Best of the West: Wildfire’s wide-ranging impact; drought planning in Nevada; the hidden history in Yellowstone

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting Feb. 8, 2021. (Photo of Old Faithful courtesy of National Park Service)

Last year's historic wildfire season may be over, but the impact of wildfires and efforts to blunt their impact continues long after the embers cool. A recent paper co-authored by professors of economics at the University of Oregon and University of Illinois notes that the smoke from blazes in California, Colorado and Oregon had an economic impact far beyond the fires.

How far? The Associated Press reports that The European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service reported "smoke from western U.S. wildfires traveled nearly 5,000 miles to Britain and other parts of northern Europe."

University of Illinois economist David Molitor told the AP “we estimate that an additional day of smoke exposure reduces earnings by about 0.04% over two years. The effect is largest in the year of smoke exposure, but the effects may linger for up to two years post-exposure.” Read more.

The impact of wildfires has western states and communities talking about how to build more “resilient landscapes,” including these efforts:

  • State officals in California have announced a collaborative effort by state agencies involved in wildfire response and prevention to encourage “home hardening” concepts that better resists wildfire by using more fire-resistant materials in the home and surrounding landscape.
  • At the community level in California, Lake Tahoe Partners has created a guidebook with home hardening resources for those living in the Lake Tahoe wildland urban interface. The guide includes recommendations for retrofitting existing house components to withstand wildfire as well as best practices for reducing the vulnerability of a home to wildfire.
  • A South Dakota partnership between the Rapid City Fire Department and developers is putting wildfire risk reduction first as they design a new development in a fire-prone area on the outskirts of town. Contractors are thinning 75 acres of timber ahead of buildout and plans are to continue managing that land in the years ahead. “To be able to do that from the inception, to create a wild land fire safe neighborhood from the start, is a pretty unique opportunity,” said Fire Department Lt. Tim Weaver.

DROUGHT PROTECTION: Everyone know that water is a finite resource, especially in the Southwest. Which is why The Southern Nevada Water Authority is considering a $750 million investment into a Southern California water treatment project. In return for the investment, it could get a share of California’s water in Lake Mead. “This is a long-term benefit that augments southern Nevada’s water supply and complements our ongoing conservation efforts,” said Jon Entsminger, general manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Learn more.

ATTACKING THE HACKERS: The recent SolarWinds hack is a frightening reminder that everything in our country, including the power grid, is vulnerable to a cyberattack. So what do we do? Listen in to this story by Idaho Matters, which spoke with experts from the Idaho National Laboratory and Power Engineers, who are collaborating on technology that is designed to reduce the odds of a power grid hack. Read more.

RUMBLING MYSTERY: You think you know someone. Take Yellowstone National Park, for example. We all know about its geysers, such as Old Faithful and Steamboat. But a Wyoming Public Radio story suggests there's a lot we DON'T know about that unique park. There’s more to learn by closely examining the park’s "hydrothermal explosions," but let the scientists share the details. Read more.

STATE OF THE STATE: Read and watch Western Governors deliver their State of the State addresses and see a ‘word cloud’ of the top issues discussed. Here’s where to find speeches by Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, Mike Dunleavy of Alaska, Greg Gianforte of Montana, Doug Burgum of North Dakota, Brad Little of Idaho, Doug Ducey of Arizona, Laura Kelly of Kansas, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Steve Sisolak of Nevada, Kate Brown of Oregon, Spencer Cox of Utah, David Ige of Hawaii, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, Jay Inslee of Washington, and Lemanu Mauga of American Samoa. Read, watch all addresses.

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