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Articles Worth Reading: March 11, 2019

... & the Best

Grey wolves are recovering and may be taken off of the federal Endangered Species List; mountain caribou conservation has not succeeded in the United States; avalanches ravage the Rockies during the wettest winter on record; the San Joaquin Valley suffocates while it feeds the country; and native bees in Utah host unwelcome houseguests. Explore these latest environmental reads.

 

By Carolyn P. Rice

The Federal Government Is Taking the Grey Wolf Off of the Endangered Species List. Before colonization, there were hundreds of thousands of wolves in the United States, but their numbers had fallen to roughly 1,000 when they were protected in 1975 under the Endangered Species Act. The species has recovered to a population of 5,000 in separate clusters, but some conservationists caution against removing protections. Doing so, they say, would let states take over and permit more hunting that could be dangerous for less-established populations. States including Washington, however, have legal protections and conservation plans for the wolves that will continue as needed. The New York Times Oregon Public Broadcasting Utah Public Radio

The British Columbia Ministry of Forests Moved the Last Mountain Caribou in the United States to Canada to join an existing herd farther north in the Columbia Mountains. The herd in Idaho’s Selkirk Mountains shrank from 46 in 2009 to just three in 2018 despite conservation efforts. The endangered caribou struggled with habitat fragmentation from development and logging. New predators arrived: wolves and mountain lions. The population decline is a loss for environmental groups, but the conservation program that restricted development had created conflict with local economic interests. While the caribou is not extinct, its range contraction is an example of declining global biodiversity. The Idaho Statesman

Colorado’s Infrastructure Struggles to Keep Up with Avalanches. The state has been pummeled with hundreds of avalanches each week during the winter, which has been the wettest recorded in the United States, according to NOAA. Climate change is predicted to make avalanches more frequent, and mountainous regions around the world are noticing an uptick. Warming temperatures may also expand the areas where avalanches can happen, making them harder to predict. Inside Climate News

Residents of the San Joaquin Valley Suffer from Air Pollution So Severe that One in Six Children Has Asthma. Particulates released from livestock, farms, cars, and oil production combine to create a deadly mix that sits in the valley. Even though the pollution costs society billions, curbing these emissions is not economically favorable for the industries creating them. Regulators struggle to make headway. This article is part of a series on air pollution that won the George Polk Environmental Reporting Award last month. Undark

Effort to Save Honeybees from Pesticides Would Encroach on Native Bee Territory. Honeybee populations are dwindling, associated with pesticide and herbicide intake that occurs when they pollinate crops. To dodge the danger, beekeepers are trying to find non-agricultural lands to house their hives in the off seasons. In Utah, that includes National Forest Service land -- but that same land is home to hundreds of native bee species. Scientists are concerned that introducing honeybees could take resources away from the native bees, potentially to the detriment of entire ecosystems that rely on their pollination services. High Country News

 

Previously: Articles Worth Reading: Feb. 25, 2019

 

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...& the Best

Western Articles and Media Elsewhere
Compiled by Felicity Barringer, Danielle Nguyen and Carolyn P. Rice

Articles Worth Reading: April 9, 2019

California’s High Water Puts Oroville Dam’s Repaired Spillway to Use for the first time since the crisis that caused an evacuation. In 2017, storms caused the spillway to break apart and flood; nearly 200,000 people were forced to flee. Repairs cost $1.1 billion, and this is the first time since those renovations that excess water was drained into the spillway. Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Measurements of the Health Impacts from Oil and Natural Gas Extraction May Be Indequate, A UCLA study reviewed three dozen journal articles published over the past six years and found a positive correlation between individuals’ poor health and their proximity to fossil fuel extraction operations. High levels of suspected carcinogens such as benzene, toluene, and ethyl-benzene have been measured at oil and natural gas sites. Science Daily

California Adopts New Wetland Protections to Counteract Federal Rollback. A new state policy plan will counteract the proposed rollbacks. The state regulation establishes protections for human activity, preventing some areas from being paved over or plowed. California’s waterways, 90 percent of which have been lost to human sprawl, are important for drinking water, flood protection, groundwater recharge and wildlife. San Francisco Chronicle

Trout Lovers Trek To the Río Grande to See Juvenile Cutthroat Added to the river at Questa’s Cutthroat Fish Festival. Relocating cutthroat to expand their populations has become an annual tradition in the Wild Rivers Recreation Area near Cerro, New Mexico. Conservationists have worked for decades to increase the native cutthroat population in northern New Mexico. Almost 10,000 trout were relocated during this year’s event. Taos News

