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Wyoming - the Uranium State?

Michael Glenn Easter | Nov 18, 2009 06:55 AM

They’re calling it a “uranium renaissance.”  Wyoming is prepping itself for what is slated to be another boom in uranium mining for the fourth time in 60 years.

Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain West are all too familiar with energy boom and bust cycles. Just ask all the people who lost jobs in the oil bust of the '80s, or in Wyoming’s Cold War-fueled uranium boom and subsequent bust of the ‘50s. 

Nuclear power accounts for about 20 percent of the power generated by the United States.  But this figure is likely to increase - with the green movement, coal-fired power plants aren't as popular as they used to be.  Across the United States, 21 new nuclear power plants have been proposed.  Worldwide, there are 53 nuclear power plants being built right now, with many, many more in the works.  Even Nevada, who held strong to the “we don’t have a nuclear plant so we we’re not taking your nuclear waste,” argument against the Yucca Mountain storage facility, is considering going nuclear.  Overall, the World Nuclear Association estimates a 78 percent increase in uranium demand over the next 20 years.

This is where Wyoming comes in.

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Saving Tortoises one Student at a Time

Seth Shteir | Nov 17, 2009 01:49 AM

“When I saw the night sky for the first time in the Mojave National Preserve I felt like a layer of film had been peeled away from my eyes,” says David Lamfrom, the Barstow based field coordinator for the National Parks Conservation Association.

“I want the kids who live in the high desert to realize how rare and precious it is.”

Lamfrom and his partner Rana Knighten are on a mission to share their love of nature and the Mojave National Preserve with underserved students from California’s High Desert. They’ve created the innovative Tortoises through the Lens Program, which takes diverse youth and teaches them conservation ethics through nature photography and field study. Students Photograph TortoisesThe students take field trips, do volunteer work and go to lectures to learn about the ecology and life history of the threatened desert tortoise.  The planning, photographs and writing they do throughout the course of the year culminate in a published book about Desert Tortoise Conservation and an exhibit of the students photography at the Kelso Depot Visitor’s Center in the Mojave National Preserve.

Lamfrom knows the challenges of engaging today’s youth in nature.

“Many children who grow up in highly urbanized and underserved communities - and I’m speaking from personal experience - live in a world of buildings and streets and noise. When they come to wild places they are scared because it’s so foreign to them.”   

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A Western Town, Contaminated

Bryce Andrews | Nov 16, 2009 01:30 AM

Bryce Andrews of the Clark Fork River Coalition, reports from a Superfund Meeting at the Opportunity, Mont., Community Center

I drove in just before 7 pm, down a little spur road that headed west a few miles after Warm Springs. Ahead of me the Anaconda Stack, lit up by amber lights around its base, slipped in and out of view behind willows. Glimpsed from the corner of my eye, the faint-glowing stack looked like a plume of smoke. It towered over roadside yard-lights like the stalk of a mushroom cloud.

It’s no accident that driving to Opportunity feels setting a course for heart of something huge and awful: The area around that blithely named one-horse town is closing in on a century of use as our regional trash can.

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Reader Photo - Red Aspen Leaves

Stephanie Paige Ogburn | Nov 13, 2009 09:13 AM

Fall in the Boulder Mountains

I pondered featuring this reader photo a couple weeks ago, but ended up with a different choice. Today, though, the sparkling vermilion of these aspen leaves, now blanketing forest floors across the West, brought me a bright remembrance of Colorado's  autumn moments, which I wanted to share with you.

Across most of the West it's starting to feel like winter. I don't mind holding on to fall a little bit longer, though.

Share your photos (or just enjoy looking at others') on HCN's Flickr pool; we pick one a week to feature on our Grange blog.

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Big Ag wins big in California

Felice Pace | Nov 11, 2009 11:16 AM

Depending on who you listen too, sweeping water-related legislation recently enacted in California is either a solution to the states water conflicts, a recipe for increased conflict and the domination of corporate water brokers, or a partial step forward that will succeed or fail depending on future legislative and administrative actions.

Here’s how Lester Snow, director of the California Department of Water Resources, described the package of bills and the $11.14 billion water bond needed to fund them:
           “This package represents a new approach for California---total water resource management, including conservation, water recycling, habitat restoration, water storage and many other water management actions….. This package represents a significant shift in water management that will serve as a platform to address 21st century water needs.”

