Local aspen tree blight worsens

Fall colors are shaping up to be a little shabby in coming months. Forest managers are calling for more brown than gold in much of the San Juan National Forest this autumn, and the culprit is a new phenomenon known as Sudden Aspen Decline (SAD), which causes some aspen stands to deteriorate and die.

The Forest Service is working with its Research Branch, entomologists and pathologists, other resource specialists to identify treatment opportunities. The hope is that they can limit the extent of SAD and identify opportunities to regenerate stands. The concern goes way beyond leaf looking. It is feared that SAD could significantly affect the habitat of aspen-dependent wildlife species, as well as hunting and tourism economies.

“This year, we have noted a large increase and expansion of Sudden Aspen Decline on the Western Slope, much of which is even more severe than what was noted on the San Juan National Forest last year,” said Roy Mask, with the U.S. Forest Service Gunnison Service Center.

Researchers suspect widespread severe drought conditions earlier this decade may have caused stress, particularly in mature stands of aspen at lower elevations. That stress in turn may have made the weakened trees susceptible to secondary infections and infestations. It appears that aspen borers, bark beetles and canker, naturally present to lesser degrees, are more active in SAD-affected stands. One unusual aspect of SAD is that the roots of many of the affected clones appear to be weakened, potentially preventing regeneration.

Interestingly, young aspen stands regenerating from past timber operations appear to remain healthy and green beside more mature aspen stands now affected by SAD, according to the Forest Service. As a result, foresters plan to use timber management to diversify the age structure of aspen stands to try to increase the resilience of the landscape to SAD.

“When you cut an aspen, it releases an auxin, or plant hormone, that tells the roots that the trees have been severed and to send up new shoots,” said Mark Krabath, a forester for the Dolores Public Lands Office. “If we wait until the stand, or clone, is mostly dead, the chance of regeneration is significantly less.”

Durango renovation door opens

Easy money could be rolling into downtown Durango. The Durango City Council has discovered a low-interest loan and grant program that could help many Durangoans renovate tired downtown dwellings. An informational forum is scheduled for Sept. 20.

The USDA Rural Development Office offers low-interest loans and grants specifically for upgrading old homes in rural areas. Homeowners can obtain $20,000 loans with 1 percent interest amortized over 20 years. In addition, homeowners over the age of 65 can receive an outright $7,500 grant with no strings attached. Officially, these funds must be used to remodel dwellings or remove health or safety hazards, but that could also mean new siding or roofing, kitchen cabinets, or plumbing, electrical or other such upgrades.

Durango City Councilor Renee Parsons referenced the 2000 Census as evidence that such a program could help locally. First, the census revealed that more than 75 percent of Durangoans earn less than $30,000 per year. Second, more than 1,100 homes inside city limits were built in 1939 or earlier.

“Just driving around town, you can see those older homes that could use some help,” Parsons explained. “It’s really obvious that we have enough people in this community that can benefit from something like this. Our city land is pretty much priced out, but this is one way to help.”

Next Thurs., Sept. 20, a forum on the program will be held in City Council Chambers, 949 E. Second Ave., at 7 p.m. The council hopes that many Durangoans will recognize the opportunity and take advantage.

“It’s one of those programs that’s under the radar,” Parsons said. “No one really knows about it, but the USDA is wanting to give this money away.”

For more information, call the USDA Rural Development Office in Cortez at 565-8416 Ext. 4 or visit www.rurdev. usda.gov/co/index.html.


Skyhawks to go pink this Sunday

“Tough Enough to Wear PinkTM” will be the theme this Sun., Sept. 16, when the Fort Lewis College men’s and women’s soccer teams face the Colorado School of Mines. The

FLC teams are joining forces with Mercy Health Foundation to honor FLC president Brad Bartel, who was recently diagnosed with cancer. The effort will also promote cancer awareness in the community and raise money for a new breast care center.

As part of the event, the Skyhawks will wear pink shirts with the “Tough Enough to Wear PinkTM” logo in pre-game warm-ups and pink banners will decorate the flagpoles at the field. Pink shirts similar to the ones worn by players will be sold to fans, and the cost of admission will be discounted for fans wearing pink. The shirts worn by players will be autographed and auctioned, along with other soccer collectibles.

“A sea of pink at the games will be a very visible statement of support for Dr. Bartel and for the fight against cancer in general. Pink may be best known for breast cancer, but the key point is that we’re all fighting against a common enemy – cancer – and its many sub-types,” said Linda Campbell, chair of Mercy Health Foundation’s campaign for a comprehensive breast care center.

Bartel was recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare form of cancer of the plasma cells, and is currently on leave from the college while he receives treatment. The FLC soccer players came up with the idea of showing their support for Bartel by honoring him during their biggest game of the year. After learning of Mercy Health Foundation’s campaign, they thought they might also help the community by promoting cancer awareness and raising money for the breast care center.

“Our teams feel a responsibility to Durango and especially Dr. Bartel for the support he gives us. We want to do our part to build awareness and give back to our community,” said Tim Hankinson, head men’s soccer coach.

The top-ranked Fort Lewis College men’s soccer team won the NCAA Division II national championship in 2005 and placed second in 2006. The women’s team finished fourth in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in 2006 and second in 2005.

The men’s game will begin at noon on Sunday at FLC’s Dirks Field and will be immediately followed by the women’s game at 2:30 p.m. The auction will be held during the half-time of the men’s game.


‘Paycheck Away’ forum hits town

Community leaders, local residents and policy experts gathered in Durango on Monday to try to identify solutions to hunger, homelessness and health care. The meeting was a stop of the 2007 Paycheck Away Project, a series of community forums held around the state.

“These forums are great opportunities for local leaders and residents to make their voice heard about the daily challenges families face and what public policy solutions we can pursue to help reverse chronic problems like hunger, homelessness and poverty,” said Deb DeBoutez from the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

In Colorado, one out of five households lives below the Self-Sufficiency Standard. Particularly in rural communities, a lack of affordable housing as well as high energy costs can lead to homelessness. Other major issues addressed in the Paycheck Away Forums include energy costs and discussions about finding permanent resources for low-income energy-assistance programs, as well as educating energy conservation.

– compiled by Will Sands

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