More Mexican Gray Wolves Roam the Southwest now than at any time since the Fish and Wildlife Service began protecting them more than two decades ago. The population has jumped about 12 percent since its brink of extinction in the early 2000s. Mexican gray wolves are the rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America, with a population of at least 131 in New Mexico and Arizona combined. E&E News

Fish Numbers Plummet As Pumping and Invasive Clams Upend the Food Web in the San Francisco estuary, a new study from the University of California, Davis, reveals. Microscopic algae called phytoplankton are at the base of the food web (phytoplankton are food for zooplankton, which are food for fish). Clams, brought in the holds of oceangoing vessels, and freshwater pumping by California’s two major water delivery projects have cut phytoplankton by 97 percent from the late 1960s, prompting a similar dramatic drop in the number of fish. Daily Democrat

Articles Worth Reading: March 26, 2019

New Mexico Governor Signs Law Mandating the State’s Energy Supply Be Carbon-Free by 2045; a bold move that puts the state in the forefront of the cities and states that have passed legislation to fight climate change. The law allows for state bonds to provide support for the state’s major utility to shut down the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station in the Four Corners area and creates funds for support and retraining of workers at the plant. It also mandates new apprenticeships so New Mexico workers can enter the clean-energy workplaces of the future. Albuquerque Journal

The San Joaquin Valley Aquifer Lost Five Percent of Its Carrying Capacity in the first two decades of the 21st century, thanks to severe droughts and the resulting over-pumping, according to new research from Arizona State University. Groundwater in aquifers accumulates in “pore spaces” between rocks and grains of sand. The elasticity of these pores, which close when water is withdrawn, means they usually rebound when groundwater is recharged. But if too much is withdrawn and the pore spaces close too far, their elasticity is gone and the aquifer’s capacity shrinks irreversibly. American Geophysical Union

The Colorado Drought Contingency Plan Is Now Before Congress, as representatives of all seven Colorado River states, including California, ended their arguments and agreed on a final version. Bypassed were the demands of the Imperial Irrigation District for $200 million in federal funds to clean up the fetid and deteriorating Salton Sea. Successive droughts have meant that the Colorado River, which serves 40 million people and 7,812 square miles of farmland, needed new agreements for dividing water in times of shortage. After California’s Colorado River Board, by an 8-to-1 vote, provided the final state’s approval, state representatives met in Phoenix with a top federal water official and sent a letter to Congress seeking its approval. The plan sets up new formulas for water use if Lake Mead drops below a crucial level during a prolonged drought. Desert Sun Salt Lake Tribune

Mining, Drilling and Grazing Now Easier as the Sage Grouse Management Plan of 2015 Loses Its Bite. The old plan was a cooperative effort to ensure the birds, several hundred thousand of which live in the oil-rich rangeland of 11 western states, didn’t decline so far that endangered species protections would kick in. The old program set out special “focal areas” requiring protections for the chicken-sized, ground-nesting birds; these are now gone. Cattlemen felt the 2015 requirements were too rigid and applied at too fine a scale; the 2015 rules also required that energy leasing in some areas be prioritized away from areas best suited to the grouse. A Center For Western Priorities representative said, the changes mean “the administration will drive the sage grouse closer to an endangered species listing.” Associated Press New York Times Wyoming Public Media Western Livestock Journal

The Navajo Generating Station’s Last Possible Savior Won’t Save It. By a 9-to-11 vote, a committee of the Navajo Nation Council rejected a plan for a tribal firm, the Navajo Transitional Energy Company, to explore buying the power plant and the coal mine that supplies it. For the last couple of years, NGS owners had pulled out or signaled they wanted to. The tribal enterprise wanted to save hundreds of jobs held by Navajos. But the barriers to this solution included a demand by the power plant’s owners for a cap on the liability for cleanup, which could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Seth Damon, the council’s speaker, said the “Navajo Nation Council signaled that it is time for change. In order to develop a healthy and diverse economy that does not overly rely on any particular industry, the … council will advance new and innovative development initiatives.” Indian Country Today

Articles Worth Reading: March 11, 2019

New Restrictions on Colorado River Withdrawals in Dry Times Are Close, but the federal Bureau of Reclamation says, in effect, “close only counts in the game of horseshoes.” The Arizona state legislature met the bureau’s deadline as it agreed to the drought contingency plan formulated by all three states in the river’s lower basin, but the final deals with Native tribes and with California’s Imperial Irrigation District aren’t done yet. The arguments go on. Cronkite News

