Mountain Town News: Mice invades houses as Sierra copes with water | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Town News: Mice invades houses as Sierra copes with water

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Many schools in the Truckee-Tahoe area were closed on Monday after yet another major storm left residents of the Sierra Nevada gasping. It's been quite a winter, with snowpack 179 percent of average at Sierra-at-Tahoe, one of the many local ski areas.

The snow has dripped with moisture: 53.4 inches, not far behind the record of 56.4 inches set in 1983. Homes have been flooded, and not just with water. Mice, squirrels and other creatures have been seeking sanctuary in homes.

"And it's never just one. They bring the family and friends. The females can leave a scene behind. This draws the guys. Mice can have upward of a dozen babies. Then it's pretty much an infestation," explains the Lake Tahoe News.

After five years of too little water in California, the problem now is too much, said National Public Radio.

Noah Diffenbaugh, a climate scientist at Stanford University, said this cycle of extreme dry and wet is the result of warming climate, exactly as has been predicted by scientists for at least 30 years.

For about that same time, scientists have been warning that more rain and especially more intense rain poses challenges for California water infrastructure. The dams and pipelines were built with the assumption of a somewhat colder climate, with the snowpack melting slowly. In a warming climate, more of the "atmospheric rivers" will produce more rain and less snow.

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If dams must be emptied to make room for floods, they are less useful for water storage. Is the solution more dams? Jay Lund, who directs the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California-Davis, tells NPR that even if dams are big enough to handle floods, the channels downstream may not be able to.

During the drought, California relied heavily on water in aquifers. In a drought year, about 60 percent of the state's water is pulled from the ground. In the absence of drought, 38 percent comes from groundwater, explains the Wall Street Journal.

California's Central Valley, which produces a quarter of the nation's food, was drained of about 40 million acre-feet during the four years of intense drought. That decrease is about a third of the total loss to the Central Valley aquifers in the prior 50 years. They don't fill as easily as they get exploited.

In other words, despite the big winter that has sent mice scrambling for cover, California is still pinched for water.

Steamboat propping up an iconic old barn

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Ed Quillen, the late columnist for The Denver Post, once described the branding of Steamboat Springs, including its marquee resort, as "cowboyland." Billy Kidd, the resort's ambassador, wore a cowboy hat, and an old barn was an icon used frequently in marketing photos, ski trails in the background.

Now comes news of a different barn, this one built in the late 1920s on a dairy farm. It's also a visual link to the agriculture heritage of the Yampa Valley. Just one problem: This visual link is on the verge of falling down. To prevent that from happening, the Steamboat Springs City Council has moderated a deal that ensures the barn gets stabilized and perhaps restored.

Owners of the property have agreed to pay $25,000 toward the work, but the ski area accepts caretaking responsibilities for at least a decade. A local group has also raised several thousand more dollars to help.

"The goal was to get the barn to not collapse," City Council President Walter Magill told Steamboat Today. "I like the way things have turned out."

As good as dead, skier survives a heart attack

JACKSON, Wyo. – Imagine having a heart attack in the backcountry. Just what do you think your odds are?

Mike Connolly, 61, was skiing on a ridge of Maverick Peak, in Grand Teton National Park, when he reported chest pains. Because they had cellphones, members of his party were able to summon help. A helicopter with three members of the Teton County Search and Rescue was dispatched.

At the scene, Connolly went into cardiac arrest. He ceased breathing and he had no pulse. Members of his group began CPR. Then rescuers arrived with an automated defibrillator. They shocked Connolly once, and he regained a pulse and began breathing again. A short time later, he was able to verbally communicate with those around him.

Uber drivers now ply roads in Jackson Hole

JACKSON, Wyo. – Because of new state legislation, Uber and Lyft are now allowed to operate in Wyoming. Uber took just hours after the bill was signed before opening its car doors for business in Jackson Hole, reports the News&Guide.

Uber drivers must have valid licenses, registration, proof of insurance and a passing grade on an online safety screening. Uber allows drivers to use their own cars or commercially licensed vehicles.

Are elk starving or just hoping for a free lunch?

KETCHUM, Idaho – Deep snow has challenged herds of big-game animals in the Rocky Mountains this year.

Elk and deer are being fed in 24 sites south of Ketchum, where the mountains give way to rolling, sagebrush-covered hills. But between Ketchum and Hailey, several homeowners have been prohibited from feeding elk.

Blaine County has sued several residents in the Golden Eagle Ranch subdivision in an attempt to end feeding of elk. A plat governing the subdivision bars such feeding, but several homeowners have persisted, explains the Idaho Mountain Express.

One of the defendants, at a meeting in late February, said he feared the elk calves would perish in a final cold snap of winter. Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials think the elk will survive.

Four to five hours away in Jackson Hole, the News&Guide reports something similar. There, 40-some elk have been congregating in the corral of Brit Ross. Instead of shooting the elk, to drive the rest away, he continues to allow the elk to feed there. "You shoot them, and where are they going to go," Ross told the newspaper. "The snow is 4 feet deep out there. If you're going to shoot them, you're going to have to shoot them all."

Wyoming game officials think the elk can survive in that part of Jackson Hole, but elsewhere in the broad valley they have started feeding 250 elk under an "emergency" declaration. The News&Guide explains that in some areas of the valley, elk always try to feed on the hay harvested for horse and cattle. Other places, this is a first.

Americans, Canadians & Cambrian-era fossils

BANFF, Alberta – A mystery has been solved in the Canadian Rockies in the quarries of the world-famous treasure trove of fossils called the Burgess shale.

