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Week in Review

Top stories from Jan. 20 thru Jan. 23:

In News to track, we'll be following the cleanup of the pipeline spill last Saturday in Eastern Montana that released an estimated 40,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River near Glendive. Some of the oil made it into that Montana community's water system and residents had to use bottled water for much of this week. Varying conditions of ice on the river is making it difficult to clean up the oil and for wildlife officials to assess the damage to fish and other species.

Next door in North Dakota, a pipeline carrying briny water from oil and gas drilling operations ruptured as well and sent 3 million gallons of the salty water into a couple of creeks.  The spill is the largest of its kind in the state since the oil and gas boom began.

Federal lawmakers for the Rocky Mountain region were busy working on bills this past week, and we'll be tracking their progress.

Idaho U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson presented a new version of a bill to protect the central Idaho Boulder-White Cloud Mountains, with the latest iteration calling for the designation of three separate wilderness areas, all surrounding the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The bill cuts the acres of land protected by more than 38,000 from the acreage protected under his Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, the precursor to the new bill.

There was considerable support in Idaho for the designation of the Boulder-White Cloud area as a national monument, but Idaho U.S. Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo were not among the proponents of that idea, and indeed, the two Republican senators introduced a bill that would prohibit a president from using powers under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to protect lands with a national monument designation.

Sen. Mike Crapo and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden introduced the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which would change how the federal government funds wildfire fights.

And in Utah, where the Bureau of Land Management is working to update the grazing plan for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee have introduced legislation to protect grazing within the national monument's boundaries.

Mountain West Perspective

Montana's two-year colleges revamp curricula to meet changing workplace demands
Nov. 20, 2014

On the Bookshelf

Barbara Theroux reviews S.M. Hulse's "Black River"

Jan. 22, 2014

Mountain West Voices

Yellowstone Public Radio will broadcast Mountain West Voices at 7:05 a.m. on Sunday.

Tune in to Yellowstone Public Radio at 7:05 Sunday morning, or listen to the program via the Mountain West Voices website.

News to track

Latest oil spill in Montana threatens water supply, roe industry
The mayor of Glendive, the small Montana community downstream of the oil spill into the Yellowstone River, has said making the town's water drinkable again is the No. 1 priority, but the spill will continue to affect farmland in the area and will affect fish in the river, including paddlefish, from which the Montana town gets caviar and markets to fine restaurants in Tokyo, Paris and New York.
Aljazeera America; 1/21/2015

  • Shifting ice conditions on Montana river slows oil recovery work
    Crews are working to recover the estimated 40,000 gallons of oil released into the Yellowstone River in Montana last Saturday, with an estimated 630 gallons of an oily, watery mix already pulled from the river, but changing ice conditions halted the U.S. Coast Guard's work on an "if-all-else-fails backstop" near Crane on Thursday. In Glendive, the small Montana community where oil was pulled into its water treatment plant, residents were precluded from using water for another day because results from bacteria tests required after the plant is shut down had not yet been received.
    Missoulian (Billings Gazette); 1/23/2015

Pipeline breach spills 3M gallons of briny water in western North Dakota
Summit Midstream Partners LLC first detected and reported a breach in its pipeline near Williston on Jan. 6, but North Dakota officials said they didn't learn that 3 million gallons of briny water, a byproduct of oil and gas drilling operations, had been released. Full assessment of the effects of the spill won't likely be completed until the ice melts, and is expected to take months.
New York Times (AP); 1/22/2015

U.S. Rep. Simpson revamps, reduces Idaho wilderness bill
Idaho U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson has been working for more than a decade to protect an area in the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains as wilderness, and is now working on a new version of his Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, first introduced in 2004, which would leave the Sawtooth National Recreation Area as is, create three separate wilderness areas around the SNRA and reduce the number of acres covered by the designations by 36,968 acres. Rep. Simpson's spokesperson said the new bill is being offered to stave off a national monument designation for the area.
Idaho Mountain Express (Sun Valley); 1/23/2015

Idaho senators co-sponsor bill to block president's Antiquities Act powers
U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch of Idaho joined with Louisiana Sen. David Vitter on Thursday to introduce the National Monument Designation Transparency and Accountability Act, which would preclude the White House from using powers under the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate national monuments.
Twin Falls Times-News; 1/23/2015

Oregon, Idaho senators introduce bill on funding wildfire fights
U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho and Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden introduced the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, sponsored by U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner of Colorado, which would increase funding for wildfire prevention and would treat large wildfires as natural disasters, allowing federal agencies to access funds to fight wildfires from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's pre-existing disaster fund.
Durango Herald; 1/23/2015

