Re-establishing wolves in Colorado

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – In January, the Colorado Wildlife Commission rejected a proposal to deliberately re-establish wolves in Colorado. That decision was met with a sigh of relief by most ranchers, who fear wolf predation to livestock.

“Every dog has its day, and hopefully ours will last just a little longer,” said one rancher from Carbondale.

Not so Jay Fetcher, who ranches north of Steamboat Springs where there are, he tells the Steamboat Today, too darned many elk for his liking. “I can’t wait for the wolves to come back,” he told the paper. “Too many elk. That’s the short answer … the problem is, when hunting season comes, the elk are gone. They know when that opening season is, and they know to go to private lands. In June, they’re all in my hay meadow.”

Fetcher isn’t alone in this view. In 1997, the late Mel Coleman spoke at a book conference in Denver. Coleman, a third-generation rancher in the San Luis Valley, also said there were too many elk for the range, and he’d welcome wolves.

But these seem to be the exceptions. The more common view was expressed by Steamboat-area rancher Marsha Daughenbaugh. “They’re predators, and they can do a lot of damage,” she told the Steamboat Today.

Others are willing to accept wolves that recolonize Colorado on their own. Many think that will most likely occur in southern Colorado as a result of the effort to restore Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico.

But will the gray wolf, a different species, trot down from Yellowstone? The government transplanted three packs from Canada into Wyoming and Idaho in 1995 and 1996. Yellowstone National Park, as of December, had 99 wolves living in 10 different packs. That is a stable population, says Douglas W. Smith, who heads the Yellowstone Wolf Restoration Project.

Soon after they got comfortable, though, some began drifting south to Colorado. The first known migrant arrived in 2004. The evidence was his body, smacked dead on I-70 about 30 miles west of Denver. Others have followed, but none have found a happy home. The latest was a wolf, mistaken for a coyote, that was shot and killed in April near Kremmling.

Smith, of the Yellowstone Wolf Project, told the Steamboat newspaper that he does not expect a population will be re-established without deliberate efforts. Packs need the resiliency of larger numbers, which is also needed for genetic diversity. In the case of Yellowstone, that turned out to be 41 wolves.

While ranchers would rather not see wolves return, it may be a losing battle. “We will have conflict and unknown results from this controversy, but public opinion and desire may make wolf reintroduction a reality,” longtime Carbondale ranchers Tom and Roz Turnbull said in an e-mail to Mountain Town News. “What would be important from the ranching viewpoint would be a way to control wolf numbers and problem wolves without the harsh punishments often attached to the federal reintroduction legislation.”

In Steamboat, Fetcher – whose father was a co-founder of the Steamboat ski area – also is foreseeing ranching with wolves.

“When they come – not if, but when – we need two things,” he told the Steamboat Today. “We need to be able to scare the hell out of them – shoot over their heads and put the fear of man in them. The other thing is a very quick compensation when we have loss with a fairly easy proof of that loss.”

In 2004, a panel of wildlife biologists was assembled at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, including Ed Bangs, who headed the Yellowstone reintroduction. The question was put to them: did they see wolves being restored in Colorado.

They did not – not that wolves couldn’t make a living. Previous studies have identified the Flat Tops, between Steamboat and Glenwood, as prime habitat for wolves. But, they said, people would not accept wolves.

Of course, 30 years ago, the same thing was said about wolves in Yellowstone.

Creative arts districts add vitality

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – In 2011, Colorado adopted a law encouraging the formation of creative districts with the intent of attracting artists and creative entrepreneurs, generating economic activity, and providing a focal point for celebrating and strengthening a community’s unique identity.

Last week, the state added six new creative districts, most of them mountain towns: Breckenridge, Carbondale, Crested Butte, and Mancos, plus two more along the Front Range.

State officials previously certified creative districts in the mountain towns of Ridgway, Salida, Telluride and the North Fork Valley (Paonia).

The Steamboat Springs Art Council was also in the running for this year’s completion, but fell short. The local newspaper liked the idea, though. It cited Salida, an old railroad and mining support town that during the last few decades has swiveled into a recreation-based economy that includes arts.

