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... & the West Blog

The California fires continue to burn at a record-setting pace, the worst of them along the central coast; the danger that Utah’s Great Salt Lake will shrivel into a puddle; Washington’s governor looks to a carbon tax to pay back state reserves that are committed to school costs, and other highlights of environmental news from around the West this week.
A Navajo voting rights win in Utah, greener cattle, litigation over endangered frogs and fossil fuels, and other highlights of environmental news from around the West this week.
Rainwater harvesting in Tucson, a challenge to Oakland’s coal ban at its port facility, a shrinking Colorado snowpack, and other highlights of environmental news from around the West this week.

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Western Articles and Media Elsewhere
Compiled by Felicity Barringer, Josh Lappen, and Sandro Hall

Jan. 22, 2018

Uranium Mining Industry Seeks Resurgence in Navajo Nation Borderlands. Mining companies aggressively lobbied Secretary Zinke to shrink Bears Ears National Monument and lawmakers to ease mining restrictions, creating new opportunities for America’s nuclear industry. But members of the neighboring Navajo Nation, still recovering from the consequences of mining decades ago, worry about the health effects. The NEW YORK TIMES

Rock Art Experts Spar with BLM, Energy Companies Over Fate of Utah Petroglyphs. The Bureau of Land Management has begun leasing parts of Emery County for oil and gas drilling. As the energy industry and preservationists argue over potential adverse effects, one photographer is determined to discover and map the region’s rock art sites. SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

More Than 50 Yellowstone Bison Headed for Fort Peck Tribes Escape. Biologists had held the group of bison in captivity for almost two years to ensure they were free of brucellosis. The National Park Service launched a criminal investigation this week after discovering evidence that bolt cutters were used to free the bison. BILLINGS GAZETTE

Tribal Members, Conservationists Collect Lichen Trying to Rescue Last Caribou Herd in the contiguous United States. A coalition of environmentalists created an 18-acre maternity pen in British Columbia last year to protect birthing caribous from predators. Now they are collecting hundreds of pounds of lichen to sustain the population. OREGON PUBLIC BROADCASTING

Rodenticide on California Marijuana Farms Poisons Endangered Owl Species, a new study indicates. Northern spotted owls primarily eat rats, exposing them to the dangerous poison. Despite efforts from government regulators and environmentalists to phase out the products, rodenticides are widely available in stores. Scientists worry legalization of recreational marijuana will lead to more rat poison in the ecosystem. SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Jan. 11, 2018

Port Developer Launches Federal Lawsuit Against Oakland Coal Ban, saying he has the right to process any legal commodity without interference. The Oakland city council banned coal handling in 2016 after discovering Bowie Resource Partners, Utah’s largest coal producer, was funding the city’s new shipping terminal. Bowie Resource Partners hopes to use Oakland’s port as a gateway to energy markets in Asia, while city government officials in Oakland worry about public health effects. Arguments will begin January 16th. Salt Lake Tribune

Subsidies for Rainwater Harvesting Systems in Tucson Decrease Demand for potable water, a new study shows. Five years ago, Tucson’s public water utility began offering rebates to residents who installed systems to divert water onto landscaping or store it in cisterns. New research shows the subsidies have already changed water usage habits, decreasing demand for water during every month of the year. News Deeply

Bering Sea Elders Group Express Outrage at New Lease for Offshore Drilling in the Arctic. President Trump lifted restrictions on offshore drilling last week, causing a group of Alaskan tribal leaders to worry that increased ship traffic will impede their ability to conduct traditional hunts for walruses and other marine mammals. Alaska Public Media

Proposed Dam in Wyoming Would Generate 73 Million in Public Benefits, developers say. Lawmakers will meet Friday in Cheyenne to discuss funding for the West Fork Reservoir to be carved out of Carbon County’s Little Snake River. A new report from the Water Development Commission suggests the dam could provide 26.5 million in new economic activity, 26.8 million from instream flow, and 5.4 million in construction, and 9 million in new recreational activities. Many locals are skeptical. WYOFILE

