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The next Yellowstone

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Rockies Today

October 14 · Issue #15 · View online
The big stories up and down the Rocky Mountains, curated by Mountain West News

The next Yellowstone
Mountain West News Bureau reporter Nate Hegyi delivers a long-read on the American Prairie Reserve, an ambitious and controversial effort to rewild more than three million acres of the Great Plains in eastern Montana, funded by some of the world’s wealthiest people. (Full disclosure: The editor of this newsletter is also a part-time editor for the Mountain West News Bureau, a public media collaborative, and helped edit Hegyi’s hour-long radio documentary—coming soon!—into this web feature.)
How big money is building a new kind of national park How big money is building a new kind of national park
When it’s complete, it will be the largest wildlife sanctuary in the Lower 48 — about 5,000 square miles, nearly the size of Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.
On the ground, the reserve finds support among nearby tribes and with those who see economic potential in tourism. But the pushback is louder. It comes from a close-knit community of ranching families who view the reserve as an existential threat, removing them from the land they’ve worked for generations. As one cattlewoman told me, “for them to be successful, we can’t be here. That’s not OK with us.”
Others voice concern over the big-money donors allowing American Prairie to acquire multimillion-dollar ranches. 
But in a state known as the Last Best Place, biologists believe American Prairie Reserve may represent the last best place to pursue a wildly ambitious restoration of the Great Plains — and at a time when many have lost faith in the government to protect wild places. 
As the reserve slowly grows bigger and bigger, a modern Western drama about change, loss and renewal is unfolding on this unforgiving landscape.
From binge to bust in Alberta's oil sands
A Canadian oil town lines up at the food bank A Canadian oil town lines up at the food bank
Dan Edwards watched Fort McMurray, Alberta, turn into the insolvency capital of Canada from a brown brick warehouse on King Street, home to the Wood Buffalo Food Bank.
Ten years ago, about 2,000 people came by every month for jars of peanut butter and cans of soup. Now, he and his staff help feed four times that. Before, the clientele was mostly folks struggling to pay rents that shot up during the oil boom. Today, it’s often men and women who were living high before the bust. Sometimes, they pull up in shiny pickups purchased just a year or two ago.
“You never know who’s going to walk through your door,” said Edwards, the food bank’s director. “Individuals that have degrees and education and skills—but the jobs just aren’t what they were.”
Once the booming heart of the country’s energy industry, the little city of 75,000 in northeastern Alberta has become a showcase for the debt troubles many Canadians are facing. Fat paychecks and generous overtime earlier this decade fueled big spending on customized pickups and million-dollar homes. With work drying up, the bill has come due.
Fort McMurray, once booming oil town, is now the insolvency capital
Meanwhile…
Why the Norwegian pension fund is ditching the oilsands
Indigenous children held hostage to open up the West
The cover story in the new issue of High Country News, by Nick Estes, examines how Indian boarding schools—especially the most infamous one, Carlisle Indian Industrial School—were at the center of a policy to hold Indigenous children hostage to open the West for settlement. As Tristan Ahtone writes in the issue’s editor’s note, “Rethinking national origins allows us to envision a future in which justice is braided into our collective stories, not merely an elusive, unattainable concept.”
The U.S. stole generations of Indigenous children to open the West The U.S. stole generations of Indigenous children to open the West
Carlisle, and boarding schools like it, are remembered as a dark chapter in the history of the ill-conceived assimilation policies designed to strip Native people of their cultures and languages by indoctrinating them with U.S. patriotism. But child removal is a longstanding practice, ultimately created to take away Native land. Although Carlisle is located in the East, it played a key role in pressuring the West’s most intransigent tribes to cede and sell land by taking their children hostage.
A century after its closing, however, unanswered questions surround the Carlisle Indian School’s brutal legacy. Secrets once thought buried — why did so many children die there? — are coming to light. And the descendants of those interred are demanding more than just the return of their stolen ancestors.
