Chalk up one for public input -- the Utah Supreme Court has ordered that before a ritzy new ski resort can proceed, Beaver County must put the project to a vote. Locals have been angered by the Jenson brothers' attempts to turn a popular fishing and backcountry recreation spot into an exclusive enclave with golf course, ski lifts, spa and boutiques (we wrote about the Mt. Holly Club proposal last summer in "An Unlikely Shangri-la").
When the southwest Utah county approved Mt. Holly's development plans, opposition groups filed suit to allow a vote on the agreement. A judge denied their request, and the case went to the state Supreme Court. The Salt Lake Tribune reports:Read More ...
Every day, it seems, I turn around and some big Bush-era decision governing public land has been tweaked, reversed, or otherwise flambeed. Today (Feb. 4), President Obama's new Interior Secretary Ken Salazar canceled 77 controversial oil and gas leases near national parks and on wilderness quality lands in Utah.
“In its last weeks in office, the Bush Administration rushed ahead to sell oil and gas leases at the doorstep of some of our nation’s most treasured landscapes in Utah,” Salazar said in a statement. “We need to responsibly develop our oil and gas supplies to help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but we must do so in a thoughtful and balanced way that allows us to protect our signature landscapes and cultural resources in places like Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Dinosaur National Monument, and Nine Mile Canyon, for future generations."
Salazar's maneuver was made possible in part by the environmental groups WildEarth Guardians and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which successfully sued for a temporary restraining to delay finalization of the leases. If the leases, which were auctioned Dec. 19, had been finalized, the contracts to the land would have been binding, leaving the new administration with only the option of buying them back -- provided the companies were willing. The government will forgo the $6 million paid out for the leases, plus whatever mineral royalties the parcels would have generated over the course of gas production.Read More ...
For the rest of the country, Monday was Groundhog Day. But for Westerners, it was Prairie Dog Day. And the rodent’s in trouble all over the region, as bulldozers roll over its habitat, ranchers drop poison, and shooters go for target practice. Prairie dogs are now found in less than 10 percent of their original range, which causes problems for the animals and birds that depend on dog towns. The burrows provide homes for burrowing owls and several amphibians and reptiles, and the rodents themselves are tasty meals for hawks, eagles, and foxes. They’re also the mainstay of the endangered black-footed ferret. Of the five species of prairie dog, two (the Utah and the Mexican) are already on the endangered species list. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that the other three, the black-tailed, white-tailed, and Gunnison's, may deserve protection as well.
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Last summer, it seemed Colorado might take decades to descend from the staggering height of its natural gas boom. High-paying jobs out on the drill rigs were drawing everyone from heavy equipment operators to senior center chefs to unskilled laborers who might otherwise work in a grocery checkout line or the local 7-11. As a result, High Country News reported last May, help wanted signs flagged the windows of businesses in Rifle, at the center of the boom, and Grand Junction, where one Burger King even offered a $300 signing bonus. On top of that, it was difficult to find a hotel room to stay, let alone a place to rent, since most temporary housing was taken up by oil and gas workers. Meanwhile, just up the Roaring Fork Valley towards affluent Aspen, the real estate market in Pitkin County racked up a record $2.6 billion in sales in 2006 and kept drawing its own slew of temporary workers, thanks to another booming sector of the Colorado economy: Amenities.
In towns that have been racing to keep up with the big-spender (natural gas) boom of the past four years, rentals are no longer snapped up quickly. Lines form for jobs that once couldn't be filled because workers gravitated to the higher pay in the oil fields.
When Leitner-Poma, a Grand Junction manufacturer of ski lifts, celebrated an expansion last week, 40 people were outside the door the next morning hoping for work. The Rifle Wal-Mart has a full roster of employees for the first time in years.Read More ...
Too little, too late. Shoot first, ask questions later...
If you can shake your head in disgust while you say it, you've probably found the right cliche for the environmental fiasco that surrounds the wall on our southern border.
The Department of Homeland Security recently agreed to fork over $50 million to the Interior Department to mitigate the environmental damage caused by its misguided attempt to curb the stream of people and contraband flowing north from Mexico. It's not the first such allocation (over the last two years, DHS put roughly $40 million toward fixing environmental problems associated with the fence) but even so, the money doesn't look like much more than a nod in the right direction. After all, DHS has been pouring public money into the project at a rate that's ranged between $200,000 and $15 million per mile for the 601 miles of fence already constructed. The agency's $90 million commitment to the environment pales in comparison to those figures, especially when you remember that hordes of environmental regulations were waived during the fence's construction.
The $50 million hasn't been allocated yet, but will likely be used to monitor the environmental impacts of the fence, and to restore damaged habitat. But mitigation won't do much for the wetlands already impacted, and it's unlikely that the small holes or culverts that might be installed in the fence to help animals migrate will do much for larger, roughly human-sized creatures such as jaguars and wolves.
