Pitkin County’s opposition to tax follows pattern of ‘misalignment’ with #ColoradoRiver District — @Aspen Journalism #COriver #aridification

Pitkin County commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday opposing the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s proposed tax increase. The River District has said the tax revenue would be used for fighting to keep water on the Western Slope, but commissioners said the ballot language was too ambiguous. The headwaters of the Roaring Fork River, near Independence Pass, are shown here. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

In a reflection of long-simmering mistrust of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, Pitkin County is opposing the organization’s proposed tax increase on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Pitkin County commissioners in a special meeting Tuesday passed a resolution that said that without an identified use for the revenue, a tax increase is irresponsible and not in the best interests of county citizens.

The ballot question tells voters in the 15-county district that the money will be used for fighting to keep water on the Western Slope, protecting water supplies for Western Slope farmers and ranchers, protecting drinking water, and protecting fish, wildlife and recreation. But commissioners said the language was flawed and too ambiguous.

“It’s not that we don’t support the efforts of the water district, it’s not that we don’t support protecting water on the Western Slope,” Commissioner Patti Clapper said. “It’s just that I would like more clarification, more specification in the ballot language as to the benefits to the Pitkin County taxpayers.”

The resolution opposing the River District tax hike passed on a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Greg Poschman and Steve Child voting against it. Both said they would like to hear from members of the public and the River District before making a decision.

River District general manager Andy Mueller wasn’t happy with the way the meeting was noticed or that the draft resolution wasn’t included in the packet materials for the public to see. In a last-minute request to postpone Tuesday’s vote, Mueller asked commissioners in a Monday night email for an opportunity to engage in direct communications with Pitkin’s five-member Board of County Commissioners about the ballot measure.

The BOCC did not take any public comment at Tuesday’s meeting. In order to vote on the resolution, the BOCC came out of Tuesday’s work session and went into a “special meeting.”

“The fact that they refused to allow public comment and input, and that they held it during a really strangely noticed meeting is really disturbing,” said Mueller, who learned Monday about the county’s resolution to oppose the tax measure. “The public in Pitkin County deserves a hell of a lot better.”

Pitkin County Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury said the BOCC discussed in August all the different questions on the ballot this year and whether the elected officials should bring in presenters both pro and con.

“The board decided at that time that we didn’t think it was necessary and there was enough information out there for us to make a decision rather than put time on the schedule, which we frankly don’t have, to allow these groups to come in and present,” McNicholas Kury said. “I know the River District would have liked the opportunity to present. (Pitkin County Attorney) John Ely sits on that board, and he’s given us the accurate picture. He’s been fair in his summaries.”

In July, the River District decided to move ahead with Ballot Issue 7A, which will ask voters to raise its property taxes from a quarter mill to a half mill. That works out to an increase of $1.90 per year for every $100,000 of residential home value, and will raise nearly $5 million annually.

According to numbers provided by the River District, the mill levy for Pitkin County’s median home value would increase from $18.93 per year to $40.28. Pitkin County’s median home value, at $1.13 million, is the highest in the 15-county district. The Glenwood Springs-based River District, which was created in 1937 to protect and develop water supplies in western Colorado, spans Grand, Summit, Eagle, Pitkin, Rio Blanco, Routt, Moffat, Garfield, Mesa, Delta, Montrose, Ouray, Gunnison, Hinsdale and Saguache counties.

Ely, the Pitkin County representative on the River District board, was the lone “no” vote against the ballot measure in July, saying that the district’s fiscal implementation plan — where it outlines how the tax money could be allocated — is not directly tied to the ballot language, so there’s no commitment on how exactly the money will be spent.

On Tuesday, Ely told the BOCC that environmentally minded Pitkin County has been a proponent of enhancing streamflows and improving riparian ecosystems, while the River District has been more “traditional” in seeking ways to develop the Western Slope’s water, meaning dam and reservoir projects.

“The district has not been aligned with many Pitkin County directives,” he said.

After learning of Tuesday afternoon’s impending vote on the resolution, environmental groups American Rivers and Western Resource Advocates, which support 7A, scrambled to rally their members in an attempt to stop, or at least postpone, the vote.

“Pitkin County representatives need to understand that this issue is bigger than them,” Matt Rice, director of American Rivers’ Colorado Basin Program, wrote in an email. “The most progressive communities and the most conservative communities, conservation organizations, agricultural associations, ranchers, water providers, business leadership, etc. are putting their differences aside and coming together to do what needs to be done for the Colorado River. None of us are getting everything we want nor are we going to agree on everything in the future — but we know we have to do something now.”

Other counties, including Summit, Eagle, Garfield and Delta, have passed resolutions supporting the River District’s ballot measure.

Water from the Colorado River flows through the Grand Valley Irrigation Company’s canal near Palisade, shown in a file photo. Pitkin County commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday opposing the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s proposed tax increase. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Historic mistrust

Pitkin County’s opposition to a River District tax increase is just the latest in the historically antagonistic relationship between the two entities, a dynamic that Poschman noted Tuesday.

“I know maybe there’s a necessary and justified amount of suspicion and mistrust that the money could be spent against our interests, because we do have a misalignment with Pitkin County and the River District,” he said.

Some of that mistrust can be traced to a River District-led project that included conditional water rights for 200,000 acre-feet of water storage on the Crystal River. The water rights for what is known as the West Divide Project were tied to three dams and reservoirs, including a dam just downstream from Redstone, which would have created the 129,000-acre-foot Osgood Reservoir.

The River District abandoned these conditional water rights in 2011 after being sued in water court by Pitkin County, but the memory is still raw for some.

“The timescale is still fresh in the minds of those people up the Crystal,” said Assistant Pitkin County Attorney Laura Makar.

The River District and Pitkin County have also been on opposing sides of designating the upper Crystal as “Wild & Scenic.” The River District has opposed the federal designation, saying it would end water-development opportunities in the valley, but Pitkin County still supports the move.

The narrows on the Crystal River just below Placita where a dam big enough to store 62,009 acre-feet of water was once planned by the Colorado River District and the West Divide Water Conservancy District. The Pitkin County BOCC passed a resolution opposing the River District’s proposed tax increase. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Competing water studies

The county is also going its own way on an analysis of water needs in the Crystal Valley. It recently hired hydrologist Kristina Wynne of Englewood-based water consultants Bishop-Brogden Associates to study backup water-supply options for Crystal River water users instead of relying on a study already underway by the River District and Rifle-based West Divide Water Conservancy District.

2018’s summer drought revealed a water shortage on the Crystal that may not leave enough for both agricultural users and residential subdivisions. Irrigators south of Carbondale placed a call on the river, meaning that upstream junior water rights holders — including some homes that use wells — would have to stop using water so the downstream senior irrigators could get their full amount.

The River District, which often advocates for the interests of agricultural water users, was awarded state grant money to study the issue.

Mueller maintains that his organization is no longer the dam builders of yore and emphasizes his desire for collaboration. Last week, he told members of the Crystal River Caucus that the River District will commit to not damming the mainstem of the Crystal and will emphasize solutions to the water shortage other than storage.

“I recognize our district has a lot of trust-building to do in the valley,” he said. “I think, frankly, the River District has evolved and realized that damming anything on the Crystal is not a good idea.”

But it’s a hard sell for some in Pitkin County.

“It’s pretty alarming we didn’t get a heads up from the River District,” said Kury, the county commissioner, regarding the district’s Crystal River study. “We’ve had to fight the River District before. We were taken off guard by the outreach to our constituents about shutting off their wells. I have some hesitancy in that relationship.”

Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Sept. 17 edition of The Aspen Times.

The Colorado River Water Conservation District spans 15 Western Slope counties. River District directors are asking voters this fall to raise the mill levy.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A growing coalition is getting behind a Colorado River District tax-hike proposal intended to bolster its struggling balance sheet and strengthen its role in advocating for Western Slope water interests and helping fund projects.

However, opposition to the measure also emerged this week from Pitkin County commissioners, after their representative on the district board also was the only board member to have voted against the tax proposal. And while some other counties in the district have been formally endorsing the measure, so far there’s no indication that Mesa County commissioners will follow suit.

Pitkin County traditionally has been one of the largest sources of tax revenues within the 15-county district because of its high property values. As for Mesa County, it has by far the largest population and largest number of voters that will help decide the fate of the proposal.

The district board has placed a measure on the November ballot to boost the district’s property tax rate to 0.5 mills. The district’s levy is now capped at 0.252 mills and its effective current rate is 0.235 mills.

The move would raise the district’s annual revenue by an estimated $4.9 million and cost an additional $1.90 per $100,000 in residential property value. For business property, it would cost another $7.70 per $100,000 in assessed valuation…

The river district measure also proposes relieving the district from TABOR’s limits on how much revenue it can collect and spend in any year. The district still would have to go to voters for any further hike in its tax rate.

It is proposing to use just 14% of the new revenues the tax measure would raise to address its financial troubles. It plans to use the rest to partner with others on projects focused on agriculture, infrastructure, healthy rivers, watershed health and water quality, conservation and efficiency.

BACKERS LAUNCH CAMPAIGN

This week, supporters of the measure launched their campaign to support the district proposal, Question 7A.

“Water access is non-negotiable in the West,” Kathy Hall, chair for the Friends of the Colorado River District campaign group, said in a news release. “Nothing is as central to our area as water. Question 7A will ensure that Western Slope water gets used on the Western Slope instead of being diverted to the Front Range or the West Coast states.”

[…]

Among others stepping up to support the measure are Club 20, local peach farmer Bruce Talbott, local rancher Carlyle Currier, Moffat County rancher and former river district board member T. Wright Dickinson, and groups ranging from American Rivers to Business for Water Stewardship.

Matt Rice with American Rivers said during a Zoom meeting of supporters of the measure that the Colorado River is at risk due to factors such as drought and demand from cities outside the river basin and Lower Colorado River Basin states…

He said the tax proposal is critically important, as evidenced by the diversity of support.

“We have conservationists standing next to ranchers standing next to water providers to get this done. It’s never ever been more important,” he said…

COUNTY SUPPORT SOUGHT

Some county commissions within the river district — among them Garfield, Delta and Summit counties — have endorsed the tax measure, and supporters are continuing to pursue endorsements from other counties.

Steve Acquafresca, who serves on the river district board as the Mesa commissioners’ appointee to it, said he and the district’s general manager, Andy Mueller, recently visited with Mesa commissioners. He said he didn’t specifically ask for an endorsement of the measure, but asked them to speak out on it individually if they favor it…

The tax measure’s ballot language includes a clause Acquafresca requested, saying Mesa commissioners had said they wouldn’t consider backing the measure without it. The language commits the district not to use any of the new tax revenue to pay for fallowing of agricultural fields. Temporary, voluntary, compensated fallowing is being considered as one means of Colorado cutting its water demand to bolster water storage by Upper Basin states in Lake Powell during drought, to help ensure they can meet their delivery obligations to downstream states and Mexico…

Acquafresca said with Mesa County being particularly politically conservative, a lot of local residents are tax-averse and probably a fairly constant number of people are going to vote against any tax proposal. But he thinks some Mesa County residents are listening to the river district’s concerns about the greater competition for and threats to water resources at a time when the river district’s revenues and staff are shrinking.

CD3 candidates agree on protecting Western Slope water, reservoir enlargements — @AspenJounalism #CWCVirtual2020

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Diane Mitsch Bush, the Democratic candidate for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, pledged cooperation and Lauren Boebert, her Republican challenger, promised to fight — the Front Range, neighboring states and the federal government — to protect Western Slope water.

The two candidates on Thursday tackled water-related questions at this year’s Colorado Water Congress. Typically among the largest annual gatherings of water managers, policymakers and scientists, the 2020 series of panels and workshops has gone online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mitsch Bush answered questions live via Zoom, while Boebert sent in a prerecorded video. She was attending President Donald Trump’s Republican National Convention speech at the White House on Thursday night.

Mitsch Bush touted her experience as a former Routt County commissioner and three-term state representative, and framed herself as a pragmatic problem-solver who uses science, not ideology, as the basis for decisionmaking. From her history of working with the basin roundtables, she said the best ideas come from listening to one another.

“I’ll work diligently with our delegation and the other Western states to ensure our Western voices are heard and our needs as a headwaters state get met,” she said. “To do that, I will work with colleagues across all the divides: the aisle, basins and states to rebuild our infrastructure so our communities can flourish now and in the future.”

Boebert, the owner of Shooters Grill in Rifle, made headlines earlier this summer when she beat Rep. Scott Tipton, an incumbent endorsed by Trump, in the District 3 Republican primary. The upset has thrust the conservative gun-rights activist and mother of four into the national spotlight.

Moderator Joey Bunch, of Colorado Politics, posed the question of how the burden of drought and a potential Colorado River Compact call could be shared equally by the Front Range’s populous urban center and the rural, agriculture-dependent Western Slope.

Western water managers desperately want to avoid a compact call, which could occur if the upper basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah) can’t deliver on the amount of water they owe the lower basin states (Arizona, Nevada and California). A compact call could trigger involuntary cutbacks in water use for Colorado, known as “curtailment.”

This scenario reveals an interesting intrastate dynamic: Many of the oldest and most valuable water rights are on the Western Slope, meaning the cutbacks wouldn’t affect them because they predate the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

But the state’s population center and deep-pocketed municipal water providers are on the growing Front Range. Some worry that Front Range interests will try to secure these senior Western Slope agricultural water rights so they can avoid cutbacks. Cities’ purchasing of agricultural water rights is sometimes derided as “buy and dry.”

Mitsch Bush said, “My top principle is: We cannot let curtailment lead to buy and dry of agriculture.”

Boebert agreed and played up the urban/rural divide, saying she is against more transmountain diversions to the Front Range and is primed to fight for Western Slope water. The burden for compact curtailment cannot fall solely on District 3, she said.

“I’m 100% committed to fighting this out with Denver and Boulder and making sure they don’t push all the work and all the costs onto us,” Boebert said. “Rural Colorado must have a voice, and we must have someone willing to fight for us in D.C.”

Both candidates agreed on the expansion of existing reservoirs to increase water storage as an alternative to building new reservoirs.

“The enlargement of existing reservoirs is the quickest, least expensive and most environmentally sensitive manner to secure more water storage,” Boebert said. “Increasing water storage capacity is key for Colorado’s future.”

Mitsch Bush agreed.

“Enlarging existing reservoirs is much more cost-effective for the taxpayer and for water users and much less environmentally challenging than building new reservoirs,” she said. “The best sites are already occupied by dams and reservoirs, so increasing the reservoirs’ capacity makes sense.”

After the candidates spoke, political commentator and former Colorado GOP state chair Dick Wadhams gave his analysis on where water issues fit into the campaign.

“Water is one of the most important issues we have in Colorado going back since statehood, and yet it’s the most obscure and least understood and least prioritized oftentimes by voters,” he said. “I do think with our dramatic increase in population that we are headed to a calamity at some point if we have a horrible drought.”

Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative journalism organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with Swift Communications newspapers. This story appeared in the Aug. 28 edition of The Aspen Times, and Steamboat Pilot & Today.

