Skip to content Skip to navigation

Astride Two Wests, Colorado County Faces a Tricky Economic Balance

Felicity Barringer
Oct 29 2019

With outdoor recreation in its east and fossil-fuel resources on the west, can Garfield County develop an economy that serves both ends?

Interstate 70 and the Colorado River transect Garfield County, Colorado, which is perched between Rocky Mountain resorts and the natural resources industry. Above, the community  of Chacra, about 8 miles west of the county seat Glenwood Springs

Location, Location, Location Interstate 70 and the Colorado River transect Garfield County, Colorado, which is perched between Rocky Mountain resorts and the natural resources industry. Above, the community  of Chacra, about 8 miles west of the county seat Glenwood Springs.   Jeffrey Beall via Flickr
 

By Felicity Barringer

SILT, Colorado — For those speeding by on Interstate 70, Silt is a hiccup of a town between Grand Junction and the Rocky Mountains. But its visions belie its size. Jeff Layman, the town’s administrator, believes Silt contains the seeds of a new economy. It could mean the end of the days when most of its three thousand residents drive an hour east to work in the recreational world of ski resorts — places they can’t afford to live. Many others drive an hour west to work in the industrial world of oil and gas wells.

As Layman sees it, “We’re in the sweet spot” of Garfield County, a long stepladder of land with its eastern end near Aspen and its western end at the Utah border. About 60,000 people live there; the Colorado River and Interstate 70 are its twin arteries. Silt is one of about 10 communities clustered around major highways. New businesses are arriving in town: Skip’s Farm to Market, with its offerings of vegetables and fruits opened on Main Street a few months ago, getting the attention of young foodies. A marijuana dispensary sits across the street.

Map of Garfield County in Western Colorado.

Garfield County is a long stepladder of land with its eastern end near Aspen and its western end at the Utah border.   Geoff McGhee/Bill Lane Center for the American West

Solar panels in town generate 20.5 kilowatts of electricity and the town is investing $40,000 to install four electric vehicle chargers downtown.  “We’re talking to a guy who is involved in new-age energy — wind turbines for residential apartments. He’s a Western Slope guy and looks at Silt as being less expensive for land, buildings and labor,” Layman said. He dreams the man will decide to bring 180 jobs to town. He expects the town will allow all-terrain vehicles to ride on the same streets as cars, which could bring more ATV riders to town to head for the stunning plateaus above it. A town park is being expanded to make it more of a Colorado River boating hub.

Silt is one of many rural small towns balanced precariously between the old western economy and an emerging economy whose shape is unclear, but which could become a hybrid of recreation jobs and some kind of 21st-century manufacturing or technology. As Don Albrecht, executive director of Utah State University’s Western Rural Development Center explained, “Rural communities that are thriving are starting to make a transition,” recognizing that traditional industries are fading away.

Left: the Crown Mountain bike trail near Carbondale and Basalt Colorado; right, tourist gondolas at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park outside of Glenwood Springs.   Bob Wick/BLM via Flickr; Clean Energy Economy for the Region via Flickr

“Rural communities that are thriving are starting to make a transition,” recognizing that traditional industries are fading away.

Can Rural Economies Decouple From Energy Booms and Busts?

The future Layman envisions for Silt would move toward manufacturing, retail and leisure industries. These could keep some of his commuting workers home. But he thinks some will always work for the oil and gas industry, which has been central to Garfield County’s economy for decades. The county government and many public services, from schools to libraries to fire stations, rely on property and severance taxes from oil and gas wells.

On the other hand, towns like Silt, Rifle, Parachute, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs benefit directly from sales taxes.

Jeff Layman, town administrator of Silt, population 3,129.

“We’re in the sweet spot” of Garfield County  Jeff Layman, town administrator of Silt, population 3,129.   Felicity Barringer

The region has almost recovered from the bust a decade ago, when everything — the oil and gas industry, the real estate market, and the stock market imploded simultaneously. Its unemployment rate rose to 11.3 percent by 2010; in August it was at a national low figure of 2.4 percent. But nervousness — or resignation — about the boom-and-bust cycle lingers. Right now, one coal mine after another is closing in counties near Garfield. Oil and gas income fluctuates — it has declined in recent years — but could be more stable if demand is reliable.

