News and discussion concerning our local environment.

Something unusual is happening in America's wilderness — some animals and plants are moving away from their native habitats. The reason is a warming climate. It's getting too hot where they live.

Species that can't migrate may perish, so some biologists say we need to move them. But they admit that's a roll of the dice that violates a basic rule of conservation: If you want to keep the natural world "natural," you don't want to move plants and animals around willy-nilly.

Black-footed ferrets have "a lot of hair, big bad teeth and a bad-boy attitude," says Kimberly Fraser. She and other federal wildlife officials are re-introducing the rare creatures to the prairie in a suburb of Denver.

"They're a native species. They belong here," says Fraser, an outreach specialist with a program to re-introduce the ferrets in 12 states from Montana to Texas.

Colorado Department of Transportation

The trees are starting to turn and the mornings are getting colder.  Fall is here, and that means increased animal activity. 

The U.S. Department of Interior has decided that the greater sage grouse, a peculiar and distinctly Western bird, does not need protection under the Endangered Species Act.

In a statement, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said that an unprecedented land conservation effort has already significantly reduced the threats to sage grouse.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the conservation marked a successful effort by the government and ranchers on public and private lands.

Colstrip, Mont., is true to its name — it exists because of coal.

"Our coal's getting deeper, like everywhere else, because everybody's mining. They're getting into the deeper stuff," says Kevin Murphy, who has worked in the Rosebud Mine for 15 years running a bulldozer in the open pits.

Everything about the mine is enormous, especially the dragline, a machine as big as a ship with a giant boom that extends 300 feet up into the air. The dragline perches on the lip of the pit, scraping away hundreds of feet of rocky soil to reveal the black seam of coal below.

flickr user witnessoflight

Many people move out to the Western Slope to get away from city life and enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of nature.  When those sounds disappear, though, it can be concerning.

For this episode, mushrooms festivals and mushrooms lovers.

The Obama administration unveiled plans Tuesday that would curb the methane that leaks from facilities related to oil and natural gas production. Methane is one of the greenhouse gases that trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere.

iSeeChange: Dead Finches

Aug 14, 2015
Flickr User quinet

Earlier this summer, we received an observation over at iseechange.org about finches.  Ann Cabillot  had a mystery: dead purple finches found across Paonia.

This year's El Niño is shaping up to be a whopper — potentially surpassing the one in 1997, which was the strongest on record, the National Weather Service says.

That could be good news for drought-stricken California, but not-so-good for places such as the Philippines and Indonesia, which typically experience below-normal rainfall or drought conditions during El Niños.

flickr user ashrunner

Denise Weaver lives in Sanborn Park, near Norwood, Colorado. Weaver and her husband have lived there for 10 years.  For the first time this spring, they heard something they were a little unfamiliar with: some sort of humming coming from the pine trees.  They investigated, and described finding locusts. 

Denise asked around, and eventually a local farmer said that they were cicadas, and not to be worried at all.  Still, she had some questions. 

"Extreme." "Unprecedented." "Historic." Those are just a few of the words being used to describe the start of this year's fire season in North America.

The wildfires are centered in the northwest of the continent, but their consequences are far-reaching. Thick smoke has blanketed parts of Wisconsin and North Dakota. It's triggered air alerts in Minnesota and Montana and muddied skies as far south as Tennessee and Colorado.

And, of course, things are even worse at the source.

Rural Tulare County, Calif., is now being called the epicenter of this drought.

That's because at least 1,300 residential wells have run dry, affecting at least 7,000 people. When your taps start spitting out air here, Paul Boyer and his team are who you call.

Under a punishing midafternoon sun, Boyer helps muscle down five of these hefty 400-pound water tanks from a semi-truck flatbed. He helps run a local nonprofit that's in charge of distributing these 2,500-gallon water tanks to drought victims.

Jake Ryan / KVNF

About 3 years ago, KVNF became the incubator station for iSeeChange, a new type of environmental reporting.  Instead of finding reports and studies about frogs, or insects, or climate change, and bringing that report to our listeners, we went backwards.  Take a listen to hear what we've reported on so far this year.

In 1922, seven Western states — Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming and California — drew up an agreement on how to divide the waters of the Colorado River. But there was one big problem with the plan: They overestimated how much water the river could provide.

