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New West Daily Roundup for Aug. 29, 2016

Today in New West news: CO oil-and-gas proposals just miss ballot requirement, Stryd wins “the Olympics of sports startups,” online startups in Provo and Sandy, UT, and an update on the Yellowstone River closure.

According to the Denver Business Journal, a pair of contentious ballot proposals aimed at restricting the state’s oil and gas industry do not have enough signatures to appear on the November ballot, according to Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams. Williams told the Journal that, while both initiatives collected more than the 98,492 required, many were rejected as a part of the office’s random sampling. Williams’ office added they conclude each initiative receives less than 80 percent of the necessary signatures, and expressed concern that some of the signatures may contain “several potentially forged signature lines.” From the DBJ:

Supporters have 30 days from Monday to appeal the decision to the Denver District Court, Williams’ office said.

Lauren Petrie, Rocky Mountain Region Director with Food and Water Watch, which supported the petition drive for Nos. 75 and 78, on Monday told the Denver Business Journal supporters of the proposals would likely challenge the decision within the next two weeks.

“We’re looking into challenging the sample that was looked over by the state to see if there are valid signatures that were invalidated that should not have been,” Petrie said in an interview Monday.

Noting that the deadline to certify the ballot is only two weeks away, Petrie said she hoped a challenge would be filed sooner rather than later.

“We’re still hopeful. When we were doing our own internal samples the validity rate was over 94 percent. We’re hopeful that we can turn that validity rate around and get on the ballot in the next two weeks,” she said.

One of the proposals, Initiative 75, would expand local governments’ authority over oil and gas operations, including the option to ban oil and gas operations from their jurisdictions.

A second one, Initiative 78, would expand the state’s existing 500-foot buffer zones around oil and gas operations up to 2,500 feet.

State officials have said expanding the buffer zone to 2,500 feet around homes and “areas of special concern,” which the proposal defined as including parks, dry creek beds, lakes, rivers and open space, would effectively ban new oil and gas wells from about 90 percent of Colorado.

Williams’ office said supporters submitted 107,232 signatures for No. 75, but a random sample of 5 percent of the signatures indicated that only 79,634 would be valid, falling short of the required 98,492 needed to be on the ballot.

For No. 78, Williams’ office said supporters submitted a total of 106,626 signatures, but a random sample of 5 percent of the submissions indicated that only 77,109 would be valid, falling short of the 98,492 required to be on the November ballot.

Keeping with Colorado, according to the Denver Business Journal, Boulder-based sports product company Stryd took home first place in the inaugural Global Innovation in Sports Competition, an event associated with the 2016 Rio Olympics. The company, which manufactures “wearable power meters,” took home 100,000 euros (or $112,331 U.S. dollars) for their efforts. They previously competed for their Rio place in June at a competition held at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Over in Utah, according to HighSpeedInternet.com, Provo and Sandy have been ranked as two of the best cities to start an online business. Coming in at fourth and eighth respectively, Provo and Sandy each exemplified the best the Silicon Slopes has to offer. But a little of the worst, according to Utah Business:

Of Provo, the list said, “It’s hard to deny that Provo is a pretty package, and that’s probably why Google chose it as their second fiber city. It has the lowest cost of living, a low crime rate, and some of the highest internet speeds on our list. Just south of Salt Lake, Provo enjoys nearby mountains perfect for outdoor enthusiasts and the world famous Sundance resort. In recent years, the city has watched lots of business create a big boom in the area, including corporations like Novell, Vivint, and Adobe. Provo is labeled as the ‘most conservative city in the US,’ so its high rates of marriage and religions make it a family-friendly environment for entrepreneurs.”

The list also recognized Provo’s low crime rate and average internet speed of 140 Mb/s, but noted the drawback that “Utah can be prone to some extreme weather, with high temps in the summer and deep snowfalls in the winter.”

Sandy was lauded for its access to ski resorts and being the home of REAL Salt Lake, as well as also having a low crime rate, but the list did mention that “most of the Salt Lake Valley suffers from poor winter air quality due to a condition called inversion.”

Finally, up in Montana, we’ve been following the closure of the Yellowstone River after an especially pernicious parasite was found in thousands of dead whitefish. Expected to last months, the closure has many area outfitters worried—both about their immediate livelihood and the future of the fishery, according to Smithsonian Magazine:

This is considered one of the worst parasites for salmonid fisheries in the U.S. and Europe,” says Eileen Ryce, a biologist overseeing hatcheries and fish health for Montana’s fish and wildlife agency. “It is a complicated parasite and we’ve got the perfect storm on the Yellowstone right now.”

The fish kill has shaken people in Livingston, a small river town of just over 7,000 people that is culturally and economically defined by its share of Montana’s $343-million dollar fishing industry.

Downtown at the bustling Katabatic Brewing Company, bartender Mark Lighthiser spent last Friday serving drinks to worried fishing guides who were already contemplating career changes. “We depend deeply on the Yellowstone as a resource—not just for water, but for recreation and our economy,” he says. Many here are worried that the fish kill is not a short-term hit, but a glimpse into what is to come if southwest Montana’s climate maintains its hotter and drier trajectory. “It’s not going to go away,” says Lighthiser.

This is a case of bad things happening to good rivers. The Yellowstone is the “Yankee Stadium” of fly-fishing, as one fisheries biologist quipped during a recent press conference. With its headwaters protected by Yellowstone National Park, the river has long remained a healthy bastion of native species, such as its nominal Yellowstone cutthroat trout. It’s also the longest river in the lower 48 states that has no reservoir taming its flows, thanks to efforts resisting a major dam proposal in the 1970s.

But as the recent whitefish kill shows, when the climate changes and pathogens proliferate into new regions, even healthy rivers like the Yellowstone are at risk.

Although the short term prognosis looks dire, U.S. Geological Survey aquatic ecologist and University of Montana researcher Clint Muhlfeld told the Smithsonian that whitefish and other Montana fish are hardy—although they won’t survive a changing climate alone:

The good news is that trout and their relatives like whitefish already have experience with climate change. “These species, for the last 14,000 years have survived cataclysmic occurrences in the environment: flooding, wildfire, extremely warm temperatures, glaciation,” says Muhlfeld. “You name it, they’ve survived.”

But they’re still going to need a helping hand. Fortunately for the Yellowstone, conservation experts have been working for decades to provide the clean, complex and cold habitats that Muhlfield says are “key ingredients” for maintaining river ecosystems in a changing climate.

One crucial effort is restoring the Yellowstone’s higher-elevation side streams, so fish can use them as cold-water sanctuaries and spawning grounds. In 1970, Montana started changing its water laws to make it easier for the state, NGOs and irrigators to work together and keep water in streams and rivers. Those water-leasing policies and the creek restorations they allowed are a big reason why the Yellowstone hosts an abundance of its namesake cutthroat trout, says Patrick Byorth, who has worked on many Yellowstone restoration projects for the conservation group Trout Unlimited.

Conservationists on the Yellowstone are also working to insure the river against climate change by protecting its natural floodplain and meanders. Many landowners, fearing that erosion will turn their real estate into river silt, have stifled natural meandering by armoring the river’s banks with stone or metal. But natural floodplains have many ecological benefits, including sponge-like qualities that help bolster streamflows later in the dry season. A new program run by a Bozeman, Montana-based NGO is attempting to stave off armoring by paying landowners who choose to let the river naturally meander.

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