Drilling Near Dinosaur National Monument Draws Criticism ~ NYT

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Changes loom near remote Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. It’s a rough region of 1,000-foot cliffs and canyons, two wild rivers — the Green and the Yampa — ancient rock art and archaeological evidence of 10,000 years of human history.

The park, which straddles the Utah-Colorado border, affords visitors backcountry camping, white-water rafting and, most famously, spectacular dinosaur fossils. The Bureau of Land Management has announced that in December it will auction gas and oil drilling rights on 94,000 acres, or 146 square miles, of land, some of it near the park’s entrance road.

Pumpjacks, drill rigs and other equipment would be visible from the park’s visitor center, which is 2.5 miles from one lease parcel, according to critics. The B.L.M. has said that equipment would not intrude on the average visitor’s field of view. The agency said it would take steps to minimize visibility, including light shields, noise mufflers and “placement of exhaust systems to direct noise away from noise sensitive areas” and “avoiding unnecessary flaring of gas.”

Ozone pollution from such energy development already exceeds federal Clean Air Act limits in the monument area.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican who supports fossil fuel development on public lands, initially said he worried that the new leases would bring eyesores too close to the park. “The state wishes to ensure leasing of these parcels does not impact visual resources or cause light or sound disturbances,” he said in comments submitted to the B.L.M. in July.

The monument’s National Park Service administrators have also expressed concern about dust, night lights, air and water pollution and threats to endangered species. The 330-square-mile, high-desert park is visited by about 300,000 people a year. It was designated a national monument by President Woodrow Wilson in 1915, using powers granted him under the Antiquities Act of 1906.

The new drilling leases pivot away from a policy begun during the administration of Barack Obama, in which the Park Service and the B.L.M. collaborated to avoid visual and environmental impacts from industrial development on public lands near parks. The national monument, administered by the park service, is surrounded by federal public lands administered by the B.L.M. Both agencies are within the Department of the Interior.

More gas and oil drilling is part of the Trump administration’s announced goals of what the president has referred to as “energy dominance. The Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, has said that “oil and gas production on federal lands is an important source of revenue and job growth in rural America.”

In response to the concerns expressed by Mr. Herbert and others, the B.L.M. has deferred action indefinitely on about 1,600 acres near the park that had been proposed for leases, and said that it will try to mitigate impacts at the monument from drilling activity on the remaining areas near the park.

The governor’s office declared that it was satisfied by the changes.

“Thank you @BLMNational for listening to our concerns about protecting the visitor experience at @DinosaurNPS,” Mr. Herbert said on Twitter.

Others are unhappy. Critics say the shift is emblematic of changes that will affect a wide range of other parks and monuments, as well as those who visit them.

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October Outlook ~ Mountain Weather Master Joe Ramey looks into our San Juan future …

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Hello MWM,
Looking back at September 2017, the month’s weather was divided on the 14th of the month. The first two weeks were mostly very warm and drier then normal. The final half of the month was generally cooler and wetter than normal. The month as a whole ended warmer than normal at all twelve climate sites. Regional monthly precipitation was mixed with the south generally drier then normal (minima at Durango, -0.67 inches below normal) and the north wetter than normal (maxima at Salt Lake City +0.83 inches).
 
For the first week of October we are in the storm track with a warmer and dry break on Tuesday and Wednesday. Snow levels are quite low the next few days, around 7000ft north and 9000ft south.
 
In the latest outlook from the CPC, the October storm track looks to favor the northern tier of states including northern Colorado. This may help the short-term drought conditions over NW Colorado. The southern portion of the state shows less forecast skill. For the Oct-Nov-Dec season there are increased chances of warmer than normal, with little precipitation forecast skill.
For hints about the winter to come, we look to the state of the Pacific. In the equatorial Pacific, the Nino 3.4 region’s temperatures are near normal. The current ENSO forecast is now for either neutral or La Nina conditions expected to develop as we head towards winter.  Neutral ENSO winters are wildcard seasons with both very dry and very snowy winters in their climate record. La Nina winters tend to have a stormy and snowy January favoring northern and central Colorado.
For the truly geeky, the PDO is still just a bit warmer then normal, down from the record warmth of the last two years. So any signal from the PDO is muted.
Looking out through the next 12 months, the CPC outlooks show a tilt towards a possible La Nina cold season. La Nina winters tend to produce a storm track across the northern tier of states. Therefore the outlooks show increased chances of wetter than normal across the northern tier of states and drier than normal across the south. Temperature outlooks show less La Nina influence and more of the climate change signal with a warmer than normal tendency dominating all but the northern tier states.
Enjoy the fall colors as they will going away quickly.
All the Best,
Joe Ramey

Corporations Have Rights. Why Shouldn’t Rivers? ~ “Deep Ecology seeping into the mainstream.” Edgar Boyles

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The Colorado River in southeastern Utah. It is the subject of a lawsuit that asks a judge to recognize it as a person. CreditFrancisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune, via Associated Press

DENVER — Does a river — or a plant, or a forest — have rights?

