STEWARDSHIP IN A CHANGING WEST

FACING

Photo by Bill Crapser
UPCOMING EVENT

Facing Fire & Drought in a Changing West Webinar: Managing Federal Lands

Join us December 18th at 12:30pm MT for a live webinar, where land managers will share their experiences managing land health and livestock grazing in areas impacted by drought and unplanned fire. In a time when the West is facing changing precipitation patterns and unprecedented wildfires, there is a need to learn from each other and the dynamic ecosystems we steward.

From this panel discussion, you will learn how land managers, including federal land managers, consider drought management, post-fire recovery, building resistant and resilient communities and operations, and the importance of partnerships.

RESOURCES

FOR LANDOWNERS BATTLING FIRE AND DROUGHT

As fire season continues and drought lingers across the West, we are hopeful in the promise of cool fall days, much needed moisture and winter preparations. Many of our members, friends and neighbors have been impacted by this year’s extreme climatic events. We hope the resources provided here will assist you as you plan for the days and months ahead.

US DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE (USDA) DISASTER RELIEF

The USDA provides several programs to assist with disaster relief and recovery. They have developed a web-based disaster assistance discovery tool to help producers initially determine which programs may fit their circumstances. If you are interested in exploring a program or applying for a program, we recommend you contact your local USDA Service Center, as well.

Provides funding and assistance to restore fences, restore conservation structures, provide emergency water during drought and rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters

Helps non-industrial private forest landowners restore forest health damaged by natural disasters

For livestock, honey bees or farm-raised fish losses due to certain weather conditions, including wildfires, and not covered by other disaster relief programs

Offers technical and financial assistance to relieve imminent threats to life and property caused by natural disasters that impair a watershed

Provides assistance for immediate and long-term needs to help recover from natural disasters, including drought and wildfire, and to help conserve water

Provides compensation to livestock producers who have experienced pasture or forage loss due to drought or who have federally managed grazing leases they are unable to graze because of wildfire

Provides reimbursement for livestock losses up to 75 percent of the market value of animals lost to adverse weather conditions

Provides assistance to producers of non-insurable crops

STATE RESOURCES

State agencies may have resources or be able to help identify resources for those facing wildfire and drought. Contact state agencies in your state to learn about specific programs.

LOCAL RESOURCES

Many communities have resources tailored to local needs, from feeding displaced livestock to where to find masks for agricultural workers. The list below is only a start to identifying available wildfire recovery assistance or to explore opportunities to provide resources for others.

  • University Extension Offices
  • Local and State Farm Bureau Chapters
  • Chambers of Commerce
  • Local farm and ranch supply stores or local feed stores

OTHER FEDERAL ASSISTANCE

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers assistance to those who have been affected by natural disasters during and immediately after a disaster occurs.
The US Small Business Administration (SBA) provides loans to small businesses affected by natural disasters. Funds may be used to repair or replace items damaged or destroyed in a declared disaster.

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

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Fire and Drought News

Does this fisherman have the right to be in this billionaire’s backyard?

In 2018, Hill, 81, a retired nuclear weapons scientist, filed a lawsuit asking the state to clarify its notoriously muddy stream-access laws vis-à-vis one of his favorite trout fishing grounds. To the ire of many landowners, who see it as a threat not only to their privacy but to their property values, that suit has been progressing through the state court system like a slow-moving missile.

A victory against the landowners would “have staggering implications for settled agreements governing the use of our state’s rivers,” according to a statement from the office of Colorado’s attorney general, Phil Weiser.

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“I’d Have to Bury You Out Here.” The New Mexico Stream Access Battle Is Far From Over

The Western Landowners Alliance sees things differently. The alliance’s mission is to sustain working lands, connected landscapes, and native species, and executive director Lesli Allison says this argument is misguided.

“What’s happened in this debate too often is that proponents of opening streams have cast the issue as greedy landowners trying to exclude the public and privatize streams for their own enjoyment, their own profit,” she says. “By saying that, you create an enemy to rally people around.”

Allison explains that this argument also overlooks the critical role that landowners play as environmental stewards of these streams. She says that some of these individuals bought land specifically to invest in conservation, and together they’ve made significant investments to restore the waterways that flow through their property.

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Drought cost California’s ag industry $1.1 billion last year, UC Merced researchers say

A new report led by UC Merced researchers estimates California’s drought cost the state’s agriculture sector about $1.1 billion and nearly 8,750 full- and part-time jobs last year.

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USDA to Provide Payments to Livestock Producers Impacted by Drought or Wildfire

The U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced that ranchers who have approved applications through the 2021 Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) for forage losses due to severe drought or wildfire in 2021 will soon begin receiving emergency relief payments for increases in supplemental feed costs in 2021 through the Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) new Emergency Livestock Relief Program (ELRP).

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Water availability, regs spur farmland value chasm

It took a few years, but ag land values in California now reflect action taken by legislators eight years ago to pass the state’s landmark groundwater law. A growing chasm is evident as land values rise and fall significantly across the state.

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As drought pushes east, more intense wildfires are sparking in new areas

Only a few months into 2022 and it’s already a dreadful year for wildfires. More than 14,781 separate wildfires have scorched over half a million acres as of this week, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, the largest number of fires year-to-date the agency has recorded in the past decade.

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Colorado hits a “hard pause” on water demand management as it waits for other states to catch up

Colorado is taking a “hard pause” on investigating the viability of demand management, a program that would allow the state to pay water users to temporarily and voluntarily conserve water and store what’s saved in Lake Powell for future use. The Colorado Water Conservation Board wants to instead focus on what can be done to help Colorado water users this year.

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Forest Service interactive map spotlights connection between water and ANF

Have you ever wondered where your drinking water comes from? To help land managers and the public understand where their water comes from and what affects it, the USDA Forest Service launched an enhanced interactive map called Forests to Faucets 2.0. The map shows that forests are a critical link in providing dependable water for drinking across the country.

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Drought amplifies beetle damage to Colorado’s forests

Insects and drought are taking an increasing toll on Colorado’s forests, challenging the long-term sustainability and resiliency of the state’s roughly 24.5 million acres of forest, a new report says.

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Race to the bottom: How big business took over Oregon’s first protected aquifer

In Malheur County’s Cow Valley, state regulators have ignored known issues with overpumping groundwater, leaving the region at risk of economic and ecological damage that will be difficult to reverse.

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Climate change hearing focuses on what farmers need

More technical assistance and streamlined application processes for conservation programs would help farmers adopt practices to reduce greenhouse gases, lawmakers were told at a hearing on how the next farm bill should address climate change.

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USDA to Extend Application Deadlines for Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities Funding Opportunity

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is extending the deadlines to apply for the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities funding opportunity after requests from many stakeholders.

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Size of drought in US increased by the area of California in the past month

More than 61% of the contiguous US is in some classification of drought this week, according to the US Drought Monitor.

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Leaks are a missed opportunity for water savings

Before a drop of treated water in California ever reaches a consumer’s faucet, about 8% of it has already been wasted due to leaks in the delivery system. Nationally, the waste is even higher, at 17%.

This represents an untapped opportunity for water savings, according to a study from the University of California, Davis.

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How one rancher keeps cattle on the move and carbon in the soil

Meet Andrea Stroeve-Sawa, a fourth-generation rancher whose herd saves fragile ecosystems and stores greenhouse gases in the soil. She helps to show how beef cattle raised at Shipwheel Cattle Feeders in adaptive multi-paddock grasslands in Alberta, Canada, are capturing emissions.

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Private Forest Accord passes Senate, clearing way for House vote

The Private Forest Accord passed the Oregon Senate on Wednesday, making its way to a final House vote before the end of the February short session. The bill would change the way more than 10 million acres of private forests in the state are managed to protect at-risk animals and water quality in rivers and streams.

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NM Supreme Court throws out stream certification rule

The New Mexico Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed that a Game Commission rule that allows landowners to restrict access to water that flowed through private property is unconstitutional. The ruling opens can of worms for landowners and anglers, and puts stream restoration projects on private lands at risk. “As a result of development, recreation and intensive agriculture, we continue to lose wildlife habitat and wildlife species at an alarming rate,” WLA said in a statement. “Yet people continue to demand more and more access to places where wildlife have traditionally sought refuge, including on private land.”

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Hyperspectral sensing and AI pave new path for monitoring soil carbon

Just how much carbon is in the soil? That’s a tough question to answer at large spatial scales, but understanding soil organic carbon at regional, national, or global scales could help scientists predict overall soil health, crop productivity, and even worldwide carbon cycles. University of Illinois researchers show new machine-learning methods based on laboratory soil hyperspectral data could supply equally accurate estimates of soil organic carbon.

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Arizona governor outlines plan to boost water supplies

Arizona Governor Ducey and a top leader in the state Legislature recently filled in a key part of a developing plan to boost the desert state’s increasingly strained water supply. They plan to create a state agency to acquire new supplies and develop and fund projects, with deep pockets and the authority to go out and find sources that can secure the state’s water future.

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Cover crops play a starring role in climate change mitigation

On your own land, you’ve probably seen evidence that climate change is happening — things like extreme weather events or changes in growing seasons over the years. America’s rural communities are on the frontlines of climate change, and now is the time for agriculture, forestry, and rural communities to act.

