Climate showdown, increase in driving, where the wildfires are this season, and more. news in brief.


On July 31, dozens of kayaks and canoes gathered under a bridge on Portland, Oregon’s Willamette River, to block the passage of a ship headed for oil drilling in the Arctic. The so-called “kayaktivists” were protesting the government’s recent approval of Shell’s plan to drill in the Chukchi Sea, where the risk of a spill remains high. Similar efforts are growing in the Pacific Northwest, an important transportation hub that coal, oil and gas must pass through to reach international markets. A few months ago, kayaktivists surrounded a Shell drilling rig in Seattle’s Puget Sound. Still, admits one protester on the Willamette, “we can only fight them off for a day or two.” After a 40-hour hold-up, the MVS Fennica made its way to the sea.
-Sarah Gilman 

The Royal Dutch Shell-leased icebreaker MSV Fennica approaches the St. Johns Bridge in Portland, where climbers hang in an attempt to prevent the ship from passing on its way to deliver equipment critical for oil drilling in the Chukchi Sea, off the north coast of Alaska.
Steve Dipaola/Greenpeace

$12 BILLION: Amount in coal royalties and revenues generated on federal lands over the past decade and split with states

$850 MILLION: Amount taxpayers lost from 2008-2012, according to a new report, because federal royalty rates are below market value 

At the first of five public sessions to discuss the future of the federal coal program, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and other officials got an earful — mostly from its critics. A recent report found that current royalty rates shorted taxpayers, and many of the speakers called for higher rates. Several said the royalty rates should reflect the climate impacts of coal, which could make it too expensive to extract. Meanwhile, a bill introduced in the Senate could close loopholes that keep royalty rates low for companies. Four more listening sessions will take place, in Western cities from New Mexico to Montana.
-Elizabeth Shogren

In mid-July, an El Niño-fueled flash flood ripped down Tex Wash near Desert Center, California, wrecking a bridge and closing a section of I-10, the major artery linking Phoenix with Los Angeles. The closed stretch of road normally sees 25,000 or more cars per day, all of which were

shuttled onto a five-hour detour. The trucking industry was hit hard, as were the freeway towns that have come to rely on passing travelers. Yet, surprisingly, the event didn’t spur calls for more transportation options linking Western cities, such as rail lines or even new highways.
-Jonathan Thompson  

3%: Amount over a century by which carbon storage capacity could be reduced in Southwestern forests due to drought. “Three percent is not very much if it’s five trees. It means something different if it’s thousands of trees,” says one forest ecologist.
-Cally Carswell

Are mountain lions becoming more habituated to humans? Or are they as aloof as ever? Colorado researchers are tracking the big cats to see how they’re adapting as cities encroach further into their habitat. See the latest in the Wild Science video series, Mountain Lions on Colorado’s Front Range.
-Dakin Henderson

A scrrenshot from the WildScience series shows a mountain lion cub in a tree.
Dakin Henderson
“At night, they’ve come into town and maybe made a kill ... killed a raccoon or deer or something. They feed on it, then they slip back out to the open space.”—Mat Alldredge, Colorado Parks and Wildlife researcher

The 2015 fire season hasn’t broken any all-time records – yet
This year’s fire season has been an odd one: The Southwest has burned less than the Pacific Northwest, California and Alaska, and more than 82 percent of the total acreage burned has been in Alaska. The 2015 fire season started off with a bang. As of the first week in August, 40 fires over 100 acres in size were burning in Western states. But whether this year sets any national wildfire records will depend on how fires unfold this fall.
-Gloria Dickie

You say

Dave Decker: “CalFire has been pretty good at ‘managing’ fires in my neck of the woods, so far this year.”

Ann Snyder: “Southern Oregon is on fire again this year in forests that haven’t burned often enough, nor been logged recently, so the fires are burning hotter, and with more people living out there, there are more people in danger.”

Helen Nowlin:“Alaska’s tundra is drying out, and quick!”

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