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Making fire a tool and not a threat requires smart policy

The West is a complex patchwork of public and private lands, ecosystems and habitat types. Resource management authority may stop at a fence line, but resource destruction knows no bounds, highlighting the need for comprehensive resource stewardship strategies. Private landowners and federal land permittees/lessees play a pivotal role in providing habitat for wildlife species, mitigating wildfire risk and connecting working landscapes. It is essential that public policies and programs are informed by those working closest to the ground. 

The 2020 fire season saw catastrophic wildland fire expand to a scale rarely seen in recent memory. Our own members and neighbors are experiencing devastating losses from catastrophic wildfires. These fires have destroyed decades of conservation efforts, agricultural production and livelihoods. At the same time, we recognize that ecosystems are dynamic and fire is natural in many ecosystems. 

That's why WLA supports a far more proactive approach to wildland fire mitigation: fire, when deployed well, can be used to both reduce the frequency and destructiveness of catastrophic wildfires, and restore ecosystems and native species to health and abundance. The U.S. Congress has the ability to take big strides toward making this happen. We encourage them to do so.

Contact your Senators

Let your senators know how important proactive and cross-boundary wildfire mitigation is to you. Tell a personal story of how your land is suffering, has been transformed, or would benefit from controlled burning or other sensible management strategies.

Want more information about fire and drought resources or actions you can take?

Become a member of WLA today. It's free, and it helps us grow the influence of private land stewardship in the halls of power. Plus, you'll always be in the loop.

Fire and Drought News

Another side of the controversy over stream access

In a recent editorial, The New Mexican declared rivers and streams belong to the public, but this simplistic declaration masks a crucially important story that is not being told (“Rivers, streams belong to public — period,” Our View, June 13). If we care about New Mexico’s land, water, people and wildlife, it’s time to take a much harder, more honest look at the issue and what is at stake.

We are in a perilous moment in history, writes Lesli Allison in this Op-Ed. As the human footprint expands, biodiversity is collapsing — and with it, the ecosystems that sustain all of us. As populations grow, development expands and people seek new places to recreate, fish and wildlife are in a desperate struggle for survival.

In New Mexico, 116 species are listed as threatened or endangered, and more edge closer to the brink of extinction every day, among them native trout and many other wildlife species dependent on our limited streams and riparian systems. Many of these species rely on private land, where there is less human pressure, for refuge and survival. They also rely on the personal investments of private landowners who are conserving and restoring habitats across the state.

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Biden’s Proposed Tax Changes Could Cause Family Farms to Accrue Additional Debt, Study Shows

The Biden Administration’s proposed tax changes could be costly for family farms. That’s the takeaway from a new report from Texas A&M University’s Agricultural & Food Policy Center (AFPC). The report looked into the proposed inheritance tax code changes currently being debated in Washington. 

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Colorado ranchers are selling off cattle to survive another year of dried-up grass and parched soil

The Western Slope has suffered a drought three of the last four years, and by now, it’s taken a toll on farmers and ranchers that is both financial and emotional. VanWinkle choked up as she spoke of the “crunch” she hears with every step through the pasture. 

“It’s truly the grass and the flora crumbling into a million pieces with every step you take,” she said. “It’s brutal.”

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U.S. Congresswoman Liz Cheney Introduces NEPA Reform Bill to Streamline Regulations and Empower State/Local Leaders

Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-WY) introduced the UNSHACKLE Act (Undoing NEPA’s Substantial Harm by Advancing Concepts that Kickstart the Liberation of the Economy Act) in the House of Representatives, a bill that combines five standalone NEPA-related pieces of legislation aimed at maintaining the previous Administration’s much-needed NEPA revisions.

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USDA to Invest $41.8 Million in Conservation Assistance for Producers in Drought-Impacted States

In response to historic drought conditions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is offering $41.8 million through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to help agricultural producers in Arizona, California, Colorado and Oregon alleviate the immediate impacts of drought and other natural resource challenges on working lands.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will make available this funding through Conservation Incentive Contracts, a new option available through EQIP. Signup for this targeted funding begins today, and NRCS will accept applications through July 12, 2021.

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USDA to Invest More Than $4 Billion to Strengthen Food System

Citing lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and recent supply chain disruptions, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced plans to invest more than $4 billion to strengthen critical supply chains through the Build Back Better initiative. USDA said the new effort will strengthen the food system, create new market opportunities, tackle the climate crisis, help communities that have been left behind and support good-paying jobs throughout the supply chain.

Today’s announcement supports the Biden Administration’s broader work on strengthening the resilience of critical supply chains as directed by Executive Order 14017 America’s Supply Chains, USDA said. Funding is provided by the American Rescue Plan Act and earlier pandemic assistance such as the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

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Few in Klamath Basin want 2001-style confrontation

Most growers in the drought-plagued Klamath Basin don’t appear to want the kind of water confrontations that brought national attention to the region 20 summers ago, a local newspaper is reporting.

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A West-Wide Rangeland Fuel Assessment: Reading the Tea Leaves

In this monthly recorded series, Dr. Matt Reeves – an RMRS Research Ecologist specializing in remote sensing and ecological modeling –  will analyze current rangeland fuel conditions across the west, with emphasis on emerging hotspots. New episodes will be posted on the first Monday of every month and more frequently as the summer progresses.

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Dry times, dire consequences: Poor runoff adds to water woes

Ordinarily this time of year, the Colorado River would be raging on its way through Mesa County, swollen with runoff from melting mountain snow.

Said Russ Schumacher, state climatologist at the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University, “The streamflows throughout western Colorado are not looking good at this point and there’s not that much snow up there left to melt.”

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CPW announces membership on wolf reintroduction advisory panels

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced representatives of the Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG) and the Technical Working Group (TWG), which will help guide CPW staff and the Commission through the wolf reintroduction planning process. WLA’s programs director, Hallie Mahowald, has been chosen for the SAG and will be working hard to fight for the needs of Colorado’s landowners throughout this process.

Researchers at Colorado State University and The Ohio State University have created an index depicting the mix of social values among people across all 50 states, providing data that can be useful for wildlife conservation policy and management. The study, “Bringing social values to wildlife conservation decisions,” was published online June 3 in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

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Montana’s Senators differ on details, but agree science is key to grizzly de-listing discussion

As grizzly bears reach and surpass recovery goals in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Sen. Daines and Sen. Tester of Montana agree that science should guide decisions to de-list the species from the ESA.

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For Predators, Montana’s New Wildlife Laws Bring Cloudy Future

New laws allowing more liberal wolf trapping and hunting and creating leeway for citizens to retaliate to protect their property from grizzly bears are influencing debate over the relationships between people and predators in Montana.

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Montana officials kill three grizzlies after livestock attacks

Three bears were captured and euthanized in Montana that had chronically depredated livestock. Grizzly bears are protected as a threatened species under federal law, but since their populations have rebounded in Montana, grizzlies have run into increasingly frequent conflicts with humans and livestock.

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California wants to buy nonlethal bear traps and pay ranchers when wolves kill their cows

California’s department of fish and wildlife’s funding will be increasing by $252 million, allowing for a range of new wildlife conservation and management initiatives, including $7 million to buy traps and other equipment to capture and relocate animals, as well as implement nonlethal deterrents such as flagging and fences to protect livestock from wolves

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Does Biden’s ’30×30′ plan trade science for popularity?

(Subscription) Some proponents of a concerted push to protect large swaths of natural spaces across the country are raising concerns that the Biden administration’s new conservation proposal is too timid, failing to lay out a plan to truly preserve vulnerable lands and waters.

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Judge sides with Game and Fish, limits grizzly-killed livestock award

A judge decided Monday to reduce an arbitration panel’s award to a Hot Springs County, Wyoming rancher for cattle lost to grizzly bears. The rancher sought $205,483 in compensation, but will receive $61,202 to cover 20 confirmed kills by grizzly bears.

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Amid Historic Drought, a New Water War in the West

A drought crisis has erupted in the Klamath Basin along the California-Oregon border, with fish dying en masse and farmers infuriated that they have been cut off from their main water source. The brewing battle over the century-old Klamath Project is an early window into the water shortfalls that are likely to spread across the West as a widespread drought, associated with a warming climate, parches watersheds throughout the region.

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FWP seeks Citizens Advisory Council applicants in southeastern Montana

Volunteer applicants are needed to serve two-year terms on Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ (FWP) region 7 Citizens Advisory Council (CAC). The purpose of the southeastern Montana-based CAC is to advise FWP on various regional and statewide wildlife management issues, programs and policies.

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9th Circuit hears arguments on “grazing preference”

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard earlier this month arguments on the first-of-its-kind denial of a “grazing preference” by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to an Oregon family.

The case could set precedence regarding Congress’ intent when it passed the Taylor Grazing Act (TGA) in 1934 and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) in 1976. Both give an existing permit holder the right to stand first in line when it comes time to renew that permit—commonly referred to as a “preference” by the TGA and a “first priority” by FLPMA—or when passing the permit to a family member.

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Groups ask feds for emergency re-listing of wolves after new Montana, Idaho laws

A handful of environmental groups are seeking the emergency re-listing of Northern Rockies gray wolves after lawmakers in Montana and Idaho passed several new laws aimed at reducing their numbers.

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Colorado Senate Passes Bipartisan Legislation to Protect Wildlife Corridors

Recently, the Colorado Senate unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution to protect the state’s wildlife corridors, which would conserve native species while improving road safety and bolstering Colorado’s economy.

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Endangered Species Act listing proposed for lesser prairie-chicken

The Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing federally protected status under the Endangered Species Act for two populations of the lesser prairie-chicken that occupy parts of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado.

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USDA Announces New Initiative to Quantify Climate Benefits of Conservation Reserve Program

The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) recently announced an initiative to quantify the climate benefits of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts. This multi-year effort will enable USDA to better target CRP toward climate outcomes and improve existing models and conservation planning tools while supporting USDA’s goal of putting American agriculture and forestry at the center of climate-smart solutions to address climate change.

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Beef lobby rift: JBS leaves NCBA

The moves stem from widespread anger among producers who say they are being squeezed with unfairly low cattle prices while consumers are paying near-record prices for burgers and steaks.

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Colorado Senate Passes Bipartisan Legislation to Protect Wildlife Corridors

Colorado Senate unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution to protect the state’s wildlife corridors, which would conserve native species while improving road safety and bolstering Colorado’s economy.

The bipartisan resolution was introduced earlier this month by Democratic Senator Jessie Danielson and Republican Representative Perry Will. The legislation, which marks a monumental step towards preserving Colorado’s rich biodiversity and wildlife heritage for future generations, now goes to the House of Representatives for a vote.

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Grim western fire season starts much drier than record 2020

As bad as last year’s record-shattering fire season was, the western U.S. starts this year’s in even worse shape. The soil in the West is record dry for this time of year. In much of the region, plants that fuel fires are also the driest scientists have seen.

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CPW’s 2nd wolf reintroduction info session focuses on dealing with livestock conflict

Colorado Parks and Wildlife held its second wolf reintroduction education session last week with a focus on what other states have done when releasing wolves and managing conflicts with livestock.

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Forest Service Defends Grazing by Diamond M Ranch in Wolf Case

The U.S. Forest Service asked a federal judge Monday to dismiss a suit led by wolf advocates who want to drive the Diamond M Ranch’s cattle out of the Colville National Forest in northeast Washington.

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Group wants to reintroduce jaguars; mining ban eyed to protect birds

Environmental groups and scientists with two universities want U.S. wildlife managers to consider reintroducing jaguars to the American Southwest. In a recently published paper, they say habitat destruction, highways and existing segments of the border wall mean that natural reestablishment of the large cats north of the U.S.-Mexico boundary would be unlikely over the next century without human intervention. 

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Vilsack wants ag conservation focus on incentives, not regulations

Vilsack said last week that in President Joe Biden’s administration, “the ultimate goal is to reduce emissions” but that his preferred method is through incentives and education, not the heavy hammer of regulatory enforcement.

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30×30 Plan: Panelists Discuss Conservation Policy for Western States

The Western Landowners Alliance (WLA) hosted a panel of landowners and land managers to share their perspective on the Biden administration’s 30×30 Plan. While the policy has not been completed, WLA is advocating the final policy should respect property rights, improve conservation outcomes and benefit rural communities. 

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Montana’s wildlife agency pulls back on science work

Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks plans to shift its research program toward short-term, in-house efforts after a decade of ambitious work helped make it a world-renowned scientific contributor.

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Wildfires threaten river networks in the western U.S.

A new study conducted by researchers from The University of New Mexico has found that wildfires—which have been increasing in frequency, severity and extent around the globe—are one of the largest drivers of aquatic impairment in the western United States, threatening our water supply.

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Forest Service moves to weaken bighorn protections in Wyoming Range

Domestic sheep could graze anew on national forest land in the Wyoming Range where conservationists bought grazing rights to separate them, their pathogens and their impacts from bighorn sheep and their habitat.

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As the West Faces a Drought Emergency, Some Ranchers are Restoring Grasslands to Build Water Reserves

In the face of ongoing drought, western ranchers are restoring diverse, grassland ecosystem practices that can improve the land’s capacity to hold water—and help them hold onto more cattle. Will it be enough to survive harder years ahead? Article features WLA members Julie Sullivan and George Whitten.

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Climate change may be causing an early start to fire season in the West, experts say

Severe drought during the winter is leading to matchbox conditions in the West. Drought conditions from California to Nevada, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico have been so bad that officials began preparing for the fire season in April. For some states, the staggering drought could be the worst in centuries.

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Study shows grasslands are more reliable carbon sinks than forests

A study has found that increased drought and wildfire risk make grasslands and rangelands a more reliable carbon sink than trees in 21st century California. As such, the study indicates they should be given opportunities in the state’s cap-and-and trade market, which is designed to reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

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USFWS must consider petition for wild horse’s protection

A federal appeals court ruled on Monday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) wrongly refused to review an animal advocacy group’s bid to include a wild horse on the country’s list of imperiled species because its refusal hinged on a rule that is inconsistent with the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

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Groups call for reintroduction of jaguars in US Southwest

Environmental groups and scientists with two universities want U.S. wildlife managers to consider reintroducing jaguars to the American Southwest. In a recently published paper, they say habitat destruction, highways and existing segments of the border wall mean that natural reestablishment of the large cats north of the U.S.-Mexico boundary would be unlikely over the next century without human intervention.

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Montana gov signs legislation shaping grizzly management

Governor Gianforte of Montana recently signed Senate Bill (SB) 98, with some implications towards grizzly bear management in the state. SB 98 makes a declarative statement that grizzly bears should be delisted. The bill also states that under state law, a person who kills a grizzly bear that is attacking, killing or threatening to kill a person or livestock has an “absolute” defense against being charged with a crime.

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Westerners react to ‘America the Beautiful’ 30×30 conservation plan

Despite being called a “federal land grab” by at least one legislator on the far right, landowners from across the West gathered with leaders in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of Interior in a webinar hosted by the Western Landowners Alliance Thursday to discuss the Biden Administration’s “America the Beautiful” 30×30 conservation plan.