Boundaries for Colorado’s 3rd United States Federal Congressional District. By 1: GIS (congressional districts, 2013) shapefile data was created by the United States Department of the Interior. 2: Data was rendered using ArcGIS® software by Esri. 3: File developed for use on Wikipedia and elsewhere by 7partparadigm. – GIS shapefile data created by the United States Department of the Interior, as part of the "1 Million Scale" geospatial data project. Retrieved from: http://nationalatlas.gov/atlasftp-1m.html?openChapters=#chpbound, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32797497

Diane Mitsch Bush touts experience in U.S. House race

From The Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

Says her leadership can help bring jobs and tame health care costs

Congress needs to take action on soaring health care costs, a faltering economy and public lands, Democratic candidate for the 3rd Congressional District Diane Mitsch Bush said.

Mitsch Bush, a former Routt County commissioner who also served in the State House from 2013-2017, is making her second bid for the U.S. House. She faces Republican nominee Lauren Boebert, who defeated a five-time incumbent for her party’s nod.

“At the very whole-nation level, our democracy is clearly in some danger,” Mitsch Bush said Thursday. “We need for us, the people of the 3rd Congressional District, a representative who has the experience to lead. We need a representative who actually listens to us, looks at the data and the evidence, and really knows how to legislate. This is not a time to have inexperience.”

The current COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 170,000 Americans and spawned an economic downturn, is only the most current crisis, she said, citing fires and the past recession. Dealing with those issues requires leadership and bipartisanship, she also said.

“I have those skills. I want to use my skills at bringing people together across the aisle,” Mitsch Bush said…

People in the 3rd District have to spend a lot to obtain health coverage and prescription medication, she said. In Montrose County, few insurance carriers offer plans on the state’s public health exchange, where people without coverage can purchase it. The exchange also provides subsidies for those who qualify.

Mitsch Bush said she will work to reduce premiums, deductibles and prescription drug costs; end surprise medical billing practices; allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices and increase coverage for mental health.

“Health care costs here are just so difficult for people. We pay some of the highest premiums in the country,” she said.

Boundaries for Colorado’s 3rd United States Federal Congressional District. By 1: GIS (congressional districts, 2013) shapefile data was created by the United States Department of the Interior. 2: Data was rendered using ArcGIS® software by Esri. 3: File developed for use on Wikipedia and elsewhere by 7partparadigm. – GIS shapefile data created by the United States Department of the Interior, as part of the "1 Million Scale" geospatial data project. Retrieved from: http://nationalatlas.gov/atlasftp-1m.html?openChapters=#chpbound, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32797497

Colorado Water Congress Day 2 recap

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Historically, water has never been a political issue, but a geographical one, and that axiom was borne out Thursday between Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush and Republican Lauren Boebert in comments at the Colorado Water Congress’ 2020 Summer Conference.

The two candidates agreed on several matters asked during a virtual panel discussion about how each would approach water issues while serving in Congress. Both had advanced knowledge of the questions asked, giving each time to research their answers.

Mitsch Bush said people back East don’t understand how water law works in the West. There, she said, they go by a system known as riparian water rights, which allocates water among those who possess land along its path…

“It’s really, really critical for us, as Coloradans, that we have a representative that understands Colorado water law, that understands the issues of drought and scarcity, and understands what we need in terms of federal funding to deal with them,” she said.

Unlike Mitsch Bush, Boebert has no background in working on water issues. Still, the Silt resident said she’s brought in experts to teach her, and ended up agreeing with much of what Mitsch Bush said.

Both, for example, said it is unlikely the state will be able to get the funding and permits needed to build new water storage projects, such as dams and reservoirs. Instead, it should concentrate on expanding existing reservoirs to increase their storage capacity…

Both also agreed that, should there be a squeeze on Colorado’s water allotment either by the federal government or downstream states, that Colorado should decide for itself where its water allotment goes.

The two also agreed how the state allots any funding for water projects should be dictated by the Colorado Water Plan, and said they would work with anyone in any state regardless of political affiliation who wants to help boost and protect Colorado’s and the West’s existing water supply.

#Colorado Water Congress Summer Meeting Day 1 recap #CWCVirtual2020

Part of the memorial to Wayne Aspinall in Palisade. Aspinall, a Democrat, is a legend in the water sector, and is the namesake of the annual award given by the Colorado Water Congress. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Colorado Politics (Joey Bunch):

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner said Colorado can’t conserve its way out of a deep drought and a decades-long struggle over the state’s water, as he spoke to the state’s water managers Tuesday…

He said he had passed more water legislation than the rest of the state’s congressional delegation combined during his six years in the Senate and four years in the U.S. House before that. Gardner also is a former state legislator.

“We have such diverse water needs in our state,” Gardner said, noting his Yuma County community depends on groundwater and that a canoe would dam up the nearest river 30 miles away. He also cited his work on the Arkansas Valley Conduit to deliver fresh water to the parched farm region east of Pueblo, a project on the books since 1983 that only this year got federal funding, as well as other funding for endangered species recovery on the Colorado River.

He spoke of the complexity of solutions given the diversity of users and suppliers, plus the Front Range’s dramatic and steady growth.

“No. 1, we have to have more water storage, that’s an absolute,” Gardner told the Water Congress. “We have to have conservation, No. 2. We cannot conserve our way out of our water shortfall, though.”

[…]

Former Gov. John Hickenlooper began his recorded statement by noting he’s spoken in-person to the Water Congress before. He then spoke of the challenges created by COVID-19 “made worse by the reckless action of the United States Senate,” before he pivoted to climate change and wildfires.

Hickenlooper spoke of his time building bridges with Denver and the rest of the state, recalling how he visited the Western Slope soon after he became mayor of Denver in 2003 and received a standing ovation for his remarks.

“Unfortunately today’s politics almost begs us to be partisan, assuming the worst in each other, raising suspicions between neighbors on either side of the Continental Divide,” Hickenlooper said. “At the federal level Washington is as dysfunctional as a broken septic system.”

He said water provided grounds to put partisanship aside.

Hickenlooper spoke of water often during his eight years as governor and adopted the Colorado’s first statewide water management plan. Hickenlooper did not acquire legislative or public support for funding the plan – an estimated $100 million a year – during one of the state’s strongest period of economic growth…

Pollster Floyd Ciruli interviewed Republican strategist Cinamon Watson and Democratic strategist Rick Ridder after the two candidates spoke.

Colorado River, St. Vrain districts asking voters for millions in new tax revenue — @WaterEdCO

From Water Education Colorado (Sarah Kuta):

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and with a recession looming, two Colorado water districts will ask voters this November to approve property tax increases for millions of dollars in new funding for water education, water quality improvement, infrastructure and water use management.

The St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, made up primarily of Boulder County, is asking voters for more money for the first time in 50 years. Similarly, the 15-county Colorado River Water Conservation District in western Colorado is also going to the polls to ask for more funding.

Historically, funding for water has been hard to come by in Colorado, with voters reluctant to help pay for a statewide water program. But these two districts are hoping for more success at the local level, where voters can more easily see and feel the direct impact of their dollars on local watersheds.

“Whether your relationship with water is limited to water that comes out of your kitchen faucet, or you’re a rafter or kayaker, or a farmer or rancher, or somebody who works in mining and energy production, we all need a secure water supply,” said Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District. “These efforts that we’re talking about are vitally important to securing that water supply for the next 50 years. And if we don’t do this, our kids will not have the same quality of life.”

Both districts are grappling with a confluence of social and economic pressures: the ongoing drought in Colorado and the West, a rapidly growing population, increased demand for water, declining oil and gas revenue, and declining property tax levels under the state’s Gallagher Amendment.

Both are also hoping to leverage the new property tax revenue to access additional state, federal and private money for water projects.

“It allows us a driver’s seat at the table rather than a passenger seat,” said Mueller.

Local water, local use

The Colorado River District will ask voters to increase the mill levy from 0.252 mills to 0.5 mills, which would generate an additional $4.9 million per year starting in 2021. Under the proposal, the district’s taxpayer-funded budget would more than double from its current $4.5 million level.

The district, home to some 500,000 residents in an area that covers 28 percent of the state, encompasses the Colorado River and its major tributaries, including the Yampa, the White, the Gunnison and the Uncompahgre rivers.

The proposal translates to a median residential property tax increase of $7.03 per year for residents in Grand, Summit, Eagle, Pitkin, Garfield, Routt, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Mesa, Delta, Ouray, Gunnison and parts of Montrose, Saguache and Hinsdale counties.

The district, which has 22 employees, plans to use the extra money to help fund projects and initiatives within its top priority areas: productive agriculture, infrastructure, healthy rivers, watershed health and water quality, and conservation and efficiency. No new staff positions will be created if voters approve the increase.

Already, the district has tightened its expenses as much as possible, Mueller said, but projections show cuts alone won’t be enough. The district’s board members, who have varied political leanings, thought long and hard before deciding to move forward with the ballot question.

“This is essentially government closest to the people,” said Dave Merritt, the district’s board president. “This protects western Colorado water, for use in western Colorado, and gives us the ability to bring some money to bear or some water to bear when we need to solve problems.”

Historic ask

The St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District, which spans roughly 500 square miles along the St. Vrain and Left Hand creeks, will ask voters to increase the mill levy from the current 0.156 mills to 1.25 mills for the next 10 years, according to Sean Cronin, the district’s executive director.

If voters agree to the proposed property tax increase, they’ll send an extra $3.3 million to the district each year starting in 2021. For comparison, the current mill levy generates $416,000 annually. (The district’s budget also includes an enterprise fund that generates between $100,000 and $150,000 per year, Cronin said.) The tax would add $9 to the annual property tax bill for a $100,000 home.

The tax increase would be used for projects that support the district’s five main goals, which were outlined in a strategic plan the board approved in January: the protection of water quality and water supply, infrastructure for agricultural water use, water education, creek improvement facilities and conservation.

It’s a historic decision to ask voters for more money: The district has not asked for a property tax increase since its founding in 1971, nearly 50 years ago.

“It’s been an evolution, this isn’t a sudden thing,” said Dennis Yanchunas, the district’s board president. “We believe [the strategic plan] is what our citizens are looking for from the district, and we can provide that leadership. In order to do that, you also have to have the kind of financial base that puts you in a position to do projects and make significant contributions.”

The district’s board members initially discussed asking voters for an even larger tax increase to 1.5 mills, but ultimately decided on the more conservative proposal. The board also added a 10-year sunset clause to help make the idea more palatable.

“There was very much a concern and a discussion around, ‘What’s the potential economic climate in November?’” said Cronin.

Indeed, the board considered the appropriateness of asking voters for a tax increase at all. Ultimately, however, they decided there’s no time like the present.

“I’m not sure that there is ever a good time to ask somebody for more money,” said Yanchunas. “There’s an awful lot of stuff we just have to set aside and say, ‘We have the right plan, we have a mission we believe in and we think the citizens believe in.’”

Sarah Kuta is a freelance writer based in Longmont, Colorado. She can be reached at sarahkuta@gmail.com.

On Climate, @KamalaHarris Has a Record and Profile for Action — Inside Climate News #ActOnClimate

Kamala Harris. By United States Senate – This file has been extracted from another file: Kamala Harris official photo.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64332043

From Inside Climate News (Marianne Lavelle):

In choosing Kamala Harris as his running mate, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden put a spotlight on two key elements of his climate policy: environmental justice for minority communities and accountability for the oil and gas industry.

Harris, who will be the first Black woman to run on a major political party’s presidential ticket, only last week sought to affirm her commitment to communities of color in the climate battle—and progressives in the Democratic party—by introducing climate equity legislation. The California Senator teamed up with Green New Deal avatar Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on the effort, an outreach to the climate activist community that Biden hopes to energize behind his candidacy.

During her presidential run, Harris also frequently advocated for the federal government to take legal action against fossil fuel companies for their legacy of climate pollution. It’s another stance that resonates with many climate-focused voters, even though, as California’s attorney general, she did not go as far as other state law enforcers in pursuing litigation against the industry.

Certainly, many factors beyond climate change will decide Harris’s value to the Democratic ticket, including her ability to win over voters in states beyond California. How she handles critiques of her past work as a prosecutor will be important, especially amid the national reckoning on race and law enforcement, and how well she stands up to President Donald Trump’s attacks will be critical, as well.

But the environmental community is an important constituency that analysts believe Biden must activate to put together a winning coalition. He took an important step toward that goal last month with a greatly expanded $2 trillion plan, developed with input from advisers to his primary rival, Bernie Sanders. By bringing another rival, Harris, aboard as vice president, Biden chose a candidate already tested in the campaign spotlight with a record and profile for action on environmental issues that is winning the team praise throughout the activist community.

“A true environmental champion,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, vice president of government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters, noting that Harris has had a 91 percent pro-environmental lifetime voting record on the LCV scorecard (that’s better than Biden’s lifetime score of 83 percent). “Senator Harris has been a long-time champion for climate action and environmental justice….We know she will continue the fight for a more just solution to the climate crisis.”

Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth Action, an environmental group that would like to see Biden’s recently expanded climate platform go even farther, also had praise for the choice of Harris.

“Senator Harris’ commitment to environmental justice and her desire to hold corporate polluters financially and criminally accountable for their destructive behavior is a welcome sign,” Pica said. “We hope her inclusion on the ticket provides another opportunity for Vice President Biden to increase the ambition of his climate plan and cements climate justice and climate equity as a priority for their administration.”

‘There Has Been No Accountability’

Harris brings a record on climate issues that dates back to her time as San Francisco’s district attorney, when she created that office’s first environmental justice unit in 2005. As California attorney general, she confronted the fossil fuel industry by opposing Chevron’s proposed refinery expansion in Richmond, a majority Black and Hispanic city that has waged a long battle against pollution at the Chevron site.

Harris also sued the Southern California Gas Co. over a massive methane blowout from an underground storage facility on the outskirts of Los Angeles, citing the climate threat posed by the uncontrolled emissions of the super-potent greenhouse gas. The blowout was the largest known natural gas leak in U.S. history. The case was settled three years later, after Harris’ departure for the Senate, in an agreement that some environmentalists criticized as inadequate.

As California attorney general, Harris lent her support to a coalition of 17 Democratic attorneys general who vowed in 2016 to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for climate change. The group—AGs United For Clean Power—was formed in the wake of disclosures that oil giant ExxonMobil had understood the magnitude of climate change for decades yet went on to mislead the public about the catastrophic consequences.

During one primary debate last year, Harris said, “I have sued ExxonMobil,” but in fact, she never did. (The attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts took Exxon to court—with the company successfully defending itself against the New York charges and still in litigation with Massachusetts.) Harris’ campaign spokesman at the time said that she meant that she investigated the company.

But as a presidential candidate, Harris was consistent in her call for accountability from the oil and gas industry over liability for their past actions on climate change. “Let’s get them not only in the pocketbook, but let’s make sure there are severe and serious penalties for their behaviors,” she told Mother Jones, in an interview last year on the campaign trail.

At a CNN Town Hall on climate change, she said as president she would direct the Department of Justice to launch an investigation of the companies. “They are causing harm and death in communities. And there has been no accountability,” she said.

Hungry for a ‘Transformative Change’

Harris has sometimes struggled with Black and progressive voters because of her history as a tough-on-crime prosecutor in a state where the incarceration rate for African Americans is five times higher than their share of the population.

That history looms large for Alexandria Villaseñor, a 14-year-old climate activist from New York, who founded the activist group Earth Uprising.

“I think Kamala Harris is a big win for women of color and environmental justice, however she definitely has some work to do in order to show our generation that she’s become more progressive since her prosecutor days,” she said.