There are various ways to help mitigate the effects of climate change on your land and improve your bottom line at the same time. One very effective way is by planting cover crops.

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Wildfires are getting worse across the globe. How does California compare?

A new report shines a light on the hard lessons California is learning — including what it’s getting right and what more needs to be done. In the fire-prone American West and around the world, too much focus remains on response instead of preparation.

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UN: Wildfires getting worse globally, governments unprepared

A warming planet and changes to land use patterns mean more wildfires will scorch large parts of the globe in coming decades, causing spikes in unhealthy smoke pollution and other problems that governments are ill prepared to confront, according to a recent U.N. report.

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North Dakota to take part in grasslands carbon storage research project

Researchers over the next three years will analyze soil samples from several parcels of state land scattered around western North Dakota to better understand the potential for carbon storage in grasslands.

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$1 Billion USDA Program Will Fund Pilot Projects For The Development Of Climate-Smart Commodity Markets

On February 7, 2022, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced a $1 billion competitive grant offering to fund pilot projects through its “Partnerships for Climate-Smart-Commodities” program. The program was developed at the USDA with input from stakeholders during a comment period in 2021. It is designed to encourage the voluntary development of markets for products of agriculture and forestry that are particularly beneficial from a climate change perspective.

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Marijuana Bill Spurs Water Rights Debate in Arid New Mexico

Hispanic farmers and rural residents in New Mexico are concerned legislation that would allow small cannabis producers to boost their plant counts lacks a provision to ensure the producers have valid water rights.

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Texas Ranchers Get Paid to Capture Carbon

A San Antonio start-up rewards regenerative agriculture with the help of companies looking to offset their greenhouse gas emissions.

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OSU research suggests Forest Service lands not the main source of wildfires affecting communities

National forests are more in danger of wildfires that spread from private lands than the other way around, researchers concluded in a study that turns a head on a common narrative in forest policy. The finding runs against a popular storyline among advocates for more intensive forest management: that overgrown national forests are a tinderbox waiting to light and need to be thinned and logged to reduce the risk to surrounding non-federal property. A better approach, researchers said, would be to put heavier emphasis on ways to make populated areas more resilient to wildfire, such as defensible space and fire-resistant construction.

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Addressing Institutional Barriers to Native American Water Marketing

Federally recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin hold the combined rights to 3.6 million acre-feet of water — but at times, more than half of that resource might simply flow unused. That’s in large part because tribes with water rights on the Colorado River are prohibited from marketing those rights to off-reservation users without congressional authorization. This report argues for Congress to grant new blanket authority for tribal water rights holders to be allowed to market their water off-reservation.

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Why experts say the West’s deer population is at ‘inflection point’ after another drop in 2021

Utah wildlife biologists fear there was another 10% drop in the statewide mule deer population in 2021 as mostly dry conditions reigned through the first half of the year.

The projection is based on below-normal adult and fawn survival rates, as well as fawn production in the second half of the year, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officials told KSL.com.

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One Colorado farmer is going against the grain to use less water. It’s working.

Regenerative agriculture methods have helped one Western Slope farmer be more mindful of how much water he uses.

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Montana Ag Network: grasshopper outlook is concerning

Grasshoppers had a devastating impact on Montana’s range and farmlands in 2020 and 2021. This year, farmers, ranchers, landowners, and federal agencies are cautiously awaiting to see what is in store for 2022. “There’s still some high risk,” said Hannah Lewis of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). “I think that’s the big takeaway.”

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How Serious Are We, Really, About Protecting The Yellowstone Ecosystem?

Most of the history of American conservation has focused on public lands, either their management or converting private property to public ownership. However, to stem the number of future extinctions in our country, we must focus increased energy on private lands. How these lands are managed will be the determining factor in whether many species of fish, wildlife, and plants thrive, survive, or fade into memory – even in a place as seemingly wild as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. 

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Beaver Dams Help Wildfire-Ravaged Ecosystems Recover Long after Flames Subside

Beaver dams mop up debris that would otherwise kill fish and other downstream wildlife, new observations suggest.

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Grazing sheep increase carbon sequestration up to 80%, while also benefiting fixation of soil nutrients under solar panels

Researchers from Temple University have found that managed sheep grazing on an acre of recovering agricultural soil with native plants installed may sequester one ton of carbon per year, which may accumulate for 12 to 15 years before reaching saturation.

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Feds will spend $1 billion to spur farmers and ranchers to fight climate change

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will spend $1 billion on projects for farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to use practices that curb climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions or capture and store carbon, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Monday.

For many U.S. farmers who have endured major losses from worsening floods, storms and droughts, addressing climate change has become a matter of survival. The United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change has warned that humans must change the way they produce food and use land to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

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California water officials warn state could face third consecutive dry year as early snowpack dissipates

California water officials warned on Tuesday that the state is set to face another dry year after experiencing a significant lack of snow in January, potentially marking its third consecutive year of dry conditions. The department’s warning comes as California grapples with worsening wildfire seasons, water shortages and historic drought conditions fueled by climate change.

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Tribal nations are locked inside the U.S. water regime

New Mexico’s water-management agencies are having trouble keeping their rivers wet, and the problem will only get worse, according to a 50-year climate change and water study that was completed last year. So the agencies have begun planning for a future of dwindling water supplies in the San Juan and Rio Grande basins. For tribal nations, the big question is: Will they finally have input in water management decisions?

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What role can bison play in the future of sustainable ranching?

Gleason started Gleason Bison two years ago after a career shift from public relations and marketing and a return to the Durango area. Her operation has grown from a few pregnant bison to about 100 animals during its annual peak for meat production.

Through her work, Gleason aims to highlight the environmental benefits of grass-fed bison ranching and the role that holistic management can play in tackling environmental issues such as climate change, all while helping the Durango community and inspiring a new crowd of young people to pursue ranching.

“This landscape evolved with a relationship with ruminant animals,” she said. “To think that by not raising them or not managing them that’s going to solve our climate change problems, we’re missing the whole puzzle of how a healthy ecosystem works. A healthy ecosystem works in relationship with grazing animals.”

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Extreme drought creates unlikely farming allies in the Arizona desert

As control of the river water that allows desert farming shifts, a deep love of agriculture unites groups that have historically been at odds.

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Following Marshall Fire, Neguse calls for review of the National Fire Plan

A group of Western lawmakers are asking the Biden administration to update the Forest Service’s long-term plan for wildfires and potentially scale back certain uses of fire for forest management.In a letter to President Biden yesterday, Reps. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and Jim Costa (D-Calif.) said the agency’s National Fire Plan hasn’t been updated in more than a decade.

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Just what is a ‘resilient’ forest, anyway?

What does a “resilient” forest look like in the Sierra Nevada? A lot fewer trees than we’re used to, according to a study of frequent-fire forests from the University of California, Davis. More than a century ago, Sierra Nevada forests faced almost no competition from neighboring trees for resources. The tree densities of the late 1800s would astonish most Californians today. Because of fire suppression, trees in current forests live alongside six to seven times as many trees as their ancestors did — competing for less water amid drier and hotter conditions.

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Idaho Landowners Granted Limited SCOTUS Look at Wetlands Dispute

Two Idaho property owners can proceed in their challenge to a Washington, D.C., appeals court’s holding that their land contains wetlands subject to protection under federal water law, the U.S. Supreme Court said Monday. 

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New bill has Washington tribes, farmers divided over salmon protective zones

House Bill 1838, also known as the Lorraine Loomis Act — named after a Swinomish Tribe member who was a salmon recovery advocate in the state — would set up salmon protection zones known as “riparian management zones” along rivers, streams, and other similar bodies of water that are home to migrating salmon.

The bill states that public and private property owners with land along the designated riparian protective zones will be responsible for protecting those zones, including planting trees and shrubbery to cool down the water temperature. The zones would cover 100 feet on either side of a river or stream in non-forested areas, and different amounts based on tree height in forested areas.

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Prescribed Fires Can Help Restore Biodiversity to Great Plains

A recent study published in Ecological Solutions and Evidence suggests that large, intense and controlled burns can halt and reverse the encroachment of woody plants into grasslands and help restore declining grassland bird populations.

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Secretary Vilsack Announces New 10 Year Strategy to Confront the Wildfire Crisis

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack and Forest Service Chief Randy Moore have launched a comprehensive response to the nation’s growing wildfire crisis. The strategy outlines the need to significantly increase fuels and forest health treatments to address the escalating crisis of wildfire danger that threatens millions of acres and numerous communities across the United States

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Secretary Vilsack Announces New 10 Year Strategy to Confront the Wildfire Crisis

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Forest Service Chief Randy Moore recently announced a comprehensive response to the nation’s growing wildfire crisis – “Confronting the Wildfire Crisis: A Strategy for Protecting Communities and Improving Resilience in America’s Forests.” The strategy outlines the need to significantly increase fuels and forest health treatments to address the escalating crisis of wildfire danger that threatens millions of acres and numerous communities across the United States.

The Forest Service will work with other federal agencies, including the Department of the Interior, and with Tribes, states, local communities, private landowners, and other partners to focus fuels and forest health treatments more strategically and at the scale of the problem, based on the best available science.