Colorado Snowpack Levels Drop to 30-Year Low as officials brace for a potential drought. In Southwestern Colorado, the snowpack is at 22 percent of the normal level. Even with more than half the snowpack accumulation season remaining, it is unlikely that new snowfalls will make up the deficit before spring. Water suppliers are debating how to maximize reservoir storage while planning for heavy flows. Denver Post

Dec. 28, 2017

Utah’s San Juan County, Site of the Fierce Protests Against the Bears Ears Monument, has a new concern: a federal judge has upheld an expert’s creation of new voting districts giving more weight to the votes of Navajos. The Navajos sued the county in 2012, saying the existing districts for the three-person county commission and the five-member school board were racially biased. They claimed that nearly all the Navajo population was stacked into one county commission district, while whites held a comfortable majority in the other two districts. In 2016, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby agreed the districts were unconstitutional. When the county and Navajos could not agree on new ones, an outside expert was called in to redraw the lines. Last week, Judge Shelby upheld the expert’s boundaries. KSJD

For Decades, Southwestern Cattle Trampled the Grass As They Moved, leading to a 75 percent decline in cattle in the early 1900s. Now responsible cattle grazing and handling practices have turned things around, and there are about 30 million beef cattle in the U.S. Using science and data is key to running more sustainable ranches. This is the story of Dean Fish, an Arizona rancher who produces beef cattle sustainably. He uses low-stress techniques to herd cattle and fine-tuned genetics to produce a herd that grows to market size with a minimal impact on the land. Cronkite News/Arizona Public Broadcasting

Worries About the Oregon Spotted Frog Prompt a Lawsuit as an environmental group claims the Bureau of Reclamation hurts its habitat. The Dec. 19 lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity claims that the operations of two Deschutes River dams, through which flows water from the Wickiup and Crane Reservoirs, coordinate flow levels with irrigation demand. The group argues that alternately flooding and de-watering of the frog habitat violates the Endangered Species Act. Oregon Public Broadcasting

New California Communities Seek to Hold Fossil Fuel Companies Responsible for climate change. Santa Cruz County and Santa Cruz City filed lawsuits against 29 fossil fuel companies in Superior Court on Dec. 20. In July, Marin County, San Mateo County, and the city of Imperial Beach sued 37 fossil fuel companies, seeking damages from the industry for its role in sea level rise. The cities of San Francisco and Oakland then filed their own suits in September against five major oil companies. The new suits focus not just on sea level rise but also seek restitution for damages to the hydrologic cycle and its resulting increase in severe weather, drought and wildfires. Yale Environment 360 Climate Liability News

Wyoming Leases to Oil and Gas Firms Rise 800 Percent in 2017. Even though Wyoming has had its boom years, this year’s lease sales stand out, officials say. During the downturn of 2016, revenue from the Bureau of Land Management lease sales and the Office of State Lands auctions combined added up to about $16 million. This year, Wyoming netted a combined $146 million, leasing about a half million acres of federal and state land. The reasons are still unclear; it could be the Trump Administration’s embrace of fossil fuels, or a new Wyoming online leasing system, or both. Casper Star-Tribune

Dec. 14, 2017

The Out-of-Season Holiday Fires in California Are Setting sad records as some, like the Thomas fire (view animation), continue to devour new territories. That blaze, which began near the Ventura County town of Santa Paula and swept down to the Pacific Ocean before heading north to Santa Barbara, is among the 20 largest state wildfires in the last 75 years. Meanwhile, researchers on the health impact of wildfires predict that the deaths in the United States from wildfire smoke will triple, to 75,000, between 2000 and 2100. Inside Climate News/Scientific American American Geophysical Union

Could the Great Salt Lake Go Dry? A year ago, Utah’s inland sea, which in places is eight times saltier than the ocean, fell to its lowest level in recorded history. A new analysis reports that half the water it held in 1847 has disappeared. As farmers in the basins around the lake use waters from its three primary tributaries, water evaporates from the lake’s surface faster than the tributaries can refill it. Water Deeply

