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A recent report card on climate change education in public middle and high schools across the U.S. ranked Wyoming at the top of the class with a solid A. The rest of the Mountain West was mixed.

In June of 2002, nearly half a million acres burned in the Arizona high country. At the time, the Rodeo-Chediski Fire was the largest wildfire in the state’s history. There was too much fuel in the forest, a buildup that began more than a century ago. Enough people saw the record-breaking fire and agreed that something needed to be done to prevent the next big fire.

On the side of a rocky hill in Sheridan County in northern Wyoming, Brain Mealor is showing off all of his weeds.

“Here, let me grab a cheatgrass so you can see it, too,” he said, plucking a wispy sprig from among the grasses. “They all kind of look the same this time of year.”

Mealor is the director of the University of Wyoming’s Research and Extension Center in Sheridan. He’s performing experiments on how to manage and kill invasive annual grasses, like cheatgrass, ventenata and medusa head, with herbicides.

For many communities in the West, the water that flows out of kitchen faucets and bathroom showerheads starts high up in the mountains, as snowpack tucked under canopies of spruce and pine trees.

This summer’s record-breaking wildfires have reduced some of those headwater forests to burnt trees and heaps of ash. In high alpine ecosystems, climate change has tipped the scales toward drier forests, lessened snowpack, hotter summers and extended fire seasons.

Major wildfires have burned through the Western U.S. in 2020, breaking records for their scale and damage. As firefighters tamp down their immediate effects, those who live nearby are coming to grips with the lingering danger of wildfires. Even long after the flames are gone, residents face a serious increase in the threat of flooding.

Jim Peako / National Park Service


National Park Service hydrologist Erin White likes to call Yellowstone “America’s first water park.” 


It’s home to the headwaters of multiple major rivers and hundreds of waterfalls. Thousands of geysers, mudpots, and hot springs—heated by an underground supervolcano—gush, bubble, and boil in the national park’s 2.2 million acres, too.


Firefighters have long studied how fires behave to figure out where they’re going and how to keep people safe. But wildfires are becoming more unpredictable.

Eleanor Bennett / Aspen Public Radio

As temperatures rise and wildfires continue to burn across the West, many in Colorado are turning their attention to fire prevention. There's a woman who comes to the Roaring Fork Valley every year known as the "goat gypsy." Lani Malmberg and her herd of 1,200 Spanish cashmere goats help with fire mitigation, land restoration and weed control on private and public lands across all 13 Western states. 

A bipartisan group of Western lawmakers have signed onto a new federal bill that aims to reduce the damages of wildfire.

When Joyce Farbe saw how many cars were parked at the Iron Creek Trailhead when she pulled in, she knew it would be a busy day. It was a warm, late summer morning, and her destination – Sawtooth Lake – is one of the most popular day hikes in Central Idaho. Cars were spilling out of the parking lot and lined the dirt road for a quarter mile. Farbe tightened her boot laces and pulled her backpack onto her shoulders. Before she could get going, her work began: She approached two men as they printed their name on a wilderness permit at the trailhead. 

Colorado regulators are now requiring oil and gas operators to monitor fracking emissions earlier and more often, and provide that data to local governments. Both industry officials and regulators supported the move. But concerns persist, like the fact that the rules allow oil and gas operators to choose how to monitor their own emissions. Regardless, environmental groups see Colorado as a leader in emission monitoring in the region and hope other states follow suit.

Large numbers of migratory birds have reportedly dropped dead in New Mexico and Colorado.

There’s still confusion over the deaths, like how many died and what exactly killed them. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believes the bird deaths in Colorado and New Mexico were caused by an unusual cold front.

Sales for both hunting and fishing licenses are up in Colorado this year.

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, over 624,000 people applied for the big game draw this year, up from 609,000 in 2019. And so far, CPW has sold over 940,000 fishing licenses — roughly 200,000 more than last year.

“We’re definitely seeing more people hunting, more people fishing, and more people getting outside and getting to public lands and recreating outside in general,” said Travis Duncan with CPW.

Grizzly Creek Fire Facebook Page

A recent study from the University of Colorado Boulder found that forests in the southern Rocky Mountains are becoming less resilient in the wake of wildfires. 

“In the last fifty years, fires have, on average, become larger. And with larger fires, we have larger areas that are tree-less,” said the lead author of the study Kyle Rodman.