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With less water on the surface, how long can Arizona rely on what’s underground?

In Arizona, verdant fields of crops and a growing sprawl of suburban homes mean a sharp demand for water in the middle of the desert. Meeting that demand includes drawing from massive stores of underground water. But some experts say those aquifers are overtaxed and shouldn’t be seen as a long-term solution for a region where the water supply is expected to shrink in the decades to come.

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Water scarcity is about to get a lot worse. Irrigated agriculture doesn’t have a plan.


In much of the West and Southwest, the climate crisis is projected to raise average temperatures while reducing snowpack for much of the foreseeable future. These trends will significantly increase the risk of drought in an area heavily dependent on irrigation for food production. So what’s the plan? For many farming communities, according to a new report on drought preparedness, there is none.

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Land on Fire

Ranchers are at the helm of a highly cost-effective tool to reduce fuel loads.
​That tool is called grazing.

​More and more, government agencies, including fire departments, have realized the value of enlisting sheep or cattle producers that can truck their animals to locations where ground cover “ladder fuels” like grass and shrubs need mowing. The ranchers themselves could use the forage, and their animals, unlike mechanical mowers, don’t throw off sparks that could accidentally start a blaze.

​Strategic deployment has yielded positive results, especially in the wildland-urban interface. Vineyard operators are increasingly partnering with livestock producers for the service. A valuable co-benefit is noxious weed control. In the wine country of Sonoma County, where the housing density, and thus the fire risk to property, has increased at a staggering pace in the past two decades, the University of California Ag Extension created a new online service called match.graze where landowners seeking fuel reduction can enlist ranchers.

​That niche, called “target grazing,” is one that Jaime Irwin, her husband Robert and their family are filling. Their company, Kaos Sheep Outfit, based in Lake County, California, has been enlisted by local towns, fire departments, land trusts, watershed protection groups, vineyards, local airports and homeowners. Their flocks have been chomping grass and forbs primarily between Interstate 5 and US Highway 101 close to the Pacific Coast.

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Release: NRCS Announces Improvements to CSP and EQIP

Earlier this month, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) made a series of changes to its premier conservation programs to better support farmers’ ability to face climate change. First, NRCS improved the re-enrollment process within the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). NRCS eliminated the requirement that farmers with expiring contracts who are not selected to renew those contracts must wait two full years to reapply to the program, a change for which the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has long advocated.  

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USDA Offers Expanded Conservation Program Opportunities to Support Climate Smart Agriculture in 2022

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is announcing several new and expanded opportunities for climate smart agriculture in 2022. Updates include nationwide availability of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Conservation Incentive Contracts option, a new and streamlined EQIP Cover Crop Initiative, and added flexibilities for producers to easily re-enroll in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). These improvements to NRCS’ working lands conservation programs, combined with continued program opportunities in all states, are part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s broader effort to support climate-smart agriculture.

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Nebraska will spend $500 million to claim South Platte River water from Colorado

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts announced a $500 million plan Monday to divert water out of Colorado under a 99-year-old compact between the states that allows Nebraska to seize access to Colorado land along the South Platte River and build canals.

Ricketts said Nebraska would invoke its rights under the South Platte River Compact amid concerns that Colorado’s plans for the river could reduce water flows into his state by as much as 90%, taking a potentially huge toll on Nebraska’s agricultural and power industries and likely affecting water supplies in the state’s two largest cities, Omaha and Lincoln

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Documentary focuses on biologists’ effort to save San Juan cutthroat trout following 416 Fire

A new documentary, “The Fish & the Flame,” highlights the successful recovery of the San Juan cutthroat trout in the wake of Durango’s 416 Fire of 2018. The 14-minute film details how Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist Jim White collaborated with Banded Peak Ranch Manager Tim Haarmann to save one of the last remaining populations of the recently rediscovered San Juan cutthroat trout as the 416 Fire threatened to decimate the fish that until 2018 was believed to be extinct.

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“The Fish & the Flame” tells the story of rescuing cutthroat trout during the 416 Fire

Newly discovered San Juan cutthroat trout were saved during the 416 Fire in Durango. “The Fish & the Flame,” a new documentary film, tells the story of a Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist and a ranch manager who teamed up to recover some of the last remaining populations of the fish species.

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Fish and the Flame

The successful recovery of the San Juan cutthroat trout in the face of Durango’s 416 Fire of 2018 is the subject of a new documentary film produced by Days Edge Productions and presented by Western Landowners Alliance and Chama Peak Land Alliance.

A free virtual film screening of “The Fish & the Flame” will be held at 5 p.m. Jan. 10. The 14-minute showing will be followed by a question and answer session with Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist Jim White, Banded Peak Ranch manager Tim Haarmann, Western Landowners Alliance executive director Lesli Allison, Chama Peak Land Alliance executive director Caleb Stotts and producer Page Buono.

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Watch: Guardians Of The Grasslands

Guardians Of The Grasslands is a short documentary that explores the current state of one of the world’s most endangered ecosystems, the Great Plains grasslands, and the role that cattle play in its survival. As we reach new critical levels in the loss of these iconic landscapes, there are important truths we must face about humanity’s relationship with the land and our food. Watch the film for free on their website.

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Scientists: Phase out grazing, logging in ‘forest reserve’

The United States should immediately move to create a collection of strategic forest reserves in the Western U.S. to fight climate change and safeguard biodiversity, asserts a scientific collaboration led by an Oregon State University ecologist.

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Corporations are consolidating water and land rights in the West

With farms, ranches and rural communities facing unprecedented threats, a worrying trend leads to a critical question: Who owns the water?

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New Mexico among states overusing depleted Colorado River, conservationists say

New Mexico is among three Upper Basin states exceeding their agreed-upon allotment of Colorado River water, a trend that could lead to the possible curtailment of water use in the future, a conservation group said in a newly released report.

Consuming less water will become more imperative as a changing climate causes hotter, drier weather that further depletes the Colorado River — and yet the four Upper Basin states have made no formal plans to cut their water use and at least two propose more diversions from the river as if there’s no shortage, according to a report by the Utah Rivers Council.

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Senators request additional assistance for livestock producers affected by drought

United States Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont) and John Thune (R-S.D.) this week led a bipartisan group of senators in urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) to address a gap in coverage under the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP). In September, USDA announced it would provide ELAP assistance for the cost of transporting feed to livestock, but producers who are transporting their livestock to feed are not eligible for the program.

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USDA Invests $633 Million in Climate-Smart and Resilient Infrastructure for People in Rural Communities

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack announced earlier this month the Department is investing $633 million to reduce the impacts of climate change on rural communities.

“Rural America is on the front lines of climate change, and our communities deserve investments that will strengthen all of our resilience,” Vilsack said.

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The American West went through climate hell in 2021. But there’s still hope

The American West has entered a dangerous new era of hotter heat waves, ever-more-brutal droughts and a growing threat of violent extremism on public lands. There’s still hope for the future. But in a part of the country mythologized for its rugged individualism, going it alone will be a recipe for disaster, climate experts say. States and tribes, big cities and rural towns, liberals and conservatives alike will need to cooperate.

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How to Save the Prairie, Acre by Acre

The vital Kansas ecosystem is rapidly shrinking. Its future depends on private landowners like Lorna Harder.

Before Harder and her husband bought their 100 acres, they rented their home and a couple of acres of the property. The rest was leased to a local farmer. “We watched the land those eight years before we bought the farm and we weren’t able to do anything,” Harder says. “It was overstocked with cattle. There was no tree removal. It was grazed down to the nub.”

Once they bought the entire acreage, they began building up the prairie. It was a time-consuming process: They cut trees and other nonnative plants from the never-cultivated ground, and used fire to clear spaces so that sunlight could reach the native plants that remained. With the open space and adequate sunlight that prairie demands, the plants grew from there.

Private conservation efforts like Harder’s are key, says Drew Bennett, a professor at the University of Wyoming who researches how conservation, private land ownership and agriculture can work together. The division of conservation and private lands creates “artificial silos,” says Bennett. “You can’t have conservation in Kansas without private lands.”

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Snow cover critical for revegetation after fires

How much and how long a severely burned Pacific Northwest mountain landscape stays blanketed in winter snow is a key factor in the return of vegetation according to new research. Findings are important because the severity and frequency of wildfires in the Northwest are increasing, the blazes carry many short- and long-term impacts, and the length of those impacts is linked with vegetation’s re-establishment and recovery.

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Science to Action: Takeaways from IWJV’s “Storing Carbon in Sagebrush Rangelands” Report

The importance of keeping carbon out of the atmosphere is widely understood, but breaking down knowledge on how to protect carbon already stored in our ecosystems into actionable practices can be more difficult. Through the Storing Carbon in Sagebrush Rangelands report and companion resources, the Intermountain West Joint Venture (IWJV) aims to translate this science to an applicable scale for land managers and others across western rangelands.

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Fall rains can’t undo pains of drought in Oregon and Washington

Withered crops and puny livestock; dead fish and swarming insects; laid off workers, shriveling economies, and rural homes stranded without running water — these are just some of the calamities unleashed by a historic drought affecting all of Oregon and parts of Washington.

