Lone lobo trots into Eagle County

AVON – Upon hearing news that a lone female wolf had been sighted somewhere north of Avon, the cry in some local households was, “Lefty is back!” However, some ranchers from an earlier era might well be squirming in their graves.

Lefty was a wolf who had hunted in the area between Eagle and the Flat Top Mountains early in the 20th century. The life and then killing of the wolf by a government trapper was told in melodramatic fashion by a popular writer of the time, Arthur Carhart, in collaboration with Stanley P. Young, of the U.S. Biological Survey, in a book calledThe Last Stand of the Pack.

The federal government at the time had a policy of exterminating wolves and other large predators. The last known wolf in Colorado was killed in 1943.

“It is a big relief to us to know that ‘Old Lefty’ is a thing of the past – for his track on the range meant he was back and on the job of cattle killing once again,” wrote the stockmen of Burns Hole, an area along the Colorado River north of Eagle, in a 1921 letter.

“We breathe a sigh of keen satisfaction and fully realize the capture of ‘Old Lefty’ was truly a job for you Government men who study out these things and apply methods no ordinary amateur can touch,” the stockmen continued.

The first confirmed re-entry was in 2004, when a male wolf from Yellowstone was killed about 35 miles west of Denver on Interstate 70. The most recent wolf originated in Montana, traveled through Yellowstone and then Utah before arriving in Colorado. A radio-collar allowed researchers to trace her journey. Unless she finds a male, she’s almost certain to return to the greater Yellowstone area, say wildlife biologists.

Real estate shuffle under way

ASPEN – Real estate agents in Aspen have been busier than free agents in Major League Baseball during the last month, saysThe Aspen Times. The newspaper reports several agents have jumped ship, going to new firms.

While such behavior is common among real estate agents, the jumping to and fro this year has been instigated by the shuttering of two major, long-tenured companies: Aspen Sotheby’s International Reality, and Coates, Reid and Waldron.

Robert Ritchie, a veteran of more than 30 years in Aspen real estate, told the newspaper that he believes several more firms could vanish during further consolidations.

However, Ritchie said he “probably” expects to see more activity in 2009 than in 2008, simply because the recession is forcing some owners to sell. Plus, for some, Aspen real estate looks to be a better investment than the stock market.

Meanwhile, the Steamboat Board of Realtors lost about 10 percent of its members and now has 400 members. Lori Thompson, president of the board, told theSteamboat Pilot & Today that Steamboat’s decline is not unusual for the mountain resort markets. Telluride lost 20 percent, the most of any mountain board, but most others have lost 10 to 15 percent.

The newspaper also notes that many real estate agents made no sales last year, but still chose to pony up the $500 dues for another year with the Steamboat group.

Also, quoting David Baldinger, a real estate broker who studied sales statistics, the newspaper reports that the top 75 real-estate agents in the Steamboat market accounted for 74 percent of all dollar volume in 2008.

Looking at the statistics another way, two-thirds of agents were involved in at least one sale, but a third did not have a single sale.

Madoff scheme reverberates West

ASPEN – A woman has starting sewing together 7-inch voodoo dolls of Bernard Madoff, with the intent of selling them for $15 each.The Aspen Times says that Rosemary Ranck hasn’t actually sold any.

But in Aspen, she has plenty of people with cause to be cranky: some 50 people and entities with Aspen-area addresses appeared on a list of thousands made public in a U.S. Bankruptcy Court filing in early February.

Nine people from Vail and the Eagle Valley showed up on the list, as did several more from Crested Butte, Steamboat Springs and Jackson Hole. Not included are second-home owners whose primary addresses are elsewhere.

After talking with local asset managers and lawyers,Fortune Magazine in December estimated that families in Aspen had collectively lost upward of $1 billion. As a cluster of victims, it is second only to Palm Beach, Fla.

Nonprofits in Aspen are also expected to be hit hard by the toppling of Madoff’s pyramid scheme. The Aspen Institute, the local hospital, a local affiliate of National Public Radio and yet other causes were all identified as probable losers.

Aspen prepares plastic bag tax

ASPEN – A plan to impose a fee of between 5 and 25 cents per shopping bag has been approved in concept by the Aspen City Council. Details are being worked out, with the intent that it will become a model ordinance that other towns might want to adopt.

Aspen’s Community Office of Resource Efficiency, a nonprofit group with strong ties to local government, proposed the fee as a way to prod consumers. A voluntary program, such as was promoted by the organization last summer, just isn’t enough, CORE representative Nathan Ratledge told the Council.

“The goal is not to create a burden, but just enough incentive to change habits, and we are looking for government support to change that habit,” he said.

The Aspen Times explains that the fee, as currently proposed, would be imposed at high-volume stores, such as grocers, and perhaps some smaller retailers.

Ratledge says that a fee on plastic bags imposed in Ireland, along with an educational campaign, resulted in 90 percent fewer plastic bags. He compared it to the cultural shift that makes it impolite not to scoop your dog’s poop.

Key Obama aide holidays in Park City

PARK CITY, Utah – So, where will the White House crowd hang out?

Gerald Ford famously liked Vail and then Beaver Creek. Bill Clinton tooted his saxophone in Vail before checking out Aspen and, several times, Jackson Hole.

George W. Bush pedaled a mountain bike at Idaho’s Tamarack before that new resort, unable to secure a line of credit, fell on hard times.

Barack Obama, although not a skier, seems to like Park City, and stopped in a couple of times during his campaign. Now comes the news, courtesy ofThe New Yorker, that Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff for Obama, spent his February vacation at Park City.

The profile notes that Emanuel is a neat-freak, and even as a first-grader stuck around to clean up beyond the allotted time, according to a teacher’s report card.

Emanuel is also profane. He lost part of a middle finger in a meat-slicing incident as a child, and the new president has said that it nearly made Emmanuel mute.

House to be built without heat

WHISTLER, B.C. – A house that is so efficient in use of energy that it needs no furnace will be built this summer in Whistler.

Such houses are sometimes called “passive,” and they have become the rage in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, where energy prices tend to be much higher. To date, 15,000 such house have been erected.

The house in Whistler is expected to use only 10 percent of the energy that a normal house sucks up, says Pique Newsmagazine. Austria plans to build the house for its use during the Olympics, then turn it over to Whistler. Cost is pegged at $1.3 million.

Colorado commissioner testifies

CRESTED BUTTE – Gunnison County Commissioner Jim Starr, a resident of Crested Butte, testified before a Congressional subcommittee in late February about the need to reform the 1872 Mining Law.

Starr told theCrested Butte News that he intended to talk about the need to protect watersheds, the key argument by Crested Butte in its opposition to a proposed molybdenum mine located just outside the town’s boundaries. The property was obtained for $5 per acre by a mining company under provisions of the long-cussed and discussed law.

– Allen Best