Skip to content Skip to navigation

Under New Pollution Regulations, Milk Producers Seek Profit in Dairy Air

Alessandro Hall
Apr 24 2018

From tests on metal bovines to electricity-generating manure pits, California is experiencing a radical transformation in the practices of the dairy industry. Taken together, the new initiatives amount to more than a crackdown on flatulent cows. They offer a model: how to reduce emissions while finding new sources of revenue.

Dairy cows in front of a digester in an undated photograph.

Keeping Methane Under Wraps By putting a cover over manure pits, dairy farmers can capture methane and use it to generate electricity or make transportation fuel. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

By Alessandro Hall

It’s no secret that the U.S. dairy industry has been struggling recently. As it faces depressed milk prices, concerns about water quality, fights over animal rights, and the rise of non-dairy alternatives — almond, soy, and rice “milk” — the dominant stature of milk in American culture is under siege.

So when the strictest rules in the country for curbing methane emissions took effect in California this year, the state’s 1,300 dairy farm families could have seen it as a devastating development. Methane is a natural product of bovine digestion, after all.

But for Paul Sousa, who grew up as part of California’s dairy industry, these rules feel a bit different. The state isn’t just telling farmers to make changes to reduce methane emissions, it’s telling them how, offering help, and showing ways that changes could be profitable.

Sousa grew up on a dairy farm and his family runs two of them in San Joaquin County. Now he works as a lobbyist at Western United Dairymen, an industry trade group. In all that time, he’s seen a lot of regulations. “We’ve gone through this with water quality and air quality,” he says, but those didn’t come with any economic incentives or financial support. Then came the measure called Senate Bill 1383.

A new law calls for reducing methane emissions by 40 percent from its 2013 levels by 2030, but comes with government outreach, economic incentives, and grant programs to help remake a more sustainable dairy industry.

This ambitious bill, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016, targets short-lived climate pollutants like methane, fluorine, and black carbon. These potent greenhouse gases don’t stay in the atmosphere like others. But they are far more effective at trapping heat: 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide over a 100-year span. They contributed to 42 percent of California greenhouse-gas emissions in 2013. The state’s 1.7 million dairy cows are the primary culprit.

The new law calls for reducing methane emissions by 40 percent from its 2013 levels by 2030, but comes with government outreach, economic incentives, and grant programs to help remake a more sustainable dairy industry. For Sousa, “this one has a very different feeling with the economic support that’s coming with it.”

The new rules, which could take effect in 2024, have wide-ranging implications for the oil, gas, and landfill sectors all over the state. But no region will feel its impact more strongly than the Central Valley, the heartland of the state’s milk-making operations. “In California, dairy is the big source of methane emissions,” says Ryan McCarthy, Science and Technology Policy Adviser at the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the state agency tasked with finding a way to meet the 40-percent target reduction. “Dairy manure … seems like the more readily addressable source emissions rather than the cows themselves,” he said. With a view to the California Air Resources Board gaining regulatory authority over the dairy industry in 2024, the agency is working proactively with dairy operators to prepare for needed changes.

Beyond Carbon Dioxide: A Look at California’s Greenhouse Gases

Source: California Air Resources Board   Geoff McGhee
 

Can “Digesters” Turn a Pollutant Into a Profit Center?

From tests on metal bovines to electricity-generating manure pits, California is experiencing a radical transformation in the practices of the dairy industry. Taken together, the new initiatives amount to more than a crackdown on flatulent cows. They offer a model: how to reduce emissions while finding new sources of revenue. Aided by government grants and technology innovations, farmers are beginning to upend dairy management orthodoxy.

The traditional method of treating manure is to flush it into fields or large, open-air lagoons. There, microbial organisms break down the waste through anaerobic digestion, spewing methane into the atmosphere. Although 60 percent of California’s dairy cows are still managed this way, all signs point to an emerging approach: When open-air lagoons are covered and sealed, dairy farmers can capture methane and use it to generate electricity or make transportation fuel. These systems, known as anaerobic dairy digesters, offer both environmental and economic benefits.

