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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, Devon Burger, Madison Pobis, and Sierra Garcia

Articles Worth Reading: March 30, 2020

The Economics of California Farming Could Be Upended as the new coronavirus begins to infect farmworkers and continues to shut restaurant customers. One sixth-generation farmer told California’s Public Policy Information Center, “The big concern going forward is the virus going through our workforce. The disruptions of food supply we’re seeing in stores right now is caused by … difficulty keeping shelves stocked. But if there’s disruption on farms—if crops don’t get harvested in time or the logistics for getting food to market go down, that would be much scarier.” PPIC

Sheltering May Affect Wildlife as human-wildlife interactions decrease. Three mountain lions have been spotted in residential neighborhoods in north Boulder, Colorado, causing some surprise. Experts are unsure how quarantine will affect wildlife patterns overall. Boulder Daily Camera

“Victory Gardens,” Popular During WWII, Are Seeing a Comeback during the era of COVID-19. Nurseries in Seattle are seeing an increase in edible plant sales as citizens prepare for anything. Crosscut NPR

Arizona “Nestwatchers” Monitor Breeding Bald Eagles to protect the birds. Nestwatchers work 10 days in a row, staying near the nest day and night to make sure the bald eagles are safe. The program is so popular that there’s a waitlist to get involved, and there has been a significant growth in bald eagle population since the program began. Cronkite News/Elemental

Utah in Next in Line for an Earthquake Alert System. ShakeAlert, the system developed by the U.S. Geological Survey, is being tested along the West Coast and has the potential to give a few seconds of warning—enough for medical procedures to pause, gas lines to automatically shut down, and trains to stop. Salt Lake Tribune

Western Monarch Butterfly Populations are Declining, and scientists are hoping to discover why. By collecting photo submissions of monarchs, they can better understand the butterflies’ habits and help the populations rebound. The New York Times

Articles Worth Reading: March 20, 2020

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

Articles Worth Reading: March 3, 2020

Ride-sharing Apps Increase the Number of Car Trips and Associated Emissions, a new study finds. Uber and Lyft, both based in San Francisco, cause an estimated 69 percent more emissions than the trips they displace. A survey of California passengers indicated that Uber and Lyft rides often replace trips that they would otherwise take by mass transit, bike, or on foot. Mother Jones

For Red-Crowned Parrots, Los Angeles is Now Home. The non-native species was inadvertently introduced in the 1970s and 80s when many were poached from northeastern Mexico and sold as part of the trade in pets. They’re now listed as an endangered species in Mexico thanks to poaching and habitat loss, but they are thriving in Los Angeles—and they’re not the only non-native species to do so. A number of species have come to thrive in this “urban ark” city. KCET

Voters in Western States Prioritizing the Issue of Climate, a new poll indicates. 59 percent of voters indicated that climate change requires action—an increase of 11 percent from just a decade ago. Increasing concerns also impact how voters are likely to select candidates; 47 percent of Colorado voters said the environment is very important or a primary factor in picking a candidate. Denver Post

Some Alaskan Tribes Depend on Shellfish, but Warming Waters Bring Toxins that make shellfish deadly. The toxins are odorless, tasteless, colorless, and a thousand times more toxic than sarin gas. Just one milligram can be fatal. Several groups are working to protect Native communities and traditions by designing new ways to test for the chemical. Grist

Immigrant Farmers Face Barriers in the U.S. Veronica Karanja grew up farming in Kenya, but after immigrating to the United States, had trouble continuing to cultivate the land. She is not alone. Many of the more than 200,000 immigrants and refugees from Southeast Asia and Africa in King County, Washington are still interested in farming commercially, but language barriers, increasing costs of farmland, and threats of development present challenges. Crosscut

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

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

Mar 30 2020 | ... & the West Blog, ... & the Best | Stories Recommended by the ‘... & the West’ Blog
Access to farm labor a growing concern during crisis; Victory Gardens make a comeback; Arizonans do their part to protect breeding bald eagles; Utah awaits an earthquake alert system; and other environmental news from around the West.
Mar 24 2020 | The Omaha World-Herald | Center News, Research Notes, Rural West
Berens and Polakoff meditate on the recent COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on rural Americans in an op-ed published in the Omaha World-Herald.
Mar 17 2020 | Out West student blog
Sasha Landauer meditates on a new collection of photographs from Lukas Felzmann.