Mountain Town News: Will wolves ever yip & growl in Colorado? | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Town News: Will wolves ever yip & growl in Colorado?

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – In January, the Colorado Wildlife Commission rejected a proposal to deliberately reestablish wolves in Colorado. That decision was met with a sigh of relief by most ranchers, who fear wolf predation to livestock.

"Every dog has its day, and hopefully ours will last just a little longer," said one rancher from Carbondale, located down-valley from Aspen.

Not so for Jay Fetcher, who ranches north of Steamboat Springs in the Elk River Valley. And there are, he tells Steamboat Today, too darned many elk for his liking.

"I can't wait for the wolves to come back," he told Steamboat Today.

"Too many elk," he added. "That's the short answer … I just think that the elk need harassed where we are, and the problem is, when hunting season comes, the elk are gone. They know when that opening season is, and they know to go to private lands. In June, they're all in my hay meadow."

Fetcher isn't alone in this view. In 1997, the late Mel Coleman spoke at a book conference in Denver. Coleman, a third-generation rancher in Colorado's San Luis Valley, who has since died, related that he thought there were too many elk for the range. He said he'd welcome wolves.

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But these seem to be the exceptions. The more common view was expressed by Steamboat-area rancher Marsha Daughenbaugh. "They're predators, and they can do a lot of damage," she told Steamboat Today for a story published in May.

Others are willing to accept wolves that recolonize Colorado on their own. Many think that will most likely occur in Colorado's southern portion as a result of the deliberate effort to restore Mexican wolves into Arizona and New Mexico.

But will the gray wolf, a different species, trot down from the Yellowstone area? The U.S. government transplanted three packs from Canada into Wyoming and Idaho in 1995 and 1996. Yellowstone National Park as of December had 99 wolves living in 10 different packs. That is a stable population, says Douglas W. Smith, who heads the Yellowstone Wolf Restoration Project.

Soon after they got comfortable in Yellowstone, though, some began drifting southward to Colorado. The first known migrant arrived in 2004. The evidence was his body, smacked dead on I-70 about 30 miles west of Denver. Others have followed, but none have found a happy home. The latest was a wolf, mistaken for a coyote, that was shot and killed in April near Kremmling, in northwest Colorado.

Smith of the Yellowstone Wolf Project, told the Steamboat newspaper that he does not expect that a population will be re-established without deliberate efforts, as was necessary for Yellowstone. Packs need the resiliency of larger numbers, he explained, and there also needs to be enough to have genetic diversity. In the case of Yellowstone, that turned out to be 41 wolves.

In other words, having an Adam and Eve pairing of wolves in Colorado isn't enough to produce Cain and Abel. They need company — from the start.

Will wolves ever be re-established in Colorado? Tom and Roz Turnbull would prefer not. They have been ranching near Carbondale since the early 1960s and she grew up there. While they understand that wolves could benefit the ecosystem by reducing elk herds, they're not sure the value surpasses the harm to ranching and outfitting.

"We will have conflict and unknown results from this controversy, but public opinion and desire may make wolf reintroduction a reality," they said in a January email to Mountain Town News. "What would be important from the ranching viewpoint would be a way to control wolf numbers and problem wolves without the harsh punishments often attached to the federal reintroduction legislation."

In Steamboat, Fetcher — whose father was a co-founder of the Steamboat ski area — also is foreseeing ranching with wolves.

"When they come — not if, but when — we need two things," he told Steamboat Today. "We need to be able to scare the hell out of them — shoot over their heads and put the fear of man in them. The other thing is a very quick compensation when we have loss with a fairly easy proof of that loss."

In 2004, a panel of wildlife biologists was assembled for a program at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Included were state and federal biologists, including Ed Bangs, who then headed the Yellowstone reintroduction. The question was put to them: did they see wolves being restored to Colorado.

All four said no, they did not — not that wolves couldn't make a living. Previous studies had identified the Flat Tops, between Steamboat and Glenwood Springs, as prime habitat for wolves. But, they said, people would not accept wolves.

Of course, 30 years ago, the same thing was said about wolves in Yellowstone.

Creative arts districts add vitality to towns

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – In 2011, Colorado adopted a law encouraging the formation of creative districts with the intent of attracting artists and creative entrepreneurs, generating economic activity and providing a focal point for celebrating and strengthening a community's unique identity.

The state added six new creative districts, most of them mountain towns: Breckenridge, Carbondale, Crested Butte, and Mancos, plus two more along the Front Range.

State officials previously certified creative districts in the mountain towns of Ridgway, Salida, Telluride and the North Fork Valley (Paonia).

The Steamboat Springs Art Council was also in the running for this year's completion, but fell short. The local newspaper liked the idea, though. It cited Salida, an old railroad and mining support town that during the last few decades has swiveled into a recreation-based economy that includes arts.