According to McCarthy, the California Air Resources Board believes digesters will deliver air quality, climate, and economic benefits. “If we can prove that model, we’ll get more projects faster.” He added, “it’s a win for the climate, for the air, for the farmer, and, when it does come time to regulate, it’ll be business as usual.” The dairy industry’s representative Paul Sousa says he also sees collateral advantages of eschewing methane-spewing manure lagoons: digesters offer water-quality benefits, and can generate cow bedding or fertilizer as additional byproducts.

Expensive Flops Feed Suspicion Among Dairy Farmers

But before environmentalists, energy companies, and the government can leverage these benefits to create a more sustainable industry, they must rebuild trust with the dairy farming community. “When we started this, there were a handful of dairy digesters, maybe ten or 15, and a lot of stories of ‘well we’ve tried this before. It didn’t work then, why will it work now’?” admits McCarthy. “And the answer, we said, is that we weren’t really committed to making it work then and we are now. And there’s all these programs in place that can make it work and we want to work with you to figure it out.” He believes the message is getting through. “It’s a market that’s growing quickly.”

Digester developers agree. There’s growing interest and enthusiasm for digesters, but also skepticism from dairy farmers weary of unmet promises. “I think our biggest real obstacle right now it that so many of these digester projects in the past have failed. There have been a lot of digesters built in the past that are no longer running,” says Doug Bryant of Maas Energy Works, a California company that helps develop, finance, and operate dairy digesters.

But the company argues that developers have learned valuable lessons and collected data on how to increase digester longevity and efficiency. Maas Energy Works has built 13 operational digesters with another 17 in various stages of development. “There’s been a lot of people throughout the last ten to 15 years who have come making promises about the money that [farmers will] make with digesters and never deliver on those promises,” Bryant explains. “We like to think our company is changing the way that’s perceived.”

Dairy Cows the Main Reason for California's Methane

Dairies are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for roughly 60% of agricultural contributions of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N20).

Dairy Sources
Other Sources of Methane

Move over the graphic to learn more. Click on a category to view sub-categories.

Source: California Air Resources Board

Promoters Hope to Overcome Past Experiences with Technical Support, Financing, and State Subsidies

One way Maas Energy Works changes the perception of dairy digester projects is by forging a working relationship with dairymen. In the past, developers have come in, constructed a digester, and then left. The farmers had to operate and maintain the device. As Bryant explains, “the dairyman in most cases is already running a million-dollar company and has their own huge business to manage. Trying to give them another business to manage doesn’t always work out well.” His company now allows dairy farmers to own the digesters, while operating and repairing the devices for them.

Now, a flurry of new anaerobic dairy digesters has popped up across California. More than 40 are functioning or in construction; most of them built in the last 18 months. At least another 40 projects are on the way. A big reason for the construction boom is state investment. With $99 million in greenhouse gas reduction money in hand, the California Department of Food and Agriculture plans to allocate between $61 and $75 million in grants to help finance dairy digester projects through the Dairy Digester Research and Management Program in 2018.

The program is essential to help farmers finance digester projects. The typical digester on a small dairy of 1,000 to 2,000 cows costs about $ 2 million, while larger farms can run up costs of more than $5 million. Greenhouse gas reduction credits will also help determine the affordability of digester projects. Ideally, these reward farmers for reducing methane emissions. But the instability of the markets is a limit on new projects. The value of government credits for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions fluctuates, making banks potentially hesitant to lend money to a project.

“If the payback doesn’t pencil out in five to six years or less, we don’t like to encourage guys to get into it, because that’s a long payback,” say Mass Energy’s Bryant. With the milk market struggling, farmers may be even more risk averse. With this in mind, the new law directs the government to develop new financial mechanisms. The aim: to solidify and add certainty to the projected value of carbon credits.

