FromThe High Country News (Jonathan Thompson) [April 16, 2021]:
On March 22, a young man pulled into the parking lot of a King Soopers in Boulder, Colorado, got out of his car and shot an elderly man several times before walking into the store and shooting people indiscriminately with a semi-automatic weapon. By the time his rampage was over, 10 people were dead, including grocery store workers, shoppers and the first police officer who responded to the call. This was just six days after a shooter killed eight people, mostly Asian women, in Atlanta, Georgia. Then, just over a week later, on March 31, another man shot and killed four people, including a 9-year-old-boy, in Orange County, California.
The shootings kicked off what has become a gruesome and familiar routine. Calls for tighter controls on firearms rang out from the halls of state capitols to Washington, D.C., followed closely by cries from the National Rifle Association, warning followers that the government is coming for their guns. Americans then embarked on a gun-buying frenzy.
It’s hard to imagine how firearms manufacturers can keep up with such a surge, however. During most of the Trump administration era, sales were relatively flat — even after a gunman killed 58 people at a Las Vegas music festival — because gun-lovers knew that Donald Trump wouldn’t sign any new gun laws. But when COVID-19 hit the United States, guns and ammo began flying off the shelves at unprecedented levels. The busiest week ever for the FBI’s background check system was in March 2020, rivaled only by the weeks following the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting.
A few months later, gun dealers had another hectic week, when Black Lives Matter-related demonstrations reached a crescendo. They were even busier following the election of President Joe Biden, who as a senator had helped pass a ban on assault weapons. In 2020, the FBI conducted 40% more background checks than the previous year. The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates that this translates to some 21 million guns actually sold, with about 8 million going to first-time gun buyers.
It was a boon for Ruger and Smith & Wesson, the nation’s largest firearms manufacturers, both of which reported record sales and profits last year. But the rush to acquire guns correlated with a significant and deadly uptick in gun-related violence.
Number of people killed in gun-related violence in 2020; and 2019, respectively (not including suicides).
Number of hours after the Boulder shooting that Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., sent out a fundraising email to her constituents warning, “Radical liberals in Washington … are trying to violate your due process and criminalize the private transfer of firearms.” Boebert owns a gun-themed restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, called Shooters.
Number of murders committed with “blunt objects,” including hammers, in 2019. In the wake of the Boulder shooting, Rep. Boebert told Newsmax: “In America, we see more deaths by hand, fist, feet, even hammers.”
Amount spent by gun rights groups on lobbying in 2020.
Amount gun rights groups have contributed to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, during his political career.
Number of guns purchased in Colorado in February 2021, a 17% increase from February 2019.
Last year, there was a pause in mass shootings as narrowly defined — meaning incidents in which a single gunman kills four or more people in a public place. (Drug- or gang-related shootings and most domestic violence shootings are not included.) That’s only a tiny sliver of the bigger picture, however.
Gun violence actually escalated dramatically last year, leaving record numbers of people dead or injured. And if gun sales are any indication, there’s no end in sight: This January was the busiest month ever for the firearms background check system.
Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
The truth is, cold and wet weather this time of year can buy some time for the snowpack, which began to recede earlier this month as the weather warmed. That’s fairly normal, albeit a tad on the early side. The question is, how fast it will melt off and how much of that mountain water will go where we need it most?
The easy answer, perhaps another snappy comeback, is that nobody knows for certain at this point. But after a 2020 that saw record wildfires in the state, a no-show for the mountain monsoons, this year parched soils will almost certainly suck up runoff as it travels toward waterways. In a best-case scenario, Chaffee County needs a cool spring, regular precipitation and not a lot of wind.
If it’s warm, dry, sunny, and windy, as was the case in early April, that’s another situation. “When you put all four of those together, that’s when you’re really losing snow,” said Chaffee County Commissioner Greg Felt. He’s a longtime river outfitter who sits on numerous water-related commissions, including the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and was recently appointed to the board of directors for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservation District.
Felt said Chaffee County is looking relatively good in terms of municipal water supplies and assets coming into the Arkansas River for the summer season. That includes the significant supply from the Fry-Ark Project, which imports an average of 58,000 acre feet from the headwaters of the Fryingpan River to the Arkansas Basin. Waters from Fry-Ark get used for agriculture, well augmentation, and municipalities, as well as fisheries and meeting recreation goals in the Arkansas River Voluntary Flow Management Program. That program aims to keep minimum boating flows of 700 cubic feet per second(cfs) at the Wellsville Gauge each year between July 1 and Aug. 15.
Snowpack doesn’t guarantee stream flow, according to Felt. There’s the matter of soil condition and how much water it draws, as well as sublimation, where the snow is lost into warm, windy air.