It almost never is. Low gas prices just led Halliburton to lay off 178 petroleum workers in Mesa County, next door to Garfield County and home to Grand Junction, the Western Slope’s biggest city. It is 87 miles southwest on I-70 from Glenwood Springs, Garfield’s county seat.

A drilling rig south of Rifle, photographed in 2008

A drilling rig south of Rifle, photographed in 2008.   Courtesy Lee Gelatt/Conservation Colorado via Flickr

In 1982, the area faced an economic apocalypse as Exxon left and 2,000 oil-field jobs disappeared. It was the biggest of the Western Slope’s recent economic downturns. As Headwaters Economics, a Montana research firm, said in a 2011 report, “Oil and natural gas jobs are more volatile than coal jobs because oil and natural gas prices tend to fluctuate more widely than coal prices. The bulk of the growth in mining employment over the past decade has been in the oil and natural gas sector, along with the bulk of lost mining jobs.”

Visions Range From a Rural ‘Start-Up Mecca’ to Pursuing Overseas Gas Exports

Sarah Shrader is a co-founder of Bonsai Design, a Grand Junction business specializing in recreation facility design — they make zip lines, among other things. She said hard experience has bred a downbeat attitude. “There have been five significant booms and busts in the last 50 years. This creates a culture of hopelessness… you’re always thinking prosperity is temporary.”

One option is Shrader’s dream. As a board member of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, she wants to transform Grand Junction, the Western Slope’s biggest city into a tourist and start-up mecca. Shrader advocates enhancing access to the natural world to lure hikers, mountain bikers, hunters, fishers, and other recreation enthusiasts. Ideally start-ups seeking an outdoor-oriented workforce would arrive, paying employees good wages.

The pollution from the extractive industries does not add to the region’s tourist appeal. But the $15-an-hour salaries of service industry workers in resorts cannot match annual salaries of $60,000 to $100,000 that oil and gas workers can command.

The other option is doubling down on the fossil-fuel industries. In 2012 the county produced 703 billion cubic feet of gas; that declined to less than 500 million cubic feet last year. But industry leaders are banking on the Jordan Cove Project, a proposed liquified natural gas terminal that Pembina Pipeline Corp., a Canadian company, seeks to build in Coos Bay, Oregon. It would export gas to Asia from the Western Slope's Piceance basin, one of the largest deposits in the country.

This avenue to ending booms and busts relies on the terminal’s access to overseas markets. Local officials have personally lobbied Interior Secretary David Bernhardt — a Rifle native — to help get the Jordan Cove Energy Project approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. This summer, the commissioners wrote a letter urging FERC to approve it.

Graphic showing locations of oil and gas wells in Garfield County and Western Slope.   Geoff McGhee/Bill Lane Center for the American West
 

Graphic showing locations of oil and gas wells in Garfield County and Western SlopeGeoff McGhee/Bill Lane Center for the American West
 

Landowners in the pipelines’ path and Oregon environmental regulators are resisting. Colorado’s current governor, Jared Polis, has changed the state’s position from supportive to neutral. All this has made 2019 a fraught moment for the Western Slope’s corridor county. Western Slope officials argue angrily that it is not just their jobs, but their culture and values that are being tossed away,

“We can’t recreate our way out of the natural resource industry we have put ourselves into.”

“We can’t recreate our way out of the natural resource industry we have put ourselves into” with the existing tax structure, said Doug Monger, a commissioner of Routt County, speaking last month to a visiting group of state legislators specializing in energy issues. In the same meeting, Ray Beck, a commissioner in Moffat County, said the state’s government has launched “an onslaught of legislative and policy efforts aimed at destroying our way of life.”

The Oregon gas-export facility could change that. “We think the beauty of Jordan Cove is the long-term evening out of the boom-and-bust cycle,” said Kevin Batchelder, the County Manager in Garfield County, in an interview. “It would provide us a direct market to the Pacific Rim where there’s a lot of energy demand, particularly for cleaner energy like natural gas.” Half of the county’s spending money, he said, comes from taxes on natural gas.

From Dispensaries to Broadband: A Plan for Every Town

Town-level efforts to cobble together new economic options also receive county support, said Tom Jankovsky, a county commissioner. “Each community is unique and each community wants to direct the effort” for economic development, he said. “The county is a conduit for different economic development groups in different communities.” He said that Parachute, an oil and gas hub hit hard by the last bust, has added the marijuana industry to its playbook; it is now home to six dispensaries.