The shale contains specimens from more than 500 million years ago, during an explosion of life in the Cambrian Period. The famous shale is especially known for preservation of the soft parts of the marine creatures.

But what to make of the bizarre skeletal remains called hyoliths? Scientists long believed they were from the same family as snails, squid and other mollusks.

Not so, according to a recent report published in the scientific journal Nature. A team of scientists led by a 20-year-old University of Toronto student determined they weren't mollusks at all, but rather more closely related to brachiopods.

Are you yawning yet? The Rocky Mountain Outlook says that shrugging off this distinction is akin to saying a Canadian is no different than an American.

"Outwardly, many mollusks and brachiopods — at least the shelly ones — do look very similar. Both have two shells, but, like Canadians and Americans, once you get beyond the similar exterior, they are two very different things."

And just how do Canadians and Americans differ?

When feds and local cops cooperate, and when not

ASPEN, Colo. – Three law-enforcement officials in the Aspen area have told the Aspen Daily News that, if approached by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, they would not permit federal agents to tell people they are from a local police agency.

ICE agents can legally use that fib in an effort to apprehend someone or get a family member to talk, but only if the local agency acquiesces. The thinking is that if ICE agents are seen as local authorities, people will tend to speak more freely. The ruse was used in Los Angeles recently.

That won't happen in Aspen and Pitkin County, and it's unlikely to occur in Garfield County, local officials tell the newspaper.

"It puts us in a bad spot," said Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo. "They interact with our citizens and do something boneheaded, it erodes trust in the Pitkin County sheriff's office. I want my community members to trust us, whether they're illegal or not."

There is no evidence that local ICE agents had contacted law-enforcement agencies in the Aspen area to seek permission to use their agencies' names as parts of investigations.

ICE agents can only enforce federal law, whereas police officers and sheriff's deputies enforce local and state laws.

But there is interaction between local cops and the feds. Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario says his deputies occasionally accompany ICE agents when operating as the multi-agency Threat Assessment Group, which is focused on illegal residents who are gang members.

Vallario said that "it's sort of a given" that enforcement of federal immigration laws will pick up.

A particularly ticklish area is whether immigrants who have had children born in the United States, and hence legal residents, can be forced to leave. An Argentine woman who arrived in the United States in 1991 illegally has taken refuge in the basement of a Denver church, afraid to leave for fear of being deported. She has both children and grandchildren in Colorado, but under federal law, she could be forced to leave.

Lots of water in the deep snow in Sun Valley area

KETCHUM, Idaho – The snowpack in February was eighth deepest on record at the Ketchum Ranger station since measurements began in the 1937-38 winter, a year after the Sun Valley Resort began operations.

But by a different metric, water content, this may be an even more unusual winter. The Natural Resources Conservation Service reported that February precipitation – water, not snow – was almost 400 percent of average. The Idaho Mountain Express reports that the snowpack contains more water than in any winter since record-keeping began in 1961.

Vail clinic advancing research on stem cells

VAIL, Colo. – In 1988, George Gillett, who then owned what has become Vail Resorts, persuaded Dr. Richard Steadman to relocate his medical practice from Lake Tahoe to Vail. The Steadman Clinic soon became the go-to-place for athletes with knee and other joint problems.

It still is. Football quarterback Tom Brady has been there, soccer icon Pele and basketball power Yao Ming. Plus John Elway, Mario Lemieux, and Alex Rodriguez. Big-names from the ski world, obviously. But also the drummer for the rock band U2, Larry Mullen Jr.

Now, the clinic will be getting a new, 26,000-square-foot research lab courtesy of the Vail Valley Medical Center. The $68 million facility will house the Steadman Philippon Research Institute's labs for surgical skills, robotics, regenerative medicine, and bio-motion. The clinic and associated research institute together employ 190 people.

Research being conducted there is getting attention. A recent report in The Denver Post by staff writer John Meyer suggests you may have a stake in the work at the base of Vail Mountain. The story focused on the work of Dr. Johnny Huard, the chief scientific officer and director of the Center for Regenerative Sports Medicine.

Huard is trying to advance the techniques that allow people to heal more rapidly. The field is called biologics. Cells from the patient's own body are used in concentrated injections to hasten repair of tissue at the site of the injury.

Stem cells and platelet-rich plasma therapy will some day delay age-related diseases and cut the recovery time from serious injuries, such as to the knee, in half.

"I don't think we can reverse aging, but I think we can age better and recover from injury better," said Dr. Marc Philippon, managing partner of the Steadman Clinic.

"As a surgeon, my biggest challenge is, if I cut on you there's always that healing phase. We want you to recover faster. But the most important thing is prevention of injury. If your cells are aging better, you'll have less injury."

Before moving to Vail two years ago, Huard directed the Stem Cell Research Center at the University of Pittsburg. In Vail, the researchers think injections of stem cells and PRP can help delay or prevent the need for joint replacements. At the adjacent Steadman Clinic, they can test the theories in clinical trials. Animal studies have already shown that young stem cells can rejuvenate old stem cells.

Huard advocates passionately harvesting stem cells from the umbilical cord of a newborn, freezing them at minus-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Those cells can later be thawed and reintroduced into the body as younger and more robust stem cells than the ones that have aged in the patient.

All this could dramatically change the recovery time for injuries. An athlete who blows out an anterior cruciate ligament in training camp currently loses a full year. But being able to return to action during the regular season remains a distinct possibility as a result of these advances.