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Articles Worth Reading: December 2, 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, the 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, Madison Pobis, and Sierra Garcia

Articles Worth Reading: January 6, 2020

Two Arizona Leaders Clashed Repeatedly Over Who Could Use How Much Colorado River Water. But when Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, and Ted Cooke, general manager of the Central Arizona Project, realized their impasse could hurt all the water users they represented, they found a way to agree. So the fractious forces within Arizona united to join California and Nevada to approve the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan governing the future of the Colorado River. A year-end editorial called it “nothing short of historic….it proves that people with wildly different viewpoints can learn to work together and accomplish things that matter.” Arizona Republic

Successful Conservation Means More Seafloor Opening to Trawlers, some 15 years after extensive closures decimated the fishing industry that scrapes the ocean floor for fish like rockfish, perch and sole. Overfishing and crude methods led environmentalists to seek protection for the fish and the coral reefs. They successfully pushed for large closures, but have made peace with many fishermen as they now work to revive the industry in a sustainable fashion. The new task: revive consumer interest in species that have long been off the shelves. Fortune

Tumbling Into the New Year, Drivers in Washington Found Themselves Trapped by a growing forest of tumbleweeds. Thousands of the plants, which grow copiously in a valley near state route 240, were dislodged by high winds on New Year’s Eve, then clustered in an area of the highway that quickly became impassable. At least 20 people were trapped in cars under the growing pile of plants. One state trooper called it a “tumbleweed avalanche;” indeed, the plants, which had piled up to heights of 20 feet or more, were eventually removed by a snowplow. Spokane Statesman-Review Atlas Obscura

New Mexico’s Wind-Blown, Shape-Shifting Gypsum Dune Field Became the Country’s 62nd National Park in late December, and is now known as White Sands National Park. This is a traditional outcome for most national monuments, and it happened a little over a year after two national monuments in Utah were cut down or cut apart. But after 86 years as a national monument, the 275-square-mile stretch &mdash which grew slightly thanks to a land exchange with the national missile range nearby — has full park status. The area, with more than 800 animal species, has been described as a desert Galapagos. REI Blog

Diagnosis: Desertification. Prescription: Bison. In northern New Mexico’s state of Chihuahua, where decades of cattle-grazing have left dry fields that strong local winds turn into dust clouds, a local rancher is raising a herd of bison, whose grazing habits are conducive to restoring land dessicated by cattle. The ranch, called El Uno, is hoping to help restore both the bison — nearly wiped out from Canada to Chihuahua by Western settlers in the 19th and 20th centuries — and the land itself. Living On Earth Podcast

Articles Worth Reading: December 16, 2019

Alaska’s Cod Fishery Shuts Down for 2020 Season Due to Climate Stress. The marine heat wave of 2014 slashed fish stocks in half with steady declines predicted for the future. Dwindling cod populations aren’t only bad for marine species like steller sea lions, but also for the local fishermen who have historically relied on the fishery for much of their income. “I'd like to think that I could fish cod one more time before I retire, but I don't know. I simply don't know where we're going here,” says Frank Miles, a pot cod fisherman based in Kodiak. NPR

The Ruling on Lawsuit Upholds Rights for Klamath, Yurok, and Hoopa Valley Tribes in a case where irrigation water was redirected for threatened and endangered species in the Klamath River. High Country News

Unbridled Groundwater Pumping Could Dry Up Arizona’s San Pedro River as more and more wells are drilled to support a growing population. More than 350 animal species and 600 plant species rely on the ecosystems supported by the river, and some are hurtling toward extinction. Even if all pumping stopped today, the basin would likely still see reduced outputs after years of extraction and hydrologic change. Arizona Republic

Increasing the Water Taken From the Delta May Not Hurt the Delta Smelt because the tiny fish is already too far gone, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife found. Two scientific experts on the California fish dissect this opinion, and argue that the government’s habitat restoration plans may be too diffuse to do much good. “Current smelt populations are too small to be able to see an immediate … response to habitat changes alone,” they found. California Water Blog, PPIC

