Climate: New study projects major habitat losses for birds, reptiles in Southwest

Gray jay in Summit County Colorado

A gray jay searches for bugs in a stand of lodgepole pines near Frisco, Colorado.

A few bird species may gain some ground

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Reptile species like the iconic chuckwalla will probably experience significant habitat loss as global temperatures climb during the next few decades, scientists said this week in a new study projecting climate change impacts to southwestern birds and reptiles.

The study was done by scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey,  University of New Mexico, and Northern Arizona University. Overall, the findings suggests many reptile species will lose ground as conditions get warmer and more dry.  Continue reading

Biodiversity: Feds finalize critical habitat for jaguars

Jaguar. Image via the Wikimedia Commons.

Jaguar. Image via the Wikimedia Commons.

Nearly 1,200 square miles of territory protected for recovery of native cats

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Nearly 17 years after federal biologists first listed jaguars under the Endangered Species Act, the wild cats may now have a protected area to roam in the wilds of the Southwest.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week designated about 1,200 square miles of rugged desert, mountain and forest lands in southern Arizona and New Mexico as critical habitat for jaguars — but only after a sustained legal push by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The federal wildlife agency initially resisted mapping out protected areas, claiming that the cats are too rare for habitat protection. Wildlife advocates challenged the agency’s position and a federal court rejected the government’s argument, leading to this week’s critical habitat listing notice in the Federal Register. The USFWS is also working on a jaguar recovery plan for the area. Continue reading

Water: How long will the Southwest’s acequias survive?

Dartmouth study details threats to historic communal irrigation 

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A patchwork of fields around Taos, New Mexico

Staff Report

FRISCO — The historic communal irrigation systems known as acequias Southwest are in decline as snowmelt dwindles and water priorities shift. Social and economic shifts favoring modernism over tradition, are also factors on the decline, according to a new study from Dartmouth College.

Similar trends have been observed in other parts of the world, where rural communities that once fended for themselves are becoming integrated into larger economies, which provide benefits of modern living but also the uncertainties of larger-scale market fluctuations. The study appears in the journal Global Environmental Change. Continue reading

Climate: Is the Southwest ‘stuck’ in a drought pattern?

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NOAA’s winter outlook offers little relief for Arizona, New Mexico

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Drought conditions may persist across the southwestern U.S. this winter and may redevelop across the Southeast, according to the seasonal outlook from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

“Even though we don’t have La Niña, the atmosphere across the Pacific seems to be stuck in a La Niña mode … It’s been quite surprising to us, how persistent the pattern is,” said Mike Halpert, acting director of the Climate Prediction Center.

Parts of the Southwest, especially New Mexico, have been experiencing one of the driest periods on record, and Halpert said there is “decent agreement” in the CPC’s models on the climate signal that has resulted in the persistent trend. Continue reading

Weather: Southwest heatwave expands to Colorado

No monsoon relief for now

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A broad swath of very dry air extends from the Pacific across the Desert Southwest in this June 26 NOAA satellite image.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Temperatures Wednesday soared to near-record levels in Frisco, topping out at about 80 degrees as an early summer high pressure system built into the Southwestern U.S. Average temperatures for most Summit County weather stations this time of year are in the mid-70s.

Excessive heat warnings from the National Weather Service covered a large area in Southern California and Southern Nevada, where Las Vegas reached a high of 117 degrees, busting the old record for the day by 2 degrees. There’s little relief in sight the next few days with the heatwave expected to continue. Continue reading

Environment: Feds face lawsuit over tamarisk-killing beetle

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Southwestern willow flycatcher. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Non-native bugs threatening habitat for endangered songbirds

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Conservation advocates say non-native tamarisk-eating bugs have gone haywire, destroying habitat needed by endangered southwestern willow flycatchers, native songbirds that need thick riparian vegetation to survive.

The exotic beetles were imported from Asia to destroy invasive tamarisk plants seen as a threat to water resources, but now the bugs have invaded the nesting areas of southwestern willow flycatchers in southern Utah, Nevada, and northern and western Arizona. If the beetle spreads farther without mitigation, it could seriously threaten the flycatcher’s survival, according to Dr. Robin Silver, with the Center for Biological Diversity. 

Efforts to eradicate tamarisk are costly and labor-intensive, and some recent research by the U.S. Geological Survey indicates that exotics (including Russian Olive) use about the same amount of water as native willows and cottonwoods.