Utah senators introduce Grand Staircase-Escalante grazing bill
On Thursday, U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee introduced the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Grazing Protection Act, which the Utah Republicans said is needed to protect grazing rights grandfathered into the monument when it was designated by then-President Clinton in 1996.
St. George Spectrum; 1/23/2015


Army Corps of Engineers say Colorado dam's failure risk skewed by site
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began to screen every one of the 700 dams across the nation under its authority to determine their risk level, and the Corps will hold a public meeting in Greenwood Village on its Dam Safety Modification Study for Cherry Creek Dam, which lays out ways to make the 65-year-old earthen structure safer and to explain the dam's higher risk rating, which has little to do with structural defects, but with its location, above a densely populated corridor above Denver and Aurora.
Denver Post; 1/23/2015

Idaho judge puts water curtailment order on hold
On Thursday, Judge Eric Wildman of the Snake River Basin Adjudication Court put the water curtailment order issued by Gary Spackman, director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources, on hold and gave groundwater users until Feb. 7 to complete a pipeline to move spring water 1.3 miles to the Rangen fish farm, whose senior water call led to the curtailment, which affects 14 communities, 200 livestock operations, and other business and commercial enterprises.
Twin Falls Times-News; 1/23/2015

Residents of Montana mobile home park buy it to address water problems
The residents who own the 90-home trailer park built in 1962 in Montana near Great Falls are taking control of their future by buying the trailer park, which one state official said had the worst water and sewer problems she'd ever encountered, and with funding and assistance from a trio of state agencies as well as nonprofits and elected officials, Trailer Terrace has drilled a new well and will put in new water and sewer systems when the weather allows.
Great Falls Tribune; 1/22/2015


Groups criticize USDA's Wildlife Service's updated predator plan for Idaho
In December, Wildlife Services, an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture charged with predator control, sought public comment on issues its revised environmental assessment should address on its damage-management activities in Idaho, and 66 comments were received and all questioned the lethal methods the agency planned to use. In 2013, the federal agency killed 2,790 coyotes, 78 wolves, 24 badgers, seven mountain lions, 43 beavers and 196,351 starlings in the state.
Idaho Mountain Express (Sun Valley); 1/21/2015

Idaho Fish & Game pegs wolf numbers in state at 1,000, 22 breeding pairs
Idaho Fish and Game biologist Jim Hayden told members of the state's Fish and Game Commission on Thursday that there are 22 confirmed breeding pairs of wolves in the state, and with an estimated 1,000 wolves roaming the Gem State, there are likely more breeding pairs. Idaho need only maintain 15 breeding pairs to keep wolves under state management.
Idaho Statesman (AP); 1/23/2015

Groups sue USFWS to expand protection of sage grouse in Colorado, Utah
On Tuesday, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Western Watersheds Project sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to require the agency to review its decision to list the Gunnison sage grouse, found only in Utah and Colorado, as threatened instead of endangered.
Durango Herald; 1/21/2015

Federal review sparks Colorado study of lynx
Fifteen years after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed Canada lynx as a threatened species, the federal agency is planning a review to see how the species is doing, which prompted Colorado, where the state transplanted 218 lynx from Canada into the Rocky Mountains, to launch studies to see how those lynx populations are doing. Budget constraints ended monitoring in Colorado in 2010.
Denver Post; 1/18/2015

Utah wildlife agency relocated 100 mule deer from Antelope Island
The population goal Utah Division of Wildlife has set for Antelope Island for mule deer is 350 but nearly double that, 700 or so, now roam the area, and this week, 100 female mule deer were captured and moved to Mount Dutton and Elk Ridge to bolster deer herds in those area of the state.
Deseret News; 1/22/2015

Buffalo Field Campaign: 100 Yellowstone Park bison shipped to slaughter
Yellowstone National Park spokesman Al Nash confirmed that some bison that had been captured near the park's northern border with Montana had been shipped to slaughter, but disputed Buffalo Field Campaign's report that 100 bison were shipped out on Wednesday.
Flathead Beacon (AP); 1/22/2015

Hunters take 299 bison from Jackson herd in Wyoming
A record bison were harvested from the Jackson Bison Herd during the hunt that closed Jan. 18, with 109 bulls taken and the remainder was cows and calves. The hunt is used by Wyoming wildlife managers to reduce herd numbers.
Jackson Hole Daily; 1/23/2015