State Faces a Challenge: Deliver Concrete Benefits to Farmers

A 900-cow dairy farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, uses a methane digester, above.Steve Droter/Chesapeake Bay Program via Flickr
 

Success for these new digester projects will depend on farmers seeing benefit from the state’s environmental goals. As CARB’s Ryan McCarthy explains, “there’s still the early movers and some that are not necessarily as engaged as others but a lot of [dairy farmers] — as seen in the pickup in the number of projects — …hopefully see it as an opportunity.”

The law calls for various stakeholders to join a working group to create a sustainable market for energy produced from dairy digesters. “I think what SB1383 has done is created a forum to actually have conversations about how to promote [these projects],” says Fariya Ali of Pacific Gas and Electric. “I think that’s a positive thing to have a dedicated forum convened by the state agencies that allows energy companies and the developers and others to come together.”

Much of the conversation revolves around how to connect the energy produced from dairy digesters with the rest of the California energy system. There is also hope that transporting biomethane away from dairy farms in pipelines will improve air quality in the Central Valley.

Although the electricity and fuel generated from digesters is unlikely to radically change the energy market in California, it can offer significant economic benefits for individual farms. Under the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard program and Renewable Feed-In Tariff program, dairy farmers benefit from above market-rate credits. How? The economic gains from selling energy help pay for the cost of project installation, and also lower or eliminate a farm’s monthly electricity bill and offer a potential revenue stream.

Dairy digesters aren’t the law’s only focus. Although manure lagoons are a major source of methane, the state Department of Food and Agriculture is also helping pay for alternative strategies. This year, it plans to allocate between $19 million and $33 million to the state’s Alternative Manure Management Program. The law also established a working group looking at ways to remove volatile, methane-producing compounds from manure before it enters lagoons. These initiatives are less expensive than digesters and more familiar to dairy farmers.

The alternative management practices provide options for a diverse California dairy industry. “Not everything works on every dairy,” says Sousa. A dairyman “is going to pick from the menu and say this one works for me, this other one doesn’t.”

Researching Ways to Reduce Methane at its Source: Gassy Cows

Cows at the Joseph Gallo Dairy farm in the Central Valley in 2007. The farm’s use of dairy digesters was the subject of a television feature.KQED via Flickr
 

A third major focus of SB1383 is the development of a research working group to fill gaps in industry knowledge. Least is known about fixing the problem of enteric fermentation- the technical name for methane produced during digestion and released in cow burps. In 2015 bovine gas made up almost 30 percent of state methane emissions in the agricultural sector.

There aren’t any proven cost-effective strategies to curb this. The research group is soliciting ideas about what to do. “That working group has been trying to be expansive about the way we look at reducing our methane problem rather than putting all our eggs in the manure management basket,” says Joan Salwen, founder of Elm Innovations, a group that intends to submit their idea about possibly feeding seaweed to cows to cut down on their gas.

Digesters, alternative manure management strategies, and research initiatives seem to suggest radical recent changes. But the dramatic shift in California’s dairy industry may have started earlier. In 2012, the industry made a nationwide commitment to reduce methane emissions 25 percent by 2020. In that sense, the rules set in SB1383 are not far off the industry’s trajectory. “It’s not completely out of touch with things we’ve been working on, but it is a challenge when we get a mandate to do something else that comes with a cost if it doesn’t come with additional revenue,” says Sousa.

What’s different now is that financial investment goes with the crackdown on dairy-farm methane. For now, at least, the revenue is coming in and the digesters are going up. Sousa says, “I think that’s been key to the response, from the initial response of ‘Oh, yet another thing we’ve got to deal with’ to, we’re making lots of headway toward meeting our goals with funding.”

and the west logo

 

 

Read Next in ...& the West

Changing Currents: Picturing a Northwest Without Cheap, Public Hydropower

The power gained by harnessing the Columbia River paved the way for industrial development and widespread farmland irrigation. But what if, instead of public utilities, that power had been sold by private firms seeking profits?

Back to main page

 

 

 

 

Reader Comments

Submit your own thoughts and questions by using the form at the bottom of this page. Entries will be reviewed and posted as we get them.

Submit a Comment

We'd like to know what you think. We will not share your email address or add you to any lists. If you'd like to be notified about new blog posts and news from the Center, you can join our mailing list.