“There are a lot of sales off the highway,” Janovsky said. “From there the town has reached out to do more events — tourism, boat ramps on the Colorado River, a float business, renting ATV’s and Rzrs,” — two kinds of off-road vehicles. Internet access is also a big part of future economic development. “Broadband is essential,” he said.

The county’s broadband service is better than it was, with wired connections along Interstate 70. Batchelder, the county manager, said the county is finishing the design and engineering of a wireless system to connect 7,700 homes in remote areas, assuming that commercial internet service providers would provide the “last-mile” service by beaming wireless signals — an improvement, even though wireless service can be unreliable.

Colorado’s state-run “Bustang” line offers wifi and comfy seats and transports commuters 150 miles from Glenwood Springs and several other western Colorado towns to Denver

Colorado’s state-run “Bustang” line offers wifi and comfy seats and transports commuters 150 miles from Glenwood Springs and several other western Colorado sites to Denver.  

Extractive wealth versus tourism and perhaps new, innovative businesses? The debate is also playing out in Congress: the House is expected to pass the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, a section of which would ban future oil and gas leases in Thompson Divide, a hunting, fishing, and mountain-biking mecca west of Carbondale in the White River National Forest. County commissioners oppose a permanent ban.

“We’ve been having this discussion for a long time,” said Trési Houpt, a Democrat who is a former Garfield County commissioner and a former member of Colorado’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Ms. Houpt, now retired, focuses on preventing the industry’s negative effects on human health, and on preserving environmental values, though she recognizes the industry’s past importance to the local economy. For the future, she said, “one of the most important industries that could continue to grow are those companies feeding recreation.”

The state legislature this year passed a bill that requires that permits for new gas wells must be considered with a primary emphasis on human health and environmental protection. But Garfield County’s point man on oil and gas, Kirby Wynn, points out “the permitting process has been vastly diminished. It’s slowed to a crawl, a standstill.”

If that continues, and Jordan Cove is never built, what can Garfield County do? The sun shines here about 300 days a year – should it build out more solar energy? The process has already begun in Rifle and other sites; government-owned projects generate 8,400 megawatt-hours of energy annually. Or will developers expand the second-home growth of towns like Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, which are bedroom communities for thriving ski resorts?

A worker installing solar panels on the Garfield County Fairgrounds Riding Arena in Rifle.

A worker installing solar panels on the Garfield County Fairgrounds Riding Arena in Rifle. Government-owned projects generate 8,400 megawatt-hours of energy annually in the County.   GARFIELD CLEAN ENERGY via Flickr

Connection Matters, But It’s Not the Only Thing

Mark Haggerty, an economist with Headwaters Economics, said airports and broadband are necessary preconditions for economic transformation, but are not sufficient to ensure it. “Innovation clusters,” he said, are “the real value in the new economy, where wages are high and … drive real economic growth..The problem is, nobody knows how to do that…. The kernel that starts those things is serendipitous.”

The kernel could be the rooftop turbine manufacturer looking at Silt. Or a new Bill Gates who seeks to live amid heart-stopping landscapes and might arrive with a world-changing business idea. Or an entrepreneur attracted by a workforce trained in an innovative education program.

Tinker Duclo, dean at the Colorado Mountain College’s campus in Rifle.
“The campus has had to pivot away from oil and gas training.” Tinker Duclo, dean at the Colorado Mountain College’s campus in Rifle.    Felicity Barringer

Tinker Duclo, dean at Colorado Mountain College’s Rifle campus, has been trying to anticipate future needs and find the right mix of programs for CMC’s students. “The campus has had to pivot away from oil and gas training,” she explained. A few years ago, it had a program to train students to install solar panels, but students with CMC’s installer certificate could only get entry-level jobs that did not pay a living wage; the program ended. “To go deeply into solar, you have to be an electrician,” Duclo said.

Now the college trains students to perform locally-needed services: teaching, fighting fires, nursing. It is exploring curricula to mesh with the needs of the automotive, construction, and marijuana industries. For the latter, students could learn to grow and harvest hemp, extract fiber and oils from the plants, and become fluent in the industry’s legal requirements. “What is the workforce the future needs?” Duclo wonders.

