Endangered Species lizard

In this May 1, 2015, file photo is a Dunes Sagebrush lizard in New Mexico. The Trump administration wants to put greater weight on the economic benefits of development when deciding if land or water should be protected for imperiled species.


Feds looks to open rare lizard's habitat to drilling

CARLSBAD — Federal wildlife managers are considering offering permits to landowners in the Permian Basin that environmentalists say could further compromise habitat for a rare lizard found only in parts of southeastern New Mexico and West Texas.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be accepting comments on the proposal through Dec. 21.

The permits would be available to landowners who are participating in candidate conservation agreements with the federal government. The permits would cover situations when dunes sagebrush lizards are harmed or killed during oil and gas operations, sand mining, renewable energy development, agriculture or construction activities.

A candidate for federal protection for nearly two decades, the lizard has yet to be added to the list of threatened and endangered species.

It dwells in sand dunes and among shinnery oak. It's active between April and October.

Federal biologists have said the primary threat to the lizard is the loss of habitat associated with oil and gas development and sand mining. As a result, the reptile's habitat has become more fragmented.

Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity said the move is concerning because the conservation agreements are discretionary while habitat destruction is permanent.

Supporters of the oil and gas industry touted the permit proposal as a way to allow for continued economic development while balancing environmental issues.

Gas pipeline project halted amid pandemic

CARLSBAD — A natural gas pipeline that would have connected an oil field in New Mexico and Texas to markets in the Gulf Coast has been halted as the fossil fuel industry struggles during the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials with Permian Global Access Pipeline, a subsidiary of Houston-based natural gas producer Tellurian, withdrew its application to build the 625-mile pipeline, the Carlsbad Current-Argus reported.

The pipeline would have crossed 24 Texas counties and four Louisiana parishes to transport natural gas stemming from the Permian Basin in west Texas and southeast New Mexico, officials said.

Several countries and states enacted travel bans and other business restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19, resulting in declining oil and gas prices as people are using less fuel around the world.

As a result, many major oil and gas projects were stopped as companies sought to cut spending, including the pipeline project.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission first approved the request to begin the application process in September 2019, but the application was withdrawn because of coronavirus struggles.

Permian Global Access Pipeline LLC President Joey Mahmoud said that current market conditions meant the project was not financially viable and that the company could resume if the market recovers.


Gordon outlines budget cuts reflecting ‘new reality’

CHEYENNE — After announcing cuts to state agencies totaling roughly $515 million last month, Gov. Mark Gordon presented his supplemental budget to a group of lawmakers Dec. 7, marking his proposal's transition to the legislative branch for consideration.

Unveiled last month, Gordon's supplemental budget includes $515 million in cuts and the elimination of 380 state positions, including 62 filled positions. During Dec. 7 talks with members of the Joint Appropriations Committee, Gordon said his proposal would produce a "weaker government with less capacity than it has had before."

The governor’s proposal will cut positions at community colleges, the University of Wyoming and from contracts with private companies throughout Wyoming, reducing services and weakening the economy, Gordon said.

While a portion of the governor's cuts were already enacted over the summer, about $150 million in cuts included in the proposal will be considered by the full Legislature sometime in 2021.

Gordon said the COVID-19 pandemic "has accelerated the structural declines that we saw coming" in the state's mineral industries, noting Wyoming has seen several coal companies file for bankruptcy and lay off employees in the past two years. He then offered a policy approach for lawmakers to consider as a way to boost the ailing industries by easing “the tax burden we place on our mineral industries.”

The governor's testimony marked the start of a process that will be unlike any before for state lawmakers. Once fully implemented, the budget cuts will be "the greatest monetarily in Wyoming history," said committee co-chair Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne.


Wildlife advocates sue agency to protect Canada lynx

BILLINGS — Wildlife advocates sued the federal government Nov. 30 in a bid to force officials to do more to conserve Canada lynx, a snow-loving cat that has struggled to survive in parts of the U.S. West.

Attorneys for Friends of the Wild Swan, Rocky Mountain Wild and other groups filed the complaint in U.S. District Court in Montana.

The move comes almost three years after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it planned to strip lynx in the U.S. of their threatened species status.

Canada lynx are about the size of bobcats, but with huge paws to help them navigate deep snow.

Some scientists and wildlife advocates have warned that climate change is reducing lynx habitat and the availability of its primary food source — snowshoe hares.

The 2018 announcement that lynx had recovered came after government biologists shortened their time span for considering climate change threats, from 2100 to 2050, because of what they said were uncertainties in long-term climate models. The biologists said the animals remain resilient and even have increased versus historical levels in parts of Colorado and Maine.

But the new lawsuit cited research that suggests lynx populations have contracted in Montana and Washington state over the past two decades and have lost habitat in Colorado.

Fish and Wildlife Service officials did not have an immediate response, a spokesman said.


Details of 1st virtual Sundance Film Festival released

The Sundance Film Festival has unveiled what its first largely virtual edition will look like in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers released the broad strokes for a shortened festival, set to run Jan. 28 through Feb. 3.

With programming details to be announced at a later date, next year's festival will be accessible to audiences well beyond its usual home in Park City, Utah. All films in the festival will be available on a digital platform within the United States, with some films opting for global availability as well, while other festival events and talks will all be available globally.

The festival is planning to showcase 70-plus feature films, down from around 120 in its in-person 2020 edition. Each film will include a live Q&A after its scheduled premiere screening time, and will be available for subsequent streaming in limited windows. The festival program will have its usual four main competitions (including documentary and narrative features) as well as additional sections. Tickets and passes will go on sale Jan. 7.

The festival has entered into partnerships with independent theaters in more than 20 states around the country to feature select Sundance titles where they are allowed to be open and additional events or outdoor screenings where indoor events are not possible. In Los Angeles, two drive-in venues will be used, and in Park City the plan is to screen select films for locals at a local theater.

Tabitha Jackson, in her first year as director of the festival, said Sundance organizers had been watching and were in communication with other festivals that had put on virtual events since the beginning of the pandemic. Both the Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival pulled off high-profile largely virtual events in the fall, while offering local in-person events as well.

OUT WEST ROUNDUP | Feds call pine tree threatened; Wyoming official says pandemic part of a plot
OUT WEST ROUNDUP | Group helps farmers stricken by COVID-19; Wyoming delays legislative session
OUT WEST ROUNDUP | Mysterious monolith found in Utah desert; New Mexico wary of oil downturn
OUT WEST ROUNDUP | Judge blocks permits over climate impacts; COVID-19 aid going to oil industry

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