Back in 2010, as an employee of the Forest Service, I watched fire line explosives obliterate a dead cow to the dust that flies eat. It’s not uncommon forestry work, though it is spectacular. And White River National Forest employees might get the same opportunity this spring near Aspen, Colo. A small herd of cows froze to death in and around a small cabin high in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. When they defrost, foresters worry they’ll contaminate a nearby hot springs, which already suffers from water quality issues. Helicopters are too expensive to use for hauling the carcasses, wilderness rules won’t allow trucks and nobody wants to pack out a decomposing cow on their back, not even mules. So foresters have been pretty much left with explosives or, barring that, a good, hot, god-sized inferno.
And backcountry roast beef is just a taste of what’s in store for this week’s Roundup.
Land management isn’t all about macabre work.
The Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming is helping preserve a 6,000-year-old pronghorn migratory corridor by removing livestock corrals (PDF) and withdrawing plans for new construction at the confluence of Slate Creek and the Grose Ventre River, a critical link on the pronghorn's perilous journey between Grand Teton National Park and the Upper Green River Valley.
Also, the Idaho Statesman's Rocky Barker reported this week that the Idaho Department of Agriculture stopped a barge infested with quagga mussels on its return to Seattle after construction work on Lake Mead. The mussels, ubiquitous through the reservoir, can quickly clog infrastructure on waterway. Idaho officials estimate an infestation would cost the state $91 million.
It turned out there were 41 similar barges bound for Seattle; officials in Nevada and Washington were able to locate and decontaminate all of them.
Last quarter, U.S. Railroads shipped the lowest number of coal cars in 18 years. But Union Pacific is posting a 35 percent profit surge. They’ve done it by increasing transport prices and fuel surcharges. Railroads can charge “captive customers” almost anything they want thanks to deregulation in the early 1980s. Their financial health is also seen as an indicator of overall economic health since they transport goods and raw material bought by manufacturers, consumers and construction.
Meanwhile, environmentalists have settled with Pattern Energy to allow construction of Nevada’s first wind farm after attempting to halt the project last January. Sixty-six turbines generating 150 megawatts of electricity for 45,000 homes will be erected west of Great Basin National Park as soon as July. Pattern Energy agreed to increase its monitoring of bird and bat deaths associated with the project, and the company will pay $50,000 for research in nearby Rose Cave where millions of Mexican free-tailed bats roost. The environmentalists settled only because a judge refused to stop construction. They still view the project as rife with problems.
Scientists with the Bureau of Land Management have discovered a new amphipod species within gypsum caves of southeast New Mexico. The blind, shrimp-like creature lives in pools of water leaking through rock crevices, and officials worry that nearby mining operations could deplete their ancient aquatic refuge.
"I think the implications are that we really need to protect the groundwater aquifers because there are species there that live nowhere else on Earth," BLM cave specialist, Jim Goodbar told the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, a coal mine in Colstrip, Mont,. has recklessly expanded its operations, contaminating and diminishing local streams used by ranchers and sportsmen, according to two conservation groups who filed suit this week. Even worse, they say, Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality has permitted Westmoreland Coal Company’s expansion for 17 years without considering its effect on water quality and quantity.
And the BLM is protesting to the Arizona state water department over a proposed residential and commercial development in Sierra Vista, southwest of Tucson. The plan calls for 5,800 homes, 1,100 apartments and commercial development, which would draw water from the San Pedro River, the last free-flowing desert river in the Southwest. BLM says the federal government protects the river’s flow, and the development would harm that by pumping from the groundwater.
The U.S. Forest Service announced it will spend $40.6 million dollars on land acquisition in 15 states. Alaska, California, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Washington, and Utah offices of the agency will use the money to buy parcels to protect water, wildlife habitat and recreational access, as well as scenic and historical places. Oil and gas royalties collected in the federal Land Water and Conservation Fund finance the acquisitions.
Finally, Environmental Protection Agency launched a website dedicated to advancing the mission of environmental justice. Stories about actions across the country will populate the site in an effort to promote discussion around environmental justice issues.
There it is. Your weekly Roundup. Leave no trace.
Neil LaRubbio is a High Country News intern
The photos show a cow draped in fireline explosives and the aftermath of the blast. Neil took it while serving as a wildland firefighter for the Gallatin National Forest. The cow was near a Forest Service cabin and campground in the Crazy Mountains and was destroyed because it could attract bears. Matthew LaRubbio edited the two photos together.