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KUNR Today: Feds invest $50 million in sagebrush ecosystem as threats mount

A hilly area with sagebrush and other grasses.
David Price
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Read or listen to news headlines for Tuesday, August 16, 2022.

U.S. government investing $50 million in sagebrush restoration projects
By Will Walkey, Mountain West News Bureau

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is using funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act to restore and protect sagebrush ecosystems across the West. The investment comes as sagebrush country is increasingly under threat.

Mark Twain called it the forest in exquisite miniature. The boundless skies and green shrubs that define sagebrush country cover a third of the Lower 48 from the Dakotas to Oregon and Nevada. Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service Martha Williams says it's a critical environment for hundreds of species and agricultural operations.

“It represents a Western way of life,” Williams said, “and it's so vital to the health and economy and viability of these Western communities.”

But the U.S. is losing about a million acres of sagebrush ecosystem every year due to invasive species and climate change. That’s why Williams’ department is spending about $50 million over the next 5 years for restoration projects. It will work with private landowners to do things like maintain water resources and manage grazing.

Emergency funding provided for Death Valley flood repairs
By The Associated Press

The U.S. Department of Transportation has made nearly $12 million available to the National Park Service to repair flood damage to roads in Death Valley National Park. Most roads in the desert park have been closed since runoff from thunderstorms on Aug. 5 wiped out major sections of roadways or covered them with debris. U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Monday that the $11.7 million in emergency relief funding will allow roads to reopen quickly.

Elsewhere in the Southern California deserts, floods linked to this summer's very active monsoon season have also damaged the Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park.

Environmentalists say proposed Northern Nevada geothermal project threatens rare butterfly
By Shelby Herbert

The Center for Biological Diversity is petitioning the federal government to grant emergency protections to a rare butterfly. Beached sandhill skippers are small pale butterflies with faint yellow markings on their wings.

The species’ entire range is restricted to a single hotspring Bureau of Land Management to build a geothermal facility. The proposal includes two plants capable of producing up to 30 megawatts of electricity.

Patrick Donnelly is the director of the Nevada chapter of the Center for Biological Diversity:

“Our line in the sand is around extinction,” Donnelly said. “Biodiversity is what gives us clean air to breathe and clean water to drink and what puts food on our plates. Pollinators, like the bleached sandhill skipper, are why we can eat every day. So biodiversity is, like, essential to our existence on Earth.”

Geothermal plants generate renewable, low-emission energy, but they have a well-documented history of drying up and contaminating nearby hot spring ecosystems.

As a note of disclosure, Ormat Technologies provides financial support to this station. 

California-Mental Health Workers Strike
By The Associated Press

Nearly 2,000 Kaiser Permanente psychologists, therapists, social workers and other mental health workers in Northern California began an open-ended strike Monday over staffing shortages that their union said have led patients to wait for months to get help. The National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents the workers, is negotiating a new contract with the Oakland-based health giant.

It said the strike is to demand Kaiser hire more mental health workers to ease the burden put on the current staff. Kaiser Permanente said in a statement Sunday that what's at issue is the union's demand to increase the time therapists spend on tasks other than seeing patients.

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