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Environment: Post-fire rehab treatments in Great Basin not doing much good for sage-grouse

Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

More targeted treatments could benefit threatened birds

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Post-fire rehabilitation work in the Great Basin’s sagebrush ocean isn’t doing much to help greater sage-grouse, USGS and U.S. Forest Service scientists found in a new study.

The research team took a close look at areas eight to 20 years after seeding efforts, pointing out that such restoration projects could, in theory, be used to improve sage grouse habitat — but only if the right types of seeds are planted.

Sage-grouse tend to use areas with a mixture of dwarf sagebrush and Wyoming big sagebrush, native grasses, minimal human development, and minimal non-native plants. Most post-fire restoration projects are were designed to mitigate the effects of fire on soil and vegetation — but they provide an opportunity to reverse habitat degradation for sage-grouse, a species being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

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Rare Great Basin plant to get some protection

Webber's ivesia, a rare desert flower in the rose family, will get some protection under the Endangered Species Act. Photo courtesy Sarah Kulpa, USFW.

Webber’s ivesia, a rare desert flower in the rose family, will get some protection under the Endangered Species Act. Photo courtesy Sarah Kulpa, USFW.

Critical habitat designation will help bolster populations of Webber’s ivesia

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A rare Great Basin flower will get some protection under the Endangered Species Act, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed 2,011 acres of critical habitat for Webber’s ivesia.

The plant, a member of the rose family, grows only in localized patches of rocky, clay-based soils that are wet in spring and that shrink and swell with drying and wetting. The soil can take thousands of years to form and is associated with  sparse vegetation associated with low sagebrush.

The five counties where the rare flower is found are in the transition zone between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Great Basin Desert. Continue reading

Colorado: Chilly January, but few records broken

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Several Colorado weather stations reported record-low daytime high temps in January.

Salt Lake City suffers through weeks of air quality problems

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — When the weather history of January is written, it might be all about the persistent cold air pools that lingered in many western valleys, setting the stage for record-low temperatures, something that’s been quite uncommon in recent years.

In Summit County, only one temperature record was broken during the month, a record minimum high of 7 degrees on Jan. 16 at the Dillon weather station. The previous record-old high temperature for the day was 9 degrees, set not all that long ago, in 2007.

No record highs were set in Summit County, but nearby, Climax broke its all-time record high for January 27, hitting 44 degrees. The previous record of 42 degrees was set back in 1927. A few spots nearby, notably Williams Fork Dam, set both daily record high and low readings. Continue reading

Cheatgrass implicated in Great Basin fire regime

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Satellite images help pinpoint land-cover and fire patterns

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Along with global warming, new research suggests that invasive cheatgrass is a significant factor in the proliferation of more intense fires in the intermountain West, and specifically in the Great Basin.

“Although this result has been suspected by managers for decades, this study is the first to document recent cheatgrass-driven fire regimes at a regional scale, the scientists wrote, describing the study that relied partly on satellite images captured between 2000 and 2009 to create a detailed land-cover map of the Great Basin. Continue reading

Climate: New clues for ancient Great Basin lakes

Nevada’s Walker Lake is a remnant of one of the great inland lakes that covered parts of the Great Basin during the last glacial cooling period. Image courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.

Glacial climate regime may have enhanced Southwest Monsoon

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Geologists and paleoclimatologists have long known that the great basins of the intermountain West were once filled with water, forming vast inland seas. At the peak of the last glacial cooling period, about 14,000 to 20,000 years ago as much as a quarter of Nevada and Utah were covered with water.

What’s not exactly clear is where and when the water came from, but a new study led by a Texas A&M researcher offers additional clues, suggesting that the additional moisture came from a powerful, enhanced summer monsoon.

First, the scientists set out to test the prevailing hypothesis that the water resulted from a shift in the winter storm track that now generally carries storm to the north of the Great Basin, into northern California, Washington and Oregon. Continue reading

Water: BLM study shows widespread impacts of Las Vegas diversion plan

A massive water diversion proposal in Nevada would permanently damage fragile aquatic ecosystems in the Great Basin desert.

Proposed mitigation inadequate, critics say

By Summit Voice

A massive Las Vegas water grab aimed at siphoning 37 billion gallons from underground aquifers could destroy more than 137,000 acres of wildlife habitat by lowering groundwater tables — by up to 200 feet in many areas.

