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Slew of public lands and sportsmen's bills debated on Capitol Hill this week

Krista Langlois | Feb 04, 2014 05:25 PM

It’s been an exciting year for public lands geeks. After nearly five years in which Congress failed to designate a single acre of wilderness (the first Congress since 1966 to earn that dubious distinction), the House this week is taking action on a slew of wilderness, public lands and recreation bills. But while it’s tempting to applaud lawmakers for making headway on conservation measures, the bills aren’t all rosy, and they may illustrate the environmental compromises necessary to pass legislation in today’s hyper-partisan climate.

Three packages of bills are making their way through Congress. Here’s a rundown of what we’re paying attention to at HCN, with gratitude to E&E News for much of the information:

Organ Mountains2
President Obama may invoke executive action to protect the Organ Mountains in New Mexico from oil and gas development if Congress doesn't act soon. Photo courtesy BLM.

PACKAGE 1 - Wilderness bills:

  • On Jan. 28, the House Natural Resources Committee approved bills that would designate 75,000 acres of new wilderness in Nevada. But though environmental advocates praised the Pine Forest and Wovoka wilderness proposals, last-minute amendments tacked on by Rob Bishop, R-Utah, weakened the measures, The Wilderness Society says. Bishop’s amendments would prevent federal agencies from closing roads in or near wilderness areas without opening an equivalent road nearby, allow logging for fire management, and prevent land adjacent to Pine Forest from being considered for future wilderness designation. Bishop claims the trade-offs are standard. But Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., called them unprecedented. “You only want (them) to be standard because you hate the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” he retorted.

    Yet while conservation-minded Democrats like DeFazio begrudged the compromise, industry backers like Bishop weren’t satisfied either. It pained him, he said, that “we are creating more wilderness than we are actually adding to economic development.” In exchange for the 75,000 acres of wilderness, restrictions will be eased on about 25,000 acres of Nevada public lands to encourage economic development, including a copper mine in Lyon County.
  • Rep. Steve Daines, a Montana Republican running for Max Baucus’ vacant Senate seat, says his bill to protect the North Fork Watershed west of Glacier National Park from future oil and gas leases is the first public lands bill in 30 years supported by each member of the Montana delegation. The bill passed committee with overwhelming support.  

    Other wilderness bills include 32,000 acres of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan and several smaller parcels in Nevada. All the wilderness bills will now go before the full House; companion bills have already passed Senate committees.

PACKAGE 2 - Sportsmen’s bills:

  • The Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act – an eight-bill package promoting hunting, fishing and target shooting on public lands – is expected to pass the House this week with bipartisan support, but is predicted to encounter hiccups in the Senate. The most contentious provision would prohibit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating lead ammunition or fishing tackle. As HCN has reported, California condors can die from lead poisoning after feeding on carrion embedded with bullets; California became the first state to ban lead bullets last year. Some hunters oppose such regulations because lead-alternative bullets are more expensive and aren’t manufactured for all guns.

    Another provision in the package would allocate firearm and ammunition tax revenue to fund promotional outreach of shooting ranges on public lands. And another would allow the importation of legally killed polar bears. (Because, truly, there’s nothing more comforting than a stuffed polar bear in your living room when you’re reading scary stories about climate change.)
  • Related, but not part of the sportsmen’s package, Montana’s Daines tackles the issue of public lands that aren’t really public at all – an issue Jodi Peterson covered for HCN. Nationally, more than 4 million acres of public land are off-limits because users simply can’t access them. Daines’ proposal – which mirrors a Senate bill from Jon Tester, D-Mont., – would ensure that at least 1.5 percent of Land and Water Conservation Fund money goes to improving recreational access to these places.

  • Also on a related note, the House unanimously passed a “good Samaritan” bill by Joe Heck, R-Nev., designed to expedite search-and-rescue groups’ access to federal lands. The legislation was introduced last May after private search teams waited nearly a year for permits to recover the bodies of two people missing near Lake Mead. A companion bill is now before the Senate.

North Fork
A bill to protect the North Fork of Montana's Flathead River overwhelmingly passed a House committee this week. Photo courtesy Flickr user Sunburned Surveyor.
PACKAGE 3 - (More) public lands bills:

  • Of all the public lands’ packages before Congress, the Public Access and Lands Improvement Act is perhaps the most controversial. It includes a bill from Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., that would salvage 1 billion board feet of burned timber from Yosemite’s Rim Fire. As I reported for HCN last fall, salvage logging is always a controversial practice – some say it clears fuel and adds economic value, while others claim it destroys valuable habitat – but McClintock’s suggestion to commercially log 257,000 acres of Yosemite National Park and Stanislaus National Forest without public notice, environmental review or litigation has raised ire among some environmental groups.

