Grand Lake readies for the big one

GRAND LAKE – The headline on theSky-Hi Newswas not “If the big fire comes,” but rather “when.” The town, although located next to Colorado’s second-largest natural body of water, is amid a forest of dead and drying trees. With no week-long, 40-below weather in decades to kill them, the bark beetles are now killing lodgepole pine that are as small as 5 inches in diameter.

To complicate matters, Grand Lake is located at the end of a road. Not even Aspen, Crested Butte or Telluride, which are all located at seasonal dead-ends, are so backed into a corner. As well, the mountain topography has yielded a street system that is anything but rectangular.

With all this in mind, the Grand Lake Fire Protection District is creating a fire-protection plan. The plan partly intends to address the issue of defensible space. But planners also hope to figure out how firefighters will respond when, or perhaps if, a big fire does occur. Certainly, given prevailing winds in the area, Grand Lake does lie in harm’s way.

Not least, the document aims to provide planning for evacuation of the town in the event of a major forest fire, something that is being talked about in Vail, another mountain town located near and among dead and drying forests.

The Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 encouraged such plans but provided no money directly. However, the federal government through grants from the National Park Service and other agencies is paying most of the $50,000 cost for the Grand Lake planning.

Meanwhile, the fears of catastrophic fire resulting from the bark beetle infestation are somewhat overstated, say forestry scientists. “There’s a popular misconception that the bugs turn the trees red and that equals more fires,” said Wayne Shepperd, a silviculturalist with the U.S. Forest Service. “Red trees do not appreciably increase the fire risk.”

In other words, the risk of ignition is no greater.

However, for the first year or two, when the dead trees still have red needles high in their crowns, the risk of a fire spread by crowns – typically, the most volatile type of forest fire – could be high, said another forest scientist, Mark Finney, a Montana-based fire researcher with the U.S. Forest Service. With “mile upon mile of trees dying within a short time,” Summit County and other areas hit hard by bark beetles could be at temporarily high risk, Finney told theSummit Daily News.

But Finney nonetheless believes a more nuanced discussion about forests and treatment options is needed. “All this talk, all this worry that we have an emergency might just go away in a year or two on its own,” he said.

The foresters say the greatest risk of fire may come 20 to 30 years after a bug infestation, when the dead trees are on the ground. In that case, super-hot, earth-baking fires could result.

Voters asked to approve solar power

CARBONDALE – Voters in Carbondale this November will be asked if the town should issue up to $1.8 million in bonds to construct and build two large-scale solar energy systems. The action, if approved, is believed to be unique in Colorado.

The town, which is 30 miles west of Aspen, already has several small solar collectors, including a 4-kilowatt system on the roof of the Town Hall, and another 6-kilowatt system at the picnic shelter. The proposal before voters would yield two new installations, altogether 250 kilowatts of production.

Solar is generally believed to have a 20-year payback, as the infrastructure costs are considerable, making the electricity far more expensive than that produced by burning coal. However, Colorado voters in 2004 approved a constitutional amendment that requires electrical utilities to sharply increase the amount of power they sell that is obtained from renewable sources. That, in turn, means that Carbondale would help get financing and a market for the power from Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest electrical supplier.

Wolves frighten two forest servants

KETCHUM, Idaho – Two employees of the U.S. Forest Service were evacuated by helicopter from the Sawtooth Wilderness in September after encountering a pack of howling wolves. The pair was new to Idaho and apparently had no prior experience with wolves. The two men said that wherever they went, the wolves seemed to be nearby.

Steve Nadeau, the wolf program supervisor for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, downplayed the real threat to

the men, as did others consulted by theIdaho Mountain Express. “Holy moly – sounds to me like someone’s read too many of Grimms’ fairy tales,” said Nadeau.

Lynne Stone, a resident of the town of Stanley, who regularly observes wolves in the backcountry, said when wolves howl, “The echo can come from 360 degrees.” This is particularly true in the mountains, where there is a lot of rock. “They probably weren’t surrounded by wolves,” she said.

Ed Waldapfel, a spokesman for the Sawtooth National Forest, said seeing and hearing wolves in the backcountry of the Sawtooth and Boise national forests is not uncommon. “These guys were not at risk, and it’s too bad they didn’t take time to enjoy one of the greatest experiences you could ever have in terms of observing wildlife,” he said.

The men had first observed the wolves chasing a bull elk across a meadow.

Aspen may subsidize bookstore

ASPEN – Katherine Thalberg died earlier this year in Aspen, leaving behind the legacy of a business called Explore Booksellers. It is a delightful place, located in an old house on Highway 82 just a few blocks from the courthouse, with a trove of well-selected titles matched to Aspen’s intellectually vigorous residents and visitors. But its future was immediately cast in doubt.

Thalberg’s descendants want to unload the bookstore, and her widower, former Aspen Mayor Bill Stirling – who apparently was not part of the inheritance (they married rather late in life) – has asked for the City of Aspen to “rescue” the business. Thalberg’s daughters want $5.2 million for the store.

While the Aspen City Council indicated it would help out, community sentiment seems skeptical. Beyond some peculiarities of the urgent plea, there is the broader question of how much city governments should prop up individual businesses. In an editorial,The Aspen Timesexplained that it couldn’t help but feel “a little uncomfortable” with the idea of city government becoming the bookstore owner.

In a parallel case, the Isis Theatre was “saved” when a mixture of private and nonprofit foundations came to the table with $7.5 million. The city’s role was limited to that of financier. As a municipality, Aspen was able to secure “substantially lower” interest rates for the project because of its exemplary credit worthiness.

Climax Mine ready to reopen

LEADVILLE – The mining company Phelps Dodge continues to methodically go about the steps that may well yield renewed operations at the Climax Mine, which is located at an elevation of more than 11,300 feet, halfway between Leadville and Copper Mountain.

The mine has what is believed to the world’s largest stone-based deposit of molybdenum, a mineral used for hardening of steel and other purposes. The mine has operated sporadically since World War II, and in the 1970s employed 3,000 people from the Leadville, Vail and Summit County areas. It was closed in 1981 after prices of molybdenum plunged, but molybdenum prices in the last several years have surged and are expected to remain high.

Gordon D. Stinnnett, the senior supervisor, told the Leadville Herald-Democrat that the goal remains to get the mine operating again by the end of 2009.

Canada braces for global warming

BANFF, Alberta – A good many people in Canada might just enjoy a little more global warming. After all, winters there can be awfully long.

But the same higher temperatures that lead to a longer growing season could also lead to water shortages, say scientists who gathered in Banff for a two-day conference on the changing climate.

“The winter is quite a bit warmer than it was a few decades ago,” said Shawn Marshall, an associate professor in glaciology and climatology at the University of Calgary. “The most serious consequence of losing our winter is losing our snow. The disadvantage of rain is that when it falls, it runs off. Snow and ice are reliable sources of water.”

In lower elevations, where reliable records have been kept for the past century, the snowpack has decreased 20 to 25 percent during the last 20 years.

– compiled by Allen Best

–  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