Best of the West: Death toll climbs in California mudslides, renewables rising, pine beetles expand territory in Colorado

The West

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on news of the West. Here are the western stories for the week starting January 8, 2018, that you don't want to miss. Image: Matt Udkow / Santa Barbara County Fire Department

Mudslides in Southern California have claimed 17 lives as of Thursday, January 11.  In Montecito, 100 homes have been destroyed, and rescuers are searching for survivors. Follow updates from the Los Angeles Times.

The Thomas Fire, the largest recorded wildfire in state history, decimated the area just weeks ago, wiping out trees, grasses and scrubs that help prevent soil from moving. Additionally, the fire “baked a waxy layer into the earth” that prevented storm water from absorbing as it normally would. 

Natural disasters, including Hurricane Harvey in Texas and wildfires in Montana and California, have now caused $306 billion in total damage in 2017, the most costly year on record. Western Governors have advocated for federal aid for major natural disasters, and passed Policy Resolution 2018-03: Federal Disaster Recovery Assistance for Communities in the West at their recent Winter Meeting.

Beetle Barrage: Pine beetles, the creature responsible for killing more than 10,500 acres of manageable ponderosa in the Dolores District of Colorado since 2011, continue their march across the Centennial State. Officials are studying why the beetle is spreading to new areas, and how to potentially slow its progress. 

Renewables Rising in the West: Renewable energy sources accounted for nearly half of the utility-scale electricity capacity installed in the U.S. in 2017. Hydroelectric and solar (67 percent and 69 percent generated, respectively), were the largest contributions from the Western census division. View the report from Energy Information Administration.  

Home on the Range? A new documentary explores the topic of wild horses on public lands in the American West. An estimated 73,000 wild horses roam across 10 states, with the largest concentration in Nevada. Learn about the film, and read Western Governors’ Policy Resolution 2018-01: Wild Horse and Burro Management.   

Honoring the History of America’s Oldest National Park: “Winterkeepers” are known for their role in preserving and maintaining Yellowstone National Park, and sometimes for living on the fringes of society. This story in Mountain Journal examines their contributions to the Park since the 1800s. Also, a 35-year veteran of Yellowstone, who drove around notable figures such as John Wayne and Lady Bird Johnson through the park, just passed away at age 95.

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