This is the essential question in what attorneys are calling a first-of-its-kind federal lawsuit, in which a Denver lawyer and a far-left environmental group are asking a judge to recognize the Colorado River as a person.

If successful, it could upend environmental law, possibly allowing the redwood forests, the Rocky Mountains or the deserts of Nevada to sue individuals, corporations and governments over resource pollution or depletion. Future lawsuits in its mold might seek to block pipelines, golf courses or housing developments and force everyone from agriculture executives to mayors to rethink how they treat the environment.

Several environmental law experts said the suit had a slim chance at best. “I don’t think it’s laughable,” said Reed Benson, chairman of the environmental law program at the University of New Mexico. “But I think it’s a long shot in more ways than one.”

The suit was filed Monday in Federal District Court in Colorado by Jason Flores-Williams, a Denver lawyer. It names the river ecosystem as the plaintiff — citing no specific physical boundaries — and seeks to hold the state of Colorado and Gov. John Hickenlooper liable for violating the river’s “right to exist, flourish, regenerate, be restored, and naturally evolve.”

Because the river cannot appear in court, a group called Deep Green Resistance is filing the suit as an ally, or so-called next friend, of the waterway.

If a corporation has rights, the authors argue, so, too, should an ancient waterway that has sustained human life for as long as it has existed in the Western United States. The lawsuit claims the state violated the river’s right to flourish by polluting and draining it and threatening endangered species. The claim cites several nations whose courts or governments have recognized some rights for natural entities.

The lawsuit drew immediate criticism from conservative lawmakers, who called it ridiculous. “I think we can all agree rivers and trees are not people,” said Senator Steve Daines of Montana. “Radical obstructionists who contort common sense with this sort of nonsense undercut credible conservationists.”

The office of Mr. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, declined to comment.

The lawsuit comes as hurricanes and wildfires in recent weeks have left communities across the country devastated, intensifying the debate over how humans should treat the earth in the face of global climate change.

Mr. Flores-Williams characterized the suit as an attempt to level the playing field as rivers and forests battle human exploitation. As it stands, he said, “the ultimate disparity exists between entities that are using nature and nature itself.”

Imbuing rivers with the right to sue, he argued, would force humans to take care of the water and trees they need to survive — or face penalties. “It’s not pie in the sky,” he said of the lawsuit. “It’s pragmatic.”

Jody Freeman, director of Harvard’s environmental law program, said Mr. Flores would face an uphill battle.

“Courts have wrestled with the idea of granting animals standing,” she wrote in an email. “It would be an even further stretch to confer standing directly on rivers, mountains and forests.”

The idea of giving nature legal rights, however, is not new. It dates to at least 1972, when a lawyer, Christopher Stone, wrote an article titled “Should Trees Have Standing?”

Mr. Stone had hoped to influence a Supreme Court case in which the Sierra Club wanted to block a ski resort in the Sierras. The environmental group lost.

“But Justice William Douglas had read Stone’s article,” Ms. Freeman wrote, “and in his famous dissent, he embraced the view advocated by Stone: that natural objects should be recognized as legal parties, which could be represented by humans, who could sue on their behalf.”

That view has never attracted support in the court. But it has had some success abroad.

In Ecuador, the constitution now declares that nature “has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles.” In New Zealand, officials declared in March that a river used by the Maori tribe of Whanganui in the North Island to be a legal person that can sue if it is harmed. A court in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand has called the Ganges and its main tributary, the Yamuna, to be living human entities.

The Colorado River cuts through or along seven Western states and supplies water to approximately 36 million people, including residents of Denver, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, San Diego and Los Angeles. It also feeds millions of acres of farmland.

It is as famous for its power and beauty as it is for overuse. Scientists expect that increased temperatures brought on by climate change will cause it to shrink further, leaving many people anxious about its future.

