Environment

In Nevada, federal wildlife officials have brokered a landmark conservation deal with a gold mining company that the government says could help protect thousands of acres of critical habitat for the greater sage grouse.

J. Stephen Conn / Flickr

Monsanto Corporation has agreed to pay $600,000 in fines for hundreds of uncontrolled releases of dangerous chemicals at its phosphate plant in eastern Idaho.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice announced the agreement Thursday involving the company's facilities in Soda Springs.

Federal officials say the chemicals released are hazardous and can pose serious health risks to workers and the community.

U.S Fish and Wildlife Service

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reopened for comment a proposed plan to change the status of a herd of caribou in northern Idaho and northeastern Washington from endangered to threatened.

The agency on Tuesday opened the 30-day comment period based on new information.

The agency made the initial proposal last May after deciding to lump the small herd into the Southern Mountain Caribou population that has another 14 herds in Canada.

But Canadian officials recently determined those herds are faltering and should also be listed as endangered.

Flickr Creative Commons

Visitors to Grand Teton National Park and the surrounding area are being cautioned that bears are out of hibernation and are hungry after their long rest.

Park officials are asking visitors to make noise and travel in groups of three or more. They should carry bear spray and know how to use it and always stay at least 100 yards from bears.

Typically, about half of adult male bears are out of their dens by mid-March, and females with their yearlings emerge shortly after that.

A coalition of conservation groups and the Nez Perce tribe are challenging the U.S. Forest Service's approval of a gold mining company's plan to reopen a 4-mile road in a central Idaho wilderness and drill core samples to find out if two claims are profitable enough to be mined.

The Idaho Conservation League and four other groups this month filed an objection with the federal agency as a first step in a potential lawsuit.

U.S. Forest Service

State and federal land managers are preparing to burn up to 30,977 acres across southwest Idaho to reduce excessive trees and brush that could contribute to larger wildfires later this year.

The U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Idaho Department of Lands are coordinating to manage the intentional fires.

Jeff Jones / Flickr Creative Commons

Warm temperatures in February have taken a toll on winter snowpack in the Cascade Mountains and other areas in the West.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service said Wednesday that nearly a third of monitoring sites in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada reported the lowest snowpack ever measured as of March 1, and some sites didn't have snow.

Snowpack in Nevada, Utah and Idaho also fell farther below normal.

L.Hutton / Flickr Creative Commons

Oregon, Idaho, and Washington residents are among the top polluters in the nation when it comes to fine particle emissions from burning wood to heat homes.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists Oregon, Idaho and Washington as seventh, eighth and ninth respectively in per capita emissions.

The three states share chilly climates, a tradition of wood burning, and lots of national forest land with easy access and where U.S. Forest Service managers appreciate the removing of some trees to reduce potential forest fires.

Dan Stahler / Yellowstone National Park | Flickr

Trappers killed 77 gray wolves in Montana during the 2014-2015 season that ended over the weekend.

That's down from the previous trapping season, when 87 wolves were killed.

To date, a total of 204 wolves have been killed by hunters and trappers this winter. Montana's rifle hunting season for the animals ends March 15.

Idaho hunters and trappers have killed 205 wolves, as of Feb. 25.

Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

Last month was the warmest February ever recorded in Boise.

The National Weather Service says the city broke records for average high temperatures, warmest average low temperatures and warmest average temperature. The region also received more rain than usual.

The average high temperature in Boise was 53.2 degrees. That broke a record set in 1992 by a half degree. The previous record for average lows was set in 1983. The previous record for warmest average temperature in a February was set in 1963.

Such records have been kept in Boise since 1940. 

Oil companies in North Dakota are looking for the fastest and cheapest way to get their product to refineries, and they've set their sights on moving more of their product by rail to the Northwest.

There are six new oil terminals proposed for Washington state. Half of them could be built in the small communities around Grays Harbor, a bay on the Pacific coast about 50 miles north of the mouth of the Columbia River.

National Weather Service Boise

So far, February is turning out to be an unusually warm month in southern Idaho. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), temperatures for the first two weeks of the month have been 10 degrees above normal and have included two record-breaking high temperatures.

NWS Boise hydrologist Troy Lindquist says a wet and cooler spring would help the situation, and an early mountain snowmelt makes this year's water picture less sustainable.

Rob Swatski / Flickr Creative Commons

Spiders are out and about in Boise. University of Idaho entomologist Ed Bechinski says it's early for Idaho spiders to be out of hibernation (specifically in their case it's known as diapause).

But Bechinski isn’t surprised these arachnids are out. He says southwest Idaho's unseasonably warm temperatures are plenty to tell spiders that spring is here.

sage grouse, wildlife
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Flickr Creative Commons

Spending on a government-sponsored initiative to help struggling sage grouse populations in the West is projected to exceed $750 million by 2018.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Thursday the money will conserve an estimated 8 million acres of sage grouse habitat. Federal officials are more than halfway to that goal since starting the Sage Grouse Initiative in 2010.

The chicken-sized birds are found in 11 Western states. They're being considered for federal protections after their numbers plummeted in recent decades.

A House committee has advanced to the full Idaho House a bill aimed at eliminating federal Clean Water Act protections for suction dredges and also opening Wild and Scenic Rivers to the miners.

The bill before the House Resources and Conservation Committee on Wednesday narrowly avoided dying in committee amid constitutionality concerns with a first vote that ended in a 9-9 tie.

The committee than approved by voice vote sending the bill the full House but with an amendment.

Jim Peaco | Yellowstone National Park / Flickr Creative Commons

A group of pro-wildlife organizations filed a lawsuit Wednesday against two federal agencies over animal control operations in Idaho. The suit names the USDA’s APHIS Wildlife Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The court filing alleges:

Last Friday much of eastern Washington and Oregon was pelted with a dirty rain, but so far scientists do not agree on a cause.

MHall209 / Flickr Creative Commons

Idaho's $2.4 billion dairy industry is no longer at risk of losing its operating permits if caught illegally dumping waste into streams and waterways.

The Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee approved new rules Tuesday that would no longer allow the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to revoke a dairy facility's permit if caught illegally discharging wastewater or sewage. Instead, dairies would face a fine up to $10,000.

The rules are in compliance of a law that Idaho Republican lawmakers passed in 2014.

Matt Woodard / Trout Unlimited

A unique group of conservationists, ranchers and miners was recently awarded a $430,000 federal grant to continue rehabilitation of a native Idaho trout. 

The project began in 2011, when the Yellowstone cutthroat trout was in decline on the Upper Blackfoot River in southeast Idaho. The native fish were getting caught in shallow ditches created by old irrigation systems used by area ranchers. The land sat on two tributaries of the Upper Blackfoot.

Miguel Vieira / Flickr Creative Commons

A committee of Idaho lawmakers tasked with looking at the possibility of acquiring federal lands - and putting them under state control - has issued a report to the full Legislature. 

The committee of nine  lawmakers and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney was formed as a way to explore sentiments on the issue, and to see if there’s a legitimate way for Idaho to take over control of federal land.

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