When voters in Colorado head to the polls in November, they could be the first in any state to decide to bring back an endangered species. 

State officials announced last week that an effort to reintroduce gray wolves in Colorado qualified for the 2020 ballot. If passed, the ballot initiative would direct the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to develop a plan to reintroduce the wolves to public land in the western part of the state by the end of 2023. 

Gray wolves were widely eradicated in the mid-20th century, but facing dwindling numbers, they received endangered species protections in 1975. They have been reintroduced into various regions, including Yellowstone National Park, and conservationists have pushed to bring them back into additional habitats they say are suitable for wolf populations, such as Colorado. 

Supporters say a ballot measure puts the wolf restoration effort in the hands of voters and bypasses state and federal officials they argue haven’t done enough to recover and protect the species. 

Rob Edward, president of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, said he has been working toward reintroducing wolves in Colorado for more than 25 years. He said the group, which is leading the campaign supporting the initiative, decided to push for a ballot measure “after we had exhausted all of our due diligence with federal agencies and state agencies.”

Edward and Michael Robinson, conservation advocates with the Center for Biological Diversity, said both Republican and Democratic administrations have been reluctant to develop a recovery plan for the controversial predators, long despised by farmers and ranchers. Last March, the Trump administration proposed stripping federal protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states, declaring that the wolves have successfully recovered. 

“The current administration is making an extra-hard push to divest themselves of wolves and other species recovery obligations, but this has also been a struggle for many, many years,” Edward said. 

Wildlife advocates say the Trump administration has declined to prioritize protections for species threatened with extinction. As of about three years into Trump’s presidency, his administration has listed 21 species as threatened or endangered, according to data compiled by the Center for Biological Diversity. That is less than a third of the 71 species the Obama administration listed in the same time period. By comparison, the George W. Bush administration listed 25, the Clinton administration listed 212 and the George H.W. Bush administration listed 153 in the first three years.

“If you have an administration that’s not even providing basic protections for species on the brink of extinction, it’s reasonable to expect they’re not going to recover species like wolves in the Southern Rockies,” said Noah Greenwald, the center's endangered species director.

Meanwhile in Colorado, Edward said there’s wide support among residents for reintroducing wolves. 

Conservationists say the predators can provide a check on the population growth of animals such as deer and elk, which eat vegetation. But opponents of the measure, like Denny Behrens, co-chair of the Colorado Stop the Wolf Coalition, argue wolves would kill livestock and risk the livelihoods of Colorado ranchers. 

Edward said the initiative would require the state to compensate owners when wolves kill cows, sheep or other livestock. But Behrens said the compensation is inadequate. 

“Check with the ranchers in Idaho and Montana; it’s not working. The depredation is so high, they don’t have the money to pay for it,” Behrens said. He said his group has the support of 25 Colorado counties and counting that have expressed opposition to the initiative. 

Joanna Lambert, professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, said the wolf restoration effort in the state is especially notable as the world's scientists warn about biodiversity loss. She pointed to the Australian fires as the latest crisis that has affected or killed more than a billion animals. 

“Anybody that has their eyes open looking around the world sees habitat destruction. If you’re paying attention, you cannot deny we’re losing wild things and wild places at a time when the measures we have to protect those species are increasingly being eroded,” she said. “Although what’s happening in Colorado is not necessarily addressing what’s happening at the federal level, it’s a statement on how much we are interested in saving what we have regardless of what’s happening at the federal level.”


— A dispatch from the “epicenter of global warming”: Researchers part of the year-long MOSAiC Arctic expedition are studying the “epicenter of global warming” in the very environment that is changing beneath their feet, The Post’s Sarah Kaplan writes in this account of the voyage that began in late September. It’s the biggest Arctic research expedition in history, and a “rotating cast of more than 300 researchers will spend a year stuck in the sea ice aboard the Polarstern, moving only at the speed of the ice’s natural drift. Their goal is to understand the complex and rapidly changing Arctic system before it collapses.”

  • Here’s what participants in the first leg of the voyage described: The ice and landscape were even more unstable than anticipated and new cracks and fissures appeared in the ice daily, which is “throwing the carefully-coordinated camp into disarray.” Matthew Shupe, an atmospheric scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and co-coordinator for the MOSAiC expedition, said in the Arctic of the near future, “this kind of project … setting up a ice camp for a whole year, is not going to be possible.” 
  • And participants still on their way: Melinda Webster, a sea ice geophysicist at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks who is heading to the site in June, told Kaplan: “By the time I leave the Polarstern in mid-August, there is a possibility that the ice at the MOSAiC site could be completely melted.”

— The tortoise that helped save his species is retiring: Diego, a sexually active tortoise that fathered upward of 800 offspring and helped save his species is headed for retirement, The Posts Brittany Shammas writes. Extinction once seemed unavoidable for the Española giant tortoise, with just over a dozen of them left on the Galapagos island by the 1970s. But Diego’s “considerable effort helped his species, known scientifically as Chelonoidis hoodensis, rebound to a population of 2,000. It also turned him into a star, his sexual prowess the subject of articles in newspapers across the globe,” Shammas writes. Now, officials at the Galapagos National Park announced the successful breeding program is being terminated and Diego will be returned to the wild. 