But Robert Bullard, a professor at Texas Southern University and author, widely known as “The Father of Environmental Justice,” told InsideClimate News last week that he thought Harris would add value to a Biden ticket at a moment when people are hungry for “transformative change.”

“We must center the fight for environmental and climate justice in the broader conversation” on race, Bullard said.

Gina McCarthy, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, called Harris “a cross-generational consensus-builder with a solid record for getting things done.” McCarthy, who served as Environmental Protection Agency Administrator under President Barack Obama, said Harris’s work in the nation’s leading clean energy state makes her a good fit to lead a national transformation.

“She’s worked to make California the nation’s leader in the clean energy jobs we need to confront the climate crisis head-on and build back better with a recovery that’s strong, durable and creates opportunity in every community in America,” McCarthy said.

In a foreshadowing of the attacks that are sure to come, the Trump-Pence campaign sent a blast email to the media Tuesday night, calling Harris “the most radical, far-left Vice Presidential nominee in U.S. history.” But many climate activists see both her and Biden as centrists. Calvin Yang, an 18-year-old Canadian climate organizer and spokesman for Fridays for Future International, commented on the pragmatism of their policy approaches.

“It’s great to have a green and relatively eco friendly duo on the presidency and vice presidency,” he said, “and the politics they implement wouldn’t be impossible to pass and would win the support of the American public.”

One Black climate activist, Catherine Coleman Flowers, founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, who served on the task force that helped craft Biden’s climate plan, sees Harris as a standard-bearer. “It is time to make change and history at the same time,” she said.

From Grist (Zoya Teirstein):

Harris — formerly the district attorney for the city of San Francisco and the attorney general of California — has been known to be somewhat of a political chameleon. Her once-promising presidential campaign failed in part because of Harris’s inability to nail down her political ideology. But, over time, the Democrat has become increasingly firm in her commitment to one particular issue: environmental justice.

When Harris was running for president in 2019, she released a climate plan that put environmental justice front and center. Last July, she and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York unveiled a plan to introduce climate legislation in Congress that would ensure new environmental regulations and legislation get evaluated through an environmental justice lens before becoming law. Last week, the two Democrats made good on that plan by formally introducing legislation called the Climate Equity Act. The act would set up a new Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability within the Office of Management and Budget.

A week prior to that announcement, Harris introduced another piece of climate legislation in the Senate: a companion bill to the Environmental Justice for All Act introduced earlier this year in the House of Representatives by Democrats A. Donald McEachin of Virginia and Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona. In an email interview with Grist ahead of the introduction of that bill, the senator explained why environmental justice is so important to her. “Our country is in the midst of multiple crises,” Harris told Grist:

“First, there’s the public health crisis caused by the coronavirus that has killed over 148,000 people. It disproportionately affects Black and brown people in part due to the high frequency of pre-existing conditions like asthma and high blood pressure. These can stem from decades of toxic pollution being dumped in communities of color and which place people at higher risk of complications. Meanwhile, there is the continuing crisis of systemic racism in America that people of color have known and experienced for generations. All of these things intersect, and we must center the fight for environmental justice in the broader conversation.”

Harris’ commitment to this kind of work dates back to her days as a district attorney. In 2005, she created a mini version of the Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability she’s proposing now within the San Francisco district attorney’s office. “Crimes against the environment are crimes against communities, people who are often poor and disenfranchised,” she said at the time.

In short, she’s got a good record on justice that’s getting better and better. That could serve Biden well as he continues to hash out his climate plans in the months leading up to the election. He’s already introduced a more comprehensive and equitable version of his initial climate plan and sought input from an array of formal and informal climate advisors from many different corners of the climate movement, including environmental justice advocates. Harris will no doubt continue to steer his campaign in a justice-friendly direction. She also supports abolishing the filibuster, a step that will likely be necessary to get any climate or environmental policy through Congress in a Biden administration.

2020 Summer Convening of the Colorado Water Congress

From the Colorado Water Congress:

Water Congress will hold a virtual summer meeting beginning August 25 and will continue for 4 weeks. Sessions will be on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting at noon with each one running 60 to 75 minutes. More information on specific topics and related workshops will be released in the upcoming weeks.

Voters to face #ColoradoRiver District tax question — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #COriver #aridification

The Colorado River Water Conservation District spans 15 Western Slope counties. River District directors are asking voters this fall to raise the mill levy.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Voters in 15 counties this fall will be asked if they’re willing to lighten their wallets a little for the sake of supporting Western Slope water interests.

The Colorado River District board on Tuesday voted almost unanimously to put a proposal on the November ballot to boost its property tax rate to 0.5 mills. The move would raise its annual revenue by an estimated $4.9 million and cost an additional $1.90 per $100,000 in residential property value. The district’s levy is now capped at 0.252 mills and its effective current rate is 0.235 mills.

The district is seeking to address a growing financial crisis and strengthen its ability to play a role in addressing the water issues that challenge the region amid a continuing trend toward longterm drought…

The river district measure includes a provision that would relieve the district from TABOR’s limits on how much revenue it can collect and spend in any year, though it would continue to have to go to voters for any further hike in its tax rate.

The district already has cut staff and other expenses. Absent a tax hike, it is expecting a possible $425,000 reduction in general fund revenues based on the latest projection for how Gallagher will affect collections of taxes from residential properties next year.

If the measure passes, the district says it will spend only 14% of the new revenues to address its financial structural deficit, with the remainder to focus on projects partnering with others and focused on agriculture, infrastructure, healthy rivers, watershed health and water quality, conservation and efficiency…

Polling the district did in March and again a few weeks ago suggest that a majority of voters (about 63% in the latest poll) would support the tax measure today, even amidst a pandemic and its economic impacts. That polling suggests 60% support in Mesa County, which will be pivotal to the measure’s chances because Mesa has the largest population of any district county and also is largely conservative when it comes to tax and other issues.

Steve Acquafresca, Mesa County’s representative on the district board, is supporting the tax proposal.

Acquafresca had agreed to support the measure after ballot language was added that commits the district not to use any of the new tax revenue to pay for fallowing of agricultural fields. He said Mesa County commissioners also were unanimous on insisting on that clause being included before they would even consider supporting the tax measure.

Electoral College benefits whiter states, study shows — The Conversation


A congressional staffer opens the boxes containing the Electoral College ballots in January 2017.
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

William Blake, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

States can force members of the Electoral College to vote for the winner of the popular vote in their state’s presidential primary, the Supreme Court recently ruled. The July 6 decision removed one of the two reasons why the framers of the U.S. Constitution created this election system: to empower political elites who may know more about the candidates than ordinary voters. Now, the founders’ only remaining justification for the Electoral College is structural racism.

Though the Electoral College has changed since it was first used to elect George Washington to the presidency in 1789, my research shows that the system continues to give more power to states whose populations are whiter and more racially resentful.

Electoral College myths and realities

The Founding Fathers created the Electoral College in large part because they feared voters would not know all the candidates who would be running for president. In that era, most people never left their home states, so they were not likely to know candidates from other states.

The founders did not foresee the development of political parties and campaigns, which help teach voters about their options. Instead, Alexander Hamilton argued that those serving in the Electoral College would be “most likely to possess the information and discernment” needed to choose a president.

With its recent decision, the Supreme Court has abandoned the possibility that electors might vote for people other than the candidate who wins the popular vote in their state.

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The other reason for the Electoral College was to bridge a major divide among the states: slavery. As James Madison said at the Constitutional Convention: “[T]he great division of interests in the U. States did not lie between the large & small States; it lay between the Northern & Southern” because of “their having or not having slaves.”

The original 13 U.S. colonies and their territorial changes from 1782 to 1802.
The 13 colonies had competing land claims in the early years of the United States.
Kmusser, CC BY

Race in early America

By the time the founders discussed how to pick a president, they had already made the so-called “three-fifths compromise,” counting enslaved people as three-fifths of a person in the census and allotting seats in the House of Representatives accordingly. That gave Southern slave states an advantage over the Northern states in the House.

Slave states – with many people and with fewer – insisted on the Electoral College to preserve this advantage to give them a similar advantage in presidential selection. Ultimately, delegates to the Constitutional Convention decided that each state would receive votes in the Electoral College equal to their representation in both houses of Congress.

As a result, after the 1790 census, Virginia got 21 electoral votes and Pennsylvania got 15, though both were home to just over 110,000 free white male adults, who were then the only Americans allowed to vote. That’s because Virginia had 292,627 enslaved residents, to Pennsylvania’s 3,737, the country’s very first census shows.

Similarly, South Carolina and New Hampshire had nearly identical numbers of free white men – right around 36,000. But South Carolina got two more electoral votes, for a total of eight, because more than 100,000 enslaved people lived there, compared to New Hampshire’s 158 enslaved people.

Congressman Samuel Thatcher of Massachusetts.
U.S. Rep. Samuel Thatcher, in 1806.
Fevret de Saint Memin/Wikimedia Commons

In 1803, the 1800 census was about to shift the balance even more toward slave states. Representative Samuel Thatcher of Massachusetts complained that counting enslaved people added significant numbers to the slave states’ delegations.

The slavery bonus ensured that the nation’s first 18 presidential elections delivered a slave-owner as either president, vice president or both. Only in 1860, with the victory of Abraham Lincoln from Illinois and his running mate, Hannibal Hamlin of Maine, did a team of Northern politicians manage to beat the Electoral College’s skew toward white Southerners.

After the Civil War

Following the Civil War, the 14th Amendment removed the three-fifths clause, and the 15th Amendment should have protected African Americans’ legal right to vote. But that didn’t fix the Electoral College’s anti-Black bias. It actually made the problem worse, because Southern state governments were happy to get the representation from their large numbers of Black citizens – while keeping them from voting through discriminatory practices like literacy tests and poll taxes.

Judicial decisions at the time upheld Jim Crow restrictions on the right to vote, but those practices are illegal today.

This system benefited the Democratic Party, which was dominant in the South. Republicans tried to counter that power by strategically admitting new states from the Great Plains and Mountain West. In part because of racially disparate postwar settlement policies, these states – such as Nebraska, the Dakotas and Wyoming – were unusually thinly populated, heavily white and reliably Republican.

A woman looks at papers.
Staff of the House of Representatives review Illinois’ Electoral College vote report in January 2017.
Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Race and the Electoral College now

Those statehood decisions made a century and a half ago still reverberate today. States with smaller populations have more electoral votes per resident because, no matter how few people they might have, they still get two senators and one House member.

I recently performed a quantitative analysis of race and the allocation of electoral votes. The data indicate that whiter states consistently wield more electoral power partly because of their population.

On average, as a state’s racial composition gets whiter, its electoral power increases. For instance, in 2016, North Dakota was the seventh whitest state and 47th on the list in terms of adult population. It had more than 5.2 electoral votes per million adult residents, when an average state had just 2.2 electoral votes per million adult residents. According to my analysis, a state that is 10% whiter than the average state tends to have one extra electoral vote per million adult residents than the average state.

I also found that states whose people exhibit more intense anti-Black attitudes, based on their answers to a series of survey questions, tend to have more electoral votes per person.

Statistically speaking, if two states’ population numbers indicate each would have 10 electoral votes, but one had substantially more racial resentment, the more intolerant state would likely have 11.

This is not an ironclad rule, and the inherent bias isn’t always decisive. For instance, Donald Trump owes his presidency to winning Wisconsin, a state that is whiter than the average state, but that has slightly less electoral votes per capita than average.

In addition, the centuries-old racial bias in the Electoral College could disappear with future population changes. Perhaps other states with relatively few people will follow the pattern of Nevada, whose population has recently become larger and more racially diverse. But the Electoral College remains a system born from white supremacy that will likely continue to operate in a racially discriminatory fashion.The Conversation

William Blake, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Editorial: Trump’s continued disregard for the environment and #climatechange poses a mortal threat — The Los Angeles Times

Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

From The Los Angeles Times editorial board:

It’s fitting that President Trump invoked an interstate highway expansion in Atlanta last week to announce final rules that, if they survive the inevitable legal challenges, will undermine one of the nation’s bedrock environmental laws, the National Environmental Policy Act. American voters face a fork in their own road this November — stay on the Trump expressway to environmental degradation and catastrophic climate change, or shift to the road, bumpy as it may be, to a cleaner environment and more sustainable future of wind, solar and other energy sources that do not involve burning fossil fuels.

The COVID-19 pandemic understandably has seized the nation’s attention, but that hasn’t lessened the risk we all face from air and water pollution and carbon-fed global warming. Trump has unabashedly sought to dismantle federal regulatory structures to speed up construction projects while forging a national energy plan based on producing and burning fossil fuels.

His embrace of the oil, gas and coal industries defies the global scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels emits greenhouse gases that make the Earth less habitable by warming the atmosphere, feeding stronger and more frequent storms, triggering devastating droughts that propel human migration, and pushing up sea levels so that they encroach on cities and other human settlements. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported last week that unusually high tides led to record flooding among one-quarter of Atlantic and Gulf Coast communities where the agency maintains tide gauges. Climate change is no dystopian vision of the future; it is here.

Trump’s efforts to eviscerate regulatory oversight of the environment is rooted in his belief that regulations are for the most part unnecessary hurdles to economic progress. He bewails the amount of time it takes for projects to clear environmental reviews and related court challenges, adding what, in his mind, are unnecessary costs and delays. To be honest, he may have something there. NEPA came into being five decades ago — signed into law by President Nixon — and it’s not out of line to suspect that there are places where the law and the regulations that arose from it could use some reasonable revising. But Trump and his industry-connected advisors are not the ones to trust with such a task.

These new rules are not reasoned updates. By requiring environmental impact analyses to be completed within two years (now they often take twice that), the administration seeks to cut short the consideration of those most affected by major projects — often people of color and low-income households — and disarm the environmental activists fighting to ensure that necessary environmental protections are respected. The rules also would require regulators to no longer weigh the cumulative effects of a proposed project and limit their review to effects “that are reasonably foreseeable” and “have a close causal relationship” to the work being done. So, for example, a proposed project’s emissions could not be added to those of other nearby emitters to determine whether their cumulative impact creates an excessive burden on a specific community.

Separately, the Government Accountability Office reported last week that the administration tweaked the formula for measuring the “social cost of carbon” so that estimates of the potential harm from emissions are seven times lower than they used to be. It’s foolhardy — and dangerous — to look at environmental impacts through such a narrow lens.

Meanwhile, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, after lengthy negotiations with progressive environmentalists who had backed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), released a $2-trillion plan for quickly shifting the nation from its reliance on fossil fuels to renewable sources.

It’s not the controversial “Green New Deal” that progressives have been pushing, but it’s in the neighborhood. Getting such a measure through Congress even if both chambers were controlled by Democrats would be no easy task, but Biden’s proposal at least recognizes the dire future we all face if the nation — and the world — do not fundamentally alter how we produce and consume energy.

The world cannot afford to backslide on environmental protections and the all-important fight to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. Yes, jobs are important, but survival more so. The errors and consequences of the past are crystal clear. The question is, will we heed those lessons?