“The past of Carlisle is really about justice,” says Ben Rhodd, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s tribal historic preservation officer. Since April 2016, his office has been pursuing the return of 11 children buried at the Carlisle Indian Cemetery. Even in death, Rhodd explains, Rosebud’s children remain “prisoners of war,” held at a military base and unable to return to their home on the Rosebud Reservation, children who were “hostages taken to pacify the leadership of tribes that would dare stand against U.S. expansion and Manifest Destiny.”
The coal scoop
The bankruptcy wave and much more coal news:
Coal bankruptcies pile up as utilities embrace gas, renewables Coal bankruptcies pile up as utilities embrace gas, renewables
The recent run of failures comes as the thermal coal market has continued to shrink despite action by President Trump to roll back Obama-era environmental restrictions on coal-fired plants. The sector-wide decline has been driven largely by a record production of inexpensive natural gas and growth of wind and solar energy, which has displaced coal used by U.S. power plants. Natural gas prices hit 20-year lows for June and July, averaging $2.40 and $2.37 per million British thermal units, respectively, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
“I think that a lot of the management and boards of the coal-mining companies were unwilling to admit that this was really going to happen,” said Karla Kimrey, a former vice president at Cloud Peak, which had roughly 1,235 employees when it filed for bankruptcy in May.
The shift is putting pressure on owners of coal-fired plants. Coal-based electricity powered 28% of the U.S. grid in 2018, down from 48% in 2008, according to the EIA. The agency projects coal’s share of electricity generation to fall to 25% in 2019 and 22% in 2020.
“Clearly, President Trump is an advocate for coal, but the ones who really matter are the senior utility executives who are deciding where electricity generation will come from in the future,” said Mark Levin, a managing director and senior analyst at Seaport Global Securities LLC.
‘War on coal’ barely dented already-wounded industry, study says
Coal industry pushed state regulators to lobby for power rescue
PacifiCorp plan to move away from coal exposes deep divide among Western states
Reopening of Blackjewel mines possibly delayed over permit snag
Wyoming judge gives break to energy industry over royalties
How #MMIWG and Keystone XL intersect
Tribal reps withdraw from DOJ’s Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force over AG’s support for Keystone XL Tribal reps withdraw from DOJ’s Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force over AG’s support for Keystone XL
Two representatives from the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Indian reservations pulled out of Attorney General Tim Fox’s new Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force on Monday after Fox filed to intervene in a lawsuit against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline in support of the Trump administration and pipeline company TC Energy, formerly TransCanada.
The Fort Peck tribes and the Fort Belknap Indian Community of northeast Montana have long opposed the pipeline, which would carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta through the state, passing close to both reservations. Towns surrounding the reservations, including Nashua, Circle, Hinsdale, and Baker, are slated to lodge pipeline workers in man camps, which have been associated with increased rates of drug trafficking and sexual violence in the neighboring Bakken oil fields.
More on the link between “man camps” and violence against and trafficking of Native women:
For Indigenous women, more pipelines mean more threats of sexual violence
Meanwhile…
Future of Keystone XL pipeline could be decided in November
What else we're reading today
BLM chief William Perry Pendley downplays past
Scattering BLM will be good for policy, boss William Pendley says. Not with him at the helm, advocacy groups argue.
More private management coming to federal campgrounds?
Six NW Montana grizzly bears killed in single week
Hunting advocate aims to halt ‘study area’ ATV and MTB use
Mining company wants Idaho tribe’s lawsuit put on hold
FWS, Forest Service must face suit over Montana mine approval
Halliburton lays off 650 workers across Rockies region, including Wyoming
Mountain West could lose iconic state birds to climate change
'Climate whiplash' tests Four Corners communities' ability to adapt
Oregon researchers hope pumping oxygen into warming lakes can save fish species
Bison group sues to get FOIA fulfilled; Yellowstone bison population reported
Watch bison released onto land they haven't touched since 1870
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