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Week in Review

Top stories from Nov. 17 through Nov. 21:

In News to track, three economists at Utah universities did the math on the state's plan to take control of 30 million acres of federal lands within the Beehive State, and found that the plan was financially feasible, although the state is not yet releasing the 800-page report to the public.

Montana officials are concerned about proposed coal mine expansions in British Columbia's Elk River Valley, as coal mining has already increased the levels of selenium in that drainage, and is linked to higher selenium levels in Montana's Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai River.

And in Colorado, where federal banking laws have curtailed marijuana businesses' access to financial services, the state approved a charter for the Fourth Corner Credit Union, which is expected to begin taking deposits by early next year.

In Idaho, where J.R. Simplot. Co. recently received approval to sell its Innate potato, which has been genetically engineered to produce less of asparagine, which can produce a carcinogen when the potato is fried, but one of the company's largest--and oldest--customers, McDonald's, this week said it won't be buying the potato.

We posted a new Mountain West Perspective this week that focuses on how Montana's two-year community and tribal colleges are changing curricula to provide training for skills needed in their communities, and there's a roundup of articles about ensuring workers have the skills needed for the jobs available.

And we have a new On the Bookshelf this week, too, with a review of Douglas Emlen's Animal Weapons, that tracks the evolution of animals' defenses with humans' development of weaponry.

Mountain West Perspective

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

  • France-based group finds mismatch of jobs, skills in most U.S. states
    A new report from the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found just 14 states in the United States had an adequate supply of skilled workers that matched the demand for those skills, with California being one of the 14, and Montana was identified as one of the states that saw a marked increase in demand for skilled workers between 2006 and 2012.
    Los Angeles Times; 11/20/2014

On the Bookshelf

Barbara Theroux reviews Douglas Emlen's "Animal Weapons: The evolution of battle", illustrated by David Tess
Nov. 20, 2014

Mountain West Voices

We invite readers to listen to Mountain West Voices, a radio program that profiles an individual or community in the Rocky Mountain West, introducing listeners to the compelling stories that are part of the human landscape of our region.

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

Utah economists: Transfer of federal lands to state pencils out
The Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office said that economists from three Utah universities crunched the numbers and found that the transfer of federal lands to the state, as required by legislation passed by the Legislature in 2012 with a deadline for the transfer the end of this year, will work financially for the state, but the state agency declined to release the 800-page report that details the economists' findings.
Salt Lake Tribune; 11/21/2014

Expansion of coal mines in B.C. raises water-quality concerns in Montana
Just upstream from Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai River in Montana are five coal mines in the Elk River drainage in British Columbia, all of which are proposing expansion plans, and with levels of selenium and other contaminants from those coal mine already a concern in the Big Sky State, U.S. and state officials are pressing Canada and the province to do more to contain contaminants from the coal mines.
Flathead Beacon; 11/18/2014

Colorado grants charter to credit union to serve marijuana industry
The granting of an unconditional charter from the Colorado Division of Financial Services is the first step for the Fourth Corner Credit Union, which will serve the state's legal marijuana industry, and now the credit union must get a master account from the Federal Reserve System and insurance from the National Credit Union Association.
Denver Post; 11/21/2014

McDonald's declines to make fries with Simplot's Innate potato
One of J.R. Simplot Co.'s largest customers that has a longstanding relationship with the Idaho potato producer, McDonald's, has said "no thanks" to Simplot's Innate potato that has been modified using potato genes to produce less asparagine, which can become acrylamide, a carcinogen, when the potato is fried.
Idaho Statesman; 11/18/2014


Colorado health-care giant announces it won't hire tobacco users
Centura Health, one of Colorado's largest health-care companies, joined a growing national trend when it announced that, after the end of this year, tobacco users need not apply for jobs at the company.
Denver Post; 11/21/2014

Colorado researchers evaluate 'top down', 'bottom up' emissions studies
Colorado put one of the most comprehensive oil and gas emissions rule in the nation in place in February, and companies are working to capture those emissions, but both "top down" research, which assesses emissions using towers, balloons, airplanes and satellites, and bottom up methods, which measures leaks and released at wells and equipment, have found emissions at higher levels than reported by federal and local officials.
Denver Post; 11/17/2014

Gay marriages to begin today in Montana after ban struck down
On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Brian Morris rendered a decision that permanently blocks Montana from enforcing its constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, and county clerks across the state are gearing up for a busy day today.
Missoulian; 11/20/2014

Idaho reports flawless launch of its state-run health insurance exchange
On Saturday, Idaho launched "Your Health Idaho," the state's locally run health care insurance exchange, and the online enrollment went very well, much better than last year's launch of the federal platform on which Idahoans had to depend as the state wasn't ready to run its own.
Idaho Statesman; 11/18/2014

