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Know the West

Coal comfort, secretive powerbrokers and dastardly Ducks Unlimited

Hcn.org news in brief.


In November, Ducks Unlimited magazine fired its field editor, Don Thomas, over a story he wrote for a separate publication about James Cox Kennedy, a billionaire who has fought for years to block public access to the Ruby River. Kennedy, who owns 3,200 acres on the river, used barbed wire and electric fence to deter those who sought to fish its waters. Thomas’ facts were unimpeachable, but Kennedy is a major Ducks Unlimited donor and a former board member, and the strident tone of the piece angered the current board. When Thomas’ firing was made public, Ducks Unlimited members objected, accusing the group of siding with Kennedy — against Montana’s legendary stream access. For his part, Thomas may be looking for work, but he says the fracas has his favorite issue, public access, “lit up like a neon sign.” 
-Ben Goldfarb

Dan “Rooster” Leavens hooks a brown trout on the Ruby River upstream of the Kennedy property, after gaining access from a bridge.

2.5 MILLION: Number of Coloradans a 2014 study estimated would be without water by 2050, without conservation measures in the state.

400,000: Amount of water, in acre-feet, municipal and industrial users could conserve under a new state plan. 

Colorado’s new water plan, finalized in November, offers something for everybody. In addition to conservation, it recognizes the need to develop additional storage, preserve agricultural water, improve recreation, and boost environmental flows — and all despite projections of a shrinking water supply. The plan came from a bottom-up process that involved basin-by-basin conversations about needs and solutions, as well as thousands of hours of public comments. But old conflicts die hard, and some still worry that the plan could mean diverting water from the state’s sparsely populated Western Slope to the growing cities east of the Rockies.
-Sarah Tory

The secretive Freedom Caucus and its eight known Western members have weighed in on core regional issues like immigration and could soon turn to environmental issues. So what is it, exactly?
-Krista Langlois


“The true problem with coal plants has been that they just haven’t been able to compete with the low, low natural gas prices that we’ve been seeing these days.”

—Robert Godby, director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming, speaking as part of an HCN Soundtable, “Who will feel the pinch as energy economies shift?” The hour-long program also featured Noah Long of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in Santa Fe; and Tom Huerkamp, board vice president of Delta County Economic Development Inc. in Colorado, where hundreds of miners have lost their jobs.

Oregon has taken its gray wolves — 81 in total — off the state endangered species list. The status change will have little immediate effect, though. Management of the state’s wolves is governed by a wolf management plan, created in 2005, which allows the canids to be killed only in self-defense or when caught in the act of chasing or attacking livestock. Wolves in western Oregon also remain protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Still, the delisting could open the door for the eventual approval of hunting.
-Jodi Peterson

Wolves, including this young radio- collared one, are no longer on Oregon’s endangered species list.
Oregon Department of Fish And Wildlife

Last month, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton released a $30 billion plan to bolster communities impacted by the downturn of the coal industry. Her chief rival, Bernie Sanders, vowed to protect workers, even as he declared it time to start fighting climate change by keeping coal in the ground. Clinton’s plan, which would retrain workers, fund local schools and lure new businesses to coal communities, mirrors similar proposals from Democrats and President Barack Obama, which have failed to get traction in Congress. Industry representatives called Clinton’s plan “a cynical ploy to gain votes,” not a solution to coal’s decline.
-Elizabeth Shogren

You say

Jeff Smyth: “We are told that all those good-paying mining jobs will be replaced by equally good-paying wind and solar jobs, but when does it start? Mines are shutting down, but the alternatives aren’t picking up the slack.”

Deb Hochhalter: “I still find it outrageous that the coal states have not made an effort over the last several years to expand their economic bases and bring in new jobs. They have been living in a bubble of denial.”