Friday news round up: Romney in Nevada, Glacier thief in handcuffs


As we slip from January to February, allowing a few more New Year's resolutions to fall by the wayside, we're rallying our strength as spectators: both for the Superbowl this Sunday, and the drawn out GOP presidential drama. Amid the hustle, bustle and bluster of the week, a few headlines caught our eye.

On Thursday, Feb. 2, the Obama administration set new management guidelines for national forests, grasslands and prairie. The nearly 200 million acres covered by the new blueprint supply a fifth of the nation's drinking water, according to the U.S. Forest Service. This is the first major forest rules update in three decades. Several scientists and environmental groups praised the new rule, which in addition to emphasizing science-driven management, gives local supervisors flexibility in writing plans for their areas.  

Moving from the forest and into the field, grass on public lands will continue to be a bargain buffet. Grazing fees per head will remain at $1.35 per month in 2012, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management officials announced Wednesday. As we've reported before, grazing fees have jumped

all of 12 cents since the initial fee was set in 1966. Under a presidential executive order dating from 1986, $1.35 is the lowest allowable price.

Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate who cares about the poor, somewhat, seems the favorite to win Nevada's caucuses on Saturday. During the last presidential race, Romney won the swing state easily. In 2008, however, Nevada was a very different place. Its unemployment rate is now 13 percent, the highest in the nation, and a spirit of government distrust pervades the state as strongly as ever. The state might be the Tea Party's last chance to block Romney's nomination, according to the New York Times.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert announced a voluntary plan on Tuesday to sweep the state's dirty air clean. Herbert hopes the program, called "U-CAIR," will convince people and businesses to carpool, use mass transit and lessen emissions. Utah's air has grown increasingly worse in recent years, particularly over the heavily populated northern valleys. Herbert was motivated, the Associated Press reports, by fears of federal sanctions and EPA meddling.

Three measures passed in the House on Wednesday, Feb. 1, aimed at beefing up domestic oil and natural gas production. The measures would boost offshore oil production, open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and promote oil shale exploration. Republicans plan to sew the bills onto to a $260 billion transportation package and send them to the Senate. Once there, the bills will likely be fought by the Democratic majority.

If passed, these measures could push the already cheap price of natural gas down even further, and delay investments in renewable energy.

“Who are you honestly going to trust?” asked several dozen climate scientists in a joint letter to the Wall Street Journal, published Wednesday. The authors express dismay over the last week's Op-Ed "No Need to Panic About Global Warming," in which 16 scientists – most of whom aren't climate scientists – spread climate skepticism. In Wednesday's letter, "Check With Climate Scientists for Views on Climate," the writers entreat readers to give credence to scientific consensus.

It's a risky proposition to be a wolf in Idaho or Montana, where the animals have gone from being an endangered species to a game animal "pretty much overnight," said David Ausband, a researcher at the University of Montana. Ausband and colleagues will soon begin a three-year study looking at how wolves respond to the death of a pack member. Wolves in Idaho and Montana are hunted, but researchers don't yet know how mortality affects pack stability and population growth.

Reintroducing wolves into Colorado is one of the options being considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to control elk on national wildlife refuges, albeit an unpopular one. While wolf reintroduction is "on the table," it is not the agency's first choice, reports the Pueblo Chieftain.

Following the model set by Wyoming, Utah plans to set aside core sage grouse habitat, in the hopes of saving the bird from extinction. Land disturbances, such as mining, will likely be prohibited near sage grouse breeding grounds.

The West is experiencing of the most dangerous avalanche conditions in years. Four people have already lost their lives in avalanches this winter. Ethan Greene, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center talked with Colorado Public Radio recently about why conditions are so bad, and how skiers can be careful.

Glacial ice might become the next big bar trend, though we hope it won't. A man was arrested in Chile this week, suspected of trying to steal five tons of ice from a Patagonian glacier to "sell as designer ice cubes in bars and restaurants."

Danielle Venton is an intern at High Country News.

Image of sage grouse courtesy of David Schenfeld, Flickr.


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