  • Fewer public lands: A bill written by Bishop would forbid the Bureau of Land Management from acquiring any new lands until it creates a database of public lands it could get rid of; while another Utah Republican, Jason Chaffetz, has a separate bill (not part of the package) requiring the Interior Department to sell 3.3 million acres of lands identified as “excess” during the Clinton administration.

  • The package also includes a bill from Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., to expand human-powered boating on off-limit rivers in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Kayaking enthusiasts have complained for decades that some of the world’s best whitewater is locked up behind outdated Park Service policies, but officials say the strict boating rules protect wildlife and uphold park policies. The same officials strongly oppose the bill for siphoning policy decisions from park managers. See more HCN coverage of the controversy here.

Though it’s heartening that lawmakers are taking a look at public lands – and may even protect some of them, albeit with strings attached – the past few years have made many of us skeptical of counting on Congressional action. Lately, President Obama has been dropping hints that he’s thinking the same thing. In his State of the Union address last week, Obama said he would employ executive action on issues with legislation stalled in Congress, a course of action that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has closely echoed.

So far, Obama’s public lands legacy favors development: as of December, he’d protected 2.9 million acres of federal land, while leasing 7.3 million acres to oil and gas companies. But as the Washington Post reported on Sunday, anonymous White House sources say Obama is “poised” to protect 500,000 acres of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region near Las Cruces, N.M., and 1,600 acres of the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands on California’s central coast from development if Congress doesn’t act soon on similar protections.

Krista Langlois is an editorial fellow at High Country News. She tweets @KristaLanglois2.

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Enviros and industry agree: Keystone XL means more oil. Why does the State Department disagree?

Judith Lewis Mernit | Feb 04, 2014 08:00 AM

It’s hard to know where to begin unpacking the U.S. State Department's Final Environmental Impact Statement on the controversial Keystone XL, the transcontinental pipeline that has been proposed to transport heavy crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta to the Gulf Coast of Louisiana. On one hand, the document admits that from "wells to wheels" — a lifecycle analysis that includes extracting, refining and burning — crude from landlocked Canada is 17 percent worse for the climate than the other kinds. On the other, moving any oil, no matter how polluting, along a pipeline is better than transporting it by rail or tanker. No one wants to repeat what happened last summer at Lac-Mégantic, the small Quebeçois village where 47 people died when a train derailed carrying oil from North Dakota’s Bakken fields, nor do the residents of Casselton, N.D., want to be forced to flee another fiery rail crash, as they did in December. Build the pipeline, goes the ominous Hobson's choice the State Department report offers, or get ready for more horrific railcar explosions to rock rural North America.

The proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Whether that's really the tradeoff, however, remains a matter of debate. There's no question that as flammable petroleum fills up tank cars designed for more benign cargo, rail disasters have mushroomed. Since March, the New York Times reported recently, “there have been no fewer than 10 large crude spills in the United States and Canada because of rail accidents.” Keystone XL would be contractually obligated to carry off about 100,000 barrels per day from the Bakken development, thus reducing the railcar risk from North Dakota as well Alberta. The pipeline, then, clearly wins on the issue of transportation risk.

But as a project that crosses an international boundary, the pipeline's approval hinges not on the opinions of rail-safety experts but on a decision to be made by President Barack Obama, who announced in his landmark June speech on climate that "the net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward." And that net effects calculation gets tricky.

On its face, the State Department's analysis says the pipeline will have no significant impact on climate, which is different from saying the oil itself won't contribute to carbon pollution when it's extracted and burned. Instead, the report concludes, the pipeline won't exacerbate the greenhouse effect for the simple reason that oil producers will still develop the fields without it, moving their oil to export terminals in the Gulf by rail or truck. In other words, no matter how "GHG intensive" the tar sands' oil might be, access to the pipeline won't exacerbate climate change because access to the pipeline will have no effect on oil production. Several environmentalists opposed to the pipeline, including NextGen Climate Action founder Tom Steyer, say that's bunk. And most investment analyses argue that without the pipeline, Canada's oil will cost so much and sell for so little it won't be worth the trouble.