Salida's main streets, it says, are lined with galleries, an outdoor sculpture garden and signs through the downtown area marking it as a creative district. "We can see how this same emphasis on the arts could enhance the overall feel of downtown Steamboat, celebrating its rich history and incredible natural history that serves as an inspiration for local artists," the paper said.

The state's press release says that each district will get an award package with a value of $40,000.

River in Telluride to resemble its old self

TELLURIDE, Colo. – By next winter, the San Miguel River as it leaves Telluride will be looking something like its old self.

That original self was meandering and a bit kinky, as rivers tend to be in their original state. About a century ago, miners decided it needed to be put into a straight and orderly channel, to make space for other purposes.

That land was purchased several years ago by Telluride for $50 million and dedicated to open space. This $1.7 million project seeks to recreate the original ecological functions of the river.

Granby buys Orvis Shorefox property

GRANBY, Colo. – What was expected to be a real estate development catering to fly-fishing enthusiasts will instead be something else.

A 1,553-acre ranch located along the Colorado River had been slated to be a golf course and fly-fishing development called Shorefox. This is just west of Granby, along the road between Winter Park and Grand Lake, at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Great Recession dashed that speculative project, and last year Paul Chavoustie began talking up the town's purchase of the land. Now the elected mayor, Chavoustie has presided over just that endeavor.

The Sky-Hi News reports the town will go into debt for most of the $6.2 million of expenses in purchasing the land and for improvements that are needed. Town officials hope to recoup the cost by selling fishing rights, installation of an RV campground and other amenities. Walking paths will remain open to the public at no charge.

Can Silverton leverage Superfund into tourism?

SILVERTON, Colo. – OK, now that Silverton has accepted the idea that it will have a Superfund site as a neighbor, the locals are trying to make the best of it.

It will be SuperFUNDays on Aug. 5, the first anniversary of the Gold King Mine spill that turned Cement Creek orange and, downstream in Durango, the Animas River a similar other-worldly tint.

A spokeswoman for Silverton tells the Durango Herald that the hope is that it will become an annual event.

Whistler's green energy system has problems

WHISTLER, B.C. – It seemed to be a great idea to create a lasting legacy of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Tap the heat generated by a sewage treatment plant to heat the athletes' village in Whistler, then recreate the housing into homes for local residents.

But this legacy hasn't worked out. Worse, there's no clear reason why this district-heating program in the Cheakamus Crossing neighborhood has been so unreliable that many residents have switched to electricity for heating, paying a higher cost but getting ambient heat reliably.

"This was going to be green and save everybody money, but it's gone red," resident John McGregor told Whistler's elected officials at a recent meeting covered by Pique.

Some residents have been left on the hook for thousands of dollars in repairs to a system that even certified technicians have struggled to understand, said another resident.

Water samples taken from the pipes showed dissolved solids outside of the prescribed range. A $15,000 mechanical engineering study of 19 heating units conducted last year by a Vancouver engineering firm found no explanation for the problems.

New twist to effort to trademark Park City

PARK CITY, Utah – More jostling from the trademark battle lines. Vail Resorts has filed to trademark the name "Park City" when it's associated with a ski and snowboarding operation.

That has caused some anxiety in Park City, including some bristly "heck no" responses.

Vail has defended its trademark filing by emphasizing that it only wants to prevent website developers, for example, trying to create portals that would confuse the public into thinking they are getting access to "the ski area."

But what if there is, in fact, an alternate skiing operation locally? Powdr Corp., which used to own the big ski area, had actually initiated a trademark application for the name Park City in two applications: Woodward Park City and also for Park City Woodward. Furthermore, Powdr still owns land in the Park City area where, conceivably, ski training could be conducted in these camps.

Woodward ski camps are already conducted at several of the company's remaining ski areas. Ski areas include Copper Mountain, Killington in Vermont, and Boreal Mountain and Soda Springs in California.

$10 million grant to ensure ranch remains

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Few sights are more heavenly on this planet than the view from the Crested Butte ski area looking east across the East River Valley toward Teocalli Mountain.

It's private land, and it will stay that way. But it looks to remain in use for ranching, not for real estate development or some other use. Great Outdoors Colorado, the state agency that funnels taxes on casinos to open space protection and other purposes, has awarded a $10 million grant for conserving the land, which is owned by native rancher Bill Trampe.

The grant, explains the Crested Butte News, is the largest ever awarded by GOCO and goes a long way toward raising the funds necessary to place a conservation easement on the ranch. The ranch alone accounts for nearly 20 percent of agricultural activity in Gunnison County.

The town of Crested Butte has also chipped in $1 million, while Gunnison County committed $200,000.