Best of the West: ‘Historic’ storm rakes Montana while dry Colorado burns; wildlife forensics solving crimes; election security in Oregon

Wildfires, The West

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on news of the West. Here are the top western stories for the week starting Sept. 30, 2019. IMAGE: An early season storm dumped up to four feet of snow in Montana, creating the wintry scene shown by a webcam in Glacier National Park (Photo from National Park Service)

The National Weather Service called the early season storm this week that blasted across multiple western states "historic." But an NWS meteorologist in hard-hit Montana, which experienced up to 4 feet of snow in areas, said they were "not surprised" by the storm that also lashed parts of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada and Utah.

That said, cattle losses are expected in Montana as ranchers dig out from the blizzard. And even before this storm, a wet month in the state had reduced state managers' hopes to conduct prescribed burns in the Flathead Valley this fall.

Dry conditions in Colorado, meanwhile, have resulted in the 4,000-acre Decker Wildfire south of Salida. That blaze threatened homes and forced evacuations on Wednesday (Oct. 2). Farther west in the state, the smaller Granite Lake Fire is burning in a remote area of the White River National Forest.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed nearly two dozen laws this week aimed at preventing and fighting the devastating wildfires that have charred large swaths of the state in recent years and killed scores of people.

Reviving Red Devil: Like many rural areas, Red Devil, Alaska – formerly home to the state’s largest mercury mine – is in need of revival. The Donlin Gold mine, located 50 miles away, could provide residents with hope for a better future, but tapping into the natural resource deposit would require a significant overhaul of the town’s limited infrastructure. Read Alaska Public Media's report and find out what WGA is doing to help reimagine rural communities across the West.

Wildlife Forensics: Investigating wildlife attacks and violations such as poaching can be difficult for Colorado Parks and Wildlife staffers, especially when it comes to identifying the animals involved. Forensic science, however, is proving to be a useful tool in solving crimes against animals. Learn more about a state-of-the-art lab in Wyoming that’s using DNA analysis to assist wildlife officials in law enforcement activities.

Preventing Election Interference: Oregon has developed a system for circumventing election interference that is as effective as it is simple: the elimination of voting machines in favor of a vote-by-mail ballot. This process thwarts would-be hackers from meddling with the state’s votng process, because at no point is any of the equipment tallying votes connected to the internet. Read more.

Draining the Berkeley Pit: For the first time since it was abandoned by its owners 37 years ago, the Berkeley Pit, an open pit copper mine located in Butte, Montana, is being drained of the 50 billion gallons of toxic water that have flooded it. The acidic, heavy metal-laden mine water is being pulled from the pit and treated by Atlantic Richfield and Montana Resources, before being released into the Clark Fork River with EPA approval. Find out more.

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