Conservation

Feds: California reservoirs half full despite El Nino storms

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — The recent onslaught of El Nino storms only slightly increased the levels of California reservoirs that stand at half of historic depths for this time of year, federal officials said Friday while releasing an initial water outlook for 2016.

Heavy rainfall has soaked into a landscape that has been parched by four years of drought, and the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada has grown but hasn't started to melt off and replenish the critically low reservoirs, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Shane Hunt said.

"It's been raining and snowing," he said. "It's going to take a lot more."

Some want to block Wisconsin coyote hunting contest

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — As the sun begins to set this weekend in northern Wisconsin, hunters will start to gather at Main Street Ed's in the small town of Argonne, coyote carcasses in tow. Some will only have one; others could bring in a half-dozen or more.

After a weigh-in at the tavern, hunters will take home prizes for the largest and smallest coyotes, as well as for the most killed. Also-rans will still have a shot at the gun raffle, meat raffle or door prizes.

Coyote-hunting contests aren't unusual around the country, and in Wisconsin, any season is open and legal season on the animals. Supporters say such hunts help control the coyote population. But they're facing a growing backlash from conservationists and wildlife lovers, who compare them to cockfighting and dogfighting and are pushing to ban the contests.

Disappearance of Bolivia's No. 2 lake a harbinger

UNTAVI, Bolivia (AP) — Overturned fishing skiffs lie abandoned on the shores of what was Bolivia's second-largest lake. Beetles dine on bird carcasses and gulls fight for scraps under a glaring sun in what marshes remain.

Lake Poopo was officially declared evaporated last month. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have lost their livelihoods and gone.

High on Bolivia's semi-arid Andean plains at 3,700 meters (more than 12,000 feet) and long subject to climatic whims, the shallow saline lake has essentially dried up before only to rebound to twice the area of Los Angeles.

Mountain snows that feed Colorado River look good so far

DENVER (AP) — Snowpack in the mountains that feeds the Colorado River is slightly above the long-term average this winter — welcome news in the drought-stricken Southwest.

But water and weather experts said Tuesday it's too early to predict how deep the snow will get or how much of it will make its way into the river and on to Lake Powell in Utah and Arizona, one of two major reservoirs on the Colorado.

"We are cautiously optimistic, but nature has a way of doing what it wants," said Chris Watt, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the water in Lake Powell.

US-Canadian agency: More work needed to protect Great Lakes

TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan (AP) — The U.S. and Canada have done well at preventing Great Lakes water from being overused or raided by outsiders but should take additional steps to strengthen their legal protection against future grabs, an advisory organization said Tuesday.

A compact between the region's eight states, and similar legislation approved by the provinces of Ontario and Quebec in the past decade, banned nearly all diversions of water outside their geological boundary and set conservation requirements for users within the region. Since then, no exports have been approved that would have "significant negative impacts on the ecological integrity of the Great Lakes," said a report by the International Joint Commission, which advises both nations on issues affecting shared waterways.

"This is really a model for watersheds all over the world, emphasizing water conservation and stewardship," said Benoit Bouchard, one of Canada's representatives on the six-member commission and a former minister of industry, science and technology.

Court sides with US agency in decades-old land-grazing case

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Siding with the government in a decades-old battle over grazing rights, a federal appeals court overturned a lower-court ruling in favor of a Nevada rancher and strongly admonished a judge in Reno for abusing his power and exhibiting personal bias against U.S. land managers.

In a pair of decisions issued on Friday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the late Wayne Hage of Tonopah and his family were guilty of trespassing cattle on federal land illegally without a grazing permit and should be subject to fines. The appellate court based in San Francisco also determined that U.S. District Judge Robert Clive Jones had no legal basis to find employees of the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service in contempt of court for doing their jobs.

In remanding the case back to the lower court in Reno, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit took the unusual step of ordering a different district judge to handle the case.

California temporarily curbing water to spare vanishing fish

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Saying current water conditions pose particular peril for the state's tiny, disappearing Delta smelt, federal officials moved Thursday to temporarily reduce water deliveries for farmers and millions of other Californians.

Especially muddy water from winter storms is among the factors that risk sweeping some of the world's few remaining Delta smelt off course and into giant water pumps that draw water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin river deltas, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials said.

The pumps are part of federal and state water projects that provide water for up to 25 million Californians. Wildlife experts believe the pumps are one of the main threats to native fish, including the once-plentiful Delta smelt, now nearly extinct, and endangered runs of native salmon.

Yellowstone chief: bison slaughters to continue for now

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Large numbers of migrating Yellowstone National Park bison are likely to face slaughter for at least the next couple of winters as officials weigh changes to a 15-year-old agreement that drives the practice, the park's superintendent said.

Most of the bison removed from America's first national park are captured and sent to slaughter over concerns they may transmit the disease brucellosis to Montana livestock.

Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk said he's hopeful the slaughters eventually will be phased out and replaced by hunting. However, that's not feasible in the short term with a near-record population of about 4,900 park bison, Wenk told The Associated Press.

California officials focus on water conservation amid storms

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — State regulators said Tuesday they are confident that residents of drought-stricken California will meet long-term water conservation goals but worried that the onslaught of storms dousing the state might lead to backsliding.

"You're seeing it rain and you're hearing about a snowpack above normal," State Water Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus said in Sacramento. "We need to keep saving."

Despite the uptick in El Nino-driven precipitation, reservoirs remained critically low in the state and the landscape is parched after four years of drought.

Californians miss water conservation target for November

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Residents of drought-stricken California used 20 percent less water in November, falling short of the governor's 25 percent conservation mandate for a second straight month, officials reported Tuesday.

Despite missing the mandate, California remains on course to beat its long-term goal through February, said Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board.

Residents have saved a combined 26 percent since the cutbacks began in June, she said at a meeting in Sacramento.

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