@ColoradoStateU unveils educational resources on potential #restoration of wolves in #Colorado

Gray wolves are currently protected under the Endangered Species Act, but the Trump administration has petitioned to delist them. That decision, expected this spring, will impact the management and possible reintroduction of wolves in Colorado. Photo credit: Tracy Brooks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Aspen Journalism

Here’s the release from Colorado State University:

Colorado residents will vote in November on a ballot initiative that calls for the proposed reintroduction of gray wolves to the state. Proposition 107, a citizen-initiated measure, would direct the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to develop and oversee a science-based plan to restore wolves to the western part of the state.

To help ensure the public is informed on this topic, Colorado State University scientists have teamed up with Extension staff to produce and publish educational materials on the possible wolf restoration.

The resources include 12 information sheets on topics including wolf biology, wolves and livestock, disease, human and pet safety, big game and hunting, ecological effects and economics, and a robust list of frequently asked questions with answers.

“As Colorado’s only land-grant institution, CSU is uniquely positioned to provide science-based information on the subject,” said Kevin Crooks, professor in the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology and director of the new Center for Human-Carnivore Coexistence. “The educational materials have undergone extensive review by scientists within and outside CSU, including world experts on wolves.”

Crooks helped lead the development of these educational materials. The center he leads is focused on integrating science, education and outreach to minimize conflict and facilitate coexistence between people and predators.

The center’s team has developed projects in a variety of systems where human-carnivore coexistence is proving difficult. In addition to wolves, they are tracking growing conflicts with urban black bears and coyotes, polar bears in energy fields in Alaska, lions and cattle keepers in East Africa, and ranchers in systems with predators in the United States.

A trail of wolf tracks observed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers in
Northwest Colorado on January 19, 2020. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Wolves already spotted in Colorado

In early 2020, after the initiative was approved to be placed on the ballot, a pack of wolves was confirmed to be living in Moffat County in the northwestern part of the state. Another lone wolf was confirmed in North Park in summer 2019. These wolves likely migrated from a nearby state, perhaps Wyoming, where they were reintroduced 25 years ago.

“Science-based information provided from this team is critical to aid in policy development around wildlife and public lands,” said Ashley Stokes, associate vice president for Engagement and Extension at CSU.

Stokes said that these resources are also important for people who vote, so that they may better understand the issues surrounding potential reintroduction of wolves and the impacts on ecological systems, agricultural producers and local communities.

CSU researchers analyzing public response, media coverage

Rebecca Niemiec, assistant professor in the Department of Human Dimension of Natural Resources at CSU, recently led research studies on public perspectives and media coverage of the wolf restoration issue in Colorado.

“One thing we have found from our social science research is that the public has a diversity of beliefs about the potential positive and negative impacts of wolves,” explained Niemiec. “Some of these beliefs are supported by ecological and social science research, while some of them are not. Our hope is that with these educational materials, we can facilitate more productive, science-based discussions about wolf reintroduction and management.”

John Sanderson, who directs the Center for Collaborative Conservation at CSU, helped direct the scientific review process and worked with partners to produce the educational materials.

“The topic of wolves is uniquely contentious,” Sanderson said. “If wolves are part of Colorado’s future, we need an inclusive process of creating policy and making decisions that builds trust and identifies mutually acceptable solutions among people with different perspectives.”

Public surveys over the last few decades suggest support for wolf reintroduction from the majority of Colorado residents. Despite those survey results, restoring wolves in the state is a contentious topic that taps into diverse emotions and passions across various groups. And misinformation about wolves is widespread, on all sides of the issue.

CSU Extension has a goal to empower Coloradans and to address important and emerging community issues using science-based educational resources. The information sheets are also available to the public through Extension’s website.

Learn more about the Center for Human-Carnivore Coexistence.

The Center for Collaborative Conservation and the Center for Human-Carnivore Coexistence are part of the Warner College of Natural Resources.

Survey finds support for #ColoradoRiver District ballot measure — @AspenJournalism #COriver #aridification

The lower Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir. The Colorado River District owns water in Ruedi Reservoir and plays a role in the flows in the Fryingpan, which is heavily diverted to the eastern slope at its headwaters. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

The results of a survey to gauge voters’ attitudes about the Colorado River Water Conservation District and Western Slope water returned some good news for the district. But due to concerns about the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, River District officials are still mulling whether to push ahead with a plan to ask voters to restore part of its original mill levy.

River District general manager Andy Mueller said the overall results of the survey, which found that 65% of respondents would support a mill levy increase, were a ray of good news in an otherwise dark time. But at the board’s April quarterly meeting, Mueller recommended that it postpone making a decision about whether to move forward on a ballot initiative until at least its July meeting.

“Given the economic devastation that is occurring throughout the district, the question we have to ask ourselves in July is: Is it appropriate to go to the voters to ask for additional funding at this time when they are suffering such great economic hardship?” Mueller said. “I don’t know the answer to that.”

The River District board is considering whether to ask voters to raise its property tax rate from a quarter-mill to a half-mill, taking its budget from about $4 million to $8 million. That works out to 50 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value. One mill is the equivalent of $1 per $1,000 of assessed value.

According to numbers provided by the River District, for the median home value in Pitkin County — the highest in the district at $1.13 million — the mill levy would increase from $18.93 to $40.28 per year.

For several days in mid-March, River District consultant Arvada-based New Bridge Strategy surveyed about 600 residents and voters via email and phone to assess the feasibility of a ballot question. The survey results found that residents trust that the River District manages taxpayer funds wisely, and three out of five people said they would support a tax increase if it were on the ballot measure in November.

“I think, overall, this is positive,” said Lori Weigel, principal of New Bridge Strategy. “It’s pretty rare to see something testing at 60 percent or higher in Colorado these days. It speaks to the primacy of water and people’s concern about water in this part of the state.”

Survey-takers said protecting western Colorado water for agriculture and preserving clean drinking water were the most compelling reasons to vote yes on a tax increase. Eighty-eight percent found these reasons convincing. The River District is not a direct provider of drinking water, but part of the organization’s mission is to keep water on the Western slope.

Women older than 55 years old made up the backbone of support for a tax measure — 73% said they would back it. Residents across the political spectrum supported a tax increase, but it found the most support from Democrats, with 75% saying they would vote “yes.” Fifty-six percent of Republicans were supportive.

The Roaring Fork River just above Carbondale, and Mt. Sopris, on May 3, 2020. The Colorado River District works to keep water on the Western Slope, including in the Roaring Fork. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Mesa County

The Glenwood Springs-based River District, created in 1937 to protect and develop water supplies in western Colorado, spans 15 counties: Grand, Summit, Eagle, Pitkin, Rio Blanco, Routt, Moffat, Garfield, Mesa, Delta, Montrose, Ouray, Gunnison, Hinsdale and Saguache. The survey found broad geographic support overall, but the numbers were lowest in one key, populous county: Mesa. Only 59% of survey respondents there said they would support a tax increase.

“What it means to me is that we need to do better and make sure that if there are places that others perceive we are not speaking and advocating well for agriculture, then we need to do it more uniformly,” Mueller said.

Steve Acquafresca, who represents Mesa County on the River District board, said probably only a small percentage of voters know what the River District does, and although the River District has ramped up its outreach to Western Slope communities this year, more is needed. Those efforts, however, have been sidelined by the pandemic. The River District had scheduled a series of State of the River meetings this spring, which were canceled.

“It’s a huge challenge,” Acquafresca said. “That’s a huge disadvantage of going forward with a question in 2020 if we can’t get out and do the campaigning.”

He also pointed out that the results of the survey may no longer be valid because of its timing.

“Although some of the results look pretty good, all of that was done before the pandemic really impacted our Western Slope communities,” Acquafresca said. “Nobody had any concept of the economic consequences of this pandemic on big cities and small towns alike.”

For the median home value in Mesa County, at $218,601, the mill levy would increase from $3.67 to $7.81 per year.

A view of the White River between Meeker and Rangely. The Colorado River Water Conservation District includes the White River basin, and the district is supporting an investigation into a new storage project on the White. Photo credit: Brent Garndner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Projects plan

River District staffers also have unveiled a fiscal implementation plan for how that additional funding could be spent should voters pass a ballot measure. Of the projected $4.9 million in additional revenue, $4.2 million of that would be spent on projects identified as priorities by local communities and basin roundtables in five categories: productive agriculture, infrastructure, healthy rivers, watershed health and water quality.

Some representative projects that River District revenue could help fund are the White River Storage Project, maintaining flows secured by the Shoshone call and the Windy Gap Reservoir connectivity channel.

The state engineer is opposing the water rights tied to the White River Storage Project in water court over concerns that the project is speculative and that the applicant, the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District, has not proven there is a need for the water. The project would include a 90,000-acre-foot conditional storage right, and a dam and reservoir on the White River between Rangely and Meeker. But Mueller said it’s too early to know what specific projects the River District’s tax money might fund.

“We can’t say we would fund any one of those in particular; those are examples,” Mueller said. “We are not making a commitment to funding any of those that are listed.”

Aspen Journalism is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, supported by its donors and funders, that covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the May 8 edition of The Aspen Times and the May 12 edition of the Vail Daily.

The Colorado River Water Conservation District spans 15 Western Slope counties. River District directors are considering asking voters this fall to raise the mill levy.

Colorado has wolves for first time in decades, but big question is: Are they breeding? — The Fort Collins Coloradoan

A trail of wolf tracks observed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers in
Northwest Colorado on January 19, 2020. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Miles Blumhardt):

Now that a pack of wolves has been confirmed in Colorado for the first time in decades, could the state also have its first breeding pair?

Answering that question could have ramifications for a ballot initiative and legislative bill that calls for reintroducing wolves, predators that have been absent from the state since the 1940s (aside from sporadic reports of wandering lone individuals).

Both measures require the state to establish a sustainable wolf population. However, wording in the bill allows the state to cancel reintroduction efforts if the gray wolf already has a self-sustaining population.

“There is some trickiness and uncertainty for the ballot initiative and legislation (if the pack does produce young in Colorado), but you need a couple of packs successfully producing a couple of years to call it a population,” said Eric Odell, Colorado Parks and Wildlife species conservation program manager.

Now that a pack has been reported in the state for the first time in 80 years, the start of that self-sustaining population may already be happening.

Currently, neither Colorado Parks and Wildlife nor the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is actively monitoring the pack, which was discovered in the northwest corner of the state earlier this month…

If the pack was captured and tracking collars applied, it would identify if there is a breeding pair of adults, allow biologists to locate a possible den site and help determine if the pair produces young in the state this spring…

Carbondale rancher Bill Fales said he would like to see the pack more closely monitored.

“I think we need to know if they are breeding and what they are eating, and the sooner we know that information, the better,” said Fales, while checking calves at his ranch Friday.

Rob Edward, president of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, which is spearheading the ballot initiative, said more closely monitoring the pack may not be needed until later.

“It is conceivable in the future that there will be a closer eye paid to them because it will play into discussions of what we do going forward with reintroduction or augmentation of the wolf population,” he said…

What biologists do know about the pack

Odell said district wildlife mangers used spotting scopes to locate six wolves from more than a mile away on March 4. The pack was spotted several miles south of where the animals were initially seen in January in Moffat County.

He said no tracking collars were seen on any of the wolves verified by CPW employees. He said genetic evidence collected from the pack’s scat samples near an elk kill indicated three females and one male and that the animals are siblings. Their age is unknown.

He said it is unknown if the other wolves in the pack are parents of the siblings. If that is the case, it would indicate a breeding pair but would still leave unanswered whether the parents produced the siblings in Colorado.

Wolves generally breed in January and February and give birth in April and May. Wolf packs are usually made up of parents and their pups from the previous several years.

“You can connect the dots and make an educated guess based on the genetics that there has been reproduction in the past, maybe even last spring,” he said. “But that could have taken place in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, who knows.”’

Edward said it is likely if there are adults in the pack and they do produce young in the state this spring, given the current monitoring of game cameras and the local’s interest in the wolves, they will be seen.

#Colorado throws wolves to the vote — @HighCountryNews

From The High Country News (Ethan Linck) [March 1, 2020]:

The last wolf resident in Colorado in the 20th century died in 1945 at the edge of the San Juan Mountains, where a high green country falls into dark timber near the headwaters of the Rio Grande. It was caught by its leg in the ragged jaws of a steel trap, set by federal authorities following reports that it had killed 10 sheep.

If the wolf was mourned, it wasn’t mourned by many. Contemporary newspaper articles reflected widespread support for ridding the West of wolves. “Wolves are like people in that they must have their choice morsel of meat,” wrote Colorado’s The Steamboat Pilot in an April 1935 story on the retirement of William Caywood, a government contract hunter with over 2,000 wolf skulls to his credit. “(Some would eat) nothing but the choice parts of an animal unless they were very hungry. Wolves are killers from the time they are a year old.”

Seventy-five years later, public perception has changed, and otherwise clear-eyed Westerners regularly wax poetic over Canis lupus. “Colorado will not truly be wild until we can hear the call of the wolf,” opined one writer in a recent editorial for Colorado Politics. “That mournful sound rekindles primordial memories of our ancestors, and to most of us, brings a state of calmness that nothing else can approach.”

Wolves, it turns out, may be a part of the world we want to live in after all.

This about-face is more than conjecture. According to a recent poll of 900 demographically representative likely voters, two-thirds supported “restoring wolves in Colorado,” echoing similar polls over the past 25 years. Yet state wildlife officials have been reluctant to comply, wary of the toxic politics surrounding reintroduction in the Northern Rockies.

In response, activists seized an unprecedented strategy. A coalition of nonprofit groups in Colorado, led by the recently formed Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, spent 2019 tirelessly gathering support to pose the question to voters directly through a 2020 ballot initiative. They succeeded, delivering more than 200,000 signatures to the Colorado secretary of State. Initiative 107 was officially ratified in January and will be voted on this November. (Meanwhile, neither politicians nor wolves have stayed still. In January, a state senator introduced a controversial bill to regain legislative control of the issue; in the same week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife confirmed that a pack of at least six wolves was now resident in northwest Colorado, though it’s far from clear they represent the start of a comeback. For the moment, the future of wolves here still likely rests on the initiative.)

A new transplant to Colorado from the Pacific Northwest, I learned about the campaign from a canvasser outside Whole Foods in north Boulder on a sunny June day last year. In a parking lot filled with Teslas and Subarus, the tattooed volunteer stood opposite a wall-sized advertisement for the store, featuring the smiling faces of ranchers and farmers on the Western Slope.

It was a scene that would have done little to assuage fears that urban liberal voters were forcing reintroduction on rural residents. The canvasser caught my eye as I left the store. “Can I talk to you about reintroducing wolves to Colorado?” he asked, waving a pamphlet. I demurred and walked back to my bike. But the initiative and its backers — happy to use scientific justifications for their cause, paired curiously with populist rhetoric about its overwhelming public support — lingered in my head.

Darlene Kobobel. Photo credit: Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center

The initiative fascinated me, beyond its potential to transform the landscape of my adopted home. As an academic biologist, I tended to think science should be both privileged in debate and somehow above the fray. But my own environmental ethic operated on an independent track — drawing on the scientific literature when it supported my opinions, and claiming it was beside the point when it didn’t. The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project reminded me uncomfortably of this contradiction.

If voters decide to reintroduce wolves to an increasingly crowded state from which they were effectively absent for over 70 years, Colorado’s ecosystems and rural communities may change rapidly, in unexpected ways. Yet unlike nearly all other major wildlife management decisions, the choice would rest not with a handful of experts, but with the public.