Mr. Flores-Williams is a criminal defense lawyer known for suing the city of Denver over its treatment of homeless people. Deep Green Resistance believes that the mainstream environmental movement has been ineffective, and that industrial civilization is fundamentally destructive to life on earth. The group’s task, according to its website, is to create “a resistance movement that will dismantle industrial civilization by any means necessary.”

Mr. Flores-Williams responded to criticism that his argument, if successful, would allow pebbles to sue the people who step on them.

“Does every pebble in the world now have standing?” he said. “Absolutely not, that’s ridiculous.”

“We’re not interested in preserving pebbles,” he added. “We’re interested in preserving the dynamic systems that exist in the ecosystem upon which we depend.”

Legendary wildlife scientist John Craighead dead at 100 ~ Missoulian

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John Craighead liked to quote fellow legendary conservationist Aldo Leopold, who once said “we should think like a mountain.”

 

The philosophy of following nature’s cues and looking “at the fundamentals of things” guided Craighead’s pioneering work in American conservation, its wild rivers and seminal studies of grizzly bears.

 

“I have listened to the voice of the mountain for most of my life,” said Craighead upon receiving The Wildlife Society’s Aldo Leopold Memorial Award in 1998.

The mountains still talk, but they lost one of their most avid listeners Sunday morning when John Craighead died in his sleep at his home of more than 60 years in southwest Missoula.

 

Craighead turned 100 on Aug. 14 and had been ailing for years, though his children said it wasn’t until last year that he was unable to frequent the tepee in his yard in all seasons.

 

“It was unexpected, but expected,” said son Johnny, who lives next door to and has been the primary caregiver for his father and mother Margaret, 96.

 

“When he went to sleep Saturday night we didn’t expect it to happen, but we expected it to happen sometime soon,” the younger Craighead said. “He was going, and we’ve been grieving, for a long time.”

 

No formal services will be held. The family plans to spread his ashes in the Jackson Hole, Wyoming, area, where Craighead and his twin brother Frank settled when they first came West as young naturalists and husbands, building look-alike cabins near Moose. Johnny Craighead’s older siblings, Karen Haynam and Derek Craighead, still live in the area.

 

The breadth of Craighead’s experience and expertise in the natural world – with Frank and apart from him – is legendary. In 1998, the same year John received the Aldo Leopold Award, the twins were named among America’s top scientists of the 20th century by the Audubon Society.

 

“I don’t think his impact on the wildlife profession can be overestimated,” said Dan Pletscher, who retired in 2013 as director of the University of Montana’s wildlife biology program that Craighead helped establish as one of the best in the nation.

 

The Craighead brothers were born in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 14, 1916. Intrigued by falconry and birds, they attended Penn State University and, at age 20, published their first of many articles for National Geographic Society titled “Adventures with Birds of Prey.”

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The Outdoor Apparel Industry Is Fighting for Public Lands

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The Outdoor Apparel Industry Is Fighting for Public Lands

REI and Patagonia are using their platforms to speak out for national monuments.

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Patagonia Inc. had never run a television advertisement in its nearly 45-year history — until last month, when the Ventura, California, outdoor clothing company decided to spend nearly $700,000 on a TV and radio campaign in three Western states. Yet surprisingly, when the ads hit the airwaves in late August they had nothing to do with its popular fleece jackets, puffy vests, or waterproof duffel bags.

Instead, the 60-second commercials feature Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard fly-fishing on Wyoming’s Snake River, while warning that public lands have “never been more threatened than right now,” thanks to “a few self-serving politicians who want to sell them off and make money.” The ads urge viewers in Utah, Nevada, and Montana to tell U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinkenot to sell or shrink any of America’s national monuments.

Signs like these are common throughout Salt Lake City, where many residents support stronger protections for public lands.
Photo credit: Russ Arensman

For more than a century, U.S. presidents have used national monument status, authorized under the 1906 Antiquities Act, to protect areas of unique historic, scenic, or scientific interest from mining, logging, and other development. The current list of 157 monuments includes such iconic sites as George Washington’s birthplace, the Statue of Liberty, giant sequoia groves in California, and the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Yet critics contend that some recently designated sites are too big, too burdensome on nearby communities, and undeserving of national monument status.

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Weavers of Oaxaca

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 3.19.30 PM.png    Juana Gutiérrez Contreras in her family’s workshop in Teotitlán del Valle, known for its hand-woven rugs and other textiles. The Gutiérrez family works to preserve traditional plant and insect dyes. Credit Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

TEOTITLÁN DEL VALLE, Mexico — As a child, Porfirio Gutiérrez hiked into the mountains above the village with his family each fall, collecting the plants they would use to make colorful dyes for blankets and other woven goods.

