The howl and death of wolf 926F [“Spitfire”] — @HighCountryNews

926F, the alpha female of the Lamar Canyon Pack, stands at edge of the Lamar River during the winter of 2016. Photo credit: Melissa DiNino

From The High Country News (Jacob Job):

Two shadows slipped across the frozen landscape and away from a freshly killed elk. Their movements quick and light as they navigated a maze of sagebrush, the pair of wolves made their way toward me. The darker one led the other, a younger wolf in the pack, just as she had done during the hunt.

As I watched, they moved closer, their warm breath momentarily visible in the cold air. Soon, I could hear their rhythmic footfalls on crunching snow.

It was my third trip to Yellowstone National Park, my second as a natural sounds recordist, and my first in search of wolves. I’d come to document the sounds of these animals in January 2016, in order to preserve their voices for the park archives and for use in displays and stories for the public.

If the pair I watched knew I was present, they gave no sign of it. Instead, they greeted a third individual off to my right with brief sniffing and posturing. Then, as the light faded and darkness slowly overtook the day, these three members of the Lamar Canyon wolf pack spent the next 20 minutes in what can best be described as play. Just as I have seen my own domestic dogs do countless times before, these three very wild dogs ran, jumped and wrestled with each other, tails wagging as they brought the day to a close. Though millennia of evolution separate our domestic dogs from these wild ones, I saw the evolutionary links between them in their evening play.

Had it ended there, it would have been the memory of a lifetime. But as evening fully set in, the three broke off their play. They stood still in the darkness and, along with the rest of the pack hidden in the hills, sang out in a prolonged chorus which hung impossibly long in the cold night air. Luckily, I’d hit “record.”

I work as a natural sounds recordist for moments like these. My mission is to create an aural history of the sounds of our wild lands, in sad anticipation of the future loss of species and the changes to ecological communities caused by human impact on the planet. At best, these recordings help inspire support for the conservation of species and ecosystems. At worst, I create acoustic fossils of animals and landscapes that are gone too soon. I believe in the importance of my work, but sometimes I wish it wasn’t so damn necessary.

That January sighting was my very first glimpse of a wolf pack, and a remarkable one at that. The dark leader was the famous alpha female known to park biologists as 926F — affectionately named “Spitfire” by wolf watchers. In the two years since, this memory had faded, the details blurring, leaving me with just the unforgettable outlines.

In November, 926F was legally killed by a hunter just outside park boundaries in Montana. When I first saw the story, it was just another headline noting the loss of another famous animal at the hands of a trophy hunter. Her even more famous mother had met the same fate six years prior. But then, a note of recognition rang, and my stomach slowly sank.

I scrambled around, searching through old pictures and leafing through my field notes. It was her: my first wolf, and a prominent figure in my first field recording of a truly wild and iconic predator. She was gone and her voice silenced. I sat alone in disbelief in my basement office, everything still except the humming of the ventilation system. I’d listened to her howl hundreds of times from this same spot, fondly reliving our encounter.

In my recordings, 926F’s voice is forever preserved. I wanted to be upset at the hunter and angry at the hunting laws that allowed her death, but I couldn’t move past grief. For comfort, I put her recording on repeat. As howls filled the room, I drifted back to that January day in the park where our paths first crossed, and I remembered the sounds of a group of wild creatures at play.

Jacob Job is a natural sounds recordist working for the Sound and Light Ecology Team at Colorado State University. He has recorded wilderness soundscapes in national parks across the Western United States, as well as natural areas in the Caribbean and Central America. Listen to his recordings here.

We are rivers podcast: #ColoradoRiver compact call part 1 – what could a call mean — @AmericanRivers #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2018

From American Rivers (Matt Rice):

In Episode 14 of We Are Rivers, we explore what potential effects a “Compact Call” could have for communities within the Colorado River states and what we can do to avoid a crisis.

In mid-December, stakeholders from across the Colorado River basin gathered in Las Vegas for the annual Colorado River Water Users Association (CRUWA) conference to discuss the future across the basin. Every year, important information about the Colorado River is discussed in Vegas, but this year’s conference was particularly important. The seven states that comprise the Colorado Basin have been negotiating Drought Contingency Plans (one for the Upper Basin and one for the Lower Basin) to deal with the very real possibility of water supply shortages from the Colorado River. At CRUWA, the Upper Basin States of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming agreed to move forward toward the completion of a Drought Contingency Plan (DCP,) as did the Lower Basin States of Arizona, California and Nevada.

The driving force behind the interstate Upper Basin DCP is the need to reduce the increasing risk of a compact driven curtailment, or “Compact Call” which could cut water to users across the Upper Basin States. A compact call would occur if the Upper Basin States are unable to deliver the water they are required to send through Lake Powell under the rules of the 1922 Colorado River Compact to the Lower Basin States. Overuse of water, aridification of the West due to climate change, and growing populations throughout the basin are putting extreme pressure on the Colorado River.

