What’s making headlines in the New West today: the increased chances for big Western wildfires this summer and beyond; a potential political play by a Cheney; a Congressional inquiry into coal pricing; birthday times in Boise; and laptop hobos getting the boot in Denver.
We’ve already seen one big fire this summer in Colorado, and experts say the conditions are right for many more across the West this summer. The equation is simple: shorter winters combined with droughts and higher temperatures provides a base, while human factors like increased development and fewer resources devoted to fire prevention adds to increased likelihood of more out-of-control fires. From the Washington Post:
“On average, wildfires burn twice as many acres each year as compared to 40 years ago. Last year, the fires were massive in size, coinciding with increased temperatures and early snow melt in the West,” U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell told lawmakers on Capitol Hill last month, adding, “The last two decades have seen fires that are extraordinary in their size, intensity and impacts.”
Opinions differ on the precise reasons for the phenomenon. But broad agreement exists that climate change, economic development, and state and federal policies on fire prevention have played a significant role in shaping the fires raging across Western landscapes.
“This is the cost of how we live today,” said Stephen J. Pyne, a professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University and a well-known fire historian. “Context does matter. Everything that’s out there, fire reacts to. . . . How we develop things, what kind of vegetation we have, how we live on the land, what fire protection measures we take.”
The Boulder Daily Camera has an interesting look at what could be another factor in wildfires: beetle kill.
Coal pricing is set to come under Congressional scrutiny in coming months, as an Interior Department report argues that $62 million was lost to government coffers because of the undervaluing of the proceeds of coal mining. While coal revenues are up, the argument is being made that the revenues should be up even more. The House Natural Resources Committee will take up the issue Tuesday, but don’t expect to see any action or any substantive discussions of the real price of coal: you can expect to see Republicans make the argument that coal is good, and Democrats to make the argument that coal is bad. From the Billings Gazette:
Republicans in control of the House Natural Resources Committee said they will highlight coal’s benefits in an effort to increase coal production on public lands. Those benefits include more than 15,000 mining jobs in Western states and $2.4 billion in federal revenues last year, according to federal agencies.
Democrats counter that an uncompetitive bidding process, the routine undervaluing of coal and increased volumes of the fuel sent to Asian markets have allowed mining companies to shortchange taxpayers….
In 2012, federal coal revenues rose sharply over the prior year as the Obama administration approved six large leases. Yet there are growing signs of problems in the government’s coal program.
More than 40 percent of U.S. coal production comes from the public lands in Power River Basin in Montana and Wyoming, where four companies dominate production.
It would bring about “the destruction of the Republican Party of Wyoming if she decides to run and he runs, too,” Alan K. Simpson, a former Republican senator from the state, said in an interview last week. “It’s a disaster — a divisive, ugly situation — and all it does is open the door for the Democrats for 20 years.”
The developments underscore the complicated relationship between the Beltway-centered Cheney family and the sparsely populated state that provided its political base. Dick and Lynne Cheney, who divide their time between McLean, Va., a home on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and a house near Jackson Hole, Wyo., are widely admired here.
Liz Cheney, who grew up in McLean and moved her family to the Jackson Hole area last year, is eager to establish her Cowboy State credentials, peppering social media sites with photos of her children’s horse-riding competitions and descriptions of Wyoming as “God’s Country.”
Liz Cheney is known for being one of the fiercer players in the American political scene; she once called President Obama “the most radical man ever to occupy the Oval Office,” in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal.
Call them the media cabal or the top 1 percent of the 1 percent who determine what sort of content you see on the device of your choice (sans New West, of course), but the annual Allen & Company conference is set for this week in Sun Valley, Idaho. Top media moguls will mingle with the heads of America’s largest corporations and discuss the next megamerger or the next trend in broadcasting. This year, it seems, the emphasis is on sports, with the commissioners of the four major North American sports leagues – Gary Bettman (NHL), Roger Goodell (NFL), Bud Selig (MLB) and David Stern (NBA — scheduled to be on hand. Pro sports, it seems, has become the ultimate reality programming, spawning a slew of cable networks and prime-time broadcasts and causing radio stations across the country to drop traditional political talk in favor of sports talk. And why not? Sports talk rarely presents the opportunity to alienate huge chunks of an audience the way political talk can — though they sure try — and sports talk can deliver the same 18-35 demographic marketers crave. From The Idaho Statesman:
This is the place where the mere hint of an idea can turn into talk, talk can turn into action and the world can be changed.
It was at previous Allen & Company conferences that Comcast’s purchase of NBC Universal, Disney’s decision to buy ABC and Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to Newark, N.J., schools came about.
What could it mean for sports? Given the media and business power-brokers in Sun Valley, could someone strike a deal that vastly changes the way we watch and consume our sports? Or the way they are run?
It was party time in Boise yesterday, as the city celebrated its 150th birthday with a parade, live music and other festivities. True, the “birthday” was an iffy occasion — it marked 150 years since the original ten streets were mapped out, and there had been plenty of American Indians and French-Canadian explorers taking up residence in the area — but it was close enough for a celebration.
Finally, a note: no coffeeshops were harmed in the making of this article. The coffeeshop culture is changing in Denver, where several high-profile coffeeshops have blocked off power outlets and shut down Internet access in order to prevent “laptop hobos” from camping out and working during large chunks of the day. From the Denver Post:
Wooden Spoon, a Highland neighborhood coffee shop on West 32nd Avenue, decided last year to disable its Wi-Fi and ban laptops and tablets.
“It got to the point where we had customers watching YouTube videos and blasting them at full volume,” said co-owner Jason Burgett. “We’re a small shop with only 16 seats. We prefer that our customers have the opportunity for social interaction.”
The nearby Gallop Cafe also disabled Internet service and prohibits computer use — even for customers using their own networks — during busy periods.
It certainly can get annoying when folks buy a $2 cup of coffee and then tie up a prime bit of real estate for three or four hours: no one wins in that scenario. But this sort of problem has come up more than once since coffeeshops realized free WiFi was drawing the wrong sort of customer. The problem, of course, is that the perfect customer may camp out one day with a minimal purchase and then back the next day for a big lunch.