Best of the West: Western states lend Australia a helping hand; mysterious drone sightings baffle authorities; New Mexico celebrates its birthday

Wildfires, The West

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the news of the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting Jan. 6, 2020. Photo courtesy of the National Interagency Fire Center.

To date, over 150 wildfire management personnel have been dispatched from the United States to Australia to help battle a series of devastating blazes, which have torched more than 12 million acres and claimed the lives of at least two dozen people.

Many of those lending a hand come from the West, including a group of veteran firefighters from California who specialize in “attacking fires early before they grow into large infernos,” AP News reports. Although this is hardly the first time American and Australian firefighters have worked together – Australia has been sending personnel stateside to assist in U.S. efforts for more than 15 years – it will be the first time since 2010 that the U.S. has had an opportunity to return the favor.

Other Western states sending firefighters overseas include Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and Alaska, many of whom also provided aid to California when it was facing its own series of devastating wildfires in October of 2019.

In addition to sending firefighters, other entities in the West are lending different types of support, too. The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden will be donating $10,000 to help “support the care and long-term recovery of Australian wildlife,” according to KOCO News 5.

In Colorado, the Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Center has spearheaded a campaign that encourages volunteers to knit items that help injured or displaced animals, including bird’s nests, makeshift kangaroo pouches and blankets, CBS 4 Denver reports. A similar effort has spread to New Mexico by way of social media, according to KRQE, where various online communities provide residents with information on what items are needed most, how to find materials, and where to send their finished goods.

Mystery Drones: A multi-agency task force has been established in Colorado to investigate a series of mysterious drone sightings across the northeast part of the state, ABC News reports. So far, the task force, comprised of officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Aviation Administration, and over a dozen different law enforcement agencies, has been unable to determine the source of the drones, or the purpose for their flights. Some have speculated that the military is behind the unexplained phenomenon; however, the Air Force subsequently denied any government involvement in the matter.

Last Train to Vegas: Virgin Trains USA recently unveiled its $4.8 billion plan to build a high-speed, electric train linking Southern California and Las Vegas, Nevada, Dezeen reports. Pending federal approval, the new rail line would come into service by 2023, transporting passengers the 170 miles between the two cities in just under 90 minutes. The project would include the construction of two new stations as well – one a mile south of the Las Vegas Strip, and the other about an hour and a half drive northeast from Downtown Los Angles, in a town called Victorville, California. Reportedly, the cost of the journey will be less than traveling by plane, although no price point has been revealed yet.

Population Booms in the West: The U.S. Census Bureau recently released data showing that Utah’s population grew faster than any other state in the country during the last decade, The Salt Lake Tribune reports. Colorado and Nevada cracked the top of the list as well, ranking third and fifth respectively. In addition, the data indicated that the population of North Dakota reached a record high as of year’s end, according to KX News. The Peace Garden State added approximately 4,000 new residents in 2019, bringing its total number of citizens to about 762,000. Of that number, around 24% are under the age of 18, according to the Grand Forks Herald, giving North Dakota the ninth largest population of children in the U.S. – up from 42nd in 2010.

Happy Birthday New Mexico: On Jan. 6, New Mexico celebrated its official anniversary of statehood, KRQE reports, marking 108 years since then-President William H. Taft proclaimed the Land of Enchantment the 47th addition to the U.S. To mark the occasion, the Office of the State Historian launched a website focused on New Mexican history, dating back to the days of pre-western contact. Highlights include “tales of Russian spies hiding out in Santa Fe, a town named after a radio show, and the birthplace of the atomic bomb.” Check out the full State Historian website here.  

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

sign up for our newsletters