As a result, each state was promised more water than actually exists. This miscalculation — and the subsequent mismanagement of water resources in those states — has created a water crisis that now affects nearly 40 million Americans.

Darcie Rose

The unusually wet spring has made some mushroom foragers very happy. 

While Colorado has experienced much needed rain this spring, fire officials are still expecting an average fire season.

"The moisture has helped considerably, at least to forestall the onset of the fire season, which we know is coming," said Paul Cooke, the Director of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control.

The addition of two specialized planes that can spot a wildfire in its very earliest stages means that the state should be better prepared for the fire season. Specialized equipment like this though, means the cost of fighting wildfires in Colorado and the west continues to go up – and officials at every level are planning accordingly.

A team of government scientists has revised its estimate for how much the planet has been warming.

The new results, published in the journal Science, may dispel the idea that Earth has been in the midst of a "global warming hiatus" — a period over the past 20 years where the planet's temperature appears to have risen very little.

The Environmental Protection Agency says it has found no evidence that hydraulic fracturing — better known as fracking — has led to widespread pollution of drinking water. The oil industry and its backers welcome the long-awaited study, while environmental groups criticize it.

On this show,  a conversation KVNF's Jake Ryan had with Julia Kumari Drapkin, executive producer for iSeeChange.  The project started here at KVNF as a way to connect people to the bigger picture of climate change, and it’s now grown to a nation wide platform. 

Included at the end is a piece that was produced about a month ago, after a hard frost came through.  A Paonia orchardist, like a lot of farmers, was hit hard by the frost. 

It’s May in Rocky Mountain National Park, but on a mountainside 10,829 feet above sea level, snow is falling. It’s pelting Jim Cheatham, a biologist with the National Park Service. Shrugging off the cold, Cheatham seizes a teachable moment. This snow, he said, holds more than just water.

“Chances are it’s carrying the excess nitrogen we’re talking about,” mused Cheatham.

For the past eight years, the biologist has spent most of his time thinking about how nitrogen pollution is changing the park’s forests, wildflowers, and alpine lakes. He’s also been looking for a way to stop it.

Flickr User colorob

Spring is in full effect, and for quite a while birds have been migrating through the area.  One listener, Marylin Stone, commented on the iSeeChange website that she noticed, for the first time this year a Bullock's oriole and a hummingbird, she wasn’t positive which species.  I brought this observation to Jeff Birek, a biologist with the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory.

Copyright 2015 Colorado Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.cpr.org.



In the 19th century, before Americans fully settled the West, some called it the Great American Desert. It wasn't considered fertile enough to develop.


iSeeChange: Frozen Fruit

May 2, 2015
Jake Ryan / KVNF

A hard freeze in April damaged a wide range of fruit crops on the Western Slope of Colorado.

The historic four-year drought in California has been grabbing the headlines lately, but there's a much bigger problem facing the West: the now 14-year drought gripping the Colorado River basin.

One of the most stunning places to see its impact is at the nation's largest reservoir, Lake Mead, near Las Vegas. At about 40 percent of capacity, it's the lowest it's been since it was built in the 1930s.

Fans of Boulder County's osprey nest cam saw a bit of drama last season.

Two females and a male were living in the nest, when a third female arrived and kicked the original female out. Observers said she bonded with the male.

"People called it ... the 'home-wrecker osprey,' " says Nik Brockman, Boulder County's web specialist.

Jessica Reeder via Flickr (CC BY creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Spring is in full effect, and it seems to have a head start. 

iSeeChange: Forecasting A Fire Season

Apr 9, 2015
Hotchkiss Fire Department

With record wet and cold in the east, and record dry and hot in the west, some meteorologists are scratching their heads.

high country news
High Country News

The HCNU classroom program presents a live radio discussion, "When in (Mega?) Drought," April 8 at 6 p.m. Mountain time. We'll be broadcasting and live-streaming from our local radio station, KVNF, in Paonia, Colorado, with four experts on water, drought, agriculture and the climate.


For more information, visit High Country News.

The water outlook in drought-racked California just got a lot worse: Snowpack levels across the entire Sierra Nevada are now the lowest in recorded history — just 6 percent of the long-term average. That shatters the previous low record on this date of 25 percent, set in 1977 and again last year.