The case poses a thorny set of questions. What will happen if wolves return to Colorado? When, if ever, can science tell us what to do? And, in the face of empirical uncertainty, could direct democracy be the best solution?

I wondered: If I knew my own research could dramatically affect ecosystems and livelihoods, would I want it to play more of a role in public life — or less?

CONSERVATIONISTS OFTEN HESITATE to frame arguments in moral terms, leaning on the perceived authority of empiricism to buttress their positions. At the same time, many conservation debates are complicated by the collision of disparate worldviews, where evidence is almost beside the point. Large carnivores — intensively studied and politically controversial — fall squarely in the center of this push-and-pull between data and belief.

In 1995, federal biologists released eight gray wolves from Alberta, Canada, in Yellowstone National Park, seeding a population that eventually grew to as many 109 wolves in 11 packs. With the wolves came the unique opportunity to test the theory that their influence on elk numbers and behavior reduced grazing pressure on riparian vegetation, with consequences for the very structure of rivers themselves.

Preliminary data suggested that this process — known as a trophic cascade — was indeed in effect. Elk numbers were down, grazing patterns were different, tree growth was up, and at least some river channels appeared to recover. A tidy encapsulation of the idea that nature had balance, it had broad appeal: In a viral YouTube video from 2014, British environmentalist George Monbiot breathlessly described these changes over soaring New Age synthesizers and stock footage of an elysian-seeming Yellowstone, calling it “one of the most exciting scientific findings of the past half century.”

Yet ecology is rarely simple, and as the mythology surrounding the return of wolves grew, so, too, did skepticism in the literature. Over the past 15 years, a cascade of papers has called into question most of the findings taken for granted in the popular account of Yellowstone’s transformation. Elk browsing might not be reduced in areas with wolves; streams and riparian communities had not returned to their original state; maybe beavers were more fundamentally important to these processes than wolves were. In sum, a 2014 review paper suggested that there are no “simple, precise, or definitive answers” to the question of whether wolves caused a trophic cascade in the park; another evocatively concluded that “(the wolf) is neither saint nor sinner except to those who want to make it so.”

Yellowstone represented a single experiment — one possible outcome among many. In a different corner of the West with more people, or different habitats, or more or fewer elk — in Colorado, for example — would wolves have had the same effect? Last June, a paper in the journal Biological Conservation attempted to answer this question indirectly by aggregating data on species reintroductions and introductions around the world and asking whether their removal or addition caused a reversion to historic conditions. Unsurprisingly, the answer was “it depends”: Restoring predators has unpredictable, complex consequences.

That paper’s lead author, Jesse Alston, was a graduate student in the Department of Zoology at the University of Wyoming. I met him on a bright fall day in Laramie, at a coffee shop in a strip mall on the east side of town. Driving up from Boulder the same morning, I marveled at the abrupt transition in landscape at the border between Colorado and Wyoming: In the span of only a few miles north of Fort Collins, the sprawl of the Front Range fades away, and the High Plains begin rolling up into a sepia-colored saucer from the flatter, hotter agricultural land of eastern Larimer County.

Alston spoke quietly and slowly, in the cautious manner of someone who anticipated a long future working with wildlife and wildlife-related controversies. Though he thought the evidence favored trophic cascades in Yellowstone, he was circumspect about predicting whether wolf reintroduction in Colorado would have the same effect. “(It) really hinges on the idea of there not being adequate predation currently. And there are a lot of hunters in Colorado.” But hunters are a minority of trail users, he added, and recreation of all kinds can influence elk behavior much the way fear of wolves does.

Jesse Alston. Photo credit: jmalston.com

I asked him to elaborate on the role of science in justifying carnivore restoration and whether he thought it might backfire. He paused, thinking, then said: “I think the people who would be most turned off if you don’t see large-scale ecosystem effects are the people who are least inclined to listen to science anyway, so I don’t see that being that big of a deal. But I do think that — as scientists, particularly as good scientists — that we should be sure that our ideas are buttressed by empirical findings.”

Of course, there are empirical findings, and then there are the caveats that always accompany them — the reasons we can’t say for sure what will happen when wolves return. “I think really where the science-policy nexus is most problematic has been when there’s misunderstanding of uncertainty,” Alston continued. “I think it’s good to advocate for causes that we believe in, but we should be pretty straightforward about discussing the uncertainty that comes along with that.”

IF WOLVES ARE NOT an ecological magic bullet, it is not readily apparent in the literature of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, which nonetheless aims to “disseminate science-based information” as part of its mission. On its website, a blog post suggests that since wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone, “the ecosystem has balanced.” This isn’t wrong, necessarily. But it isn’t correct, either, and the simplification belied a willingness to use science as a political battering ram. I was on board with the group’s mission as a voter, a Coloradan. As a scientist, though, it made me uneasy.

Though the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund is itself young — founded at the end of 2018 — its roots go back nearly to the release of wolves in Yellowstone, through its Boulder-based predecessor, Sinapu. In 2008, Sinapu — whose name was taken from the Ute word for wolves — was folded into Santa Fe-based WildEarth Guardians, which also sought to restore large carnivore populations to the Southern Rockies. On an October evening at a brewery in South Boulder, I asked Rob Edward — founder and president of the board of the wolf fund, longtime Sinapu employee and the public face of wolf reintroduction in Colorado for decades — why the group had chosen to emphasize what might be described as the spiritual resonance of the effects of carnivore reintroduction on ecosystems and landscapes.

Edward was eloquent but blunt, a middle-aged man who dressed in a way that suggested he was as comfortable in the rural parts of the state as in Boulder. His wife, Anne Edward, also a longtime wolf advocate, joined us; she was quieter, with gray hair and eyes that lit up whenever wolves were mentioned. They had chosen their language based on polling data, Rob Edward said. “They use that term — ‘restoring the balance of nature.’ Now, is it an oversimplification of a tremendously complicated system? Absolutely. Do I care? Not really.” At the same time, he said, the connection to research and its perceived authority was important. “The public as a whole places a tremendous amount of stock in scientists.”

While it was clear the couple would support reintroduction even if they were the only two people on earth in favor of it, they nonetheless viewed public opinion as validating. A ballot initiative was a necessary last resort, a way to force the state and its slow-moving wildlife officials to comply with the will of the people of Colorado. “We’re not excluding experts, we’re simply telling them, get it done!” Rob Edward said, pounding the table in a gesture that passed unnoticed against the backdrop of his general animation. “Figure it out! Don’t keep machinating about it for another five decades. Get it done!”

As I listened to him, I again found myself deeply conflicted at the prospect of the ballot initiative, and at putting major wildlife management decisions up to a simple vote. On the one hand, I appreciated that it was a creative solution to an intractable political problem, on behalf of a natural system divorced from the political ebb and flow of Denver. On the other, it seemed to set a dangerous precedent. As the history of our complicated relationship with wolves shows, popular opinion can be capricious. Was it really right to pose complex questions — questions at the limit of expert understanding — to a largely naive public?

Laws that translate science to policy can give a voice to a nonhuman world that cannot advocate for itself. Yet in our society, democracy is haunted by the question of whose voices matter. Edward was clear that polling showed clear majorities of Coloradans support wolf reintroduction across the state, including groups that you might expect to oppose it: Rural residents on the Western Slope, hunters and Republicans all support it by a substantial majority. But Colorado is changing, becoming less white, and he was unable to refer me to data broken down along racial and ethnic lines — particularly among historically disadvantaged groups that remain underrepresented at the ballot box.

Nor have the views of Indigenous people — who have the longest history of cultural connection to wolves, and whose lands in Colorado will likely be among the first impacted by a rebounding wolf population — been highlighted in the debate. I was unable to reach wildlife officials with the Southern Ute Tribe by press time, but they are clearly watching the issue closely. In a statement on the initiative, the tribe clarified that it does not have an official position on wolf reintroduction and is “simply evaluating whether (to) support, oppose, or remain neutral on the subject.”

Carbondale, Colorado-based muralist Valerie Rose works on one of four murals she’s done for the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project since early 2018. This one is at Green Spaces in Denver. Photo credit: Cheney Gardner

SCIENCE IS VERY GOOD at addressing the how, but often fails when confronted with the should — the biggest questions, which veer into the realm of values. There is no experiment we can conduct to say whether we should proceed with wolf introduction, no data that can tell us if it is the right thing to do. It comes down to how evidence is filtered through our worldview: whether we think of humans as a part of nature or separate from it, and whether we think changes in grazing habits and water channels — and the presence of wolves themselves — add up to a fundamental good worth fighting for.

But, like conservationists, scientists often shy away from such moral judgments, and for valid reasons: the fear of being perceived as not impartial, thereby undercutting the authority of their research; a sense of obligation to the politically diverse taxpayers who fund their work; an acute awareness of the limitations of their data, statistics and the scientific method itself. In the public sphere, however, this feigned objectivity can have the negative consequence of suggesting there are scientific solutions to philosophical questions.

That wolf reintroduction advocates lean on science rather than those weightier themes is understandable. Yet arguing that having wolves in Colorado is an intrinsic good — because they represent what we want Colorado to become, not because they will have a net benefit on aspen growth or stream hydrology — would be more honest, and might win people over in unexpected ways.

Back at the brewery in suburban Boulder, Rob Edward vacillated between polished language justifying reintroduction in scientific terms and moments of raw emotion: “They have wolves on the Gaza Strip. They have wolves in Italy. They have wolves in Northern-freaking-California. Why can’t we have wolves here?”

IF THE BALLOT INITIATIVE passes this November, a three-year planning process begins, followed by what Anne Edward described as “paws on the ground” — the release of the first few wolves — in 2023, almost certainly in the San Juan Mountains. Advocates anticipate that this process will be difficult, and they are prepared for a fight.

A successful reintroduction would be a remarkable accomplishment, given the fraught history of wolves in Colorado, as well as a landmark event in the gradual return of large carnivores to the 21st century West. It would also be a remarkable reflection of the blurring lines between science, belief and politics in the 21st century. As political gridlock becomes a feature of daily life, and environmental degradation — the cancerous rot of the Anthropocene — metastasizes, the impulse to circumvent collapsing institutions in response to crises is likely to become more common. In these circumstances, what role should scientists and science play? How much should uncertainty prevent action, and how much should empiricism determine our value system?

There are no easy answers here. If the basic question of whether or not to reintroduce wolves to Colorado is largely beyond the purview of science, then perhaps putting it to a vote is the most responsible option. The messiness of democracy can be terrifying. Still, there may not be a better way. After all, the language of values has been a part of the modern conservation movement since its birth — the Endangered Species Act of 1973, for example, states that endangered species provide “esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation.”

Toward the end of my conversation with the Edwards, thinking of their many years of advocacy and of the curious arc of history, I asked them what it was like to see an end in sight. “Do you allow yourselves to get a little carried with the fantasy of it?” I asked. “Things are in your favor — have you started imagining ‘paws on the ground’?”

Both were quiet for a moment, and the noise of the bar washed over us. “I’ve been working on this for 25 years,” Rob said, his voice breaking into a sob as Anne reached out and gripped his arm. “I certainly do.”

Ethan Linck has previously written about recreation and conservation for High Country News, and about science and nature for Los Angeles Review of Books, Undark and Slate. He is a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the University of New Mexico, where he studies evolution and genetics in birds. Email High Country News at editor@hcn.org.

Update on NW #Colorado wolf pack — @COParksWildlife

A trail of wolf tracks observed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers in
Northwest Colorado on January 19, 2020. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Randy Hampton):

A group of wolves has again been verified in Moffat County. It is likely that the latest sighting is the same pack previously seen in that area.

A member of the public spotted the wolves on Tuesday, March 3, providing a credible sighting report of seven wolves. District wildlife managers were able to investigate and visually verify six wolves in the reported area on Wednesday, March 4. The location of this sighting was several miles south of the January sighting location. Over the past few weeks, wildlife managers have heard from area residents about howling, carcasses, and tracks but actual sightings remain rare. Wolves travel over large distances, especially when establishing new home ranges, so the movement and new sightings are not surprising.

As a federally endangered species, wolves in Colorado remain under the authority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Colorado Parks and Wildlife works closely with federal partners to monitor wolf presence in Colorado. The wolves migrating into Colorado are likely from larger populations in Wyoming, but could be from populations in Idaho and Montana.

CPW reminds members of the public that killing a wolf in Colorado can result in federal charges, including a $100,000 fine and a year in prison, per offense. Instead, the agency requests that the public give wolves space, and report any sightings to CPW as soon as possible. For more information, visit the CPW website.

2020 November election: Western Slope prepping for wolves — @AspenJournalism


Gray wolves were extirpated from Colorado in the 1930s, but a pack was recently spotted in the northwest corner of the state. In November, voters in the state will decide on a measure to reintroduce gray wolves. JOHN AND KAREN HOLLINGSWORTH, USFWS

From Aspen Journalism (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

Since Colorado’s last wild wolves were killed in the 1930s, a few lone animals have been spotted in the state. So, when a pack was spotted in northwest Colorado — several months before Colorado voters decide whether they’ll support a bill to reintroduce gray wolves to the state — it wasn’t a total surprise to Carbondale ecologist Delia Malone.

“It does give life to the idea that Colorado has ample suitable habitat for wolves,” said Malone, a member of the science advisory team for the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, which hopes to reestablish a sustainable population of wolves in Colorado.

Malone and Colorado wildlife officials agree that the rural northwest corner of the state is well-suited for wolves. CPW isn’t releasing the pack’s exact location, but agency spokesperson Lauren Truitt says there is plenty of prey and room to roam.

“With Colorado not having any wolf presence, there’s not a whole lot of competition for them, so it’s very likely that they’ll hang around,” Truitt said.

CPW biologists used DNA testing on four scat samples, which revealed there are at least three females and one male in the pack, and those wolves are all closely related, probably as full siblings.

“That does not mean there’s a sustainable population of wolves in Colorado,” Malone said. “A sustainable, recovered population is a population that is ecologically effective in their role to restore natural balance; they’re well-distributed throughout Colorado; they’re well-connected. And six little wolves is not that.”

Malone says her work as an ecologist gives her a clear view that Colorado needs wolves.

“Our ecosystems are not in great shape,” Malone said.

The combination of a warming climate and lack of predators has reduced the resilience of Colorado’s aspen forests and other habitats. Malone said the presence of wolves has tremendous benefits, including improving water availability in the driest months of the year.

“They (wolves) move the elk so that they don’t overgraze, so that there’s willow left for the beavers to build their dams, to store their water, to supply streamflows in the late-summer season,” Malone said.

Malone and others point to the ecological benefits seen after wolf recovery in Yellowstone National Park as a model. The National Park Service says that without pressure from predators such as wolves, the elk population grew far beyond what was sustainable. The number of elk has since reached healthier levels.

A trail of wolf tracks observed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers in
Northwest Colorado on January 19, 2020. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

While a pack sighting indicates the possibility of wolves returning to western Colorado on their own, there are also two potential paths to reintroduction.

Sen. Kerry Donovan in January introduced to the state legislature a bill that would take cautious steps toward wolf reintroduction, potentially beginning in 2025.

In November, voters will decide on Initiative 107, which would require CPW to create a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves by the end of 2023. The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project has been working for years on a plan that would fully restore wolves to Colorado.

“Vast areas that are rugged and remote without humans are the ideal reintroduction sites,” Malone said.

