Biomass booming in the West

EAGLE – A growing perplexity in many resort valleys is what do with all the old trees now that the sawmills are shut down. In the Colorado Rockies and Sierra Nevada, officials are increasingly wondering if the answer is biomass burners.

While Summit County readies plans for a biomass burner that could heat county and other buildings near Frisco, Vail has sent a delegation to Austria to study existing biomass plants. The technology, the representatives said, is being employed effectively in the Alps.

Now also considering biomass is Eagle County.The Vail Daily reports that county officials have concluded that electricity from a biomass burner would be more expensive than electricity now produced by coal and natural gas. However, the price might be right for heating county buildings, which are located 30 miles west of Vail.

The newspaper reports that county officials continue to study the possibilities and could make a decision – depending upon the numbers – within a year or two. But the most important consideration is whether enough wood will be available during the next 50 years to supply such a burner.

A similar discussion is underway in the Lake Tahoe Basin. There, as in the Rockies, 80 years of fire suppression have left forests in aging conditions that make them increasingly vulnerable to a major or “catastrophic” fire.The Tahoe World reports that a plan has been proposed to burn 4,330 acres annually in prescribed fires to help quell the threat of a major conflagration.

But a supervisor in Placer County, Bruce Kranz, is proposing a study of using the biomass for energy. Instead of a burning plant, however, he thinks a fermentation plan would work better. The gases captured would be used in place of natural gas that fuels buses in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Biomass also came under discussion in May in Aspen at a conference called “Innovative Ideas for the New West.” There, attendees heard from Mark Sardella, who directs a Santa Fe-based nonprofit called Local Energy that seeks to foster community self-reliance on energy. To that end, he is helping create a plant to heat buildings in downtown Santa Fe by burning of wood chips.

The group in Aspen also heard from Heinz Kopetz, chairman of the European Biomass Association. “Bio-energy is becoming a real alternative to gas and oil,” he said. It also receives heavy support from governments.


Westerners drawn to Everest

SILVERTON – Ken Sauls, who has lived in Silverton for the last decade and makes part of his living as a filmmaker, summited Mt. Everest this spring, his second time. He must be doing pretty darned well, right?

Well, yes and no. “Living the dream” has its costs, Sauls, who also makes a living as a carpenter, tells theSilverton Standard. “Never having money; and you have to be willing to let go of any semblance of security. Last year I was wearing my nail bags all year.”

But, he added, “It’s definitely not boring.”

Sauls, who has been climbing for 25 years, was hired to shoot video at the base camp in 2003. An injury left a vacancy on the summit team, and he was selected to go. This year, he was hired to shoot film on the summit for a series to be broadcast on the Discovery Channel.

Climbing is his passion, which is what led to his videography work. Now, high-altitude work is becoming his niche. But Everest itself was never a major goal, he says.

“It’s not technical climbing, it’s not that aesthetic, and it’s a three-ring circus,” he told the newspaper. “But, like a lot of things, it has unfolded into a richer experience than I thought it would be. It is super dramatic.”

Meanwhile, Winter Park’s Jack Gerstein was turned back this spring on his second bid to summit Everest. He suffered a mini-stroke, theWinter Park Manifest reports, but seems to have been able to descend the mountain in reasonably good shape.

But in Canada, the resort community of Invermere was celebrating the success of Daniel Griffith, who at age 55 became the oldest Canadian to summit Everest. But it’s a short-lived celebration, as he’s immediately out to climb the highest peaks in North America, South America, Europe, Indonesia and Antarctica before year’s end.

Griffith’s wife, Deborah, tells theInvermere Valley Echo that it’s not always easy being the wife of a high-altitude mountaineer. “What offsets those challenges is all the cool times I’ve had with him being dragged up 20 million peaks,” she said. “There are tradeoffs with everything.”


Enron crooks leave Aspen legacy

ASPEN – The name Carnegie has both good and bad connotations. The steel magnate of the 19th century, Andrew Carnegie was known as a repressor of the working man. But even today, public libraries bearing his name are found across the land.

In Aspen, a similar conundrum has taken place. There, convicted Enron thief Kenneth Lay and his wife, Linda, owned homes as recently as 2003 and gave lavishly to some two-dozen nonprofits in the Roaring Fork Valley, points outThe Denver Post.

Among the major beneficiaries was the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, which received $440,000 of the $550,000 pledged by the Lay Family Foundation. He also gave at least $100,000 to the Aspen Music Festival and school, and as recently as last year, gave money to other schools and a local radio station.

Tom Cardamone, of the environmental program, said the board of directors talked about the propriety of accepting money from an accused swindler. “Essentially, the conclusion was that this isn’t a gift from an individual. It’s a gift from a family foundation, and just because there’s a spotlight on an individual associated with it doesn’t make it wrong,” he toldThe Post.

“I’m not sure I’d like to begin necessarily looking too deeply,” said Aspen Public Radio’s executive director, Brent Gardner-Smith. “Many nonprofit organizations don’t like to look at the purity of people’s funds.”

The Lays bought four homes, beginning in 1991, at a cost of $17.5 million. They were sold for $23.9 million in 2002-03.


Ravens prospers in Jackson

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – In the late 1940s, the famous wildlife researchers Frank and John Craighead began studying the birds of prey in an area near Grand Teton National Park. Now, nearly 60 years later, it’s clear that ravens – the largest members of the crow family – have become more dominant, not only there but elsewhere in Jackson Hole.

Just why ravens are prospering is not completely understood but seems to be tied to the prospering of people and elk in the valley.

The growing elk herds resulted in the National Elk Refuge. To contain the numbers, a special winter hunt was started. That provides carrion for ravens to pick at, helping carry them through the winter. At the same time, with more people, there was more garbage in Dumpsters and in home trash cans. And finally, according to Derek Craighead, ravens can probably find more heat among people’s homes and businesses during bone-cold winter nights.

– compiled by Allen Best

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