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Closed roads remind Silverton and the West of our dependence on transportation

Jonathan Thompson | Feb 03, 2014 08:05 AM

Since Jan. 12, rocks have been raining down on Highway 550 on the north side of Red Mountain Pass in southwestern Colorado. Cold nights and warm days created a freeze/thaw cycle that pried loose a huge chunk of the rocky mountainside, which then broke into thousands of boulders. In order to stabilize the rocks to keep them from shooting through windshields at terminal velocity, the Colorado Department of Transportation closed the road for more than two weeks.

The so-called Million Dollar Highway is one of two transportation arteries into the small town of Silverton, Colo., and its closure essentially cut tourism in half during that time, dealing a huge blow to the meager mainstay of the former mining town’s economy. Quality of life has declined, too, as some residents have had to make a 400-mile round trip to go to the doctor or run other errands. (Map)

A recent rock slide on Red Mountain Pass that prompted the road to be closed for two weeks in January. The top arrow denotes where a Colorado Department of Transportation crew worked to install fencing. CDOT photograph.

It’s a reminder of how important transportation is in shaping our communities and the lives of those who live there. Be they roads, airports, subways or rail lines, transportation rules: It can give life to a community or neighborhood. And it can take it away.

Unlike many cities that popped up solely to service the railroad, Silverton, located in a mountain-ringed park at 9,318 feet in elevation, was born of minerals. The ancient, collapsed volcano in which it sits is infested with veins of silver, gold and other metals, which captured the interest of prospectors in the 1860s. It was the arrival of the railroad in the early 1880s, however, that provided a strong link to the outside world and the farms, smelters and lumber to the south, transforming the isolated mining camp into a somewhat civilized city. And the extension of the rail lines further into the mountains solidified Silverton’s status as the mining hub of southwest Colorado’s San Juan mountains.

While many hardy pioneers were involved in “settling” this rugged landscape, it’s no accident that one of the most renowned is Otto Mears, a Russian-born Jew who was orphaned as a youngster and sent to America. He is known as the Pathfinder of the San Juans for his ability to build road and rail, linking up towns and mines across inhospitable terrain. Perhaps his most famous accomplishment was the toll road that has evolved into the nasty northern side of Red Mountain Pass.

Anyone who has driven Red Mountain on a good day knows how scary it can be. In winter, it can be deadly. Massive, potentially car-crushing avalanches can whack almost every section of the 23-mile stretch between Silverton and Ouray when conditions are right. A single slide, the East Riverside, has killed six motorists over the years — a minister and his two daughters and three plow drivers. Dozens of others have had close calls. The West Riverside slide, right across the gorge, left a wall of snow 30 feet deep on the highway in January of 2005, requiring explosives and some pretty hefty bulldozers to clear it.

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'Ag-gag' law that thwarts investigations on factory farms is challenged in Utah

Christi Turner | Feb 01, 2014 05:00 AM

Last year was a good one for whistleblowers on factory farms: not one of the 11 “ag-gag” bills introduced across the U.S. in 2013 became law, and so far in 2014 two such bills, in the New Hampshire and Indiana legislatures, have been defeated by animal rights activists. What agribusiness calls farm protection laws – and what animal rights and First Amendment proponents call ag-gag laws – are regulations that make it a crime to photograph, videotape or otherwise investigate industrial farms while undercover. The front lines of the battle are now in Utah, whose ag-gag law is the first ever to be challenged in court. The outcome of this landmark litigation may help determine the treatment of animals raised for food, and ultimately the safety of our food supply.

Ag-gag laws have made headlines in the past few years, but they first appeared in state legislatures in 1990, when Kansas passed the first-ever gag law by criminalizing trespass specifically on agribusiness property, soon followed by Montana and North Dakota. (States already have laws against trespassing on private property, but critics say ag-gag laws are purposely redundant in order to intimidate activists or journalists.) Since another surge began in 2010, 19 more states have introduced similar bills, with just four becoming law – including in Utah.

Activist Amy Meyer filmed the illegal and inhumane handling of animals on a factory farm in Draper City, Utah. Pictured here is a sick cow being pushed by a farming loader. Image courtesy Amy Meyer.

