Commuter jets become efficient

ASPEN – The new generation of regional jets are 40 percent more fuel-efficient than earlier planes. That figure comes from Aspen, which is debating whether it is truly a “green” resort when so many of its guests and residents travel by airplane so frequently.

A report released by city officials last year as part of their global warming program, called the Canary Initiative, showed that 41 percent of Aspen’s greenhouse gas emissions result from airplane flights, split almost evenly between commercial and private planes. Aspen, in turn, has double the per capita emissions of the United States, which itself is among the world leaders in polluting the atmosphere.

But planes are becoming more fuel efficient, points out Bill Tomcich, a flight expert and president of the central reservations agency, Stay Aspen Snowmass.

The old mainstay for commuter shuttles between Aspen and Denver was the British Aerospace 146. It burns about 817 gallons of fuel per hour. Assuming a full flight of 88 passengers, that works out to be 4.75 gallons per passenger on the half-hour flight to Denver.

A new jet, the CRJ-700, burns only 2.8 gallons per passenger, again assuming a full flight of 66 people. Both calculations are for cruise time, not for climbing or descending.

Randy Udall, an energy expert, points out that either plane is still more fuel efficient than a person driving solo in a car between Aspen and Denver. More efficient yet is a van, again fully loaded, which would cost about 2.2 gallons per person.

 “Jet travel is (on reasonably loaded planes) surprisingly fuel efficient,” he says. “The problem is that jet journeys tend to cover enormous distances, causing, ‘jet setters’ to consume a lot of fuel,” he says.

An even more fuel-efficient plane is expected in the Rocky Mountains soon. Frontier Airlines is buying a fleet of regional jets called the Q-400, which is alleged to be even more fuel efficient than the CRJs. Frontier is expected to connect Denver with resort airports in Colorado, Wyoming and possibly even Idaho and Montana.

BC thick with new mountain resorts

REVELSTOKE, B.C. – British Columbia is alive with the sound of hammers. From the Pacific Coast to the Continental Divide, workers have been at work creating destination resorts in an attempt to replicate the success of Whistler.

Touring these resorts, Bob Barnett, editor of Whistler’sPique, finds many of the resort villages are different – not better, but different – from Whistler. They are located 5 to 10 miles from existing community centers, and they mostly lack the hardware stores and other such features of more traditional communities, even Whistler.

Who is buying into all these resorts? Calgary, Seattle and Vancouver are large markets, he points out, but most are drawing destination visitors from Europe and Australia. Calgary, located across the Continental Divide, similar to Denver’s positioning vis-à-vis Colorado’s ski resorts, is one major air portal, and Cranbrook, on the west side, is another.

Among the most grandiose plans is at Revelstoke, where a ski mountain with North America’s most substantial vertical relief is being planned, along with 16,000 beds and other aspects of an all-season resort. But Barnett reports that plans have been delayed. Clearing of the forest for the base village and a golf course at Mount MacKenzie were to have begun this year, but are now scheduled to begin next spring. It also lacks proximity to a major airport.

He suggests that given the amount of resort development already in British Columbia, and the better accessibility of those other resorts to markets, “expectations of a recreational real estate boom eventually reaching Mount MacKenzie are optimistic.”

Bark beetles continue their spree

VAIL – The forests dying because of bark beetles and the consequent potential for catastrophic fires continue to worry people throughout the Rocky Mountains.

Helicopters were used to retrieve 2,300 dead or dying lodgepole pine trees in Vail last week. The Forest Service and Town of Vail shared the removal cost, $260 per tree, as the trees are on property belonging to both agencies. The contractor, K & K Logging, is hauling the trees to Silt, about 80 miles west. The company estimates that 80 percent will go into housing construction, with the rest being used for fence posts and perhaps fire wood.

On top of this, some 8,500 trees were removed this summer from the ski area on Vail Mountain, next to the 34 lifts and other more sensitive areas. More thinning is planned next year.

The logging, however, only dented the beetle fire potential. Three-quarters of many hillsides above Vail are rust colored, indicative of dead or drying pine trees. The deadening is expected to intensify next year, revealing the activities of the beetles this year.

Tree removal is also occurring in the Winter Park-Granby-Grand Lake area, but at greater expense than some property owners had counted on. Some are paying anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000 an acre for tree removal, reports theSky-Hi News. This is more than the cost of the land at these rural getaways in some cases.

One of the problems is what to do with the wood. When large swathes of land are cleared, such as was the case at Vail, the wood can be sold to the remaining sawmills, if for only little or no money. But timber sales a few acres at a time are another matter. Only 2 percent of the logs overall are considered marketable – ironic, given that only 40 years ago three or more sawmills were operating in Middle Park.

Wolverines score key legal victory

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Wildlife activists have won a court victory in their effort to get additional protections for wolverines. Wolverines once were found in the Rockies down to New Mexico as well as in the Cascades down into California. Today, they are believed to remain only in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, plus the northern end of Washington.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had rejected a petition by conservation groups, which have been trying since 2000 to get the wolverine listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. District court for Montana ordered the agency to conduct a full status review of the animal, reports theJackson Hole News & Guide.

This story echoes that of the Canada lynx in nearly every respect. That animal was finally given federal protection in 2000 after six years of effort by conservation groups. In addition, Colorado state authorities reintroduced lynx. Lynx, if any existed, had been too few in number to propagate. Despite some limited evidence of wolverines in Colorado, they are similarly thought to be too rare to sustain a population.

Tim Preso, a staff attorney for Earthjustice, blamed motorized recreation, particularly snowmobiles and helicopter skiing. However, Jeff Copeland, wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service, said much about wolverine biology remains a mystery.

Idaho marijuana initiative proceeds

SUN VALLEY, Idaho – Ryan Davidson has prevailed in his effort to get legalization of marijuana on the ballot in Sun Valley.

Davidson, chairman of a group called Liberty Lobby, had wanted to get an initiative on the ballot in Sun Valley and two other nearby towns, Ketchum and Hailey, to allow voters to decide whether marijuana can be grown, sold and used within their respective city limits.

When he presented initiative petitions to the three towns in 2004, all three rejected the petitions, and Sun Valley said that the provision was unconstitutional. Davidson sued and lost, but in the case of Sun Valley, the Idaho Supreme Court has overturned the lower court’s decision. The city, the court ruled, does not have the right to decide the constitutionality of a proposed initiative.

This still does not mean the proposal will go before voters, only that Davidson won a key legal victory. Ironically, he tells theIdaho Mountain Express that he does not inhale.

“Someday I would like to see marijuana legalized – not that I smoke it. In fact, I think people shouldn’t smoke it because it’s not good for you,” he said. “But I think people should have the right to smoke it.”

– compiled by Allen Best

In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows