Durango still free of West Nile

La Plata County still appears to be free of West Nile virus, for the time being. Last week, a man in San Juan County, N.M., tested positive for the mosquito-born disease, a strong indication that West Nile season is upon us. Mosquitoes transmit West Nile virus after they bite infected birds, which are the carriers of the disease, and then spread the virus to humans and horses.

Danni Lorrigan, public information officer for San Juan Basin Health Department, said that this summer is expected to be a banner season for the virus. However, there have still been no positive test results locally, including humans, horses or birds. "There are still no positives in La Plata or Archuleta County as of this time," she said.

Last week's New Mexico Department of Health announcement is a signal to start taking precautions, according to Lorrigan. "The recent case in New Mexico shows us that West Nile virus transmission season is here and that everyone in the area should regularly protect themselves from mosquitoes," she said.

Lorrigan suggested the use of repellants, wearing long sleeves and pants, limiting time outdoors at dawn and dusk, keeping doors, windows and screens closed, removing standing water from your property, and trimming shrubbery and removing garden debris.

Last year, 3,000 Coloradoans contracted West Nile virus and 63 of them died. West Nile also made its first appearance on the Western Slope and in La Plata County last year. The most cases of the disease typically occur during the virus' second year.

Lynx reintroduction makes strides

Efforts to reintroduce lynx to the public land northwest of Durango saw more success last week. Colorado Division of Wildlife tracking crews found seven lynx kittens born to two mothers over the Memorial Day weekend. The finding marks the second year in a row reproduction has been documented in the program.

A Yukon female released in 2000 was found May 29 with four healthy kittens at 11,000 feet in a rugged, remote area of the Weminuche Wilderness. Two days later, an Alaskan female released in 2000 was discovered with three healthy kittens in the same general area. Last year DOW trackers confirmed that at least 16 lynx kitten had been born in Colorado, the first recorded births since lynx were first released in 1999.

"This is another important milestone in our ongoing effort to restore lynx to the state," said Rick Kahn, coordinator of the DOW's lynx recovery team. "The kittens born this year are another strong indication that the lynx we have released are establishing a population that has the potential to expand and become self-sustaining in the future."

Kahn emphasized that while the program has accomplished many key goals, two more important milestones must occur before the recovery effort can be called a success."The next step will be for lynx born in Colorado to have young of their own," Kahn said. "The entire effort won't be complete until the number of lynx that live to be adults exceeds the number of mortalities each year."

The DOW has released 167 lynx in Colorado since the program began in 1999. Up to 50 more lynx will be released next year with another 15 each in 2006 and 2007.

Paper ties Campbell with impropriety

The Denver Post has announced that it believes it has linked retiring Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., to the alleged kickbacks and improprieties the Department of Justice is currently investigating. Campbell, who lives in Ignacio, has reported only that he is being investigated on allegations that a former staff member inflated a subordinate's salary in exchange for a $2,000 payment and participated in an improper attempt to steer a government contract to a specific vendor.

According to the Denver Post , Campbell was directly involved in trying to steer a no-bid, government contract to a software company called Thinkstream Inc. and that one of the company's owners is a long-time Campbell supporter.

A story in the May 30 edition of the paper reads, "Colorado open-records requests show that, contrary to Campbell's assertion that his chief of staff, Ginnie Kontnik, was freelancing on the matter, the senator energetically pressed fellow legislators, regional officials like Gorman and the Bush White House on Thinkstream's behalf."

Campbell's office has said only that the Senator will cooperate fully with the investigation and looks forward to getting the matter resolved. Campbell will retire at the end of this year.

River Trail construction scheduled

Work on linking up the final missing segment of the Animas River Trail should begin late this summer. Earlier this spring, the City of Durango gained all of the easements to link up the trail between Rotary Park and the old power plant. The city is currently finalizing construction documents and plans to put the project out to bid in early July.

"We're currently wrapping up the construction documents and it should go out in the first part of July and it will be awarded in late summer," said Greg Caton, assistant city manager. "We're anticipating the start of construction after Sept. 1."

Caton said that construction will definitely spill over into 2005, but that the link up should be complete by next summer. The new section of the trail will go from Rotary Park under the Main Avenue bridge and southwest along the river. After it is fully linked up, the pedestrian and bicycle trail will stretch uninterrupted from 32nd Street to the Durango Mall.

State appropriates more fire dollars

Efforts to fight wildfires throughout Colorado got a boost from Gov. Bill Owens last week. Owens authorized $1.3 million from the Disaster Emergency Fund to contract two additional single-engine air tankers and a firefighting helicopter.

"As the drought continues, the wildfire potential is something we will have to confront aggressively all summer," Owens said. "The decision by the U.S. Forest Service to ground federal air tankers because of serious safety concerns is understandable. It also places a greater responsibility on the states.We have the obligation to do all we can to provide the resources for our firefighters."

The $1.3 million is on top of $1.1 million authorized by Owens in April for firefighting. With those funds, the state immediately contracted for three single-engine air tankers that were placed on standby. The funds also are being used to place 10 state fire engines in areas where there is the greatest threat of catastrophic fire.

"Our strategy of prepositioning firefighting equipment has been very successful," Owens said. "Last year, 95 percent of the fires were controlled at less than 10 acres."

New FLC president takes office

Fort Lewis College's new president Brad Bartel spent his first day in the office early this week. Bartel started work June 1, and the college will officially welcome him with a public reception June 9.

Bartel is the seventh president of Fort Lewis College and the former provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Florida Gulf Coast University. He has nearly 30 years of experience as an academic administrator and faculty member at FGCU, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and San Diego State University.

The Board of Trustees for Fort Lewis College selected Bartel from a field of more than 50 applicants last December.

"I am excited about working with my new colleagues at Fort Lewis College to develop the institution into the premier public liberal arts college in the West," said Bartel.

He added that education of undergraduate students will be the college's only goal.

"Educating undergraduate students is our only mission," he said. "All of our resources are connected to the finest learning and student life environments for undergraduate students. This singular identity for Fort Lewis College focuses our creative energy in a way no other public institution in Colorado can match."

Fort Lewis College will host a welcome reception for Brad and Laura Bartel from 5-7 p.m. June 9 at the Durango Arts Center, 802 E. Second Ave. Refreshments will be served and the public is welcome.

compiled by Will Sands





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