Best of the West: The hard work of species conservation; big wind energy projects in New Mexico, Montana; western cities dominate WalletHub ‘active lifestyle’ list

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting Jan. 4, 2021. (Photo of black-footed ferrets courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Western Governors recently approved the policy resolution, Species Conservation and the Endangered Species Act. The resolution expresses their support for increased voluntary and proactive management efforts and use of best available science, while acknowledging the variability in state approaches. Those species management efforts in the West include efforts large and small, with some encompassing a lifetime of work and sobering realities, as the following examples illustrate.

Black-footed ferrets, once found across the West, were declared extinct in 1979. Efforts since then to save the species have included building a "captive population" at the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center near Fort Collins, Colorado. (In 2017 'wild born' ferrets were discovered in northwest Wyoming.) Now ferrets face a new danger: COVID-19. Kaiser Health News reports that researchers last summer administered an “experimental COVID vaccine” to 120 ferrets at the Conservation Center. Pete Gober, black-footed ferret recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) , awaits "a well-designed study" to determine if the vaccine truly has protected the ferrets. And Gober, who has worked on ferret recovery for three decades, knows there is always more to do. “The price of peace is eternal vigilance, they say. We can’t let our guard down.” Read more

The Wyoming pocket gopher is a mammal that exists only in the Cowboy State. Research on the species is limited, reports the Casper Star-Tribune, which means there are more questions than answers about the animal. Despite that mystery, USFW researcher Doug Keinath feels it's critical to understand and preserve the endemic mammal. “If the Wyoming pocket gopher goes away likely no one will notice,” said Keinath. “But it hurts my heart if we have any hand as humans in causing a whole species to disappear." Read more

It was more than 40 years ago in southwest Colorado that Clait Braun helped discover a new species of bird, the Gunnison sage grouse. Since then, reports the Boulder Daily Camera, Braun has “spent his life advocating for the birds, organizing conservation efforts, and spearheading research.” After all those years of work, recent news has been sobering: the species’ population is at its lowest since tracking began in 1996. Which leads Braun, 81, to worry about the future: “I’m not going to live forever. The question is, will I outlive the Gunnison sage grouse or will they outlive me?” Read more

High Stakes Response: Northern Water is the largest exporter of water from Colorado’s West Slope to dozens of cities on the state’s Front Range, including Boulder and Greeley. Last August, one of its pumping plants in Lake Granby was threatened from both sides by the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome wildfires, the largest in state history. The Colorado Sun reports on the high-pressure decision-making that enabled the plant to endure a situation a Northern Water team member called "worse than any worst-case scenario we had.” Read more

In the wind: The largest wind power farm in New Mexico recently went operational near Portales after Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy flipped the switch on 240 wind turbines at the Sagamore Wind Project. It can produce 522 megawatts, enough electricity to power 194,000 homes. In Montana, construction of what’s expected to be that state’s largest wind farm will begin this year and ultimately target markets in the Pacific Northwest. The Clearwater Wind project of NextEra Energy Resources will have a 750-megawatts capacity, three times larger than any wind farm currently in the state.

Get active: Those of us who live in the West know what a great lifestyle it affords. But it’s always nice to see further confirmation, including the recent WalletHub list of the ‘Best Cities for an Active Lifestyle.’ The top 10 cities on the list include 8 western destinations: Honolulu, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, Denver, and Los Angeles. Read more

Meet Our New Governors: Three new Western Governors were inaugurated this week. Learn more about American Samoa Gov. Lemanu Palepoi Sialega Mauga, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox by visiting our website.

Get the latest news about the West and its governors by following the Western Governors' Association on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Check out our podcast, Out West, on PodbeanSpotify and Apple Podcasts

sign up for our newsletters