Environment

Mike McMillan / USFS

Mercury contamination is well documented in the eastern United States. But USGS research ecologist Collin Eagles-Smith wanted to know how big of a problem is it in western states, including Idaho. He led a comprehensive study that was released earlier this month, showing widespread mercury contamination. According to the study, mercury can come from a number of different natural and manmade sources. In Idaho, historic gold and silver mining is one source – as the element gets released into...

Rachel La Corte / AP Images

Wildlife managers are struggling to find and kill the remaining wolves in a northeast Washington pack. The Profanity Peak wolf pack has been in the crosshairs of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife since early August. The state began hunting the pack this summer after officials confirmed at least eight cattle were injured or killed by the wolves. In the first three weeks of August, wildlife managers shot and killed five adults and one pup from the pack. The department says they are...

Scott Graf / Boise State Public Radio

Kevin Vierra stands in his living room, admiring the Eagle home he bought in July. It’s full of alder wood floors and cabinets. The counters are granite. Outside, he looks over a small creek. Vierra and his wife, Vicki, moved here from Manteca, California just three months after visiting a friend who’d already relocated to the area. Vierra – fresh off a career as a police officer – had grown tired of his native state’s crime and traffic. Now, he uses trips to the airport, both there and here,...

Monica Gokey

Idaho is pretty well off, water-wise, compared to other arid Western states. But as the Treasure Valley grows, different water users are poised to square off over a finite water supply. Here's the pickle: The population of the Treasure Valley is expected to more than double in the coming decades. And that has urban planners thinking ahead. But while it seems like the Treasure Valley is flush with potential water sources, a lot of that water is already spoken for by the agricultural sector. ...

Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

There’s a legal fight going on over control of water in the Treasure Valley. The rhetoric in the fight has been intense. One side even has an ad campaign. Imagine a movie-theater preview voice comes up over cheery music reminiscent of a babbling brook. “Irrigation water, it makes the Treasure Valley a lush green miracle instead of a desert landscape. Imagine a typical 105 degree summer day. Now imagine your irrigation water is completely shut off to your lawn, garden, farm or favorite park.”...

National Weather Service

With rain in the forecast, the National Weather Service in Boise is warning of the possibility of flash flooding and mudslides in the 294 square miles burned by the Pioneer Fire. A low pressure system could bring up to a half inch of rain Thursday to parts of the Boise National Forest that were burned by the Pioneer Fire. While that could slow the still-burning blaze down, it could also bring flash flooding. Troy Lindquist is a Service Hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Boise....

Idaho Department of Environmental Quality

"Nitrate" may as well be a four-letter word in the small town of Ashton, Idaho. The eastern Idaho town of 1,200 people is about 20 miles from the border of Wyoming. Settlers in the area in the 1890s quickly took advantage the fertile volcanic soil beneath their feet, and began diverting water to irrigate the land. Seed potatoes are the big cash crop, though wheat, barley and hay also contribute to the local economy. But the same farms that help keep the town afloat could also have been the...

Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

Earlier in this series, we told you about the importance of ground water in Idaho. The state relies on underground aquifers and private wells to quench the thirst of 90-95 percent of the population. But in southern Idaho, some people are worried about how contaminants from agriculture – specifically animal feedlots – could be impacting the water supply in rural areas. This concern is what brought Esther Ceja to the Cinco de Mayo party last spring in Wilder, Idaho. Ceja is with the Department...

The Idaho Land Board voted Tuesday to put 9 state-owned commercial properties worth about $20 million up for auction, likely in early December. The unanimous vote by the five-member board is part of the board's new strategic reinvestment plan that calls for using money from the sale of commercial real estate and residential cottage sites to buy timberland and agricultural land. But the board also voted unanimously to hold off selling a 10th commercial property worth about $1 million after...

Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

When I turn on a sink I often wonder where the water is coming from. It turns out when I’m getting a drink in our newsroom kitchenette in east Boise I can see the answer through the window. It’s the Boise River. If I could go up the faucet and through the pipes I’d come out less than a mile upstream at the Marden water treatment plant off of Warm Springs Blvd. Mark Snider with Suez, the multi-national company that supplies drinking water to most of Boise and some of Eagle says this was their...