Wyoming to Montana: When You Feed Your Elk, It’s Our Problem. A request from the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission last week was blunt. The incidence of chronic wasting disease among the region’s elk and deer, it said, is made worse by Wyoming’s elk feeding grounds. “We respect the fact that how Wyoming manages its affairs is up to Wyoming,” the letter says. “However, Montana’s ability to combat CWD will depend upon decisions that Wyoming makes about its wildlife management.” Jackson Hole News & Guide

Washington’s Governor Pushes for a Carbon Tax to Pay for Schools, a payment that a state Supreme Court decision requires. The idea is to use state financial reserves to make the payment by a court-ordered deadline, then to fill the reserve account with money from a carbon tax on fossil fuel emissions that he said will be introduced next month. Associated Press

A Different Kind of Colorado River Conflict: Mexican Farmers vs a Brewery. Do you like Corona Beer? Negro Modelo? Then you may know about Constellation Brands, their brewer. You may not know that the company plans a new brewery in Mexico, near the California border, and is planning to use millions of gallons of river water annually. The total amor ts are less than 0.5 percent of the region’s supply, the company says, but angry farmers in the agriculturally-rich Mexicali Valley aren’t buying it, and have been protesting the plan for months. Desert Sun

Nov. 30, 2017

California Greenhouse Gas Emissions Dropped Precipitously from 2015 to 2016, according to the state’s annual carbon accounting report. That unanticipated decline was due largely to rapid diversification in the state’s energy sector; in 2016, there was a 30 percent gain in the generation of solar power. As a bellwether proposed natural gas plant in Southern California faces cancelation, observers are now wondering whether California has built its last fossil fuel plant ever. Even so, the drop masked more worrisome developing trends, including a slight increase in transportation emissions, which the state has struggled to control. Southern California Public Radio UtilityDive

Long-Term Threats From the Deadly West Coast Fires are emerging. Fire ecologists argue that the firefighting methods and restoration practices now in use harm wildlife conservation and water quality. They seek to stop salvage logging in burned lands, arguing that snag forestland provides rare and vital habitat and helps enable regrowth. And the increased usage of fire-retardant chemicals has spurred a fight over water quality, toxic impacts on wildlife, and proper firefighting practices. All this comes amidst an ongoing Congressional battle to fully fund the U.S. Forest Service’s firefighting programs. Oregon Public Broadcasting The Guardian Water Deeply

Agua Caliente Tribe Gains Landmark New Water Rights, disrupting water management in the Coachella Valley and potentially magnifying tribal water rights across the country. The Supreme Court will not hear an appeal of a circuit court decision granting the tribe groundwater rights. Desert Sun

Colorado Farmers Taxed Themselves to Conserve Water, and it worked. Faced with impending aquifer collapse after prolonged drought, farmers in the San Luis Valley voted six years ago to impose fees on groundwater usage for the first time. The surprising results show that water usage has dropped significantly, the aquifer has recharged, and the farmers remain in business. This experience suggests a strategy for other agricultural communities facing water shortages. NPR

In the Midst of Monument Rollbacks, Interior Secretary Zinke Proposes Protections for the Badger-Two Medicine area in Montana. Badger-Two Medicine is a region of Lewis and Clark National Forest sacred to the Blackfeet Nation, and has been the site of repeated fights in the recent past over drilling and development. Locals attribute Zinke’s rumored decision, which runs counter to the developing themes of his tenure, to his familiarity with the area and his statewide political ambitions. Montana Public Radio

Nov. 16, 2017

An Aide to Utah's Senior Senator Sees Massive Cuts in National Monuments' Size. Both the two-decade-old Grand Staircase-Escalante monument and the Bears Ears monument, in the southeastern part of the state, would be sharply reduced, allowing now-prohibited activities like mineral extraction to begin. But the aide worries that, unless the law allowing creation of the monuments is amended, these actions could eventually be reversed. Salt Lake Tribune

California Regulators Have Finalized a Plan to Rescue the Withering Salton Sea, though only a fraction of the $383 million pricetag has been budgeted. The Sea’s evaporation, set to accelerate as its water allotments decline, poses a vast array of environmental and health threats to the Coachella Valley, the Los Angeles Basin, and dozens of migratory bird species. In response, state officials plan to mitigate dust and conduct piecemeal environmental mitigation over the next decade. The Desert Sun’s long-running series on the Salton Sea captures many of its challenges in detail. Desert Sun Water Deeply

