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Backlash to the population boom

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Rockies Today

November 25 · Issue #42 · View online
The big stories up and down the Rocky Mountains, curated by Mountain West News

Backlash to the population boom
Anti-growth feeling is bubbling up in some Western communities—particularly in cities adding people and housing faster than the national average—even as city leaders and affordable housing advocates call for more homebuilding and downtown density to combat traffic and rising home prices, Stateline’s Sophie Quinton reports.
The West’s population boom leads to development backlash The West’s population boom leads to development backlash
In Boise, Idaho, a mayoral candidate this year called for building a wall around the state to keep newcomers out (particularly wealthy Californians). Although that candidate didn’t advance to the runoff, managing growth remains a key question in local politics, said Charles Hunt, an assistant professor of political science at Boise State University.
“Regardless of where you stand on it,” he said, “the question of growth has been the fundamental policy question in the Treasure Valley over the last five years.”
In Salt Lake County, Utah, residents last year convinced their mayor to veto a huge apartment and townhome project. Utah added residents faster than any other state during the past decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and Salt Lake County’s population jumped by 12%.
And in tiny Elizabeth, Colorado, anti-growth activists are trying to recall all the town’s elected officials for approving development projects they fear will turn Elizabeth — population 1,416 — into the next Denver exurb boomtown. Over the past decade, more than 10,000 people moved to a nearby town, Parker, boosting its population by close to 23%.
To be sure, a nascent “yes in my backyard” movement has led to laws that promote further development in some states, such as Oregon’s new law that allows duplexes to be built in lots zoned for single-family homes.
In California, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom last month signed legislation to speed up building-permit approval and stop local governments from limiting new home construction.
But proponents of such changes still must contend with not-in-my-backyard residents who fear the new laws will encourage more luxury apartments and pricey townhomes rather than truly affordable housing.
'Tragedy facing our park commons'
Jon Waterman, a former park ranger and the author of National Geographic’s new “Atlas of the National Parks,” writes that, in the face of overcrowding, invasive species, climate change and money woes, “it will take a dedicated course change to stop the impending tragedy facing our park commons.”
Opinion: Our national parks are in trouble Opinion: Our national parks are in trouble
CARBONDALE, Colo. — Deep inside Alaska’s six-million-acre Denali National Park and Preserve, I could see miles of space beneath my feet as I stood on the summit of the tallest mountain in North America. The startling view from the 20,310-foot Denali of rugged wilderness spreading out in all directions, plus the challenge of climbing it, were just two of the many wonders and adventures that I’ve experienced in America’s national parks.
I recently finished writing a book for National Geographic, “Atlas of the National Parks,” based on extensive research, a lifetime of exploring the parks and several years in the 1980s working as a ranger in two of them, Denali and Rocky Mountain in Colorado.
I meant the book as a celebration of the 103-year-old national park system, and it is. But what I also discovered was an operation in deep trouble, with some parks degraded by ruinous overcrowding; invasions of nonnative plants and animals that are upending delicate ecological balances; and a warming climate that is melting glaciers and withering away the rare yuccas that give their name to Joshua Tree National Park.
Adding to these woes, the system is badly underfunded and suffering from neglect. This is not a new problem, but it is getting worse, with deferred maintenance that mostly predates the Trump administration now topping $11 billion. But President Trump isn’t helping. He wants to cut the National Park Service’s budget by $481 million next year and is reportedly considering privatizing campgrounds and commercializing the parks in ways that contradict the agency’s goal of harmonizing with nature.
We need to arrest this decline and make the park system the national priority it should be. We need to assess the health of these magnificent parks and ask some hard questions about their capacity to withstand the millions of visitors who arrive every year. In 2016, the centennial of the Park Service’s creation, 330 million were recorded at the 419 parks, recreation areas, monuments, seashores and battlefields and other places that make up the system. The agency’s mandate of wide-open access and preservation has become a paradox that we need to sort out.
Another opinion piece about public lands, this penned by Antonia Malchik:
Opinion: Our public lands don't diminish individual freedom, they secure it
More news items relating to public lands:
Pendley calls for 'deference' to local sheriffs
Photos explore the eerie and erotic of public lands
Resilience of sagebrush tested
What an unprecedented sagebrush die off—and its even more surprising recovery—taught us What an unprecedented sagebrush die off—and its even more surprising recovery—taught us
…a handful of researchers from the University of Wyoming, the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the U.S. Geological Survey published a paper explaining the die-off. The cause, ironically for a plant known for growing in an arid climate, was a combination of severe drought and then excessive water.
Many of the bushes that died from drought have regenerated in an unprecedented show of strength. The ones that perished in newly formed ponds did not come back.
The lessons from a rather wonky study are far-reaching, researchers say. As the West’s climate becomes more variable, with more frequent periods of severe heat and drought and also extreme precipitation, even the most robust of the state’s plants may not be able to survive. And with those plants go the iconic species that depend on them, from trophy mule deer to songbirds to sage grouse.
Even more importantly, the die-off and subsequent research gave local biologists and land managers more tools to respond the next time stretches of the prairie fade away.
Meanwhile…
Forests face climate change tug of war
Idaho's fight to bear arms
Anyone who cares about gun laws should pay attention to what’s happening in Idaho Anyone who cares about gun laws should pay attention to what’s happening in Idaho
Pipeline under a lifeline
Tribal leaders raise concerns over potential oil leak into Missouri River Tribal leaders raise concerns over potential oil leak into Missouri River
Pipeline worries
More water news:
Trump administration signals support for CSKT water compact
New monitoring program hopes to boost science on Colorado River headwaters
Study: Low flows compound development's impact on fish
Pouring gas on the fire
As the natural gas market falters, Wyoming has a lot to lose As the natural gas market falters, Wyoming has a lot to lose
More energy news:
Wyoming lawmakers look to extend life of coal-fired power plants
Boulder offers Xcel $94M for assets necessary to form municipal utility
Ballot initiative aims to increase renewable energy in Montana
If fossil fuel comes from Colorado but is burned elsewhere, who owns the emissions?
What else we're reading today
Attorney general unveils plan on missing Native Americans
B.C. takes historic steps towards the rights of Indigenous Peoples, but the hard work is yet to come
Conservationists: Interior ignores court order on sage grouse protection
Yellowstone says it's catching fewer lake trout, more cutthroat
Teton-dwelling stonefly becomes ‘threatened’
Grizzlies and the limits of coexistence
Tribune editorial: It’s almost inversion season. Are we going to get the same old soot?
Rockies Today is edited by Matthew Frank, Fellow in Regional Journalism at the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana.
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O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, 59812