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In the mountains, climate change is changing everything


Rockies Today

October 7 · Issue #13 · View online
The big stories up and down the Rocky Mountains, curated by Mountain West News

In the mountains, climate change is changing everything
The new IPCC report includes a chapter focused on mountains for the first time in more than 20 years. As Colorado’s Bob Berwyn reports for InsideClimate News, the chapter shows how the melting of glaciers and loss of snow has a cascading effect for ecosystems, agriculture and billions of people downstream.
In the mountains, climate change is disrupting everything, from how water flows to when plants flower In the mountains, climate change is disrupting everything, from how water flows to when plants flower
LEADVILLE, Colorado — With ominous orange-gray smoke clouds seething on the western horizon, it’s easy to understand how Colorado’s highest city and other mountain communities are directly threatened by global warming.
Mountain snowpack is shrinking and melting earlier in the spring. Warmer and longer summers dry out vegetation and increase the threat of wildfires in western mountain forests, where the fire season has lengthened by at least a month since 1979.
The growing wildfire risk is just part of an accelerating cycle of global warming impacts in the world’s mountain regions, according to a new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that includes a section focused on mountains for the first time in more than 20 years.
“Snow cover duration has declined in nearly all regions, especially at lower elevations, on average by five days per decade,” the mountain chapter of the IPCC report says. On average across Western North America, the European Alps and High Mountain Asia, temperatures are warming by 0.54 degrees Fahrenheit per decade.
That’s melting glaciers and changing mountain river flows, disrupting plants and wildlife, and increasing the risk of extreme rockslides, avalanches and mountain floods caused by rain falling on snow.
Taken together, global warming impacts represent an existential threat to millions of people in the Andes, the Himalaya, the European Alps, and the U.S. Mountain West including Alaska, said Heidi Steltzer, a biologist at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, and a lead author of the mountain chapter.
“Shrinking glaciers and snow harm Indigenous Peoples and rural communities greatly. Concern, commitment and action on climate change should not depend on which places, species or people are impacted. Instead, they should be motivated by compassion,” Steltzer said.
The Bozeman Daily Chronicle’s Gail Schontzler, meanwhile, reports on the Montana Climate Assessment’s findings:
Warming climate alarms Montana scientists
Montana Climate Assessment paints stark picture
Utility's pivot to renewables leans on Utah coal plants
Last week, PacifiCorp announced plans to invest heavily in renewables and accelerate coal-plant closures. But as the Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board points out, the utility declined to move up the closures of two massive coal-fired power plants in Utah, meaning “the Wasatch Front could have the distinction of being the last major metro area in the country to rely on coal.”
Tribune editorial: Cleaner power plan is the right move, but not the last move
The good news in Pacificorp’s new Integrated Resource Plan? A 59% reduction in carbon output over the next 10 years.
The bad news? Utah still could be the last state to be heavily coal powered.
The parent company of Rocky Mountain Power, which provides electricity to most of Utah, is accelerating its conversion to renewable energy, bringing on more solar and wind power. It will add 7,000 megawatts of renewable energy while eliminating 3,000 megawatts of coal-generated energy. It’s shutting down 16 coal plants in Wyoming.
But Pacificorp is declining to move up closure of two massive coal-fired power plants in Emery County — Hunter and Huntington. Those still have end dates that extend to 2036 and 2038. At that point, the Wasatch Front could have the distinction of being the last major metro area in the country to rely on coal. We’ll also have haze persisting in our national parks and wilderness areas.
Pacificorp is under no legal obligation to clean up its power in Utah. The Trump administration canceled the previous president’s Clean Power Plan, which mandated more renewables. With this plan the company is making an economic decision with an environmental benefit. Solar and wind have gotten cheap enough that it’s actually getting less expensive to build solar and wind capacity than it is to run coal plants. And once they’re built, the fuel is free.
Pacificorp operates in six states, and that means it has to satisfy regulators in six states. In Wyoming and Utah, the political climate has leaned toward preserving coal plants and the mines that feed them. Oregon is just the opposite. The company has to meet a state requirement to stop burning coal for Oregon’s electricity by 2030.
In order to satisfy Oregon, more of the system’s remaining coal power has to be allocated to Utah.
PacifiCorp’s plan marks a historic revamping of Wyoming's energy landscape
More coal industry goings on:
Federal government was investigating Blackjewel prior to bankruptcy
Analysis: A breakdown of the Blackjewel, ESM deal
As EPA preps coal ash rollback, study finds heightened risks of water, soil contamination
Wall Street’s cold shoulder drove this CEO out of coal business
On the Front, Bernhardt lobbied to delist grizzlies
And more wildlife news:
'We are in crisis mode': Bernhardt hears concerns about Montana's growing grizzly population 'We are in crisis mode': Bernhardt hears concerns about Montana's growing grizzly population
“They’re now over 50 miles east of the mountains,” said John Stuber, Montana director of USDA Wildlife Services. “They’re out in wheat and barley country under center pivots. They’re bedding down in people’s shelter belts next to their houses; places where historically there were grizzly bears, but its been a century or more since (they’ve) been out there.”
“The world’s changed,” Stuber added. “There’s not a million bison out there anymore. There’s cows, sheep and people.”
Grizzly, likely 399 cub, moved to Absarokas
Canada falling behind in protection of endangered wildlife
U.S. lists B.C. caribou as endangered while province approves logging in critical habitat
Study: Bleach useful against CWD prions
Off-roading in Utah national parks sparks a dust-up
Park managers balk at plan to let ORVs in Utah national parks Park managers balk at plan to let ORVs in Utah national parks
Opposition is building against the National Park Service’s push to allow off-road vehicles on Utah’s park roads, much of it coming from retired and current park managers who contend these vehicles pose too great a risk to scenic treasures and visitor enjoyment.
Across most of the nation’s 419-unit park system, ORVs, including all-terrain vehicles and utility task vehicles, are not allowed. But an 11-year-old Utah law has opened the door for “street legal” ORVs on roads inside the state’s “Mighty 5” parks, as well as Dinosaur National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and smaller park units in Utah.
In late September, the park service’s acting Intermountain regional director instructed Utah park superintendents to “align” their road-access policies by Nov. 1 with state law, which allows ORVs on most roads that are open to automobiles as long as they are registered and equipped with all the safety features required for street use.
Critics contend such a move carries a huge potential impact and cannot legally proceed without an environmental analysis and a public process.
What else we're reading today
‘I just want my family complete.’ Boise refugees wary of Trump plan to cut admissions
Firing up the forest: Agencies burning lands on purpose
Over a quarter of Colorado is now officially in a drought
Can rural broadband help save farm country?
As the Bakken booms, North Dakota eyes plastics
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O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, 59812