California ski towns battle high temps

It was among the coolest years on record for the interior of the United States, but not so California or the globe.

Temperatures last year averaged 61.5 degrees Fahrenheit in California – 4.1 degrees hotter than the 20th century average, reports the San Jose Mercury News, citing a new report issued last week by federal scientists.

Three other Western states – Alaska, Arizona and Nevada – also experienced the hottest years since 1895, when modern instrumentation became widespread. And Anchorage, Alaska, didn’t have a single day in 2014 in which the temperature dropped below zero, the first time in 101 years of record keeping.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is expected to release new reports this week showing that 2014 was the warmest year ever recorded for the globe as a whole. Last week, the Japan Meteorological Agency reached that conclusion.

There’s widespread agreement among scientists that the burning of fossil fuels, putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, explains most of this rise in the greenhouse heat. Jim Hansen, one of the most vocal of scientists in this regard, was at Lake Tahoe recently to speak.

“If you add C02 to the atmosphere, it’s like putting a blanket on the planet,” he explained.

The Lake Tahoe News reported that Hansen, former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, argues that the only way to solve the problem is to levy an across-the-board fee on carbon. He predicts that 70 percent of people would get a dividend back, in the form of reduced taxes, if a revenue-neutral carbon fee were levied.

In ski towns of Colorado, talk continues about how to advance local efforts. In Telluride, the town planning director, Michelle Haynes, produced a climate action plan. She triumphantly reported to the Telluride Town Council last week that the community is on track to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by the end of 2015, five years ahead of a goal set in 2009.

This, it should be noted, is for the town government only and it relies heavily on purchase of renewable energy certifications, a controversial financial instrument.

In Aspen, town officials are calculating their next steps. The city’s electricity utility is well on the way to being able to claim 100 percent renewables by year’s end. But city official are also talking about creating resilience for increased heating.

A report by the nonprofit Aspen Global Change Institute finds that the temperature in Aspen has increased during all seasons since 1940, although precipitation and snowfall have increased.

More warming is inevitable, given the amount of heating locked into the atmosphere and oceans, and if emissions continue at current levels, Aspen’s temperatures could rise by as much as 2.9 degrees in the next 24 years and 9.7 degrees by the end of the century.

How can a city of 6,000 people move the needle on an international problem? Ashley Perl, the director of the city’s Canary Initiative, the city’s climate change program, said that Aspen is closely watched. “I think we have more of an effect than we think we do,” she said.

Lucy and Max top names for canines

BOZEMAN, Mont. – Heard anybody calling for a Lucy, Bella or Sadie lately?

Those are the top three names of female dogs in Bozeman, reports the Daily Chronicle, which studied the list of dog licenses.

Max, Buddy and Jake are the most common names for male dogs.

Labradors top the list of breeds popular in Bozeman. There are 300 registered purebreds and another 80 described as some variant of “Lab mix.” Border collies and golden retrievers are second and third.

Porcupine dies, but so does cougar

JACKSON, Wyo. – How do mountain lions eat porcupines? Very carefully, of course, and one small mountain lion in Jackson Hole wasn’t careful enough.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide reports that an otherwise healthy but exceptionally small female mountain lion killed a porcupine just before Christmas. The 40-pound lion was later found dead, quills in the chest cavity and one lung completely failed.

Teton Cougar Project leader Mark Elbroch described the two species as being generally mismatched. Mountain lions survive by killing. Porcupines, are “waddling prey that make their living by chewing bulbs, fungi, foliage and inner bark,” he wrote in a post on “Yet, somehow, porcupines sometimes win.”

This particular mountain lion had had a rough go of it. A year ago, when she was still a kitten, her mother was killed by another mountain lion. In her first winter, frostbite claimed the tips of her tail and ears. She also survived an attack by a bald eagle that picked her off the ground, and she had to share carcasses with grizzly bears exponentially larger than herself, Elbroch wrote.

But some lions studied in the Teton Range area have proven skilled at killing porcupines. One young lioness killed two dozen of the rodents in 2.5 months. One of her techniques was to climb trees and throw porcupines to the ground, injuring or stunning them long enough for her to attack their vulnerable bellies.

Cougars deported from Jasper

BANFF, Alberta – Two young cougars have been exported from around the Jasper townsite, where they have been making a living in recent months. What earned them their deportation was an incident just before Christmas when a man was walking with his dog off-leash at sunset.

A cougar flattened the dog but did not kill it, probably an indication that the cougar was young and not as efficient a killer as it will become later. The man kicked the cougar and it fled.

A Jasper National Park official tells the Fitzhugh that it’s nearly impossible for a cougar to differentiate between a domestic and a wild animal, especially when a dog is off leash.

Wolf family makes a home in Oregon

BEND, Ore. – You and me and baby makes three. A wolf that wandered into Oregon and then California now has a family, what is now called the Rogue Pack.

The Bend Bulletin explained that the wolf found a mate and established a territory in the southern Cascades between Klamath Falls and Medford. In June, researchers announced they had photographed pups, making the wolves the first breeding pair of wolves in Oregon’s Cascade Range since the mid-1940s.

At the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife defines a pack as a group of wolves, usually a male, female and their offspring from one or more generations.

The male was the first wolf in California in 90 years.

Wandering elk perishes on thin ice

ASPEN – Two elk that fell through the ice on a small pond made it, but the third did not. Aspen firefighters did all that they could, using axes, a saw, a rope and ladder in what the Aspen Daily News describes as a frantic effort to rescue the exhausted animals.

When they arrived, firefighters found the two cows swimming in circles, while the bull was by himself motionless in another part of the pond. The pond was estimated to be 8 to 12 feet deep.

A local wildlife biologist, Kevin Wright, told the newspaper that elk fall through ice in reservoirs and ponds from time to time. “These private ponds are notorious,” he said.

He issued a $70 citation to the homeowner for unlawfully feeding wildlife. Two piles of hay were near the pond. The homeowner said the hay had been left from bow-and-arrow target practice last summer. He said the water never freezes because he uses it as a geo-thermal source.

Has Crested Butte lost its weirdness?

CRESTED BUTTE – In his ruminations on the local paper, Crested Butte News editor Mark Reaman points out that many in his town would argue that Crested Butte has lost some of its charming weirdness.

“There are still flashes, but flashing now would likely get you arrested whereas 30 years ago it might have gotten you married,” he says.

– Allen Best