Best of the West: Fighting fire by setting a fire; reducing culture shock for Colorado inmates; Oregon hospitals prepare for the ‘big one’

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on news of the West. Here are top stories for the week starting Oct. 21, 2019. Photo courtesy of the USDA Forest Service. 

In Utah, the U.S. Forest Service is fighting fire with fire – quite literally.

The Atlantic reports that in either late October or early November, officials plan to conduct a large-scale controlled burn on the slopes of Monroe Mountain in the southern part of the state. As helicopters and ground personnel douse the area with flame, scientists will use drones, radar-equipped trucks, specialized planes and fire-proof cameras to study the blaze and collect data in order to improve predictive wildfire models.

This strategy coincides with wildfire prevention efforts elsewhere in the West. A recent report by researchers in Colorado and Oregon cited an “urgent need” to reevaluate how states manage the risk of fire, including the use of more prescribed burns, KUNC reports.

Wildland managers in Montana concur, however they warn that air quality issues need to be taken into consideration as well.  “I personally think it’s really important for the ecosystem to have prescribed burning happening,” Missoula City/County Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield told Montana Public Radio. “But it’s always that balance of trying to make sure that we time those burns as best we can so they don’t impact public health."

Meanwhile, in Colorado, the Decker fire is now 100% contained thanks to this week’s snowstorm, according to KRDO. In southern California, the Los Angeles Daily News reports that the Saddleridge fire was 97% contained as of Tuesday night.

Late this week, another blaze erupted in California's Santa Clarita Valley, jumping across State Road 14 and prompting the evacuation of 50,000 people, according to The Washington Post. As of Friday morning (Oct. 25), the fire is only 5% contained.  

To learn more about WGA’s policy work on wildfire management, click here.

Easing the Transition: The head of Colorado’s Department of Corrections wants to reduce his state’s recidivism rate by preparing inmates for the culture shock of life on the outside. According to Colorado Public Radio, this includes teaching them to cook their own meals, providing them access to education, and even allowing prisoners nearing their release date to leave during the day to work jobs. Read more about the program and meet one of its biggest success stories.

Reinventing Missoula: Since the start of 2013, approximately $1 billion worth of construction projects have been approved within the city limits of Missoula, Montana, according to the Missoulian. And now comes the news of a $100 million, 60,000-square-foot events center, complete with a hotel, condos and restaurants overlooking the city’s scenic downtown area. Learn how the new project will help further bolster Missoula’s economic and cultural growth.    

Hemp in California: According to AgNet West, “Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed Senate Bill 153 (SB 153) into law, bringing the regulations dictating the California hemp industry in line with federal guidelines. The law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, and will replace outdated state statute language which conflicted with certain aspects of the 2018 Farm Bill.”

Preparing for the Big One: After a state report revealed that many hospitals along the Oregon coast would be unable to withstand a massive, offshore earthquake and tsunami, officials are calling for improvements in the facilities’ natural disaster resilience. Oregon Public Broadcasting has more about the preparations being undertaken across the Pacific Northwest to help equip hospitals with the tools they need to survive the next “big one.”

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