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Mountain Town News

Banff, Alberta Death of sow grizzlies concerns officialsSow grizzlies in Banff National Park are dying at a rate that has wildlife biologists concerned. The park has an estimated 60 female grizzlies, but a large number have died in the Lake Louise area, commonly as the result of interactions with people.Parks Canada studied all known bear mortalities since 1990 in Banff, as well as in six other national parks: Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Waterton, Mount Revelstoke and Glacier. The resort found that 46 of the 61 known grizzly bear mortalities were at the hands of people.Some die when hit by trains. The trains often spill grain, attracting bears to the tracks. But the Rocky Mountain Outlook also reports that hikers and bikers in Banff National Park are much more likely to have an aggressive, dangerous encounter with a grizzly bear than in any other national park in Canada. There were 183 encounters in Banff, but bears actually attacked people in only 10 instances.Its pretty clear that were losing more grizzlies over the last six years to human causes than the estimated population can sustain, said Kevin Van Tighem, superintendent of Banff National Park. He said trails might need to be redesigned to avoid interactions. A lot of what were doing is trying to figure out if weve got trails and facilities in the wrong places, and how we can get people to areas where they can still enjoy the park but not disturb bears, he said.Defenders of Wildlife Canada said the report highlights the need for a formal grizzly bear management plan similar to one in Yellowstone National Park. Gunnison, Colo. Area ready for supernal spectating A 30-inch telescope has been lifted by a crane into an observatory on the outskirts of Gunnison. The telescope will be available for public use for a nominal fee, but organizers hope to rent the telescope for research and private viewing.The Crested Butte News that in 2001, two local businessmen decided a telescope in Gunnison would be a fine idea. The project faltered, but was eventually picked up by Gunnison County government, which provided land for the observatory and much of the money for the telescope; the total cost was nearly $500,000.The telescope may be used to study asteroids, extra-solar planets and stars relatively close to Earth that are in the latter stages of life.Pagosa Springs, Colo. Wolf Creek protagonists remove their legal guns The legal battle between the owners of the Wolf Creek Ski Area and developers of 300 acres of private land at its base has been resolved.The development, proposed by Texas-based billionaire B.J. Red McCombs, would yield more than 2,000 housing units at the base of the ski area. However, the project still has two hurdles: authorization from Mineral County and a road across U.S. Forest Service land.Both agencies had given approval, but they were overturned by courts that agreed with Colorado Wild and other environmental groups that procedures specified by law had been violated. A new environmental impact statement reviewing road access across Forest Service property is also expected to take two years.The Durango Herald reported settlement of the lawsuit but said a spokesman for McCombs and the Pitcher family, which owns the ski area, refused to divulge its terms. The Pitchers were partners with McCombs in the mid-1980s when McCombs negotiated a land exchange with the Forest Service that delivered the private land at the base. The Pitchers believed their ski area needed a bed base, something it lacked then and still does. The closest motels and condos are more than 20 miles away in Pagosa Springs. Then, as the real estate market tanked, the projected stalled. McCombs renewed work in the 1990s, but early in this century, after a hard-fought battle against a new quad lift, Colorado Wild took a different tact, opposing the development. The lawsuit was filed in 2004.Wolf Creek remains only one of three ski areas in Colorado that does not have snowmaking. Ski Cooper, near Leadville, and Silverton Mountain are the others.Silverton, Colo. Narrow gauge slowed by the economy High gas prices and slowed economy are having a ripple effect. In Silverton, only three narrow-gauge steam trains a day, instead of four, will disgorge passengers during the high season of mid-July to early August. The Silverton correspondent for The Telluride Watch says the canceled train, the first of the morning, carried fewer passengers. Ketchum, Idaho Air carrier buys fleet of fuel-efficient Q400s Rising oil prices are steadily nudging changes in how we live. One change is in the fleet of planes used by Horizon Air, which offers commercial service to Sun Valley and other locations. Horizon is adding 15 Bombardier Q400 turboprops, the newer 78-passenger model. Frontier is also using the Q400 for its shuttles from Denver to Aspen, Jackson Hole, and other mountain valleys. The Q400 has 33 percent improved fuel efficiency compared to other regional planes. Horizon is getting rid of 37 of its older, gas-guzzling planes, notes the Idaho Mountain Express. Crested Butte, Colo. Mountain passes may be open by mid-June With the threat of flooding diminishing, Gunnison County now has the staff to begin clearing the roads across passes in the Crested Butte area that remain clogged with snow. Both Kebler Pass to the north and Cottonwood Pass to the east are often open by Memorial Day, but this year both are targeted for June 15 openings. The giant Ride the Rockies parade of 2,000 bicycle riders is scheduled to cross Cottonwood Pass on June 20 en route to