Political football over continent’s highest peak
TALKEETNA, Alaska – Peter Hackett climbed North America’s highest peak 10 times and, as a physician specializing in high-altitude medicine, spent weeks at a time ministering to climbers from a camp located on the side of the 20,237-foot mountain in the Alaska Range.
What does he call the mountain? “It’s always been Denali to the climbers and the locals,” says Hackett, now semi-retired to Ridgway, Colo., on the edge of the San Juan Mountains.
And so it shall be Denali on U.S. government maps in the future, replacing the name McKinley. The Obama administration announced in August that it supports changing the name of the mountain, as Alaska has asked since 1975. The name comes from the Athabascan languages of the local Native Americans.
To Aspen’s Auden Schendler, who climbed the mountain in 2001, the name makes practical sense. “No one ever called it McKinley,” he said. President Barack Obama’s executive order “just puts in place the reality.”
But to Republicans from Ohio, this order from a Democratic president is deeply distressing. William McKinley, the U.S. president from 1897 until his assassination in 1901, came from Ohio.
“… yet another example of the President going around Congress,” tweeted Rob Portman, a congressman from Ohio. House Speaker John Boehner, also of Ohio, was “deeply disappointed in this decision.”
Presidential hopefuls pass hat in ski towns
JACKSON, Wyo. – Presidential hopefuls have been stopping by ski towns of the West, shaking the local money trees.
In Jackson, Republican aspirant Ted Cruz stopped by the library for a free public talk and then pressed the flesh at a fundraiser where the going rate for a 30-minute session hosted by a Texas oilman was $2,700. Cruz, a senator from Texas, called for transfer of public lands to states. “There’s no reason for the federal government to own the vast majority of land in the West,” he said.
Ben Carson, the retired pediatric neurosurgeon, also was in Jackson, where he raised more than $75,000. This was part of a swing that included a stop in Durango. There, after taking a flight over the Gold King Mine portal, he railed against the Environmental Protection Agency as a “bunch of bureaucrats who don’t know a bunch of anything,” and that the purpose of the agency is “not to make businesses miserable.”
He also said that if he were president, marijuana would be illegal across the country, including Colorado. (Actually it is illegal under federal law in Colorado and every other state; the law just is not enforced). He said as a neurosurgeon, he knows all too well the “deleterious effects on the developing brain.”
Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has also been to both Park City and Aspen this summer to pass the hat.
As for Vail? None of the candidates have shown up since 2008, when John McCain turned out for a fundraiser that generated $1.25 million. For whatever reason, the well-heeled crowd at Vail and Beaver Creek tend to be slower to get out their checkbooks.
Durango normal again but the anger lingers
DURANGO, Colo. – Durango last Friday looked like it had returned to normal. Motel rooms filled as parents arrived to enroll their sons and daughters at Fort Lewis College. Main Street’s restaurants were crowded. Three men on inflatable loungers lazily floated down the Animas River as a dog chased a stick.
Rocks in the river, however, retained stains from the three million gallons of mustard-colored water released by the Gold King Mine 50 miles upstream, near the Silverton Mountain Ski Area.
In Durango, anger lingered in informal conversations. In a letter published in the Durango Telegraph, local resident Larry Tweedy said it was high time that the Environmental Protection Agency was allowed to conduct a massive cleanup, to prevent a repeat occurrence.
Upstream at Silverton and San Juan County, the town board and county commissioners adopted resolutions seeking federal aid, but there was no mention of supporting a Superfund designation. In an interview in the Pickle Barrel Restaurant, Steve Fearn explained why.
Fearn, a member of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, said that the group had identified 34 waste piles and 32 mine portals, and if those could be taken care of, 85 percent of the man-made problems with acid-mine runoff could be addressed.
More nettlesome are the complex of mines, including the Gold King, located about a mile upstream from the ski area. Instead of a conventional water treatment plant, which would cost $1 million a year to operate, the group had been considering the feasibility of several other treatment technologies, including bacteria.
The plume of orange-colored water was, if colorful, not toxic, he said.
What is needed, he concluded, is Good Samaritan legislation, allowing third parties to attempt to find solutions for the 1,500 mines in the West with acid-mine drainage without taking on liability.
Such a law has evaded a compromise acceptable to all in the halls of Congress for 25 years. But hope is now renewed that the Animas pollution, even if not toxic, will yield a law that mining companies and environmental groups can agree on.
Respecting fences and property lines
CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Crested Butte was jammin’ on Saturday evening, all the parking spaces filled and diners lining up at restaurant doors. Five miles away at Gothic, it was busy, too, a steady procession of high-clearance cars making their way past the cluster of cabins and the traffic cones warning of a 15 mph speed limit.
Gothic was a mining town with a fleeting existence in the 1880s. Since 1928, though, it’s been home to the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. Scientists from California to Maryland arrive in summer to study butterfly genetics, pollination biology, and climate change at high elevations. The elevation is 9,485 feet.