The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project identified several potential reintroduction sites, including the Flat Tops Wilderness north of Glenwood Springs; Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests; Weminuche Wilderness in San Juan National Forest; and Carson National Forest.

Gray wolves are currently listed as a protected species under the Endangered Species Act, which gives management authority to the federal government. Last year, the federal government petitioned to remove those protections and declare wolves recovered. That would mean that CPW would be in charge of management.

If Initiative 107 passes and gray wolves remain listed under the ESA and, therefore, under federal management, Truitt says the next steps are unclear.

“The ballot initiative instructs the Commission to develop and implement a plan for reintroduction, but is silent as to what CPW is supposed to do if it has no authority to reintroduce or manage wolves,” she wrote in an email.

There is strong support across the state for wolf reintroduction. In an online survey conducted by Colorado State University professor Rebecca Niemiec, 84% of respondents intended to vote for wolf reintroduction.

Bill Fales and Marj Perry raise cattle near Carbondale. They fear that the presence of wolves in Colorado would come with a significant economic hit to their ranching operations. Photo credit: Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Journalism

Herd instinct and ranching changes

Jose Miranda raises water buffaloes, mostly for dairy, in Old Snowmass. He says it would be silly to think that wolves won’t change his operations, but he still plans to vote for reintroduction.

“My position is that morally, it’s the right thing to do,” Miranda said. “On the verge of so many species that are facing extinction, if we can do something to help some of them, we just have to.”

Miranda acknowledges that wolves would mean major changes for many ranchers, particularly those whose use permits to graze cattle on U.S. Forest Service land. Those permit areas tend to be large, with animals spread out across the landscape rather than gathered in herds.

Longtime Carbondale ranchers Bill Fales and Marj Perry use a Forest Service permit to graze up to 900 head of cattle each year in the summer and fall.

Perry has been researching ranchers’ experiences across the West, and she worries that wolf predation would be particularly severe during two times of the year: calving season, when wolves tend to hang out lower in the valleys and there are an abundance of calves available; and early fall, when wolf pups are learning to hunt.

“It’s a lot easier to learn to hunt a calf than a deer or elk,” Perry said, adding that their cattle are spread out on Forest Service lands during that time of year.

Researchers and ranchers have identified ways to minimize the loss of cattle to wolves and other predators. Matt Barnes, a rangeland and wildlife conservationist and a former rancher, says ranchers who use strategic grazing — a process in which cattle are moved from one pasture to another and work is done to encourage herd behavior — lose very few animals to predators.

“If they bunch up and stand their ground, the vast majority of the time, they all survive,” Barnes said. “A lone prey animal out there is kinda easy pickings.”

Wolves hunt by forcing their prey to run and attacking from the sides. That’s how they are able to kill animals that are four times their weight. But researchers think wolves are only successful about 15% of the time, and much of their success depends on how the prey behave — namely, if they gather in a herd.

“There is something magic about that herd effect,” Barnes said. “It’s prey animals’ primary anti-predator behavior.”

Cattle — indeed, all kinds of prey — can move the weakest members of the herd to the middle, and defend themselves using their hooves.

Miranda, who raises water buffaloes, thinks his animals stand a pretty good chance against wolves because of their herding behavior.

“I know that the water buffaloes that I have are probably going to have a better instinct protecting themselves and the younger animals as far as protecting themselves against a pack of wolves,” Miranda said.

But Perry and Fales say the landscape where their cattle graze make herding up very difficult. There aren’t many open fields on the Forest Service land where their permit is, and there’s also limited access to water.

“We try to not have the cattle in a big bunch in order not to hammer the riparian areas,” Perry said. “Our whole strategy has been to keep cattle strung out. And so far, it seems like it’ll be really hard to remedy that.”

Wolf advocates also say range riders can help minimize losses; a rider who is out with the cattle daily can watch for injured or weakened cows or calves that might become targets and keep an eye out for wolves. But Fales doesn’t think that would work, either, especially with the challenges of finding reliable labor.

“We do a lot of range riding. There’s never a day when there’s not someone out there,” he said. “But it would be totally insufficient to manage for wolves.”

The management strategy that Perry and Fales think would work in their situation is one that currently isn’t an option in Colorado: killing the problem wolves that prey on cattle.

“The only thing I would really advocate for would be lethal control,” Perry said. “You can’t have wolves without forevermore killing them.”

Killing wolves is illegal in Colorado because the species has federal protection under the ESA, but the future of that status is uncertain. Some ranchers, including Miranda, are hopeful that reintroduction would mean a larger voice in how wolves are managed than if the animals return to the state on their own.

“Some of these programs are very progressive,” Miranda said. “As long as there’s that kind of help and communication, that’s very fortunate.”

In fact, the CSU survey found that nearly 80% of people who identify as ranchers intend to vote for reintroduction. The online survey asked respondents a series of questions about how officials could manage wolves — including lethal control and compensation for ranchers for lost livestock — before asking whether people support the ballot initiative.

The initiative does not include any promise of lethal control, and management depends on a series of questions — namely, if wolves are removed from protections under the ESA. Even then, Barnes said control measures need to be carefully executed.

“For lethal control to make sense, it’s got to be targeted to the specific individuals that are involved in the conflict,” Barnes said. “Preemptive lethal control does not work.”

Also, he said, the number of cattle and sheep actually killed by wolves in states such as Montana and Wyoming is surprisingly low.

A scavenged elk carcass was found in Moffat County on Jan. 2. CPW officials confirmed that scat found nearby and from which they collected DNA samples belonged to wolves. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Wolves kill few cattle, sheep

In Montana in 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed the loss of 71 livestock — 64 cattle and seven sheep — and two dogs to wolves. The USDA received 93 complaints of wolves killing livestock that year, while the state was home to an estimated 2.55 million cattle, 225,000 sheep and 819 wolves.

The numbers are similar in Wyoming, where wolves are considered “predatory animals” in most of the state, meaning they can be killed at will. In 2018, wolves were confirmed to have killed 71 head of livestock: 55 cattle, 15 sheep and 1 horse.

Wolves do kill livestock but not in big numbers.

“The rhetoric, the exaggeration, the myth is our biggest challenge,” Malone said. She said wolf advocates have work to do to assure ranchers that wolves won’t devastate their livelihood.

“We need to do work with the ranching community to be sure that they are whole and that they’re fairly treated,” Malone said. “But we can do that. We have good examples of it.”

Initiative 107 includes direction for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to create a plan to compensate
for livestock lost to wolves. Similar plans exist in other Western states, including Montana, where the state paid $82,959 to 40 livestock owners.

Funding for such a program in Colorado would come from an existing wildlife cash fund, and Malone says the goal is for public input to help shape policy on how to fairly compensate ranchers for their losses.

Still, Fales and Perry worry that wolves in Colorado would mean a significant economic hit — and an emotional one, too.

“There’s an emotional attachment (to the cattle), even though you’re selling them for a beef animal. You’re taking care of them, we’re with them just night and day when they’re calving,” Perry said. “And to go out and find them just shredded and eaten up is not something I would ever vote for.”

If Initiative 107 passes, Perry says she might quit. And her husband, Fales, thinks others might follow suit.

“I think a lot of people will quit, and certainly in this part of Colorado, there are a zillion developers ready to help you quit,” he said.

Gray wolves are currently protected under the Endangered Species Act, but the Trump administration has petitioned to delist them. That decision, expected this spring, will impact the management and possible reintroduction of wolves in Colorado. Photo credit: Tracy Brooks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Aspen Journalism

Coexistence amid conflict

Historically, conflicts between ranchers and wolves have not ended well for the predators.

“Because of their depredations of domestic animals, wolves in Colorado were systematically eradicated by shooting, trapping and poisoning,” reads the CPW informational website on wolves.

In recent years, CPW officials say there have been no reports or evidence of people killing wolves in the state, except for a widely publicized incident in 2015 where a hunter shot a wolf that he said he thought was a coyote.

While wolf advocates point to the ecological benefits of restoring wolves to their historic range, the social implications might be harder to pin down. Perry says she understands why people might be attracted to the idea of wolves, but she believes the implications on the ranching industry will be far-reaching.

“There could be unintended consequences (of wolf reintroduction),” Perry said. “Loss of ranchland, which means more fragmentation, more housing development, more decline for all animals, prey and predator.”

Barnes, who has experience in both wildlife conservation and raising livestock, says part of having domestic animals is the risk of predators.

“Very little in nature gets to live out its life without the risk of getting eaten,” Barnes said. “Coexistence is possible, but it’s probably not peaceful.”

The #ColoradoRiver Water Conservation District may move to put a mill levy increase on the November 2020 ballot #COriver #aridification #KeepItInTheGround #ActOnClimate

Oil and gas well sites near the Roan Plateau

From The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (Thomas Phippen):

River district Director Andy Mueller presented the commission with the possibility of asking taxpayers to double the existing mill levy for Garfield and 14 other counties. Currently, the River district levies about a quarter mill on properties, which has been enough since about 1992.

Under the 2019 assessment rate, the river district’s current quarter-mill levy comes out to $1.79 on a $100,000 home. If increased, the half-mill would cost the same home $3.58 in property taxes.

But with cost increases, decreasing revenues from oil and gas development, and several crises looming over the Western Slope’s water, the current tax is simply not enough, Mueller said…

Mueller said the river district has cut costs in recent years, but sustaining current operations requires an increase.

And the district wants to support important projects that are currently unfunded, like identifying and developing small high-mountain reservoirs.

Those reservoirs could play a role in keeping streams flowing, and supplementing water for agriculture and municipalities “during times of severe hot, dry summers that we’re having more and more of,” Mueller said.

“We can’t do it with the current revenue stream,” he added, which is why he again asked the district’s board to look into placing the tax increase on the November 2020 ballot.

The Garfield County commissioners expressed support for the mill levy ballot language…

If the river district’s board approves the ballot language, and voters approve the property tax in November, it would bring in an additional $4.9 million to the district.

Mueller suggests using most of that for the special water projects. One example is the Windy Gap bypass, which would reconstruct a channel around the reservoir to preserve fish habitats and river flows.

The river district’s mission is “to make sure we have water for all of our industries and economic activity, everything from recreation to agriculture,” Mueller said, but that’s impossible without sufficient funding.

Are Republicans coming out of ‘the closet’ on #ClimateChange? — The Washington Post

Science Senator. It’s called science.

From The Washington Post (Steven Mufson):

Bruce Westerman, a Republican congressman from Arkansas, has a plan to help save the planet — one he thinks may also help save his party.

His proposal, which calls for planting a trillion trees to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, was warmly received last month when House Republicans gathered to discuss their policy agenda heading into the 2020 elections.

After years of denying that the planet was growing hotter because of human activity, an increasing number of Republicans say they need to acknowledge the problem and offer solutions if they have any hope of retaking the House.

In poll after poll, large numbers of young and suburban Republican voters are registering their desire for climate action and say the issue is a priority. And their concern about climate change is spreading to older GOP supporters, too.

Almost 7 in 10 Republican adults under 45 said that human activity is causing the climate to change, according to a poll last summer by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Republicans “can’t win the majority back [in the House] without winning suburban districts, and you can’t win suburban districts with a retro position on climate change,” said former South Carolina congressman Bob Inglis, a Republican who is pushing his party to craft a climate plan…

The GOP is still hammering out details, but some critics say the new Republican approach to climate change looks a lot like the old one. In addition to trees, senior Republicans are said to be considering tax breaks for research, curbs on plastic waste and big federally funded infrastructure projects in the name of adaptation or resilience…

The already well-worn buzzword “innovation” will be their rallying cry, and natural gas, despite its carbon emissions, will be embraced…

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) told the news outlet Axios that a new set of policies would expand an existing tax credit to encourage carbon capture and storage, sharply increase research-and-development funding for “clean energy” technology, curb plastic pollution, and plant a whole lot of trees. Graves in an interview also said that U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas would be better for the climate than natural gas from Russia…

What’s missing? There are no taxes or tax revenue. There are no regulatory standards to boost automotive fuel efficiency or contain methane emissions. And there are no limits on fossil fuels. [ed. emphasis mine]

Moreover, Republicans have no taste for a proposal that leading economists say is the fastest, most powerful way to cut carbon emissions — a $40-per-ton carbon tax on polluters, promoted by George Shultz, secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan, and James A. Baker, Reagan’s treasury secretary and secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush. Money raised by the tax would be returned to taxpayers in the form of dividends…

Younger voters’ concerns

As difficult as it may be to change the positions of GOP lawmakers, Trump makes matters even more complicated. Moments after rhapsodizing about trees at Davos, the president took aim at climate activists, calling them “perennial prophets of doom” and “the heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortunetellers.”

Earlier, in response to efforts to ban plastic straws that end up in the ocean, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a super PAC, sold packs of 10 red plastic straws emblazoned with Trump’s name and said that “liberal paper straws don’t work.”

It is unclear whether Trump will refer to the changing climate in his State of the Union speech Tuesday, with the possible exception of the trillion-trees commitment, which echoes Bush’s unrealized 1990 proposal to plant 1 billion trees a year for a decade.

Among voters who approve of Trump’s overall job performance, his approval ratings on climate change — 73 percent — were the lowest out of six questions the Post-Kaiser poll asked his supporters. And 23 percent of all Republicans disapprove of his handling of the climate issue, substantially higher than the 9 percent of Republicans who disapprove of his job performance overall.

“You see among younger voters a higher concern,” said David Winston, a veteran Republican pollster who has been researching attitudes toward climate change. “Does it meet the levels of the economy and health care? No. But you are seeing it move up as a level of concern.”
Much of the impetus for a new Republican posture on climate change has come from McCarthy and Graves.

When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) created the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis last year, Graves told McCarthy the party needed to change its position on climate change or risk being left behind by its voters and awash in a worsening series of floods and fires.

“My conversation with McCarthy was about hey, number one, I think the science is pretty good here and I don’t think the path forward has to be a hard right or a hard left turn,” said Graves, the ranking Republican on the climate committee.

McCarthy was receptive. In October, he told the Washington Examiner that the GOP would introduce several free-market-based bills in response to the Green New Deal, a sweeping set of policy proposals backed by some Democrats that would aim to cut greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero over 10 years.

Before he ran for Congress, Graves worked as a congressional aide, then returned to Louisiana to help clean up after Hurricane Katrina. In 2008, then-Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) put him in charge of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, where he learned about permanent changes to the coastline. In 2014, he won his first race for Congress.

Graves is no liberal. He has received a 3 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters, based partly on his opposition to requirements that natural-gas producers control methane releases and his support for logging Alaskan national forests.

“I think that some climate advocates have made a fundamental error in identifying fossil fuels as the enemy as opposed to emissions,” Graves said.

Louisiana ranks as the nation’s third-largest producer of natural gas, and the biggest campaign contributions to Graves in the current electoral cycle come from the oil, gas and utility industries. His four biggest contributors are the ClearPath Foundation, which promotes nuclear energy, hydropower and increased energy research; Entergy, a New Orleans-based utility; Marathon Petroleum, a refiner; and NextEra Energy, a big Florida-based utility that relies heavily on wind, natural gas, nuclear and solar. Over Graves’s career, Koch Industries has also been a major contributor.

