Environmental notes from the wire
Conservation group wins
An energy company is giving a conservation group petroleum leases on nearly 1,700 acres of federal land on the Rocky Mountain Front, where the mountains meet the plains south of Glacier National Park. The donation from Questar E&P to Trout Unlimited was announced Wednesday, one day after Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., moved to permanently prohibit new federal oil and gas leasing on the Front. The company gave Trout Unlimited all of its Front leases, said Chris Wood, vice president of conservation for the nonprofit fisheries organization. They are within the Lewis and Clark National Forest. New oil and gas leasing on the Front ended with a Forest Service order in the late 1990s, but petroleum development using older leases remained possible. Last summer, the Interior Department suspended development of existing leases.
Loggers win, too
In Grants Pass, Ore., a timber sale in a national forest roadless area has been awarded to a logging contractor, despite efforts by conservation groups and the governor to stop it. The Mike’s Gulch timber sale was awarded Tuesday to Silver Creek Logging Co. of Merlin, Ore., after a federal judge in Medford decided it could go forward while he hears a lawsuit arguing the U.S. Forest Service should consider new scientific information, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest spokeswoman Patty Burel said. Meanwhile, a federal judge in San Francisco has yet to rule on a motion from Gov. Ted Kulongoski and conservation groups to stop logging in Mike’s Gulch until two other lawsuits challenging the Bush administration’s new roadless rule can be heard. The Bush administration has maintained that Mike’s Gulch is part of the salvage and restoration effort following the 2002 Biscuit fire, and that because the logs will be flown out by helicopter, no new roads will have to be built. The sale is the first in a roadless area since the Clinton administration generated rules in 2001 putting 58.5 million acres of roadless areas around the country off-limits to most logging.
The number of gray whales born along the Pacific Coast has rebounded from record low levels, suggesting that pregnant females are thriving despite a warming Arctic feeding environment, biologists said. The number of calves that passed Point Piedras Blancas near San Luis Obispo jumped from 945 last year to 1,018 calves in 2006, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers said. Fewer than 300 of the 3-month-olds were spotted in 2000 and 2001. The whales appear to have taken advantage of melted polar sea ice, discovering new routes to food farther north near Barrow, Alaska, and finding enough crustaceans in the mud to nourish pregnant females, scientists said.
Geyser fans winning
In Mammoth Lakes, Calif., a popular section of a warm-water creek that bubbles with hot springs was closed to bathers after geysers began spouting from the riverbed. A 200-yard area around the Hot Creek Geologic Site was fenced off June 6 after Inyo National Forest rangers noticed geysers and steam. Geologists said the eruptions were probably due to heavy runoff from snow colliding with heat rising from magma miles below the valley floor. There were no signs of increased seismic activity in the region, which lies within the crater of a long-dormant volcano, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report released Tuesday.