Native Trout Are Making a Comeback in Colorado, but It’s Taken Decades. As the West was colonized, so were its streams; native fish suffered as non-native ones were introduced. The native greenback cutthroat trout was mistakenly declared extinct in 1937, but its history turns out to be much more complicated. Today, the subspecies survives, but barely, and scientists do not agree on a solution for the fish’s future. Biographic

Ranchers in Montana Want Consumers to Know Where Beef Comes From. The U.S. imports roughly 10 percent of its beef -- from countries like Canada, Argentina and Uruguay -- but it doesn’t have to be labeled as such. Country of origin labeling, Montana ranchers argue, will help consumers make more informed choices--and think it will be good for business. If passed, a bill in the Montana State Senate would require this labeling, as well as prohibit labeling as “meat” the cell-based meat now grown in vitro in laboratories. That decision which could be detrimental to this nascent industry. Civil Eats

Sustainable Development and Gentrification Do Not Have to Go Hand in Hand. An affordable housing project in an industrial, low-income neighborhood of Portland could show the country how green infrastructure can help alleviate poverty and keep communities intact. This project includes weatherization of mobile homes and sustainable landscaping. High Country News

We Need Maps to Comprehend the Scale of the Grand Canyon. Be careful, though–some maps are more attractive than they are accurate. As the iconic national park’s 100th anniversary approaches, listen to the Science Friday podcast explore the history of Western mapmaking through the lens of the maps of the Grand Canyon. Science Friday

Art Installations Thrive in the Coachella Valley. Desert X, a biennial art exhibit, opened this past weekend. It showcases art in mediums that range from fabric to cell phone, all to connect people with the valley and its human history. Explore some of the installations in this photo gallery. The Desert Sun

Articles Worth Reading: Feb. 25, 2019

Dramatically Cutting Back Irrigated Farming in California’s Central Valley is required to replenish overdrafted groundwater, says an in-depth report from the Public Policy Institute of California. The changes needed to restore aquifers will require fallowing 500,000 acres of irrigated cropland. “Although ending overdraft will bring long-term benefits, it entails near-term costs...Only a quarter of the Valley’s groundwater deficit can be filled with new supplies at prices farmers can afford,” the authors write. They add “the best option for increasing supply is capturing and storing additional water from big storms.” Fresno Bee Public Policy Institute of California

The Senate Approved the Natural Resources Management Act expanding existing public lands, creating new national monuments, protecting miles of rivers from development, and preventing mining around Yellowstone and North Cascades National Parks. Controversies arose over a provision that could allow the return of hundreds of thousands of acres of federal land to Alaska Natives. These brought into clearer view the different priorities and fraught history of conservationists and Indigenous peoples. The Washington Post The Guardian The Washington Post (Op-Ed) High Country News

Representatives From the Quinault and Tohono O’odham Nations, the Calista Corporation, and Heartlands International Spoke About the Ongoing Impact of Climate Change on Native communities. The House Natural Resources Committee’s new subcommittee for indigenous peoples of the United States, in its first punlic meeting, heard how changing seasons and rainfall are altering growing seasons, food availability, and by extension, affecting cultural practices. Low-lying communities are particularly vulnerable to changes in precipitation and sea-level rise. The Arizona Mirror YouTube

A Multi-Part Exploration of the Colorado River’s Challenges Ends With an Ode to the River’s Former Wildness and a look at restoration efforts. Today, the Colorado River is a highly engineered river, plagued by invasive species of plants and fish. Some of its most biodiverse regions are man-made, and their future hangs in the balance with the future of water. Yale Environment 360

Across the Western U.S., Thousands of Cacti and Succulents Have Been Stolen From Public Lands. The market for these plants is lucrative, and rare species attract the attention of collectors and thieves. Removing the plants from their habitats can limit their chances of survival and endanger the remaining individuals. Even though thieves face felony charges and thousands of dollars in fines, the illegal trade continues. Innovative attempts to curb the poaching include cloning succulents and microchipping saguaros. The New Yorker The Guardian

Articles Worth Reading: Feb. 11, 2019

New Restrictions on Colorado River Withdrawals in Dry Times Are Close, but the federal Bureau of Reclamation says, in effect, “close only counts in the game of horseshoes.” The Arizona state legislature met the bureau’s deadline as it agreed to the drought contingency plan formulated by all three states in the river’s lower basin, but the final deals with Native tribes and with California’s Imperial Irrigation District aren’t done yet. The arguments go on. Cronkite News