Studying Urban Coyotes Resonates With the Lived Experience of Social Inequity for Christopher Schell, a researcher at the University of Washington’s Tacoma campus.“Coyotes are big enough to be the apex predator in cities, but still small enough to navigate those cities,” says Schell. He discovered pups learn not to fear humans by watching their parents. “Each generation is bolder than the last,” he says. But city-dwellers do fear coyotes. “They’re hated on. They’re feared. People try to eradicate them from an environment. They learn quickly and figure out ways to survive in cities.” Recognizing racial and social inequity in the urban landscape, he says,may provide a fresh perspective on what science often overlooks. University of Washington Magazine

Articles Worth Reading: December 2, 2019

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, the 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

Articles Worth Reading: November 18, 2019

Mining Expansion Poses Risks for a Colorado Tourist Destination. The town of Glenwood Springs relies on water flows from the Colorado River and subterranean heating to supply its popular hot springs. Denver-based mining company Rocky Mountain Resources acquired a nearby limestone quarry in 2016. Now the firm has proposed plans to expand from 20 acres to more than 450 over the next few decades. Several surrounding towns, including Glenwood Springs — a bedroom community for ski resorts — have passed resolutions opposing the expansion, citing impacts of dust, traffic, and impacts on water (read our recent report from Garfield County, Colorado). The Bureau of Land Management has not yet decided whether or not to allow it. The Denver Post

Caribou Take Home the Gold for Long-Distance Migrations. A recent study confirmed the widely cited evidence that caribou are the mammals that routinely make the longest migrations over land. Over the course of a year, caribou will travel as much as 840 miles. The New York Times

Bird Rehabilitators Seek to Ban Lead Ammunition after seeing the devastating impacts of lead toxicity in raptors like Wyoming’s golden eagles. Lead bullets shatter easily upon impact, which means that birds feeding on prey that have been shot can ingest the toxic substance and suffer severe impacts to the brain and nervous system. Many hunters are resistant to the transition because lead-free ammunition tends to be more expensive and less-suited to certain styles of hunting. WyoFile

Dry Lakes are Kicking Up Dust Throughout the West and prompting air quality officials to consider legal action. The Salton Sea in California’s Imperial County and the Utah Great Salt Lake are two of the largest contributors to dust in the wake of increasingly dry conditions. Dust in the air clogs lungs and airways and carries with it toxic compounds from agricultural sources. Bitterroot

Mountains Could Act as Batteries for Storing Gravitational Potential Energy according to new research. As western states work to meet their renewable energy goals, lithium-ion batteries often fall short when it comes to storing energy from solar or wind for more than a few hours. But by using a contraption similar to a ski lift to hoist sand up mountainsides, gravitational potential energy is stored and ready to generate electricity once the material falls down again. The system would increase the time and scale of energy storage while avoiding the drawbacks of hydropower storage, like evaporation. Utility Dive

Articles Worth Reading: November 5, 2019

Devastating Sea Urchin Invasion is Spreading to the Oregon Coast and wreaking havoc on abalone fisheries. Rapacious purple urchins have decimated California’s kelp ecosystems in recent years, and new estimates suggest that as many as 350 million of the spiny critters were latching onto a single Oregon reef — a 10,000 percent increase over the 2014 numbers. “You can't just go out and smash them. There's too many,” says Scott Groth, a shellfish scientist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Conservationists and other stakeholders are hoping to combat the issue by paying divers to remove the urchins by hand so they can be farmed for their meaty roe. Associated Press

Lasers, LiDAR, and Drones Can Detect Methane Leaks that contribute to global warming and cost the oil and gas industry as much as $30 billion per year. Tech entrepreneurs in Colorado are working to design monitoring systems that are rugged enough to be left unattended in the oil fields forlong periods but accurate enough to identify even small leaks. Yale Environment 360

