Train’s reforestation effort takes off

 A local institution is continuing to take innovative steps to lighten its environmental footprint. An effort sparked by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and a local carbon offset company goes into the ground this week.

Earlier last spring, the railroad announced it would take a major stab at urban reforestation in order to offset the impacts of its vehicle fleet. Al Harper, D&SNG owner, came up with the idea after reading an article on a local company, CarbonZERO, which offsets local carbon emissions with local programs. Harper approached the company about creating an offset for the D&SNG’s 12 maintenance trucks and four tour buses.

“We’re always looking for ideas and ways to improve the operation,” Harper said at the time. “I thought maybe we could do a lifetime payment for each of the trucks in our maintenance fleet and each of our buses.”

Harper contacted Ian Barrowclough, director of CarbonZERO, about coming up with a specific program. He then took the idea a step further and suggested that the payment could be made in the form of new trees planted in the community.

“They calculated the life spans of the vehicles and then determined how many trees are needed to eliminate the emissions,” Harper said.

Durango will become a lot greener this week, as a result. Through help from the Train Smoke Task Force, a committee of citizens, government employees and train officials, 2,587 trees will be planted. Sites on La Plata Electric Association land and at Fort Lewis College received a few ceremonial plantings in the spring. But beginning this week, the lion’s share – 2,500 saplings – will be planted in local soil.

As the basis for the exchange, CarbonZERO determined that each new tree will absorb 1 ton of carbon emissions over seven years. “The natural process of photosynthesis absorbs carbon dioxide and converts it to oxygen,” Barrowclough explained.

CarbonZero will conduct its first mass tree planting on Thursday and is giving away more than 1,000 trees to local residents as part of the effort. The remaining trees are being planted on BLM land around the Animas La Plata Project and at the Bar D Ranch.

Beyond offsetting the railroad’s vehicle fleet, CarbonZero plans to continue the urban reforestation trend. The company has been selling offsets at local retailers and plans to make a dramatic improvement to the local landscape in 2009.

“This year we will plant 2,500 trees in La Plata County; in 2009, our goal is to plant 10 times that – 30,000 trees,” Barrowclough said. “We lost tens of thousands of trees in the (Missionary Ridge) fire and perhaps are losing even more to beetle kill. Our efforts over time will not only capture thousands of pounds of carbon emissions, but also make positive steps towards re-greening La Plata County.”


Local forest service shifts leadership

Major personnel changes are afoot at the San Juan Public Lands Center. The local Forest Service is shopping for a new Columbine District ranger and recently hired a new deputy national forest supervisor.

Pauline Ellis served as the ranger and field office manager for the Columbine District, which encompasses the national forest around Durango, Silverton and Bayfield, for the last seven years. However, the Forest Service recently announced that Ellis has left that post to take on the role of travel management/partnerships coordinator. The new position was identified as necessary to catch up with management and resource issues and meet the requirements of the USFS Travel Management Rule.

“Pauline is obviously a great choice to fill this role,” said Mark Stiles, Forest Supervisor/Field Office Manager. “She’s an engineer who understands the construction and maintenance issues of our roads and trails. She has a strong background in recreation management and knows our lands very well.”

Levi Broyles, the district ranger in the Paonia Ranger District, will serve as acting Columbine ranger during the search for Ellis’ replacement, which is expected to take a few months.

In addition, Stiles will get a new No. 2 man in coming months. Former Tellurider Bill Dunkelberger will become the San Juan’s new deputy national supervisor/field office manager this fall. Dunkelberger was most recently the BLM field office director in Bishop, Calif.

“Bill has a strong reputation as a great person with whom to work, a team builder, and a great communicator,” said Stiles.


Ralph Nader takes on Desert Rock

The Desert Rock Power Plant landed on the campaign trail recently. Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader campaigned in New Mexico last week and rallied with supporters during an Aug. 26 stop at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. At the center of the rally was an attack on corporations, according to a report in the Rocky Mountain News.

Nader commented that the financial entities have no allegiance to the democratic process. He added that “the domination of concentrated corporate power over our governments and over our economy” is the central issue in American politics. “These companies have hijacked our government, corrupted our elections, and they have turned the Republican and Democratic parties into agents or representatives of big business,” Nader said.

The third party candidate, who ran for president in 1996, 2000 and as an independent in 2004, then addressed Sithe Global Power’s bid to build the massive Desert Rock Energy Project on Navajo Nation land southwest of Farmington. He argued against a new coal-fired power source and in favor of renewable energy solutions to the Navajo Nation’s financial woes.

“We are nearing a stage now of burgeoning solar energy reality and potential,” Nader said. “The mere proposal to build this giant coal-burning plant would be considered a crime against humanity. It would be considered a poisoning of the air, water and soil that are the background of human health and safety.”


Solar rebates available locally

Area residents now have another incentive to go renewable. Rebates are available for La Plata and Archuleta County residents planning to install solar domestic hot water systems on their primary homes.

As part of Colorado’s New Energy Economy, La Plata Electric Association and the Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency (4CORE) have been awarded twin $25,000 grants from the Governor’s Energy Office. With a matching grant, $100,000 worth of funding is available locally to help residents offset the cost of installing solar systems to heat water for domestic use.

“We hope to assist homeowners who have wanted to invest in solar heating but have been prohibited by the cost,” said Aileen Tracy, 4CORE executive director,

The rebates will be between $1,500 to $3,000 depending on the size of the solar thermal systems, which generally range in price from $7,000 to $12,000. Through the end of 2008, federal tax credits up to $2,000 are also available to help mitigate the cost.

More information and applications can be found at

– Will Sands





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