They gathered pericón, a type of marigold that turned the woolen skeins a buttercream color; jarilla leaves that yielded a fresh green; and tree lichen known as old man’s beard that dyed wool a yellow as pale as straw.

“We’d talk about the stories of the plants,” Mr. Gutiérrez, 39, recalled. “Where they grew, the colors that they provide, what’s the perfect timing to collect them.”

Gregarious and possessed of an entrepreneurial spirit, Mr. Gutiérrez is descended from a long line of weavers. His father taught him to weave as a child; he even wove the backpack he took to school.

In this small village near Oaxaca, known for its hand-woven rugs, he and his family are among a small group of textile artisans working to preserve the use of plant and insect dyes, techniques that stretch back more than 1,000 years in the indigenous Zapotec tradition.

Textile artists in many countries are increasingly turning to natural dyes, both as an attempt to revive ancient traditions and out of concerns about the environmental and health risks of synthetic dyes.

Natural dyes, though more expensive and harder to use than the chemical dyes that have largely supplanted them, produce more vivid colors and are safer and more environmentally friendly than their synthetic counterparts.

To be sure, natural pigments are not always benign. The plants they are extracted from can be poisonous, and heavy metal salts are often used to fix the colors to the fabric. The dyes fade more quickly from sun exposure than chemically produced colors, arguably rendering the textiles less sustainable.

But environmentalists have long worried about the damaging effects of the wide array of toxic chemicals — from sulfur and formaldehyde, to arsenic, copper, lead and mercury — routinely used in textile production.

Runoff from textile factories pollutes waterways and disrupts ecosystems worldwide. And long-term exposure to synthetic dyes — first discovered in 1856 by an English chemist, William Henry Perkin — has been linked to cancer and other illnesses.

“They are very toxic,” Mr. Gutiérrez said. “The more awareness you raise, the more artists are going to use natural dyes and stay away from heavily chemically dyed yarn.”

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In the Gutiérrez family workshop, samples of colored wool, palm fronds and prickly pearsCreditAdriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times
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Cooling temperatures and beginning of autumn? From Mountain Weather Master, Joe Ramey

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Hello MWM,
Meteorological 2017 summer ends tomorrow, Thursday. That is a bit of a bold statement. But these well-above normal temperatures of late summer  look like they will be replaced with below normal temperatures for the foreseeable future. Saturday morning, we may see our first seasonal snow over the Park and Gore Ranges of NW Colorado.
Back in the dark ages when I went to school, I remember a professor teaching about the concept of singularities. A singularity is a meteorological event that marks a significant shift in the weather patterns. At the time, in the 1980s, we knew that the persistence tool, that is forecasting today what had happened yesterday, would statistically yield the highest accuracy. The problem with persistence is that you miss every singularity that will impact your users.
The next few days look like the singularity that introduces the fall season weather pattern and brings an end this warm summer.
In current satellite imagery, you can see a closed low spinning along the central California coast and progressive, open troughs working across the NE Pacific towards shore. The closed Low will open tonight and work across western Colorado bringing increased chances of showers and cooler temperatures for Thursday into Friday. Then early Saturday, a strong cold front, associated with the next progressive trough, passes. This will take 700mb (about 10,000ft MSL) temperatures below 0C. Steamboat Mountain and Winter Park could get their first snowfall of the season. SW Colorado will remain moisture starved. Temperatures across northern and central Colorado will drop around 15 degrees below today’s high temperatures. You can see this in the latest 6-10 and 8-14 day outlook.
The western CONUS will quickly shift from above normal to below normal temperatures. The storm track will tend to favor the northern Rockies. The monsoon as we know it (subtropical high near or east of the Four Corners with subtropical moisture bubbling up from Mexico) will be over. There is still a good chance that cold-core Pacific storms will work across the Intermountain West and pull good moisture up from Mexico. It is that pattern that makes September and October some of our wettest months of the year on the West Slope.
You can read the latest thoughts of the local NWS forecasters here.
So enjoy your shorts and sandals, and ready your wool.
Joe

President Trump’s War on Science

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The news was hard to digest until one realized it was part of a much larger and increasingly disturbing pattern in the Trump administration. On Aug. 18, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine received an order from the Interior Department that it stop work on what seemed a useful and overdue study of the health risks of mountaintop-removal coal mining.

