Author: Zaffos

People Keep Shooting Long-Billed Curlews in Southwest Idaho

People Keep Shooting Long-Billed Curlews in Southwest Idaho

A female Long-billed Curlew found shot on Idaho’s Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area in June 2018. (Photo: Stephanie Coates)

Long-Billed Curlews aren’t shy about taking wing to fend off threats to their nests in the rangelands of Idaho. “They will get up and above a raptor and steeply dive, and their flight can be almost falcon-like,” says Jay Carlisle, research director of the Intermountain Bird Observatory. “It’s awe-inspiring.”

But the curlews’ spectacular aerial “mobbing” displays are growing rarer in southwest Idaho, once the densest nesting ground for the birds in the United States. Surveys suggest their overall numbers have dropped by 92 percent in the region over the last 40 years. And based on available data, the biggest threat is poaching: recreational shooters who are illegally killing the birds at an alarming rate, particularly around Boise and the surrounding Treasure Valley region.

“People Keep Shooting Long-Billed Curlews in Southwest Idaho”

Audubon, June 28, 2018

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‘Orphaned’ oil and gas wells are on the rise

‘Orphaned’ oil and gas wells are on the rise

Abandoned gas well pump (Steve Hillebrand, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

“Orphaned” oil and gas wells, those left behind by companies without proper cleanup or maintenance, are more likely than properly plugged “abandoned” wells to leak pollutants. That includes methane gas, which can contaminate groundwater and even trigger explosions. So it’s troubling that the number of such wells in the West has soared. A downturn in energy prices starting back in 2008 has led energy companies to orphan thousands of wells across Western states struggling even to tally them, let alone remediate them. And with a new drilling boom unfolding, some worry that the next bust will saddle the public with thousands more.

‘Orphaned’ oil and gas wells are on the rise”

High Country News, January 16, 2018

What’s at Stake: Adapting to Climate Change

What’s at Stake: Adapting to Climate Change

A view of Ray Lake, on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. Like other parts of the Great Plains, the region is prone to extreme dryness. (Photo by Natalie Umphlett/ via NOAA Change.gov)

Potential budget cuts are alarming because much of the country is already behind in adapting to climate change, including the Great Plains. Dennis Ojima, director of the North Central Climate Science Center, projects that the region will face a “dramatic increase” in the number of extremely hot days (95°F and higher) and warm nights by mid-century, regardless of any action to curb carbon emissions. The increased heat will affect patterns of rainfall and drought, forcing farmers and ranchers to experiment with growing practices and eventually plant different crops. It will stress existing infrastructure, challenging the reliability of water supplies and electric grids. The sooner managers can get ahead of these changes and begin adapting, the better.

“What’s at Stake: Adapting to Climate Change”

Audubon, November 2017

RV industry lobbies to privatize services on public lands

RV industry lobbies to privatize services on public lands

Recreational vehicles at Fishing Bridge, a RV-only camping area in Yellowstone National Park run by Xanterra Parks & Resorts (Photo: Jim Peaco/National Park Service)

At Yellowstone, Yosemite, and elsewhere, turning over national park campgrounds and other services to private companies is a common — and somewhat controversial — practice, where concessionaires offer more amenities and charge higher prices to visitors. And it may soon become even more ubiquitous in popular parks and some national forests, bringing changes that could alter the natural settings of campgrounds and public lands.

As Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has begun steering the department that oversees our national parks, the RV and parks-hospitality industries appear to have their hands on the wheel. “We have been knocking on (Zinke’s) door and saying, ‘We have some great ideas, will you listen, please?’” says Derrick Crandall, who heads the National Parks Hospitality Association, the industry lobbying group for park concessionaires, and the American Recreation Coalition, which advocates for public-private partnerships. “We are excited.”

“RV industry lobbies to privatize services on public lands”

High Country News, September 29, 2017

Can coal remain the bedrock of Wyoming’s economy?

Can coal remain the bedrock of Wyoming’s economy?

Wyoming officials view construction at the Integrated Test Center site, July 2017 (JZ)

In recent years, the coal industry has employed one in every 10 workers in Gillette and surrounding Campbell County, Wyoming. But coal is declining as a power source. It can’t compete with cheaper, cleaner natural gas, and eventually, climate change regulations are expected to worsen its prospects.

With roughly 6.6 billion tons of recoverable coal still in the ground, and an economy hooked on mining and burning it, Wyoming can’t seem to quit coal. Instead, state leaders are trying to clean it up and find new uses for it at the Integrated Test Center, where researchers hope to capture carbon dioxide emissions and eventually turn those emissions into plastic, carbon-fiber materials, concrete or fuels.

So far, though, most “clean coal” initiatives have failed. Carbon-based rubbers, asphalts and chemicals have never achieved large-scale commercial success, partly because it’s easier and cheaper to just use petroleum. Highly touted efforts to capture and store emissions from coal plants have also fizzled because costs spiraled out of control. Even in Wyoming, it’s hard not to wonder: Is it smart to keep betting on coal?

“Can coal remain the bedrock of Wyoming’s economy?”

High Country News, September 18, 2017