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Graphics & the West

 

...& the Best

Western Articles and Media Elsewhere
Compiled by Felicity Barringer and Rebecca Nelson

Articles Worth Reading: Oct. 9, 2018

Wildfires Don’t Hurt Real Estate Markets. Researchers from University of Las Vegas determined that real estate markets in Colorado rebound within a year or two of a wildfire, encouraging development in high risk areas. People continue to move to fire-prone areas due to their scenic appeal and proximity to cities. High Country News

Water Disputes in Colorado. A cop investigates conflicts over stolen water in the Four Corners region. His work involves enforcing complex water statures and confronting local tensions over water rights that sometimes turn violent. KUNC Radio

The Potential of Stormwater Capture. In California, communities are expanding their stormwater management programs to include aquifer recharge and irrigation in addition to controlling floods. Captured stormwater could provide Californians with a water supply that is resilient to climate change. Pacific Institute

An Air Quality Monitoring Program Failed to Alert Residents of Seeley, California to the danger of particulate pollution near a local elementary school. The nonprofit responsible for the monitoring, Comite Civico de Valle, seeks to expand its program to other areas despite controversy over its practices. Desert Sun

Bee Thieves Exploit California’s Almond Harvest. Bees play a crucial role in the pollination of almonds in the Central Valley, but colony collapse disorder threatens apiculture. Recent increases in stolen beehives have exacerbated the industry’s challenges. Reveal/CIR

Articles Worth Reading: Sept. 25, 2018

In California’s Central Valley, Air Pollution Levels Are Very Local. Residents, like the mother of a young asthmatic profiled here, need to know exactly what they are. “Regulatory agencies think regionally,” said the head of the Central California Asthma Collaborative, a Fresno-based nonprofit. This group and others, helped by new state laws, try to increase the air monitoring in a region with some of the country’s most polluted air. Kaiser Health News

Gender Diversity and California Firefighting. Starting on August 1st, the Donnell Fire burned 36,000 acres in Stanislaus National Forest, and firefighters now have it at least 90% contained. A photographer shares the stories of firefighters tackling California’s Donnell Fire and challenging traditional gender roles in their careers. High Country News

With Climate Change, Algal Blooms Contaminate Oregon Drinking Water. Last May, Oregon declared a civil emergency when toxic algae contaminated Salem’s drinking water, posing health risks to children and nursing mothers. Recently, Oregon became the second state to require testing of potable water for algal toxins. The new regulations are part of the Oregon’s plan to address how climate change is affecting its water quality. KSUT

National Parks Are Warming Twice As Fast as the rest of the country, according to a new study. It focused on 417 protected areas and found they were 1.8 degrees warmer in 2010 than they had been in 1885, double the national average rate, and precipitation was down 12 percent in the same period, compared to three percent nationally. Yale Environment 360

Los Angeles Proposes Giant Hydropower Battery for Hoover Dam, but the project faces many legal and political roadblocks due to Colorado River’s shrinking water supply, which has been a source of conflict between California, Arizona, and Nevada. Los Angeles aims to create a three billion dollar hydropower storage system, consisting of twenty miles of pipeline that connect to Hoover Dam. Water Deeply

Wyoming Turns to Wind Power. Although Wyoming is America’s top coal producer, the state is now garnering increased support for wind power, as the coal industry declines. Proponents of Wyoming’s developing wind power industry emphasize its economic importance, while skeptics raise environmental and aesthetic concerns about how wind turbines will impact the landscape. Natural Resources Defense Council

Articles Worth Reading: Sept. 11, 2018

In 27 Years, California Plans to Eliminate Carbon From Its Electrical Grid. That’s the central aim of legislation signed Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown. A year after a similar bill failed, the new measure underlines California’s desire to be the nation’s leader on working to slow climate change — the shifting weather that has turbocharged the state’s wildfires and caused increasing destruction from Redding to Santa Barbara. Meanwhile, wind developers are eyeing the California coast as a place to create new renewable energy for a changing grid. InsideClimate News Utility Dive

