Fire fears persist throughout the West
GUNNISON – Drought and wildlife continue to be front and center in large swaths of the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada.
In central Colorado, wrestling team members from Western State College were recruited to move rocks in the Gunnison River to create a narrower chute for the water. This is necessary for the annual Gunnison River Festival, where kayakers display their skills.

The river last week was carrying only 354 cubic feet per second, according to the Crested Butte News, compared to 3,910 cfs at the same time last year.
Elsewhere in the Gunnison-Crested Butte region, county road crews have been advised to spare the blading on all but the worst dirt and gravel roads. “Don’t create a dust bowl, because it’s dusty enough,” said Marlene Crosby, director of public works for Gunnison County.
East of Gunnison, at the foot of Monarch Pass, a rancher near the hamlet of Doyleville predicts water shortages will yield a hay crop that is 30 to 40 percent of normal, which in turn means culling his cattle herd. Greg Peterson likened his ranch to a car factory capable of making 1,000 cars a day that is forced to produce only 500 per day.
“You still have the same fixed costs,” he told the Crested Butte News. “Last time this happened was 2002, and it varied, but it took most people two to four years to rebuild. If it stays like this, it could be worse than 2002.”
In Steamboat, mandatory watering restrictions were ordered, a first in at least 35 years. Water officials tell Steamboat Today they think the water situation is far more dire than in 2002.
In Aspen, Pitkin County authorities tested the emergency notification system, sending test calls to about 5,000 phone lines in batches of 200.

The Aspen Times notes that after a lightning storm in the Aspen area, many people were on edge, worried about the potential for forest fires. So was the Aspen city government. Meeting in emergency session, the City Council gave municipal manager Steve Barwick permission to spend whatever funds are necessary should a fire break out in Aspen.

“The first 24 hours, you’re on your own as a city and county,” Mayor Mick Ireland said. “Should it come to this, we want the city manager to have the funds to do whatever is necessary.”

The council also approved $10,000 for a public information campaign designed to emphasize wildfire prevention and reaction steps. “Someone said it’s not a matter of ‘if’ a wildfire will strike, it’s a matter of ‘when.’ And I have to agree with them,” said Joe DiSalvo, sheriff of Pitkin County.

In the Sierra Nevada, it’s been five years since the Angora fire devoured hundreds of homes in the Lake Tahoe Basin. After that, agencies vowed action. But Sen. Ted Gains, R-Calif., gives the effort a C-minus. Or maybe an incomplete.

“I think we have made tremendous progress, but we still have a long way to go,” he told the Sierra Sun.

Agencies have “treated” more than 7,000 acres of forest that are considered to have excessive fuels, thanks in part to streamlining of regulatory processes. Disagreements remain about the tradeoffs of logging operations and prescribed burns to the quality of water in Lake Tahoe.

But as time from the Angora fire lengthens, the urgency has ebbed. “Things tend to fade,” said Gaines, of wildfire preparedness. “And we can’t afford that in the Lake Tahoe Basin.”

Fire evacuees take refuge in mountains
FRISCO – Hotels in the Colorado high country reported surging occupation from evacuees of the wildfires along Colorado’s urbanized Front Range corridor.

“One, it’s a little bit safer, and two, they figure if they go anywhere, they might as well go someplace where it’s beautiful,” one front-desk clerk in Frisco told the Summit Daily News. Business had tripled from a normal weekend, she estimated.

But not all is necessarily well in the mountain towns. The newspaper talked with an Avon resident, whose father and stepmother had fled the giant fire in Colorado Springs. The woman said she’d invite them to Avon, “except I’m worried that we’re going to go up (in flames).”

Indeed, a fire did erupt in the piñon-and-juniper country north of Eagle, located a short distance west of Vail and Beaver Creek. But the fire was put out within a day.

Heat bringing pests and pretty things
SUMMIT COUNTY – Warming planetary temperatures are clearly producing changes and are likely to produce much greater changes. But what will they be?

That’s harder to say. Entomologists tell the Summit Daily News that it’s likely that changes, both good and bad, will be visiting the Colorado high country.

With warmer winters, for example, mosquitoes can survive from one year to the next more easily. But already there is evidence of beautiful butterflies in Colorado. And in Glenwood Canyon, there has been a huge emergence of caddis flies, perhaps the result of an absence of ice in the canyon this past winter.

But both temperature and precipitation inform what kind of species exist. Purdue University professor Jonathan Neal pointed out that the Arctic has some of the highest population densities of mosquitoes. It’s much colder than Summit County, even if Summit County ranges from 8,000 to 14,000 feet, but the Arctic has much more standing water.

In other words, both the movement of temperatures and precipitation matters in climate change, and models are more clear about the former than the latter.

Zebras mussel way into mountain lakes
WHITEFISH, Mont. – Worries abound in Whitefish that zebra mussels and other warmer-water nuisances will soon find a home in Whitefish Lake unless corrective action is taken. The city government is considering how to inspect boats.

“This is one of the crown jewels of our town, and we don’t want to lose that,” said Bill Kahle, a municipal councilor.

“Zebra mussels and watermilfoil are the most likely threats,” said Mike Kooal, of the Whitefish Lake Institute. “There’s an economic impact and lifestyle impact if they get in the lake. The key here is to have some vision for prevention rather than trying to treat them.

If an inspection program materializes, it would be the first in Montana.