“I think the thing that has everybody worried that we just have to tackle head-on is this question about federal lands, this idea that has been pushed out there quite a bit that this is a federal land grab, or that there could be uses of eminent domain and massive federal land expansions and taking of private properties,” WLA Executive Director Lesli Allison said during the live online session.

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Biden’s 30×30 plan report released

Lesli Allison, executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance, called the report “an overdue national conversation” that should occur from those closest to the matter and not from the top down.

“We are pleased to see that the administration is taking seriously that conservation is more than just setting land aside. It is really about how we steward the land,” Allison said in a statement. “The report suggests they understand that economics matter. Farmers and ranchers need to be able to earn a reasonable livelihood providing the many goods and services that society needs, such as food and fiber, but also things like wildlife habitat and healthy forests.”

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Montana has made killing wolves easier. Some hunters are pushing back.

New laws in Montana make it easier to trap and hunt wolves. Yet, hunters disagree on whether new laws passed, particularly ones allowing neck snares, qualify as sportsmanlike hunting.

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Biden nominee says Yellowstone area grizzly population ‘doing very, very well’

While she did not directly answer questions regarding grizzly bears should be removed from Endangered Species List protection, one of President Joe Biden’s nominee’s for the U.S. Fish and wildlife service said Wednesday that grizzly populations in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are doing “very well”.

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Tolerance key to grizzly conservation, state says

The success of the Bear Wise program — the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s large carnivore educational outreach program — has helped keep both bears and people safe, according to state officials. But the department is at a crossroads: Its goal of building tolerance among landowners and residents is in jeopardy of wearing thin as conflicts continue to increase.

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Another dangerous fire season is looming in the Western U.S., and the drought-stricken region is headed for a water crisis

Drought conditions are so bad, fish hatcheries are trucking their salmon to the ocean and ranchers are worried about having enough water for their livestock.

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Klamath Basin water allocation cut to zero

Due to extreme drought, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced May 12 it will reduce the Klamath Irrigation Project’s already minuscule initial allocation of 33,000 acre-feet to zero. The project’s “A” canal, which normally carries water to some 200,000 acres of farms in Southern Oregon and Northern California, will remain closed for the 2021 season.

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USDA names key NRCS staff

USDA announced Wednesday the appointment of Meryl Harrell as deputy undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment and the appointment of Terry Cosby as chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

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Biden’s Climate Corps could help preserve soil and water, say advocates

(Subscription) Some conservation and environmentalists say the new Civilian Climate Corps should create private landowner partnerships with the Agriculture Department to protect soil, both to reduce greenhouse emissions and protect water quality.

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EPA relaunches website tracking climate change indicators

The EPA last week announced the relaunch of its website tracking climate change indicators in the U.S. for the first time since the beginning of the Trump administration. The assessment, delayed under the Trump presidency, includes information on 54 phenomena associated with climate change, including temperature increases, flooding, droughts, rising sea levels and ocean acidity.

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Agency plans ‘regional roundtables’ for WOTUS review

President Biden’s pick for EPA’s water office said today that the agency is planning “robust stakeholder engagement” and “regional roundtables” this summer to discuss its review of which waterways and wetlands qualify for federal protections. 

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California expands drought emergency to large swath of state

California Gov. Gavin Newsom expanded a drought emergency to a large swath of the nation’s most populous state while seeking more than $6 billion in multiyear water spending as one of the warmest, driest springs on record threatens another severe wildfire season across the American West.

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Panel to probe farm conservation’s role in climate change

(Subscription) A House Agriculture subcommittee this week will explore the impact of farmland conservation programs on climate change, potentially giving clues on how the next farm bill will address the issue in 2023.

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Bill lifts cover crop penalties for grazing, animal feed

The Cover Crop Flexibility Act of 2021, a bipartisan bill introduced to the U.S. senate, would permanently lift crop insurance penalties for farmers who plant cover crops that can be used for animal feed or livestock grazing in response to extreme weather events.

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Ag, conservation alliance issues recommendations for USDA carbon bank

A broad coalition of farm and conservation groups says a USDA-run carbon bank should be used to test ways to establish carbon accounting guidelines, expand the use of climate-friendly farming practices and enable small-scale farms and minority producers to benefit from carbon markets.

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State Wildlife Areas, wolves discussed in CPW Commission meeting

A recent Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) commission meeting discussed the timeline for choosing representatives for the Stakeholder Advisory Group and Technical Working Group, two citizen groups that will provide input to CPW’s wolf reintroduction and management plans.

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Bill to kill up to 90% of Idaho wolves signed by governor

Idaho Gov. Brad Little has signed into law a measure that could lead to killing 90% of the state’s 1,500 wolves. This controversial bill will expand the hunting season for wolves, and allow a number of new hunting methods including night vision equipment and snaring.

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‘Megadrought’ persists in western U.S., as another extremely dry year develops

As of May 6, 67 percent of the region was in a state of “severe” drought or worse; a stunning 21 percent is already in “exceptional” drought.
Dry conditions are nothing new in the U.S. West, which has cycled through water booms and busts for millennia. But the region has been in a state of drought nearly every year since 2000, when the Drought Monitor was established. That 20-year-long stretch rivals any drought in the last 1,200 years, a team of scientists reported last year.

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Ag groups encouraged by agriculture’s role in 30×30 plan

The Biden administration outlined ideas in achieving the nationwide conservation goal to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. As the report was identified as “big on ideas, short on details,” by the American Farm Bureau Federation, several groups weighed in on how this administration will proceed in accomplishing its lofty conservation goals.

The preliminary report – Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful – is a joint effort from the United States Department of Agriculture, Department of Interior, Department of Commerce and Council on Environmental Quality. It is the Administration’s initial effort toward developing the executive order signed in President Biden’s first days of office.

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EPA administrator won’t return to Obama-era WOTUS rule

In a hearing in the House of Representatives, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan said he doesn’t intend to go back to the Obama-era waters of the U.S. – WOTUS – rule and again made that claim before members of the Senate.

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GOP pans 30×30 report, saying its still too light on details

Despite clear efforts to reassure property owners, farmers, ranchers, foresters and fishers that the 30×30 initiative they announced in January would not be a pretext for federal overreach, Republican lawmakers were not pacified by the “America the Beautiful” report.

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Biden’s conservation plan puts WOTUS in the crosshairs

(Subscription) A vision the Biden administration laid out this month for preserving 30% of the nation’s land and water by 2030 is already fueling calls for EPA to reverse a controversial Trump-era water rule that rolled back federal protection for wetlands and streams.

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Interior Department takes steps to revoke Final Rule on Migratory Bird Treaty Act incidental take

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposed rule to revoke the January 7, 2021, final regulation that limited the scope of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). Significant concerns about the interpretation of the MBTA have been raised by the public, legal challenges in court and from international treaty partners. This proposed rule provides the public with notice of the Service’s intent to revoke the January 7 rule’s interpretation of the MBTA and return to implementing the MBTA as prohibiting incidental take and applying enforcement discretion, consistent with judicial precedent.

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NCBA & PLC: Ranchers and Farmers’ Input Adopted In 30×30 Guidelines

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and Public Lands Council (PLC) recognized the inclusion of agricultural producers’ recommendations in the Biden administration’s conservation goals report.

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Biden 30×30 plan emphasizes landowners’ key role in conservation’s future

The Biden administration today released a long-anticipated report detailing their proposal to conserve 30 percent of US lands and waters by 2030 (known as 30×30). While the initiative has generated significant speculation and controversy, today’s report appears to indicate a determination on the part of the administration to chart solid middle ground. 

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A narrow path for Biden’s ambitious land conservation plan

Months after President Biden set a goal of conserving 30 percent of the nation’s land and waters by 2030, the administration Thursday laid out broad principles — but few details — for achieving that vision.

The “America the Beautiful” report outlines steps the U.S. could take to safeguard key areas on land and in the sea to restore biodiversity, tackle climate change and make natural spaces more accessible to all Americans.

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Do Sanctuary Gun Laws Disqualify States from Receiving Federal Wildlife Management Funds?

A series of sanctuary gun laws by certain states could disqualify their Game and Fish Commissions from receiving nearly $18 million in annual distributions from the Wildlife Restoration Act fund. Better known as the Pittman-Robertson account the funds are derived from an 11 percent tax on the manufacture of guns, ammunition, and archery products.

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USDA Investing Nearly $22 Million to Improve Soil Health and Climate Smart Ag

The USDA is investing nearly $22 million into research initiatives aimed at helping improve soil health and climate smart agriculture. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is investing in several important programs to assist ag producers navigate the effects of climate change and its impact on production.

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Farm groups, enviros to USDA: Prioritize climate, update crop insurance

Farm and environmental groups that often disagree on ag policy are urging the Agriculture Department to prioritize climate change in conservation programs and to consider changes to crop insurance that would promote the use of cover crops and other carbon-conserving practices.

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Working ag lands figure large in Biden’s 30×30 plan

Voluntary conservation efforts by farmers and ranchers play a central role in the Biden administration’s strategy for conserving 30% of the nation’s land and marine waters by 2030.

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Group asks US to cut funding to Idaho over wolf-killing bill

The Center for Biological Diversity is asking the U.S. government to cut off millions of dollars to Idaho used to improve wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities over concerns recent legislation will lead to 90% of wolves in the state being killed.

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Sage grouse supporters urge Congress: Ditch the rider

(Subscription) Sage grouse champions are asking congressional appropriators to end a recent tradition and omit an annual budget rider that bars endangered species protections for the rotund Western bird.

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Growing Drought: USDA Indicates 14 States Have No Topsoil Moisture in Surplus Conditions

Drier weather helped aid major planting progress for U.S. farmers last week, but it didn’t help the topsoil moisture situation. USDA shows 14 states have no topsoil moisture considered ‘surplus,’ and more than half of the topsoil in California, North Dakota and New Mexico is considered ‘very short,’ which is the driest category. 

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Critics say Idaho bill would kill 90% of wolves. Hunters, wildlife experts have other worries

A controversial bill recently passed the Idaho State legislature that would lift wolf hunting tag limits and allow year round wolf  hunting on private lands. While critics think this could lead to 90% of wolves in Idaho being killed, representatives of wildlife management agencies and hunting organizations say the effects will be more nuanced, with potential implications for the future of State vs. Federal management of Idaho wolf populations.

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New funding to curb wildfires pushed in Congress, as another fire season looms

As wildfires across the United States grow in size, intensity and duration each summer, members of Congress from the West are pushing for massive new investments in ecosystem management and wildfire mitigation.

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Future of the grizzly: Debate over Montana grizzly bear management carries on

While the debate over the Federal Designation of the Grizzly bear as an endangered species continues on Trina Jo Bradley, WLA member and executive director of the Rocky Mountain Front Ranchlands Group, knows what it means to run a ranch in Grizzly Bear country and how state management of grizzly bears may support her operation and her community.

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New Mexico seeing longest drought it has in years

According to the U.S. drought monitor, almost 80% of the state is in an extreme drought. This is affecting farmers, decreasing water allotments and increasing fire danger.

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U.S. agency to look at bringing back bison on Montana refuge

U.S. officials said they will consider in coming years whether to reintroduce wild bison to the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, a million-acre federal wildlife refuge in central Montana, a move that would be at odds with Republicans in the state who want to limit where bison can roam.

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Climate-friendly farming strategies can improve the land and generate income for farmers

Agriculture has not been a central part of U.S. climate policy in the past, even though climate change is altering weather patterns that farmers rely on. Now, however, President Biden has directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop a climate-smart agriculture and forestry strategy.

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Stabenow pushing for big boost in conservation, says Biden plan falls short

Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow says President Joe Biden’s $2.7 trillion infrastructure plan is “woefully inadequate” when it comes to funding for climate-friendly farming practices, and she’s pushing for a major increase in funding for conservation programs.

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Legislature passes marijuana bill with conservation funding

A recent bill passed in the Montana legislature legalizing marijuana with provisions ensuring that associated taxes will go towards wildlife and public lands conservation within the state.

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Dried-out reservoir photos show extent of drought in the southwest as up to 85% of California suffers ‘exceptional’ water shortages

Photos reveal how Lake Oroville is at 42 percent of its capacity while about 85% of California suffers ‘exceptional’ drought and Lake Mead may face a federal shortage.

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Yellow-billed cuckoo gains habitat protections in New Mexico, other states in Western U.S.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced April 21 it had designated 300,000 acres in New Mexico, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Texas and Utah as protected habitat for the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, an imperiled bird that dwells along riverbeds throughout the West. The move marked a decline in the designated habitat for the cuckoo in a rule issued in 2014 that set aside about half a million acres but was revised last year.

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Study: Weather, drought fueled Oregon’s September wildfires

An unprecedented combination of strong easterly winds and low humidity coupled with prolonged drought conditions drove the spread of catastrophic wildfires in Oregon last September, a new study has found.

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Native American lawmakers seek federal help on Montana bison

Native American lawmakers in Montana called on the Biden administration to help craft a plan to reintroduce wild bison to the landscape in and around Glacier National Park and the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.

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Update: Legislature OKs controversial Idaho wolf-killing bill. It heads to Little next

The Idaho House of Representatives voted 27-8 on Tuesday to approve a bill that would expand opportunities to lethally manage wolves. The controversial bill removes wolf tag limits for hunters and trappers, ends trapping season limits on private land, and gives ranchers and government agencies more leeway to kill wolves deemed threats to livestock or wildlife.

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Western Colorado is wary of gray wolf reintroduction. Will they have to pay for it, too?

The current funding plan for gray wolf reintroduction would rely on license fees paid by hunters and anglers, many of whom live in the western Colorado communities that opposed Proposition 114. A new house bill, bill 1243, seeks to diversify and broaden funding for wolf management in order to lift the financial burden from hunters and anglers

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‘Everyone loses’: The government is rationing water at the California-Oregon border

Along the Oregon-California border, the Klamath River Basin is a crucial water source for Indigenous tribes, endangered species, and farmers. This year, though, there is simply not enough to go around.

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Several new laws will have an impact on Wyoming wildlife, hunting and fishing

The 2021 Wyoming Legislature passed several bills that will make changes to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department laws and regulations and affect landowners in various capacities. This article provides a summary of laws passed during the 2021 legislative session.

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Working group formed to address drought in West

The Biden-Harris Administration recently announced the formation of an interagency working group to address worsening drought conditions in the West and support farmers, tribes, and communities impacted by ongoing water shortages. The working group will be co-chaired by the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture to build upon existing resources to help coordinate across the federal government.

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‘Forest gardens’ show how Native land stewardship can outdo nature

Patches of forest cleared and tended by Indigenous communities but lost to time still show more food bounty for humans and animals than surrounding forests.

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Interior asked to halt grazing rights to protect wild horses

A coalition of more than 70 equine protection, animal welfare and environmental groups, as well as numerous wild-horse and ecotourism businesses, called on newly confirmed U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to halt livestock grazing and revoke grazing permits on the Bureau of Land Management’s Herd Management Area lands in an open letter to the secretary.

