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Articles Worth Reading: November 18, 2019

... & the Best

California is not as thirsty for Colorado River water as it once was; bouncing back from salmon struggles; listening in on blue whale heartbeats; and other environmental news from around the West.

By Madison Pobis

A Downward Trend for California’s Colorado River Water Consumption is shown by the most recent datasets. A favorable snowpack melt in the Sierras reduced the stress on Southern California water needs from the Colorado River. “Simply put, we are consistently using less water,” in spite of population growth, says Eric Kuhn, a retired general manager for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. John Fleck/Inkstain

Idaho Fisheries Managers Predict Long-term Success for Sockeye Salmon despite a small percentage of recruits making it back to Snake River. Unusually high water temperatures and harsh transitions from soft to hard water led to low success in the past few years. New adjustments to the program and favorable conditions could mean much higher returns of salmon to the Sawtooth Basin in 2020 and 2021. Associated Press/Idaho Falls Post Register

The First Recording of a Blue Whale Heartbeat Suggests an Upper Limit for Animal Size. Researchers at Stanford University recovered the data from a monitor that the team attached to a blue whale with suction cups while it was surfacing between dives near Monterey, California. During dives up to 200 meters, te 220-ton whale’s heart rate can slow to as few as two beats per minute in order to conserve oxygen. Even after surfacing, their hearts likely can’t beat faster than 37 beats per minute, and this ability to bounce between such extremes is what helps such a massive animal dive so deep for food. If a deep-diving animal were any bigger, it’s likely the heart couldn’t beat fast enough to compensate for the oxygen lost during dives. The Atlantic

Lighthouse Relocation Stirs Up Tensions in a Coastal California Town. Eroding cliffs surrounding the original landmark prompted the community to move the local Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse. Some locals want to preserve the names of those buried or lost at sea, but native tribes are worried that a new location would disturb ancestral burial grounds and reinforce painful histories. Los Angeles Times

A Man Unearths His Ancestral History of the Crow Tribe in Yellowstone Valley by inviting tribal members to share stories and spending time in Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth mountains. An archaeological excavation revealed the original foundations of a fort that had remained intact for more than 130 years. A new school curriculum centered on the fort and the history of the land has sparked new energy to honor the Apsalooke people and their traditions. Mountain Journal

Previously: Articles Worth Reading: November 18, 2019

 

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...& the Best

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

Articles Worth Reading: June 24, 2020

Legislators United Around Sweeping Plans to Help Public Lands as Democrats and Republicans in large numbers voted to approve the measure. It does everything from shoring up the major federal conservation fund to putting billions aside to maintain and improve national parks, which have long been neglected. Two western Republican senators, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana, were seen as major political beneficiaries of the legislation. San Jose Mercury News   CNN

Black Americans Account For Just Two Percent of National Park Visitors, and a Black writer who is immersed in America’s wild places believes “the great outdoor in the U.S. has never truly been a welcoming place for people of color.” Until the end of World War II, Jim Crow laws were in place in most parks; Black tourists once depended on The Negro Motorist Green Book for information on facilities near parks that served Black clientele. Now a digital version of the Green Book is being written, and hope is rising that people who felt excluded from the outdoors will now embrace it. National Geographic

Wave of Real Estate Sales in the Mountain West As City Dwellers seem to be fleeing the crowding in the midst of the pandemic. A surge of out-of-staters are buying homes in Montana, Wyoming and other parts of the Mountain West, according to real estate agents. Boise State Public Radio

Should We Use a New Word for What the Decline in Colorado River Flows Means? Scientists have decided the word drought doesn’t cut it anymore. Researchers covering the climate in the river basin argue that a drought is temporary, and a word like “aridification” would describe something permanent. The Revelator

By 2016 Coal Production in Wyoming Was Half Its 2008 Levels. The Pandemic Changed That Trend– For the Worse. Rather than moving away from coal as an economic base on a glidepath to a new economy over a deacde, coal communities could see their economies disappear much faster. “Basically the [Wyoming revenue] trend that’s happened here is a vertical-downward; there’s no slope, it’s just straight down,” said University of Wyoming energy economist Robert Godby. Wyofile

Texas Deciding Whether to Ban Flaring Natural Gas or simply to regulate it. The State’s Railroad Commission has authority over the oil and gas industry, and can use existing state laws to control flaring – the laws prohibit a “waste of natural resources.” But the agency issued 7,000 exceptions last year, up 27percent from the year before. Two new studies support a ban on routine flaring. E&E News

Want to Know Where Fish-ish Meals on Your Plate Will Be Coming From in coming decades? Check out this lab at the University of California Berkeley, which specializes in alt-meat. Hakai

Articles Worth Reading: June 8, 2020

Record-Setting Floods Have Re-ignited the Debate Over Damming Washington’s Chehalis River. Most proposals recommend the creation of a seasonal reservoir to moderate water flows, but they face criticism from environmental groups who argue that obstructing the waterway would hinder salmon breeding. Crosscut

New Revelations in the Enduring Mystery of Mount St. Helens’ Geology could help scientists better predict future eruptions. The volcano, known for its devastating 1980 eruption, has long puzzled vulcanologists due to its unique location away from large magma deposits. National Geographic

Has Legislative Inaction Left Oregon Vulnerable to the Coming Wildfire Season? Experts suggest drought conditions will exacerbate the fire risk, but efforts to address budget difficulties — the state faces over $80 million of outstanding fire-related debt — fell through after Republican lawmakers walked out of a session that pinned the worsening fire situation on climate change. The Oregonian

Federal Judges Across the West Set Back Trump’s Energy Agenda, delivering a series of rulings that cancelled oil and gas leases and required more thorough environmental analyses for such projects. Though energy industry allies have denounced the decisions as judicial activism, environmentalists suggest that the rulings will do little to deter the expansion of drilling projects in the region. Associated Press

More Than 100 Alaskan Communities Lost Access to Essential Deliveries when Rvan Air, the state’s largest regional airline, filed for bankruptcy last month. The announcement, delivered mere hours before service ended, left tribal coordinators scrambling to arrange alternate ways to supply their communities. Indian Country News

‘Glacier Mice’ Have Puzzled Geologists for Decades by Their Herd-like Movements. NPR’s Short Wave team spoke to experts to learn more about a strange phenomenon – the small balls of moss that dot glacial landscapes. NPR

Articles Worth Reading: May 26, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Articles Worth Reading: May 11, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Articles Worth Reading: April 27, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Articles Worth Reading: April 14, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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