So the past week’s cold and wet weather has been a blessing in that regard.
The Arkansas River Basin snowpack on April 1 was measuring at 105 percent of median, and to our south, the Upper Rio Grande was at 110 percent. To the west, the Gunnison River Basin lags at 89 percent of normal and has yet to stage a comeback.
The Front Range was certainly feeling less wrung-out after the record snowstorms in mid-March. The month came in as the second wettest March since 1872 and it toned down the U.S. Drought Monitor’s sea of red that depicted extreme drought in eastern Colorado. At the beginning of March, 99 percent of Colorado was in moderate drought or worse, with 56 percent in the extreme category.
As of April 15, however, 92 percent of Colorado remained in a moderate drought, and the extreme drought areas had scaled back to 32 percent. So the precipitation helped. The Drought Monitor is updated on Thursdays, so it’s too soon to say if the recent snow in the high country has changed the hot colors on the map.
It does appear that the precipitation and cold weather have boosted the snowpack for now. In the Arkansas River Basin, for example, snowpack was measuring at 77 percent of median on April 13, but was up to 85 percent April 20.
Here’s the release from the Sand County Foundation:
The May Ranch of Lamar has been selected as the recipient of the 2021 Colorado Leopold Conservation Award®.
The May Ranch is owned and operated by the Dallas and Brenda May family of Prowers County. The conservation practices that the Mays have implemented on their cattle ranch have improved the wildlife habitat, water quality and grass and soil health.
The award, given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, recognizes ranchers, farmers, and forestland owners who inspire others with their voluntary conservation efforts on private, working lands.
The Mays will be presented with the award on Monday, June 21 at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association’s 2021 Annual Convention held at the Double Tree by Hilton in Grand Junction.
In Colorado the award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, American Farmland Trust, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“The 2021 Leopold Conservation Award nominees and applicants showcased the diversity of agriculture in Colorado and the immense dedication farming and ranching families have to the lands they steward, their communities, and their families,” said Erik Glenn, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust Executive Director. “This year’s applicants featured an impressive array of families and operations from around the state. CCALT is proud of this year’s recipient the May Ranch and the entire May family.”
“Colorado farming and ranching families proudly produce the food that feeds the world and provide invaluable benefits to their communities and the environment. These contributions, in addition to outstanding stewardship practices and conservation achievements, are exemplified by all the Leopold Conservation Award applicants,” said Janie VanWinkle, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association President. “CCA warmly extends its congratulations to the May family on their well-deserved recognition, and being leaders in Colorado’s conservation and ranching industry.”
“Recipients of this award are real life examples of conservation-minded agriculture,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer. “These hard-working families are essential to our environment, food system and rural economy.”
“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the Colorado recipient,” said John Piotti, AFT president and CEO. “At AFT we believe that conservation in agriculture requires a focus on the land, the practices and the people and this award recognizes the integral role of all three.”
Among the many outstanding landowners nominated for the award were finalists: Fetcher Ranch of Clark in Routt County, and LK Ranch of Meeker in Rio Blanco County.
The Leopold Conservation Award in Colorado is made possible thanks to the generous contributions from American Farmland Trust, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Sand County Foundation, Stanko Ranch, Gates Family Foundation, American AgCredit, Colorado Department of Agriculture, The Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, The Nature Conservancy in Colorado, and McDonald’s.
Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Conservation Award to landowners in 22 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation.
“We understand that our ranch is not just a collection of land, plants, cattle, and wildlife,” says Dallas May, “but it is a community.”
Conserving that community in a sustainable way is a goal shared by Dallas and his wife Brenda, and the families of their grown children: Holly, Riley and Haley.
Intense pressures to develop native grasslands cannot compete with the family’s desire to protect their land’s biodiversity. The Mays have partnered with wildlife and conservation organizations that share their land ethic. Their collaborations have improved water quality and quantity by restoring streams, wetlands, and eight playas. Managed grazing on grasslands, installation of wildlife-friendly fencing, native tree plantings, and expanded watering locations have produced a model of how livestock and wildlife can thrive together.
The wetlands on May Ranch provide an oasis for migratory birds. Beef from their grass-fed cattle is marketed with a “Raised on Bird Friendly Land” label as part of the Audubon Society’s Conservation Ranching Program. Forty years of selective breeding of registered Limousin cattle has produced cattle with traits complimentary to grasslands and a semi-arid climate. Audubon Society guidelines track the ranch’s environmental sustainability, and health, welfare and feeding of the cattle. It’s just one way the Mays use third-party verifications to measure and manage conservation success.