America’s Most Remote Region is also a Century-Old Strategic Oil Supply. As Interior Secretary Zinke seeks to supplant a consensus management plan with increased drilling, a long-form multimedia opinion piece examines what stands to be lost in the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska. New York Times

In the Aftermath of August’s Salmon Farm Accident, Ecological Crisis Gives Way to Legal Battle. Despite earlier fears, Atlantic salmon that escaped seem to be dying without having any impact on endangered local runs. Nonetheless, tribes and conservation organizations are seeking damages and fish-farm restrictions. As that fight moves to court, a sweeping new natural history seeks to describe the contours of salmon’s influence on the environment, politics, and culture of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle Times High Country News

Water Well Fracking Provokes an Urban-Rural Conflict in Wyoming as ranch wells run dry or turn acidic in the wake of Gillette’s new municipal water drilling. As state regulators investigate and city officials prevaricate, a long-time Wyoming family confronts the possible consequences they may experience thanks to a lesser-known application of hydraulic fracturing technology. WyoFile

The World’s Most Massive Living Organism is Dying in Utah, sparking cooperative efforts by local residents, ranchers, scientists, and land managers. The Pando grove of quaking aspen clones, which sprawls across 106 acres and is thought to be thousands of years old, is aging as saplings fail to replace adult trees. The possible culprits include browsing by resurgent mule deer populations, ranching, and climatic and hydrological changes. Whatever the cause, the next decade will determine Pando’s fate. Salt Lake Tribune

Nov. 9, 2017

Northern California’s Deadly Wildfires Produce Climate and Health Threats, releasing massive plumes of toxic smoke which inflate regional greenhouse gas emissions and sicken downwind populations. At the same time, fires cripple ecosystems which could otherwise serve as carbon sinks. In the fires’ wake, a host of new threats, including mudslides and toxic ash, perpetuate the damage and danger for years afterwards. Climate Central Mother Jones

A Strong Bipartisan Alliance of Industry, Conservationists, and State Officials prepares to defend a landmark but fragile consensus agreement on sage grouse protections, as the Department of the Interior considers scrapping the compromise in favor of weaker restrictions. The political leaders on each side couldn’t be more different, as quiet, moderate, pragmatic Wyoming Governor Matt Mead faces off against the brash new Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke. Casper Star-Tribune Denver Post

Growing Coyote Populations Threaten Livestock, but Some Solutions Kill Endangered Species and Threaten Humans. The Department of Agriculture supports ranchers by trapping, shooting, and poisoning tens of thousands of coyotes every year – but the collateral costs are high. Now, conservation groups and ranchers are experimenting with safer and more effective methods of protecting cattle and deterring predators in the Rocky Mountain West. NRDC onEarth

Hydropower Profits Dip in the Face of Broader Renewables Success, causing concerns about how a greening grid will impact a moneymaking facet of western water storage. The daily intermittency of expanding solar and wind generation fits awkwardly with the seasonal surge in water supplies across the West. While developing technologies may enable a refurbished fleet of dams to bolster other renewable resources into the future, unsolved problems remain. Water Deeply

Shrinking Grand Staircase-Escalante May Cause a Conflict between Fossils and Fossil Fuels, as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s proposal for new borders opens lands rich in dinosaur remains to renewed coal mining. These same tracts provoked controversy when President Clinton cited their paleontological value and bought out mining companies to create the National Monument two decades ago. High Country News

At the Department of Agriculture, Mismanagement, Neglect, and Anti-Scientific Agendas threaten the scattered missions of a little-known but immensely powerful agency. Within the mismatched federal bureaucracy simultaneously responsible for food stamps and forestry management, rural housing aid and meat safety inspections, the new administration’s cavalier attitude offers special interests lucrative opportunities, and threatens to upend vital programs which support millions of Americans and vast swaths of public lands. Vanity Fair

