In News to track, residents of Belfry were relieved to hear the exploratory oil well drilled by Denver-based Energy Corp. of America near their southern Montana community didn't produce as predicted, and that the area near the Beartooth Mountains would not become the "next Bakken" as predicted by Energy Corp.
In Canada, the number of woodland caribou continues to fall, despite the federal government's pledge to protect the species. A report issued this week by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) found that only six of the 51 areas where the caribou roam had completed or begun work on plans to protect habitat.
In the United States, President Obama signed the $1.1-trillion spending bill into law, along with dozens of other provisions thrown onto the massive "crominbus" bill, including one provision that effectively ended the federal government's resistance to the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. On the recreational side of marijuana, the attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a lawsuit asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Colorado's laws allowing recreational marijuana, citing the law enforcement costs and the overburdening of those states' criminal justice systems by those who bring marijuana across the borders into their states, where marijuana is illegal.
In Wyoming, the nation's top producing coal state, legislators will take up a bill that would allow the Wyoming Infrastructure Agency to raise its borrowing limit to $3 billion, and use money on projects outside the Cowboy State, an important provision as Oregon approved allowing Wyoming and Montana participate in the appeal of Oregon's rejection of Ambre Energy's permit to build a coal-export port on the Port of Morrow on the West Coast.
Montana's two-year colleges revamp curricula to meet changing workplace demands
Nov. 20, 2014
Barbara Theroux reviews books that would make good gifts for everyone on your holiday list
Dec. 18, 2014
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.
This week on Mountain West Voices: Susan Sanford's father pushed her to leave the family's isolated farm in north-central Montana so she could experience the world. After her father's death, Susan and her husband Brian return to make a life on the farm - a place so remote that the nearest store is a five-hour round trip. Tune in to Yellowstone Public Radio at 7:05 Sunday morning, or listen to the program via the Mountain West Voices website, which provides an incredible array of photographs from the Sanford farm.
Company drops controversial drilling plan in southern Montana
John Mork, the CEO of Denver-based Energy Corp. of America, proclaimed in October of 2013, that the Colorado company would bring a "Bakken-type" boom to an area of the Beartooth Mountains in Montana near Belfry, rousing residents to explore ways to stave off an ambitious drilling plan, but the company recently told Carbon County commissioners that its exploratory oil well drilled didn't produce as expected and the company was withdrawing its plan for future drilling.
Billings Gazette; 12/16/2014
Report: Canada doing little to protect woodland caribou
In a report to be released today, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) found that, despite the federal government's strategy released two years ago to stop boreal woodland caribou from going extinct that required territories and provinces to come up with plans to protect the caribou and its habitat by 2017, just six of the 51 plans are in some stage of development as caribou numbers continue to fall.
Toronto Globe and Mail; 12/16/2014
President Obama signs $1.1-trillion spending bill into law
The $1.1-trillion "cromnibus" spending bill signed into law by President Obama on Tuesday will fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, as well as keep sage grouse from being listed as an endangered species, takes white potatoes off the list of banned foods in the federal Women, Infants and Children food program, and fully funds the Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes program which provides monies to counties that lose property tax revenue due to untaxable federal lands within their borders.
Durango Herald; 12/17/2014
- Nebraska, Oklahoma sue Colorado over legalized marijuana
The attorneys general for Nebraska and Oklahoma are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Colorado's laws that have legalized the use of marijuana, charging that marijuana is flowing over the Centennial State's borders, clogging up its neighbors' criminal justice systems and draining their coffers.
New York Times; 12/19/2014
Wyoming lawmakers amenable to measures to promote coal exports
Loyd Drain, the executive director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Agency, said lawmakers are considering raising the amount the agency could borrow to $3 billion and allow the agency to work on projects beyond the state's borders, both provisions that would ease the state's way in helping build coal export terminals.
Casper Star-Tribune; 12/18/2014
- Oregon will allow Wyoming, Montana to participate in coal-port appeal
Montana and Wyoming, two coal-producing states that would benefit the most from new coal-export ports on the West Coast, will be allowed to participate in the appeal of Oregon's denial of Ambre Energy's permit for just such a terminal at the Port of Morrow, although the states' role will be limited to examining witnesses and discovering evidence in regard to just one issue: Oregon's conclusions about the social and economic benefits of the proposed port. The administrative hearing on the appeal is currently set for next December.
Portland Oregonian; 12/18/2014
FERC sides with Xcel in Colorado city's condemnation quest
As Boulder continues its quest to take control of its electric utility, Xcel Energy requested the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission weigh in, and on Thursday, FERC issued a decision that said the Colorado city must get prior approval from the federal agency before it can condemn transmission facilities, that FERC will consider cost and system reliability issues before making a decision; and that FERC's decision will not override or replace approval of Boulder's efforts by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.