Genetic testing proves Wyoming elk feedgrounds not hotbed of brucellosis
For years, it was believed that elk and bison from Wyoming elk feedgrounds spread brucellosis through Yellowstone National Park and into Montana, but genetic testing has ruled out that route of transmission, although the tests did find a herd of elk that winter in Montana's Madison Valley that had wandered through Idaho appear to have picked up brucellosis from an elk feedground in the Gem State.
Casper Star-Tribune (Billings Gazette); 1/23/2015

Significant die-offs reported in 2 bighorn sheep herds in Montana
A Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks official based in Livingston said that both the Tom Miner and Cinnabar herds of bighorn sheep, which both wander the area of Montana around Gardiner, just north of the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park, have experienced considerable die-off in recent months, and wildlife officials suspect pneumonia as the cause of the die-offs.
Missoulian (Billings Gazette); 1/20/2015

Wyoming reports increase of human-grizzly bear conflicts in 2014
In 2013, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department reported 152 human-grizzly bear conflicts, but that number rose to 164 in 2014, with grizzly bears leading in total predator-human conflicts in the state, and state wildlife officials said more bears roaming in the southern Wind River Range, Wyoming Range and Bighorn Basin are creating new conflicts with humans.
Idaho Statesman (AP); 1/23/2015

Public Lands
The Nature Conservancy, Plum Creek close deal on W. Montana lands
An $85-million deal to transfer 117,000 acres of Plum Creek Timber Co. timberland in Montana's lower Blackfoot River drainage, largely underwritten by the Wyss Foundation, to The Nature Conservancy is done, and now TNC will assess those lands and reach out to public agencies and private partners to manage them.
Missoulian; 1/23/2015

Review of USFS documents find little study of new ski run in Wyoming
Documents provided by the Caribou-Targhee National Forest in response to the Jackson Hole News & Guide's Freedom of Information Act have little information on a 2-acre clearing in an area within the boundaries of the Grand Targhee Resort, and officials with the Wyoming forest have different recollections about how and when the project was approved and completed.
Jackson Hole News & Guide; 1/21/2015

BLM seeks public comment on travel plan for San Rafael Desert in Utah
The public comment period on the Bureau of Land Management's San Rafael Desert Travel Management and Transportation Plan Environmental Assessment opens today and runs through Feb. 21. The plan will designate every route through the area of Utah as either "open," closed," or "limited to designated routes."
Deseret News; 1/21/2015

Wyoming officials uncertain about trapping in Grand Teton NP
Last November, the National Park Service transferred authority over wildlife on private inholdings in Grand Teton National Park to Wyoming Game and Fish, which has limited authority over trapping of wildlife as the state Department of Agriculture primarily regulates that, which has created an uncertain regulatory environment for trapping within the park on private lands.
Jackson Hole Daily; 1/23/2015

British Columbia raises camping fees at provincial parks
Beginning on March 15, the day that online reservations may be made at campgrounds in British Columbia's 204 provincial parks, the per-night camping fee will go up by $2 at 141 of those parks, and between $3 and $5 at 50 other parks. A graphic showing the fee increases at individual parks accompanies this article.
Vancouver Sun; 1/23/2015


Montana landowner shares lessons learned in oil spill in 2011
Alexis Bonogofsky shares her firsthand experience and lessons learned from the 2011 oil spill in the Yellowstone River, which affected her land along that Montana river near Billings.; 1/21/2015

Mineral-rights compensation bills in Colorado may be premature
There's no surprise in the fact that Democratic and Republican legislators in the Colorado Legislature have staked out differing positions on energy development, with Republicans offering bills to protect mineral rights holders in the event local governments pass bans on drilling, and Democratic legislators saying that the governor's task force charged with working out differences between the state and local governments on energy development should be allowed to complete its work--both positions which deserve support and which reflect the importance of balance when it comes the risk and reward of energy development.
Durango Herald; 1/22/2015

Canada should follow China's lead and stockpile cheap oil
China is taking advantage of low oil prices and buying up to 700,000 barrels of oil a day to build up its emergency reserves, and since Eastern Canada must still import 40 percent of the oil it uses, it would behoove the country to begin stockpiling oil it produces. A guest editorial by Gordon Laxer, the founding director and former head of University of Alberta’s Parkland Institute and author of a forthcoming book on Canadian energy and ecological security.
Calgary Herald (Montreal Gazette); 1/22/2015


