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Articles Worth Reading: March 20, 2020

... & the Best

Coronavirus and the West: Available medical resources around the West; temporary drop in greenhouse-gas emissions; national parks are free; how a pandemic will change the transition in energy sources. And other environmental news from around the West.

By Devon Burger

Economists’ New Estimates of the Supply of Health Facilities Show Surprise Findings around the West on average, rural areas have more beds per person than urban areas, thanks to a 23-year-old federal program to keep rural facilities open. Still, in Idaho, Oregon, Colorado, and New Mexico 19,000 seniors live in counties without hospital beds. High Country News

Will Coronavirus and the Oil Shock Accelerate or Decelerate the Path to Decarbonization? What will it mean for shale-drilling companies in places like Texas? (Start at 7:50) The Energy Gang Podcast / Greentech Media Texas Tribune

For Stir-Crazy Shut-Ins, National Parks Are Now Free. But the systems that control visitors won’t be working. In Utah’s Zion National Park, the shuttles are gone and the traffic is crazy. And gateway communities aren’t sure they want tourists right now. San Jose Mercury News Salt Lake Tribune High Country News

We Know Much of the West’s Water Supports for Agriculture. Now We Know That Much Agriculture Supports Cattle. The nonprofit Sustainable Water has done extensive research showing as much as 50 percent of Colorado River water goes to feed the cattle that produce our hamburgers and yoghurt. The detailed tracing they’ve done gives growers, policymakers, and consumers a lot of power to make different choices. National Geographic

Intense Acidification of the Arctic Ocean, Made Worse by Ice Melt, Harms Species at the base of the food web. One of the biggest impacts is the way the more acid water makes it harder for creatures to form shells, making it harder for them to survive. Hakai Magazine

Previously: Articles Worth Reading: March 3, 2020

 

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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: July 7, 2020

Four Years After the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Sued to Block the Dakota Access Pipeline, and about four months after a federal district judge said the environmental assessment used to grant a permit was insufficient, the $3.8 billion pipeline is ordered to shut until a new environmental impact statement is finished. The pipeline had carried up to 570,000 barrels of Bakken Shale oil out of North Dakota daily before the pandemic. The U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg, who revoked the Army Corps of Engineers’ permit allowing the pipeline to operate, is known for writing opinions featuring good humor and cultural savvy. Bismarck Tribune E&E Daily

Energy Department Approves First West Coast Liquefied Natural Gas Terminal at Coos Bay, Oregon. The Jordan Cove terminal, strongly supported by natural gas companies in Colorado and Utah that seek easy access to Asian markets, was first boosted in March when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authorized operations. DoE approval means the project can export as much as 1.06 billion cubic feet of LNG daily. A lawsuit seeking reversal of the FERC approval is pending. E&E DAILY

Images of Walls of Dust Headed for Phoenix Have Become a Summer Staple for a reason: researchers determined that these haboobs doubled in number between the 1990s and 2000s. Less often pictured are the likely impact: hospitals report a 4.8 percent increase in intensive care admissions on dust-storm days; the increased in respiratory admissions tops nine percent the next day. Bloomberg

Rio Grande Flow Levels Sink to Historic Lows in Albuquerque as rainless days force the release of water held in reserve. That supply may run out by mid-July, forcing difficult decisions over how existing groundwater supplies will be apportioned. John Fleck/Inkstain

PG&E Exits Bankruptcy With a New Board and a Lot of Work to Do as Wildfire Danger Proliferates PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January 2019, facing liabilities from multiple catastrophic wildfires that killed more than 100 people in northern California after they were sparked by its power lines. The company’s $25.5 billion payout to victims, insurance companies, and local governments. Leaving bankruptcy now means PG&E can take part in a $21 billion wildfire insurance fund. Utility Dive

The Border Wall Will Not Cross the Cocopah Reservation in the Colorado River Delta. The original plan had included this seven-mile stretch east of the Colorado, but the money to pay for it was cancelled by Trump Administration lawyers in May after the Sierra Club and other groups sued to block that section of the wall. ASU/Cronkite News

The White-Throated Sparrows’ New Song Tops the Charts From British Columbia to Manitoba, avian scientists find. It’s taken about two decades for the new song, ending in a doublet of repeated tones, to be picked up other sparrows further East. Now the conversion from the old song -- ending in a triplet -- has become evident across most of Canada, starting in the far West. The scientist who discovered the change reports “White-throated sparrows have this classic song that's supposed to sound like it goes, ‘Oh, my sweet Canada, Canada, Canada….And our birds sound like they're going, ‘Oh, my sweet Cana– Cana– Cana– Canada.’” National Geographic

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

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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