The DCP is a critical step for the Upper Basin to secure reliable water for agriculture, cities, industry, and the environment and to avoid the disruption and chaos that would follow a compact call. To learn more about what curtailment means for people and the environment, how it could happen, and why the DCP is so important – please listen as Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water and Andy Mueller, General Manager of the Colorado River Conservation District, discuss what it could mean for Colorado.

Listen today to Colorado River Compact Call Part 1 – What Could a Call Mean; and stay tuned for the second part in the series, Colorado River Compact Call Part 2 – How Can We Mitigate Risks, discussing how the Upper Basin states are working together to reduce the possibility of a compact call.

Please note that throughout this episode all referenced reservoir water levels are specific to the time this episode was recorded during the summer of 2018. For updated reservoir levels, you can directly visit a reservoir’s website.

The RRWCD continues its partnership with Colorado NRCS in their continuous investment in water conservation, public meeting January 10, 2018

From the Republican River Water Conservation District (Tim Davis) via The Julesberg Advocate:

The Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD) acting through its Water Activity Enterprise (RRWCD-WAE) will again partner with NRCS to encourage water conservation and provide incentives to producers that voluntarily implement water conservation measures.

Since the Ogallaa Aquifer Initiative (OAI) sunset with the end of the 2014 Farm Bill, the RRWCD will partner with NRCS through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to help producers transition from irrigated to drylands agriculture or grassland. The RRWCD founding will augment NRCS funding to producers that voluntarily agree to permanently retire irrigation wells and convert the irrigated cropland to drylands farming or grazing land.

NRCS will provide approximately two hundred fifty dollars ($250.00) per acre to producers that enroll in the permanent water retirement program. The RRWCD will provide additional incentives of between six hundred ($600.00) and one thousand five hundred dollars ($1,500) per acre depending on the location of the well within the District boundary.

Additional conservation practices may be appropriate on the converted acts. These practices will provide substantial water conservation and will help sustain the life of the aquifer. Recent research has suggested that in some cases higher capacity wells can reduce water consumption by as as much as twenty percent (20%) with little or no effect on the overall profitability…

Water conservation measures such as weather stations, soil moisture monitoring and conversion from sprinkler irrigation to a more efficient irrigation system can contribute substantially to prolonging the life of the quiver, while maintaining a strong irrigated agricultural economy. The EQIP program also provides these additional voluntary incentive based tools that all producers can use to prolong the life of this aquifer.

The RRWCD has consulted with groundwater management districts, the Water Preservation Partnership, and others to develop strategies to assist producers through financial incentives to voluntarily reduce water consumption. Several surveys distributed throughout the District to producers have indicated that voluntary, incentive based programs were preferred over regulatory water restrictions. It is important that each and every irrigated agriculture producer evaluate their individual irrigation practices to determine if they can help reduce the impact on the aquifer by implementing one or more of these conservations practices.

The deadline for application for EQIP is January 18, 2019 so please contact your local NRCS office at or the RRWCD office in Wray, Colorado, at 970-332-3552 as soon as possible if you wish to apply for conservation funding through this program.

South Fork of the Republican River

From The Yuma Pioneer:

The Republican River Water Conservation District Board of Directors will have a public hearing on the proposed new water use fee policy during its regular quarterly meeting, Thursday, January 10, in Burlington.

The meeting will be held at the Burlington Community and Educational Center, 340 S. 14th St., beginning at 10 a.m.

The public hearing on the proposed new water use fee policy will be at 1 p.m.

RRWCD General Manager Deb Daniel said the proposed policy would not change the fee for irrigation, while municipal and commercial wells would have a minimal reduction in the fee per acre feet pumped.

Junior surface water right fees would be based on comparing the impact on compact compliance of diversions of surface water for irrigation as compared to the impact of groundwater withdrawals.

Daniel said the proposed policy addresses the fees charged by the RRWCD for compact compliance, based on the impact each type of use and consumption has on the determination of Colorado’s compliance with the Republican River Compact as determined by the RRCA Accounting Procedures.

Public comment will be heard immediately following the water use fee public hearing.

Besides the regular reports, the board will hear a presentation from Mark Lengel about concerns on the South Fork. The board also will discuss South Fork Water Rights.

For more information, please contact Daniel at 332-3552 or email her at

#Arizona Gov. Ducey and @CAPArizona Board Each Pledge $5 Million for Pinal County Farmers #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Gila River watershed. Graphic credit: Wikimedia

From The Phoenix New Times (Elizabeth Whitman):

The [CAP] board voted to authorize up to $5 million during its monthly board meeting on Thursday. At that meeting, officials from the Central Arizona Project and the Arizona Department of Water Resources also shared that Ducey would request $5 million in his executive budget.