President Obama takes his wonky side for a walk at Idaho laboratory
Before his speech at Boise State University on Wednesday, President Obama visited the Idaho university's New Product Development Lab to get a firsthand look at what researchers are working on, including innovative research on flexible electronics, which the President said was "fascinating."
Idaho Statesman; 1/21/2015


Colorado bills would compensate mineral rights holders for drilling bans
Senate Bill 93 would give Colorado mineral rights holders an avenue to get reimbursement from local governments that impose drilling bans, while House Bill 1119 takes a more direct approach and holds local governments responsible for mineral rights' holders loss of income if drilling is banned. Democratic legislators said the Republican-sponsored bills are premature, given the ongoing work of a task force appointed by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to balance local regulation of energy work and state oversight of that industry.
Durango Herald; 1/21/2015

Idaho legislators to hear from state transportation officials on bridge woes
On Thursday, Idaho Transportation officials will give legislators an overview of the department's funding needs that will include information from the 2013 National Bridge Inventory that said 453 bridges in the state had reached the end of their functional life and that 406 additional bridges were functionally deficit. The article contains graphs that show the location of the Idaho bridges that are structurally obsolete and another that ranks Utah third in the nation for the fewest number of deficient bridges.
Idaho Statesman; 1/21/2015

Montana state senator is working on 20 public lands bills
State Sen. Jennifer Fielder and Rep. Bob Brown of Thompson Falls, along with Rep. Theresa Manzella of Hamilton are working on nearly three dozen pieces of legislation involving federal land management, with Sen. Fielder responsible for 20 of those, including one that calls for the transfer of federal lands to the state.
Bozeman Daily Chronicle; 1/20/2015

Bipartisan bill would expand net metering for solar power in Montana
Republican and Democratic legislators in Montana have teamed up on a bill that would expand net metering, which would allow owners of renewable energy systems, such as solar panels or wind turbines on their homes or businesses, to sell back to the utility electricity generated by those renewable-energy systems but not used by the consumer.
Missoulian (Lee State Bureau); 1/20/2015

Former Utah Speaker of the House Becky Lockhart dies at 46
Becky Lockhart, the first woman to serve as Utah Speaker of the House, and who served 16 years in the Utah Legislature died Saturday at age 46 from Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease or CJD, a rare, always fatal, brain disease.
Deseret News; 1/18/2015

Wyoming Senate panel tweaks, passes federal lands study bill
A Senate committee tweaked Senate File 56, which directs the Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments to commission a $100,000 study of state management of federal land, to remove any mention of the actual transfer of federal lands to state hands, and would instead focus on transfer of management authority from the federal government to the state.
Casper Star-Tribune; 1/23/2015

Wyoming Legislature has vat of bills to consider this session
There are more than 200 bills in the hopper for the Wyoming Legislature this session, including House Bill 7, which would allow the processing of roadkill; House Bill 24 that would raise the minimum hourly wage to $9; and House Bill 84, which would allow conservation districts to have a specific mill levy for water projects.
Jackson Hole News & Guide; 1/21/2015

Wyoming House panel passes bill to protect landowners from pipeline spills
The Wyoming Agriculture Committee gave initial approval to a bill that would protect landowners from liability in the event a pipeline spill occurs on their lands.
Casper Star-Tribune; 1/21/2015


Another oilfield services company announces thousands of job cuts
In Wyoming, 75 percent of the jobs in the oilfields are oilfield service jobs, and Baker Hughes' announcement that it will cut 7,000 jobs, the second oilfield services company that has a presence in Wyoming to announce layoffs, is raising concerns in the Cowboy State.
Casper Star-Tribune; 1/21/2015

Oregon bank offers services to Colorado marijuana businesses
One of the most difficult aspects of marijuana businesses operating legally in Colorado is access to banking services, since banks operate under federal laws and marijuana is still illegal under federal law, but now MBank, based outside Portland, is stepping up and offering services to those Colorado businesses, the first to do so across state laws. MBank also offers services to Washington state marijuana businesses that face the same conundrum after that state legalized marijuana.
Denver Post; 1/21/2015

Oregon firm begins hiring for manufacturing plant in W. Montana
Harris Thermal Transfer Products spin-off, Harris Manufacturing, is in the process of hiring workers for its new fabrication plant in Western Montana east of Missoula. Skilled welders are in highest demand, and the company is working with both the Missoula and Helena colleges to add sub-arc welding classes to train workers. The plant is expected to be in operation in March, and will provide 35 new jobs over the next two years.
Missoulian; 1/19/2015