You will receive emails no more than once a week. We will not share your information.

 

...& the Best

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

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

Articles Worth Reading: September 23, 2019

Las Vegas is Thirsty for Snake Valley Groundwater even though there is not enough now for key wetlands and springs in this semi-arid region on the Utah-Nevada border, a U.S. Geological Survey study shows. There is certainly not enough to send the Las Vegas area, 250 miles to the south, as much as it wants. The Southern Nevada Water Authority, a regional wholesaler that serves Las Vegas, has applied for an additional 50,680 acre-feet of water per year, which would almost double the current volume of permitted withdrawals of 55,272 acre-feet per year. Circle of Blue

While Seeking Montana Land to Restore Biodiversity, a biologist made friends in Silicon Valley and enemies on the short-grass prairie. The American Prairie Reserve’s strategy was buying land from ranchers who had been struggling economically. After raising $156 million, mostly from Silicon Valley, buying 400,000 acres of land, and reintroducing 800 bison, the group is now a pariah locally. As one rancher said, “their media blitz was 'You guys have been doing it wrong all your lives, and we're about to buy you all up because you're all broke…They came in and insulted the culture and said, we're going to replace you all with bison." Sierra Magazine

From Monterey Bay to the Canadian Border, the Coast Would Become Protected Orca Habitat under a new federal proposal. If it becomes final, the area would be a massive expansion of the ocean area deemed critical for the survival of the killer whales of the Puget Sound. Their hunting ground extends from Southern California to the Salish Sea, but the fish they eat are disappearing, scientists have found, noting that the habitats where people have made major changes are the same ones feeling the extreme effects of climate change. The new area would begin just south of Santa Cruz and would include about 15,626 square miles. Seattle Times

Alaska Summer Heat Means Disappearing Water and Worries about the future. Residents of the Native village of Nanwalek on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage are suffering from a severe drought and working hard to conserve their freshwater. Last month, town officials decided to shut off the taps for 12 hours every night. Nanwalek was one of six communities suffering water shortages during the unusually hot summer. The village, home to the Sugpiaq tribe, is trying to find funds to purchase a reverse osmosis machine to desalinate sea water. Npr

Duck Fat Is for Gentrified City Dwellers. Bear Fat is for Lovers of the Wild. Pastries using bear fat get rave reviews, one hunter-cook says. But the old habit of using bear fat has languished because the quality of the fat depends on what the bears eat – and many eat mostly human garbage. From baking to curing baldness to predicting the weather, the many uses of bear fat over the centuries, and the way the creation of the teddy bear curbed human appetites for bear fat. Atlas Obscura

Articles Worth Reading: September 9, 2019

The Destructive ‘Blob’ of Warm Pacific Water May Be Coming Back if warming surface waters are not scattered by winds over the next few months, federal scientists say. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports the current Alaska-to-California swath of strikingly warm water closely resembles its predecessor. The ‘Blob’ led to the deaths of millions of sea lions and sea birds five years ago, and was associated with the sharp decline in salmon runs. Seattle Times

Administration Targets California’s Authority to Set Standards for Auto Emissions, while the Justice Department opens an antitrust investigation into four automakers who had made a pact with the state about the pollution limits that they would meet in years to come. The four automakers, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW, earlier this summer said they would follow stricter emission standards than those set by the Trump administration. The administration is opening the antitrust investigation while the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency both are telling California it lacks authority to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions. The state has had independent authority to regulate auto emissions for more than four decades. Politico

Utah Trees On the Chopping Block The Bureau of Land Management is working with heavy earth-moving equipment to wrest knots of juniper and tall pinyon pines from the landsape around the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The stated purpose is to improve habitat for sage grouse and allow the growth of fodder for cattle and deer – prized targets for hunters. But the area of slightly more than 1,000 square miles where the activity is set to place has been the site of significant archaeological and cultural finds. Less than 10 percent of the ground has been surveyed, and undiscovered artifacts could be endangered by the activity. Also, the use of heavy equipment in these delicate landscapes can lead to the incursion of invasive species. National Geographic