Boulder Daily Camera; 12/19/2014
Colorado's economic growth outruns housing for workers
Colorado is ranked in the top five states when it comes to job creation and attracting new residents, but the housing sector has not kept up with the attendant growth, and with few vacancies available, workers find it hard to find housing within their means, especially in Front Range communities like Denver, Fort Collins, Greeley and Boulder.
Boulder Daily Camera (Denver Post); 12/16/2014
Increased oil train traffic impetus for N. Idaho emergency response review
Kootenai, Bonner and Boundary counties in Northern Idaho, through which the amount of oil transported by rail could triple within the next five years, have received a $36,000 federal grant to update their emergency response plans that will build on work already done or in progress, and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and the three railroads operating that part of Idaho, BNSF Railway, Montana Rail Link and Union Pacific, are also participating in the work.
Spokane Spokesman-Review; 12/18/2014
New federal limits on ozone expand problem areas in Wyoming
Ozone levels that exceed federal limits used to be a problem on just the western slope of the Wind River Mountains, due to an increase in natural gas production over the past decade, but the Environmental Protection Agency's recent proposal to lower the safety threshold for ozone would require Wyoming to expand its new proposed regulation of ozone to six counties, including Laramie and Fremont counties.
Casper Star-Tribune; 12/15/2014
Utah finds tracking water rights a slow go
There are 15 major watershed areas in Utah, and the state has completed researching and adjudicating water rights in just two, with efforts to complete the work begun in the Weber and the Sevier rivers in 1911 and completed in the 1930s. Work is nearing completion in the on the Bear and Virgin river areas, but the State Engineer's Office estimates it would take 150 years to complete rights adjudication in Utah and Salt Lake counties completed at current staffing levels. Another in the Deseret News' series on water in Utah.
Deseret News; 12/16/2014
Salt Lake City stands firm on protection of Wasatch Canyons watershed
The Wasatch Canyons watershed provides 60 percent of Salt Lake City's drinking water, and that Utah city is adamantly unapologetic about its decades-long efforts to protect its water resources, no matter who files lawsuits or why. Another article in the Deseret News' series on water in Utah.
Deseret News; 12/17/2014
Audit finds indoor, outdoor divide on water use in Utah
An audit done by the Utah Office of the Legislative Auditor General of the Utah Division of Drinking Water found that a 1979 requirement that new development provide 400 gallon per day average of water for indoor use is 40 to 50 percent higher than actual use in three of the state's largest urban areas, and that the peak standard of 800 gallons per day per connection is 57 percent higher than the average peak, but the audit found the opposite true for outdoor water use, with requirements far too low compared with actual use, prompting the state water agency to call for development of a statewide water plan. Another in the Deseret News' series on water in Utah.
Deseret News; 12/18/2014
Projected population growth in Utah sparks concern about water
Utah is projected to double its population over the next 35 years, and providing water to handle that growth is of key concern to the state, which is considering a number of billion-dollar-plus projects, a move conservationists said is misdirection, as the state should instead be focusing on curbing use and efficient use of existing water. An article in the "Deseret News' series on water in Utah.
Deseret News; 12/16/2014
USGS report tracks continued decline of Ogallala Aquifer
The U.S. Geological Survey has been tracking groundwater levels in the High Plains Aquifer, also known as the Ogallala Aquifer, since 1950, and the latest report shows continued decline in those levels, with the amount of water stored in the aquifer in 2011 found to have declined 267 million acre-feet, or 8 percent, since the development of groundwater pumping, and a drop of 36 million acre-feet between 2011 and 2013. The aquifer lies under 175,000 square miles in Wyoming, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Texas.
Casper Star-Tribune (AP); 12/17/2014
Wyoming county approves Snake River management plan
In order to give commercial outfitters time to adjust to new rules guiding their activity on the stretch of the Snake River that flows through Jackson Hole, the Teton County Commission approved new management rules for that stretch of the Wyoming river and said that the plan is dynamic in that it is likely to be revised over the next three years.
Jackson Hole Daily; 12/19/2014
California, Nevada, Arizona sign pact to conserve Lake Mead water
At the annual conference of the Colorado River Water Users Association last week in Las Vegas, California, Nevada and Arizona signed a deal to add as much as 3 million acre feet of water to Lake Mead by 2020, primarily by making changes in water management and through conservation efforts.