What makes these bills so important is that undercover investigation is often the only way to get meaningful information about how animals are treated in factory farms and how safe the meat might be that comes out of them. Surreptitious information-gathering has a history of exposing food safety and animal abuse, as far back as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, a muckraking exposé of the meatpacking industry that sparked the first federal inspection standards for meat and the creation of the Food and Drug Administration in 1906. Government regulation has historically fallen short of ensuring humane conditions for animals and food safety. Federal inspectors themselves are often discouraged from reporting unsafe conditions, exemplified by the case of former U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector Dean Wyatt, whose reporting of industry violations nearly cost him his job – even though reporting violations was his job. Wyatt’s diligence led to a new procedure designed to allow inspectors “to voice their concerns when the standard reporting mechanisms do not adequately address outstanding issues.”

But the agribusiness lobby group Animal Agriculture Alliance says that so-called farm protection legislation is necessary to protect large-scale farmers from what they say are animal rights extremists. The AAA claims that activists manipulate photos and videos taken undercover to “to influence public opinion and fundraise” for the fight to end all industrialized food production. Yet the AAA has yet to substantiate these photo manipulation claims with evidence.

With ag-gag laws losing traction, earlier this month the AAA announced a new gag strategy: quick-reporting laws. This means forcing anyone who witnesses animal abuse, including at factory farms, to report it to authorities within as little as 24 hours or face a jail sentence. The industry claims their intent is to root out violations as soon as they happen, but for activists and journalists, quick-reporting laws would simply make long-term investigations – which are the only ones that can expose systemic violations – essentially impossible.

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New farm bill still favors big ag

Jodi Peterson | Jan 31, 2014 12:20 PM

We’ve been following the glacial progress of the latest Farm Bill for three years now. This massive bill, passed every five years, doles out nearly $1 trillion for food stamps and school lunches, farm subsidies, and conservation programs.

The Farm Bill got its start during the Dust Bowl years, when it was meant as temporary emergency assistance for beleaguered family farms.

Dust bowl scene.
The Farm Bill was originally meant to help small family farms recover from the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl years.

But since then, it’s become a permanent fixture of the agricultural landscape, with three-quarters of its subsidy assistance going to giant agribusiness corporations. It’s also become a major source of nutrition assistance for the poor and children – 80 percent of the bill’s funding goes to food programs.

In this gridlocked Congress, it’s surprising to see any piece of legislation move toward passage, but the Farm Bill cleared the House this week and is now headed to the Senate, and President Obama has indicated that he’ll sign it. House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., reportedly called the compromise version “a miracle”.

Following is a summary of some of HCN’s concerns about the bill as it was being negotiated, and how those issues are addressed in the current version of the bill.

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For better or worse, feds’ Columbia River Salmon plan stays the course

Ben Goldfarb | Jan 31, 2014 10:55 AM

There’s no arguing that salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake Rivers have had a tough century. Habitat loss, overfishing, and, most of all, dam construction have reduced the prodigious runs, which once averaged 16 million fish per year, to a fraction of their former glory. What’s up for debate is whether the federal government is finally taking adequate measures to protect the ones that remain.

Sockeye are among the five species of salmon and steelhead that spawn in the Columbia Basin. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

That ongoing dispute was renewed this month with the release of NOAA Fisheries Service’s latest biological opinion, or“BiOp,” an assessment of whether the federal government’s plan for managing salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin is successfully protecting fish. By NOAA’s own admission, the 2014 opinion doesn’t much differ from its 2008 BiOp and a 2010 supplement, which a federal judge struck down in 2011 for their lack of specificity. In this latest court-ordered version, NOAA concludes its salmon plan doesn’t need an overhaul because its core conservation strategies – especially habitat restoration – are indeed staving off extinction for threatened and endangered fish. But salmon advocates complain that, while the status quo might be maintaining populations, it’s not recovering them; and that by not considering more aggressive actions, NOAA’s new BiOp consigns the Columbia’s salmon and steelhead to permanent jeopardy.

Conservationists and fishermen have long advocated for breaching the Columbia Basin’s dams – especially the four in eastern Washington that interrupt the lower Snake River, dams whose hydropower and transportation benefits are, they say, outweighed by their cost to salmon. Federal agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration, which markets the region’s hydropower, have for years fought to keep the dams in place. Nonetheless, in 2009, Ken Olsen reported in High Country News that, thanks to a new generation of politicians and fisheries administrators, dam removal just might be nigh. “There are signs that the balance is tipping,” Olsen wrote.

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Preserving ancient art in land marked for solar energy development

Jeremy Miller | Jan 30, 2014 05:00 AM

Like a great eye of reflective silicon, the largest utility-scale power plant in the United States is rapidly materializing in the Mojave Desert. According to company officials, when fully complete, the BrightSource Ivanpah Solar Power Facility will come on line early this year, supplying nearly 400 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 140,000 homes during peak sunlight hours. The Ivanpah plant is in many ways the centerpiece project for dozens of large-scale solar facilities planned across the region.