Changing Wyoming’s Economics As Its Superpower, Coal, Crumbles A decade ago, the state of Wyoming collected $500 million more from tax and related revenues on coal extraction than it does today. Mines are shutting, wrenching the economies of counties that depended on them. Two reporters worked to get under the skin of what these developments – and the way coal is losing out to competitors like natural gas and renewables – mean for the Jim Bridger mine in southwestern Wyoming. A seven-part package called “Powering Down” looks at coal as both a cultural touchstone and an economic driver, and contemplates a future when the mineral superpower has no more strength. Wyofile

Could a New ‘Grand Bargain’ on the Colorado River Gain Traction? The law of the river has tended to give the lower basin states of the Colorado River watershed – like California and Arizona – the right to call on the upper basin states, like Colorado, Utah to ensure they get their share of water, as allocated in a 1922 compact. But that compact was based on overgenerous assumptions about the river’s total flow. And the severe drought of recent years has reduced the river’s flows – never as big as once believed – by about six percent. There is talk, but not yet action, on creating a “grand bargain” that would take away states’ rights to demand their 1922 share, while ensuring that they would maintain access to water for crucial needs. The idea, which makes clear that the river’s flow is 2.5 million acre-feet below the 15 million acre-feet calculated in 1922, is enshrined in a paper circulated at a University of Colorado forum this summer. The question now is whether it will gain traction. Denver Post

What’s In A Name? The landscapes of the West have been called by many names, as different civilizations passed through. Now the names given in the last 200 years by western Europeans are getting another look. Davis Mountain in Nevada’s Great Basin National Park is getting a new name – it was named for Jefferson Davis in 1855, before the southern states seceded and he became the president of a rebellious slave-owning confederation. As of last month, it is called Doso Doyabi, or “white mountain” in Shoshoni. A series of similar naming questions are popping up from Washington – should Mt. Rainier bear the name of a British officer? – to Wyoming to Alaska. A look at how the people of the 21st century are reconsidering the names of the 19th. National Parks Magazine

Articles Worth Reading: August 26, 2019

Many of The West's Estuaries Have Vanished, replaced with farmland and cities, leaving only 15 percent of the original wetlands intact. Although wetland destruction has been rampant across the United States for centuries, the recent study is the first to estimate the full scope of the lost wetlands that once existed where much of Los Angeles county, the Puget Sound’s northern embankment, and the area near Tillamook Bay where dairy cows stand today. Wetlands shield coastal communities from sea-level rise and extreme storms; researchers emphasize that intact wetlands will be the best protectors for coastal communities, making them the least likely to vanish under rising seas. Oregon Public Broadcasting

‘Snow Droughts’ Are Coming For The American West more often because of climate change. The new research estimates that the likelihood of an intense four-year drought like the one California faced from 2012 to 2016 will increase a hundredfold by the second half of this century. The forecast is disastrous for the region’s multi-billion dollar ski resort industry, which will also face peak snowpack shifting to before the spring break height of the season. National Geographic

Federal Scientists Produced A Report Showing Water Diversions Would be a Critical Blow to endangered winter-run Chinook salmon in California and could cost struggling orca whales offshore their food supply. Immediately, other federal officials were dispatched to vet, and possibly revise, it. Just two days passed before fisheries and water officials got an e-mail telling them “fresh eyes” would examine the data for the next two months. Environmental groups have called foul. Sacramento Bee

What Happens When Public Lands Become Tribal Lands Again? A reporter investigates after a multi-decadal legal battle, only in this case, within months of the transfer, a fire burned a large chunk of the land. The Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians had some of their traditional lands in southwest Oregon restored in 2018, after 165 years of illegal federal use in violation of a treaty signed with the tribe. The issue of land ownership pitted some environmentalists against tribal leaders, who proposed controlled burns and limited lumber extraction on their land. The recent wildfire ravaged more than a fifth of the land recently transferred back to the tribe. High Country News

