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

The uncompromising environmentalist behind the Sierra Club

The uncompromising environmentalist behind the Sierra Club

In The Man Who Built the Sierra Club, Robert Wyss details how David Brower transformed the Sierra Club into America’s most prominent environmental organization, in the process elevating the conservation movement into a national political force. Wyss portrays a true believer who fought relentlessly to protect the natural world. He succeeded, Wyss says, “because he made people care.” And he did so by becoming a deft public-relations pioneer.

Review: “The uncompromising environmentalist behind the Sierra Club”

High Country News, February 5, 2018

‘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)

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

LNG project rises again, with support from Mountain states

LNG project rises again, with support from Mountain states

Rendition of the proposed Jordan Cove liquid natural gas terminal in Oregon, which could ship gas from Rocky Mountain states to Asia (Photo: Jordan Cove LNG)

The Jordan Cove Energy Project would include the Pacific Coast’s first liquified natural gas port, where gas is chilled and liquefied for easier and cheaper storage and transport, including to customers overseas. Denied a permit by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2016, the project received new life following the presidential election, as Trump administration officials said the project will be the “first thing” to now permitted.

The $7.5 billion project, at Coos Bay, Oregon, would give Western producers access to the world’s largest gas market, consisting of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other Asia-Pacific countries. The 235-mile Pacific Connector pipeline is also part of the project. It would cross Oregon and provide a critical link between the export terminal and the rest of the West’s pipeline network, which stretches into gas-rich basins in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

If FERC commissioners green-light Jordan Cove, it could set off a massive new drilling boom on public lands within Colorado’s Piceance Basin, Wyoming’s Jonah Field and Utah’s Uintah Basin. Industry is already nominating more leases for drilling on public lands under Trump. And to win approval for the project, the company behind Jordan Cove and its Oregon supporters seeking new jobs have forged a powerful alliance with Rocky Mountain states eager to enter the export market. State government and industry officials from Colorado and Wyoming have even traveled to Asia to woo potential investors and customers.

Still, even under Trump, the project isn’t a sure bet. Stagnating gas prices, caused by a supply glut in recent years, raise questions about the viability of Jordan Cove.

“LNG project rises again, with support from Mountain states”

High Country News, May 31, 2017

Fatal Colorado home explosion reignites drilling safety debate

Fatal Colorado home explosion reignites drilling safety debate

Fire burns a home toppled by a natural gas explosion in Firestone, Colorado on April 17, 2017. The blast was linked to a pipeline running from a nearby gas well (Photo YouTube channel White Fire)

On April 17, 2017, Mark Martinez and his brother-in-law Joey Irwin went down to the basement to replace a water heater in Martinez’s home in Firestone, Colorado, a fast-growing bedroom community 25 miles north of Denver. Moments later, a fiery explosion destroyed the house and shook the neighborhood. Both men were killed. Erin Martinez, Mark’s wife, and their son survived.

Following a two-week investigation, the local fire department has linked the blast to a recently restarted gas well, drilled in 1993 and located just 178 feet behind the house and operated by Anadarko Petroleum Corp. A department statement said gas entered the house from a cut, abandoned flowline still connected to the well.

The fatal explosion reignited the fierce debate over the pace and proximity of oil and gas development along Colorado’s Front Range, where booming energy fields have collided with a rapidly growing urban corridor. For years, environmentalists and community activists have furiously pushed to limit drilling near suburban Front Range communities, while the state government and industry leaders have resisted tougher restrictions.

“Fatal Colorado home explosion reignites drilling safety debate”

High Country News, May 3, 2017

A tribe wins rights to contested groundwater in court

A tribe wins rights to contested groundwater in court

Coachella Valley, California
(PascalSijen/ Flickr – Creative Commons)

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians have called the Coachella Valley, a desert that receives a paltry three to five inches of rain a year, home for centuries. And the tribe has been anxious about the state of the water supply for years. In 2013, the tribe sued the Coachella Valley Water District and Desert Water Agency to halt groundwater pumping. And in March 2017, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a major victory to the tribe. The court said the tribe has legal rights to the groundwater — a decision that could restrict housing and resort development and set a precedent for water disputes between tribes and utilities across the West.

The 9th Circuit’s ruling is “a big deal,” says Monte Mills, co-director of University of Montana’s Indian law clinic and one of 11 professors who penned a brief supporting the tribe’s claims. It’s the first time a federal appellate court has unequivocally recognized that tribes’ water rights extend to groundwater.

“A tribe wins rights to contested groundwater in court”

High Country News, April 5, 2017

What should a community do to protect its immigrants?

What should a community do to protect its immigrants?

Supporters of refugees and immigrants march in Greeley, Colorado, on March 4, 2017 (JZ)

On a sunny morning in early March 2017, over 400 people hit the sidewalks of Greeley, a small city on Colorado’s Eastern Plains. A diverse crowd in sweatshirts, blue jeans, robes, ankle-length skirts and headscarves, they marched to show their support for the city’s sizable refugee and immigrant population. They started at the University of Northern Colorado, wound toward downtown and ended up at the Global Refugee Center, a local nonprofit.

The route was no coincidence: Greeley is an island of cultural and intellectual diversity in a conservative, rural county. Refugees and undocumented workers help keep the agricultural economy afloat, and the university’s international student population has grown in recent years. By most accounts, these new residents have settled in with relative ease.

But as the targets of President Donald Trump’s nationalist rhetoric and new security measures, many have spent the last few months anxious about possible deportations, arrests and general hostility. Though Trump’s latest “travel ban,” which would have suspended immigration from six predominantly Muslim countries, has been blocked, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is stepping up detainments, arresting hundreds of immigrants nationwide. In Greeley, this new political reality has presented local leaders with sometimes uncomfortable choices: What can — and should — the community do to make its new residents feel safe?

“What should a community do to protect its immigrants?”

High Country News, March 28, 2017

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