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New Mexico Lawmakers Pressed to Make Water a Priority

With a high-stakes case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court and more forecasts calling for hot and dry weather, New Mexico’s top water official says lawmakers can’t afford not to adequately fund the state agencies that oversee water resources.

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Ridgway grants “rights” to its river, joining several Colorado towns in push for new water protections

The Ridgway town council has voted to give “rights of nature” to the Uncompahgre River that flows on the edge of its downtown, joining Nederland and a long list of international locations saying they want to be better stewards of their wild spaces.

The natural rights movement has gone as far afield as New Zealand and Nigeria, with some efforts focused on protecting revered tribal lands, others to stop dams from forever changing valued waterways. 

Legal critics of the strategy, though, contend that water can’t have rights unto itself, and that the people proposing to speak for Colorado’s rivers may have narrow views that don’t serve the state as a whole. 

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Agri-Pulse poll: Climate change concerns many farmers, but carbon payments far too low

A majority of U.S. farmers are at least somewhat concerned about climate change, and nearly half are using or considering practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new Agri-Pulse survey of U.S. farmers. But getting most farmers to participate in carbon markets will require payments of at least $40 an acre, far more than they currently earn.

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Why Questioning the Sustainability of Wool Is Misguided

In this piece, we are going to look at one example of the harmful impact of partial and misleading sustainability claims in the global north. It relates to wool; it provides pointers for the sustainability conversation around all farmed fibers; and it concerns the Navajo.

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Wildfires accelerating tree migration from climate change: study

Migrant trees are finding new homes in forests across the Western U.S., as changing climate conditions — accelerated by wildfires — force them to seek out cooler, wetter locations, a new study has found. The research provides the first empirical evidence that fires are hastening the movement of trees, likely by diminishing competition from established species.

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Drones help restore forests destroyed by wildfires

Millions of acres of U.S. forestland go up in smoke every year due to wildfires, in some cases leaving nature struggling to regenerate. CBS News’ Anthony Pura shows us how drones are now being used to restore those areas.

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A Water Crisis: Colorado agriculture facing changes as drought continues

An estimated 40 million people rely on water that originates in the Colorado River Basin, but the river can no longer keep up with demand, and it’s raising serious questions about the future of water in the West.

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The West-wide drought and the struggles of Idaho, Utah

Snow needs to be on the main menu for states like Utah, Idaho and others in the West to help them counter the effects of a vicious drought that shut down boat ramps across reservoirs, led to an early end of outdoor watering and yellowed lawns. Idaho’s drought remains a concern, as do conditions in Utah because it is so early in the

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New River Forecast Model Integrates Artificial Intelligence for Better Water Management in the West

For farmers, ranchers, foresters and water managers in the West facing extreme and debilitating drought conditions, water supply forecasts have never been more critical to their operations and livelihoods. However, major forecasting improvements are needed because of narrowing margins between water supply and water demand in the ever-more-thirsty American West. NRCS has unveiled a new computer application to address this pressing need: the multi-model machine learning metasystem, or M4. This first-of-its-kind model will be the largest migration of artificial intelligence, also known as AI, into real-world river prediction programs.

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Tribes seek water-management role as Colorado River shrivels

In the mid-2000s, seven states, the federal government and Mexico negotiated critical rules for the Colorado River that established how to divvy up its water in a severe drought like it is now facing.
Thirty Native American tribes — with rights to roughly a quarter of all the water in the river — were shut out of those talks. Tribes want to make sure that doesn’t happen again. The effort offers new challenges for the seven Colorado River basin states and the Biden administration, which has repeatedly pledged to be more inclusive in regulatory efforts that affect Native Americans.

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Grazing in orchards, vineyards mutually beneficial

Livestock grazing can serve several purposes. It feeds the livestock, regenerates plant and soil health, and—when animals are grazed in orchards or woodlands—lessens wildfire severity by reducing fuel loads. Mark Batcheler, a Washington State University PhD student, is studying how silvopasture managed grazing compares to unmanaged grazing of forested areas, ungrazed woodlands, and grazed pastures with no trees.

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Keeping Cattle on the Move and Carbon in the Soil

Ranchers and conservationists, once unlikely allies, are teaming up to preserve grasslands, which act as a carbon dioxide sink that could support climate goals.

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Drought taking a lasting toll on ranchers and western dairies

The drought stretching through much of the Great Plains is pushing cattle ranchers and dairy farmers to the breaking point – and sometimes past it – as producers scramble to feed their animals.

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Weather whiplash: California’s historic downpour interrupts historic drought

Over the span of two days, dramatic scenes of dried landscapes and wildfires that have defined California’s summer were replaced with surging rivers, floods and mudflows as a historic rainstorm – deemed a category 5 atmospheric river – pummeled the state. For scientists, the storm – though shocking in its magnitude – was not a surprise. It’s been clear that the climate crisis would intensify the extremes between wet and dry seasons, but many wonder whether this weather whiplash is a preview of catastrophes to come.

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USDA Announces Initial Supporters of Sustainable Productivity Growth Coalition

USDA Secretary Vilsack announced that more than 50 organizations and countries have officially declared their support for the Sustainable Productivity Growth for Food Security and Resource Conservation (SPG) Coalition, which the United States launched at the UN Food Systems Summit. The goal of the coalition is to accelerate the transition to more sustainable food systems through productivity growth that optimizes agricultural sustainability across social, economic, and environmental dimensions.

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The resurgence of waffle gardens is helping indigenous farmers grow food with less water

In the face of climate change and persistent droughts, a growing number of people from Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico and elsewhere are adopting the traditional farming practice called waffle gardens, sunken garden beds enclosed by clay-heavy walls. This practice is well-suited for the semi-arid, high-altitude desert.

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Indigo Acquires Soil Metrics, Reaffirms Commitment to Carbon Program

Indigo Agriculture, a company leveraging nature and technology to unlock economic and environmental progress in agriculture, today announced a deepened commitment to advancing discovery in soil carbon science, enabled by the acquisition of Soil Metrics — a leading technology for comprehensive soil carbon and greenhouse gas (ghg) assessment in agricultural soils.

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Marston: This rancher has radical ideas about water

If Jim Howell, a fourth-generation rancher in western Colorado, has a guru, he’s Allan Savory, the champion of intensive cattle grazing even on semi-arid land.

Howell, 52, says Savory’s methods, which require moving cattle quickly from pasture to pasture, enable him to keep adding thousands more animals as the ground recovers. He says the method is so efficient he can even foresee leasing out irrigation water that he doesn’t need.

If all this sounds unbelievable, Howell, who is ranch manager for Eli Feldman in Ridgway, Colo., understands the skepticism. But he says the ranch speaks for itself.

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Dollars in the dirt: Big Ag pays farmers for control of their soil-bound carbon

The biggest global agriculture companies are competing on a new front: enticing farmers to join programs that keep atmosphere-warming carbon dioxide in the soil.

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Study: Warming climate means shortages on Pecos River

Federal water managers warn that like other basins across the western U.S., the Pecos River Basin in New Mexico is likely to experience growing water shortages as temperatures continue to rise over the next century. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation discussed the findings of a recently completed study on the basin, saying the goal of the work was to better understand the threats to water supplies in the region due to climate change. Officials also looked at what tools could be used to stretch resources to help sustain viable agriculture over the coming century as challenges grow.

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UC Davis to lead groundwater & irrigation study

Researchers from the University of California, Davis, have been awarded a $10 million grant by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to find ways to sustain irrigated agriculture while improving groundwater quantity and quality in the Southwest under a changing climate.

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‘Self-serving garbage.’ Wildfire experts escalate fight over saving California forests

Over the past few years, as California has endured record-breaking wildfires, a legion of fire scientists is delivering a blunt message to those who oppose forest thinning: Get out of the way. In a series of articles published in scientific journals, fire scientists are attacking claims that the woods need to be left alone and saying activists are bogging down vital work needed to protect wildlife, communities and make California’s forests more resilient to wildfire, namely through fuels reduction and thinning.

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Wildfire smoke disrupts bird migration in the West

Early fall wildfires in the western states and the smoke they generate pose a risk to birds migrating in the Pacific Flyway, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey. GPS data from the 2020 wildfire season indicate that at least some migratory birds may take longer and use more energy to avoid wildfire smoke.

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Great Salt Lake’s demise spurs water emergency for Utah

Utah’s iconic Great Salt Lake, long neglected by regulators, is collapsing due to a historic drought and climate change. And, in a cruel twist, the demise of the lake — which shriveled to a record low level in July — may threaten Utah’s posh ski towns and even the state’s water supply. At issue: the “lake effect.”

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USDA launches first phase of soil carbon monitoring efforts through Conservation Reserve Program

The USDA is investing $10 million in a new initiative to sample, measure and monitor soil carbon on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres to better quantify the climate outcomes of the program.

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As drought worsens, California farmers are being paid not to grow crops

The farmers are paid to leave a portion of their lands dry and fallow, and the water saved over the next three years is expected to translate into three feet of additional water in Lake Mead, which has declined to its lowest levels since it was filled in the 1930s following the construction of Hoover Dam.