Oct. 31, 2017

Grand Canyon Ecosystems Remain Vulnerable to Groundwater Depletion, Development, and Mining, as the Grand Canyon Trust illustrates using a multimedia combination of blog posts, maps, photography, and outside journalism. A series of conservation decisions in past years have put the brakes on new uranium mining, curtailed water-hungry development, and allowed the Trust to restore sensitive springs, but new political headwinds make for an uncertain future. Grand Canyon Trust

A California Program Paying Farmers to Fallow Fields to Conserve Water has been widely lauded as a model of cooperative water management. But it now faces challenges. The rural southeastern Palo Verde Irrigation District agreed to the payments but now prepares to sue Los Angeles's Metropolitan Water District for potentially undercutting the deal by buying up agricultural land. At the same time, many of Palo Verde’s board members are among the largest recipients of Metropolitan money, raising questions of conflict of interest as urban and rural players both work to preserve their water, and what all characterize as “a fair deal.” Related: read a Stanford student’s comics journalism story about the Palo Verde deal. The Desert Sun Bill Lane Center

Forty Years of Forestry Changes Highlight the Economic and Cultural Frustrations of rural western communities. Shrinking Forest Service budgets have allowed low-paid and abused guest workers to replace rural locals on backwoods crews. A retired contract forester explores the racial, economic, and political dynamics of public-lands forestry to explain rural resentment of federal land managers, growing nativism, and rock-bottom working conditions. High Country News

Despite its Reputation for Environmental Virtue, California Produces Dirty and Energy-Intensive Oil, say researchers at Stanford University and regulators at California’s Air Resources Board. Played-out oil fields require high-pressure steam injection and other nontraditional extraction techniques which cause the energy demands of oil production to skyrocket, inflating the state’s greenhouse gas emissions profile. Environment 360/Yale University

Wind Energy Jobs Prompt Ambivalence and Interest in Western Coal Country. As wind turbine manufacturers seek to supply skilled technicians for a wind energy boom in Wyoming, they attract frustration and attention from laid-off coal and oil workers. At the same time, lingering political and environmental uncertainties continue to hold up unified management of the West’s electrical grid. Salt Lake Tribune Center for Investigative Reporting/Reveal News UtilityDive

Oct. 18, 2017

The Trump Administration Approved a Private Company’s Plan to Pump Water from the Mojave Desert Aquifer to California Cities. But, as Senator Dianne Feinstein pointed out, the proposed pipeline needs state approval because some of the land involved is state-owned. “Our state can still require a stronger review of Cadiz’s plans,” the senator said. “The fight to protect our desert isn’t over.” The Desert Sun

Mobile Home Residents Are Much More Likely to Have Low-Quality Water and Frequent Cutoffs, a UCLA study published in the journal “Environmental Justice,” has found. The researchers found that although such systems serve a small number of people — and thus may not be robust financially — they account for a disproportionate number of water quality violations. They were also four time more likely to be cut off for at least a day. Circle of Blue

The Pacific Coast Coal Company Has Proposed Reopening the John Henry Coal Mine About 30 Miles Southeast of Seattle, where there has been little mining for years. The federal government has already ruled that reopening it and resuming the noise and vibrations of mining activity would have no significant environmental effect. Oregon Public Broadcasting

A Proposed New Mine Faces Some New Hurdles over in Wyoming, where coal mining is part of the culture. WyoFile

Almost All Western States Will Exceed the Carbon-Reduction Goals set out in the now-repealed Clean Power Plant according to a new study from the Rhodium Group, a research firm. Thanks to a decline in national power sector emissions since the plan was drafted, and the fact that the price of natural gas stayed low far longer than the government had predicted, the report predicts that power levels in 2030 will be between 27 and 35 percent lower than in 2005; the clean power rule sought a reduction of 32 percent. Mountain West News Rhodium Group

Non-Native Mountain Goats Placed in Utah’s La Sal Mountains Are Taking to the New Turf With Abandon. But is the turf taking to them? The delicate alpine land, conservationists fear, is at risk because they believe the state is putting the needs of hunters above the needs of the landscape. A court earlier this year refused to interfere with the goat transplant program; a second new site for goats in being eyed on Utah’s western border. Salt Lake Tribune

