Best of the West: Preparing for wildfire season; healthy snowpack supplies Colorado River; Nevada & New Mexico boost renewables

Wildfires, The West

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on news of the West. Here are the western stories for the week starting April 22, 2019 that you don't want to miss.

As western states prepare for wildfire season, new tools are helping firefighters and land managers assess danger and respond rapidly. In the Pacific Northwest, The National Fire Danger Rating System is getting its first update in more than 40 years. The new system will generate readings from weather stations without requiring a person to be present to help forest managers determine levels of fire danger.

In California, a weather satellite taking photos every five minutes can show hotspots and could potentially alert residents of a blaze. A University of California Berkeley professor and a group of graduate students studied satellite data after the Camp Fire and determined that an app could be built to “quickly spot and track the spread of a large blaze almost in real time.”   

New research also is helping wildland firefighters better estimate the time it takes to cross sloped and rugged terrain. “With our current ability to map existing terrain conditions we can predict pretty accurately how it is going to take that individual to get from location A to location B with a higher degree of accuracy and a higher degree of precision than we’ve ever been able to do," said professor Mickey Campbell of Fort Lewis College in Colorado.

In New Mexico, volunteers and work crews are restoring the historic Philmont Scout Ranch, which was devastated by a fire that burned nearly 44 square miles in 2018, and is expected to host as many as 24,000 scouts this summer.

Fill ‘Er Up: Healthy snowpack levels in the upper Colorado River basin are replenishing reservoirs for the seven states in its river system, according to the latest study by the Bureau of Reclamation. Snowpack in the basin was 130 percent of average, helping to fill Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

Native Tongue: Renewed efforts to preserve the indigenous CHamoru language in Guam are taking root on the island. Beginning this fall, an immersion program will teach classes to 36 kindergarteners entirely in CHamoru. And for the curious, learn why it’s CHamoru, not Chamorro.

Lights Out: Dinosaur National Monument, which stretches across the Colorado-Utah border, has been designated as an official International Dark Sky Park. Recognized for its exceptional quality of natural darkness, the monument joins more than 100 other locations that practice responsible lighting policies and public education.

Going Green: Renewable energy is gaining momentum at the state-level in the West. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signed legislation to generate 50% of its electricity from renewables by 2030. And New Mexico is investing $32 million to improve the energy efficiency of state buildings by adding photovoltaic solar panels.

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