Environment: New high-resolution USGS mapping shows changes in Alaska land cover

Map of the northern US Atlantic margin showing the locations of newly-discovered methane seeps mapped by researchers from Mississippi State University, the US Geological Survey, and other partners. (High resolution image)

Map of the northern US Atlantic margin showing the locations of newly-discovered methane seeps mapped by researchers from Mississippi State University, the US Geological Survey, and other partners.

Detailed mapping can help plan climate change adaptation

Staff Report

FRISCO — Huge wildfires have driven the conversion of Alaska forests to grass- and shrublands, and the state’s perennial ice and snow fields, as well as its vast wetlands are also shrinking, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The changing face of Alaska is revealed in a new land-cover data set, which provides detailed information useful to land use planners and decision-makers. Continue reading

Nevada Supreme Court rejects Las Vegas pipeline scheme

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In a desperate quest for more water, Las Vegas wants to deplete distant aquifers with no regard for natural and environmental resources.

New lawsuit filed to void federal OK for proposed desert pipeline

Staff Report

FRISCO — A recent ruling by the Nevada Supreme Court appears to reinforce arguments by conservation advocates that a scheme to develop and pipe groundwater to Las Vegas can’t pass scientific, environmental or legal muster.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to siphon 37 billion gallons from remote underground aquifers in a plan that was challenged by the Center for Biological Diversity and its allies in the Great Basin Water Network, as well as by White Pine County, Nev.

In 2011, the Nevada Division of Water Resources gave the project a thumbs-up by allocating 84,000 acre-feet of ancient groundwater a year to the Southern Nevada Water Authority for export to Las Vegas, but Senior Judge Robert Estes of the Seventh Judicial District Court of Nevada said that allocation is unfair to future Nevadans and not in the public interest. Continue reading

The ‘greening’ of the Colorado River Delta

The Colorado River Delta in May, 2014. Photo courtesy NASA.

The Colorado River Delta in May, 2014. Photo courtesy NASA.

Science team tracks effects of historic pulse flow

Staff Report

FRISCO — Last May’s pulse flow in the Colorado River helped revive vegetation along a huge swath of the river’s edge, triggering new plant growth and raising the water table in the delta. After comparing satellite images taken August 2013 with new images from this year, scientists calculated a 23 percent increase in the greenness of riparian zone vegetation. Continue reading

Biodiversity: 20-year battle over Montana’s Arctic grayling headed back to court

An Arctic grayling in the Gulkana River, Paxson, Alaska. Photo courtesy USGS.

An Arctic grayling in the Gulkana River, Paxson, Alaska. Photo courtesy USGS.

Conservation groups say the river fish needs endangered species protection

Staff Report

FRISCO — Wrangling over the fate Montana’s Arctic grayling will continue in court, as conservation groups this week challenged a federal finding that the fish don’t need Endangered Species Act protection.

Graylings are part of the salmon family, native to cold freshwater streams and rivers across Canada and Alaska, with a genetically distinct population in Montana that was nearly wiped out by the 1970s. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Feds want more input on critical habitat plan for threatened yellow-billed cuckoos

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Can critical habitat help recover vanishing western yellow-billed cuckoos?

Proposed protections not popular with western water users

Staff Report

FRISCO — Threatened yellow-billed cuckoos will have to hang on just a bit longer before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalizes a critical habitat proposal. The agency this week announced it is extending a public comment period on the plan for another 60 days, through Jan. 12, 2015.

The agency announced its original critical habitat plan back in August, proposing to designate 546,335 acres of critical habitat in 80 separate units in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

Now, federal biologists say they want more input on the birds’  biology and habitat and justification for exclusions from critical habitat. The agency also seeks information on the incremental economic effects of the proposed critical habitat designation. Continue reading

Report: U.S. water use drops 13 percent

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An irrigated hay field in western Colorado.

Per capita water usage drops 11 percent from 2005-2010

Staff Report

FRISCO — A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey shows that overall water use in the U.S. dropped to its lowest level in 45 years. The USGS has tracked national water use since 1950.

The new report shows that total daily withdrawals dropped about 13 percent, from about 410 billion gallons per day in 2005, to 355 billion gallons per day in 2010, mainly from improvements in water-use technologies and management.

“Even as the U.S. population continues to grow, people are learning to be more water conscious and do their part to help sustain the limited freshwater resources in the country,” said Mike Connor, deputy secretary of the Interior.  Continue reading

Loss of northern hemisphere spring snow cover likely to amplifiy overall global warming signal

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More midwinter snow, but faster spring meltout seems to be the new climate norm in the northern hemisphere.

‘As shifts in the timing of meltout occur, we lose an important and relatively stable snowpack reservoir …’

FRISCO —Dwindling spring snow cover in the northern hemisphere could accelerate the pace of global warming, as darker-colored ground emerges earlier in the year, absorbing more of the sun’s heat and intensifying atmospheric warming.

The spring decline is evident despite a trend toward more snow in mid-winter — but June snowcover in the northern hemisphere has been below average 10 years in a row. The downward trend is mainly due to warmer temperatures, not to any big changes in overall precipitation totals, according to the most recent IPCC climate assessment. Continue reading

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