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Bison 'equivalent to a force of nature'


Rockies Today

November 19 · Issue #38 · View online
The big stories up and down the Rocky Mountains, curated by Mountain West News

Bison 'equivalent to a force of nature'
The Atlantic’s Ed Yong reports on new research suggesting that bison, by migrating in huge herds, behave like a force of nature, engineering and intensifying waves of spring greenery that other grazers rely on.
What America lost when it lost the bison What America lost when it lost the bison
Chris Geremia was surprised. After considerable effort, and substantial risk to life and limb, he and his colleagues finally had the results from their decade-long experiment, and those results were both clear and unexpected: Bison do not surf.
Specifically, bison (or buffalo) don’t follow the waves of new shoots that burst from the ground every spring. This phenomenon, known as surfing the green wave, allows animals to eat plants at their most nutritious, when they’re full of nitrogen and proteins and low in indigestible matter. Such freshness is fleeting, and so grazers undertake large migrations to track the new greenery as it crests across the landscape. Over the past decade, scientists have shown that mule deer, barnacle geese, elk, elephants, Mongolian gazelles, and a dozen other species all do this. Geremia wanted to see whether bison, which once formed the largest grazing herds in North America, follow the same pattern.
He found out by fencing off small patches of land along the bison migration route. By comparing the plants within and beyond the fences, the team learned that bison graze so intensely that they freeze plants in early spring for weeks at a time, preventing them from maturing and forcing them to continuously produce young shoots. Other North American mammals like mule deer can’t do this, because they travel in small-enough groups that plants can still outgrow the effects of their grazing. Bison, however, gather in the thousands. By moving in synchrony, they don’t have to surf the green wave. Uniquely, they can also create it.
Their actions change the landscape.
More on the research:
How Yellowstone bison 'set the terms of springtime'
Yellowstone’s migrating bison manipulate springtime green-up
Judge denies halt to bison hunt near Yellowstone, moves lawsuit to Montana
Wyoming's combustible economy
WyoFile’s out today with a special edition called “Re-regulation,” a package that examines Wyoming’s response to coal’s decline. All six stories here, beginning with this editor’s note:
‘Re-regulation’: Examining Wyoming’s response to coal’s decline ‘Re-regulation’: Examining Wyoming’s response to coal’s decline
From a high of 462 million tons in 2011, the state’s production dropped to 324 million tons last year. Large coal company bankruptcies have rocked Wyoming communities, and electric utility giant PacifiCorp has announced plans to retire several coal-plant units in the state early.
Lawmakers and officials, in turn, are scrambling for ways to minimize the damage to Wyoming’s flagship industry and soften the blows to local economies. Are they looking in the right places? 
Whether legislation and policy can ameliorate the pain of economic transition is an open question. To some observers, efforts to save coal are not only futile, they also break with Wyoming’s long championing of free-market conservatism and carry the specter of unintended consequences. What is certain is that things are changing, fast, and that when the whirlwind of economic chaos and legislative reaction settles, Wyoming will be playing by a new set of rules.
Old plants, new ideas: Who might buy a retired coal power unit?
The Wyoming PSC’s uncomfortable moment in the spotlight
Chasing coal-plant longevity, bills open door to deregulation
Opinion: The great coal transition, an economist’s perspective
Opinion: Regs helped Wyoming's coal industry. Weakening them won’t save it.
Meanwhile, Heather Richards of E&E News reports on the perils of counting on crude to make up for coal’s decline in Wyoming:
Beyond coal and oil: Wyoming faces crisis Beyond coal and oil: Wyoming faces crisis
More coal news:
Long-running coal plant on Navajo Nation stops production
Environmental groups file federal lawsuit against Rosebud Coal Mine expansion
Already flailing through 2019, coal equities dove even lower in third quarter
Wyoming considers massive CO2 pipeline
Public input sought on new massive pipeline corridor Public input sought on new massive pipeline corridor
A proposal to designate 1,150 miles of Wyoming federal lands for a vast network of future pipelines entered the next phase of review Friday.
The Bureau of Land Management announced it would hold a series of public meetings on the Wyoming Pipeline Corridor Initiative, a project to expand the state’s pipeline infrastructure and help companies transport carbon dioxide to existing oil reservoirs and recover leftover oil.
The initiative stretches back almost eight years ago, when then-Gov. Matt Mead announced plans to expand the state’s energy pipelines. In 2012, the Wyoming Legislature dedicated money from the Abandoned Mine Land fund to the project.
By approving a designated network of pipelines, the state reasoned it could potentially expedite the review process for future pipeline construction on federal land by oil and gas companies.
In a process known as carbon flooding, carbon dioxide is injected into reservoirs to remove residual oil that traditional drilling processes failed to extract. The strategy is already being employed by Anadarko, Devon, Denbury and several companies at oil fields throughout Wyoming, according to a July proposal submitted to the federal land management agency. But companies need to be able to access carbon dioxide affordably. That’s where more pipelines come in.
This is also known as enhanced oil recovery, or EOR. Vox’s David Roberts recently weighed EOR’s pros and cons:
Could squeezing more oil out of the ground help fight climate change?
More oil and gas news from around the region:
PBS documentary explores atomic fracking controversy
Report: Additional $320 million in subsidies used to finance Trans Mountain Pipeline in first half of 2019
LWCF funding advances
Full funding of Land Water Conservation Fund passes key Senate hurdle Full funding of Land Water Conservation Fund passes key Senate hurdle
A key Senate panel has voted to fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a move that conservation groups see as a significant victory.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee voted Tuesday morning to permanently authorize and completely fund the program, which was established in 1964 to help with outdoor projects on public lands. The bill passed with bipartisan support out of the committee and now faces a full floor vote. 
The LWCF, which was permanently reauthorized this spring, receives most of its revenue from on- and offshore oil and gas drilling. The House Natural Resources Committee in June passed a bipartisan bill that, if signed into law, would dedicate $900 million of annual royalty funds to LWCF.
Members on both sides of the aisle celebrated the move, calling it an important step to continue to invest in public lands.
The Senate committee also passed out of panel the Restore Our Parks Act, a bill drafted to address the $12 billion maintenance backlog at national parks.
LWCF? Field & Stream’s Hal Herring explains:
Why we cannot let the Land and Water Conservation fund expire
What else we're reading today
House Democrats push to block funding for BLM relocation
Federal cuts shut down Salmon River, other Idaho rivers’ monitoring gauges
Climate impacts drive up Alberta school districts' insurance rates
Report: Colorado’s Superfund sites among those threatened by climate change
Efforts to relocate an ancient wetland could help determine the fate of a Colorado water project
Last winter’s avalanche season was unprecedented—could it happen again?
Chasing caribou across a changing Arctic
Taxidermied animals become a selfie backdrop at 'The Unbearable Impermanence of Things'
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