Unclear. No-one has found the secret sauce that lets communities find and nurture the kernel of a new economy. For all the new things being tried, oil and gas employers remain the surest source of income. But Layman, the administrator in Silt, isn’t giving up. “I’ve been joking about putting up billboards in Silicon Valley,” he said.

But as much as he wants economic diversification, he fears his residents’ reaction if he finds a goose that lays too many golden eggs. “It’s sort of a two-edged sword. People here … like this part of Colorado the way it is. Simple, not fast-paced. They are holding back the tide.”

 

and the west logo

 

Edited by Geoff McGhee.

 

Read Next in ...& the West

U.S. Route 50 Was the Best Way to the Pacific; Now, It’s a Road to the Past

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.


 

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.

Jon Stavney Eagle, Colorado

Responding to Astride Two Wests, Colorado County Faces a Tricky Economic Balance

Just read a forwarded blog by Barringer about Garfield County/Silt. I am the Executive Director of Northwest Colorado Council of Governments where I report out on similar topics to our membership of towns and counties on a monthly basis. My own blog is at a-public-observer.com . As a self proclaimed Citizen of the West, I am glad to find this resource from Stanford.

10/30/2019, 1:23pm

Anonymous

Responding to Astride Two Wests, Colorado County Faces a Tricky Economic Balance

I am a reporter, living in Garfield County, CO. Your article "Astride Two Wests" is spot-on, as they way, about economic issues facing the county and the region. Garfield County Commissioners continue to hope and pray that natural gas will make a comeback, including championing Jordan Cove and fighting the SB-181 rulemakings. It's amazing to me how they will not admit that natural gas is going away eventually and plan for the future instead of resisting the inevitable. Good story. Thanks.

10/29/2019, 2:23pm

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, Devon Burger, Madison Pobis, and Sierra Garcia

Articles Worth Reading: February 18, 2020

Oil Drilling, Coal Mining and Grazing Can Begin Where They Were Barred in an area that was, until recently, within the bounds of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments. If fossil-fuel companies decide it could pay, coal mining or oil and gas development could now happen on more than 1,000 square miles within the former boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Tribal and advocacy groups requested measures to protect cultural sites in the Bears Ears area, but the new plan includes none of them. In fact, tribal spokesmen say the new plan removes protections that pre-dated the official designation of Bears Ears as a National Monument in 2016. Boise State Public Radio

After Three Texas Coal Plants Closed, Air Pollution Fell Dramatically, with emissions dropping by 152,000 tons in the first year. This included an 11 percent reduction of fine particulate matter that can cause asthma. This is an important step, but environmental advocates are still pushing Texas to monitor unauthorized air pollution. Though legal air pollution is declining, other emissions are increasing and are expected to worsen in the future. Texas Observer

Water Bottling Companies Have Rights to Water from a Small-Town Spring, but Washington State is looking to change that. When the tap into spring-fed sources, companies deplete springs and aquifers in order to ship water elsewhere and make a profit. This follows similar local efforts in Oregon and Montana — though a Montana county’s ordinance has been challenged in court. Washington is working to protect its local water supply as water scarcity becomes a more pressing issue. The Counter Pew Trusts Stateline

Printed Batteries Are Now Available, with Imprint Energy, a Bay Area company, printing hundreds of thousands of batteries that hold more energy and they claim are safer than lithium-ion products. They may help us tackle a number of environmental questions in a more efficient and safer way. Christine Ho, the company's co-founder and CEO, discusses the possibilities in this podcast. Green Tech Media

The Death of Even One Mountain Lion is a Significant Loss. Los Angeles is one of just two major cities that has big cats living within city limits. In the Santa Monica mountains, it is clear how difficult coexistence can be. Under certain conditions, property owners may take lethal action to protect their pets and livestock; the property owner responsible for killing a mountain lion called P-56 had lost 12 animals in nine separate invidents. Yet the loss of the mountain lion can have serious ramification on the species that already lacks genetic diversity. Outside Online

Articles Worth Reading: February 4, 2020

California Adopts Mandatory Composting Regulations to cut organized waste disposal by 75 percent over the next five years. Recycling rates have dropped since China stopped accepting much recycling; California’s recycling rate is down to 40 percent. Among other things, the rule aims to recover one-fifth of the edible food that is now thrown away. California is the first state to require groups that generate food waste – like grocery stores and restaurants -- to donate some unused food to people in need. Waste 360