A Floating Boom a Third of a Mile Long is the Newest Garbage Collector in the Pacific Ocean. Its mission: start cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This gyre of sailing detritus has an estimated 1.8 trillion objects rotating slowly between California and Hawaii, and California. The nonprofit Ocean Cleanup is investing $20 million in the project. But can it really remove the 87,000 tons of plastic? New York Times/Associated Press

The Killer of Swaths of Bigleaf Maples in Washington State Is Unknown, but its impact is being felt from Washington State south to California. These trees, whose leaves can stretch a foot across, can grow 100 feet tall. Their impressive silhouettes mean that the landscape changes dramatically as they die. The U.S. Forest Service and the University of Washington, and the Washington state Department of Natural Resources have been studying the maples, but no diseases or insects have been found in significant numbers. So no known culprit. Seattle Times/Tacoma News Tribune

Bighorn Sheep and Moose Tell Their Friends Where to Go for the best food, a new study shows. The notion that migration behaviors, following the green wave of food around the West, was a learned behavior and not a product of genetic inheritance, had been around for a while. The thought was “they just have to learn how to do this,” said Matthew Kauffman, an ecologist at the University of Wyoming. So he set up a study involving bighorn sheep that were transplanted into an area unfamiliar to them, but where established herds existed. Without genetic coding for this particular migration, they did it anyway. National Geographic

Some Called Him ‘The Renaissance Man of the West;’ His Maps Combined Geography, History and Whimsy into one package. Jo Mora, an immigrant from Uruguay, did some sculpture and coin design before finding maps to be his metier. One observer said “They’re almost like books,” to be perused in bits and pieces at several sittings. The maps he left are cartographic cartoons, telling not just the shape of the state, but the stories of its places. Atlas Obscura

Articles Worth Reading: Sept. 1, 2018

Hunters Have Waited More Than 40 Years To Shoot Grizzlies around Yellowstone National Park. The wait was almost over, when a federal district judge delayed the hunt for two weeks to study whether the federal Fish and Wildlife Service erred in lifting protections from the bears. Judge Dana Christiansen wrote, “harm to…members [of endangered species] is irreparable because once a member of an endangered species has been injured, the task of preserving that species becomes all the more difficult.” Casper Star-Tribune Montana Free Press

Canada’s Transmoutain Pipeline, Whose Growth Was A Key Aim of the Canadian Government, Just Lost its bid for expansion in court. The Canadian Federal Court of Appeal overturned approval of the pipeline because the government failed to adequately consider native nations’ concerns and didn’t take environmental impacts into account. Opposition groups had argued that the risks of oil spills in the Salish Sea — home to an already-endangered killer whales — and the potential hazards of increased petroleum tanker traffic are too high a price to pay for an economic boom. The expansion could have tripled the 750-mile pipeline’s capacity bringing up to 890.000 barrels a day from tar sands in Edmonton to the coast of British Columbia. Oregon Public Broadcasting Grist Reuters

Facebook and the Navajo Nation Commit to Renewables, but on very different scales. The year-old Solar Project – built mostly by Navajo workers – is the largest tribally-owned renewable power plant in the country and has been operating a year. Generating 27.3 megawatts, it provides enough power for 18,000 Navajo nation homes – the same number that had been without electricity a decade ago. Facebook, the social media giant in Menlo Park, California, is also expanding its uses for renewable power, but on a far vaster level. It has committed to powering its global operations with completely renewable energy by the end of 2020, in party by positioning data centers near electrical grids that can accommodate more renewables. In the last year Facebook has signed contracts for more than 2.5 gigawatts of renewables, Cronkite News/Elemental Utility Dive

Lake Mead Has Been Using Lake Powell to Keep Its Levels Up and postpone the moment when drought contingency plans are triggered because its level has dipped below 1,075 feet. But scientists now report that this draining of Lake Powell can’t go on forever: it is now 48 percent full, while Lake Mead is 38 percent full. “We’re draining Lake Powell to prop it up,” said one scientist. Arizona Republic