Native Trout Are Making a Comeback in Colorado, but It’s Taken Decades. As the West was colonized, so were its streams; native fish suffered as non-native ones were introduced. The native greenback cutthroat trout was mistakenly declared extinct in 1937, but its history turns out to be much more complicated. Today, the subspecies survives, but barely, and scientists do not agree on a solution for the fish’s future. Biographic

Ranchers in Montana Want Consumers to Know Where Beef Comes From. The U.S. imports roughly 10 percent of its beef -- from countries like Canada, Argentina and Uruguay -- but it doesn’t have to be labeled as such. Country of origin labeling, Montana ranchers argue, will help consumers make more informed choices--and think it will be good for business. If passed, a bill in the Montana State Senate would require this labeling, as well as prohibit labeling as “meat” the cell-based meat now grown in vitro in laboratories. That decision which could be detrimental to this nascent industry. Civil Eats

Sustainable Development and Gentrification Do Not Have to Go Hand in Hand. An affordable housing project in an industrial, low-income neighborhood of Portland could show the country how green infrastructure can help alleviate poverty and keep communities intact. This project includes weatherization of mobile homes and sustainable landscaping. High Country News

We Need Maps to Comprehend the Scale of the Grand Canyon. Be careful, though–some maps are more attractive than they are accurate. As the iconic national park’s 100th anniversary approaches, listen to the Science Friday podcast explore the history of Western mapmaking through the lens of the maps of the Grand Canyon. Science Friday

Art Installations Thrive in the Coachella Valley. Desert X, a biennial art exhibit, opened this past weekend. It showcases art in mediums that range from fabric to cell phone, all to connect people with the valley and its human history. Explore some of the installations in this photo gallery. The Desert Sun

Articles Worth Reading: Jan. 28, 2019

Wildfires Can Cause Thunderstorms, and the world is witnessing more of these as fires become more common and more intense. Scientists still struggle to understand the exact mechanisms behind the storms, but the effects have become clearer. Lightning can spark additional fires, and winds can hamper firefighting efforts. Particles and gases in the clouds can affect weather patterns on the same scale as small volcanoes. Mother Jones

A Surprising Source of Pollution Sits on the Ocean Floor off of California’s Central Coast: Golf Balls. The little spheres from coastal golf courses release chemical pollutants and break down into bits of plastic that can enter the food chain. A local teenager and a Stanford University scientist found and began to remove golf balls from the waters off of Pebble Beach by the thousands, but more keep falling in. NPR

Mapping as a Way of Creating Indigenous Dialogue Around Place and Art: Jim Enote, an indigenous farmer and museum director, says that because most maps use colonial names, borders, and ideas of space, expanding the definition of maps has been a necessary part of his process. National Geographic

Decrepit Dams in Washington State May Flood Towns Downstream. A recent wildfire made the landscape more prone to runoff, and the dams cannot store the increased winter rainfall associated with a warmer climate. Attempts to repair and modify the dams have highlighted the financial and political challenges of managing remote wilderness. as local agriculture and salmon habitat rely on the shrinking summer water supply. The Seattle Times

Animals From Insects to Wolves May Suffer From Construction Along the U.S.-Mexico Border. Physical barriers and habitat loss can separate animal populations and limit migration. Over 1,500 native plants and animals in the region could be affected by construction of a wall, according to a 2018 report signed by nearly 3,000 scientists. The New York Times

Articles Worth Reading: Jan. 15, 2019

Pacific Northwest Farmers Have Silos Full of Unsold Legumes. The price of garbanzo beans fell by more than half after changes to U.S. trade policy and sanctions on China last year reduced exports. Farmers had already expanded their production, and now they must find a way to pay their debts. Oregon Public Broadcasting

The City of Spokane Is Trying to Clean Up Its Groundwater, which has been polluted by industrial toxins since World War II. Washington state has recently increased the strictness of its water quality standards, but implementation of these standards faces financial, political, and technological challenges. The pollution has accumulated to dangerous levels in the Spokane River fish, which is of particular consequence to the diet and health of the indigenous Spokane people. High Country News

Is Hunting Elk Out of Season Illegal for A Member of the Crow (Apsáalooke) Tribe? The state of Wyoming imprisoned Clayvin Herrera for hunting elk, but the Crow argue that the conviction violates their treaty with the U.S. The case of Herrera v. Wyoming was heard in the Supreme Court last week, and it draws attention to the complexities and contradictions of legal relationships between the U.S. and tribal nations. The Atlantic

