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Home » Arts & Culture (c104) » New West Daily Roundup for Dec. 16, 2016
Joe Riis, Gobi Bear Project

New West Daily Roundup for Dec. 16, 2016

Today in New West news: Montana author tracks Gobi Desert grizzlies, CO energy industry at odds with University of Denver’s tentative divestment discussion, and Idaho homeowners square off against Texas co. over natural gas well.

Grizzlies are some of the most notable, charismatic fauna of the Rocky Mountain West, inspiring generations of inhabitants. Indeed, we associate grizzlies closely with the Western landscape, especially in states like Wyoming and Montana, bursting with wide vistas of stark granite and vernal trees. But you may be surprised, as Whitefish, Montana author Doug Chadwick learned, that grizzlies can also live (and sometimes) thrive in places like the Gobi Desert, according to the Flathead Beacon:

Chadwick learned of the mythic Gobi grizzly bear while reporting a story about snow leopards for National Geographic, which has been publishing his conservation writing for nearly four decades. The mere mention of bears persisting on a desert landscape stoked Chadwick’s curiosity, but when he learned of their extreme rarity and the Mongolian government’s burgeoning effort to save them, his background as a trained wildlife biologist and dedicated conservationist was invigorated.

It didn’t take long for him to become a devoted Gobi groupie.

A week after Chadwick spied his first Gobi grizzly — a shaggy, torpid old male that had paused to drink and rest at a desert oasis on the other side of the world from Glacier Park — the writer learned that the creature had died, having succumbed to an inhospitable environment that sustains a tiny population of the rarefied bear.

The experience drove home the notion that the beleaguered bear needed help.

“I knew then that I couldn’t turn my back on these bears,” Chadwick, who recently published a book drawing attention to the species, said in a recent interview.

Fewer than three-dozen Gobi bears survive in one of the harshest expanses on the planet, the Gobi Desert, a sprawling, mountain-bound landscape spread over half-a-million square miles of southern Mongolia and northern China. A “rain shadow” desert, the Gobi receives negligible moisture because the Himalayan mountain range blocks rain-carrying clouds, while temperatures fluctuate between extremes of minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and 120 degrees in the summer.

With little water, the requirements for wildlife to survive there are stiff, and particularly so for charismatic mega-fauna like the grizzly bear, which shares intimate quarters with Montanans, but largely keeps its own counsel in the sparsely populated region of Mongolia.

Today, the Gobi bear’s sole refuge lies within the Greater Gobi Strictly Protected Area, a nature preserve established in 1976 and declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1990.

Over in Colorado, according to the Denver Post, controversy is brewing over an upcoming vote by trustees at the University of Denver over whether to “divest” themselves of investments in oil, natural gas and coal companies. The vote, spurred by student concern over climate change, is part of a growing trend spearheaded by 350.org, an environmental group dedicated to shifting people and society (at all levels) away from fossil fuel consumption. It’s a move that has industry reps on notice, with the Independent Petroleum Association of America hosting a forum in Denver assailing the divestment movement. From the Post:

Pulling investments from oil and gas companies would have little effect aside from damaging the university’s ability to fund faculty research and student scholarships, said the forum’s speakers. It’s “a symbolic gesture, a political stunt,” said Simon Lomax, a Denver-based adviser to the petroleum association’s “Divestment Facts” project.

Lomax accused 350.org of using student activists at campuses across the country to help the group “stigmatize the oil and gas industry.” And DU mechanical engineering student Scott Albertoni said there is a misconception that most students are concerned about fossil fuel investments or even aware of the issue. “If you ask about divestment, you get a blank stare from my peers,” he said.

But Lori Scott, a DU senior majoring in gender studies and Spanish and part of the “Divest DU” advocacy group, said the university should “not continue to invest in the destruction of the climate and of people’s lives.” The student group wants DU to remove investments in the top 200 fossil-fuel companies.

“Our goal is not to stigmatize the people who ended up working in the industry,” she said. “The goal is to change the climate we live in,” in part by persuading the industry to move toward clean energy.

The oil and gas industry invested $90 billion in zero- and low-emissions technology from 2000-2014, according to Tracee Bentley, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council and a forum speaker. That’s second only to the federal government’s $110 billion, she said.

And Chris Fiore, a senior economist with Compass Lexecon, which studied university divestment for the industry, said it could cost DU between $68 million and $250 million during the next 20 years if school trustees vote to divest. As a private university, DU’s endowment and investment profile are not public, so Fiore’s estimates were based on DU’s overall mix of investments.

DU previously hired a task force to investigate fossil fuel divestment, holding seven hearings between July and October. Per task force chairman Jim Griesemer, they will write a recommendation for the board of trustees to be read at its January meeting. Throughout the process, Griesemer has acknowledged “the reality of global warming,” fossil fuels’ impact on it, and said institutions like DU “have a moral responsibility to address with the sense of urgency urged on us by our DU Divest DU students.”

Keeping with energy, according to the Idaho Business Review, homeowners in southwestern Idaho are chaffing against plans by a Texas company to drill a natural gas well near their home—a move the homeowners say violates their mineral rights:

An attorney representing five homeowners in a subdivision near Fruitland told Idaho Department of Lands officials Dec. 14 that the amount of money the homeowners will receive if Houston-based Alta Mesa puts in a well is a bad deal for the homeowners.

“Forcing my clients to sell their mineral rights when nobody knows what they’re worth is not just and reasonable,” attorney James Piotrowski said.

The process for such impasses is called integration, and in Idaho can begin when owners with at least 55 percent of the mineral rights in an area agree to lease.

State lawmakers in recent years have approved and altered the process that’s intended to prevent a minority of mineral rights owners in an area from stopping natural gas or oil production, which can generate revenue for the state.

In the area being contested by the homeowners, Alta Mesa in its application says it has leases for at least 66 percent in the proposed 640-acre area just across the Snake River from Oregon.

Michael Christian, an attorney for Alta Mesa, said recent signings pushed that past 70 percent. He also reminded state officials during the hearing that assessing the validity of the statutes passed by Idaho lawmakers concerning natural gas and oil was outside the scope of their authority.

Piotrowski “successfully turned the hearing from an administrative proceeding into a political show about the evils, or claimed evils, of oil and gas drilling,” he told state officials. After the meeting he said he was confident Alta Mesa in its application met the requirements for integration to take place.

Several mineral rights owners spoke at the meeting.

“There was a man came to the door and asked me to sign a paper,” said James Dille, who refused out of concern his $240,000 home on about half an acre could be devalued if a natural gas well went in somewhere on the 640 acres.

Piotrowski listed other concerns that included contaminated water, earthquakes and noise, arguing they had to be considered in what is fair in a lease offer.

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