Idaho Department of Water Resources

It’s no secret that Eastern Idaho has a water problem. There is too much demand and too little water in the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer to go around. But how did we get to this point? That’s what this chart is all about. About 100 years ago, there was roughly 4,000 cubic feet per second of water coming out of the aquifer at Thousand Springs. It’s important to note that’s not how much water was in the aquifer, just how much was flowing out. Back then, the aquifer got a lot of its water...

Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio

It’s 60 miles across, mostly hidden from view and vital to the economy of Idaho. Much of the time, the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer gets little attention, even from people who rely on it every day. Without it, farmland would disappear and cities from Twin Falls to Rexburg would dry up. As we begin our series on water in Idaho, we take a closer look at the state’s largest “body” of water, hidden underneath the Snake River Plain. Park Ranger Eric Whittekiend stands at the base of the Minnie...

Federal officials have approved the first geothermal project on Idaho's public land since the 1980s. The Times-News reports that the Burley Bureau of Land Management has given the go-ahead for Walker Ranch Energy's geothermal project, which will include a plant about 13 miles south of Malta. The power plant will be built on private property, but up to 22 wells will be drilled on 200 acres managed by the Burley BLM office. The operation is expected to eventually produce 25 megawatts of energy....

Boise National Forest

The Pioneer Fire grew dramatically this week, shooting its way through the Boise National Forest. In just two days, it burned more than 70 square miles. So far it has burned 281 square miles. Despite more than 1,000 people working the fire, it's only 52 percent contained. And officials say it won't be under control until a major rain or snow event, probably sometime in October. Why is it burning so fast? And so much? And why can't firefighters surround it? This video, from the Boise National...

Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

KBSX reporter Frankie Barnhill visited base camp at the Pioneer Fire on Aug. 27 to profile Type 1 Incident Commander Beth Lund. Adam Cotterell asks her about the experience, including what's up with the women's only porta potties, what to eat at fire camp, and how to earn "trail cred" in wildland firefighting. Since this podcast was recorded Sept. 1, the wildfire has grown to 281 square miles , and has forced the closure of Deadwood Reservoir over Labor Day weekend, a popular recreation site...

Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

Beth Lund starts her day long before most people are done dreaming. At 5 a.m., she’s out of her tent – coffee in hand – getting ready for a 6:00 a.m. briefing with her team at fire camp in Idaho City. Over the hum of generators, Lund takes the microphone on a wooden platform and addresses about 50 firefighters. “Well, good morning," Lund says. "I see the group out here’s dwindling a little bit. So I think that’s a sign that some of this stuff on the southern end is getting wrapped up.” She...

Donna / Flickr Creative Commons

Some Idaho farmers are experimenting with a new, potentially lucrative crop: truffles. The Capital Press reports that there's no clear procedure for growing truffles, which can sell for between $500 and $1,200 a pound. The fungi grow underground in orchards planted with trees that have been inoculated with truffle spores. The commercial truffle orchard is a new industry, so Idaho farmers like Paul Beckman are planting a variety of trees with different spacing and organization to figure out...

Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Managers of the Boise National Forest say one small section of their jurisdiction is in crisis. But that small section is the Bogus Basin Resort, which means addressing this crisis is urgent and difficult. Stephaney Kerley is on a P.R. tour of sorts. The Boise National Forest ranger is trying to get public support for a plan to log and replant Bogus Basin over several years. Kerley says most of the trees on Bogus are dying from a combined attack of a parasitic plant and tree-eating beetles....

Idaho wants to take over regulating pollution discharge into the state's lakes and rivers from the federal government. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality on Wednesday submitted an application to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take control of permitting and enforcement aspects under the federal Clean Water Act. Idaho is one of four states where federal officials regulate pollution discharge into surface waters. State officials say having Idaho run the program will have...

Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) is encouraging all its members to make a plan to protect pollinating insects and most states are doing that or have already adopted one. Dudley Hoskins with NASDA says the plans are needed because bees face a variety of threats. Hoskins says most state plans focus on protecting domestic honey bees rather than wild pollinators. Some have called for state regulations, but at least part of the reason for this national push is...

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