Others – including the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN) – believe that the legislation and bond package is a step backward for California Water Management. They believe the legislation could ultimately make it possible for powerful Southern California agricultural and development interests to grab more of Northern California’s water by building new reservoirs in the north and a large new canal to by-pass the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Here’s an excerpt from a C-WIN letter to legislators about the package of bills which has now passed into law: 
            “C-WIN firmly believes that California has enough water to meet all its needs. California does not have enough water to continue wasteful and unreasonable uses that harm public trust resources and compromise our state’s agricultural, economic, and environmental future. There is no real surplus water anywhere in northern California to fill a Peripheral Canal, even if it is built.” (emphasis is from the original)

C-WIN’s concerns that the legislation will facilitate renewed efforts to divert more Northern California water south have been echoed in the Klamath River Basin where the Hoopa Tribe and others battled for years to restore some of the water previously diverted South in order to restore the Trinity River, the Klamath’s largest tributary. Part of the funds for removal of four Klamath River dams is included in the $11.14 billion bond package which will go to voters in 2010. However, some Klamath watchers fear that construction of new dams and reservoirs and the Peripheral Canal will result in renewed efforts by powerful agricultural and development interests to divert Klamath River water south

The package of bills contains a call for a 20% reduction in urban water use but contains no similar goals for agriculture. Agriculture currently consumes 80% of California’s water supply and numerous studies indicate that substantial water savings are possible in the agricultural sector. Irrigation interests, however, have resisted meaningful water conservation. By controlling more water these farm corporations will be in a stronger position to earn income as water brokers. It is the potential for substantial water savings in the agricultural sector which leads C-WIN and others to suggest that new dams, storage reservoirs and canals are not needed.

One of the most respected voices in California Water – Dr. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute – has taken a different view of the water legislation:
       “What will be the ultimate outcome? Are we going to be better off with this bill than with no bill? Will California legislators now say they are done dealing with water, and refuse to tackle the unaddressed, partially addressed, or badly addressed issues? If so, then this package isn't going to be nearly enough. But if instead legislators and other water interests treat it as a beginning, not an end, and work to build and improve on the good pieces, it could be a major step forward. We'll have to wait and see how it changes our actual water problems.” 

Doctor Gleick identifies four major California water “problems” which the legislation has not addressed including:
       1. Insufficient monitoring of water use – especially groundwater use;
       2. Lack of adequate political will and funding to enforce existing water rights – including ending the epidemic of illegal water use;
       3. Lack of a requirement that the state’s largest water user – agriculture – implement water conservation, and
       4. Lack of user fees for water users which would incentivized conservation and provide stable funding for maintaining and improving California’s water infrastructure.  

Gleick believes these four issues must also be addressed if the new legislation is to prove out as “a major step forward.”

As generally happens when there is major legislation affecting the environment, the environmental community split over whether to support or oppose the legislation. And, as is usually the case, the split was generally along the grassroots-national divide. In spite of the fact that they are members of the Restore the Delta coalition which opposed the legislation, the Natural Resources Defense Council supported the legislation as did the Environmental Defense Fund and The Nature Conservancy.  Opposing the legislation were a host of local and regional organizations ranging from the California Sportsfishing Protection Alliance and Clean Water Action to the Stockton Chamber of Commerce.

Largely absent from the legislative debate over the future of California water were the state’s 108 federally recognized Indian tribes. Many of these tribes have potential reserved water rights which, if they were asserted, could be a significant wildcard in California water politics. Federal tribes could also begin pumping and selling groundwater supplies which are already being over-exploited without fear of interference from state or local governments.

While powerful agricultural interests were helping draft water legislation behind closed doors, however, tribal and other Native leaders were listening to speeches and attending luncheons as part of a “Tribal Water Summit” hosted by the California Department of Water Resources. Individuals who attended report that nothing of significance took place during the Summit.  For now at least, the tribal water wildcard is not being played in California. 

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When Consensus Doesn't Mean Consensus

Michael Glenn Easter | Nov 11, 2009 06:10 AM

A few days ago a letter [pdf] written by scientists at Brigham Young University -- a traditionally conservative school -- plopped onto the desks of Utah’s governor and state lawmakers.  The letter is being called a “stinging rebuke” and criticizes how, in a recent session, legislators gave equal value to fringe, skeptical climate change views as they did to the broader scientific consensus that our climate is changing and we are to blame.