Phoenix Has a Public Health Crisis: Heat. Hot days are more frequent, temperatures are rising with climate change, and more than 155 heat-related deaths happened last summer in Phoenix. The city is searching for ways to keep cool during the summer, including umbrellas, text alerts, and creating more shade. The groups that suffer the most, however, are those with the least ability to change their circumstances: low-income communities and the elderly. NPR

Scientists Are Collecting Pictures of Snowflakes from School Children to Analyze Snow Formation and Weather Patterns. Students in the Sierra Nevada can use their phones to take photos of snowflakes and upload them to a citizen science database. Compared to other technologies, this is a more efficient and less expensive means of collecting data on snow conditions, and it gives students the opportunity to learn about research. Science Friday

Articles Worth Reading: Jan. 7, 2019

National Park Life in a Shutdown Situation Means No Snowplows, Few Toilets and Overflowing Trash. Now the Interior Department is taking the unprecedented step of using entrance fees to pay for basic housekeeping – a use that may contravene the mandates of Congress. Around the system, operations are ad hoc. With fresh snow covering the roads and no personnel available to plow them, Arches and Canyonlands national parks shut their gates a week ago as the federal government’s partial shutdown ground headed into its third week. Utah has been funding some personnel costs, but that money was being used to staff visitor centers and clean toilets, not clear roads. In other states, nonprofits, businesses and state governments put up money and volunteer hours to keep parks safe and clean. But makeshift arrangements haven’t prevented some parks from closing and others from being inundated with trash, hence the move to repurpose visitor fees. Salt Lake Tribune Washington Post

After Years of Increasingly Inadequate Fire-fighting Budgets, a Fix Passed by Congress Takes Effect later this year creating a $2.25 billion emergency fund federal officials can use when firefighting costs exceed the firefighting budget. The head of the forest service said it can now better plan when responding to catastrophic fires. Under the fix, the annual firefighting budget would remain at a little more than $1 billion per year, but in fiscal 2020 – which begins Oct. 1 – there will be $2.25 billion to fund operations once the regular fund is spent. The emergency fund would grow by $100 million a year, reaching $2.95 billion in fiscal 2027. ASU/Cronkite News

Banning Heights, a Tiny Central Valley Town, Has an Inadequate Water Supply using broken infrastructure; the private utility responsible for maintaining it has failed to do so. For years, residents in this rural enclave tucked above the Interstate 10 freeway have tried to make Southern California Edison repair century-old pipes taking water from San Gorgonio mountains to their homes. Last year the local water company spent $178,000 ensuring adequate flow for basic health, sanitation and firefighting. Meanwhile, water continued to flow above the community from the Whitewater River, pouring out of unrepaired pipes and around deteriorating dams; 98 million gallons leaked into the dirt during fire season. For 15 years, the utility has tried to surrender its license for the hydroelectric system to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC, Banning Heights and the city of Banning say: fix the system first. Desert Sun

The Pacific Northwest Once Boasted Widespread Beaver-Built Salmon Habitat. Now the Tulalip tribes are trying to bring the beaver dams back. After Europeans decimated most of the 400 million beaverds they found in North America, beaver dams crumbled and the ponds and streams slowly disappeared. So did the salmon they supported. More recently, the sentiment that Castor canadensis is a tree-felling, water-stealing, property-flooding pest dominated state agencies in Washington, Oregon and California. But many scientists and land managers are discovering beavers can serve as agents of water conservation, habitat creation, and stream restoration – not to mention groundwater recharge. In Washington, a revised Beaver Bill allows beaver relocations on both sides of the mountains, sailed through. Starting this year, non-tribal groups, like environmental nonprofits, will be able to relocate the animals. BioGraphic

Is It Time to Start Eating Roadkill in Places Outside Alaska? Every year, between 600 and 800 moose are killed in Alaska by cars, leaving up to 250,000 pounds of organic, free-range meat on the road. State troopers who respond to these collisions keep a list of charities and families who have agreed to drive to the scene of an accident at any time, in any weather, to haul away and butcher the body. “It goes back to the traditions of Alaskans: We’re really good at using our resources,” Alaska State Trooper David Lorring said. The state;s tradition of making do means it would be embarrassing to waste the meat. In the past few years, a handful of states, including Washington, Oregon and Montana, have started to adopt the attitude that Alaskans have always had toward eating roadkill. A loosening of class stigma and the questionable ethics and economics of leaving dinner to rot by the roadside have driven acceptance of the practice in the Lower 48. High Country 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 »

 

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