Scientists predict fiery future


The Front Range has given Durango a grim reminder in recent weeks. The Fourmile Fire, near Boulder, burned 166 homes, earned the status of Colorado’s most destructive wildfire ever and conjured up painful memories of Durango’s 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire. Though the smoke has cleared, scientists are warning that Westerners should brace for more wildfire on the horizon.

“The Fourmile Canyon Fire is just one example of how extreme weather can cause devastating problems,” said Tamra Wroblesky, federal field associate for Environment Colorado.  

In the wake of the recent blaze, leading climate experts and Environment Colorado have released a report linking global warming and extreme weather. “Global Warming and Extreme Weather” details the latest science linking global warming to hurricanes, coastal storms, extreme precipitation, wildfires and heat waves. Durango is no stranger to extreme weather, having watched in 2002 as drought and an errant spark or cigarette led to the Missionary Ridge Fire and burned more than 70,000 acres and destroyed 46 homes.

“In Colorado, the greatest risks likely come from changes in water and snowpack – a shorter snow season and a longer summer with less of nature’s storage of water in snow, increasing risk of summer drought, heat waves and wildfires,” said Kevin Trenberth, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder.  

Environment Colorado and the City of Boulder view the findings as a national mandate to begin addressing global warming and its impacts. “In light of the Fourmile Fire, this report could not be timelier,” said Boulder Mayor Susan Osborne. “Global warming may not be the cause of the fire, but if we do not act soon we are likely to see more fires throughout Colorado.”

The report concludes that a warmer climate could lead to a 54 percent increase in the average area burned by wildfires in the western U.S. annually. The biggest fires and fire-related damages are expected in the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest. On the flipside, the report also predicts more heavy downpours and snowfalls. However, increased precipitation is expected to be offset by earlier snowmelt and protracted heat waves.

Stephen Saunders, president of Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, concurred that action is necessary to curb global warming and reduce the risk of increased extreme weather. “Here in the West, a disrupted climate will hit us with more drought, more heat waves, and more wildfires,” he said. “But if we reduce heat-trapping pollutants, we can keep these extremes from getting too much out of control.”

BLM official accused of corruption

Allegations of corruption are swirling around the San Juan Basin. Several groups are openly questioning the behavior of Steve Henke when he was the BLM’s Farmington Field Manager. So far, their calls for an investigation of abuses have fallen on deaf federal ears.

Henke served as the Farmington Field Manager until this summer, when he was hired as president of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, the top oil and gas lobby in New Mexico. During his tenure on the local gas patch, he oversaw one of the largest increases in oil and gas drilling in the nation. However, he was also caught accepting industry gifts and falsifying expense reports, according to the Office of Inspector General. Watchdogs are pressing Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to call Henke to task and prevent similar unethical behavior from recurring. So far, the Department of the Interior has been silent.

“America needs new leadership to solve the problem of Interior Department managers who are supposed to protect public resources, but instead are in bed with the oil lobby,” said Daniel Patterson, of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

“Secretary Salazar should know that conflicts of interest are not limited to his offshore drilling program.”

The renewed call for an investigation comes on the heels of a July letter that asked officials to delve into the issue but received no response. In the meantime, an Office of Inspector General report was released that found Henke took industry gifts, falsified expense reports, and solicited donations from the industry while heading the Farmington Field Office.

As Farmington field manager, Henke oversaw one of the most significant increases in oil and gas drilling experienced by any BLM office in the country. During his tenure, he authorized the drilling of more than 10,000 new oil and gas wells in Northwest New Mexico. The Farmington Field Office was specifically criticized by the Government Accountability Office for fast-tracking drilling permits at the expense of environmental oversight.

City forms Youth Advisory Commission

The Durango City Council is looking to local youth to help guide Durango into the future. The first-ever Mayor’s Youth Advisory Commission is seeking young board members.  

The commission will serve as an advisory board to the council and provide information and recommendations on issues that affect Durango’s youth. Local high-schoolers are eligible to apply, and seven members and two alternates will be appointed to one-year terms by council.

The Mayor’s Youth Advisory Commission is a component of the City’s new Youth Engagement Program, which is designed to involve Durango’s youth in the decisions that affect them.  

Applications and information are available at the front office of all Durango high schools, at Durango City Hall and at Completed applications are due Sept. 17.  

FLC to present gubernatorial forum

The race for Colorado governor stops off in Durango this weekend. Fort Lewis College will host all three of the candidates for a gubernatorial candidates’ forum this Sat., Sept. 18. The forum is free, open to the public and will run from 5 - 6:30 p.m. in the Fort Lewis College Student Union Ballroom.

Gubernatorial candidates John Hickenlooper, Dan Maes and Tom Tancredo will all be on hand to share their vision for Colorado and take questions from the audience.

– Will Sands