In June 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture temporarily restricted release of the insects based on concerns about impacts to flycatcher habitat. The decision is outlined in this USDA memo. Continue reading

Water: Lake Powell may dry up within a few decades

Southwest, Great Plains most vulnerable to future water shortages

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Under some climate change scenarios, Lake Powell is at risk, according to a new study from the US. Forest Service. Photo courtesy Mission 31, ISS, via the Wikimedia Commons.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Some of the West’s biggest reservoirs could dry up completely as the region gets warmer and drier in coming decades, and major increases in storage capacity probably won’t help address regional water shortages, according to a new study authored by researchers with Colorado State University, Princeton and the U.S. Forest Service.

In the Colorado River Basin, “Lakes Powell and Mead are projected to drop to zero and  only occasionally thereafter add rather small amounts of storage before emptying  again,” the scientists concluded, adding that smaller upstream reservoirs might still be useful.

The report, published by the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, combined climate projections with socio-economic scenarios of population growth and water use to determine future water supply and demand, to assess the likelihood of future water shortages region by region. Continue reading

Water: USGS assesses Lake Mead

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Lake Mead. Photo courtesy NASA.

Invasive mussels now dominating lake-bottom ecosystem

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Better sewage treatment in Las Vegas, long-term treatment of persistent pollution from industrial sources and development of artificial wetlands have all helped protect water quality Lake Mead, according to federal scientists who recently released a report the status of the last big storage bucket in the Colorado River’s plumbing system.

Overall, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said that Lake Mead’s water quality is good and that fish populations are holding their own. Lake Mead is even providing habitat for an increasing number of birds.

But the report also acknowledges that invasive quagga mussels have become the dominant lake-bottom organism, posing significant threat to the Lake Mojave and Lake Mead ecosystems. The report also acknowledges the long-term threat of climate change, which will bring reduced water supplies to the entire Colorado River Basin. Continue reading

Environmental groups challenge EPA’s sulfur-dioxide emission exemptions for Southwest power plants

Fight over regional haze plans now at the federal appeals court level

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Conservation groups continue to fight for air pollution cleanup in the Southwest.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Clean Air Act loopholes in regional EPA-approved air quality plans are unacceptable, according to a coalition of environmental and community groups who last renewed their challenge to the regs in a Denver-based federal appeals court.

According to the groups, the plans allow coal-fired power plants in Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming to escape federal requirements to reduce their emissions of haze-causing pollutants. Of particular concern are exemptions for sulfur dioxide emissions, responsible for obscuring visibility and for significant human health impacts.

The exemptions are being challenged by HEAL Utah, National Parks Conservation Association, Powder River Basin Resource Council, and Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice. Continue reading

Federal draft climate assessment bodes ill for Southwest

Less snow, longer droughts expected in coming decades

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Projected temperature increases in the Southwest under varying greenhouse gas emission scenarios range between 2.5 and 9.5 degrees.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The Southwest, already the warmest and most arid part of the country, is expected to get hotter and drier during the coming decades, a draft federal climate change report warns, describing how the region is already feeling the impacts of global warming.

The Draft Climate Assessment Report was released a few weeks ago for public comment. It outlines global warming impacts to various economic sectors like agriculture, transportation, agriculture and forestry, and also breaks down the information geographically.

The section on the Southwest explains that the period since 1950 has been hotter than any comparably long period in at least 600 years. The first decade of the 2000s was the warmest in the 110-year instrumental record, with temperatures almost 2 higher than historic averages, with fewer cold snaps and more heat waves.

Droughts will get longer and more intense, spurring competition between farmers, urban dwellers,for the region’s most precious resource, while the region’s populous coastal cities face rising sea levels, extreme high tides, and storm surges, threatening highways, bridges, power plants, and sewage treatment plants.

Impacts to the Southwest include:

  • Snowpack and streamflow amounts are projected to decline, decreasing water supply for cities, agriculture, and ecosystems.
  • The Southwest produces more than half the nation’s high-value specialty crops, which are irrigation-dependent and particularly vulnerable to extremes of moisture, cold, and heat. Reduced yields from increased temperatures and increasing competition for scarce water supplies will displace jobs in some rural communities.
  • Increased warming, due to climate change, and drought have increased wildfires and impacts to people and ecosystems in the Southwest. Fire models project more wildfire and increased risks to communities across extensive areas.
  • Flooding and erosion in coastal areas is already occurring and is damaging some areas of the California coast during storms and extreme high tides. Sea level rise is projected to increase, resulting in major damage as wind-driven waves ride upon higher seas and reach further inland.
  • Projected regional temperature increases, combined with the way cities amplify heat, will pose increased threats and costs to public health in Southwestern cities, which are home to more than 90 percent of the region’s population. Disruptions to urban electricity and water supplies will exacerbate these health problems.

The Southwest section of the report:

 

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