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Know the West

Week in review: April 21

Yucca is back, Chaffetz is out (for now), plus a game of Follow the Beaver.


What’s going on with Chaffetz?

We’re feeling a little whiplash from Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, this week: First, in a post from his Facebook page, Chaffetz announced he would not seek re-election in 2018. Then, news broke that the House Oversight Committee chairman may not even finish his current term. According to ProPublica, Chaffetz says “absolutely” no scandal is forcing him out. “I’ll take a little bit of time to sort out,” he said. “I’d be thrilled to have a television relationship. But there’s a number of things I’d like to do.” Meanwhile, Chaffetz’s campaign arm registered 2028 websites, suggesting he may be planning an eventual White House run. Huh?

The dangerous life of wildfire contractors

Wildfire fighting is a multi-million dollar endeavor these days, eating up much of the Forest Service’s budget and supporting private companies who contract with the agency to help fill in where state and federal agencies lack manpower or machinery. Contractors often work under perilous conditions with fewer protections than Forest Service, state or county employees. Last year, Robert Reagan, a bulldozer operator working for a fire contractor, died in an accident during the Soberanes Fire. This week, KQED published an investigation of the deficient protections many contractors provide workers; the company that hired Reagan did not have workers’ compensation coverage or meet safety standards followed by public agencies. More here: Casualties in Big Sur Blaze Point to Hazards of ‘Wildfire Gig Economy’

Not so rural after all

A factoid from Headwater Economics this week astonished us: The West is more urban than the national average with 89 percent of the population living in metropolitan areas. Taking that one step further, 97 percent of Westerners reside in either metro areas or those connected to urban areas via airports, according to the organization’s latest report on the rural West. The remaining 3 percent of the Western population is spread across rural counties — containing more than 90 percent of the landscape. Well, that sure puts it in perspective.

Yucca’s back

In 2015, Deputy Editor-Digital Kate Schimel wrote that the long-embattled Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility, mothballed by the Obama administration, could be back on the table. Republicans seemed determined to revive it. And this week, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that controversial dumping project will get a hearing in front of Congress. The House Energy Committee scheduled a hearing on the project for next week. For more deep history on the project, see our feature story from 2001, and this helpful explainer on a crucial turning point in the project’s considerations. 

Pastors tackle drought

Religious leaders along the Colorado River are starting to talk to their congregants about drought and climate change, the New York Times reports. One pastor called the river “our lifeblood”; as it wastes away, pastors are sharing tips on what their congregants can do to help save it. “If there is no river, there is no water,” Rev. Helia Martinez, of Templo Cristiano Vino Nuevo in San Luis, Arizona, told a reporter. “If there is no water, there is no farming, no food, no work. There is no future.” Read the whole, fascinating piece here.

Beavers and bovines

A new tip for how to herd cattle from our neighbors to the north:

And, in case you missed it, here’s everything you need to read from hcn.org this week:

Suburbanites reckon with arcane drilling law

Republicans shy away from town halls

Trump’s administration blocks drilling near a national park

Public banking goes to pot

Without a drought, California takes stock

Should courts defer to the expertise of agencies?

How Montana charts a path for sanctuary cities suing Trump

West Obsessed: Early days of the Trump administration

Opinion: People are grizzly food — and that’s OK

Opinion: Why we need methane rules

Thumbnail image courtesy of Don LaVange/Flickr.