Best of the West: New technology to identify invasive species; transforming solar into cement; a new high-speed train from LA to LV; diversifying the ski industry

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting Feb. 20, 2023. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,Synhelion, and Hugh Carey)

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates there are 6,500 non-native species nationwide that can impact native plants, animals, microorganisms, ecosystems, and human and wildlife health.

To raise awareness about the threat of invasive species, February 20-26 is National Invasive Species Awareness Week.  

Western Governors are advocating for improvements to regional research, planning, and coordination, which advancements in invasive species identification could help. 

The evolving use of environmental DNA (eDNA) could track the spread of invasive species along the Pacific Coast.

Zachary Gold, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who previously studied eDNA in Alaska, led a pilot program in California that collected seawater samples for lab analysis. The results revealed that a single bottle of seawater contains enough genetic material to identify and monitor organisms.

Further down the Pacific Ocean, The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Marine Corps Base in Hawaii announced that they will explore eDNA's potential to detect and address invasive aquatic species as part of a partnership to manage and protect native ecosystems. If successful, officials said it could revive coral reefs in the Mokapu Peninsula.

Several states have even begun to use artificial intelligence (AI) to improve species identification. 

Plainsight AI in California is integrating AI technology into cameras developed by the University of Washington, which will use visual indicators to help marine energy devices coexist with aquatic organisms and identify invasive species, allowing for continuous monitoring rather than relying on limited recording of environments and manual data analysis.

Wildlife Protection Solutions in Colorado is also refining its AI technology to detect invasive species. With cameras in wildlife risk areas around the globe that capture 25,000 pictures daily, the company's wpsWatch platform analyzes the images for threats.

Geothermal Mapping: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved plans for Fervo Energy's Cape Modern Geothermal Exploration Project near Milford, Utah, which could drill up to 29 geothermal wells. Research, including reservoir monitoring and subsurface mapping, will determine the feasibility of building a commercial geothermal power plant in Beaver County. Watch a webinar from Colorado Gov. Jared Polis' Heat Beneath Our Feet initiative to learn more about geothermal permitting and mapping with officials at the Idaho Geological Survey, BLM, and the City of Boise. 

Turning Solar into Cement: A project at Sandia National Laboratory in New  Mexico that's vying to decarbonize cement production received a $3 million boost from the DOE. Researchers at the lab are collaborating with international partners CEMEX and Synhelion to produce concrete with solar energy instead of fossil fuels. 

Managing High-Speed Trains and Wildlife: A high-speed rail project between Los Angeles and Las Vegas could break ground in 2023. Trains could reach up to 180 miles per hour and reduce the number of vehicles traveling between Nevada and the Golden State by 3 million annually. The California Departments of Fish and Wildlife and Transportation coordinated with the developer Brightline West to include three wildlife crossings for bighorn sheep and other animals. Additionally, the project will improve hundreds of existing culverts and crossings.

Rising Freestyle Skiing Star: Ava Keenan of Colorado is one of the nation's top freestyle skiers at only 12 years old. Ranked first in her age group and 33rd overall nationally, she hopes to become the first Black skier to win an Olympic gold medal in mogul skiing. Keenan is on the National Brotherhood of Skiers Team, an organization that strives to diversify participation in skiing at the highest levels. "Hopefully other Black children or other people of color would look at it, and think, I want to try that now," she said. "And, hopefully, that would bring more exposure to the sport."

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