The Wild Population of California Condors is Well on its Way to Recovery. There are now more than 300 condors throughout the Southwest thanks to an aggressive breeding program and a ban on lead ammunition put into effect in July. Scientists are finding that an abundance of marine mammals contributes to healthier chicks. Soon the population will reach the goals originally set for the species in the 1996 plans Hakai

New Law Requires Texas Homeowners to Disclose Flooding Risk to potential buyers in the wake of damage from Hurricane Harvey. The new law means that buyers are more informed about flood history and risk, but properties in floodplain areas may have more difficulty selling. Surveys suggest that more than 74 percent of Americans are in favor of a disclosure law that can help buyers decide whether or not to purchase a home or seek flood insurance. NPR

Navajo Woman Reflects on the Importance of her Grandmother’s Weaving. Melanie Yazzie remembers holding yarn between her feet as her grandmother wove traditional rugs in their home in Arizona. Now a printmaker and educator, she draws from her memories of her grandmother to find purpose in her work. The piece begins at the podcast’s 11:41 mark. The Moth Podcast

Articles Worth Reading: October 22, 2019

Greater-Sage Grouse Populations Stand a Better Chance, thanks to a new court ruling that found a lack of acceptable scientific support for the Trump administration’s rollback of protections on more than 9 million acres of the bird’s habitat in states like Wyoming and Oregon. The rollback in March was an effort to lease prime land for oil and gas drilling projects. This week’s court ruling, in which the judge wrote, “When the [Bureau of Land Management] substantially reduces protections for sage grouse contrary to the best science and the concerns of other agencies, there must be some analysis and justification,” is a win for conservation groups suing to get the plans thrown out. The sage grouse has already lost some 90 percent of its historic numbers. Audubon

Colorado Cannabis Growers Are Becoming More Energy-Efficient by taking advantage of sustainable investments in technology. Carbon emissions are rising with the expansion of the legal marijuana industry because indoor growing operations rely on huge amounts of electricity to power cooling and lighting equipment. Creative design systems and a rigorous energy offset program are helping to keep the state on track for its efficiency goals in the next few years. The Denver Post

Shellfish Farming Permit Thrown Out Due to Concerns for the Marine Environment in the Pacific Northwest. A federal judge found the Army Corps of Engineers didn’t properly analyze the environmental impact of aquaculture farms. The industry takes in nearly $150 million per year in Washington state, the hub of shellfish aquaculture. Critics said the original permit doesn’t account for potential damage from microplastics, herbicides, and tideland conversion. The Seattle Times

Ecologists Lobby for Wildlife-Friendly Highway Crossings Along the Border With Mexico. Mexico’s Highway 2 intersects a wildlife corridor that could be used by populations of endangered species like jaguars, ocelots, and black bears traveling between Arizona and Sonora. Wildlands Network is pushing for additions to highway construction that would direct animals to safe crossings and maximize their chances of survival during dangerous travel. ASU Cronkite News/Arizona PBS

Wild Burros Aren’t All Bad for the Death Valley Ecosystem according to ongoing research. Yes, the donkeys compete for resources with the park’s native species, but they may also serve other beneficial purposes. By digging wells in dry streambeds, they create small water sources for insects and amphibians and help struggling tree species germinate. The default option is to round up and remove the burros, but there may be unintended consequences for the complex desert ecosystem. Undark

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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Jan 6 2020 | ... & the West Blog, ... & the Best | Stories Recommended by the ‘... & the West’ Blog
A conservation success story means bottom trawling is coming back to areas closed-off to the industry for 15 years; the newest national park is born in New Mexico; “tumblegeddon” interrupts New Year’s Eve in southeastern Washington; a ranch in Mexico raises bison to fix desertification; and more recent environmental news from around the West.
Dec 20 2019 | ... & the West Blog
Even after record-setting fires devastated communities around the West, resistance to policies to reduce housing vulnerability persists, particularly if they constrain development.
Dec 17 2019 | Stanford News Report | Center News
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