A French Saddlemaker Embraces the American West by learning, perfecting, and now teaching the art of traditional western leathercraft. Pedro Pedrini’s passion for the American West and classic western saddles drove him from the Alps in his native France to Oregon, California, and Canada. After four decades of practicing his chosen craft in the United States, he is seen as a consummate artisan. In addition to crafting saddles, he now teaches classes in northern California on leather tooling and saddle creation, hoping to ensure that the knowledge and techniques of western saddle-craft will live on. East Oregonian

The World’s Largest Wildlife Bridge Will Allow Mountain Lions – and other species – to regain most of their old range in the Santa Monica Mountains northwest of Los Angeles. The Guardian

Articles Worth Reading: August 12, 2019

The Desert Gets A Biocrust Skin Graft in an attempt to reverse the severe erosion, amounting to up to 8,900 pounds of annual soil loss per acre in the Southwest. The thin but hardy film of microbes helps maintain desert ecosystems, ensures healthier air and water, and protects archeological resources. But it can take anywhere from 20 to 2,000 years to regrow once destroyed by oil and gas development or recreational land use. Ecologists who have grown successful artificial biocrusts in labs and greenhouses are now struggling to transplant the homegrown biocrusts onto the desert. These efforts have sparked internal disagreement between land managers and scientists about whether to continue to replace biocrust, or focus time and money on preserving still-intact desert areas instead. High Country News

A Clean Energy Breakthrough Could Be Buried Deep Beneath Rural Utah in a subterranean salt dome, part of which is across the street from an existing transmission line to Los Angeles County. The vast network of salt caverns could act as an enormous battery, using a decades-old technique to store large amounts of energy — in this case,renewable energy. With the neighboring coal plant scheduled to close in 2025, the salt dome is in a perfect position to become a major component of Los Angeles County’s commitment to be 100 percent renewable by 2045. Los Angeles Times

Mountain Goat Eradication Is A High-Flying Balancing Act In Olympic National Park. Helicopter teams are charged with capturing, hog tying, and safely relocating these tenacious invasive animals. The elaborate airborne relocation efforts aim to eradicate all mountain goats from the park, where they have wreaked havoc on the ecosystem. They are being moved to their natural habitat of the North Cascades Range, where the native mountain goat population is in decline. The project transported 115 goats last year alone, and so far, tracking devices show that the transported goats are surviving as well as their Cascadian-born kin. The goats that altogether evade their captors, or “muggers,” will eventually be killed to rid Olympic National Park of mountain goats for good. High Country News

This Remote Corner of Nevada Is One Of The Darkest Places in The World, and is now also the newest and largest Dark Sky Sanctuary in the United States. Like all Dark Sky Sanctuaries, the 100,000-acre sanctuary at Massacre Rim lacks legal protection. The International Dark Sky Association bestowed the title on Massacre Rim, recognizing it as one of the best spots in the world to view a night sky unobstructed by light pollution. The area is more than an hour’s drive from the nearest settlement and over four hours from the nearest city; its extreme isolation allows visitors to see the Milky Way shine so brightly that it casts shadows. The audio segment of this story is under four minutes and accompanied by a short written article. NPR

The Pacific Coast Salmon That Are Most Threatened by Climate Change travel furthest to spawn, new research shows. Dams for flood control and irrigation, water diversions and logging have pushed more than 50 runs of salmonids onto lists of endangered and threatened species; climate change may be the coup de grace for some. Inland waterways far from the coast, where some salmon spawn, are getting warmer, and may get too warm for young salmon to survive. Chinook salmon at the greatest risk in three places: California's Central Valley and the Columbia and Willamette River basins. Also at risk are coho salmon in Northern California and Oregon and sockeye salmon from Idaho’s Snake River basin. Inside Climate News

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 »

 

Recent Center News

Oct 7 2019 | ... & the West Blog, ... & the Best | Stories Recommended by the ‘... & the West’ Blog
A loophole lets fishermen off the hook; wild horses are being exported to foreign slaughterhouses; two approaches to river conservation; and more recent environmental news from around the West.
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
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.