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Western Lawmakers Unveil Alternative to 30×30 Initiative

U.S. Senator Steve Daines, chair of the Senate Western Caucus, today unveiled a blueprint for responsible, effective conservation supporting Montana and the West. Daines’ “Western Conservation Principles” serves as an alternative to the Biden administration’s “30 by 30 initiative” and America the Beautiful report.

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Wildfire resilience, America the Beautiful top Forest Service priorities

Better wildfire resilience in America’s forests is a top priority for the U.S. Forest Service, but so is the Biden administration’s America the Beautiful Initiative to set aside more land for parks and other uses, an agency official says. The initiative’s goal is to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and water by 2030 with focuses on collaborative conservation and restoration of lands and fish and wildlife habitat, voluntary conservation, creating more parks, increasing access for outdoor recreation and creating jobs.

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USDA Announces $3 Billion Investment in Agriculture, Animal Health, and Nutrition; Unveils New Climate Partnership Initiative

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced a comprehensive set of investments to address challenges facing America’s agricultural producers. These include assistance to address challenges and costs associated with drought, animal health, market disruptions for agricultural commodities, and school food supply chain issues. He also outlined and requested public comments on a new climate partnership initiative designed to create new revenue streams for producers via market opportunities for commodities produced using climate-smart practices.

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Are your cattle heat-tolerant?

Heat stress negatively affects animals’ performance, including their milk production, growth rate, and fertility. Producers often select their breeding livestock for productivity gains. As many Western regions experience hotter and longer heat waves, both genetic and behavioral traits of heat tolerance increasingly are becoming culling criteria.

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US says ivory-billed woodpecker, 22 other species extinct

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is ready to declare the ivory-billed woodpecker — and 22 others — gone for good, tripling the number of species delisted due to extinction. Government scientists warn climate change, on top of other pressures, could make such disappearances more common as a warming planet adds to the dangers facing imperiled plants and wildlife.

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Moore launches bill to boost U.S. Forest Service staffing

The leaders of numerous conservancy groups have endorsed bipartisan legislation proposed by Rep. Blake Moore (R-UT) to bolster U.S. Forest Service staffing to mitigate wildfire risks. The Save Our Forest Act would allocate $46 million to allow the Secretary of Agriculture to fill longstanding personnel vacancies in the U.S. Forest Service.

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With 7,000 Sheep and Goats, This Mother-Daughter Team Is Playing a Part in California’s Fight Against Wildfires

Bianca and Andrée Soares transport their herd to wildfire-prone areas where the animals eat dry vegetation that can fuel flames near homes and businesses.

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Could LA water recycling be a miracle for parched West?

With severe drought strangling the West, the country’s largest water provider has embarked on a multibillion-dollar project that could help it cope with increasingly frequent shortages exacerbated by climate change. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California wants to recycle Los Angeles’ wastewater, creating a new supply stream that would significantly reduce the city’s reliance on imported water from Northern California and the Colorado River.

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OSU study: Thinning moderates forest fire behavior even without prescribed burns – for while

Mechanical thinning alone can calm the intensity of future wildfires for many years, and prescribed burns lengthen thinning’s effectiveness, according to Oregon State University research involving a seasonally dry ponderosa pine forest in northeastern Oregon.

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As water conservation falls short, California plans for the worst

As California’s drought stretches into 2022, state and federal water agencies are working on a plan for the worst-case scenario. This comes as the state cut water use by less than 2% in July.

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Saving the Great Plains with prescribed fire, mixed grazing

Ranchers in the Great Plains are under increasing stress due to changing environmental conditions and subsequent losses of rangelands to woody plants, but a relatively new management approach shows promise in turning the tide against encroaching brush and shrubs.

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The American West’s drought isn’t a disaster. It’s our new, permanently arid normal.

“Accepting aridity, and rejecting shortsighted and maladaptive responses, is central to managing drought risks for the more than 60 million people reliant on the West’s dwindling water — and for the generations to come. An era of drought in the Western United States has begun. Our focus should be on adapting to this dry run, rather than hoping for it to end.”

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Regan eyes November for next step in WOTUS process

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan says a proposal to restore regulations defining “waters of the U.S.” to those that were in place before the Obama administration’s 2015 rule could be issued by November, with another proposal redefining WOTUS to follow a year after that.

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Digital data drives better soil management

When we think about limited resources in agriculture, water is normally the first that springs to mind. The bad news is that just like water, soil is a finite resource that is fast deteriorating as a result of human activity. The good news: Research is providing farmers, landowners and policymakers with new tools to turn the tide.

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From Western Slope to Eastern Plains, Colorado agriculture under pressure to adapt to warming world

Paul Bruchez, a fifth generation farmer and rancher, acknowledges the fight farmers and ranchers are in could determine not just the future of his family’s ranch, but the future of agriculture in Colorado and beyond. The hotter, drier weather is threatening water supplies and crop yields, and is driving ranchers to cut herd sizes or find greener pastures elsewhere for the animals.

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US Forest Service hits brakes on Arizona restoration project

The U.S. Forest Service has put the brakes on an effort to thin hundreds of square miles of land in Arizona to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, drawing sharp rebukes from elected officials.

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From Hotchkiss To Hayden — A Road Trip Down The Western Slope

How are farmers, ranchers and restaurateurs navigating climate change and the pandemic? CPR reporter Stina Sieg and Harrison Topp, fruit grower and membership director for Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, took a road trip down the Western Slope to find out.

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3 strategies to reduce cow herds’ environmental hoofprints

Reducing your cow herd’s environmental “hoofprints” in the pasture can often lead to money savings and increased efficiencies for the producer.

This was the key takeaway from beef sustainability research headed up by National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and presented during a session at the 2021 Cattlemen’s College Aug. 9-10, in Nashville, Tenn. Overall, U.S. cattle producers are doing a better job at managing their cattle herds not only for economic sustainability, but also environmental sustainability.

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Depleted by drought, Lakes Powell and Mead were doomed from the beginning

A glimpse into the history of the Colorado River Basin system, how it was designed and the impacts of climate change shed light on why it was destined to fail.

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Farmers restore native grasslands as groundwater disappears

Across the Southern Plains, groundwater that sustained generations is drying up, creating another problem: Without enough rain or groundwater for crops, soil can blow away — as it did during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Farmers are facing tough choices. Some are growing less-thirsty crops or improving irrigation. Others are replacing some cash crops with cattle and pastureland.

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Wildfires Cause More Than 33,000 Deaths Globally Each Year

Wildfires are killing people around the world — even those with limited exposure to wildfire-related pollution, an international team of researchers reports. The new research revealed that short-term exposure to wildfire-related fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the air is increasing deaths worldwide from any cause as well as from respiratory and heart-related causes.

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Prized trout streams shrink as heat, drought grip US West

Both torrent and trickle have afflicted storied trout streams in the American West in recent years amid the havoc of climate change, which has made the region hotter and drier and fueled severe weather events. Blistering heat waves and extended drought have raised water temperatures and imperiled fish species in several states.

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‘Good fires’ gave forest managers a useful tool. Climate change may take it away

Lightning-caused wildfires can help renew forest ecosystems, but with warmer, drier landscapes, the risk of allowing them to burn is increasing. Without natural fire as a management tool, agencies would be left to rely on forest thinning and prescribed burns to mitigate future wildfires, which come with social and economic constraints.

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Can ‘active forest management’ really reduce wildfire risk?

As with conversations about natural resource management more broadly, public discourse about whether forests can be managed to effectively reduce wildfire risk is incredibly heated. U.S. Sen. Steve Daines frequently calls for active forest management and reform of the environmental review process to address “catastrophic” and “deadly” wildfires. During a recent wildfire briefing Sen. Daines said “frivolous litigation” has tied up thinning projects in courts and caused the U.S. Forest Service to fall short of its timber harvest targets in Montana.

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Bill reintroduced to expedite forest projects

The Resilient Federal Forests Act seeks to restore forest health on over 80 million acres of national forests through active management, increase resiliency to wildfire and support rural communities. The bill would expedite thinning and logging projects up to 30,000 acres by “ending frivolous ligation” and remove interagency consultation requirements that delay forest management activities. Additionally, it would accelerate salvage operation and reforest activities, improve existing authority on insect and disease infestations and codify the principles of the Good Neighbor Authority.

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Why The South Is Decades Ahead Of The West In Wildfire Prevention

As western states contend with increasingly catastrophic wildfires, some are looking to the Southeastern U.S., where prescribed fire is widespread thanks to policies put in place decades ago. From 1998 to 2018, 70% of all controlled burning in the country was in the Southeast.

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Trump waters rule vacated by federal judge

The Trump administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule has been vacated by a federal judge in Arizona who said allowing it to remain in place risks “serious environmental harm,” particularly in the arid Southwest.

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‘It’s not the cow, it’s the how’: why a long-time vegetarian became beef’s biggest champion

Nicolette Hahn Niman was an environmental lawyer who became a cattle rancher, and didn’t eat meat for 33 years. For both the ecosystem and human health, she argues, it’s how animals are farmed that matters.

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Climate change comes for a favorite summer pastime: fishing

As the West suffers another summer of drought and fire, fishing holes there and elsewhere are feeling the heat.