Is The Current Drought Just the Beginning? David Gutzler, a climate scientist at the University of New Mexico, says “It is possible that the next big megadrought is upon us, and we’re right in the middle of it.” The snowpack that supplies the upper half of the Rio Grade has decreased 25 percent in the past 40 years. The Elephant Butte reservoir, the largest in the upper Rio Grande, is just six percent full, down from 24 percent last winter. Some 500 years ago, tree rings tell us, a megadrought hit the Southwest just as the Spanish arrived; the population was decimated. And a study shows that climate change increase the chances of a megadrought to 70 percent or more. Quartz

Articles Worth Reading: August 21, 2018

Colorado River Cutbacks Possible by 2020, the Bureau of Reclamation forecasts.The result could be water shortages in the Lower Basin states of Arizona, New Mexico. If Lake Mead’s elevator drops below 1,075 feet, as is likely in 2019, decade-old agreements mean downstream users will lose water the next year. Arizona farmers would be hit hardest. KUNC Radio Circle of Blue John Fleck

Arizona Farmers Who Depend on Irrigation Will Fight Cutbacks before they let one third of Pinal County’s agricultural fields go fallow. “That’s a pill we’re not going to swallow,” said one, a board member of the Maricopa-Stanfield Irrigation and Drainage District, one of the county’s largest. “It would be a huge economic hardship.” Water Deeply

Phoenix Has Learned That Heat Can Kill, and More Is Killing More People. As summer temperatures have reached well above 100 degrees for days on end, Phoenix lost 155 people to heat-related deaths in 2017. To gird itself against the “silent storm” of heat deaths in the future, it aims to prepare for heat emergencies the way other cities prepare for hurricanes. Phoenix is in competition for a $500 million grant to make its ideas a reality. KJZZ/NPR

When It Comes to Sage Grouse Protections, Wyoming Wants to Keep Its Level of Protection. Even as the Interior Department seeks cutbacks in requirements for mitigating the destruction of sage grouse habitat, the state that houses one-third of these birds is pushing back. The federal government apparently will not disturb Wyoming’s rules even as it cuts back on similar safeguards of its own. In a recent letter to the Bureau of Land Management, Gov. Matt Mead said the federal agency should “defer to the state’s assessment of how to apply avoidance, minimization and, if necessary, compensatory mitigation to address impacts to this State-managed species.” Wyofile

The Ocean Off the San Diego Coast Just Broke All-Time Temperature Records. “Just like we have heatwaves on land, we also have heatwaves in the ocean,” said Art Miller of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. At risk are kelp forests and coral reefs, and the marine “heatwaves” last longer than those in the atmosphere. A new study predicts they will become more common. The Guardian

The Last Salmon Cannery in British Columbia Is a Sign of the Future, as Native Nations are taking over the business of processing the fish that have sustained them for centuries. In 2015, the owner of St. Jean’s cannery, Gerard St. Jean, sold a controlling interest in his family’s business to NCN Cannery LP, a partnership between five of the 14 Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations that call the western side of Vancouver Island home. Hakai Magazine

Midsummer Heat and Fire: August 6, 2018

How Hot is it Around the West This Year? Hotter and hotter. A landmark: Death Valley just had the highest temperature on Earth. Again. The Washington Post

How Have Wildfires Changed? The fire tornado is the newest phenomenon that is defining wildfires during this, one of the most destructive and unusually hot summers in human history. “From an on-the-ground, human perspective, July looked and felt like hell.” Six of California’s 10 most destructive fires have occurred in the past 10 months. The Carr fire near Redding, California (animation), has burned more than 1,500 homes. Grist

How are the Fires Hurting the Air We Breathe? Air quality in parts of the Rocky Mountain states of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana as well as parts of California, Oregon and Washington has got significantly worse, even as the rest of the country has experienced a sharp improvement in air quality, “There’s a big red bullseye over that northern Rockies area where they are getting the big wildfires,” said a co-author of a University of Washington study. The link between the smoke and illness or death is sometimes complicated; smoke exacerbates a range of conditions. No death certificate cites “air pollution” as the cause of death. The smoke from the deadly Ferguson fire near Yosemite (animation) is making Fresno’s air extremely unhealthy. The Guardian/Climate Desk Fresno Bee