The Mountain West has seen plenty of wildfires this year, but nothing like the catastrophic large fires still burning along the West Coast. That's largely thanks to a relatively wet spring.

The Colorado River’s largest reservoirs are expected to keep struggling over the next five years due to climate change, according to the federal agency that oversees them.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s new modeling projections, which include this year’s record-breaking heat and dryness in some parts of the southwestern watershed, show an increasing likelihood of an official shortage declaration before 2026.

Almost 700,000 acres of public land in the Western United States could be leased to energy developers before the end of 2020, including 51,000 acres in Utah.

Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

More than a million federal dollars could be sent to Glenwood Springs for emergency builds around watershed infrastructure. The National Resources Conservation Service approved the first batch of $5 million in Emergency Watershed Protection funds last week, with funding headed to Garfield, Mesa, Larimer and Grand Counties. 

Colorado Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting

Firefighters working on the Grizzly Creek Fire that sparked over four weeks ago in Glenwood Canyon have been using new technology to help them. This includes everything from drones that drop small plastic spheres known as Dragon Eggs that contain potassium permanganate for burn operations to mapping software that allows aircraft to superimpose infrared footage with topographical maps to more precisely detect the fire perimeter and new burn activity. 

Grizzly Creek Fire

The Grizzly Creek Fire that sparked three weeks ago on Aug. 10 has now burned over 32,000 acres and is 73% contained. 

As of Monday, Aug. 31, the wildfire is now the second most expensive in Colorado this year, costing about $25.5 million. The Pine Gulch Fire, which has been burning north of Grand Junction since late July, is more than four times the size and the most expensive at $28 million.  

This story was powered by America Amplified, a public radio initiative.

When mass protests erupted across the country in late spring, the first Wyoming community to join that national movement was the city of Riverton. On June 1st, 150 or so people gathered in Riverton City Park to honor George Floyd's life and demand justice. 

Riverton is conservative and rural, with a population of about 11,000 people. But it's also surrounded by the Wind River Reservation. The June demonstration was led by a young Arapaho person from Wind River, Micah Lott. 

William Perry Pendley’s nomination to lead the Bureau of Land Management may have been pulled, but he’s still effectively leading the organization. Two lawsuits are still trying to put that to an end. 

As of Wednesday, Aug. 26, the Grizzly Creek Fire that sparked more than two weeks ago has burned roughly 32,000 acres and is 61% contained.


A recently formed coalition of local government, nonprofits and businesses called the Glenwood Canyon Restoration Alliance has plans to raise funds for wildfire restoration. Their work will include planting trees and rebuilding trails at Hanging Lake and other areas that were destroyed in the fire.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has greenlighted the expansion of hunting and fishing access to more than 2.3 million acres and 147 wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries across the nation.

U.S. Forest Service

It’s been a week since the Grizzly Creek Fire first sparked in Glenwood Canyon. In the last seven days, the fire has burned 25,007 acres and is 0% contained. There were no new evacuation orders announced over the weekend, and as of Sunday, nearly 650 people were battling the fire. 

Wedged between a sprawl of Saguaros and a busy highway in Mexico, Quitobaquito is a tiny oasis.

Wildlife and Indigenous communities have long relied on this rare spring system for freshwater in the middle of the Sonoran Desert.

The spring flows into a pond just a few paces from the U.S.-Mexico border at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona. Hia C-ed O'odham and the Tohono O'odham tribal members lived and passed through here long before the park or the border existed.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed the Great American Outdoors Act, a bipartisan bill being hailed as the biggest public lands and conservation legislation in a generation.

In 2019, there wasn't a single human injury caused by a grizzly bear throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. But the number of injuries has already reached eight in 2020 - a new record for the first half of the year, as the Jackson Hole News&Guide reported last week.

Christin Kay

On a recent busy Saturday morning at Ruedi Reservoir in the Fryingpan River valley, Jaime McCullah sprayed a high-powered jet of hot water over every nook and cranny of a bright-green motorboat. 

McCullah is a supervisor for Rocky Mountain Recreation, which inspects boats at Ruedi for quagga and zebra mussels. She found mussel shells, smaller than a fingernail, on the craft she just decontaminated. 

Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

Earlier this month, the Trump administration weakened the National Environmental Policy Act, a 50-year-old rule meant to limit the environmental impact of large development. Trump says rolling back the regulations will eliminate “red tape” and speed up infrastructure projects, but opponents of the move say it paves the way for big industry to get away with development that could harm the environment.