New York Times; 12/18/2014
Montana FWP reports pneumonia kills 10 bighorn sheep near Gardiner
Over the past two weeks, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks personnel have collected 10 dead bighorn sheep, including rams, lambs and an ewe from a an area near Gardiner, all of which were determined to have died from pneumonia, and the state agency is asking the public to keep their distance from bighorn sheep in the area and to inform them if they observe other sheep in the Upper Yellowstone herd coughing or showing other signs of sickness.
Montana Standard; 12/16/2014
Grand Teton NP officials mum about wolf killing in Wyoming park
On Jan. 20, a private landowner within the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park shot and killed a wolf, and the investigation that followed was completed in September, with no charges filed, but in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Jackson Hole News & Guide, park officials produced a heavily redacted report that eliminates all information about the landowner, down to the pronouns, and said a regulation put in place in November transferring wildlife management on private land within the park to Wyoming prohibited the release of any additional information.
Jackson Hole News & Guide; 12/17/2014
Interior Department to continue collecting data on sage grouse
Despite the prohibition in the $1.1-trillion federal budget for listing the sage grouse as an endangered species, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said work will continue to collect and analyze data on sage grouse, and she criticized the political posturing that led to the spending ban, and in Montana, which along with Wyoming, has the largest number of the birds, Gov. Steve Bullock said conservation projects will continue.
Flathead Beacon (AP); 12/18/2014
- Study in Montana, Wyoming links taller grasses to more sage grouse
A five-year study of sage grouse nests at two sites in the Powder River Basin in northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana found that the likelihood of at least one egg hatching in a sage grouse nest was higher when the grass around the nest was taller, and less likely in areas where the grass was shorter, a finding that could have considerable implications for grazing on public lands.
Casper Star-Tribune (AP); 12/18/2014
Group petitions USFWS to reintroduce grizzly bears in Montana, Idaho
On Thursday, the Center for Biological Diversity formally petitioned the U.S. Interior Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to draft a new rule that would bring grizzly bears back into the 16 million-acre Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness that straddles the border of Idaho and Montana.
USFS cultivates 'elite' whitebark pines in Montana forest to resist rust
Whitebark pines in high elevations across the Rocky Mountain West have been affected by blister rust, a disease U.S. Forest Service researchers have been fighting by cultivating trees naturally resistant to the disease, with an orchard of those trees now growing in the Lewis and Clark National Forest in Montana.
Great Falls Tribune; 12/14/2014
Another cow in Montana tests positive for brucellosis
More than a week after a cow in a herd in Madison County tested positive for brucellosis, another cow that had grazed on leased land in Park County, which is also in Montana's Designated Surveillance Area for brucellosis, tested positive for the disease, putting the Carbon County herd under quarantine while the remainder of the animals are tested.
Bozeman Daily Chronicle; 12/16/2014
Idaho man convicted of illegally killing a grizzly bear
Idaho Fish and Game officials announced that the agency had successfully prosecuted its first case of an illegal kill of a grizzly bear since the species was listed as endangered in 1975, with the conviction of 23-year-old Kenneth Tyler Sommer of Newdale for killing a male grizzly bear Sommer had alleged had charged him but state wildlife officials found no evidence that the bear was charging when Sommer shot it.
Idaho Statesman (AP); 12/16/2014
BLM to remove wild horses from along highway in Utah's West Desert
A number of wild horses have already died after being hit by vehicles along a remote stretch of State Road 21 in Utah's West Desert, and in February, the Bureau of Land Management wants to remove hundreds of horses from the Sulphur Herd Management Area, which straddles 280,000 acres in Millard and Beaver counties.
Salt Lake Tribune; 12/19/2014
Defense spending bill extends BLM oil, gas permitting pilot program
Under a provision attached to the National Defense Authorization Act, which Congress passed and sent to President Obama for action, a pilot program designed to speed up the Bureau of Land Management's oil and gas permitting process will be funded with $18 million a year through 2026, with some modifications to the program adopted after a Government Accountability Office audit found that the program had failed to speed up permit processing as promised. The measure will allow the BLM to direct funding to offices with the highest demand. The Energy Information Office said Wyoming and New Mexico rank first and third, respectively, in production.
Casper Star-Tribune; 12/16/2014
- Montana's federal lawmakers discuss compromises in public lands bill
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester told the Missoula Independent that he realized soon after the discussion began shortly before Election Day on the public lands package that he would not be successful in getting his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act included in the package of bills to be attached to the National Defense Authorization Act so he focused on getting the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act in the package, and when negotiations moved from the Senate to the House, Montana Rep. Steve Daines required the release of acres classified as wilderness study areas, with 14,000 acres of the Zook and Buffalo creek WSA's released in the final deal, with an additional 15,000 WSA acres near the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge to be considered for oil and gas potential over the next five years.