By Allowing an Oil Company’s Operations to Harm Beluga Whales, the federal government is shirking its responsibility under the Endangered Species Act, according to lawsuits filed by two environmental groups on behalf of beluga whales in Alaska’s Cook Inlet. The seismic blasts used by companies exploring to discover oil deposits, the nonprofit groups claim, can cause hearing loss in the whales, disrupt their communications, and hurt their ability to catch fish. Associated Press

Rainfall Causes Exponentially Larger Floods than Snowmelt, new research indicates. A study of 36 years’ worth of data shows rainfall-driven flooding can be 2.5 times more extensive than floods generated by snowmelt. This means that the western U.S. might face new challenges as the atmosphere continues to warm and more precipitation falls as rain. Stanford Earth

Starting With Four Northern California Communities, PG&E is Working to Build Microgrids that can resist fire-related power outages. These small power networks are usually plugged into the main electrical grid, but at times of fire-related shutoffs, they can be disconnected, creating independent islands of power. They will keep lights burning in areas that are especially vulnerable to outages, but microgrids also raise concerns about carbon impacts, as long as the grids continue to be powered with diesel. Utility Dive

Microsoft Pledged to Become “Carbon Negative,” meaning the company will remove more carbon than it emits by 2030—but the Xbox gaming console might stand in its way. The device uses a disproportionate amount of electricity, but its emissions also depend on individual behavior. A 2019 study by Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory found that annual emissions from Americans playing video games equal those of 85 million refrigerators or five million cars. Grist

Articles Worth Reading: January 21, 2020

Glacier National Park is Going… Going… Not Quite Gone. While the park has lost more than three-quarters of the glaciers that defined its landscape 75 years ago, it still has at least 26, contrary to predictions that by 2020 warming would cost the park all its namesake ice. So park officials have been removing the official signs warning that all glaciers would melt by 2020, and a scientist is explaining why some predictions are iffy. Montana Public Radio

The Navajo Nation and Salt River Project Are Working Together to Develop a Solar Energy project. This 200-megawatt project is an important step in the Navajo Nation’s effort to move away from coal, which was an economic lifeline until the closing of the Navajo Generating Plant late last year. Associated Press/Durango Herald Native News Online

When Smoke’s in the Air, Death Rates Inch Up, finds a new study by University of Washington researchers and Washington state health officials. Researchers correlated a dozen years of deaths starting in 2006 and matched them with wildfire smoke’s locations, finding a one-percent increase in non-traumatic mortality on smoky days. “Estimates of death represent the tip of the iceberg,” said one researcher, pointing other, less-dramatic health consequences. Crosscut

Scientists Think They Know How a Million Seabirds Died: a 700-day marine heat wave in the northeast Pacific. Between 2014 and 2016, the heat wave led to above-average surface water temperatures, killing many small fish that the seabirds, known as common murres —as well as other species in the Gulf of Alaska—rely on. Associated Press KQED PLOS

Three Men, a Boy, and Four Goats — Traveling Together On A 100-Mile Trail. Bruce Kirkby recounts his experience and shares striking images of a father-son adventure in Utah. Maptia

Puget Sound Tribes and Scientists Join Forces to Breed Millions of Clams When members of the Suquamish tribe noticed a decrease in local cockle populations, Elizabeth Unsell, the tribal shellfish biologist, approached the Puget Sound Restoration Fund (PSRF) about possible options. Now, the tribe, PSRF, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have strategies to enhance shellfish breeding; this year, they succeeded in breeding more than a million juveniles The New Food Economy

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

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

Feb 18 2020 | ... & the West Blog, ... & the Best | Stories Recommended by the ‘... & the West’ Blog
Opening once-protected national monument land to coal mining; closing Texas coal plants means cleaner air; Washington state looks to limit water bottling companies’ access to spring-fed water; the potential of printed batteries; and more environmental news from around the West.
Feb 7 2020 | Nora Hennessy Spotlight | Center News, Happenings, Topics of the West
Internship co-sponsored by the Bill Lane Center tasks Stanford graduate student with evaluating Palo Alto's energy storage programs
Feb 4 2020 | Center News, Happenings
Calling all journalists: Apply for a Bill Lane Center media fellowship beginning February 17, 2020.