Wyoming town votes to keep alpine coaster on Snow King a local issue
The Jackson Town Council voted Monday to have the town's staff review the proposed alpine coaster on Snow King Mountain, which would be built on private land adjacent to the leased Forest Service land on the Wyoming mountain, a decision that will move the approval process along more quickly.
Jackson Hole Daily; 11/18/2014


USGS study finds Idahoans used most water in 2010
The U.S. Geological Survey's "Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2010," released earlier this month found that water usage in the nation dropped 13 percent in 2010 from levels used in 2005, and that Idaho led the nation in per capita use at 168 gallons of water per person per day, nearly double the national average of 88 gallons, and other western states ranked high as well, with Arizonans using 147 gallons per day; in Wyoming and Hawaii, usage was 144 gpd; and Nevadans used 134 gallons per day.
Idaho Statesman (AP); 11/17/2014

Water board sends draft management plan to Colorado governor
Over the past year and a half, representatives from Colorado's eight water basins have been working to hammer out a statewide management plan, and on Wednesday the Colorado Water Conservation Board sent that draft plan to Gov. John Hickenlooper, who set a Dec. 10, 2015 deadline for completion of the final plan.
Durango Herald; 11/19/2014

USGS groundwater study in Montana, N.D., oilfields finds no contamination
The U.S. Geological Survey's testing of shallow groundwater wells at 30 sites in the Bakken formation in Montana and North Dakota found no contamination from oil and gas drilling operations, although the USGS did caution that the study did not test soils for leaks around wellheads and other drilling equipment and that such contamination would take years to leach through the ground and into the aquifers.
Flathead Beacon; 11/18/2014

Pollution concerns headline Idaho conference on Lake Coeur d'Alene
On Tuesday, at a conference hosted by the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, the University of Idaho and the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, tribal, state and local officials as well as hundreds of other interested in Lake Coeur d'Alene, gathered to talk about how best to keep pollution out of the lake.
Spokane Spokesman-Review; 11/19/2014

Report highlights concern about tailings pond design at B.C. mine
A third-party review of Imperial Metals' design of a tailings dam at its proposed Red Chris mine in British Columbia found several areas of concern, including the permeability of soils at the site, which, if not addressed could cause stability problems and allow leakage from the pond, and that a lack of understanding about the historic Kluea landslide, the crest of which is less than an eighth of a mile from the proposed mine's rim, could put the tailings pond at risk should the landslide let loose.
Vancouver Sun; 11/19/2014

Wyoming Migration Initiative releases 5 maps tracking routes
As part of the Wyoming Migration Initiative's four-year project to track the seasonal migration routes of elk, moose, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope and mule deer, the project released five maps on Wednesday.
New York Times; 11/20/2014

USGS study: Sage grouse need 3-mile buffer from drilling operations
The U.S. Geological Survey released a report that said USGS scientists' review of various studies, both from the USGS and other entities, found that, while differences in vegetation, landscape and other factors made specific buffer zones around sage grouse leks hard to clearly define, the studies did collectively indicate that keeping a buffer zone between 3 miles and 5.1 miles between leks and surface disturbances, such as oil and gas drilling operations.
Akron Beacon Journal; 11/21/2014

Expert says bat deaths at Alberta wind farms need more study
Low air pressure around wind turbines cause bats' lungs to collapse, killing them, and Robert Barclay, Canada's top bat expert, said that his research done at the Summerview wind farm near Pincher Creek led to mitigation efforts that halt the turbines when wind speeds were low and the bats most active, and Barclay said with more wind turbines set to go online in Alberta, the province needs more data on bat numbers to help the province accurately assess wind farms' threat to bat numbers.
Calgary Herald (Edmonton Journal); 11/19/2014

Groups file lawsuits challenging lynx decisions in Rocky Mountain West
Wildlife groups filed two separate lawsuits in federal court in Montana on Monday, challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's designation of critical habitat for Canada lynx, charging that the agency erroneously excluded areas in the Southern Rockies in Colorado and New Mexico, and also left out critical acres in portions of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington state.
Salt Lake Tribune (AP); 11/18/2014

Public Lands
USFS approves land swap at Wolf Creek in Colorado
The U.S. Forest Service concluded its four-year study of a land swap in Colorado that would transfer 177.6 acres of riparian wetlands and streams along the Continental Divide and 204.4 acres of federal land above 10,000 feet on Wolf Creek Pass to B.J. "Red" McCombs, who has been trying for 28 years to build a resort village on 300 acres of federal lands he obtained in 1986, with the new lands providing access to the former, but with opposition to the 10,000-person development quite high, objections to the agency's approval of the land swap are likely.
Denver Post; 11/21/2014

Montana State Parks seeks food-storage requirement along Smith River
The removal of at least eight black bears along the Smith River corridor due to human-bear conflicts was cited by Montana State Parks officials who are seeking a mandatory requirement that parties floating the popular river store their food to avoid attracting the bruins, and will take public comment on the proposal through Nov. 21.
Missoulian (AP); 11/18/2014

