Two weeks in the West

  • "I think I'm going to go enjoy myself some champagne." -- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wolf recovery coordinator Ed Bangs in the Great Falls Tribune, after gray wolves in the Northern Rockies were officially removed from the endangered species list March 28. Hunters and ranchers have already shot at least five of the animals in Idaho and Wyoming. BARRY O'NEILL, USFWS

  • Forest Road 81 in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington, damaged by floods in November 2006. NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

 

It's been a knuckle-chapping, post-holing, white-out freeze of a winter in the West, prompting many a global warming naysayer to crow about buying Al Gore a snow shovel. Not so fast though, weather weenies. A recent report based on long-term data from about 2,000 sites around the West shows that the region has warmed 70 percent more than the rest of the globe over the past five years, with temperature increases in the arid Colorado River Basin coming in at about twice the global average. The report's authors at the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization say we are already enjoying the fallout, including more frequent extreme heat waves, escalating drought and wildfires, the sudden decline of aspen trees, and the bark beetle epidemic.

Researchers studying California's Lake Tahoe, which has been warming for the last 40 years, predict the famously clear body of water may go murky with algae blooms and be taken over by invasive species within a decade. Arizona, meanwhile, kicked off an early wildfire season with a 200-acre blaze. Biologists in Montana warn that warming streams in the Big Hole River Valley, already low from irrigation, may push struggling grayling fish to the brink. Scientists in Wyoming say snow disappears from that state's mountains four to eight weeks earlier on average than it did 40 years ago, and that it will take a lot more than one booster snowpack year to recover reservoir levels there after a nearly decade-long drought.

Fear not, though. The Southern Nevada Water Authority has some unconventional ideas for dealing with future water shortages. The organization spent $750,000 on a report exploring a dozen ways to augment flows in the Colorado River, which supplies water for much of the thirsty Southwest. Options range from the vaguely post-apocalyptic (towing icebergs and giant water bladders across the Pacific Ocean from Alaska; piping fresh water from the Columbia River under the ocean to Southern California) to the borderline practical (nixing water-sucking salt cedar; financing desalination plants).

But the prospect of too much water, thanks to potentially torrential spring runoff from this year's epic snowpack, has also inspired some nail-biting. Forecasters have warned that flooding is possible in several Western states. And residents along Colorado's Parachute Creek are dealing with a 1 million-gallon frozen overflow of gas-drilling waste fluid melting into their irrigation water. If the spill is highly contaminated, state wildlife officials worry it could harm endangered fish such as the Colorado pike minnow and humpback chub 10 miles downstream in the Colorado River.

All this warming has helped spawn a watershed moment of a different sort. Looking to boost renewable energy in its portfolio, California's Pacific Gas & Electric utility signed contracts to buy 500 megawatts of solar power and options for another 400 megawatts - in total, enough energy to power about 300,000 homes - from five plants to be built in the Mojave Desert over the next decade. The Navajo Nation inked a deal with Boston-based Citizens Energy Corp. to build a 500 megawatt windfarm - the first such facility in Arizona - about 50 miles north of Flagstaff. European companies, meanwhile, have announced plans to build wind turbine factories in Pocatello, Idaho, and Butte, Mont. - creating hundreds of new jobs - and officially opened another in Colorado.

Richland, Wash., Idaho Falls, Idaho, and Lea County, N.M., are also hoping to land 1,000 temporary and 250 long-term energy jobs. State lawmakers and local officials in those places are rolling out economic incentives to entice the Paris-based company Areva to choose one of their communities as the site for a plant that will enrich uranium for nuclear power.

Even as the West warms, the ice-cold real estate market may be having a chilling effect on high-end resort development. Developers of the Ameya Preserve, a proposed 300-home "conservation" development in Montana, sold nearly half of their 9,700 acres to a neighboring Italian candy magnate who didn't want his view spoiled. The Yellowstone Club, an exclusive private resort south of Big Sky, Mont., went up for sale for a rumored $455 million before its founder pulled it back off the market. Owners of the Promontory Club, a 7,000-acre golf community near Park City, Utah, declared bankruptcy and blamed the subprime mortgage crisis and stagnating market for their inability to make payments on $275 million in loans. The club's bank, Credit Suisse, is now suing and seeking to foreclose on the sinking Tamarack Resort in Idaho, whose investors filed for bankruptcy in February.

 

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Forever Our Rivers Foundation is searching for a driven and creative leader to build a movement, conserving and restoring America's rivers by helping customers find...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Friends of Cedar Mesa is hiring a Deputy Director/COO who will have the overall responsibilities of general program management, staff management, financial & budget management,...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • OFFICE ADMINISTRATOR AND BOOKKEEPER
    Posted: July 19, 2021 Application deadline: August 27 or until position is filled. Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking a fulltime Office Administrator...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Posted: July 15, 2021 Application deadline: August 21, 2021 or until position is filled Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking three full time...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT EDITOR
    High Country News (HCN) seeks an audience editor to attract and acquire new audiences and deepen engagement with them - in our newsletters, on our...
  • COMMUNITY MARKETER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Marketer to build and strengthen relationships between HCN and other organizations and individuals, with the aim...
  • FINANCE & OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Job Announcement: Finance and Operations Manager Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Development Director Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August 9, 2021...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • HECHO NEW MEXICO SENIOR FIELD COORDINATOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. This position is part of our...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is dedicated to saving the lands and waters on which all life depends. For more than 30 years, TNC has...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, CLIMATE AND ENERGY PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-climate-energy-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Climate and Energy Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Climate and Energy Program Director Location: Helena, Montana; other...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, WILDLANDS AND WILDLIFE PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-wildlands-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Director Location: Portland or Eugene,...