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Know the West

Friday news roundup: Water's the word in Western news


While the perennial news of the West remains it’s drying, it’s drying, it’s drying, this week brought us a welcome respite: thunder and rain storms. The air smelled fresh, the fields greened and the cars went another week without washing. Water related news also poured down through the intertubes too: read on. 


Salmon chronicles
About half of the Pacific’s salmon, trout and char populations are likely threatened by three agricultural herbicides registered by the Environmental Protection Agency. From the annals of unpopular reports, the National Marine Fisheries Service recently released a draft biological opinion [PDF] concluding that products containing oryzalin, pendimethalin, and tricluralin will hurt fish species if they enter waterways. The evaluation is part of a settlement from an earlier lawsuit, Washington Toxics Coalition v. EPA. NMFS is proposing buffer zones between fields where the pesticides will be aerially applied and creeks and rivers that connect to salmonid-bearing waters. Under the settlement, the Service is also evaluating more than 30 other pesticides that “may affect” salmonid species listed under the Endangered Species Act. The EPA is collecting comments regarding the measures proposed by the Service until April 30.

Fortunately, it’s not all bad news in the salmon kingdom. Managers are forecasting the best season in the Pacific Northwest in several years. Early this month the Pacific Fisheries Management Council decided to allow sport and commercial fishing off the mouth of the Columbia river from June through September, a longer than usual season. Fishermen off the coasts of Northern California and Southern Oregon should have a robust season as well. Fish returns in the Sacramento and Klamath rivers were four times greater this year than last. 

Some of those fish in the Klamath and Trinity Rivers had been under consideration for protection under the Endangered Species Act. However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service recently decided that area's chinook salmon won’t get listed. While the numbers returning to the rivers each year in the spring are low -- less than 3,000 each year -- federal biologists found that spring chinook are part of the same genetic group as those returning in the fall, a population expected to return in record numbers this year. 

Lawmakers in Nebraska approved a bill on Wednesday to speed the review of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline. The law undermines tougher regulations the same legislature passed in November, and gives the pipeline company, TransCanada, greater power in choosing the pipeline route. The review process for the pipeline was halted in January, when President Obama denied granting a federal permit for the project. Obama has since announced plans to expedite a permit for the pipeline’s southern half. When completed, the 36-inch pipeline would carry crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands to refineries on Gulf Coast of Texas, stretching through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. 

Climate & water 

Ah, the classic Western obsession. It’s no surprise that a water-focused report released last week by the Natural Resources Defense Council garnered some real attention. The report, which ranks states in terms of their climate-related water readiness, has led some water wonks to question its premises. California got top marks for developing a comprehensive strategy for anticipating droughts and reduced snow pack, prompting a nice Golden State pat on the back in The San Francisco Chronicle. However, California water writer Emily Green was highly critical of the report’s evaluation methods. “If a state that turned Owens Lake into a salt bed, that led the West in destroying the Colorado River estuary and is well on its way to finishing off the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta gets a top ranking for water management in the face of climate change, it must be asked: What merits a fail?” Green asks. Read her evaluation at the Chance of Rain blog

In forests across North America, declining numbers of large predators, wolves in particular, have buoyed moose, deer and other plant-munching animals. The rise of the herbivores has, in turn, made it difficult for new trees and young plants, leading to a loss of biodiversity. The study, published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research surveyed more than 40 studies holding data gathered over 50 years. The evidence is consistent, says lead author William Ripple, that large predators are good for ecosystems

The outlook is bad for bats. A fungus that has devastated colonies in the Eastern regions of North America has crossed the Mississippi and is spreading West. The fungus responsible for white-nose syndrome arrived from Europe in 2006 and has since caused the worst epidemic for wild mammals seen on our continent. 

A severe wildfire in 2009 left the Angeles National Forest a charred ruin. A year ago the U.S. Forest Service began planted nearly a million pine and fir trees, hoping to reforest the area. But the land, they are finding, is too scorched, causing the Forest Service to revise their strategies.

Danielle Venton is an intern at High Country News. 
Photos: 1)Removing salmon eggs for hatchery rearing at the Kalama River Hatchery, Oregon, 1936. Courtesy of OSU Commons/Flickr; 2) The Colorado River running through the Grand Canyon circa 1972, Courtesy of New York Public Library/Flickr.