By Allen Best
Lynx to skiing
DENVER, Colo. – Wildlife biologists were accused of trying to play god when they set out to reintroduce Canada lynx into Colorado in 1999. Too much had changed, people said. For whatever reason, it just wasn’t a good landscape for lynx.
Despite an early hiccup in the reintroduction program, it looks to have been a success. The original reintroduction of 218 lynx has yielded a population that now survives, even thrives, by the measure of reproduction.
The 14 new kittens documented this year are part of 141 total newborns since 2003 in what has now become three generations of lynx.
With the latest documentation of continued breeding, Colorado officials announced last week that biologists are now transitioning to monitoring the cats’ long-term persistence in the high country of Colorado, an area called the Southern Rockies Ecosystem. The region overlaps into Wyoming and New Mexico.
“We’ve done everything necessary to restore lynx to Colorado,” said Rick Kahn, the retired terrestrial resources manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “Now it’s up to the cats to continue to respond as they have for the past 10 years.”
Prior to the releases in 1999, the last confirmed lynx in Colorado was a body retrieved from a trapper in 1973. The lynx had been killed in an area adjacent to the Vail ski area.
But were there still lynx? Wildlife biologists in 1991 began studying an area where Vail proposed a ski area expansion and found what they were convinced was the paw print of a lynx. There was other evidence, too, both near Vail and elsewhere.
The lynx became a huge issue as Vail plunged forward with plans to expand the ski terrain. Wildlife biologists warned that the expanded human use into a rarely-visited area might imperil remaining lynx.
Taking stock of the larger story, state wildlife officials concluded that however many lynx might remain, there were probably too few to constitute a viable, reproducing population. Inevitably, any remaining lynx would blink out one by one, they said while arguing for transplants from other areas.
Later, wildlife biologists were accused of being bought off by Vail Resorts. The company rejected the idea that lynx and skiing were compatible. It blamed trappers for the demise of lynx in Colorado. It even offered to help pay for reintroduction of lynx.
Did that contribution cause state wildlife officials to release lynx in the San Juan Mountains instead of near Vail, site of the last documented lynx? Wildlife biologists rejected that charge, saying that the San Juans made sense because they were less populated, with fewer roads and still a good population of snowshoe hare, the staple for lynx populations.
Roads have been a major cause of mortality for lynx, with five killed on Interstate 70, hundreds of miles from where the lynx were released. People have shot a large number.
But diet doesn’t seem to be a major problem. Even when populations of snowshoe hare dipped several years ago, the lynx survived — although no lynx kittens were found for two years. A 2009 analysis of lynx scat found that 66 percent of lynx diets was coming from red squirrels, as biologists had suspected would be the case.
Yet to be concluded is to what extent lynx and skiing and other recreational activities are compatible. In the Banff area, lynx are common at ski areas. Less clear is their compatibility in higher-volume areas.
BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. – What about those Christmas lights? Pretty nifty, no? Why not leave them up year round?
While some in ski towns want to do that, Breckenridge officials have decided to maintain a ban on the little white lights beyond the winter holiday season. “There is something special about it being more seasonal,” Councilwoman Jennifer McAtamey explained.
TELLURIDE, Colo. – Telluride in October may become the first Colorado community to ban the distribution of plastic bags for shopping.
The town council has been talking about this since May, when a film called “Bag It” was shown at Mountainfilm. The film excoriated the ubiquitous use of plastic, which has collected in the Pacific Ocean in a giant swirl that some say is the size of Texas.
But just what would be a prudent approach to weaning shoppers and retailers off plastic bans has not been clear to the councilors. They have started first down one path, then another as they’ve gotten pushback from some store owners. But The Telluride Watch says this latest proposal will become law in October if the current 5-2 majority prevails in a second vote.
The proposal would ban most types of plastic bags while imposing a 10-cent per bag fee on paper bags. Plastic would be permitted for some uses, such as meats, prescription drugs, and newspapers.
Following the carbon $$ trail
WHISTLER, B.C. – Several years ago, Vail Resorts got a ton of attention when it announced it was buying renewable energy credits, or RECs, to be purchased for wind power at its five ski areas and assorted other resort operations. It was, at the time, the second largest purchase of RECs by a corporation in the country.
Vail’s purchase was part of a much broader initiative marshaled by the National Ski Areas Association. But immediately, there were questions whether these purchases of RECs truly translated into action. Even ardent Vail boosters scoffed at the company’s “powered by the wind” claim on its website. Skeptics questioned the accountability of this money trail for RECs.
Last year, without mentioning the wind energy, Vail announced new recipients for its corporate giving. Other ski areas also have stopped purchase of RECs, while others are considering a change.
Economists say that for RECs to truly have value, and not just be window-dressing, they must deliver something called additionality. In other words, would this action – would that wind farm – have been built had there been no RECs in the mix? Too often, the RECs didn’t truly tip the scale in this decision-making.
Now comes a similar issue in Whistler, involving a similar – but different – financial creature called carbon offsets. Carbon offsets seek to offset the carbon dioxide produced by burning coal, oil or natural gas
as may be necessary to operate ski lifts, run buses, or keep the computers humming.
Whistler’s municipality intends to give $150,000 for projects that might result in energy being used more efficiently or even switching to non-carbon energy sources. Ted Battison, the municipality’s environmental coordinator, tells Pique Newsmagazine that an auditing firm verifies the money gets used to remove carbon emissions.
But even some supporters of environmental initiatives in Whistler remain leery. Ralph Forsyth, a municipal councilor, said he has “more questions than answers” and that the system is too vulnerable to fraud.
Further, he questions whether Whistler shouldn’t just spend its carbon-offset money at home, such as in improving mass transit.
Mowing lawns to get by
VAIL, Colo. – Not surprisingly, the Vail and the Eagle Valley realty organization has shed 15 percent of its member real estate agents since sales peaked in 2007 and 2008.
The Vail Daily reports the local realty organization has lost 15 percent of its members, and is now down to 700 members. Last year, there were still more agents than sales. This year, the real estate market remains on the ropes.
Echoing a report last year in Aspen, the newspaper says that some agents have reverted to work they did before being enticed by 15 percent commissions on million dollar properties.
Consider Scott Marino, who was in the landscaping business until five years ago. Now, he’s mowing lawns and shoveling snow once again – but willing to put either aside if the phone rings with somebody wanting a showing.
“When times are good, you save up, and when they aren’t, you do what you have to,” he told the newspaper.
Project cleansed of bad spirits
CANMORE, Alberta – Two real estate projects in Canmore, at the gateway to Banff National Park, have revived. One of the projects, Kananaskis Way, has a new name: Innoka Point Resort, which uses the word for elk in the Blackfoot language. A relaunch ceremony occurred with a First Nations theme intended to cleanse the site of bad spirits. It offers fractional ownership of 2,500 to 2,700 square foot townhomes, notes the Rocky Mountain Outlook.