During their October meeting, the state’s Public Utilities and Technology Interim Committee listened to two climate change scientists -- as HCN noted here.  The first, professor Jim Steenburgh, chair of the University Of Utah Atmospheric Science Department, presented the more scientifically backed view that climate change is man made.  The second scientist--professor Roy Spencer, climatologist from the University of Alabama, Huntsville--presented skeptical views, arguing that climate change is a natural phenomena, caused by natural cycles, not humans.  (Listen to the meeting)

Spencer was specially invited to the meeting by co-chair of the panel, Republican Mike Noel, and his views were reportedly well received.  Steenburgh, on the other hand, was attacked after his presentation—many lawmakers shunned his views, claiming global warming is a natural phenomenon.  One representative even accused the movement to address global warming as, “the new religion to replace Communism.”

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Back at the Table, Again

Lissa James | Nov 10, 2009 12:55 AM

The creation of Washington State’s current logging regulations may have been less spectacular that the infamous spotted owl timber wars of the early 90s (the President didn’t have to intervene, for instance), but they were still righteously complicated. Ten years ago, when salmon hit the endangered species list, stakeholders sat down to create a multi-trick pony: a plan to protect salmon, fulfill tribal treaty rights to harvest salmon, satisfy the federal Endangered Species and Clean Water Acts, and preserve the timber economy. They called it “Forests and Fish.”

The Forests and Fish negotiations lasted three years, and consensus was only reached after many environmental groups left the table over complaints that the timber lobby held too much sway. Key to the eventual compromise was something called ‘adaptive management,’ or a promise to adjust the rules according to best available science. Tribes and environmental groups expected that science would lead to stricter logging regulations to protect water quality, while many in the timber industry held out hope that science would eventually prove habitat wasn’t as important to salmon recovery as harvest or oceanic conditions.

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Can a border wall ever truly be removed?

Cat Lazaroff | Nov 09, 2009 03:38 AM

It’s been 20 years this month since the Berlin Wall was dismantled, marking the beginning of the end for the Iron Curtain that once separated Eastern Europe from much of the western world. But according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, some of the region’s wildlife still hasn’t forgotten the man-made boundary that interrupted their historic habitat. The findings of European scientists could have implications for America’s own southern border wall. 

Between Germany and the Czech Republic, where an electrified fence and armed guards once barred the passage of wildlife and people alike, a series of parks and nature preserves known as the Green Belt now safeguard forests and wildlife. Most animals take full advantage of the Green Belt, but one species, the red deer, refuses to cross the invisible line where the fence once stood. 

Data from radio-collared deer and the observations of wildlife biologists have shown that, with very rare exceptions, the German deer stay in Germany, and the Czech deer stay out. The deer have apparently passed down a sort of cultural memory of the barrier so that populations on either side of the former fence refuse to cross. That means the two populations are no longer sharing their genes with each other. And as the Journal article points out, the deer’s propensities are keeping them from taking full advantage of the Green Belt, “one of the biggest ecological projects in European history.” 

In the United States, some 650 miles of wall have already been built between the U.S. and Mexico. The wall, ostensibly aimed at preventing undocumented immigration from Mexico to the U.S., has been repeatedly shown to be a dismal failure at blocking human traffic. But the wall has done far too good a job at keeping wildlife from traveling through its native habitat.

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Reader Photo: Ice on Hall Mountain

Stephanie Paige Ogburn | Nov 05, 2009 08:19 AM

Reader Photo: Ice on Hall Mountain

This week's HCN Reader photo looks like a magical sunrise in a winter fairyland. Although much of the West remains cloaked in the fall-to-winter transition, bits of winter peek through here - we thought this image offered a nice preview of what's to come.  Add your photo to our reader pool on Flickr - we pick one a week to post on the Grange blog.


All Science is Political

John Freemuth | Nov 02, 2009 01:40 AM

Earlier this month, I was privileged to be part of a keynote panel at the 10th Biennial Conference for research on the Colorado Plateau.  I chose, in part, to talk about the relationship of science and public policy making, because I had just finished writing an essay on that topic for the soon-to-be-published science assessment on the sage-grouse. In my talk, I referenced a sentence I helped write as one of several science advisors to BLM: "the use of the best-available science—along with a consideration of political, social, and economic information—will result in the best-informed decisions."

What followed the panel was a lively discussion about the role of science in public policy; a discussion that led me to conclude that my friends in biology, ecology, conservation biology and related fields are light years ahead of other scientific disciplines in appreciating the complexities within the use of science in public policy making.

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