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Ted Zukoski's Blog

Crescent Arch near Salt Creek in Canyonlands National Park.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a decision that prevents the state of Utah and San Juan County from turning a creek in Canyonlands National Park into a highway for off-roaders.

The oil and gas industry in Colorado has a new script to disparage efforts to move towards a clean energy future. And one of their friends—Colorado’s Gov. John Hickenlooper—appears to have gotten the memo about how to belittle those trying to limit the damaging impacts of dirty energy.

Take statements made two days apart by the president of the Colorado Petroleum Association and Gov. Hickenlooper. Both men responded to efforts to limit the damage caused by fossil fuels.

President Obama is good at bold words, and he’s delivered quite a few of them on the need for action on climate change in the last nine months. There was his speech upon being re-elected; his 2013 State of the Union (in which he promised to act unilaterally on climate change if Congress wouldn’t); and most recently his speech at the Brandenburg Gate in which he rightly labeled climate change “the global threat of our time.”

It's hard to know, sometimes, who to trust with America’s wildlife.

For the most part, wildlife is managed by individual states, which do some good science and issue tags for hunting licenses. They are also, theoretically, on the front lines of ensuring that wildlife species don’t get into such trouble that the federal government needs to step in under the auspices of the Endangered Species Act.

Winter in the Rockies is almost over. Almost, because April is still one of our snowiest months in Colorado. But even with a few days of snow last week, April would have to be pretty darned wet just to get this year’s snowpack up to average. As of March 15, snowpack in the watersheds that feed Lake Powell—which is just upstream of the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River behind the Glen Canyon Dam—was at less than 80 percent of average.

Last week, supporters of the controversial drilling practice know as fracking held a rally in Denver. According to media reports, one booster drew laughs from the crowd when he said that fracking’s economic benefits would eventually "trickle down to attorneys [and] doctors."

Colorado doctors are probably already seeing increased business because of fracking, but not in a humorous way.

Coal companies have been blasting mountains, dumping waste rock into streams, and undermining private and public lands for more than a century. It’s apparently lucrative to do so.

But a recent filing by a coal company shows just how far they have drunk their own Kool-Aid (or coal ash?) in justifying the damage mining can cause.

The filing concerned Earthjustice’s efforts to protect the Sunset Roadless Area on the GMUG National Forest in western Colorado. The Sunset area is a landscape of pine, fir, and aspen stands, dotted with wet meadows and beaver ponds.

About a century ago, a Republican president said:

In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.

Let’s say you have three kids, and one big piece of cake to divide amongst them. One kicks and cries and whines. "I want it ALL," the baby screams. "I want it all NOW!" The other two say, "We want our fair share."

To keep the decibel level in the house at acceptable levels, and because you’re a whimp, you give the crybaby 90 percent of the cake. But even that doesn’t work. The baby still whines and cries and kicks and screams, "I want it ALL. I don’t care what brother and sister get."

Late in his administration, Bill Clinton attempted to build a conservation legacy worthy of Teddy Roosevelt by designating more than a dozen national monuments across the West.

George W. Bush tried to undo that legacy.

And President Barack Obama, to his dis-credit, has allowed the Bush-adopted, monument-undercutting status quo to remain, despite being the "hope-y, change-y" candidate in 2008.

But a little more background.

Since the GOP won a majority in the House in 2010, the Obama administration has gone into "go-slow" mode - or even has taken a U-turn on presidential initiatives on air pollution and climate change.  The Los Angeles Times took aim at this in a tough May 20 editorial headlined: "In the 2012 campaign, environmentalists don't matter."  It opens:

How should America's 190 million acres of national forest be managed?  Nine Republican congressmen, led by Rep. Stevan Pearce of New Mexico, have the answer in a bill introduced last month:  Forests are for logging. And to hell with everything else.

The bill, H.R. 1202, is short and not-so-sweet. The meat of the bill is a single sentence: 

In 2009, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued an order taking aim at climate change, saying: "The Department is ... taking the lead in protecting our country's lands and resources from the dramatic effects of climate change....  The realities of climate change require us to change how we manage the land, water, fish and wildlife ... and resources we oversee."  Bold stuff.

There's a lot of backward movement on the environment in Congress these days.  EPA is under assault for trying to regulate greenhouse gases.  The Interior Department's efforts to protect some wildlands are also being attacked.

