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Know the West

Pot dollars and range riders

News in brief.


President Barack Obama’s first Interior secretary, Ken Salazar, aspired to turn Western federal lands into hotbeds of wind and solar projects. But seven years later, the administration’s record on renewable projects on public lands is mixed. The Bureau of Land Management now counts 57 projects that it has approved since then, including canceled projects and projects where the agency played a bit part, but far fewer projects on federal land actually deliver power to the grid: four solar arrays, five geothermal projects and three wind farms. Still, the BLM has made progress in readying the public lands for renewable energy projects, especially solar. It designated 19 solar energy zones in six Southwestern states, where the BLM will prioritize projects and transmission lines to bring their electricity to the grid. Some in the solar industry fear this approach could complicate the permitting process, while wind developers are more likely to take their business elsewhere.
-Elizabeth Shogren

Windmills at the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm near Whitewater, California, where the BLM has authorized 3,300 acres of wind projects on public lands.
Sam Mircovich/Reuters

$6 BILLION spent each year on energy for indoor cannabis cultivation

15 MILLION tons of greenhouse gas emissions produced by the U.S. pot industry per year 

With medicinal or recreational marijuana legal in most of the West, utilities and grid operators are a bit worried about the impacts of these energy-hogs, even as they’re excited about the profits they’ll bring. Meanwhile, expanded legalization could reduce pot’s energy and carbon footprint. Farmers could grow crops outside, where it takes no more energy to grow a cannabis plant than it does a carrot or tomato. It also means utilities and farmers can work together to maximize efficiency. 
-Jonathan Thompson

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the AquAdvantage salmon, the first genetically modified animal authorized for human consumption. Critics fear the fish’s potential to inflict harm on the environment, as well as on the Alaskan salmon industry. History indicates the effects could be complex: Though aquaculture caused wild salmon prices to tank in the 1980s, it also opened new markets for the fish, and wild prices eventually recovered. And while Alaskan fishermen worry the modified fish could further cut their market share, European countries, at least, have largely rejected genetically modified foods. In the end, reconnecting American consumers with their wild seafood resources will likely accomplish more than any FDA action. 
-Ben Goldfarb 

5 Number of Syrian refugees that were resettled in Colorado in 2015. The state typically receives 2 percent of the nation’s refugee intake each year, and most resettle in metropolitan areas.
-Matt Whittaker

In recent years, a rebounding wolf population in eastern Washington has stirred controversy. The resulting wolf-livestock clashes have spurred the creation of a new system: range riders who track both wolves and livestock with GPS collars, hoping to prevent further conflict.
-Lena Jackson

“Technology and research is going to be a huge part of how farmers and ranchers move into the future. The ones that get it and move with it will survive.”—Jay Kehne, Okanogan County organizer,
Conservation Northwest

Range rider Bill Johnson rides his horse, Walter, while on patrol.
Lena Jackson

Marjorie “Slim” Woodruff, an educator at the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute, argues in an opinion piece that dogs should not be — and usually aren’t — allowed in the backcountry of national parks. But she says some human visitors have begun to use the loosely monitored service dog system to get their pets in. “In 2011, the National Service Animal Registry signed up 2,400 emotional support animals. Last year, it registered 11,000. No paperwork required; this is on the honor system,” Woodruff writes. “For me, it’s the lack of respect for a park’s rules that gets my goat, the notion that rules apply to other people but not to me.”
-Kate Schimel

You say

Nicole von Gaza-Reavis: “The role of dogs in people’s lives, as well as in society, has changed rapidly just in this last decade. The rules are outdated. …Banishment is not the answer.”

Iris Redcliff:  “Keep your dog on a leash when walking trails. How hard is that?”

Jeff Hall: “National parks are overcrowded nature museums. ... So does it really make a difference with all the roads and tourists making a ton of noise and emitting a ton of pollution?”