Best of the West: Wildfire season heats up; irrigation woes in Wyoming, Nebraska; goats gone wild in Seattle

Wildfires, The West

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on news of the West. Here are the western stories for the week starting July 29, 2019 that you don't want to miss.The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on news of the West. Here are the western stories for the week starting July 29, 2019 that you don't want to miss. Photo: Zion National Park (National Park Service)

The latest National Interagency Fire Center report shows that total acreage burned in 2019 stands 22% behind the 10-year average year-to-date. While that’s good news, the Fire Center still notes there are currently 105 active fires across the country (including 5 new large fires) that have burned over 1.78 million acres in recent weeks. In all, 3.3 million acres have burned in 2019.

More significantly for the West, all of the current wildfires are burning in the region, including The North Hills Fire in Montana (4,771 acres), Milepost 97 fire in Oregon (12,578 acres), the Shady Fire in Idaho (3,931 acres), the Castle Fire in Arizona (10,400 acres) and the Roberts Fire in New Mexico. Alaska alone has had 69 fires that have scorched 1.7 million acres in 2019. See a map of western wildfires created by the Oregonian.

Tunnel Troubles: The July 17 collapse of a century-old tunnel near Fort Laramie, Wyo., cut off the flow of a critical irrigation canal and left more than 100,000 acres of farmland in Wyoming and Nebraska high and dry at the height of the growing season. Read reports from NET in Nebraska and The New York Times. The latter story quotes a Nebraska state senator saying the water shortage might mean some people will "lose their farms.”

Work to Do: It’s well documented that National Parks face a combined $12 billion backlog in deferred maintenance. The state view can seem just as daunting: KUER reports that National Parks in Utah alone need $220 million for deferred maintenance projects. The Western Governors’ recently approved resolution National Parks and the West backs measures to address the deferred maintenance backlog and they just urged House leadership to address the backlog through the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act.

Internet Slow Lane: Western Governors discussed how to increase rural broadband availability at their Annual Meeting in Colorado. A recent story by Wyoming Public Media (Mountain West Home To Some Of The Slowest Internet In Country) highlighted the problem. The Governors will continue to address this critical issue as part of Reimaging the Rural West, the central policy effort of North Dakota Governor and WGA Chair Doug Burgum. Watch a webinar about the initiative and learn about its first workshop in Fargo.

Where the Wild Things Are: One of the great things about the West is our bounty of wondrous wildlife. Sometimes that wildlife winds up in urban settings, which can produce entertaining sights like this herd of elk swarming a residential neighborhood in the Oregon town of Gearhart. You also can’t help but smile at the nearly 200 goats who escaped a pen where they were eating hard-to-reach weeds and rumbled through a Seattle neighborhood. As their herder noted about the mass break, after rounding them back up: “Goats are goats. They’re not like a machine you can turn on and off. They have a mind of their own.”

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