But why should Congress have all the fun?  Here in the Rocky Mountain West, the 2012 elections also brought some backsliding.

Jim DiPeso, executive director of Republicans for Environmental Protection, has a nice blog post describing the latest machinations of the GOP (and coal state Sen. Jay Rockefeller) taking aim at the EPA.  Gingrich wants to abolish the agency that has helped clear the air and clean the water.  (He's apparently nailing down the all-important "don't need to breathe or drink" demographic).

In the not-too-distant past, Interior Sec. Ken Salazar issued a bold call to action for his department. With authority over hundreds of millions of acres of public lands and the vast majority of coal, oil, and gas owned by taxpayers, he stated that his department would be "taking the lead" in protecting the nation's wildlife and water from climate change, and that doing so would "require us to change how we manage the lands."

One of the many dirty little secrets about oil shale is that it will take huge amounts of energy to turn rock into a product we can put in our cars and trucks.  That's because the currently proposed technology for producing oil shale involves using what amounts to glorified curling irons underground, heating them up to hundreds of degrees and melting the "kerogen" into something that can be sucked out of the ground and could be refined into a useable product.

We knew the proposed Red Cliff coal mine in western Colorado had a lot of problems.  It's no secret that coal is a dirty fuel.  On top of the predictable global warming impacts from burning the mined coal, this mine each year will spew thousands of tons of methane - a greenhouse gas 20 times more powerful than CO2 - into the atmosphere witho

The news on climate change is coming thick and fast these days. Over the weekend, news reports stated scientific studies showed global warming accelerating faster than predicted.  Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agreed to take a second look at regulating CO2 from coal-fired power plants as a pollutant, signaling a 180 from the Bush administrati

When one hears the phrase "Boy Scout," one picture that comes to mind is a bunch of youngsters out in the woods, around a campfire, enjoying marshmallows as well as nature.  One might assume that on top of "trustworthy," "obedient," and "brave," Boy Scouts might also put protection of the Great Outdoors among their values.

A recent investigative series has thrown some cold water on that notion, however, exposing activities of some scouting groups that are cringe-inducing.  One piece has a part of the scouting organization clearcutting lands to make profits, just like the boys in Big Timber have been doing for years.  Another piece has another scouting group killing threatened salmon to fill a lake for recreation, and then using their political muscle to avoid any penalties.

There's no doubt that many individual scout troops are doing important things for the youngsters involved, and that the volunteer parents who make the organization work are conscientious caring folks who are trying to help boys become responsible adults.

And any organization that needs money to keep its work going and that supprts a large bureaucracy  like the Scouts is likely to have its problems.  Heaven knows us folks in the Environmental Movement have been known to not always "be the change" we want to see in the world.  (Please don't make fun of my gas guzzling hybrid SUV.)

The Scouts could use the airing of their dirty laundry to say "Whoops!  We could do a lot better."  Sadly, it seems the national headquarters of the BSA is choosing to hunker in its bunker, issuing a press statement that in part shoots the messenger: "We are extremely disappointed that [Scouts'] efforts have been portrayed in such a negative light." 

That doesn't exactly seem like the "brave" response.

Jan. 20 marked the dawn of a new day in Washington.  We hope it means a clear break from the past eight years of drilling, logging, and ignoring science.  So now all us enviro lawyers can retire or get real jobs because President Obama - enjoy those two words together - is going to take care of everything ... right?

Well ... probably not.  The next four years will likely be as busy as the last four for conservationists.  Here's a sampling of reasons.

In the arid West, water is life.  And life may get a lot more difficult for the Colorado River - a major source of water for Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California - over the next few decades.

First, there's the double whammy of population growth and climate change, the first demanding more water from the river, and the second making it extremely likely that there will be less water for that population to drink, use to grow crops, etc.

One of the good things about the Web is that it increases accountability.  Those questioning the so-called "mainstream media" (MSM) don't have to hope that a stingy editor will find a few column inches to publish an op-ed to have their views heard.

So while I'm a regular reader of The New York Times, I was happy to see this article at grist.org  panning the Times' story on the beetle epidemic which is killing off hundreds of thousands of acres of pine forest in the Rocky Mountains.  The "Newspaper of Record" omitted the key fact that global warming is playing a key role in the beetle epidemic.  That's because beetles are typically killed off when subzero temperatures last for days in the forest, something that hasn't happened for years.

