« Return to this article

Know the West

Friday news roundup: fires start, wildlife die


It's Friday and that means it's time for a roundup of some of the important Western news of the week. Our interns are all missing in action, one of the editors is in the Grand Canyon and another is in the canyons of New York City, and so I'm taking on this update. And then I'm going out for a beer (but as a diligent editor, it won't be until the end of the work day).

Our local beer joint. Image courtesy Alejandro De La Cruz.

In the last issue of HCN, we wrote about the latest iteration of the Sagebrush Rebellion, in which Western states seek ownership of the federal lands within their borders. But now it's faltering – Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer just very sanely vetoed a bill demanding that the feds turn over 48,000 square miles of public lands to the state. Brewer noted that the bill was probably "not reconcilable" with the U.S. Constitution and that it created uncertainty for holders of mineral and grazing leases on federal land. That leaves Utah as the only Western state to pass a "land grab" bill this year.

Further evidence of an outbreak of reasonableness in Arizona is evidenced by the failure of an anti-Agenda 21 bill that would have abolished government-led sustainability efforts.

Another well-considered rejection comes from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The agency just tossed out an appeal of its previous dismissal of an application to study the feasibility of a giant pipeline that would suck water from Wyoming down to Pueblo, Colo, and generate hydropower. Indefatigable entrepreneur Aaron Million, who proposed the pipeline, is dealing with other setbacks as well, reports the Coloradoan: "two of his properties, including (his) business address, have been listed in foreclosure." 

Wildfire season is rolling already (you can look up info state-by-state at inciweb.org). Arizona seems to be getting the worst of it so far. About 90 miles north of Phoenix, the Gladiator fire has forced Crown King residents from their homes, and has burned about 5,000 acres. The 12,500-acre Sunflower fire is burning north of Mesa, another 7,500 acres are on fire near the Texas border; a 1,900-acre blaze, the Bull Flat, is burning 20 miles northwest of Cibecue, in the scar of the Rodeo-Chediski fire that burned nearly 500,000 acres in 2002. In north-central Colorado, outside of Fort Collins, the 5-day-old Hewlett Gulch fire has already consumed more than 5,000 acres and caused the evacuation of several mountain subdivisions. In the western half of the state, nothing's burning at the moment, but soil moisture is a fraction of normal and the amount of forest fuels is off the charts. And it's only May – looks like a long and intense fire season ahead in much of the West.

Fortunately there are also some prescribed burns underway, set by the Forest Service to thin the trees and underbrush to reduce future fire danger in California, Idaho, Montana and Washington.

In wildlife news, black bears in Colorado have had a rough spring. Outside Boulder, a bear relocated from city limits to a wilderness area died in early May after being hit by multiple cars (a photo of the bear falling from a tree after it was tranquilized, looking alarmingly human, went viral). Another young bear was just euthanized in Durango, Colo. because he was entirely too comfortable with humans. The state's Department of Parks and Wildlife is now conducting an online survey to understand how people interact with black bears and what they think about them, with the intent of coming up with new plans to manage the bruins in southwest Colorado.

A wandering wolf made it from Yellowstone to South Dakota this spring. The young male covered 400 miles in 2 months, only to get killed by a car this week near the town of Pine Ridge. And last week, California's only known wild wolf was caught on film – a state Game and Fish employee took the first-ever color photograph of the famous canine. Now in Modoc County, the wolf left his home pack in Oregon in December and headed south; he's been loping around northern California ever since.

In Wyoming, wildlife managers want to allow hunters to kill an unlimited number of cougars in some areas. But that's not likely to improve the safety of livestock or people, says Cougar Fund co-founder Tom Mangelsen. "It’s counterproductive to be killing large cougars and trophy cougars," he told the Casper Star-Tribune. "In reality, it will exacerbate the problem and create juvenile delinquents."

And numbers of mule deer are down in Colorado and other states. Game managers have reduced the number of tags available for mule-deer hunting up to 80 percent in some areas. Although biologists blame habitat loss, fragmentation of migration corridors, and increased development, Utah decided in March that coyotes are the cause of the decline, and is now spending $1 million on a program to eradicate them (never mind that it's been clearly shown that killing coyotes is an exercise in futility).

Can't wait for that beer at Rev0lution to wash away the tang of smoke and the thoughts of dead wildlife. Is it 5 pm yet?

Jodi Peterson is the managing editor at High Country News.

Image of the Gladiator Fire courtesy Flickr user Michelle Dyer