off Alaska Raises Concerns For Hunters And Wildlife alike as both struggle to find sufficient food with diminishing sea ice. Villagers who hunt in the summer for meat to store for the winter are traveling unprecedented distances to find the edge of the sea ice and the marine mammals that dwell there. Seabirds, seals, and grey whales, are suffering as well. The vanishing sea ice, which has already blown away the record low ice levels set last summer, is linked to human-caused global warming, since it is a direct result of very warm ocean temperatures (comparable to temperatures off the coast of California). Anchorage Daily News

Restoring Water In Paradise might be harder than the California Water Board expects, argue water contamination and plumbing specialists argue. Several academic experts say that the Water Board’s recommendations aren’t good enough to screen for water contamination by volatile organic compounds produced by the fire. How much responsibility the California Water Board bears for fixing contamination is also unclear; most of the damaged pipes are in individual buildings. This regulatory enigma further confuses the question of what the state and the town should do to ensure an uncontaminated water supply – a prerequisite of restoring the community. (Podcast is 3 minutes and 45 second long.) Circle of Blue

Articles Worth Reading: June 17, 2019

Convicts are Returning to Farming—and Anti-Immigrant Policies Are the Reason. Now the jobs that Mexican and Central American farm laborers often fill are left empty. Agriculture-intensive areas such as Washington, Idaho, and Arizona are turning to convict leasing on a scale not seen in more than 100 years. Like undocumented immigrants, convicts don't have the same level of legal labor and wage protections standard in most situations, and are often apyed well below the minimum wage. Although the Jim-Crow era practice, which used mostly black prisoners, was banned at the start of the 20th century, in the 21st century it has made a lucrative comeback. The Conversation High Country News

The Federal Bureau of Land Management Plans to Push a Massive Photovoltaic Project in the Nevada desert near Las Vegas; it would be the largest solar array in the country and one of the largest in the world. Some conservationists object to the proposed location of the 11-square-mile solar array and battery system, which is home to the threatened desert tortoise. The area also abuts several popular outdoor recreation areas. When constructed, the project could provide solar power to Nevada, California, and Arizona as early as 2021.E&E News Las Vegas Review Journal

This Year's Snowmelt Surge Is a Welcome Reprieve for the Parched Southwest, a “complete turnaround” from the two-decade drought that has left reservoirs and rivers running low across the region. Water levels in major reservoirs, like Lake Powell at the Utah-Arizona border, have risen up to a foot a day. The extreme reversal has pushed rivers to their limits, replenished the Rio Grande, and made some popular rafting and camping spots unusable. Exceptionally low 2018 water levels in Lake Powell, which supplies water for Arizona, California, and Nevada, had led to speculation that Arizona would face a lower water allowance this year. Colorado Public Radio News 

Cactus Smuggler's Case Reveals 'Growing Problem' of Rare Cacti Pilfered from public lands to serve a burgeoning domestic and international trade. The smuggler was convicted of illegally collecting over 500 cacti from the Lake Mead National Recreation Area along the Arizona-Nevada border. The cacti were sold online for more than $20,000, and included species that take decades to mature. Because cacti can be relatively easy to smuggle and conceal, authorities worry about the challenge of protecting delicate desert ecosystems and threatened species from the growing popularity of the prickly plants. E&E News 

An Effort to Recover Suspected Agent Orange Chemicals From Wallowa Lake has ignited fears over possible water contamination and speculation about the origins of the barrels. Recreational divers discovered ten100-gallon drums in the Oregon lake last summer labeled as containing herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. These are key ingredients in the infamous Vietnam War defoliant (and carcinogen) Agent Orange. The delicate removal process began ten months after divers first reported the barrels at the lake bottom. The Oregonian

The West's Worst Fires Aren't Burning in Forests, but on scrub-covered open rangeland in the Great Basin region, which includes Idaho, Utah, and Nevada. Because wildfires on the sparsely populated open range don't attract as much public attention as forest fires, nine million acres of scrubland have quietly burned away on the range in the last five years alone. There are even fewer resources available to fight the remote range conflagrations than for forest fires. The frequent fires on the range may permanently destroying scrubland habitat essential for over 300 species, like pronghorn and sage grouse, where fires have burned too hot and too often. High Country News

Articles Worth Reading: June 3, 2019

Western States Stepping Up Their Monitoring and Regulating of PFAS, chemicals that exist in furniture, firefighting foam, waterproof makeup and clothing, and many other items. Polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals are take a long time to break down in the environment, and studies link exposure to higher rates of kidney and testicular cancer. In the west, PFAS contamination has been confirmed in water supplies in ten western and far western states. More states are going to court to fight back; New Mexico has sued the Air Force for PFAS groundwater contamination at two bases and more state lawsuits against manufacturers are being filed. “I think you're going to see a waterfall effect. You're going to see more states doing that,” said Matthew Schroeder, a lawyer who advises companies on PFAS-related legal risks. High Country News E&E News 

Permian Basin Oil Boom Has Health Consequences for residents of southeastern New Mexico, where life has become noisy and dangerous. Oil field trucks fling projectiles towards houses, methane flares can be seen to the east and south, and birds have been seen falling out of the sky. Families are experiencing headaches, blisters, and daily nosebleeds. Individual homes have has new wells pop up in every directions. New Mexico Political Report High Country News

California Utilities Plan Blackouts to Prevent Against Wildfires, prompting many residents to install solar in the homes. This change has pushed homeowners to shrink their environmental footprints and help to accelerate California’s transition to a carbon-free grid by 2045. But while the cost of solar panels and batteries has dropped in the past decade, they still remain unaffordable for most, leaving many residents facing sporadic outages. Washington Post