Lolo National Forest in Montana seeks public input on road inventory
Planners with the Lolo National Forest are asking the public to weigh in on roads in the Lolo National Forest by Dec. 18 as they begin gathering information on existing routes, and officials said specific input on the value of roads, rather than blanket comments, will be given more weight.
Missoulian; 11/20/2014

BLM sets 3 hearings in Montana on restoring access to Bullwhacker lands
After a state district court action in 2011 closed a road formerly used to access the Bullwhacker Coulee area of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has been working on various options to re-establish public access, and will hold three meetings the first week in December on that issue, with the first set Dec. 2 in Great Falls, the second in Chinook on Dec. 3, and the last one on Dec. 4 in Lewistown.
Great Falls Tribune; 11/19/2014

Sheriff's office in Colorado confirms Black Forest Fire was human-caused
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office released a report on its investigation into the cause of the 2013 Black Forest Fire, the second-most-damaging in Colorado's history, which killed two people, destroyed 489 homes and caused more than $400 million in damage, with the report confirming that the fire was human-caused but said that the investigation could not say it was arson but could not rule it out either.
Denver Post; 11/19/2014

Wyoming's wildfire season was lightest in five years
The largest wildfire this past season in Wyoming was earlier this month, when 1,150 acres in Johnson County burned between Nov. 8 and Nov. 10.
Casper Star-Tribune (AP); 11/19/2014


Lack of scientific basis doesn't derail Montana's outdated brucellosis policy
The National Park Service's desire to have the National Academies of Science to examine a wide range of protocols for managing wildlife diseases in the three states that share borders with Yellowstone National Park has prompted the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which has been a willing partner in Montana's continued killing of Yellowstone bison that wander out of the park, to embark on its own study, the outcome of which will be closely watched, given APHIS's support of Montana's policy on brucellosis that has no scientific basis. A column by Todd Wilkinson.
Jackson Hole News & Guide; 11/19/2014

GOP should take measured response to President's immigration move
If the new Republican-led Congress wants to prove to the voters who gave them that majority that they'll do more than the current, rancorous, stalled Congress, then they need to back away from their vows to react forcefully to President Obama's executive order on immigration, which is in line with similar measures put in place by Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush that protected certain immigrants.
Denver Post; 11/21/2014

Oilsands production threatens Alberta's boreal forest, water, air
While Americans debate whether or not the Keystone XL pipeline should be built to ship oil from Alberta's oilsands south to refineries on the Gulf Coast, ground zero of the oil debate in Alberta is the boreal forests under which the tarry sands lie, and already two million acres of the forest has been stripped bare or spiderwebbed with roads, pipelines and other production necessities, the water in the Athabasca River is being consumed by production needs and remains under threat of vast holding ponds of the toxic excrement of oilsands production. A guest column by Andrew Nikiforuk, a Canadian journalist and the author, most recently, of the book "The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude."
New York Times; 11/18/2014

Keystone XL pipeline bills in Congress pure political theater
The only job that the Keystone XL pipeline bill that's of interest in the U.S. Senate is that of Louisiana U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, the Democratic incumbent whose re-election fight is headed to a special election in December, and both chambers of Congress are engaging in political theater that has very little to do with the energy independence or permanent jobs they are touting.
New York Times; 11/17/2014


U.S. Interior Department adds 21 tribes to Cobell land buyback program
The federal government's settlement of the class action lawsuit filed by Louise Cobell, a Blackfeet woman from Montana, over mismanagement of tribal lands and funds, contained $1.9 billion for tribes to buy back lands, and the U.S. Department of Interior announced the program was recently extended to 21 tribes, including the Blackfeet Tribe in Montana, the Nez Perce and Shoshone-Bannock tribes in Idaho, and the Arapaho and Shoshone tribes in Wyoming.
Idaho Statesman (AP); 11/21/2014


President Obama issues executive orders reforming immigration laws
The executive orders announced by President Obama on Thursday evening will allow people who are in the United States illegally, but who have children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, to apply for work permits and to seek relief from deportation, and will expand the president's 2012 directive that will defer deportation to people who arrived here illegally as children, changing the year of arrival from 2007 to 2010, and removing the previous age restriction of younger than 31, with both measures expected to affect roughly 5 million people.
Salt Lake Tribune (AP); 11/21/2014

Utah U.S. House Republicans take leadership posts
As expected, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop was elected chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, which will allow the Utah Republican to set the House's public lands agenda, and his colleague, Rep. Jason Chaffetz won a tough fight to chair the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which will give him authority to issue subpoenas and set hearings on government actions or inactions.
Salt Lake Tribune; 11/19/2014

