Report: Climate change means less snow for Yellowstone
HELENA — Yellowstone National Park visitors hoping to see its world-renowned geysers, wolves and bears can expect warmer temperatures and less snow as climate change alters the park’s environment, according to a report by U.S. and university researchers released June 23.
Average temperatures in the Yellowstone region in recent decades were likely the warmest of the last 800,000 years, according to geologic studies. And average annual snowfall has decreased by nearly 2 feet since 1950.
The changing climate could affect some of the park’s most iconic sites, including Old Faithful, a geyser famous for erupting at regular intervals.
Past droughts have reduced the frequency of water shooting out of the popular geyser, meaning it could erupt less frequently as drought conditions become more common in the park, Bryan Shuman, a geology professor at the University of Wyoming, said during a news conference.
Temperatures in the region have increased by more than 2 degrees since 1950 and are expected to increase by an additional five to 10 degrees by the end of the century, according to findings by scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey, Montana State University and the University of Wyoming.
The report summarizes existing data and projected changes to temperature, precipitation and water in the Yellowstone region, which covers parts of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Researchers said they intend for the report to serve as a starting point for discussions on responding to the impact of climate change on the environment, local economies and ways of life in the region.
Also by the end of the century, visitors will likely see more rain, but higher temperatures will likely mean drier summers, increasing the wildfire risk.
These changes come as the park’s popularity has grown. In recent years, the park has seen around 4 million visitors each year. Park officials expect 2021 to draw a record number of tourists as coronavirus restrictions ease and travelers seek outdoor recreation.
Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said he is already noticing the effects of warming temperatures on recreation, including in winter. The season typically brings snowmobilers and others who rely on snow covering the park roads.
Winter recreation normally starts in late November or early December, but in recent years, there wasn’t enough snow to cover the roads as late as January, Sholly said.
Report: New Mexico threatens state’s No. 2 oil ranking
BISMARCK — North Dakota has ranked as the nation’s second-biggest oil producer for nine years, but it’s on the verge of losing that status because oil production is soaring in New Mexico.
Texas continues to lead the nation in oil production. The Permian Basin spans parts of New Mexico and Texas, and it’s arguably the biggest competition for North Dakota’s Bakken oil patch. The southern oil-producing region is closer to major refineries and export terminals, and it attracts significant drilling and investment within the oil and gas industry.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported on June 14 that New Mexico produced 1.16 million barrels of oil per day in March, the most recent month for which data is available from all states. North Dakota’s daily oil output that month was 1.11 million barrels, according to data from the state Oil and Gas Division.
But the figures reported by the federal government for New Mexico differ from the numbers produced by the state’s own regulators. A state agency there put New Mexico’s output at 1.05 million barrels per day, the Bismarck Tribune reported.
It’s unclear what accounts for the discrepancy. Either way, the states are neck and neck.
Aside from bragging rights, a state’s position holds other implications, including affecting an oil company’s ability to find investors to fund a project in a state.
North Dakota became the nation’s second-biggest oil producer early in the Bakken oil boom as horizontal drilling and fracking technology sent the state’s oil production skyrocketing. It surpassed Alaska to take second place in 2012.
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NBCUniversal celebrates opening of film, TV studio
ALBUQUERQUE — Executives with NBCUniversal celebrated the opening of a new production facility in New Mexico on June 24, as state and local officials touted efforts by the film and television industry to find ways to work through the challenges that stemmed from the coronavirus pandemic.
The executives were joined at a ribbon-cutting ceremony by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller.
“This industry has leapt back to life because they have put safety first — and they will help our state recover economically as we put the pandemic behind us,” the governor said in a statement.
NBCUniversal had announced in 2019 that it would build a state-of-the-art television and film studio in a warehouse district just north of downtown Albuquerque as part of a plan to expand its footprint in one of the fastest growing film production hubs in the country. The company also committed to $500 million in direct production spending over 10 years.
The media giant received more than $10 million in state and local economic development funds as incentives.
This summer, MacGruber, a comedy series for Peacock by Universal Television, a division of Universal Studio Group, will begin filming in the facility through August 2021.
Meanwhile, Netflix is moving ahead with plans to expand its operations on the southern edge of Albuquerque.
Ex-congresswoman eyed for rural development post
LAS CRUCES — Former U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small has been nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as the under secretary for rural development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation announced Torres Small’s nomination on June 18.
Supporters said her experience as a water rights attorney and her time on the U.S. House agriculture committee would serve her well if she’s confirmed. Torres Small also was a member of the Blue Dog Coalition and Bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus during her tenure in Congress.
“Xochitl has a deep understanding of the issues facing rural residents and businesses, and she brings unmatched energy and empathy to solving our nation’s policy challenges,” said U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-New Mexico.
Torres Small, a Las Cruces Democrat, served one term before losing her re-election bid last year to Republican Yvette Herrell.
Cheatgrass spraying begins in wildfire burn area
LARAMIE — The U.S. Forest Service has begun efforts to control an invasive grass in the area of a massive wildfire last fall in Wyoming and Colorado.
A helicopter began spraying herbicide on June 21 to reduce cheatgrass in burned areas of Medicine Bow National Forest. Spraying will continue for about two months, forest officials said.
Cheatgrass is a nonnative species that can proliferate in disturbed environments and burns readily, destroying sagebrush and other native plants.
Previous use of herbicide has successfully controlled cheatgrass, Forest Service rangeland management specialist Jackie Roaque said in a statement.
“We are optimistic that there will be the same success with this project and at an even larger scale than in the past,” Roaque said.
Forest managers plan to treat about 14 square miles of areas mainly in Wyoming but also Colorado that burned in the Mullen Fire. The wildfire charred 276 square miles of southern Wyoming and northern Colorado in 2020.
The fire damaged or destroyed dozens of cabins and other structures from September until snows in late October.