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Wildfire smoke is transforming clouds, making rainfall less likely

A new study finds smoke could be making it harder for clouds to drop rain and alleviate drought, potentially kicking of a “very scary” feedback loop.

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New Mexico governor signs order to preserve 30 percent of public lands

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order that calls for 30 percent of New Mexico’s public lands to be protected by 2030, putting the state in line with a larger federal conservation effort.

The order directs a half-dozen state agencies to coalesce behind the “30 by 30” plan by establishing programs that conserve, protect and enhance public lands for a variety of uses. An additional 20 percent will be designated as climate stabilization areas.

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Climate-friendly ag practices need $30 billion, Democrats told

More than 60 groups are urging Democratic congressional leaders to prioritize climate-friendly agriculture, food systems and equity in their $3.5 trillion domestic spending package. About $89 billion in the budget reconciliation measure will be designated for agriculture and forestry in the package, and groups want to see $30 billion of that allocated to conservation programs.

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‘The Worst Thing I Can Ever Remember’: How Drought Is Crushing Ranchers

A lack of snow last winter and almost no spring rain have created the driest conditions in generations. Ranchers are being forced to sell off portions of herds they have built up for years, often at fire-sale prices, to stay in business.

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Upper Rio Grande basin: The threats ahead

Buffeted by drought, court orders, climate change, and Front Range diversion plans, the water supply of the San Luis Valley faces pressure as never before.

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The Colorado River’s shortage is a sign of a larger crisis

The Colorado River irrigates farms, powers electric grids and provides drinking water to 40 million people. But as its supply dwindles, a crisis looms.

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Study: Cattle grazing helps contain wildfires

USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) researchers are conducting a study evaluating the use of targeted cattle grazing to create fuel breaks in order to contain wildfires. The results are in, and so far, cattle have provided extremely positive impacts.

The research is taking place in the Great Basin, where cattle grazing has successfully helped contain three rangeland fires in four years. The latest wildfire to be contained was the Welch Fire near Elko, NV, on July 18.

Targeted grazing uses cattle in the early spring to eat strips of highly flammable cheatgrass down to 2- or 3-inch stubble, which reduces the fuel load that can quickly turn small rangeland fires into megafires.

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Trout in trouble

This year’s drought has impacted Montana’s treasured cold-water fisheries, and the outfitters and anglers who rely on them. Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks fully or partially closed close to twenty rivers to fishing this summer due to high water temperatures, low flows, or concerns about angling pressure.

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Study proposes new ways to estimate climate change impacts on agriculture

Most scientists agree climate change has a profound impact on U.S. agricultural production. But estimates vary widely, making it hard to develop mitigation strategies. Two agricultural economists at the University of Illinois take a closer look at how choice of statistical methodology influences climate study results. They also propose a more accurate and place-specific approach to data analysis.

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Courts reverse course on stream access: There is no public easement to beds crossing private land

A Utah judge waded deep into Mormon pioneer history to settle a long-simmering fight over stream access, this time in favor of riverside property owners concluding the public has no right to walk or touch the bottoms of streams crossing private land.

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Researchers Explore Climate, Human and Wildlife Interactions on Rangeland in Idaho, Oregon

Study to examine the interconnectedness of the inhabitants of western rangelands, including humans, plants and animals, in the face of a changing climate and other stressors.

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In a First, U.S. Declares Shortage on Colorado River, Forcing Water Cuts

With climate change and long-term drought continuing to take a toll on the Colorado River, the federal government or the first time declared a water shortage at Lake Mead, one of the river’s main reservoirs. The declaration triggers cuts in water supply that, for now, mostly will affect Arizona farmers.

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One Year After Wildfires Decimated California Rancher’s Herd and Legacy, Devastation Fuels Change

One year after wildfires ravaged Dave Daley’s herd, the California rancher is on a mission to save his family’s ranch legacy. But as his area is still scattered with scars, searching for solutions and calls for change.

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Recognizing monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act may do more harm than good

Insect populations are declining worldwide, and monarch butterflies are no exception. Efforts to reverse the trends are underway across the United States and Canada. Even with these efforts, many national insect conservation groups are advocating for the USFWS to list the monarch butterfly as “threatened” under the ESA. But a recent op-ed from scientists says that listing the monarch as endangered would trigger regulatory protections that could actually harm monarch populations and current conservation efforts.

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NCBA announces Climate Neutrality Goal for Cattle Industry by 2040

On Thursday, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association announced a plan to address beef sustainability and solidify their commitment to environmental, economic and social sustainability for the U.S. Cattle Industry.

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Water interests collide – Concern about irrigated land being subdivided

Conflicting agricultural and residential interests are coming to a head in Park County with the recent Buck Creek Estates major subdivision seeking approval before the county commissioners.

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Research shows that regenerative farming can deliver environmental benefits while maintaining productivity

A newly published study by Colorado State University and partners found that Adaptive Multi-Paddock (AMP) grazing – which involves grazing small areas with a high density of livestock for a short period of time, followed by long rest periods – can help capture carbon and boost nitrogen soil retention.

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First water cuts in US West supply to hammer Arizona farmers

Climate change, drought and high demand are expected to force the first-ever mandatory cuts to a water supply that 40 million people across the American West depend on — the Colorado River.

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East Yellowstone Collaborative Working Group Recieves a 2021 Catalyst Fund Grant

The East Yellowstone Collaborative Working Group works to restore, protect, and steward the lands of the Absaroka Front to support healthy wildlife populations and sustain private working lands. Funding will support continued facilitation of the Working Group, including monthly partner meetings. Funding will also support targeted work with landowners to explore and prioritize potential conservation projects as the Working Group moves into implementation of its Vision Plan. Targeted investments in sustaining the collaborative capacity of the Working Group will accelerate its ability to achieve landscape-scale conservation outcomes in a landscape of global significance while maintaining the economic viability of ranches and private working lands.

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Grazing Cattle Can Reduce Agriculture’s Carbon Footprint

Ruminant animals like cattle contribute to the maintenance of healthy soils and grasslands, and proper grazing management can reduce the industry’s carbon emissions and overall footprint, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist, Richard Teague.

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Soil and its promise as a climate solution: A primer

Is harnessing the storage power of soils the global carbon solution we have been searching for? Understanding soil-formation and function is a first step to finding out.

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Heat, drought and fire: how climate dangers combine for a catastrophic ‘perfect storm’

Researchers are concerned that the Dixie fire’s record won’t hold for long. The parched landscapes and increased temperatures that set the stage for bigger blazes this year are not anomalies – they are trends. And the conditions are going to get worse.

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Carbon credit market is a Wild West, for now

Companies like Land O’ Lakes have created carbon trading programs, which can benefit farmers who’ve yet to get started on conservation practices. But farmers who’ve practiced conservation for years are feeling like the time isn’t right to jump in. 

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IPCC: Climate change requires fast action; ag practices could help long-term

Time is growing short to address global climate change, whose impacts are being seen in more extreme weather events such as drought and heavier precipitation, and changes to agricultural practices could take decades to have an impact on carbon emissions, according to a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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‘Nothing’s safe’ as wildfire tears through California town

Shelton Douthit and his team at the Feather River Land Trust in Northern California have been working to restore the lush natural habitat and protect Indigenous artifacts around Lake Almanor.

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Dead zones spread along Oregon coast and Gulf of Mexico, study shows

Agricultural runoff from farms and livestock operations creates oxygen-depleted areas inhospitable to animal and plant life. Scientists recently surveyed the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico around Louisiana and Texas and what they discovered was a larger-than-average area of oxygen-depleted water – a “dead zone” where nothing can live.

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Researchers study wildfire’s impacts a year later

The effects from the Cameron Peak Fire can still be felt 12 months after the wildfire burned more than 208,000 acres.

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Push for conservation funding raises farm bill questions

Congressional Democrats are pushing for a historic increase in conservation program funding that would help pay farmers to address climate change, but the money also could create some challenges for the House and Senate Agriculture committees as they write the new farm bill.

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Stricter controls sought against ag-based water pollution

Greater buffer zones around bodies of water and more consistent enforcement of water protection regulations are needed to reduce agriculture-based pollution in the Western U.S., a recent review from Oregon State University found.

Prior research has shown that agricultural pollution, both from croplands and rangelands, is the cause of 48% of water-quality impairment in U.S. surface waters, which in turn disrupts habitat for fish and insects and reduces biodiversity in aquatic environments.

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A Soil-Science Revolution Upends Plans to Fight Climate Change

A centuries-old concept in soil science has recently been thrown out. Yet it remains a key ingredient in everything from climate models to advanced carbon-capture projects.

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Unprecedented action: State shuts down big hydroelectric plant as Lake Oroville drops to historic lows

One of California’s biggest hydroelectric plants was taken offline Thursday after water levels at the Lake Oroville reservoir plummeted to historic lows, which authorities blamed on drought caused by climate change.

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What is the future of WOTUS?

The U.S. District Court in South Carolina dismissed a challenge to the Navigable Waters Protection Rule written during the Trump administration and granted a remand without vacatur, ensuring the rule remains in effect until the Biden administration finalizes a new rule.