Interior Secretary Visited Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, and in the wake of the visit the department deferred oil and gas leases within a 10-mile zone surrounding the park for one year. David Bernhardt accompanied Senator Martin Heinrich and tribal leaders to visit Chaco Canyon on May 28, 2019. The deferral will give Congress time to vote on the Chaco Culture Heritage Area Protection Act that Senators Heinrich and Udall introduced earlier this year. Farmington Daily Times

Oil and Gas Industry Looks to Recycle Wastewater, as energy companies have created 210 billion gallons of wastewater between 2005 and 2014. Fracking blasts large amounts of water into the earth to crack open underground rock formations that hold oil and gas. Each barrel of oil yields half a barrel of wastewater, and one fracked well could use up to 6 million gallons of water. Companies drill thousands of wells annually. There has been a recent push to reuse wastewater instead of disposing of it by injecting it back into the ground. Carlsbad Current Argus

Articles Worth Reading: May 20, 2019

California Announces Ban on Chlorpyrifos, a toxic pesticide that affects child brain development. California, one of the nation’s largest agricultural states and the nation’s top chlorpyrifos consumer, uses the pesticide on crops such as oranges, grapes, and almonds. Governor Newsom proposed $5.7 million to support the transition to alternatives. The ban follows similar legislation in Hawaii, New York, Oregon, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Washington Post

Report Shows Hazardous Air Quality in 96% of National Parks, with some of the most popular parks such as Joshua Tree, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon, and Mojave being the worst offenders. The study by the National Parks Conservation Association showed that ozone levels in these parks were considered dangerous for up to two months. Air pollution has a lasting impact on visitor and park health, and contributes to climate change. Over the last two decades, air pollution in national parks has been comparable that of the 20 largest cities in the United States. The Guardian

Plans for Arizona Mine Spark Controversy as its construction was approved by the Trump administration. Conservation groups are standing together to sue the federal government to block construction. They claim that the proposed $1.9 billion Rosemont copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains would destroy jaguar habitats. Three Native American tribes are also objecting to the approval of the project, arguing that construction would harm remnants of sacred sites. This would be the third-biggest copper mine in the country. Arizona Republic

Supreme Court Rules Treaty Lets Crow Tribal Members Hunt on Public Lands, reversing the decision of Wyoming courts that fined Clayvin Herrera for illegally killing an elk in the Bighorn National Forest. The decision upheld the validity of an 1868 treaty that granted tribal members “the right to hunt on occupied lands of the United States so long as game may be found thereon.” Wyoming had argued the treaty was voided by the declaration of Wyoming’s statehood in 1890 and the creation of the national forest in 1897. They argued “Wyoming statehood was not just a legal event, it was a recognition the once wild frontier was no more. And the Crow Tribe understood that its hunting right had ended.” The Supreme Court disagreed. Casper Star-Tribune

Treaties Secure Environmental Protections for Tribal Nations such as the Tulalip Tribe in Washington State. Climate change, which is eroding shorelines and affecting water in the Puget Sound, is a daily fight for the tribe. Nationwide, treaty rights have been the foundation for tribes securing major land and water victories over the past couple decades. Tribes have the potential to call the United States government to action regarding addressing climate change. High Country News NPR

The Energy Department is Actively Working to Save Montana’s Colstrip Power Plant, or its fossil energy chief told the state’s two senators. Colstrip, located east of Billings, is one of a grow-ing number of coal plants that are facing closure thanks to the rise of national gas and renewables and increasing customer aversion to coal-fired energy. The huge 2,094-megawatt plant has been on the ropes economically, but the Energy Department is investigating if technology to capture carbon-dioxide emissions could prove useful to enhancing recovery of oil in nearby oil fields. Utility Dive

Articles Worth Reading: May 6, 2019

California’s Latest Weapon in the Fight Against Climate Change is carbon farming, the process of absorbing carbon from the air and moving it to be stored in the soil. Through the Healthy Soils initiative, now in its third year, farmers can receive grants to grow plants on their farms that soak up carbon dioxide. A report found that farms and forests could absorb up to 20 percent of the state’s emissions. KQED

Basking Sharks Spotted off Southern California Coast for the first time in three decades. The basking shark, the second-largest shark species, can grow up to 8,000 pounds and 33 feet long. These gentle giants have recently been spotted off of Santa Barbara, Ventura, Santa Monica Bay, and San Pedro. One of the causes of their decline was fishermen killing them when they got caught in salmon nets. Sightings could mean that their population is starting to recover, or that climate change is affecting their habitat patterns. Orange County Register

The Blackfeet Nation Hopes to Open National Park in northwestern Montana to educate tourists about the story of their tribe. The Nation, which once owned half of Glacier National Park, sold the land to the federal government in the late 1800s. Members of the Blackfeet Nation hope to reassert the tribe’s place in the region’s history, protect the reservation’s natural resources, and provide new opportunities for indigenous people to benefit from the tourism economy. High Country News

Río Fernando de Taos Revitalization Collaborative Tackles Watershed Problems to improve the health of an important New Mexico river. The collaborative is working to improve water quality and infrastructure, as the river contains high levels of E. coli and has low water levels. The alliance of organizations includes the Taos Valley Acequia Association, Taos Land Trust, Amigos Bravos, The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited, the town of Taos, Taos County, and the U.S. Forest Service. Taos News

Advocates Criticize Final Version of Recovery Plan for Endangered Jaguar that was released Wednesday, April 24, by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The jaguar, once inhabiting wide areas of the United States, was killed off in the early 1900s under a government policy aimed at big predators. The plan, which carved out narrow sections of protected habitat for jaguars along the Arizona and New Mexico borders, is seen by environmentalists as a way to push the species out of the country. Arizona Republic

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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