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Week in Review

Top stories from Aug. 24 through Aug. 28:

In News to track, before we left on our summer sojourn, we were tracking states' challenges to changes in the Clean Water Act the federal government had made to clarify differing court decisions on what waterways the federal law covered, and this week a federal judge in North Dakota put implementation of those changes on hold just hours before they were to take effect.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by 13 states, including North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Colorado and Wyoming, and it was unclear on Friday if the decision would apply in all 50 states.

The mine blowout in Colorado that occurred on Aug. 5 that sent 3 million gallons of mustard-colored contaminated water into the Animas River has put cleanup operations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on hold while the agency examines other mines to determine the risk of a similar incident, and a group of stakeholders from Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico have petitioned the Interior and Agriculture departments, as well was the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, to make changes to the mining law on reclamation deadlines, monitoring requirements and limiting the amount of time mines may remain inactive.

And finally, we got an update on the public-lands initiative federal lawmakers are working on for Utah, with U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz providing specific details that the legislation would do, including making the Dinosaur National Monument a national park.

Mountain West Perspective

Montana's two-year colleges revamp curricula to meet changing workplace demands

On the Bookshelf

Barbara Theroux of Fact & Fiction reviews "The Oregon Trail: An American Journey"
July 20, 2015

Mountain West Voices

Yellowstone Public Radio broadcasts Mountain West Voices, a program that offers extraordinary stories of ordinary people throughout the region, on Sunday mornings at 7 o'clock. 

This weekend's broadcasts features Guss Yellowhair, a Lakota artist from South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation, who talks about his role as "culture bearer," and about the importance of passing on tradition through language and music.

Tune into Yellowstone Public Radio at 7 a.m. on Sunday, or listen online via the Mountain West Voices' website.

News to track

Federal judge in North Dakota puts Clean Water Act change on hold
Just hours before a federal regulation that would have extended the reach of the Clean Water Act was to take effect, a federal judge in North Dakota issued a temporary injunction putting the implementation of the rule on hold. The injunction was issued in a lawsuit filed by Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
Flathead Beacon (AP); 8/28/2015

EPA focuses on identifying mines similar to Colorado's Gold King Mine
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has put mine cleanup work on hold to allow the agency to focus on identifying mines that may present a similar risk of a blowout like that experienced near Silverton on Aug. 5, when work being done at the Gold King Mine released an estimated 3 million gallons of contaminated water into the Animas River in Colorado.
Denver Post; 8/25/2015

Mine blowout in Colorado prompts calls for U.S. mining reforms
A coalition of tribes, conservation groups and local governments from Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona filed a 74-page petition on Tuesday asking Interior and Agriculture departments, as well as their respective agencies, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, to make changes to mining policies on federal lands, including imposing a limit on the lifetime of a mine permit, putting new requirements for reclamation deadlines and monitoring, making consistent monitoring mandatory and limiting the time a mine can remain inactive. The petition comes on the heels of a mine blowout near Silverton that sent 3 million gallons of mustard-colored mine water into the Animas River in Colorado.
Durango Herald; 8/26/2015

Utah congressman outlines effect of public-lands initiative
On Monday, Utah U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz talked with members of the Salt Lake Tribune editorial board and laid out concrete details of the public-lands initiative Chaffetz and Rep. Rob Bishop are working to put together, including the reclassification of Dinosaur National Monument into a national park, expanding Arches National Park by 50,000 acres to bring the Delicate Arch into the park and putting new protections on 3.9 million acres of federal land in Eastern Utah in exchange for allowing oil and gas development on 365,000 acres in the Uinta Basin.
Salt Lake Tribune; 8/25/2015


Idaho plumber creates unique fiber-optic network for Ammon
Bruce Patterson is a plumber by trade, but his innovative problem-solving skills led Ammon city officials to hire him as their information technology officer, and now Patterson has developed a fiber-optic Internet network that makes the Idaho city a leader in providing such services to its residents and businesses.
Idaho Statesman; 8/23/2015

Montana PSC approves broadband settlement with CenturyLink
Under a settlement agreement approved by the Montana Public Service Commission for CenturyLink to approve broadband and landline service to 33,000 underserved Montanans in rural areas of the state, CenturyLink has until Thursday to accept Connect America Fund's offer of a six-year, $90 million grant to pay for such upgrades.
Flathead Beacon (AP); 8/26/2015