Graves and other Republicans paint a bright line between their approach to climate change and Democrats’. They have sharply attacked the Green New Deal…

Graves also opposes taking some measures when other countries are not acting in similar ways. “If you were to implement the Green New Deal, you would be playing into the hands of China,” he said.

Instead, Graves said, Congress ought to promote U.S. technology, which is “all about U.S. competitiveness.” And spending on resilience to prevent costlier climate damage is “an awesome conservative fiscal argument,” he said.

In the Senate, some lawmakers are seeking common ground, led by Sens. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.). “There have been a lot of Republicans in the closet on climate,” Braun, a freshman senator, told The Post in December. Coons and Braun each recruited three colleagues to their Senate Climate Solutions Caucus.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) has also managed to work with Republicans on specific parts of a climate policy. He joined with Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), a longtime climate denier, and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who also represents a fossil-fuel-intensive state, to pass legislation that gives tax credits to companies that capture carbon dioxide from the air and store it.

Risky territory for GOP
Still, some Republicans have paid a political price for urging action on climate change. Consider the swift downfall of California state legislator Chad Mayes. In July 2017, Mayes, then the State Assembly’s Republican leader, joined Democrats in supporting a climate-change program called cap-and-trade.

“We lower taxes, we reduce costs, we reduce regulations, and at the same time we’re going to protect our environment,” Mayes said at a news conference. “I know for some they’re going to look at this and say: What in the world is going on? Why are Republicans talking about something like cap-and-trade? Well I’ll tell you. We believe that markets are better than Soviet-style command and control. We believe that markets are better than government coercing people into doing things that they don’t want to do. We believe that businesses in California want to do the right thing.”

A month later, Republican activists in the assembly’s 25-member caucus stripped Mayes of his leadership position.

He went on to form a group called “New Way California,” but that, too, was attacked. Two months ago, Mayes quit the Republican Party and filed to run as an independent.

Inglis, the former congressman from South Carolina, has followed a similar path. “For my first six years in Congress, I just said that climate change was nonsense,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about it except that Al Gore was in favor of it.”

After going back to private life, Inglis decided to run again for Congress. His son insisted that he wise up on climate change.

Then Inglis went on a congressional trip to Antarctica and looked at bore samples of polar ice. “It is an amazing record of the Earth’s atmosphere,” he said. That convinced him that human activity since the Industrial Revolution was warming the planet.

Back in Washington, in 2009 he proposed a bill that would have imposed a carbon tax, adjusted the prices of imports from countries such as China and India that did not have such a tax, and return the revenue to taxpayers by cutting payroll taxes.

It was poorly timed during the Great Recession, he recalled. And unpopular.

He lost the Republican primary to Trey Gowdy by a margin of 71 percent to 29 percent…

After Barack Obama moved into the White House in 2009, Republicans solidified their opposition to his entire agenda, including any climate plan.

“My party was against everything Obama was for,” Inglis said.

It took nearly a decade for any shift. On Feb. 12, 2018, Joseph Majkut, climate policy director at the libertarian Niskanen Center, became the first Republican witness before the House Science Committee in nearly 10 years to talk about tackling climate change, according to Inglis.

The former congressman is now traveling the country trying to change Republican minds about climate policy…

Democrats and middle-of-the-road politicians are wary about the GOP’s recent climate buzz.

“I think they’re caught on the politics,” said Ben Finzel, president of a public relations firm, RenewPR, and a former Hill staffer. “The challenge is they want to get stuff done but also want to beat up the Dems.”

Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, said he thinks there is meaningful change underway.

“The fact that Leader McCarthy is publicizing his intention to put out a Republican climate solution matters a lot,” Grumet said. “The details will be embraced and ridiculed like every other climate plan. But that gives tremendous license for the Republican Party to get in the game.”

The 2020 Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention starts today #CWCAC2020 @COWaterCongress

Posting may be intermittent this week. You can follow the sessions on my Twitter feed @CoyoteGulch and even better, engage using the hash tag #CWCAC2020.

The convention is the place to be this week for all the conversations, networking, and great presentations. Once in a while someone from Colorado water history even shows up.

David Robbins and J.C. Ulrich (Greg Hobbs) at the 2013 Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention

#ColoradoRiver District revisiting mill levy increase — @AspenJournalism @ColoradoWater #COriver #aridification

The Colorado River Water Conservation District spans 15 Western Slope counties. River District directors are considering asking voters this fall to raise the mill levy.

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

The directors of the Colorado River Water Conservation District are revisiting a recommendation to ask voters to restore part of the district’s original mill levy.

River District General Manager Andy Mueller recommended at the district’s quarterly board meeting this week asking voters in the November 2020 election to raise the district’s property tax rate from a quarter-mill to a half-mill, taking its budget from roughly $4 million to $8 million.

That works out to 50 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

According to a memo from Mueller, the River District has taken steps over the last year to reduce expenses — which have climbed at a rate of 3% per year — such as putting a grant program on hold, instituting an early retirement program to reduce the number of full time employees and reducing its fleet of vehicles by two. These efforts, however, are not a long-term fix to what Mueller called a structural deficit.

Mueller’s recommendation seeks to remedy a dwindling general fund caused by the bane of many Colorado taxing districts: the Taxpayer Bill of Rights and Gallagher Amendment, which restrain the growth of government by placing limits on the amount of taxes allowed to be collected. The River District gets 97% of its revenue from property taxes.

“It’s not with lack of thought that I’m recommending this board consider asking the voters, appropriately under TABOR, to support a tax increase,” Mueller told River District directors. “We want to see that money going to partners on the West Slope and projects that span the scope of our water improvement needs.”

Some directors said they supported the measure, which was first publicly discussed at a February 2019 meeting.

“I think it’s obvious this is a necessary step forward,” said Karn Stiegelmeier, who represents Summit County.

Others agreed about the need to increase the River District’s revenue but expressed doubt a tax measure could pass in western Colorado’s more conservative counties, such as Mesa, Montrose and Delta, especially in a presidential election year with high turnout.

“I think we face a really difficult battle,” said Tom Alvey, who represents Delta County. “There are a number of tax-averse areas on the Western Slope.”

14 of the 15 directors of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, gathered for their January 19 meeting. The directors are appointed by county commissioners in 15 Western Slope counties. Back row, L to R, Alden Vanden Brink, Rio Blanco County, Karn Stiegelmeirer, Summit, Doug Monger, Routt, Marc Catlin, Montrose, John Ely, Pitkin, Steve Acquafresca, Mesa, Bill Trampe, Gunnison, Stan Whinnery, Hinsdale. Front row, L to R, Mike Ritschard, Grand, Kathy Chandler-Henry, Eagle, Dave Merritt, Garfield, Martha Whitmore, Ouray, Tom Alvey, Delta, Rebie Hazard, Saguache. Not shown, Bill Gray, Moffat County. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Building awareness

The River District was created by the state Legislature in 1937 to protect and develop water supplies in 15 Western Slope counties, including Pitkin, Garfield and Eagle. County commissioners appoint its directors to three-year terms. The Glenwood Springs-based organization works to shape Colorado water policy and advocates for keeping water on the Western Slope.

Even though the River District plays an important role in Colorado water planning, its financial might has lagged behind its political clout. A revenue increase would help remedy that, Mueller said.

“What we are trying to do is respond to the public’s concerns about (a secure water future) and be the leader at the table and not just with our skilled staff and political influence, but also with money,” he said.

But before the tax money can start rolling in, voters have to know what the River District is and what it does. To that end, staff has undertaken a rebranding of the River District to help voters connect what it does with its name. Staff has stepped up efforts with social media, a newsletter and video featuring Mueller and West Slope water users, and is also planning a series of webinars and workshops around the 15 counties.

“We are trying to help people realize there is an agency charged with protecting two-thirds of the West Slope and assist in the long-range planning for water supply and helping them realize while we may not touch their daily lives, how important that work is,” Mueller said.

In addition to Mueller, the River District employs attorneys, engineers, hydrologists, legislative lobbyists and communications specialists to protect the West Slope’s water interests.

Directors did not make a decision at this week’s meeting on whether to put the tax question on this year’s ballot. Instead, they agreed to continue to research the issue and discuss it with their constituents.

“I would need some time before I say yay or nay,” said Steve Acquafresca, who represents Mesa County. “I need some time to talk to people and consider the issue.”

Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of rivers and water. This story ran in the Jan. 24 edition of the Post-Independent, The Aspen Times and The Vail Daily.

New poll shows leading role of #climate policy in #Colorado primary — @ConservationCO #ActOnClimate #VoteEnvironment #KeepItInTheGround

Comasche Solar Farm near Pueblo April 6, 2016. Photo credit: Reuters via The Climate Reality Project

From Conservation Colorado (Garrett Garner-Wells):

New polling released today highlighted climate change as the top issue in Colorado’s upcoming presidential primary, 10 points higher than health care and 15 points higher than preventing gun violence.

The survey of likely Democratic presidential primary voters conducted by Global Strategies Group found that nearly all likely primary voters think climate change is already impacting or will impact their families (91%), view climate change as a very serious problem or a crisis (84%), and want to see their leaders take action within the next year (85%). And by a nearly three-to-one margin, likely primary voters prefer a candidate with a plan to take action on climate change starting on Day One of their term over a candidate who has not pledged to act starting on Day One (74% – 26%).

Additionally, the survey found that among likely primary voters:

  • 85% would be more likely to support a candidate who will move the U.S. to a 100 percent clean energy economy;
  • 95% would be more likely to support a candidate who will combat climate change by protecting and restoring forests; and,
  • 76% would be more likely to support a candidate who will phase out extraction of oil, gas, and goal on public lands by 2030.
  • These responses are unsurprising given that respondents believed that a plan to move the U.S. to a 100 percent clean energy economy will have a positive impact on future generations of their family (81%), the quality of the air we breathe (93%), and the health of families like theirs (88%).

    Finally, likely primary voters heard a description of Colorado’s climate action plan to reduce pollution and the state’s next steps to achieve reductions of at least 50 percent by 2030 and at least 90 percent by 2050. Based on that statement, 91% of respondents agreed that the Air Quality Control Commission should take timely action to create rules that guarantee that the state will meet its carbon reduction targets.

    Full survey results can be found here.

    Challenges ahead for aspen forests — @AspenJournalism

    Aspen’s namesake trees, the quaking aspen, acts as a keystone species that sustains hundreds of other plants and animals. Aspens are also under stress from drier conditions, increased temperatures and over-browsing by large herbivores. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

    Just as new research shows that aspen forests are a fountain of biodiversity, Aspen’s namesake trees in the Roaring Fork River watershed are battling warming temperatures, drier conditions, climate disruption, and unchecked herds of deer and elk. Although local aspen forests are currently faring OK, they face serious challenges.

    There are a few small aspen groves in Pitkin County’s Sky Mountain Park, tucked in valleys where there’s more moisture than what the surrounding oak brush needs— and Elise Osenga, a researcher at the Aspen Global Change Institute, keeps a close eye on these groves. Osenga leads a program that monitors soil moisture as part of efforts to better understand climate conditions in the Roaring Fork River watershed. Two of the monitoring stations — one at Sky Mountain and the other at North Star Nature Preserve — are in aspen groves.

    “We are interested in seeing,” Osenga said, “if soils are consistently drier over time, are the aspen able to survive?”

    There is not yet a long history of local soil conditions, but Osenga recently completed an assessment of the health of aspens near the two research stations.

    “The good news of what we found is we didn’t actually find many dead trees at this point,” she said. But Osenga noted that aspens can die off in sustained droughts or even after just one or two really dry years. Additionally, as temperatures rise with a changing climate, the rain that does fall evaporates more quickly, further drying out soils.

    Elise Osenga, a researcher with the Aspen Global Change Institute, walks among the aspens on the Airline Trail in Pitkin County’s Sky Mountain Park. She heads up a program to monitor soil moisture and climate conditions. Photo credit: Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Journalism

    Aspens thrive on disruption

    Other local experts have found that there are local aspen groves that are struggling.

    “It’s really those south-facing, dry slopes where the aspen decline is pretty evident,” said Adam McCurdy, forest programs director at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.

    He pointed to groves near the radio tower on the Sunnyside Trail and up Castle Creek near the Toklat Gallery. Throughout the West and particularly in southwest Colorado, aspen trees on south- and southwest-facing slopes at low elevations are declining.

    But overall, the local forests are faring pretty well, McCurdy said. In fact, aspens thrive on disruptions.

    Dry conditions can mean increased risk of wildfire and bark-beetle infestations in evergreens, which thin forests and create openings for aspens to reproduce.

    In the mountains around Aspen, avalanches have cleared paths for aspen trees to peek through evergreen forests, creating landscape-level diversity that benefits the local ecosystem.

    “This really serves to break up the large stretches of what would otherwise be just spruce-fir forests and makes our forests more resilient to beetles and fire and all sorts of other disturbance,” McCurdy said.

    Young aspen trees with massive leaves poke up through avalanche wreckage in Maroon Creek Valley in the summer of 2019. Aspens take advantage of sunlight to grow after disruptions like avalanches, wildfire or beetle outbreaks. Photo credit: Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Journalism

    Sunlight and moisture bring diverse life

    Young aspens are already taking root in the paths cleared by last spring’s historic avalanche cycle — and creating space for all kinds of forest life.

    Quaking aspen leaves let sunlight through the canopy, and the deep, rich soils under aspen communities hold more moisture than those in conifer forests. Such a combination of moisture and sunlight is the magic ticket for diverse life.

    “Under aspen communities, there might be up to a hundred different plant species, and then some people have made tabulations of 50, 60 or more animals using aspen on a daily basis,” said Paul Rogers, director of Western Aspen Alliance, which coordinates research and management of aspen ecosystems across western North America.

    A bear walks through an aspen grove in Snowmass Village this past fall. Bears are among dozens of animal species who use aspen communities. Photo credit: Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Journalism

    Research shows biodiversity benefits of aspen forests

    Rogers co-authored a recent review of aspen research that contends that conservation of aspen ecosystems can benefit global biodiversity. Rogers and more than a dozen fellow researchers argue for a “mega-conservation” strategy: By sustaining the keystone aspen forests, a wide range of species would also be protected.

    But, in addition to drier soils, aspen forests across the world are under stress from human activities such as mining, logging and urban development — as well as from some of the very wildlife they help support. Young trees are particularly nutritious and attractive to elk and deer, and herds sometimes stay in one spot for days, eating all the new shoots.

    This results in an aging forest, and when the old trees start to die off, “you have a real problem,” Rogers said. “And so, if you combine that with drought, which is happening throughout Colorado, throughout the Western states, that is the biggest threat to aspen ecosystems.”

    Reintroducing predators, such as wolves, could help — especially because when predators are in the area, herbivores can’t stay in one place long enough to overeat young trees, Rogers said. The reintroduction of wolves in Colorado is a contentious issue that is likely to be on the ballot in the fall of 2020.

    Rogers also noted that Colorado Parks and Wildlife managers have increased the targeted size of elk herds over decades. The population goal for the Avalanche Creek elk herd, for example, increased from 3,300 in 1988 to a range of 3,600-5,400 in 2013.

    “We’ve taken away predators, for the most part, that are going to keep those populations in check, but we’ve also managed those big herbivore populations for economics, quite frankly,” Rogers said. “Every state sells hunting licenses, and so to keep those revenues up, they keep those populations high. And those high populations have an impact on ecosystems.”

