Friday News Roundup: Firing Ops, Agency Appears to Say “No” to Congress, Mining Reforms, Changing Wildlife Behavior

Please add your favorites from the week in the comments below.

Firing Operations During the 2012 Dixie Fire

Firing operations are one of the main tools firefighters have at their disposal to corral large fires once they have escaped initial attack, but putting fire on the ground at the peak of fire season, often during the extended periods of drought which bring us megafires, is rarely anybody’s first choice. Often these operations take place in a ‘we had to try something‘ context. We are reprinting this article now, as firing operations rarely get much attention in the press, and the mechanics behind how they are conducted is at the core of how large fires get fought.


Yesterday’s “Analysis Paralysis”; Today’s “Permitting Reform”

Can Agency Heads Really Do That? And What is the Rest of the Story?

If you haven’t been following the proposed NEPA regs… thank whatever Deities you believe in. It appears to be another “we’ll require lots more stuff to do, but it will be faster and more efficient.. because.. we say so!” effort.

I realize 100% that the House Natural Resources Committee is not an unbiased group, but I didn’t know agencies could simply do this.

CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory was invited to testify but declined to appear or send a designee to testify on behalf of the agency. This is yet another moment in which Mallory, and CEQ as a whole, has ignored a co-equal branch of government.

60 Recommendations for Mining Law Reform

This is probably worth taking a closer look at. Maybe folks can put links to stories in the comments. I’ll probably have to read the report (shudder) for something else I’m working on.

“This report represents months of interagency policy work and over 50 meetings with industry, environmental groups, labor unions and tribes across the country, following the President’s Day One Executive Order on strengthening America’s Supply Chains,” said Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the National Economic Council Joelle Gamble. “Securing a safe, sustainable supply of critical minerals will support a resilient manufacturing base for technologies at the heart of the President’s Investing in America agenda, including batteries, electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels.”

The report provides more than 60 recommendations to Congress and federal agencies, including for increasing public and Tribal engagement, making permitting processes more consistent and predictable for industry, and protecting impacted communities and workers, as well as the environmentally and culturally sensitive lands they cherish. The report also identifies reforms to revitalize federal support for research into advanced, lower-impact mining and exploration technologies and methods, workforce development, and the need for increased resources to address the legacy of abandoned and unreclaimed hardrock mining sites that continue to pollute land and water throughout the country.

And what agencies can do:

In the near-term, the IWG report makes dozens of recommendations for federal agencies that can be undertaken without Congress, including that federal permitting agencies adopt identified best practices for engagement, with early and extensive engagement with applicants, agency and intergovernmental partners, and impacted communities and Tribes prior to the start of the formal environmental review process.  This can help alleviate conflicts and speed permitting reviews, while improving outcomes for public health and the environment. The IWG report also encourages exploration and mining companies to adhere to established best practices, such as beginning community and Tribal engagement at the earliest possible stage, providing financial support to allow communities and Tribes to hire independent technical experts, developing community and Tribal benefit agreements, and considering independent and transparent reporting of air and water pollution monitoring data.

Wildlife Corner

 Lions and Wolves and Bears..

This New Scientist story is paywalled so I posted more than usual

In Yellowstone National Park in the western US, the habitat of cougars (Puma concolor) – also known as mountain lions – overlaps with that of grey wolves (Canis lupus), grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) and American black bears (Ursus americanus). Today, these top predators compete for similar food sources like deer and elk, and often steal fresh kills from each other – but it wasn’t this way a century ago.

In the 1920s, cougars and wolves were eradicated from the national park and bears were a rare sight. Cougars have slowly recolonised the area in the last few decades and initially had an abundance of elk to feast on. But grey wolves were reintroduced to the park in the 1990s, adding another elk predator and triggering a cascade of ecological changes.

The number of grizzly and black bears in the park has also jumped in recent decades, creating even more competition for elk and similar prey. To see how this was influencing cougars, Jack Rabe at the University of Minnesota and his colleagues tracked 13 cougars in the area using GPS collars. Their analysis, presented earlier this month at a meeting of the Ecological Society of America, included 381 kills by the cougars – primarily deer and elk – from 2016 to 2022.

They found signs that bears had visited around 30 per cent of the cougar kill sites, probably scaring the cats off their kill. Wolves visited cougar kill sites less often, around 8 per cent of the time. “Bears are definitely much more effective at finding cougar kills,” says Rabe, which might be because there are more bears than wolves in the area.

The researchers could also compare their data with similar tracking data recorded two decades earlier. This showed that cougars are now hunting a greater proportion of their prey on rough landscapes, including rocky slopes and forests. “Cougars are definitely better hunters where the ambush territory is better,” says Rabe. The cats may be returning to the hunting strategy they relied on before the loss of other predators left an abundance of elk and deer for them to pick off in more open areas.

And Coyotes and Bobcats

I can’t access the original article in Science. But this excerpt from New Scientist is interesting.

To investigate, Laura Prugh at the University of Washington in Seattle and her colleagues tracked the movements of 22 wolves (Canis lupus), 60 cougars (Puma concolor), 35 coyotes (Canis latrans) and 37 bobcats (Lynx rufus) using GPS collars between 2017 and 2022. They followed the animals across two forested regions of Washington state punctuated by roads, ranches, homes and small towns.

When wolves and cougars moved into an area, bobcats and coyotes appeared to avoid the larger predators. They spent more time near the developed and human-populated areas that wolves and cougars typically avoid. But this move often had fatal consequences: around half of the coyotes and most of the bobcats that died during the five-year study period were killed by people.

“A few coyotes and bobcats were shot while trying to raid chicken coops,” says Prugh, and others were shot on sight or snagged in traps. They found that humans killed between three and four times as many small carnivores as the apex predators did.

Prugh says that earlier studies on small carnivores suggested a strong fear of people, “so from that perspective, we were a little surprised that they shifted more towards humans in the presence of large carnivores”. The discovery that human-populated areas were more deadly to small carnivores suggests the phenomenon known as the “human shield effect”, in which some animals seek refuge near people, can be lethally self-defeating.

Coyotes, mountain lions, and bears seem to do pretty well in many forested rural and semi-rural communities, at least around here, although there are certainly conflicts.

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