DOW transplanting desert bighorns

The Colorado Division of Wildlife is lending a Southwest Colorado native a helping hand. The DOW recent relocated 15 desert bighorn sheep into prime habitat in the Middle Dolores River canyon in order to give one of the region’s herds a boost.  

The Division first established a new population of desert bighorn in the Upper Dolores Canyon area 20 years ago with a group of 50 sheep obtained from Nevada. Over time, the herd has grown to about 150 animals.

In December, sheep captured from this herd were relocated north of Big Gypsum Valley, about 15 miles away, to augment a smaller existing herd. If the bighorns do well, biologists may relocate another 15 next year.

“The herd in the upper Dolores River area has been growing, but another herd in some good bighorn habitat just down the canyon isn’t doing as well,” said Scott Wait, senior terrestrial biologist for the DOW’s southwest region in Durango. “Having more animals in more places will improve the long-term outlook for the species. Giving the Middle Dolores herd a boost will help us do that.”

Desert bighorns are native to arid regions of the West and well adapted to desert canyons. After their capture Dec. 16, biologists examined the transplanted sheep to assess their health. The sheep were then fitted with radio collars to monitor their movements.This is the third time the Division has attempted to establish desert bighorn in the Middle Dolores Canyon. Two other attempts, in 1990 and 2001, did not result in a new herd. Biologists believe that mountain lion predation played a primary role in those disappointing outcomes.

“We want to keep a close eye on these sheep to see how they’re doing,” Wait said. “If we start seeing predation, we may need to step in to give these sheep some time to get established.”The DOW appealed to the Wildlife Commission on Jan. 5 for permission to remove individual mountain lions preying on the Middle Dolores herd for up to 24 months. Commissioners said that if a mountain lion kills more than one sheep, it can be removed. If a lion kills only one sheep, biologists would have the option to remove it.  

“Managing wildlife sometimes means making difficult choices,” Wait said. “In this case we know that the mountain lion population is stable in this area and some selective removal won’t hurt it. But this will give the bighorns a chance to explore their new territory and get established before they have to worry about getting chased around by lions.”

The DOW will monitor the animals closely and decide in this year if a second transplant is needed.

Colorado approves Piñon Ridge Mill

The nation’s first uranium mill in a quarter century received its final approval and got the go-ahead last week. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment signed off on the Piñon Ridge Mill on Jan. 4. The facility will be sited not far from Durango in Southwest Colorado’s Paradox Valley.

Energy Fuels Inc., a Toronto-based uranium and vanadium mining company, plans to site the mill on 1,000 acres of privately owned land in Paradox Valley, near the Dolores River. The facility will sit squarely in the middle of Western Colorado’s uranium belt and be located not far from the only other operating uranium mill in the country, the White Mesa Mill in Blanding.

With its approval, the state released a 432-page analysis of the facility and expressed satisfaction with Energy Fuels’ assessment of impacts on public health, rivers and groundwater. Steve Tarlton, manager of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s radiation unit, told theDenver Post, “The features in the design and operating systems are much better than anything we’ve seen.”

The Sheep Mountain Alliance, a leading opponent of the mill, disagreed. Citing its own studies, the conservation group countered that the mill does not have an adequate emergency plan in place and its waste containment structures do not meet state standards.  

“We are deeply disappointed by this decision,” said Hilary White, executive director of the Sheep Mountain Alliance. “We fear this mill will pollute our air and clean water, and undermine the region’s long-term economic prosperity.”

White added that the state’s regulatory process seemed suspect and ignored public input. “We think this approval decision was rushed, despite known deficiencies,” she said. “It appears regulators ignored hundreds of pages of comments from scientific experts who raised serious concerns about the mill’s impacts.”

Once construction is complete, Energy Fuels plans to process up to 500 tons of uranium a day.


Elliott takes national championships

Durango’s Tad Elliott skated to a national title over the weekend. Elliott took top honors in the men’s 30K freestyle in the U.S. Cross Country Championships in Rumford, Maine.

It was Elliott’s first national title, and he clinched by a mere one-tenth of a second over  Lars Flora, of Anchorage. Noah Hoffman, of the Aspen Valley Ski Club, rounded out the podium in third.

Elliott took an early lead and found himself alone for the last few laps, with only time splits shouted by coaches keeping him abreast of where he stood.

“I kept getting splits, and knew I was leading,” he said. “But my lead kept dwindling by a couple seconds every time. I ended up lunging across the finish line really hard. I crashed, and I was able to beat Lars Flora by a tenth of a second. I’m definitely happy.”

The win gave Elliott the honor of being the U23 National Champion in both mountain biking and cross country skiing. In coming weeks he will join the U.S. Ski Team and travel to Estonia to compete in the U23 Worlds.


‘Low-Oil Future’ conference scheduled

A national figurehead will bring his case for a low oil future to Durango via live video next week. The Sustainability Alliance of Southwest Colorado and Fort Lewis College Environmental Center will present former CIA director R. James Woolsey on Jan. 19 at 6:30 p.m. in 130 Noble Hall. Woolsey’s talk is entitled “No Strings Attached: The Case for a Distributed Grid and a Low-Oil Future.”

Woolsey served as the head of the CIA from 1993-95, and the “neoconservative Democrat” has held a number of positions in both Democratic and Republican administrations. In recent years, he has developed an argument that national security depends on moving away from fossil fuels and toward a distributed grid – an electrical network relying on many small-scale sources of generation. Last April, Woolsey wrote in theWall Street Journal, “We urgently need to reduce oil dependence in the short term. This means lowering demand and utilizing substitutes as cheaply and quickly as possible.”

During next week’s free session, Woolsey will explain the opportunity to create small, local sources of energy. He will also field questions from the audience. For more information, contact 759-6251 or email

– Will Sands




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