By Allen Best
VAIL, Colo. – The snow is still falling, but will the dust soon arrive? That’s the question in some basins of the West, where snowpacks have been extraordinarily deep this winter. As Vail prepared to close on Sunday, it was nearing 505 inches of total snowpack for the season, among the best ever.
But what will happen if dust storms arrive to blanket these deep snowpacks? Research in the San Juan Mountains between Telluride and Ouray during recent years has established that dust, being darker, absorbs solar radiation more readily, accelerating the melting of snow.
Dust storms were frequent and intense during the last two springs. One storm late last April drenched cars as far away as Denver, making it look like they’d been four-wheeling in the red-rock country of Arizona. The snowpack in places looked like a beige carpet.
Had warming prevailed, flooding might have also. Instead, weather turned cool, and the runoff was more leisurely.
But how about this year’s bigger snowpack? Already, minor flooding has occurred in creeks and ditches around Steamboat Springs, reports the Pilot & Today, while 2,000 sandbags were employed to stem flooding of the local fairgrounds near Park City, according to The Record.
Crested Butte deals with its past
CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Crested Butte is ambivalent about its mining heritage. It celebrates its Victorian buildings, erected when mining kept brigades of Slavic immigrants employed. Town law mandates even the sagging outhouses and coal sheds be propped up, a reminder of civic roots.
But the coal and minerals themselves are another matter. The most recent cleanup reported by the Crested Butte News concerns 5,000 cubic yards of coal that linger on a two-acre site near where a railroad turnaround once existed. The mine delivered 1.3 million tons of anthracite between 1884 and 1923.
The News says removing the coal and restoring the two acres to a wetlands will cost $250,000 to $300,000. As for the coal, it will be consolidated elsewhere, but it can’t be sold to defray expenses, because that would require a mining permit.
Rise in home values disputed
JACKSON, Wyo. – Sales records used to assess property in Teton County for taxes finds slight increases in home values, at least in some areas.
“Basically the values are going up slightly. I can’t honestly say that the market is still on a downward decline,” Teton County Assessor Dawn Johnson told the Jackson Hole News & Guide.
But at least one real estate agent remains skeptical. “The values did not go up in the last year,” said David Viehman, an owner of Jackson Hole Real Estate Associates. “Show me one property where values went up.”
Park City nixes energy project fees
PARK CITY, Utah – In an effort to spur renewable energy projects, municipal authorities in Park City have agreed to waive up to $1,000 in building and inspection fees for solar photovoltaic, solar thermal and wind energy projects completed this year.
Towns limit pesticides, herbicides
KETCHUM, Idaho – Ketchum city officials have adopted a policy that sharply restricts the use of pesticides and herbicides in city-administered parks and other areas. It does not, however, restrict what people do on their own land.
The Idaho Mountain Express notes that the new policy doesn’t flat-out prohibit all chemicals. Instead, it limits their use to “last resort” efforts. They can be used in concentrated areas to control infestations, not broad swaths.
Children’s playgrounds, however, have no exceptions. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, studies suggest that children are more likely to have adverse reactions to pesticides because their internal organs are still developing.
According to National Public Radio, scientists report that children exposed before birth to a common class of pesticides can have lower IQ levels when they reach school age. One of the pesticides, chlorpyrifos, is now banned for household use in the United States, although it’s still sprayed along roadways and on food crops.
In Revelstoke, B.C. municipal officials have also adopted a pesticide ban that sustainability coordinator Penny Page-Brittin describes as “strong.” Unlike Ketchum’s new law, however, private applications are not exempted.
Beetles leave one pine for another
CANMORE, B.C. – It was a good-news, bad-news sort of week in the Banff-Canmore area.
The good news reported by the Rocky Mountain Outlook was that infestation of mountain pine beetles in local lodgepole pine forests has dropped dramatically, the first since evidence of an epidemic was noted about a decade ago. Scientists attributed sub-zero temperatures in the shoulder seasons of fall and spring, when beetles are most susceptible.
But now it seems pine beetles are infesting the Alberta’s jack pine forests – the first step in a progression across Canada to Labrador. “This is the front line of what could be a national battle,” said Duncan MacDonnel, spokesperson for Alberta Sustainable Resource Development.
Ice recedes in Rockies
BANFF, Alberta – Again comes more news of the dwindling ice mass predicted in the glaciers clustered along the Continental Divide northwest of Banff.
One of the glaciers, Pyeto, has lost 70 percent of its volume in the last 100 years. Another, Bow Glacier, the headwaters for the river of the same name, could completely disappear in about 53 years. The glacial sources of the Athabasca River could disappear in 83 years.
Altogether, according to Shawn Marshall, a glaciologist at the University of Calgary, 85 percent of the volume of the glaciers could disappear by the end of the century as the result of warming temperatures.