Officials: Climate change doesn’t threaten rare wolverine
BILLINGS — U.S. wildlife officials are withdrawing proposed protections for the snow-loving wolverine after determining the rare and elusive predator is not as threatened by climate change as once thought.
Details on the decision were obtained by The Associated Press in advance of an announcement Oct. 8.
A federal judge four years ago had blocked an attempt to withdraw protections that were first proposed in 2010, pointing to evidence from government scientists that wolverines were "squarely in the path of climate change."
But years of additional research suggest the animals' prevalence is expanding, not contracting, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials said. And they predict that enough snow will persist at high elevations for wolverines to den in mountain snowfields each spring despite warming temperatures.
Wildlife advocates expressed doubts about the rationale for the move and said they are likely to challenge it in court.
Wolverines, also known as "mountain devils," were wiped out across most of the U.S. by the early 1900s following unregulated trapping and poisoning campaigns. They're slowly clawing their way back in some areas, according to biologists.
Wildlife officials have previously estimated that 250 to 300 wolverines survive in remote areas of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Washington state. The animals in recent years also have been documented in California, Utah, Colorado and Oregon.
The animals need immense expanses of wild land to survive, with home ranges for adult male wolverines covering as much as 610 square miles, according to a study in central Idaho.
The projection that they'll have enough snow to den as temperatures warm is based on computer models developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado.
Yellowstone notches busiest September on record
One of America's most popular national parks had its busiest September on record during a pandemic.
Yellowstone National Park said on Oct. 8 that nearly 837,500 tourists visited the park during September — up 21% from the same month a year ago.
Yellowstone was the sixth most visited national park in 2019, according to data from the National Park Service. Nearly 4 million people visited during the year.
In 2020, however, the park closed its gates to all visitors late in March to curb the spread of the coronavirus until Wyoming gates reopened May 18. All gates in Montana reopened June 1.
The overall visitation for 2020 was impacted by the park's closure, and it is still down 11% from the same period last year, the National Park Service said.
Since the park's reopening, however, thousands of visitors have traveled to Yellowstone. August 2020 was the second busiest August on record when 881,543 people visited the park, the National Park Service said.
The high visitation since the park's reopening has brought unintended consequences. In July, the park said face masks were flying off tourists' faces and landing in geysers.
At least 20 Yellowstone employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since the park's reopening. In September, 16 of the park's employees tested positive for the coronavirus. From May 18 to Aug. 30, the park had four employees test positive, according to the National Park Service.
Officials: Carbon capture project would be largest in world
ALBUQUERQUE — One of the largest coal-fired power plants in the Southwest would undergo a $1.4 billion overhaul as part of a proposal to keep the plant operating for at least another decade while meeting stricter environmental requirements aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Mark Menezes was in New Mexico on Oct. 5 to discuss the project, saying he believes carbon capture, use and storage technology — or CCUS — could be a game changer for fossil-fuel generation in the U.S. and around the world, with the potential to drive emissions down to zero.
Menezes released a report prepared for the Energy Department that concluded retrofitting the San Juan Generating Station would result in significantly more jobs for northwestern New Mexico than plans that involve replacing the plant with a mix of new natural gas-fired generating stations and solar and battery storage systems.
The San Juan Generating Station is set to close in 2022, and local elected leaders have warned that shuttering it will result in a loss of more than 1,500 jobs and $53 million in annual state and local tax revenues.
Enchant Energy and the city of Farmington are negotiating with Public Service Co. of New Mexico and the other owners to acquire the plant and outfit it with new technology. Under the plan, the company says 90% of the carbon dioxide could be stripped from emissions, with some being sold to the oil and gas industry to use in the recovery process and some being injected into the ground as part of a research project.
Company and government officials said if Enchant gets the green light, that would make the San Juan Generating Station the largest carbon capture project and the lowest carbon-emitting, large-scale fossil fuel power plant in the world.
Youth sports won't compete in New Mexico this year
SANTA FE — High school students won't be able to compete in any sports this fall or winter after state officials clarified Oct. 8 that they won't amend a state health order banning school sports this year.
Coaches of non-contact sports like volleyball, golf and cross-country were so upbeat about returning to competition that a season's worth of matches was already scheduled and teams were holding practices earlier in the week. School officials in Pojojuaque were making contingency plans for the possibility of fans attending the matches in-person.
High school athletes are still allowed to practice under restrictions in groups of 10 or less, including a coach. Scrimmages are prohibited. Masks are required.
College athletics including contact sports such as football at the University of New Mexico have been allowed to go forward after officials there agreed to a rigorous and expensive testing strategy to monitor potential outbreaks.
High school coaches fear that athletes are losing an incentive to get good grades, which are required to participate in school sports. All public high schools in New Mexico are currently online, and many students have failed to adjust.
According to the New Mexico Activities Association, 70 percent of student athletes had at least one failing grade in September.
Training center for Native American officers set to open
DEVILS LAKE — A new federal law enforcement training center for Native American officers in northeastern North Dakota should be starting classes in the next month, U.S. Sen John Hoeven said Oct. 9.
The U.S. Indian Police Academy Advanced Training Center is located at Camp Grafton, the North Dakota National Guard facility near Devils Lake. It includes classroom space, dorms, and a cafeteria that will be used by Bureau of Indian Affairs trainees.
The center will receive recruits from tribes throughout the Great Plains. Most tribes currently send their officers to the federal site in Artesia, New Mexico. The Navajo Nation has its own police academy.
Hoeven, chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said the facility should help alleviate a shortage of officers in Indian Country, where crimes involving drugs and missing and murdered women and children are particularly prevalent.
The federal government will fund the program and provide instructors.