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Know the West

Oil trains, Southwest sprawl, on-shore drilling and more.

Hcn.org news in brief.


As bears and wolves continue to move beyond the borders of national parks and wilderness areas, they sometimes nab a snack from sheep and cattle herds, angering livestock owners, who may retaliate by killing them. A good livestock guard dog can help minimize conflict by fending off predators. But while many of the dog breeds currently in use are successful against smaller opponents, like coyotes, they’re outmatched by grizzlies and wolves. So researchers have begun experimenting with bigger, more exotic breeds, like the kangal, which is famed for its courage in the face of wolf attacks in its home country of Turkey. While conclusive results are still a couple years off, early signs suggest these foreign canines might be well-adapted to the West. One Montana rancher hasn’t lost a single sheep to grizzlies since receiving his three kangals.
-Ben Goldfarb via enSia

A kangal wearing a protective collar guards a herd of sheep.


The extra revenue the Interior Department could collect over the next decade if it charged market rates for onshore drilling.

The rules governing royalties for oil and gas from federal lands have drawn fire for years. Critics say the government charges companies too little for the oil and gas they extract, shorting taxpayers. In a 2007 report, the Government Accountability Office said the low rate, an eighth of production value, results in one of the lowest government takes in the world. The rules haven’t been updated in decades. Now, the Department of the Interior is considering revising the rules that govern royalties and other company costs, including an increase to the royalty rate. Many environmental groups welcome the idea of higher costs for drilling, but the industry has opposed any changes, especially given the dropping price of oil. The department has opened the issue to public comment.
-Elizabeth Shogren


Once upon a time, developers in places like Phoenix and Las Vegas dreamed of suburbs spreading like lawns across the desert. When the housing bubble burst in 2007, most of them woke up to a harsh reality, one that has stifled a lot of sprawl. With the recovery, though, developers are back. In Albuquerque, they are proposing a community called Santolina, which could eventually house nearly 100,000 people. Similar proposals have cropped up around Tucson. It’ll take a long climb to return to pre-crash heights, but suburban sprawl may one day return.
-Jonathan Thompson


Hours it took Blackbird Mine waste runoff to kill trout dropped for testing purposes into Idaho’s Blackbird Creek in 1993. Now, two decades and more than $50 million later, the creek’s waters are clean.
-Ben Goldfarb


This spring was a strange one, and nobody was more surprised by it than the bears, some of whom found themselves waking from hibernation much earlier than normal. Associate Editor Brian Calvert discusses bears and climate change with experts in this online audio story.

 “I think overall they are (faring OK), especially adult males, who are big enough to take kills away from wolf packs.” —Kerry Gunther, Yellowstone bear biologist


Jim Peaco, National Park Service, April 2013

For more than 20 years, the Swinomish Reservation, along Washington’s Puget Sound, has agreed to let trains rumble across its land, their length and frequency tightly regulated. Burlington Northern Santa Fe LLC, the company running the trains, was required to inform the tribe of its cargo. But in 2012, reservation residents noticed the trains were longer than they should have been and carried volatile Bakken oil. In April, after repeated requests to stop the transport were ignored, the tribe filed suit. “This is yet another example of communities all across the country in different ways rising up” against oil transport, Jan Hasselman, an environmental lawyer, told HCN
-Kindra McQuillan

You say

Don Brady:“If the government stops the trains, people find and stop the trucks delivering oil, we all will be back to the horse-and-buggy era unless we want foreign oil products to be delivered to our country. Then not many would be able to afford real high prices for gas, diesel, nor natural gas.”

Eric Smith:“I suppose they’d prefer 10,000 trucks.”

Ed Hamilton:“Maybe the towns can’t stop them, but the reservation can.”