For years, both scientists and ranchers have complained that it’s difficult to do their work when so many people are hanging around, crossing fence lines and so forth. This year, the annoyance picked up as the sidecountry and backcountry around Crested Butte have become increasingly busy.
“People were literally defecating in the woods. Traffic on the old dirt Gothic Road at times looked like a work commute in Denver,” writes Mark Reaman in the Crested Butte News. “Campsites and fire rings were every 50 feet in spots in July and attitudes were less respectful than we here in the valley are used to.”
At a forum last week in Gothic, local rancher Curtis Allen said trespassers have been incrementally creating pressures on his business for years, but this year is different.
“It felt like a flood,” he said, according to a report in the News. “We’ve got pressures on private land, where people are just wandering around, and we’ve got people poaching trails that were cow trails to start with. And they’re taking pictures from these scenic places then posting them on Facebook, and that’s an instant draw. People instantly want to visit there.”
The News and the Gunnison Country Times report that the assembly discussed several options, including limiting access. A precedent is the base area for the Maroon Bells, northwest of Aspen, the setting for a thousand calendar pictures. There, motorized access is limited from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily to travel by bus.
For now, however, that’s off the table, but other options are being discussed in what Reaman described, calling to mind a book title by Anne Lamont, as a bird-by-bird approach: More backcountry privies next summer, stepped up enforcement and so on.
“I was originally hoping for a bold, grand solution to the problems we all saw this summer,” he wrote. “It was evident there is no magic wand.”
Subtropical bird found in Jasper National Park
JASPER, Alberta – Jasper National Park had a very unusual tourist in July, a crested caracara. The sighting had the birding world in a flutter, reports the Jasper Fitzhugh.
The bird frequents Mexico and Latin America and commonly ventures no farther north than Florida and southern Texas. But the species has been seen in the Seattle area, as well as along the Eastern Seaboard.
Christian Artuso, the program manager for Birds Studies Canada, said he wasn’t entirely surprised by the sighting. “It’s obviously way out of its range, but it didn’t surprise me completely because I had heard of another bird in Nanaimo, B.C,” Artuso said.
“They are scavengers and are known to show up in weird places. There’s something in their evolution that enables them to disperse widely to take advantage of opportunities or respond to conditions,” said Artuso.
Take your skis and raincoat this winter
WHISTLER, B.C. – Whistler can expect a warm winter. A strengthening El Niño combined with a continued Pacific Decadal Oscillation could conspire to produce temperatures 2 to 3 degrees Centigrade (or 35 to 37 degrees Fahrenheit) above average.
In other words, get your raincoat — even when skiing.
“The snowline is going to be really high,” Simon Donner, associate professor of climatology at the University of British Columbia, told Whistler’s Pique Newsmagazine.
“So you’re looking at rain pretty much all the way close to the peak, I would imagine,” he added.
Arthur De Jong, the mountain planner for Whistler Blackcomb, said El Niño winters can produce plenty of snow — even at lower elevations. Just the same, he notes how much of WB’s ski terrain is above treeline, roughly half. “If you’ve followed us over the last 10, 15 years, we continue to add more lift capacity, more skiing capacity, up high,” he said.
Glaciers on Mount Baker melting fast
MOUNT BAKER, Wash. – The snow from last winter is almost entirely gone from glaciers on Mount Baker, the most heavily glaciated peak in the Cascade Range, and the ice is melting at nearly three inches a day.
“At the rate it’s losing mass, it won’t make it 50 years,” glaciologist Mauri Pelto told The Associated Press from a glacier on the side of the mountains.
The news service says that seven glaciers have disappeared over the last three decades and glaciers in the North Cascades have lost about one-fifth of their overall volume.
Of course, the same thing is happening in Montana at Glacier National Park. “These glaciers are, from a geological standpoint, rapidly disappearing from the landscape,” said Dan Fagre, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “They’re so small and vulnerable that they could be gone in a matter of decades.”
Park City endorses climate change letter
PARK CITY, Utah – Park City’s municipal government has joined an initiative called I Am Pro Snow. Park City leaders contend that the local economy could someday be threatened by a changing climate.
“Who wants to ski in slush in February,” said Jeffrey Louden, a supporter of the initiative.
The letter endorsed by the city council asserts that only 10 of 19 cities that have hosted the Winter Olympics will be cold enough to host them again by the year 2050. By 2110, the potential host cities will be reduced to 6.
Bryn Carey, owner of a ski-rental delivery service, said skiing in North America will probably cease to exist by 2100 if the causes of the changing climate are not addressed.
The initiative is sponsored by the Climate Reality Project, which has multiple parents. One major part of the family tree is former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who gave proceeds from “An Inconvenient Truth” to the project. The other side of the organization, according to Wikipedia, comes from the National Wildlife Federation, the League of Conservation Voters and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Super-energy efficiency complex crosses hurdle
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – A proposed apartment complex in Steamboat Springs aims to be first in the United States to achieve the über-high energy efficiency standards demanded for home construction by the passive house movement.
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