Their property is monitored for rangeland health as part of an innovative carbon credit offset program that assigns a fair market value for sequestering carbon in the soil of grazing lands. May Ranch has hosted surveys of bird and botanical species, including when the Denver Botanical Gardens’ floristics team identified more than 90 plant species never documented in Prowers County. A conservation easement held by the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust ensures the operation will never lose its wildlife habitat and conservation values. Off the ranch, Dallas serves on a variety of community, water, and conservation committees and boards, including the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission.
Prior to 1994 the May’s cropland was irrigated entirely by flood irrigation. Since then, irrigation sprinklers have vastly improved their water efficiency, allowing them to raise more crops with less water. The Mays purchase composted manure from area dairy farms as fertilizer to grow corn and alfalfa that is sold as feed for the dairies. Following the corn harvest, turnips, field radishes, and winter rye are planted as cover crops to benefit the soil.
Conservation’s impact on the May Ranch is seen in ways large and small. There’s the seven miles of Big Sandy Creek that runs through the ranch. While this tributary of the Arkansas River has been reduced to pools of water and remnant patches of wetland elsewhere, its entire reach across the ranch contains surface water and healthy wetlands. Then there’s what a botanical survey discovered. The Wright’s false willow is the host plant on which painted grasshopper nymphs can feed.
“Even though it seems disproportionate to compare grasshopper nymphs and the small area they inhabit to miles of wetland and riparian areas and all of the associated species in that large landscape,” Dallas May said, “both contribute significantly to the diversity needed for a healthy and thriving ecosystem.”
Whether it is the ecosystem, community, or ranch, it’s in good hands with the May family.
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LEOPOLD CONSERVATION AWARD PROGRAM
The Leopold Conservation Award is a competitive award that recognizes landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. Sand County Foundation, and national sponsor American Farmland Trust, present the award in California, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and in New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont). http://www.leopoldconservationaward.org
Phenomenon drives earlier, more-intense spring runoff
The first automated dust-on-snow monitoring technology in the mountains of Northwest Colorado is expected to be installed this fall to study the impact of dust from arid landscapes on downwind mountain ecosystems in the state and in Utah.
McKenzie Skiles, who is a hydrologist and a University of Utah assistant professor, will use close to $10,000 from a National Science Foundation grant to purchase four pyranometers, which measure solar radiation landing on, and reflected by, snow.
These instruments will be placed on a data tower at Storm Peak Lab, a research station above Steamboat Springs that studies the properties of clouds, as well as natural and pollution-sourced particles in the atmosphere. The lab sits at 10,500 feet near the peak of Mount Werner at the top of Steamboat Resort in the Yampa River basin. Starting next winter, live information will be transmitted to MesoWest, a data platform at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
This station will be the latest added to a growing network of dust-on-snow monitoring towers across the state and Utah. Such stations offer key insights to researchers studying how dust impacts the timing and intensity of snowpack melt, Skiles said.
“My goal is to have a network of dust-on-snow observation sites that spans a latitudinal gradient in the Rockies and headwaters of the Colorado River,” Skiles said.
Five towers spread around Colorado and Utah currently take in data on the solar energy absorbed and reflected by the snow. Dust particles darken the snow’s surface then absorb more energy than clean snow does. Such a process changes light frequencies recorded by the pyranometers. Researchers take this frequency data and run it through models to quantify how much surface dust heats snow and speeds snowmelt.
Of the currently operating stations, one is near Crested Butte; one sits on Grand Mesa above Grand Junction; two are near Silverton; and one is in the Wasatch Mountains near Alta, Utah. The sites are run, respectively, by Irwin Mountain Guides; by the U.S. Geological Survey and a collaborative user group; by the nonprofit Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies; and by University of Utah researchers.
Stations were first established in the Senator Beck Basin, near Silverton in the San Juan Mountains, which is the Colorado range most immediately downwind from the deserts of the Colorado Plateau and receives the first dust — and the most dust. In analyzing data from the two radiation towers there, Skiles and colleagues revealed that dust on snow shortened the cover by 21 to 51 days and caused a faster, more-intense peak-snowmelt outflow. In a 2017 study that also analyzed data from Senator Beck Basin, Skiles showed that it was dust, not temperature, that influenced how fast snowpack melted and flowed into rivers downstream.
The Steamboat station will fill a gap in the locations of radiation towers, Skiles said.
“We know that a lot of dust comes from the southern Colorado Plateau and impacts the southern Colorado Rockies, but we don’t understand dust impacts as well in the northern Colorado Rockies,” she said.
Since there isn’t a data station in the northwest portion of the state, “The only way to know if there’s dust there is to go and dig a snow pit,” said Jeff Derry, executive director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies.
CSAS runs the Colorado Dust on Snow program, or CODOS, which includes the two radiation towers in Senator Beck Basin.
Three times a year, usually in mid-March, April and May, CSAS staffers tour Colorado, digging snow pits at mountain locations to assess dust conditions statewide. Since dust events continue into May, this year’s conditions are currently hard to quantify, Derry said.
So far, this spring has been dustier than 2020; five dust events have hit the Senator Beck Basin as of April 14, compared with the three total dust events last year. As in years past, Senator Beck Basin has experienced more dust events than have the sites to the northeast, according to Derry in the latest CODOS update. Yet, a recent April storm distributed dust on all sites in the state.
Unlike the past few years, Rabbit Ears Pass — the CODOS sampling site closest to Steamboat Springs and located northwest of Bear Mountain along U.S. Highway 40 — has received at least as much dust as the Senator Beck Basin has, according to the CODOS update. As of the April 12 to 14 CODOS tour, two dust layers of moderate severity are present on the pass. That amount probably came from storms in the Uintah basin, in the Four Corners region and in Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert, Derry said.
These dust layers will warm the snow and have an impact on snowmelt timing this runoff season, Derry said. In order to quantify that effect, radiation data from dust-on-snow study plots, like the one planned for Storm Peak, is needed.
Dust in arid landscapes — often disturbed by human activity — travels in wind currents during storms and is deposited on downwind mountains, Skiles said. The number of dust events and mass of dust carried in storms vary from year to year depending on wind speed, the intensity of drought and the frequency of human activities that disturb surface soils, said Janice Brahney, an assistant professor at Utah State University who studies nationwide dust composition and deposition patterns.
For instance, Senator Beck Basin experienced a peak in dust events from 2009 through 2014 and a decline in recent years. This decline is probably due to storms and winds that are not strong enough to carry and deposit dust into Colorado mountains, Brahney said.
“My sense is that a lot of the storms that are occurring in the southern United States are still occurring — they’re just not always reaching Colorado,” she said.
Dust data will provide future insights for Steamboat water policy and management.
Skiles’ lab isn’t the only entity interested in the Storm Peak Lab dust-on-snow data. Kelly Romero-Heaney, water resources manager for the city of Steamboat Springs, anticipates using the data in the city’s next water-supply master plan.
“We update our water supply master plan at least every 10 years,” Romero-Heaney said. “So, even if it’s another eight years of data that’s needed before we can see measurable trends, by the time we update our models, we’ll be able to integrate that data.”
The most current plan, released in 2019, includes forecasts for Steamboat Springs’ water supply 50 years into the future. The plan — factoring in historic streamflow data and stressors to water supply such as climate change, wildfire and population growth — concluded that the city will meet its demands through 2070.
“One thing we’re fortunate in is that we have a relatively small community for a relatively large snowy water basin,” Romero-Heaney said.
Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District supplies the city with its water, derived primarily from Fish Creek and Long Lake reservoirs, said District General Manager Frank Alfone. In the summer months, the district also treats water from the Yampa River to meet irrigation demands, he said.
In order to predict Fish Creek and Long Lake reservoir levels, Alfone relies on data from the Buffalo Pass snowpack station, which is run by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and on monthly water-supply forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.
Alfone says dust on snow and the city’s water supply have “an impact now and more so in the future,” Alfone said.
Indeed, dust levels are expected to rise throughout the West. A 2013 study revealed that since 1994, dust deposition has increased in the region, with the majority of dust lifting from deserts in the Southwest and West, along with regions in the Great Plains and Columbia River Basin. This increase, according to the study, is probably due to heightened human disturbance of dry soils, which includes off-road-vehicle use, gas drilling, grazing and agriculture.
Increasing dust accelerates snowpack entrance into rivers, Skiles said. This earlier runoff lengthens the period when water can evaporate from rivers and lower streamflow, impacting water supply in the warmer months, according to her study,
“What we’re finding is that runoff is happening earlier and earlier each year, and that has real implications for us come August and September, particularly if we get very little rain throughout the summer season,” Romero-Heaney said.
Data from the widening dust-on-snow-monitoring network will aid water-resource managers and researchers in predicting how dust will shape future snowpack across Colorado.
“Dust does play a really significant role in hydrology. And that’s really important in the Western states, where we rely on the mountain snowpack not just for our own drinking water, but for our own functioning ecosystem,” said Brahney, lead author of the 2013 dust study.
“We anticipate some challenges for the whole basin, although we will still be able to reliably supply our customers with drinking water,” Romero-Heaney said.
This story ran in the Steamboat Pilot & Today on April 23.