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Point Reyes plan for cattle, tule elk all but final after crucial vote

A controversial plan to continue cattle ranching while capping elk numbers in Point Reyes National Seashore passed a key hurdle Thursday night when the California Coastal Commission signed off on the arrangement.

The state agency was one of the last clearances needed — and one that posed the most risk of obstruction — before a largely procedural yet closely watched update to the park’s management plan becomes official.

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Drought causing juniper deaths in central, northern Arizona

U.S. Forest Service officials report significant die-off of juniper trees due to drought conditions affecting the evergreens across large areas of central and northern Arizona.

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Montana Gov. Gianforte drops bison plan, says he’s protecting ranchers

Citing the need to protect ranching interests, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte announced he is ending a bison management plan that would have allowed the wide-ranging animals to be restored in more areas of the state. Native American lawmakers criticized the governor over this decision.

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California’s wildfire season has lengthened, and its peak is now earlier in the year

California’s wildfire problem, fueled by a concurrence of climate change and a heightened risk of human-caused ignitions in once uninhabited areas, has been getting worse with each passing year of the 21st century.

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Keystone Policy Center to bring Coloradans into the wolf-planning pack

After proposition 114 that would reintroduce wolves to Colorado was narrowly passed last year, The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission picked the Keystone Policy Center to facilitate stakeholder advisory meetings that will help incorporate public perspectives into wolf management plans.

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USDA Expands and Renews Conservation Reserve Program in Effort to Boost Enrollment and Address Climate Change

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that USDA will open enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) with higher payment rates, new incentives, and a more targeted focus on the program’s role in climate change mitigation. Additionally, USDA is announcing investments in partnerships to increase climate-smart agriculture, including $330 million in 85 Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) projects and $25 million for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials. Secretary Vilsack made the announcement today at the White House National Climate Task Force meeting to demonstrate USDA’s commitment to putting American agriculture and forestry at the center of climate-smart solutions to address climate change.

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Regan pledges not to return to Obama-era WOTUS definition

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan told Congress Wednesday he does not intend to go back to the Obama administration’s definition of Waters of the U.S.

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Report gives USDA options for operating carbon bank

A new report from the AGree coalition recommends alternatives for the Agriculture Department to consider in setting up a carbon bank that could be used to develop private credit markets and to assist producers who may be left out of them.

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USDA Seeks Comments on Food System Supply Chains in Response to President Biden’s Executive Order to Support Resilient, Diverse, Secure Supply Chains

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is seeking comments on a Department-wide effort to improve and reimagine the supply chains for the production, processing and distribution of agricultural commodities and food products.

The comments received will help USDA assess the critical factors, risks, and strategies needed to support resilient, diverse, and secure supply chains and ensure U.S. economic prosperity, national security, and nutrition security for all Americans. 

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One senator’s idea to save forests and help the climate — and create jobs

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet introduces legislation that would put billions into restoring and maintaining forests, watersheds and rangelands in the West.

More than 10.2 million acres of the United States burned last year from wildfires, killing 46 people and causing $16.6 billion in damages. Senator Michael Bennet said the country needs to be more proactive with fire prevention by putting people to work maintaining forests.

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Growing Climate Solutions Act reintroduced

The bipartisan Growing Climate Solutions Act, which will break down barriers for farmers and foresters interested in participating in carbon markets so they can be rewarded for climate-smart practices, was reintroduced today. The bill has broad, bipartisan support from over 60 leading agricultural and environmental organizations.

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Drought Continues To Ravage Western U.S.

Extreme drought now encompasses almost 10% of the country. In Texas, only 8% of the state is considered drought-free. The entirety of North Dakota is in a drought state while 78% of its southern neighbor is considered in drought, with conditions rated from moderate (D1) to extreme drought (D3). In fact, pretty much all of the western half of the United States is parched to say the least.

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Landowner tags made permanent in Oregon

The Oregon House has unanimously voted to eliminate sunset dates from the landowner preference program, which provides hunting tags for elk, deer and antelope based on property acreage.

Lawmakers have extended the program several times since it was first enacted nearly four decades ago to reward access to habitat for wildlife, but House Bill 2068 makes the program permanent.

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US West prepares for possible 1st water shortage declaration

The man-made lakes that store water supplying millions of people in the U.S. West and Mexico are projected to shrink to historic lows in the coming months, dropping to levels that could trigger the federal government’s first-ever official shortage declaration and prompt cuts in Arizona and Nevada.

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Concern grows for widespread drought this summer

Eric Snodgrass, principal atmospheric scientist for Nutrien Ag Solutions, said he is very concerned about widespread drought in the U.S. this summer. He said parts of California and much of the southwest including Colorado, Utah, Arizona and most of Texas are exceptionally dry.

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Colorado and California Prepare for More Wolves

With Wolves detected in areas as far south as San Luis Obispo County in California, and returning by migration and reintroduction to Colorado, success management will rest not only on how effectively agencies handle the newcomers, but also on how well they address the complex human dynamics that come with more wolves on the landscape.

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Bonnie tapped to lead USDA farm programs

Robert Bonnie, a proponent of ag carbon markets who has been serving as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s chief climate adviser, will be nominated by President Joe Biden to oversee farm and conservation programs at USDA as well as federal crop insurance.

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Three states, one river and too many straws

As drought deepens across the West, California’s decision to limit State Water Project (SWP) deliveries to 5% forced Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) to increase pumping from the Colorado River near Lake Havasu. The good news: there’s water behind Hoover Dam for them to use. The bad news: As MWD draws on what they call “intentionally created surplus” under a previous agreement, Lake Mead will fall below the threshold for Tier 1 restrictions, leading to a curtailment of water deliveries to Arizona farmers.

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Legislature passes black bear, grizzly bear and wolf proposals

Three controversial proposals that seek to change how bears and wolves are managed in Montana were passed in the Montana Legislature. Proponents of these bills argue that additional lethal tools are needed to manage the state’s large carnivores while opponents view this direction as misguided or unethical.

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US water managers warn of dismal year along the Rio Grande

It has been 30 years or so since residents in New Mexico’s largest city last saw their stretch of the Rio Grande go dry. There’s a possibility it could happen again this summer. Federal water managers released their annual operating plan for the Rio Grande on Thursday, and it doesn’t look good.

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Missoula activist Tracy Stone-Manning in running to lead BLM

President Biden intends to nominate Tracy Stone-Manning to lead the Bureau of Land Management, according to several Washington D.C. sources. Stone-Manning served as a senior aide to Senator Tester (MT) before becoming former Gov. Steve Bullock’s chief of staff. She is also senior advisor to the National Wildlife Federation.

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USDA Allocates Up to $10 Million to Partner with California and Oregon to Assist Producers Impacted by Drought in Klamath River Basin

The USDA today announced the availability of up to $10 million in assistance from their Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus to assist agricultural producers impacted by the worsening drought conditions in the Klamath River Basin of California and Oregon.

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New Mexico issues 10-year plan for boosting forest health

Restoring forests, using fire as a management tool and getting more buy-in from private landowners are among the strategies outlined in New Mexico’s latest forest action plan.

“This collaboration is essential in moving forward with a solid foundation to address both human-caused and natural threats to our lands in a continually changing climate,” New Mexico Forester Laura McCarthy said in a statement.

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Wildfires Can Impact Grasslands

What are the impacts of fire on the plant community and forage production, soil erosion and animal health? North Dakota State University provides some answers.

“Let’s start with the plant community,” says Kevin Sedivec, North Dakota State University Extension rangeland management specialist and director of NDSU’s Central Grasslands Research Extension Center. “Because the wildfires to date have been classified as dormant-season fires (prior to the growing season), there should be no impact on the plant community in terms of species change on rangelands, plant density on grass hay stands or forage production of new growth.”

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Biden Administration Budget Request Gives Boost To Agriculture Funding

The Biden Administration’s recent discretionary budget request gave agriculture a big step up in funding. Friday’s request called for a 16 percent increase from the 2021 enacted level, a jump of $3.8 billion to $27.8 billion.

Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, stated that the discretionary budget would expand broadband access; provide more funds for agricultural research, extension and outreach programs; would address wildfires by providing more money for forest management; and would increase the funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

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Carbon Contract Reality: Why Conservation-Minded Farmers May Not Qualify for Private Carbon Programs

The chase to capture carbon continues. It’s a possible new source of income for farmers and ranchers, but it’s also bringing a set of challenges and questions. The answer could be both public and private programs.

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Counties push for more input in wolf reintro

Gray wolves are being reintroduced to Colorado, but the counties affected have a slim chance of winning a seat at the table of the stakeholder advisory group being established to help guide restoration efforts, members of the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado said in a letter requesting a specialized local government advisory group to be established to provide more of a voice.

The Associated Governments group (AGNC) submitted a letter Friday to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, making the case for the additional advisory committee that could potentially function as a cooperating agency.

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The water fight over the shrinking Colorado River

Scientists have been predicting for years that the Colorado River would continue to deplete due to global warming and increased water demands, but according to new studies it’s looking worse than they thought.

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New frameworks guide conservation action on working rangelands

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is unveiling new action-based frameworks to increase conservation work to address threats facing America’s working rangelands. These frameworks are designed to benefit both agriculture and wildlife in sagebrush and grassland landscapes of the western United States.

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Nation’s eyes on Colorado meat fight

Ranchers around the nation are keeping a close eye on a proposed Colorado animal-cruelty initiative. Animal-welfare advocates are trying to place the Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation (PAUSE) initiative on the ballot in November 2022. Critics say the measure would ban artificial insemination and other commonly accepted veterinary and animal care practices in Colorado and would ban the slaughter of livestock that have not yet lived more than one-quarter of their anticipated lifetime, which for cattle is about five years. 

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Habitat reserves set up to help lesser prairie chicken

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must decide by May 26 whether to relist the bird under the Endangered Species Act to comply with a court order spurred by three conservation groups suing the agency in 2019.

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A Colorado county provides a model for saving the West’s open spaces

A sales-tax funded program pays ranchers and farmers to not develop their land or sell their water rights. The program is the kind of effort that will be needed to win the support of rural Americans as the White House pursues ambitious conservation goals, a landowners’ group says.

The Western Landowners Alliance advocates for people who make their living off the land and for sustainable management practices. After President Joe Biden took office in January, the group issued a roadmap suggesting how the administration can address climate change and conservation while staking out common ground with farmers, ranchers and rural communities that depend on those working lands.

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More water spending sought for West in infrastructure bill

As drought worsens in the West, a coalition of more than 200 farm and water organizations from 15 states that has been pushing to fix the region’s crumbling canals and reservoirs is complaining that President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure proposal doesn’t provide enough funding for above- or below-ground storage.

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Droughts Longer, Rainfall More Erratic Over the Last Five Decades in Most of the West

Dry periods between rainstorms have become longer and annual rainfall has become more erratic across most of the western United States during the past 50 years, according to a study published by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the University of Arizona.

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Increased winter snowmelt threatens western water resources

More snow is melting during winter across the West, a concerning trend that could impact everything from ski conditions to fire danger and agriculture, according to a new University of Colorado Boulder analysis of 40 years of data.

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Nevada farmers and conservationists balk at ‘water banking’

Rural water users are panicking over a proposal to create a market for the sale and purchase of water rights in Nevada, unconvinced by arguments that the concept would encourage conservation. A legislative hearing about two proposals to allow water rights holders to sell their entitlements pitted state water bureaucrats against a coalition of farmers, conservationists and rural officials.

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Feds recommend grizzly bears remain listed

In a five-year status review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended that grizzly bears in the lower 48 states remain protected under the Endangered Species Act — drawing immediate complaints from officials in Wyoming and western states. “The grizzly bear in the lower-48 states is not currently in danger of extinction throughout all of its range, but is likely to become so in the foreseeable future,” the report, released late last month, concludes.

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Montezuma County commissioners assert opposition to wolves

The Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners continues to oppose gray wolf reintroduction into the Western Slope, a plan narrowly approved by Colorado voters in November. Commissioners passed a resolution March 23 called “Making Montezuma County A Sanctuary From Wolf Reintroduction.”

The nonbinding resolution is a position statement that says bringing wolves to the county threatens the livestock industry, poses a danger to the local economy and could transmit diseases to pets and humans.

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Commissioners set to oppose controversial federal ’30X30′ program

The resolution says, in part, that 30 by 30 “would set (private property) aside through conservation, preventing the productive use of these lands and their resources.”

Not so much, according to one of Colorado’s leading land conservationists. Erik Glenn, executive director of Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, told the Journal-Advocate that, while he has concerns about Section 216, there is a lot of misinformation being put out about what it would do.

“We are working to try to influence the administration to adopt a set of guiding principles that honors private property, rural communities, and production agriculture,” Glenn said. “Other western-focused and agriculture-focused organizations like Western Landowners Alliance and the American Farmland Trust are working on similar statements.”

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Western rivers face pinch as another dry year takes shape

As several states in the American West face intense drought, it’s shaping up to be a very difficult year for New Mexico farmers because of limited irrigation supplies, with some saying conditions haven’t been this dire since the 1950s.

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Soil moisture drives year-to-year change in land carbon uptake

There has been significant debate over what exactly causes interannual variability in land carbon uptake. A new study published in Nature resolves this debate, showing that soil moisture is indeed in the driver’s seat in terms of how much carbon dioxide is taken up by land ecosystems. The study also concludes that the amount of moisture in the soil affects temperatures and humidity near the surface, which in turn affect plants’ ability to fix carbon.

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New Mexico tribes sue US over federal clean water rule

Two Indigenous communities in New Mexico are suing the U.S. EPA over a revised federal rule that narrowed the types of waterways that qualify for federal protection under the half-century-old Clean Water Act, saying the federal government is violating its trust responsibility to Native American tribes.

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Dry soils plague Colorado River Basin, absorbing runoff needed downstream

When it comes to water in the West, a lot of it is visible. But another important factor is much harder to see. Beneath the surface, the amount of moisture held in the ground can play a big role in how much water makes it down to rivers and reservoirs – and eventually into the pipes that feed homes and businesses.

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Anti-American Prairie Reserve bill divides Republicans, landowners

A bill targeted at stopping nonprofit groups like American Prairie Reserve from purchasing agricultural land has divided traditional allies — Republicans and ag producers.

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Legislature strips Game and Fish of elk feedground closure power

Due to fears over the growing threat of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) among Elk populations of Wyoming, a bill was passed in the Wyoming Legislature that transitions the authority to close 22 Wyoming Elk feed lots from the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission to the Governor. WLA member, Rep. Albert Sommers, co-sponsored this bill.

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Carbon-negative crops may mean water shortages for 4.5 billion people

Billions more people could have difficulty accessing water if the world opts for a massive expansion in growing energy crops to fight climate change, research has found. Harvesting energy crops and capturing the carbon released when they are burned is seen as central to fighting climate change – but could leave 4.5 billion people facing water shortages.

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US judge blocks Nevada grazing; sage grouse totals dwindling

A federal judge has blocked a Nevada project that would expand livestock grazing across 400 squares miles (1,036 square kilometers) of some of the highest priority sage-grouse habitat in the West and accused the government of deliberately misleading the public by underestimating damage the cattle could do to the land.

