Best of the West: Prescribed burns reducing wildfire fuels; Arizona, California testing digital license plates; Wyoming studies sagebrush

Wildfires, The West

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on news of the West. Here are the western stories for the week starting June 24, 2019 that you don't want to miss.

The use of prescribed fire is gaining attention across the West as a measure to prevent future destructive blazes. These controlled burns reduce hazardous fuel loads and can restore species habitats. In 2018, the National Interagency Fire Center reported 6.4 million acres were burned in the U.S. by states and federal agencies, and prescribed fire projects are currently underway in Northern Arizona and California.

After heavy snowfall and a wet spring, Colorado drought conditions are monumentally improved over last year. A below average wildfire season is predicted, but prescribed burns must be planned months, or even years, in advance. “You’d think we’d be trying to do more prescribed fire when this opportunity comes up with a wet spring, but there are other issues we’re contending with,” said Gabe Donaldson, fire program manager for the Colorado chapter of the Nature Conservancy.

In Oregon, recent changes to prescribed fire smoke rules, which previously forbid all smoke from reaching towns, have allowed land managers to “drop a modest amount of smoke into communities without fear of being shut down,” according to a report from Oregon Public Radio. Since the rules went into effect in March, the changes already appear to be making a difference.

An educational video published this month by the Bureau of Indian Affairs titled “Native Fire” highlights the historic use of fire by Native Americans and how traditional ecological knowledge is being applied to controlled burns today. Watch the video.

License Plates Getting a Makeover? Arizona and California are among the states where digital license plates are now available. Though not widely used as yet, roughly 1,400 registered cars in the Golden State have the high-tech plates, which can allow toll payments, display amber alerts and more.

Blockchain Mecca: Blazing the trail in cryptocurrency adoption is Wyoming, where 13 laws pertaining to blockchain have been enacted in the past two years. Read the WIRED story to learn why the state’s “transformation into a blockchain booster is somewhat legendary in cryptocurrency circles.”

Sagebrush Studies: Seed-pods comprised of fertilizer, clay and nutrients are being used to help sage brush seeds survive in fire-scarred areas in Wyoming. Learn how they could be used in other disturbed rangelands, including abandoned mines, across the West. Elsewhere in the state, scientists discovered that the 2017 solar eclipse had a measurable effect on the woody shrub.  

First Native Poet Laureate Selected: Joy Harjo, a native and resident of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has been named the first Native American U.S. poet laureate. A member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, she will serve as “the nation’s official poet,” beginning this fall.

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