The $1 million study had been requested by two West Virginia health agencies following multiple studies suggesting increased rates of birth defects, cancer and other health problems among people living near big surface coal-mining operations in Appalachia. The order to shut it down came just hours before the scientists were scheduled to meet with affected residents of Kentucky.

The Interior Department said the project was put on hold as a result of an agencywide budgetary review of grants and projects costing more than $100,000.

This was not persuasive to anyone who had been paying attention. From Day 1, the White House and its lackeys in certain federal agencies have been waging what amounts to a war on science, appointing people with few scientific credentials to key positions, defunding programs that could lead to a cleaner and safer environment and a healthier population, and, most ominously, censoring scientific inquiry that could inform the public and government policy.

Even allowing for justifiable budgetary reasons, in nearly every case the principal motive seemed the same: to serve commercial interests whose profitability could be affected by health and safety rules.

The coal mining industry is a conspicuous example. The practice of blowing the tops off mountains to get at underlying coal seams has been attacked for years by public health and environmental interests and by many of the families whose livelihoods depend on coal. But Mr. Trump and his department heads have made a very big deal of saving jobs in a declining industry that is already under severe pressure from market forces, including competition from cheaper natural gas. An unfavorable health study would inject unwelcome reality into Mr. Trump’s rosy promises of a job boom fueled by “clean, beautiful coal.”

This is a president who has never shown much fidelity to facts, unless they are his own alternative ones. Yet if there is any unifying theme beyond that to the administration’s war on science, apart from its devotion to big industry and its reflexively antiregulatory mind-set, it is horror of the words “climate change.”

This starts with Mr. Trump, who has called global warming a hoax and pulled the United States from the Paris agreement on climate change. Among his first presidential acts, he instructed Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, to deep-six President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, and ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to roll back Obama-era rules reducing the venting from natural gas wells of methane, another powerful greenhouse gas.

Mr. Trump has been properly sympathetic to the victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, but the fact that there is almost certainly a connection between a warming earth and increasingly destructive natural events seems not to have occurred to him or his fellow deniers. Mr. Pruitt and his colleagues have enthusiastically jumped to the task of rescinding regulations that might address the problem, meanwhile presiding over a no less ominous development: a governmentwide purge of people, particularly scientists, whose research and conclusions about the human contribution to climate change do not support the administration’s agenda.

10sun1-master675.jpgCelia Jacobs

Conspiracies, Corruption and Climate ~ Paul Krugman ~ NYT

After the devastation wreaked by Harvey on Houston — devastation that was right in line with meteorologists’ predictions — you might have expected everyone to take heed when the same experts warned about the danger posed by Hurricane Irma. But you would have been wrong.

On Tuesday, Rush Limbaugh accused weather scientists of inventing Irma’s threat for political and financial reasons: “There is a desire to advance this climate change agenda, and hurricanes are one of the fastest and best ways to do it,” he declared, adding that “fear and panic” help sell batteries, bottled water, and TV advertising.

He evacuated his Palm Beach mansion soon afterward.

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Rush Limbaugh in 2012, left; A satellite image on Thursday showed Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean Sea.CreditJulie Smith/Associated Press, left; NASA/NOAA GOES Project, via Getty Image

In a way, we should be grateful to Limbaugh for at least raising the subject of climate change and its relationship to hurricanes, if only because it’s a topic the Trump administration is trying desperately to avoid. For example, Scott Pruitt, the pollution- and polluter-friendly head of the Environmental Protection Agency, says that now is not the time to bring up the subject — that doing so is “insensitive” to the people of Florida. Needless to say, for people like Pruitt there will never be a good time to talk about climate.

So what should we learn from Limbaugh’s outburst? Well, he’s a terrible person — but we knew that already. The important point is that he’s not an outlier. True, there weren’t many other influential people specifically rejecting warnings about Irma, but denying science while attacking scientists as politically motivated and venal is standard operating procedure on the American right. When Donald Trump declared climate change a “hoax,” he was just being an ordinary Republican.

And thanks to Trump’s electoral victory, know-nothing, anti-science conservatives are now running the U.S. government. When you read news analyses claiming that Trump’s deal with Democrats to keep the government running for a few months has somehow made him a moderate independent, remember that it’s not just Pruitt: Almost every senior figurein the Trump administration dealing with the environment or energy is both an establishment Republican and a denier of climate change and of scientific evidence in general.

And almost all climate change denial involves Limbaugh-type conspiracy theorizing.