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism collaborates with Aspen Public Radio and The Aspen Times on coverage of the environment. A version of this story aired on APR on Dec. 27 and this story ran in the Dec. 29 edition of The Aspen Times.

    Gunnison County Board meeting recap #DCP #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The Crystal River on Sept. 18, 2018. Photo by John Herrick.

    From The Crested Butte News (Katherine Nettles):

    Colorado River Water Conservation District (CRWCD) board member Bill Trampe spoke to the county commissioners this past fall on behalf of the neighboring river district. Kathleen Curry, the chairman of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable, also spoke with commissioners during that meeting.

    Trampe reported that the transfer of ownership of Wolford Mountain reservoir near Kremmling in Grand County occurs on January 1, 2020. “So at that point in time Denver Water gets 40 percent of the ownership,” he said.

    Trampe said demand management and drought contingency planning is always front and center for the board, and said the board is frustrated with the state process moving forward and its slowness putting the nine working groups involved in the state water planning process (Colorado’s Water Plan) to work…

    Trampe described issues relating to water resource demand management, with “interests” on the Western Slope trying to make deals with Front Range entities.

    Trampe said the district felt that individual groups making those deals could lead to a lot more “working the market and eventual condemnation rather than purchase—meaning condemnation by force rather than a deal between parties. If condemnation starts, I think that’s going to ruin everything.”

    The solution, he said, is to work together with Western Slope entities and keep a strong base in the river district to negotiate more collectively. “If there’s one pot of money under state control to pay for demand management, then that’s the way it ought to be. There shouldn’t be individual groups out there doing their own thing.”

    County commissioner John Messner asked if there’s been discussion among river districts about a de-Gallagherizing measure to open up current tax funding constraints. De-Gallagherizing refers to ballot measures that freeze the residential property tax rate as a way to stabilize budgets of rural governments.

    Messner asked if the CRWCD has an opinion on whether a measure will address special districts such as this one.

    “We considered a ballot issue for this fall, but didn’t think we were ready,” replied Trampe. He said the reason to wait was to start more outreach to the public in terms of what the districts are and what they do beforehand. He said the districts are hoping to do this in 2020.

    “Whether it’s de-Gallagherization, or TABOR issues, we’re still trying to decide. But yes, we’re going to do something. We’ve got to do something,” he said.

    Looking to support a water survey on the Crystal River basin

    Commissioner Jonathan Houck reported that during a fall Gunnison Basin Roundtable meeting, members discussed the Upper Crystal River watershed at length.

    That watershed has an application in with the state to conduct a water study, because the 2018 drought demonstrated that several subdivisions in that basin, some of which are in Gunnison County, had no water plan or storage without the Crystal River’s regular flow.

    The Water Supply Reserve Fund (WSRF) is managing that application, and the Gunnison Roundtable considered and ultimately decided on drafting a letter of support…

    Curry noted that a project in a different river basin asking an adjacent roundtable to write a letter is “a little out of the ordinary. So that threw our roundtable a little bit, wondering if that was even the right role. But I put it on our agenda since, if it involved looking at storage feasibility near Marble, in Gunnison County, I thought [commissioners] might be interested in that,” said Curry.

    Houck responded that the county should send a message as well. “We want to see good, thoughtful water planning per all residents within the county. Due to the size and geography of our county we actually span two watersheds. And it’s important for us to advocate for that but understand that the funding needs to come from the appropriate basin,” he said…

    Last, Curry said that the roundtable is preparing to submit a Basin Implementation Plan (BIP) in contribution to Colorado’s Water Plan, and that will include an updated project list. “This is our opportunity to change our project list,” she suggested, with additions or deletions as appropriate. The roundtable formed a subcommittee to begin the process, and its first meeting was this fall.

    Gunnison River Basin. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

    #ClimateChange and dark money #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Anti-“dark money” advertisement in April 2015 in the Union Station stop of the Washington Metro. The image was part of a comic book-themed campaign sponsored by three groups—AVAAZ, the Corporate Reform Coalition, and Public Citizen—aimed at pressuring Securities and Exchange Commission chairwoman Mary Jo White to rein in dark money. By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46453530

    Here’s a guest column from Charles E. Schumer and Sheldon Whitehouse that’s running in The Boston Globe:

    Pro-climate companies, shareholders, and board members should demand that business associations stop blocking climate action and instead support real action in Congress to address climate change.

    The earth is spinning toward climate catastrophe. The international community has about a decade to take the steps necessary to avoid breaching the 1.5 degrees Celsius safety zone that the scientific community has established. It will take American leadership to achieve that goal, which means not only bold action in Congress, but meaningful leadership from the president, our allies around the globe, and leadership from powerful forces like major corporations.

    Unfortunately, much of corporate America so far failed to step up and sufficiently support policies that would begin to address the existential threat of climate change. Many individual corporations, perhaps out of conviction, perhaps out of the desire to keep and win over new customers, profess to be on the side of fighting climate change. But in an act of rank hypocrisy, they turn around and support business associations, like the US Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute, which have been relentless adversaries of climate action.

    Take the Chamber. The US Chamber is not the local chamber of commerce sponsoring your main street businesses. It runs a massive influence machine on behalf of big corporations, touching every part of the federal government.

    In federal agencies, the Chamber is an 800-pound gorilla in virtually every room where climate policy comes up. It lobbies agency officials, files regulatory comments by the dozen, and deploys its public relations machine whenever regulators turn to matters affecting the fossil fuel industry.

    In courts, the Chamber is in a league of its own. During a three-year period late in the Obama administration, the Chamber filed friend-of-the-court briefs in 476 cases and was a litigant in another 25. Environmental issues were its third most litigated subject, and its position always aligns with polluters.

    In Congress, the Chamber is the largest lobbyist, spending roughly three times more than the next biggest group. Energy and environmental issues are a big part of that lobbying effort. Every year, the Chamber sends out dozens of letters and key vote alerts telling members which way it expects them to vote. Those letters and alerts inevitably support fossil fuel and oppose reducing emissions.

    The Chamber aggressively attacks climate action with the last piece of its machine: election spending. The Chamber has spent almost $150 million on congressional races since the Citizens United decision of 2010. In most congressional election cycles, it is the biggest dark-money spender. The Chamber is known for having sharp political elbows. Cross them and you risk triggering an ad against you — like the one run against a US Senate candidate in Pennsylvania in 2016 suggesting her climate position was akin to stealing youthful energy from American children.

    Some Chamber members who say they support climate action may well be funding the efforts to oppose climate action in Washington through the Chamber and other groups. This doubletalk needs to end.

    To fight back, companies that care about climate ought to demand full disclosure of who funds climate obstruction at the Chamber, as well as at API and other big lobbying and influence groups. Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Sunlight is . . . the best of disinfectants.” Send sunbeams into the dark-money corners where climate denial and obstruction fester.

    Better yet, these “pro-climate” companies should demand that those organizations stop blocking climate action and instead support real action in Congress to address climate change. Corporate shareholders ought to know whether their company funds groups that block climate legislation. And corporations who are board members of these denial and obstruction groups have their own governance obligations to know if they’re throwing good money after bad, allowing their goals to be diluted by the influence of the fossil fuel industry.

    The stakes are high: There are massive economic risks flowing from climate change. Don’t take our word for it; listen to the Bank of England, Freddie Mac, Nobel Prize laureate economists, and hundreds of our own government’s most knowledgeable experts.

    Corporate America can still choose which side of the climate fight to be on. But the clock is running out.

    US Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat from New York, is the Senate minority leader. US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is a Democrat from Rhode Island.

    #ClimateChange is water change — @AmericanRivers #ActOnClimate #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From American Rivers (Fay Hartman):

    No corner of the globe is spared from the impacts of climate change, including the Southwest and Colorado River Basin.

    Lake Mead. Photo credit: Bureau of Reclamation

    Join us for Episode 22 of We Are Rivers, Climate Change Part 2: Climate Change is Water Change, where we build upon our knowledge of climate change science to explore changes affecting the already parched American Southwest.

    2019 was a wild weather year around the globe with temperatures breaking records and extreme weather events like hurricanes, massive flooding and wildfires impacting communities, people, and ecosystems. No corner of the globe was spared from its impacts, including the Southwest and Colorado River Basin. Join us for Episode 22 of We Are Rivers, which builds on our understanding of the science behind climate change.

    The Upper Colorado River Basin had record precipitation during the 2018 – 2019 winter, it was the second highest amount of precipitation recorded since 1900. At the annual Colorado River District Water Seminar, Jeff Lukas with the Western Water Assessment noted that not only did we experience a tremendous amount of precipitation but this winter was the coldest winter since 2010. The cold, wet winter built a significant snowpack in the mountains (130% of average snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin). Snowpack is essential for the region as the Colorado River and most other rivers in the region are primarily driven by runoff that melts throughout the spring and summer. Runoff provides rivers with flushing, peak flows and a firm baseline heading into fall. A wet, cold winter was welcome after one of the worst drought years in 2018, and this year’s snowpack pushed the state of Colorado out of a statewide drought conditions for the first time in 20 years.

    The American Canal carries water from the Colorado River to farms in California’s Imperial Valley. Photo credit: Adam Dubrowa, FEMA/Wikipedia.

    However, winter wasn’t the only season in the record books this year. The Southwest experienced extreme heat and lack of precipitation in the later months of the summer. In his Colorado River District seminar presentation, Jeff Lukas noted that June – August 2019 was the 8th driest year since 1900, with July and August being the 6th warmest. Despite the significant snowpack, the hot summer temps coupled with dry soils and reduced late summer flows resulted in a smaller runoff that might have been anticipated. This year’s runoff was 118% of average at Lee’s Ferry versus the 130% of average snowpack for the Upper Colorado River Basin.

    Warmer winter temperatures hold more moisture in the air – in turn, the warmer summer temperatures increase evaporation and dry the region out much faster than in the past. This not only reduces soil moisture but also river flows. Between 2000 and 2014, the Colorado River experienced a 20% reduction in flows when compared to the period of 1906-1999. According to Brad Udall and Jonathan Overpeck, one-third of this reduction is linked to warming temperatures and it’s likely that flows will only continue to decline as temperatures continue to rise.

    The Upper Colorado River meanders through the high plateau around Kremmling, Colorado. (Source: Russell Schnitzer, used with permission via the Water Education Foundation)

    “Weather whiplash,” a term coined by climatologist Dan Swain, can best describe our new normal in the Colorado River Basin. The whiplash of temperatures, precipitation, and extreme weather attributed to climate change affects all corners of the globe. Regions like the Southwest that are already dry will experience increased vulnerability in the form of higher temperatures, variable precipitation, earlier runoff, more intense wildfires and punctuated flooding events. These events will only intensify over time and will vary depend on the specific location within the region – some areas will get hotter and drier while other will experience more precipitation in the winter months. As Brad Udall says in the podcast, in the Colorado River Basin, climate change is water change.

    One thing everyone can do to address the climate crisis is to call your representative and let them know it’s time to take action on climate change! We must reduce greenhouse gases and make our communities and ecosystems more resilient to a changing climate. We need to use more renewable energy sources, improve renewable portfolio standards, ensure regulations are in place to reduce greenhouse gases, and develop new technologies utilizing renewable energies. Let your representatives know that along with slowing global warming (by reducing greenhouse gases), we must adapt to the changes we are already experiencing. This includes protecting and restoring the wetlands, forests, and riverside lands that slow floods and provide clean water is essential to help us adapt to the new normal. Together, we can use water more efficiently and install green infrastructure to decrease polluted runoff, improve air quality, and lower temperatures. Make your voice heard today – do your part.

    #Senate candidates — minus @Hickenlooper and @SenCoryGardner —address planet’s peril at Colorado Springs forum — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette #ActOnClimate

    Statewide temperature 1895 through 2018 via the Colorado Climate Center.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Liz Henderson):

    More than 100 people carrying “Agree” and “Disagree” signs came to hear Senate hopefuls’ views on climate change and their solutions during the Planet in Peril forum.

    Eight Democrats, Angela Williams, Trish Zornio, Andrew Romanoff, Diana Bray, Lorena Garcia, Michelle Ferrigno Warren, Alice Madden and Stephany Rose Spaulding, and two Unity Party candidates, Joshua Rodriguez and Gary Swing, shared their positions with the audience.

    Attendees showed their displeasure with Hickenlooper, who entered the Senate race after dropping out of the Democratic scrum for president, by chanting, “Where is Hick?”

    One sign read, “Hey Hiding Hick, our future is at stake!” The Sunrise Movement of Colorado, one of the forum sponsors, said in a tweet that it was disappointed Gardner chose not to attend.

    The forum, sponsored by environmental and progressive organizations, focused on addressing climate change through eliminating fracking, reforestation, fostering biodiversity and renewable resources and protecting groundwater.

    All of the candidates agreed on the need for immediate climate change action — most used their rebuttal minute to agree with previous speakers. Some rebuked the Trump administration for retreating on environmental protections…

    Candidates discussed carbon sequestration, reducing greenhouse gases and training the American workforce to transition to renewable energy jobs.

    Seven. Freaking. Hours: CNN bodyslammed America with climate coverage last night. Here’s what happened — Heated #ActOnClimate

    Click here to read the inaugural issue of Emily Atkin’s new newsletter, Heated. Here’s an excerpt:

    If you’ve followed my work at all for the last six years, you know that I frequently complain about the lack of climate coverage on major television news networks.

    So it’d be natural to assume I’d be happy today, the morning after CNN’s epic 7-hour Climate Crisis Town Hall, during which reporters and citizens probed the top 10 Democratic presidential candidates about the potential collapse of human civilization.

    Well guess what.

    I’m not happy.

    I’m…

    HEATED! AWWWW YEAAAH THAT’S RIGHT!!! WELCOME TO THE FIRST ISSUE!! *airhorn sounds* (I am so sorry).

    Welcome to HEATED, a newsletter for people who are pissed off about the climate crisis. This is a special pre-launch issue for all you wonderful nerds who signed up early. I can hardly believe it, but there are more than 8,000 of us already! Who says people don’t care about climate change??

    Daily, Monday through Thursday coverage begins officially on September 9th. If you like it, please forward it a friend—it would mean the world to me…

    Now let’s get to it!

    It was not so bad, actually.

    Maybe this is because I’m a cynical jerk, but I really thought CNN would mess this up.

    I’m old enough to remember when the network’s president Jeff Zucker said he intentionally avoided climate coverage because of the public’s “lack of interest” in the subject. And when CNN did cover climate change, it invited deniers on so often that Media Matters deemed the network a “national platform for false balance” on climate. Two years later, Media Matters also reported that CNN aired advertisements for the fossil fuel industry five times more often than climate-related news. And in 2018, there was one week where three separate CNN guests claimed that climate change was a vast conspiracy to enrich climate scientists.

    So I was shocked at how productive Wednesday night’s town hall was. The moderator’s questions, for the most part, were tough and in line with the science. The outside questioners the network brought in were youthful, diverse and engaging. Both moderators and candidates called out the fossil fuel industry repeatedly for delaying climate action and spreading misinformation.

    And most importantly…

    It was a climate accountability bonanza.

    On Wednesday night, every single Democratic presidential candidate was asked at least one question that attempted to hold them accountable for controversial decisions they’ve made, or questionable positions they’ve taken regarding the most existential threat of our time.

    Click through and sign up for the newsletter.