U.S. judge declares mistrial against Bundy, new trial next year

Federal prosecutors “willfully” failed to share evidence with lawyers defending Cliven Bundy and two sons, who are on trial for an April 2014 armed standoff, ruled U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Mars’ Montana ranch sold for $64.8 million

A ranch covering 93,280 acres in southeastern Montana, assembled by Forrest Mars, former co-president of the giant Mars candy company, sold for $64.8 million to Heal Holdings, of Florida, said Drovers.

Cliven Bundy says ‘no thanks’ to jail release during federal trial

A federal judge in Las Vegas said Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who led a standoff with the government over cattle grazing, can be released on bond from jail during his trial on weapons and conspiracy charges.

Potential BLM chief has fought the agency for years

Karen Budd-Fallen, a Wyoming-based lawyer with a history of representing ranchers against the Bureau of Land Management, has announced that she’s in the running to be the BLM’s next director. With a long career of protecting private-property rights, Budd-Fallen, “has challenged grazing regulations and endangered species protections, and in a landmark case attempted to sue individual BLM employees under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO.

Ecology program has prisoners planting sagebrush

Under a program funded by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), prisoners in six states are planting sagebrush, a plant native to Western grasslands that has been depleted by development and by ranchers' preference for other grasses that make better forage for livestock. Sagebrush provides valuable habitat for big-game and birds, while providing enough shade to keep moisture in the soil.

Montana ranchers worry new radioactive waste rule isn’t enough

Since 2013, nearly 233,000 tons of radioactive waste, much of it from the Bakken oilfields in North Dakota, has been disposed of at a site near Glendive, Montana. Now, after years of prodding, the state has finally proposed a rule for handling oilfield waste, but area ranchers and farmers think the plan leaves them deeply vulnerable.

Zinke won’t dismantle any national monuments, though some might get smaller

After a controversial four-month review of 27 U.S. national monuments, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke won’t recommend that the White House do away with any of them. He did say, however, that “a handful of sites” could see their boundaries changed or shrunken, says the Associated Press.

Cliven Bundy supporters found not guilty

A federal jury in Las Vegas delivered not guilty verdicts today to four gunmen involved in the 2014 standoff led by Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. “U.S. prosecutors said the four defendants had committed crimes including conspiracy, assault on a federal officer, extortion, and weapons law violations,” said Reuters.

Greens worry over new sage grouse conservation plan

A new sage grouse conservation plan released by the Interior Department has ranchers and energy developers in the West cheering, while environmentalists worry about the endangered bird’s future.

Minorities lead rural growth, keeping communities alive

Between 1980-2015, 99 percent of rural counties saw a rise in their minority population, bringing new economic vitality and slowing population decline in those areas, according to a report by Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit research group focused on Western land use. The U.S. is predicted to have a majority minority-population by 2044.

As hot weather deepens drought, USDA expands emergency grazing area

Drought is intensifying in the northern Plains and a quarter of North Dakota, a cattle and wheat state, suffers extreme drought, according to the weekly Drought Monitor. With hot and dry weather expected to continue, USDA vastly expanded the region where ranchers can graze livestock on Conservation Reserve land, normally out of bounds.

Why killing coyotes might hurt livestock

Last year, the USDA’s Wildlife Services killed 76,859 coyotes, in large part to protect livestock, especially sheep and calves. But killing coyotes may actually make the problem worse, says New Food Economy.

Republicans Hold Montana House Seat

Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate in Montana’s special House election to replace Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, is accused of “body-slamming” a reporter on Wednesday, the night before the election. Still, the attack wasn’t enough to stop Gianforte from winning the race against …

Out West, scientists fight invasive grass with soil bacteria

Backed by the Department of the Interior, scientists are experimenting with soil bacteria to kill off one of the West’s biggest botanical invaders: cheatgrass. After identifying which naturally-occurring soil bacteria are capable of killing cheatgrass in the spring, before it puts out seeds, researchers are conducting tests on plots in Idaho.

Groundwater feeds more than half of river flow in the West

More than half the flow of rivers in the upper Colorado Basin is derived from groundwater, according to a study by the U.S. Geological Society. The study's authors hope it will compel state water managers to ask important questions, since rivers are a key source of irrigation and drinking water across the west. For instance, should a farmer’s use of a nearby river be limited if he or she is also pumping large amounts of groundwater?

Western snowpack is melting faster than anyone has seen in 40 years

“Snowpack levels in the West are melting faster than climate hydrologists have seen in nearly four decades, bringing the snowpack far below normal in most states in the West,” says High Country News.