— “We’re building an army, folks”: Actress Jane Fonda led her final “Fire Drill Friday,” the weekly climate change protest she began in October. The events have “featured a rotating cast of experts, activists and Fonda’s celebrity friends giving speeches on environmental issues. And each one has ended the same way: with Capitol Police strapping zip ties around participants’ wrists and charging them with obstruction,” Kaplan writes. “But, fueled by the power of Fonda’s celebrity and a growing sense of urgency about the warming planet, the campaign has exploded in size and scope. Barely two dozen people attended Fonda’s first protest. On Friday, at a rally targeting the financial sector, she spoke to what looked like 500 protesters.” 

— In Australia, people are rushing to hospitals because the smoke pollution is so bad: The bush fires are blanketing the skies in some parts of the continent with pollution, and officials say distress calls and emergency room visits have spiked. “A key question lingers as the fires that began last year continue to burn, in some cases merging into megafires: What are the long-term health implications of so many people exposed to thick smoke for so long?,” The Post’s Brady Dennis and Darryl Fears write

  • Research on the health impacts: Stanford University scientists Kari Nadeau and Mary Prunicki are researching the long-term consequences of wildfire smoke exposure. “They’re closely following hundreds of people affected by devastating wildfires in California, taking blood samples and asking them about everything from their use of air filters to their psychological responses to the experience. Earlier research has linked air pollution from wildfires to a range of acute conditions, including asthma, heart ailments and strokes, but Nadeau and Prunicki hope to solve a deeper mystery,” Dennis and Fears write. “…The work is urgent, Prunicki said, not only because existing research is limited, but also because the rapidly warming climate is likely to make the unprecedented fires in Australia only more common there and elsewhere around the globe.”

— The reality of climate change, pollution was on display at CES: Amid the futuristic ideas unveiled at CES, the world’s largest consumer tech conference, company AoAir discussed an Atmos face mask, a battery-powered air filter meant for the polluted air that a large majority of the world’s population already faces. “The two-phase air filtration system can clean smoke from wildfires, such as those ravaging Australia. It can also provide more information about air quality,” The Post’s Heather Kelly writes.

  • The backdrop: “With each CES, more reality creeps in. For the second consecutive year, the event had a section focused on climate change-related technology with the optimistic name ‘Resilience.’ ”


— Trump administration sets new standards for big equipment: The Energy Department set new efficiency standards for equipment such as commercial boilers and portable air conditioners after nearly three years of trying to block them. The standards were finalized under the Obama administration, but the Trump administration “only published them in the Federal Register now to comply with a unanimous ruling last October by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit,” The Post’s Steven Mufson reports.

  • The details: The new standards will “save consumers and businesses about $8.4 billion and cut carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 100 million tons over 30 years, according to the Energy Department’s own estimates. That is the equivalent of taking 21 million cars off the road for a year.” 
A string of powerful earthquakes and aftershocks originating in the south of the island continue to stun and rattle residents in early January. (The Washington Post)

— Earthquakes and aftershocks continue to rock Puerto Rico: Another aftershock over the weekend has further rattled the island of residents grappling with just their latest disaster. Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced said she signed a request for a “major disaster declaration” that needs approval from the White House, The Post’s Arelis R. Hernández and Cristina Corujo report. The declaration would “release more resources for the power grid, building inspectors and individual assistance. The island is still waiting on more than $18 billion in federal funding after Hurricane Maria devastated much of the island in 2017,” they write. 

  • In the dark and vulnerable: “Nearly 60,000 people are without power, concentrated in the most impacted areas, a reminder that the island’s frail electrical grid is vulnerable to natural disasters — some people went weeks or even months without power after Hurricane Maria, which was widely cited as a contributing factor in countless deaths in the aftermath of that storm.”


— Tesla is leading the electric vehicle race, but the strategy is risky: What Tesla has over its competition is the range of its battery. The company says the long-range Model S can drive about 370 miles without needing to recharge. Meanwhile, Tesla’s closest electric competitors on range can go about 240 miles, The Post’s Faiz Siddiqui reports. “Tesla is leading the electric vehicle race because it has more high-powered battery tech — and it takes more risks. For more than a decade, Tesla has been designing battery-powered vehicles from the ground up and using software to make the batteries more efficient,” he writes. “…But car industry experts also say the company has taken more risks than traditional automakers, making its batteries ever-denser and out of different materials than competitors. Some point to a handful of spontaneous battery fires under investigation by federal regulators as potential fallout. And it’s too soon to know — as with any new vehicle — what kind of durability the vehicles may offer in the long run.” 


Coming Up

  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife holds a legislative hearing on Tuesday.
  • The House Transportation Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation holds a hearing on the path to a carbon-free maritime industry on Tuesday.
  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on the Energy Department’s Office of Science on Wednesday.




— Teen discovers planet on the third day of his NASA internship: Wolf Cukier, a 17-year-old from Scarsdale, N.Y., discovered a planet orbiting two stars on the third day of his second time interning at the space research laboratory, The Post’s Lateshia Beachum writes. “The planet, now known as TOI 1338 b, is nearly seven times as large as Earth and has two stars — one that’s about 10 percent more massive than our sun and another only a third of the sun’s mass and less bright, according to NASA.” 

Astronomers working with NASA’s TESS satellite announced the discovery of a circumbinary planet, TOI 1338 b., on Jan. 6. (NASA)