Salida’s main streets, it says, are lined with galleries, an outdoor sculpture garden and signs through the downtown area marking it as a creative district. “We can see how this same emphasis on the arts could enhance the overall feel of downtown Steamboat, celebrating its rich history and incredible natural history that serves as an inspiration for local artists,” the paper said.

Each district will get an award package with a value of $40,000.

San Miguel to resemble its old self

TELLURIDE – By next winter, the San Miguel River as it leaves Telluride will be looking something like its old self.

That original self was meandering and a bit kinky, as rivers tend to be in their original state. About a century ago, miners decided it needed to be put into a straight and orderly channel, to make space for other purposes.

That land, the Valley Floor, was purchased several years ago by Telluride for $50 million and dedicated to open space. This $1.7 million project seeks to recreate the original ecological functions of the river.

Granby buys Orvis Shorefox property

GRANBY – What was expected to be a real estate development catering to flyfishing enthusiasts will instead be something else.

A 1,553-acre ranch located along the Colorado River had been slated to be a golf course and flyfishing development called Shorefox. This is just west of Granby, along the road between Winter Park and Grand Lake, at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Great Recession dashed that speculative project, and last year Paul Chavoustie began talking up the town’s purchase of the land. Now the elected mayor, Chavoustie has presided over just that endeavor.

The Sky-Hi News reports the town will go into debt for most of the $6.2 million of expenses in purchasing the land and for improvements that are needed. Town officials hope to recoup the cost by selling fishing rights, installation of an RV campground, and other amenities. Walking paths will remain open to the public at no charge.

Problems with green energy system

WHISTLER, B.C. – It seemed to be a great idea to create a lasting legacy of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Tap the heat generated by a sewage treatment plant to heat the athletes’ village in Whistler, then recreate the housing into homes for local residents.

But this legacy hasn’t worked out. Worse, there’s no clear reason why this district-heating program in the Cheakamus Crossing neighborhood has been so unreliable that many residents have switched to electricity for heating, paying a higher cost but getting ambient heat reliably.

“This was going to be green and save everybody money, but it’s gone red,” resident John McGregor told Whistler’s elected officials at a recent meeting covered by Pique.

Some residents have been left on the hook for thousands of dollars in repairs to a system that even certified technicians have struggled to understand, said another resident.

Water samples taken from the pipes showed dissolved solids outside of the prescribed range. A $15,000 study of 19 heating units conducted last year by a Vancouver engineering firm found no explanation for the problems.

New twist to effort to trademark Park City

PARK CITY, Utah – More jostling from the trademark battle lines. Vail Resorts has filed to trademark the name “Park City” when it’s associated with a ski and snowboarding operation.

That has caused some anxiety in Park City, including some bristly “heck no” responses.

Vail has defended its trademark filing by emphasizing that it only wants to prevent website developers, for example, trying to create portals that would confuse the public into thinking they are getting access to “the ski area.”

But what if there is, in fact, an alternate skiing operation locally? Powdr Corp., which used to own the big ski area, had actually initiated a trademark application for the name Park City in two of its ski camp applications: Woodward Park City and also for Park City Woodward. Furthermore, Powdr still owns land in the Park City area where, conceivably, ski training could be conducted.

Woodward ski camps are already conducted at several of the company’s remaining ski areas. Ski areas include Copper Mountain in Colorado, Killington in Vermont, and Boreal Mountain and Soda Springs in California.

$10 million grant to ensure ranch remains

CRESTED BUTTE – Few sights are more heavenly on this planet than the view from the Crested Butte ski area looking east across the East River Valley toward Teocalli Mountain.

It’s private land and will stay that way. But it looks to remain in use for ranching, not for real estate. Great Outdoors Colorado, the state agency that funnels taxes on casinos to open space and other purposes, has awarded $10 million for conserving the land, which is owned by Bill Trampe.

The grant, explains the Crested Butte News, is the largest ever awarded by GOCO and goes a long way toward raising the funds necessary to place a conservation easement on the ranch. The ranch alone accounts for nearly 20 percent of agricultural activity in Gunnison County.

The town of Crested Butte has also chipped in $1 million, while Gunnison County committed $200,000.

– Allen Best
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