The ruling comes as scientists continue to document dramatic declines in greater sage-grouse populations across 11 western states — down 65% since 1986 and 37% since 2002, according to a new report by the U.S. Geological Survey.

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Judge: US agency illegally paid for Colorado predator hunt

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service illegally helped pay for a Colorado program to kill dozens of mountain lions and black bears in an experiment to determine if the predators were partly responsible for declining mule deer populations, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Marcia Krieger in Denver found that Fish and Wildlife failed to do a required analysis of the program’s environmental effects, possibly so it could fast-track federal funding for most of the $4 million program.

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Forest fires leave behind charcoal—and it might be toxic for years

If you stand in the remains of a forest fire in a drizzle, even years after the burn, you can smell woodsmoke rising from the downed logs and charred stumps. The blackened remains might be hiding other things, too.

According to research published Friday in Nature Communications, Earth and Environment, that charred wood contains compounds that have recently been recognized to pose a serious health risk to humans. The environmental implications of those findings are unclear, since wildfires are key to so many ecosystems. But they could be important for understanding the environmental and health consequences of more frequent, intense fires on a warming planet.

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Megadrought: New Mexico farms face uncertain future

Historic heavy usage of Rio Grande water has left New Mexico in a particularly difficult position ahead of the impending drought. Right now, a New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission hydrogeologist says, the state is unable to store any more water from the river due to restrictions under the Rio Grande Compact, and owes a debt of 100,000 acre feet downstream to Texas. This piece questions whether farming can continue in much of the state in the future.

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Legislature strips WY Game and Fish of elk feedground closure power

The Wyoming Legislature passed a bill March 29th that strips the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission of the authority to close any of Wyoming’s 22 winter elk feedgrounds and gives that power to the governor.

The bill requires the Game and Fish Department and Commission to submit any proposal to close a feedground to the Wyoming Livestock Board for review before it heads to the governor.

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Drought takes hold in West after second dry winter

Dry conditions in the Southwest largely associated with La Nina have intensified what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is calling the most significant U.S. spring drought since 2013, affecting an estimated 74 million people.

The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook map shows a giant swath of brown – meaning “drought persists” – extending from the Pacific Coast to parts of the Great Plains and Upper Midwest after a second straight drier-than-normal winter in the region.

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Opinion: Property rights are fundamental to a free society — and to conservation

“In Montana, conservative legislators have proposed a bill that would bar nonprofit organizations from purchasing land from willing sellers at a fair price. If enacted, the law would be a brazen violation of the Montana Constitution, which recognizes “acquiring, possessing, and protecting property” among the “inalienable rights” off-limits to government interference,” write Jonathan Wood and Brian Yablonski in this opinion piece opposing Montana HB 677.

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Biden mulls giving farmers billions to fight climate change. Even farmers are unsure about the plan.

The Biden administration’s ambitious plan to create a multibillion-dollar bank to help pay farmers to capture carbon from the atmosphere is running into surprising skepticism, challenging Agriculture Department officials to persuade the industry to get behind the massive climate proposal.

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In Montana, Bears and Wolves Become Part of the Culture Wars

Several bills are headed to Mr. Gianforte’s desk that would allow for more killing of wolves in the state to drive down their numbers. Practices that are being proposed include the use of spotlights at night, which is considered unethical because it temporarily blinds the animal; hunting animals by luring them with bait like wild game or commercial scents; night vision scopes and widening use of neck snares that catch and choke animals to death. Other controversial predator proposals allow hunting black bears with hounds, a practice outlawed a century ago, and placing limits on where wandering grizzlies can be moved, which conservationists say could lead to more bear deaths.

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Simple hand-built structures can help streams survive wildfires and drought

Building simple structures with sticks and stones — and inviting in dam-building beavers — can keep water where it’s needed to fight drought and wildfires. Backed by science, these beaver dam analogs can help set a new course for many ailing streams in the American West.

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Lummis introduces bill to delist grizzly bears in Wyoming

A bill removing grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from the Endangered Species List was introduced today by Senator Cynthia Lummis. The bill titled The Grizzly Bear State Management Act of 2021 was drafted alongside Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, Senators Mike Crapo and James Risch of Idaho, and Senator Steve Daines of Montana.

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After Identifying Gaps in Previous Aid, USDA Announces ‘Pandemic Assistance for Producers’ to Distribute Resources More Equitably

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced that USDA is establishing new programs and efforts to bring financial assistance to farmers, ranchers and producers who felt the impact of COVID-19 market disruptions. The new initiative—USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers—will reach a broader set of producers than in previous COVID-19 aid programs, including socially disadvantaged communities, small and medium-sized producers, and farmers and producers of less traditional crops.

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Can cloud seeding help the West’s drought?

With three-quarters of the West gripped by a seemingly ceaseless drought, several states are increasingly embracing a drastic intervention – the modification of the weather to spur more rainfall.

The latest reports from the US Drought Monitor have provided sobering reading, with 40% of the U.S. west of the continental divide classed as being in “exceptional drought,” the most severe of four levels of drought. This is down only marginally from 47% in January, a record in the monitor’s 20-year history, and barring the arrival of a barrage of late winter storms will almost guarantee a severely parched year for Western states.

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USDA official promotes federal purchases of carbon credits

The U.S. government should be prepared to support prices farmers receive for carbon credits but avoid setting up a federally run carbon market that would compete with nascent private markets, a senior Agriculture Department official said Tuesday.

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Vilsack: US carbon market needs a focus on farmers

A priority for the USDA in the coming years will be judging the feasibility of setting up, executing and paying for a federal carbon bank to help farmers reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reward them for their actions, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday.

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Saving the West’s open spaces comes at a cost. A Colorado county may have a model for the nation’s conservation efforts.

How can we keep working lands open and providing all the ecosystem services and landscape values we care about? Chaffee County’s Community Conservation Connection program, implemented by the Central Colorado Conservancy, may have an answer, according to this story by Judith Kohler.

Featured as well is WLA’s roadmap “Redefining Conservation for the 21st Century” suggesting how the administration can address climate change and conservation while staking out common ground with farmers, ranchers and rural communities that depend on those working lands.

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Drought is the U.S. west’s next big climate disaster

Water scarcity is baking cropland and ramping up wildfire risk from California to Texas. Much of the U.S. West is facing the driest spring in seven years, setting up a climate disaster that could strangle agriculture, fuel deadly wildfires and even hurt power production.

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Universities prepare West for another big wildfire season

The West Coast’s land-grant universities are holding webinars, conducting community meetings and publishing booklets to urge urban and rural residents to start preparing now for what could be another devastating wildfire season. Fire experts say this year’s wet, warm winter could contribute to yet another round of destruction this summer and fall.

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America’s West Faces A Megadrought. What’s The Solution?

The western U.S. is no stranger to drought. But this isn’t any dry spell. More than 70% of the West is exceptionally parched. Could it be a permanent change?

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Measures to expand and monetize wolf hunting are moving through the Montana State Legislature, creating clashes about values and vocabulary

This week the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee heard testimony on two bills that passed out of the Senate earlier this month with near-unanimous Republican support. Senate Bill 267 would allow for the“reimbursement for receipts of costs incurred relating to the hunting or trapping of wolves.” Another measure, Senate Bill 314, would remove bag limits, authorize hunting with bait and legalize nighttime wolf hunting (a practice known as spotlighting) on private land.

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Arizona launches $24 million forest thinning effort

Staring down the barrel of a dangerous fire season, the Arizona Legislature approved a $24 million boost in state funding to protect forested communities through thinning projects.

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Conservationists renew push to save New Mexico lesser prairie chicken. Feds to decide by May

Federal protections for the lesser prairie chicken could be enacted this spring as a federal judge in 2019 called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide by the end of May. The lesser prairie chicken is a species of grouse native to southeast New Mexico and parts of West Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado.

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CAL Fire announces availability of funds for fire prevention projects

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) announced the availability of up to $317 million for Forest Health, Fire Prevention, Forest Legacy and Forest Health Research grant projects. CAL FIRE is soliciting applications for projects that prevent catastrophic wildfires, protect communities, and restore forests to healthy, functioning ecosystems while also sequestering carbon and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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Four bold ideas to save Greater Yellowstone (and certain to make some squirm)

Lee Nellis expands on his previous essay about the limits of collaborative conservation by offering “specifications” for a new Western myth. He proposes four public policies we would adopt if were were guided by a new myth: 1) separate landowner incomes from commodity production, 2) remove public lands from partisan politics and places them in trust, 3) grant citizenship to wildlife and 4) end land speculation.

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Economist examines death taxes and their misconceptions

While delivering estate-planning presentations across Montana, Marsha Goetting, Montana State University Extension family economics specialist, saw a pattern among some attendees. When it came to understanding state and federal taxes after death, many people were misinformed.

Goetting said there was a time when the federal estate tax affected many Montanans and, as a result, tax minimization became a major goal for families in their estate planning. But now, the federal estate tax affects less than 1% of deceased persons’ estates because Congress increased the amount of the federal estate tax exemption and indexed the amount yearly for inflation until 2026. 

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Wildfires will keep getting worse — even in “best case” climate scenarios

Massive wildfires have shattered records across the world in recent years, including in the western United States, where deadly blazes forced mass evacuations in 2020 and filled the sky across entire regions with smoke. Globally, wildfires are becoming more frequent, destructive and burning more land — and this trend is set to continue.

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Who should pay for conservation?

Traditional sources of conservation funding are dwindling, and some believe national park visitors should step up. Lawmakers are looking at ways to increase conservation revenue from the millions of tourists who visit national parks each year.

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USDA Seeks Public Comment on Revised Conservation Practice Standards

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is seeking public comment on proposed revisions to 23 national conservation practice standards through a posting in the Federal Register. The proposed revisions will publish March 9 with comments due April 8.

NRCS is encouraging agricultural producers, landowners, organizations, Tribes and others that use its conservation practices to comment on these revised conservation practice standards. NRCS will use public comments to further enhance its conservation practice standards.

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USDA invests $285M to improve national forest and grassland infrastructure

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture will invest $285 million to help the Forest Service address critical deferred maintenance and improve transportation and recreation infrastructure on national forests and grasslands.

This $285 million investment is made possible by the newly created National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund, established in 2020 by the Great American Outdoors Act. These funds will allow the Forest Service to implement more than 500 infrastructure improvement projects essential to the continued use and enjoyment of national forests and grasslands.

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Colorado’s meat industry stands up against anti-meat proclamation

The Colorado agriculture industry was rattled when it came to their attention their governor, Jared Polis, signed a proclamation for March 20 to be a #MeatOut day. To fight against the MeatOut movement, CCA and the livestock industry is coordinating with restaurants, grocery stores, and other retail fronts to feature a meat product on March 20 to support the beef and meat industries.

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Human alteration of global surface water storage variability

Knowing the extent of human influence on the global hydrological cycle is essential for understanding the sustainability of freshwater resources on Earth. However, a lack of water level observations for the world’s ponds, lakes, and reservoirs has limited the quantification of human-managed (reservoir) changes in surface water storage compared to its natural variability.

As economic development, population growth, and climate change continue to pressure global water resources, this recent study, published in Nature, aims to provide a baseline for understanding human-managed surface water storage.

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Stateline Range grazing project challenged

Despite President Joe Biden signing an executive order to “consider suspending, revising, or rescinding the agency actions” made during the Trump administration, environmentalists continue their efforts to halt projects. Western Watersheds Project and Wilderness Watch recently filed a suit in the U.S. District Court for Arizona seeking to halt the renewal of grazing permits in the Apache-Sitgreaves and Gila National Forests in Arizona and New Mexico.

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USDA encourages producers to complete the cash rents and leases survey

Farmers and ranchers may have received a Cash Rents and Leases survey from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). This survey provides the basis for estimates of the current year’s cash rents paid for irrigated cropland, non-irrigated cropland, and permanent pasture. If you received the survey, we encourage you to complete it by June 21. This survey can be completed and returned by mail, over the phone, or at agcounts.usda.gov.

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Big questions about grizzlies await Haaland at Interior

(Subscription) The grizzly bear questions will only get tougher for Interior secretary nominee Deb Haaland. If confirmed, the New Mexico Democrat will confront legal, scientific, management and, yes, political challenges concerning grizzlies far more specific than the Republican queries that pressed her during her two-day confirmation hearing.

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Tribes flex political muscle in quest to co-manage parks

The nation’s 574 federally recognized tribes are gaining momentum in their long drive to co-manage the country’s national parks and other public lands — and they’ve got a new occupant in the White House who may help make it happen.

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Burning Idaho to save it: Why one solution to our raging wildfires can’t gain traction

A growing number of fire scientists and land managers argue that “prescribed fire” used in conjunction with mechanized thinning of trees, limbs and brush, is one of the most effective tools available to tame the West’s worsening wildfire crisis. Yet there’s also widespread agreement that the West doesn’t make nearly enough use of prescribed fire.

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Fiercer, more frequent fires may reduce carbon capture by forests

More fierce and frequent fires are reducing forest density and tree size and may damage forests’ ability to capture carbon in the future, according to a global study.

Although forest fires are naturally occurring phenomena and natural forests regenerate, global heating and human activity have caused the frequency and intensity of fires to rise. Wildfires burn 5% of the planet’s surface every year, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere equivalent to a fifth of our annual fossil fuel emissions.

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Environmental attorney to lead Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

The Bureau of Land Management announced that an attorney who previously worked on agency issues for environmental groups will serve as the new deputy director.The U.S. Department of the Interior said Nada Culver, who was appointed to the Denver position, will effectively run the agency for the short term, replacing former agency director William Perry Pendley.

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Proposed overhaul of New Mexico wildlife agency stalls

Legislation that would have overhauled New Mexico’s wildlife management agency stalled in a Senate committee yesterday after a lengthy debate in which opponents warned that proposed changes to the distribution of hunting tags would devastate guides and outfitters and cost rural communities jobs and revenue.

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How Biden can rein in the Big Meat monopoly

The meat industry is bad for farmers, workers, consumers, animals, and the environment. It should be the next target in Democrats’ antitrust push.

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Haaland, with a key vote in her column, appears headed for confirmation

Senator Joe Manchin III, the West Virginia Democrat who heads the Senate Energy Committee, announced that he would vote to confirm Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico to head the Interior Department, most likely ensuring that one of President Biden’s most embattled cabinet nominees will be confirmed to office.

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Opinion: Mr. Secretary, start with America’s rural family forest owners to help tackle climate change

Family forest owners represent 1 in 4 rural Americans. Already, their forests provide vital benefits in addition to carbon sequestration and storage, including clean water infrastructure, habitat for our wildlife and the wood supply that goes towards our homes and everyday products.