Missoula Independent; 12/18/2014
Groups: Decision on x-country ski race in Alberta park already made
Despite Parks Canada's statement that it is still in the process of reviewing the proposed cross-country ski competition in January near Lake Louise in Banff National Park in Alberta, some conservation groups are charging that trees have been removed from the path of the race and that the approval is a foregone conclusion, and those groups are concerned about what the race, considered a precursor for a 2016 World Cup event at the same location, will mean for the area that provides habitat for grizzly bears, wolverine and lynx.
Calgary Herald; 12/17/2014
Montana Parks Board won't require bear-proof food containers on Smith River
Over the past two years, eight black bears were killed along the Smith River corridor due to conflicts with people floating the river, prompting the staff of the agency to recommend that campers and boaters use bear-proof containers, a recommendation the Montana State Parks and Recreation Board rejected, and instead ordered parks staff to come up with other recommendations to keep bears from being attracted to camps and stops along the river, which the Board will take up before permits to float the river are issued next spring.
Helena Independent Record; 12/18/2014
Proposed gold mine clears another hurdle in Montana
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality released the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed gold mine in the Highlands south of Butte on Thursday, although the agency is still awaiting a decision on the hard rock mining permit, and has yet to make a decision on the haul route for the mine.
Montana Standard; 12/19/2014
Grand Teton NP's abdication of wildlife management needs explanation
The seemingly arbitrary decision of Grand Teton National Park to summarily hand over wildlife management on private lands within the park to Wyoming deserves more public input given the sweeping changes the decision could have in the Wyoming park, and the park's decision to withhold information on the killing of a wolf on private lands within the park based on Wyoming law--all of which occurred prior to handing over wildlife management on private lands within the park--deserves public scrutiny as well.
Jackson Hole News & Guide; 12/17/2014
Utah's short-term reliance on fossil fuels has long-term consequences
Recent developments in Utah's fossil-fuel industry, including the closure of PacifiCorp's coal mine near Huntington and a state lawmaker's proposal to create a "national parks highway" that would also provide a route for the oil and oil shale industry, provide telling examples of the state's hitching its wagon to the fossil fuel star, which is destined to fall.
Salt Lake Tribune; 12/17/2014
Montana's brucellosis policy, Wyoming's elk feeding program at cross-purposes
Once again this winter, Montana is prepared to slaughter 900 bison that wander out of Yellowstone National Park, despite scientific evidence that the risk of the bison transmitting brucellosis to domestic cattle is less than three-tenths of a percent, while Wyoming is prepared to again feed elk on 22 feedgrounds, where science again establishes that those feedgrounds are hot spots for wildlife diseases and that the likelihood of migratory elk transmitting the disease to domestic cattle is nearly 100 percent. Todd Wilkinson takes readers through his series of columns on wildlife diseases that connect the dots on elk and brucellosis and bison and Montana's continued grasp on policies that wrongly target bison in its brucellosis fight.
Jackson Hole News & Guide; 12/17/2014
NPS's plan to end dual pass for Wyoming parks hard to understand
It's understandable that the National Park Service is raising its entrance fees, given the current state of the federal budget, but its plan to do away with the dual pass that gave visitors to Wyoming entrance to both Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks is unfathomable, and the agency should rethink its plan to ditch the two-fer pass for the Wyoming parks.
Casper Star-Tribune; 12/18/2014
Chippewa Cree must pay up front for Montana water pipeline project
After several officials and companies linked to the Chippewa Cree Tribe were convicted of federal corruption charges for taking funds for the tribe's $361 million water project on its lands in Montana, the Tribe will now be required to pay for work done and submit bills for reimbursement to the federal government.
Great Falls Tribune (AP); 12/18/2014
Alberta rancher donates bison to Saskatchewan First Nation
As the herd of 20 bison thundered out onto the lands of the Peepeekisis Cree Nation in Saskatchewan earlier this month, members of the First Nation were moved to tears to have the animals that are culturally important to the Balcarres-area First Nation back on their lands.
Colorado legislator works on bill to pay mineral rights owners if bans enacted
State Rep. Perry Buck, R-Windsor, said she believes that if communities in Colorado impose moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing, they need to compensate mineral-rights holders who are prohibited from developing those rights, and is working on legislation to do just that.