U.S. House passes Utah Rep. Stewart's bill on EPA advisory boards
Utah U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart's bill to change how the Environmental Protection Agency selects experts to serve on advisory boards passed in the House on Tuesday on a 229-191 vote, but the bill is not expected to gain any traction in the U.S. Senate, in which Democrats hold a majority.
Salt Lake Tribune; 11/19/2014

Idaho's 38 percent voter turnout deemed 'abysmal'
Just 38 percent of Idaho's registered voters made it to the polls on Nov. 4, despite Idaho's efforts to make voting easier by allowing voters to register on Election Day.
Spokane Spokesman-Review; 11/20/2014


Utah legislator proposes bill to shut off water at NSA's Bluffdale center
In order to draw the National Security Agency and other businesses to Bluffdale, the Utah city issued $3.5 million in bonds to pay for water lines to the NSA's data center and agreed to sell the water to the federal agency at a lower rate, but Utah state Rep. Marc Roberts said he's uneasy about supporting the agency that's under fire for collecting information on U.S. citizens, and he's proposing legislation that would grandfather in Bluffdale's current agreements with the NSA but prohibit an extension of those agreements and all future pacts between other cities and the NSA.
Salt Lake Tribune; 11/20/2014

Utah legislative panel endorses bill to return firing squad to death penalty options
Members of Utah's Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee cited recent problems obtaining the drugs needed to execute condemned criminals by lethal injection as a reason to bring back the firing squad as an option to put criminals to death when they endorsed legislation to do just that.
Salt Lake Tribune; 11/20/2014

Wyoming legislator will sponsor 'death with dignity' bill
State Rep. Dan Zwonitzer said he is working on legislation to be introduced next year that would allow terminally ill people in Wyoming to get a prescription to end their life.
Casper Star-Tribune; 11/20/2014


Wyoming pulls High Plains Gas bond, puts 2,300 CBM wells on to-plug list
After High Plains Gas failed to meet Wyoming's extended deadline to post a $6.8-million bond on its 2,300 coalbed methane wells on private and state land, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Commission said it would use the $8.2 million in bonding the company already has on file in the state and use that money to plug those wells to avoid the risk of pollution; the company also owns 700 coalbed methane wells on federal lands, which will not be addressed by the state's reclamation plan.
Casper Star-Tribune; 11/19/2014

Alberta ag groups want rail rule on grain shipments renewed
Last year's bumper grain crops, and a bottleneck on Canada's rail system, prompted the federal government to require Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway each to move one million tons of grain a week or face fines, and although this year's crops aren't nearly as abundant, agricultural groups in Alberta are urging the federal government to keep the 1-million-ton rule that is set to expire on Nov. 29 in place.
Calgary Herald; 11/21/2014

Police escort Kinder Morgan crews to work on Burnaby Mountain in B.C.
Opponents of Kinder Morgan's plan to expand its TransMountain pipeline have been blocking survey crews from doing work on Burnaby Mountain, and a British Columbia court cleared the way for the company to begin work anew, but protesters remained in place on Thursday and a number were arrested, with some charged, and crews were back on the job Friday morning with a police escort to ensure protesters complied with the B.C. court order.
Vancouver Sun; 11/21/2014

Delta Airlines to boost Boise, Seattle flights by 4 in May
Because Seattle is the top destination for departing passengers from the Boise Airport, Delta Airlines announced that it will add four more flights daily between the Idaho and Washington state cities beginning in May.
Idaho Statesman; 11/20/2014

Beyond the region

Study finds 40% decline in polar bear numbers in E. Alaska, W. Canada
A study done by researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and Environment Canada, as well as other groups, followed polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea from 2001 to 2010, and found that numbers declined 40 percent during that decade.
Los Angeles Times; 11/18/2014

Monarch butterflies have long flight to recovery
Less than 20 years ago, a billion Monarch butterflies made their annual migration to central Mexico, but three years ago, the number fell by 90 percent, and scientists said that the decline was linked to the loss of milkweed along the butterflies' migration route, but recent efforts to augment the milkweed may be creating another problem, as the milkweed being planted by amateur conservationists is a tropical version that blooms at the wrong time, which could affect the synchronized flight of the butterflies off schedule.
New York Times; 11/17/2014

Aero-Flite to move 4 firefighting planes from Arizona to Spokane
Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee will announce today that Aero-Flite will bring its fleet of four airtankers to Spokane, as well as 50 jobs associated with the fleet.
Spokane Spokesman-Review; 11/20/2014

Mountain West News is a program of the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West
at The University of Montana.
"W e want Utah to be prosperous. This requires an enduring and diversified economy. To get there we need to pursue development and the recreation economy and ensure our efforts to promote one economic sector do not unduly restrain another."

On The Bookshelf
Barbara Theroux reviews Douglas Emlen’s "Animal Weapons"


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