Best of the West: Wildfire’s impact on home insurance; Montana’s environmental audio project; blockchain supporting Wyoming ranchers

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on news of the West. Here are the western stories for the week starting Jan. 7, 2019 that you don't want to miss.

Wildfires are a part of life in the West, but increasingly, residents are impacted by property damage and water quality issues as the fire season grows longer and more destructive.

At least 65% of the public water supply in western states comes from fire-prone areas, and waterways can be contaminated by sediment, toxins and parasites in the aftermath of wildfire. In California, even where houses were left standing, the Tubbs Fire, Carr Fire and Camp Fire exposed the drinking water for millions of people to toxic chemicals.

As wildfire risks increase across the region, homeowners are finding it more difficult to insure their property. In Colorado and California, insurers are denying coverage for some properties surrounded by forest, or in difficult to reach areas.

Today, nearly one-third of all U.S. homes are in or near natural vegetation, known as the wildland-urban interface. To reduce wildfire risks and costs, Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire is helping communities become better fire-adapted through improved land use planning. 

Call of the Wild: Sounds of the Wild West is a collaborative project that incorporates sounds, images, maps and words to celebrate Montana’s major ecosystems. Audio recordings of geysers, grizzly bears, and more educate listeners about the regional environment, and serve as “one of the country’s premier online collections of natural sounds.”

Cryptocurrency Collaboration: Wyoming startup BeefChain helps ranchers use blockchain technology to track and sell their product. State Senator Ogden Driskill was an early adopter, tagging more than 300 calves from his family ranch operation. “By selling blockchain calves, my reputation rides all the way to your plate and it leads to me being much more vigilant about how things go because my name rides with it,” said Senator Driskill.

Sleuthing for Salmon: Employees at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are using eDNA technology to count salmon more accurately and easily. The technique involves sampling water from a stream and testing it for the presence of salmon DNA. Ultimately, it “could be an inexpensive way for managers or even citizen scientists” to acquire more data.

Craft Beer Capital: Per capita, western states have some of the highest numbers of craft breweries within their borders, according to a study by C+R Research. Montana, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska, Washington, Wyoming and Idaho all ranked in the top ten. See where your state stacks up.

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