Sept. 21, 2017

The Wildfires Scorching the West and Blackening Its Air Are Also Cutting Its Ability to Store Water. In Colorado, when the Paonia Reservoir was completed in Gunnison County in 1962, the dam’s outlet was designed to be 60 feet above the lake’s bottom. That was before 55 years of sediment filled the dam. Now the bottom of the lake is above the outlet. That’s been happening all over the West for decades, but now fast-spreading wildfires – and the erosion that follows – are making it much worse. Water Deeply

For All Gov. Jerry Brown’s Proselytizing for New Twin Tunnels Through the Delta, It Did Not Convince one of the state’s richest water districts, the Westlands Water District. The board of the district, the first farmer-run district to take a stand on the tunnels, on Tuesday rejected the idea of helping pay for the $17.1 billion project. If this was not a fatal blow, it was certainly severely damaging. Nine months ago, water specialists at the Public Policy information Center offered a scaled-down alternative. Sacramento Bee PPIC

Reports Have Shown the Pain Climate Change Is Causing and Will Cause in Many Western States, but in Montana, the Pain Will Be More Acute, according to a new analysis. “Montana is going to get warmer and the warming is going to be greater than in a lot of parts of the United States and the world,” the report's lead author said. “The kinds of fires that we’ve had this summer are completely consistent with what we would see in the future,” she added. "We’ll see more insect outbreaks. We’ll see warmer streams and that will stress our native fish, our coldwater fish.” The report also predicts that earlier onset of snowmelt and spring runoff will reduce late-summer water availability in some watersheds. Montana Public Radio Montana Climate Report

So Shy and Bottom-Dwelling That It Wasn’t Identified Until the 1950s, the Vaquita Marina, a Small Mexican Porpoise, Is About to Disappear — despite years of conservation efforts and fishing bans. Vaquitas have been so decimated by gill nets used by Mexican fishermen off Baja California that extinction is not only possible, but likely. Worse, Mexican fishermen netting vaquitas as incidental catch are often after another endangered marine species, the totoaba, whose swim bladder fetches huge prices in China. Last year, biologists determined there were only 30 vaquitas left. Hakai Magazine

For Years, Fisheries Scientists Called It “the Blob,” Blaming the Large Offshore Mass of Warm Water for Disrupting the Food Chain for migratory fish. Now the blob has dissolved, but its impact on the salmon lingers. Associated Press

Sept. 2, 2017

A “Flash Drought” in Montana Has Left the State’s Eastern Half a Large, Crop-Burnt Cinder, even though the state received good rains last fall. But then the moisture tap shut off completely. Some 17,500 square miles of Montana are suffering exceptional drought. Yields of wheat, barley and hay are sharply reduced, and the price of hay has skyrocketed. The same desiccated region was the site of the largest wildfire in the nation, which burned more than 270,000 acres. Water Deeply

It’s Not Just Droughts and Pumping, It’s Pollution That Has Cut Back Groundwater Supplies, because polluted groundwater does no one any good. The problems are often nitrates and salt from nitrogen fertilizer and manure, both basic elements of rural living. As newly-formed groundwater agencies look to enhance their resources, they may opt for intentional groundwater recharge. But intentional recharge can improve or degrade groundwater quality. Public Policy Institute of California

Bark Beetles Are Threatening the Habitat of an Endangered Squirrel in Southern Arizona’s Coronado National Forest, so managers are trying to thwart the pest by placing capsules containing anti-aggression pheromones among the trees. Officials say the capsules send a signal that ward off male beetles looking to reproduce. The tree-killing insects have destroyed acres of trees around the West. Associated Press

Thermometers Almost Popped Their Tops as Heat, Stretching East from the Pacific Northwest to the mountain states, and south to southern California, means the end of the summer is proving to be even more sweltering that the months that preceded it. What does climate change have to do with it? Salt Lake Tribune Oregon Public Broadcasting
Los Angeles Times San Jose Mercury-News