How Are We Going to Pay for Fighting Fires? Congress just changed the way in which the federal government will pay for large fires, but it may not make a dent in controlling the burgeoning costs of fighting big fires. Fire seasons are longer, and there is more to burn. Climate change, the fire deficit on many western lands and development in the wildland-urban interface ensure that the potential for major fires is baked into the system for decades to come. Scientific American/The Conversation

How Can We Preserve Some of the Forests We Inherited? Without major ecological investments, Arizona risks losing its ponderosa forests in a generation. It's likely too late to save it all, so federal foresters and their allies are racing against the next megafires to choose the places that matter most. Some areas are crucial to the survival of rare birds or the small mammals whose paws scatter the seeds of new forests. Some areas, after fires, could filter ash and debris from water headed for city systems, reducing treatment costs, and preventing post-fire floods. But all this means major investment in thinning trees.“We’re really managing for the future, so we have a forest,” said a silviculturalist for the federal Forest Service. Arizona Republic

What Does it Mean to Live Amid the Heat and Fire? “One truism about the future is that climate change will spare no place. Still, I suspect the threat of warming feels more existential in New Mexico than it does in Minnesota…. The fire risk was so high by June 1 that the U.S. Forest Service closed all 1.6 million acres of the forest to the public. The forecasts for our water supplies are equally grim.…. Staying put may not mean that Colin and I lose what we’ve put into our home, and it may not mean running out of water. But it may mean bearing witness to the slow death of the Rio Grande. It may mean biting our nails every June, hoping this won’t be the year that a mushroom cloud of smoke rises from the Santa Fe Mountains, which are primed for a destructive fire.” High Country News

July 24, 2018

Factory Nut Farms Drain an Aquifer in Arizona; Homes Go Dry. There are 356,000 acres of nut orchards in the Sulphur Spring Valley. And to ensure a constant water supply, farmers can drill a well 1,000 feet deep every 160 acres. As yearly water consumption doubled, the soil in the aquifer collapsed, and the elevation sank 15 feet in places. Now a water-truck delivery services must ensure water for homeowners. Many have abandoned their homes. The New York Times

Endangering the Endangered Species Act? Or Making Sensible Changes? The moves to change the 45-year-old law credited with saving the bald eagle began in Congress, where legislation to change the law has percolated for years. That accelerated this year, and now the Trump Administration proposes major changes. The Washington Post ASU Cronkite News

Feds Returning Mining to a Place That Had Left It Behind. Once a coal town in Colorado’s Western slope, Paonia has transformed itself over the past few decades. It’s now known for wineries, boutiques, galleries and organic farms that draw tourists from nearby ski resorts. But Paonia’s shift away from its fossil fuel roots could be reversed under the Trump administration’s new push to maximize oil and gas leasing on federal land. Reveal/E&E News

Climate Change Leaving Wild Horses Dying of Thirst on the Navajo reservation. Last month, more than 100 were found dead, stuck in thick mud near a dried-up stock pond. Now a dozen volunteers are taking care of 200 other horses of the more than 30,000 horses counted on the reservation in 2016. But because of horses’ competition with cattle for sparse forage, the tribal government hopes to partner with outside groups to get some horses adopted. KJZZ via Elemental

As Wildfires Spread, Scientists Try to Understand Health Impacts. With fires spreading and air quality alerts being called around the West, scientific efforts to correlate the particulates from the widespread smoke have redoubled. Two Colorado universities and the University of Washington are part of an unprecedented effort, costing more than $30 million, to map the fire-sparked air pollution, using aircraft, satellites and vans full of high-tech equipment. Boulder Daily Camera Science Magazine

 

Recent Center News

Oct 17 2018 | Out West student blog
Via our newly published interactive ‘map journal,’ users can trace our Sophomore College field course’s path through Nevada, Utah, and Arizona over two weeks in September.
Oct 12 2018 | Out West student blog
A former western summer intern with the Center, Christina Morrisett, '15, is a watershed scientist with a passion for serving rural communities.
Oct 11 2018 | Out West student blog
“Here we were, a group of kids who had never been to Goblin Valley,” says SoCo 2018 student Aja Two Crows, “and we felt like we had some right to it.”