Best of the West: Western states increase fire mitigation efforts; cities recruit remote workers; natural gas powers cryptocurrency mining; California brothers set a very high record

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting June 21, 2021. (Photos courtesy of Joanne Francis and Scott Oller via AP News)  

As wildfire season intensifies throughout the West, so too are efforts to mitigate wildfire risk by better managing the region’s wildlands and regrowing resilient landscapes.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey recently joined fellow western governors – including California’s Governor Gavin NewsomMontana’s Greg Gianforte, and Colorado’s Jared Polis – by signing a $100 million bipartisan relief package to support firefighters and safety officials, ensure the state’s  communities have resources for post-fire disasters such as flooding, and reduce the risk from future wildfires.

Other western states are addressing the issue via legislation to allow for more prescribed burning. New Mexico established liability standards for landowners who conduct the controlled fires and created a certification program to ease concerns about using the preventative measure. In California, the U.S. Forest Service is replanting forests to mimic the gaps of cleared-out vegetation that decades of frequent, low-severity fire would create in a more mature, wildfire-resilient forests. 

In Colorado and Wyoming, the burn scar from the massive Mullen Fire in Medicine Bow National Forest is being treated to stop the spread of cheatgrass, which can proliferate in disturbed environments and burns readily, destroying sagebrush and other native plants. The Western Governors’ Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture created a toolkit for land managers combating the spread of invasive annual grasses that shares best practices and case studies. It also includes a geospatial data program that compiles existing federal data to help state and local managers assess invasive grasses within their jurisdictions and identify cross-boundary collaborative projects. 

Recognizing the danger that wildfire presents for their way of life, even private landowners such as Bob and Bonnie Shumaker in Oregon, are doing their part to mitigate fire risk. Over the last couple of years, they’ve pruned about 80 acres of their trees, maintained a road system that can handle fire trucks, removed invasive plants and planted native ones to create the healthiest, most fire-prepared ecosystem possible. In hopes of maintaining the integrity of the open spaces in Montana for recreation opportunities, The Upper Blackfoot Community Council recently pitched management recommendations for 200,000-acres of national forest lands, known as the "Lincoln Prosperity Proposal," to Congress. 

REMOTE REVOLUTION: Current estimates predict that 22% of American workers will work remotely by 2025, a trend that’s driving cities to rethink how they recruit businesses. Instead of offering large tax breaks to attract new businesses, western cities and states have begun chasing the workers that corporations covet by building out their amenities and developing hospitality programs. For example, Tulsa Remote is offering $10,000 grants to people who choose to work remotely from the Oklahoma city. The money can help with a down payment on a house, or it can be used as a monthly stipend. WGA’s special report for North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s Reimaging the Rural West Initiative highlighted how western towns can spur economic development by focusing on attracting workforce and building community assets that improve quality of life.

GAS TO CRYPTOCURRENCY: Natural gas produced as a byproduct in Bakken oil production in North Dakota is often flared as CO2 waste because it’s hard to transport from remote well pads and less profitable to sell. However, a company in Montana is using the excess gas to power the increasingly complex computers and servers needed to perform the computational gymnastics for mining cryptocurrency

BATTERY POWER: As bigger vehicles like buses, garbage trucks, and delivery vans ditch their engines and go electric, their batteries represent a potentially enormous source of energy storage and backup power supply. Known as “vehicle-to-grid,” the technology could help utilities navigate the transition to cleaner electricity and transportation. As more wind and solar power comes online, the batteries could absorb excess renewable energy and deliver it later, after the wind stops blowing or the sun goes down. And, with 550 million battery-powered vehicles expected to hit the road globally by 2040, the systems could prevent electric vehicles from overtaxing the grid by managing how and when they charge. 

BROTHERLY LOVE OF HEIGHTS: Brothers Moises and Daniel Monterrubio from San Francisco say they set a record for the longest highline ever walked in both Yosemite National Park and California. After receiving permission from national park staffers, using a strip of strong nylon webbing roughly an inch wide and a few millimeters thick, the brothers walked across a 2,800-foot-long line from over a series of gullies that plunge 1,600 feet. Though the brothers used a harness, “It was pretty intense and dangerous. But we made it happen,” Monterrubio told the San Francisco Chronicle.

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