Archive for the 'The West News' Category

Yellowstone is warming…

An article in last week’s NYT reports evidence that the Yellowstone is warming up, and triggering a cascade of environmental and ecological changes.   One change is the increase in suitable habitat for the Canada thistle, which outcompetes other plants, and is a food source for Grizzly bears, among other foragers.   Climate change, associated with increasing drought within the park, has made previously marshy terrain suitable to the thistle.

Foothills school in 2nd year of “Project Carbon”

A small private school in Downtown Boise hopes to make a big difference to the environment by taking its message of composting, recycling, and other sustainable practices to nearby businesses.The Foothills School of Arts and Sciences, located on 8th Street near the Library, is in its second year of “Project Carbon,” a plan started by parents to reduce the amount of waste and pollution that the school creates each year.

Whitebark Pine Seeds and Grizzly Bears

“Losing whitebark pines” is the title of a 3-page article in the Idaho State Journal Sunday, August 5.  According to the article, “Whitebark pine is … the product of a ‘coevolved mutualism’ with the Clark’s nutcracker.”  Each Clark’s nutcracker can cache tens of thousands of whitebark pine seeds over a wide area.  Red squirrels also “cache large quantities of seeds”.  Squirrel seed caches are a major food source for grizzly bears,  especially when they are storing fat for hibernation.  If whitebark pine seeds are not available, grizzly bears look for high-calorie food sources at lower elelvations, where they are more likely to be killed because they meet more people.

In past centuries bark beetles have been a useful thinning mechanism for pine forests.  However, global warming has allowed bark beetles to complete a full life cycle at higher elevations in one year instead of two.  They are now a serious threat to whitebark pine populations in Yellowstone Park [and around Galena Summit near Stanley, Idaho].  Whitebark pine are also becoming more infested with blister rust.  The trees may be more susceptible to blister rust when they are stressed by drought.  Global warming is allowing lodgepole pine to compete with whitebark pine at higher elevations.  Lodgepole pine have evolved effective defences against the bark beetle, so the beetle infestation is an advantage for them.  The resin-sealed cones of lodgepole pines open with fire, so they are not as nutritionally rich nor easily available to birds, squirrels, or bears.

“Grizzly bears were delisted from protection under the Endangered Species Act in March of 2007, after 32 years, because … the bears were thriving in the greater Yellowstone region”, according to the ISJ.  If the whitebark pine seed production collapses, much of the hard work to restore a viable grizzly bear population in the greater Yellowstone area could be undone.

Like many other effects of human activities, global warming helps some species and hurts others.  If you want more blister rust, bark beetles, and lodgepole pine, then promote global warming.  If you want whitebark pine, red squirrels, Clark’s nutcrackers, and grizzly bears to at least hold their own, then do what you can to slow global warming.

For more information, read the full article.  Also, High Country News is a bi-weekly regional newspaper with frequent coverage of effects of global warming in the Intermountain West.

Greener buildings gaining ground

The green wave has hit the Boise real estate market. In April, a model home in Hidden Springs became the first home in Idaho to receive a national gold rating for its greenness — one of only six homes in the nation to receive the high rating.

With business-as-usual, southwestern US likely to endure more pronounced drought

One of the strongest effects of climate change in the lower 48 US states is likely to be felt in the southwestern US. This is discussed in the IPCC report previewed on April 6, 2007, and previous articles in Science Magazine (by subscription only). Here are some temperature and precipitation forecast maps for the western US (for the next turn-of-the century) that were produced for the IPCC report by a climate modeler (Overpeck) at the University of Arizona in Tuscon, under the scenario of business-as-usual (i.e., no agressive change in current emissions trajectory).

ua_overpeck_bau_changes2.gif

Windpower boom in Pacific NW (WP, 21-Mar-07)

In the Northwest, wind power…meshes most seamlessly…with the existing electricity grid, which relies heavily on hydroelectric dams. This meshing … maximizes power reliability while minimizing the grid’s need for energy from fossil fuels.