Efforts slow bark beetle advance

ALBANY, Calif. – Aerial application of a substance used in herbal teas could limit spread of the mountain pine beetles that have been devastating lodgepole pine across the West.

Scientists for more than a decade have known that the substance, called verbenone, is released by the beetles themselves to inhibit overcrowding of host trees. What is new is evidence that the verbenone, when spread across broad areas by helicopters or other vehicles, might better disperse beetles and simulate natural beetle release.

The evidence comes from an experiment, in which helicopters were used to test flakes of the substance on plots located near Mount Shasta in northern California and in the Bitterroot Range along the Idaho-Montana border. The sites had similar tree densities and rates of infections. Half the plots were “treated” with the substance and the other half were left untreated.

On those plots that were treated, the level of attack was reduced to about one-third of what it was on the untreated plots.

The team of nine scientists, led by Nancy Gillette of the Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station, concluded that the technique could provide a way to treat large-scale infestations, such as are found in central British Columbia, where 22 million acres of lodgepole pine have been affected, as well as in Colorado, where 95 percent of lodgepole pine are expected to die.

In Colorado, the bark beetles are expected to soon infest ponderosa pine, which are more commonly found in foothills, like those surrounding Durango.

The scientists say the substance could be an alternative to insecticides, which can have adverse environmental effects. Verbenone has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use as a flavor ingredient.

The researchers say that thinning of overgrown forests is still recommended to reduce susceptibility to bark beetles. However, the verbenone-coated flakes can provide some protection for the dense, old-growth stands required by wildlife.

In Colorado, Jan Burke of the White River National Forest, said the broader focus should be on reforestation and encouraging species and age diversity in the “future forest.”

“We have to be pro-active and not just chase beetles,” she told theSummit Daily News. “There’s a lot we can do, and it may not be hanging on to mature lodgepole pines. The best thing may be to cut out the dead and replant.”

Meanwhile, there is evidence that the spread of mountain bark beetles in Colorado is slowing. That fresh theory notes that anecdotal observations in Summit County indicate that the beetles aren’t spreading as rapidly to higher elevations in and near Breckenridge.

The beetles are still expected to march through the forest, killing large numbers of trees. But at the higher elevations of around 10,000 feet, where lodgepole pine start mixing with spruce and fir trees, there may be more survivors.

Mountain Village kills off porcupines

MOUNTAIN VILLAGE – Mountain Village has been having a problem with porcupines. They have been chewing on trees around homes, with increasing damage to expanding landscaping in recent years.

Why this is, nobody knows for sure, reportsThe Telluride Watch. One theory is that mountain lions and other animals that prey upon porcupines have been driven away. Also, like most of the hotels and homes, many of the trees used for landscaping are young, which porcupines like.

Simply removing the porcupines doesn’t seem to work very well. Nobody wants to accept them, and most die when transplanted during winter.

Instead, they will be killed. “It’s very sad, but they have to be euthanized,” trapper Tina Mayer told the Town Council.

Micro-hydro boom hits Canada

PEMBERTON, B.C. – Across British Columbia, including its ski towns, there has been quite a stew for the last year about what some call the latest gold rush. Except that instead of minerals, private companies are seeking to create electricity by harnessing the power of rivers.

Most people are familiar with hydroelectricity. However, extremely small systems, called microhydro, are also catching on. But in British Columbia, something in between is being proposed: run-of-river systems, which use small dams to divert water through penstocks.

But those run-of-river systems do have impacts to the environment, say opponents. There is also mistrust of the companies because they are private.

Whistler’sPique Newsmagazine reports hundreds of people gathered in a gym at Pemberton, a town near Whistler, intent on protesting run-of-river projects. “Wild Rivers Don’t’ Belong in Pipes,” said one banner.

But not all environmental advocates oppose the run-of-river concept. The David Suzuki Foundation has come out in support of the projects as a concept, because they would supply electricity without causing emissions of greenhouse gases. If not for hydroelectric, most electricity would come from burning coal.

However, the Suzuki Foundation’s Nicholas Heap told theRevelstoke Times Review that his organization does have reservations about how the run-of-river projects are being sited. There needs to be effective land-use planning to steer development away from ecologically sensitive areas, he said.

