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for people who care about the West

Restrictions on wreckreation; wildfire season, by the numbers; flash drought

HCN.org news in brief.



At Conundrum Hot Springs, an extremely popular area in western Colorado’s White River National Forest, rangers hope a new overnight permit system will mitigate the impacts of overuse. Despite requiring a nearly nine-mile uphill hike into a designated wilderness area, Conundrum has developed a party atmosphere, with visitors carrying in speakers and cases of beer. In the last decade, visitation to the hot springs has increased nearly fourfold, from just 1,395 overnight visitors in 2006 to 5,372 in 2015. Problems include human-bear conflicts, trash and noncompliant campsites. Many visitors fail to bury or carry out their own waste; rangers packed out 344 “unburied poops” in 2015. Amid soaring popularity, many other places in the West are grappling with how to limit use. Permit systems already exist for a number of other wilderness areas as well as parts of national parks like Canyonlands. If Conundrum can rebound from such intense use, it could serve as a potential model. -Rebecca Worby

A crowd of hikers fills Conundrum Hot Springs in the White River National Forest above Aspen, Colorado. Since 2011, when this photograph was taken, the number of overnight visitors to the site has almost tripled.
Duncan Lowder

"I don’t really want to go through life, personally, feeling like nothing I do matters. And yet I don’t necessarily believe that the human race is going to make it. So where is the sanity in that? How do you live a life in service to something inside of that belief or that despair?"

 —Brian Calvert, editor-in-chief of High Country News, speaking on the West Obsessed podcast, “Finding our way through the Anthropocene.”

Millions of acres burned in wildfires in the U.S. by mid-August. This larger-than-normal fire season (recent mid-August average is 4.7 million acres) kicked off with grassfires in places like the Great Basin, eastern Montana and Southern California.
Number of large fires actively burning in the U.S. as of press time. Oregon —
where 17 large fires are burning — Alaska and Montana have the greatest amount of acreage on fire.
Number of large active wildfires that aren’t in the West. (There’s one in Florida.)
Percent of average snowpack in California’s Sierra Nevada this winter. While that was good news for delaying the start of large timber fires, it resulted in an abundance of what firefighters call “fine fuels” — grasses and small brush —
which fed the early-season fires, allowing flames to cover a lot of ground.
Number of people — including firefighters and support personnel — who are battling large fires as of press time.
Percent of wildfires in the U.S. caused by humans. -Emily Benson            

Data from the National Interagency Fire Center, the California Department of Water Resources, the National Interagency Coordination Center, and Balch et al., doi: 10.1073 pnas.1617394114.

200,000: Approximate number of acres of lithium claims staked by corporations in the Paradox Basin, which spans much of southeastern Utah and spreads into neighboring states. With demand for lithium expected to more than double by 2025, due in large part to the projected growth of the market for electric vehicles and e-bikes, the search is on for a domestic source. -Rebecca Worby

Looking for forage wherever they can, some ranchers have turned out their cattle onto recently harvested fields like this one in South Heart, North Dakota.
Andrew Cullen

“Any additional precipitation
is not going to fill the gaps.”

—F. Adnan Akyüz, North Dakota state climatologist and a professor at North Dakota State University, speaking about the “flash drought” that hit the Great Plains this spring, reducing yields for some crops by half. See a slideshow, with photographs by Andrew Cullen.

After President Donald Trump sympathized with “alt-right” hate groups following the violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, he lost his ability to govern, Mark Trahant argues in an opinion piece. A look at history shows us that Trump is the latest in string of political and public figures who have fumbled their handling of racial tensions. Trahant says the questions now are “How fast will the Trump administration crumble? When will people resign in good conscience? How quickly will Congress act to limit or remove some executive powers?” -Mark Trahant/Trahant Reports

You say

Mike Turek: “It’s not just Trump. The Republican Party has been courting racists since (Barry) Goldwater was a leader in the Senate against civil rights legislation.”

Robbie Emmet: “There were so many things during his election that should have ended his campaign, but didn’t. I think we’re stuck with him.”

Rob Shander: “The Republicans took the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, the White House and the governor races in the states. Just because the left and the colluding media can cry the loudest doesn’t mean everyone else shares your opinions.”