By Allen Best
Wind, heat spike risk of fires
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. –
Colorado is just one lighting strike, one careless cigarette butt, away from more uproar and catastrophic fires.
Last week, a new map was issued that shows the drought intensity. Vail, Aspen and Steamboat Springs are all overlaid with a bright-red blanket that shows “extreme drought,” the fourth highest of five levels.
In Steamboat, the Yampa River was expected this week to be reduced to a trickle too low for kayaking, reported Steamboat Today.
Colorado already has one major forest fire, located in the foothills west of the college town of Fort Collins. It’s the third largest in the state’s recorded history, as measured by acreage, at 58,000 acres as of Monday morning, and tops in number of homes destroyed, 181. One person has died in the blaze.
In Aspen, city officials announced free assessments of properties identified as being in high-risk areas. If homeowners need to cut or trim trees and bushes, the city will chip them for free. Hurdles in the city’s bureaucratic process for tree removal have been lowered or eliminated altogether if those trees are deemed a fire hazard, reports the Aspen Daily News.
Winds have been almost constant. “It was like the Dust Bowl yesterday,” said Jan Fedrizzi, of Eagle.
Wolf keeps distance … for now
JASPER, Alberta – Eventually somebody’s going to get hurt, say officials in Jasper National Park.
That assessment was uttered after a wolf chased a dog that had been running ahead of a woman jogging on a trail in the park. She heard a shriek, then saw the dog tearing back to her, a large, gray wolf in hot pursuit.
“He really wanted to eat my dog,” the woman told Jasper’s Fitzhugh newspaper.
The dog at her side, the woman emptied her can of bear spray, to no effect, then picked up a large stick. Thrusting the stick at the wolf, she backed down the trail several hundred metres to a road, where she was rescued by a passing motorist. The wolf stalked them the whole way.
A dog last November in the same area wasn’t so lucky. It, too, had been running free.
Steve Malcolm, a wildlife conflict specialist with the national park, told the Fitzhugh that the wolf pack there appears habituated to human beings. They do not yet see people as prey, but with habituation, that will change.
“Wolves will eventually move from this stage, where they’re just hunting their natural prey (dogs, coyotes and foxes), to looking at people as a food option,” he said.
Elsewhere in the Rockies, wolves were also in the news, with mixed results. In Idaho, a pup found several weeks ago was found, through DNA testing, to be in fact a wolf, and not a hybrid. The wolf may have been left as the mother was moving her pups from one den to another. But now removed from the pack for longer than two weeks, it would not be accepted again. Instead, wildlife officials are examining whether to put it into a zoo, reports the Idaho Mountain Express.
Ironically, perhaps, federal wildlife officials recently authorized the killing of three wolves from the same area that had been found guilty of plundering domestic sheep.
Natural gas: angel or devil?
CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Is natural gas the bridge fuel that will deliver us from the myriad problems of coal? Or does it have hellacious consequences, too?
That’s the debate going on across the land. In Gunnison County, the debate has to do with more on-the-ground consequences in the area land north of Kebler Pass. This is on the far side of the Elk Range from Crested Butte. County officials have been drawing up regulations. One drilling company promises “perpetual litigation” if the regulations are adopted, while another company has had a more restrained reaction, reports the Crested Butte News.
In Steamboat Springs, The Today newspaper recently commended a drilling company for its willingness to meet with local officials and explain their plans. Routt County, like Gunnison County, has been trying to draw up regulations, although Colorado’s state government has insisted it has the over-reaching authority in regulating drilling.
In Telluride, natural gas was much in the air at Mountainfilm over the Memorial Day weekend. Sandra Steingraber, a poet and biologist from Massachusetts, was the subject of one film, called “Living Downstream.” It’s about her investigation into the more than 100,000 toxic chemicals that have been introduced, with little understanding, into the environment.
Peter Shelton, a scribe for The Watch, reports that her face was tight with anger as she expressed her dismay about hydrofracturing, the process used to rattle loose sedimentary formations to extract the natural gas.
Writing about the same festival, Rob Schultheis described Armageddon-type forces at work. “Who dreamed up this ‘civilization’ in which energy is god, and everything else – beauty, dignity, wildness, space, freedom and life itself – is shoveled into Moloch’s furnace to keep the unholy fires burning?”
No rent, mortgages for forest folk
BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. – People for decades have lived in tents and make-shift dwellings in the forests around Breckenridge, Frisco and other towns of Summit County. But this spring, one of the forest-dwellers was murdered, and police accuse another forest-dweller with the crime.
The death put the spotlight on this largely invisible population. Law enforcement officials tell the Summit Daily News that perhaps hundreds of people live in forested settings, some of them through winter months, emerging during the day to jobs or to libraries, to tap Internet connections.
Aerial adventure at Whitefish
WHITEFISH, Mont. – Before, visitors during summer could run through all the amusements at Whitefish Mountain Resort in a day. But the menu will be expanded substantially when a new zipline, adventure park and other attractions are added.
The zipline will be 1,900 feet long and a maximum 200 feet above the ground.
A new aerial adventure park, set to open in August, will be suspended in trees, challenging participants to walk across ladders, rope bridges and other obstacles. “It’s like a big playground, only it’s in the air,” ski area spokeswoman Riley Polumbus told the Whitefish Pilot. “Imagine being like Tarzan swinging from vine to vine.”
Aerial parks have been popular in Europe but only recently began showing up in North America.
Vail gets summer upgrade
VAIL, Colo. – Vail Mountain is also getting a makeover, to provide more amusements for its summer visitors. Ski company officials have submitted plans for summer tubing, climbing boulders, an upgraded climbing wall, and an aerial challenge course.
Don Dressler, the liaison with the U.S. Forest Service, which owns the property on which the ski area is located, says the make-over has just begun. “That is a larger vision for Vail Mountain that is in the process,” he said. What might that vision entail? “More stuff,” speculated one local resident.
Silver spoons at the ready
ASPEN, Colo. – Aspen hosted the Food & Wine Classic last weekend, the first of a stream of festivals leading up to the Fourth of July.
After a few years of softness, the festival is reporting strong numbers from those who can pony up the cost $1,185 for a festival pass – presumably, with money left over for silver spoons. All 5,000 passes were sold by April, and Aspen hotels were booked in advance to 97 percent capacity, with lingering rooms commanding $700 a night, officials told the Aspen Daily News.
New this year, says The Denver Post, was a 5-K race hosted by celebrity chef Bobby Flay, hands-on classes in knife skills, and a performance by Elvis Costello & the Blue Beguilers.
Next up: the Aspen Environmental Forum, followed by the Aspen Ideas Forum, a relatively new event that has been getting national attention from the likes of the New York Times and National Public Radio.