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Bipartisan, bicameral bill provides flexibility for haying and grazing of cover crops

Currently, under the Federal Crop Insurance Program, producers unable to plant a crop due to adverse weather conditions are eligible to receive a small indemnity but prohibited from growing a cash commodity due to a missed window in the growing season. A new bipartisan, bicameral bill – the Feed Emergency Enhancement During Disasters with Cover Crops Act (FEEDD Act) — would create a clear emergency waiver authority for USDA to allow producers to graze, hay or chop a cover crop before November 1st in the event of a feed shortage due to excessive moisture, flood, or drought.

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Idaho legislation would expand tools for wolf kills

An Idaho state House panel yesterday introduced legislation allowing the use of snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, powered parachutes and other methods to hunt and kill wolves year-round and with no limits in most of the state.

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Climate impacts drive east-west divide in forest seed production

Younger, smaller trees that comprise much of North America’s eastern forests have increased their seed production under climate change, but older, larger trees that dominate forests in much of the West have been less responsive.

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Vilsack confirmed as Agriculture secretary

The Senate easily confirmed Tom Vilsack, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Agriculture Department, by a 92-7 vote. The confirmation gives Vilsack a second spin in the same role he held for the entirety of the Obama administration.

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California’s plan to save its 1,000-year-old redwoods from wildfires

Ancient giant redwoods are among the charred survivors in Big Basin Redwoods State Park after a wildfire last year. Now rangers and conservationists are developing plans to better protect them out of fear that the world’s tallest trees may not survive future blazes that are almost certain to come.

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Colorado River study means it’s time to cut water use now, outside experts say

A new academic study on the Colorado River’s future warns that the river’s Upper and Lower basin states must sustain severe cuts in river water use to keep its reservoir system from collapsing due to lack of water.

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U.S. Department of Agriculture announces key leadership in farm production and conservation mission area

The USDA announced the appointment of Gloria Montaño Greene as Deputy Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) and the appointment of Zach Ducheneaux as Administrator of the Farm Service Agency (FSA). They will begin their positions on Monday, Feb. 22.

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30 by 30 could be big win for wildlife, if hunters, anglers, farmers, tribes have a say

The president’s executive order is short on details, but sportsmen’s groups are pushing for it to create more wildlife habitat, and hunting and fishing opportunities. WLA’s policy director Zach Bodhane suggests that habitat leases should be a critical piece of the government’s strategy. Ultimately, he says, leases offer flexibility at a time when all conservation cards should be on the table.

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Climate change and fire suppression

The unprecedented and deadly blazes that engulfed the American West in 2020 attest to the increasing number, size and severity of wildfires in the region. And while scientists predict the climate crisis will exacerbate this situation, there’s still much discussion around its contributing factors.

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Are New York billionaires different than Colorado’s? Work group eyes new tools to stop water profiteering

Imposing hefty taxes on speculative water sales, requiring that water rights purchased by investors be held for several years before they can be resold, and requiring special state approval of such sales are three ideas that might help Colorado protect its water resources from speculators.

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Could Biden use private land to reach 30×30 goals?

The idea isn’t simply to buy up private property or establish traditional easements. Instead, groups like the Western Landowners Alliance, which represents 15 million acres across the western United States and Canada,
see an opportunity to rethink what conservation means.

“Conservation as usual isn’t working, and this is an opportunity to actually do something different and change that trajectory, but it’s going to involve economics and people who live and work on the land,” Lesli Allison, the group’s executive director, told E&E News.

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Forest thinning to reduce wildfire risk gives opportunity to new startups

The country’s overgrown forests need to be aggressively thinned to reduce wildfire risk. That creates massive piles of worthless brush and branches, but some businesses see a new market for them.

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EPA settlement with Fleur de Lis resolves oil spills affecting surface waters in Wyoming

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced a Clean Water Act (CWA) settlement with Fleur de Lis Energy and Fleur de Lis Operating (Fleur de Lis) in which the companies have agreed to pay $1.9 million for alleged Clean Water Act violations associated with the operation of oil and gas facilities in the state of Wyoming.   

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With wildfire risk up, New Mexico supports controlled burns

In a bid to reduce wildfire risk, the House has advanced a bill making it easier for residents to burn brush and wood debris on their property. The bill, passed unanimously Thursday, removes severe liability provisions written into territorial law 20 years before New Mexico became a state.

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After record wildfire season, lawmakers increase focus on Wyoming’s forest health

After the worst fire season in the nation’s history, state leaders are looking to take a more aggressive track to reduce fire risks in state and national forestlands across Wyoming, with solutions ranging from aggressive invasive species management policies to identifying potential ways to increase logging activity on federal lands.

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While farms and cities make good water partners, they’ll keep their options open

New research shows that coastal cities and farming regions can maximize their supply potential if they team up on water sharing. This offers more water reliability during dry times—and could serve as a linchpin for addressing critical infrastructure issues and creating more flexible water trading policies. But proponents are quick to say it is no silver bullet.

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Latest report on prescribed burning shows an encouraging, upward trend in its utilization nationwide

Natural forest disturbances change the structure and composition of forests and allow for regeneration. Many forest types need one natural disturbance in particular to regenerate, and that’s fire. Many land managers have increased their use of prescribed fire to actively manage landscapes that are at higher risk of wildfire.

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GOP congressman pitches $34 billion plan to breach Lower Snake River dams in new vision for Northwest

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson unveiled an energy and infrastructure proposal that would end litigation over endangered salmon in the Northwestauthorizing the removal of four dams on the Snake River in Washington beginning in 2030. The ambitious $33 billion plan serves as a new vision for the Northwest, providing the chance for a fresh start.

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USDA extends general signup for Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is extending the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) General Signup period, which had previously been announced as ending on Feb. 12, 2021. USDA will continue to accept offers as it takes this opportunity for the incoming Administration to evaluate ways to increase enrollment.

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Biden Administration delays rollback of migratory bird protections

The Biden administration delayed a ruling finalized in the Trump administration’s last days that would significantly weaken bird protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Biden administration’s one-month delay of the new rule will allow for the re-opening of a 20-day comment period for the public to engage with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Proposed river authority would assert Utah’s claims to the Colorado’s dwindling water

Without public involvement or notice, Utah legislative leaders unveiled plans for a new $9 million state agency, the Colorado River Authority of Utah, to advance Utah’s claims to the Colorado River in hopes of wrangling more of the river’s diminishing flows, potentially at the expense of six neighboring states that also tap the river.

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A look at the Biden Administration’s agriculture policies and initiatives

Ag producers around the country watched the 2020 U.S. presidential elections with mixed emotions and little clarity as to which candidate was really theirs. With the results now firmly in and U.S. President Joe Biden in the White House, farmers and their related business partners are already feeling more confident that they at least understand the direction this administration will be taking over the next four years.

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With Congress under democratic control, the path for a Colorado public lands bill may now be clear

This could be the year the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act becomes law — at least that’s what Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse and Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper are betting on, now that their party controls both chambers of Congress. The three are reintroducing the Colorado public lands bill; it would protect over 400,000 acres in the state through new wilderness, recreation and conservation areas.

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Management effects outweigh plant diversity on restored animal communities

According to a new study, land management practices are better at increasing animal biodiversity and creating more resilient ecosystems. Prescribed fires and reintroducing bison to natural habitats attract more animal species than other restoration methods like increasing plant biodiversity.

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Feds defend gray wolf delisting

The Biden administration is sticking with a decision to remove the gray wolf from Endangered Species Act protections, at least for now. In a brief letter to an environmental attorney sent Thursday, a senior Fish and Wildlife Service official reiterated the reasons the wolf merited the delisting accomplished during the Trump administration.

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Colorado River getting saltier sparks calls for federal help

Water suppliers along the drought-stricken Colorado River hope to tackle another tricky issue after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation installs a new leader: salty water.

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Forests with diverse tree sizes and small clearings hinder wildland fire growth

A new 3-D analysis shows that wildland fires flare up in forests populated by similar-sized trees or checkerboarded by large clearings and slow down where trees are more varied. The research can help fire managers better understand the physics and dynamics of fire to improve fire-behavior forecasts.

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Biden executive order seeks to involve ag in battling climate change

Addressing climate change is the focus of one of the Biden administration’s latest executive orders, which pauses new oil and gas leasing on public lands or offshore waters, seeks to more than double the amount of land conserved in the United States, and looks to involve the agriculture sector in the federal government’s efforts.

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Western landowners respond to Biden climate and conservation executive actions

The Biden administration’s announcement today of a package of executive actions on climate and conservation includes several elements that the Western Landowners Alliance (WLA) has insisted are critical to making conservation and climate action successful in the West. While many in the rural West are taking a prudent wait-and-see approach, the administration’s directive on engaging people whose livelihoods are tied directly to stewarding land and water was a step in the right direction. In particular, WLA is heartened by the administration’s emphasis on engagement with farmers and ranchers and the interest in creating good jobs in land stewardship and restoration in rural communities and on working lands. 

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USDA temporarily suspends debt collections, foreclosures and other activities on farm loans due to Coronavirus

Due to the national public health emergency caused by COVID-19, the USDA announced the temporary suspension of past-due debt collections and foreclosures for distressed borrowers under the Farm Storage Facility Loan and the Direct Farm Loan programs administered by the FSA.

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New U.S. strategy could create massive $10B fund to fight climate disasters

One of the latest Biden administration plans introduces a new framework that will shape U.S. policy to tackle climate change by allocating about $10 billion to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to proactively address natural disasters related to climate change.

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“We need to act”: Colorado forests primed for megafires without large-scale action, federal managers warn

Federal officials entrusted with managing millions of acres of forest in Colorado and surrounding states say they’re facing accelerated decline driven by climate warming, insect infestation, megafires and surging human incursions. They’ve been struggling for years to restore resilience and ecological balance to western forests but they’re falling further behind.

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Former FWP Director appointed to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Former Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Martha Williams was appointed on Wednesday as second-in-command at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Biden Administration. As principal deputy director of FWS, Williams will oversee a federal agency tasked with managing wildlife and habitat across the country.

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Denver Water concerns rise as drought lingers and reservoir levels dip below norms

As of mid-January, Denver Water’s reservoir storage is down about 4% below normal levels and about 91% of Colorado is currently considered to be in a severe- to exceptional-drought range. Most of Denver Water’s collection system is described as being in an “extreme drought” based on the U.S. Drought Monitor Map of Colorado.

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Interior to set a new course for ESA

The Biden administration wasted no time in pledging a wholesale review and potential reversal of its predecessor’s actions on the Endangered Species Act and other hot-button environmental laws.

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San Luis Valley ranchers see dividends in water for fish. Are they on to something?

A winter flow initiative in the San Luis Valley that is giving farmers and fishermen cause for hope and which may offer important clues to making drought-stressed water supplies go farther toward meeting the needs of different water users.

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Montana lawmakers considering several wolf management bills

Two northwest Montana lawmakers are considering a number of bills that could moderately or significantly change the way Montana manages wolves.

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Researchers plan to use satellites to improve sustainability, yield

Scientists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) are joining colleagues to create and use artificial intelligence to help farmers in the Colorado River Basin and Salinas Valley, CA, improve their management of irrigation, fertilization, and pests. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture funded the University of California, Riverside-led project with a 5-year, $10 million grant.

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USDA offers new forest management incentive for Conservation Reserve Program

The USDA is making available $12 million for use in making payments to forest landowners with land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in exchange for their implementing healthy forest management practices.

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Colorado begins wolf reintroduction plans OK’d by voters

Pending litigation over the Trump administration’s delisting of the gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act could complicate Colorado’s efforts to reintroduce the wolf to the state.

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Owl’s critical habitat cut dramatically

The Trump administration has cut designated critical habitat for the northern spotted owl by millions of acres in Oregon, Washington and California. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday that it would remove 3.4 million acres of critical habitat protections for the bird, including all of what’s known as the O&C Lands, which is big timber territory in Western Oregon.

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Sage grouse review done, but scant time for Trump’s changes

The Trump administration has completed a review of plans to ease protections for a struggling bird species in seven states in the U.S. West, but there’s little time to put the relaxed rules for industry into action before President-elect Joe Biden takes office

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New rule improves partner flexibility in Regional Conservation Partnership Program

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today released the final rule for its Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The rule updates USDA’s partner-driven program as directed by the 2018 Farm Bill and integrates feedback from agricultural producers and others.

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Add drought to watchlist for 2021

As if there was not already enough uncertainty facing cattle and beef markets, worsening drought conditions have affected many important cow-calf production areas and could play a major role for the national industry as we move into 2021. The U.S. Drought Monitor in recent months has reported rapidly deteriorating conditions.

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A river used to run through it: how New Mexico handles a dwindling Rio Grande

A finite amount of water flows through the Rio Grande every year, so when there are shortages, every city along the river is affected. Now in Las Cruces, humans, fish and plants are vying for water in the arid landscape. Due to climate change, hotter and drier seasons are reducing the snowpack that melts to feed the Rio Grande, and rising temperatures are increasing evaporation from the reservoirs.

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When wildfire burns a high mountain forest, what happens to the snow?

Record-breaking wildfires in 2020 turned huge swaths of Western forests into barren burn scars. Those forests store winter snowpack that millions of people rely on for drinking and irrigation water. But with such large and wide-reaching fires, the science on the short-term and long-term effects to the region’s water supplies isn’t well understood.

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U.S. Department of Interior seeks to increase broadband access, reduce wildfire hazards across rural communities

On Monday, January 11, the Department of the Interior announced three new actions by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service to aggressively increase broadband internet access in rural communities and reduce wildfire risks.

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FWS provides $250K for grizzly control

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has allocated $250,000 to protect Montana livestock from grizzly bear depredation in 2021. The money pays for federal Wildlife Services agents to use lethal and non-lethal control of grizzly bears suspected of attacking cattle and other livestock. In 2020, ranchers reported 148 possible grizzly kills or injuries of livestock, of which 124 were confirmed.

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Hope after rangeland fire

Recalling the Murphy Complex Fire thirteen years later, Idaho rancher Kim Brackett shares her story of fear, anger, partnership, and hope for collaborative conservation.

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USDA announces availability of Quality Loss Assistance; adds drought as qualifying disaster

Today, the FSA announced a signup for the Quality Loss Adjustment Program for eligible producers affected by 2018, 2019 natural disasters. For this signup, FSA added drought as a qualifying disaster event for counties rated by the U.S. Drought Monitor as having an extreme drought or higher during calendar years 2018 or 2019. The deadline to apply for QLA is Friday, March 5, 2021.

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Wall Street eyes billions in the Colorado’s water

Investor interest in the river could redefine century-old rules for who controls one of the most valuable economic resources in the United States. Transferring water from agricultural communities to cities, though often contentious, is not a new practice. What is new is for private investors to exert that power.

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USFWS authority to finalize recovery plans protected

An environmental group has no legal standing to challenge the specifics of recovery plans for endangered species, a U.S. district judge in Montana has ruled, rejecting the the Center for Biological Diversity’s challenge over the details of a recovery plan for grizzly bears in the continental United States.

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Montana officials release plan aimed at forest health, wildfire risk

State officials last week released the final version of a new forest action plan that prioritizes forest management and restoration efforts on 3.8 million acres across Montana. The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation released the completed 2020 revision to the Montana Forest Action Plan last Tuesday.