Durango Herald; 12/18/2014
Utah legislators tour possible route of 'national parks highway'
State Sen. Kevin Van Tassel shared his vision of a "national parks highway," which would stretch from Yellowstone to Grand Teton, to Flaming Gorge, Dinosaur, the Book Cliffs, Arches, Canyonlands and the Four Corners area and extend straight through Arizona to Canyon De Chelly National Monument and Petrified Forest National Park, with other Utah legislators during a recent tour of the 40-mile gap in Utah's Grand County, where environmental groups said the oil and gas industry would be the primary beneficiary of the route.
Salt Lake Tribune; 12/15/2014
Legislative panel declines to advance governor's Healthy Utah plan
On Thursday, the Utah Legislature's Health Reform Task Force voted against sending Gov. Gary Herbert's Medicaid expansion plan to the full Legislature for consideration, and instead endorsed two other options that will provide coverage for substantially fewer Utahns than the governor's plan and require that those covered be "medically vulnerable."
Salt Lake Tribune; 12/19/2014
Montana governor reaches across aisle for infrastructure bill sponsor
Republican state Rep. Jeff Welborn of Dillon agreed to carry Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock's "Build Montana" bill, an infrastructure bill with more than $400 million in projects, because "... the Legislature has to pass something the governor will sign."
Missoulian (Lee State Bureau); 12/17/2014
- Eastern Montana counties say governor's $336M capital plan not enough
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has proposed a $336-million capital improvements project for the entire state, with $45 million to be spent in Eastern Montana, but communities in that area of the state that have been overrun with energy workers in the Bakken oil formation said that's not nearly enough, as Sidney alone has infrastructure needs that could use more than twice that.
Helena Independent Record (Lee State Bureau); 12/15/2014
PacifiCorp to close Utah mine, 182 to lose their jobs
On Monday, PacifiCorp announced it was closing its aging Deer Creek Mine near Huntington, putting 182 miners out of work and closing the last mine in Utah affiliated with the United Mine Workers of America. Huntington city officials said the loss of the 182 jobs, as well as an increase in coal truck traffic from Bowie Resource Partners' mines in Carbon and Sevier counties to the Huntington power plant.
Salt Lake Tribune; 12/16/2014
Alberta-based Talisman Energy accepts Spanish firm's $13B offer
Spain-based energy giant Repsol and Alberta-based Talisman Energy have agreed to a deal for Repsol to buy the Calgary company for $8.3 billion in cash and assumption of Talisman's debt, with the total deal valued at $13-billion US, and while the deal must still be approved by shareholders and the court, and Repsol officials said they would seek approval under the Investment Canada Act, which the Canadian government used to and then approve Malaysia's Petronas and China's CNOOC Ltd. oilsands deals, there is little concern that the Canadian government would object to the sale since Repsol is privately, not state owned.
Calgary Herald (Canadian Press); 12/16/2014
British Columbia approves $8.8-billion Site C hydroelectric dam
On Tuesday, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark announced the approval of BC Hydro's proposed Site 3 hydroelectric dam on the Peace River and said construction of the project will begin next year, although opponents of the project that includes First Nations and farmers, vowed that the fight isn't over yet.
Vancouver Sun; 12/17/2014
Chobani's new system to reuse water to address disposal concerns in Idaho
After residents of Hollister complained about the truck traffic and the smells from a farm where Chobani disposed of acid whey, a waste product from its Greek yogurt plant in Twin Falls, company officials announced its new reverse osmosis system will go into operation early next year that will not only cut its water use by 20 percent, but will also end the need for disposing of the byproduct as a soil amendment.
Twin Falls Times-News; 12/18/2014
TransCanada makes final offer to Nebraska landowners in Keystone XL path
As Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell vowed to put approval of the Keystone XL pipeline on top of the agenda when Congress convenes in January, TransCanada made its final offer to the 100 or so landowners under whose property the pipeline would pass in Nebraska on its way from Alberta to Oklahoma, but the offers no longer included signing bonuses, and a Nebraska Supreme Court decision could be rendered today in a case involving the pipeline.
Omaha World Herald; 12/17/2014
New York State bans hydraulic fracturing due to health concerns
On Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the state's de facto ban on the use of hydraulic fracturing would become permanent after receiving the report of a health panel that studied the drilling process that uses a combination of water, sand and chemicals introduced underground at high pressure to break open rock formations to release oil natural gas and found substantial risks to public health.
New York Times; 12/18/2014
President Obama issues order extending ban on drilling in Alaska bay
On Tuesday, President Obama signed an executive order that makes permanent a ban on drilling in Alaska's Bristol Bay that was set to expire in 2017. The ban will remain in place unless, or until, a future president issues an executive order repealing the ban.
New York Times; 12/17/2014