In spite of the carbon-free energy generated at Ivanpah, the 4000-acre plant on the California-Nevada border has drawn the ire of environmentalists who cite a host of problems, from disturbances to critical habitat for endangered desert tortoises, to plumes of superheated air – or “solar flux” – generated by the circular array of 170,000 heliostat mirrors, which, some fear, could potentially kill large numbers of birds.

While ecological considerations have dominated the discussion, utility-scale solar development also poses serious challenges to the desert’s rich cultural resources – an issue taken up by a 79-year-old activist and former civil rights worker named Alfredo Figueroa.

On a searing day last August, I met with Figueroa in a Mexican restaurant tucked into the back of a gas station on the outskirts of Blythe, Calif. He regaled me with stories about the labor rights struggle in the farm fields of California. In the 1960s, Figueroa took the stage with luminaries of the movement, such as Cesar Chavez and Bert Corona, working with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee and, later, the United Farmworkers Union to improve conditions for migrant agricultural workers across the state.

Activist Alfredo Figueroa in the Palo Verde Valley in southeastern California. Photograph by Jeremy Miller.

Over the last decade, Figueroa’s activism has turned toward the desert landscapes that surround his small stucco bungalow in southeastern California, a region besieged by large utility-scale solar projects.  The Palo Verde Valley, three hours east of Los Angeles along the Arizona-California border, is one of the most sunlight-rich areas in the country and has become the de facto epicenter of the solar energy rush – a phenomenon that Judith Lewis Mernit recently reported on for High Country News .

In these rugged valleys, Figueroa has discovered what he says are fragmented depictions of scenes from the Aztec codices, ancient texts that tell the story of the exodus of the Mexica people from their ancestral homeland of Aztlan, to Lake Texcoco, the location of today’s Mexico City.

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Union Address: Climate change still real, federal action still lacking

Cally Carswell | Jan 29, 2014 12:35 PM

For any American who believes that climate change is not only real but one of the most pressing issues of our time, it's oddly invigorating to hear one's President declare the debate "settled," as Obama did last night in his State of the Union address. "Climate change is a fact," he followed. It's exciting to hear a politician in his position confidently brush aside climate denial. And also a little sad. It's been years since a sweeping majority of scientists agreed that climate change was happening, and humans were helping it to. It's been one year since Obama's second inaugural address, that barn burner in which he proclaimed that God "commanded" the planet to our care, and explained that basic American values demanded a response to climate change: "We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity."

And yet, here we are. A year later, we have only a little more to show for ourselves where federal action is concerned. Here we are, still stuck in a political zeitgeist in which the President is compelled to remind Congress that the world really is warming up, and that a reduction in carbon emissions really is necessary to slow the trend. The more the actual climate changes, the more the political climate seems to stay the same.

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BLM considers grassroots land use plan that would limit drilling in western Colorado

Krista Langlois | Jan 29, 2014 05:00 AM

Mark Waltermire squints in the winter sunlight, craning his neck to take in the view from his vegetable farm in Hotchkiss, Colo. He jabs his finger toward a mesa: “There,” he says. “And up in there.” Palm to the sky, he makes a sweeping gesture, encompassing the flat-bottomed valley, the staggered mesas; the patchwork of ranches and farms, houses and towns, public and private land, all dead grass and mud after a midwinter thaw.

Waltermire is showing me a handful of the 30,000 acres that the Bureau of Land Management planned to auction off to oil and gas companies here in western Colorado’s North Fork Valley in 2012. He represents the Valley Organic Growers Association in a larger group that opposed the leases and has thus far been successful in convincing the BLM to defer drilling permits. Not only that, but for the first time in recent history, the BLM has voluntarily agreed to consider a proposal written by residents of a small, rural community as a viable alternative to a regional resource management plan.

A Paonia, Colo., orchard. Farms, orchards and vineyards have diversified the local economy in recent decades.

Like many of Colorado’s public land offices, the Uncompahgre BLM – which oversees 3.1 million acres of western Colorado, including those surrounding the North Fork towns of Paonia, Hotchkiss and Crawford – hasn’t rewritten its resource management plan in decades. Resource plans guide all aspects of land and mineral management, and updating them is expensive and time-consuming, says state BLM spokesman Steven Hall. For a while, the attitude was “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But as Colorado’s energy boom took hold over the last decade, drawing more oil and gas companies to public lands, it became clear that policies written in the 1980s were ill-equipped to govern today’s landscape of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. New technologies have brought drilling to places that land planners of yore never anticipated.