How Did a Democrat Hold Such Sway in a Republican State? An explanation could be found in tributes to Cecil Andrus, the Idaho Governor and former Interior Secretary who died last week at 85. As an aide said, “he was elected four times in three different decades, a Democrat in practically the most Republican state in the nation, a conservationist in a state where timber, mining and agriculture were paramount. He built a remarkable record of accomplishment that occurred while his party never once controlled either house of the Legislature.” The Spokesman-Review

Aug. 21, 2017

Visitors Are Overwhelming National Parks, leaving solitary contemplation out of the question in places like Utah’s Zion National Park. Meanwhile, the six-year-old effort to remove bottled water and bottle waste from parks is ending. Yale Environment 360 Washington Post

In the Pacific Northwest, Steelhead Are Scarce This Year and Idaho has canceled its harvest season this fall and instead will implement rules allowing only catch and release. Part of the reason — when they migrated out in 2015, there were horrendous river conditions: record low flows and high water temperatures. Lewiston Tribune Seattle Times

Colorado River Water Users’ New Habits of Conservation did more than lush winter snows to increase the river’s lost this year. Inkstain/John Fleck

Denver Is Pushing to Become Hospitable to Electric Cars as it uses money from Volkswagen settlement to build more charging stations. “Without electrified transportation, we cannot meet those climate goals,” said Terry Svitak, the city’s electric car project chief. “And the market is pushing us this way… Both collectively, and individually, cities can make a difference” in fighting climate change. Denver Post

The Remnant of a Volcano at The Edge of Hawaii, Kauai Is a Test Lab where local visionaries and Tesla are trying to prove their concept that sunlight and batteries can provide most of the electricity communities need. Tesla has opened a revolutionary grid-scale battery installation, testing if and how storage can make renewable energy more dependable. Grist

Aug. 3, 2017

The Price of Being a Small Community or a Remote One in the West Is High. Either environmental utilities cost more, or are more flawed and potentially dangerous than those in urban areas. California communities where fewer than 1,000 people live pay more than double for their sewer service, and even in cities housing 10,000 and 50,000 people, the median rate is still twice that of the large urban areas. In New Mexico, small communities struggle to deliver clean water; in tiny Santa Cruz, the water from 180 feet down is laced with uranium. Circle of Blue    Santa Fe New Mexican

As a New Coal Mine Permit Is Debated in Wyoming, a Podcast Lays out the Arguments. The idea is to focus on technology to turn coal into other products, not simply fuel for power plants. Landowners and environmental groups and even another coal company dig in to oppose it. Also, two international wind turbine makers fighting it out for dominance in a state ended with superb wind resources. (Segment starts at 1 min., 15 seconds from beginning.) Wyoming Public Radio

In Alaska, Some 56 Native Groups Are Crammed Into an Area the Size of Indiana. Some feel that their people will have more power and better lives if they unite. But not everyone agrees. They are debating a proposal to have a tribal government that eventually would be responsible for essential services like taxation, public safety, education, a court system, fish and game management, and alcohol control. Each tribe's top elected leader would join a 56-member legislative council. Alaska Dispatch News

In Larger and Larger Pockets of the West, Bison Are Back, and They Might Help Slow Climate Change. The near-destruction of the American bison by European settlers has long been a parable of environmental heedlessness, but bison are back. As climate change advances on the region, that may be a good thing. The need for a symbiotic relationship between bison ranchers and the environment means that the more bison, the higher the chance that the land they live on and the grasses they eat will be well-managed. This means more carbon is sequestered. As the new herds are encouraged to mimic the natural movements of their forebears, they may help restore over-grazed land to its natural state, sequestering even more carbon. Well-managed herds could slow climate change. Bloomberg

Water Hazards are Rare When Golf Is Played on the Navajo Reservation. But there are plenty of other hazards. Like putting. “Being from Albuquerque,” said Eric Frazier. “I’m not used to putting in the dirt. It was really challenging but it was really fun. I would like to do it again.”Navajo Times

July 20, 2017

Ever Since Wolves Returned around the West, Ranchers’ Conviction they Are Destroying Livestock has helped them get compensation. Not all their claims are well documented, and special state set-asides are showing the strain of payments. One rancher said that last year wolves killed 41 calves and 11 cows in Baker County — where there are 3 resident wolves and no confirmed wolf kill of livestock since 2012. Earth Fix | Oregon Public Radio