Species associated with the springs and wetlands are most at risk, but the diversions would also drive declines in species like mule deer, Rocky Mountain elk, sage grouse and Bonneville cutthroat trout, according to the Bureau of Land Management’s final environmental impact statement for the pipeline right-of-way for the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s groundwater development project.

Conservation advocates say the study shows what they’ve been claiming all along — that the project is unsustainable and will result in unacceptable impacts to ecosystems.

“The federal government’s own scientists are confirming this Las Vegas water project would be an epic environmental disaster,” said Rob Mrowka, a Nevada-based ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s really no exaggeration to say that the natural, cultural and social heritage of central Nevada is at grave risk from this project.” Continue reading

Global warming: New evidence of Great Basin pika decline

Great Basin pika populations are dwindling fast, as global warming shrinks their habitat. Photo courtesy Kim Fenske.

Tiny mountain mammals vanishing from peaks of the intermountain West

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —Some of North America’s most vulnerable mammals are definitely feeling the heat of global warming, as  localized pika extinctions in the Great Basin have increased at five times the 20th century average in the last 10 years.

Pikas have long been considered sentinels of climate change impacts because they are sensitive to small changes in climate and are often exposed to frequent swings in temperature and wind speed, poorly developed soils and generally harsher conditions than animals living at lower elevations.

American pikas are small, mountain-dwelling mammals that lives in rocky talus slopes and lava flows typically found in mountain ecosystems throughout the western United States.

A recent Colorado study found that pikas are holding their own in the southern Rockies, at least for now, but the pika habitat in the Great Basin is much more constrained by elevation and vegetation.

The Great Basin study also found that the lowest elevation that pikas are occupying moved upslope 11 times faster during the past decade than during the 2oth century, suggesting that their habitat is now shrinking rapidly.

The researchers also found that there may be some resiliency in pikas, which may start using non-traditional habitats, enabling them to live on the edge of their climatic niche.

 

10,000 acre Nevada wildfire started as a prescribed burn

North Schell fire 15 percent contained

The North Schell Fire perimter map, courtesy U.S. Forest Service.

The North Schell Fire in Nevada. Photo courtesy BLM.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — One of the biggest new wildfires burning in the West started as a prescribed burn that escaped control during one of the driest seasons on record in the Great Basin.

The North Schell Fire in Nevada has burned across more than 10,000 acres and is estimated at 15 percent containment. It’s burning in the North Schell Range, not far from Ely, in eastern Nevada.

Fuels include white fir, mountain mahogany, piñon-pine, juniper, and sagebrush. The fire is making occasional runs, along with spotting and torching in extremely difficult terrain. More than 200 firefighters are on scene with more resources arriving.

Fire officials said there is extreme potential for the fire to grow, with temperatures in the high 70s and 80s and relative humidity in the single digits.

BLM to limit impacts in sage grouse habitat

Greater sage grouse. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE.

Interim measures aimed at providing guidance for more pending land-use plans — and some certainty for private landowners
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — The Bureau of Land Management this week took a  step toward preserving habitat for greater sage grouse by limiting disturbance in areas identified as priority habitat.
The iconic western bird  once flourished across the sagebrush ocean of the Great Basin, but has declined in recent decades as a result of habitat fragmentation from agriculture, ranching, oil and gas development and other human development pressures.
Greater sage grouse is one of many species deemed worthy of protection under the Endangered Species Act but precluded from listing because of more immediate threats to other species. More information on the status of the species at this U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website. Continue reading

Global warming: California may list pikas as endangered

A pika near Aspen, Colorado. PHOTO BY KIM FENSKE.

The alpine mammals are quickly disappearing from marginal low-elevation habitat

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Pikas in Colorado may be holding their own at high elevations, but in California, the alpine mammals are quickly disappearing from areas like Mt. Lassen and the Bodie Hills as their habitat succumbs to global warming.

As a result, the  California Fish and Game Commission last week voted to designate the American pika as a  candidate for protection under the California Endangered Species Act, marking the first step toward full protection for the animals.

The Center for Biological Diversity first asked California to protect pikas in 2007, but the commission denied the petition twice, claiming there wasn’t enough evidence to show that the species is threatened by global warming. Continue reading

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