The $10 million put forward Thursday would help match $15 million the federal government is kicking in for building pumps, wells, and other structures that farmers could use to tap into groundwater. The federal funds were given on the condition that local entities in Arizona match it, Suzanne Ticknor, water policy director for the Central Arizona Project, told the board.

The additional funding comes at a critical time for Arizona. It has until the federally set deadline of January 31 to agree on a plan to deal with looming shortages on the Colorado River. One of the major concerns with that plan has been that it requires farmers to rapidly transition from surface water to groundwater, a process with a hefty price tag.

Pinal County irrigation districts initially estimated that the groundwater infrastructure would cost $30 million to $35 million to build. On Thursday, it turned out that projected costs had been revised to as much as $50 million…

Brian Betcher, the general manager for the Maricopa Stanfield Irrigation and Drainage District, explained that in its initial cost analysis, the district had looked at brand-new wells generating water 11 months of the year. Members realized that farmers really use water only about seven months each year, starting around April.

“We missed that in the analysis,” Betcher said at Thursday’s meeting.

But, he and others were quick to point out, farmers in Pinal County were not the only ones who might use those new pipes, pumps, and wells to pull water from below ground. The Central Arizona Project and other users could also use them, though they’re only allowed to recover water they had previously stored underground…

The funds that the CAP board authorized — almost unanimously — would come from ad valorem taxes, which the board is authorized to levy on property owners in Maricopa, Pima, and Pinal Counties. Board members made that funding contingent upon other groups’ helping to match federal funding, and upon the development of a program that includes infrastructure for recovering stored groundwater.

The sole dissenting vote came from Jennifer Martin, one of the board’s new members, who said she was concerned about the negative consequences of increasing groundwater pumping. In parts of Arizona, groundwater over-pumping has caused land to sink and giant fissures to open up in the ground.

The $5 million Ducey pledged would be in addition to $30 million he committed in November to Arizona’s Drought Contingency Plan, which would not count toward the federal matching program for groundwater. That $30 million would go toward paying water users to leave water in Lake Mead, the reservoir on the Colorado River that supplies Arizona, in order to prevent it from dropping to catastrophically low levels.

The Drought Contingency Plan spells out how Arizona cities, tribes, industries, and farmers will share cuts amounting to at least 512,000 acre-feet from the 2.8 million acre-feet of water they take from the Colorado River each year. (An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons.) Those cuts are expected to start in 2020, when the Bureau of Reclamation gives the Colorado River a 57 percent of falling into shortage.

The plan weans farmers, who gave up their rights to Colorado River water in the 2004 Water Settlement Act, off of that surface water and onto groundwater instead. According to the plan, farmers will need to pump 16,500 acre-feet of groundwater in 2022, the last year they’ll still receive some Colorado River water. The following year, their pumping will increase to 70,000 acre-feet.

The governor’s office also supports repurposing a groundwater withdrawal fee to go toward groundwater infrastructure, said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, during Thursday’s meeting. The withdrawal fee is paid by farmers in Pinal County and generates about $1.2 million a year.

#Snowpack news: Statewide snowpack now below average, sorry SW basins

Statewide Basin High/Low graph January 3, 2019 via the NRCS.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Snowpack was at 94 percent of median statewide Thursday, according to a daily map on the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Colorado Snow Survey Program website. That compares to 117 percent about a month ago.

Snowpack in the Arkansas and South Platte river basins is more than 110 percent of median, while levels in the Colorado and Yampa/White basins are at 102 percent. But the Gunnison River Basin is at 90 percent, the Upper Rio Grande, 76 percent, and the San Miguel/Dolores/Animas/San Juan basins in the Four Corners region are at just 69 percent.

“Really again the one sore spot is the San Juan Mountains,” which also fared worse than the rest of Colorado last year, said Becky Bolinger, the assistant state climatologist…

Following a poor snowpack season a year ago and limited summer rain, western Colorado remains in drought, with the worst conditions in the southwest part of the state. Bolinger said that even if the rest of the state has good snowpack that translates to good runoff and improved reservoir levels, it still will feel the impact if southwest Colorado’s snow levels are poor, due to the state’s interstate obligations for making sure enough Colorado River water leaves the state…

The San Juan Mountains did benefit more than the rest of the state from two recent storms, Fowler said. Bolinger said that region needs storms every week to start making real improvements…

Bolinger said that cold temperatures also have helped out so far this year when compared to last year, when warm spells made it hard for lower and middle elevations to keep their snowpack, affecting spring runoff.

The federal Climate Prediction Center has forecast above-average chances for higher-than-normal temperatures and precipitation levels in Colorado through March.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 2, 2019 via the NRCS.