Over the last six years, Colorado has been on “an ambitious planning spree”; 70 percent of it’s 8.3 million acres of BLM lands have been or are in the process of having their resource management plans rewritten, Hall says. “It’s been a tremendous workload for the BLM, and for advocacy groups that follow these (issues).”

The changes rarely come easily. In Grand Junction to the north and Tres Rios to the south, roadless wilderness proponents and motorized users have been sparring for years over new transportation guidelines included in the plans, and oil and gas leases have proven equally controversial. Middle ground has been hard to find.

Here in the North Fork, the Uncompahgre BLM was already in the midst of updating its 1989 resource management plan when the first oil and gas leases were proposed. There was some support for drilling: “If it’s not in my backyard, whose is it gonna be in?” one resident asked. But others were horrified to learn that the parcels abutted schools, irrigation ditches and municipal water supplies. They hoped the revised resource management plan would, as HCN editor Sarah Gilman wrote, “take into account major advances in drilling technology as well as changes to the local area’s economy, demographics and environment, in ways the (old) plan and a smaller scale environmental study covering the leasing proposal (could) not. That, in turn, would ideally mean a clearer balance struck between energy development and other interests.”

But early drafts didn’t satisfy residents’ fracking-related concerns. So they wrote their own – a 103-page alternative that would affect only a fraction of the overall Uncompahgre plan. Its main focus is to keep drilling far from schools, communities and watersheds, and help preserve the rural character of a place where organic farms and vineyards now supplement an economy once based mostly on coal mining and ranching. Surprisingly, in December, the BLM agreed to include the “North Fork Alternative” in its next resource management draft, to be released this summer. That'll be followed by a 90-day comment period and then, barring litigation, a final plan. For many locals, the process has thus far been a huge success.

"What's happening in the North Fork is somewhat historic," says Pete Kolbenschlag, a Paonia-based environmental consultant who worked on the plan. An Uncompahgre BLM representative was reluctant to discuss with me the agency's reasons for including the North Fork Alternative, but Kolbenschlag and others speculate that it may have stemmed from a legal battle that unfolded 100 miles to the north, on the biologically rich Roan Plateau. There, the BLM approved a plan allowing oil and natural gas development without including a proposal written by conservationists and Garfield County citizens that would have limited drilling to the plateau’s edges. In 2012, a U.S. district judge ruled that BLM was wrong and needed to reconsider.

Mt. Lamborn and BLM land outside Paonia, Colo. Oil and gas leases in the area have been deferred indefinitely.

Though it was a forced victory, some western Colorado environmentalists are hopeful that it may nonetheless be indicative of an agency that’s becoming more willing to balance community values, conservation and recreation with mineral extraction.

Mark Waltermire is skeptical, but he’s nonetheless happy that for now, at least, his view from Thistle Whistle farm will remain much the same – and his high-end customers in Boulder will continue to want his produce, untainted by fracking.

“My markets depend on the reputation of my food,” he says. “I just can’t see the future of this valley being in extractive industries.”

Krista Langlois is an editorial fellow at High Country News. She tweets @KristaLanglois2. Photos by the author.

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In a new study, megafauna more likely to feel climate impacts than smaller species

Sarah Jane Keller | Jan 27, 2014 10:35 PM

Climate change has always picked winners and losers from the animal world. Some, like unbearably cute, mountain-dwelling pikas are already retreating from lower, warmer elevations in places like Yosemite National Park, and heading for cooler heights.

Beyond existing research on how climate change is responsible for certain species, like pikas or polar bears, shifting elevation, latitudes, or just disappearing from some locations, scientists have yet to find the larger patterns that explain how and why climate change impacts some animals and not others. But a new study of North American mammals, many of them from Western mountains has discerned that smaller mammals, like mice and voles, and those with flexible activity schedules, are much less likely to be affected by climate change than larger ones like elk, caribou and even pikas.

Caribou herds are declining amid warmer temperatures and industrial development. Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

This is good news for diminutive critters, but bad news for many of the charismatic species that people adore. However, this new understanding of which American mammals are most impacted by climate change, and why, could help set conservation priorities – and perhaps make climate more tangible to people who want to see their favorite creatures succeed.

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