Best of the West: Inaccessible public lands; Nevada’s notable achievement; Cloud seeding in Wyoming, Colorado

The West

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on news of the West. Here are the western stories for the week starting Dec. 17, that you don't want to miss.

Public lands aren’t always publicly accessible. Swaths of public lands across the West are unreachable due to surrounding private property boundaries, so-called “checkerboard” land ownership, and as a result create a hit to the nation’s $887 billion outdoor recreation economy.

More than 9.2 million acres of public lands in western states sit landlocked and can only be accessed with the permission of neighboring property owners, according to a study by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) and Montana-based GPS mapping company onX.

Wyoming faces the biggest challenge, with 3.05 million acres of public land held out of reach, followed by Nevada (about 2 million acres), Montana (about 1.5 million acres) and New Mexico (more than 500,000 acres). In Colorado, approximately 269,000 acres of public land are blocked off by private property holdings. See a state by state comparison.

“There’s a growing appetite among the public to find new and additional places where they can recreate,” says Joel Webster, director of TRCP’s Center for Public Lands. “These are places that the public already owns.” 

Friends of the Forest: An agreement between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state of Idaho aims to protect national forest lands from the impacts of wildfires and invasive species. Gov. Butch Otter, Governor-elect Brad Little and USDA Undersecretary Jim Hubbard signed the Shared Stewardship Agreement, which will build upon the state-federal partnership known as the Good Neighbor Authority.

Notable Achievement: Nevada is about to become the first state in the country to have a majority-female legislature. When the Legislature convenes in February, women will hold 51% of the 63 seats. “That might influence young people. It might influence other women to see that body as both friendlier to them as well as more responsive to their concerns,” said Kelly Dittmar, an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers-Camden.

Home on the Range: Ranchers and wildlife biologists in Montana are partnering to protect Great Plains grassland songbirds. Rotational grazing is one strategy being used to restore bird habitats while maintaining productive farming operations. Learn how diverse groups are working together for shared benefits.  

Seed to Snow? The practice of cloud-seeding by plane is already underway in Wyoming and could soon begin in Colorado. The process of spraying particles of silver iodide into clouds to produce water vapor could increase snowpack, which could ease some water worries across the West.

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