Wildlife overpasses gain support

VAIL PASS – Support is building for construction of a wildlife overpass across Interstate 70 near Vail Pass. The overpass being envisioned would be similar to the wildlife crossing structures in Alberta’s Banff National Park.

Congress is allocating $500,000 to begin the environmental studies, although the full cost of construction is estimated variously at $4.5 million and $8 million.

While two Canada lynx have been killed on I-70 in that particular area, as well as deer, elk and other animals, proponents also portray it partly as a matter of improving safety for drivers. Eleven people have been injured during the last decade in collisions with wildlife between the pass and Vail, located 8 miles away.

If built, the overpasses will be the first such structures in the United States. I-70 is being chosen partly because of its visibility. Conservation groups and wildlife biologists are lobbying for expanded use of such overpasses in Colorado and other states.

“We hope this will be the pilot project that will get everybody excited,” said Dave Reed, development and outreach director for the Aspen Wilderness Workshop, one of the conservation groups.

Biologists and wildlife activists want the overpasses for several reasons. First, in some cases, particularly with the endangered lynx, even a few deaths by roadkill are denting an already small population. Since being reintroduced in 1999, three lynx have been killed on I-70, two of them near Vail Pass. Roadkill is less of an issue with deer and elk.

The greater issue, says biologists, is one of connectivity among wildlife populations. I-70 has become like a Berlin Wall to wildlife in Colorado, a barrier to movement of species that have traditionally moved in broad areas. Such movement is necessary to retain a healthy gene pool, they say. Something called island theory of wildlife species holds that the smaller the area for a species, the greater the likelihood of extinction.

Studies by Tony Clevenger of the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University show that deer, elk, wolves and grizzly bears prefer to use larger wildlife-crossing structures, because they give a greater sense of openness. However, mountain lions and black bears prefer underpasses.

The Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project, one of the groups lobbying for the overpasses, has designated eight other crossings in Colorado, including sites near Ridgway, Durango and Salida.

A-Basin announces expansion plans

SUMMIT COUNTY – Although it opened in 1946, among the first of Colorado’s ski resorts, Arapahoe Basin changed very little for decades.

Now, things are changing in a hurry. The resort finally got snowmaking two years ago. It has a new, improved base lodge. And now, after two years of discussions, the Forest Service is asking the public whether there are any good reasons the resort should not increase its terrain by about 40 percent.

The new terrain, a mixture of blue, black and double-black runs, is located in Montezuma Bowl, on the south side of the existing slopes. Like A-Basin generally, it is high – the low point for the new lift would be at an elevation of 11,350 feet.

The Summit Daily News notes that opposition is likely from backcountry skiers who already feel pinched by expansion of ski areas and proliferation of snowmobiles.

Why the expansion when the ski industry has been growing so slowly? The Forest Service predicts more skiers from the rapidly growing Front Range urban corridor, which includes Denver, about 65 miles to the east.

Telluride preps for flu pandemic

TELLURIDE – In 1918, isolated though they were from the rest of the world, the little mining towns of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains were hard hit by the flu epidemic. More people lost their lives to the flu than had been killed in the world war that had just ended.

In Telluride, local Greg Craig has been drumming on local officials and agencies for the past four years to better prepare for a major public health emergency such as a flu pandemic. Now, with fears mounting of another flu pandemic, reportsThe Telluride Watch, he’s badgering local officials once again.

At least some public officials think his proposed response is over the top. “We’re not going to go through a 500-page plan when disaster hits,” said San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters.

“We have to keep it simple. If a plan’s simple, it’s more likely to be used.”

But Craig’s points are being heard. Among other what-ifs, San Miguel County officials are pondering what if the economy halts – how can 7,000 people (plus visitors) be fed and watered?

Early retirement slows ski expansion

CRESTED BUTTE – The goal of the Bush administration to shrink the nonmilitary portion of the federal government is having perhaps unintended consequences at Crested Butte. There, plans for a new ski area have been delayed by the early retirement of a U.S. Forest Service geologist. The agency had offered many employees early retirement in September.

Because the ski area, called Snodgrass Mountain, would be located on Forest Service land, the Forest Service must first agree that the land is suitable for a ski area. The report in question would examine how the terrain could potentially be affected by snowmaking and construction of lift towers.

“For us, it’s terrible,” said John Norton, the projects consultant for Crested Butte Mountain Resort, the ski area operator. “We don’t know how far it will set us back. It already has held us up.” Norton told theCrested Butte News that the project is at a standstill.

Summit County ponders pumpback

SUMMIT COUNTY – An old idea is getting new and more intense study as both Denver-area cities and resort towns on the Western Slope struggle to figure out how to wring more water out of headwater streams and rivers.

The idea is to pump water from the Blue River below Silverthorne back upstream to Dillon Reservoir. There, it could be drawn under the Continental Divide to Denver and its fast-growing suburbs or used by the fast-growing resort towns of Summit County. The water would have to be pumped upstream, because of legal commitments to leave water in the river for fish and other aquatic life.

Summit County officials have appropriated $100,000 toward a study that will determine the economic and environmental costs of the water pumpback, reports theSummit Daily News.

The idea has been around for several decades but is being given new energy in the wake of the 2002 drought, which presented a clear vision of water scarcity in Colorado in coming decades as Colorado continues to become more populated, particularly in resort areas and along the Front Range.

The pumpback would also dovetail nicely with a corollary and similarly long-simmering plan to build a dam near Wolcott, about 50 miles west of Silverthorne, between the Eagle Valley towns of Vail and Eagle.

Glenn Porzak, a water attorney who represents Vail Resorts as well as many towns and water districts in Summit and Eagle counties, is pushing the idea. However, influential environmentalist Dan Luecke argues that Front Range cities need to maximize existing supplies before diverting more water from Summit County.

Environmentalists block elk feeding

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Several conservation groups are continuing their effort to stop the artificial feeding of elk herds in and around Jackson Hole and nearby Pinedale. The groups argue that Wyoming’s elk-feeding programs create petri-dish-like conditions by artificially concentrating wildlife. They fear the easy transmission of chronic wasting and other devastating diseases.

The groups – the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and the Wyoming Outdoor Council – are suing the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, arguing those agencies should not permit artificial feeding on federal lands.

Brent Larson, who supervises the Bridger-Teton National Forest, told theJackson Hole News & Guide that he agrees that phasing out feeding groups is the best way to combat wildlife diseases. However, at least some ranchers and hunters want to retain the feeding grounds to keep elk numbers larger and to prevent them from mingling with livestock, which could result in the spread of diseases such as brucellosis to cattle.

Meanwhile, a task force that was appointed in the wake of a prior lawsuit proposed testing of animals for presence of disease. Up to 10 percent of the elk herd near Pinedale could be slaughtered this winter to prevent the spread of brucellosis.

– compiled by Allen Best

Cold temps slow bark beetle spread

GRANBY – Among the thanks given over turkey dinners in the Granby-Winter Park area last week was for the early arrival of winter. But with the thanks came a divine appeal for cold, cold weather – a week’s worth of cold, something that hasn’t happened in many years in a valley that once proclaimed itself the icebox of the nation, with recorded temperatures that vouchsafed that claim.

Extreme and extended cold weather is the only thing that is guaranteed to stop the spread of bark beetles, which have been advancing rapidly across the forests of the Fraser Valley, where the resort towns are located. A new estimate from the Forest Service finds the number of trees infested by the beetles has increased geometrically during the last year.

“They’re in the peak of the epidemic this year,” the agency’s Rick Caissie told theWinter Park Manifest. “It’s five to 10 times worse than it was there last year, which is pretty significant.”

Grand Lake considers bottling water

GRAND LAKE – Add Grand Lake to the list of headwater mountain towns thinking there’s money to be made from bottled water.

Located at the very headwaters of the Colorado River, the resort town rarely uses even half of its allocated water. Because only Rocky Mountain National Park is located above the town, and there was never much mining in the region, the water is absent many impurities. “Most municipalities wish they had it that clear when they send it out to the public,” says Shane Hale, the town manager.

The Sky Hi News reports preliminary planning that could yield an introductory stock of bottled water within a few months. The hope is that this Grand Lake water – no name was mentioned – could achieve the same success as other bottled waters in Colorado. Biota water comes from ice-climbing capital Ouray, while Aspen – despite its name – comes from the San Luis Valley. But both of those brands are dwarfed by the bottled water sold by PepsiCo and Coca Cola, called respectively Aquafina and Dasani.

Housing tight as drum in Aspen

ASPEN – Two years ago, half of one of Aspen’s designated affordable housing projects went begging even as ski season began. That was then. This year, the story is a more familiar one, a market as tight as a drum.

“There’s a pretty good scramble going on right now for housing,” Tom McCabe, director of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, toldThe Aspen Times. “If you have a room to rent, you can make a buck. You could ask a high price right now and you could rent it out in a day.”

Seasonal employees, many of them from Latin America, have been snapping up the housing – what is left of it after the construction workers who have flooded Aspen to build hotels and other high-end lodging properties.

While the Aspen Skiing Co. has a large chunk of housing for employees, it also filled up quickly. “It’s insane this year,” a housing staff officer said.

–compiled by Allen Best


In this week's issue...

July 18, 2024
Rebuilding Craig

Agreement helps carve a path forward for town long dependent on coal

July 11, 2024
Reining it in

Amid rise in complaints, City embarks on renewed campaign to educate dog owners

July 11, 2024
Rolling retro

Vintage bikes get their day to shine with upcoming swap and sale