Groups push for snowmo crackdown

A major national push is under way to corral snowmobile use on public lands. Last week, a coalition of 90 recreation and conservation organizations petitioned the Forest Service to close the “snowmobile loophole” and better regulate the motorized vehicles.

The groups argued that a regulatory loophole exempts snowmobiles from Forest Service management, subjects other users to excessive noise and exhaust, and damages ecosystems. They are asking that snowmobiles be treated like summer off-road vehicles and restricted to designated routes. “This is a matter of fairness and consistency,” said Mark Menlove, executive director of

Winter Wildlands Alliance, the organization leading the petition effort. “We acknowledge that snowmobiles are a popular winter use and that they have their place on national forest lands. But the current ‘anything goes’ approach to winter management allows one user group to dominate the winter landscape at the expense of all others, and it puts fragile winter ecosystems at risk.”

Prior to 2005, all off-road vehicles, including snowmobiles, were managed under a uniform set of standards on national forest lands. However, those regulations were repealed at that time, and no replacement rules were issued for snowmobiles. The petition points out that the 2005 Rule does include a tool for restricting off-trail or cross-country snowmobile use to appropriate areas and asks that the Forest Service use it. The petition also pushes the agency to clearly define motorized and non-motorized areas on a Winter Motor Vehicle Use Map in each forest.

“The 2005 Rule isn’t perfect, but it has proven to be an effective tool for managing motorized use,” said Menlove. “There is no logical reason why this framework shouldn’t be applied year-round and used to designate appropriate areas for snowmobile use while protecting other areas for peace, quiet and natural resource values.”

The motorized community offered a predicable response to the petition. Nate Blaylock, of Klim USA, a manufacturer of technical wear for off-road enthusiasts, noted that snowmobiles have already lost access in recent years. In response, the company is partnering with the BlueRibbon Coalition, an advocacy group for motorized recreation, to overturn the petition.

“Snow machine enthusiasts do not destroy, they enjoy,” Blaylock said. “The tempo of land use closures has dramatically increased in the last year. We are concerned, but not dismayed. We are determined to do our part.”

Local Energy Tour takes off Saturday

La Plata County’s renewable energy stand-outs will go public this weekend. The 11th annual La Plata County Energy Tour takes off from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. on Sat., Oct. 2. The event is being held in conjunction with solar tours in more than 5,000 homes, schools and businesses across the United States.

Six local homes and buildings will be highlighted in this year’s tour. Each site uses energy wisely, and most get their energy from the sun. Homeowners and installers will be available at each location to answer questions and discuss experiences using renewable energy and lowering utility bills.

Among the buildings featured in the year’s tour is the Strater Hotel. The Strater recently achieved a number of historic firsts in regards to energy efficiency. Most notably, it became the first member of Historic Hotels of America and the only commercial building in the Four Corners region to receive the Energy Star rating for commercial buildings in 2010.

“It is a great honor to be featured as a part of 4CORE’s Energy Tour and to be recognized by our local community,” said Michelle Thom, general manager at the Strater. The Fort Lewis College Student Union and a new roster of homes will also be featured on the Energy Tour.

Tour maps are just $5 and include options for bicycles and cars. They are available for purchase online at and at Saturday’s Durango Farmers Market at the 4CORE booth. In addition, a guided bike tour will leave the market at 9:30 a.m. The bike tour will include homes and buildings within the city of Durango  and end at Carver Brewing Co., which will provide beverage coupons for participating cyclists. Tour maps and helmets are required.

Local biofuel gets high green grade

The Four Corners continues to sit at renewable energy’s cutting edge. A Colorado State University study of the transformation of algae into a biofuel has given it a green stamp of approval. The study appeared in theJournal of Environmental Science and Technology.

The research relied partly on data from Solix Biofuels Inc., a company that has developed technology for the large-scale commercialization of algae-based biofuels. Solix recently expanded into a multi-acre test facility on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation near Durango.

“We made an apples-to-apples comparison and the results show that algae is net beneficial,” said Thomas Bradley, an author of the study. “It reduces greenhouse gas emissions more than soy biodiesel and is more scalable and has lower energy consumption than soy biodiesel.”

Bradley and the team assessed the entire “life cycle” of the algae-to-biodiesel process including such factors as energy used to grow algae, the diesel burned by trucks used to move the algae biodiesel from processing facilities to the pump, and the energy used to make fertilizer for growth.

Fort Lewis sees enrollment increase

Fort Lewis College is officially back on track. The local college’s enrollment numbers were released this week, and the student body has grown for the first time since 2007.

The student head count increased by 2.1 percent over the 2009 fall semester for a student body of 3,762.

The college has also seen increases in the number of continuing students, freshmen, transfer students, and concurrent students. The figures also outperformed most of the numbers that the college budgeted for before the school year began.

– Will Sands




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