Cave in Wyoming gives up Pleistocene secrets, one bone bit at a time
Natural Trap Cave on the western slope of the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming contains the remains of horses, cheetahs, mammoths and even camels that wandered through the 15 foot opening and fell 80 feet to their deaths more than 20,000 years ago, and for the second summer in a row, paleontologists have been picking through the bone bits to figure out if they can determine what caused the mass extinction all those years ago.
Casper Star-Tribune (AP); 8/25/2015

Visitors, residents feel crowded in W. Wyoming resort town
Business owners and local officials said that this year's tourist season in Jackson Hole has a crowded feel to it, and report anecdotally of visitors who are not going into Jackson due to crowds or who get up early to avoid long lines at Grand Teton National Park.
Jackson Hole News & Guide; 8/26/2015


Utah county has its own pipeline plans
According to a 2009 U.S. Geological Survey Study, the aquifer underlying Iron County is seriously overdrawn, with area users pumping out 3 billion gallons of water annually that is not replaced by precipitation and runoff, causing land subsidence across the Utah county, and local officials are working to build a 50-mile, $150 million pipeline to ease the area's water shortage to augment water resources, a process that will take years to complete.
Salt Lake Tribune; 8/27/2015

Wyoming landowners OK $72M in dam projects
Gov. Matt Mead vowed to build 10 new water-storage projects over a decade, and two Big Horn County projects are part of that drive, with voters approving the formation of the Nowood Watershed Improvement District near Hyattville and approving a dam on Alkali Creek, and developers are working on getting permits for a 96-foot high, $39.8-million dam in the Shell Creek drainage east of Greybull.; 8/25/2015

Californians again exceed water conservation goals
In July, Californians cut their water use by 31 percent, the largest reduction in the past year when drought restrictions were put in place.
New York Times; 8/28/2015

BLM removes wild horses from burned area in Idaho
The Soda Fire in Idaho burned across more than 283,000 acres in Idaho in August, including three Horse Management Areas and killed 35 wild horses. The wildfire burned much of the graze in the area, and the Bureau of Land Management began emergency removal actions Thursday to remove all of the horses from the Sands Basin and Hardtrigger management areas, and a third of the horses from the Black Mountain management area.; 8/28/2015

Wyoming governor makes ESA reform a priority
Gov. Matt Mead is the new chairman of the Western Governors' Association, and the Wyoming governor held a news conference on Wednesday to announce that he will work closely with federal lawmakers to reform the Endangered Species Act during his one-year term in that position.
Casper Star-Tribune; 8/25/2015

Public Lands
USDA Secretary Vilsack pledges $200M in additional aid for sage grouse
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is in Oregon today, where he will make a formal announcement today about an additional $200 million in funding to protect greater sage grouse in the American West, whether or not the species is put on the endangered species list.
Portland Oregonian (AP); 8/27/2015

BLM director vows to reseed, restore Idaho lands burned by wildfire
On Wednesday, U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze toured the 279,000-acre area burned by the Soda Fire on the Idaho-Oregon border, where he said that the federal agency will reseed and reclaim the area as part of the agency's commitment to protect sage grouse habitat to keep the species off the federal endangered species list. A sidebar to this article provides additional wildfire information, as well as air-quality advisories in place in Idaho.
Idaho Statesman; 8/27/2015

Texas brothers create website to explain Montana land exchange
Dan and Farris Wilks, who purchased the 62,000-acre N Bar Ranch in Montana's Fergus County in 2011, and have expanded their land holdings to 311,500 acres of farm and ranchland in seven counties making the Texas brothers the state's largest private landowners, have set up a website to detail their plans for the ranch in Montana, and why they are seeking a land exchange with the Bureau of Land Management.
Missoulian (Billings Gazette); 8/21/2015

Timeline proposed for Badger-Two Medicine lease decision in Montana
The public land managers' timeline submitted to a federal court on deciding the fate of drilling leases on the Badger-Two Medicine area of Montana, an area held sacred by the Blackfeet Nation, proposed making a final decision within two years, and for the first time, included dissolution of those leases as an option.
Flathead Beacon; 8/24/2015

Montana town evacuated, highway, rail line shut down by wildfire
The Sheep Fire in Northwest Montana burned to within a half-mile of Essex, forcing the evacuation of the community, and the BNSF rail line and U.S. Highway 2 were again closed to traffic. Crews are working to shore up firelines as forecasts call for high winds on Saturday. Another fire burning near Tarkio prompted the evacuation of outfitters and cabins in the Fish Creek drainage on Thursday.
Missoulian; 8/28/2015