At Lake Tahoe, on the California-Nevada border, an inspection program in place since 2008 has stopped four boats this year. Two of the boats with invasive species attached to them had come from the mussel-infested water of Lake Mead, located several hundred miles south and about 6,000 feet lower, near Las Vegas.

Lake Tahoe instituted boat inspections in 2008 to prevent introduction of quagga and zebra mussels into the lake. Experts predict that the locust-like mollusks could wreak havoc on Tahoe’s environment and economy.

Ma grizzly & cubs flunk shyness test
CANMORE, Alberta – A grizzly sow and her three cubs, who are also females, have been deported from the Bow River Valley. The Rocky Mountain Outlook reports that the mother, called bear 105, and two of her cubs were flown to northern Alberta, while the third cub, a 3-year-old, was taken to nearby Kananaskis Country, which is south of Banff and Canmore.

What did these bears do wrong? Essentially, the mother wasn’t afraid of people. Not belligerent or threatening. Just not afraid. That bothered wildlife officers.

“She’s not an aggressive bear. She never has been,” said Jon Jorgenson, a senior biologist. “But shouting and yelling at her, we had to get very close to her. That’s not the response we want. Normally when you work with bears, they should run into cover.”

The sow may have migrated to the Banff-Canmore area to avoid male grizzlies. The boars often kill cubs during mating season so the mothers will go into heat. The mother had lost cubs to large males in years past. Biologists think perhaps she wandered into the Bow Valley, where there are apparently few male grizzlies, in order to save her current trio of cubs from the same fate.

Upon arriving, though, she and her cubs vexed wildlife officials. For example, she got onto the TransCanada Highway, where there was blood on the pavement from a previous road kill. Traffic came to a grinding halt, and all available wildlife officers were summoned to herd her and the cubs to safety.

Then the bears wandered into neighborhoods, a golf course, and other places that people don’t want grizzly bears to be. It took 12 officers to “baby-sit the bears.” They shot her with rubber bullets and used the giant Karilean bear dogs to chase her. But she didn’t take the cue to scram off center stage.

“She was tying up a huge amount of resources we use for dealing with other bears,” said Jorgenson. “We had to cut our losses.

How many notes are too many in Telluride?
TELLURIDE – How much is too much? Telluride has been asking that question for years in regard to its summer lineup of festivals. At one point, the town even decided to adopt a no-festival weekend.

The addition of a rock and roll music festival now poses the question of whether there are too many music festivals. There’s bluegrass, of course, as well as a jazz festival, and others, too. But some fear that the new festival proposed as a fund-raiser for the local radio station may be cannibalizing the efforts of others.

Working against that, explains the Telluride Watch, is the notion that anything that brings people – and their credit cards – to town is a very good thing. “We need people in this town to keep this town alive,” said Jennifer Hayes, a business owner.

Aspen moves ahead with affordable units
ASPEN – If with greater caution than during the boom years, local governments in Aspen and Pitkin County are moving forward with a new affordable housing project.

The new phase of the development called Burlingame Ranch will offer one-, two- and three-bedroom units with prices ranging from $107,000 to $224,000 for qualified applicants. They have to work in Aspen or Pitkin County and meet income eligibility requirements.

The Aspen Times says that 15 people were queued at the door of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority on a recent morning before the doors opened, suggesting a high level of interest. The project will have 82 units, and 200 people have qualified, although only 87 people have qualified as buyers. Winners are chosen by lottery.

Matriarch of Jackson newspapers dies at 101
JACKSON, Wyo. –The Jackson Hole News&Guide reports that Elizabeth McCabe has died at the age of 101.

Even this last winter, she was taking photographs for the newspaper, which adorned the front page of the weekly’s community section. She was flyfishing in the Snake River while still in her late 90s. “Successfully so,” notes the newspaper.

She grew up in San Francisco, the daughter of a manufacturer of S.O.S. dishwashing pads. She graduated from high school in 1929, the year of the stock market crash. She became a tennis bum and a photographer, and along the way visited Jackson Hole.

Getting to Jackson Hole in the 1930s, and a good many years thereafter, was not easy. Her family took a train from Oakland to Salt Lake City, then boarded another train to Victor, Idaho, which is on the west side of the Teton Range. From there it was a “slightly harrowing” drive over Teton Pass and into Jackson. It still is, at times, during winter.

In 1968, she met the new owner of the Jackson Hole Guide, and they were married two years later. He put her to work as a photographer, a role that she had not relinquished until recently.

In 2002, a few years after her husband had died, she merged operations with the rival weekly, the Jackson Hole News. The agreement was that the News would get the first slot in the naming if she could continue to get her photos on the front page of a section of the newspaper.
Ironically, the owner and publisher of the News, Michael Sellet, was somebody she had spurned as a “bearded hippie” when he applied to go to work for her paper in the early 1970s.

She had been seen as aloof and perhaps disconnected from Jackson Hole at an earlier age, but in her later years gained a spot in the affections of valley residents, says the News&Guide. She began taking photographs with digital equipment. But she never showed any interest in e-mail or the Internet.

Sea to Sky Gondola gets another A-OK
WHISTLER, B.C. – Plans to install a gondola near Squamish, along the ocean at Howe Sound, to a mountain top above Squamish continue to advance. A local government has approved the top terminal for the Sea to Sky Gondola, which would give riders a 2,700-foot lift in elevation. The next and final stage, reports Whistler’s Pique, is for the provincial government in British Columbia to rezone the land over which the gondola passes.
- Allen Best

In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows