@ColoradoCollege: Western Voters Demand Ambitious Agenda to Protect #PublicLands #ActOnClimate

Here’s the release from the State of the Rockies (Corina McKendry):

10th annual Conversation in the West Poll shows significant spike in concern about impacts of climate change and energy development on public lands and outdoor lifestyles

The tenth annual Colorado College State of the Rockies Project Conservation in the West Poll released today shows voters in the Mountain West are calling for an aggressive agenda to protect more public lands in the face of threats from climate change impacts and energy development.

The poll, which surveyed the views of voters in eight Mountain West states (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming), found that public lands and the outdoor way of life continue to be of deep importance to Western voters. 69 percent label themselves as “conservationists,” and that perspective informs their votes. 80 percent of voters consider an elected official’s stance on issues involving water, air, wildlife, and public lands “important” when deciding whether to support them. Nearly half of all voters—44 percent —say those issues are a “primary factor” in their decision, a marked increase from 31 percent in 2016. Conservation issues were also deemed important by many of the most critical “swing” voter sub-groups in the West, including Latinos, millennials, sportsmen, moderates, and suburban women.

“Support for conservation on public lands has remained consistent and strong over the decade-long history of our poll,” said Corina McKendry, Director of the State of the Rockies Project and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Colorado College. “The urgency and demand for action behind those feelings is now intensifying as voters in the West increasingly believe their lands and lifestyles are coming under attack from the impacts of climate change and energy development.”

Western voters expect their elected officials to advance policies reflecting the predominant conservationist perspective across the region.

  • 73 percent of voters favor a national goal to protect 30% of America’s land and ocean areas by 2030, with majority support across party lines for the ambitious conservation goal. The proposal is especially popular with Latino voters, receiving 82 percent support.
  • 67 percent want their member of Congress to protect national public lands over allowing more drilling and mining.
  • 70 percent agree that private companies should not profit from using public lands when it limits the public’s enjoyment of the area.
  • 79 percent say the lack of resources to properly maintain public lands is a serious problem.
  • 70 percent support fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund, with strong majority approval for the program across party lines.
  • “Folks out West have a special appreciation for our public lands, and we know our public lands are our heritage, our birthright, and our great equalizer,” said Montana Governor Steve Bullock. “In this age of polarization, our return to shared values and our work to conserve our region’s natural heritage and public lands is precisely what we need to chart a path forward.”

    Growing fears about the impacts of climate change

    Voters view climate change as the first or second most important environmental problem in each state surveyed. Climate change as a top concern has increased dramatically over ten years of the poll from 5 percent in 2011 to 32 percent today.

    Overall, 67 percent of voters across the region see climate change as a “serious problem” and 60 percent say the evidence of climate change requires action. When the survey began in 2011, those findings were 55 percent and 48 percent, respectively. The increase in concern about climate change is reflected across the political spectrum.

    Western voters are alarmed about the impacts of climate change, with 62 percent believing the effects over the past ten years have been significant and 64 percent agreeing they will continue to be significant over the next decade—a finding mirrored in every state surveyed except for Wyoming. Women and people of color are especially likely to say there will be significant impacts from climate change felt in their state.

    The feared impact of climate change includes more severe wildfires, which are viewed as a serious problem by 82 percent of voters, reflecting a 5 percent increase over the past four years. To deal with the impacts, 74 percent of voters expect their congressional representatives and state governors to have a plan to reduce carbon pollution that contributes to climate change. Reducing carbon pollution is seen as an important objective for public officials by a majority of Democrats, Republicans, and independent voters.

    Concerns about energy development and a push for clean, renewable sources

  • When it comes to energy development, Western voters want to make sure public lands are protected and safe.
  • 69 percent of voters view the impacts of mining on land and water as serious problems.
  • 63 percent say the impacts of oil and gas drilling pose a serious problem.
  • 69 percent of voters support increasing royalty fees for drilling on public lands.
  • 84 percent want to see mining companies pay a fee for their operations on public lands.
  • 88 percent support requiring oil and gas companies to use updated equipment to prevent methane gas pollution.
  • Western voters want to see the expansion of clean, renewable sources of energy. In every state except Wyoming, a majority of voters are behind gradually increasing the use of renewable energy sources to 100 percent. Asked about the desired percent of electricity coming from renewable sources, Western voters give an average score of 63 percent. As in previous years, solar power and wind power rank the highest by a long shot among energy sources voters said they would like to see encouraged in their state.

    “Policy-makers in Washington have our marching orders: public support for conservation and climate action is stronger than ever. A movement is growing from the ground up, with Westerners of all political stripes clamoring for action to save our way of life, starting with a national conservation goal of protecting 30 percent of our natural land by 2030 to stave off a looming extinction crisis,” said New Mexico Senator Tom Udall. “Elected officials ignore the will of Western voters not just at the peril of the planet—but also at the peril of their own political futures.”

    Continued support for protecting water and wildlife

    Water is among the top environmental concerns of voters in the West. Additionally, voters are disappointed with the current administration’s actions in regards to water.

  • 69 percent say water supplies are becoming more unpredictable every year.
  • 80 percent of Western voters view water supplies and low levels in rivers as a serious problem in their state.
  • 84 percent of voters say pollution of rivers, lakes, and streams is a top concern.
  • 79 percent say microplastics in their drinking water supplies are a top concern.
  • 71 percent of voters view removing Clean Water Act protections as a “bad change.”
  • Wildlife also remains a top concern for Westerners and the administration’s policies towards wildlife are largely rejected by voters in the West.

  • 77 percent believe loss of habitat is a serious problem.
  • 64 percent say allowing more drilling instead of protecting sage-grouse habitat was a “bad change.”
  • 67 percent of Western voters view the administration’s decision to reduce protections for threatened species under the Endangered Species Act as a “bad change”
  • 76 percent of voters support policies like designating portions of public lands where wildlife migrate each year as areas closed to oil and gas drilling.
  • This is the tenth consecutive year Colorado College has gauged the public’s sentiment on public lands and conservation issues. The 2020 Colorado College Conservation in the West Poll is a bipartisan survey conducted by Republican pollster Lori Weigel of New Bridge Strategy and Democratic pollster Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates.

    The poll surveyed 400 registered voters in each of eight Western states (AZ, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, UT, & WY) for a total 3,200-person sample. The survey was conducted between January 11-19, 2020 and has a margin of error of ±2.65 percent nationwide and ±4.9 percent statewide. The full survey and individual state surveys are available on the State of the Rockies website.

    Click on a thumbnail graphic to view selected information from each state in the survey along with Latino voters.

    #Drought news: D0 (Abnormally Dry) erased in Lake County

    Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.

    Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

    This Week’s Drought Summary

    With high pressure anchored over the eastern Pacific Ocean, storm systems bypassed California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah, instead tracking either northward into the Pacific Northwest or southward across Baja California and into the southern Rockies. Once they reached the Nation’s mid-section, ample Gulf moisture was incorporated into the storm systems, generating widespread showers and thunderstorms in the South and Southeast, along with mixed or frozen precipitation in more northern locales. The week’s heaviest precipitation (1-4 inches) fell on western sections of Washington and Oregon, parts of the Rockies, and in the southern Great Plains, lower Mississippi, Tennessee, and Ohio Valleys, Southeast, and Appalachians. Weekly temperatures averaged below normal in Alaska and across much of the North-Central States as Arctic air brought sub-zero readings to most of the Midwest Thursday and Friday. In contrast, above-normal readings encompassed the Southeast, mid-Atlantic, and portions of the Far West…

    High Plains

    Little or no precipitation was recorded across the northern and central Plains, although scattered light totals occurred in parts of the northern and central Rockies. The past 30-days have been drier than normal, but January and February precipitation climatologies are normally dry, and temperatures have been below normal the past 2 weeks. From 3-months and longer, however, wet conditions prevailed throughout much of the northern and central Plains, and with low temperatures, the non-growing season, and frozen and snow-covered ground in the north, drought and D0 was limited to southern areas (Kansas and Colorado), along with smaller D0 areas in northern Wyoming and western Montana. In south-central Kansas, light precipitation (0.25-1 inch) was enough to ease drought and dryness, while decent snowfall in central Colorado brought most indices close to normal, thus eliminating D0 in Lake County. In western Wyoming’s Teton County, 0.5-2 inches of precipitation boosted SNOTEL WYTD basin average precipitation and SWC to near-normal (97%) and above-normal (112%) levels, respectively, eliminating the D0 there. Light precipitation in northern Wyoming’s Big Horn County also decreased D0 along its eastern edges. In contrast, D0 expanded somewhat in western Montana as 30- and 60-day indices were very low (dry), but WYTD values were close to normal. Fortunately, SNOTEL WYTD basin average SWC has remained above normal…


    High pressure off the California coast kept much of California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah precipitation-free this week, with above-normal temperatures in California. Instead, Pacific storm systems were deflected northward or southward, allowing the Pacific Northwest to receive welcome moisture after such a dry start to the Water Year (mainly October and November 2019). The precipitation, along with enough cold air, has steadily increased the SNOTEL basin average WYTD precipitation and SWC in the Washington Cascades to near- or above-normal values, thus easing drought in western and eastern sections of the state. These values decrease as one heads southward, with SWC between 77-91% of normal in the Oregon Cascades, and dropping to between 52-71% of normal in the Sierra Nevada. In southern Idaho, light to moderate precipitation in the southwest helped to improve the D1 to D0 as SWC rose to 92% of normal. However, the SWC of the Big Lost, Big Wood, and Little Wood basins have dropped to between 58-74% of normal, with WYTD precipitation ranging from 52-60% of normal. Thus, D1 was expanded southward to encompass these basins, and additional deterioration may be required soon if it stays dry. Since many changes were made last week, only minor modifications were made to the Far West this week. This included bridging the D0 gap in northern California as conditions were similar to the two D0 areas to the north and south; slightly expanding D1 into central Oregon while improving D1 to D0 and D0 to nothing in eastern Oregon; slightly retreating the D0 and D1 in the northern Oregon and Washington Cascades eastward as another round of decent precipitation fell there, increasing both the SNOTEL WYTD basin average precipitation and SWC; and slightly readjusting the D1 area in central Washington eastward to better reflect where the driest indices were. In the Southwest, a southern tracking storm system brought welcome precipitation to southern Arizona and most of New Mexico over the 2-week period, allowing for 1-category improvements (D0 to nothing) in southwestern and southeastern New Mexico, along with some slight D1 improvements in central and east-central sections. The balancing between the poor 2019 summer monsoon versus favorable 2019-2020 winter precipitation was taken into account. The northern areas (D2) were left unchanged this week since they was hit harder by the weak summer and fall monsoon, and because the WYTD basin average precipitation has been below-normal (73-94%), while southern areas were at or above-normal (95-144%). Elsewhere, no changes were made, although the boundary between the short-term (S) versus short and long-term (SL) impacts were differentiated in the Far West with impact lines…


    Heavy rains (2-5 inches) fell from central Texas northeastward into southwestern Arkansas, across northern Louisiana, and from west-central Mississippi northeastward into central Tennessee. Light to moderate amounts (0.5-2 inches) were reported in northern and eastern Texas, eastern Oklahoma, and the remainder of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Little or no precipitation occurred in western portions of Texas and Oklahoma, and across southern and southeastern Texas. Weekly temperatures were seasonable in western and northern sections of the South, and above-normal along the central Gulf Coast. With the heavy rain that fell across central and northeastern Texas, a broad 1-category improvement was made, including some 2-category reductions (D2 to D0; D1 to nothing) in northeastern Texas where the amounts were the greatest. Elsewhere, some of the D0 and D1 was erased in northern Texas and southwest Oklahoma that incorporated precipitation over the past 2-week period; the D0 in southwest Arkansas was removed; and some D0 was alleviated in Louisiana and southern Mississippi where the totals exceeded an inch. In contrast, very dry weather the past 30- to 60-days in southern Texas, combined with above-normal temperatures, warranted a broad 1-category degradation in many southern and southeastern sections of the state. Deficits at 30-days reached 0.5-1.5 inches and 1.5-3 inches in southern and southeastern portions, and at 60-days, shortages were 1-2 inches and 2-4 inches, respectively. D3 was added or expanded where the short- and medium-range tools (3-, 6-, and 9-months) were the driest, along with corresponding to low values (less than tenth percentile) on the USGS average stream flows. D0 was also expanded into extreme southwestern Louisiana where little or no rain fell and short-term deficiencies grew…

    Looking Ahead

    During the next 5 days (February 20-24), another round of moderate to heavy precipitation (1-3 inches) is expected for the Pacific Northwest (western Washington and Oregon, northern Idaho), the central Great Plains, and from central Texas eastward across the Southeast to the Carolina Coasts. Light to moderate amounts (0.5-1 inch) are possible in the Four Corners Region, the Rockies, western Corn Belt, and eastern sections of the Northeast. Little or no precipitation is forecast for most of California, northern Nevada and Utah, eastern Oregon, southern Idaho, across the northern Plains, upper Midwest, and Great Lakes region, and southern Florida. Temperatures should average below-normal across the Northwest, Rockies, and southern half of the contiguous U.S., and above-normal in the Southwest, northern Plains, upper Midwest, and southern Florida.

    In the extended range forecast for the ensuing 5 days (February 25-29), odds favor above-normal precipitation throughout Alaska, and from the central Plains northeastward into the Great Lakes region, the western and central Gulf Coasts, and the eastern quarter of the Nation. Subnormal precipitation is favored west of the Rockies, the northern and southern Plains, and the lower Mississippi Valley. Temperatures are likely to be below-normal across much of the lower 48 States and western Alaska, with low odds for above-normal temperatures in California, the Northeast Coast, southern Florida, and south-central and southeastern Alaska.

    US Drought Monitor one week change map ending February 18, 2020.

    #Snowpack news: #ColoradoSprings supply in good shape heading towards #runoff

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 20, 2020 via the NRCS.

    From KRDO.com (Julia Donovan):

    With more than a foot of snow across the Pikes Peak region in the past month, Colorado Springs Utilities says the water worries are over for now.

    Planning supervisor Kalsoum Abbasi gave the details at a meeting on Wednesday.

    She says, right now, they have more than three years worth of water stored in reservoirs. That supply would only dry up if the region saw multiple drought years in a row.

    Abbasi said 2019 saw plenty of snow and rainfall, and 2020 is off to a great start.

    “We are pretty far ahead of where we typically would be at this time of year,” she said. “So we’re really waiting for spring runoff, and I think this year we’ll probably have more runoff than we can store in reservoirs.”

    Colorado Springs Utilities is stressing that the new rules restricting how often residents use their sprinklers are permanent and will not be changing, no matter how much water is in storage.

    @POTUS Admin’s Clean Water Rollback Will Hit Some States Hard — The Revelator #WOTUS

    New Mexico Lakes, Rivers and Water Resources via Geology.com.

    From The Revelator (Tara Lohan):

    The Santa Fe River starts high in the forests of New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo mountains and flows 46 miles to the Rio Grande. Along the way it plays important roles for wildlife, irrigation, recreation and other cultural uses, and provides 40% of the water supply for the city of Santa Fe’s 85,000 residents.

    But some stretches of the river don’t flow year-round, and that means parts of this vitally important water system could lose federal protections under changes to clean-water rules just passed by the Trump administration.

    The administration’s new Navigable Waters Protection Rule replaces the Obama-era Waters of the U.S. (or WOTUS) rule that defined which waterways were protected under the Clean Water Act. The Obama administration broadened and clarified which waters were safe, but the new rule takes a much narrower view. Under the changes many waterways lose federal protection. That includes ephemeral streams and rivers that depend on seasonal precipitation — like parts of the Santa Fe — as well as waters that cross state boundaries and wetlands that aren’t adjacent to major water bodies.

    This loss of protections means pesticides, mining waste, and other pollutants can be dumped into these streams and unconnected wetlands can be filled for development without running afoul of federal authorities…

    The rule flies in the face of basic science about river ecology and groundwater, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s own scientists. Even if streams don’t flow all the time or wetlands don’t touch major bodies of water, dumping pollutants into them can still harm the watershed — and by extension drinking water and wildlife.

    The Trump administration promised these changes would offer more control to states, but many state officials say they find the new rules problematic, confusing and potentially dangerous.

    “One of our biggest concerns with the final rule is that it’s not rooted in sound science,” says Rebecca Roose, water protection division director of the New Mexico Environment Department. “And there was really no attempt by the agency to reconcile the final rule with the scientific basis for the 2015 WOTUS rule and advice from the scientific community.”

    While these changes will be felt in every state, they won’t be felt equally.

    @BYU study: Wildfires increase winter #snowpack — but that isn’t necessarily a good thing

    Jordan Maxwell and Sam St. Clair researched the impact of wildfires on snowpack. Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU

    Here’s the release from Brigham Young University (Todd Hollingshead):

    Deep in the Tushar mountains, some three hours south of BYU’s campus, Ph.D. student Jordan Maxwell and two other students found themselves in deep snow, both literally and figuratively.

    It was December 2014 and the students had just started field work under the tutelage of BYU professor Sam St. Clair for research on the impact of wildfires on snowpack levels. Unfortunately, the snowmobiles they’d been using could go no further and there were still dozens of measurements they needed to take.

    “So, we put on our skis and got to work,” Maxwell said.

    The students would go on to log between 15 and 20 miles of backcountry skiing each day in the field, measuring snow depth levels and snow water equivalency at 30 sampling spots within the footprint of the Twitchell Canyon Fire, a 2010 mega-fire that consumed 45,000 acres and was the largest active wildfire in the United States at the time.

    The team also measured the presence, height and diameter of trees at each location and whether or not those trees were killed by the fire. After crunching the data, collected over that winter and the next, they found pretty impressive numbers: there was an 85% greater snow depth in areas that burned completely compared to areas that didn’t burn at all.

    “Fires mean more snow into the system initially because of reduced trees that usually block and hold the snow temporarily on branches,” said St. Clair, a professor of plant and wildlife sciences. “It’s a really good outcome for north-facing slopes where the snowpack will hold in the shade, but If you’ve got a south-facing (sun-exposed) aspect with a deep snowpack and a rapid spring melt, now there is a higher chance of erosion, loss of nutrients and potential of flooding for downstream communities. The larger and more severe the wildfire, the increased flood potential for valleys.”

    The research also revealed a 15% increase in snow-water equivalent — the amount of water contained within the snowpack — for every 20% increase in tree mortality in the burned areas.

    The findings, recently published in Environmental Research Letters, represent the first study to examine the effects of burn severity on snow accumulation and water equivalence using direct measures. The researchers believe the study has considerable implications for water forecasting, especially given that snow-water resources from mountain watersheds provide fresh water for over 20% of the global human population and more than 65% of Utah’s water resources.

    According to St. Clair, the new data helps paint a more complete picture on water security. To estimate future water resources, he said hydrologists should not only consider topography, aspect (north vs. south facing slopes) and how wet or dry a winter is, they also need to account for the increasing number and severity of wildfires and burn potential to properly assess the risks for flooding and drought.

    “Wildfire regimes are changing forest ecosystems, and now we know they’re impacting water hydrology too,” St. Clair said. “This is our future — increased fired due to climate change. As a fire ecologist, this research is now in the center of what everyone cares about.”

    Added Maxwell: “This project was impactful in the scientific community because it shows that not only an increase in the number of fires or in the area they burn, but also the severity of the fire, may have a large effect on the amount and quality of water that’s available for us to use. As climate anomalies become more frequent, we have seen and will likely continue to see more severe fires.”

    Read the full study here: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab5de8

    @ColoradoStateU engineering hosts interactive #climatechange exhibit, March 3, 2020, panel

    Take a journey through climate change with a visit to the exhibit, Real People, Real Climate, Real Changes. Bring your family and friends, and learn together how climate is changing and how it is affecting people’s lives around the country and around the world.

    Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Anne Manning):

    Real People, Real Climate, Real Changes” – a traveling exhibit launched by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) – is on display at the Colorado State University Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering this spring.

    To celebrate the exhibit and partnership, NCAR and the college will host an NCAR Explorer Series panel discussion and reception from 5-7 p.m. March 3 in the atrium of the Scott Bioengineering Building, 700 Meridian Ave. (northeast corner of Laurel and Meridian avenues), in Fort Collins. The event is free and open to the public. The panel will begin at 6 p.m.

    Registration, parking

    Due to limited space, registration is required at https://advancing.colostate.edu/NCAREXHIBIT. Parking is free after 4 p.m. in Lot 310 on the north side of the Lory Student Center.

    Some of the college’s leading experts in climate change will serve on the panel, including Jim Hurrell, former director of NCAR who is now Scott Presidential Chair in Environmental Science and Engineering at CSU. His research in atmospheric science centers on analyses and model simulations of climate, climate variability and climate change.

    Other panelists

    Bob Henson, a meteorologist and writer at Weather Underground, who helped develop the traveling NCAR climate exhibit as a consultant.

    Tami Bond, CSU’s Scott Presidential Chair in Energy, Environment and Health and professor in mechanical engineering, who studies complex links between energy, climate and human choices.

    Ellison Carter, CSU assistant professor, civil engineering, who studies health impacts of household energy use.

    Emily Fischer, CSU associate professor, atmospheric science, who studies impacts of oil and gas development on air quality and connection between fires and air quality.

    David Randall, CSU University Distinguished Professor, atmospheric science, who studies the effects of clouds on climate and how to represent cloud effects in climate models.

    Russ Schumacher, CSU associate professor, atmospheric science, and Colorado State Climatologist, who studies weather forecasting and precipitation extremes such as flash floods.

    Exhibit through March 12

    The interactive exhibit will be open to the public in the Scott Bioengineering Building atrium through March 12.

    “Our faculty are conducting innovative research on energy, air quality, protecting our environment, and water – all areas impacted by climate change – so we are excited to showcase this exhibit,” said CSU engineering dean Dave McLean. “NCAR and Jim [Hurrell] have given us a wonderful opportunity to better connect with our community, and also help tell the story of the science behind climate change.”

    “Real People, Real Climate, Real Changes” was developed by NCAR and the UCAR Center for Science Education to help share the science of climate change and how it impacts people’s lives. The exhibit was made possible with funds provided by the National Science Foundation.

    Using pictures, infographics, and personal stories, the traveling exhibit explains how scientists know the climate is changing, what that future may look like, and how the impacts are affecting people, from flooding and drought to sea level rise and severe weather. The exhibit also allows visitors to explore how their own choices make a difference.