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Mountain Town News

Complied by Allen Best
Aspen Times Weekly

From Banff to Tahoe, bears are back in the news in mountain resort towns across the West.

In Banff National Park, wildlife wardens killed a black bear that had been feeding on garbage but also crab apples. Officials from Parks Canada, the federal management agency, say that one way or another, they want crab apples gone from the town. Banff is located within the national park of the same name.

“The crab apple situation needs to be taken seriously,” said Steve Michel, Parks Canada’s human-wildlife conflict specialist. “Residents need to remove all the fruit, and if they’re not prepared to do that, they should consider cutting the trees down.”

No existing town law requires apples to be picked and fallen fruit to be removed.

Earlier, the town’s composting facility was forced to stop accepting food when a 10,000-volt electric fence that surrounds the rotting collection malfunctioned. Undeterred, a bear made repeated visits.

Farther west along the TransCanada Highway, two black bears were killed while feasting on rotting fruit ” mainly apples ” that had dumped along the banks of the Columbia River. While the bears were doing only what came naturally, what concerned officials was the proximity of an elementary school, explains the Revelstoke Times Review.

In Whistler Village, a large male black bear met a similar fate after biting the leg of an Australian tourist who was walking as the bars closed. The bear fled, but returned to Whistler the next evening, and was shot when discovered on the driving range of a golf course. This, said Pique, is the ninth bear intentionally destroyed in Whistler this year, but the first in Whistler Village. Another three were hit on roads.

In the Truckee-Tahoe region, where 78 bears were killed by cars last season, only 12 bears have died this year. A bear activist says bears stayed in the backcountry because of a good berry crop.

Despite top rankings in many of the magazine polls, Whistler expects a further decline of 15 percent by American visitors this winter.

Whistler saw a similar downturn last winter, but has enjoyed increased visits from Pacific Rim countries, parts of Europe and the Scandanavian countries.

Whistler tourism officials believe they have several acres up their sleeve to draw visitors this year, including the debut of the world’s highest span, the Peak 2 Peak Gondola. Also expected to draw visitors is the testing of venues for the Winter Olympics.

Our great national effort to slow or stop our expansion of greenhouse gas emissions continues, one project at a time.

In Gunnison County, that effort is yielding agreement to take a hard look at retrofitting an older dam at Taylor Park Reservoir to allow production of water released to produce electricity. Engineers believe that dam could produce up to eight megawatts of electricity, but also a steady supply of electricity as necessary to meet the requirements for 400 homes. The dam is located between Crested Butte and Gunnison, on the western flanks of the Sawatch Range.

It has also investigated installation of a turbine in the dam at Ridgway Reservoir, north of Telluride, but that task looks more challenging. (Aspen did something similar in the 1990s, paying for installation of a turbine in Ruedi Reservoir.)

In the big scheme of things, none of this amounts to much electricity. Crested Butte and Gunnison would still get nearly all of their electricity from the burning of coal, mostly from power plants west of Steamboat Springs.

All computer climate models agree that the American Southwest will become intensely hotter as a result of increased greenhouse gases, which in itself suggests shorter winters and greater evaporation and transpiration. Some models also suggest less absolute precipitation.

Instead of crushing all of the beetle-killed lodgepole pine trees into pellets, suitable for wood-burning stoves, some of the better logs are going to be set aside for use in construction of houses.

That’s the plan at Kremmling, where Confluence Energy, the maker of pellets, began operations earlier this week. The latest twist, reports the Sky-Hi Daily News, is a decision to set aside the better logs ” straight ones, at least 6 to 10 inches in diameter ” for use in building homes by Colorado Blue Logs, with operations expected to commence next spring.

Landscaping crews this year ripped up 10 to 15 percent of the turf from the moat of grass surrounding the Eagle County Courthouse and Administration Building. The goal, according to county officials, is to walk their own talk.

The county government last year adopted building regulations that require improved energy efficiency and natural resource conservation. Saving water does both.

“If we’re requiring the public to do this, we need to demonstrate how,” said Pedro Campos, lead designer for a landscaping architectural firm called Vag, which was the consultant for the project.

“It doesn’t make sense to bring England to the Rocky Mountains, which is mostly what people are trying to do [with their grass and flower gardens],” said Nicola Ripley, the director of horticulture and resources for the Betty Ford Alpine Garden in Vail.

The de-sodded areas, says the Eagle Valley Enterprise, will have perennial pants, shrubs, mulch, and also some trees and grasses.

Liz Gardener, suburban conservation coordinator for Denver Water, told Planning Magazine this year that the key is to use regionally appropriate plants and designs. There can even be conventional grass, but not huge amounts. With careful planning, homeowners can reduce water use by 30 to 60 percent and still have fantastic landscapes.

In Eagle County, nursery owner Bill Stephens Jr. notes that xeriscaping initially costs much more, but over time saves money.

For decades, wildlife researchers have been trying to figure out the roadkill equivalent of a better mousetrap. They’ve tried tall fences to keep deer and elk off highways, and they’ve tried signs to warn motorists to slow down.

So far, nothing short of very expensive wildlife overpasses works very well in keeping apart car hoods and deer hooves. And despite what you may have heard, there’s no scientific studies to back up the claims of those sonic deer-whistles you can buy at Wal-Mart.

But now, the Colorado Department of Transportation has a $1 million experiment under way on the flanks of the San Juan Mountains, just east of Durango. There, a wildlife detection system unlike any other that now exists in the United States has been installed.

The technology is already in use at prisons, airports and military operations. Cables have been buried a foot deep and lateral to the highway. Deer, elk and other large animals trigger changes in the earth’s electromagnetic field. This change is detected by the cable, which then transmits signals to two signs, one in each direction, that alert motorists to the presence of wildlife.

“One reason we looked at the system for this area is that it’s a known migration route,” explained CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks. “Instead of setting up a barrier, with fencing, we wanted to allow free movement of deer and elk to their various habitats, and instead change motorists’ behavior.”

The major question here is whether real-time warnings will slow traffic sufficiently to avoid collisions. Early anecdotal evidence suggests success, but the Western Transportation Institute of Bozeman, Mont., has allocated $150,000 for an independent and multiyear evaluation.

Something similar was tried in Wyoming, between Pinedale and Jackson Hole. There, infrared lights are used to detect movement of large animals. However, tumbleweeds and heavy snowfall also triggered the flashing signs, causing motorists to disregard them.

Better results are reported from a refined use of infrared light technology in an experiment in Yellowstone National Park, in the Gallatin River Valley. Only one collision with wildlife occurred, says Rob Ament, road ecology program manager with the Western Transportation Institute.

“It’s all about sensitivity of the beam, so that it’s catching animals and not the smaller stuff,” he said.

The institute has been conducting research near most of the ski towns of the West.


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