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Western drought has lasted longer than the Dust Bowl

It has dropped water levels perilously low at two of the nation’s largest reservoirs, forced ranchers to sell off herds and helped propel scorching wildfires. It’s lasted longer than the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. And worst of all, the drought blanketing the western United States is not going away.

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4 questions farmers are asking about carbon markets

As producers wade through the ever-deepening amount of carbon information available in the marketplace, they are asking for answers to key questions including which program makes sense for their operation, what’s the value in participating, is it all just hype and how can one avoid being taken advantage of.

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Some drought-imposed fishing limits lifted on Colorado River

Colorado lifted some fishing restrictions along a stretch of the Colorado River, but biologists warn that historically low water flows caused by a drought in the West, high water temperatures and wildfire sediment that all starve trout of oxygen could force future bans.

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Size of Oregon wildfire underscores vastness of the US West

The monstrous wildfire burning in Oregon has grown to a third the size of Rhode Island and spreads miles each day, but evacuations and property losses have been minimal compared with much smaller blazes in densely populated areas of California. The fire’s jaw-dropping size contrasted with its relatively small impact on people underscores the vastness of the American West.

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Can Family-Owned Forests Help the U.S. Achieve a Low-Carbon Future?

A USDA Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) project is trying to reimagine how carbon markets can work with and for small landholders. The Family Forest Carbon Program (FFCP) bases carbon payments on specific forest management practices. The project’s goal is to facilitate the participation of nearly 300 million acres of family-owned American forests in carbon markets.

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Bipartisan lawmakers call for united effort on wildfires

Four Western members of Congress have issued a bipartisan call for their colleagues to prioritize funding for wildfire resiliency and prevention in this year’s appropriations bill. The four are members of the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus, which sent a letter to House Appropriations Committee leaders in April asking for the funding.

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Fighting wildfires in the West: ‘I don’t think we can overdo anything’

Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., and Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., held a press call recently detailing the need for more urgent, coordinated responses to wildfires in the West, which have become routine rather than rare.

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Drought is forcing tough decisions for West’s ranchers

This year is proving to be a serious challenge for many cattle producers in the western states, with prolonged drought and high temperatures. Pasture and hay supplies are well below average and some producers are running out of forage.

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How Animal Agriculture Is Being Impacted By Utah’s Drought

While watering lawns less can be done to conserve water during a drought, using less water isn’t always possible in agricultural operations. As water availability dwindles, some farmers are noticing decreases in their agricultural outputs. Troy Forest is the Director of Grazing Improvement at the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food and said the drought has been negatively impacting animal agriculture in Utah for over a year now.

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New Mexico lawmakers warned about shrinking water supplies

Some of New Mexico’s top climate and water experts warned state lawmakers Tuesday that the effects of the drought on water supplies have been worsened by climate change, specifically an ongoing, long-term warming trend.

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Amid A Megadrought, Federal Water Shortage Limits Loom For The Colorado River

Extremely dry conditions like the region is experiencing in 2021 make clear that the Colorado River is unable to meet all the demands communities in the Western U.S. have placed on it, and it’s up to its biggest users to decide who has to rely on it less.

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Klamath Basin drought: fire and drought

This week, Think Out Loud has traveled to the Klamath Basin to have conversations with people affected by the severe drought in the region. The Bootleg fire is currently the largest burning in the U.S. Rancher Becky Hyde is a mile and a half from the fire. She says, “If you take the drought, and then you add the fire on top of it … you have ranchers in this area who are in a horrible situation.”

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American west stuck in cycle of ‘heat, drought and fire’, experts warn

As fires propagate throughout the US west on the heels of record heatwaves, experts are warning that the region is caught in a vicious feedback cycle of extreme heat, drought and fire, all amplified by the climate crisis.

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Innovative ‘Soil for Water’ regenerative agriculture project expands to Montana

Building on a successful peer-to-peer network of Texas ranchers who are implementing innovative grazing techniques to improve soil health and increase profitability, the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) is scaling up its Soil for Water project to support livestock producers and farmers across seven southern states and Montana.

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Reservoirs are drying up as consequences of the Western drought worsen

Reservoir levels are dropping throughout the West, as the drought tightens its grip on the region and intense summer heat further stresses both water supply and the surrounding landscape.

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Connecting Ranchers with Land Stewards Could Be Key to Less Disastrous Wildfires

In California and across the drought-parched West, programs are springing up to help goats, sheep, and cattle eat down the plants that would otherwise become fuel for wildfires.

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Drought And Fire Conditions In Western Colorado Are Dire. Can Congress Help?

Colorado Congressmembers like Reps. Lauren Boebert and Joe Neguse can’t make it rain or control a massive wildfire. What they can do is focus attention — and money — on the issue.

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Tribe becomes key water player with drought aid to Arizona

The Colorado River Indian Tribes and another tribe in Arizona have played an outsized role in the recent drought contingency plans that had Arizona voluntarily give up water. As the state faces mandatory cuts next year in its Colorado River supply, the tribes see themselves as major players in the future of water.

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It’s Some of America’s Richest Farmland. But What Is It Without Water?

A California farmer decides it makes better business sense to sell his water than to grow rice. An almond farmer considers uprooting his trees to put up solar panels. Drought is transforming the state, with broad consequences for the food supply.

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Why water levels in megadrought-impacted Southwestern states have some experts concerned

Water levels in major bodies of water in the Southwest — both natural and manmade — are approaching historic lows as the drought is exacerbated by heatwave after heatwave during a dry season that started earlier this year.

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Bipartisan agriculture climate bill clears Senate

The Senate on Thursday passed bipartisan legislation aimed at granting farms access to carbon offset markets by a 92-8 vote.

The Growing Climate Solutions Act, introduced by Sens. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), next heads to the House. The measure would establish a Department of Agriculture certification process through which producers can generate and sell carbon credits.

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USDA to Invest $10 Million to Support Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry through Voluntary Conservation

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing $10 million to support climate-smart agriculture and forestry through voluntary conservation practices in 10 targeted states. This assistance, available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), will help agricultural producers plan and implement voluntary conservation practices that sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change on working lands.

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Groups come together to fund Arizona water conservation program impacting Colorado River

As the federal government prepares to declare a first-ever water shortage at Lake Mead, Arizona state leaders, Native American tribes, and philanthropic and corporate foundations are stepping up to help conserve water.

This week, these entities committed to funding an $8 million gap to complete a landmark water conservation project with the Colorado River Indian Tribes and the state of Arizona.

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Drought maps show the western US at its driest in 20 years

Current drought conditions across the West and Southwest are more widespread and severe than they’ve ever been in the 20 years the US Drought Monitor has been mapping them. Key water reservoirs were already alarmingly dry when a heat wave blanketed the western US, straining power grids and raising wildfire risk.

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Rocky Mountain subalpine forests now burning more than any time in recent millennia

High-elevation forests in Colorado and Wyoming are now burning more than at any other point in the last two millennia. According to new research, climate change is making subalpine forests in the Rocky Mountains more flammable now than at any time in the past 2,000 years. 

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Changes in farming practices could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2036

Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory participated in a study that shows innovation in technologies and agricultural practices could reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from grain production by up to 70 percent within the next 15 years.

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New study shows how loss of drought-sensitive species could affect grasslands

A recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows how the health of a California grassland might be affected in a future with less biodiversity and a changing climate, particularly in the case of more frequent droughts.

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Breaking down the effects of a drought that is affecting the entire Western U.S.

Almost half of the U.S. has been in a drought since the start of 2021.

Compounding factors, including low rainfall and snowpack, climate change and persisting droughts from previous years, have escalated into extreme dryness.

The prolonged dryness means low water levels are endangering fish species in Oregon and Colorado, 30% of California’s population is in a drought emergency, and the nation’s two biggest reservoirs on the Colorado River — Lake Powell and Lake Mead — are two-thirds empty.

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Arizona governor signs $100M wildfire funding plan

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday signed a bill rushed through in a special legislative session that provides $100 million in funding this year to battle wildfires, react to the damage they cause and to create a new force of more than 700 state inmates to clear brush.

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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. WLA’s Lesli Allison writes “it’s time to move past the rhetoric and to a much more critical examination of the “public access at all costs” movement.”

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Over half of the world’s rivers cease to flow for at least one day a year on average

Between 51-60% of the 64 million kilometres of rivers and streams on Earth, investigated in a new study, stop flowing periodically, or run dry for part of the year. The research calls for a paradigm shift in river science and management by revising foundational concepts which traditionally assumed year-round water flow in rivers and streams.

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NAU Researchers Find Forest Treatments Have Long-lasting Effects

A group of researchers at Northern Arizona University recently studied the effects of thinning and burning in small areas throughout the state. Their research shows that treatments might last for at least two decades.

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

In response to historic drought conditions, the 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. NRCS will accept applications through July 12, 2021.

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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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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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Audubon Report Shows That Important Bird Habitats are Key Natural Solutions to Climate Change

A new report from the National Audubon Society shows that habitats that are important for birds now and in the future are also critical to reducing greenhouse emissions given their ability to naturally store and sequester carbon. This means that maintaining and restoring these landscapes through incentives for management and conservation are important strategies in our collective challenge to stabilize climate change.