More evacuations ordered on Idaho wildfire near Riggins
The TePee Springs fire near Riggins burned across an additional 11 square miles on Thursday, and new evacuations were ordered for Idahoans in the area. Eighteen miles of the Lower Salmon River were also closed to recreational use to keep people out of harm's way. In Northern Idaho, the 74-square-mile Clearwater Complex is now 65 percent contained. In Central Idaho, residents near Elk City were alerted to be ready to evacuate, as the 28,491-acre Wash Fire continued to add acreage. This article updates readers on wildfire activity across Idaho.
Idaho Statesman and wire reports; 8/28/2015

Wildfires close access to wilderness areas in Montana
There are 19 wildfires burning in the Spotted Bear Ranger District, which have closed access to areas of the Great Bear and Bob Marshall wildernesses in Montana. The Bear Creek, Trail Creek, and Three Sisters are the largest of the 19, and have burned more than 40,000 acres in total.
Flathead Beacon; 8/28/2015


Montanans on their own to protect property from oil, gas companies
The decision this month of the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation to not require mandatory setbacks between oil and gas wells and occupied buildings underscores lessons learned when residents near Belfry fought back against Energy Corporation of America, whose CEO John Mork announced in 2013 that he would "bring a bit of the Bakken" to the Beartooth Mountains. A guest column written by Bonnie Martinell, who farms near Belfry.; 8/25/2015

Yellowstone Park advocates resist push to allow packrafting
Wyoming U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis has introduced a measure that would require Yellowstone National Park to do a National Environmental Policy Act assessment of allowing packrafting, as well as a slate of other watercraft use, on Yellowstone Park's waters, a move that is strongly resisted by dozens of conservation groups, land managers and friends of Yellowstone. A column by Todd Wilkinson.
Jackson Hole News & Guide; 8/26/2015

Montana should be allowed to add helicopters to federal wildfire arsenal
Given the number of wildfires burning throughout the American West that have stretched resources to the breaking point, the U.S. Department of Agriculture should relax its policy on the size of buckets used by helicopters in aerial firefights and put Montana's five modified helicopters on the firelines--and Congress should get in gear and do something about how wildfire fights are funded.
Billings Gazette; 8/26/2015

Utah decision on lobbyist space in Capitol shows misplaced priorities
Thank goodness for Gov. Gary Herbert for stepping in to ensure that the American Legion, which has had office space in the Utah Capitol since World War I, will continue to have an office in the building, but the fact that the governor had to step in to keep the veterans' group in the building after all but one of the legislators and other elected officials on the Capitol Preservation Board voted Monday to move the Legion's offices to make more room for lobbyists is a situation that should give voters -- and the folks whom they elect -- pause.
Salt Lake Tribune; 8/27/2015


Federal campaign puts Alberta park communications on hold
Parks Canada's interpretation of rules on federal communications during federal campaigns has imposed a "cone of silence" on Banff National Park employees, who have declined to release information on a slate of occurrences, including the killing of a deer by two wolves in Banff township on Aug. 11.
Calgary Herald; 8/27/2015

Gianforte files paperwork to run for governor of Montana
Software entrepreneur Greg Gianforte filed the paperwork necessary to run for governor of Montana in 2016. Gianforte, who is a Republican, started RightNow Technologies in Bozeman, which he sold in 2011 to Oracle.

Missoulian; 8/18/2015


Low oil prices, drought, wildfires hobble Alberta's economy
Alberta's economy has long been the powerhouse in Canada, but this year, low oil prices have hobbled its energy sector, drought has taken a bite out of its agriculture sector, wildfires are burning through budgets and, a new, untested government sits at the helm.
Toronto Globe and Mail; 8/26/2015

Broomfield company breaks ground on Colorado's largest solar farm
Renewable Energy Systems Americas broke ground last week on the Comanche Solar project near Pueblo, with plans to hire between 300 and 400 workers to build the 156- megawatt facility, which will generate enough power to supply 31,000 homes when it goes online in the second quarter of 2016.
Denver Post; 8/24/2015

Montana grain farmers find profit in 'pulse' crops
An ancient way of rotating crops is plowing profit back into the fields of Montana grain farmers, who are planting chickpeas, lentils and beans on their wheat fields on a rotating schedule, improving the lands and boosting their bottom lines.
Great Falls Tribune; 8/28/2015