It's a shame that wildlands are suffering for a solution to illegal immigration that's more of a political stunt than a social or economic fix.
It sure didn't seem like the kind of place where bloodied drug smugglers stumble out of the scrub after shootouts.
But it was.
On a holiday road trip to Mexico, my family and I stopped for the night at some friends' house near Tubac, Arizona, a small community south of Tucson, about 15 minutes north of the border. It's the last house in a little development, way up on the hillside; their backyard, literally, is a national forest, serene and scattered with ocotillo and mesquite and cacti in the shadows of rugged crags.
It's also is a major drug trafficking route. Smugglers move between the houses and the cliffs on foot and sometimes horseback in order to bypass a border patrol checkpoint down on I-19. For the most part, the narco trail is not noticeable to residents. Occasionally, though, machine gun fire echoes against the cliffs, and the cactus forest turns bloody.
You can get a decent sampling of the folks attending the 51st Annual Convention of the Colorado Water Congress at a Hyatt in Denver just by looking at the coat rack.
Navy sport coats and professorial tweeds predominate, but there is also a camouflage fishing vest, fringed duster, and a smudgy Carhardt jacket. The Grand Mesa Ballroom is filled to capacity: ranchers mingle with engineers and entrepreneurs, lawyers, state and local representatives, and the occasional environmentalist.
The mission of the Colorado Water Congress is to "promote the wise management and stewardship of the State's water resources for the benefit of Colorado's present and future generations." It would be hard to find a group of people with less consensus on the definition of "wise management."
In one of over 40 Powerpoint presentations given at the conference, Shell Oil spokesman Tracy Boyd looks rather eerie in the bluish light of his projector. 800 billion barrels of oil are recoverable from western oil shale, he says. Processing oil shale to make crude, which he says takes about 3 barrels of water for every 1 barrel of oil, is really just "speeding up Mother Nature."
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Climate change is likely to expand the reach of some of the West's least favorite plants -- for example, see "Bonfire of the Superweeds," HCN's story on invasive buffelgrass in the Sonoran Desert.
But a new study in Global Change Biology paints a somewhat more hopeful picture: Scientists predict that some invasive species, such as spotted knapweed and cheatgrass, will simply shift northward in coming decades, abandoning parts of their old territory and so creating opportunities for restoration. Of course, climate change may make it impossible to restore many native plants to these freed-up habitats -- so what would restoration really mean?
"The question for policy makers and land managers is, 'What do we want these lands to be?'" comments Princeton University ecologist David Wilcove, one of the study's authors. "These lands will change, and we must decide now -- before the window of opportunity closes -- whether we do nothing or whether we intervene."
To tinker or not to tinker -- more and more, that's the dilemma confronting conservation.
As of last June, the Bureau of Land Management had a backlog of 125 proposed solar projects covering nearly 1 million acres. And this month, the Interior Department ordered the BLM to create special offices in Wyoming, California, Nevada, and Arizona to speed permitting for those and other renewable energy projects on public lands.
But why the big rush to pave our deserts with solar panels? One look at Phoenix, Ariz., from the air is all it takes to realize people have already paved a lot of the desert -- literally. So why not do like this company and cover a ton of that paving with panels? As the Arizona Republic reports:
Cox Communications has unveiled a $1 million solar-power system that doubles as shade for employee parking at its Deer Valley Road headquarters.
The six structures cover about 75 parking spaces and will produce more than 200,000 kilowatt-hours of energy a year.. .
Cox took advantage of state, federal and utility rebates from Arizona Public Service Co. to significantly pare the expense of the system.
The incentive from APS could be worth up to $600,000 during 15 years, utility spokesman Steven Gotfried said. . .
Such projects (this one isn't the only such effort, not by a long shot) probably won't solve all our energy needs. But these are the kinds of opportunities (just think of the bajillions of square miles of parking lots in Phoenix alone!) we should exhaust (along with, perhaps, using LESS energy, which can be an economic driver all its own) before we look to undisturbed land to supply power for our blenders and plasma screen TVs.
As pressure mounts to reduce agricultural crop subsidies, Farm Bill conservation programs are increasingly important to the bottom line of many American farms. This trend is expected to continue as Brazil, India and other developing nations insist that free trade deals include an end to American and European crop payments which they rightly claim distort market prices in world agricultural markets.
Most farmers now understand that there is a market for “environmental services” and “conservation” which can provide a significant component of farm income. So it is no surprise that the Conservation Title in each successive Farm Bill has grown relative to commodity payments and other titles. But even as on-farm conservation spending has increased, the promised environmental improvements have for the most part failed to materialize. For example, the 25-year effort to end the decline in Chesapeake Bay water quality and fisheries has failed. While tens of millions of dollars have been pumped into farm conservation in order to end agricultural nutrient pollution, nutrient problems in the Bay have not abated. Scientists and environmentalists are now calling for abandoning the collaborative approach - which relies heavily on Farm Bill and other voluntary conservation programs - in favor of regulation.
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