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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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Alta Live: Ranchers Fighting Climate Change

Kent Reeves is part of a movement to fight climate change by repairing California’s native grasslands, provided he can rope his fellow ranchers and their cattle into the plan. Reeves and Alta Journal contributor Meredith Lawrence join Alta Live for a look at the cowboys trying to sustain the state. This live event will be held on Wednesday, June 23, at 12:30 p.m. Pacific time.

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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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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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Climate change could give biochar a boost with farmers

(Subscription) Will 2021 be the year that biochar finally catches fire? Proponents of the charcoal-like material that’s made from trees and other plants say they hope so, as research continues to point to its ability to enrich the soil while storing large amounts of carbon.

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Communicating about climate requires more than facts

Research can inform people to take appropriate action to solve problems, but effectively communicating is key.

Faith Kearns, who works on emotional and contentious water-related issues such as climate change, drought and wildfire, has learned firsthand that the way scientists communicate can deeply affect people and communities.

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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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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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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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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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Colorado restaurants are funding farming and ranching projects that suck carbon from the atmosphere

Colorado restaurants are funding regenerative agriculture projects that suck carbon from the atmosphere through Restore Colorado. Some see regenerative agriculture as a key way to reduce the amount of CO2 in the air worsening climate change.

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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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‘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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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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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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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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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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Carbon Markets Stand to Reward ‘No-Till’ Farmers. But Most Are Still Tilling the Soil.

As the adoption of no-till practices has spread widely across parts of the U.S. over the past few decades, the approach has been touted as an important means of storing carbon in soil—and a key solution to solving the climate crisis.

But despite its recent growth in popularity, “no-till” has no single, agreed-upon meaning. In fact, the phrase is often a misnomer. Most no-till farmers have not cut out tillage altogether and do not engage in other beneficial practices such as planting cover crops. As a result, these “seldom-till” farmers aren’t able to permanently store carbon in their soil.

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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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New Farmers Union Climate Panel Gives Diverse Group of Farmers and Ranchers a Seat at the Table

A panel organized by the National Farmers Union hopes to address climate change while reflecting the diversity of American farmers and ranchers.

“The diversity is a really big strength of the panel,” Fullmer tells Food Tank. “That is the goal of the panel: to make sure that the diversity of producers are at the table collaborating together and making sure that the proposals and the bills and the solutions actually being put forward make sense on the ground.”

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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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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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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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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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‘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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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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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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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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Regenerative ag, carbon sequestration in soils and 30×30 will all depend on advancing conservation on rented land

40% of US farmland is rented or leased, the majority from ’non-operator landowners’ — we only need do the math to understand the importance of these lands to stewardship.

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Study: Shade from solar panels boosts summer flowers

A new study found that shade provided by solar panels increased the abundance of flowers under the panels and delayed the timing of their bloom, both findings that could aid the agricultural community.

The study, believed to be the first that looked at the impact of solar panels on flowering plants and insects, has important implications for solar developers who manage the land under solar panels, as well as agriculture and pollinator health advocates who are seeking land for pollinator habitat restoration.

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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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National Audubon Society Announces Largest Market-Based Regenerative Grasslands Partnership in the U.S.

The National Audubon Society today announced the largest market-based regenerative grasslands partnership in the U.S. with Panorama Organic Grass-Fed Meats. The commitment will impact one million acres of certified organic U.S. grasslands and create individual habitat management plans with every family rancher in the Panorama Organic network through Audubon’s Conservation Ranching Initiative.

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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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People have shaped Earth’s ecology for at least 12,000 years, mostly sustainably

New research shows that land use by human societies has reshaped ecology across most of Earth’s land for at least 12,000 years. Researchers assessed biodiversity in relation to global land use history, revealing that the appropriation, colonization, and intensified use of lands previously managed sustainably is the main cause of the current biodiversity crisis.

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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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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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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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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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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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Grazing and Climate Change: the Influence of Livestock on Soil Carbon Storage

Rangelands make up a large proportion of the Earth’s surface, and the soils hold a significant amount of sequestered carbon (Schuman G.E et al. 2001). Rangelands are estimated to contain more than one-third of the world’s above and below ground carbon reserves (Ingram L.J. et al. 2008).

Therefore, there is interest in determining the potential for soil carbon sequestration in rangeland soils, and whether livestock grazing helps or hinders this sequestration (McSherry, M., and Mark Richie. 2013).

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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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Better management can reduce beef production emissions

A comprehensive assessment of 12 different strategies for reducing beef production emissions worldwide found that industry can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 50% in certain regions, with the most potential in the United States and Brazil.

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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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Scientists ID second gene tied to heat tolerance

Researchers at UC Riverside are making progress in their understanding of how plants respond to heat, a step that could eventually lead to crops that can withstand higher temperatures as the climate continues changing.

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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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Warming climate clips farming gains

(Subscription) Climate change and plant science are pulling agriculture in opposite directions, and in some ways, the damage from the warming climate may be winning, a new study suggests.

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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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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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Advocates sue to protect monarchs, Northern spotted owls

Wildlife advocates recently sued federal officials in a bid for greater protections for monarch butterflies, northern spotted owls and eight other species. The lawsuit comes after federal officials said the species named in the lawsuit need protections, but that other imperiled plants and animals have higher priority.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Soils or plants will absorb more CO2 as carbon levels rise—but not both

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere fuels plant growth. As carbon levels rise, it’s appealing to think of supercharged plant growth and massive tree-planting campaigns drawing down the CO2 produced by fossil fuel burning, agriculture and other human activities.

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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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How Regenerative Ranching is Revitalizing Rangelands

Duke Phillips, a third generation rancher and the CEO & Founder of Ranchlands, has spent his life on working lands. When people learn this, they generally have one of two notions—a romantic and glamorized one where he spends his days surveying the landscape while chewing on a piece of grass or that he works in an extractive industry that takes from the land and is anti-ecological.  Both are false. Phillips aims for his ranching business to regenerate ecosystems, improve the quality of life for people living near and working on ranches, and to help the public better understand the American ranching legacy.

During Regenerative Travel’s webinar How Regenerative Ranching is Revitalizing Rangelands, the panelists, including Western Landowners Alliance’s Executive Directer Lesli Allison, aimed to demystify ranching, and to share how this tradition can help to conserve our most biodiverse landscapes, reverse climate change, and deepen a connection between people, animals, and land. 

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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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Scientists claim feeding cows seaweed could slash their methane emissions by a staggering 82 percent

Agriculture makes up about 10 percent of emissions in the U.S., with about half of that portion coming from cattle that belch and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Researchers suggest in a recent study that feeding cattle just a tiny bit of seaweed each day could help the agriculture industry significantly cut back on greenhouse gas emissions.

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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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Bird Friendliness Index Shows Audubon Conservation Ranching is Bringing Grassland Birds Back

Populations show a jump of more than a third in some areas. The National Audubon Society created the Conservation Ranching Initiative (ACR) in order to support ranchers while protecting and renewing grassland habitats and increasing populations of grassland birds. Audubon range ecologists partner with ranchers to develop habitat management plans customized to make their land more bird-friendly through practices including rotational grazing and minimizing the use of chemicals.

Audubon’s science team has developed a Bird-Friendliness Index to quantify ACR’s impact on vulnerable grassland and aridland birds. It measures the abundance, diversity, and resilience of the bird community on ACR-certified ranchland, and compares them to conventionally managed lands.

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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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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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Climate Change Lays Waste to Butterflies Across American West

A new study in the journal Science documents declines across hundreds of species over recent decades, and finds years featuring warmer, drier autumns are particularly deadly.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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Same force behind Texas deep freeze could drive prolonged heat waves

The jury is still out on whether climate change is playing a role in the brutal cold, snow, and ice that have wreaked havoc across Texas this week. But the same climate connection scientists are debating—Arctic warming causing the jet stream to meander further south—might also cause the southern United States to experience more persistent heat waves in the future.

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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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A different kind of land management: let the cows stomp

Regenerative grazing can store more carbon in soils in the form of roots and other plant tissues. But how much can it really help the fight against climate change?

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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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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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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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They Want to Start Paying Mother Nature for All Her Hard Work

The global system is built on buying and selling, but often, no one pays for the most basic goods and services that sustain life — water to drink, soil to grow food, clean air to breathe, rain forests that regulate the climate.

Continuing to ignore the value of nature in our global economy threatens humanity itself, according to an independent report on biodiversity and economics, commissioned by the British government and issued Tuesday. The study, led by Partha Dasgupta, a Cambridge University economist, is the first comprehensive review of its kind.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Can organic farming solve the climate crisis?

With regenerative agriculture gaining traction, the organic industry is positioning itself as leading the way on carbon sequestration. The research is promising—but inconclusive.

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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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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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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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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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Truterra will pilot carbon project with Nori

Truterra, the sustainability business unit of Land O’ Lakes, has launched a pilot program through the 2022 growing season with Nori, a startup with blockchain technology for a carbon removal marketplace. The goal of the pilot is to explore the scalability of an ecosystem services marketplace and provide farmers a view for what they could gain in a carbon market. 

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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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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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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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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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