National Energy Board tracks drop in shipments of oil by rail
The declining price of oil has taken the amount of oil exported by rail from Canada to the United States down along with it, with the National Energy Board reporting that shipments of oil by rail declined by 30 percent between the first and second quarters of this year, declining from 120,000 barrels per day in the first quarter to 84,000 BPD in the second quarter. In the last quarter of 2014, 159,000 barrels of oil per day were moving by rail in Canada.
Calgary Herald; 8/28/2015

B.C. lumber company executive says Southern U.S. is best place to be
Conifex Timber Inc., a British Columbia-based lumber producer, has purchased a mothballed sawmill in Arkansas for $21 million, because the mountain pine beetle infestation in the Canadian province has made it increasingly hard to find decent saw logs, while the yellow-pine plantations in the southern United States are heading into their prime.
Vancouver Sun; 8/26/2015

Strong dollar, China's woes hammer Montana's timber industry
This year began with strong promise for Montana's lumber industry, but the surge in the value of the dollar and diminished demand for lumber from China have slowed down the market for U.S. producers, although the demand for plywood and fiberboard remains strong.
Flathead Beacon; 8/27/2015

Montana governor honors Missoula-area innovators
Montana Innovator Awards are given to companies and individuals who work toward a cleaner energy future, and on Thursday, Gov. Steve Bullock named Missoula-area recipients of those awards, including the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes for their operating plan for the Kerr Dam, which the tribes will begin managing in September; MMW Architects, which designed the Park Place parking garage with solar panels that provides 85 percent of the power it needs; and Energetechs, which founded Glo European Windows, a company that produces energy efficient doors and windows.
Missoulian; 8/28/2015

Colorado-based miner ceases mining rare-earth minerals in California
Greenwood Village-based Molycorp. Inc., which recently filed for bankruptcy, has ceased production at its rare-earth minerals mine in California, and said that demand for the minerals will be filled by the Colorado company's mines in China and Estonia, where a heavier version of the minerals exist.
Denver Post; 8/26/2015

Alberta-based Encana sells Louisiana assets
Encana Corp. is selling is natural gas assets in Northern Louisiana for $850 million US cash, as the Calgary-based company moves forward with its plan to focus on four areas--two in the southern United States and two in Western Canada.
Calgary Herald (Canadian Press); 8/25/2015

Beyond the region

B.C. mines minister visits Alaska to talk transboundary water issues
Bill Bennett, British Columbia's Mines Minister spent five days this week in Alaska, meeting with elected officials, stakeholders and other groups about existing and proposed mines in the Canadian province that may affect the Unuk, the Taku and the Stikine rivers that flow from B.C. into Southeastern Alaska, and on Thursday, Bennett spoke to a packed Chamber of Commerce meeting in Ketchikan, where he acknowledged the unease the August 2014 Mount Polley spill had created in Alaska about the province's mining oversight, and expressed confidence the province and the state could come up with a plan to ensure oversight of mining in British Columbia that would protect rivers that run into Alaska.; 8/28/2015

Monarch butterflies face new threat when they return to Mexico
The dwindling Monarch butterfly population will face a new threat when the struggling travelers return to their winter home in Mexico: more than 52 acres of the core area of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico have been destroyed, with illegal logging operations affecting 29 acres and the remaining 3 acres affected by drought, pests, lightning and landslides.
Washington Post; 8/26/2015

Copper miners in Arizona cutting production, jobs
Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold and Tucson-based Asarco LLC announced cost-cutting measures, including layoffs, in response to a global decline in the demand for copper.
Arizona Daily Star; 8/28/2015

Mountain West News is a program of the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West
at The University of Montana.
"I ’m not here to say don’t worry, be happy, everything is great, we’re wonderful, we never make mistakes because you know we do. We had a huge mistake last year at Mount Polley, but we are responsible. We do a good job. Our standards and our processes are more or less the same as Alaska, is what the state folks have told us. So, we don’t have low standards and we do care not only about our environment, but we care about yours, and that’s the central message I have."

British Columbia Mines Minister Bill Bennett, in a speech before the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce on his last day of a five-day trip to Alaska to develop an agreement with state officials on monitoring water quality and mining operations.

On The Bookshelf
Barbara Theroux of Fact & Fiction reviews "The Oregon Trail: An American Journey"


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