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More must be done to protect Colorado River from drought

A set of guidelines for managing the Colorado River helped several states through a dry spell, but it’s not enough to keep key reservoirs in the American West from plummeting amid persistent drought and climate change, according to a U.S. report.

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First time in years, chinook salmon spawn in Columbia River

For the first time in more than a generation, chinook salmon have spawned in the upper Columbia River system. For decades, tribal leaders and scientists have dreamed of bringing the fish back to their native beds. Since 2014, the Columbia River tribes have worked on a plan that examines habitat, fish passage and survival among other things.

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Is farming with reclaimed water the solution to a drier future?

In drought-prone California, several farms are demonstrating the benefits of growing food with relatively abundant post-treatment water supplies.

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Restoring wetlands near farms would dramatically reduce water pollution

Previous research has shown that wetlands improve water quality, but how much of an impact are wetlands having on nitrate removal now, and what improvements could wetland restoration deliver in the future? A new study examines the positive effects of wetlands on water quality and the potential for using wetland restoration as a key strategy for improving water quality, particularly in the Mississippi River Basin and Gulf of Mexico regions.

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With historic picks, Biden puts environmental justice front and center

President-elect Joe Biden chose Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) to serve as the first Native American Cabinet secretary and head the Interior Department, a historic pick that marks a turning point for the U.S. government’s relationship with the nation’s Indigenous peoples.

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Climate change calls for better breeding, conservation and water resilience, says soil scientist

(Subscriber Only) A UC Davis soil scientist says three themes should drive research and policy in sustaining California agriculture under climate change. “We need plant breeding for traits such as heat tolerance, for pollination, for fruit quality, so that crops can produce effectively in their environment,” she said. “This isn’t just an issue of production, it’s also an issue of efficient use of resources.”

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Study uses remote sensing to monitor groundwater along river corridors in the Southwest

A recent study led by UC Santa Barbara’s Marc Mayes investigates how patterns in tree water loss to the atmosphere, tracked with satellite imagery, relates to groundwater supplies.

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New conservation bill from Senator Bennet would fund wildfire mitigation and river clean-ups, create 2 million jobs

The Outdoor Restoration Force Act would set up a $60 billion fund to support a range of projects from wildfire mitigation to river clean-ups. The money would be split, $20 billion for state and local governments and $40 billion for federal efforts at the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency. 

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Co-op sparks interest in fire to improve North Dakota grasslands for cattle, wildlife

Fire, along with grazing disturbance, helped maintain the diversity of plant species on the prairie. It suppressed cool season grasses, trees and brush and increased stands of native grasses and forbs. “In the Northern Plains, grasslands were driven by three disturbances — grazing by large ungulates, drought and fire,” said Mark Hayek, North Dakota NRCS state rangeland management specialist.

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Columbia River conference highlights importance of Indigenous perspective in conservation

community’s health is tied to the health of its land and rivers, scientists, environmentalists and Indigenous people agreed last week at a two-day Columbia River conference. Speakers at the “Lower Columbia River Estuary: One River, Ethics Matter” conference shared the myriad ways that the Columbia River shapes their lives and why it needs to be protected.

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USDA seeks public input on guidance defining Nonindustrial Private Forest Land eligibility

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is seeking public input on Nonindustrial Private Forest Land (NIPF) related to technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). NRCS invites input on this technical guidance through January 19, 2021.

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Clean water, effective manure: Specially designed biochar key to research project on fertilizer

Dairy manure is a natural crop fertilizer, and Texas A&M AgriLife scientists believe they have discovered a way to make sure that the valuable resource stays on crops, where it is applied as a fertilizer, and out of waterways, where it is a potential pollutant.

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Former Interior Secretary Salazar sees conservation as a way to close divides: physical and social

Two years ago, Ken Salazar co-founded the Salazar Center for North American Conservation. It is his hope that with the country more polarized than ever, Americans can find common ground on the most pressing environmental problems — climate change, land use, water quality and quantity — and that the center can bring together diverse ideas and people.

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Forest OKs part of south Crazy Mountains land exchange

Following public opposition, the Custer Gallatin National Forest has abandoned a controversial portion of its proposed south Crazy Mountains land exchange, but will move ahead with the rest. The agency is proposing a trade of 1,920 acres of federal lands for 1,877.5 acres of private lands owned by Wild Eagle Mountain Ranch and Rock Creek Ranch.

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Grand Junction is ‘darn hard to get to’: ranchers split on public lands agency’s move west

The Bureau of Land Management is moving from Washington D.C. to Grand Junction, Colorado. Ranchers, some of the constituents with whom the agency works most closely, are divided on the BLM’s move “to the field”. Some are enthusiastic about the possibility of a more approachable, and more western agency; other argue that it will make the agency too isolated. Article quotes WLA board member Tom Page and policy associate Jessica Crowder.

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Could spotted owls benefit from forest fires?

It may seem counterintuitive, but forest fires are actually beneficial to spotted owls, according to Penn State biologist Derek Lee. Lee analyzed the results from every published scientific study about the effects of wildfire on the threatened birds, summarizing his results in a paper published in 2018 in the journal Ecosphere. His results have important implications for management of forests inhabited by spotted owls, which assumes that fire is a major threat to the owls.

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Biden chooses Vilsack to return as ag secretary

After days of speculation and anonymous sources, President-elect Joe Biden officially announced that he has asked Tom Vilsack to return to serve as the agriculture secretary after serving eight years during the Obama administration. 

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USDA announces increase to certain incentive payments for Continuous CRP

The USDA is increasing incentive payments for practices installed on land enrolled in the Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). USDA’s FSA is upping the Practice Incentive Payment for installing practices, from 5 percent to 20 percent. Additionally, producers will receive a 10 percent incentive payment for water quality practices on land enrolled in CRP’s continuous signup. FSA administers CRP on behalf of the Commodity Credit Corporation.

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Wildfire risk rising as scientists determine which conditions cause blazes

As wildfires burn more often across the Western United States, researchers are working to understand how extensively blazes burn. Their investigation not only reveals that the risk of wildfire is rising, but also spells out the role moisture plays in estimating fire risk.

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NRCS announces January 8 EQIP deadline for New Mexico ag producers

The USDA NRCS announced today that a sign up for fiscal year 2021 Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is underway. All New Mexico agricultural producers who would like to be considered for financial assistance under general EQIP or special conservation initiatives need to apply by January 8, 2021.

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Program expanding to map Colorado mountain snowpack

Front Range water providers are hoping to expand a program that uses a new technology they say will revolutionize water management in Colorado. But for now, the expensive program isn’t worth it for smaller Western Slope water providers.

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Colorado HPP state council seeks livestock and sportsmen representatives

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) is seeking volunteers to fill two openings on the Habitat Partnership Program State Council. The Council is the oversight body for the Habitat Partnership Program (HPP), which works through 19 local committees to resolve conflicts between agricultural operators and big game as well as assisting CPW to achieve management objectives for deer, elk, pronghorn and moose. The deadline for nominations to be received is February 19, 2021.

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Scientists say Washington wildfire management must go beyond forests

Better management of dry rangelands east of the Cascades is key to slowing catastrophic fires. Many of Washington’s largest fires have burned through rangeland, not timber forests, particularly during the megafires propelled by hurricane-force winds over Labor Day weekend.

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Winter’s dry start prompts low California water allocation

California’s water managers yesterday preliminarily allocated just 10% of requested water supplies to agencies that together serve more than 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland. The state Department of Water Resources cited the dry start to the winter rainy season in California’s Mediterranean climate, along with low reservoir levels remaining from last year’s relatively dry winter. Winter snow typically supplies about 30% of the state’s water as it melts.

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OPINION: Bring landowner voices to Montana Private Land/Public Wildlife meeting

Malta-area rancher, president of the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance, and WLA member Leo Barthelmess penned an op-ed for the Northern Ag Network that lays out all the reasons why landowner voices are so important on the issue of how Montana can better support the working lands that support wildlife movement and migration.

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In fire-prone West, plants need their pollinators – and vice versa

A new study grounded in the northern Rockies explores the role of wildfire in the finely tuned dance between plants and their pollinators. Previous studies have looked at how fire affects plants, or how fire affects animals. But what is largely understudied is the question of how fire affects both, and about how linkages within those ecological networks might respond to fire disturbance.

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Study finds biodiversity stewardship incentives can be enhanced by regulatory assurances

A recent study applied a return-on-investment (ROI) perspective to explore better ways to target private-sector conservation engagement under the ESA and identify factors that affect incentives for participation in voluntary conservation. In their study, Epanchin-Niell and Boyd found that incentives may be enhanced through increased availability of programmatic agreements, regulatory assurances, technical and financial assistance, and tailored protections for threatened species.

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Judges grill Ore. ranchers on tribal rights

(Subscription Required) Federal judges yesterday questioned Oregon ranchers’ claims that the process for local tribes to exercise their water rights is threatening agriculture and lacks any “political accountability.” The complicated case at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit concerns a long-running dispute between tribes in southern Oregon and irrigators over water that is in increasingly short supply.

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First local advisory group named to shape migration corridor policy in Wyoming

Gov. Mark Gordon has selected seven members to serve on the state’s first local migration corridor working group to offer guidance on one of the most critical big-game migratory pathways in the region, located in south central Wyoming.

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Commentary: Congress would be wise to listen to landowners on wildfire bill

WLA’s executive director Lesli Allison, writing in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, commends congress for taking up National Prescribed Fire Act of 2020, and urges a continued focus on solutions that work across land management boundaries and that empower landowners to use prescribed fire as a tool in wildfire risk mitigation.

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Trump administration will raise California dam, expand reservoir

(Subscription Required) The Trump administration yesterday announced it has finalized its plan to extend one of the largest dams in Northern California, one of its most ambitious and controversial water projects. At issue is a proposal to raise the 600-foot Shasta Dam by about 18.5 feet, to store more water. The dam impounds one of the largest reservoirs in the state, and that water is then shuttled to farmers in California’s Central Valley.

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Trump plans would ease protections for sage grouse in West

The Trump administration announced plans Thursday that ease protections for sage grouse in the West, prompting an outcry by critics who say the move paves the way for widespread mining and drilling and ignores a federal court ruling. U.S. officials plan to formally publish supplemental environmental impact statements (SEIS) on Friday for the management of greater sage grouse habitat on public lands in seven states.

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USDA Forest Service announces key changes to NEPA procedures

The USDA Forest Service today announced the publication of a final rule implementing key changes to its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations. The changes include new tools and flexibilities to tackle critical land management challenges as part of a broader agency effort to better serve the American people through timely, high-quality management decisions affecting infrastructure, permitting and restoration of natural resources on their national forests and grasslands.

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Obama-era official could lead Biden’s BLM

The Biden transition team is in the early stages of developing a shortlist of potential nominees to lead the BLM. Public lands advocates have floated a number of possible contenders for BLM director in the Biden administration: Steve Ellis, who held the highest-ranking career position at BLM during the Obama administration; Nada Culver, a lawyer with the Audubon Society; and Neil Kornze, who led the agency under former President Obama.

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U.S. agricultural water use declining for most crops and livestock production

A comprehensive University of Illinois study looked at water withdrawals in U.S. agriculture and food production from 1995 to 2010. The main trend was a decline in water use, driven by a combination of factors.

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Thinking harder and smarter about wildland fire

Widespread scientific consensus indicates that poor management over the last century has made remote forests more vulnerable to wildfire. To bring these remote forestlands back to health, America needs to change the way it manages them.

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USDA to open signup for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and CRP Grasslands

The USDA announced the 2021 signup periods for general Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and CRP Grasslands offers. General signup for CRP will be open from January 4, 2021 to February 12, 2021; signup for CRP Grasslands runs from March 15, 2021 to April 23, 2021. Both programs are competitive and provide annual rental payments for land devoted to conservation purposes.

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BLM Wyoming proposes to offer 383 parcels in March 2021 oil and gas lease sale

The BLM Wyoming State Office plans to offer 383 parcels totaling about 483,017 acres in an oil and gas lease sale the week of March 15, 2021. This includes 285 parcels nominated for the March sale as well as 141 parcels totaling about 244,086 acres that the BLM deferred from lease sales earlier this year because they overlap Greater Sage-Grouse priority habitat.

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Will the West figure out how to share water?

As droughts become more persistent and urban growth across the Mountain West continues to skyrocket, agricultural communities are increasingly worried about losing their water to far away cities — turning the towns into dust bowls with few job prospects.

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NRCS announces WaterSMART funding

USDA NRCS plans to roll out $13 million in funding to help producers on private working lands better conserve water resources in coordination with investments made by water suppliers.

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As wildfire threat grows, Colorado has a $4.2 billion forest management to-do list

As 2020’s historic fires are brought under control thanks to colder, wetter weather, the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) on Tuesday released its 2020 Colorado Forest Action Plan, laying out its vision for the future of the state’s 24 million acres of forestland. The report finds 10% of Colorado forests are ‘in urgent need of treatment’ to mitigate fire risk

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Study reveals patterns that shape forest recovery after wildfires

New University of Montana research suggests recurring continent-spanning drought patterns set the tempo for forest recovery from wildfire. A recent study shows that forest recovery from fire follows a drought seesaw, called a climate dipole, that alternates between the Northwest and the Southwest every few years.

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Wildfires emerge as threat to water quantity across parched West

How wildfires can affect water quality are well documented. But increasing—and increasingly intense—Western conflagrations are leading to fears they also could constrict the water quantity available in some of the nation’s most water-stressed areas.

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Appropriators side with Trump on sage grouse, horses

Federal protections for greater sage grouse and wild horses could become major points of contention for Senate and House appropriators working to finalize fiscal 2021 funding legislation in the lame-duck session. The Senate Appropriations Committee’s $35.81 billion Interior-Environment spending bill released today includes language forbidding the Interior secretary from using any appropriated funding “to write or issue” a rule listing the greater sage grouse for protection under the ESA.

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Conservationists say Oregon dam blocks struggling salmon

A coalition of environmental and fishing groups are suing a water district in southern Oregon over an aging, privately owned dam that they say hinders the passage of struggling salmon populations in the pristine North Umpqua River.

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Congressman Panetta introduces Save our Forests Act to increase staffing and decrease wildfire risk in national forests

Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) has announced the introduction of the Save Our Forests Act to address chronic staffing shortages in National Forests, to improve risk mitigation and response to wildfires. The legislation directs the Chief of the Forest Service to fill vacancies in National Forests for recreation and management planning staff, authorizes funding to fill positions, and prioritizes filling vacancies in National Forests facing a high risk of wildfires.

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What 13,000 wildfires teach us about Washington forests

Washington State DNR has kept records of every reported wildfire in the state since 2008. With the help of DNR’s assistant division manager of plans and information for wildfire, Crosscut took a deep dive into these 13,452 fire records to highlight some numbers that help put this year into context and tell the broader story of [Washington’s] fires.

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The biggest trees capture the most carbon: Large trees dominate carbon storage in forests

Older, large-diameter trees have been shown to store disproportionally massive amounts of carbon compared to smaller trees, highlighting their importance in mitigating climate change, according to a new study.