It's a key aspect of the beetle story.  And kudos to grist.org for telling it.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne didn't like the law that required him to promptly protect public lands around the Grand Canyon from uranium mining.  So he's getting rid of it. Citizens have only a few days to express their opposition.

With less than 100 days left in its life, the current administration has its hands full.  The economy is on its scariest roller-coaster ride in generations. And we're still fighting two wars.  You'd think the administration would be too busy to do anything else.

Forests are helping reduce global warming, but global warming is killing forests.

Global warming sometimes can seem like a faraway thing in the American West. 

Glaciers?  We really don't have many.  Except in that national park in Montana.  But those will all be gone in 20-30 years or so.

Polar bears?  Not in our neighborhood. 

They tell Colorado that proposed regulations will cripple the local economy, but investors are told that profits will still boom.

Doom? Or boom? Is it the best of times? Or the worst? The oil and gas industry is saying it's both. But they're very careful about who receives which message. And the truth is a lot closer to one message than the other.

Utah land management plans - covering 11 million acres - will invite off-road vehicle destruction, energy development in spectacular, fragile landscape.

The Denver Post reported last Sunday about a series of nasty schemes that the Bush Administration hopes to finalize in its remaining 200-odd days in power. 

The Bush administration has had a strange way of uniting folks in the West.  In particular, hunters, sportsmen, local communities, local businesses and enviros have come together to fight back when the "drill it all" mentality of the oil businessman president ran into treasured publc lands.

Photos tell story of the energy boom's threat to wild Wyoming.

The natural gas industry has boomed nowhere like it has in southwest Wyoming, in the Upper Green River Valley at the south end of the Yellowstone ecosystem.  Hundreds of well pads have been scraped and an industrial web of facilities and roads have gone in to the Jonah Field and the Pinedale Anticline area.

Aah, summer!  Time to hit the road and visit some our crown jewel national parks here in the West.  It's time to enjoy the trees, the canyons, the birds, bees, and bears, the ranger talks, the smog. 

The smog?  Yep, get ready for it.  Because if the EPA has its way, the tremendous views from Mesa Verde, Zion, and other national parks will become more obscured with haze.

As the Washington Post succinctly put it on May 16:

Drink? Or drive? That may sound like questions to ask a a prospective designated driver before a night on the town. It may soon be the stark choice faced by an entire region.

In the late 1980s, the country celebrated the 200th anniversary of our most important legal text: the U.S. Constitution.

To do so, a commission was established, headed by respected former Chief Justice Warren Burger. And to lead a celebration in Washington, D.C., an equally distinguished American was chosen: Wayne Newton.

Wayne Newton!!?? The original Las Vegas lounge lizard? What were they thinking?

Us young, hip kids (at least we thought then we were then) imagined the following conversation leading to this decision.

Global warming, by definition, impacts the entire planet. But warming will likely have differing impacts on different areas. What does that mean for the climate of the American West?

A report prepared by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Natural Resources Defense Council last month boiled the answer down to three words: hotter and drier.

Global warming is clearly one of the pre-eminent environmental challenges of our time. Yet, when some federal regulators are presented with an opportunity to meet the challenge, they prefer to do nothing.

The movie "Three Kings" (1999), which follows a trio of American soldiers involved in the first Gulf War, contains an apt, if heavy-handed, metaphor about America's dependence on oil: an Iraqi torturer forces the black goo down an American prisoner's throat, making him gag.

Once upon a time, in a far-away rectangular state, there was a power source so pure it left no waste and would never run out. And from it sprang the modern environmental movement, not to welcome it, but to kill it dead.

Since the 1930s—following decades of shooting, trapping, and poisoning—Colorado has been a wolf-free zone. There are two ways wolves can return to Colorado: with human help, or under their own power.  The Department of the Interior over the last few months made decisions calculated to block both avenues of return.

The old energy economy—oil and gas—is booming in Colorado, driven by high prices and the Bush administration's push to aid America's addiction to fossil fuels. Thousands of new wells have been drilled—many on public land—and ranches, hunting opportunities, wildlife, air quality, public health, and the wildness of the West have all suffered.