Vail weathers economic downturn

VAIL – If there’s been a clear winner among ski areas this winter, it’s been Vail. Business is down, but not as much as at other ski towns, judging from early returns. Much of the reason appears to be the Epic Pass, which was introduced last March by Vail Resorts. Purchased in the pre-season, the pass cost only $579 and offered unlimited skiing at the company’s five ski areas.

How much the company lost in terms of more traditional ski passes is unknown. The new ski pass has certainly been a hit in terms of volume. Officials reported the sale of 59,100 passes through October.

The pass appears to have added proportionately more skiers at Vail Mountain as compared to Breckenridge, Keystone and Beaver Creek.

“The brilliance of the Epic Pass play, whether because of luck or foresight, is that it’s changed the way people behave,” said Adam Sutner the director of sales and marketing for Vail Mountain. “We have disproportionately benefited from the Epic Pass.”

TheVail Daily offers evidence that success of the Epic Pass has also benefited merchants in Vail. For December, the town had a drop in sales tax collections of 6 percent, but other ski towns did much worse: Steamboat Springs at 9 percent, Breckenridge at 10 percent, Winter Park at 14 percent, and Aspen at 19 percent.

“It’s Wayne Gretzky economics,” said Phil Long, owner of Vail’s Red Lion restaurant. “Don’t go where the puck is. Go where the puck is going.”

Meanwhile, Vail – the town, as opposed to the ski company – is not sitting on its haunches. A marketing committee associated with the town government is hoping to appropriate marketing funds to target potential customers from Colorado’s urban Front Range corridor. The committee has hired James Chung, a resort expert from reach Advisors, for $125,000 to help partner Vail with nationally known brands.

The first potential partnership pairs Johns Hopkins University with the Vail Valley Medical Center, If implemented, medical classes would be held in Vail that would draw medical professional and their families, helping build year-round business.

Plastic bag campaign picking up

REVELSTOKE, B.C. – Canadian activist Tracey Saxby was in Revelstoke recently to discourage the use of plastic bags. The energy used to create 8.7 bags is the same as needed to drive the average car for a kilometer, she said. .

Meanwhile, 25 mountain towns in Colorado and adjoining states have embarked in a friendly contest to see which can most effectively reduce use of plastic bags.

The contest will run six months, March - August. Grocery stores in each town will tally the number of reusable bags used. The winning community will get a $5,000 grant from the Alpine Bank to install a solar panel system at a local public school.

In addition to 17 towns in Colorado, the competition also includes three in the Sun Valley area of Idaho plus Jackson, Wyo., and Park City, Utah. The competition is being promoted by the Colorado Association of Ski Towns.

Dog-walkers ordered away from cat

BANFF, Alberta – A mountain lion nick-named Doug – because it was observed scrambling up a Douglas fir tree – has been making a killing around Banff. His most recent kill of an elk, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook, was near an area frequented by people and their dogs. While the lion has never shown aggression toward people, wildlife authorities took no chances. “Obviously, from the standpoint of human safety, we don’t want people and their dogs there,” said Steve Michel, ahuman-wildlife conflict specialist for Banff National Park.

– Allen Best

‘Worst’ band weathers four decades

JACKSON, Wyo. – Few things have been steadier during the last 40 years than the Sunday night appearances of the house band at The Stagecoach Bar. The band – to keep things simple, called The Stagecoach Band – hasn’t missed a Sunday night show, save for Christmas or New Year’s, since February 1969, says theJackson Hole News&Guide.

Never mind that one ski magazine called it “the worst country-western band in the Western Hemisphere.” How many house bands have had Bob Dylan sit in with it? For that matter, how many bands have played that steady for 40 years?

The clientele has changed. There are fewer cowboys now at The Stagecoach, which is located in the hamlet of Wilson, near the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. And the band added amplification. But the Sunday night shows – they stay the same.

Big building year ahead in Park City

PARK CITY, Utah – Real estate sales may be down the toilet, but by the numbers, building may be up in Park City. City building officials report that they expect a bi building year, if below the $148 million in work authorized in 2008, the third biggest year on record. Propping up the numbers may be work on a new phase of a hotel called Montage, a hotel adjacent in the Deer Valley resort.