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When a drought is over, here is what happens to forested areas where trees have died

An international team of researchers has found that forested areas that experience tree loss due to drought have a wide range of regrowth possibilities after the drought ends. In comparing the data, the researchers found that only 21 percent of the forests grew back into their prior state. They also found that 10% of them shifted to non-forested plant growth, from shrubbery to grasslands.

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Self-watering soil could transform farming

A new type of soil created by engineers at The University of Texas at Austin can pull water from the air and distribute it to plants, potentially expanding the map of farmable land around the globe to previously inhospitable places and reducing water use in agriculture at a time of growing droughts.

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Washington to manage wolves within borders after fed action

The state of Washington will take over management of most wolves within its borders early next year, after the U.S. government announced that gray wolves in the Lower 48 states would be delisted from the federal Endangered Species Act.

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Idaho’s sockeye salmon run falters again; experts perplexed

A meager return of sockeye salmon to central Idaho this year despite high hopes and a new fish hatchery intended to help save the species from extinction has fisheries managers trying to figure out what went wrong. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game plans to form a working group to understand why only 27 of 660,000 juvenile fish raised in the hatchery and released in central Idaho in 2018 survived the two-year, 1,800-mile round trip to the ocean and back to return as adults. Fisheries managers expected about 800.

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Trump administration returns management and protection of gray wolves to states and tribes following successful recovery efforts

More than 45 years after gray wolves were first listed under the ESA, the Trump Administration and its many conservation partners are announcing the successful recovery of the gray wolf and its delisting from the ESA. U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt announced that state and tribal wildlife management agency professionals will resume responsibility for sustainable management and protection of delisted gray wolves in states with gray wolf populations, while the USFWS monitors the species for five years to ensure the continued success of the species.

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Feds to announce gray wolf delisting

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday will announce a new rule to remove federal Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states. The move will hand wolf management back to individual states and tribal governments.

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USDA updates EQIP rule

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released the final rule for its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The rule updates USDA’s flagship program as directed by the 2018 farm bill and integrates feedback from agricultural producers and others.

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In grasslands plagued by invasives and drought, wildfires fuel calls for new solutions

Across the West, the increasing prevalence of invasive plants, and the growing influence of climate change, is changing the relationship between vast rangelands, drought, and wildfire.

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Increasing more targeted cattle grazing is a ‘Win-Win-Win Opportunity’

A team of ten researchers looked closely at cattle grazing in California and determined that the practice has a great deal of potential in combatting catastrophic wildfires.

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Scientists say they can predict Colorado River’s annual water supply. What does that mean for agriculture, wildfires?

Scientists can now predict drought and overall water supply on the Colorado River years in advance, according to a new study published by researchers at Utah State University. If the scientists are able to accurately forecast water levels years in advance for such an influential river, it would give policymakers a powerful new decision-making tool.

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Biochar helps hold water, saves money

The abstract benefits of biochar for long-term storage of carbon and nitrogen on American farms are clear, and now new research from Rice University shows a short-term, concrete bonus for farmers as well. That would be money not spent on irrigation. In the best-case scenarios for some regions, extensive use of biochar could save farmers a little more than 50% of the water they now use to grow crops.

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Drought in western U.S. is biggest in years and predicted to worsen during winter months

The drought has already been a major contributor to record wildfire activity in California and Colorado. Its continuation could also deplete rivers, stifle crops and eventually drain water supplies in some western states.

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Decades of mismanagement led to choked forests — now it’s time to clear them out, fire experts say

For decades, federal, state and local agencies have prioritized fire suppression over prevention, pouring billions of dollars into hiring and training firefighters, buying and maintaining firefighting equipment and educating the public on fire safety. Many experts say it’s long past time to shift the focus back to managing healthy forests that can better withstand fire and add to a more sustainable future.

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Soils contribute greatly to forest fire carbon emissions

As climate warming stokes longer fire seasons and more severe fires in North American boreal forests, calculating how much carbon each fire burns grows more urgent. The amount depends more on available fuels than fire weather, shows new research published this week in Nature Climate Change.

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USDA issues $1.68 billion in payments to producers enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program

The USDA is issuing $1.68 billion in payments to agricultural producers and landowners for the 21.9 million acres enrolled in CRP, which provides annual rental payment for land devoted to conservation purposes. CRP participants with contracts effective beginning on October 1, 2020, will receive their first annual rental payment in October 2021.

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Researchers look into the effects of repeated droughts on different kinds of forests

Scientists are only beginning to understand how the effects of multiple droughts can compound to affect forests differently than a single drought alone. A variety of factors can increase and decrease a forest’s resilience to subsequent droughts. However, a new study published in Nature Climate Change, concluded that successive droughts are generally increasingly detrimental to forests, even when each drought was no more extreme than the initial one.

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Trump signs order backing 1 Trillion Trees effort

President Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday to make his pledge to help plant, restore, and conserve a trillion trees a reality. The executive order puts some federal government muscle behind Trump’s announcement in January that the United States would help plant a trillion trees as part of a World Economic Forum initiative designed to address climate change.

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Restoring California’s forests to reduce wildfire risks will take time, billions of dollars and a broad commitment

Many of California’s 33 million acres of forests face widespread threats stemming from past management choices. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that of the 20 million acres it manages in California, 6-9 million acres need to be restored.

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Court weighs tribes’ aboriginal water claims for Jemez River

A decadeslong battle over a northern New Mexico river has taken another turn, as a panel of federal appellate judges has reversed a lower court ruling by determining that the aboriginal rights of Indigenous communities were not extinguished by Spain when it took control centuries ago of what is now the American Southwest.

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USFWS pulls wolverine protection proposal


The US Fish and Wildlife Service has denied protection to wolverines under the Endangered Species Act, frustrating conservation groups who argue the species faces an existential threat from the climate crisis. According to the ruling announced on Thursday, the FWS considers wolverine populations in the lower 48 states to be stable and threats against wolverines to be less significant than they previously thought. The agency is consequently withdrawing a proposal to federally protect the species.

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USDA publishes Final Rule for Conservation Stewardship Program

USDA today released the final rule for its Conservation Stewardship Program. The rule makes updates to the popular conservation program as directed by the 2018 Farm Bill as well as integrates feedback from agricultural producers and others.  NRCS received more than 600 comments on the interim final rule published Nov. 12, 2019.

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These hay fields may know something we don’t: how to save the Colorado River

Timothy hay, a native to Colorado which feeds thousands of cattle in the Upper Colorado River Basin, and other hay species are being closely watched this year as part of a far-reaching $1 million science experiment, one designed to see if ranchers can take water off of hay fields and successfully measure how much was removed, how much evaporated, and how much was used by plants. They also need to know how reducing their irrigation in this fashion affects the nutritional value of the hay.

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Nevada dam changes give rare trout new life 115 years later

U.S. and tribal officials are celebrating completion of a $34 million fish bypass system at a Nevada dam that will allow a threatened trout species to return to some of its native spawning grounds for the first time in more than a century.

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Suit aims to force listing of bistate grouse on NV-CA line

Citing the government’s repeated reversals and refusals to protect a cousin of the greater sage grouse the last two decades, conservationists are suing again to try to force the federal listing of the bistate sage grouse along the California-Nevada line. The Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in U.S. district court in San Francisco last week against the Fish and Wildlife Service.

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A.I. gets down in the dirt as precision agriculture takes off

Widespread use of precision agriculture methods could reduce farming costs by $100 billion while saving 180 billion cubic meters of water by 2030, according to a McKinsey study done for the World Economic Forum

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Wyoming officials call for endangered species reform with grizzly population ‘booming’

Wyoming Game and Fish Director and Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President have penned a joint editorial calling for changes to grizzly bear protections under the ESA citing a booming population and expanded range.

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After wildfires stop burning, a danger in the drinking water

Experts are warning that existing water safety rules are not suitable to a world where wildfires destroy more residential areas than in the past.

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Researchers use satellite imaging to map groundwater use in California’s central valley

Their work could be revolutionary for managing groundwater use in agricultural regions around the world, as groundwater monitoring and management have been notoriously difficult to carry out due to lack of reliable data.

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Biden’s CSP expansion could face Hill resistance, staffing questions

The centerpiece of Joe Biden’s plan to help farmers address climate change is a “dramatic” expansion of the Conservation Stewardship Program, but he’ll quickly find skeptics on Capitol Hill and among environmental groups if he gets elected and tries to carry out the proposal. “You are not going to be able to double the size of CSP or EQIP without increasing the staff at the local level,” said Coleman Garrison, director of government affairs for the National Association of Conservation Districts

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Western politicians from both parties back wildfire bill

The Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act of 2020 would require the U.S. Forest Service to pick forests in three western states on which to carry out landscape projects to reduce fire risk. It includes numerous provisions to speed up removing dead trees and other fuels from public lands, including a couple that would loosen up existing environmental regulations. It would exclude removing fuels along Forest Service roads, trails and transmission lines from environmental review, and raise the threshold for what is considered “new information” requiring an Endangered Species Act review of some land management actions.

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Washington wildfires deliver devastating hit to wildlife

The immediate public concern as wildfires have ravaged portions of Eastern Washington this month is the human suffering, destruction of property and the pall of hazardous smoke. Behind the headlines is the silent anguish of wild creatures. The rate of wildlife survival and recovery will hinge on nature’s cooperation with rain, a fall green-up and a mild winter.

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The BLM to award contracts for seven new wild horse off-range pastures

The BLM is completing contracts with ranchers in four states to place as many as 5,000 wild horses and burros rounded up off federal rangelands onto private pastureland. As part of a strategy to reduce overpopulation of wild horses and burros on public lands, the BLM announced today that it will award the first of seven contracts for new wild horse off-range pastures in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Washington.

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Colorado soil health program one-pager

A “one-pager” describing a proposal soil health program for Colorado which outlines the need, legislative proposal, and background on the Colorado Collaborative for Healthy Soils stakeholder engagement process.

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USDA awards $5 Million to support wetland mitigation banking

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will award $5 million for eight new wetland mitigation banking projects through the Wetland Mitigation Banking Program. This program helps conservation partners develop or establish mitigation banks to help agricultural producers maintain eligibility for USDA programs.

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USFWS proposes listing New Mexico thistle

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed protecting as threatened the Wright’s marsh thistle. Along with the litigation-pressured Endangered Species Act listing, the federal agency proposed designating as critical habitat 159 acres in Chaves, Eddy, Guadalupe, Otero and Socorro counties in New Mexico.

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Reintroduction of gray wolves to be on Colorado ballots this November

Gray wolves stood on the top of nature’s food chain in Colorado over eight decades ago, but were eradicated from most of the western united states by the 1930s. Now after 80 years, the reintroduction of gray wolves will be on the ballot for Colorado. Voting yes to proposition 114 means getting the first wolf paws on Colorado ground by 2023.

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Colorado’s 3rd largest recorded wildfire continues to spread

Winds fueled a northern Colorado wildfire that emergency officials said has damaged structures and moved beyond barriers established by firefighters to slow the fire’s spread. The fire designated as the Cameron Peak Fire in Larimer County had burned 194 square miles (502 square kilometers) as of early Sunday.

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Judge rules Pendley illegally leading BLM

A federal judge in Montana has ordered William Perry Pendley, the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, to leave the position after finding that he had served unlawfully as acting director for 424 days. Mr. Pendley was also prohibited from using any authority to make decisions about federal lands. “Pendley has served and continues to serve unlawfully as the Acting B.L.M. director,” the judge, Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, wrote in a 34-page ruling he issued on Friday.

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Utah asks U.S. to delay decision on tapping Colorado River

Facing opposition from six states that rely on the Colorado River for water for their cities and farms, Utah asked the federal government to delay a fast-track approval process for building an underground pipeline that would transport billions of gallons of water to the southwest part of the state. Utah cited the need to consider roughly 14,000 public comments on a draft environmental impact statement, released in June by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, for the Lake Powell pipeline project.

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Proposition 114 explained: What’s at stake with the effort to reintroduce gray wolves in Colorado

The question on Colorado’s November ballot marks the first time that voters, not the federal government, would direct state wildlife managers to script a recovery plan for wolves.

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Combined droughts and heatwaves are occurring more frequently in several regions across the U.S.

The frequency of combined droughts and heatwaves – which are more devastating when they occur in unison – has substantially increased across the western U.S. and in parts of the Northeast and Southeast over the past 50 years, according to a new study.

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Groups threaten suit over rare bird’s fate in Colorado, Utah

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Western Watersheds Project said yesterday they intend to file a lawsuit contending that several federal agencies are relying on an outdated plan to save the Gunnison sage grouse, a rare bird found only in Colorado and Utah.

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Forest margins may be more resilient to climate change than previously thought

A warming climate and more frequent wildfires do not necessarily mean the western United States will see the forest loss that many scientists expect. Dry forest margins may be more resilient to climate change than previously thought if managed appropriately, according to Penn State researchers.

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Tree planting has potential to increase carbon sequestration capacity

USDA Forest Service scientists have published an in-depth study on the value of tree planting as a means of offsetting carbon emissions in the United States. An analysis based on publicly available data from more than 130,000 forested plots in the Forest Service’s Forest Inventory & Analysis Program found that fully stocking non-stocked and poorly stocked forests would result in an annual increase of 20 percent in the amount of carbon sequestered by forests.

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Yellowstone’s grizzly numbers are up. Is it time to turn bear management over to states?

Idaho senators say grizzly bears in the GYE are a conservation success story and Congress should remove them from the threatened species list. But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling in July reversing the delisting of the great bear because of a lack of “concrete, enforceable mechanisms” to “ensure long-term genetic health of the Yellowstone grizzly.” Now a bill making its way through the U.S. Senate’s committee process may remove the bear from the protected list, at least in the Yellowstone area.

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USDA to provide additional direct assistance to farmers and ranchers impacted by the coronavirus

President Trump and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture announced up to an additional $14 billion for agricultural producers who continue to face market disruptions and associated costs because of COVID-19. Signup for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP 2) will begin September 21 and run through December 11, 2020.

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Focus on California: PERFACT investments spark widespread progress

Strategic investments by PERFACT over the last dozen years are transforming California’s approach to fire management. The Fire Learning Network (FLN), Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network (FAC Net), Prescribed Fire Training Exchanges (TREX) and Indigenous Peoples Burning Network (IPBN) have helped develop a bold vision and leadership.

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FEMA announces notice of funding opportunities for hazard mitigation assistance grants

The two grant programs, the Flood Mitigation Assistance grant and the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) will provide funds to states, local communities, tribes and territories for eligible mitigation activities to strengthen our nation’s ability to build a culture of preparedness. These programs allow for funding to be used on projects that will reduce future disaster losses. The application period opens on September 30, 2020.

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The science connecting wildfires to climate change

Climate change has inexorably stacked the deck in favor of bigger and more intense fires across the American West over the past few decades, science has incontrovertibly shown. Increasing heat, changing rain and snow patterns, shifts in plant communities, and other climate-related changes have vastly increased the likelihood that fires will start more often and burn more intensely and widely than they have in the past.

