Obama moves on coal and readers respond to Sagebrush coverage.

HCN.org news in brief.


January was a turbulent month for the coal industry. On Jan. 11, Arch Coal, one of the nation’s largest coal companies, filed for bankruptcy. The company’s financial troubles stem from short-sighted investments and the utilities’ recent shift to natural gas, because of its lower price and to comply with state and federal air pollution regulations. On Jan. 15, the Interior Department announced an immediate moratorium on new federal coal leases, as it takes a closer look at the program. White House officials say the program should be updated to reflect the impact that coal burning has on the climate and to ensure that taxpayers and local communities near the mines get a fair payout from that public coal. Meanwhile, the national shifts in coal production are playing out at a local scale. Oregon and Washington are both considering legislation that would reduce coal-fueled energy use, and the prospect is causing uncertainty in coal-producing towns in Montana.
-Elizabeth Shogren and Bryce Gray

A haul truck carries overburden away from draglines at Wyoming’s Black Thunder Coal Mine, operated by Arch Coal, in 2012. Arch Coal says it doesn’t anticipate major layoffs at its mines, despite its recent filing for bankruptcy.
© Greenpeace/Tim Aubry

80: percent by which Fort Collins, Colorado, plans to cut its carbon emissions by 2030.

2050 year it plans to be carbon neutral.

Even as world leaders struggled to set climate goals, Western cities like Fort Collins have charged ahead on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the ecological catastrophe scientists warn of. With its purple political background and acknowledged need to wean itself from coal power, Fort Collins could serve as a blueprint for other mid-sized communities. The city’s aggressive plan to be carbon-neutral by 2050 relies partly on solar-panel and energy-efficiency rebates, and a new community solar garden. Still, those plans will come at a price, as much as $300 million by 2020.
-Joshua Zaffos

Bull trout are an indicator species of stream health, but they’ve been devastated by mining pollution, agricultural runoff and non-native competitors. Those populations that survive are further threatened by rising stream temperatures. But Forest Service research biologist Dan Isaak and his colleagues are mapping where stream temperatures are likely to stay cold and could offer a refuge not just for bull trout, but other cold-water fish across the West. Those new maps are being used to identify areas for reclamation and protection.
-Krista Langlois

The cold-water climate shield helps fish and wildlife managers determine what streams will be cold enough to support native fish in the future.
USDA, U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station

10.1 MILLION acres burned in wildfires in 2015. This surpassed the previous record of 9.9 million acres, set in 2006, the biggest year documented since modern record keeping began, in 1960.
-Gloria Dickie

Every year before the summer fire season, novice smokejumpers undergo strenuous training to prepare them for the rapidly changing conditions they will face in the field. Experienced jumpers help train new recruits for dangerous work, which involves parachuting out of planes to fight fires. Photographer Matt Mills McKnight spent three days at a training in McCall, Idaho.

Forest Service smokejumpers throughout the United States have jumped with circular parachute canopies since 1939, although square canopies were developed in the 1960s and 1970s and are currently used by smokejumpers who work for the Bureau of Land Management.
Matt Mills McKnight

Sagebrush Rebellion-linked events like the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon, often happen in places that have had dramatic economic downturns, typically the result of changing technology and the West’s drift away from extractive industries. For example, Harney County once had a thriving economy driven largely by the timber industry. Today, fewer than 200 jobs — or 4 percent — are associated with logging and forestry. Other flare-ups in New Mexico and Montana followed closely on the decline of mining, logging and ranching. Still, most counties have opted to reinvent themselves rather than turn toward rebellion.
-Paige Blankenbuehler

You say

Nancy Coscione: “Grow hemp, go organic, embrace nature and biodiversity, instead of destroying and conquering it.”

Lee Nellis: “We have done a poor job of dealing with the economic evolution of the West.”

Rose Comstock: “You’d think there’d be enough room for everyone to enjoy and use those lands without all the dust-ups, but rural communities dependent on access to public lands for a variety of economic activity have been given the short end of stick."


High Country News Classifieds