Buena Vista. Lake Tahoe, Calif. New law requires defensible space work A new law in Placer County requires property owners to create 100 feet of defensible space around housing and other structures, even if the perimeter extends into a neighbors undeveloped lot. There is no such requirement if the adjoining lot has a home or some other structure on it.The law, explains the Sierra Sun, supplements an existing California law that requires homeowners to clear fire fuels from within 100 feet of their homes. However, that law stops at the property line.Placer County extends from the foothills west of Sacramento to the Nevada border, taking in the northern part of Lake Tahoe. Jackson Hole, Wyo. Town awash in affordable housing talk Housing, housing, housing thats just about all that candidates are talking about in Jackson Hole this summer. The town council in Jackson has two spots up for grabs, and virtually all 10 candidates are talking about affordable housing. Ditto the Teton County commissioner wannabes, where two seats are also open.There dont appear to be clearly defined lines of debate, but its easy to see why affordable housing is on the lips of candidates, says the Jackson Hole News&Guide.As real estate prices skyrocket in Jackson Hole and commercial development continues, a record number of people are turning to public and private affordable-housing programs to find shelter. The odds of getting a house are becoming longer and longer. There are now more than 1,400 families who have signed up for affordable housing, a figure that is growing at a rate of about 200 families per year.The newspaper goes on to explain that the median price of a single-family home reached almost $2 million this year. The mean, or average, home price has almost doubled since 2003.The valley has been full of debate about development proposals, some of it specifically targeted for lower-income workers, in pastoral areas just outside the town of Jackson. As well, Jackson has at times been consumed about proposals to increase density, partly to provide more housing for people near where they work.Most of the candidates seem to be arguing for expanded public efforts to shore up the lower-income housing, and to avoid sprawl into exurban outposts in valleys 45 minutes to an hour away. One of the rarities is Rick Roth, a Republican for county commissioner. People have to do things on their own, he said. Its not up to government to try to find you an affordable home. Roth said he believes the county needs to find homes for only key employees. Not everybody is going to be able to live in this valley, he said. Gunnison, Colo. Coal, renewables up for debate in elections The debate about coal and renewable energy sources has been at the crux of several elections of rural electrical co-ops in Colorado this summer. Now, two incumbent directors for Gunnison County Electric Association are facing challengers who say the co-op has been too flat-footed as it looks at the future.The two challengers, Steve Schechter and Schuyler Denham, say its past time to move away from coal-generated electricity and instead invest heavily in solar, wind and other renewable sources.The attitude of this current board is that coal is the most reliable, cheapest form of energy, said Schechter. That, he said, is short-term thinking.But incumbent George Besse tells the Crested Butte News that the story is more complex. Everybody on the board is very aware of global warming, he said. We know it is happening, and we are trying to address it. There really is no quick fix, however. Technology got us into this mess, and hopefully technology will help get us out of the mess.He added: We are striving to find a balance between the environment and keeping the lights on. We have to meet our growing demand in the valley. Everyone likes to have the lights go on when they flip the switch.The association serves the Crested Butte, Gunnison and Lake City areas.The background for the election is a plan by Tri-State Generation and Transmission to build a new coal-fired power plant in either Kansas or Colorado. Gunnison County, San Miguel Power, which services Telluride, and LaPlata Electric, which is in Durango, all agreed to participate.Challengers say Tri-State must more aggressively promote technologies that achieve energy efficiency. They also warn that with Congress now debating a tax on carbon dioxide emissions, coal-fired electricity is sure to become more expensive than it is now.The larger story in the Rocky Mountains is that even utilities lauded for their rapid embrace of wind and solar still get most of their electricity by burning either coal or natural gas. Natural gas produces half as much carbon dioxide per unit of heat than coal.Even rural co-ops considered relatively progressive, including Holy Cross Energy, continue to rely largely on fossil fuels. Holy Cross last year got 92 percent of its electricity by burning coal or natural gas, reports The Aspen Times. Challengers charge that Holy Cross has lagged in its declared goal of getting 15 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. Among the challengers in that election is Dave Campbell, a real estate agent based in Vail who deals in ranches and farms of northwest Colorado.In nearly all cases, the goal of shrinking the carbon footprint of utilities is made more difficult by the fact that electrical demand is increasing, the result of population growth, per capita increases in consumption, and increased need for power in the natural gas and oil sector of the Rocky Mountains, explains Colorado Biz Magazine.Allen Best compiles Mountain Town News. He can be reached at