The aftereffects of Malheur, wild horse dust-ups and firefighting

HCN.org news in brief.

 

THE AFTEREFFECTS OF MALHEUR 
The trial of Ammon and Ryan Bundy and five other defendants for the armed occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge has lasted much of the early fall. As of press time, it was in its sixth week, and a verdict was imminent. The long-term impacts of the 41-day occupation will come into relief with time, but it’s already clear that the events strengthened bonds within the Patriot movement nationwide. The occupation inspired a handful of Western ranchers to threaten to renounce grazing contracts with the feds this year. But those copycats have seemingly cooled off. In some cases, informal mediation efforts by locals convinced those ranchers to continue to work with the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, instead of against them. By early October, Cliven Bundy’s cattle were still grazing illegally in Clark County, Nevada. Some environmentalists say that’s because the BLM, intimidated by threats of violence led by the Bundy family, is reluctant to incite another confrontation.
-Tay Wiles

A protester (who was unwilling to identify himself) sits outside the federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon, as his horse, Lady Liberty, gets a drink from a fountain during the early days of the trial of Ammon and Ryan Bundy and five other Malheur occupiers.
AP Photo/Don Ryan

$1.7 BILLION: Forest Service’s cost for the 2015 fire season, its costliest ever.

5,000: Peak number of people who worked the most-expensive wildfire ever, the Soberanes Fire, which was started in July by an illegal campfire in a state park near Big Sur.

This summer’s Soberanes Fire in Central California cost a record-breaking estimated $260 million to suppress — most of that paid for by the U.S. Forest Service. Suppressing fires, and paying for things like firefighting crews, aircraft and evacuations now uses up over half of the agency’s budget. Many of the most expensive fires have occurred in California, and with climate change, extended drought and development in wildfire-prone zones, the price of fighting fire will only continue to climb.
-Lyndsey Gilpin

WYOMING APPROVES A NEW COAL MINE 
Defying broader trends, Wyoming approved its first new coal mine in decades. While the proposed operation doesn’t mean coal is back, the Brook Mine’s approach may provide a road map for how coal could survive amid industry contraction. The operation is starting off small, producing only 8 million tons of coal each year, which pales in comparison to the state’s larger operators. It will employ fewer people than other Wyoming coal mines, relying instead on automation and making it unlikely the mine would make up for the gaps in employment in the state. The mine would operate on private property, saving money on royalty payments. Still, it will have to reckon with dwindling demand for coal power, in the U.S. and overseas.
-Paige Blankenbuehler

Coal is loaded by giant shovelsful into a haul truck at the North Antelope Rochelle coal mine in Wyoming, where 235 employees were laid off earlier this year. Peabody Energy Inc.
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics, compiled from annual employment reports

1: Number of full-time employees with the title of Burning Man Project Manager. Some of the other 13 Black Rock District BLM employees chip in during the weeklong festival and its aftermath.
-Krista Langlois 

SEA OTTERS ON THE RISE
For the first time since being listed in 1977, threatened California sea otter populations have increased just above the delisting threshold. But a closer look shows the traces of an ecological cascade. At both ends of their range, the otters are dying from the bites of great white sharks, whose populations researchers suspect are surging as their food of choice — seals and sea lions — rebounds.
-Anna V. Smith 

Sea otters control sea urchin numbers, keeping them from forming what one biologist describes as “roving hordes” on the seafloor.
Ron Wolf

TIME TO EUTHANIZE WILD HORSES? 
In an opinion piece, Maddy Butcher ruminates over the Bureau of Land Management’s recommendation to consider euthanizing tens of thousands of equines in federal holding facilities. Inundated by negative feedback, the BLM reversed course on mass euthanization. Butcher critiqued that decision. “If the horses weren’t so pretty, as well as being an icon of the Old West, we would call them ‘invasive,’ ” she writes. “We would have sought more effective, less emotion-driven and politicized ways to manage them long ago.”
-Maddy Butcher, Writers on the Range

You say

Joel Niemi: I worked for the BLM back when the wild horse roundups were just starting. Horse populations were growing because they weren’t becoming dog food any more, and ranchers were objecting about their grazing allotments being reduced due to horse population growth.”

Jenny Riley: The BLM has the answer, and it’s not euthanasia, it’s PZP. It makes mares sterile for two to four years, can be administered by dart, and is inexpensive, especially compared to holding.”

Paul Ashby: This is such a polarizing issue. It’s good to see a discussion of both sides of the story."