Land Wars Are Nothing New Around the West, but an Ongoing One Near Rifle, Colorado Has a New Twist. To keep an Conoco Phillips subsidiary off 2,500 federal land where one ranching family has grazed cattle for decades, Susan Robinson, a widow who owns an adjacent 560 acres, has gone to court to prove that title is hers because her family’s cattle occupied it uninterrupted for 18 years. The oil company, TOSCO, says it installed a pipe without Robinson’s objection, which weakens her claim. But she traces the fights over this land back to Joseph Robinson, her late husband’s grandfather. Denver Post

Until Western States’ Electrical Grid Is Less Balkanized, Electricity Is Not Efficiently Used Our colleague Natasha Mmonatau's reporting is confirmed by a new analysis that explains that, thanks to a bumper harvest of sunshine this spring, California had to discard enough electrons to power 55,000 homes for six months, simply because the divided authority over the grid meant it couldn’t get the power to places that needed it. A representative of the Natural Resources Defense Council is urging that these barriers fall. High Country News

Farmers Have Centuries of Knowledge Built into the Way They Deal with the Earth, but that Knowledge, Like their Soil, Is Being Reworked. In Moonpark, California, John and Molly Chester are using their organic farm as an experiment in building healthy soil through regenerative farming. The idea is to allow soil to replenish itself, making fertilizer increasingly unnecessary. Another effect is allowing the soil to store carbon, by not plowing up the soil. It’s another ay to limit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. (Video) KCET

Showing When Water Conservation Is Good for Utilities and for Homeowners, a Chicago-based research group’s new report on the Arizona towns of Tucson and Gilbert is a conservationist’s dream. In the wake of sharp cuts in water use starting in the mid-1980’s, Tucson’s water rates are 11.7 percent lower; and conservation ensures that total water use remained the same over three decades, while the population grew by 240,000. Circle of Blue

The West’s Fire Season Roars on, endangering electricity at Yosemite National Park; 4,000 residents of Mariposa County have been evacuated. Los Angeles Times

July 10, 2017

Anticipating an Energy Department Report Predicting an Oversupply of Green Energy that would overwhelm the nation’s energy grid, Jacques Leslie issues a rebuttal based on the advances in battery and renewable technologies. Yale Environment 360

California Gov. Jerry Brown Has Declared the Drought Is Over, But Rural Residents of The Central Valley Will Be Grappling for Years with the long-term impact of the years-long thirst, as their wells have either been dried up by new and deeper shafts installed beside them, or are vulnerable to this. Water Deeply

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Wants to See More Fossil Fuel Extraction from Public Lands. But His Method May Not Work. As a Congressional Research Service report said, increasing opportunities for federal leases “may not translate into higher levels of production on federal lands, as industry seeks out the most promising prospects and higher returns which in recent years have come on more accessible nonfederal lands.” E&E News

Oil Slicks, a Little Dab’ll Do You. If You Are a Shorebird, That Is. Every feather gooked-up with oil means the bird has to work that much harder to fly.  A new study shows that birds with just a light coating of oil covering less than 20 percent of their body surface had to expend approximately 20 percent more energy than birds flying oil-free. On Earth /NRDC

To Quote from the U.S. Water Alliance: “Native American Lands Have Some of the Poorest Water Infrastructure in the Country” “Thirteen percent of homes on reservations lack access to clean water or sanitation, a significant number compared to 0.6 percent for non-Native Americans.” John Fleck takes a look at the striking issues of environmental justice from Indian Country to California’s Central Valley Inkstain

As Summer Fires Spread Around The West, The Evacuations Begin. A small town in Montana; the area around a big ski resort in Colorado; a rural region in central British Columbia; workers at the Hanford nuclear site in southeast Washington are sent home, thousands of evacuations continue in and around Oroville in Butte County, California as the Wall Fire remains untamed; and dramatic video of fawns being rescued in Arizona. Montana Public Radio Colorado Public Radio  AP Spokane Public Radio Sacramento Bee Washington Post