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Climate: Greenhouse gas buildup ‘loads the dice’ for Southwest megadroughts

Odds of 30-year dry spells increase dramatically as global temps rise

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Green bars indicate wet periods, the larger the bar the more unusually wet. In a similar way, yellow indicates dry and droughty periods. The graph stretches from January 1895 on the left to last month on the right, showing how the cycle of droughts alternating with wet years has changed, with dry years becoming more prevalent.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Tree ring records clearly show that the southwestern U.S. experienced megadroughts long before the anthropogenic global warming era. One such decades-long dry spell may have been a factor in the collapse of the Anasazi civilization at Mesa Verde.

But the steady buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere is loading the dice in favor of another megadrought sooner, rather later, according to scientists with Cornell University, the University of Arizona and U.S. Geological Survey. The chances of a decade-long drought is now at least 50 percent, and there’s a 20 percent to 50 percent chance of a 30-year megadrought.

“For the southwestern U.S., I’m not optimistic about avoiding real megadroughts,” said Toby Ault, Cornell assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and lead author of the paper. “As we add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – and we haven’t put the brakes on stopping this – we are weighting the dice for megadrought conditions.” Continue reading

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Wolves just can’t catch seem to a break in the West

Was public cut out of  Arizona wolf planning process?

Mexican gray wolf. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Mexican gray wolf. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The slowly recovering population of Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest may face even more pressure in coming years, as state officials in Arizona seek to codify a new wolf management plan that could restrict recovery efforts. Continue reading

Grand Canyon National Park eyes bison plan

Roaming buffalo create management challenges

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The buffalo are roaming in Grand Canyon National Park. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A herd of bison brought to northern Arizona in the early 1900s has moved from a state-run wildlife area into Grand Canyon National Park, and now park rangers want to develop a plan to manage the animals.

Initially, the bison were managed in the House Rock Wildlife Area for big game hunters, but in the late 1990s, the animals have pioneered their way to the top of the Kaibab Plateau and into Grand Canyon National Park.

Resource managers say  combination of public hunt pressure, drought and fire, and reduced forage quality in House Rock Valley during the 1990s may have contributed to the bison moving through Saddle Mountain Wilderness and onto the higher elevations of the Kaibab Plateau. Over the past several years, very few bison have returned to wildlife area. Most now spend a majority of their time inside the park. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Feds propose more jaguar critical habitat

USFWS also seeking comment on a draft economic analysis

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A revised critical habitat designation for jaguars adds lands in Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains, where a lone jaguar has been photographed several times in recent months.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Federal biologists have revised a critical habitat proposal for endangered jaguars in the southwest. The updated maps include areas in Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains where a lone jaguar has been caught on camera several times in the past nine months.

Under the modified U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal, released last week, a total of about 850,000 acres would be designated, including lands around a planned open-pit copper mine. Conservation advocates say the mine could interfere with the cats’ dispersal into North America. They hope the critical habitat designation will prevent approval of the mine.

Along with the updated habitat proposal, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also released a draft economic analysis and draft environmental assessment of the proposed designation.

The economic analysis is a crucial issue relating to the proposed mine, because if the benefits of excluding an area outweigh the benefits of designating it, the agency can exclude an area from critical habitat, unless the exclusions would result in the extinction of the species. Continue reading

Feds map wind, solar energy zones in Arizona

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New plan focuses on previously disturbed sites with few resource conflicts

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Obama administration’s push to develop more renewable energy resources reached another milestone this week, as the Interior Department finalized designation of 192,000 acres in Arizona as potentially suitable for utility-scale solar and wind energy development.

Any subsequent proposals for specific solar or wind energy projects will still need to undergo a site-specific environmental review.

According to the Interior Department, the lands identified in Arizona include previously disturbed sites (primarily former agricultural areas) and lands with low resource sensitivity and few environmental conflicts. Federal land managers in Arizona spent three years analyzing  disturbed land and other areas with few known resource conflicts that could accommodate commercial renewable energy projects. Continue reading

Wildlife advocates want more critical habitat for jaguars

Photo courtesy Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.

Feds plan to finalize critical habitat designation by the end of the year

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A federal plan to designate more than 800,000 acres of critical habitat for endangered jaguars in the southwestern U.S. may not go far enough to ensure recovery for the wild cats, according to conservation activists. The USFWS proposal, including comment information, is posted online here.

”The best habitat for American jaguars lies in the vast and rugged Gila National Forest in New Mexico and adjoining pine forests in Arizona,” said Michael Robinson, a wildlife conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, which this week  filed a detailed 55-page comment letter with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week, urging the agency to add more habitat to the designation.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has a moral duty to protect these special places, where jaguars once lived and which they should be able to call home again. Recovering jaguars in this region, so full of wilderness, will bolster the genetic strength of the struggling jaguar population in northern Mexico, too, helping to ensure that these great cats will always share our country with us,” Robinson said. Continue reading

Forest Service OKs massive off-road rally without review

Mexican spotted owl. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Conservation advocates may sue to block future editions of the jamboree on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — When it comes to policing the annual Rainbow Gathering, the U.S. Forest Service can pretty harsh, but apparently that same hardline doesn’t apply to off-roaders, at least in Arizona, where the agency has apparently developed a cozy relationship with motorized users.

According the conservation groups, the Forest Service authorized a six-day off-road rally without doing any environmental studies or reviewing the impacts to rare and sensitive forest species.

Based on promotional materials for the off-road jamboree, the event is at least partly commercial and requires Forest Service review and permitting. Part of the route is through areas affected by the Wallow Fire, where new vegetation is just becoming established, and it also appears that there is some commercial photography associated with the off-road rally. Continue reading

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