Wyoming coal mines increased production in 2014
After four consecutive years of declining production, Wyoming coal mines reversed that trend in 2014, increasing production by 2 percent, and the nation's largest coal mine, Peabody Energy's North Antelope Rochelle complex in the Cowboy State, reported a 6 percent increase in production.
Casper Star-Tribune; 1/21/2015

Idaho farmers, ranchers post another record-breaking revenue year
University of Idaho agricultural economists released a report that said farmers and ranchers in the state posted $9.7 billion in cash receipts in 2014, a record, and the fourth consecutive record-breaking year. Milk led the way at $3.25 billion, cattle and calf sales were second at $2.46 billion. Potatoes led in crop sales at $885 million, although that is 7 percent lower than 2013.
Idaho Mountain Express (Sun Valley); 1/21/2015

California firm to move agribusiness HQ to Colorado city
Wilbur-Ellis Co. announced Tuesday that it has moved the headquarters of its agribusiness division to Aurora, citing the Colorado city's central location as a reason for the relocation, which brings 60 jobs to the community.
Denver Post; 1/21/2015

Walmart Canada set to open 11 more supercenter stores
Among the 11 new supercenter stores Walmart Canada announced it was opening were two in Alberta, one in Edmonton and one in Calgary, bringing the total number of Walmart stores in Canada to 394.
Calgary Herald; 1/22/2015

Beyond the region

TransCanada files eminent domain action in Nebraska for Keystone XL
On Tuesday, TransCanada filed eminent domain actions in nine Nebraska counties against dozens of landowners who were fighting the Canadian company's Keystone XL pipeline project that would cross their lands.
Omaha World Herald; 1/21/2015

U.S. Senate votes down Democrats' Keystone XL amendments
In what were largely party line votes on Tuesday, the U.S. Senate dispatched a couple of amendments to legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, one which would have required the use of American-made steel in the pipeline, and another that would have dictated that the oil shipped through the pipeline would have been used in the U.S.
Columbus Dispatch (AP); 1/21/2015

Canada fires back at Alaska's requirement for U.S. steel on B.C. terminal
Alaska's plan to build a new ferry terminal at Prince Rupert contains a provision that only U.S. iron and steel be used in the $15-million project, which the state said is a requirement because the project uses funds from the Federal Highway Administration, but on Monday, Canada's International Trade Minister Ed Fast announced an order was signed under the Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act that allows Canada can prevent such a provision on the grounds that it adversely affects national interests.
Vancouver Sun; 1/20/2015

Studies find ways to halt inadvertent spread genetically modified organisms
Synthetic biology is a growing industry, as bacteria is engineered to do things like clean up oil spills or produce biofuels, but how to address the environmental effects of "escaped" organisms is a growing concern in the industry, and two studies to be published today in the journal Nature provide complementary methods to deal with organisms that spread beyond their intended use.
Christian Science Monitor; 1/22/2015

Record-breaking heat reported around the world in 2014
A report issued last week said that 2014 was the hottest on record around the globe, with nearly every inhabited area of the world reporting record-breaking temperatures, and ocean surfaces everywhere but Antarctica reported unusually warm temperatures as well.
New York Times; 1/17/2015

Bill to limit EPA authority under Clean Water Act outrages Alaska tribes
On Thursday, U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and David Vitter of Louisiana reintroduced a bill that would remove from the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate discharge of dredged or fill material from mining deposits into U.S. waters, a provision that has helped tribes on Alaska's Bristol Bay stave off a massive gold mine.
Alaska Native News; 1/23/2015

Mountain West News is a program of the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West
at The University of Montana.
"W e're not talking about transferring of titles. This is the contemplation of Congress turning over the management. So we're not talking about this study saying, 'How do we own the lands of the state?' because I think that's a tough sell. I think even though legally we've got grounds to do it, Congress isn't just going to just give them back to them back to us. I understand that."

Wyoming state Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, about changes made to Senate File 56, which would commission a $100,000 study of state management of federal lands.
- Casper Star-Tribune

On The Bookshelf
Barbara Theroux reviews S.M. Hulse's "Black River"


Mountain West Perspectives
Montana's two-year colleges revamp education to meet changing workplace demands


Mountain West Voices
Hear weekly stories from the Rocky Mountain West as gathered by Clay Scott

Mountain West News is a program of the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West

at the

The University of Montana