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Shared leadership for wildfire protection in Teton County

In Teton County, Wyoming, forested lands are a major part of the landscape. In 1988, as the Yellowstone Fires raged in three states, the county realized those devastating fires could happen at home. To work to prevent that, a group of fire managers formed the Teton Area Wildfire Protection Coalition (TAWPC) to support the community in preventing wildland fire.

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USDA invests $50 million in innovative, partner-driven conservation projects

USDA’s NRCS today announced a $50 million investment in 10 conservation projects across 16 states through its Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) Alternative Funding Arrangements (AFA). Through these projects, partners will contribute more than $65 million to amplify the conservation work that can be performed on agricultural land and privately owned forests across the nation.

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A Colorado dashboard seeks to put a price on future wildfires, other natural disasters amid a warming climate

Future Avoidance Cost Explorer (FACE:Hazards) is a proactive attempt to explore Colorado’s resiliency in the face of disaster. Dashboard users can view the estimated economic costs of natural hazards under various scenarios out to 2050. They can adjust variables to explore degrees of population growth and climate change, look at economic sectors like agriculture or recreation, and examine the impacts different programs have on disaster resilience.

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America is on fire, and it’s an inequality nightmare

The wildfires raging along America’s West Coast could prove especially catastrophic to families experiencing poverty. As entire towns evacuated from wildfires in southern Oregon this week, many families launched GoFundMe pages for their lost homes, with some explaining that they had no insurance, and had lost everything in the blaze. In a year that has already driven a coronavirus-shaped wedge between classes, the fire recovery efforts stand to widen the gap between the well-off—who still face the unenviable task of rebuilding—and everyone else.

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Oregon’s historic wildfires: unusual but not unprecedented

The most common word being used to describe Oregon’s ongoing wildfire cataclysm is “unprecedented.” That’s certainly the case in modern recorded history when it comes to the sheer number of conflagrations and megafires that erupted starting Labor Day. Yet while last week’s hellfire was unusual, it was not, in fact, unprecedented.

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A cuckoo keeps its protections, but debate continues

The Fish and Wildlife Service declared today the western population of yellow-billed cuckoo still warrants federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. In a noteworthy defeat for mining and ranching organizations, the federal agency rejected a petition to strip away the bird’s status as a threatened species.

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Troubled timber market hampers wildfire efforts

Efforts by the Forest Service to clear the woods of potential wildfire fuel are bumping up against troublesome headwind in the timber market: The material coming out of the forest isn’t worth much.

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Water shortages in US West likelier than previously thought

Water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead could dip to critically low levels by 2025, jeopardizing the steady flow of Colorado River water that more than 40 million people rely on. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released models suggesting looming shortages are more likely than previously projected.

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6 western states blast Utah plan to tap Colorado River water

Six states in the U.S. West that rely on the Colorado River to sustain cities and farms rebuked a plan to build an underground pipeline that would transport billions of gallons of water through the desert to southwest Utah.

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As wildfires grow more intense, iconic western forests may not come back

High-severity fires leave behind massive burn areas with almost nothing alive. And any baby trees simply can’t thrive in the increased heat and drought brought on by climate change. If there is forest regeneration, it happens in bands along the forest edge, where surviving trees can still drop their seeds. But even that isn’t happening at lower elevations, where it’s hotter and drier.

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Water speculators could face more obstacles based on work by new group

The Colorado Department of Natural Resources announced an 18-member work group to conduct a study of how to strengthen Colorado’s water anti-speculation law. Currently, Colorado water law prohibits speculation by requiring water to be used for a beneficial purpose. The purpose of a recent bill that created the work group was to make sure that Colorado’s water speculation law has enough legal teeth to “go after” any speculative behavior.

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Cold Springs Fire threatens homes and Sage Grouse

More than 300,000 acres have burned in Washington state since Labor Day, when high winds and temperatures created perfect conditions for fast, destructive fire. Ashley Ahearn headed to Bridgeport, Washington, where the Cold Springs Fire has burned more than 170,000 acres and is still threatening homes and wildlife.

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‘Growing Climate Solutions Act’ gives farmers a seat at the carbon market table

At last, farmers and foresters might have a seat at the carbon market table. Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in both the U.S. Senate and House to create incentives and remove barriers for farmers and foresters to receive credits for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing soil organic matter – carbon.

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New study: Cattle grazing significantly reduces wildfire spread

University of California Cooperative Extension researchers just completed a timely study showing cattle grazing is an essential tool in reducing wildfire — a tool they say should be expanded and refined. Researchers say their study shows that without the 1.8 million beef cattle that graze California’s rangelands annually, the state would have hundreds to thousands of additional pounds per acre of fine fuels on the landscape, and this year’s wildfires would be even more devastating.

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Much of the American West is on fire, illustrating the dangers of a climate of extremes

Parts of a half-dozen states from coastal California to the Rocky Mountains are being charred by more than 70 wildfires fed by tinder-dry vegetation, record heat and blustery winds across the region. Smoke has cast a worrisome pall over vast areas of terrain, turning the sky an ominous red and threatening those with allergies and asthma. The West’s climate is becoming one of extremes — periods of soaking rains followed suddenly by high heat.

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Report: Great Salt Lake shrinking more than a foot annually

Utah’s Great Salt Lake is shrinking every year, but experts are implementing measures to slow the water loss, a new report said. The Great Salt Lake Advisory Council says the water depth has dropped about 11 feet over the past 10 years.

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Climate change concerns guide California post-fire plantings

Forest managers replanting trees in areas of California scorched by the Camp Fire in 2018 are learning how to bow to climate change while fighting it. Instead of replanting the same type of trees that grew in the area before the fire, foresters are introducing species like gray pine that are native to the state but not to the burn area — and which may thrive in the hotter, drier climate that scientists say is coming over the next few decades.

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South Revilla old growth logging proposal moves forward in Tongass

The federal government proposes to offer more than 5,000 acres of old growth forest in Tongass National Forest for commercial logging. While Conservationists are sounding the alarm over the project near Ketchikan, the timber industry has raised questions over whether it would be viable.

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Trump administration plans to remove endangered gray wolf protections by end of year

The Trump administration plans to lift endangered species protections for gray wolves across most of the nation by the end of the year, the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service said yesterday. “We’re working hard to have this done by the end of the year, and I’d say it’s very imminent,” Aurelia Skipwith told the Associated Press.

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EPA office to focus on western lands cleanup, from the West

The EPA announced a new Colorado-based office that will oversee Western land cleanup. The Office of Mountains, Deserts, and Plains will focus especially on mining cleanup and will provide oversight, guidance, and technical assistance

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How coronavirus and drought have combined to affect Colorado’s limited water supply

While two of Colorado’s largest water providers noticed big drops in some water use when the pandemic hit, those savings were erased as people watered their parched grass through a hot, dry summer.

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Council identifies bold efforts needed to save Great Salt Lake

Bold water conservation strategies and changes in long-standing law and water policies are needed to slow the alarming shrinking of the Great Salt Lake, according to recommendation released Tuesday by an advisory panel. Upstream diversions have long prevented vast quantities from replenishing the lake, reducing the lake by half its normal size with further declines predicted.The council’s latest report describes 12 “actionable” measures that could keep the Great Salt Lake from evaporating into a dusty playa.

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Trillion trees effort gets corporate buy-in

Over the next decade, Salesforce plans to conserve and restore 100 million trees. Mastercard plans to reach the same number in five years. Timberland is also planting trees: 50 million of them. Clif Bar is adding 750,000. Microsoft, which plans to invest in reforestation as one piece of a strategy to become carbon negative, is developing technology for conservation organizations. The companies are among 26 businesses, organizations, and cities that make up the new U.S. chapter of 1t.org, the movement to plant and conserve a trillion trees globally.

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Benefits of Cattle Grazing for Reducing Fire Fuels and Fire Hazard

The widespread and severe wildfires in California during the past several years highlight the importance of understanding how land management practices such as cattle grazing affect wildfire risk. The California Cattle Council recently funded a UC Cooperative Extension project to evaluate how much fine fuel (grasses and other plants) are eaten by cattle on rangelands, and how this may affect wildfire behavior. These results have not yet been published, but preliminary results are presented here.

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‘Living with fire’ may lead to less destructive wildfires, say Indigenous land stewards

As wildfires rage across California, leveling structures and taking lives, Indigenous leaders say the lessons of the state’s first inhabitants might have mitigated this disaster and could still help avoid others. Although unpredictable weather and dry conditions have fueled the fires, Indigenous Californians wonder what might have been had state and federal land managers adopted some of the millennial-long stewardship practices of the state’s Indian tribes, who have learned to live alongside wildfire instead of trying to erase it from the landscape.

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Forests scorched by wildfire unlikely to recover, may convert to grasslands

A new University of Colorado Boulder-led study offers an unprecedented glimpse, suggesting that when forests burn across the Southern Rocky Mountains, many will not grow back and will instead convert to grasslands and shrublands.

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USDA and Wyoming sign Shared Stewardship Agreement to improve forests and grasslands

The Shared Stewardship Agreement establishes a framework for federal and state agencies to promote active forest management, improve collaboration, and respond to ecological challenges and natural resource concerns in Wyoming.

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Wyoming governor: $250M in initial state cuts, more coming

Wyoming has finalized initial state spending cuts of 10%, or $250 million, as part of efforts to address an over $1 billion budget shortfall due to the coronavirus and downturns in the coal, oil and natural gas industries. The cuts follow a freeze in state hiring and large contracts announced in April. They are still “just the tip of the iceberg,” Governor Gordon said. They will be followed by a second round of cuts totaling another $250 million.

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‘Driest I’ve seen’: Without summer rains, Arizona cattle ranchers confront tough choices

As the monsoon storms have failed to materialize, much of Arizona has baked in one of the driest summers on record. Cattle ranchers have been forced to adapt. Some are buying hay to feed their cows. Some are hauling water in trailers to fill troughs for their livestock to drink.

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Utah looks to expand mountain goat range, but at what cost to alpine landscapes?

In Utah, mountain goats are among the most interesting wild ungulates, but Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officials’ effort to expand the nonnative species’ range is drawing criticism because the goats could harm the fragile alpine environments and rare plant communities.

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Colorado mulls joining massive water conservation project

A statewide public effort to determine whether Coloradans should engage in perhaps the biggest water conservation program in state history — a Lake Powell drought contingency pool — enters its second year of study this summer.

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Drought taking a toll on Colorado agriculture “in all corners of the state”

The hot, dry weather that’s fanning fires on tens of thousands of acres across Colorado is also battering the state’s agriculture industry as it stunts crops, dries up the flow of water to farms and shrivels grazing land.

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California looks to battle mega wildfires with fire

The effort marks a milestone in California’s pivot away from a century of suppressing fire at all costs and toward working with it instead—using controlled flames to restore ecosystems that evolved to burn in frequent, mostly low-intensity blazes.

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Forest thinning, fire can boost Western watersheds

We know there are ways to actively manage our Western forests to improve water quality, provide for jobs, reduce the cost of firefighting and increase forest resiliency. Now we have new tools to assess how proper management of watershed vegetation can increase water yield.

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BLM looks to establish new wild horse and burro corrals in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah

The BLM has taken an additional step forward in implementing a strategy focused on removing excess wild horses and burros from federal rangelands. BLM announced yesterday that it has completed an environmental assessment evaluating the addition of three privately contracted off-range corrals, and the expansion of an additional one, to hold thousands of additional wild horses and burros rounded up and removed from federal herd management areas in the West.

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Pine Gulch Fire grows to 2nd-largest in Colorado history

wildfire burning in remote terrain in western Colorado is now the second largest in the state’s history, fire officials said Wednesday. As of Wednesday morning, the so-called “Pine Gulch” fire spread across 125,108 acres, or 195.5 square miles, according to the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center, the inter-agency which coordinates wildfire and other hazard incidents throughout the area.

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Grizzly bear advisory council nears completion of state plan

A citizen-led council’s work writing the state’s long-term vision for grizzly bear management nears the end. Members of the governor’s Grizzly Bear Advisory Council tweaked recommendations addressing bear distribution, outdoor recreation and proposed hunts, reaching a consensus on all items except hunting. The council will present its final report to the governor’s office Sept. 1.

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Warmer winters spark boom in tree-devouring beetles

A plague of tiny mountain pine beetles, no bigger than a grain of rice, has already destroyed 15 years of log supplies in British Columbia, enough trees to build 9 million single-family homes, and is chewing through forests in Alberta and the Pacific Northwest. Now, an outbreak of spruce beetles is threatening to devour even more trees in North America just as similar pests are decimating supplies in parts of Europe, creating a glut of dead and dying logs.

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Governor Gordon launches first local area working group for Platte Valley Mule Deer Corridor

The working group will review the effectiveness of corridor designation on the migratory herd and evaluate the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s draft risk assessment report. It will also make recommendations about additional opportunities for conservation as well as examine the impacts of all restrictions on development and use of lands encompassed in the designated corridor. To apply to serve on the working group apply through this form. Applications are due September 18, 2020.

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Planning for New Mexico’s water future

Every drop of water matters in a dry state such as New Mexico. But state efforts to create a 50-year water plan have been complicated by a tight budget, limited staff and persistent drought.

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Hundreds have been evacuated after wildfires destroy more than 90,000 acres across 3 states

Firefighters across three Western states are battling wildfires that have destroyed more than 90,000 acres.Evacuation orders have been issued in areas threatened by the Lake Fire and Ranch2 Fire in California’s Los Angeles County; the Mosier Creek Fire in central Oregon; and the Pine Gulch, Grizzly Creek and Cameron Peak fires in Colorado.

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Western states face reckoning over water but avoid cuts for now

The white rings that wrap around two massive lakes in the U.S. West are a stark reminder of how water levels are dropping and a warning that the 40 million people who rely on the Colorado River face a much drier future. Amid prolonged drought and climate change in a region that’s only getting thirstier, when that reckoning will arrive — and how much time remains to prepare for it — is still a guess.

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Giant Idaho forest project on hold again after court ruling

A giant Idaho forest project favored by some environmental groups but decried by others is on hold again following a federal court ruling. The decision Tuesday halts for the second time a 125-square-mile project on the Payette National Forest that includes commercial timber sales, work to improve fish passage, prescribed burning, the closing of some roads and restoration of Ponderosa pine ecosystems.

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As the climate warms, ranchers keep their eyes on the grass

In drought years like this one, ranchers are faced with a number of tough choices and unpleasant trade-offs, according to Lawrence Gallegos, New Mexico field organizer at the Western Landowners Alliance. Decisions about how many cattle to raise are made early in the year. But if there’s not enough rain later in the year, there’s not enough forage to support the cattle, triggering a cascade of impacts to ranchers and their operations.

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This giant climate hot spot is robbing the West of its water

Here, on Colorado’s Western Slope, no snow means no snowpack. And no snowpack means no water in an area that’s so dry it’s lucky to get 10 inches of rain a year. A 20-year drought is stealing the water that sustains this region, and climate change is making it worse.

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