Suncor to pay $1.9 million to settle lawsuit over South Platte spill

Suncor oil refinery operators responsible for a toxic spill that contaminated Sand Creek and the South Platte River have agreed to pay $1.9 million to settle a lawsuit by federal and state authorities.

A consent decree filed in U.S. District Court says the government authorities agree to drop further legal action unless the spill worsens. This settlement requires court approval after at least 30 days for public notice and comment.

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Chatfield Reservoir water supply project OK’d by feds, faces lawsuit

Federal water engineers on Thursday launched the long-planned and controversial Chatfield Reservoir water supply project, closing a deal with Colorado sponsors.

Audubon Society opponents filed a lawsuit in federal court trying to block construction.

A reallocation of the South Platte River water that is captured in the reservoir, created in 1975 for flood control, is expected to add 2.8 billion gallons a year to water supplies.

But the project will inundate 10 percent of the premier state park.

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Iraq Kurds collect history at CU, want ‘new Israel’ Kurdistan

BOULDER — A Kurdish delegation in Colorado retrieving cached documents detailing Iraqi persecution say Kurdish fighters can provide the increasingly sought ground force to defeat the Islamic State — because this will help Kurds gain independence and be “the next Israel.”

But battle-hardened Kurdish forces, credited with gains in Syria, need better weapons like night vision, artillery, anti-tank, delegation members said Tuesday.

And U.S. officials must realize that trying to keep semi-autonomous Kurdish Iraq as part of a united Iraq ultimately “will fail,” said Woshiar Rasul, an adviser to the governor in Kurds’ main city Sulaymaniyah.

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CU fire study of 8,000 trees finds pre-suppression forests burned hot

Wildfires along Colorado’s Front Range, long assumed to be intensifying, may not be when understood in historical context before 20th-century firefighting, a new study finds.

The findings could complicate the analysis of whether thick forests should be thinned.

University of Colorado researchers, led by fire ecologist and geography professor Tom Veblen, analyzed 8,000 tree-ring samples, starting in 1996, and concluded that severe fires have been an inherent part of mountain ecosystems.

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Ex-CIA chief Petraeus, master of “surge” in Iraq, gives 9/11 talk in Denver

The Army general and ex-CIA chief who led the 2007 U.S. surge to stabilize Iraq praised President Barack Obama’s stepped-up efforts against Islamic State fighters who now have torn that country apart.

But far more difficult than defeating the Islamic State, Gen. David Petraeus said Thursday night in a 9/11 remembrance talk, will be dealing with friction between Shia, Sunni and Kurdish factions afterwards. And neighboring Iran is trying to increase its influence.

Iraqis and their new prime minister Haider al-Abadi “can and should do the reconciliation this time,” Petraeus said, calling Iraqi security forces capable if free from political medding.

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Rocky Mountain forests are dying, report finds, blaming climate change

The main evergreen and aspen tree species making up Rocky Mountain forests are dwindling and likely will die out dramatically by 2060, according to a report by science advocacy groups.

It’s not clear what will replace them.

The Union of Concerned Scientists and Rocky Mountain Climate Organization report, unveiled Wednesday, draws on U.S. Forest Service data documenting tree deaths and projecting future growth based on climate.

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Oil and gas spills surge, two a day, residents often not notified

Oil and gas spills are happening more often in Colorado — at a rate of two a day this year — and usually without anyone telling residents.

Colorado has seen nearly as many spills so far this year as were recorded in all of 2013 — a reflection of greater drilling activity, new reporting requirements and, the state says, tougher enforcement.

While the American Petroleum Institute industry trade group recently announced new standards encouraging companies to communicate more robustly with communities, API says this doesn’t include conveying details of spills — a task left to government.

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Deer declining across Colorado and West

Bouncy, big-eared icons of the American West, deer are declining rapidly across Colorado and other states — forcing difficult decisions.

The causes vary from energy development to hard winters and aren’t always clear.

But dwindling numbers already have driven cutbacks on deer hunting, reducing potential funds for land conservation.

State wildlife biologists are scrambling to reverse the declines. This is spurring scrutiny of intensifying oil and gas drilling on federally managed deer habitat.

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Bald eagles thrive while goldens face rising threats around West

Bald eagles are popping out in healthy numbers around Colorado, where historically they were rare, a dramatic adaptation that lifts spirits. State wildlife biologists once deemed such a comeback impossible. Damming rivers to form reservoirs lured geese, created cottonwood nesting habitat and put water year-round in the South Platte River, which otherwise ran dry in late summer.

Using the deadly pesticide DDT was banned. Bald eagles augmented their fish-and-fowl diet by snapping up prairie dogs. And bald eagles proved increasingly resilient amid rapid urbanization.

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Bison bouncing back but lack room to roam, forcing herd cuts

ROCKY MOUNTAIN ARSENAL NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE — The dwindling of open space where bison can roam is hurting federal efforts to restore herds, forcing refuge managers to kill hundreds of bison and search for land links between protected areas.

But the bison on fenced preserves continue to multiply — 11 calves were born here this spring after recent forced herd reductions. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says she is working on ensuring large landscapes nationwide, increasingly by collaborating with private property owners.

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