Amid the national uproar after the Sept. 11 attacks, the California Public Utilities Commission quietly voted to end its experiment in electricity deregulation. In a 3-to-2 vote on Sept. 20, the commission closed down its "direct access" policy, which had allowed consumers to choose their own power providers (HCN, 1/29/01: Power on the loose). Direct access, along with a statewide cap on retail power prices, got much of the blame for the state's recent power crisis. Nearly eight months ago, the state Legislature told the commission to end the policy.


Biologists have discovered two previously unknown gray wolf packs in Montana and Idaho, each with two adults, yearlings and pups born this year. The find has big political implications: The endangered wolf may now meet its federal recovery goals by 2003, a year earlier than expected (HCN, 2/26/01: Return of the natives). When that happens, the Fish and Wildlife Service will begin the process of taking the wolf off the endangered species list and returning wolf-management authority to the states


After last year's hot and heavy fire season (HCN, 5/7/01: Back into the woods), this summer seemed relatively cool and calm. But a Sept. 7 memo from Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth says the agency still expects to overspend its firefighting budget by $230 million. Fire officials say crews pursued blazes more quickly and aggressively this year than last, using many more people and aircraft. They also point out that while the $1.9 billion National Fire Plan set aside money for training and equipment, firefighting itself is funded by a separate account. Critics say forest managers could save money - and improve forest health - by allowing some fires to burn in remote areas.


The National Land Trust Alliance reports that business is still booming for Western land trusts (HCN, 2/28/00: Acre by acre). The nation's fastest-growing trusts are in the Four Corners states, where, by the end of the year 2000, homegrown trusts had purchased or placed conservation easements on more than 900,000 acres of private land. Montana trusts have also kept busy, claiming more than 500,000 protected acres. Nationwide, local and regional trusts have closed conservation deals on 6.4 million acres of land.