Best of the West: Storms deliver needed moisture; North Dakota closing skills gap; join the butterfly hunt

Water, The West

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on news of the West. Here are the western stories for the week starting Feb. 4, 2019 that you don't want to miss.

Winter storms are sweeping the West, bringing much-appreciated snow to parts of the region. Boise, Idaho had its second snowiest day of winter, Lake Tahoe received more than seven feet of fresh snow, schools in Washington and Oregon were closed, and even Las Vegas, Nevada, received a dusting.

In the Four Corners states, Colorado snowpack levels are catching up to normal levels after a lackluster winter last year. In Utah, a blanket of powder prompted an “almost unheard of” snow day, the first in the Salt Lake City area in 20 years. Snowfall in Arizona turned Flagstaff and surrounding areas into a winter wonderland. New Mexico businesses are seeing a boost from “the snow effect.”

Perhaps most surprising was snowfall in San Francisco, the city’s first in eight years. Across California, increased snow and precipitation bodes well for water reserves. “As long as this pattern persists, we should end up way above normal,” said climatologist Bill Patzert. “All things considered, instead of the perfect storm, it’s been, literally, the perfectly benign storms. Just what we needed.”

Now Hiring in NoDak: Consistently recognized for its low unemployment rate, North Dakota is confronting a different workforce challenge: finding enough people to fill vacant positions. A report by the state’s Workforce Development Council identified barriers to closing the skills gap and is now looking to collaborate with private sector partners to address the issue.

Conservation Collaboration: A new guide created by the Western Landowners Alliance aims to reduce conflict between people and wildlife. The regional organization convened landowners, nonprofits and state agencies for two years to discuss solutions for interactions with wolves, grizzly bears and elk. Download the guide.

Wine (and hops) Win-Win: Inmates in Washington could begin farming and harvesting wine grapes and hops as part of a job training program. “The primary purpose is to educate the inmates on how to work in a vineyard or hops field – to prepare them for re-entry into the workforce,” said Erin Aycock, co-owner of Walla Walla Vineyard Management and Walla Walla Hops LLC.

Grab Your Binoculars: To address the declining numbers of monarch butterflies across the West, researchers are asking people to act as citizen scientists and report sightings of monarchs and milkweed. “Colorado, Utah, Montana, Wyoming -- and I'd add New Mexico to that -- is really the area of the entire country that we know very little about,” said Sarina Jepsen, director of endangered species and aquatic species with the Xerces Society.

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